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Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Spring has sprung.
We're mere days away from the the opening of the Spring/Summer season at our downtown Lexington Farmer's Market. Even now, although it's early in the season, nibbles of Spring (baby arugula, baby kale, and wild mushrooms)  have saddled up next to the familiar hardy winter stalwarts.
Riding the seasonal cusp, the arrival of the baby stuff at the farmers market has always been one of my favorites times of the year. Quietly, they whisper hints to what's yet to come. Eager to get the ball rolling so early in the season, farmers fill their farms stands with whatever is big enough or small enough to offer those of us wanting to shake off the the long winter's tale. While we'll have to wait a bit longer for the glorious jewels of summer, now is the time for the delicate firsts of Spring.

A springtime spin on shrimp and grits.

Fried Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Marmalade, 
Baby Kale, and Blood Orange-Chili Gastrique.

I brought 3 1/2 cups water and 1 cup milk to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirred in 1 cup Weisenberger Mill stone ground white grits, added 2 teaspoons salt, reduced the heat, covered the pan, and let the grits rip for 25 minutes, stirring the pot every few minutes to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. When the grits were smooth and creamy, I pulled them from the heat, added 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1 cup thinly sliced green onions. After incorporating the cheese until it was thoroughly melted, I poured the grits onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan, and slid them into the refrigerator to set up.

Andouille Sausage Marmalade.
Throwing reason out the window, I totally went there. After petite dicing 9 ounces smoked andouille sausage, I tossed the tiny pieces into a small skillet set over a medium high flame. When they started to crisp around the edges, I added 1/4 cup minced shallots and 2 minced garlic cloves. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons Makers Mark bourbon, and 1/2 cup chicken stock. I let the liquids reduce by half before adding 3 tablespoons Oberholtzer's organic sorghum and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. After seasoning the marmalade with salt and cracked black pepper, I reduced it to a porky sticky syrup and pulled it from the heat. I could have stopped right there and called it a day.

I adore gastriques. Sweet. Savory. Acidic. Tart. Whether sweet, savory, or a combination of the two, they pack a powerful punch. I halved 3 large blood oranges, squeezed enough juice out of all three to yield 1/2 cup juice, and set the juice aside. After heating a small cat iron skillet over a medium flame, I added 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar and stirred constantly until the sugar slowly melted from the heat and turned from glossy clear to molten amber. When the sugar hit the amber g-spot, I hit it with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a whopping 1 1/2 tablespoons Green County Cracklin' Hen Jalapeno Hot Sauce. Tricky business. It's the nature of the beast for a gastrique to seize up when acid is added to burning hot melted sugar. When it relaxed and melted into itself, I added 1/2 cup fresh blood orange juice and 3/4 cups chicken stock. I brought the gastrique to a boil, lowered the heat, and let it bubble away until it reduced to 1/4 cup before pulling it from the heat, about 40 minutes.

I peeled, deveined, and rinsed 1 pound U/15 shrimp. After carefully separating handfuls of pre-thawed shredded phyllo dough  (Kataifi dough, where have you been my entire life?), I aligned long portions of the fragile flaky strands onto a wooden bread board. Starting at one end, I loosely wrapped each shrimp with the delicate dough, covered them with a damp towel, and set them aside.

The fun part.
I pulled the chilled grits from the refrigerator, used a cookie cutter to slice the grits into into uniform discs, dusted them with flour, pan fried them until they were golden brown, and placed them onto paper towels to drain.When the oil came back up to temperature (350 degrees), I used a spider to carefully lower the phyllo-wrapped shrimp into the hot oil. Within seconds, the phyllo bloomed and crisped around the perfectly cooked shrimp, so I scooped them out and gently rolled them onto paper towels. They. Were. Gorgeous.

I slathered the fried scallion-flecked grits cakes with the smoky sweet andouille sausage marmalade, feathered fresh lemon-splashed Elmwood Stock Farm baby kale on top of the sausage, nestled the delicate phyllo-wrapped juicy tender shrimp into the kale, and puddled the fiery sweet/tart chili-infused blood orange gastrique to the side before finishing with slivered fresh red bell peppers and chives from my garden.

Utterly fabulous.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Flower Power

I'm not sure why my family didn't grow cauliflower on our rural lakeside farm in western Kentucky. It seemed like we grew everything. For the most part, we lived off the fat of the land. Almost everything we ate came from the farm my grandfather nurtured after the Great Depression. Back in the day, they had little and wanted for nothing. The old farm was their modern day supermarket. That deep-rooted notion carried its weight for decades and still existed when I found myself plucked from another world and planted on their farm. Canned garden fresh vegetables eventually made their way down to the dimly lit root cellar, friendly cows wound up in the deep freezer, and pet chickens ended up on the Sunday table. Farm life..

