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Friday, April 25, 2014


Ramps are the fleeting darlings of the early spring farmers' market. With a very short three to four week growing season, they're usually the first thing to arrive at the market and the first to go. Blink and they're gone. Members of the allium genus, ramps are also referred to as wild onions, wild leeks, or wild garlic. With feathery leafy tops and long purplish stems, they have a pronounced garlic aroma with a strong onion flavor, making them interchangeable with both garlic and onions in most recipes. If you run across ramps at the market, catch them while you can because they're very versatile and utterly fabulous.

I got lucky. Red River Farm had buckets of gorgeous ramps at the Lexington Farmers' Market. Even with their beautiful leafy tops fluttering in the morning breeze, most of the people in line were buying eggs and bacon. I filled my bag with ramps. Booya.

I toyed with the notion of tossing the ramps over burning coals to char before serving them on newspaper like Spanish colcotes (early spring green onions) with a ruddy Romesco sauce. I even thought of roasting them and twirling them into nests to cup gently poached eggs. In the end, I went with a very simple spring soup.

Chilled Ramp Soup with Blackened Sea Scallops. 
Typically, ramps are a bear to clean. They're usually covered in crud and take time to prep. Because they stored them in buckets of water to keep them fresh, the ramps from Red River Farm were almost pre-prepped and ready to go. I simply snipped the roots from the bulbs and gave them a quick rinse. After slicing the greens from the stems, I set them aside before roughly chopping the stems and bulbs.

After heating a skillet over a medium high flame, I sauteed the ramp stems in a combination of olive oil and butter. When they started to caramelize, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 white wine, let it reduce by half, and added 2 cups chicken stock. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced the heat, and added 2 peeled and chopped Elmwood Stock Farm new potatoes. While the potatoes simmered away in the ramp stock, I blanched the ramp greens along with a handful of fresh spinach (in heavily salted water) for exactly 45 seconds before plunging them into a salted ice-water bath.

When the potatoes were tender, I scooped them into a blender along with the cooked ramps, stock, and drained greens.  After adding 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese, a splash of fresh lemon juice, salt, and white pepper, I blitzed the soup into a verdant puree before sliding it into the refrigerator to chill.

Michael and I are both fools for scallops.
That said, I wanted them to have bite. To counter and play off of the delicate spring ramps. I slid a small cast iron skillet over a blazing hot flame. When it started to smoke, I added a whisper of oil to the pan, dredged the dried scallops in cajun seasonings, blackened them on each side for 90 seconds, scooped them out of the smoky mess, and set them aside.

I ladled the chilled ramp soup into shallow bowls and nestled the blackened scallops into the center of each bowl before topping them with slivers of mango, red bell pepper, and shallots. After scattering Garey Farms micro mizzuna and arugula over the scallops, I finished with a few drops extra virgin olive oil. Simple. Bright. Light. Fabulous.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


There are few short cuts when it comes to making a good demi glace. Although it's a simple sauce, it takes time. Sure, there are plenty of commercial products on the market to cut the time crunch. While some of the products are quite good, most of them are grainy salt bombs. In its most elemental form, demi glace is a concentrated brown sauce. Getting to the demi stage is a different matter all together. Classically, it's made by reducing veal stock with equal parts of Sauce Espagnole (a roux-thickened brown Mother Sauce).  Old school. The school of Escoffier. Nowadays, most modern kitchens bypass the roux-based Espagnole Sauce  by utilizing a straight up reduction for purity.  While demi glace specifically refers to veal based stocks, chicken and beef are often substituted. Pick the method. Pick the protein. It doesn't matter. Demi glace starts with stock. Bones are key.

