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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Shorty's, An Urban Market

Shorty's, An Urban Market, 163 West Short Street,  has scheduled its grand opening for Sunday, May 1st at 12:00 p.m..  Lexington Mayor, Jim Gray, will cut the ribbon opening the market,  establishing the long awaited appearance of a downtown grocery store.

Thinking Shorty's opened today, we stopped by on our way to the farmers' market. Even though staff and employees were busily stocking  shelves and readying the store for the grand opening, they eagerly invited us in to take a look around for a sneek peek.


The space, formerly occupied by a bank, has retained quaint remnants from the past  while sporting an urban edge.  Fresh produce is artistically arranged down the center of the front section of the grocery,  encouraging a relaxed and thoughtful shopping experience.  

It's a tight, yet friendly, space flanked by floor-to-ceiling dark wooden shelves stocked to the gills with grocery items. 

A full service deli brightens the space with  well lit meat and cheese coolers.  Along with the full service deli, they plan  to offer plate lunches, sandwiches, and rotesserie chicken.

The jewel of the market is the old bank vault.  Just beyond the deli, the space opens up to a larger section of the market crowned by the vault with its  gigantic vault door swung open to reveal their frozen foods and refrigerated items.  Very cool.

Shorty's, An Urban Market is going to fill a hungry void for downtown workers and residents. We've needed it and wanted it. Yeah, we were a day early, but I'm glad we stopped by Shorty's today.   Their enthusiasm, excitement, and gracious hospitality was infectiously compelling.

When it's officially opened,
we'll be back. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lemon, Garlic, Oregano, & Olive Oil

Pungent garlic, bright acidic lemon, peppery Greek oregano, and fruity olive oil are essential ingredients in Greek cuisine.  The food is very straightforward,  highlighted by simplicity   Lathorigano, (Latho - oil, rigano - oregano) is a cooking term that refers to the use of oil and oregano in meal preparation.  Lemonata, (lemoni - lemon) is a cooking method  that  predominatly utillizes lemons.  Combining the two creates an intoxicating  flavor profile that I adore.

I had a gorgeous skirt steak from Fresh Market neatly wrapped and tucked away in the meat drawer of the refrigerator that needed to be manhandled. I also had calamari in the freezer that I had previously and painstakingly cleaned by removing the ink, quill, beak, and head.  I decided to combine the two for a Greek riff on surf and turf.
It was embarrassingly simple to throw together.

I bathed a pound of skirt steak  with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, minced garlc,  Greek oregano, chives, salt, and pepper.  After rubbing the marinade into the meat to infuse the flavor, I covered it and sld it into the refrigerator to marinate for a couple of hours, turning it several times to thoroughly coat the meat.

I thawed the calamari and sliced the tubular bodies into thin rings before placing them into the refigerator alongside the marinatiing skirt steak.
For a fresh  pop to the surf and turf, I opted for a classic Greek salad made with sliced Kalamata olives, split grape tomatoes, diced green peppers, slivered purple onions, crumbled feta cheese, and sliced radishes (not traditional). I tossed the vegetables into a mixing bowl and popped them into the refrigerator.

That was it.
15 minutes of  mise en place left plenty of time for wine before dinner.  My kind of prep.

20 minutes before we ate, I brought the skirt steak to room temperature to insure even cooking. 

I did not want to overcook the steak.  It went  fast.  Very fast.
I got my grill pan screaming hot, carefully placed the steak onto the smoking ridges, and grilled the meat exactly 4 minutes per side.   When it was beautifully caramelized, I removed it from the pan and let it rest for 15 minutes.  Resting the meat allowed the juices to redistribute for juicy tenderness.

While the skirt steak took a break, I cranked the deep fryer to 350 degrees. When the oil reached the right temperature, I dusted the calamari with flour and dropped the rings into the sizzling oil to flash fry for 3 minutes. After a quick drain, I showered them with parsley, lemon zest, and sea salt.  On a whim, I repeated the procedure with thick cut vidalia onions rings.  Lent was long gone.  I wanted fried stuff.

