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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inside Out

Eggplant parmesan and I have relationship issues. Oh, we get along just fine. I adore eggplant parmesan. What's not to love about crunchy fried slabs of meaty eggplant layered with fresh mozzarella, top-notch marinara, and parmigiano-reggiano baked until the cheese chars in all the right places? Those oozing caramelized edges are the stuff of dreams. Yep. That's how it could/should be in a perfect relationship....without issues.  As much as I tend to its needs, coddle, and dote on it, eggplant parmesan simply doesn't return my favors in kind. I just can't seem to make things work out. It bites back by being either too soggy, too dry. too cheesy (if that's possible), or too bitter. Relationships are hard. Sometimes, you've just got to go with the flow. Eggplant season teases me. Smitten by all the gorgeous varieties flooding our farmers markets,  my first instinct was to hook up with another eggplant parmesan, but I changed it up and turned things inside out for a riff on the familiar.

Eggplant Involtini With Herbed Goat Cheese,
Prosciutto, And Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Puree it.
I blistered 3 red peppers over a gas flame, turning them with tongs for an even cook. When the skins charred, I flipped the peppers into a large bowl and covered them with plastic wrap to steam. When cool enough to handle, I removed the stems, slipped off the skins, scraped out the seeds, and tumbled them into a blender. After adding the juice of a fresh lemon, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the reserved strained pepper juices, I blitzed the peppers into a smooth puree and set it aside.

Cheese it.
After bringing 4 oz goat cheese to room temperature, I added 2 oz softened cream cheese, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon fresh marjoram, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder before whipping the mixture until smooth and sliding it into the refrigerator to chill.

Roll it.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 3 Jessamine County Globe eggplants into 1/4" slices, grilled them for 3 minutes per side (until marked and softened), pulled them from the grill, and set them aside.

I placed paper thin slices of prosciutto on a work board, topped the prosciutto with a slices of grilled eggplant, dolloped 1 tablespoon of the herbed goat cheese onto the bulbous ends of the eggplant, rolled them up, and nestled them into the red bell pepper puree. After drizzling them with olive oil, I slid the involtini into a preheated 400 degree oven. When the prosciutto crisped from the heat (about 8 minutes), I pulled the eggplant rolls from the oven and topped them with additional red bell pepper puree before finishing with toasted pine nuts, flaked sea salt and fresh parsley.

Masquerading as miniature trompe l'loeil eggplant parmesan rolls, the demure one bite wonders packed a light as air perky punch.  With hints of lemon and smoke, the bright velvety puree countered the slight earthy tones of the eggplant, subtle herbed tang of the melted goat cheese, buttery pine nuts, and salty crunch of the cooked prosciutto.

Simple.
Fresh.
Sassy.

The perfect date.







Friday, August 4, 2017

Clam Up

Clams Casino for 350?  Been there, done that. A while back, I had a notion that preparing old school clams casino (baked half shelled clams topped with crisped bacon, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs) might be a clever addition to a sprawling multi-stationed buffet for a casino themed event. While clams casino might work beautifully for a busy dinner service or smallish dinner party, it was a daunting undertaking for mass production with other stations to consider. Think about it. Figuring most folks might grab two, three, or even four clams between cocktails and gambling, that added up to about 1000 clams that needed to be shucked, cleaned, prepped, topped, baked, and served. I was knee deep in clam juice with enough leftover clam shells to fill a quarry. In the end, I had a blast and the guests were happy.  Royal Flush. Win.



I adore fresh clams, Nowadays, when I want to clam it up, I take a much simpler approach by tossing them with a red or white sauce for pasta Vongole, fortifying sturdy clam chowders with their briny essence, or steaming them whole in butter-laden white wine. In the height of summer, when fresh tomatoes abound, I fuse fresh clams with summer tomatoes for a light beachy riff on surf and turf.






Steamed Clams with Market Tomatoes 
No rake required.

Sauce.
I heated equal parts olive oil and butter (2 tablespoons each) in a cast iron dutch oven over a medium flame. When the oil started to ripple, I added 2 cups cleaned sliced leeks and 1 cup diced Marion County Red Bull purple onion. When the leeks and onions caramelized, I added 4 cloves minced garlic, salt, and a generous grinding of fresh Tellicherry black pepper. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup West Sixth  Brewery Lemongrass American Wheat ale and 1 cup chicken stock. After letting the sauce reduce by half, I tucked 2 pounds Boyle County Cluster tomatoes (still on the vine) into the sauce and covered the pot.

Steam Heat.
When the tomatoes melted from the heat, I nestled 1 1/2 pounds cleaned Top Neck fresh clams (hinged sides down) into the tomatoes, reduced the heat, splashed the shells with fresh lemon juice, covered the dutch oven, and let them rip for 8-9 minutes. When the last clam peeked open. I quickly removed the clams from the heat and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with fresh basil and shards of Sunrise Bakery toasted baguette.

Big clams. Big Flavor. Plump and tender, with a briny slight chew, the Top Necks popped with each bite. As fabulous as they were, it was all about swiping the toasted baguette through  the garlicky summer tomato beer-infused clam broth.

Dip.
Sop.
Repeat.

Clam lipstick.

Perfect.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jammin'

It's raining tomatoes. After a sleepy start, gushingly ripe heirlooms have finally crashed our farmers markets in dizzying waves. From farm stand to farm stand, brilliant patchworks of homegrown color tease, beckon, and shamelessly flaunt their  bejeweled innocent flooziness. Lost in the spell of the sultry purples, perky greens, vibrant reds, carefree oranges, demure whites, and come hither hybrids, the challenge of choosing is real. With varying sugar to acid ratios, all the colors and varieties bring something different to the table. When it comes to summer tomatoes, we love what we love. Taste, like beauty,  lies in the eye of the beholder. I'm easy. Very easy. Whether sweet, tart, ugly, gnarled, or drop dead gorgeous, I adore them all. They flaunt, I fall. Win.

So many tomatoes, so little time.
Take it slow, ride the wave, and enjoy the ride.
Really, nothing tops the simplistic beauty of a sliced and salted ripe-to-the-core sun-kissed summer tomato. Boom, call it a day. Or, for a throwback to childhood, toss a few sliced tomatoes on cheap supermarket white bread with a mayo smear, take a bite, and feel the juicy drip. Not feeling it? More is more. Slap crunchy bacon, crisp wet lettuce, and ripe tomatoes on toasted bread for a classic summer B.L.T.. Salty. Wet. Sweet. Heaven. Better yet, take it up a notch and replace the crispy bacon with bacon jam for a slammin' heirloom tomato homespun home run.

Scoot on over B.L.T., there's a new kid in town.

