My Old Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Part I

This two-part post is a slight departure, as there are no recipes, but it does involve Things Culinary.  I thought you might like to read about it and see some pictures.

As I’ve mentioned before, I lived in Louisville for a few years.  My time there was full of good food, great Bourbon, and some of the grandest people I’ve ever met.  So when a couple of dear friends here in Chicago asked if we would be interested in traipsing a bit of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with them, I leaped at the chance.  A weekend in one of my favorite cities, filled with Bourbon, food, and friends?  Yes, please.

The planned itinerary included two days touring three Bourbon houses, strategically chosen for their proximity to one another and driving distance from Louisville, as well as by virtue of their product quality… and the fact that they give free samples and are open on Sundays.  You know, the important things.

Saturday morning started off bright and (reasonably) early with a stop at the Bardstown Road Farmers Market, just around the corner from my old apartment.  If there’s one thing Louisvillians love, it’s keeping things local; and there’s hardly a better or more popular brunch than the omelet stand at this market.  Sure, you can peruse the market, take home as much fresh produce as you can carry, and cook your own; but if you’re doing Louisville right, you’re in no shape to cook anything on a Saturday morning.

As long as I’ve known about this particular stand, the same guys have been braving the rigors of cooking omelet after omelet for a never-ending phalanx of hungry locals, through the stifling humidity of Louisville summers.  Behind their open-flame burners, the wall of heat they face unflaggingly would make Lucifer himself blanch.  I’ve no clue how they stand it; just waiting in the inevitably long line makes even me wilt.

When you get to the front of the line, they ask what you want, but I’ve never seen the point in special orders here.  All the ingredients they use come from their own farm (right smack in the middle of the city) and from other local farmers, and they’re all delicious.  Just tell them how many omelets you want; they’re experienced enough to make you something great.

The selection varies from week to week; this week’s omelets featured beets, summer squash, chopped herbs, Capriole goat cheese, Kenny’s cheddar cheese, smoked catfish, and the always delightful slice of Blue Dog bread hidden underneath.  Eaten on the only available benches (aka parking bollards), it was an ideal antidote to the previous evening’s cocktails (to set the weekend theme, of course), and the fuel we needed to power through the long day ahead of driving and tasting.

Our first stop was the Bourbon Heritage Center, run by Heaven Hill Distilleries.  This isn’t an actual distillery tour, as they distill their liquor elsewhere, but rather a tour of the aging warehouses and a fairly thorough explanation of the Bourbon-making process.

The warehouses stand in a clearing surrounded by cornfields, and are truly monolithic things.  They’re white and stark, except for where black mold creeps up the sides, living off the water that evaporates from the thousands of barrels inside.  It’s a little ominous, but if a breeze hits just right, the air smells sweetly of fermenting corn.

You would actually have to be some kind of idiot to smoke around these buildings; the alcohol hangs heavier in the air than the humidity.

Inside the warehouses, there is a blend of old-style and new-style inventory tracking methods.

The bracing in the warehouses is crucial; with so many barrels (50,000 I think per warehouse, though my recollection could be off), if they remove too many from one side, the weight shift can make the entire thing collapse, as happened to one warehouse several years ago.

I love all the hand-painted signs.

Each barrel is numbered.  Milestone barrels, such as this 3,000,000th barrel, get a special place in the warehouse.  This one is so old, it is most likely less than half full, due to the “angel’s share” that evaporates out.

The main Bourbon brands at Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, aren’t my favorites, but it’s always nice to try different things.

Next on the agenda was a trip down the road (just make sure you pick the right road) to Maker’s Mark.  This is our usual house Bourbon, so you won’t hear any complaints from me about the quality of the drink itself; but the tour felt a bit Disneyland to me.  Apparently, they were recently bought by Jim Beam, which makes me a little sad.

The setting is bucolic as all get out, but things feel just a touch too polished.  I do love the colors, though.  There are cheesy little cut-outs of the Maker’s Mark bottle in each shutter.

Around the corner, though, there are bigger warehouses.  I guess they put them around the back to not spoil the whole “pastoral country home” shtick they’re got going.

Turns out they really do manufacture things here; the pallets on the loading dock are a dead giveaway.

Inside the distilling area, it was about one million degrees.  The area is full of things that are only slightly menacing.

lots of important lights
a tiny door in the wall for no reason

This is a mash tub, in which they cook the grain mixture that makes Bourbon, when fermented.  The tanks are immense, and go through the floor into another story below.

Each one holds many, many gallons.