I sliced the steak across the grain into thin strips, plated it, and topped it with the fried calamari. After splashing the Greek salad with red wine vinegar and olive oil, I tumbled it around our plates alongside the calamari-draped sliced steak.

Everthing mixed together like a dolled up steak and calamari Greek salad.  Although that was my intent, I coyly protested otherwise. 

The steak was ridiculously tender. The fusion of caramelized lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and olive oil perfumed the skirt steak and permeated it with flavor. Bright lemon acidity cut through the toasted garlic and oregano while the olive oil grounded it with velvety mouthfeel. The calamari rings were light, exploding with grassy parsley and zingy lemon zest. Paired with the steak, it was a perfect marriage of land and sea.  Fabulous.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Feasting On The Seven Deadly Sins

The invitation for our Falootie Potluck Easter Brunch read:

Your mission:  represent one of the Seven Deadly One. Perfect. Bite. (No desserts.)

Now, that was a challenge.  Not knowing what the other Falooties were doing,  I spent a couple of weeks deciding which sin to represent and how to represent it with one perfect bite.  We've become accustomed to really fantastic nibbles at our Falootie brunches, so it had to be tasty.   One perfect bite.  One sin. Game on.

I decided to represent two of the Seven Deadly sins with their virtuous opposites.  Vice and virtue...together.

With a plan in tow, Michael and I ventured down to the Farmer's Market this past Saturday with two things in mind:  fresh spring asparagus and goat cheese. 
It was rainy and cold as we manuevered our umbrellas through the vendors to reach the covered area of the pavillion. Before our umbrellas were safely tucked away, we happened upon fresh gorgeous purple-tipped spring asparagus from Elmwood Stock Farm. Heaping from an ordinary cooler, the asparagus spears were delicate and fragile.  I bought most of it.  

Because of the rain Saturday morning, the vendors were sparse.  

Having already scored with the asparagus, I was delighted to find the lone chevre vendor just feet away.  Susan Miller, from Bleugrass Chevre Farmstead Goat Cheese, was offering samples of her fresh chevre. 
We tasted two that she made that morning. Talk about fresh.  The black pepper chevre was creamy, tangy, and light,  finishing with a lingering  black pepper burn.  The chive-flecked chevre had the same qualitites, finishing with light subtle onion undertones.  We bought both.

We stopped by Fresh Market for the rest of our bounty and headed home.

Gluttony and Temperence.

Unadorned, prosciutto is buttery soft, slightly salty, and a bit chewy.  I wanted to overindulge the essence of prosciutto, so I baked it in miniature muffin tins to form cracklingly crisp shells with concentrated salty flavor. 

Gluttony.  Crisp prosciutto shells filled with young fresh chive chevre
topped with dried Black Mission
figs. Tangy. Salty. Creamy. Poppers.

Temperence.  Fresh endive with
cracked black pepper chevre topped
with pine nut brittle and dried Black
Mission figs. Pure. Creamy. Sweet.

Vice and virtue. 

Lust and Chastity.

Asparagus is an aphrodisiac.  Using  fresh green asparagus from the farmers' market along with fresh white asparagus from Fresh Market, I wanted to represent the struggle between purity and lust.

Lust.  Roasted spring asparagus
splayed over creamy mascarpone-
topped crostini with bulbous salmon
roe and lemon zest.  Fertile. Salty. Tart.

Chastity. Roasted white asparagus
firmly belted over balsamic glazed
cipollini onion and mascarpone-
                                                       topped crostini with fresh chives.
                                                       Pure. Sweet.  Juicy.

Vice and Virtue.

Brunch.  The Seven Deadly Sins.
(Stupidly, I forgot my camera. Photos: Kakie)

Deadly Libations:
The Wrath Of Jupiter. 
Blood Orange and vanilla bean infused
Knob Creek Bourbon.
Green With Envy.
Fresh kiwi muddled with fresh mint
Gray Goose Le Citron Vodka and
vanilla simple syrup.
Bourbon Slushies.
Peach brandy, triple sec, and Tanqueray
macerated fruit with orange juice and
peach champaigne.