Bacon Jam, Basil, and Heirloom Tomato Sandwich.
The B.B.T.

Bacon Jam.
Bacon jam just might be the beacon for all that is good and right in this world.
Small effort, big payoff.

After heating a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame, I sliced 1 lb  Stone Cross Farm smoked bacon into 3/4" pieces and tossed them into the skillet. When the bacon started to crisp, I scooped it out with a slotted spoon, set it aside. reserved 1 Tablespoon bacon fat in the hot skillet, drained the remaining fat, and added 1 cup chopped Boyle County Red Bull candy onions. After sweating the onions until they turned translucent, I scattered 4 minced garlic cloves into the skillet. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/3 cup brewed coffee, scraped the tasty bacon bits from the bottom of the pan, and I added 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's sorghum, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and cracked black pepper. After tumbling the reserved bacon into the molten mix, I brought the jam to a boil, reduced it to a low simmer, covered the skillet, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2 hours, stirring and adding a splash of water from time to time.

When jammy enough, I pulled the bacon jam from the heat, scraped it into a container, licked the spatula bone clean, and set it aside.

Summer love.
Heirloom Tomatoes.
Toasted bread.
Bacon jam.
Say no more.

Build it and they will come.
After slathering bacon jam onto toasted Bluegrass Bakery Black Pepper Parmesan Bread, I feathered fresh garden basil into the sticky jam, piled wet juicy slices of Casey County, Pulaski County, Fayette County heirloom tomatoes over the basil, drizzled the jewels with extra virgin olive, and finished
with a flurry of flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, and snipped garden chives.

Green Zebra. Lemon Boy. Mountain Trash Red. Cherokee Purple. Big White. Kentucky Beefsteak. Orange Persimmon. Purple Plum. Taste the colors.

Kentucky wonders.
With pig jam.

Fabulous.






Monday, July 10, 2017

Shake It Up

The summer I turned sixteen and earned my driver's license, my parents encouraged (forced) me to get a real summer job. Apparently, they tired of funding my halcyon summertime shenanigans and the time had finally arrived for me to pay the piper. And gas bills. And clothing bills. A real job. Oh sure, having access to a car offered me a limited amount of mobility and freedom, but I had to pay for that freedom. Back in the day, a major national retail operation was headquartered in our small rural western Kentucky town. It was a pretty big deal. Big money. Big jobs.  It seemed that most everyone in our little  town, in some capacity, worked for the corporation at one time or another. It was simply what people did. As fortune would have it, a member of my extended family owned the mega corporation and, as a member of the family, it was an unspoken right of passage for me to join the party. Now, there were plenty of jobs to be had at the headquarters. Ranging anywhere from stock clerks, retail clerks, office jobs, runners, secretaries, executives type things, or janitors, there were plenty of jobs. Pushed from my nest, I got out and landed a summer job at the company..... on the loading docks. The. Loading. Docks. No lipstick on that pig. The loading docks were, at best, miserable. Housed in archaic non-air conditioned wooden warehouses with tin roofing, the immense buildings were the distribution centers for the national retail stores. During the summer, the heat and humidity billowed from those old dank warehouses. Sweat was a badge of honor. Whistles blared for the 15 minute morning breaks, 30 minute lunches, and 15 minute afternoon breaks. Like clockwork, eighteen wheeler semi-trucks pulled into the docks every morning and every afternoon. Second after second after minute after minute after hour after after hour, we loaded and unloaded trucks in the sweltering heat. I lived for the sound of the whistle. Within days, I swapped my normal play clothes for patched dungarees, stained t-shirts, clumsy leather gloves, and steel-toed boots. My hair didn't stand a chance.  It wasn't pretty. I was a duck out of water trying not to look and act like a duck. I was dock worker.

Over time, I became an ace at loading and unloading trucks. My fellow hardened co-workers embraced my eager weirdness. In turn, I embraced my sweat and the sound of the whistle.

Come late July, after a very long summer, I got wind of open auditions for the production of "Shakertown Revisited", a play with music staged under tenting on the historic grounds of Shakertown at South Union in Logan County, Ky, (the other lesser known Shaker village in Kentucky) two counties over and a mere 40 minutes away as the crow flies.

"Shakertown Revisited", a symphonic drama with original Shaker music, highlighted the influence that leader Mother Ann Lee had on the sect in the 1700's and the subsequent growth of the Shaker community. Shaker missionaries (known as shaking Quakers because of their music and zealous nature of worship) settled in southern Ohio and Kentucky after the Cane Ridge, Ky Revival of 1801-1803, which was an outgrowth of the the Logan County, Ky Revival of 1800. Known for their frugal simple lifestyle, devotion, and furniture making skills, the Shakers flourished until they eventually faded away due to their sacred vows of celibacy. The late summer production of "Shakertown Revisited" celebrated their journey and their simple way of life. For the production, sprawling tents covered the beautifully manicured grounds of South Union. At dusk, folks gathered under the tents to embrace the Shaker journey through music, dance, and historic storytelling.

The mere notion of the auditions ignited a sense of escape from the summer of my discontent. I saw the light.  As luck would have it, after a few rounds of callbacks, I landed a very small speaking role as a villager. Very small. Like, one line small.  That said, my one line guaranteed me a Shaker costume and a ticket out of Dodge.

Alas, my shaking Quaker tenure was smaller than my role. Ultimately, the late night rehearsals combined with the longer than expected drive home didn't jive with my work schedule and I had to bow out of the production before it opened. During the festival, I attended most of the performances. With sold out audiences, I'd huddle in the aisles between bleachers and quietly sing along before leaving at intermission to make my early morning whistle.

Here in Kentucky, we're fortunate to have an historic footprint of the Shaker legacy. It lives on through their restored villages, furniture, music, story,
and food.

Shaker Lemon Pie.
A simple gift.

Shaker lemon pie, a specialty of the Ohio branch of the Shaker community, made its way south as the Shakers settled in Kentucky. While Shakers were self sustaining and grew most everything they ate, common thinking is that as lemons became more widely available after the railroad system started transporting goods from region to region, the exotic fruit happily found a place in their community kitchens. Their sense of frugality was best featured in their lemon pie. Nothing went to waste. Whole lemons were thinly sliced, tossed with sugar, and left to macerate at room temperature for 24 hours. After the addition of eggs, the sticky tart marmalade-like filling was surrounded with pie crust and baked.

