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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Going With The Flow

I spent most of last week placing orders, shopping, prepping, and cooking for a Broadway Live series event associated with the Lexington Opera House. Although I had an absolute blast doing it, the process must have left me mentally distracted and fatigued because  kitchen disasters at home haunted me throughout the week.

Earlier in the week, in an attempt to put something fun on the table for us to enjoy, I made a huge blunder. After preparing and plating a long braised succulent stew, I selfishly tried to capture every drop of stew from the dutch oven by pouring it directly  from the pot into our large stew-filled  bowls. In the blink of an eye, my 400 pound enameled cast iron dutch oven slipped from my grasp and crashed  onto our serving bowls, rocketing molten glass-flecked stew into the air, onto the floor, and over the countertops. There were specks of stew juice spitting from the twirling ceiling fan. Fun. I was flabbergasted. It was ridiculous.  Michael and I stood in stunned silence staring at the catastrophe before we finally bolted into action. After mopping the floor and wiping the countertops, we noticed that Michael's portion had escaped the carnage. We checked it for glass chards (none), divided it into smaller bowls, and  enjoyed  our tiny amuse bouches.

The following night,  I somehow managed to overcook barbecued chicken by completely forgetting about it while I happily prepared roasted ears of butter-laden silver queen corn on the cob. Dry barbecued chicken? Really?  Yep. Go figure.  Distracted.

After that, I gave it a rest for a couple of days.

With massive mise en place, I finally got the event under control and decided to venture back into our tiny kitchen. I played it safe.  Very safe.

Because the previous nights mishaps steered me away from our kitchen, I had gorgeous thick-cut well marbled ribeye steaks accidentally dry-aging in the refrigerator  from purposeful neglect. I also had potatoes.  Specifically, I had wooden bowls filled with  long awaited late season farmers' market Casey County fingerling white and red sweet potatoes.  Steak and potatoes. Safe.

 Because the potatoes were young and tender, they didn't need  peeling. The skins were delicate and thin, making the preperation a snap. I simply sliced them in  half and tumbled them into a baking dish.  After tossing them with olive oil, I seasoned the potatoes liberally with salt and pepper, loosely tented them with foil, added 1/4 cup chicken stock, and slid them into a pre-heated 350 degree oven to roast/braise for an hour.

After a few glasses of wine, I pulled the steaks from the refrigerator and seasoned them liberally with salt and pepper. With a grill pan cranked on high,  I chargrilled the ribeyes until they felt medium rare to the touch, about 4 minutes per side.

When the steaks were perfectly chargrilled,  I tented them and set them aside to rest. While the steaks snuggled under foil, I blistered peppery Elmwood Stock Farm celery stalks in a screaming hot cast iron skillet until they wilted, charred, and caramelized  before dousing them with fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Back. In. Business.

I plated our crusty ribeye steaks and  topped  them with the tender caramelized pan-seared celery stalks. After nestling the braised/roasted sweet potatoes alongside the juicy steaks, I gilded the lily just a bit by drizzling  them with a combination of warmed pure maple syrup, melted butter, and crunchy sea salt.

The steaks were wonderfully tender and perfectly cooked. When sliced, buttery pink flesh  melted under the crusty charred exteriors, providing contrasting textural mouthfeels and flavors. We moaned while we ate. Gutteral joy.  The fingerling sweet potatoes were velvety sofy with each smooth bite balanced by snapping  skins. Napped in a buttery salty maple syrup, they hinted toward autumn without screaming bring on the holidays.  Delicate and sweet, they were reminiscent of darling early baby spring vegetables.

I was in heaven when the savory steak juices puddled with the sweet maple syrup, creating a new sauce to swipe the meat through. Perfect.