Six huge fermenting tanks are in the next room, and all are full with a thick and bubbling mixture of fermenting grains.  The cypress wood is smooth with age and thousands of tourists’ hands.

Fermenting yeast makes a roiling foam along the edges.  The tanks are totally open; you can lean over and look right in, even stick your finger in to taste the mash if you like.  I wonder how many lost sunglasses they pull out of these tanks every year.

It still looks a little spooky sometimes.

In the aging warehouse, there are elevators; but only for moving barrels.

Maker’s Mark has an “Ambassadors” program, which allows you to fill out a form online and get your name on the end of a barrel.  When the barrel is mature, you have the option to buy a bottle from your shared barrel.  Thousands of visitors see these barrels every day, so you should find a more creative name than “HHHHHHHHH” or “FOXY-BLONDE”.

At the end of every tour, you are offered a sweet called a Bourbon Ball.  The center is very sweet and slightly soft, and flavored with Bourbon.  The mixture is dipped in chocolate, and usually topped with a pecan.  Nearly every distillery offers them, made with their own particular Bourbon, of course.  They’re never as good as homemade ones.

Stay tuned for Part 2, In Which Bourbon Is Tasted.  Exciting!

Garlic Scape Pesto

I have a love/hate relationship with farmers markets.

I know I’m supposed to love them; and I mostly do.  Put me in the middle of a well-run market, and I’m like a kid in a candy store.  I become positively exuberant, and I want to buy it all and cook absolutely everything.  So much gorgeous food!  So many possibilities!  Unusual herbs!  Mushrooms!  Cherries!  Zucchini blossoms!  Honey!  Giant flowers!  Peaches!

But on the other hand, I live in Chicago.  Average travel time from my house to anywhere is one hour.  Factor in the two hour round trip, plus browsing time, and you’re coming dangerously close to half a work day.  I may love food and all things culinary with every fibre of my being, but that’s a significant commitment for some flippin’ vegetables.

Despite the seeming glut of farmers markets scattered throughout the city, I’ve found precious few worth a repeat visit, and none are very close to me.  One market opened this year within walking distance of my house, but featured a conspicuous lack of vegetables.  As in, no vegetables.  None.  This is not a joke.

And besides, I never have cash.  Sometimes I wish farmers would accept credit cards.

But every so often, I make the trek to one of the better markets, and I tell myself that I should really do it more often.  I always find something unusual, something to spark my frenzied imagination.  The last time I went was a few weeks ago, my first market outing of the year.  In the midst of my awed wandering, I came across a plastic bin filled with a tangled bramble of green curls, each topped with a pale green flower bud.  Maybe you’re familiar with them, but I had never seen such a thing before.

The lady behind the table called them garlic scapes, and though I had no idea what they were, I knew I had to have some.  She said to “use them wherever you’d use garlic,” and no amount of pressing for further details would divulge more information.  I bagged a selection of slender scapes, with the idea that the smaller they were, the more tender and sweeter they would be, and went on my way.

As it turns out, garlic scapes are the shoots that come out of garlic bulbs, which must be cut off to allow the bulb to fully mature.  Previously, they had mostly been thrown away as trash; but some genius recently realized their delicious (and money-making) potential, and began selling them.  And not that I get to so many farmers markets, but word on the street is that scapes are the new ramps.  Hot stuff, you see.

Back home with my wealth of scapes (16, to be exact), I set out to find the best possible showcase for the pungently fragrant spirals.  Some recipes called for sautéing, which seemed an appropriate way to display their sweeping curves; but a surprising number of pesto recipes turned up as well.  I decided to prepare half as pesto, and sauté the other half to serve over homemade pasta.

The pasta dish turned out well enough; with the fresh shell peas I had also brought home from the market, a few capers, and other goodness (lemon and mascarpone) tossed in at whim, the plate had a green, spring-like vibrance.  A dusting of paprika added a necessary spice, and pretty pop of color.  But the intended star ingredient, the scapes, seemed to have lost much of their bright garlic flavor upon being cooked.  They dulled, and became little more than a tough scallion.  The peas took center stage, which wasn’t a bad thing, but wasn’t quite what I was going for.

Luckily, the pesto was a much greater success.  A mere eight scapes transformed into a jar of some of the most flavorful, brilliant pesto I’ve ever tasted.  Their raw pungency lent the perfect level of garlic flavor, without any bitterness whatsoever, while their herbal qualities belied a total lack of basil, or any other leaf.  A quick spin in the food processor with walnuts and almonds, a handful of parmesan, and a bit of olive oil, and I had the ideal staging to flaunt my scapes.