My grandparent's vegetable garden was huge.Seemingly planted with an eye to aesthetics, cherry trees filled the center, splitting the garden in half. A wooden planked fence, draped in grape vines, stood guard between food and livestock, protecting our treasures.. Packed with almost everything we needed, it felt like a lush storybook secret garden.

When my dad built our own home across the rolling meadow within eyesight of my grandparent's house, he tilled and tilled an old barren field for a bigger and better garden. Big tools. Big equipment. Bigger. Better. Best. It was a fine garden. Wrapped with bothersome barbed wire, trapped and bathed in perfect sunlight, it produced the biggest melons, the tallest corn, tons of pickling cucumbers, juicy sun-kissed tomatoes, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets, radishes, and green beans. Although I don't recall ever eating cauliflower, I'm sure frozen nubs might have popped up in curious casseroles, soups, and stews. But, farm to table? Nope. Not from my father's garden.

I met the cauliflower of my dreams when I left the farm and skipped off to college. Armed with a prepaid meal card, the student cafeteria was my lone option for 'real food'. On one of my first visits to the uncool cafeteria, I discovered cauliflower bubbling and bobbing away in a vivid orange cheese sauce. Glowing through the drab wasteland of the sterile buffet, that cauliflower slapped me silly. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Over the course of my freshman year in college, I scooped the seemingly endless supply of cheesy cauliflower over meatloaf, swirled it into pasta, spooned it over dry salisbury steaks, mixed it with other vegetables, or simply ate it on its own. Aside from an occasional pizza or late night  Hot Fudge Cake from Jerry's Restaurant, I lived for that cauliflower. I adored it.

While I still have a soft spot for the cheesy stuff I slathered on everything, nowadays, I'm more prone to roast, mash, or puree cauliflower as a sidekick to the main event. There are times, however, when cauliflower takes center stage.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower Puttanesca.
Simple and straightforward.

I trimmed the bottom of a medium sized cauliflower to level the playing field before thoroughly rubbing the entire head with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and seasoning  it with sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, and citrusy sumac. I massaged the spices into the bumpy crevices of the cauliflower, placed it into a parchment paper lined baking pan, and slid it into a 425 degree oven. To create a little steam for a moist environment, I slipped a pan of boiling water on a rack beneath the cauliflower.

Puttanesca Sauce.
Tomatoes. Onions. Black Olives. Capers. Anchovies.

While I typically prepare puttanesca sauce with farm fresh tomatoes, it's way too early for those summer jewels.  So, what's the next best thing to use this time of year? Farm fresh canned tomatoes.

I drizzled a large cast iron skillet with olive oil and cranked the heat to medium high. When the oil started to smoke, I added 2 slivered shallots, 4 pasted garlic cloves, and 6 oil-packed anchovy fillets. Using the back of a wooden spoon, I crushed the anchovies until they melted into the oil and added 1 pint hand crushed Triple J Farm canned halved tomatoes, juices reserved. As the tomatoes collapsed, I tumbled 1 cup halved Kalamata olives and 3 tablespoons capers into the skillet. When the sauce started to thicken, I deglazed the skillet with 1/2 cup white wine and 1 cup of the reserved tomato juice. After showering the sauce with cracked black pepper, I reduced the heat to low and let it simmer.on a back burner.

After an hour, I pulled the cauliflower from the oven and carefully placed it into the skillet with the puttanesca sauce, covered the skillet with aluminum foil, and returned the cauliflower to the oven to steam/roast/braise for an additional 45 minutes, removing the foil during the last 15 minutes. When the cauliflower was tender enough to pierce with a metal skewer, I removed the skillet from the oven, lifted the cauliflower out of the sauce, and set it aside,

To loosen the reduced sauce, I added 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil along with the juice and zest of a Meyer lemon to create a loosey-goosey riff on a warm broken vinaigrette.

 I sliced the cauliflower into 1" steaks and nestled them into pools of puttanesca before finishing with
flaked salt, shaved parmigano-Reggiano and fresh parsley.

Splashed with sauce, the crispy tinged edges of the cauliflower played off the delicate and pristine roasted center meat. The slight sweetness of the melted tomatoes mellowed the intense salty funk of the anchovies and the subtle punch of garlic. While the small hit of fresh lemon added bright notes of acidity, the capers provided tiny pops of tang that countered the briny bitterness of the softened black olives.

Whole roasted cauliflower.
Hold the cheese.