Search This Blog

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Char

Whether broiled, deep fried, baked, grilled, pan fried, simmered, or stewed, eggplant is a very versatile member of the nightshade family that takes a winning spin with almost any preparation. That said, nothing develops the earthy custard-like creamy meatiness of eggplant more than a down and dirty char.



Right now, tomatoes and eggplant are more than abundant at our local farmers' markets. Strewn across the farm tables with other gorgeous high-season produce, rows and rows of heirloom tomatoes line up side by side with baskets of eggplant varieties splashing the markets in sweeping vibrant colors. It's a bit overwhelming, humbling, and altogether beautiful.



Summer fun.
What grows together, goes together.

Charred Eggplant Salad with Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette.
Sure, a broiler or stove top open gas flame would have been dandy for a fine blistered skin with softened inner flesh. Sometimes, more is more. I went the full monty with a full out char.

After igniting charcoal in an outdoor grill, I let the coals crumble into glowing embers before cradling slender Pulaski County White Casper, striped Boyle County Fairy Tale, and bulbous Casey County Black Beauty eggplant varieties into the burning coals.  I poured a glass of wine, pulled up a chair, and used long handled tongs to turn the eggplant every 15 minutes or so until they started to blister, collapse, and blacken. More is more. I let them go another 15-20 minutes (turning them often) until they were ridiculously charred before carefully lifting them from the grill, placing them over a wire rack, gently slipping off their burned brittle skins, and setting the naked eggplant flesh aside.


While the eggplant cooled, I placed 1 1/2 pounds of on-the-vine Marion County tomatoes into a cast iron skillet, drizzled them with olive oil, seasoned them with a dusting of kosher salt along with a few grinds of cracked black pepper, and slid the tomatoes into a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Just before the tomatoes imploded, I pulled them from the oven and set them aside.

Fire and Nice.
When the roasted tomatoes were cool enough to handle, I removed them from the cast iron skillet, reserved a few whole tomatoes, and grated the remaining ones on a box grater fitted over a sturdy bowl (old school). After pressing the juicy pulp through a fine mesh strainer, I scraped the good stuff from the bottom of the strainer and stirred it into the tomato jus before adding 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper to form a loosey-goosey broken vinaigrette ( roughly, 3/4 cup tomato jus, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2
tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste).

With everything at room temperature, I nestled the creamy eggplant (halved or left whole, depending on size and variety) into puddles of the roasted tomato vinaigrette and rested the reserved whole roasted tomatoes to the side before finishing with fresh Green Tiger tomatoes, baby Sun Golds, extra virgin olive oil, flecked feta, and snipped garden chives.

Kissed with smoke, the char-steamed eggplant flesh melted into the tomato jus. With a mere whisper the whole roasted tomatoes split open, giving texture and body to the vinaigrette.  Brightened by the fresh lemon and rounded out with fruity olive oil, the broken vinaigrette masqueraded as a wonderful and refreshingly light tomato sauce. An accidental summer win. While the fresh baby heirlooms countered the warm depth of the roasted tomatoes, the chive/feta combo crashed the tomato-eggplant party with brash grassy sharp tang. Flavor bombs.

Charred eggplant with summer tomatoes.

Fresh from the ashes.

Fabulous.












Saturday, July 16, 2016

Brambles

Blackberry picking was a noble chore on our family farm in western Kentucky. During those blistering hot midsummer days, there were blackberries to be had and someone had to pick them. It was a rough and tumble business. You see, we didn't grow blackberries on our old Kentucky farm. They simply arrived.  Our blackberries grew in places my father's bush hog couldn't reach or mow. The tangled prickly brambles twisted through overgrown barbed wire fence rows, corner thickets, rugged ravines, crumbling abandoned farm buildings, and camouflaged critter camps. I was the fetcher of the blackberries. Ever mindful to leave the top berries for the birds while rustling up enough noise to ward off snakes, I was the hunter and gatherer of the summer field berries. Outfitted in long sleeved flannel shirts, heavy socks, and rolled up dungarees for protection, my pretend armor was a suffocating ruse. After every expedition, without fail, I hobbled home with ankle-high cockelburs, chiggers, deep scratches, bloody hands, and blackberries. A big win for an adventurous farm boy. During the weeks of blackberry season, the fruits of my labor brought on summer cobblers, pies, muffins, pancake syrups, and macerated ice cream sauces. For those few fleeting weeks, I felt like the noble prince of summer.

Nowadays, I leave the picking to our hard working farmers. See you later snakes, thorns, chiggers, and bloody heat. Hello, sweet plump summer blackberries. Ripe for the picking at our local farmers' markets.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake With Blackberry Basil Coulis
 Any fruit or berry would pair beautifully with goat cheese cheesecake. Right now, blackberries are having their moment in the sun.

Coulis
I tumbled 1 pint Pulaski County blackberries into a saucepan, added 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, a pinch ground white pepper, and 3 whole fresh basil leaves. After cranking the heat to medium high to melt the sugar, I reduced the heat to a simmer  and let it rip until the berries collapsed from the heat. When the blackberries released their juices and disintegrated into the sauce, I pulled the coulis from the heat, strained it through a fine mesh strainer, discarded the basil-flecked  pulp, and set the coulis aside. to cool.

