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Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Early Bird

I was late for the market.  Really late.  By the time I arrived at the farmers' market, most of the vendors were packing up for the day. With slim pickings, I knew most of the pretty tomatoes would get snagged by the market early birds. I didn't care.  I was on the prowl for the uglies.  The culls. The beasts, not the beauties. Sure enough, Cleary Hill Farm, Best Family Farm, and Henkle's Herb and Heirlooms  had a few cat-faced heirlooms lurking on their farm tables.

Blistered, puckered, and split, the tomatoes were a bit too gnarly to slice up for dainty salads or sandwiches, so I cracked them open like soft eggs and used the guts as a base for a very simple riff on Shrimp Saganaki (Greek shrimp with tomatoes and feta).

After resting on the windowsill for a couple of days, the Cherekee Chocolate, Golden Little Giant, and Big Beef tomatoes were beyond ripe. Without bothering to catch the seeds, I pulled the tomatoes apart, squished the pulp into a large bowl, doused the tomatoes with lemon juice, and set them aside.

I haven't tasted a Kentucky farm-raised freshwater prawn since Michael and I sampled a deconstructed shrimp & grits amuse bouche prepared by Quita Michel at the James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner Series: Cookin' In The Bluegrass. Because they've eluded me for years, I flabbergasted when I stumbled across them at Good Foods Cafe & Market. Who Knew? Not me. Win. With large black tails and tight opalescent shells, they looked like the sassy well-heeled cousins of salt water shrimp. Rinsed, peeled, and deveined, I kept the prawns chilled over crushed ice while I made the sauce.

Baked Shrimp Saganaki.
After heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame, I sauteed 2 small
minced shallots and 1 minced garlic clove. When the shallots melted into the oil (without taking on color), I added the crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, fresh oregano, and fresh lime mint. I brought the sauce to a boil,
reduced it to a simmer, and let it ripple for 10 minutes.

When the sauce tightened, I pulled it from the heat and nestled the prawns into the tomatoes. After showering the prawns with cracked black pepper, I tucked chipped pieces of  feta around the skillet, and slid it into a 400 degree oven to bake until the prawns were opaque, about 14 minutes.

I pulled the saganaki from the oven and finished it with a scattering of fresh lime mint.

While the mint added subtle citrus lime undertones, the melted feta provided a creamy salty tang.  Steam-baked in the fresh tomato sauce, the cooked prawns had the lusty texture and rich flavor of sweet lobster meat. Bite-sized prawny lobster bombs.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

When The Cat's Away

I went to the farmers' market for peaches and mizuna.  I came home with precious little Shelby County  Montmorency pie cherries and gorgeous golden beets from Steve's Plants. Blind-sided. Hoodwinked.  Although I adore beets, I'm not sure why I buy them because most of the people I know don't care for beets. At. All. Michael humors me and tolerates them, but he's not crazy for them. Like a tawdry affair, I have to sneak around to get my fill.

Carpe diem. Left home alone for a day while Michael attended to the tale of Mary Todd as a docent at her childhood home, I seized the opportunity to hook up with my sassy golden beets for a casual midday romp and a self indulgent tumble with a heaping bowl of chilled beet soup.

Chilled Golden Beet Soup.
Typically, I'll  roast late season beets to coax the sweetness from the hardy flesh. Early season beets seem naturally sweeter to me, so I took a simpler route. Very simple.

I peeled and sliced 6 large golden beets.  After slicing 4 purple candy onions into rings, I sauteed them in olive oil over a medium flame.  When they turned translucent, I added the beets, 2 smashed garlic cloves, a liberal smack of salt, and ground white pepper. Just before the onions caramelized, I deglazed the pot with a splash of white wine to pick up the sticky fond that accumulated on the bottom of the pot. When the wine reduced to a glaze, I added 6 cups of chicken stock, brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, poured myself a stiff bloody mary, and watered the herb garden.

After 45 minutes, the beets were meltingly tender. I pureed the soup in batches, cooled it down, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.

Before dishing up my snack, I tamed the earthy tang of the cooked beets by whisking a splash of cream and creme fraiche into the soup. After tarting  it up with a lone sprig of fresh dill, I tipped the bowl to my lips and drank it all like a beet-starved heathen.


Thursday, June 6, 2013


My first foray into cooking for large off-site events started with a tango. Taylor Made Horse Farm hosted a benefit production of Luis Bravo's Tony-nominated "Forever Tango" that featured the iconic partner dance.  With proceeds benefiting the Race for Education and Operation Read, the evening featured a two hour production at The Lexington Opera House that showcased  the sexy Argentine dance.

For a hefty price, guests could purchase tickets to premier seating and admission to a cocktail reception prior to the show. During the planning and prepping for 300-plus tango revelers, I immersed myself in Argentine cuisine.

The reception was insane. I was knee deep in the weeds with no way out. The cast, crew, and producers arrived midway through the event to mingle with the guests. While I hoped they'd appreciate the authentic array of exotic fruits, bowls of lime-spiked ceviche, fried plantains, salsas, and stacks of beef empanadas overflowing from large wooden street carts, they seemed to be most smitten with a small bowl of chimichurri sauce nestled next to a huge slab of beef on a carving station. It must have stirred emotions.

No Argentine asado (barbecue) would be complete without chimmichurri sauce. Although the piquant garlicky herb-infused olive oil and vinegar concoction is traditionally served with charred beef, offal, and sausages, it's also great served alongside grilled fish, chicken, or pork. Variations abound, but the classic ingredients for chimichurri are fresh minced parsley, chopped fresh oregano, tons of minced garlic, dried red chile flakes, salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. There are emulsified variations that create a smooth puree, but the character of the sauce is better  when it's left in a loosey-goosey separated state.  Although it's called a sauce, chimichurri is actually more like an herb-laden vinaigrette jacked up on steroids. Used both as a marinade and a condiment, it's bright, biting, velvety, and fabulous.

Inspired by the warm weather and  abundance of herbs available at the farmers' market, I fired up the grill for a backyard Bluegrass asado.

Chimichurri Sauce.
I tossed 1 cup chopped parsley into a food processor along with 1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves, 5 minced
garlic cloves, and 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.  After a few pulses, I scraped the vinegary herbs and garlic into a bowl before adding 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, salt, cracked black pepper, and 4 thinly sliced Elmwood Stock
semi-dried red jalapeno peppers.

With the sauce on deck, I rubbed a gorgeous Stone Cross Farm pork tenderloin with salt, pepper, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika.  After brushing the tenderloin with chimichurri sauce, I slapped it onto a hot grill and let it rip until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees. When the meat was cooked through, I slathered a large wooden cutting board with the chimichurri sauce, placed the sizzling meat on top of the sauce, and tented it to rest for 10 minutes.

I sliced the tenderloin into medallions before scattering grilled Cleary Hill Farm yellow squash and roasted baby purple sweet potatoes around the board.

I expected the chimichurri sauce to pack a bracing garlic hit, but the fruity olive oil and vinegar softened the bite. While flecks of chile added subtle heat, the vinegar and fresh herbs packed a vibrant grassy punch that cut through the richness of the spice-rubbed pork.

Rustic and simple, we reveled in our asado from the shared chimichurri-stained cutting board.

Urban gauchos.

It takes two to tango.