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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Come Fly With Me

I always wanted to be a stewardess.

With my father being in the army, I flew a lot as a kid.  We flew all over the world.  Without having a mother in tow, I always looked up to the stewardesses.  From head to toe, they mezmerized me with their beauty.  Gorgeous high heels supported long legs peaking from underneath tight pencil skirts with matching fitted jackets and tightly swept back hair tucked up inside their stewardess hats.  Those hats. Oh my. I fluttered then.  I flutter now.

I wanted to be like  them when I grew up.

I was a cute kid.  All the stewardesses  doted on me and I adored it, especially when I flew by myself. I usually flew alone to meet my family in another country to join them after a another move.  Those were the best times with my women of the air.  My pinned-on name tag revealed my name, age, and destination. During the flight I always got pinned again with "wings" from that particular airline. Swallowed in my belted seat, I'd watch the prettiest stewardess effortlessly glide down the aisle, bend over me and "pin" me.  On occasion, a stewardess would get so close I could see and smell her perfumed breasts bursting from her starched snow white shirt hidden behind her tightly darted jacket. Heaven.  Special. I had several airline pins. Pan-Am was my favorite "wings" pin.

They brought food, too.  I loved the food on airplanes.  Back then, it was good.  I loved eating from the compartmental trays (we didn't fly first class) as the clouds slipped past the windows. Although I could devour chicken and rice washed down with iced Fanta, I anticipated dessert with fervor. Dessert was equalled only by the pre take-off Wrigley's Gum they handed me to keep my ears from popping.

My childhood stewardesses were magnificant. 

When my father retired from the army and settled in Kentucky, my flying days ended.  No more stewardesses. Oh well. They had changed anyway, with their frumpy sweaters and matching pants.

When I turned 11 years old and could make my own grown up decisions, I took matters into my own hands.

I joined the Boy Scouts of America. 


Because of the hats!  They were just like the stewardess hats I worshiped; pointed, sharp, and spiffy.  Granted, they were green with a Boy Scout emblem replacing an airline insignia, but they were trimmed beautifully with red and gold corded piping. Rich. I finally and officially became a Boy Scout Stewardess.

Boy, was I a happy Boy Scout.  The uniform.  The hat.  The red sash.  I couldn't wait to wear it all to meetings.  Even I could bear the boredom of knot-tying while wearing my uniform and hat.  They encouraged me to pull the hat farther back onto my head. Lame.  It needed to tilt just forward enough to project confidence.  I was a stewardess, after all.

A month into my new career, the Boy Scout Association made official uniform changes.  They didn't change the knee-length shorts, pants, shirts, ties, or sashes.  They changed the hat. The frickin' hat!  We were all issued red berets (trimmed in black).  Not that I had anything against the berets.  They were very cute. It just wasn't what I had signed up for. There I was, stuck in the Boy Scouts learning Boy Scout stuff covered head to toe in my drab-green incorrectly accessorized uniform. The inhumanity.

We had a campout a few weeks after the hat episode. My team was assigned baked beans to be cooked over an open campfire.  How original.  Even though I had grown weary of my "career", I didn't want to let my team down, so I feigned enthusiasm as the campout approached.

Dressed to the nines, we gathered around a huge fire to cook our supper.  Bright red berets bobbed up and down through the smoke while laughter spilled through the quiet woods.  I outwardly laughed with them. Sadly and inwardly,  I knew my Boy Scout Stewardess career was coming to an end.  Our turn came to cook our beans.  We opened our cans of beans, poured them into an official Boy Scout tin pot, and placed the pot over the raging fire to boil.  It took all of two minutes. Pin me with a badge for that feat.

When it was time to eat, we had to serve our portion of the meal to the troop. For my last Boy Scout Stewardess hoorah, I tilted my red beret forward and down  (a la Judy Garland) and glided through the muck in my ankle high brushed-suede Hush Puppies serving my fellow Scouts boiled beans.

"Coffee, tea, or beans?"

