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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nuts

Michael and I tend to take it easy on New Year's Eve. We used to blow it out big time by hitting  the road to celebrate in New York, Chicago, Washington, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Atlanta. Several years ago, we partied our brains out in New York until 4 o'clock in the morning before enjoying a one hour nap and braving the New Jersey Turnpike for the drive home.  Mistake. We lasted 25 miles down that dismal turnpike before checking into a hotel and passing out. Fun. One year, we celebrated the New Year under the glow of a red stoplight as we tried to make a last minute dash to a local gay bar before midnight. Didn't happen. After a brief bawdy rendition of Auld Lang Syne,  we made a u-turn and headed home.

Now, we happily stay home to celebrate New Year's Eve. We piddle around, snack on appetizers, and drink a lot before downing coffee drinks to watch the Times Square Chrystal Ball  slowly descend through the streaming confetti. After cheerful drunken tidings to everything we're grateful for, Michael and I quietly dance to Old Lang Syne  in our old Victorian living room. Bliss.

New Year's Eve snacks. This year, I'm leaning toward miniature welsh rarebits, steamed crab claws with drawn butter, stuffed mussels, shaved beef crostinis, and spiced nuts.

Spiced nuts?

Rewind.

Here's the deal. Our church has several reception teams that provide food and drinks for various occasions and post-service gatherings. Michael and I make up the auxiliary team.  The B team. The bench warmers. We're  the subs who are called in when other teams are sick, out of town, or have scheduling conflicts. This week, we've been tagged to host the much hyped and popular first Sunday after Christmas post service reception. Par-tay!

We love doing the receptions. We do. Really.  Although they're typically low key affairs, we enjoy bumping them up a bit. For our upcoming small-ish gathering,  I'm throwing together a simple cheese tray,  pear chips with cranberry dip, small bowl of spiced nuts. Sweet, savory, and simple.

I decided that while I was in the spiced nut business, I'd make a big batch and save a few for our late night New Year's Eve  armchair revelry.

I poured myself a large flute of leftover holiday champange
and played with my nuts.

Typically, most methods involve tossing mixed nuts with melted butter or beaten egg whites before adding  spices and baking them. I've prepared spiced nuts using  both methods with equal success...kind of.  I tend to  burn stuff.  I burn stuff a lot. Although I'm heroic at burning nuts and bread because distraction gets the best of me, I keep trying. I was well prepared for my usual baked nut stress until I stumbled across a stove-top method from Alton Brown. No oven. Happy nuts.

I used Alton Brown's  stove-top method with ingredients I had on hand.

Spice.
I mixed 1/4 sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. To add a hint of aromatic freshness, I dusted the snow off my rosemary bush, snipped a few stems, and tossed fresh rosemary leaves into the spice mix.





Nuts.
After cranking a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame, I dry toasted 2 pounds of mixed nuts. When they started to brown, I added 1/2 stick unsalted butter. As the butter foamed and gurgled up through the hot nuts, I added the spice mix, 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup, and the juice of half an orange. I stirred the sticky mess until it thickened before pouring it out onto a non-stick sil pat. After separating the nuts, I sprinkled them with fresh rosemary and orange zest.

Packed with layers of flavor, the crunchy spiced nuts were salty and sweet. While the ancho chile powder poked slight chocolate smokiness through  the bright zest and piney rosemary, the cayenne pepper added subtle lip-numbing heat.

Perfect with champagne.



Cheers!






Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sugar And Spice

An intensely tart sweet gastrique can add fantastic zing to both sweet and savory dishes. Basically, a gastrique is a highly concentrated sweet and sour sauce.  Classically, it's prepared by deglazing caramelized sugar with vinegar before adding flavorings.  While it can be used to infuse sweet acidic depth to tomato sauces, it's typically flavored with fruit and used to cut through the richness of cooked meat, seafood, and poultry. Almost anything can be used to prepare a gastrique. Tropical fruits, seasonal summer berries,  and winter citrus are a few examples of the endless possibilities. Right now, it's cranberry season. The inherent  natural tartness of a cranberry gastrique during the holiday season  would pair beautifully with robust salty ham, fatty pork, succulent duck, long roasted turkey, or braised chicken. I used it as a bright counter punch for bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Gastrique and Spinach Timbales.

Holiday Gastrique.
So, here's the deal.  I'm all about the classics and doing what I'm supposed to do. Although the classic method for making  a gastrique is quite simple, the notion of pouring vinegar into a gurgling vat of molten hot caramelized sugar seemed horrifying. Nope. Not after a few glasses of wine, thank you very much. I used a calmer technique that produced the same result.

I combined equal parts (1 cup each) sugar and rice wine vinegar in a heavy cast iron skillet over a medium flame to melt the sugar into the vinegar.  When the liquid started to boil, I tumbled 2 cups of fresh cranberries into the mix, let it rip until the cranberries exploded, and simmered the crimson bath until it reduced by half.  After straining the gastrique through a fine mesh sieve, I set it aside to cool.

Pork.
Pig wrapped in pig. I shingled 10 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon on a large cutting board. After brushing the tenderloin with tangy Maille dijon mustard, I showered it with cracked pepper, tossed a few fresh rosemary leaves over the bacon, rolled the tenderloin  into a tightly bound bacon cylinder, placed it (seam side down) into a large skillet, and slid it into a 350 oven to roast for 45 minutes, turning it occasionally in the rendered bacon fat. Yep.

Spinach Timbales.
Frozen spinach would have worked wonderfully for the timbales, but I had several rooted bunches of  gorgeous Shelby County baby curly leaf spinach. I rinsed the spinach, finely chopped it while it was still wet (about 2 cups), and used the residual water  to steam the spinach (covered in plastic wrap) in  the microwave  for 2 minutes before letting it cool and wringing out the moisture in a kitchen towel. After buttering two 4 ounce ramekins, I mixed the chopped spinach with 1 beaten egg, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 heaping tablespoons of pecorino romano cheese, fresh nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I poured the creamed spinach into the ramekins, placed them in a water bath, and slid them into the oven to bake alongside the sizzling spitting pork.

