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Saturday, December 31, 2011

As Smooth As Butter

After living in Europe and Africa for 10 years as the kid of an Army officer, my father moved our family back to the States to prepare for his Army retirement. Before the actual move, we took an extended European farewell tour as we made our way to Naples, Italy to board the U.S.S. Constitution for our trans-Atlantic journey home.. We lived out of suitcases for weeks while we country-hopped from Africa to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Spain, and Italy. The last leg of our trip resulted in a two week stay in Rome before taking a final train ride to Naples for our Atlantic sailing. 

We stayed in an ancient crumbling hotel overlooking a piazza dotted with fountains, people, and rambling motorbikes.  By American standards, the hotel certainly would have been condemned.  It wasn't America. Situated on the edge of an old Italian piazza, our hotel was considered  a thing of beauty. We had modest accomodations with marbled floors that glistened under floor-to-ceiling windows purposely cracked open for fresh air which allowed sheer white curtains to flutter from warm gentle breezes.  Heaven.

As a nod to public safety, (and our own) we were told to stay off of the balcony. It was probably hanging onto the side of the hotel by a mere whisper of hope.  Being an inquisitive and precocious kid, I was fascinated with the off-limits balcony. How could it be forbidden territory?  It was ours, wasn't it? I stared at that damn balcony every morning, yearning to test the warnings  by jumping up and down on it with my heavy scruffed-up Buster Brown lace-up shoes. As much as I wanted to test the fates, I played by the rules and left the balcony alone.   My father was an Army Major.  There would have been hell to pay for that mischief.

We spent our days in Rome sightseeing and eating our way around the city. Although the various pastas, pizzas, and pastries were fabulous, my fondest Roman food memory was the simple butter that accompanied our morning continental breakfasts. Served at room temperature in tiny glass bowls on  linen covered trays, the butter arrived every morning surrounded by crunchy rolls and pots of jam. Sweet. Clean. Fresh. I couldn't get enough of it.

Nowadays, when Michael and I want high end European style butter, we'll simply buy Plugra, President, or Kerrygold Irish butter.  When I crave the taste of my childhood Roman holiday, I'll make butter.

A few nights ago, I caved into my craving and literally whipped up 1/2 pound of fresh soft butter.

No recipe.  I really didn't do anything.  It just happened.

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, I whipped a pint of organic heavy whipping cream until it formed beautiful stiff peaks.  Whipped cream.  Standard.

After thoroughly wrapping the stand mixer with plastic wrap, (trust me on that) I turned the speed up to medium high and let it rip for about 25 minutes until the whipped cream broke apart and I could see splashing liquid splattering around the mixing bowl. I turned off the mixer and removed the plastic wrap.  Fresh butter dangled over a pool of residual buttermilk.  Fabulous.


After scooping the soft  butter into a chinois to drain, I squeezed it into a ball to release any additional liquid.  






I tossed the buttermilk, scraped the creamy fresh butter into an eggplant-shaped butter dish, and topped it fresh snipped chives. 





Bon Appetito!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Elfin Shenanigans... Snacks, Leftovers & Stuff


A few nights ago, we had a few friends over to share a little holiday cheer. After a full night of merry making, we tucked the nutcrackers into their silver tree branches and unplugged the Christmas Disco Seal before dragging our tired butts to bed.

Early the next morning, (still tightly bound in my red and green elf tights) I was back in the kitchen scrubbing  cabernet sauvignon splatters from every kitchen appliance. It was hysterical. 

When everything was clean and back in order, I scrounged for something simple  to cook for dinner. With small snippets of leftover party snacks dotting every inch of refrigerater space, things looked bleak until I found a small tub of Dad's Favorites Beer Cheese tucked under a glistening halved pomegranate in the vegetable bin. In a split hangover-induced second, it dawned on me that beer cheese would make a great filling for grilled cheese sandwiches.

I'm a firm believer that a little hair of the dog soothes a weary hangover, so Michael and I chugged a few margaritas as an elixir to ours.  Emboldened by the power of tequila on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I threw together a couple of ordinary white bread sandwich loaves for our grilled beer cheese sandwiches.

