Search This Blog

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cravings

How do you solve a problem like a craving?

It started out very simply. I had a craving for chicken marsala. I know, right?  Sometimes, the relics of the past just seem so right. Think about it. What could possibly be wrong with pounded chicken scallopini dredged in flour, pan fried in butter, deglazed with fortified marsala wine, finished with sauteed button mushrooms, and served over pasta? Italian-American old school. Think of candlelit red and white checkered tablecloths topped with rope-entwined bottles of chianti covered with dusty white candle wax. Yep.  I craved old school chicken marsala. The problem? With the frenzied energy of the holidays richocheting off the walls like rubber Wham-O Super Balls, I wanted the familiar flavors of chicken marsala without all of the last minute fuss. I wanted it to calmly cook itself while I took a nap on the couch.

Braised Chicken Marsala.
I was determined to find the path of least resistance.

I picked up a beautiful (albeit incredibly expensive) organic fresh Pike Valley Farm Foods whole chicken from Good Foods Market & Cafe. The pricey little bird was so fresh that it only took a few swipes with a sharp knife to easily break it down. I seasoned the chicken pieces with liberal amounts of salt and pepper before dropping them into sizzling hot oil. When the chicken started to lightly brown, I added 3 whole garlic cloves (peeled), a handful of pearl onions, and a few untraditional trimmed yellow carrots. Just before the carrots took on any color, I deglazed the pan with 1 cup marsala wine and let it reduce by half before adding 2 cups of chicken stock. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, tossed in a bundle of fresh thyme, covered the pot, and slid it into a preheated 350 oven.

After a short blood mary-induced nap ( about 30 minutes), I knew the chicken needed a bit more marsala and stock. I could tell from the aroma. Trust me. I've walked that fine line between perfectly reduced stock and burned stock, so I added 1/2 cup each  wine and stock before returning the chicken to the oven.

After 20-25 minutes, I pulled the chicken from the oven to rest while I played around with the finishing garnishes. Typically, chicken marsala is served over pasta with sauteed thinly sliced button mushrooms, sauteed shallots, and minced fresh parsley. Hell, I'd already taken the old out of old school, so I stepped outside of the box.

In lieu of button mushrooms, I went with gorgeous  hard to find fresh chanterelles. Instead of shallots, I chose pearl onions. Frozen pearl onions. The path of least resistance. Pasta? Nope. I went with Lexington Pasta Company potato gnocchi.

After chugging a few glasses of wine with Michael, I warmed the chicken over a low flame before sauteing the chanterelles in equal parts butter and olive oil. When the mushrooms were beautifully caramelized, I seasoned them with salt and pepper before pulling them from the heat.

I tumbled the chicken pieces into large pasta bowls filled with pillowy cooked potato gnocchi, scattered the onions to the side, topped the chicken with the mushrooms, and smothered everything with the insanely reduced sauce. To perk things up, I finished with a tangled combination of pea shoots, lemon zest, and orange zest for an unconventional riff on gremolata.

Here's the deal. Ditching the a la minute version of chicken marsala for a braised version deepened the slightly sweet smokey undertones of the wine and produced  meltingly tender chicken.  Napped with the garlic-infused sauce, the succulent meat slipped from the bones like softened butter. That said, the pricey chicken took a back seat to the mushrooms. It was all about the rich meaty chanterelles. Plumped somewhat by the slightly sweet sauce, the caramelized bits on the chewy flesh intensified the natural nutty earthiness of the marsala glazed mushrooms. Golden sponges.

Chanterelle Marsala with Chicken.
A twisted take on a familiar craving.
Fabulous.











Monday, December 9, 2013

Poached

It's been ages since I've poached pears.  Typically, I toss sliced pears into salads or crisp them up in the oven for chips.  The last time I poached them was for a swanky holiday supper at my father's house on his lakeside farm. Although my father was a big time bourbon drinker, he always stashed boxes of cheap red wine on the enclosed second story back deck. While the wine might have been drinkable, I used a few glugs of the cheap stuff to poach pears as a savory side to accompany the familiar holiday trappings. I'm not really sure the glistening ruby-red pears brought a heck of a lot to the party, but they definitely packed a stunning unexpected punch to reward my self indulgent folly. More is more. I haven't thought much about those pears since that night.


It's coming on Christmas. Michael and I have quietly embraced the season. Every night, pierced by the warm glow of a gazillion lights reflecting through snow globes, we chug wine in our parlor and try to untangle the twisted mess of the past year. Christmas. Strategies. Plans. Angst. Joy. In the midst of it all, I remembered those happy holiday pears.

Most preparations for poached pears require tons of sugar simmered in wine (red or white) to create simple syrups for pear desserts. Nope. I reduced the amount of sugar and took a savory route.

Small effort. Big payoff. Really.

Red Wine Poached Pears with Chevre.
After peeling four firm Bosc pears, I left two whole before coring and halving the other two, leaving the stems attached. I filled a stock pot with a bottle of Merlot, added black peppercorns, fresh lemon juice, 2 bay leaves, a whole semi-dried chili pepper, 3 cloves, and 1/2 cup sugar to balance the acidity in the wine. I carefully plunged the pears into the wine, brought the wine to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let the pears poach until they were tender, turning them over in the simmering wine every 10 minutes to insure they cooked evenly. I used very firm (almost under-ripe) pears, so it took about 40 minutes until they were tender enough to pierce with a knife.

I pulled the pot from the heat and let the pears come to room temperature in the reduced wine. When they were completely cooled, I carefully placed them into a deep pan with the aromatic wine, covered them with plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill overnight. Occasionally, during wine refills or snack attacks, I basted the pears with the chilled wine until they were deeply stained. Like fruity sponges, they continued to absorb the wine.

I knew I was going to fill the pears with cheese. Wine and cheese. Classic. Pears pair beautifully with any blue veined varieties, so I thought about gorgonzola or stilten. I toyed with the notion of grating Boone Creek Creamery blackberry wine-infused gruyere ( my current favorite) over the pears, but that seemed like overkill. In the end, I went with whipped cracked black pepper chevre.

After nestling the pears onto baby arugula, I piped enough whipped chevre to fill the hollowed-out cores, seasoned them with pepper, drizzled the reduced poaching wine over the flesh, and finished with a scattering of candied pecans.

With hints of pepper, chili, and bay, the soft acidity of the wine balanced the inherent sweetness of the pears, tipping them over to the savory side. Paired with the subtle graininess of the cooked pears, the creamy tang of the chevre and the sweet crunch of the pecans created a fantastic play on textures.