Sinful Food.

Greed. Daniel.
Crisp phyllo beggar's purses filled with
rich golden raisin chutney and brie.

Wrath. Sandy.
Angry red pepper-taloned shrimp
and linguini napped in a fire-roasted
tomato sauce flecked with
feta cheese and dried red pepper flakes.
Gluttony. FP/Banjo.
Plump lobster deviled eggs nestled
on baby micro arugula leaves splashed
with sweet tart fresh Meyer lemons.

Gluttony. Jason.
Toasted waffles topped with sliced fried
chicken thighs, maple bourbon butter, 
and candied bacon. 

Envy. Harriette.
Dualing beef.  Pepper-spiced meatballs
wrapped with blanched snowpeas
enviously paired with medium rare
beef tenderloin resting on a pool of
creamy Point Reyes Farmstead Blue
Cheese sauce.

Gluttony. Sooze.
Coconut muffins smothered with
a sweet pineapple brown sugar

Festive Bravetart Macarons Proudly
purchased from Wine + Market.
It was a sinfully glorious day spent with dear friends. Conversations and cocktails flowed freely with laughter bouncing off of the walls.  The food was fantastic.  The challenge was met.  The Seven Deadly Sins were abstractly personified with food. One perfect bite led to several perfect bites.......which led us all to Sloth.  Bases covered. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Big Balls

I intended to make a very  straightforward matzoh ball soup for our Passover supper a few nights ago. 

Shockingly, I had no matzoh meal lurking in the cupboard, so I settled on chicken soup with dumplings. Dumplings.  I've made them all; dropped dumplings, rolled dumplings, dropped biscuit dumplings, and Thomas Keller's quenelled  pate a choux dumplings. Name one and I've made it...except for potato dumplings.

In the past, my boss has had great success with potato dumplings, so I called her for her recipe. No proportions, only ingredients:  mashed potatoes, flour, and eggs. Simple.

I brought 4 cups of chicken stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and tossed in 2 sliced rinsed leeks, 1 diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 diced roma tomato, salt, pepper, fresh parsley, and 1 thinly sliced lemon.

While the soup base simmered, I pulled the  meat off the leftover braised chicken from the previous night, sliced it, and set it aside. On a whim,  I gathered the strewn scraps of leftover paprika-stained chicken skin , sauteed them in butter until golden and  crisp.....and snacked on them. Yep. Cook's treat. Don't judge.  I adore chicken skin.

I let the soup bubble away while Michael and I strategized our summer plans over several glasses of wine.

After an hour or so,  the soup had reduced and the vegetables were tender. I gently mixed a cup of mashed potatoes with a cup of flour before incorporating a large beaten organic egg into the mix.  I seasoned the dumpling dough with salt and pepper and let it rest while I cranked a large pot of water to the boiling point.

When the water flared to a rapid boil, I tossed in a handful of salt and reduced it to a simmer.  After rolling the dough into golf-ball-sized dumplings, I swirled them through snipped chives, dropped them into the simmering salted water, covered the pot, and let them steam cook.

After 15 minutes (one glass of wine equivalent), I checked on the dumplings. I was stunned.  Stunned and silent. I stared at them for several minutes before bursting into laughter.  They were hysterical! The dumplings had morphed into gigantic orbs of chive-flecked dough balls. They were huge.  Big.  Really big.

Big balls.


Game over? Order out?

What the hell.

I plated our chicken and dumplings  as if I'd intended the dumplings to grow into enormous  fist-sized dough balls..  I scattered the chicken into  two large pasta bowls and ladled the steaming vegetable soup over the chicken to heat it through without breaking it apart.  I carefully lifted the dumplings from the simmering water,  nestled them into the soup, and showered them with plucked fresh dill fronds.