Nowadays, the Shakers are mostly renowned for their exquisite furniture making skills. That said, several of their simple wholesome recipes have been chronicled in cookbooks, keeping their culinary legacy alive. Their iconic Shaker Lemon Pie best represents that legacy. Using the original recipe since 1967, the pie is still served daily at The Trustees' Table dining room  at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a short scenic drive from Lexington. Packing a fabulous lemony punch, it's not for the faint of heart. Tucked inside an old fashioned flaky double crust shell, the pie is an explosive marriage between  lemon curd and lemon marmalade. Sticky, sweet, bitter, and tart, Shaker Lemon Pie is a downright lemon bomb.

For a spin on tradition, I went topless.

Shaker Lemon Tart.
I used the same amount of filling for a double crust pie, but  swapped out a simple pate brisee dough for an opened faced tart.

Pucker Up.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 2 large lemons as thinly as possible before tossing the paper thin rounds with 2 cups sugar. After massaging the sugar into the lemons, I covered the bowl with a dish towel and set it aside to macerate for 24 hours, stirring the mix from time to time.

As the lemons broke down and melted into the sugar, the mix had the consistency of a beautiful uncooked lemon marmalade.

Tarted Up.
For a double crust pie, any standard pie dough would have worked beautifully. While the original recipe ( a simple combination of 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup shortening plus 2 tablespoons shortening, and 2 tablespoons water) is true to form, I went rogue with a pate brisee. Topless. Rule breaker.

I sifted 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour into the bowl of a food processor before adding 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces. After pulsing the mix until it resembled a course meal, I streamed 1/4 cup ice water into the processor until the dough came together and could hold together when pinched. I tumbled the dough onto a floured board, used a bench scraper to slice it in half, formed each half into a disc, wrapped both discs in plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

After an hour or so, I pulled one disc of dough from the refrigerator (freezing the second piece for other shenanigans), placed it on a well floured board, and rolled it into a 12"x 1/4" round, turning and flipping the dough to keep it workable. I tucked the dough into a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressed the dough up the sides, and trimmed the dough along the top edge. After repairing a few dings and dents with leftover excess dough, I slipped the shell into the freezer.

Fill'er Up.
As per the original recipe, I mixed the macerated lemons and juices with 4 frothy beaten eggs. I pulled the tart shell from the freezer, docked with a fork, poured the filling into the shell, maneuvered a few lemon slices to the top, and slid the pie into a pre-heated 450 degree oven for for 15 minutes before reducing the heat to 375 degrees for an additional 20 minutes. When the lemons started to caramelize, I pulled the tart from the oven, and placed it on a wire rack to cool completely before sliding it into the refrigerator.

Chilled and sliced, I finished the delicate shards of pie with airy soft clouds of chantilly cream.

'Tis A Gift To Be Simple
      - "Simple Gifts", 1848,
          Elder Joseph Brackett











Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fried Corn

I imagine we all have differing target dates as to when summer officially begins. Some folks might consider the last day of school or the opening of pools as the start of summer. Then, of course, there's meteorological summer and astronomical summer. In my book, summer kicks off when roadside corn trucks dot the rolling country roads and  flat bed trucks, stacked high with corn, back into stalls of the farmers market. Caught up in the corn frenzy, wispy silks fly through the air and float gently to the ground as people tear back husks to inspect the hidden jewels. Tender, sweet, and fresh enough to eat raw, few things top the arrival of locally grown corn.

Whether boiled, steamed, grilled, creamed, or fried, fresh summer corn kindles memories of cookouts and summer picnics. Back in the day, my grandmother fried her garden corn. She'd heap spoonfuls of leftover salty bacon fat in a large cast iron skillet and fry the hell out of the cut off  kernels until they caramelized and crunched like popcorn. While she creamed a few batches from time to time, boiled whole cobs rarely hit the table. She was the fry queen. As summer moved along,  my grandmother instinctively morphed into her 'depression era' saving mode, canning the remaining bounty of corn for the leaner times. While her straight up  canned corn lost its luster after overwintering in the dusty grim cellar, her preserved corn  relishes survived bright and piquant. When my family settled into our own home on the far side of the family farm, my parents took a more modern approach with our garden corn. Bacon fat wasn't invited to the party. Picked fresh from the garden, it was either meticulously shucked and de-silked before a quick steam or cut from the cob, milked, and briefly sauteed. Salt. Pepper. Butter. Corn. Heaven.  During peak season, the endless extra hauls of corn got shucked, cut off, milked, blanched, and frozen. A family history of fresh garden corn. Different generations. Different takes. All fabulous.

Nowadays, I'm all over the place when the corn starts rolling in. I love it bacon-wrapped, chargrilled, boiled, steamed, creamed, pureed, pan fried, sauteed, or souffled, Few things can beat  corn pudding, spoonbread, or corn bread made with fresh peak season corn. And fried? I take it one step further and toss whole ears of corn into a deep fryer. The intense heat of the fryer quickly caramelizes the corn while simultaneously steaming the inside of the kernels. Slathered in butter, it takes me back to my grandmother's table, sans the extreme crunch and leftover bacon fat.

Deep Fried Corn.
Simple.
Quick.
Fantastic.

Lime Chive Butter.
I brought 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter to room temperature before adding 1/2 teaspoon white
pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, and 3 tablespoons snipped garden chives.
I set the butter aside and cranked a deep fryer to 350 degrees.

Typically, I fry whole ears of corn.  For more manageable smaller corn bites, I cut them down a notch. After shucking and cleaning 6  ears of Wayne County bi-colored corn, I trimmed the ends before slicing the ears into 1 1/2" discs.

Working in batches, to not  overcrowd the deep fryer, I carefully lowered the corn into the hot oil for about 3-4 minutes. When they started to crisp around the edges and caramelize, I tumbled them onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, slathered them with the chive-flecked lime butter, and stabbed them with toothpicks before finishing with flaky sea salt, a splash of lime, and additional chives.

Kissed by the hot corn, the lime-infused butter slowly melted  through the crevices of the crispy caramelized kernels, puddling underneath for easy dipping and swiping. While the lime countered the rich buttery fat with subtle bright acidity, the snipped chives and salt provided fresh grassy crunch. Dip. Swipe. Repeat.

Buttered up deep fried corn.
Perfect.






Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Planked

I spent many lazy summer afternoons fishing from the rocky banks of Barren River Lake in Western Kentucky. When my family settled in with my grandparents on their rural Kentucky farm, the lake was practically brand spanking new. For thirty years, my grandfather's farm hugged the banks of the Barren River. His farmhouse was situated on the highlands amid cleared fields and meadows. The remaining part of the farm, thick with trees and brush, dipped down to the river at rugged steep inclines. A few years before we moved to Kentucky, the United States Corps of Engineers built an earthen dam next to his farm to create Barren River Lake. In doing so, the lake swallowed half of my grandfather's land, leaving the farm with direct access to wooded sleepy coves overlooking the placid bluish green water.