The next morning I tossed my red beret into the trash. 

My career was over.

Afterward, although no longer a Boy Scout Stewardess, I wore my real hat around the house for years.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's Up Doc?

  Michael gave me a  James Beard Foundation Professional Membership several weeks ago for my birthday with the understanding that it was my only birthday gift.  Period.  I was absolutely happy with that.
I was a bit surprised to find sweetly wrapped gifts sitting next to my chair when we returned from my birthday dinner the other night.  After several margaritas with dinner, post-dinner keoke coffees, a restaurant staff gifted double shot of  tequila, and double shots of drive-through Starbucks on the way home, I was in a great mood to open unexpected presents.

A large box contained a shiny new high-powered blender to finally replace the old cranky blender I constantly complain about.  Today, I rearranged the entire kitchen to accomodate it.  A smaller box revealed a new cookbook from Jamie Oliver, Jamie's America: Easy Twists On Great American Classics, And More.  I adore him and his style of cooking.  Rustic and simple.  He wrote Jamie's America after spending several weeks in different regions of America trying to understand and adapt the different cuisines to his style of cooking.

He spent time with the Navajo and was inspired by their simple honest cooking.  One recipe totally got my attention.  Off to the market we went.

Our first stop was a high-end grocery store that sold organic everything.  Good, but pricy. Everything was pricy.  I picked up the last crop of Black Mission Figs along with gorgeous chanterelle and shitake mushrooms.  I browsed the meat counter while Michael picked through potatoes.

"You look like you might need some help, sir.", a young-ish meat man quietly blurted from behind the meat case.  "Anything I can help you with?", he asked.  With all the confidence I could muster, I matter-of-factly said, "Why yes, I'd like a whole cut up rabbit with livers, kidney, and heart." 

The  blank expressionless look on his face assured me they did not have rabbit.  I had to change the plan and rework everything in my head because they didn't have a stupid rabbit.  I scooped up a ridiculously priced air-chilled whole free-range organic chicken and decided to make matzoh ball soup. I knew I had ground matzoh meal back at the house leftover from a Passover thing we celebrated a couple of years ago. Back on course.

As we drove home I thought, if any place in town would have rabbit, it would be Critichfields Meats.  We stopped in and gazed at all the lovely things lining the shelves.  I snuck over to one of my favorite meat cases in town. Bingo!  Rabbit.

The more I thought about Jamie Olivers interpretation of a Navajo rabbit stew recipe, the more unsure I got about it.  Rustic is one thing, but Navajo rustic?  With rabbit?  I decided to use his Rabbit Stew interpretive inspiration as my own inspiration to make something a bit more familiar to us. With a nod to coq a vin, I decided on rabbit stewed in red wine.

I have never cooked rabbit.  I once ate a rabbit that my brother killed with a shotgun.  It was so full of buckshot, it felt like chewing on a meaty miniature plachinko game, each bite loaded with tiny ball bearings. Chew. Spit. Chew Spit. Delightful.

I had a long day off yesterday and thought rabbit stew would be fun to make.  With an overcast sky and dampness in the air, it was a great day for any stew. Most recipes made it clear that chicken and rabbit were interchangeable.  I decided I would cook it just like chicken.

I pulled the rabbit out of the refrigerator to rinse it thoroughly. Hmmm.  Somehow, I was utterly surprised to find that it was a whole intact skinned rabbit, thankfully beheaded with feet and bunny tail removed. It was odd looking. Really odd. I knew how to cut up a whole chicken, so I went for it. For some stupid reason, I was surprised to find four legs and no wings. Unfamiliar territory. It wasn't at all like cutting up a whole chicken.  It was bony and the joints were in the wrong places. I managed to wrestle it into serving pieces.
 I plopped the rabbit parts into a bowl with sliced carrots, onions, celery, fresh parsley, and black peppercorns.  I poured a 3/4 bottle of cabernet sauvignon over everything to marinate for a few hours.
Mise en place.  While the rabbit marinated, I blanched pearl onions, sliced bacon into strips, and sliced mushrooms.