Holiday (or any day) Red Wine Poached Pears.


Simple.
Festive.
Fun.








Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bread and Butter

I'm a fool for bread puddings, so when I snagged a few gorgeous baby leeks from Elmwood Stock Farm I was downright giddy about whipping up a batch of Thomas Keller's savory Leek Bread Pudding. Whether they're sweet or savory, bread puddings seem fairly straightforward. Bread. Cream. Eggs. Stuff. Piece of cake, right?  The bread base for Keller's bread pudding was his recipe for brioche. Yep. Brioche. Butter bread. With tons of butter and eggs, brioche is bread pretending to be pastry. What the hell,  I embraced the madness.


Two days later, (after mixing the dough, proofing it for 3 hours, punching it down, chilling it it overnight, molding it into loaf pans, proofing it for an additional 3 hours, brushing it with egg wash, and baking it for 45 minutes) I had two small loaves of brioche.

The  leek bread pudding didn't happen. Overkill. My two-day romp with Keller hit the proverbial wall, so I scrapped it and re-purposed everything for a riff on onion soup. I reserved one of the buttery loaves and threw the rest of the bread into the freezer for Thanksgiving stuffing.

Michael and I both love traditional French Onion soup. It's hard to resist bowls of deeply caramelized onions simmered in a beefy red wine-infused stock topped with croutons and melted gruyere cheese. That being said, I wanted to lighten it up a bit.

Leek Soup.
Stock. Chicken stock felt like the way to go with the delicate baby leeks. After thawing hoarded chicken parts from the freezer, I tossed them into stock pot with chopped onions, carrots, celery, green peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh parsley, lovage, and thyme. I filled the pot with water, brought it to a boil, reduced it to simmer, and let it gently rip for 4 hours.

Leeks. I trimmed the leeks by removing the dark green stalks and root ends. Not wanting to waste anything, I tossed the sliced dark leek ends into the stock pot to fortify the leekiness of the stock. After slicing the leeks as thinly as possible, I rinsed them well and patted them dry. I melted 3 tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven, added a drizzle of olive oil, and tumbled the leeks into the pot. When pale rings started to sizzle, I showered them with salt, turned the flame to low, and simmered them for 2 hours.  Every 20 minutes or so, I stirred the leeks and skimmed the scum from the stock.

Brioche Croutons. While the stock and leeks mindlessly simmered away on the back of the stove top, I sliced the brioche loaf and used a biscuit cutter to create 2 inch round croutons. After brushing them with melted butter, I sprinkled them with sea salt, and slid them into a 350 oven to toast for about 15 minutes.

When the leeks collapsed into tender pulp, I pulled them from the heat to cool.
After 4 hours, I strained the stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander, quickly cooled the stock in an ice bath, removed the fat, and set it aside.

Soup. I re-warmed the leeks over a medium flame. When they started to spit and stick, I deglazed the pot with 1/3 cup sherry and let it reduce to a glaze before adding the chicken stock.

After simmering the soup for 45 minutes, I ladled it into 2 crocks, floated the brioche croutons on top, and smothered them with grated Boone Creek Creamery Smoked Gruyere cheese before sliding the bowls under a preheated broiler. When the cheese  browned, I pulled the soup bowls from the oven and finished them with a scattering of fresh thyme.

It's funny how things can spin on a dime.
Weighed down by the mounds of melted gruyere, the fragile brioche croutons disintegrated in the gelatinous stock and absorbed  the leeky broth. As the smoked nutty cheese collapsed into the swollen mix, it swirled through the suspended leeks and puffed croutons. Within seconds, the bread, broth, cheese, and leeks plumped into a wonderfully wet accidental riff on leek bread pudding.

Full circle.
Go figure.

















Friday, November 15, 2013

Stalks

When it comes to Thanksgiving, I gave up trying to reinvent the wheel. I've mucked up quite a few Thanksgiving staples attempting to reinterpret our favorite family stuffings and side dishes. I won't even mention what I've done to countless turkeys over the years. There was no limit to my insanity. Lessons learned. Some things should be left alone.

Nowadays, we keep things simple and honest.  In the end, it's about remembering our families with the food that we  love.  That being said, on Thanksgiving, Michael has to have his stuff and I have to have mine. When combined, we have enough food for a small army. An army of two. Booya. While we keep the non-negotiable big ticket items rooted in tradition, we leave wiggle room for the bonus stuff. The unexpected extras. We've never been sticklers for the green stuff on Thanksgiving, so we'll mix things up from year to year by throwing together quick steamed broccoli with hollandaise, skillet roasted green beans with fried shallots, buttered green peas, or brussels sprouts. While those play second fiddle to the heavy hitters (in our world), the green stuff is always a nice respite from the array of oranges, grays, and browns. Balance.



Brussels sprouts. You either love them or hate them. We love them. Most people are turned off by the sulfuric taste of mushy overcooked brussles sprouts. When prepared properly, they're nutty, sweet, versatile, and sensational. Whether shaved into salads, deep fried, shredded into slaw, or oven roasted to bring out their inherent sweet nuttiness, brussels sprouts are no longer culinary wallflowers. They're the sophisticated belles of the ball.


Brussels sprouts just might be the perfect Thanksgiving side dish. However they're prepared, they deliver just enough fantastic cruciferous  funk to perk up the savory richness of everything else on the table.

It's hard to resist stalks of fresh brussels sprouts. When I ran across a few nestled on crushed ice in a basket at Good Foods Market and Cafe, I knew I hit the vegetable jackpot.

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Prosciutto with Pomegranate Molasses.
With a little forethought, they were a cinch to prepare. Because I have a tendency to get ahead of myself when roasting things together with different cook times, I stepped back and decided to add the ingredients in layers. I've burned my share of onions and scorched plenty of roasting pans with sheer impatience. Trust me. Ask Michael. We have a pot graveyard in the garage.


Using a small paring knife, I snipped the sprouts from the woody stalk. I sliced the larger sprouts (from the bottom of the stalk) in half and left the smaller ones whole.  After tossing them with olive oil, I seasoned them with salt and pepper before tumbling them into a large cast iron skillet.

Brussels sprouts caramelize better and cook faster with high heat, so I slid them into a preheated 375 degree oven to roast for 40 minutes. After 15 minutes minutes, I added 2 sliced purple candy onions from Elmwood Stock Farm and returned the skillet to the oven.  15 minutes later, I pulled the brussels sprouts from the oven and deglazed the hot skillet with a 1/4 cup homemade chicken stock.