My recommendation, then, is to buy as many scapes as you can get your hands on, assuming you can still find some.  Make the lot into pesto, and freeze what you won’t use in a week.  Then, when the depth of winter comes, and you’d just about kill for a taste of a real summer tomato or spring pea, thaw a cube or two in your white bean soup, or mix it with olive oil to dip a crusty bread in.  And if that won’t warm you inside and out, I don’t think anything will.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 1 cup

To prepare scapes, cut off the tough, woody bit at the bottom of the stem (simmer those in broth for a treat).  I blended up the pale green flowery parts in the pesto with no problems, but discard those if you plan on sautéing them, as they can be tough.  Feel free to substitute any sort of nut you prefer.

8 garlic scapes, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons almonds
2 tablespoons walnuts
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, as needed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, blend the scapes, almonds, walnuts, and Parmesan together.  Drizzle in enough olive oil to make a smooth paste.  Scrape the bowl as needed.  Add the lemon juice, and season with the salt and pepper to taste.  Blend until thoroughly mixed.

2.  Store pesto in a jar, covered with a thin layer of additional olive oil to prevent browning; or freeze pesto in ice cube trays until solid, then store tightly wrapped in the freezer.

World Cup Party: USA vs Algeria

I know it’s old hat by now, but I wanted to share the menu I prepared for a recent World Cup party in honor of the US game against Algeria.  (I might’ve shown you the US versus Slovenia menu, but I forgot my camera that night.)

I’m relatively new to the cuisine of Northern Africa, but the more I learn, the more I love about it.  So many spices!  (And I do love me some spices.)  Lamb!  Flatbreads!  Mint tea!  Couscous!  Honey and almonds!  So when I heard the US was playing Algeria, I got very excited.  It was a struggle to keep the number of Algerian dishes to a manageable level.

On the American food team, there was a giant Cobb salad (recipe here), as well as some gussied-up mocha Rice Krispies treats for dessert.  Representing Algeria were chakhchouka served with couscous and flatbread, stuffed dates, and mint tea.

Of course, we had orange wedges for halftime.  It may be the World Cup, but it’s still soccer.

Chakhchouka is typically a lamb and chickpea stew, served over torn bits of thin semolina flatbread called rougag, and is eaten with the hands; I took a few liberties with the idea, not wanting the decidedly American crowd to have to stray from the familiar fork or spoon.  My chakhchouka was a chicken and chickpea stew, with at least 15 different spices, served over couscous, with a thick wheat-flour flatbread known as khubz alongside.  Perhaps not precisely authentic chakhchouka, but it was close enough.

One hit of the evening was the Deglet Noor dates, stuffed with a fragrant mixture of finely-chopped nuts, brown sugar, honey, spices, and rose water.  The homely things couldn’t have been simpler to put together, but the sticky things charmed everyone with their exotic complexity.  A genius move from one guest paired a piece of bacon from the Cobb salad with a stuffed date; the smoky salt of the pork with the chewy sweet dates made me suddenly wish I had wrapped each one in proscuitto and baked until crisp and lightly caramelized.  Next time.

I couldn’t resist serving Rice Krispies treats for dessert, those most American of American sweets.  But, being the person I am, I also couldn’t resist using a markedly posh recipe for them.  (We’re all familiar with the standard Rice Krispies treat, yes?)  Here, cocoa is mixed into the cereal-marshmallow mixture, and the bars are sandwiched and drizzled with a mocha ganache.

The recipe headnotes mention a “tiny jolt of coffee flavor”.  This is wrong.  Not that it’s a bad thing, however.  Normally, a mocha ganache has a mere hint of coffee, just enough to deepen the flavor of the chocolate.  This ganache didn’t hint, it bellowed.  “COFFEE!”  Perhaps the instant coffee I used was a bit strong, but I added the full 1 tablespoon as directed.  I personally thought it was perfect, especially with the relatively bland sweetness of the cereal part of the dessert.  Proceed at your own discretion.  (A side note: I doubled the amount of marshmallow-cereal mixture, and still had ganache left over.)