The lake was my playground. As a transplanted outsider, I took refuge by the water. During summer breaks, when I wasn't frog gigging with my brother or getting into mischief, I'd meander down to the lake and fish. Swelled by high summer water levels, the lake was the ultimate fishing hole.  Armed with a bamboo cane pole (not kidding), a plastic bobber,  and a bucket of earthworms , I was a master catcher of tiny crappie and bluegill. Too small to keep or fuss over, chasing those feisty little fish piqued my interest as I wiled away the hours. On occasion, I'd mosey over to the wider sections of the coves that opened up to the vastness of the lake. The rugged points jutted out and straight down into the water like prehistoric stepping stones. Covered with mossy plankton, those sunken nooks and crannies were prime feeding grounds for the smallmouth bass that gathered in and around the rocky out-croppings. On lucky days, I'd snag enough  bass to tote home in hopes of a summer cookout or fish fry. Boyish folly. Although  I don't fish much anymore, I'm still a fisherman at heart. Nowadays, I let others do the catching.

Plank Grilled Whole Black Bass, Baby Fennel, And Candy Onions with Italian Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde.
Unlike the piquant tomatillo based Mexican salsa verde, Italian salsa verde is an herb forward vinaigrette used as a finishing sauce. After combining 4 teaspoons minced fresh oregano, 6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, 2 cloves smashed garlic, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, salt, cracked black pepper, and 1/4 cup tear drop peppers, I added 1/2 cup extra virgin olive, gave it a quick stir, and set it aside.





Planked.
While most any untreated wooden plank would work on an outdoor grill, cedar planks are widely available. Prior to firing up the grill, I soaked a large cedar plank in water for 2 hours, weighing it down with a plate to keep it submerged. When the coals reached the optimum burning point, I raked them to one side of the grill to create two areas of heat. I placed the plank over the cooler side of the grill for 3 minutes, pulled it from the heat, and brushed it vegetable oil.




Stuffed.
After rinsing two 3/4 pound scaled, cleaned, and gutted whole black bass under cold running water, I stuffed each cavity with fresh lemon, sprigs of thyme, parsley, and fresh oregano. For good measure, I slipped 1/2 slice fresh lemon into the gills before rubbing the fish with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. After placing the seasoned black bass on the cedar plank, I tucked blanched and quartered Stonehedge Farm baby fennel, purple cauliflower florets, and halved  Pulaski County purple candy onions around the fish. I slid the plank onto the cooler side of the grill,  brushed the vegetables with olive oil, closed the lid, vented the hood, and let it rip for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables from time to time.

When the internal temperature of the bass reached 125 degrees, I pulled the plank from the grill, spooned the salsa verde over the cooked fish, and showered everything with sea salt before finishing with crisped slivered scallions.

Kissed with indirect heat, the flaky bass, caramelized fennel, and softened candy onions absorbed the subtle smoky char from the cedar, balancing the herbaceous punch of the bright vinaigrette. While the tiny peppers added pops of heat, the tangled scallions provided grassy wet crunch.

Simple.
Fresh.
Fabulous.

Go ahead, fire up a grill
and walk the plank.








Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mind Your Peas And Carrots

Long before moving to Kentucky to live with my grandparents on their lakeside western Kentucky farm, my exposure to fresh vegetables was a wee bit limited. Aside from the foraged wild mushrooms, fermented vegetables, and potatoes that Frau Olga cobbled together for her eastern European concoctions or the curious things Ababa tossed into her Ethiopian stews, the scope of my vegetable realm was relegated to the offerings tucked into the corner compartments of frozen t.v. dinners. You see, my father was a struggling single military father of two young boys and frozen t.v. dinners were his  secret weapons of convenience, embracing them with overzealous gusto. The nightly rotation kept the vegetable options ever changing. Peas. Peas and carrots Green Beans. Repeat. Swimming in butter, the two-bite wonders felt exotic and fresh. More so, they were elevated to divine when the sticky fruit pie filling (cherry or apple)  bubbled over the aluminum divider and swirled through the vegetables. Hence, my life long love fest with mixing savory and sweet. As a kid, I adored those vegetables, falling for the peas and carrots combo hook line and sinker. I'm still falling.

Pan Roasted Baby Carrots With Pea Shoot Pesto.

Pesto.
While Genovese basil pesto is the undisputed king of pesto, a good pesto can be made with just about anything. I simply had gorgeous fresh pea shoots at my fingertips to help drive home the pea factor.

After rough chopping 3/4 cups pistachio nuts and 2 garlic cloves in a food processor, I added 3 cups of Lazy Eight Stock Farm pea shoots, 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano. After a few quick pulses to break down the greens, I let it go and slowly drizzled 1/3 cup olive oil into the mix until it formed a course pesto, purposely  keeping it shy of a full out puree. I scooped the pesto into a glass bowl, covered it with plastic wrap (pressing the wrap into the pesto), and set it aside.

Carrots.
After snipping the tops from delicate Stonehedge Farm pencil thin baby carrots, I simple rinsed and buffed the carrots with a wet paper towel to gently peel away their papery skins.

Peas.
I washed and trimmed 2 pints of Shelby County sugar snap peas before blanching them in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, plunging them into ice water, drying them off, and setting them aside.

Hot skillet.
Fast and furious.
I heated a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and hit it with a splash of canola oil. When the oil started to smoke, I tumbled  the sugar snap peas into the skillet for 5 seconds, scooped them out, and immediately added the baby carrots. Kissed by the high heat, the whisper thin carrots cooked quickly. When they started to blister, I pulled them from the heat, tossed them with the pea shoot pesto, and  tucked the sugar snap peas to the side before finishing with a tangle of fresh pea shoots and  slivers of Blue Moon Farm green garlic.

Simple.
Fresh.
Fabulous.

Mind your peas and carrots.





Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Simmer.

Hope springs eternal when the Farmers' Market opens after a long sleepy winter. While a few of the overwintered stalwarts  still linger, delicate baby lettuces, baby kale, pea shoots, tomato plants, bedding plants, and herbs line up side by side, fluttering through the cool Spring breezes. Every gentle leaf ushers in the new season with a subtle relaxed joy.  Although I'm keenly aware of the reawakened abundance of the early season market, I'm always a wee bit surprised when spring asparagus quietly appears. Without much fanfare, bunches and baskets dot most every farm stand. Vibrant beacons to a fresh beginning, I imagine  asparagus patches tucked in and around the fields of our local farms. Tempted to overplay my windfall by roasting, grilling, or wrapping them in prosciutto, I kept it very very simple to let the fresh spring asparagus sing.

