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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hail Caesar

Gosh, I miss restaurant tableside caesar salad service.  Not many restaurants do it anymore.  I know it's old school and fussy, but having a lovely caesar salad tossed tableside always felt luxurious and grand.  Michael and I used to go to Stanley Demos' Coach House back in the day.  Back when  reservations were required, dressing up meant "up", and being seen was as important as the food.  The Coach House  offered an old school tableside tossed caesar salad. We always ordered it, devouring the production and the scrumptious salads.  One of the advantages to tableside service was that any salad could be customized to order.  Extra anchovies?  Sure.  No anchovies? Yep.  Extra lemon, worchestershire?  Yes. Anything we wanted, was ours. With style.

As if in slow motion, a server would roll a cart by the table,  rub a wooden bowl with fresh garlic, squeeze fresh lemon juice into the bowl, drizzle worchestershire sauce and olive oil  around the edges of the bowl, ask about anchovies before adding  anchovies, and briskly whisk the ingredients until emulsified into salad dressing  Torn romaine lettuce would then be tossed into the bowl with a shower of grated parmesan cheese, cracked black peppercorns, and toasted croutons. Finally, a raw egg would be broken over the salad and vigorously tossed before plating.

What a way to begin a meal.

I miss that.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted  caesar salad.  A caesar salad with real caesar dressing.
I don't have a large wooden bowl to recreate a traditional tableside experience.  Hell, we hardly even eat at our dining room table, so it didn't matter.  I decided  on deconstructed ceasar salad with  a few twists.

Basic Caesar Salad.

Romaine.  Dressing.  Croutons.

I love the crunch of fried croutons.  Baked are fine, but fried are better. That being said, I decided to fry croutons made with chilled cubed cheese grits.  I made the cheese grits by simmering 1 cup of Weisenberger Stone Ground Grtis with 2 cups water, 2 cups milk, and salt.  After 30 minutes, I added 1/2 cup parmigiano reggianno, 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper.  While the grits were still molten hot, I stirred a handful of freeze-dried Brazilian green peppercorns into the mix , poured the grits into a pie pan, smoothed the top, and slid the cheesy grits into the refrigerator to chill and firm up.
Once they were very firm, I inverted the grit cake onto a cutting board, sliced it into cubes, and deep fried the cubes until golden brown.  After transferring the cheese grit croutons to paper towels to drain, I trimmed the crusts from a few slices of fresh sourdough bread, cut them into half inch cubes, deep fried them in hot peanut oil until  glisteningly brown, and added them to the grit croutons.  Dueling croutons. Different flavors. Different textures.  I couldn't help myself.  I love croutons.

I stayed true with the dressing.  Authentic caesar dressing is a thing of beauty and I didn't want to mess with it.  I pasted 2 minced garlic cloves in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt before adding 1 tablespoon of worchestershire sauce, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 4 oil-packed caper-rolled anchovy filets, and 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese.  Even though our eggs were fresh organic eggs from Elmwood Stock Farm, I coddled one in boiling water for 1 minute  (for safety reasons)  before adding it to the dressing pool.  I whisked the ingredients together, slowly adding 1/3 cup of a good quality extra virgin olive oil to emulsify the dressing.  Cracked pepper and minced fresh parley finished the caesar salad.dressing.

What's your function?

I lined our plates with washed and dried crisp romaine lettuce leaves, forming long lettuce boats.  After drizzling the dressing over the leaves, I topped our salads with jiggly poached eggs, salty tart capers, sliced briny black olives, additional anchovy filets,  crunchy croutons, and fresh parsley.
To gild the lily, I draped gorgeous pink thinly sliced prosciutto ribbons over the dressed romaine lettuce leaves for added soft salty texture.

The dressing was perfect,  coating  the crisp lettuce leaves with salty, earthy, and tart creaminess. The luscious fruity olive oil  balanced the zing of the mustard, tang from the worchestershire sauce, the bright acidity of the fresh lemon juice, and the harsh unctuousness of the anchovies. 