After a few hours soaking in the red wine bath, I pulled the rabbit out, patted it dry, liberally seasoned it with salt and pepper, and dredged it in flour. I fried the sliced bacon in a dutch oven until crisp and caramelized, scooped it out with a slotted spoon to drain, and carefully added the rabbit to brown on all sides.  Once browned, I removed the chicken rabbit and dropped in the marinated vegetables to saute and take on color. 

Once they had browned, I added the red wine marinade, 2 cups of chicken stock, a bay leaf, fresh parsely, fresh thyme, and the browned rabbit pieces.  I brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered it, and slid it into the oven to braise at 350 for 2 hours.

It smelled like stew. Good sign.

Midway through the rabbit braise, I sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions in butter until browned and set them aside.

After 2 hours, I removed the braise from the oven and pulled the rabbit out to rest. I simmered the sauce until it reduced by half before returning the rabbit to the pot with the sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions to heat through while I boiled rolled flat dumplings to accompany it.

After mounding the dumplings into pasta bowls, I ladled the stew over the pasta  and topped it with the reserved crisp bacon, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. I toasted and buttered plain white bread for sopping.

  The red wine stock base had enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the carrots, celery, and onions. Their flavors  permeated the sauce with lovely natural sweetness and bite.  Familiar. 

The flat dumpling ribbons absorbed the sauce with delicate softness.  Rabbit pillows. Parsley punched the stew with freshness while the drizzled  olive oil draped the sauce with fruity essence.

I would have thought the rabbit meat would have fallen off the bones after such a long braise.  It didn't.  After two hours, it was still intact.  Weird.  Intriguing. Being such a lean meat, it was surprisingly tender, moist, and succulent. It  seemed like a perfect blend of white and dark meat. It was rich without being heavy, delicate without being precious, and assertive without being gamey. It worked wonderfully with the red wine braise.   That being said, it was difficult to eat. There were so many bones. Tiny little bones in places that I felt shouldn't have had bones.  Hell, I struggled cutting the thing up into serving pieces because of the bones.  I have no problem eating with my fingers.  Ever. Stew might be the exception, until last night. Everything was fork tender.  Switching from fork to fingers got laborious and messy. Maybe I should have taken the meat off the bones before adding it back into the stew. Hindsight.

It was tasty, but tedious.

Will I cook rabbit again?  Probably not. Will I eat rabbit again? 

Sure, if someone else cleans it, cuts it up, cooks it, debones it, and serves to me on a silver platter.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pork with Apples. An Apple Five-Way

I had a blast in the kitchen yesterday. Michael and I stopped by Boyd Orchard in Versailes yesterday afternoon and picked up  Red Delicious apples and a gallon of fresh pressed apple cider.

My preparation for dinner turned into an apple party. After rubbing a gorgeous pork tenderloin with olive oil, salt, cracked pepper, and minced garlic, I wrapped it in plastic wrap to marinate in the refigerator for several hours.

Any opportunity to use my french mandoline is a happy opportunity, so I pulled it out of storage and thinly sliced an apple to make apples chips.  After carefully slicing the apples into paper thin rings, I simmered them in simple syrup for a few minutes, placed them on a non-stick Sil Pat, and baked them  in a low 250 degree oven until browned and crisp.  I sprinkled them with fleur de sel and set them aside to cool.

I continued the party by slicing an additional apple, sweet onion, and garlic clove before sauteeing them with fresh thyme in a butter olive oil combination  until just softened, but not broken down.  Savory apples.

I needed to round out the apple-ness with something a bit more earthy, so I clipped the prickly tips off of a fresh artichoke, peeled the outer skin off of the stem base, sliced it in half,  and placed the halves cut side down in a butter garlic lemon enhanced  chicken stock, covered,  to simmer  for an hour.  On a whim I threw in a quartered window sill tomato to cook and break down along with the artichoke halves.  After an hour on a gentle simmer, I pulled the  braised artichoke halves off of the heat to cool.