Typically, I gravitate toward long lazy braises, frenzied high heat sautes, or charcoal/wood grilling. Unctuous gravies, rich pan sauces, and smoky nuance make me happy. Sometimes, it's fun changed things up. Why drag out the big guns when all I needed was a pot of simmering water?

Asparagus with Poached Eggs.
Simple is as simple does.
I trimmed the ends off of a gorgeous bunch of Silas Farm spring asparagus and  used a vegetable peeler to peel the ends before dropping them into a large pot of salted boiling water. After 3 minutes, I pulled the blanched asparagus from the hot bath, plunged the spears into salted iced water, patted them dry, and tossed them with a light fresh lemon vinaigrette.

Few things rival a perfectly poached egg. That said, a perfectly poached egg can be an illusive beast. Some eggs behave badly and some don't. Sometimes they break, run, flail, or overcook. Don't sweat it. A watchful eye and a little coddling goes a long way.

After filling a deep sided sauce pan with water, I brought the water to a perky simmer before adding 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. I cracked super fresh (key) Elmwood Stock Farm eggs one at a time into a small mesh strainer to let the loosey goosey  egg whites drain from the firmer whites, slid the eggs into individual ramekins, and carefully slipped the eggs into the rippling water. As they floundered about, I coaxed the egg whites to gently firm up around the eggs, covered the pot, and pulled it from the heat. When they hit the perfect poach (about 3 minutes, after a close check), I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and nestled them over the blanched asparagus before finishing with micro greens, flaked sea salt, lemon zest, and Stonehedge Farm shaved French breakfast radishes.

Poke the yolk.
When pierced, the yolks spilled from the jiggly eggs, enveloped the tender asparagus, and swirled through the vinaigrette, countering the warmth of the drinkable silky yolks with bright acidic punch. While the flaked salt added bite, the delicate shaved radishes provided assertive wet crunch.

Simple.
Sexy.
Fresh.
Perfect.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sterling

It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, and on the same food they are fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brook-side the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass, they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes it sweetness more apparent. Like a woman's heart, it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring, it comes. Besides the gurgling brooks that makes it music in the pastures it lives and thrives.

 -J. Soule Smith, The Mint Julep: The Very Dream of Drinks, 1949.

Lush rolling pastures.
Painted planked fencing.
Thoroughbreds grazing at dawn

And free flowing bourbon.

The Bluegrass blooms during Derby season.

It's all about tradition.
Mint Julep
2 oz. Bourbon
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Fresh mint leaves
Crushed ice
Muddle fresh mint inside of the glass.
Add simple syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice.
Garnish with more ice and fresh mint.

Dripping with demure southern charm, our minty bourbon-spiked elixir captures the very essence of Derby day.  On the first Saturday in May, swept away in the swell of My Old Kentucky Home, we'll raise a toast with Mints Juleps and call the horses to the post for the 143 running of the Kentucky Derby.

While heavenly splashed over crushed ice, the perfect marriage of mint, sugar, and bourbon lends itself to a world of other possibilities. Break the rules and slap it on ribs for a boozy barbecue treat.

Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the ride.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Julep Barbecue Sauce
When it comes to lamb, I'm totally old school about the traditional mint jelly accompaniment. It's nonnegotiable. While I've had my share of the minty green jellies from the market (thumbs up), I wanted bourbon-infused Mint Julep jelly for the base of the sauce. Why smear sauce on precious little lamb chops? Why not? Meat. Fire. Sauce. Win. Place. Show. Bet on it.

Simple Mint Julep Jelly.
Think about it. Mint. Julep. Jelly. Sticky bourbon candy.  I packed 1 1/2 cups fresh mint into a small sauce pan with 3 cups water, 1/4 cup Old Forester Bourbon, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.. After bringing the water to a boil, I reduced the heat, simmered the mint for 20 minutes, strained the mint, and set the minted water aside. Using the same sauce pan, I brought 4 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 cups of the reserved mint juice, and 3/4 cups Old Forester bourbon to a hard boil before adding a 3 ounce pouch of liquid pectin. When the gurgling mix came to a full rolling boil, I let it rip for 1 minute, skimmed the foam, filled  jelly jars with the molten hot jelly, and set them aside. When they were cool enough to handle, I screwed on the lids, and slid them into the refrigerator.

Getting Saucy.
Wanting to err on the lighter side of gloppy, I nixed the standard ketchup base and heated 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's  sorghum, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 cup grated onion, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder over a medium flame. After bringing the sauce to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer and added 3/4 cups of the reserved mint jelly. When the jelly melted into the sauce, I added a splash of bourbon to wake it up and  pulled it from the heat.

Lamb Pops.
Local Four Hills Farm lamb racks are gorgeous. Trimmed and frenched, their delicate nature belies their big meaty punch. Although I toyed with the notion of grilling a whole rack, I sliced a 1 1/2 pound rack into individual chops for optimum meat to sauce ratio. Better yet, when sliced, the exposed bones have built in handles for easy snacking. Drink in one hand, chop in the other. Perfect finger food.

To give the chops a savory head start, I brought them  to room temperature before rubbing them down with a simple mixture of  kosher salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, and ground coriander.

Quick Fire.
I fired up charcoal in a chimney, released the glowing coals into the base of a charcoal grill, and distributed the coals to create even heat before slapping the lamb chops onto the grill. After 2 minutes, I brushed them with the Mint Julep barbecue sauce and continued basting and flipping until the internal temperature reached 130 degrees for medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.

I pulled the lacquered chops from the grill and let them rest before finishing with flaked sea salt and scattered fresh mint. Because more is more, I slipped a small jar of Mint Julep jelly to the side for an extra bourbony sweet kick.

Derby Chops.
Saucy.
Sassy.
Fabulous.












Thursday, March 23, 2017

Batter Up

Bon Voyage.

My father, brother, and I left Ethiopia for our final return to America in 1966. Although we typically flew across the Atlantic on our travels, our final big move came with baggage. You see, my father had grown quite attached to his rickety old brown Rambler station wagon. Whether puttering up and down mountainside roads on weekend trips to the Red Sea or driving around our secluded walled-in army base, the Rambler served my father well. He loved that old car, so when it was time to leave Africa, he booked all of us (including the car) on a one way trans Atlantic crossing aboard the SS Independence departing from Naples, Italy bound for New York City Harbor.