The cheese grit and sourdough croutons were the bomb, providing cheesy deep fried greasy crunch.  They were  perfect foils to the runny yellow egg yolks that oozed and dripped when pierced. Fabulous.

It wasn't traditional caesar salad, by any means.
No cart. No server. No tableside service.
It still captured the essence and the memory.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Last Of The Winter Citrus.....Finally

One at a time.  Slowly but surely, we've  finally blown through the entire crate of fresh tangerines, grapefruits, and Navel oranges our realtor sent us during the holidays.  Although we thoroughly enjoyed them, they are now thoroughly gone. Whew!

I've done everything with them except deep fry them and that probably would have happened  had I not finished them off the other night.

Not even a recipe.

I whisked equal parts olive oil, fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice, and orange blossom honey in a large non-reactive bowl with one clove of mined garlic.  I dropped skin-on chicken breasts, thighs, legs, and wings into the marinade and set them aside on the countertop for an hour to absorb the flavors.

While the chicken soaked up the sweet citrus marinade, I sliced very thin orange and lemon wheels. 
I pulled the chicken out of the honey bath,reserved the marinade, patted the pieces dry, and slid the citrus rings under the skins. I got my grill pan smoking hot and carefully placed the chicken onto the sizzling ridges, turning them once to brown on both sides.  I added lemon and orange halves around the chicken cut side down to char and color.
After pre-heating the oven to 375 drgrees, I arranged the chicken on an oiled foiled sheet pan, scattered the remaining citrus rings over the chicken, tucked the grilled citrus halves throughout the pieces, tossed in fingerling potatoes, and drizzled the reserved marinade over everything.  After seasoning generously with salt and cracked pepper, I slid the pan into the oven to roast for an hour.
That was it.

A few minutes before pulling the chicken from the oven, I steamed fresh broccoli florets until tender and bright green.

Holy. Moly. When I pulled the chicken from the oven, it had transformed.  Calling it glazed chicken would have been a monumental understatment.  It was smothered, coated, covered,  bathed, and cocooned in a lemony orange garlic honey death mask.  It was not for the faint of heart, especially for those who can't tolerate mixing savory and sweet with meats.  Diane, a very good friend ours, doesn't mix.  I won't even  go there when she and Ralph are dinner guests.  Michael and I mix savory and sweet...big time.  We don't have a problem with it. At. All.
Oh my.  First things first. I squeezed the roasted lemon and orange juice over the chicken, releasing their smoky concentrated citrus syrup.  Yup. I basted the intensely caramelized chicken with the sticky pan juices before prying the glazed pieces from their sweet sauna to plate with  the fingerling potatoes tucked around the pieces. As a wink to healthy living, I nestled the innocent glowing broccoli florets next to the chicken.  Poor things. 

In true gluttonous fashion, I poured the remaining pan juices into ramekins for chicken dipping.

The chicken was incredibly moist and terrific. It pulled from the bones with ease, spilling into the sticky goo. The  bright citrus flavors were long gone, having surrendered into sweet fruit candy, rinds and all. The skin-tucked citrus wheels oozed and dripped out from under the crisp charred caramelized chicken skins while the scattered fresh fruit simply collapsed and melted into the  roasted  honey-garlic-citrus marinade, creating a condensed stickier lip licking sauce. It was messy and devine.

The potatoes went unnoticed and  untouched. They didn't stand a chance. Who needed them?  Boring.  Gratuitous.

The perfectly cooked broccoli was delicious and soothing. Although  much needed and welcomed, it felt curiously out of place, like wearing white satin pearl-buttoned opera length ball gloves for garden weeding. Fabulous, but not neccessary.

The oranges, grapfruits, and tangerines were fun to have around.

Time to move on.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Butter Me A Squash

I have the most wonderful cookbook collection in the world.  Michael  goes to a lot of effort and expense to make sure I have the latest, coolest, and must-have cookbooks. I read them like novels.  I devour them for knowledge and adore cooking from them. That being said, lately I've been cooking willy-nilly, trying to use whatever I have on hand in any way I can.