At that point, I had  pork tenderloin on deck marinating, crisp candied apple chips, sauteed savory sliced apples, and braised artichoke halves.


I wanted more. 

I decided to stuff the artichokes with a fresh diced apple bread crumb stuffing.  Easy.  It took a whole minute to whip together.  I melted butter with salt and pepper and tossed it with panko bread crumbs until it resembled a crumble topping.  After scooping the choke from the center of the artichoke halves, I folded the tiny diced apples into the bread crumb mixture and mounded the stuffing into the artichoke cavaties before sliding them into the oven to heat through without browning. I wanted the apples to stay crisp and fresh.

After heating a skillet until it smoked, I gently placed the pork tenderloin into the skillet to brown. I'm talking really brown.  Dark brown.  Major flavor comes from good browning with perfectly seal-in meat juices.
I slid the smoking skillet pork into the oven to cook for 45 minutes.

Midway through the pork roasting, I pulled the heated artichokes out to rest while the tenderloin finished cooking.

After the pork reached an internal tempertaure of 145, I pulled it out, tented it, and let it rest to redistribute the juices.  While it rested, I brought more apple flavor to the table.  Using the pork jus as a base, I tossed in 2 tablespoons of flour, forming a light roux.  Once the butter and flour combined into thickening roux, I added 1 1/2 cups of fresh pressed apple cider, salt, pepper, a 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, creating a thin, almost transparent,  pan sauce.


I plated the artichokes, spooned the sauteed apples with onions onto our plates,  topped the apples with fanned out pork tenderloin slices and a generous swath of apple cider pan sauce.

The candied apple chips garnished our plates along with scattered whole fresh parsley leaves.


The pork was incredibly juicy and tender with bold in-your-face salty garlic roughness.  The outer crunchy highly seasoned exterior gave way to buttery meat draped with a salty sweet apple cider cloak. It was gutteral joy. Eating and moaning.  The savory pan sauce hinted of apple flavor with soft sweet acidic apple undertones while the underlying bed of savory sauteed onions asserted fresh still firm apple-ness. The addition of apple cider vinegar to the pan sauce perked up and brightened what could have been a cloyingly sweet sauce.  Great balance.  Soft, tangy, salty,  sweet, and savory.

The apple chips provided  crisp sweet apple crunch and were particularly fabulous swiped through the pan sauce.

The artichokes were welcome respite from the apple assault.  They were earthy and deep.  Calming.

It was  deeply complex and wonderful with a variety of apple textures and flavors.  The pork was crazy and the pan gravy drinkable.

I wandered into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning for my nightly sleep eat, sat down in front of the refrigerator, ripped off a nub of leftover pork, ate it, and chased it with a glug of cold apple cider pan gravy.

Yep.  My secret's out.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taking Stock

My pantry is exploding.  Literally. Even though we rarely need anything, Michael and I do our weekly grocery run and buy more stuff. Granted, we all have to have stuff, things like paper towels, cat food, coffee, shaving cream, fresh parsley, and heavy cream. But, who really needs 4 varieties of rice and  flour? Today I bought a pomegranate.  One pomegranate.  What the hell am I going to do with a single pomegranate? I saw it and had to have it. Period. Sometimes, I feel like a food hoarder. Not like those television Hoarders.  I don't wade knee-deep through empty plastic diet Pepsi bottles on the way to bed with 300 cats nipping at my heels along the way. 

I just don't like to waste anything or throw anything away if it still has purpose.

Maybe I should have a kitchen yard sale, charging $1.00  for admission and paper tote bags to be filled on whim.
Right now my grain cabinet is buldging with West African attieke, Israeli couscous, yellow rice, arborio rice, valencian rice, polenta, grits, dried egg noodles, angel hair pasta, linguini, rice noodles, dried red beans, split peas, pinto beans, and black beans.