When the stock reduced, I drizzled 2 tablespoons of tart pomegranate molasses over the sprouts, gave them a quick toss, draped torn pieces of prosciutto around the glazed vegetables, and slid the skillet back into the oven for 10 minutes to crisp the prosciutto.

After allowing the caramelized brussels sprouts to cool for a bit, I finished them off with a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds and delicate Long Valley Organics radish micro greens.

Here's the deal,  pomegranate molasses is a misleading misnomer. We tend to think of typical molasses as a wonderfully thick sticky sweet syrupy goo. While pomegranate molasses has the sticky part down, it's  incredibly tart with dark sweet undertones. Combined with the saltiness of the reduced stock, it created a soft slightly acidic tart glaze.

Nutty. Sweet. Tart. Intense. Mellowed by the high heat, the charred brussels sprouts were both crisp and tender. As the crisped prosciutto melted through the soft sprouts, the salty fat tempered the subtle sassy tang of the glaze and countered the vibrant wet crunch of the pomegranate seeds. Killer.



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Spooned

I tasted my first bite of spoonbread years ago when Michael and I had dinner at Historic Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky. I had just moved back to Kentucky from New York City to live with the boy of my dreams in a small townhouse apartment located a few blocks from downtown Richmond. Nestled on a steep embankment surrounded by a sea of pavement, the apartment had ample parking and a tiny deck overlooking Interstate 75. With romantic innocence, we simply pretended that the relentless roar of the interstate traffic sounded like continuous crashing ocean waves. High tide all the time. Cozy.

There wasn't much to do in Richmond circa 1985. We were both college graduates living on the cheap in a college town. Aside from sunbathing on our asphalt beach (drinks in tow), date nights at Ponderosa Steakhouse, or occasional trips to Lexington for late night drag shows at Johnny Angel's Disco, we spent  most our free days driving around the rolling back roads of Madison and Estill Counties. Windows down. Music blaring. Trips to nowhere. On one particular drive, after hiking up the pinnacles of Indian Fort Mountain just outside of Berea, we passed Boone Tavern and thought it would be great fun to live large and return for a sampling of their classic southern fare. Reservations? Check. Jackets? Nope. Back in the day, Boone Tavern had a dress code. Gentlemen were required to wear jackets at dinner. Period.  If anyone arrived without one, they were invited to browse through their lovely complementary selection. I didn't have a jacket. As a transplanted New Yorker, I landed in Kentucky with a lone suitcase filled with Andy Hardy-esque cuffed baggy pants, skinny ties, weird dress shirts, and saddle oxfords. Yep.

Undaunted by my hip hapless wardrobe, we arrived  for dinner. After rifling through the complementary jacket closet, I dressed like a wayward clown and joined Michael for dinner in the old dining room of Historic Boone Tavern. Within minutes, a student-server glided by our table offering dollops of fluffy souffle-like spoonbread with butter. I have no idea what else I ate that night. It was all about the light and airy spoonbread. Swallowed in my ill-fitted borrowed jacket that certainly didn't match my saddle oxfords, the spoonbread got to me.

Spoonbread is totally southern. Cornmeal. Eggs. Milk. Butter. Humble ingredients. It's like a crazy cross between cornbread, souffle, and savory corn pudding. It's like nothing else. Spoonebread is simply spoonbread. There are countless variations.  Some folks like to gussy it up with various add-ins. Sometimes, less is more.

I went the less-is-more route. I wanted the real deal. I wanted the one served to Michael and me several years ago under the painted watchful gaze of Daniel Boone at his namesake tavern, so I went straight to the source. Served as an appetizer or southern amuse before every meal, Boone Tavern has been kicking out killer honest spoonbread for decades. It's what diners remember and crave. Richard Hougen, restaurant manager of Boone Tavern for over 30 years, compiled regional Kentucky dishes and his restaurant favorites in three cookbooks, including the recipe for spoonbread.

Boone Tavern Southern  Spoonbread.
3 Cups Milk
1 1/4 Cups White Cornmeal
3 Eggs
1 Teaspoon salt
1 3/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
2 Tablespoons Butter

Stir meal into rapidly boiling milk. Cook until very thick, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. The mixture will be very stiff. Add well-beaten eggs, salt, baking powder, and melted butter. Beat with an electric mixture  for 15 minutes.  Pour into well-greased pan and bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Serve from pan by spoonful with butter.
        Look No Further - Richard T. Hougen

It was fairly straightforward. I boiled the milk, added Weisenberger Mills unbolted plain white cornmeal, stirred it into a thick cornmeal mush, let it cool, added the remaining ingredients, and beat it with hand mixer for 15 minutes. Here's the deal, beating anything for 15 minutes seemed ridiculous. Determined to follow through, I actually attached my hand mixture to an extension cord, sat on the couch, and watched football while I mixed the spoonbread ingredients.

During the first 10 minutes of beating, I was very tempted to toss in snipped chives or cheese because it seemed downright boring. After 15 minutes, the weirdest thing happened.  The mixture transformed from a grainy cornbread texture into a silken batter.  I didn't want to muck it up with extra stuff, so I poured it into a well buttered dish and slid it into a preheated 375 degree oven to bake for 30 minutes.

When I pulled the puffed spoonbread from the oven, it deflated immediately. I slathered the top with 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cracked it open with a large spoon, let the butter slowly ooze into the center, and spooned dollops onto small serving plates.

Spoonbread butter bombs.
Just as I remembered.
No jacket required.






Friday, November 1, 2013

A Late One

A late One. Ale-8-One. Ale-8. Whatever you call it, the local soft drink owned by the same family and bottled by The Ale 8 Bottling Company down the road in Winchester, Ky since 1926 is a beloved homegrown Kentucky icon. Flavored with citrusy ginger undertones, the Bluegrass favorite contains less fizz, a bit more caffeine, and fewer calories than most other soft drinks. It's great straight out of the bottle or spiked with bourbon over ice. When taken out of its drinkable comfort  zone, Ale-8-One is a fantastic ingredient.

Bourbon & Ale-8-One Braised Short Ribs.
I love short ribs. With a little prep, they practically cook themselves. Season. Sear. Braise. Like a lazy Sunday pot roast, short ribs are very forgiving. For a wine guzzling forgetful cook like myself, short ribs are the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free cards. They're impossible to mess up.