After transporting the car to Italy  beforehand, we boarded the ship for a nine day voyage across the Atlantic ocean. Back in the day, cruising wasn't a thing. Ocean liners were built for speed and transportation. They took passengers from point A to point B. The luxuries of sailing varied from ship to ship. The SS Independence, launched in 1951, was a small modest ship. That said, divided by a very rigid class system, well heeled travelers paid top dollar to enjoy the fancier side of sailing. We weren't well heeled or fancy (much to my dismay) , so we enjoyed the perk-less joys of Cabin Class. Cabin Class, a wee step up from Tourist Class, was bare-bones stark. Amenities? Hardly.  Our beds pulled down from the walls after the lone table folded up into the wall. Windows? Not on your life. There was a small movie theater on board, a dank swimming pool, and what seemed like miles and miles of wet wooden deck chairs interspersed with occasional painted shuffle board courts. Any preconceived notion of boyish adventure slowly morphed into nine monotonous days of  relentless high seas playing endless  games of shuffle board. Shuffle bored. I ached for the quiet throbbing heat of Africa.

On a cold Spring morning, the Statue of Liberty floated by our ship as we neared New York Harbor. I wanted fanfare, ticker tape, and cascading melodic music to greet our arrival. Was that too much to ask? With zero hoopla, we docked in New York City the day before Easter. When the ship was secured, the gangway slowly lowered onto a cold concrete pier dwarfed by cavernous dimly lit warehouses peppered with busy deckhands and dock workers. There wasn't a shred of glamour to ease my pallid sea born boredom.

While our fellow travelers gathered their belongings and tumbled into taxi cabs or shuttles, we waited for our car to be lifted out and unloaded from the cargo area of the ship. Eventually, we piled into my father's beloved Rambler for the 6 1/2 hour drive to Buffalo, New York to spend Easter with family members. The next morning, amid their Easter flurry, I was handed a cellophane-wrapped solid white chocolate Easter bunny. Solid. White. Chocolate. Luxury. I was undone. Nine days of shuffle board was worth every excruciating pretense of fun to behold a solid white chocolate rabbit. Heavy, dense, and perfectly molded, the white chocolate bunny rocked my world. After scarfing down the ears, devouring the head, and nipping off the tail, I stashed the headless hare into my suitcase for the long drive to Kentucky. And with that, I closed the book on my bittersweet return to America.

Down the rabbit hole.

Easter Rabbit.

Buttermilk Fried Rabbit with Tarragon Dijon Cream Sauce.

The other other white meat.Without skin to hinder the process, breaking down a rabbit was somewhat easier than breaking down a chicken. I splayed a dressed 2 1/2 pound Kentucky Proud Blue Moon Farm  rabbit on its back and used a boning knife to easily removed the arms with quick slices. After slicing around the leg joints, I popped the bones from the hip and separated  the legs from the body before setting them aside. After trimming off the belly flaps. I used a cleaver to remove the saddle, located just below the rib cage, and chopped it into 4 pieces. I tossed the rabbit meat into a bowl and wrapped the remaining bits in plastic wrap to freeze for future shenanigans.



Marinade.
Giving the rabbit a southern spin, I marinated the meat overnight in 3 cups full fat buttermilk, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper, lemon juice, and a few dashes hot sauce.

Batter up.
I brought the marinated rabbit to room temperature, set it aside, and heated vegetable oil (about 3/4" deep) in a large cast iron skillet until it reached 325 degrees. To give the rabbit hefty crunch, I double dredged the meat in seasoned flour and buttermilk before carefully lowering it into the hot oil. Working in batches, I browned the meat on both sides (about 6 minutes per side for an internal temperature of 165 degrees), placed it onto a wire rack set over a sheet pan, and slid it into a preheated 200 degree to keep warm.

Saucy.
After removing the oil from the skillet, I placed it over medium heat before adding 2 tablespoons minced shallots and 1 clove minced garlic. When the shallots turned translucent, I deglazed the skillet
with 1/2 cup white wine to release the tasty bits from the bottom of the skillet. After reducing the wine by half, I added a splash of tarragon vinegar, 3 tablespoons Maille Dijon mustard, flaked sea salt, a dash of ground white pepper, and 2 cups heavy cream. When the cream reduced and thickened, I feathered 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon into the cream and pulled it from the heat.

I tumbled the rabbit onto brown butcher paper and showered it with flash fried fresh tarragon
before nestling it alongside the tangy anise-infused cream sauce, country ham-flecked deviled eggs, and whisper thin ribbons of bread and butter pickles.

Fried rabbit with gussied up white pan sauce, old fashioned sweet pickles, and creamy deviled eggs.

Perfect finger food.






Thursday, March 9, 2017

Marbles

The first nibble of spring teases, taunts, and hammers home the fact that glorious summer tomatoes are still months away and far out of reach. Rewind to last fall when the farmers markets were winding down for the season and the colors of summer had slowly faded into the quieter muted tones of autumn. Always seguing  with guarded ease, it just happens. Seasons change. Think back. It's still boggles me that summer/fall tomatoes lasted as long as they did, bellying  up side by side with gourds, pumpkins, winter squash, and fodder shocks. The little ones, cherry tomatoes, held fast to the glory days of summer. By that stage in the long growing season, the farmers were practically giving them away and I was a willing taker. On one particular day, when told it would be their last day at the market, I loaded up on Pulaski County heirloom cherry tomatoes, hurried home, and froze the entire batch...whole. Yep. No cooking, canning, or sauce making. I simply tumbled the tomatoes onto sheet pans and slid them into the freezer. When they were rock hard, I slipped them into freezer bags and tossed them back into freezer.

Frozen summer marbles.



Seared Ahi Tuna With Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette
Cherry tomatoes (fresh or frozen) are ripe for roasting.
Little effort. Big payoff.

Shooting marbles.
After rolling the frozen tomatoes onto a clean dish towel to thaw, I tossed them with olive oil, tumbled  them into a cast iron skillet, and slid them into a preheated 400 degree oven. When the slightly blistered tomatoes collapsed  from the heat, I pulled them from the oven, splashed them with 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil. salt, pepper, and set them aside.

Tuna.
After blocking off portions of  fresh sushi grade ahi tuna (Lexington Seafood Company), I brushed the flesh with vegetable oil, and rolled them in black sesame seeds.

Kissed with heat.
Keeping it rare.
I heated a small cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and drizzled the skillet with oil. When the oil started to ripple (just before the smoking point), I seared the tuna on all sides, 30 seconds per side for Beautifully rare centers. After resting the tuna for 10 minutes, I sliced it across the grain and nestled it into the reserved roasted tomato vinaigrette before finishing with scattered slivered shallots and perky remnants of over wintered window sill fresh basil.