Without distraction, it was fun to cook again.
 And nothing broke.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunday Supper: Market Madness

 Last Sunday was one of those lazy kind of days that begged for a leisurely day in the kitchen.  It was overcast and cool with light rain falling through the leaves misting over our arched kitchen windows.
I found my self staring down at a ridiculous melange of ingredients that I had accumulated during the previous week. Flailing green leek tips protuded from the refrigerator vegetable drawer, tickling our legs whenever the  door opened. Their buried root ends  mingled with parsnips, turnips, celery, cabbage, daikon radishes, lemons,  purple carrots, cucumbers, snow peas, red bell peppers, and (for some reason) a large  fresh pineapple. As a produce collection, it made no sense. It reminded me of childhood dentist visits and those back cover challenges of Highlights Magazine..."What's wrong with this picture?"  

With plenty of time on a wistful Sunday afternoon, I came up with a plan to solve the challenge.

The Market.
Individual tomato, leek, and potato gratins.

I grabbed a few Carmello tomatoes from the windowsill, a medium sized leek from the veggie bin, and  a handful of dirt-covered baby red potatoes from the pantry. After tumbling my market produce onto our small kitchen island, I sharpened my knives, pulled up a stool, and leisurely went to work. I snipped the root end from the  leek and sliced the tender sections into thin rings before rinsing them thoroughly.   

After slicing the new potatoes into paper thin discs, I cut the carmello tomatoes into small crescent-shaped wedges. Thankfully, Michael and I recently purchased normal-sized grown-up ramekins. I grabbed a couple of ramekins, buttered them liberally, and dusted the buttered sides with parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Starting with the potatoes, I filled the ramekins with alternating layers of potatoes, tomatoes, parmigiano, leeks, salt, and pepper. After the final layer I drizzled 1/4 cup of heavy cream into each ramekin, covered them foil, and tucked them into the refrigerator to rest until I needed them.

The Madness.

Grilled smoked boneless pork chops glazed with Jezebel Sauce, topped with fried shoestring sweet potatoes and fried thyme.

Jezebel sauce (an old school southern condiment made with pineapple perserves, apple jelly, ground mustard, black pepper, and horseradish) is usually relegated to cocktail party status as a topping for cream cheese served with crackers.  Occasionally, it adorns  baked ham, grilled ribs, or chicken. Back in the day, I used it a lot as a party snack. With its biting horseradish heat tempered  by the sweetness of the perserves and jelly, it's a quick, easy, and tasty party favorite.

I decided to revisit the old stand-by as a glaze for grilled boneless smoked pork chops. I could have used supermarket perserves and jelly, but I had a huge fresh pineapple hogging precious space in the veggie bin. Why not make quick fresh pineapple perserves as a base for the sauce? It made perfect sense to me.  I sliced half of the pineapple into rings and removed the core.  Using a fork, I shredded the pineapple flesh into small pieces and tossed the shreds into a mixing bowl with twice the amount of castor sugar, letting them macerate for 30 minutes to release the fresh juices.

I got a cast iron skillet smoking hot, poured the shredded pineapple along with the accumualted juices into the skillet, reduced the heat, and let it foam and bubble for 25 minutes until it started to thicken and turn clear. For additional depth of flavor, I swirled a heaping spoonful of Quarles Farm pear perserves into the caramelized pineapple mixture before  removing it from the heat to cool.  When  cooled completely, I folded in ground mustard, cracked black pepper, pure horseradish, and diced red bell pepper for color and crunch.
Mandolin fun. I set the Jezebel sauce aside and  pulled my mandolin from the gadget garage. Using the smallest julienne attachment on the thinnest blade setting, I carefully sliced the sweet potato into gorgeous shoestrings.

Mise en place. Check.

I slid the julienned sweet potatoes into the refrigerator,  poured myself a big glass of wine, curled up in front of the flat screen television, and caught up on a few NFL football games. Heaven.

Eventually, I made my way back into the kitchen. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, I popped the tomato, leek, and potato gratins into the oven to bake for 45 minutes.

While the gratins bubbled away, I cranked the deep fryer to 325 degrees and  fried the sweet potatoes in small batches until golden and crisp, carefully  layering each batch into small nests on paper towels to drain. With the fryer turned off, I used the residual heat from the oil to deep fry a few fresh thyme sprigs.