Thankfully, my 18 year old KitchenAid stand mixer did most of the work.
I proofed 1 tablespoon of yeast with 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees) 1 tablespoon sugar, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of the mixer. When it bubbled and foamed, I added 3 1/2 cups bread flour, attached the dough hook, and blended the mixture on low speed until it was fully incorporated.  After adding an additional 3 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup warm water,  I cranked the speed to medium and let it rip for 10 minutes before turning the dough out on a floured cutting board.

I gave the plump dough a few pats, tucked it into a ball, and dropped it into an oiled bowl (covered) to rise and double in size before slicing it in half with a bench scraper.  I folded the halves in rectangles, pinched the seams, snuggled them into 2 buttered loaf pans, and let them rest for a second rise.

After 45 minutes, I slit the tops of the loaves, brushed them with egg wash, and slid them into a 350 degree oven to bake  until golden brown.





Once the loaves cooled completely on a wire rack, I sliced enough pieces for Michael to make killer grilled beer cheese sandwiches flecked with baby arugula and biting minced shallots. Jacked up comfort food. The  buttered crunchy grilled white bread oozed with spicy beer cheese. While the slightly wilted baby arugula provided fresh peppery bitterness, tiny shallots added subtle bursts of wetness. Elevated grilled cheese. Fabulous.








A couple of nights later, Michael's sister stopped by with a friend. We needed snacks, so I sliced the remaining bread into very thin batons, trimmed the crusts, brushed them olive oil, and baked  the crostini until they were golden brown.  After they cooled, I topped them with sliced brie, caramelized pears, and toasted pecans before sliding them back into the oven to melt the brie.  I finished the crostini  with sliced fresh Red Barlett pears, chives, and served them with clusters of globe grapes. Smalls bites of crunchy bread, gooey mild cheese, sticky caramelized pears, toasted pecans, and  moist  fresh pears. Crazy good. Repurposed  party leftovers. Heaven.













                Happy  Holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Just For Toast

I taught the Culinary Arts Bourbon-Style Cooking School at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival for two years before eventually stepping down to let someone else take over.  It was fun, but a lot work. The process took months of menu planning and recipe testing before actually taking our little traveling  bourbon show on the road to My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Kentucky.  Both years, I cooked five bourbon-filled courses for sold-out crowds of 230 people before demonstrating all the courses on stage while they ate them. Crazy.

I had a blast doing it, but after planning, testing, tasting, and drinking hundreds of bourbon-infused recipes, I bottomed out on bourbon. To this day, I rarely drink or cook with bourbon......until last night.

Lately, I've tossed around ideas for something to cook for an upcoming family Chritstmas dinner we enjoy every year housed in a cabin overlooking the lake at Barren River Lake State Resort Park. It's a potluck affair for a large group of people packed into a rented cabin anchored by a tiny kitchen with very limited storage...150 miles away. Tricky business. Think about it.

While rifling through our kitchen cabinets and pantry for potluck inspiration, I stumbled across a small jar of Kentucky Proud Applecreek Orchards Bourbon Cherry Preserves that Michael picked up when we attended The Incredible Food Show in October.  Bourbon cherry preserves?  Uh, bourbon?  My head started spinning. During the food show, vendors from Applecreek Orchards served samples of their Bourbon Cherry Preserves on pretzels and toast points..

Nope. I used it to slather a bourbon-soaked  honey cured smoked ham.
I fell off of the bourbon barrel.

After scoring  the outer layer of fat on a small 3 pound honey cured smoked  ham, I slowly brushed the split fat and exposed ham flesh with 1/2 cup of Maker's Mark 46 bourbon.  While the ham soaked up the potent 94 proof  bourbon,  I mixed together 1 cup of dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of ground mustard, 1/2 tablespoon of ground ginger, and a tablespoon of fresh minced rosemary.  I rubbed the wet ham with the spiced brown sugar,  wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil, placed it into a dutch oven with 1/2 cup of water, covered the pot , and slid it into a 350 degree oven to bake for an hour.

While the smoked ham simmered in its intial sugary bourbon bath, I threw together a finishing glaze using the Applecreek Orchards Bourbon Cherry Preserves. I melted 8 ounces of the preserves in a small sauce pan over a medium flame before adding 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 2 heaping teaspoons of prepared horseradish.  I brought the glaze to a quick boil, reduced it to a simmer, and let it bubble away to thicken before setting it aside.

