Search This Blog

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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


30 pounds of chicken, 75 pounds of plump prime rib, 22 pounds of pencil thin asparagus, 20 pounds of jumbo shrimp, 10 pounds of applewood smoked bacon, and 230 miniature Hot Browns. We had one week to plan, prep, and cook everything before packing it all out to a gorgeous Woodford County horse farm for a spectacular off-sight event.
Volume. Big numbers. Big event.

Peppered with a little organized chaos, everything went off without a hitch. Long after the sun dipped behind the trees and rolling meadows, guests meandered  the grounds, spilled from terraces, dined, drank,and  reveled in the festivities. It was a fantastic night. I had an absolute blast.

When the dust settled, I needed/wanted to dial back the volume  for a quiet weekend away from the madness.

After a lazy morning stroll through the farmers' market, I bagged a few Casey County zucchinis, a handful of green beans, 5 baby celery root bulbs, and a couple of small Jessamine County purple sweet potatoes.

Safety in numbers.  Small numbers. It was enough for a weekend of simple cooking. On the way home from the market, Michael and I turned the volume down further by picking up a supermarket rotisserie chicken.  No apologies.

Celery Root Puree.
Typically, I use celery root to enhance and deepen the flavors of other foods:braises, soups, purees, or potatoes. I wanted  pure celery root flavor.  After plucking the gnarly spindles from the outer skin, I peeled the bulbs and diced them into 1 inch pieces (1 1/2 cups)  before boiling them in 2 cups chicken stock until they were fork tender and the stock reduced by half.  Working in batches, I pureed the soft celery root pieces with  2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, and a splash of cream. When the puree was the  consistency of firm whipped potatoes, I scooped it out of the blender and spooned it into an oven safe dish.

Skewered Zucchini Ribbons.
I pulled my mandolin from the cabinet gadget garage and thinly sliced the zucchini into pliable soft strips before threading them onto skewers, creating loose pleated green and white zucchini ribbons. Undulating zucchini waves.

The Chicken.
I didn't have to do much at all. I sliced the cooked bird in half and  placed one half flesh side down in a casserole dish. After dabbing the skin with butter, I splashed the chicken with 1/4 cup chicken stock, covered it with aluminum foil, and slid it into a 350 degree oven to bake.

After Michael and I finished off a bottle of crisp chardonnay, I slid the celery root puree into the oven to warm through, cranked a grill pan over a high flame, brushed the zucchini skewers with olive oil,  and grilled them until they were tender with crisp caramelized tips.

I spooned the celery root puree onto the center of two large plates, fanned a few pieces of chicken around the puree, and tumbled the zucchini skewers to the side. Simple. Clean. Lazy.

Green Beans and Potatoes.
Although I adore long simmered green beans with new potatoes (those wonderfully drab army green  potluck beauties), I took a different approach. I cooked the green beans and potatoes separately before combining them at then end for a final roasting period.

I brought 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, heavily salted the water, and blanched the beans for 5 minutes before plunging them into an ice water bath.  After peeling the gorgeous purple sweet potatoes, I sliced them in half before tossing them with 2 sliced green onions bulbs, olive oil, salt, and cracked pepper.

 I tented and sealed the potatoes in aluminum foil (en papillote-ish), placed them on a sheet pan, and slid them into a 350 degree oven to bake/steam for 45 minutes. After 15 minutes, I repeated the drill with the remaining halved rotisserie chicken.  During the last 15 minutes, I cranked the oven to 400, pulled the potatoes from the oven, split open the foil parcel, and added the reserved green beans to roast/char along with the soft purple sweet potatoes.

Sunday Supper: roasted purple sweet potatoes, green beans, and chicken with pan gravy.

Less volume.
White noise.
Simple chicken and market vegetables.

The calm after the storm.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Spitting Seeds

It's hard to let go of summer. In the midst of summer,  we sometimes hope it might last forever. Hope the pools will always be crisp, skies forever blue, and fresh produce abundant.  All the while, relishing the moments and flavors with abandoned thoughts of the waning time.  The now time.

While plump heirloom tomatoes, corn, and squash still dot the farm tables of local vendors, our farmers' market has started its unheralded segue into late season produce. The vibrant colors of spring and summer have been  replaced by the quieter muted tones of autumn.

The waning time.

Yesterday morning, I stopped by the market before work to pick up a few things. It was sparse. Empty parking lot. Grey skies. Few vendors.

Before collapsing  into a sea of maudlin melancholy, giant watermelons smacked me back to reality. Really? Piled alongside gourds and butternut squash, they seemed strangely out of place.  Where were the parades?  The festivals? The picnics?  Did I miss something?  I suppose I thought watermelons had surrendered and disappeared with the forgotten days of summer.

Nope.  Watermelons were everywhere. There were a few of the smaller cute varieties, but the majority of them were big.  Really big.  Stacked on top of each other like huge green canons, they appeared locked,  loaded, and primed  for rapid fire seed spitting.

Who the hell buys a watermelon after Labor Day?
I succumbed to the lusty crimson flesh of an enormous Summer Flavor watermelon.

Shrimp and Watermelon Salad.
I quartered and cut the monster of a melon into manageable pieces. Because I wanted firm meaty pieces of watermelon,  I sliced the flimsy center seedy section from the outer edges and happily munched on the juicy sweet flesh while spitting transparent  seeds into the trash. Yep.