Simple.
Quick.
Clean.
Fabulous.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bones

Somewhere along the way, the superstar status of bone broth seems to have blurred the line between broth and stock. Stock or broth? Bone broth or bone stock? Are they the same? Although both are prepared in very similar ways, stocks are classically made with bones, aromatics, and vegetables while broths are made with meat, aromatics, and vegetables. However, because most bones for stock might have particles of meat attached to them and meat for broths might contain bones, the line blurs. That said, bone broths are simmered much longer than typical broths, giving them the collagen rich character of long simmered stocks. In essence, they are a hybrid of both. Call it what you may. Stock. Broth. Bone Broth. Bone stock. Bone juice. In any form, it's fabulous. So, whether you slurp it from a mug or use it to fortify soups and stews, it's a handy thing to have in your back pocket, refrigerator, or freezer at any given time.


What's in a name?
Having been schooled in stock making, I'm on team stock.

Guinness Caramelized Onion Soup

Stock.
While store bought stock would have been fine, I wanted the deep beefy nuance of a collagen infused long simmered stock. With a little effort and a bit of time, stocks basically take care of themselves. Aside from some occasional scum skimming, they're pretty much hands off and fuss free. Good things come to those who wait, so bone up and enjoy the ride.

Roasting the bones and vegetables gives any stock depth, body, and intense flavor. Typically, the two are roasted separately. With a watchful eye, they can be roasted together. I scattered 4 pounds of meaty Marksbury Farm beef neck and shank bones onto a sheet pan along with 1 split leek, 2 chopped parsnips (unpeeled), 2 chopped carrots (unpeeled), 1 Large quartered Spanish onion (skin on), and 1 halved whole garlic head (skin on). After drizzling the meat and vegetables with olive oil, I seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before sliding them into a blistering 450 degree oven. After 30 minutes, I pulled the bones from the oven, brushed them on all sides with tomato paste, and returned them to the oven for an additional 30 minutes.

Blistered and caramelized, I pulled the roasted bones and vegetables from the oven, tumbled them into a large stock pot, deglazed the sheet pan with 1/2 cup sherry vinegar to release the browned tasty bits, and scraped the juicy fond into the stock pot. After covering the bones and vegetables by 2" with about 12 cups water, I added a few sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh parsley, 10 whole peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves. I brought the water to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, moved it to a back burner, and let it rip, skimming the scum from time to time.

Stocks and/or bone broths can simmer up to 24 hours. While 4 hours is a good start, a longer cook allows the collagens to seep from the bones and melt into the stock. I took a little under/over wager on the cook time. After 8 hours, I strained the stock through a cheese cloth-lined chinois into a clean stock pot, discarded the solids, quickly cooled the stock in an iced water bath, ladled it into mason jars, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Caramelized Onions.
Cry me a river.
Low and slow wins the race when it comes to coaxing the natural sugars out of sliced onions to achieve silky sweet onion candy. The standard method requires hovering over slowly bubbling onions for a very long time (sometimes hours), gently stirring them as they gradually soften, collapse, and caramelize from the heat. While a slow cooker ( on a 10 hour setting)  would have alleviated the fussy attention, onions simmered in a slow cooker tend be softly browned rather than deeply caramelized. Direct contact with heat was key.

Crank the oven.
After slicing 5 pounds Spanish onions into 1/4" half moons, I tossed them into an oiled cast iron
dutch oven, added 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I mixed the onions until they were coated with the oil, covered the dutch oven, and slid it into a 450 degree oven.

On 1 hour intervals, I pulled the onions from the oven, gave them a quick stir, covered the pot, and returned them to the oven.

After 3 hours, I pulled the onions from the oven and placed them over a medium flame on the stove top. After allowing the onions to saute for a second or two, I deglazed the pot with 1/4 balsamic vinegar, a splash of Irish Whiskey, and 1 cup dark Guinness Stout Beer. When the beer reduced by half, I added 5 cups of the reserved gelatinous beef stock, 2 bay leaves, and fresh thyme. I brought the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, let it simmer for 30 minutes.

I ladled the hot slippery soup into oven safe crocks, slammed back a shot of Guinness, floated toasted Sunrise Bakery baguette croutons over the soup, smothered the toasts and crocks with mounds of grated Irish Kerrygold Dubliner sharp cheddar cheese, and slid the bowls under a broiler.

When the bubbling molten cheese blistered from the flames and oozed down the sides of the crocks, I pulled them from the oven and let them settle down before finishing with a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and fresh thyme.

Suspended in the soup beneath the slightly charred cheddar ,the sweet caramelized onions punched through the creamy saltiness of the melted cheese, the buttery soft crunch of the toasted croutons, and the subtle bitter undertones of the stout-spiked stock.

Tipping a hat to ubiquitous French Onion Gratinee, Guinness caramelized onion soup is a booozy slap happy rough and tumble riff on the iconic classic.

Bad to the bone.





Thursday, February 2, 2017

Steam Heat

Bao down, there's a new bun in town.

Steamed instead of baked, Chinese bao buns are pillowy puffs of simple yeast dough that can be filled with a variety of sweet or savoring ingredients. Centuries old, bao buns are becoming wildly popular outside of their traditional dim sum trappings. Although typically stuffed with saucy Chinese barbecued pork ( char siu bao) or roasted Peking duck,  they can be filled with just about anything. Rules are made to broken. Everything old is new again, so choose your fillings, gather some garnishes, and get your steam on.


Steamed Bao Buns With Sticky Duck.

Dough.
I sprinkled 1 package active dry yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and added 1/2 cup warm water. When the yeast started to bubble and foam, I added 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baling powder, 1/2 cup warm milk, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Using a dough hook, I mixed the dough until it turned a bit shaggy before adding 1/2 cup bread flour to bring it together. When the dough pulled away from the bowl, I turned it out onto a floured board, kneaded it for 5-10 minutes, shaped it into a ball, slid it into a clean bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise.

Buns.
After doubling in size (about an hour), I punched down the dough and turned it onto a floured work board. From what I understand, most folks pinch off small bits of dough and roll them into individual discs. I cut to the chase and rolled the dough into 1/2" thick slab and used a 3" ring mold to cut out even discs. Rule breaker. After brushing the tops with vegetable oil, I
folded them in half and set them aside.

Steam Heat.
I lined a double tiered 10" bamboo steam basket with trimmed parchment paper, punched holes through the paper to allow the steam to penetrate both layers, and nestled the buns into the steamer. After filling a 10" wide pot with 3" water, I cranked the heat to high. When the water came to a rapid boil, I carefully placed the steamer basket on the pot, let it rip for 10 minutes, killed the heat, removed the buns, and set them aside.