After 45 minutes, I uncovered the ham, basted it with the gooey brown sugar rosemary-flecked Maker's Mark 46 pan drippings, brushed it with the bourbon cherry glaze, and returned it to the oven (uncovered) for an additional 15 to 30  minutes to finish cooking. 

When the ham was beautifully glazed and caramelized, I pulled it from the oven, let it rest, and joined Michael in the parlor to finish off the last of our Georges Duboeuf Beaujolaise Nouveau.

Good to the last drop.


After slicing the glistening glazed ham, I served it on puddles of the sticky bourbon pan juices nestled alongside blistered Green Beans Amandine and individual pots of  creamy Weisenberger Mill spoonbread. Old school.




Without being cloyingly sweet, the succulent ham hinted a slight caramel flavor from the Maker's 46-infused brown sugar sauna.  Peppered with hot pungent horseradish, the  dreamy bourbon cherry preserves oozed over the salty smoked ham, creating a fabulous sweet and savory balance. Pork candy.

Double shot.
Maker's 46.
Applecreek Orchards Bourbon Cherry Preserves.



Not just for cocktails or breakfast.

Try it on pig. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Roasted & Toasted

A few days before our farmers' market closed down for the season, I stocked up on several varieties of winter squash; butternut, spaghetti, delicata, and acorn. After cooking most of them, a lone Elmwood Stock Farm acorn squash  sat nestled in a wooden bowl on the countertop for over a week. I'd grown weary of sweet and sticky lip-smacking glazed roasted squash, so I ignored it. 

A few nights ago, I needed  low impact time in the kitchen.  I didn't want to labor over anything fiddly or fussy, so I  took a second glance at the neglected countertop squash and decided to throw together a very simple roasted acorn squash soup using my familiar method for butternut squash soup.


After halving the squash, I scooped out the seeds, brushed the cut sides with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and slid them into a 350 degree oven (cut side down) to roast for 45 minutes.  While the squash roasted, I sliced a couple of carrots, diced an onion, chopped a celery stalk, and diced a peeled bosc pear (unconventional). I tumbled the vegetables into a soup pot, added 2 cups of chicken stock, brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, seasoned it,  covered the pot, and let the vegetables bubble away until they were tender.

I wanted a crisp garnish for the soup, but knew that croutons  would swell into gigantic puffy glops of bread. Although I usually suck at toasting seeds (burn baby burn), I took a chance and toasted the seeds from the acorn squash.  After rinsing and drying the seeds, I tossed them with melted smoked paprika butter before sliding them into the oven to toast alongside the roasting squash.

I poured myself a glass of wine and joined Michael in the parlor. My tufted chenille chair  blissfully swallowed me whole. Happy camper.

I almost forgot that I was cooking.

When the squash was beautifully caramelized and tender, I scooped the flesh from the shells, plopping  it into a blender with the chicken stock and cooked vegetables. Using a kitchen towel to cover the blender (trust me on that one), I pureed the mix until smooth,  poured the puree back into the soup pot, thinned it out with a bit of chicken stock, gave it a taste,  and kept it warm over a low flame until we were ready to eat. 

After a glass of wine or three, I ladled the velvety roasted acorn squash soup into our chipped hand-me-down Bybee Pottery bowls before finishing it with swirls of pure maple syrup-infused sour cream,  toasted spiced seeds, and fresh snipped chives

The soup was lighter than air with a soft luxurious mouthfeel. While the tangy sour cream cut through the richness with  smoky maple nuance, the verdant chives added tiny bites of freshness and the toasted seeds provided crunch.

Fabulous.







Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bottoms Up

I promised Michael I wouldn't touch my camera during Thanksgiving. My sincere promise would've held up if it hadn't been for a bloody mary influenced mismanagement of time that forced me to roast our tangerine, celery, and onion stuffed herb-buttered 13 pound turkey much later than I'd planned. While I sliced, diced, chopped, assembled, and sipped bloody marys, time simply slipped away.

Mise un place.

