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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