A couple of nights ago, I made a creamy purple potato soup that was tasty and pretty.  Our skipping meat for one night was not earth shattering, but two nights in a row could be.  Last night, I took stock of the pantry, freezer, and refigerator, finding a pound of Not For Sale ground beef in the freezer given to us by a dear friend from  the arrival of the latest fatted calf, a green pepper in the vegetable bin tucked underneath thawed cryo-vaced asian seaweed (really?), and a small butternut squash occupying a gigantic bowl on the kitchen countertop. Beef.  Butternut squash.  Peppers. A tagine called  my name. The ingredients were  taking me down the Silk/Spice Road.  I certainly had the spices to go there, but wasn't sure I was up to the long journey (especially on a week night) for that kind of exotic flavor profile. 
When I opened the stuffed spice cabinet to check things out, a small Mason jar of ChefBabyBrother's ground ancho chile powder tumbled onto the counter and almost shattered. Perfect!  That was it. Butternut squash......chili.

It was the same concept of a tagine, but with a less bumpy road.

I sauteed ground beef until no longer pink before tossing ground ancho chili powder, cumin, ground coriander, paprika, mexican oregano, salt, pepper, and Sazon (a latin seasoning containing powdered garlic, cumin, coriander, and annato)  into the sizzling pot  to toast and envelope the meat.  When the ground beef was beautifully stained from the spices, I added chopped green pepper, diced onions, minced garlic, san marzano crushed tomatoes, and beef stock. I brought everything to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let it rip for 45 minutes.  It was chili.  Simple chili. The skies didn't clear from a culinary thunder clap. 

Game changer.

While the chili simmered, I peeled the butternut squash, removed the seeds, diced it into bite sized pieces, set the pieces aside, and joined Michael in the parlor for several glasses of wine. That's what we do.  After  45 minutes, I tumbled the diced squash into the fragrant chili, covered it again, and let it bubble away for another hour. 
It smelled great, fogging the windows with aromatic spice.

Because it was an unconventional chili, I served it in an unconventional way.  Using large pasta bowls, I lined thinly sliced lettuce, julienned peeled black radishes, crushed corn tortillas, and seeded roma tomato-batons down the center of our bowls before spooning scallion-studded long grain white rice and  butternut squash chili on either of the fresh garnish levees. Cojita cheese, halved limes, and fresh cilantro finished them off.

It was a textural  food fantasy.  The softened  butternut squash melted into the spiced chili, napping the ground beef, tomatoes, and green peppers with sweet earthiness. The squash bites were both firm and soft, releasing enough buttery texture without losing their character. When the scallion-studded rice was pulled into the mix, it absorbed the sauce and imparted addtional subtle onion flavor. Calming.

The garnishes created heavenly havoc.  When the levees were broken between  rice and  chili, contrasting textures took over.  Biting bitter radish provided cool peppery heat while the julienned lettuce and juicy tomatoes exploded  wetness, awakening  the sleepy spiced chili with popping crispness. Tiny tangy cojita cheese crumbles perked the finish along with tart fresh lime juice and scattered cilantro. 

Mouth. Party.

I'll make this again. It was easy and simple. Any chili recipe would work with the addition of diced butternut squash tossed into the pot during  the cooking process. I happened to have the spices in my pantry, but could easily have used a packaged chile mix. Pick your battles.

Omitting the beef and using vegetable stock instead of beef stock would create a crazy good butternut squash vegetarian chili.  Just sayin'.

Last night, we needed  beef.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Black Radishes

Last night, I had to get my hands on the black radishes I picked up at the Winter Farmer's Market yesterday. I couldn't stand it. I needed to play with them. The vender told me that tasted like mild turnips, so that's how I treated them.  Although I usually boil and mash turnips, I decided to braise and saute the gigantic radishes.