It wasn't the end of the world because we had nowhere to go or nothing to do except lounge in our pajamas all day. Heaven-ish.  We eventually got hungry.  It was  Thanksgiving day, for heaven's sake.  Eat. Pimento cheese stuffed celery sticks quelled our appetites for a nanosecond. By mid aftternoon, I would have sold my soul for a  bowl of chili.

Eschewing peanut butter, cashew brittle, or cheese sandwiches,  I decided to make a snack with a few shucked Blue Point oysters from Charlies Seafood. We had  oysters on deck because...well...it was Thanksgiving. Gotta have oysters. Although I wasn't sure where they'd fit into our meal, we had them safely tucked away for something.

With plenty of time to kill,  I played around in the kitchen and turned our something oysters into a mid-day riff on Oysters Rockefeller.  Last Thanksgiving, I made a bloody muddy mess in our kitchen shucking a dozen Blue Point oysters from the Lexington Seafood Company for an epic pre-dinner amuse bouche. Lesson learned. Not again. This year, I bought them shucked with their liquor reserved. Safe. Clean. Happy. No shells.

No shells? For Oysters Rockefeller?  Nope.  I had artichoke bottoms. Think about it.

Ok, so here's the deal.  I adore fresh artichokes. There are few things sexier than plucking petals from a beautifully steamed artichoke, dipping them in drawn butter or hollandaise, and scraping the soft flesh with clinched teeth through pouty puckered lips. Pluck. Dip. Suck. Repeat. All the way down to the hairy choke.

I also enjoy well turned fresh artichoke hearts and bottoms..... if somebody else does the tedious work. Who the hell enjoys cleaning, snipping, peeling, slicing, and paring a raw artichoke down to its glorious bottom? Not me. At All.  I always end up with nothing, so  I used frozen artichoke bottoms for our Oysters Rockefeller. Yeah, I know. Cop out.  Shoot me. It was only a snack and I didn't need a gigantic bowl of acidulated water to keep the fresh botttoms from turning grey.

Traditionally, Oysters Rockefeller are baked on the half shell,  topped with a mixture of minced parsley, chervil, watercress,  green onion, tarragon, butter, and a splash of anise flavored Herbsaint or Pernod. Too much work.  I pared the preparation  down to a simpler quick snacky riff on the traditional version using artichoke bottoms as a base.

It was fun, too.

While the artichoke bottoms thawed, I sliced thick-cut applewood smoked bacon into lardons and fried them in butter until crisp. After removing the bacon to drain, I tossed minced shallots and garlic into the buttery bacon fat to sweat before tumbling a handful of baby spinach (stems included) into the mix to wilt. When the spinach collapsed from the heat, I pulled everything out of the pan to cool. In lieu of Pernod or Herbsaint, I splashed the glistening sauteed spinach with white wine and ground fennel. That  was it.


After canking the oven to 425 degrees, I seasoned the artichokes with salt, pepper, and a dusting of ground parmigiano reggiano. After placing a plump Blue Point oyster into each artichoke bottom, I topped them with the sauteed garlic/fennel infused spinach, lemon butter, parmigiano reggiano, and the reserved bacon before slidimg them into the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes.








Oh my. Each bite literally exploded with layered flavors. The barely cooked oysters popped through the garlicky spinach, salty bacon, and nutty parmigiano, squirting sweet briney oyster juice swirled with hints of fennel and lemon down our throats. Oyster G-Spot. Perfect. 

Although I missed slurping oysters from their craggy shells, the artichoke bottoms provided a calming balance to their riotous toppings.

Soft.

Smooth.

And a bit naughty.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tricky Times

The days leading up to Thanksgiving can be tricky times in our kitchen. Generally, Michael and I don't want to eat or taste anything remotely  familiar to the food  we look forward to eating on Thanksgiving day. Anticipation. 

I've spent the past few days dancing around Thanksgiving flavors. 
A few nights ago, we devoured a slow simmered sultry vegetable Moroccan tagine filled with silken turned carrots, wedged parsnips, sliced onions, halved black grape tomatoes,  golden raisens, and dried apricots bathed in a sensual broth spiced with  ground turmuric, smoky cumin, fragrant saffron, ginger, smoked paprika, citrusy sumac, salt, and cracked pepper.  





