Search This Blog

Saturday, August 26, 2017


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


Clam lipstick.