The flour bin appears to be an homage to Weisenberger Mills, bursting with whole wheat flour, rye flour, and bolted white corn meal sitting  alongside semolina flour, cake flour (I don't even bake), and bread flour. In the same bin tucked behind the flours are the sugars; light brown, dark brown, palm, cane, raw, cubed,(cubed?), and powdered.

I use everything.  I just don't use all of anything.

Although I typically use kosher salt, I have himalayan, fleur de sel, and hickory smoked salt lined up in case I need them. Telicherry black peppercorns are my go to peppercorns.  They proudly sit side by side with pink, white, green, and red peppercorns, each housed in their own pepper grinders.

I won't even discuss the freezer. Simply put,  finding the ice tray is a challenge.

Last night, I was determined to use something from every department. 

I pulled chicken from the freezer to thaw before slicing it  for a quick chicken teriyaki stir fry.
I diced a green bell pepper, a peeled carrot, and  1/2 onion into uniform sizes and tossed them into a bowl with plucked broccoli florets.

I made a quick teriyaki sauce by simmering good soy sauce with mirin, brown sugar, cornstarch, grated fresh ginger, and garlic until thickened and reduced by half.  Once the sauce had reduced, I set it aside to cool.

I grabbed the final remnants of dried rice noodles from the pantry and poured boiling water over them to soften. While the noodles soaked, I sliced thawed wonton wrappers into little squares, deep fried them, and dropped them onto paper towels to drain.

It was a very quick stir fry.  I carefully slid the sliced chicken into a very hot oiled skillet to cook through before adding the vegetables to saute and caramelize.  After they had taken on some color, I added fresh minced ginger and garlic into the sizzling  skillet for an up-front finish along with halved cherry tomatoes and sliced  pineapple for fresh acidity. After the chicken, vegetables, and aromatics married,  I folded the teriyaki sauce into the mixture to bubble and thicken before tossing it with the softened rice noodles.

I twirled the chicken teriyaki into two large pasta bowls and topped it with julliened snow pea pods.

Scattered  fried wontons and drizzled Sriracha finished it off.

The teriyaki sauce completely bathed the chicken and vegetables with sticky sweetness. The mild aromatic heat from the ginger and garlic balanced the sweetness with spice while the julienned snow peas tamed it with crunchy wet freshness. Fiery Sriacha chile paste upped the heat level, providing great acidity with its vinegar chile burn.  Any residual teriyaki sweetness evaporated with the Sriacha on deck.  Sweet heat. Perfect partners. 

The deep fried wontons were pedestrian, but added extra crunch and texture.
Most importantly, they will no longer languish away in our freezer.

I need to take stock of the pantry more often.

Or, have a yard sale.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Croque Madame: a ham & cheese sandwich.....sort of.

I baked a simple loaf of country white  sandwich bread last weekend thinking we would use it for grilled cheese sandwiches sometime this week.  It wasn't fancy, braided, or twirled.  It was just sandwich bread.

While rifling through the meat and cheese bin of our refigerator the other morning I found butcher paper-wrapped Jambon de Bayonne buried under several individually plastic-wrapped parmigiano reggiano rinds that I had saved to toss into soups for additional salty cheese flavor. I had forgotten about the jambon, a lovely french ham, salted with Adour and Salies-de-Bearn for 2 weeks before being hung and air dried for 10 months, resulting in a slightly sweet, delicately flavored moist meat with very little salty taste.

Jambon.  Sandwich bread.  Hmm.
I knew somewhere in my Thomas Keller collection I had spotted a recipe for either croque monseiur or croque madame. I lugged Thomas Keller's Bouchon off the designated Thomas Keller section of my cookbook library and flipped through the pages.  Indeed, it was croque madame, a french grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg.  Simple.

I stopped at my favorite wine and cheese shop after work yesterday and picked up a block of really good gruyere cheese.  After gazing at the lovely meats, sausages, pates, fois gras terrines, and duck confits, I spotted one of my favorite morsels, chilled cornichons.  Bag them up, thank you very much.

Mise en place.  I was set, and  as ridiculous as it may appear, it really was simple.

