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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Lost Boys

New Haven, Connecticut. Christmas Eve, 1981.

After a few fun filled months of living in New Haven, I found myself alone on Christmas Eve. My roommate and my friends had flown home for the holidays. For reasons I can't remember now, I stayed behind. New Haven received 8 inches of snow on Christmas Eve. I stood by the window of my 2nd floor Victorian kitchen  and watched heavy wet snowflakes  drop like leaden bombs. It was the kind of snow children dream about.  Dense, thick, and wet. The piling  snow caused tree limbs to bend  and evergreens to sag. Everything was smothered and covered in a mass of white wet snow.  It was beautiful. Christmas in New England. 

Being from Kentucky, I was quite taken with the gloppy menacing snow. Cocooned in my Victorian snow globe, I felt safe, warm, innocent, and content. Let it snow. I had nowhere to be, nowhere to go, and nothing to do. The world was my frozen oyster. Urban Alpine Heidi. 

My romantic idealized notion of a New England  Christmas Eve didn't last long. Nope. Who was I kidding? I was home alone,  21 years old, adventurous, antsy, and full of myself.

The following morning, I slopped through the snow and boarded the Metro North commuter train for the short 2 hour trip into NYC to see my first ever Broadway musical production.

As the train slowly chugged along the ancient tracks,  the conductor chanted each arriving station in song-like fashion, "New Caanan, Danbury, Waterbury, Grand Central Station." "Have your tickets ready, please."

Peter Pan, starring Sandy Duncan, was playing at the Lunt Fontane theatre on 47th Street. Sandy Duncan, Captain Hook, the Darlings, the lost boys, Peter Pan, and me. On Christmas day. After two hours of sword fights, flying imps, crocodiles, precocious children, and gorgeous music, I was mesmerized.  Just when I thought nothing could be more surreal or fabulous, Peter Pan flew over the audience  and showered us with glittering faerie dust.  I was undone. Spent. Wrapped and unwrapped.  Merry Christmas to me.

When the show was over, I meandered a few blocks north back to the train station.  I had some time to kill before my train left for New Haven, so I bellied up to the winding bar of the Grand Central Oyster Bar and ordered a steaming bowl of their iconic oyster pan roast.  Tucked under vaulted tiled ceilings, a busy chef prepared my oyster pan roast counter side in an old silver-plated steam jacket kettle.  When the plump oysters curled around the edges, he carefully poured the creamy concoction into a large white serving bowl and slowly slid it front of me. Poetry in motion. It was magnificent.

"The Oyster Bar pan roast -- still being served at the Oyster Bar in the bowels of Grand Central--is a silky concoction, thicker than soup but gentler than stew.  It's made with a half dozen Bluepoints, sweet butter, a dash of secret chile sauce, and flagons of country cream, all poured over a comforting mattress of soggy toast.  In that magisterial, eternally bustling room full of strangers, it tasted exactly the way it did when I ordered it for the first time with my grandfather, a lifelong New Yorker: opulent, mysteriously spicy, and faintly like the sea."
Adam Platt-
Grubstreet

I've never forgotten that taste of Christmas.
After slurping down the last briny oyster, I ran down an endless concourse to catch my train back to New Haven.

Somewhere between Danbury and Waterbury, the train lost power and slowly glided to a gentle standstill.

I stared through the window at the blue moonlit snow.  It was so quiet, I could almost hear the snow melting as it splashed against the frosted double-paned glass. Silent. Dark. Still. I didn't care. For a brief frozen moment, I was a lost boy dreaming of Neverland.

Within minutes, the train powered up and we were on our way home.

Christmas Oysters.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant Cookbook.
One serving. I doubled it for Michael and me.
I used fresh Bluepoint oysters from the Lexington Seafood Company.

8 Freshly opened oysters
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
1 tbsp chili sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup oyster liquor
1/2 tsp paprika
dash celery salt
1/4 cup clam juice
1/2 cup cream
1 slice of dry toast

Place all ingredients except cream, toast, and 1 Tbsp of butter in the top of a double broiler over boiling water.  Do not let the top pan of the double broiler touch the water below.

Whisk or stir briskly and constantly for about 1 minute until oyster edges begin to curl, stirring carefully as to not damage the oysters.

Add cream and continue stirring briskly.  Do not boil.

Pour pan roast into a soup plate over the slice of dry toast.

Top with remaining 1 Tbsp butter and sprinkle with paprika.