It couldn't have been easier. I simply scrubbed the skins of the radishes and sliced off the ends before cutting them into thin wedges.  After melting unsalted butter in a hot skillet, I sauteed the radishes in  sizzling butter with salt and pepper until they started to brown. 
Once they took on a bit of color, I added a cup of water to the skillet, clamped on a lid, and let them braise until tender.  When I could pierce them easily with the tip of a knife, I removed the lid to evaporate the liquid and dropped 4 tablespoons of butter into skillet to create a nutty brown butter.  I repeatedly turned the black radishes in the brown butter until they were crisp and evenly caramelized.  To gild the lily, I deglazed the pan with pomegranate infused red wine vinegar and honey, creating a tart sweet glaze.

I served the brown butter glazed black radishes alongside short ribs, slow-brasied in red wine, tomatoes, and beef stock. I nestled the  ribs over buttered egg noodles, topping them with a zested lemon, orange, and fresh parsley gremolata.

They were fantastic! The radishes tasted like turnips, but were were pleasantly stronger with bold peppery overtones and yielding a firmer texture  than delicate cooked turnips. While the brown butter napped them with sleepy nuttiness, the tangy sweet pomegranate infused red wine vinegar reduction certainly enhanced their assertiveness, amping up the tang factor and balancing the deep earthiness of the short ribs.  They were crazy good, completely exceeding my curiousity and anticipation.

I have a few left. 
We'll see what becomes of them.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Market To Market

In the midst of the snowstorm this week, I had a flat tire on my car while it sat parked in a parking garage. Michael came to the rescue with his AAA card and made the required call for service.  It usually doesn't take very long for a tire change. The AAA guy couldn't find the garage for quite some time. Michael could see him from the 5th floor level of the garage driving in circles around the block trying to find us. When he finally did, he wrecked his truck against a concrete wall while trying to park before changing my tire. He was new, it was cold, and  I was his first tire change. He wedged the tires with plastic wedges before taking 45 minutes to change the tire, chatting nervously the entire time.  We signed the paperwork and he drove off, without his tire wedges. After a call from Michael, he stopped by our house to pick them up. Ordeal.

This morning, Michael's car was dead and mine still sported the stupid plastic dummy tire, so
we decided to walk to the Lexington Winter Indoor Farmer's Market for our Saturday shopping. It was an unexpected delightful adventure! We bundled up like giddy sledding bound children and headed out the door.  It was 5 degrees above zero as we made our way to the market over slippery blindingly white snow.  Granted, it wasn't that far.  Most of the walk was indoors once we reached Rupp Arena, rode the escalator down, and crossed the pedway to Victorian Square.  The Indoor Winter Market, located in the atrium of Victorian Square, is open every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

The winter market was quiet and serene. There were no bright bulbous melons dripping sweet goodness.  No bursting baskets of blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries. There were no tomatoes, jugglers, dancers, barking dogs, or musicians. It was quiet, with a few local farmers selling their goods, happy to see us, eager to talk, and enjoying themselves.  It made us happy and proud.  Kentucky Proud.
Viburnum Valley Farm Confections from Scott County specializes in Chocolate Truffles and European Style Pastries.  This morning, they offered beautiful homemade and handcrafted chocolate truffles; Pure Chocolate, Mocha Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, and Chocolate Sea Salt.  I bought one of each.  I couldn't resist.  They were gorgeous.

Across the aisle, Roland McIntosh of Kentucky Agate from Stanton, Kentucky was selling polished and unpolished specimens of Kentucky's Official State Rock alongside fresh sourdough bread and cabbage. Weird. Although tempting,  I skipped the state rock and picked up a huge green cabbage and a loaf of bread.

After weaving through cameras filming a nutrition documentry, I found Quarles Quality Beef and Jan's Delights from Waddy, Kentucky. They had a lot going on. They offered Simmental/Angus crossbred beef that included cuts of beef briskets, beef chucks, ribeyes, T-bones, filets, and short ribs.  A simmering crockpot filled with shredded gravy-soaked chuck roast was tucked between breads, cakes, jams, jellies, salsas, chutneys, and relishes.  Michael bought blackberry cake with caramel icing and carrot cake with cream cheese icing.  I loaded up on beef chuck roast, green tomato chutney, and butternut squash.