Unfortunately, this is the end of the US-themed World Cup menus; but that doesn’t mean there won’t be another World Cup party in the near future.  Stay tuned for more international food battles!

this girl will be waiting for it

Chakhchouka (Chicken and Chickpea Stew)
Adapted from RecipeZaar and VitamineDZ
Serves 6 to 8

The main seasoning ingredient in this stew is ras el hanout, a seasoning blend ubiquitous in North African cooking.  Like its Indian counterpart, garam masala, ras el hanout is not a specific recipe, but a mixture that depends on the whim of the chef or spice house owner.  I mixed my own, but there are pre-mixed versions available.  A good starter recipe is found here; feel free to experiment with the blend to fit your tastes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 chicken breasts halves, patted dry
2 medium onions, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons ras el hanout, to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
5 new potatoes (about 1/2 pound), chopped
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
2 to 3 quarts chicken or vegetable stock, or water
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper, as needed
Cooked couscous, to serve

1.  In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Add the chicken (skin-side down, if applicable), and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Turn the breasts over, and brown the other side, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove to a plate, and let cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, chop meat into 1 inch pieces (discarding skin and bone, if applicable).

2.  Add the onions to the pan, and stir to coat with the oil.  Let cook until the onions soften and turn translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the ras el hanout, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and bay leaf.  Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and garlic, and stir to coat.  Season lightly with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon.

3.  Add the carrots, zucchini, potatoes, chickpeas, and chopped chicken.  Add enough stock or water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a simmer.  Liquid level should never drop below the top of the solids; add additional liquid as needed.

4.  Simmer for 1 hour, or until vegetables are cooked to desired softness.  Taste, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, and stir in dried mint and balsamic vinegar.  Serve in bowls over cooked couscous.

Stuffed Dates
Inspired by Food By Country
Makes 30

Feel free to experiment with the nut and spice mixtures in this recipe.  The filling is appropriately sweet, but the amount of brown sugar may be reduced if you prefer.  For a special treat, try wrapping these in proscuitto or bacon and baking until the meat crisps.  Serve those either warm or at room temperature.

3/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans, macadamias, cashews, pistchios, or a mixture)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 three-fingered pinch salt
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater (or orange flower water), as needed
30 dried Deglet Noor dates, pitted

1.  If using raw nuts, toast by spreading in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake at 350º F for 5 to 9 minutes, or until lightly golden and fragrant, stirring halfway through.  Let cool slightly.

2.  In a food processor, pulse the nuts until chopped finely.  Place in a medium bowl.  Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt.  Stir until well combined.  Add 1 tablespoon rosewater, and stir to blend.

3.  Squeeze a little of the mixture together.  If it does not hold together, add additional honey or rosewater as desired until it clumps.

4.  Stuff the pitted dates with teaspoons of the nut mixture.  Dates may be served immediately, or stuffed up to two days ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Savory and Sweet: Hand Pies

(This is part three of a three-part collaboration with Cybelle Codish and Taryn Bickley.  For part one, click here.  For part two, click here.)

As soon as Spring breaks here in Chicago, something amazing happens.  Aside from the trees greening themselves overnight, and the frenzied blooming of flowers, there’s a sea change of a decidedly more human sort.  All at once, your social calendar just blows up.

People crawl out of their Winter hidey-holes, and oh my goodness we should do something!  Dinner plans form on weeknights, not just the obligatory Saturday night outing.  Emails flurry nearly every afternoon, in a back-and-forth of forming plans to go anywhere.  And suddenly, everyone is outside, in that primal need to enjoy the weather while it lasts.

My two collaborators, Taryn and Cybelle, and I are certainly not immune to this need.  Knowing how delightful a meal al fresco can be, we decided on hand pies for our final Savory and Sweet match-up.  Hand pies are perfect for an outdoor gathering: easily portable, and can be eaten with one hand while holding down the picnic blanket in a gust of wind.  Wrap one in parchment for each guest, toss in a bag with some fresh fruit, and you’ve got a party to go.

don't forget beverages

The savory offering here is a chicken and chorizo pie, which might more aptly be called an empanada.  There’s a touch of whole wheat flour in the all-butter crust, which lends a rusticity that befits the unfussy nature of the dish.  The filling is a loose mélange of dark chicken meat and vivacious Spanish chorizo, shot through with fruity green olives and the occasional sweetness of a golden raisin.  If you’re following along at home, the rhubarb chutney from earlier this week was simply fantastic with these, if a touch over the top.  It all depends on how gilded you prefer your lilies.

