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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cracked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lobster on lobster.
Cracked.

Rich.
Luxe.
Fabulous.

The perfect date.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Slurp. Suck. Repeat


It's prime time for oysters.
Served with mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, horseradish, or hot sauce, briny plump raw oysters on the half shell are downright sexy. That said, on occasion it's fun to jack things up and turn on the heat.

Skillet Roasted Oysters with Spiced Compound Butter.
Compound butters are the simplest way to add punch to just about anything. Make them in advance, chill, and stash them away until needed.

A little dab will do you.
I tossed 1 stick softened room temperature unsalted butter into the bowl of a stand mixer before adding 1 tablespoon Green County Cracklin' Hen Jalapeno Hot Sauce, 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 2 minced Henkels hot red peppers, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, and the zest of 1 lime. After whipping the butter into a frenzy, I scooped it onto a 10"x 10" sheet of plastic wrap, gathered the butter to the edge, formed it into a loosey-goosey log, and rolled it into a bumpy cylinder. After smoothing it out, I twisted the ends of the plastic wrap to compact the butter into a tight roll and slid it into the refrigerator to chill.

Aw, shucks..
Oyster shucking can be a challenge. Practice makes perfect. Diligence, patience, an oyster knife, a sturdy dish towel (or a meshed oyster glove), and a glass of wine help make it much easier.
After scrubbing, rinsing, and patting dry  2 dozen Blue Point oysters (from Lexington Seafood Company), I  used a dish towel to secure each oyster cupped side down, carefully wedged the tip of an oyster knife into the hinged end, and wiggled the knife to pop open the hinge before sliding the knife across the top shells and slicing the abductor muscles from bottom shells to release the flesh . Being mindful of the precious oyster liquor, I tossed away the top shells and nestled the oysters into a large cast iron skillet layered with chunky rock salt.

 I topped each oyster with 1/4" discs of the chilled compound butter and slid them into a blistering
450 degree oven. When the melted butter bubbled around the slightly curled edges of the oysters ( about 5 minutes), I pulled them from the oven, let them rest, and finished each oyster with a splash of fresh lime juice.

Stained with spice, the  soft oysters poached in the steaming hot butter, gently rendering the slippery raw flesh almost creamy and custard-like. Plumped from the quick blast of heat and teetering on the edge of barely cooked, the brackish oysters popped through the bold overtones of smokey heat. While the fresh lime provided bright acidity to counter the buttery oyster jus, flecks of minced shallot and hot peppers added biting fresh crunch.

Slurp. Suck. Repeat.
Puttin' on the Ritz.



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Roots And Stalks


I'm a celery junkie.
Smear pimento cheese into crisp celery stalks and I'm a happy camper. Pony up a few  nubs side by side with chunky bleu cheese as a side kick for Buffalo chicken wings and I'm set. Spear leafy topped celery sticks into potent bloody marys and color me buzzed. And yes, I plead guilty to swiping snapped off broken pieces of celery through the peanut butter jar, much to Michael's chagrin. All of that said, I'm an absolute fool for long cooked braised celery. Smack a platter of juicy pot roast in front of me and I'm all over the celery, scooting the meat aside for garnish.  It is what it is. My lusty affair with celery.

Celery is a classic flavor building block for almost everything. While we may not even know it's there, we'd know it if it wasn't there. Usually relegated to supporting character, I brought it front and center.

Celery Soup with Horseradish whipped cream.
I kept it simple and clean.

The root of it all.
I trimmed, washed, and chopped 1 large bunch (about 2 pounds) organic celery and set it aside. After slicing 2 large cleaned leeks into thin half moons, I sauteed the leeks in equal parts butter and olive oil (2 tablespoons each). When the leeks started to wilt, I added 1/2 cup chopped Casey County candy onion, 1 clove minced garlic, a pinch white pepper, and flaked sea salt. Just before the onions started to take on color, I deglazed the pan with 1/2 cup white wine, let it reduce by half, and added the reserved celery. For body (in lieu of a starchy potato), I peeled and chopped 1 pound celery root and sliced the attached celery root stalks before tossing them into the pot with the simmering celery. When the wine evaporated, I added 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1 teaspoon celery seed, and 6 cups water. I brought the celery stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let it rip for 40 minutes.

When the vegetables were tender, I used a blender to carefully puree the soup in batches, passed it through a fine sieve to remove the fibrous solids, and returned the velvety soup to the hot pot. I brought the soup to a gentle simmer, splashed it with fresh lemon juice, and added 1/2 cup cream fraiche. After swirling the cream fraiche through the soup. I finished with quenelles of horseradish whipped cream, fresh celery leaves, and slivered radishes.

Drinkable celery.

Simple.
Fresh.
Fabulous.














Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Acorn Squash. Hold The Brown Sugar.