Exotic warmth.





The following night,  I threw together a very traditional sauteed veal scallopini piccata napped in browned butter and spiked with bright briney capers served  over untraditional steamed ribbons of yellow squash and zucchini.  The kicker?  Oven-roasted  Elmwood Stock baby purple potatoes jacked up with fresh rosemary, garlic, and lemons. Yeah, the potatoes came dangerously close to eating a standard Thanksgiving staple, but their mere pungent piney purple-ness averted the comparison. Safe.

No brainer. I sliced the potatoes into quarters, revealing their gorgeous flesh. After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, I tossed the lavender-swirled spuds with olive oil, sliced unpeeled candy onions, sliced lemon wheels,  minced garlic, minced rosemary,  fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I gave everything a good mix and slid it into the oven to roast for 45 minutes.


When the potatoes were tender and browned, I finished them with fresh rosemary and  tumbled them onto our plates alongside the sleepy veal piccata  

The crisp purple potatoes were a great foil to the piccata, balancing the nutty brown butter sauce with flecks of pine-scented rosemary, mellowed acidic lemon, and roasted garlic. The onions completely melted into the potatoes, providing a slightly charred calming sweetness. Simple. Fabulous.

They were not my grandmother's Thanksgiving potatoes.

Mission accomplished.

Now, it's time to think about turkey.

Bring it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Two Bits

I ran into a friend  at the farmers' market this past weekend.  She was knee deep in Casey County sweet potatoes, rifling through baskets  for a vegetarian stew she planned to make. Thinking she might be interested in other varieties of sweet potatoes for her stew, I brought  her attention to a basket filled with small white sweet potatoes. Bad move. Information overload.  In an attempt to quell her obvious perplexed response,  I made a complete fool of myself praising the virtues of their uncanny delicate pale white sweetness.  She didn't go for it.  At. All.

Oh well.

As I walked away, a basket of baby purple eggplants caught my eye. They were gorgeous and only 25 cents each. Two bits for an eggplant? Brilliant.  How could I resist? Sold. I picked out a couple of plump purple babies and handed the vendor 50 cents. "Take the entire basket.", he said quietly. "It's the last of my crop. Take 'em all if you want 'em."  Really?  I guess he was tired of hauling them back and forth to the market.  Win. I happliy tumbled them into my bag, thanked him profusely, and stumbled away wondering what on earth  I would possibly do with  1/2 bushel of baby eggplants.

We were rolling in eggplants.

Caponata? Ratatouille ? Baba Ghanoush? Baked, stuffed, or grilled eggplant? While Michael and I enjoy any and all eggplant preparations, we're both suckers for fried eggplant. Specifically, fried eggplant parmesan. So, here's the deal.  I've had some  hits and misses with eggplant parmesan. To avoid any chance of yet another another miss, I decided to look at eggplant parmesan differently and deconstruct it.

I had a blast breaking rules.

I started with the sauce.  For unknown reasons, I had lean ground pork tucked away in the meat drawer of the refrigerator. Using a wooden spoon to break it up, I sauteed the ground pork in olive oil until it was cooked through before adding diced onions and minced garlic. When the onions were translucent, I seasoned the bubbling mix with crushed fennel seeds, salt, cracked black pepper, minced fresh rosemary, and chopped parsley.

I wanted to keep the sauce light, so I pulled several overripe heirloom black brandywine tomatoes from the windowsill, sliced them into wedges, and tossed them with the simmering pork. The tomatoes  immediately collapsed into the meat and released their sweet juices, creating a light pork ragu. I reduced the heat to a low simmer, covered the pan, and let it cook away.

 Funny, I could only salvage six of the baby purple eggplants from my 1/2 bushel. Tired aubergines.  It didn't matter. I wasn't feeding an army.

After slicing the ends from the eggplants, I used a vegetable peeler to remove alternating sections of the bitter skins. I sliced them into 1/4 inch rounds, dipped them in egg wash, and dropped them into well seasoned  parsley-flecked parmigiano-reggiano dusted  breadcrumbs.