On the sweet side, we took advantage of the glut of berries in stores at the moment, and decided on mixed-berry pies for dessert.  Brushed with an egg wash for a golden gleam, and dusted with coarse sugar, I can just see these sparkling in the late-afternoon sun, in the park or on the back porch.  The cabernet-colored filling spilling out of the seams might have been avoided by cutting small vents in the tops of the pies, true; but I love the slightly-chewy gummi-fruit texture of those overcooked bits.  And besides, it makes them look positively exuberant.

exuberant, or defiant

For both crusts, I’ve written the recipes to use my favorite technique for cutting butter into flour by hand: mince the butter into as small pieces as possible, freeze, and simply toss with the flour.  Some people prefer to grate frozen butter into flour, which works well in theory, but I’ve always found that my hands melt the butter before I’m done grating.  Whatever method works best for you (including using a food processor, or any other way) is the method you should use.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos and recipes as much as I enjoyed putting it all together!  It was a true pleasure working with Taryn and Cybelle, two extremely talented and delightful ladies, who made the hours spent “working” on this feel like a very exclusive party.  I have an inkling that this won’t be the last time you’ll see the three of us partnering up!


our hosts: taryn and her husband brian
our hosts: taryn and her husband brian

Chicken and Chorizo Hand Pies
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Makes 12 pies

I’m not the biggest raisin fan in the world, but I nevertheless urge you to include them, no matter what you normally think of them.  The pockets of light sweetness they add simply make the dish.  If, while forming the pies, the crust softens, chill the pies for at least 15 minutes before baking for the flakiest possible crust.

For the crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cold
9 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 ounces (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, cold
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/3 cup ice-cold water, plus extra as needed

For the filling:
2 whole chicken legs, bone-in, skin-on (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium white onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole cumin
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
4 ounces raw Spanish-style chorizo (about 1 link), removed from casing
1/2 cup light-flavored beer
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup green olives, chopped roughly
1/4 cup golden raisins

To finish pies:
Flour for dusting and rolling out dough
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash

1.  To make the crust, cut the butter into as small pieces as possible.  Pile loosely on a plate, and place in freezer while preparing remaining ingredients, or for about 10 minutes.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.  When butter is thoroughly firm, add to flour.  Using fingertips or a pastry cutter, quickly toss and pinch until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Large pea-sized lumps are okay.

3.  Beat egg with vinegar until well blended, and add to flour mixture.  Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over, and quickly and gently fold in.  Dough may look dry; try squeezing a bit together with fingertips.  If mixture crumbles, add additional ice water by tablespoons, and gently mix together.  If mixture holds together, turn out onto a work surface.  Knead quickly and gently until mixture forms a cohesive ball, just a few turns.  Shape dough into a flat disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4.  While dough chills, prepare the filling.  Rub chicken legs with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add legs, skin side down, and cook until just golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Flip legs over, and brown other side, about 3 minutes more.  Remove to a plate.

5.  Discard all but two tablespoons fat from pan.  Add onions, stir to coat, and cook until translucent and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, bay leaves, cumin, and paprika, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant.  Add chorizo, breaking up if necessary, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

6.  Add beer and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze and loosen any flavorful browned bits.  Add chicken stock, olives, and raisins; stir to combine.  Nestle chicken legs, skin side up, into the mixture, reduce heat to medium-low or low to maintain a simmer, and cover pan.

7.  Simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken registers 160º F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.  Remove legs to a clean plate to cool.  If necessary, continue simmering sauce until thickened and no longer soupy; it should be the consistency of heavy cream.  Remove bay leaves, and let cool to room temperature.  Pull chicken meat from bone, discarding skin, and stir meat into sauce.  Filling may be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before using.

8.  When ready to make pies, preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand 5 to 10 minutes at room temperature.  (If kitchen is warm, divide dough in half, working with one piece at a time, and refrigerating other half to prevent butter melting.)

9.  Liberally dust a work surface with flour.  Divide dough into 12 even pieces, and form each into a roughly round shape.  Keep unused pieces covered loosely with plastic wrap.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll each piece to a disc about 5 inches in diameter (about 1/8 inch thick), lifting and turning dough and dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking.  The shape need not be perfectly round.

10.  Place 2 generous tablespoons of filling in the center of each round.  Brush the edges of the dough lightly with egg wash, and fold the dough in half over the filling.  Crimp the edges to seal, either with a fork, or by making a series of very small overlapping folds with fingertips, pressing firmly.  Transfer each pie to the prepared baking sheet, lightly dusting off any excess flour.  Repeat with remaining crust and filling.

11.  Gently brush each pie with egg wash.  If dough has softened, refrigerate tray of pies for at least 15 minutes before baking.

12.  Bake at 400º F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool briefly on trays before before serving, or remove to a wire rack to cool thoroughly before wrapping tightly and freezing.  Frozen, pies may be reheated on a baking sheet in a 350º F oven  for 15 to 20 minutes, or until warmed through.