Typically, I braise short ribs with mirepoix in red wine and beef stock.  When braised for hours, the burgundy stained ribs collapse  into sultry shreds of wine-infused meat candy. Perfect. Classic. That being said, I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I used the same method with different ingredients for an unconventional rustic riff on the classic braise.

Mise en Place.
Doubled mirepoix.
Carrots. Onions. Celery. Parsnips.
For the braising mirepoix, I peeled and quartered 1 bunch of rainbow carrots (reserved half), chopped 3 stalks of celery into 2" batons, diced a large candy onion, peeled whole Madison County baby parsnips(reserved 4), and smashed 3 unpeeled cloves of garlic before setting them aside.

For the finishing mirepoix, I combined the reserved carrots and parsnips with a pint of peeled pearl onions. Oh sure, pearl onions are pesky and impossible to peel, but they're also fabulous. While there are fussier methods for peeling them, I simply snipped off the root ends, tossed them into salted boiling water for 4 minutes, rinsed them under cold water, and slipped the tender onions from their tough outer  skins.

I took a little wine break and cranked the oven to 350 degrees.

Braise on.
After liberally seasoning 3 gorgeous slabs of grass fed short ribs with salt and pepper, I seared them on all sides until they were well browned to create a great crust, seal the meat, and render the fat. After 15 minutes, I removed the ribs to a side plate, drained off the fat, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed the uncooked carrots, onions, celery and garlic until they were tender, about 10 minutes. As an homage to my Bourbon Cooking School stint at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, I cranked the heat to high, deglazed the pot with 1 cup of  Bulleit bourbon and let it reduce to a smoky amber glaze before adding 2 bottles of Ale-8-One.

When the liquid came to a simmer, I added canned  hand-crushed whole San Marzano tomatoes, 2 cups chicken stock, and a gorgeous knob of impossibly fresh Casey County ginger. I brought  the soda-infused stock to a boil, tossed in 3 large fresh bay leaves along with a bundled  bouquet garni (fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lovage), sealed the lid with foil, and slid the pot into a preheated 350 degree oven.

While the ribs braised, I blanched the reserved carrots, onions, and parsnips until they were fork tender before shocking them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

The aromas wafting through the house were distracting. Intoxicating. I could taste the air as the invisible flavors dripped down the fogged kitchen windows.

After 3 hour hours, I carefully pulled the lacquered ribs from the intensely reduced sauce, slid them onto a plate, and covered them with foil. After skimming the fat from the sauce, I strained the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, pressing the solids through the strainer for extra texture and flavor. I ladled a cup of sauce into a small cast iron skillet, added the blanched vegetables, seasoned them with  black pepper, and simmered them over a low flame.

I returned the sauce to the dutch oven, added the ribs, and placed them back into the oven to warm through. After basting the ribs until they were sealed with layers of the rich mahogany-hued sauce,  I carefully nestled the jiggly meat onto beds of cooked spaetzle, haphazardly scattered the vegetables to the side, and  finished with a perky  fresh horseradish, parsley, and lemon/lime gremolata.

Ale-8-One.
Whether we drink it
or eat it, cheers to you, Mr. Wainscott.













Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Last Bits

The October farmers' market.

Frost on the pumpkins.
Crisp cool breezes.
Damp fallen leaves.
Fresh Summer corn.

Fresh summer corn? Really? Yep.  Perched on a farm stand table, a lone basket of Shelby County sweet corn seemed oddly out of place surrounded by a sea of pumpkins, gourds, apples, and pears. Although I knew it wouldn't have that familiar you-could-almost-eat-it-raw fresh taste of the first summer corn, I couldn't resist its peculiarity and grabbed a few ears. The last of the summer corn.

October tomatoes. Right now, they're few and far between.  "That's the last of them. I'm not coming back next week." Those were chilling words to hear from a passionate tomato farmer, so I bagged a few handfuls of  Clark County Green Zebra, Yellow Pear, Black Cherry, Yellow Plum, and Dona cherry tomatoes. The last of the summer tomatoes.

In an attempt to perk up my market melancholy, I took the last bits of summer and bridged the seasons with a simple roasted corn and tomato soup.

A very simple soup.

After slicing the kernels from the cobs, I used the back of my knife to scrape the corn milk from the tiny honeycombed sockets and tumbled them onto a foil-lined sheet pan. I halved the larger tomatoes, left the smaller ones whole, and tossed them with the corn. Because I had a few vegetable stragglers (you know, the ones that got away or were hidden under other stuff?), I tossed a few Bourbon County peppers, Blue Moon Farm baby patty pan and yellow squash into the mix before tossing everything with olive oil, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper.

I slid the corn, tomatoes, and vegetables into a preheated 350 oven to roast for 30-35 minutes. When the tomatoes collapsed into the caramelized corn, I
pulled them from the oven and scooped them into a blender.  After adding 2 cups of vegetable stock, I pureed the slightly charred vegetables until smooth, strained them through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of the gritty pulp, and added the pureed/strained soup back to the pot. Working over a low flame to keep the soup warm, I seasoned it liberally and added the juice of 1/2 lemon for a hint of acidity.

After a glass of wine or two, I ladled the soup into large pasta bowls before finishing with chives and deep fried basil leaves.

The complex layers of flavor belied the simplicity of the soup. While the slight whisper of lemon countered the deep roasted sweetness of the tomatoes and charred richness of the corn, the fresh chives added a slight grassy punch under the fragile crunch of the fried basil. Delicately smooth, the starchy late season corn gave the soup body, the tomatoes kept it light, and Michael's decadent buttery grilled cheese sandwiches (for sopping) gave it soul. Perfect.

The last bits of summer.












Sunday, October 13, 2013

Boned

Simple little ballotines.

Ballotine.  A hot or cold dish based on meat, poultry, game birds or fish in aspic.  The flesh is boned, stuffed, rolled, and tied up with string, usually wrapped in muslin (cheesecloth) - sometimes in the skin- then braised or poached ( galantine). 
                                                 -Larousse Gastronomique
I hadn't boned out a chicken in ages. Fussy. Boring, even. Bones add flavor, right? Why get rid of them? Well, I got a wild hair and sharpened my boning knife. For some ridiculous reason, I thought deboning quail would be much easier than deboning a small chicken. Yep, that's what I thought.

Galantine or ballotine? Or both?

Tucked under partridges, sweetbreads, guinea fowl, and duck breasts, I found four farm raised quail at Chritchfield Meats. Game on for a weekend project.