I fall for buttery brown sugar-glazed acorn squash as much as the next guy.  Amping up its inherent sweetness with a sticky caramelized glaze seems to be the go to prep for the pint sized squash.  That said, acorn squash doesn't have to be a one trick pony. Swirling it through a plumped  bread pudding laced with nutty gruyere cheese and sauteed baby kale takes it from to sweet to savory without missing a beat.

Savory Roasted Acorn Squash Bread Pudding 
A fun little riff on a fall favorite.

Squash.
I halved 2 Casey County acorn squash, scooped out the seeds, brushed the flesh with olive oil, and seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before placing them cut side down onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. After halving a third acorn squash and removing the seeds, I used the ribs as a guideline to slice the squash into half moons, brushed them with olive oil, seasoned them, and fanned them onto a separate parchment-lined sheet pan.

I slid the squash into a preheated 350 degree oven, let them rip for about 45 minutes until they were tender, pulled them from the oven, and set them aside.


Custard.
I sauteed 2 cups finely chopped baby kale in 2 tablespoons olive along with 1 minced shallot, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper. When the kale started to wilt, I pulled it from the heat and set it aside to cool.  After beating 4 large eggs until they were frothy, I added 2 cups 1/2 and 1/2, and whisked the two together until they were well incorporated before pouring the custard over 8 cups cubed Sunrise Bakery focaccia bread.

When the squash was cool enough to handle, I slipped off the skins and chopped the softened flesh into 1/2" ragged pieces. After folding the sauteed kale into the pudding mix, I added the chopped squash and 1 cup grated gruyere cheese before ladling the bread pudding into buttered muffin tins (12 muffins) and sliding them into a preheated 375 degree oven. When they puffed up and browned around the edges (about 35 minutes), I pulled them from the oven, ran a sharp knife around the edges to release them from the tins, and brushed the tops with melted unsalted butter.

Still warm and dripping with butter, I nestled the bread puddings onto chopped  baby kale splashed with a lemony vinaigrette before finishing with crunchy pomegranate seeds and a sweet/tart pomegranate  gastrique.

Roasted acorn squash bread pudding.


Fresh.
Perky.
Comforting.

Brown sugar not included.







Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dancing To The Beet.

Hey, over here. I'm over here. Way over here.  I'm the beet loving beet-stained guy dancing on the other side of the invisible line separating beet lovers and haters.  Come on over. Cross the line. It's mighty fine in beet land.

Red. Purple. Golden. White. Candy-striped.
Hidden beneath dirt-caked skins, beets are nature's jewels that radiate deep earthy sweetness. Polarizing to a fault, they bewilder and beguile. I'm beguiled.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Terrine.
Layered and pressed in a terrine, the creamy tang of whipped goat cheese brightens the roasted sweet earthiness of thinly sliced red and golden beets

Beet it.
After washing and trimming 1 pound each red and golden beets, I rubbed the beets with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper,  placed them into separate  aluminum foil packets, added a splash of water to each packet to create steam, sealed the packets, and slid the beets into a preheated 375 degree oven.

When the beets were knife tender, about 50 minutes, I pulled them from the oven, opened the foil to release the heat, and let them rest until they were completely cooled.

When the beets were cool enough to handle, I used paper towels (and gloves) to gently slip the skins from the beets and used a mandolin to slice them into uniform 1/8" cuts.

Whip it.
I brought 10 ounces goat cheese to room temperature, added 3 ounces room temperature cream cheese, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon ground white pepper before using a hand mixer to whip the goat cheese into a creamy spread.

After spraying a  bread tin with cooking spray, I lined the pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 6" overhang on all sides.

I layered the golden beets in double overlapping layers on the bottom of the pan, piped a zig zag flurry of creamed goat cheese onto the beets, drizzled olive oil over the beets, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and repeated the process using alternating layers of golden beets, red beets, and goat cheese.

After gently pressing the beets into the bread tin, I pulled the plastic wrap over the top to seal the terrine, nestled a piece of cardboard trimmed to fit within the sides of the tin, topped the terrine with 2 heavy cans, and slid the terrine into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

With the terrine thoroughly chilled and compressed, I pulled the beet terrine from the refrigerator, removed the plastic wrap, and used a very sharp knife to slice the beets into 3/4" pieces. After trimming the sides for clean edges, I finished with olive oil, flaked sea salt, shelled pistachios, and fresh basil.

Earthy.
Sweet.
Tangy.
Fresh.

Fabulous.




























Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Lacquered Up

Michael and I spent our first few Thanksgivings traveling to Washington D.C. for long holiday weekends. Having lived in and around Washington as a kid, the trips felt somewhat like secret homecomings. Back in the day, we had little money, so we made the trips in my beaten up '77 white Granada. As it's been throughout our years together, the journeys were as important as the destination. The visceral memory of our drives through the Shenandoah Valley on gray mid-November days still dance in my head as reminders of simpler times. Cradled by the monotonous rhythm of the road, houses tucked into sweeping meadows slowly passed by our speeding windows. Even from a distance, with car-stuffed driveways and smoke poofs drifting from their chimneys, the houses looked happy. All those thanksgiving families gathered together in all those passing farm houses. Quiet moving postcards.