When the pork tenderloin  reached 145 degrees, (about 45 minutes)  I pulled it from the oven to rest and let the spinach timbales bake an additional 5 minutes until they were firm.

Using the crisp bronzed bacon shingles as a guide, I sliced the pork into medallions, basted them with the pan drippings, and plated them with the inverted spinach timbales to the side, puddling the cranberry gastrique between the two.

The cranberry gastrique bridged the earthy spinach and sultry pork with sharp sweet acidity. While the tangy dijon mustard seeped  through the fatty bacon and flavored the pan drippings, flecks of rosemary added subtle piney undertones. Unlike most somber sweet and sour sauces, the vibrant gastrique popped. With an intense cranberry essence, it was bright, crisp, and clean.

Sugar and spice.
Jacked up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Lost Boys

New Haven, Connecticut. Christmas Eve, 1981.

After a few fun filled months of living in New Haven, I found myself alone on Christmas Eve. My roommate and my friends had flown home for the holidays. For reasons I can't remember now, I stayed behind. New Haven received 8 inches of snow on Christmas Eve. I stood by the window of our 2nd floor Victorian kitchen  and watched heavy wet snowflakes  drop like leaden bombs. It was the kind of snow children dream about.  Dense, thick, and wet. The piling  snow caused tree limbs to bend  and evergreens to sag. Everything was smothered and covered in masses of white wet snow.  It was beautiful. Christmas in New England. 

Being from Kentucky, I was quite taken with the gloppy menacing snow. Cocooned in my Victorian kitchen snow globe, I felt safe, warm, and content. Let it snow. I had nowhere to be, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. The world was my frozen oyster. Urban Alpine Heidi. 

My romantic idealized notion of a New England  Christmas Eve didn't last long. Nope. Who was I kidding? I was home alone,  21 years old, adventurous, antsy, and full of myself.

The following morning, I slopped through the snow and boarded the Metro North commuter train for the short 2 hour trip into NYC to see my first ever Broadway musical production.

As the train slowly chugged along the ancient tracks,  the conductor chanted each arriving station in song-like fashion, "New Caanan, Danbury, Waterbury, Grand Central Station." "Have your tickets ready, please."

Peter Pan, starring Sandy Duncan, was playing at the Lunt Fontane theatre on 47th Street. Sandy Duncan, Captain Hook, the Darlings, the lost boys, Peter Pan, and me. On Christmas day. After two hours of sword fights, flying imps, crocodiles, precocious children, and gorgeous music, I was mesmerized.  Just when I thought nothing could be more surreal or fabulous, Peter Pan flew over the audience  and showered us with glittering faerie dust.  I was undone. Spent. Wrapped and unwrapped.  Merry Christmas to me.

When the show was over, I meandered a few blocks north back to the train station.  I had some time to kill before my train left for New Haven, so I bellied up to the winding bar of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and ordered a steaming bowl of their iconic oyster pan roast.  Tucked under vaulted tiled ceilings, a chef prepared my oyster pan roast in front of me. He cooked the simple ingredients in an old  silver steam jacket kettle.  When the plump oysters started to curl around the edges, he tilted the pot and carefully poured the creamed oysters into a large white serving bowl. Poetry in motion. It was magnificent.

"The Oyster Bar pan roast -- still being served at the Oyster Bar in the bowels of Grand Central--is a silky concoction, thicker than soup but gentler than stew.  It's made with a half dozen Bluepoints, sweet butter, a dash of secret chile sauce, and flagons of country cream, all poured over a comforting mattress of soggy toast.  In that magisterial, eternally bustling room full of strangers, it tasted exactly the way it did when I ordered it for the first time with my grandfather, a lifelong New Yorker: opulent, mysteriously spicy, and faintly like the sea."
Adam Platt-
Grubstreet

I've never forgotten that taste of Christmas.
I slurped the last oyster from the creamy bowl and ran down an endless concourse to catch my train back to New Haven.

Somewhere between Danbury and Waterbury, the train lost power and slowly glided to a gentle standstill.

I stared through the window at the blue moonlit snow.  It was so quiet, I could almost hear the snow melting as it splashed against the frosted double-paned glass. Silent. Dark. Still. I didn't care. For a brief frozen moment, I was a lost boy dreaming of Neverland.

Within minutes, the train powered up and we were on our way home.

Christmas Oysters.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook.
One serving. I doubled it for Michael and me.
I used fresh Bluepoint oysters from the Lexington Seafood Company.

8 Freshly opened oysters
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
1 tbsp chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup oyster liquor
1/2 tsp paprika
dash celery salt
1/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup cream
1 slice of dry toast

Place all ingredients except cream, toast, and 1 Tbsp of butter in the top of a double broiler over boiling water.  Do not let the top pan of the double broiler touch the water below.

Whisk or stir briskly and constantly for about 1 minute until oyster edges begin to curl, stirring carefully as to not damage the oysters.

Add cream and continue stirring briskly.  Do not boil.

Pour pan roast into a soup plate over the slice of dry toast.

Top with remaining 1 Tbsp butter and sprinkle with paprika.

Serve right away.

Instead of dry toast, I slathered toasted ciabatta crostini with lemon chive butter.  After floating the crostini over the pan roast, I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with snipped Beaujolais spinach stems for crunch.

Let it snow.                                                                                        












Thursday, December 6, 2012

Beeting The Odds

The Lexington Indoor Farmers' Market opened last weekend in the atrium of Victorian Square. Tucked around garland-draped railings, Christmas lights, and a towering Christmas tree, the vendors offered a variety of late season produce. Baskets of turnips, beets, baby acorn squash, delicata squash, kohlrabi, turnip greens, kale, and potatoes were peppered with bins of baby curly spinach, hardy Beaujolais spinach, radishes, baked breads, meats, cheeses, scones, and canned goods. It was festive and fantastic.