Day 1.
Prep.
Using a very sharp boning knife, I removed the neck portions from the quail and carefully cut around the tiny wishbones before pulling them out. After clipping the wings at the shoulder sockets, I pulled the wing joints from the meat and sliced along the backbone to remove the meat from the spine and rib bones, keeping the carcass intact. I could have deboned the tiny legs.  I didn't. Nope. I snipped them off at the sockets, removed the cartilage, and tossed them into a pot with the other bones for stock.

Before moving forward, I covered the quail bones with cold water, added a handful of whole black peppercorns, a bay leaf, and sliced purple cipollini onions (skins on). I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum without stirring, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2 hours until it reduced to 3/4 cup.After straining the small batch stock through a damp cheesecloth-lined colander, I cooled it in an ice bath and slid into the refrigerator to chill.

Assembly.
The fun part. I covered a large cutting board with plastic wrap, overlapped 2 thinly sliced pieces of pancetta
on the plastic wrap, positioned the boned out quail (skin side down) on top the plastic wrap, smeared finely ground chicken over the meat, and finished with steamed baby kale. After seasoning the filling with salt and cracked black pepper, I used the plastic wrap like a sushi roller and rolled the stuffed quail into cylinders, tying up the ends to form tight seals.

Galantine.
I brought 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, reduced it a gentle simmer, lowered the quail parcels into the water, weighed them down with a small plate to keep them submerged, and poached them for 20 minutes. When they  were cooked through, I scooped them from the poaching liquid, let them cool, and refrigerated them overnight.

Day 2.
Busy work.
Beets, onions, and potatoes. I drizzled unpeeled golden beets and peeled purple cipollini onions with olive oil, sealed them in aluminum foil, and roasted them for an hour. While the beets/onions roasted, I filled two small stock pots with cold water, filled one with peeled Bourbon County pink-fleshed Mountain Rose new potatoes and filled the other pot with peeled Casey County purple sweet potatoes. After boiling the potatoes until they were fork tender, I pureed them in batches (separately) with butter and cream.


I pulled the congealed quail demi-glace from the refrigerator, warmed it gently over a low flame and added blanched pearl onions. When the demi started to bubble, I tossed a few quartered fresh mission figs into the stock to poach for a few seconds. When the figs softened, I pulled the sauce from the heat and set it aside.


Ballotine.
First and foremost, I poured myself a two-fisted pilsner of cheap chardonnay.
After breaking the seal on the wrapped quail rolls, I sauteed them in a combination of olive oil and unsalted butter to crisp the poached pancetta. When the bacon caramelized, I slid the ballotines into 350 degree oven to warm through.

I pulled the roasted beets and onions from the oven, slipped the skins from the beets and drizzled them with olive oil. After slicing the ballotines into half inch rounds, I nestled them over ribbons of the potato purees and brushed them with the fig-infused quail jus. I tumbled the roasted beets to the side before finishing with snipped chives, micro sunflower shoots, sliced fresh figs, and julienned red pears.

Alrighty, then. Meat and potatoes.  For such innocent looking food, there was a lot going on.  The deep earthy sweetness of the roasted beets countered the sexy brash freshness of the figs and pears. Soft beets. Wet figs. Crisp pears. Naughty. Although they seemed like polar opposites, they complimented the salty richness of the ballotines and the slight bitterness of the microgreens. While the baby kale got lost in the twice-cooked shuffle, it wasn't missed. Perched on top of the dueling potato purees, plumped with finely ground chicken, encased with bacony pancetta, and napped with subtle quail jus, the quail ballotines were incredible. Tender. Moist. Firm. Rich.

Tiny birds.
Big flavor.
\
Ridiculous.











Saturday, October 5, 2013

Double Squashed

So, how on earth did I leave the market with an unlikely combination of clunky acorn squash, summer
heirloom tomatoes, Asian pears, feathery oyster mushrooms, and delicate late season squash blossoms? It's that crazy time of year at the farmers' market when the growing seasons seem to bleed into each other. Bins of summer tomatoes, baby yellow squash, herbs, and watercress happily line up on tables next to pumpkins, gourds, butternut squash, apples, and pears. Tomatoes and pumpkins. Is it summer or fall? Season straddling taunting confusion. It's a lot to take in. Mix and match.

Acorn Squash Ravioli with Other Stuff.
Butternut squash ravioli with sage and brown butter is the typical go-to winter squash-filled ravioli preparation. Sometimes, hazelnuts are thrown in for crunch.  It's a classic pairing because it works and is downright perfect. Well, I'm a sucker for acorn squash when it hits the market, so I changed things up a bit.

Squash.
I split 2 large Silas Farm striped acorn squash in half before scooping out the seeds and piercing the skins.
After drizzling them with olive oil, I roasted them cut side down for 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were fork tender. When the squishy squash halves cooled down, I pureed the soft cooked flesh with a pinch of nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of parmigiano reggiano.

Pasta.
I could sleep under sheets of pasta. Soft, puffy, and warm. Stuff it, quilt it, and call it a duvet. While the squash roasted in the oven, I threw together a fairly basic pasta dough.  I sifted 2 cups 00 flour into a very large bowl before adding 3 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  After gradually pulling the flour into the eggs with my fingertips until it was combined, I added a splash of water to loosen it up before kneading the dough for 15 minutes, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and setting it aside for an hour to rest.

Rolling.
While it's messy work, I adore rolling pasta. Using a bench scraper, I cut the wedge of dough into 4 equal portions. After dusting the dough with flour, I passed it through the roller 2 or 3 times on the lowest setting to knead it and prepare it for the big stretch. When the dough felt right, I rolled it out, changing the settings for thinner sheets after each pass.  When I reached the next to last setting, I dusted the sheets with flour and set them aside. Typically, when I make angel hair pasta or fettucini, I allow the pasta to dry somewhat before cutting it into ribbons. However, when filling raviolis, it's easier to seal the edges when the dough is still pliable.

Filling.
I dotted the pasta sheets with 1 tablespoon of the pureed acorn squash, painted the edges with egg wash,
and topped the filling with another pasta sheet. After pressing out the air, I sealed the edges, used a fluted ravioli stamp to cut the pasta, dusted them with flour, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

The Other Stuff.
Stuffed squash blossoms. Squash blossoms are a rarity at our farmers' market. A few vendors have told me that they're just too labor intensive to harvest.  On top of that, only the male blossoms can be harvested to allow the squash to keep producing. Who knew? When I came across a few baby squash blossoms from Blue Moon Farm, I squealed a small  internal squeal. They were gorgeous. It seemed so weird to see them in October. I felt like I was cheating.

