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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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.