Over the river and through the woods.
Family homesteads. Family farms.
Grandmother's house.
After abandoning our boyish follies, Michael and I spent the next thirty years traveling over the river and through the woods to share our family holiday gatherings. Separated by hundreds of miles, our families brought vastly different things to the party. Different styles of turkey. Different sides. Different traditions. Time honored on both ends, they were always warm, comforting, and deeply familiar. We held fast until time slowly took its toll.

Nowadays, there are no more rivers and woods. Embracing the mishmash of our combined Thanksgiving traditions, we found our way home. Michael has to have his stuff and I have to have mine. You know, the non-negotiables. We're one dish away from needing a revolving lazy susan to navigate the sides. Win!  And the turkey? No rules. Fair game. Boom.

Cider Brined Lacquered Turkey.
It's coming on Thanksgiving. Pour the bourbon and dress up the turkey.

Brine.
Even a mild brine plumps a bird with moisture and flavor. Bolstered by the abundance of local apple cider, I got apple happy.

After warming 14 cups Evans Orchard apple cider in a large stock pot over a medium flame, I added 1 1/2 cups  Country Rock sorghum, 1 1/2 cups Buffalo Trace bourbon, 6 cups water, 3 tablespoons black peppercorns, 3 bay leaves, 6 whole garlic cloves,, 4 sprigs lemon thyme, and 1 cup kosher salt. When the sugar thoroughly dissolved into the mix, I pulled the brine from the heat and added 6 cups of ice to cool the brine to room temperature.

I lined a clean bucket with a large plastic bag and carefully poured the cooled brine into the bag.  After thoroughly rinsing a 12 pound all natural Amish turkey, I plunged it into the brine, placed a plate over the turkey to keep it submerged, tied the plastic bag together, and slid the turkey into the refrigerator to brine for 24 hours.

Roast.
So, here's the deal. I needed a shallow pan to allow the legs and thighs of the turkey to be exposed to as much circulating heat as possible, so I used a shallow (2" deep) hotel pan. It was deep enough to hold the needed vegetables and liquid, but shallow enough for even heat distribution.

I pulled the turkey from refrigerator, disposed of the brine, rinsed the turkey under cold running water, patted it dry, and set it aside. For an added flavor boost, I combined 2 sticks softened unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons chopped thyme, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley before smearing it over the entire turkey. Using the tips of my fingers to loosen the skin from the flesh, I carefully slathered the remaining herbed butter under the skin of the breasts, thighs, and legs. After stuffing the cavity with sliced apples, onions, rosemary, sage, and thyme, I tied the legs together with kitchen twine.

In lieu of a rack, I placed celery stalks and large unpeeled carrots into the hotel pan and positioned the buttered turkey onto the vegetables before scattering 6 whole garlic cloves, 3 quartered Scott County red candy onions, and  4 peeled Casey County Winesap apples to the side. After adding 2 cups chicken stock, 1 cup apple cider, and 1 cup bourbon to the pan, I slid the turkey into a preheated 350 oven.

To baste or not to baste? I'm a baster. As long as the turkey is cooked to the correct temperature ( internal temp 165 deepest part of the thigh), why not bath the skin with the reduced fatty pan drippings?  Basting the turkey roughly every 30 minutes,  I covered the breast with aluminum foil after 1 hour to prevent over browning and continued to baste while checking the internal temperature every 45 minutes or so.


Glaze.
I'm a sucker for a glaze.
It's all about balance.
After reducing 2 cups apple cider by half, I added 3/4 cups sorghum, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/2 cup bourbon, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1/4 cup brown sugar. I lowered the heat and let the glaze bubble away until it was the consistency of...well...sorghum. So, think of it as an amplified  boozy apple cider-infused sweet and tart version of sorghum.




Lacquer.
When the turkey reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees (about 2 hours), I started painting every inch of the exposed skin and flesh with the molten sticky glaze.  When the turkey hit 165 degrees, I blasted to heat to 450 degrees, gave the bird a final slather, and popped it back into the oven to burnish the skin before pulling the turkey from the oven to rest for 30 minutes.

After reducing the strained pan drippings into a highly seasoned jus, I nestled the brushed mahogany lacquered turkey onto  fresh greenery, feathered sage, and fresh bay leaves.

Full on savory, the apple cider and sorghum didn't blast the turkey into a candied sugar bomb. The bold double punch of  brine and glaze combined to promote succulent, moist, and tender meat. While the bourbon added mellow smoky vanilla undertones, the acidic bolt of the apple cider vinegar tempered the fruity cider and soft bittersweet earthiness of the caramelized sorghum. Perfect.