I pulled the gratins from the oven to rest and got a grill pan smoking hot before branding the pork chops with gorgeous caramelized hatch-marks. I plated the chops and painted them with the pepper-studded Jezebel sauce. As the glaze melted and oozed over the hot chops, I topped them with the golden fried potato straws and the insanely fragile fried thyme sprigs.

After nestling the unmolded gratins onto our plates, I tossed around a few steamed julienned snow peas as a nod to freshness.

The gratins collapsed into  wonderfully gooey cheesy puddles with  roasted tomatoes melting into the leeks and bathing the tender potatoes with intense sweet acidity. The soothing soft gratins were perfect foils to the riotous flavors exploding from the pineapple and  horseradish glazed pork chops smothered under crackling shoestring sweet potato fries. There was a lot going on. The soft, crunchy, sweet, and savory combinations played off of each other beautifully. We literally licked our plates devouring it,  leaving us both with sticky faces and Jezebel lips.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mock Foccacia

During the Gallery Hop this past weekend, Michael and I attended the Ace Best of Lexington Celebration  at John Lackey's Homegrown Press Studio + Gallery.  I wanted to take a little nibble to accompany  fried banana peppers (from Columbia Steakhouse) that Flo graciously prepared for the event.

After mulling several options, I decided to make foccacia bread topped with something.  The day before the event, I stopped by the farmers' market after work for inspiration. The usual suspects were all there. Peppers. Onions. Garlic. I was heading down that familiar route until I stumbled upon baskets of deep purple Casey County grapes. They were gorgeous. Although I've seen it done before, grape-topped foccacia wasn't on my radar until I saw those beautiful grapes.  Inspired, I bagged some grapes along with a couple of sweet organic onions and a large bulbous head of garlic.

Untimely mise en place. Timing  is usually my forte. I can rock out a meal for 350 people all the way  down to the last sprinkle of parsley or flourish of snipped chives.  The day of the Ace Best of Lexington Celebration event, I worked all day and simply ran out of time.

Pizza Dough.  Foccacia Dough.  They're basically the same, but treated differently. Ultimately, I prefer Anne Burrell's recipe for foccacia bread.  She manhandles the dough, roughs it up, and tears it apart throughout the process. Unfortunately, it  takes hours to make. Proof the yeast. Make the dough.  Knead the dough. Let it rise for an hour. Shape the dough. Let  rise for another hour. Nope.

I cheated. Shoot me.
I stopped by a local pizzeria and purchased a pound of lovely pizza dough. It was perfect.

When I got home from work, I oiled a sheet pan before rolling out the dough and pushing it into the corners of the pan. I let the dough relax before roughly dimpling it with my fingertips to create crevices and wells. I adapted and combined several methods for the grape topping. After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, I generously bathed the dough with olive oil, allowing it to fill the dimples with glistening puddles.

I showered the dough with sea salt, minced garlic, and minced red onion. As the dough began rising, I scattered caramelized onions over the top before studding it with halved purple grapes. After feathering fresh rosemary leaves over the foccacia dough, I popped it into the oven to bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pan every 5 minutes. 

I pulled the grape-studded focacia bread from the oven, let it cool, and sprinkled it with additional fresh rosemary.

The grapes exploded into the dough, bleeding their purple juices.  The sweetness of the grapes balanced the savory sea salt, garlic, piney rosemary, and candied caramelized onions. Although tasty, I probably needed another pound of dough to create a typical soft and luxurious foccacia bread.

I think I ultimately ended up with an  intriguing savory and sweet rosemary-flecked grape pizza.

Go figure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Embrace The Season

I finally did it.  I crossed over to the dark side.

I was at the market on a cool gray morning with low hanging clouds spitting a damp mist. Nobody was there. Nobody. I stopped by Bray's Farm stand to chat with a friend. With very few vendors there, they were there because they had peaches to sell. It was far from ideal market weather. I picked up a few ripe yellow peaches along with gorgeous highly acidic Carmello tomatoes.

Thankfully, it's been a long tomato season. They're still plentiful at the market.