Mixed Berry Hand Pies
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Makes 12 to 16 small pies

I’ve used blackberries and strawberries here, because that’s what was fresh at my market.  Any berry would work here, or even any cut-up fruit you prefer, such as peaches, plums, cherries, or pears.  The grated apple adds natural pectin, which thickens the filling just enough to shape the crust around.

For the crust:
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cold
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
11 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup ice-cold water, plus extra as needed

For the filling:
6 ounces (1 heaped cup) blackberries
6 ounces (1 heaped cup) strawberries
1 Golden Delicious apple
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
6 tablespoons sugar

To finish pies:
Flour for rolling out crusts
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash
Coarse sugar for dusting (such as demerara or turbinado)

1.  To make the crust, cut the butter and shortening into as small pieces as possible.  Pile loosely on a plate, and place in freezer while preparing remaining ingredients, or for about 10 minutes.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  When butter and shortening are thoroughly firm, add to flour.  Using fingertips or a pastry cutter, quickly toss and pinch until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Large pea-sized lumps are okay.

3.  Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over the mixture, and quickly and gently fold in.  Dough may look dry; try squeezing a bit together with fingertips.  If mixture crumbles, add additional ice water by tablespoons, and gently mix together.  If mixture holds together, turn out onto a work surface.  Knead quickly and gently until mixture forms a cohesive ball, just a few turns, using heel of hand with a forward pressing motion to help flatten and incorporate lumps of fat.  Shape dough into a flat disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

4.  While dough chills, make filling.  Rinse berries.  Hull strawberries, and cut into halves, or quarters if large.  Place in a medium saucepan.  Peel apple, and grate directly into pan with berries.  Add allspice and sugar, and place over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until thick, 5 to 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat, and let cool completely.  Filling may be made 1 day ahead, and refrigerated.

5.  When ready to assemble pies, preheat oven to 375º F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand 10 minutes at room temperature.  (If kitchen is warm, divide dough in half, working with one piece at a time, and refrigerating other half to prevent butter melting.)

6.  Liberally dust a work surface with flour.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough to desired thickness (a scant 1/8 inch thick), lifting and turning dough and dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking.  With a rolling cutter (such as a pizza cutter), cut squares of dough, about 4 inches on each side.  Place scrap trimmings to one side, to be re-kneaded and re-rolled only once.

7.  Place 1 generous tablespoon of filling in the center of each square.  Brush the edges of the dough lightly with egg wash, and fold the dough over the filling to make a triangle.  Using a fork, crimp the edges to seal.  Transfer each pie to the prepared baking sheet, lightly dusting off any excess flour.  Repeat with remaining crust and filling.

8.  Gently brush each pie with egg wash, and sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar.  If dough has softened, refrigerate tray of pies for at least 15 minutes before baking.

9.  Bake at 375º F for 25 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool briefly on trays before removing to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

All photos by Cybelle Codish.  All styling by Taryn Bickley.

Savory and Sweet: Quinoa

This is the second of a three-part collaboration with Cybelle Codish and Taryn Bickley.  For the first part, click here.  For the third part, click here.

Quinoa, for those of you not familiar with it, is an ancient grain (well, pseudocereal, to be exact) from South America.  Pronounced “KEEN-wa”, it’s a rare plant source of all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.  In other words, it’s ridiculously good for you.

But more importantly, this tiny seed takes hardly any time to cook (less than 15 minutes), and is surprisingly flavorful, with a nutty aroma.  I keep a stash in the pantry for those times when I’d really love some brown rice with dinner, but have no time to cook it.  Nutritious and fast?  Yes, please.

The first recipe below is for a savory quinoa salad, bursting with fresh asparagus and scallions sautéed in a blazingly hot skillet until just barely blackened.  Lightly roasted grape tomatoes bring sweetness, and pockets of feta add saltiness and a creamy texture.  A salad like this is a fantastic way to use any special finds from your local farmers’ market; just be sure to keep things cut fairly chunky.  That way, each bite is something entirely new, every forkful bound to the next with the rustic flavor of the quinoa.  This particular mixture of vegetables and herbs, however, is just amazing.  It tastes like late Spring.

Second, I’ve adapted a red quinoa pudding recipe from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks.  Similar to rice pudding, it’s just barely sweet, making it an unusual and hearty breakfast alternative for those of you who need that A.M. sugar rush.  Of course, if you prefer (as I do) to serve it for dessert instead, you can scarcely find a more virtuous option.  Like Heidi, I’ve used a red quinoa here, but it’s purely for aesthetic purposes; if you can only find the more common tan-colored sort, that will work just as well.  A cluster of blackberries and toasted nuts on top turns this humble dish into a cooly elegant plate.