I carefully clipped the pistels from inside the blossoms, stuffed the blossoms with whipped goat cheese, twisted the ends to enclose the filling, and set them aside. After preheating the deep fryer to 350 degrees, I whisked rice flour and soda water together until it was the consistency of a loose crepe/tempura batter. When the oil reached 350 degrees, I dipped the stuffed blossoms into the batter, briefly deep fried them, removed them to drain on a dish towel, and sprinkled them with sea salt.

Brown butter. In lieu of the more traditional sage butter, I opted for a fresh rosemary brown butter. Sage is fabulous with butternut squash, but I prefer rosemary with acorn squash. I killed two birds with one stone. I melted 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small cast iron skillet before adding a few fresh rosemary sprigs and sliced Blue Moon Farm oyster mushrooms. When the butter foamed, receded, and started to brown, I splashed it with
white balsamic vinegar for a hint of acidity and pulled the skillet from the heat.

Note. It takes approximately 1 1/2 glasses of wine for water to boil.

I brought a huge stock pot of water to a rolling boil, doused it with kosher salt, and dropped the raviolis into the hot bath. Within minutes, they bobbed to the top and were finished cooking.  Using a spider, I scooped them out of the water, patted them dry, and slid them onto serving plates. After drizzling the raviolis with the rosemary brown butter, I tumbled the sauteed oyster mushrooms and fried stuffed squash blossoms to the side before finishing with fresh rosemary.

For such ordinary looking ravioli, there was a lot going on. The natural sweetness of the pureed acorn
squash was tempered by the salty parmigiano-reggiano cheese and the piney fresh rosemary. When sliced, the filling oozed from the pasta like yellow ocher pudding and mixed with the nutty brown butter, creating a bonus sauce for the airy pasta. Win. While the sauteed oyster mushrooms added soft earthiness, the goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms countered with tangy crunch. Light. Crisp. Rich.

Acorn squash ravioli. Stuffed squash blossoms. Sauteed oyster mushrooms.
Fall and summer...on a plate.

Go figure.















Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BLT

Thick crunchy bacon, crisp lettuce, and garden fresh tomatoes on toasted bread with mayonnaise. What's not to love about a good BLT? Simple. Basic. Classic. Oh sure, there are countless gussied up variations. I could have cured my own bacon, baked a fine loaf of artisanal bread, or whipped up a creamy lemon-infused aioli. I didn't.

I spent a lazy weekend spinning a twist on the humble BLT.

BLT.
Belly. Lettuce. Tomato.
Pork belly is a wonderful thing. Cut from the underlying belly of the pig, thick ribbons of soft white fat are layered with pinkish colored meat. It looks like a big slab of fatty uncooked bacon. In fact, when cured and smoked, pork belly becomes the bacon we all know, love, and crave. Left uncured, it can be cooked low and slow to break down the collagen before crisping up the fatty stuff. The good stuff.

Pork Belly.
I managed to track down a local source for pork belly, but they only sold it in 10 pound slabs. Even for big time pork lovers, 10 pounds seemed like overkill. I stopped by one of our local Asian markets and hit the aromatic meat/seafood/guess-the-product butcher counter. Tucked between bins of chicken feet and other things, I thought I recognized pork belly. I got the butchers attention, held up a slab, and pointed to my stomach. He approved with a simple nod. Win.

Here's the deal. Preparing pork belly takes time. A little time. Small effort. Big pay off.

Brine. To flavor and tenderize the meat, I threw together a simple brine. After simmering 6 cups of water in a stock pot, I added 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup sugar, bay leaves, fresh lovage, fresh thyme sprigs, whole black peppercorns, and dried green peppercorns. I tossed a few trays of ice cubes into the pot to cool the mix before carefully trimming the skin from the top fatty layer of the belly and submerging it into the brine. I covered the pork with plastic wrap and slid it into the refrigerator to marinate for several hours.

After 8 hours or so, I pulled the belly from the brine, scraped off the herbs, and patted the meat dry.

Braise. I heated olive oil in a large dutch oven until it was smoking hot. After scoring the fat on the pork belly, I browned it fat side down, flipped it over, and browned the other side. We adore thick cut applewood-smoked bacon. To mimic that familiar flavor profile for our twisted BLTs, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup apple cider to pick up the sticky fond. When the cider reduced to a light syrup, I added 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, 1 cup apple cider, 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, a sprinkling of chardonnay-smoked sea salt, and 4 tablespoons of pure maple syrup. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and slid it into a 325 degree oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours, basting the scored fat every 30 minutes.

After a few glasses of wine hours, I pulled the pork belly from the oven and let it rest. When it was completely cooled, I transferred it to a deep baking dish, covered it with the fatty braising stock, and covered it with plastic wrap. To compress the meat and squeeze out additional fat, I placed a small baking pan  on top of the plastic-sealed belly and weighed it down with  an aluminum foil-wrapped brick before sliding it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.  By the time I called it a night, I was covered in pork fat and smelled like pig...in a good way.

Crisp. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and pulled the pork belly confit out of the refrigerator. After scraping the solidified fatty lid from the top of the pork, I carefully scooped the slabs of belly out of the gorgeous gelatinous  pork stock. I sliced the pork into small serving pieces and placed them fat side down in a small cast iron skillet before adding  the jiggly stock, a few split tomatoes, sprigs of fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. I roasted the belly pieces for 10 minutes, turned them over to expose the scored fat, and basted them constantly with the reduced maple-cider pork stock  until they were deeply caramelized.

Wine break.

Burnished with crackling fat, I pulled the mahogany-stained pork from the oven to rest.

BLT. After slathering Weisenberger Mills toasted cornbread croutons with mayonnaise, I nestled the candied belly bites onto the croutons and tumbled peeled green zebra cherry tomatoes to the side. I mixed the last harvest of Stonehedge Farm baby romaine with baby arugula, tossed both lettuces in a roasted Brown Berry cherry tomato poppy seed vinaigrette, and finished with scattered slivered radishes, halved Black Plum tomatoes, split Italian Ice tomatoes, and pickled apples.