I thought we were finished until Michael spotted Elmwood Stock Farm on another level of the atrium.  Bingo.
With everything organic,  Elmwood Stock Farm was the motherload.  Just what I was hoping for when we set out this morning in the frozen snow.  We picked up baby fingerling potatoes, baby purple potatoes, and baby onions. 

 I was most amazed by the winter black radishes.  Huge and black, they were fascinating. I filled a bag full with them.  Apparently, when cooked, they taste like mild turnips.  I can't wait to find out.  Watermelon radishes were as equally intriguing, but too big.  Really big. Watermelon big. Elmwood Stock Farm had a wide variety of organic free range chicken for sale; game hens, legs, thighs, half chickens, whole chickens, livers, breasts, wings, and stock packs.  We settled on a dozen chicken wings and a dozen pastured organic free range eggs.

We left the market with our booty and headed home. After crossing the pedway, we made  a brief stop in the Kentucky Proud store for a quick browse and an Ale8. After gliding up the escalator, we were back outside for a short walk home.

The Winter Indoor  Lexington Farmer's Market is a hidden treasure. The farmers and venders are honest, kind, and hard working people. Even in the dead of winter, they're offering us locally produced honest food.

Discover the treasure.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Crushing On Watercress

Lately, I've become completely infatuated with watercress.  Unreasonalby and ridiculously so.  I adore the spicy bitter wet crunch it provides when added to other foods.  Watercress is totally new to me.  I always associated it with dainty tea sandwiches and healthy salads.  Not any more. I ran across a tiny bunch the other day at the market and plopped it into my cart thinking I'd use it for something.  The first night, I tucked it under buttered rice as a garnish.  It literally exploded in my mouth in a way I hadn't expected.  Sold.

Last night, as I planned dinner, I knew I had fresh linguini from a work purveyor with a short shelf life that needed to be cooked. Thin pork cutlets were overcrowding our meat drawer and also needed to be used. Pasta and Pork. While pulling the cutlets from the refirgerator, I noticed  fragile watercress leaves peeking out from underneath a gorgeous bunch of fresh italian flat leaf parsley.  Those tiny leaves inspired  Pork Milanese. Go figure.
I got started by prepping the pasta side dish. I roasted a half red bell pepper and green pepper over a gas flame until blistered and charred before dropping them in a sealed plastic bag to steam, soften, and cool.  I made a simple basic alfredo sauce by reducing 1 cup of heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 cup of parmigiano-reggiano.  As the alfredo simmered,  I dropped the fresh linguini into heavily salted water to cook.  While the pasta boiled, I peeled and sliced the peppers into strips before adding them to the thickened gooey alfredo sauce.
When the linguini was perfectly cooked to al dente, I strained it into a glass bowl, doused it with the roasted pepper alfredo sauce, and slid the bowl over the simmering pasta water to keep warm.

Because the pork cutlets were really thin, they didn't need pounding.  I simply dredged them in flour, egg wash, and parmigiano-reggiano panko breadcrumbs before carefully sliding them into hot sizzling butter.  I let them brown on both sides for 3 to 4 minutes per side before tenting them to rest. 
I deglazed the pan with 1/2 white wine and 1/2 chicken stock, allowing the sauce to reduce by half. When it was the perfect consistency, I tossed snipped chives into the reduction, removed the pan from the heat, swirled 2 butter pats into the sauce to melt, and gently incorporated the butter to create a glossy sheen. 

Just before plating, I tossed watercress, baby beet greens, and  parsley leaves in a lightly seasoned fresh lemon vinaigrette.

I twirled the roasted pepper linguini alfredo onto our plates and nestled the butter-fried pork cutlets next the linguini, drizzling the pan sauce over the top. With glorious homage to my newfound watercress crush, I topped the crisp buttery-sauced cutlets with the light lemon-dressed watercress, parlsey, and baby beet green salad.

It was outrageously good. Although draped in a succulent rich sauce, the cutlets crackled when sliced, revealing most juicy white meat.  The glossy buttery pan sauce dripped and oozed around the meat with bits of chive releasing mild onion flavor while the bright bitter baby beet greens, grassy parsley, and crunchy spiced watercress quelled the butter assault with light lemony freshness. Crazy. When pulled through the creamy alfredo sauce, the linguini was soothing and familiar, providing a welcomed textural contrast.  Salty. Nutty. Soft.