The only caveat in cooking with quinoa is that you must rinse it before cooking.  Quinoa comes with a natural covering or coating that tastes bitter when cooked, but rinsing removes it.  To rinse, use a fine mesh sieve to hold the seeds, and run water over them until it runs clear, using your hand to agitate them as you rinse.  Let it drain slightly, and you’re good to go!

if it's too early for a cocktail, it's too early

Quinoa and Asparagus Salad with Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Makes 4 to 6 servings

The small grape tomatoes are roasted in a low oven to dry and shrivel them slightly, concentrating their flavor into a sort of hybrid between raw and sun-dried tomatoes.  If you have a grill, try grilling the asparagus and scallions instead of sautéing them, for a smoky depth.  And while the grill is hot, throw a few pieces of meat on there; this salad is ideal for an cook-out.

For roasted tomatoes:
1 pint grape (or cherry) tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil

For quinoa:
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup white onion, diced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt

To finish salad:
1 pound asparagus
1 bunch scallions (about 6)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large bunch mint, leaves only, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, leaves only
8 ounces feta
1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper, as needed

1.  Preheat oven to 250º F.  Halve tomatoes, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour, or until slightly shriveled.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear, swirling with hands to help agitate the grains.  This rinses off a natural coating that, when cooked, tastes bitter.  Let drain.

3.  In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the quinoa.  Stirring constantly to prevent burning, toast the quinoa until fragrant and grains separate, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add the chicken stock (quinoa will bubble up and jump higher than you think) and the salt.  Return to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender and all liquid is absorbed.  Let stand off heat at least 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

4.  Trim ends from asparagus, and cut into 2 inch lengths.  Set tips aside for the moment.  Cut white and light green parts of scallions into 1 inch lengths, reserving green tops.  Toss asparagus (except for tips) and chopped scallion parts with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

5.  Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until very hot.  Add asparagus and scallion mixture, and sauté, tossing or stirring, until deeply browned or charred in places and crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes.  Add asparagus tips, and cook 1 to 2 minutes more.  Remove from heat.

6.  In a large bowl, combine cooked quinoa with asparagus, scallions, and roasted tomatoes.  Chop green scallion tops, mint, and parsley; add to bowl.  Crumble feta in, and drizzle with sherry vinegar to taste.  Toss gently, and correct seasoning as needed.  Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

Red Quinoa Pudding
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Makes 4 servings

This dish can be served at breakfast just as easily as it can for dessert.  You can swap the sugar for honey if you like, and feel free to use regular quinoa if you can’t find the red type.  Both options will work equally well.

1 cup red quinoa
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 three-fingered pinch salt
1 cinnamon stick
3 pods cardamom, crushed, seeds only
For serving (optional): toasted pecans, fresh berries, honey, plain yogurt

1.  Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear, swirling with hands to help agitate the grains.  This rinses off a natural coating that, when cooked, tastes bitter.  Let drain.

2.  In a medium saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat.  Add quinoa.  Stirring constantly to prevent burning, toast the quinoa until fragrant and grains separate, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add the milk (quinoa will bubble up and jump higher than you think), sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, and cardamom seeds.

3.  Return to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender.  Not all liquid will be absorbed.  Let stand off heat at least 5 minutes.

4.  Remove cinnamon stick, and add additional milk to thin, if desired.  Serve pudding topped with toasted pecans, fresh berries, dried fruit, a drizzle of honey, or a dollop of plain yogurt.

more to come!

All photos by Cybelle Codish.  All styling by Taryn Bickley.

Savory and Sweet: Rhubarb

About a month ago, I was invited by my dear friend Taryn and her friend Cybelle to participate in a photo shoot at Taryn’s home here in Chicago.  Taryn, a stylist, and Cybelle, a photographer, were looking to round out their already-impressive portfolios with food-centered work, and they needed some food to style and shoot.  That’s where I came in.

The theme was “Savory and Sweet”, featuring one food prepared two ways (one savory, one sweet).  We agreed on three distinct foods, for a total of six dishes; and other than that, I had free rein to do as I pleased.

Excellent.