Unconventional, to say the least. It's hard to cook and describe pork belly without embracing the fat. Fat. Good fat. Crisp fat. Sweet fat. Fatty fat. Embrace the fat. Fat equals flavor. Period. That being said, the fat was there without being overly there. It simply melted into the layers of pork, keeping the meat moist and tender. The charred scored tips were crisp and sweet. Candy. Salted maple-cider braised pork candy. Yep. However, like any conventional BLT, balance was key. With all the porkiness going on, it needed other stuff to make it work. While the roasted tomato vinaigrette added sweet zing, the ripe tomatoes, peppery radishes, lettuces, and pickled apples leveled the playing field with crunchy fresh acidic balance. Crazy.

Belly up


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Conch

Michael and I took our first joint jaunt outside the continental United States a little over twenty years ago. Back in those halcyon days, we were young, adventurous, naive, and very poor. After a few beachside camping vacations (we're not campers), we booked a cheap package excursion to Freeport, Grand Bahamas. It seemed simple enough. Drive to Miami, board a ship, sail to Freeport, and have fun...with little money.

After loading my hand-me-down Ford Granada with our duffel bags, traveling snacks, and vodka, we set out on the 1200 mile trek to Miami.  It was an adventure. Although the Port of Miami was a hectic place to maneuver, we managed to get our ducks in a row before boarding the Scandinavian Sun, a relic of a ship retired from bygone European cruising itineraries. We had no idea what cruise ships were supposed to look like, but we had an inkling the Scandinavian Sun had seen better days. It didn't really matter. The boat was merely transportation to the Bahamas. Well appointed with restaurants and bars, it was a glorified water ferry with perks. We had a blast on the 6 hour journey. Because it was a small ship without modern day stabilizers, the ship tipped and rocked violently as it cut through the rolling swells. When the crew eventually turned the ultra hip discotheque into a sick bay for the other passengers, we mocked them with rum runners. Six hours on an archaic boat and suddenly we were sailors. Drunken sailors.

Not knowing what to expect, we finally docked in Freeport Harbor. The harbor looked like an industrial wasteland. It wasn't fancy. It wasn't anything. A few shacks, rope, water, and boats. What the hell were we thinking? After making our way down the gangway, we shuffled our way through the stifling heat, a dusty parking lot, and stray chickens to find a cab to our hotel. It wasn't the right time to second guess our apparent folly. Covered in sweaty red dirt, we hailed a cab, tumbled inside, and made our way the The Lucayan Beach Hotel & Casino ( demolished years ago, it's now the Our Lucayan Radisson Beach Resort).

The hotel vanquished the port of misery from our rum-ridden heads. It was gorgeous. Our skanky cheap room was under renovations, so they upgraded us to a suite located in one of the newer wings of the hotel. After winding our way through fragrant dangling bougainvilleas, we stepped into our unexpected and undeserved ground level floor-to-ceiling marble tiled ocean front suite. We were speechless. Instead of a coffee maker, the vanity was lined with bottles of Stolichnaya vodka and Myers Dark Rum. Boom. Booya. We dropped our bags, made cocktails, kicked open the french doors leading to the patio, and stared at the clear Caribbean Sea serenely lapping at our doorstep. Within seconds, we quietly fell into the pristine teal blue water. Naked. Raw.Wet.

Swaddled in faux luxury, we made the most of our time on limited funds. We gambled once, shared a few gazzilion-dollar shrimp cocktails, and  spent our days on the hotel beach drinking Bahama Mamas. Everything changed when the sun went down. Armed with plastic cups filled to the rim with rum, we strolled the beachfront properties of the surrounding hotels (pretending to be guests) and enjoyed their nightly complimentary Bahamian beach cookouts.On those rum-induced nights, we fell in love with  puffy conch fritters, tomato-based conch chowder, fry fish, and conch salad. I was totally smitten with the ceviche-like conch salad. With the texture of abalone or calamari, tender sweet pieces of conch were tossed with diced tomatoes, peppers, onions, and  flecks of habanero peppers before taking a quick swim  in fresh orange juice and lime juice. The brilliant combination offered a cooling respite to the warm night air and sticky dark rum. Heaven.

Eventually, the clock struck midnight and we had to leave paradise. Back into a cab. Hello chickens. Long lines at the harbor. Immigration hut? Check. Our pumpkin awaited. On the sail home, we didn't drink, gamble, or mock anyone. We climbed to the highest most forward section of the ship, rested against the hot metal siding, held hands, and melted into a sea of dreams.

Until recently, we never returned to Freeport.

20 years later, after a fabulous 7 day Caribbean cruise, we barreled into a revamped Freeport Harbor on a grand seafaring chariot. For a brief time, we were back in our forgotten paradise.

Michael wanted a watch.
I wanted conch.

We boarded a tender for a scenic sail to Port Lucaya Marketplace.  When we arrived at the dock, Mr. Brown (Da Conch Man) greeted us, arms outstretched, with fresh conch hanging from his fingertips.  We shopped around the marketplace before settling into a dockside bar.  While we waited for our Yellow Birds to arrive, I snuck behind Mr. Brown's pastel-colored wooden shed for a peek at conch cleaning. Working under the splintered shade of the conch shack, his crew split the spiral tips of the shells (cracking), snipped the tendons to release the squiggly meat (jooking), and washed the conch meat in fresh water (slopping) before slicing off the head, foot, and tough outer skin. Messy business.

With the conch dispatched and cleaned, I watched Mr. Brown prepare my conch salad.  Using a machete, he gracefully diced tomatoes, onions, green peppers, habanero peppers, and conch. After seasoning everything with a sprinkling of salt, he scooped the salad into a plastic cup before showering it with hand squeezed orange juice and lime juice.That was it. No herbs. Nothing fancy.

I grabbed my salad, plastic spoon, and paper napkin. We chugged our cocktails and boarded a bus for the short trip back to the ship.

Michael had his Movado watch.
I had my fresh conch salad.

Paradise lost.
Paradise found.
Lucky boys.

Back in our old Kentucky home, I wasn't quite ready to let go. I ordered 5 pounds of frozen cleaned conch meat from Charlie's Seafood Market. Yep. No cracking, jooking, or slopping. I let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning I made a beeline to the farmers' market and picked up Casey County green bell peppers, Elmwood Farm cipollini onions, Stone Hedge Farm  habanero chilies, and Madison County Mountain Spring beefsteak tomatoes.

I simply mimicked Mr. Brown.
Diced. Chopped. Sliced. Squeezed. Nothing more, nothing less.

I even dished it up in the same plastic cup.

So, how did the conch salad stack up to the fresh  Freeport version?  It was close enough to turn the page, finish the chapter, and close the book on the islands.