After passing by familiar vendors on the way to my car, it happened. While marveling over wonderfully aromatic individually-bundled baby celery stalks from Elmwood Farm, I reached across the table and grabbed an acorn squash from a heaping basket of squash. At that very moment, I crossed the line.  I officially surrendered my lusty desires for vibrant fresh summer produce, replacing them with  more languid yearnings for mellow soft-hued autumn produce. Until then, I'd resisited the temptation by clinging to the final bright vestiges of summer. I finally acquiesced.

Inspired by that humble acorn squash, I decided to pull a full monty, throw convention to the wind, and roast a turkey for our Sunday supper.

Well........kind of.

A dear friend recently gave us a pound of gorgeous bacon from her family's farm. I used and abused it for our roasted turkey. 
After unfurling the bacon from its Not For Sale packaging, I overlapped several strips of the bacon on parchment paper before plopping a three pound boneless turkey breast on top of the bacon shingles, seasoning it with fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper.  I carefully pulled the bacon slices around the turkey breast, secured it with kitchen twine, and placed the larded breast into a roasting pan along with wedged candy onions and whole baby celery stalks.

I sprinkled additional fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper over the bacon harness, poured a cup of chicken stock into the roasting pan,  and slid the bacon-bundled turkey into a 350 degree oven to roast for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature was 165 degrees.


While the turkey made merry in the oven, I sliced the acorn squash into quarters and removed the seeds.

After seasoning it with salt, pepper, and olive oil, I slid the squash into the oven to par-roast, uncovered,  for 20 minutes before pulling it out and dousing it with butter, brown sugar, orange zest, freshly squeezed orange juice, and fresh thyme sprigs.

I covered the squash with aluminum foil and placed it back into the oven to roast/braise for an additional 45 minutes.  When the sqaush was thoroughly cooked, I pulled it from the oven and let it warm on the stovetop while the turkey finished roasting. The aromas wafting from our kitchen were ridiculous.  Turkey.  Bacon. Rosemary. Brown sugar. Squash. Heaven.

I melted into my tufted chenille parlor chair and joined Michael for a few glasses of wine  while we anticipated our Sunday supper.  Happy campers.

Eventually, I pulled the turkey from the oven and checked the temperature.  It was perfect.  The bacon had crisped and carmelized into a salty sweet aromatic bacon shell. I tented the turkey and let it rest for ten minutes while I tossed a simple blanched green bean, Carmello tomato, and chevre salad with a very light lemon vinaigrette.

Before slicing the turkey, I removed it to a cutting board, placed the roasting pan over medium heat, added a pinch of flour, and whisked together a quick pan sauce from the roasted turkey and bacon drippings. 

Using the bacon slices as a guide, I sliced the turkey into medallions, drizzled them with pan gravy, and feathered fresh rosemary leaves over the top. I dropped the candied squash around the turkey and spooned the salad into small bowls, nestling them onto our plates.

The turkey was incredibly moist and tender with succulent juices trapped and sealed within the crispy bacon skin. 
While the bacon provided salty crunch, the oozing buttery sweet roasted acorn squash balanced it with soft earthy undertones. Thankfully, the lemon dressed chevre-flecked,  green bean, and Carmello tomato salad provided welcomed acidity, slicing through the richness with wild abandon.


It's a new season at the market.
One I'll embrace with open arms.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not Quite A Peck

Michael and I adore eating stuffed stuff. We're particularly fond of stuffed peppers.  Apparently, my stuffed peppers are atypical because I don't include rice in the filling or pre-cook the meat.  I load halved peppers with a highly seasoned combination of meats before braising them in a vinegar infused tomato sauce and topping them with cheese.  Sweet. Acidic. Piquant.

I had stuffed peppers in mind while browsing the farmers' market the other day. With my Martha Stewart canvas tote in hand, I made my way through the market shopping.  My little mission was interrupted by the sight of ambrosia corn spilling  from wooden racks off the back of a Pulaski County truck. I wasn't there for corn, but at that instant I had to have corn. I had to have it before it was gone.  Before it was too late.