I wanted cracklingly crisp eggplant pieces,  so I cranked the deep fryer to 375 degrees and waited for the green light to pop on. Working in batches, I carefully slid the breaded eggplant patties into the hot oil and fried them until they were golden brown. As I pulled each batch from the fryer, I seasoned them  with kosher salt and set them aside on paper towels to drain.

Mise en place.
Break.
I poured myself a huge glass of chardonnay and joined Michael in the parlor.

When it was time to eat, I stacked the fried eggplant rounds with alternating  layers of fresh mozzarella cheese and slid them into a 350 degree oven. While the eggplant crisped and the cheese melted, I whipped together a batch of quick cooking polenta.

The polenta was a no brainer. Following the instructions, I cooked the polenta until it erupted into plopping volcanic spurts. I calmed the molten mess by adding 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, a cup of creamy mascarpone cheese, a handful of grated parmigiano-reggiano, and fresh chopped parsley.

I spooned the creamy  polenta onto our plates and nestled the oozing eggplant parmesan stacks into the polenta pillows. I've killed many eggplant parmesans with too much sauce. Trust me. To avoid soggy eggplant,  I ladled the pork ragu  to the side of polenta which allowed the sweet tomato jus to spill around our plates, leaving the crisp eggplant stacks unscathed.  

To tart things up a bit, I topped the fried eggplant parmesan with a feathery baby mizuna salad tossed  in a light lemon vinaigrette. Unconvential. Sassy. Fabulous.

 With hints of anise from the fennel, the tomato-infused pork ragu was surprisingly light, like eating a delicious bite of porky air perfumed with  braised sweet heirloom  tomato essence. Ridiculous. Crazy.

Dripping and oozing with melted mozzarella cheese, the fried eggplant parmesan stacks remained perfectly crisp, breaking the soft richness of the polenta with needed crunch. Reminiscent of veal or chicken Milanese, the lemony mizuna salad provided bright acidity and subtle bitterness. Win.

Two bits for an eggplant?
Priceless.

Monday, November 7, 2011

To The Side

Some of the vendors at our farmers' market have started packing up for the season. The recent frosts and freezes have zapped most of their tender produce. 

On our last visit to the market,  most farmers were hawking the last of their seasonal wares. While pickings were slim at most tables, we were blown away with the variety of interesting things still offered by Elmwood Stock Farm. As I filled my bag with baskets of purple potatoes and handfuls of tender kale, Michael asked about their huge watermelon radishes.  He wanted to know if the green tops were edible.  I loved that. Of course, we snagged a bundle of the bulbous radishes.

A few nights ago, Michael and I craved comfort food. Old school comfort food like meat and potatoes with a little something to the side.

Cooked radishes taste a lot like cooked turnips, so I decided to pull a riff on basic kale and turnips by braising  the kale with sliced watermelon radishes and their greens, creating a  mixed  mess o' greens.

I wasn't shooting for pretty greens.  I wanted down and  dirty soulful long cooked greens. The kind that show up at church Decoration Day potlucks.


After slicing a few slabs of thick-cut bacon into 1 inch pieces, I dropped them into a very hot dutch oven to crisp before adding sliced onions, mashed garlic, and red pepper flakes.  While the onions cooked down, I  stripped the tender leaves from the kale and sliced them into bite sized pieces, repeating the process with the radish tops. After rinsing the sliced greens, I tossed  them into the hot oniony bacon grease to steam and wilt.

The pale exteriors of watermelon radishes belie their inner beauty. When sliced, they reveal shockingly vibrant fuschia colored flesh. The pinkness took my breath away. Stunning. 



When the simmering mixed greens wilted into the bacon fat, I deglazed the pot with chicken stock and added the sliced watermelon radish wedges. After bringing the liquid to a boil, I reduced it a simmer, covered the pot, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2  hours, adding more stock as needed to insure we'd have plenty of pot likker.

Just before serving, I showered the drab greens with cracked tellicherry peppercorns and freshly squeezed lemon juice. I spooned the greens into individual bowls, tucking the translucent radishes into the soupy nests with a scattering sliced purple onions, chives, and lemon slivers to brighten the sleepy mess o' greens.