The paper thin lemon slices perfumed the stock with bright aromatic acidity while the tender vegetables gave gentle bites throughout the velvety soup.  The dumplings were lighter than air.  Soft.  Creamy.  Floating dough clouds dotted with  snipped chives that hinted  mild onion grassiness. 
The bulbous balls held together, yet gave way at the slightest touch creating spoonfuls of jiggly dough when scooped from the silken broth.  They were fabulous and crazy to eat. Fun. 

Spoonful after slurping spoonful,
we ate them all.

I'll make these dumplings again......a wee bit smaller.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cooking & Napping

I haven't cooked much lately.  Aside from the Arts & Appetizers event this past weekend for the touring company of Legally Blond, I haven't yeilded a knife at home in days. Circumstances drained my desire to cook.  Thankfully, dear friends brought food, well wishes, and shoulders to cry on.

 I thoroughly  enjoyed cooking for the Arts & Appetizers  pretty-in-pink party. It was happily driven by diversion,  non-thoughts, and mise en place. 130 champaigne glasses filled with strawberry shortcake topped with pink fresh whipped cream, 400 meatballs in light alfredo sauce tinted pink with marinara, 120 cucumbers filled with pale smoked salmon mousse, 500 chilled cocktail shrimp, fresh strawberries and pineapple shards with pomegranate yogurt dip, and  pickled daikon radishes, broccoli and steamed pink fingerling potatoes with beet hummus.  It was a fun and successful event. 

Last night, I craved a low impact return to our home kitchen. I had a small whole free-range chicken I wanted to cook.  I wasn't up to cutting it into serving pieces. Besides, my knives weren't as sharp as I needed them to be for the task.  I knew chicken junk would've splattered the counters, coffee pot, sink, and cabinets had I tried to wrestle the limp chicken into submission with a dull knife.  I cut out the backbone, smashed the chicken with my hands to crack the breast bone, and spatchcocked it.  One easy piece.

I seasoned it liberally with paprika, salt, pepper, and minced fresh garlic. I drizzled oil into the bottom of a heavy dutch oven, allowed it to heat to a ripple, and browned the whole  flattened chicken on both sides before removing it to a side plate. After tossing a diced red pepper, diced green pepper, diced onion into the fond to saute until caramelized, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup of white wine and 1/2 cup of sherry.  When the wines reduced to a syrup, I added 3 cups of chicken stock, placed the spatchcocked chicken into the liquid, covered the dutch oven, slid it into a 350 dregree oven, and took to my couch to nap.

I don't even know how long the chicken braised.  I simply let it go.

Eventually, I carefully  removed the chicken from the pot and set it aside.  I cranked a flame to medium high heat and reduced the vegetable studded braising liquid.  While the sauce reduced, I boiled 1/2 pound of whole wheat spaghetti in heavily salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes.
When the pasta was perfectly cooked, I blended 1/2 cup of sour cream into the pepper sauce, removed it from the heat, and tossed in the spaghetti to absorb the sauce.

I swirled the pasta into large pasta bowls and topped it with the meltingly tender chicken.

I tumbled halved cherry tomatoes, chopped parsley, and thinly sliced  peppers around the base of the pasta for pops of freshness.

The whole wheat pasta had an earthy nuttiness that I hadn't expected. It had flavor and character that challenged the richness of the long braised sauce.  The ridiculously tender chicken fell apart when sliced, melting into the pasta, falling through the strands, and becoming part of the sauce. Light, rich, and soothing.


Cooking and napping.

It was nice to be back in my kitchen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beet It

I needed fresh parsley.

I was hoping the Thursday farmers' market would be open last week.  It's practically in our back yard, making it very convenient.  Last year, I browsed the market every Thursday morning on the way to work. It was a harbor that inspired me and a sanctuary that made me happy.