Serve right away.

Instead of dry toast, I slathered toasted ciabatta crostini with lemon chive butter.  After floating the
crostini over the pan roast, I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with snipped Beaujolais spinach stems for crunch.

Let it snow.                                                                                        












Friday, November 24, 2017

Nuts

As a kid living in Austria, Vienna was a  wonderland at Christmastime. The town simply sparkled. Scattered throughout the sprawling districts and town centers, Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkets) spilled from most all the city squares. Illuminated by spectacular twinkling lights draped over buildings, crisscrossing streets, and strewn through  trees, Vienna glowed at night. It was like living in a glistening crystal snow globe bathed in pristine swirls of  cascading powdery snow. Wonderland.

Although I didn't go out into the city that much at night, ordinary life in Vienna changed during the Christmas season. Everybody, young and old, embraced the holiday wonder. Frau Olga, a stern level-headed  Czechoslovak Socialist Republic escapee and unlikely nanny to me, embraced the wonder with open arms. Hand in hand, we explored Christmas in Vienna. Every journey into the wonderland was a whirlwind adventure. With my smallish mittens attached to her heavy woolen gloves, we'd hit the town with total abandon. Frau Olga never dallied about or lingered. It simply wasn't her nature. We'd spend hours dodging trolleys, sidestepping cars, jumping curbs, and ricocheting off bustling holiday shoppers. We seemed to be always going somewhere without really getting anywhere. One of the few things that could slow her down was the aroma and lure of chestnuts roasting over open coals. With the most humble equipment ( a grill and a grate) vendors sold crackling hot fresh chestnuts on the curbs of the streets. The aromatic wafts of chestnuts slowed her down and when she slowed down, I slowed down right along with her. Respite from the splendid Christmas chaos. The chestnuts, roasted until the outer shells split open to reveal their tender flesh and served up in paper bags or cones, warmed our bodies and souls. While toys and gifts filled my boyish wants, the visceral memories of  those chestnuts stayed with me forever.

A few years back, Michael and I stumbled across an old roadside stand selling roasted chestnuts under a makeshift tent. Without much fanfare or hoopla, rusty metal barrels filled with coals and topped with grates were covered with  hot popping chestnuts. Lost in the moment, I could feel the squeeze of Frau Olga's warm hand.

Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Roasted Chestnuts, Pearl Onions And Pomegranate.

Fire Roast.
Chestnuts roasted on an open fire.
While vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts are widely available this time of the year, fresh chestnuts are as well. For me, it was about the journey.

After carefully scoring 1 pound Madison County chestnuts on the rounded side, I ignited a stack of coals in an outside grill, let them burn down, and nestled a dry cast iron skillet directly onto the coals before tumbling the chestnuts into the skillet and closing the lid. Sipping on a glass of wine, I opened the grill and shook the skillet from time to time to insure an even roast and to prevent the chestnuts from burning. When the shells cracked open and curled away from the nuts, I pulled the chestnuts from  the coals and wrapped them in a dish towel for a quick steam.

Although chestnuts can be a bear to peel, it's best done while they're
still hot or warm. After carefully peeling away the outer shells, I used a dish towel to rub off the flaky inner skins covering the chestnuts and set them aside.

Prep.
After slicing the woody ends from 1 pound fresh brussels sprouts, I halved the larger ones, kept the smaller ones whole, and set them aside.

While frozen pearl onions would have done the trick, I prefer the texture of fresh onions. Sure, they're a tad tedious to peel, but the effort is worth the extra step. I snipped the flat ends off 1 pound fresh pearl onions, tossed them into simmering water, covered the pot, and let them blanch for 5 minutes before draining them in a colander, patting them dry, pinching them out of their skins, and setting them aside.


Glaze.
Glaze it and they will come.
I brought 1/2 cup pomegranate juice and 1/4 cup honey to a simmer over a medium flame, added a splash of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and  reduced it to a light syrup (a whisper of coating on the back of a spoon) before pulling it from the heat to cool.

Pan Roast.
A one pan wonder.
Working over a medium high flame, I heated equal parts unsalted butter and olive oil (2 tablespoons each) in a large cast iron skillet. When the butter started to sizzle, I tumbled the reserved brussels sprouts into the skillet, showered them with salt, and let them rip for 8 minutes before reducing the heat to medium low and covering the skillet. When the sprouts were tender (about 8 minutes), I pulled them from the heat and scooped them onto paper towels to drain.