Spiked with biting cracked pepper and acidic lemon, the long braised mixed greens were robust and deeply flavored, providing an earthy base  for the mellowed turnip-like tang of the watermelon radishes. Edible jewels. Comfort.

Although the braised greens and radishes were wonderfully warming, they paled in comparison to the luscious pot likker puddled in the bottom of our bowls. Tangy. Salty. Sweet. Tart. Drinkable.

In fact, sometime during the wee hours of the night, I snuck down to the kitchen, tipped the entire pot of greens to my lips, and drank every last drop of likker. Heaven.

So much for leftovers.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fry Me To The Moon

I'll deep fry just about anything.

Confession: I used to have a mack daddy deep fryer. It was a beauty, complete with a programable thermostat and the ability to auomatically drain cooled cooking oil through a fine meshed filter into a well, assuring me of clean oil for each use. Spiffy. What it took up in counter space, it made up for with outstanding  productivity and usefullness.   I loved it. I adored it.

CUI (cooking under the influence..of wine) can have its drawbacks and pitfalls in the home kitchen.  Given enough time, the odds of things going wrong are pretty strong. Trust me.  Stuff happens. Several months ago, during a slap-happy CUI evening, I cranked the deepr fryer to a ridiculous high temperature without refilling the cooking well with oil, causing the heating element to burn out. Bad move.  The fryer was dead.  Kaput.  Cooked.  I killed Kenny.


I've been stove-top deep frying since that night. Although I've gotten used to it, watching the mercury rise and fall through the looking glass of a thick teetering candy thermometer (while trying to retain a constant temperature)  hasn't been as fun as setting the temperature gauge and waiting for the green light to pop on.

It was a happy day when Michael surprised me with a smaller more compact  version of our old mack daddy deep fryer. Back in business. A few nights ago,  I decided to christen our new kitchen countertop toy with an all out  fry fest. I fried everything we had on hand. Literally.

There's nothing genius about frying food.  Culinary clouds don't part with thunder claps.  It's simply fun. A lot of fun. Period.

Using Weisenberger Mill seasoned flour, I double battered chicken wings by dredging them in the seasoned flour, egg wash, and additional flour before carefully lowering them into the smoking hot fryer oil. I covered the basket with a filtered lid to calm the usual messy spattering and let the chicken rip until it was crackingly crisp. After pulling the chicken to drain, I slid the pieces into the oven to keep warm while I fried everything else.



I sliced a huge onion into thick rings,  leafy celery into 4 inch batons, and market peppers into thick strips, and lemons into wheels.  While the chicken warmed in the oven, I brought the oil back to temperature and whipped together a very loose tempura-like beer batter with the seasoned flour, fresh herbs, and light beer.


After blanching the celery to soften it, I battered the batons, dropped them into the hot oil  to fry until golden brown, pulled them drain, and repeated the process with lightly battered  onions rings, pepper strips, and lemon wheels.




When the last lemon caramelized from the heat of the oil, I pulled the chicken from the oven and tossed it in a combination of floral wild flower honey, salty dark soy sauce, and fiery Sriracha sauce.





I finished the sticky chicken wings with a sprinkling of white sesame seeds and chives,  tumbling them onto our plates alongside the batter-fried vegetables. After filling small individual ramekins with stilten dressing and citrus-based ponzu sauce for dipping, I nestled little stacks of sliced fresh jicama sticks on the far edges of our plates for the slightest nod to freshness.

Happy dance. 

Although crisp and light, the batter-fried peppers and onions were fairly predictable. The fried celery, on the other hand, was a revelation with tiny bursts  of sweetness squirting through the crunchy coating. I mistakingly relegated the batter-fried lemon wheels to garnish status. They were bittersweet with soft tart undertones. Crazy good with the ponzu sauce. 

 The fried chicken was insane with juicy moist meat oozing through the crispy skin dripping in honey, soy sauce, and Sriracha? Are you kidding me? Crunchy sweet salty fire. Oh, my.  Heaven.  

 Fry me to the moon.

And back...for more.









Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Unplugged

It started with the ice trays. For two days, Michael and I both thought someone had mysteriously used all the ice and replaced it with fresh water-filled ice trays. Nope.