Beets.
I've had such crappy luck with beets this year that I was determined to avoid any and all beets at the market. That's me, Mr. determined. Steadfast. Strong. Yep.  Nope.  I succumbed to a few dirty bunches of gnarly golden beets topped with gorgeous yellow-veined greens from Elmwood Stock Farm.  Aside from my notion that golden beets tend to be milder and mellower than their fiercely assertive red counterparts, their perky pretty greens totally sold me

For my umpteenth beet battle, I kept it very simple.

After slicing the lovely tops from the beets (reserved for a quick saute or long simmer), I rubbed the beets with olive oil, seasoned them with salt, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and tossed them into a 350 degree oven to roast for 50 minutes.

When they were fork tender, I pulled the beets from the oven to cool before peeling away their skins with my finger tips. After chilling them for an hour, I sliced the golden beet bulbs into thin discs and overlapped them in a circular pattern on a large serving plate.

Because I didn't want to muck up their tender mellow sweetness, I dressed the beets very lightly with a splash of fresh squeezed orange juice, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil.  I dusted them with coarse kosher salt and finished the beet salad with tiny arugula micro greens from Long View Organics.

Napped with a slight hint of acidity from the vinaigrette, the fragile golden beet slivers were earthy, sweet, and bright. While the delicate arugula micro leaves added specks of freshness, their tiny tubular stems provided  popping wet crunch. Crazy.

Simple. Fresh. Fabulous.
Across the board.












Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Upper Crust

My dad was my hero.  When our family moved back to the United States after living overseas, we left behind our nannies, caretakers,  and housekeepers. Without Frau Olga or Ababa cooking for our vagabond traveling troupe, my dad had to fend for himself. For us. Apart from his occasional batches of fantastic sticky, savory, and sweet Boston Baked Beans, he had an arsenal of meals  loaded from top to bottom in our drab pea-green overhead  freezer. My dad totally embraced the notion of Banquet and Sawnson TV dinners. They were easy and quick to prepare. He was a single father who worked a lot and had to feed two growing boys. As a military officer (and in pure military fashion),  he kept our frozen stash of TV dinners filed like books. Left to right, by title.  Frozen edible books.

Stacks of small frozen beef and turkey pot pies anchored his arctic library. The variety of frozen stuff seemed endless and I adored it all. I grew accustomed to mashed potatoes sweetened with cherry pie filling, salisbury steak glazed with chocolate pudding, and  buttered sweet corn spiked with apple sauce.  Glistening on top of compartmental aluminum foil trays, those frozen treats were fun, flawed, and adventurous.  Life was good.

Michael and I love to wrap our lips around pot pies, but I rarely make them because I suck when it comes to making pastry and pie dough. We both have issues with restaurant versions because they're never pies. They typically consist of pretty bowls loaded with savory fillings topped with flaky flavored biscuits, cornbread, or beautifully browned  puff pastry poofs. Toppers. Tops without bottoms.  Pot pies should have both.

I gambled and took a chance.

The Crust.

I had phyllo pastry dough. Paper thin flaky phyllo dough. Yep.  Think about it.The filling didn't really matter. I could have used any filling. Beef stew, creamed chicken, stewed eggplant, lobster bisque, or vegetable succatash would have worked beautifully. I imagined that a lightly spiced lamb and eggplant Greek Moussaka topped with eggy bechamel would have been splendid.  I used  turkey because,...well, I had a lot of leftover turkey.

It wasn't about the filling, it was all about the crust.

After bagging up and freezing the pretty slices of leftover turkey, I chopped the remaining scraps into bite sized  pieces and made a basic roux by cooking  2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of flour. When the flour cooked out a bit, I added 1 cup of warmed cream and 1 cup of  warmed chicken stock. As the sauce thickened, I tumbled a handful of sliced snow peas, green peas, halved black olives. pimentos, and the reserved turkey into the creamy mix. I seasoned the pot pie filling with salt, cracked black pepper, and grated nutmeg before pulling it from the heat to cool.

While phyllo can be fussy and finicky to work with, it's very forgiving.  If a sheet tears, who cares?  Butter it and slap it into place.

I thawed a sleeve of frozen phyllo dough overnight in the refrigerator and unfolded the delicate sheets, covering them with a damp towel to prevent them from drying out. Layers were key. 10 layers for both the top and bottom of the pot pie. I melted 1/2 cup butter and swirled it into 1/2 cup olive oil. After buttering 10 individual sheets of phyllo, I layered them into a 10 inch fluted Bybee Pottery dish, tucking the extra dough in, around, and under the edges of the dish before spooning the creamed turkey onto the bottom crust and covering it with 1 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese.

I repeated the 10 layer process for the top crust and placed the sticky slab on top of the cheesy  turkey filling. I initially intended to bake the top crust flat, but decided to poke the dough into the edges to seal the pie. I buttered one last sheet of phyllo and draped it over the top like a wind blown tissue. That was it.

I slid the enormous pot pie into a 350 degree oven and let it rip for 45 minutes until it was gorgeously browned and crisped.


After smashing the crust open with a large spoon, the feathery phyllo sheets shattered like broken glass, creating a crackingly creamy fabulous mess.

It was wonderfully ridiculous.

From top to bottom.

















Monday, November 26, 2012

Spent?

Discard the vegetables.

In lieu of my fancy  nonstick v-shaped roasting rack, I typically roast whole chickens or turkeys on top of chopped carrots, celery, and onions. While they suspend the meat just above the heated pan to allow browning on the underside, the low-lying vegetables also allow the meat to melt into the pan juices, creating the  fabulous sticky caramelized skin candy that clings to the bottom of the pan.