I sliced the bread, placed it on a baking sheet, layered the ham over the bread, topped the ham with  shredded gruyere, and set the croque bases aside to rest.
I made a bechamel sauce by sauteeing melted unsalted  butter with an equal amount of flour to form a roux before adding heavy cream, a clove-studded onion, salt, and pepper.  I swirled in extra cream to loosen the sauce before tossing shredded gruyere into the bechamel  to create a mornay sauce.  I held it on very low simmer until needed.

I didn't want french fries to accompany the croque madames.  Knowing they would be very rich, I wanted something perky that would stand up to the richness, so I stripe-peeled baby red potatoes and tossed them with melted butter, thinly sliced lemon bits, lemon juice, grated horseradish, parsely, salt, and pepper before sliding them into a 350 oven to roast for an hour.
When the potatoes were crisp and caramelized, Michael and I assembled our croque madames.  Michael is the fried egg meister here;  and with his delicate deft hand, he managed the most drop dead gorgeous sunny side up fried eggs I had ever seen.  Perfect.

While he fried the eggs, I broiled the buttered ham and cheese sandwiches until golden, crisp, and thoroughly melted.
I tossed a few tart cornichons onto our plates along with heaping spoonfuls of roasted potatoes and the broiled sandwiches.  I carefully slid  jiggly-yolked fried eggs atop the sandwiches and ladled the gruyere laden mornay sauce over the egg whites leaving the yolks poking through. The sauce dripped down the open sides of the toasted bread and  enveloped  the croque madames.
A sprinkling of fresh parsley finished them off.

To say they oozed would be an understatement. Perfectly cooked runny egg yolks topped with gooey cheesy mornay sauce. It was the quintessential food ooze.  
The sharp nutty melted gruyere sauce mixed with the uncuous yolks and dripped down the crusty bread through the sweet ham and melted cheese, creating fondue puddles on our plates.  The bread remained crisp under the sauce/yolk assault, allowing needed texture and bite, while the slightly salty soft ham and melted cheese simply succumbed to the richness. 
The tart briny cornichons provided welcome acidity and chilled crunch.
The horseradish lemon roasted  potatoes added  spiced tangy sweetness.

Lip licking.

A simple grilled ham and cheese sandwich? 


Sunday, October 10, 2010

James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner Series: Cookin' In The Bluegrass

On a warm  autumn Saturday early evening, Michael, I, and 80 guests gathered on the lawn of the The Farmhouse  tucked amid the rolling grounds of The Kentucky Horse Park for one of the final James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinners.  We,  and other guests, arrived early and lounged on the front lawn with great anticipation for the festivities to begin.
Several of the guest chefs mingled with the crowd until it was time to start.  Last nights dinner featured spectacular James Beard celebrity chefs cooking alongside very high caliber local chefs.  They gathered in the kitchen of The Farmhouse to spotlight Kentucky food and ingredients.  Chef Michael Cimarusti, partner and Executive Chef of Providence, Los Angeles, California is a  2010 James Beard Award Winner.  Chef Christopher Lee, Executive Chef of Charlie Palmer's Aureole, New York, New York was a 2006 James Beard Award Winner and earned 2 Michelin Stars at Gilt Restaurant in New York before taking over the kitchen at Aureole.  Chef Dean Corbett, Corbett's, Jack's Lounge, and Equus, Louisville, Kentucky is an instituion in the local culinary community.  Representing Holly Hill, Midway, Kentucky, was  3 time James Beard Award nominee Ouita Michel.
Those were some heavy credentials hitting the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park and the kitchen of The Farmhouse.  It promised to be an eventful evening.

It was epic.  In every way.

From the very first sip of wine and nibble of food to the last toast with dessert, the evening was a tremendous success.

Precisely at 7 p.m., the corks  popped on the front lawn for a Kentucky Wine Tasting, featuring Elk Creek Vineyards & Equus Run Vineyard and Winery.