Thanksgiving.
Lacquered up.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Kraut

I was practically weaned on sauerkraut. Living in and around Bavaria during my early years with a Czechoslovkian  hotel chef turned nanny sealed the deal with my love for sauerkraut. When we moved back to the States and settled into a small rural town in western Kentucky, some folks took issue with my German birth certificate. Amid the small town ruckus, it didn't take long for kids on the playground to nickname me sour kraut. Kids being kids. Unfazed, I happily wore it as a badge of honor because I was a sauerkraut loving thick-skinned army brat. Bring on the brats.

Several years ago, I helped a dear friend and his family put up their yearly stash of sauerkraut. Following the Farmers Almanac to the letter, they planned their krauting days according to the moon's signs and phases. Holed up in a dimly lit garage in midsummer, the family gathered around and used fantastic old timey equipment to shred bushels and bushels of Casey County cabbage to stuff  hundreds of quart jars for sauerkraut. The fruit of my labor? I could fill as many quart jars that I brought to the party.  At one point, I had over 37 quarts of sauerkraut stacked in our garage. Even for  kraut lover, that's a lot of sauerkraut.

Come midsummer, I always look back on that experience with great fondness. The tea kettle filled with steaming hot water. The archaic shredder mounted onto old barn wood. And the salt. Lots of salt. Basic. Simple. Honest.

Nowadays, I don't need a sauerkraut motherload. With such few ingredients, scratch made small batch sauerkraut is the way to go for a clumsy urban gardener and avid farmers market fan like me.

Small Batch Sauerkraut.
I quart.
1 Jar.
1 tablespoon salt.
2 pounds cabbage.

I trimmed the tattered outer leaves from 2 pounds Scott County green cabbage ( 2 smallish cabbages). After slicing them in half, I removed the cores,  shredded the cabbage with a sharp knife ( a food processor would have made quicker work of it), showered the cabbage with 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and set it aside for 10 minutes. When the cabbage wilted every so slightly, I massaged it for 15 minutes until it broke down and started to release its juices. After packing the cabbage into a clean quart jar. I tamped it down for a tight pack, poured the residual juices into the jar until the cabbage was completely submerged, and topped the jar with a loose fitting lid. I placed the jar in a metal bowl (to catch any gurgling overflow), covered it with a dish towel, and set it in a cool dark place to do its thing for a couple of weeks, checking it every day for mold or obvious spoilage. Keeping the cabbage covered in brine was key.

Although 2 weeks would have been fine, I let it go an extra week for deeper fermentation. It was a simple as that. Boom. Crunchy fresh sauerkraut.


Sausage and Kraut.
With a hints of Bavarian flair mixed with a Bluegrass sensibility, I've prepared sausage and sauerkraut the same way for years, changing up the sausages for variety and fun.  When I stumbled across  house made coiled ropes of beef and pork sausage from Critchfield's Meats, I was totally smitten.

The sturdy bulkiness of the rope sausage belied its delicate nature. Without a little help, the coil would have unfurled into a tangled mess.. After piercing the sausage from end to end with 2 long wooden skewers in quarters to secure the actual coil, I pan seared the sausage in a large cast iron dutch oven (carefully flipping the coil after 5 minutes) until both sides were caramelized and browned. Using two large spatulas, I removed the sausage to a side plate before tumbling 3 slivered shallots and 3 chopped garlic cloves into the spitting sausage fat. When the tips of the shallots started to crisp, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup West Sixth Street Amber Ale, let it reduce to a loose glaze, and added 1 1/2 cups chicken stock.

When the stock reached a rolling simmer, I added 1 quart sauerkraut (with juices), 2 bay leaves, 10 whole juniper berries, 1 tablespoon whole caraway seeds, and cracked black pepper. After swirling 2 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar into the simmering kraut, I carefully placed the sausage coil on top of the kraut, slipped halved rainbow carrots to the side, brushed the sausage with olive oil, and slid the dutch oven into a preheated 375 degree oven for 50 minutes, basting the sausage with the pan juices every 15 minutes.

When the internal temperature of the sausage meat reached 165 degrees (thankfully, before it exploded), I pulled it from the oven, let it rest, and finished with quick roasted rainbow carrots tossed with a biting fresh parsley, horseradish, and brown mustard vinaigrette.

Tucked beneath the snappy sausage, the softened brown sugar-laced sweet and sour kraut absorbed the drippings from the meat. While the tender braised carrots added earthy subtle sweetness, the vinaigrette-napped roasted carrots countered the fatty sausage with bright acidic punch.

Bavarian Bluegrass Sausage And Kraut.
A fun twist on a one pot wonder.