The morning was quiet and still, leaving the market void of the early summer hysteria. It was peaceful, reminding me of walks on the farm with my father while shuffling through dried fallen leaves. Pleasant, yet melancholy. Happy and sad.

Feeling nostalgic about the early days of summer (with fresh ears of corn in tow), I rounded the bend to make my final pass down the other side of the Tuesday/Thursday market.

My self inflicted melancholy was jolted  and snapped by a vibrant Casey County display of fresh peppers. They were gorgeous. Italian peppers, poblano peppers, hot banana peppers, sweet banana peppers, serrano peppers, habanero peppers, and red/green/black jalapeno peppers were standing tall in baskets, like soldiers at attention.

Oh, there might have been a few green bell peppers tucked around the table. I was pepper-sprayed from the beauty of the others and didn't notice.I bagged a basket of fully ripened sweet red banana peppers.

 A pepper is a pepper is a pepper. Right?  Stuff one...stuff  them all.

When I got home from work, I sliced the lovely long red banana peppers lengthwise, removed the seeds, and set them aside. After mixing ground pork with ground beef, minced garlic, parsely, 1 beaten egg, grated onion, salt, and pepper, I filled the shallow pepper boats with  the meat mixture, squishing it into every crevice of the peppers before topping them with thinly sliced garden tomatoes.

I always serve stuffed peppers over steamed rice.  Always. Well, I didn't have any rice. I had polenta and Attiecke, a west African quick cooking cassava couscous.

I took the polenta route.  I love the soft porridge-like  consistency of buttery cheesy polenta. Michael, not so much. Fried polenta was the answer.

Before joining Michael for wine, I topped the peppers with tomato sauce along with a few splashes of red wine vinegar, covered the dish, and slid it into a pre-heated 350 degree oven to braise for an hour.

While the peppers braised, I made a huge pot of polenta using Italian polenta meal and chicken stock. After stirring the molten cornmeal mush for what seemed like an eternity, popping and spitting like an angry volacno,  the polenta eventually pulled away from the sides of the pot. 

I slid the pot off of the heat and tossed in 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, an ear of cut off ambrosia corn kernels, 2 cups of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, and a handful of baby arugula.  After a quick stir to wilt the arugula, I poured the gooey polenta into an oiled casserole dish to harden and set up.


1/2 hour into the pepper braise, I pulled the hardened polenta from the refrigerator. Using a wine goblet, I  cut the polenta into circles, floured the discs, and fried them until golden brown before sliding them into the oven to keep warm until we ate.

After several glasses of wine, I pulled the peppers from the oven,  topped them with fresh mozzarella cheese, and slid them back into the oven to melt the cheese.

So, here's the deal.  Apparently, not all peppers are created equal. Tough hard-skinned stuffed green bell peppers have no problem holding up through a long braise. They soften and collapse a bit, but retain their shape. Not so with tender-skinned peppers. The delicate flesh of the stuffed ripened red banana peppers completely disintegrated during the braise, happily creating an accidental cheesy braised pepper and meat-filled ragu.

I flew with it.

After stacking the fried polenta cakes onto our plates,  I wrestled the peppers from the pot and surrounded the cakes with the stuffed pepper sauce. It was hysterical. Strings of melted mozzarella cheese clung to everything, whipping and snapping like gooey rubber bands.  With little effort, I could have fashioned a splendid cheesy Jacob's ladder with my hands.

The polenta cakes were fantastically crisp with arugula-flecked soft interiors while nutty parmigiano and sweet mascarpone added depth and complexity. With chards of pepper-less meat masquerading as elongated meatballs, the accidental braised ragu had all the familiar flavors of stuffed peppers.

Did it turn out as intended?  Hell, no.

But, it was delicious.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Paint The Mother Pink

Bechamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Tomato, and Veloute are the five mother sauces of French cuisine from which many  sauces are broken down into derivative smaller sauces.  Hollandaise might the most popular and most difficult of the five to master because the delicate emulsion of egg yolks, lemon juice, and melted butter over simmering water can be tricky. Very tricky.