With a relatively short cooking time, chicken roasted over vegetables is a no brainer. With  tender meat, crisp skin, and caramelized vegetables bathed in savory pan juices, it usually results in a great one pot meal. Turkey is a different beast. The long cooking time of roasted turkey transforms the underlying vegetables into saturated soft melted  jewels. Most people might consider long  braised vegetables useless.  Spent. Done. Toast. Kaput. Flavorless. Discard  the vegetables and strain the pan juices. Blah. Blah. Blah. I guess I'm a rule breaker and a heretic because I don't discard the vegetables.

Sometimes, I've mashed them into pulp before swirling them back into the pan juices as a natural thickener. Occasionally, I've served them to the side  with a dollops of sour cream and  grated fresh horseradish. Most of the time, I've eaten them straight from the pan as savory sweet treats.

 Last weekend, I repurposed them.

After roasting a 15 pound turkey for hours, I heaved the bird from the pan to rest and scooped the braised vegetables onto a  small platter before storing them in the refrigerator.

Shenanigans.

Pureed Carrot Soup with Goat Cheese Croutons.

I pulled the carrots, celery, and onions from the refrigerator. To perk up their long sleepy braise, I sauteed sliced shallots and minced garlic in olive oil. When the shallots started to caramelize, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup white wine along with 1 1/2 cups chicken stock. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and tumbled the reserved vegetables into the pan. For zing, I showered the vegetables with a heaping tablespoon of citrusy sumac before covering the pan to warm everything through.

When the stock reduced by half, I carefully blended the vegetables and stock into a velvety puree. After returning the puree to the pot, I added a 1/2 cup chicken stock and a splash of heavy cream.

Goat Cheese Croutons.

Pureed soups need crunch. I jacked up the crunch factor with the crisp  tang of deep fried goat cheese.
I divided 4 ounces of fresh chevre into quarters, rolled them into small sticky balls, and shaped them into four small cheese discs.  After rolling the discs through flour, egg wash, dried bread crumbs, and fresh minced parsley,  I slid them into the freezer for an hour to harden.

After heating  the soup to a plopping spitting simmer, I ladled it into small soup bowls and  pan seared the croutons in buttered olive oil until they were gooey and  golden brown. Moments before the croutons  collapsed into a fried cheesy mess, I carefully dropped them into each bowl with a sprinkling fresh thyme leaves.

With deep roasted layers of flavor, the silken puree was light, rich, and complex. While the sumac brightened the sleepy puree with brash citrus undertones, the oozing goat cheese added creamy tang and crunch.



Spent vegetables?
Nope.
Simply repurposed.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You Say Potato...


What's in a name?
Gratin Dauphinois, Pommes Anna, Au Gratin Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes Au Gratin, and Scalloped Potatoes are all  variations of basically the same thing; they're names of preparations for sliced potatoes baked in butter or cream, with or without cheese, garlic, herbs, and/or breadcrumbs. Although there are classic methods for each variation, the possibilities and combinations are endless.

I'm not much of a rule follower.

 A couple of years ago, we took a gruyere laden yukon gold and red-skinned sweet potato gratin to my family holiday potluck.  Flecked with specks of fresh rosemary and layered with oozing gruyere cheese, the gratin was encased in a double rolled cheese-filled pastry crust. It might have been a little over the top,  but my family loved the curious gratin. Michael and I didn't taste a single crumb.  As the line formed around the food, we slipped out onto the chilly screened-in side deck and chugged  boxed white wine from paper Dixie Cups. By the time we finished our wine, the impressive monstrosity was completely gone.

For a recent  laid-back weeknight supper, I took a much simpler approach.

Sweet potatoes are...well...naturally sweet.  While I adore the marshmallow-topped brown sugared sweet potato casseroles that dot our holiday tables, I tend to lean toward a more savory bent when preparing them at home. Balance.

Scalloped Sweet Potatoes, with a twist.

Using my mandolin, I sliced a combination of four Madison County white-skinned and red-skinned sweet potatoes into 1/8 inch rounds. I buttered the bottom and edges of a spring form pan, dusted the butter with dried breadcrumbs, and layered the potatoes by color in a circular pattern with overlapping edges (Pommes Anna style), dotting each layer with butter, salt, and white pepper. Midway through the potato stack, I tumbled a cup of dried sour cherries onto one layer before finishing the layers with a topping of additional butter, salt, pepper, grated parmigiano reggiano, and fresh parsley.

After drizzling a cup of heavy cream over the potatoes, I tapped the pan to evenly distribute  the cream, covered it with foil, and slid it into a 350 oven to bake for 1 1/2 hours.

While the scalloped potatoes bubbled away, I soaked 1/3 cup of the dried sour cherries in equal portions of brandy and apple cider vinegar.

After an hour, I uncovered the potatoes for the remaining 30 minutes to brown the top. I drained the plumped sour cherries and used 3 tablespoons of the infused brandied vinegar to make a very basic vinaigrette ( 3 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper).  

I pulled the gurgling scalloped potatoes from the oven to rest and tossed baby arugula in the sour cherry brandied vinaigrette with orange zest, slivered tomatoes, and the re-hydrated cherries.

When the sweet potatoes were cool enough to slice, I nestled  delicate wedges over the arugula and served them  alongside rolled slices of leftover roast beef with  pan gravy.

Soft and creamy, the potato layers seemed to melt and  fuse together in the buttery cream. While the bronzed parmigiano cheese crust provided slight salty nuttiness, the hidden cherries cut through the richness, adding tangy tart bites with contrasting textures.

Sweet potato pie with attitude.

Savory.
Sweet.
Simple.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Turn It Up

Mental food juggling. This is the time of year when my mind usually drifts away and fills with carnal thoughts of  holiday gluttony. Cerebral food orgies. This year, while thoughts of juicy turkey meat, moist dressing, lusty gravy, and rich side dishes dance through my head, I  have an event at work 4 days before Thanksgiving that has me focused on Puerto Rican  stewed pork (Carne de Cerdo Guisada) and fried pork skins (chiccarrones).
Juggling.

Interruptus.
Distracted.
One day at a time.

