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Friday, May 20, 2016

Butter Up

When my family left our housekeepers and nannies behind for our final move back to America, my father faced a steep learning curve when it came to raising two young boys as a single military father. After leaving Africa, we settled into a very middle class suburb of Washington D.C. for a brief period while my father segued into retirement  We lived in a tiny two-story brick house with a dilapidated screened-in side porch, a dusty back yard surrounded by a chain link fence, and a musty basement that smelled of unhappy swamp frogs. We were living the dream.

Nested in our urban oasis, without others to watch over and tend to us, my father relied on gadgets and convenience foods to ease his transition into domestic bliss.  A freezer filled with  TV dinners, cabinets stocked with multiple jars of swirled peanut butter and jelly, and individually boxed cereal variety packs stacked high on top of the refrigerator gave him enough wiggle room to focus on the few things he enjoyed cooking.  Armed with a plastic Veg-A-Matic to chop onions for his onion-studded cheese-filled hamburgers, a spiffy modern charcoal grill for butter grilled steaks, and a lethal old school pressure cooker for his infamous scratch made baked beans, he had everything he needed to tackle his big three.

While the occasional steaks and burgers were a nice respite from the revolving routine of TV dinners, I lived for his dreamy baked beans. Funny, they really weren't baked at all. They were pressurized. Sealed inside the hissing molten pressure pot for what seemed like hours, the beans bubbled away until they steamed, collapsed, and caramelized into a sticky sweet mess of tender beans with crunchy bits studded with meltingly soft shards of candied pork. I guess that sensory taste and memory stuck. However they're prepared, I'm a sucker for baked beans.

Our farmers markets are taking off just when grilling season is knocking at the door. Stock up on the bounty, fire up the grill,
and don't forget the baked beans.

Bourbon Barbecued Baked Butter Beans. 
Yep. Sometimes it's fun to change things up a bit.

I still have my father's 1960's vintage aluminum pressure cooker. Nope. Didn't go there. Think about it.

Baked, not pressurized.

I soaked 1 pound organic dried baby butter beans in water overnight, drained the water, added the beans back into the pot with 6 cups cold water, cranked the heat to high, reduced the heat, let the beans simmer for 1 1/2 hours, drained them, discarded the cooking liquid, and set the beans aside.

I sliced 1/4 pound Bell County pork jowl bacon into 1/4" thick slices and sauteed them in a cast iron skillet until the fat started to melt. When the jowl bacon crisped around the edges, I scooped the pieces onto a side plate. While the oil was still hot, I tumbled 1 diced green bell pepper and 1 bunch sliced Boyd County spring onions into the skillet. When the vegetables wilted from the heat, I added 3 tablespoons tomato paste, browned the paste for depth of flavor, carefully deglazed the skillet with 1/2 cup Makers Mark bourbon, and let it reduce by half before adding 1/4 cup brewed coffee, 2 cups Elmwood Stock Homemade Tomato Ketchup, 1/3 cup molasses, 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, and smoked sea salt. I brought the sauce to a spitting popping boil, reduced the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

After mixing the reserved butter beans with the bourbon barbecue sauce, I scooped them into my oiled Bybee Pottery Appalachian cazuela. I nestled halved batons of trimmed Boyd County spring onions into the beans, tucked the reserved sliced bacon pieces between the onions, and slid the cazuela (uncovered) into a preheated 325 degree oven. for 2 1/2 hours, adding a splash of water now and then when they appeared dry.

I pulled the bubbling beans from the oven and let them cool before finishing with feathery ribbons of curled spring onions.

Tucked beneath the caramelized crust, the mellowed bright undertones of bourbon, vinegar, and worcestershire cut through the fatty richness of the lickable sticky sauce. With a nod to the familiar flavor profile of smoky sweet pork-infused saltiness, the butter beans packed a soft buttery punch that countered the crunch of the candied bacon and grassy freshness of the slivered spring onions.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Morning After

Nothing swells the hearts of Kentuckians quite like Derby week in Kentucky.

With parties, balls, horse racing, and festivities welcoming  revelers from all over the world, Derby week is filled with fervent anticipation. When morning breaks on the first Saturday in May, it'a all about the Run for the Roses. Whether donning fascinators and finery for live racing at Churchill Downs, strolling the gorgeous grounds of Keeneland with mint juleps in hand, bar hopping with wagering phone apps on deck, or attending laid back Derby parties, we all want to play along, have great fun, and celebrate a tradition that is uniquely ours. It's simply what we do.

That said, Derby Day can be a very very long day. Without fail, eager morning bloody marys, mimosas, or screwdrivers slowly segue into serious shots of bourbon, gin, vodka, or beer. Gradually, the post times between races lengthen and lengthen. By mid afternoon, our seriously happy libations morph into Mint Juleps (well, just because) while we wait for the start of the most important horse race in the world. Eventually, awash in a haze of bourbon and mint, the racetrack bugler calls the horses to post as a weepy and soaring chorus of My Old Kentucky Home captures the frozen moment in time. It's fabulous, exhilarating, and exhausting.

Derby Day day drinking.
Plan ahead.

There's always a morning after.

Farmers Market Breakfast Skillet.

While I used a small single serve cast iron skillet, a larger skillet filled with multiple eggs and bumped up ingredients would seal the deal for a groggy crowd.

I trimmed the ends from a bundle of Gary Farm pencil thin asparagus, sliced them on an extreme bias (almost halved). briefly steamed them for 10 seconds, and set the asparagus aside.

Working over a medium flame, I sauteed a few pieces of thinly sliced Browning's Country Ham. When the ham started to crisp around the edges, I added 1 minced garlic clove, 3 chopped Shelby County spring green onions, julienned red bell peppers ( a quarter pepper), a handful of halved grape tomatoes, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper.  Just before the tomatoes collapsed from the heat, I kissed the skillet with a splash of fresh lemon juice, nudged the tomatoes and peppers to the sides of the skillet, twirled the asparagus around the edges, carefully cracked a large Elmwood Stock organic egg into the center nest, and slid the skillet into a preheated 400 degree oven for 8 minutes.

When the egg whites set, I pulled the skillet from the oven and dusted the top with cracked black pepper before finishing with flowering chives from my garden.

A simple market breakfast skillet.

Knock it back a bloody mary chaser
for a perfect morning after.