It opens next week. I'll be there, but I still needed fresh parsley. After work, I stopped by The Good Foods Coop to pick up parsley, potatoes, and Kentucky Bison Company  ground bison. As I fingered the parsley, my eyes were drawn to the beautiful golden beets nestled beneath the fresh parsley and watercress. They were piled willy-nilly and were radiant.  In a split second, my dinner plans changed. Beets. I grabbed 1/2 pound of organically grown golden beets. There was a samll glitch to my inspired re-interpretation of dinner.  Michael doesn't care for beets. I grabbed a bulbous red-skinned sweet potato and dropped it into my cart along with the beets. At the very least, we could eat similar colors. On a whim, I picked up a few gigantic leeks.
When I got home, I scrubbed the beets and potatoes.  After wrapping them in foil, I tossed them into a 350 degree oven to roast and bake. The leeks didn't fit into the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. They were huge. Remedy?  Braise them.  I removed the dark green parts of the leeks and sliced the them into 7 inch batons, leaving the roots intack. After rinsing them thoroughly, I sliced the root ends off and split the leeks  in half.

I sauteed the halved leeks in butter to slightly caramelize them before adding 1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock.  I carefully removed the leeks to a baking dish and poured the pan juices over them. After dotting them with unsalted butter and covering them, I slid them into the oven to braise alongside the potato and beets.

I was so mezmerised by the golden beets at the Coop, I forgot to buy the ground bison meat.  My bad.  I pulled thinly sliced pork cutlets from the meat drawer and set them on the counter to rest at room temperature before cooking them.

I poured myself a big glass of wine and joined Michael in the parlor.

When it was time to eat, I cranked a saute pan to medium high heat, drizzled it with olive oil, and sauteed  sliced onions until they were caramelized.  When the onions melted into the olive oil, I added the boneless chops and sauteed them until they cooked  through before removing them and deglazing the pan with madeira wine.  I tossed 2 minced garlic cloves into the wine and let it reduce by half.  When the sauce napped the back of a spoon, I slipped the chops into the wine reduction to bathe in the sweet fortified madeira essence.

While Michael buttered his sweet potato, I rubbed the skins off my beets, halved them, and splashed them with red wine vinegar.  Salt, pepper, and minced green onions finished them off.

I lifted the leeks from the baking dish to plate them. During the long braise, they collapsed into the liquid and absorbed it. Like thick pasta strands, the limp leeks twirled like ribbons as they fell onto our plates. I crumbled Sapori d'Italia fresh young chevre over them, letting the cheese ooze through the warm pale green layers.

I plated the sauced boneless chops with a dusting of salt and cracked black pepper. A scattering of minced fresh red bell pepper and thinly sliced green onions finished our plates with final bursts of freshness.

The golden beets were mellow and sweet, brightened slightly by the vinegar splash. Their firm texture belied their creamy soft flesh. Stunning. Thankfully, tangy melted chevre awakened the sleepy leeks from their  long braise. Tiny pops of minced red bell pepper added crunch and freshness. The tender pork cutlets were delicate and gentle, napped with a madeira pan sauce that hinted  glaze without being overly cloy. Fabulous. Sweet meat.

When I stopped by the Good Foods Coop to shop the other day, the plan was to cook bison burgers and oven fries.

Go figure.

As it turned out, the only plan was no plan.

And I didn't need  parsley, after all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where's The Beef?

The fifth week of Lent has come and gone. Five meatless Fridays have also come and gone. Check.  Although it's tough working in a restaurant on meatless Fridays,  I've managed to navigate the slippery slope of avoiding meat while still enjoying our meals at home. Last Friday, I made a lovely vegetable soup using  roasted vegetable stock  garnished with sauteed brunoise vegetables.  The deep velvety stock gave the soup heft and body.  I didn't miss meat.

Saturday morning, Michael and I foraged the farmers' market before traipsing through torrential rain to a restaurant for lunch.  I had a sublime, seared rare, ahi tuna nicoise salad dotted with tiny nicoise olives, roasted grape tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, and anchovies.  The tuna was served over grilled halved romaine lettuce and bathed in a fennel vinaigrette. Luscious.  Sporting a bit of food envy, I had a bite of Michael's sauteed country ham swiped through his  decadent hollandaise sauce.  I started missing meat.