Hoping it was a minor thing, we called a reliable freezer repair person. He ran diagnostic tests before babbling a littany of  freezer lingo... coils, condensers, defrosters, thermostats, blah, blah, blah. White noise. Wasn't  listening. Blah, blah, blah.  Of course, he had to order the parts, telling  us he would get back in touch with us when they arrived.  He reassured us that it wasn't a hazard and that our kitchen wouldn't flood while we were out of town.

When the parts arrived, he called to tell us to unplug the freezer and refrigerator for two days to let it thaw before he could  work on it. Unplug the freezer and refrigerator? Um... Really?  Now, that thunder clap got my attention. The thought of it sent daggers through my heart and chills up my spine. I'm a food collector.  The freezer's literally my bountiful treasure chest full of my things. My fun stuff.  My scraps of artisinal breads for Thanksgiving stuffing, bones, meats, fish parts, calamari, doughs, and  sauces.  Unplug it  and remove it from life support?  Heavy boots.

Last night was my last chance to use what I could before we removed the plug and tossed everything away. There was so much stuff. How?  What? All in one meal? A last supper using all of my prized hoarded food collection?

I took a deep breath, pulled everything from the freezer,  and methodically set about the sad business of closing down shop.

I started by making a small batch of chicken stock with chicken backs, necks, wings, carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers (because I had them), black peppercorns, parsley, thyme, and purple basil. I let the stock bubble away while I thought about what to do next. Because I had a tons of meat tucked away, pasta bolognese quickly came to mind. I had enough of the ingredients to knock out a decent riff on the classic sauce from Bologna, so I readied the food processor for some heavy duty work.

The meat drawer.

I sliced 1/2 pound  slab of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon into lardons, fried them until crisp, scooped  them out to drain, and removed half of the bacon fat. After chopping the remaining carrots, onions, celery, and peppers into large pieces, I tumbled them into the food processor and pulverized them into mushy pulp. When the bacon fat smoked, I dropped the vegetable pulp into the hot oil along with a few tablespoons of tomato paste and thawed San Marzano tomatoes, letting the concoction pop, spit, and simmer until it was deeply caramelized before turning the heat to a low simmer.

Since bolognese is a meat-based sauce, I needed to add meat.  I had plenty of it, but it had to be broken down to create a velvety bolognese sauce.  After dicing garlic marinated filet mignons, 2 pork tenderloin medallions, 2 Italian sausages (casings removed),  and 4 pounded veal scallopinis, I dropped the meat pieces  into the food processor and pulsed them until they were ground together. Sacrilege. Meat carnage. It had to be done.

Unplugged.

After straining the chicken stock through a cheesecloth-lined chinois, I ladled it into the gurgling sauce, brought it a simmer, and  added the uncooked ground meat mixture. I wanted the raw mixed meats to slowly cook in the sauce, releasing  their individual succulent  juices and flavoring it.  When the meat was fully incorporated, I turned the heat to low, covered the pot, and chugged a few glasses of wine.

The cheese drawer.

I had a lot of cheese. So much so that that my little riff on Pasta alla Bolognese had to be tweeked. Baked spaghetti? Spaghetti casserole?

It turned into my take on Timballo, an Italian molded baked pasta dish that, depending on ingredients, varies from region to region in Italy. 

Disregarding rules, recipes, and Italian regions, I went with what I had on hand.

I boiled a pound of spaghetti in heavily salted water for 7 minutes, purposefully undercooking it. After draining the pasta, I folded it into the Bolognese sauce and added handfuls of grated pecorino romano, grated parmigianno, shredded sharp white cheddar, smoked gouda, grated fontina, fresh mozzarella, and baby arugula leaves.

I preheated the oven to 375 degrees, poured the sauced spaghetti into a buttered parmigianno-dusted springform pan, and slid it into the oven to bake for an hour.

After several glasses of wine, I removed the Timballo from the oven, letting it rest for 20 minutes before slicing it into wedges and plating it.


With nothing else to serve with it, I simply scattered a few quartered market tomatoes around the plate for freshness.





We ate what we could and trashed the remaining Timballo. There was nowhere to store it.




We were unplugged.



 



Clean slate.
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