The smaller derivative sauces from Hollandaise are fascinating and fabulous. Adding cream, horseradish and fresh thyme turns Hollandaise into Sauce Bavaroise. Replacing lemon juice with fresh blood orange juice creates a lovely Sauce Maltaise (I've made tons of Maltaise...great on Grand Marnier marinated salmon). Whipped cream folded into a finished Hollandaise produces a light and airy Sauce Mousseline.

Sauce Bearnaise is probably the powerhouse of the  Hollandaise derivatives. Replacing lemon juice with a very concentrated reduction of white wine vinegar, white wine, fresh tarragon, peppercorns, and shallots elevates the sauce with bright anise undertones. Beranaise pairs beautifully with steak. With additions and tweeks, Bearnaise  sauce boasts a litany of variations. Adding tomato puree, tomato paste, or tomato concasse to the Bearnaise emulision produces a pink-hued Sauce Choron. Sauce Paloise is made by replacing  tarragon with mint.  Sauce Foyot has a meat glace folded into the Bearnaise, while Sauce Colbert is Sauce Foyot with  additional  reduced white wine.


I had a hankering for eggs benedict. Although I'm a fool for Hollandaise and Bearnaise, I wanted to tinker and try something a bit different for our  breakfast dinner last night. When I stumbled across sauce Choron, I was intrigued. Sandwiching  poached eggs between fresh tomato slices and a tomato-infused Bearnaise sauce seemed like a natural pairing. Sold.

I'll admit, most of the time I pull out the blender for safe fuss free versions of Hollandaise or Bearnaise.  Without risk of curdling or scrambling the egg yolks over low heat, blender sauces are fullproof. That being said, fueled by extra time on my hands along with a few glasses of wine, I happily plunged head first into the classic preparation of Bearnasie-based  sauce Choron.

To create the flavor base, I  sauteed 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of white wine, 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon, and 10 Tellicherry peppercorns until the liquid reduced to 1 tablespoon before straining it into a small ramekin.

While the vinegar reduction cooled, I brought 3 egg yolks to room temperature and prepared the tomato paste. Ok, I had a tube of tomato paste in the refigerator. Nope. I wasn't feeling it. I also had an overripe windsill heirloom tomato that was a breath away  from exploding, so I roasted , peeled, and deseeded it before mashing the flesh into pulp and sauteeing it over low heat until the pulp reduced into an intensely aromatic tomato paste. Call me crazy.

After tossing 1 tablespoon of  the tomato paste, 3 tablespoons of water, egg yolks,  and tarragon vinegar  into a mixing bowl, I whisked the mixture over simmering water until the yolks were frothy.

Using a steady hand while furiously whisking the tomato-stained yolks over the steaming bath , I slowly drizzed 1 cup of melted unsalted butter into the yolks until the sauce pulled away from the bottom of pan , emulsified,  and turned  rosy pink.

I removed the sauce Choron from the heat, added fresh tarragon, took a deep breath, and chugged an entire glass of wine.

After parking the sauce over very low simmering water to hold,  I toasted English muffins, poached a few eggs, and sliced a a couple of tomatoes.

With everything ready to go, I stacked our very traditional eggs benedicts with toasted English muffins, sliced garden tomatoes, speck (smoked prosciutto), and poached eggs.  After ladling a very untraditional sauce Choron over the jiggly eggs, I dropped a few tarragon leaves over the top, seasoned everything with salt and cracked black pepper,  and nestled a lightly dressed baby arugula salad to the side.

It was insanely fabulous. Really. The sauce was velvety soft with a surprisingly light mouthfeel. The deeply reduced tomato paste tamed the normally tart anise brashness of the Bearnasie while providing complex layers of acidity and sweetness.  When sliced, runny yolks oozed from the tender poached eggs onto the speck and tomatoes, pooling around the muffins and mixing with the sauce. Crazy. Rich. Decadent.

Normally, I work very clean in the kitchen. Last night, I destroyed it. 

At some point during the night, Michael washed every pan and cleaned the kitchen.