Inside the lobby of The Farmhouse, Maker's Mark Specialty Cocktails and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale were served from a waxed dripped Maker's Mark Bar.
We sipped cocktails and mingled with the crowd while servers glided in and out with trays of passed hors d' oeuvres.  Chef Dean Corbett offered local Kentucky Bison Tartar served on on tiny crisp crostini.  It was highly seasoned with flecks of fresh herbs, very lean, and rich.  Happy Jack's Savory Pumpkin Beignet with Sapori d' Italia Aged Goat Cheese came nestled on tiny china plates with bite sized deep fried pumpkin beignets topped with a specks of tangy goat cheese.    It was a fascinating flavor profile.

Our favorite server of the evening, Marie, carried a long rectangular china serving platter with individual tasting spoons of House Cured Guanciale (cured pork jowls), with Maker's Mark 46 Bourbon and Green Apple. The crisp tartness of the apple provided crunch and acid for the Italian bacon.  I loved the delicate fresh chervil garnish that enveloped the pork jowl bites.  Marie hawked them as "the best bacon you'll ever eat."  I ate seven.

Ouita Michel is famous for her shrimp & grits.  Last night, she prepared a deconstructed passed hors d' oeurvres version of it with Kentucky Raised Freshwater Shrimp and Grits. Perched atop tall shot glasses of grits essence was a skewered ham cube, scallion, perfectly cooked shrimp, and fried cheese grits cubes.  We sucked down the skewered delicacies and shot the essence.  The combination was impeccable. It tasted like a bowl of shrimp and grits in one bite-shoot-and-swallow motion.  Salty and sweet with major corn impact.  I wanted more.

As the sun began to set under a gorgeous Kentucky sky, we were called to dinner.  We made our way into The Farmhouse, through the lobby, out the back door, past the Governor's Garden, and into the glassed-in dining room.  It was beautiful.. Every table was gilded with gorgeous glass centerpieces from Artique and set with enough stemware to fill a warehouse.  Each table had 64 pieces of stemware for eight guests.  I know.  I counted.

First Course: Diver Sea Scallop Sashimi
Butternut Squash, Endive, Green Apple, Pumpkin Seeds, and Kentucky Barrel Ale
                       Wild Horse, Viognier, Central Coast

What a way to begin a meal.  The incredibly fresh diver sea scallops were very thinly sliced and served raw
with dollops of chilled pureed butternut squash, green apple, endive, and Kentucky Barrel Ale.  Toasted pumpkin seeds added crunch while tender greens provided freshness.  Sporting a nod to molecular gastronomy, the individual pockets of  jellied flavor exploded when sliced.  Individually, they didn't make sense and were too intense.  But, when swirled together like a Jackson Pollack painting with bits of scallop shashimi, they became a unified whole.  The buttery soft briny sea scallops soaked up the vibrant endive, tart apple, and velvet squash.  It was smart and clean.  A perfect beginning.

Second Course: Bluegrass Moussaka
Socca Crepes filled with Bourbon County Pulled Lamb, Eggplant Caviar, Cream, and Fresh Tomato Coulis
                          Robert Mondavi Winery, Pinot Noir, Caneros

In complete contrast to the first course, the bluegrass moussaka was earthy and deep.  Socca crepes are made from ground chicpeas forming light as air pancakes. The crepe had the texture of a soft thick corn tortillas.  It was an utter surprise with its fluffy texture perfectly draped over fork tender brasied local pulled lamb mixed eggplant caviar.  Napped with cream and fresh tomato coulis, it was sophisticated comfort food.  Fried chickpeas tumbled by the side added crunch and earthiness.  I could have eaten only that socca lamb-filled crepe and called it a day.  It was perfect.  The soft Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir was an ideal pairing with the rustic succulent lamb soccas.