After wiping the skillet with a paper towel, I returned it to the heat, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed the blanched pearl onions. When the onions caramelized, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and the reserved roasted chestnuts. Just before the garlic browned, I swirled the pomegranate syrup into the skillet and let it bubble away until the chestnuts and onions were lightly glazed before tossing them with the warm brussels sprouts and finishing with jeweled pomegranate seeds.

With bits of slight char, the tender earthy brussels sprouts and slippery sweet onions countered the smoky nuttiness of the roasted chestnuts. While hints of garlic and salt poked through the tart sweet finish of the pomegranate glaze,  the seeds provided  pops of perky fresh crunch.

Holiday nuts.
Over an open fire.
Fabulous.





Thursday, November 16, 2017

Squash

I suppose most families have their own quirky traditions and customs when preparing the food and gathering together for holiday meals. In my family, not only were the certain givens required for the traditional meal, but signature side dishes were must-haves for certain family members. Everyone had to  have their own go-to signature side dishes. Oh sure, we all shared everything, but a happy day might have gone up in smoke if something was missing from the table. Although I quietly felt that most everything on the table was for me , I knew the pecking order. The younger kids had to have fresh broccoli casserole. My father owned the fresh scalloped oysters. My brother had first dibs on the crispy turkey skin. Two versions of stuffing (cornbread and chestnut) were prepared for two separate aunts. Sweet potato pie had a namesake. As did the baked macaroni and cheese. On and on and on. I wanted to lay claim to the creamed pearl onions or liver-flecked giblet gravy, but the creamy pearls and gravy were granted family "favorite" status and off limits on dibs. Even though I was  an oyster loving-stuffing stalking-turkey skin junkie, my assigned must-have side dish was creamed summer squash. Yep. Creamed. Summer. Squash. I'm not really sure how that came about. I guess, because it was so unusual when it made its debut, I must have made a big fuss about it. And boom, just like that, it became my must-have go-to  can't-live-without signature side dish. Slap my name on it and call it mine forevermore. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine rendition of creamed summer squash. Steamed, smashed, and whipped with softened cream cheese, it stood out against the backdrop of brown food. I adored it. It's just that in the lore of family traditions, I didn't choose it. It chose me. Truth be told, I secretly wanted to stake my claim on the turkey butt. You know, that little gelatinous something something attached to the bottom of the turkey that roasts for hours in the pan juices until it caramelizes into a sticky unctuous flavor bomb? Yeah, that turkey butt. Dibs.

Nowadays, side dishes aren't attached to a beneficiary.  Michael and I each have our own holiday must-haves. We have what we want to have without a pecking order to weigh us down. And, when or if squash hits the holiday table, it's more than likely to be a variation of butternut squash.

Roasted Butternut Squash Tart With Sorghum Glaze and Fried Sage.
A different (and simple) take on a familiar flavor profile.

Squash.
After slicing the bulbous end of a very fresh 2 pound Casey County butternut squash, I stashed the bulb away for a future soup and  peeled the neck of the squash with a vegetable peeler. Using a mandolin, I sliced the squash into flexible 1/8" slices, stacked them together, and squared them off into uniform 7"x 3/4" ribbons, allowing the size of the squash to dictate the length of the ribbons.

Basket weaving 101.
Lattice work.
I rolled 1 sheet of thawed store bought puff pastry into a 9"x 12" rectangle and placed it on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan before brushing the top with an egg wash.

Starting on the shorter end of the puff pastry, I lined 6 butternut squash ribbons down the length of the pastry, leaving a little wiggle room between slices before carefully weaving the remaining ribbons through the squash and trimming the ends to create a latticed blanket of butternut squash.

I slid the tart into the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes, pulled it from the fridge, and covered the tart with parchment paper. After topping it with an additional sheet pan to weigh it down, I slipped it into a preheated 375 degree oven for 10 minutes before removing the top sheet pan and parchment paper, brushing the steamed squash with olive oil, and sliding it back into the oven to bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Glaze. 
Sweet Tart.
For a hint of sweetness, I warmed 1/3 cup Oblerholzter's pure cane sorghum along with  2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar over a medium flame until combined and set it aside.

When the pastry turned golden brown and the squash started to caramelize, I pulled the tart from the oven, brushed it with the sorghum glaze, dusted it with flaked salt, sliced it into wedges, and finished with scattered flash fried sage.