Saturday night, we went  to a local steakhouse for a friend's birthday celebration. I ordered a dozen fresh gulf oysters on the half shell served with cocktail sauce and lemon.  I asked for red wine vinegar to make a riff on mignonette sauce.  I shared a few of the oysters and gulped the rest. They were plump and briny, brightened by the peppery vinegar splash.  Heaven.  Where was the meat?  Not on my plate.  Michael had enjoyed perfectly cooked prime rib, so I snacked on his trimmed fat remnants.  I thoroughly enjoyed the meat flavored fat, but it wasn't meat.

What was I thinking? There was meat everywhere and I wasn't eating it.

Once home, I devoured a 3 day-old slice of cold pepperoni pizza. It was fabulous.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I knew I had to get my meat on. Thankfully, I hadn't frozen the short ribs we purchased at the farmers' market the previous day. Of course, I knew the short ribs had to braise long and slow.  I've cooked them hundreds of times.  Knowing I had the time for a long lazy Sunday afternoon braise made my heart feel good.  That being said,  I wanted to coax someting a bit different from the short ribs. I had no desire for  the ubiquitous flavor profile of a red wine braise.  I've made it so often, I could taste it without even cooking it.

I wanted barbecued ribs, tricky business when dealing with thick English cut short ribs. I knew braising them into oblivion with barbecue sauce would have turned the succulent rib meat into shredded barbecued beef, so I chose  two cooking methods to achieve finger licking ribs: braising and grilling.

Meat on.

After liberally seasoning both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper, I cranked a gas flame to medium high heat, placed a heavy dutch over the flames, and  drizzled in a few tablespoons of peanut oil.  When the oil started to ripple and smoke, I carefully placed the ribs into the hot oil to brown. 

When they were well bowned on both sides, about 15 minutes per side, I removed them to a plate and tossed 2 cups of thinly sliced vidalia onions into the oil.  I let the onions sweat for a couple minutes before adding 5 smashed garlic cloves.  When the onions were deeply carmelized, I deglazed the bottom of the pan with a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and a cup of chicken stock. After the braising liquids came to a boil, I placed the short ribs into the bath, covered the the pot, and slid it into a 325 degree oven to cook for 2 1/2 hours, occasionally adding extra beer and stock as needed.

While the ribs braised away, Michael and I enjoyed a few glasses of  wine on our back deck. As usual, I lost track of time. Thankfully, braises forgive forgetfulness.  After 3 hours, I carefully lifted the ribs out of their highly aromatic bath.  The bones slid out of the meat like a hot knife through butter.  They were tender, still intact, and had shrunk into small beef bundles.  I tented them and set them aside.

While Michael started the charcoal fire, I skimmed the fat from the brasing juice, brought it to a boil, and reduced it by half before adding 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce.

When the coals were ready, I tossed a couple of soaked husk-wrapped fresh ears of corn onto the grill, flipping  them several times to cook evenly.  I gently basted the boneless short ribs with barbecue sauce and placed them over the hot part of the grill to char and caramelize, searing the sauce onto the meat. I basted and turned them several times until their edges crisped.  They were gorgeous.

We gathered our things and stumbled back into the house to eat.

I brushed the ribs with the simmering barbecue infused braising sauce and nestled them onto beautiful leaves of  fresh Boyle County harvested green leaf lettuce. After pulling the dried husks from the grilled corn, we slathered our out-of-season cobs with fresh snipped chive butter, salt, and cracked pepper. 
The ribs were ridiculous.  They were moist, tender, and sticky.  We used the delicate lettuce leaves as wraps for the candied meat, creating a soft burst of wet crunch with each bite.  Perfect.

I was supposed to pack leftovers for a dear friend.
It didn't happen.

We ate it all.