Lately, I've had a wistful hankering for turnips. Ever year, one of my aunts prepares a small bowl of fabulous whipped turnips as a side dish for our family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Nestled among the gray-ish  turkey, rum-infused ham, giblet gravy, dressing, casseroles, jellied salads, cookies, cakes, and pies, her buttery whipped turnips always glisten under the overhead kitchen fluorescent lights.  One tiny bowl of turnips for 30 people. I've never snagged more than a single spoonful.

She says they're simple to prepare. Peel, boil, and mash. Her magic. While I've done everything with turnips except marry one, I haven't attempted her hallowed  method for delicate, light, and airy turnips. I patiently anticipate my yearly holiday rations.

Juggling.

With turnips on my brain, plans for Puerto Rican empanadas, shrimp mofungo, and ceviche were  immediately pushed to the back burner when I bagged 2 hefty purple-skinned Casey County turnips from the farmers market on a cold Tuesday morning.

Whipped turnips? Nope.

Turnip Souffle.
Souffles have a reputation for being finicky, but I think they're worth the small effort. Yes, they deflate. A lot of things in life deflate without tasting like an utterly  fantastic collapsed souffle. Who cares? Go with the flow. Even when they fall, their flavors and textures remain intact.

Before starting the process, I brought 5 large organic eggs to room temperature and separated them into 4 beaten yolks and 5  whites.

After peeling and dicing 2 large turnips (2 1/2 pounds), I plunged them into salted water and boiled them for 45 minutes.  When the turnips were fork tender, I drained them in a colander before pureeing them in a food processor and allowing them to cool.

I used a basic souffle base for a 6 cup souffle dish.  After melting 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over a medium flame, I added 3 tablespoons of flour to the butter and combined them to form a light roux (no color). When the roux pulled away from the skillet, I added 1 cup of warmed whole milk and whisked it to break up any lumps until it thickened, about 5 minutes. When the bechamel sauce napped the back of a spoon, I tempered the egg yolks  before incorporating them into the sauce along with 1 cup extra sharp aged white cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese, 1 cup of the turnip puree, fresh picked thyme, salt, and white pepper.

Turn it up.

I tossed the egg whites into a squeaky clean mixing bowl, added a pinch of cream of tarter, and beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they formed very stiff glossy peaks. To lighten the souffle base, I added 1/2 cup of the beaten egg whites before carefully folding (without over mixing) the remaining whites into the base.

After buttering  a 6 cup souffle dish, I dusted it with fine bread crumbs before filling it with the eggy turnip mix. I cranked the oven to 400 degrees, slid the souffle into hot oven, turned the temperature down to 375 degrees, and let it rip....without peeking. Hard.

While the souffle did its thing in the oven, I pan seared a thick ham steak in melted butter over medium high heat until the edges started to curl. When the ham caramelized,  I deglazed the pan with 1 cup of strong coffee spiked with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a splash of pure maple syrup. After turning the heat to low, I sliced the ham steak in half and let the two pieces gurgle in the sweetened red eye gravy/glaze.

Wine. No peeking.
After 40 minutes, I pulled the turnip souffle from the oven. As it quietly deflated, I double-swiped the ham steaks through the red eye glaze and topped them with slivered fresh Casey County red bell peppers before rolling large spoonfuls of puffed turnips to the side.

Clouds.
With sharp nutty undertones from the combined cheeses calming the slight earthy tang of the pureed turnips, the souffle was ridiculously light.

Like eating flavored air.                      





Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Went To A Garlic Party

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic is a classic old-school braised chicken dish that doesn't really pop up much anymore. Maybe it's passe', but it used to be cool.  Back in the day, I made every variation possible using peeled garlic cloves, unpeeled garlic cloves, whole chickens, or cut-up chickens.

Although I crave the flavor of deep roasted garlic, I haven't fiddled with 40 clove chicken for quite some time because it takes effort and time.  With cooler temperatures settling in,  my hankering for it started to get the best of me and I wanted to find a less fussy approach.

Bare bones.
Lazy chicken with 40 cloves of garlic.

Instead of peeling a ton of individual garlic cloves, I halved 4 whole heads of garlic. While 3  heads of garlic  split beautifully, the fourth one splintered like the  blue angry bird, shooting garlic shrapnel everywhere. With enough garlic flesh exposed, I knew the flying pieces would work perfectly.Win. Reload.


Using kitchen shears, I snipped the backbone from a very small chicken and tossed it into my freezer chicken-scrap bag  for a future stock.  After pressing down on the breasts to flatten them (spatchcocked), I carefully sliced through the breast bone, cutting the chicken in half.  To insure even cooking, I cut slits through the skin and flesh before sliding the tips of the drumsticks into the slits to secure them.  I seasoned the chicken  with kosher salt and slid  it into the refrigerator to air dry.

After a couple of hours, I pulled the tucked halves from the refrigerator to come to room temperature. I cranked a skillet over a medium high flame, melted 2 tablespoons of butter into a drizzle of olive oil, and seared the chicken on all sides (about 4 minutes per side) before removing it to a side plate.  While the skillet was still hot, I sauteed thinly sliced leek ribbons along with  the individual angry garlic cloves. As the garlic started to caramelize, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup brandy and 1 cup chicken stock.

When the brandied stock came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer before nestling  the chicken halves, split garlic heads, and halved heirloom garden tomatoes into the sauteed leeks and garlic bombs.

I scattered fresh tarragon over the chicken,  covered the skillet with aluminum foil, and slid it into a 350 degree oven to bake/braise  for an hour.  During the last 15 minutes, I tossed fresh brussels sprouts with salt, pepper, and thinly lemons before roasting them alongside the chicken.

When the chicken bundles reached 160 degrees, I  plucked them from their bed of melted vegetables, placed them onto a sheet pan, and returned  them to the oven to brown. for an additional 10 minutes.  After squishing the nutty soft garlic pulp from their slippery skins (reserving 2 halves), I used a fork to mash the roasted tomatoes, leeks, and garlic into a rustic  loose puree, thinning it with a splash of chicken stock.