Topped with translucent melted ribbons of squash, the tart was as light as a feather. The inherent sweetness of the squash balanced the subtle acidity and smoky undertones of the sorghum glaze. While the flaky pastry provided airy crispness, the fried sage added delicate pops of earthy crunch.

A different take on holiday squash.
Slap my name on it.







Friday, October 20, 2017

The Bird

With  friends and family gathered around the holiday table, the bronzed roasted turkey makes its entrance nestled on a platter strewn with fresh laurel, fresh sage, and fresh rosemary. Garnished with harvest apples, cranberries, and perky kumquats, the turkey floats into place at the center of the table before a pristine carving knife  cracks the skin and easily glides through the flesh. The meat, butter tender, glistens as each slice falls to the side amid the silent gasps of anticipation. The perfect moment. Thanksgiving.

We rarely had that moment on Thanksgiving Day growing up on the farm in western Kentucky. Oh sure, we probably felt like we had that mysterious aha moment, but I'd be hard pressed to recall ever having an enormous roasted turkey carved at our holiday table. In the midst of the inherent chaos of the day, the turkey was carefully tended to and coddled. Massaged with butter, stuffed , seasoned, roasted, and basted for hours, it always came out of the oven beautifully browned and ready for its moment. Never happened. In our little farmhouse tucked into the woods, as folks mosied around sipping  cheap white wine, my father would quietly slip into the kitchen, buzz the turkey with an  electric knife, arrange it on a platter, and serve it up.  After shuttering the kitchen doors to conceal the carnage, we'd  gather around the table to finally feel the moment.

It holds true to this day. Not just for me, I would imagine. We think everything has/needs to be perfect. The perfect bird. The perfect sides. The perfect wine. The perfect reveal. I'm down with that. I can also totally wrap my head around the notion that some folks actually do carve the turkey at the table. Double thumbs up to that.  But, here's a thought, for those of us who don't present the whole gorgeously roasted turkey table side, there's an alternative method to the madness that cuts the cooking time down and guarantees succulent breast meat and thigh meat. While a bit unconventional, it's actually downright fun.

Scoot on over Norman Rockwell, there's a new bird in town.

Roasted Spatchcocked Turkey With Rosemary and Citrus.
Spatchcocking or butterflying a turkey allows the breasts and thighs to cook evenly and more quickly. Flattened out, a spatchcocked turkey also maximizes oven space, exposes more stable surface area for basting or glazing, and, quite frankly,  is easier to handle from oven to table. Oh sure, it's hard to overcome the awkward notion of butchering tradition. I get it. The first time I spatchcocked a turkey, it felt so wrong. In the end, everything about it was so right. With so many distractions on Thanksgiving Day, why not opt out of the razzle-dazzle table side carving, spatchcock the bird, and enjoy the moment?

Snip.
While butterflying a turkey is exactly like butterflying a chicken, size matters. It requires a little more effort  to remove the backbone of a turkey because of its heft. Poultry sheers or kitchen sheers and a heavy serrated knife are ideal.

After removing the giblets from a 12 pound turkey, I massaged it with kosher salt and refrigerated  it overnight (uncovered) for a quick dry brine. The next morning, I pulled the turkey from the refrigerator, patted it dry, and plopped it breast side down on a very large cutting board.  Using poultry sheers, I cut down each side of the backbone, removed it, and tossed the backbone into a stockpot with water, chopped carrots, onions, and celery. After flipping  the turkey over, I forcefully pushed down on the breastbone until it cracked. Once cracked, the turkey easily flattened out. To splay or tie? Instead of having the legs of a completely splayed 12 pound turkey dangle over the sides of a sheet pan, I pulled the legs together and tied them with kitchen twine. Spatchcocked and tied.

Brush.
Working over a medium low flame, I simmered 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil  with 1 sliced orange, 1 halved lemon, fresh rosemary twigs, salt, and cracked black pepper for  10 minutes before setting it aside to cool.

In lieu of a rack I tumbled 4 chopped carrots, 4 chopped celery stalks, 2 chopped onions, 2 quartered fresh fennel bulbs, 2 halved oranges, 3 halved lemons, 5 smashed garlic cloves, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary sprigs into a large roasting pan. After placing the turkey on top of the vegetables, I added 1 cup chicken stock to the  pan, brushed the skin with the reserved citrus-infused olive oil, and slid it into a blistering preheated  450 degree oven for 30 minutes before reducing the heat to 375 degrees and letting it rip, rotating and basting from time to time,  until the internal temp of the thigh meat reached 165 degrees, about an hour longer. Midway, I tented parts of the breasts to avoid over browning.