Four Hills Farm Rack of Lamb with Mint Bordelaise.
I had some time to kill. Lots of time.
Armed with 5 pounds of meat-covered beef knuckle bones from Elmwood Stock Farm, I started my little journey. Typically, a combination of oxtails, shanks, necks, and knuckle bones would have been ideal. Gobs of surface areas exposed to heat allows optimum browning to occur. The deep browning process produces a deeper stock. Blah. Blah. Blah. That said,  I had knuckle bones. Big ones. Think huge beefy knee caps. If (emphasis on if) I had a butcher's bone saw withing arms reach, I supposed I could have broken down the knuckles into smaller pieces. Didn't happen.

After plopping the bones onto a sheet pan, I tossed them with canola oil and slid them into a 400 degree preheated oven to roast for 45 minutes. Midway through the browning process, I added chopped (unpeeled) onions, roughly chopped carrots, smashed garlic cloves, and chopped celery. When the vegetables, meat, and bones were deeply caramelized, I pulled them from the oven, transferred them to a stock pot, and added enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. I placed the messy sheet pan over a medium flame, deglazed the sticky bits with a splash of red wine, and scraped the fabulous goo into the stock pot. After adding fresh parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves, and black peppercorns to the mix, I brought the stock to a boil, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for a ridiculous 8 hours, skimming the scum along the way. Yep.

After several glasses of wine, supper, and a small nap, I strained the stock through a cheesecloth-lined chinois (excessive), placed the bowl of stock into an ice bath to cool, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Demi Glace/Borderlaise.
Bordelaise is simply a red wine-infused demi glace.
The next morning, I pulled the stock from the refrigerator and removed the layer of fat. I poured 2 cups of cabernet sauvignon into a stock pot, cranked the heat to high, brought the wine to a boil, turned the heat down to a simmer, and let the wine reduce by half before adding 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and 8 cups of my reserved defatted beef stock. Going a bit new school without the roux-based Sauce Espagnole, I simmered the wine-infused stock for 4 1/2  hours. Crazy. When it reduced to 2 cups, I scattered a handful of fresh mint into the sauce to steep and let it simmer until it could coat the back of a spoon. After straining out the mint, I ladled the mint bordelaise into a small sauce pan and placed it over a very low flame.

The Extra Stuff.
During the down time, I baked  individual  potato gratins, pickled  a few radishes, and pureed a small bunch of boiled carrots with specks of citrusy sumac. Enough said. Garnish. Meat and three, so to speak.

I had a gorgeous 1 pound frenched 8 rib rack of lamb from Four Hills Farm in Slavisa, Kentucky. It was so petite and delicate, I certainly didn't want to muck it up. After bringing the lamb to room temperature, I brushed the lamb with olive oil before seasoning it with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. I cranked a cast iron skillet to medium high heat (dry) and browned the lamb rack on all sides, 4 minutes per side. I pulled the rack from the skillet and brushed it a thin coating of the simmering bordelaise before rolling it through a combination of minced fresh parsley, fresh snipped chives, and minced fresh rosemary. I packed the herbs onto the  flesh, tossed the rack of lamb back into the cast iron skillet (fat side up), and roasted it at 400 degrees until the internal temperature reached 125 degrees. After about 15 minutes, I pulled the lamb from the oven, removed it to a cutting board, tented it with foil, and let it  rest for 15 minutes.

After slicing the lamb rack between the tiny rib bones, I nestled the chops over the potato gratins, puddled the mint bordelaise around the ribs and smeared the sumac-scented carrot puree to the side before finishing with Bourbon County micro greens and quick pickled radishes.

Here's the deal. The demi glace/bordelaise might have been a little excessive and troublesome. I didn't care in the least. Happily dogged by trouble and excess, I had a blast. And the result? Ridiculous. The bordelaise was both intense and light. The subtle hints of mint poked through the heavily concentrated  sauce and offset the slight gaminess of the tender lamb. While the soft sumac-spiked carrot puree added whispers of perky creaminess, the radishes and micro greens provided biting acidic crunch. Perfect. That said,  it was all about the succulent lamb and rich bordelaise. At some point, we tossed our utensils. The ribs begged to be manhandled. Finger food.  Swipe. Eat. Repeat.

We had bones.
Full circle.