Third Course: Kentucky Farm Raised Striped Bass
Cannellini Beans, Okra, Smoked Bacon, Gallrein Farms Corn Broth, Corn Fritter and Popcorn Shoots
                            Ruffino, La Solatia Chardonnay, Toscanna IGT

The sea bass arrived on a bed of tender slow cooked cannellini beans in a pool of corn broth topped with smoked bacon and a fried corn fritter. It was moist, mild, and flaky. It held up to the robust hardiness of the beans, the smoky saltiness of the bacon, and the transparent corn broth. The fluffy fresh corn-studded fried fritter punched the corn flavor through while the bacon actually provided a meaty heftiness to the dish. The mouthfeel was velvety until the crackling bacon crunch.  Although I would have loved to have had a lemon squeeze for a bit of acidity, it was boldy seasoned and fantastic.  That being said, the bright acidity of the Ruffino Chardonnay provided the needed lift.  The sea bass was a huge crowd favorite.  Bacon makes everything better.

The food seemed to never end.  It just kept coming and coming.  The wine kept flowing and flowing. 
Were we on the Titanic's maiden voyage seated in the Grand Ballroom with American Nobility living life to excess?  It felt like it .......and it was grand.

Fourth Course: Roasted Breast of Kentucky Squab
Maker's Mark 46 Infused Squab Jus, Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens
                             SIMI Merlot, Sonoma County

The roasted squab hit my culinary G-Spot. It was cooked to a perfect pink with crackling skin bathed in a sweet Maker's Mark 46 bourbon glaze.  Oh my.  It was a tiny thing with just a bit of meat.  With permission from our tablemates, we all ate it with our fingers gnawing every bit of flesh from the bones.  Like animals.  Maybe it was the wine.  Nope, it was the delicate tender rich bourbon-glazed squab.  There was enough squab jus puddled on the plate to swipe the meat through for unnecassary added richness.  A cubed sauteed caramelized sweet potato sat next to the shiny squab. With a mad stroke of culinary genius, Chef Michael Cimarusti perched a fois gras & ground squab stuffed collard green bundle on top of the sticky caramelized sweet potato cube. Speechless.

It was time for a needed break.  We excused ourselves from the table to step outside.  Apparently, everyone else felt the same as the entire room full of people followed suit.  We were calling a collective time out.  Everyone needed a short break from the divine culinary assault. 

I, of course, slipped into the kitchen to absorb the back-of-the-house action. It was fascinating.

Fifth Course: A Selection of Ripened and Aged Chevres from Capriole with Pear Compote
                            Champagne Veuve Cliquot, Demi Sec NV, Reims, France

The three cheese selections represented the finest from Capriole.  The goat cheese sampler was served in ripening succesion from soft and tangy to to aged and nutty.  Splendid.  Pear compote was passed as an optional topper.  It was a nice respite with calming flavors that was accentuated beautifully with sparkling dry Veuve Cliquot.

Sixth Course: Individual Apple Stack Cake with Scott County Hickory Nut Brittle and Maker's Mark Bourbon Caramelized Evan's Orchard Apples.
                             Inniskillin, Reisling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula Ontario

How could life have gotten any better?  Short bread topped with deeply caramelized sticky apples with a scoop of pristine fresh whipped cream to the side, that's how.  Better, yet? Crunchy black hickory nut brittle scattered over the top.  Again, speechless.  I'm not a big dessert eater.  I inhaled it.  The shortcake had complete soaked the sugary sweetness from the caramelized apples.  Think inverted gooey pineapple upside down cake (without the cherries).  It had that essence. Unbelievable.

Royal Cup Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffe and Tea


The guests chefs came out to thunderous applause and were introduced and presented with traditional James Beard Certificates honoring the celebration, nurturing, and preservation of America's diverse culinary heritage and future.

Michael and I were honored and fortunate to be a part of The James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner Series: Cookin' In The Bluegrass. The food was impeccable, the people were joyous, and the atmosphere was electric.  We will never forget the evening, the meal, the service, the hospitality, or the experience.

Michael gave me a James Beard Foundation Culinary Professional Membership for my birthday.
Last night, we were invited to stop by the James Beard House the next time we are in New York.

We will.