Glaze.
Glitz and glam.
While the turkey did its thing, I brought 3/4 cup fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, and 1/4  cup honey to a simmer before adding 2 tablespoons orange marmalade and a generous splash of Grand Marnier'.

During the last 30 minutes of the roasting time,  I brushed the glaze over the turkey at 10 minutes intervals. When the internal temperature hit the 165 degree mark, I pulled the turkey from the oven, carefully removed it to a cutting board, tented it, and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Carve.
Aside from the other aforementioned benefits, ease in carving  is the high point of a spatchcocked turkey.

I simply sliced each breast down the breastbone  to release the whole lobes before slicing each lobe against the grain into 3/4 " pieces. Using the joints as a guide, I separated the legs and thighs, easily slipped the tender thigh meat from the bones, and carved the thighs into 3/4' slices.

After a final light handed whisper of glaze, I nestled the carved turkey onto platters feathered with fresh herbs before finishing with fresh oranges, fresh lemons, and a dusting of flaked sea salt.

The Bird.
Spatchcocked, burnished,
and ready for its moment.

Unconventional.
Unexpected.
Fabulous.







Saturday, October 7, 2017

Pie?

Everything's coming up pumpkins and pumpkin spice.
Everything's coming up pumpkins and flaky crusts.
Everything's coming up pumpkins and hot beignets.
Beignets?
Yep.
Pie pumpkins aren't just for pie.

Pumpkin Beignets With Salted Dulce De Leche.

Pumpkin Puree.
So, canned pumpkin or fresh pumpkin? Let the debate begin. While most folks agree that there is very little taste difference between either fresh or canned pumpkin puree, fresh puree has a lighter texture compared to the compacted dense texture of canned. . When incorporating it into airy deep fried doughnuts, lightness is key.  While it might be a little more liquidy than the canned stuff, a few extra steps easily eliminates the wet factor. Obviously, canned pumpkin is a bit more convenient and accessible, but when everything's coming up pumpkins at our local farmers' markets, fresh pumpkin puree is the way to go.

After rinsing 4 Casey County pie pumpkins (about 1 1/2 pounds each), I split them in half, scooped out the stringy seeds, placed them cut side down on parchment paper-lined sheet pans, and slid them into a preheated  375 degree oven to roast for 40-45 minutes. When  knife tender, I pulled them from the oven to cool before carefully scraping the softened flesh from the wilted skins.  After picking  out a few stray wandering bits from the cooked pumpkin, I pureed it in a food processor (in batches), and spooned it into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes. To help evaporate additional excess moisture, I placed the puree in a saute pan over a low flame, simmered it for 30 minutes, pulled it from the heat, and set it aside to
cool. The whole shebang netted about 3 cups pureed pumpkin.

Salted Dulce De Leche.
Again, baked canned sweetened condensed milk or the  fresher stove top version? Since I ditched the can for the pumpkin puree, I went with the fresh version.

After stirring together 4 cups milk, 1 1/4 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a heavy saucepan, I brought the mix to a boil, reduced the heat, and simmered it for about 1 1/2 hours until it thickened and caramelized. I pulled the dulce de leche from the heat and added 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract along with 2 teaspoons flaked sea salt before setting it aside.

Bienets. 
Go nuts for dough.
I sprinkled 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast over 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast proofed, I added 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 beaten eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, a pinch of salt, and a 1/4 cup heavy cream. After mixing the wet ingredients on a low speed, I added 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves before gradually adding 4 cups all-purpose flour. When the dough pulled away from the bowl and formed a smooth pliable dough, I covered it with a clean dish towel to rise.

After the dough doubled in size, I turned it onto a floured work board, patted it down, rolled the dough 1/4" thick, cut it into diamonds, and covered it to rise again for 1 1/2 hours.

Fry.
Time to make the doughnuts.
I heated vegetable oil ( 3" deep) in a heavy dutch oven until it reached 380 degrees. Working in batches, I carefully slipped the beignet diamonds into the hot oil and fried them for about 2 minutes per side to puff up and brown before scooping them out onto paper towels to catch any excess oil. While they were still warm, I showered the pillowy beignets with powdered sugar and nestled the salted dulce de leche to the side.