Crust.
To add a subtle savory bent, I crushed 3 tablespoons shelled pistachios in a food processor before tossing them with 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs and 3 tablespoons melted butter. After buttering 8 individual 4 ounce ramekins, I spooned the crumb mixture into each ramekin, tamped the buttered crumbs firmly into the edges, slid the ramekins into a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and pulled them from the oven to cool.

Filling.
A fun little ride on the wild side.
After bringing 11 ounces cream cheese and 4 ounces goat cheese to room temperature, I tossed the two cheeses into a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, I beat the cheeses together for 2 to 3 minutes before adding 2 Elmwood Stock Farm eggs (one at a time until incorporated), 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons sour cream, and a pinch of salt. To insure maximum creaminess, I beat the filling on medium speed for 10 full minutes before carefully filling each buttered cup. After placing the ramekins into a hot water bath, I carefully slid them into a preheated 300 degree oven for 24 minutes, pulled them from the oven, let the cheesecakes rest in the water bath for 10 minutes, and  transferred them to a wire rack to cool completely before sliding them into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

After bringing the cheesecakes to room temperature, I dipped the ramekins into hot water to loosen
the crusts, ran a sharp knife around the edges to release the fillings, and inverted them crust side up to serve on puddles of coulis with fresh blackberries and garden basil leaves.

Both bold and delicate, the salty sweet crunch of the pistachio crust countered the soft creamy tang of the goat cheese cheesecake. While the basil-infused berry coulis provided a tart bright punch, the plump fresh blackberries added warming sweet pops of summer.

Simple.
Fresh.
Unexpected.

Summer berries.
Savor the season.







Brambles

Blackberry picking was a noble chore on our family farm in western Kentucky. During those blistering hot midsummer days, there were blackberries to be had and someone had to pick them. It was a rough and tumble business. You see, we didn't grow blackberries on our old Kentucky farm. They simply arrived.  Our blackberries grew in places my father's bush hog couldn't reach or mow. The tangled prickly brambles twisted through overgrown barbed wire fence rows, corner thickets, rugged ravines, crumbling abandoned farm buildings, and camouflaged critter camps. I was the fetcher of the blackberries. Ever mindful to leave the top berries for the birds while rustling up enough noise to ward off snakes, I was the hunter and gatherer of the summer field berries. Outfitted in long sleeved flannel shirts, heavy socks, and rolled up dungarees for protection, my pretend armor was a suffocating ruse. After every expedition, without fail, I returned with ankle-high cockelburs, chiggers, scratches, bloody hands, and blackberries. A big win for an adventurous farm boy. During the weeks of blackberry season, the fruits of my labor brought on summer cobblers, pies, muffins, pancake syrups, and macerated ice cream sauces. For those few fleeting weeks, I felt like the noble prince of summer.

Nowadays, I leave the picking to our hard working farmers. See you later snakes, thorns, chiggers, and bloody heat. Hello, sweet plump summer blackberries. Ripe for the picking at our local farmers' markets.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake With Blackberry Basil Coulis
 Any fruit or berry would pair beautifully with goat cheese cheesecake. Right now, blackberries are having their moment in the sun.

Coulis
I tumbled 1 pint Pulaski County blackberries into a saucepan, added 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, a pinch ground white pepper, and 3 whole fresh basil leaves. After cranking the heat to medium high to melt the sugar, I reduced the heat to a simmer  and let it rip until the berries collapsed from the heat. When the blackberries released their juices and disintegrated into the sauce, I pulled the coulis from the heat, strained it through a fine mesh strainer, discarded the basil-flecked  pulp, and set the coulis aside. to cool.

Crust.
To add a subtle savory bent, I crushed 3 tablespoons shelled pistachios in a food processor before tossing them with 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs and 3 tablespoons melted butter. After buttering 8 individual 4 ounce ramekins, I spooned the crumb mixture into each ramekin, tamped the buttered crumbs firmly into the edges, slid the ramekins into a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and pulled them from the oven to cool.

Filling.
A fun little ride on the wild side.
After bringing 11 ounces cream cheese and 4 ounces goat cheese to room temperature, I tossed the two cheeses into a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, I beat the cheeses together for 2 to 3 minutes before adding 2 Elmwood Stock Farm eggs (one at a time until incorporated), 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons sour cream, and a pinch of salt. To insure maximum creaminess, I beat the filling on medium speed for 10 full minutes before carefully filling each buttered cup. After placing the ramekins into a hot water bath, I carefully slid them into a preheated 300 degree oven for 24 minutes, pulled them from the oven, let the cheesecakes rest in the water bath for 10 minutes, and  transferred them to a wire rack to cool completely before sliding them into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

After bringing the cheesecakes to room temperature, I dipped the ramekins into hot water to loosen
the crusts, ran a sharp knife around the edges to release the fillings, and inverted them crust side up to serve on puddles of coulis with fresh blackberries and garden basil leaves.