We devoured it. 

It was gone before I remembered we had toasted ciabatta from Sunshine Bakery warming in the oven as a sopper. We didn't need it.  Our plates were as clean as a whistle without it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

And Vegetables Too.

Most people bring bottles of red wine when we have gatherings in our home. Generally, we are chardonnay drinkers. As a happy result,  we now have several bottles of red wine scattered around our kitchen countertops.

Yesterday, I pulled half of a small organic chicken out of the freezer to thaw.  I buy whole chickens, cut them up, and freeze what I don't use. Last night, as I cut the chicken into small appropriate serving portions, the surrounding red wine bottles stared me down, screaming for a coq au vin.  Although I adore the long slow aromatic braise of coq au vin, cock stewed in red wine surrendered to the squawking of my pantry and produce bin.  I had things that needed to be used.  Daikon radish, navel oranges, red bell pepper, snow peas, oyster mushrooms, carrots, asparagus, onions, garlic, and ginger morphed the dreamy coq au vin into an asian inspired honey, orange, and soy glazed chicken with strir fried vegetables.

Coq au vin could wait.  Let the sticky begin.

Because  I love slicing, dicing, and chopping things, it was very straightforward and simple. Although I was in mise en place heaven, it was a bit time consuming.  Thankfully, Michael kept my wine glass full throughout the process.

After seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper, and chinese five spice powder ( a sensual ground blend of cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, and ginger), I dredged the pieces through egg wash and cornstarch before carefully placing them in sizzling peanut oil to brown.  Midway through, before the chicken was deeply browned, I tossed carrots, onions, fresh ginger, and garlic into the pot to caramelize with the chicken.

I deglazed the pot with 1 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice to pick up the crunchy flavor fond stuck to the bottom and let it reduce by half.  After the orange juice reduced, coating the chicken, I added 1/2 cup orange blossom honey, 1/2 cup dark soy sauce, and 2 cups of chicken stock. No salt needed.  I clamped the lid on the heavy dutch oven and slid the bubbling concoction into a 350 degree oven to braise for an hour.

While the chicken simmered away, I thinly sliced red bell peppers, carrots, snow peas, daikon radish, asparagus, onion, garlic, and ginger, setting them aside. Before adding it to the vegetables, I gently pulled the soft lacy oyster mushroom  apart into feathery pieces.

The slow braising aroma of honey, orange, soy sauce, and chicken was intoxicating.

After an hour slipped by, along with a gorgeous bottle of organically grown Releaf shiraz, I pulled the hot pot from the oven, carefully removed the chicken,, slid the pieces back into the oven to crisp from the braise, and reduced the braising liquid into a heavenly sticky glaze. 

While the chicken crisped and the glaze glazed, I cranked a skillet until smoking hot with 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and tossed in the vegetables to flash stir fry. It went fast.

I bunched fresh watercress onto our plates and topped it with buttered rice.

I dropped the chicken back into the reduced sticky glaze, turning them over several times to thoroughly drape before tumbling the pieces over the rice and watercress.  I scattered the vegetables around the chicken with  drizzles of toasted sesame oil and a showering of untoasted sesame seeds.

There seemed to be an enormous amount of vegetables.  Apparently, I got carried away with the dicing and slicing, resulting in a beautiful plate of sauteed vegetables complelety enveloping small sticky chicken bites.

There were so many balanced layers of flavor. The bright  vegetables were snappingly crisp against the moist tender chicken, melding  nutty sesame inflused flavor with sweet honey, salty soy, and bitter orange. Watercress exploded with spicy  mouth-cleansing bitter wetness. With such big flavors bouncing around, the buttered rice calmed the circus with soothing softness.

The chicken was fantastic.  Small bites of gutteral gluttony.  That being said, it was dwarfed by the onslaught
 of perfectly cooked sauteed vegetables.

Go figure.