Crisp.
Puffy.
Utterly messy.
Like powdery pumpkin-spiced pockets of air.

Beignets in the pumpkin patch.
Pass the dulche de leche.
Fabulous.








Thursday, September 21, 2017

Riding The Cusp

Staring at a pile of acorn squash tumbled on a farm stand, a quiet voice drifted across the table, "You're not ready yet, are you?" On that particular warm morning at the farmers market, I wasn't quite ready to let summer go. I was on the prowl for fresh heirloom tomatoes, half runner green beans, peppers, and ripe paw paws. Winter squash wasn't on my radar.

We're in the midst of the cusp, the time of year when the seasons gently shift  and morph together. Sun-kissed tomatoes, radishes, gushingly sweet multi-colored watermelons, cantaloupes, and sweet bell peppers vie for space alongside gourds, pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and dried corn.  The cusp.

As we slowly transition into fall, riding the cusp can be tricky business.  This time of year, I bridge the seasons one day at a time. Grow it and I will come. While I'm not quite inclined to blow out a full autumn feast just yet, I try to go with the flow. Although we might still have plenty of time to soak in the perplexing myriad of late summer hold overs, impeccably fresh winter squash is having its moment in the sun. I finally went there.


Wilted Swiss Chard Salad With Blistered Grapes, Roasted Squash, And Chevre.

While I adore caramelized roasted winter squash glazed with brown sugar and butter as much as anyone, I'll hold back until autumn takes a firm hold, brisk breezes stay true, and dried fallen leaves rustle through long dappled shadows.

Squash.
After halving 1 medium sized Madison County Red Kuri squash and 2 Stonehedge Farm acorn squash, I scooped out the seeds and used the outer ribs as guidelines to slice the squash into 1/2" half moons before tossing them with olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. After scattering them onto a sheet pan, I slid the half moons into a pre-heated blistering 450 degree oven for about 35 minutes, turning them midway and checking to see if they were tender.

When the squash caramelized and charred a bit, I pulled them from the oven and set them aside.

Chard.
Some folks use only the brightly veined leaves of chard and ditch the stalks. Cooking them separately from the leaves, I like to treat them like gussied up jeweled celery.

After rinsing one large bunch of Casey County red Swiss chard, I trimmed the leaves from the stalks, stacked the leaves together, rolled them up, sliced them into 1" ribbons, set them aside, and sliced the stalks on a very sharp bias. I drizzled 2 tablespoons vegetable oil into a screaming hot skillet, carefully dropped the stalks into the sizzling oil, showered them with salt, and gave them a quick saute to retain a slight crunch (about 2 minutes) before scooping them onto paper towels to drain.

While the oil was still hot, I tumbled 2 cups Woodford County seedless purple Mars grapes into the skillet and added 1/4 cup water to help burst the grapes. Just before the grapes collapsed from the heat, I added the chard to the skillet, folded it through the grapes, covered the skillet, and let it rip for 3 minutes.


I pulled the skillet from the heat, splashed the greens with  fresh lemon juice and Oliva bello extra virgin olive oil. After giving everything a quick toss, I tucked the roasted squash into the wilted chard before finishing with flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, slivered shallots, and flecked creamy chevre.

Kissed with heat, fruity olive oil, fresh lemon, and grape jus, the slightly bitter chard played off the earthy sweetness of the roasted squash, perky chevre, and the muted musky undertones of the softened warm grapes.

Riding the cusp.

Simple.
Fresh.
Unexpected.
Fabulous.
.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bourbonized

Twenty minutes before service, I left the controlled chaos of the kitchen to gather my thoughts and take a quiet stroll through the shaded grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

It's coming on September.
September means different things to different people. To me, it's a nostalgic reminder of the two years I taught the Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking School at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.  For bourbon lovers, it means descending on Bardstown, Ky for a nonstop celebration of all things bourbon during the annual two week festival. With a myriad of events scheduled daily and nightly, there's something for everyone craving bourbon . Sponsored by Jim Beam Distillery, The Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking School usually snags a prime spot during the first week of the festival. Smallish in comparison to the other events, it's the first to sell out as the hot ticket up for grabs to the estimated 53,000  attendees of the two week event.  For back to back years, I was fortunate enough to head a catering team for the Bourbon Cooking School and lead (on a cramped corner stage) 250 paying guests through a 5 course meal jacked up with Jim Beam Bourbon. After months of planning, testing, prepping, and cooking, we'd load up our goods and take our make shift mobile kitchen 70 miles down the road to Bardstown  for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Set up. Hook Up. Mise. Prep. Cook. Chill. Hold. Mark. Place. Delegate. Lead. Trust. Breathe. Repeat. With very few (zilch) on sight resources, precise planning and concise packing was key. Fetching forgotten stuff wasn't an option. It was joyous hell.