After  washing my face, hands, counter top, and cutting board, I diced the remaining watermelon into small cubes (brunois, 2 cups) and tossed them into a mixing bowl.  After slicing 1/4 pound steamed shrimp into tiny discs,  I diced 1 cup green bell pepper, minced 1 clove garlic, and 1 small shallot before adding them to the watermelon.

I seasoned the salad with salt and pepper, showered it with fresh cilantro, and doused it with a bright lime vinaigrette (1/2 cup fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper) before sliding it into the refrigerator to chill and marinate.


After filling apertif flutes with the watermelon-shrimp salad, I topped them with steamed shrimp, fresh chives, flaked salt, and coarsely cracked Tellicherry black peppercorns.

The watermelon jewels almost pickled in the marinade, creating ripe bites that were crisp, sweet, and tart.  While the buttery tender shrimp mellowed the zing of the lime and cilantro, the aromatic peppercorns added stinging crunchy heat.

So, what was it? Watermelon-shrimp salad, shrimp seviche, gazpacho, or shrimp-studded watermelon pico de gallo?

Perhaps all of the above.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Appalachian Cazuelas

I ended up with the Bybee Pottery.

When I was a kid, my dad and I would pile into his orange GMC pickup truck, well before sunrise, and drive for hours from western  Kentucky to Bybee, Kentucky with hopes of filling the truck bed with Bybee Pottery to sell at his Trading Post on the edge of Barren River Reservoir.  On certain days of the week, people lined up in front of the wooden pottery shed before 8:00 am to buy pieces from the oldest family-owned pottery shop east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Founded in 1809 by Webster Cornelison, members of the Cornelison family made and sold their imperfect pottery until 2011 when they suspended operations.  Hand thrown from clay that had been open-mined in Madison County, the pottery was dried, glazed, and kiln fired to create unique (usable) pottery pieces.

My dad bought Bybee Pottery by the truckloads. The varieties were staggering: dinner plates, salad plates, pie plates, serving dishes, casserole dishes, bowls, pitchers, soup bowls, serving bowls, punch bowls, coffee cups, and canister sets were available in a multitude of colors and patterns. Whether they were Bybee blue, navy, denim, burgundy, white, sand, teal, yellow, brown, pink, rose, pink, speckled, or reversed speckled, we had them all. Every color, pattern, shape and form. They were a part of our everyday lives. When my dad passed away, I ended up with all of the pottery.

Although we've  lost a few pieces over the years  from overzealous movers, careless handling, and downright stupidity, Michael and I have managed to salvage the bulk of my father's pottery. Because they're microwave, oven, and dishwasher safe, I use them all the time.  That being said, I have a two round  Bybee casserole  dishes  that have always befuddled me. With conical-shaped handles, they're  too small for Thanksgiving casseroles and too big for individual soup crocks. Size matters.

Recently, I noticed that my awkward Bybee  dishes looked somewhat like cazuelas, traditional Spanish  round earthenware cooking vessels with shallow rims used for baking,  braising, roasting, soup making, and serving.

With fresh eyes, I re-purposed them into Appalachian cazuelas for a riff on shirred eggs with deconstructed   hash.

Game on.

Mise en place.

I sauteed fresh shitake mushrooms (purposely leaving the tough stems attached) with garlic and slivered candy onions.  When the onions caramelized and the mushrooms browned, I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley before removing them from the skillet.  After adding an additional drizzle of olive oil over a medium flame, I sauteed blanched quarerted new potatoes until they were golden brown. After scooping out the potatoes, I tumbled 1 cup of thinly sliced candy onions into the skillet, sauteed them until they were translucent, and added 2 minced garlic cloves. When the garlic was fragrant, I deglazed the pan with 1/4 white wine combined with 1/4 cup chicken stock and let the liquid reduce to 2 tablespoons before tossing thick hardy leaves of organic spinach into the concentrated onion stock to steam for 3 minutes.

I scooped the bright spinach  onion jam  out of the skillet to cool, poured myself a goblet of wine, and gave it a break.

Deconstructed hash.

After a few glasses of wine, the prep was a thing of the past, the living was easy, and supper simply cooked itself.

I swirled the cooked spinach and onions into the buttered makeshift Appalachian cazuelas with a scattering of the sauteed potatoes before feathering gorgeous prosciutto slices around the edges.  After tumbling the shitake mushrooms over the potatoes, I haphazardly sliced/squished neglected overripe windowsill heirloom tomatoes and nestled them (juice, pulp, skin, and flesh) into the mix.

After preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I cracked two large organic eggs into each cazuela, grated  parmagiano reggiano over the eggs, and slid them into oven to bake until the whites set, leaving the yolks loose and runny, about 12 to 15 minutes.

I pulled the steaming shirred eggs from the oven,  showered them with snipped chives, and buttered buttermilk biscuits to sop up the mess.

Oh, my.

The eggs seemed to float in the hash, slightly suspended throughout the salty prosciutto, sweet garlicky spinach, silken mushrooms, crispy potatoes, and juicy tomatoes.  When pierced, the jiggly yolks spilled into the hash.  As the  yolks oozed, they  pulled the nutty cheese  into streams that swirled through the sweet tomato pan juices, creating sexy fondue puddles for the flaky buttered biscuits. Soppers.

Empapar. To soak up.