I plated the chicken and spooned the puree over the top. As the garlicky aromatic puree puddled around the moist browned meat, I tumbled the charred  brussels sprouts to the side and nudged the reserved roasted garlic heads next to the chicken for squeezable toasted crostini toppers.

That was it.  A one pot wonder.

Oh sure, it was a ridiculous amount of garlic, but the long braise turned it into sweet nutty garlic candy. When mashed into the brandied stock, melted leeks, and roasted tomatoes, the broken roasted garlic puree bathed the moist chicken with savory sweetness and slight soft acidity.

Forks?  Nope.

Finger food.

Sticky.
Drippy.
Messy.
Lazy.


Fabulous.





Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Southern Comfort

Meat.  Potatoes.  Greens.

I stood there staring at an interesting stack of Paw Paw Plantation rhubarb.

Have you ever made rhubarb sauce?

I suppose I could have lied, said yes, and moved on.

No, I haven't.

Here's what you need to do. Don't peel them. Just cut off the brown spots and cut them up as big or little as you like. Put them into a pan and add a little water.  Not too much water or you'll dilute the flavor of the rhubarb. Don't leave the stove.  Bring the water to a boil and turn it down to a simmer.  Don't leave the stove or it might scorch.

After a few minutes, the fibers will break down and it will thicken.  You can add as much sugar as you want.  I only add a little because I like the tart flavor of rhubarb.

As I asked him a few questions, he genuinely seemed to care that I wanted to cook his rhubarb. His sauce. His old fashioned recipe for rhubarb sauce.

Smitten by his culinary storytelling, I  temporarily lost my mind and  asked him one last really stupid question.

What color will the sauce be after it's cooked? 

Really?  Did I actually think cooked green rhubarb would magically morph into the wonderfully pretty pink color of an old fashioned rhubarb pie?

Mr. MacIntosh weighed my rhubarb, bagged it up, and flashed me a wicked sweet smile.

It'll turn out the color that it is.

Enough said.

I was surprised that he didn't pat me on my head and gently shoo me away.

I followed his method, but changed it up at the end by pulling the rhubarb from the heat when the water evaporated to prevent it from breaking down completely.  I wanted individual tart bites of rhubarb for wilted mustard greens.

Meat.

Succulent pork tenderloin. To make it a little easier to handle, I sliced a 1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin in half and browned the halves in a hot skillet on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.  After brushing both pieces with dijon mustard, I rolled them through cracked tellicherry peppercorns, snipped chives, and finely grated fresh horseradish root. I thoroughly packed the coating onto the tenderloins and placed them in an oiled baking dish before sliding them into a 350 degree oven to roast for 35 minutes.

To make the most of the pork bits left into the bottom of the skillet, I cranked the skillet over a medium flame and added 1 cup fresh apple cider and 1/2 cup chicken stock. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced the heat to a simmer, and let the sauce reduce  to 1/3 cup (almost a glaze), before pulling it off the heat and swirling 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into the sauce for a glossy finish.

Potatoes.

I have a thing for white sweet potatoes. They're tricksters. Like edible Tromp l' oeil, they defy the senses. They may look like normal white thin-skinned potatoes, but they taste like sweeter fluffier versions of their pale orange sweet potato counterparts. Fabulous.

White Sweet Potato puree.
I peeled 1 1/2 pounds of Casey County white sweet potatoes, sliced them into uniform pieces, and dropped them into  a stockpot of cold water.  I brought the water to a boil, salted it generously, turned the heat down to a simmer, and let them rip for about 30 minutes, until fork tender. After draining the potatoes, I pureed them in a blender with a few pats of butter, salt, pepper, and a splash of  warmed  whole milk. I kept the puree warm in a mixing bowl placed over simmering water while I pulled everything together.

Greens.

To balance the richness of the pork, apple cider gravy, and potato puree, I took a somewhat twisted approach with gorgeous Scott County mustard greens.

Wilted Mustard Greens Salad.
I tore the feathery tender mustard green leaves into bite sized pieces and tossed them into a a bowl with thinly sliced Fuji apples. After heating a small cast iron skillet over medium heat, I sauteed 8 ounces of diced Finchville country ham until it crisped and rendered about 2 tablespoons of salty ham  fat. I scooped the caramelized ham from the skillet to drain before adding 1/4 cup minced shallots to the smoking fat. When the shallots softened, I deglazed the skillet with 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon dijon mustard.  Yep. Warm country ham vinaigrette.

I pulled the pork tenderloin from the oven, tented it, and let it rest for 10 minutes while I joined Michael in the parlor for a glass of  wine.

After slicing the pork into medallions, I nestled the medallions over the white sweet potato puree and napped them with  the reduced apple cider gravy before finishing with fresh chives and diced apples.  I spooned the wilted mustard greens to the side of the pork with a scattering of tart diced rhubarb, country ham, and thinly sliced apples.

Crazy.

The silky sweet potato puree provided a mellow sweet blank canvas for the tender pork. While the pungent fresh horseradish crust cut through the subtle sweetness of the cider gravy with aromatic stinging heat, diced apples and chives added tiny bursts of freshness.

Surprisingly, the delicate mustard greens  wilted ever so slightly from the warm country ham vinaigrette. Their tender bitter leaves popped with tart rhubarb and crisp wet apples, providing a soft acidic balance to the sleepy meat and potatoes.

Meat. Potatoes. Greens.

Fresh horseradish-crusted pork tenderloin with apple cider gravy, white sweet potato puree, and wilted mustard greens.

Southern comfort food.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Flour Dust


I spent a quiet morning at the Tuesday/Thursday Lexington Farmers' Market  kicking stones along the gravel paths. While the smell of toasting crepe batter wafted through the cool crisp air, deep  elongated autumnal shadows spilled across the almost empty lot subduing the colors of the pumpkins and mums.
Peaceful foraging.