For now.



                                         









Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prik

So, I picked up 2 pounds of fresh baby steamer clams for a pot of lusty clam chowder. It didn't happen. Thinking I had everything on hand, I only bought clams. Period. Nothing else. Oh, well. I chalked it up to my knack for distraction and took an opposing route.

Clam Salad with Nam Pla  Prik. Clams. Fish sauce. Chilies.
A simple (lazy) Thai inspired non-chowder.
During most of my kitchen antics, I rarely decant the huge bottle of Three Crabs fish sauce securely fastened (trust me)  to the bottom shelf of the refrigerator door. It seems that when I do pop the top, the pungent funk of fermented anchovies unleashes a primal call to the neighborhood cats. It's strong stuff.

Undeterred by the call of the wild, I mixed 1 tablespoon of palm sugar with 1/4 cup warm water.  When the sugar dissolved, I added 3 tablespoons fish sauce, 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, and 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves. In lieu of fresh Thai chilies (prik), I stained the dressing with a fat squirt of Sriracha chili sauce. After sliding the dressing aside to infuse the flavors, I sliced market radishes into half-moons  before slivering a small carrot, cucumber, red bell pepper, tomato, and purple candy onion into delicate bite-sized pieces.

I warmed a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame, added 1 tablespoon of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When the butter started to foam, I tossed minced garlic into the skillet. Just before the garlic browned, I hit the skillet with 1 cup of white wine, tumbled the clams into the garlic bath, covered the skillet, and let the clams steam until they opened, about 5 minutes.

While the clams were still warm, I dropped them onto a bed of baby arugula, purple basil, and orange mint. After scattering the vegetables over the top, I drizzled everything with the nam pla prik, purposely filling each clam shell to the brim.

Unconventional and unexpected.

Sure, the plump little steamers packed a sweet briny punch, the vegetables added crunch, and the greens provided an herbal fresh leafy bed for the salad. Blah. Blah. Blah. Anything could have been in that bowl.  It was all about the aromatic lip-burning nam pla prik.  Stinging heat. Sour lime. Stinky sauce. Biting garlic. Palm sugar. Balance. Talk about a sensory overload.  When combined, the marriage morphed the disparate ingredients into a slurpable salty, spicy, garlicky, sweet, and sour umami bomb.

With the last clam dispatched, I pushed the other stuff to the side and drank the dressing.

Every last potent drop.

Elixir.















Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Paper

It seems that every summer I become infatuated with something new and different from our farmers' market. It's not like I don't get around. Things simply pop up and totally surprise me. This season, I'm totally smitten with ground cherries from Stonehedge Farm.


So, what are ground cherries? Tucked inside papery lantern-like husks, ground cherries aren't cherries at all. Confused? Join the club.  Because they're in the same physalis genus as tomatillos and in the same family as tomatoes, they  have the characteristics of both fruits. Also known as husk tomatoes, strawberry tomatoes, or dwarf cape gooseberries, ground cherries are tiny nightshades that are understandably misunderstood.

Captivated by their dried husks, I tried one and was hooked. With subtle hints of pineapple, strawberry, and vanilla (some say butterscotch), ground cherries have a tomato/grape texture. Firm. Juicy. Sweet. Tart. Fabulous. Draped in culinary ambiguity, ground cherries can be used in either sweet or savory preparations. Packed with pectin, they're often used in pies, jams, chutneys, and jellies. They don't always have to go that route. Eaten raw, their mild sweet acidity pops in salads and salsas. Yep.

I used my latest haul of market ground cherries to explore their savory side.

Sea Bass and Ground Cherries en Papillote with a Saffron White Wine Sauce.

Mise en Place.
Small effort, big payoff.
I warmed 1/2 cup of dry white wine over a medium flame. When the wine hit a gentle ripple, I added a pinch of saffron and pulled it from the heat to allow the saffron to bloom.

While the saffron steeped in the wine, I thinly sliced 2 small Madison County red bliss potatoes , julienned 1 small carrot, slivered 1/2 shallot, halved a few red candy grape tomatoes,  frenched (sliced on an extreme bias) 10 Casey County tenderette green beans, and julienned 1/4 red bell pepper.  After slipping 2 cups of ground cherries from their delicate husks, I halved them and set them aside.

The sea bass in waiting? Two gorgeous certified sustainable center cut fresh sea bass fillets that I snagged from the Lexington Seafood Company.

Paper.
En Papillote. In parchment. Although just about anything can be cooked in parchment paper, the method works beautifully with fish and vegetables. It doesn't have to be fussy. After filling the parchment paper with ingredients, simply seal the edges securely to trap the steam while they bake. They can be folded like a gift or crimped and sealed from the top. I lean toward the heart-shaped method because I believe it produces a tighter seal. However they're crimped or sealed, cooking en papillote makes for easy clean up. The total package.

Using kitchen shears, I cut 2 sheets of parchment paper into two 15" x 24" rectangles, folded them half lengthwise, and cut half-hearts using the folded sides as a guide. When opened, I had two large paper hearts. Kitchen arts and crafts.

After drizzling Oliva Bella olive oil onto the right side of the heart, I layered the potatoes, red peppers, carrots, shallots, tomatoes, and pats of butter onto the middle portion of the parchment paper. I nestled the sea bass fillets on top of the vegetables and scattered the ground cherries over the fillets before drizzling them with the saffron-infused white wine.

I pulled the other side of the parchment paper over the filling and sealed the packets.  Starting at the deep part of the rounded heart, I formed very tight pleats on sharp diagonals for a tight seal and finished by twisting the pointed end under the package.

Signed, sealed, and almost delivered.

After a much needed wine break, I brushed the tops of the parchment parcels with vegetable oil, placed them onto a sheet pan, and slid them into a 400 degree oven to steam/bake for 20 minutes. I let the puffed packages rest for 5 minutes before snipping them open to release the steam.  To echo the flavor profile of the cooked vegetables, I finished with blanched green beans, whole raw ground cherries, shallots, and fresh dill.

Wow. The golden sea bass filets were so ridiculously tender that one quiet exhale caused them to flake into slippery soft shards. Sweet meat. While the underlying vegetables added texture to the vibrant white-fleshed fish, the ground cherries melted into the fruity olive oil and wine to create a buttery tart/sweet sauce that balanced the subtle floral undertones of the saffron. Light. Rich. Crazy.

Sea bass and ground cherries.
With a paper trail.

Edible origami.