Both bold and delicate, the salty sweet crunch of the pistachio crust countered the soft creamy tang of the goat cheese cheesecake. While the basil-infused berry coulis provided a tart bright punch, the plump fresh blackberries added warming sweet pops of summer.

Simple.
Fresh.
Unexpected.

Summer berries.
Savor the season.







Sunday, July 3, 2016

How Do You Measure A Year?

"In daylights, in sunsets,
 In midnights, in cups of coffee,
 In inches, in miles, in laughter, in
 strife." -Seasons Of Love.

During the 1980's, The AIDS epidemic  struck the core of Key West. Even through the difficult times, the small island community still knew how to party and celebrate life. We joined the party for a couple of weeks in the summer of '87 to celebrate our 3rd anniversary. Innocent times.

July 4th, 1987. Key West, Florida.

Hot days. Hot Havana nights.

After spending the week prior to the 4th drinking like locals, inhaling deep sunsets, dancing until dawn, devouring conch, fresh seafood,  Key Lime tarts, and Cuban fare, Michael and I found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the annual July 4th city-wide picnic benefiting the Key West Visiting Nurses Association And  Hospice. It was a grand affair that bonded the community together with heartfelt purposeful common goals.  As the somber and uplifting picnic wound down, the antsy crowd shuffled en masse to the White Street Pier for the real party. Bedecked from head to toe in matchy matchy beachwear, we joined the throngs of gays on the massive concrete slab.

The first section of the White Street Pier had been parlayed into an elaborate discotheque with a dance floor, sound system, lights, and multiple bars. Jutting several hundred yards out into the Atlantic Ocean, the heavy stark pier seemed to gently float above the water under the weight of throbbing smooth skinned boys dancing in the heat of the sun. Hot. Wild. Free.

When the sun crashed into the sea, pulsing multi-colored lights painted the wet bodies of our thumping tribe while submerged lights beneath the pier reflected undulating silhouettes of graceful stingrays silently gliding through the water like lost sunken kites. Mesmerizing and beautiful.

Poof.
Without warning, in the distance, wispy fireworks shot into the sky from an invisible barge anchored out in the ocean far from the pier. Flickering. Fluttering. Twinkling. Falling. As the fireworks grew louder and more intense, the fiery rain shattered the black sky with blazing thunderous light. After 30 minutes or so, silence swept over the pier before a deafening recording of Kate Smith's "God Bless America" ushered in the finale, blasted through the darkness, washed across the quiet black water, and spilled onto the boys of summer. It. Was. Glorious.

It took a few fun filled days to recover from Kate Smith, the stingrays, the sun, our anniversary, and the pier. On our final night in Key West, we bellied up to a walk-up food shack on Duval Street, ordered Cuban pork with yellow rice, dangled our legs off the dock of Mallory Square, and absorbed the sunset. Happy.

Cuban Pork.
Traditionally, Cuban mojo pork is made with well marbled  pork roast or shoulder. After marinating overnight in a highly seasoned sour orange marinade, the pork is roasted low and slow until the meat falls apart and the melted fat caramelizes into crackling pork candy. I kept the same flavor profile with a leaner, cleaner, and simpler approach.

Grilled Cuban Mojo Pork Skewers.
It's all about the marinade.

I peeled and smashed 7 cloves of garlic before adding them to sauce pan along with 1 cup olive oil. I brought the oil to a simmer over a medium flame, reduced the heat, let the garlic steep for 2 minutes, and pulled it from the heat to cool.

In lieu of sour oranges, I zested 2 limes, 2 lemons, and one orange. After tossing the zest into the cooled garlic infused olive oil, I added equal parts fresh squeezed lime juice, orange juice, lemon juice ( 1 cup total), 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt, and  ground black pepper.

After reserving 1/2 cup of the marinade for basting , I sliced  1 pound Stone Cross Farm pork tenderloin into 1 1/2' cubes, tossed the meat into the remaining marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and slid the pork into the refrigerator for 8 hours.

Fire works.
I fired up a charcoal grill, let the coals burn down,  threaded the marinated pork onto pre-soaked wooden skewers along with Marion County indigo rose cherry tomatoes, Casey County zucchini ribbons, and Boyle County candy onions. After pouring a glass of wine, I placed the skewers onto the grill and let them rip for about 3 minutes per side, turning them a quarter turn at a time until they cooked through.

When the pork reached an internal temperature of 140 degrees, I pulled the skewers from the grill and nestled them onto steamed annatto-stained long grain white rice before finishing with Stonehedge Farm julienned raw sugar snap peas, slivered red bell pepper, grilled lime halves, and fresh parsley.



Packed with garlicky citrus overtones, the tender pork played nice with the slight smokiness of the charred zucchini and onions. While the softened collapsed tomatoes added sweet wet acidity, the slivered sugar snap peas and peppers provided biting fresh crunch.


Hot days.
Hot Kentucky nights..