Search This Blog

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Lookout. Chant. Halma. Ben Bush. Typhoon II. Plaudit. Manuel.

7 Horses.
7 Kentucky Derbies.
7 Winners.

It's widely believed that sometime between the 1893 and 1899  Derby races Jennie Carter Benedict, the celebrated Louisville caterer, restaurant owner, cookbook author, and businesswoman, created her iconic Benedictine spread for crustless tea sandwiches. After graduating from Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School, Benedict returned to Kentucky in 1893 and opened a catering kitchen in her back yard. Eventually, she became so successful that she moved her business in 1900 to downtown Louisville and opened a restaurant/tearoom. As her restaurant flourished, she became a powerful businesswoman, active humanitarian, and cookbook author. Her Blue Ribbon Cookbook was first published in 1902 and went on to be reprinted several times, most recently in 2008. For unknown reasons, her recipe for Benedictine didn't appear in her Blue Ribbon Cookbook until the 2008 reprinted edition. While some of her recipes have fallen out of favor, some are still staples on Kentucky tables. Her recipe for Benedictine put her on the map and has stood the test of time. Along with mint juleps, country ham biscuits, and chocolate pecan bourbon pies, Benedictine is a Kentucky Derby tradition. You'd be hard pressed to not bump into variations of her cucumber-tinged, onion, cream cheese spread during any Derby day celebration.

In its purest form, Benedictine is a simple blend of cucumber juice, onion juice, cream cheese, and cayenne served on crustless white bread. Sure, it's gotten dolled up over the years with the addition of bacon, grated cucumber, grated onion, or watercress. Some folks thin it out with mayo for dipping or smear it onto dark rye. While trimming the bread crusts might seem a little old school and fussy, I'm down with old school and fussy. I kept it pure and simple, gilded the lily a bit, and turned it inside out.

Open-Faced Benedictine Finger Sandwiches.

Plain old white bread.
Although just about any white sandwich bread would be fine, a simple scratch made white sandwich bread has a firmer crumb and texture.

I added 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer. When it became foamy and alive, I added 3 cups Weisenberger Mill all purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt. After incorporating the yeast and flour together with a wooden spoon, I added 2 cups warm water, 1 stick softened unsalted butter, and 3 1/2 cups additional flour.

I blended the mix, attached a dough hook to the mixer, and let it work for 3 minutes before scraping down the sides, setting the speed to medium, and the letting it rip for 10 minutes. When the shaggy dough turned smooth and tacky, I turned it out onto a bread board, kneaded it by hand for a few minutes, smoothed the dough into a ball, placed it into a buttered bowl, covered it with a dish towel, and set it aside until it doubled in size.

After 2 hours, I punched down the dough, divided it in half with a bench scraper, and worked each half into 9 x 5 rectangles. I folded each rectangle into thirds, placed them seam side down into 2 buttered 8 x 4 metal baking pans, tucked in the edges, covered the pans with a dish towel, and set them aside.

When the loaves doubled in size, I slid them onto the middle rack of a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. When the crusts were honey brown, I pulled them from the oven, turned them out onto a wire rack, and let them cool to room temperature.

Down the stretch...
To green or not to green? Truth be told, I haven't a shred of moral objection to green food coloring. I simply have lingering angst from far too many over tinted and over minted chocolate mint cakes served up to me as a kid back on the farm in Western Kentucky, so I omitted  the green food coloring and  used what is considered to be Jennie Benedict's original old fashioned recipe reprinted in Winning Bluegrass Recipes: A Cookbook, published in 1985.

After peeling and chopping a medium sized cucumber, I pureed the pieces in a food processor, scooped the pulp into double lined cheesecloth, and squeezed the juice into a small bowl. Without cleaning the bowl of the processor, I repeated the process with a peeled, halved, and chopped medium sized onion. I added 3 tablespoons of the cucumber juice and 2 tablespoons of the onion juice to 8 ounces softened cream cheese and mashed it together with the times of a fork until it was somewhat smooth. After seasoning the Benedictine with a pinch of salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, I briefly blitzed the mix with a handheld blender until it was light and creamy.