Duck. Duck. Bao.
A while back, I picked up a gorgeous farm raised  whole duck from Joe Weber (Farmer Joe, Salvisa Ky), at the Chevy Chase Farmer's Market. After breaking down the duck, I tossed the breasts into the freezer and used the legs, thighs, and fatty carcass for duck confit. That journey to duck fat heaven left me with two gorgeous plump duck breasts on reserve. Fast Forward. Few things crack my knees more than pan seared medium rare duck breast.

Being mindful not to cut into the flesh, I scored the fat on top of two breasts and set them aside. I knew I needed a finishing glaze for the quick pan seared duck, so I tipped my hat to the flavor profile of slow braised Chinese barbecued pork.

After dissolving 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon light brown sugar in 2 tablespoons warm water, I added 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons hoisen sauce, 2 tablespoons shooxing wine, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup local honey, and 1 teaspoon 5 spice powder.

Hot skillet? Nope. To allow the fat to render slowly for shatteringly crisp skin, I seasoned both sides of the duck with salt and cracked black pepper before placing them skin side down in a cold cast iron skillet. After turning the flame to medium, I let the breasts coast until the fat slowly melted away and the skin caramelized, about 6 minutes. When the breasts easily released from the skillet, I flipped them over, cooked them skin side down for 3-4 minutes until they registered 135 degrees, and pulled them from the heat to rest.

While the skillet was still hot, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 minced shallot into the sizzling duck fat. Just before the garlic teetered on the edge of overly browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1/4 cup shooxing wine, scraped the flavorful fond from the bottom of the skillet, let the wine reduce by half, and added the reserved sauce. When the sauce settled into a syrupy glaze, I pulled it from the heat, let it cool, and slathered it over the warm duck.

After slicing the breasts on a thin bias, I tucked the duck into the bao buns and drizzled them with additional sauce before finishing with quick pickled julienned carrots, fresh cilantro, shaved fresh radishes, slivered Thai chilies, and sesame seeds.

Boom to the bao.
The simple inherent nature of the steamed buns parlayed into perfect neutral canvasses for the big flavors spilling from their gentle airiness. Tender, juicy, and cradled in crisped fatty skin, the candied duck melted into the puffy soft bread.  While the pickled carrots added punchy bright acidity to cut through the sweetness of the jacked up caramelized duck, wisps of cilantro, biting chilies, and sesame seeds balanced out the party with fresh stinging crunch.

Steam heat.
Hot buns.
Sticky duck.

Fabulous.







Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cracked

Dressed up or dressed down, fresh lobster is special, indulgent, and sexy as all get out.
Whether fast and furious like a beach side romp on strewn newspapers splashed with sticky drawn butter or prepared  slow and steady finished with a booze-infused cream sauce, eating fresh lobster is unabashedly decadent.

While I'm totally game for a down and dirty lobster boil, I'm a hopeless fool for the retro antics and lobstery punch of an old school Lobster Newberg.

Lobster Newberg, created at Delmonico's in New York during the late 1800's, is a simple magical amalgamation of lobster, cream, stock, sherry, brandy, herbs, and aromatics. Served over toasted bread, rice, or puff pastry vol au vents (pastry shells) Lobster Newberg is a romantic throwback to demure extravagance. Although there are great shortcuts for quicker results. sometimes it's fun to bring out the big guns for a labor of love.

Lobster Newberg.
An old fashioned lobster date.
Slow and steady.

Lobster.
So, I haven't killed or cooked a live lobster since my school days. While options abound for already prepared lobster, I needed the bodies and shells to fortify a stock, so I picked up two 1 1/2 pound live lobsters from the Lexington Seafood Company and kept them packed on ice while I prepped for my date.

I filled a very large stock  pot with enough water to cover 2 live lobsters (about 14 cups), added a handful of whole black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, and 3 halved lemons. After cranking the heat to high, I slid the lobsters into the freezer for 10 minutes to put them to sleep. When the water came to a rapid boil, I added 1/2 cup salt, removed the lobster from the freezer, and slipped them head first into the boiling water. When the water came back to a simmer, I let the lobsters cook for 6 minutes (until they turned bright red) before plunging them into salted iced water to stop the cooking process.

Cracked.
They make lobster bibs for a reason. Or wet suits. Cracking lobster is messy business. Dodging flying cracked shells and splattering lobster juice, I worked over a large bowl to salvage the precious drippings. Once cooked and cooled, I ripped the tails from the heads, sliced them in half, removed the meat (reserving 2 halves) and set the heads aside. After cracking the knuckles to remove the meat, I added it to the tails and went after the claws. Claws can be tricky and prickly. Using the dull side of a chef's  knife, I cracked the claws on opposing sides, carefully pulled them apart, and slipped the meat from the broken shells. I split the bodies in half, reserved the tomalley (liver) for other shenanigans, discarded the innards, chopped the outer shells into large pieces, and set them aside. Cracked, smacked, and covered with lobster bits, I slid the dispatched  tender lobster meat into the refrigerator, and moved on.

Stock.
I love making stock.
After heating 3 tablespoons canola oil in a stock over a medium flame, I smashed  the lobster shells into smaller pieces to expose more surface area to the heat, and tossed them into sizzling oil. When they started to toast, I added 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste and tossed it with the broken shells. As the tomato paste started to caramelize, I deglazed the pot with 3/4 cup brandy and fired it up. After the flames died down, I added 1 1/2 cups chopped celery, 1 cup chopped onion, 3 chopped carrots, 1 cup chopped fresh fennel, 2 cups pureed Elmwood Stock Farm canned diced summer tomatoes, 1 cup dry white wine, 8 cups water, 2 bay leaves. and 4 sprigs fresh tarragon. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it rip for 1 1/2 hours before straining the stock through a cheesecloth-lined chinois, mashing the solids to extract as much flavor as possible.

Sauce.
Working over a medium flame, I melted 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a heavy saucepan and added 3 tablespoons flour. When the flour/butter mixture formed a smooth blond paste, I added 1 cup sherry, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, salt, ground white pepper, and 4 cups lobster stock. I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced the heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes before adding 1 cup heavy cream. After letting the sauce thicken until it coated the back of a spoon, I pulled it from the heat, and set it aside.

I warmed the reserved lobster in melted unsalted  butter over a gentle low flame before nestling the pieces around puff pastry shells feathered with lightly dressed baby lettuces. After napping the lobster tails, knuckle meat, and claws with the sauce,  I finished with a faint drizzle of Sriracha lemon oil.

With a delicate bouncy bite, the buttery sweet meat countered the tickling acidic heat from the lemony Sriracha as it swirled and puddled through the creamy sherry-spiked sauce.While the baby lettuces provided perky fresh bites, the airy puff pastry added crisp flaky crunch.

Lobster on lobster.
Cracked.

Rich.
Luxe.
Fabulous.

The perfect date.