Casey County lima beans. Check.
Scott County turnips. Check.

On the way to my car, a pile of Cleary Hill butternut squash caught my attention. Double check. Sweet nutty butternut squash. Perfect for soups,

 purees, roasted side dishes, or stuffings. It might be the most versatile fruit/vegetable available while our farmers' markets transition from summer into fall. Sold.
Lately, I've been on a fresh pasta kick, cranking out huge batches once a week and using them for just about everything. Fresh pasta. Butternut squash. Butternut squash ravioli?  Nope. While all the cool kids in town are turning out gorgeous variations of winter squash ravioli, I took a simpler route, using the same basic method for a less fussy butternut squash lasagna.

Store bought lasagna sheets would have worked  beautifully, but I love making fresh pasta. It's in me.  I love the way it feels, smells, forms, bends, twists, turns, and tastes. Soft. Plump. Forgiving. Over the years, I've  winged it when making fresh pasta. Flour. Eggs. Eggs. Flour. I've played with the proportions at whim. It never seemed to matter because the pasta always turned out great... until I accidentally stumbled upon the ideal combination while trying to tame a  temperamental batch of fresh  angel hair pasta. It was a revelation.  In fact, a few months ago I was hired by an executive chef (for a very brief stint) based primarily on the fact that I could throw together a decent batch of finicky fresh angel hair pasta. It's now my go-to pasta dough.

Butternut Squash Lasagna.

Mise en place.

I mixed 2 1/2 cups flour with 3 eggs and a pinch of salt.  After pulling it together from the outside edges to form a straggly ball, I kneaded the dough for 10 minutes until it was soft and pliable before wrapping the dough in plastic wrap to rest and relax the glutens.

I carefully halved my Cleary Hill Farm butternut squash, scooped out the seeds, brushed the flesh with olive oil, and seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper. After placing the halves cut-side down on a sheet pan, I added 1/2 cup chicken stock (to help steam/roast the squash), and slid them into a 400 degree oven to roast for 40 minutes.

Wine break.

After cutting the pasta dough into fourths, I rolled each piece through my pasta machine, changing the setting after each pass, until I had four long pasta sheets. No cutting, stuffing, crimping, primping, or sealing. I simply sliced the sheets into 8 inch lengths. Done.

I pulled the roasted butternut squash from the oven to cool, brought a water-filled stock pot to a rapid boil, tossed a handful of salt into the rolling water, and cooked the lasagna sheets in batches until they were al dente (maybe a bit under al dente), about 7 minutes.  After draining the pasta, I scooped the slippery sheets onto kitchen towels to drain and absorb any excess water.

When the squash was cool enough to handle, I scooped the orange mash into a large mixing bowl before adding 1 cup whole fat ricotta cheese, 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese, 1 minced garlic clove, a pinch of nutmeg, salt, and pepper. I could have used a food processor to puree the mix, but I chose to whip it like mad it until melted into a lusty creamy butternut squash puree. Spoon, please.

Wine break.

Before assembling the lasagna, I simmered 2 cups of  heavy cream with 4 fresh sage leaves until it thickened and set it aside. After quartering a large fennel bulb, splitting 3 green onion bulbs, and thinly slicing 2 lemons,   I tossed everything with olive oil, salt, pepper, and  pomegranate molasses before sliding them into a 350 degree oven to roast for 45 minutes.

I spooned a thin layer of the cheesy pureed butternut squash onto the bottom of a buttered deep casserole dish before building the lasagna with alternating layers of squash, grated pecorino romano, sage cream, and steamed fresh spinach.  After four heaping layers, I topped the lasagna with a generous portion of grated pecorino and slid it into the oven to bake alongside the vegetables.

When the lasagna browned on top and the fennel caramelized, I pulled them both  from the oven to rest while I rested with a huge glass of wine or three. Maybe, four.

Instead of slicing the lasagna into wedges or squares, I used a ring mold to cut them into timbale-like round portions. After sliding them into pasta bowls, I drizzled  the towers with sage cream, topped them with  fried fresh  sage leaves, and tumbled sweet red peppers to the side. I nestled the fennel quarters, onions, and lemons around the lasagna timbales,  finishing with fresh fennel fronds.

Unlike more traditional  hearty lasagnas, the butternut squash variation was soft, light, and  delicate. The thin fresh pasta sheets melted into the layered fillings, leaving them with the texture of an airy mousseline. While the cream sauce gave a wink and a nod to sage without screaming holiday food, the pomegranate molasses-glazed fennel, onions, and lemons added a subtle sweet tart acidity that balanced the richness of the lasagna.

Crazy.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tomatoes In The Pumpkin Patch

Something feels out of whack. We have Chaney's pumpkin ice cream in the freezer, pumpkins on the front porch, and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes on the windowsill.  It's October,  the season for corn mazes, pumpkin patches, apple picking, fresh apple cider, and winter squash.

Fresh Tomatoes in the pumpkin patch? Really?
The tomato seedlings we bought from Henkle's Herbs and Heirlooms at the farmers' market last spring have  morphed into one gigantic tomato hedge with collapsed tangled limbs limping over their cages, meandering and entwining at will. Amid the twisted growth,  tomatoes poke through the trapped fallen leaves and dried up branches. Crazy
 Oh sure, we're happy to have tomatoes this late in the season.  Who wouldn't be happy? They just feel weird and out of place. A few mornings ago, I watched a confused squirrel try to bury a bright red tomato in his winter war chest. Welcome to the club, little buddy.

October tomatoes.
Eventually, I'll roast them.
Or juice them.
Or throw them at the garage.

Right now, the tomatoes are still so damn perky. Cheery, even. Happy looking. Undaunted by the recent dreary weather,  grey skies, chilly rain, and cooler temperatures, I embraced their out of season swagger and threw together an October heirloom tomato salad. Sacrilege.