The finish line.
I sliced the fresh white bread into 1/2" slices and spread generous amounts of Benedictine onto each slice, smoothing it out to the ends of the crusts.

After  thinly slicing 2 large unpeeled English cucumbers on a mandolin ( a vegetable peeler would have done the job), I cut them in half lengthwise and shingled the slices across the bread on a diagonal, overlapping the peeled ends over the centers until each bread slice was covered. Using a very sharp knife, I cut the crusts from the bread and sliced each piece in half before finishing with shaved radishes and Gary Farm pea tendrils.

Bendictine finger sandwiches.
Dressed for the Derby.


Win, Place, and Show.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Green Garlic

The annual Calcotadas in Spain are Catalonian spring festivals celebrating the harvest of their over-wintered twice-planted beloved calcotes. Rooted in deep tradition, calcotes (large mild green onions) are harvested, roasted over open flaming pits, wrapped in newspapers to steam, peeled, and eaten one by one with romesco sauce and bread. After the calcotes are removed from the pits, various cuts of meat are thrown onto the grills to feed the zealous onion eating crowds. Festival goers gather around the smoldering onions, don paper bibs, guzzle red wine poured from porrons, and eat everything with their fingers. Calcotadas are messy messy business.

Smitten by Blue Moon Farm's market green garlic (the mild thinned out shoots of immature garlic bulbs) and their crazy uncanny resemblance to Kentucky green onions, I embraced the notion of a Spanish Calcotada and paired baby green garlic with local quail for a Bluegrass take on a Catalonian Calcotada.

Ale-8-One Barbecued Quail with Charred Green Garlic.

One or two bite wonders.
Local farm raised quail are just so darned precious and fragile. Masquerading as dainty little chickens, their teeny tiny bodies simply beg to be gently stuffed, tied, wrapped in some kind of pork, and quick cooked to keep the meat moist and tender. Nope. I resisted the urge to get all fiddly, tossed the kid gloves, and roughed them up a bit.

Using kitchen shears, I snipped the backbones from 2 1/2 pounds small Stonehege Farm farm raised Bobwhite quail and smashed the birds with the palm of my hand to flatten them out. Duly spatchcocked, I sliced the quail in half, and tossed the pieces into a gingery Ale-8-One quick brine (1 1/2 cups Ale-8-One soda, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, a few grinds of cracked black pepper, and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil), and set them aside.

A Late One.
Working over a medium flame, I sauteed 2 tablespoons minced garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil. When the garlic bloomed from the heat, I deglazed the pan with 1 cup Ale-8-One and let it reduce by half before adding 1 1/2 cups ketchup, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons worchestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon smoked bourbon salt, and cracked black pepper. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, let it rip for 20 minutes, and pulled it from the heat.

Green garlic. 
I rinsed and trimmed 2 bundles of Blue Moon Farm baby green garlic, patted them dry with a dish towel, and drizzled them with olive oil before showering them with salt and pepper.

After soaking a handful of hickory chips in water for 30 minutes, I ignited a fire in an outdoor grill. When the flames settled into glowing hot coals, I tossed the green garlic onto the grill grate and let them singe from the heat.. When they started to blacken and char, I pulled them from the grill, wrapped them in newspaper, and set them aside.

While the coals were still very hot, I brushed the quail with the reserved barbecue sauce and slipped them onto the grill breast side up. After 4 minutes, I flipped the birds and let the other side cook for 4 minutes before basting and flipping them for 3 additional minutes until they were cooked through, lacquered up, and caramelized.

I peeled the charred outer skins from the baby green garlic, twirled them onto a bread board, splashed them with fresh lemon juice, and nestled the barbecued quail halves into the smoky steamed ribbons. Instead of a roasted red bell pepper/almond -based romesco sauce, I slid a fresh red bell pepper-flecked gorgonzola sauce to the side.

Tucked under the caramelized sticky crisped skin, the slight gaminess of the tender quail poked through the assertive smoky sauce. While the lemon-splashed charred green garlic countered the sweetness of the glaze with soft garlic undertones, the gorgonzola dipper provided creamy sharp punch.

Swipe. Dip. Suck. Repeat.
A Bluegrass Calcotada.
Fired up finger food.