It's one thing to love the sanctuary of the kitchen when hammering out food, it's another animal altogether to step out of the kitchen and demo said food in front of an adoring bourbon guzzling crowd.

Twenty minutes before service, I needed to breathe.

After meeting Fred Noe, the 7th Generation Jim Beam distiller, I gathered the staff for a quick pre-shift rundown and hit the stage for what would become my last (by choice) stint teaching the Culinary Arts: Bourbon Style Cooking. Thankfully, the traditional pre-dinner bourbon toast was obligatory for everyone present. I chugged.

Southern Cornbread with Jim Beam Red Stag Whipped Butter. Check.

Basil Hayden Marinated Shrimp Cocktail Shooter. A Two-Fer. Check.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Fried Sage and Jim Beam White Label Creme' Fraich. Check.

Bakers Bourbon Braised Short Ribs. Check.

Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bookers Bourbon German Chocolate Hard Sauce. Say no more. Check. Double Check.


After 25 years, they've pulled the Bourbon Cooking School from this year's festival to make room for fancier digs and other high-end events. Whether or not it returns to the schedule, I'm proud to have joined a long list of area chefs that helped ignite the rage of marrying bourbon with food before it was cool. Trailblazers. The Bourbon Trail. Kentucky Proud.

Bakers Bourbon Braised Short Ribs.
Looking over my prep lists and costs sheets from the event that year, I worked with 250 pounds of Certified Angus Beef Short Ribs.. There's the beef.

Revisiting my old recipe, I dialed it back a bit.
Replacing bourbon with red wine, I  cooked the beef with a nod to beef bourgignon.

Sear.
Brown food equals flavor. I seasoned 4 pounds room temperature Marksbury Farm beef short ribs with salt and pepper. After slicing thick cut bacon into 1/2" lardons, I fried the bacon in a large dutch oven until crispy and scooped the lardons onto a paper towels to drain. While the bacon fat was still smoking hot, I seasoned the short ribs with salt and pepper before searing the ribs on all sides (using tongs to turn). When deeply caramelized, about 4 minutes per side, I pulled them from the pot, and set them aside.

Flavor.
I drained all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pot, returned it to the heat, and tumbled 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced celery stalks, 2 quartered onions into the hot fat. When the vegetables started to sweat, I added 2 crushed garlic cloves, salt, and cracked black pepper. Before the vegetables took on color, I added 2 tablespoons tomato paste and swirled it through the softened vegetables, making a point to coat them with the paste as they cooked down. After the tomato toasted and darkened to a brickish color, I pulled the dutch oven from the heat and  deglazed the pot with 1 cup Bakers bourbon. I returned the pot to the heat and reduced the bourbon to a glaze before adding 3 cups beef stock, 1 cup additional Bakers bourbon, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, salt, fresh thyme sprigs, fresh parley stems, and fresh rosemary. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and slid the the short ribs (covered) into a preheated 350 degree.

Extras.
2 hours into the braise, I sauteed sliced button mushrooms in a combination of butter and oil until golden brown, showered them salt, and set them aside. After adding 1 tablespoon oil to the cast iron skillet, I tumbled 1 pound blanched and peeled whole pearl onions into the skillet, sauteed them until they started to caramelize, scooped them out, and tossed them with the reserved mushrooms.

Finish.
After 3 hours, I pulled the short ribs from the oven, carefully removed them to a side plate and strained the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the solids. After skimming the accumulated fat from the top of the sauce, I returned it to the heat and reduced it by half before swirling a beurre manie ( a flour and butter paste) into the sauce to thicken it a bit.

After briefly warming the short ribs in the satiny bourbon-infused sauce, I nestled the ribs over Weisenberger Mill pimento cheese grits, scattered the sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions to the side, and drizzled additional sauce over the ribs  before finishing with salt, cracked black pepper, and micro greens.

Kentucky Short Ribs.
Bourbonized.
Check.


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.