I sliced  Black Carbon, Orange Minsk, and Red Jetsetter tomatoes into thick discs. To boost the flavor, I sprinkled them with sea salt and placed them in a colander over a large bowl to drain.  After 20 minutes, I slid the tomatoes onto a large plate and used the salty sweet drippings for a broken  tomato vinaigrette (1/4 cup tomato water, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, cracked pepper, and snipped chives).

I split a few Yellow Pear, SunSugar, and Supersweet tomatoes, and set them aside. For textural contrast, I grabbed another handful of the tiny sweet tomatoes, carefully scored the bottoms, and dropped them into boiling water for 5 seconds before plunging them into ice water. Their skins slid off like slippery smooth silk stockings. Easy.  Hidden treasures.

As an unconventional nod to a caprese salad, I halved a Madison County Key Largo sweet red pepper, removed the seeds, and stuffed the halves with fresh mozzarella cheese. After topping them with crisp candied bacon and diced green peppers, I slid them into a 350 oven to roast for 20 minutes.

I stacked the sliced tomatoes over lightly dressed baby arugula and tumbled the split tomatoes to the side. After pulling the bacon-flecked cheesy peppers from the oven, I nestled them next to the undressed tomatoes.

Crunch.
Every salad needs crunch, so I peeled and deveined 8 jumbo shrimp, dredged them through flour and egg wash, wrapped them each with shredded phyllo dough, and deep fried them in 350 degree oil until they were crisp before scooping them onto paper towels to drain.

After spooning the vinaigrette over the glistening tomatoes, I showered them with biting cracked black pepper, briny capers, and fresh basil flowers before finishing with the peeled tomato jewels and the outrageous fried shrimp croutons.

Crisp. Fresh. Clean. Unexpected.

A simple salad from our garden jungle.
October heirlooms.


Nothing could have topped that lusty warm tomato romp to help recapture the forgotten tastes of summer.

Now, it's time to carve the pumpkins.
Or cook them.


Monday, September 24, 2012

In A Pickle?

There's nothing quite like the funky fermented flavors of Korean kimchi.  With pungent, salty, sweet, sour, fishy, and spicy undertones, gimchi, kimchee, or kim chee, is Korea's national dish.  Although the most common type of kimchi is cabbage based, depending on the season or region of Korea, there are hundreds of varieties of the traditional fermented dish.

While I've made kimchi a few times (with hit and miss success), I typically buy it in glass jars from the supermarket.  After tossing it into soups/stews, draping it over sticky rice, or eating it straight from the jar, I drink the leftover stuff. Trust me, drinking leftover kimchi crud isn't glamorous, but it's damn tasty.

Lately, I been intrigued with the notion of a very common spring and summer kimchi variation made with cucumbers.  Cucumber kimchi (Oi Sobaegi) is made with fresh thin-skinned cucumbers that are available during the market season. It's a quick kimchi that can be eaten right away or left to slightly ferment over a couple of days. It's fast, fun, fresh, and fantastic.

It's pickling season. While most of my friends might attest to the fact that I will pickle just about anything,  I stopped  putting up pickles a couple of years ago after I grew, picked, pickled, canned, and gave away 4 cases of jalapeno-spiked dill pickles during the holidays. No  jars. No canning. Nowadays, I use my over-sized blue enamel canning pot for crab boils and inland clam bakes. Although I'm out of the canning business,  I'm always game for batches of  quick pickles. Korean cucumber kimchi. Quick pickles with funky attitude.

Inspired by the abundance of cucumbers at our farmers' market, I hit the ground running. With most of the essential ingredients on hand, I simply had to make a quick trip to YuYu Asian market for a gigantic bag of gochugaru, fine Korean red chili powder.

Game on.

There are countless methods and procedures for throwing together a proper cucumber kimchi. Because they're all quite similar, I played around with the various methods and ingredients.

Traditionally, cucumbers are stuffed with the red pepper concoction.  After cutting four slits/pockets into the sides of the cucumbers, they're typically  stuffed, jarred, and left to cure. Fussy. Messy. Nope.

 Cucumber Kimchi.

I sliced 10 Casey County kirby cucumbers into spears before cutting them on diagonals into bite sized pieces.  I brought 4 cups of water to a boil before adding 4 tablespoons of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar. When the sugar/salt dissolved, I soaked  the cucumbers in the brine for 45 minutes before draining and rinsing the cucumbers.  After thinly slicing 3 carrots, 5 green onions, and a 2 inch nob of fresh ginger into 2 inch matchsticks, I dropped them  into a non-reactive bowl along with the cucumbers.

Spice. The soul of any kimchi.
I tossed the vegetables with 4 heaping tablespoons of Korean red chili powder, 3 tablespoons cane sugar, 3 teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons shrimp paste, 3 tablespoons Three Crab fish sauce, and 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar.  Because I couldn't help myself, I showered the kimchi with extra fiery chili powder before donning rubber gloves to mix the madness.

After spooning the kimchi into glass jars, I  clamped on the lids and left the  kimchi to sit on the kitchen counter overnight.  The following morning I slid the kimchi  into the refrigerator to cure for three days.





Here's the deal, the cucumber kimchi could have be eaten right away. By allowing it to ferment or cure for a few days, the vegetables had time to macerate and release their juices into the spicy blend,  creating deeper layers of  flavor.

Originally, I'd planned to serve the kimchi as a fiery cooling accouplement to spicy braised chicken feet. It didn't happen. A wee inner voice told me not to pull the trigger on that delectable treasure....just yet.

For snacks, I topped our kimchi bites with white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and snipped fresh chives.

Spiked with biting garlic, peppery ginger, and sweet carrots, the spicy  Korean red pepper juice coddled the innocent squeaky fresh cucumbers into fiery wet morsels.  Crisp. Sour. Spicy. Sweet.

Cucumber kimchi.
Quick pickles with a slow burn.
Fabulous.