This will be a three-part series of posts, the first today, the second on Wednesday, and the third on Friday.  Taryn and Cybelle will also be featuring the photo shoot on their respective blogs, Sage And Style and Shoot Happens.  I’m so thrilled to be a part of this collaboration, and am quite honored to be invited to join such a talented and delightful couple of ladies.  I had an absolute blast spending the day with them, me in the kitchen, while Cybelle flitted around, snapping shot after shot from every angle, and Taryn made sure each errant crumb was ready for his close-up with her staggering library of props.

just a few

And so, I bring you Savory and Sweet: Rhubarb.  First up is an intoxicating Rhubarb Chutney, a savory condiment with layer after layer of flavor and heat; it’s a sophisticated, Indian-inspired match for any sort of grilled food you might be preparing on this Memorial Day, especially chicken or pork.  I’ve had to make another batch for my own personal stash.  For a special treat, serve guests a platter of thinly-sliced and peppery salami, a soft goat’s milk cheese, and this chutney, with crisp crackers alongside.  Heaven.

The sweet counterpart is a Rhubarb-Orange Jam, which comes together in a flash, but tastes like you slaved all day over a hot stove for it.  The woodsy and slightly minted hint of rosemary makes things interesting; on a thick slice of lavishly-buttered rustic bread, it was one of the best things I tried all day.

I’m going to let the pictures mostly speak for themselves, though you will find the recipes below.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and be sure to catch parts two and three later this week!

Any day that starts with tomato sandwiches is a good day.

breakfast
chutney time

caramel, vinegar, onion, garlic, ginger, chili pepper

jam time

more to come!

Rhubarb Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

This spicy-sweet chutney is a perfect match for chicken or pork, though it would be just as good on a rare hamburger or with grilled sausages.  The layers of heat from the chili, the red pepper, and the black pepper are nothing short of seductive.

1 scant cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup tarragon vinegar, plus additional as needed
1 small white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 small green chili pepper (such as finger or jalapeño), minced
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, chopped into 1 inch pieces
Peel of 1 lemon, cut off in long strips, and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 three-fingered pinch salt

1.  In a light-colored medium pan, heat the sugar and water together over medium-high heat, stirring only until all sugar is dissolved.  Do not stir after this, or the sugar may crystallize and turn into a mess of irreparable lumps.  Let caramelize until light amber in color, tilting the pan and gently swirling to help caramelize evenly if needed.  The caramel will burn in an instant, so don’t turn your back, but it should take around 3 to 5 minutes.

2.  Very slowly and carefully, add the tarragon vinegar, a little at a time.  The sugar will sputter furiously, so be careful.  The caramel will harden at first, but will soften and dissolve shortly.

3.  Add the onion, stir, and cook until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, and chili pepper, and cook for 1 minute.

4.  Add the rhubarb and remaining ingredients.  Stir, and reduce heat to medium or medium low, or to a brisk simmer.  The chutney will begin to look dry, but will become more liquid as the rhubarb releases its moisture.  Cook until rhubarb falls apart, about 15 minutes.  Thin with additional tarragon vinegar if necessary; chutney should be quite thick, but not too sticky and jammy.  Remove bay leaf and thyme stems before serving.

Rhubarb-Orange Jam
Makes 2 to 3 cups

Don’t be scared of using the whole orange peel, pith and all, in this rustic jam.  It lends a welcome complexity to the bitter notes brought also by the rhubarb and the lemon juice.  This jam turns out quite rustic and chunky; if you prefer your jam more smooth, chop the ingredients more finely.

2 navel oranges
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup brandy
Juice from 1 lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 heaped tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped finely

1.  Quarter the oranges lengthwise.  Slice the quarters crossways into very thin slices, discarding any seeds that may appear.

2.  In a large pan, combine orange slices with all remaining ingredients.  Bring to a brisk simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Stirring often to prevent scorching, simmer until rhubarb breaks down and mixture thickens, 15 to 20 minutes.  Cool before serving.

All photos by Cybelle Codish.  All styling by Taryn Bickley.

Homemade Stock for People with Better Things to Do Than Make Stock

You can’t hide from me, I can see you.

I know who you are.

You’re the one reading cooking blogs and magazines every day, always trying to figure out what to cook next, often getting a little perturbed at restaurants because you know you could’ve cooked your entrée just a little bit better than the chef did.  You’ve purposefully sought out recipes marked “difficult”.  You’ve mastered pie crust, can roast the most succulent chicken in a five-mile radius, and can roll a perfect French omelette every flippin’ time.

And you still buy canned stock.

Don’t try to hide it behind the cans of tuna or the cereal boxes; I know it’s there.  Maybe you buy the wax-coated aseptic boxes, or maybe you buy the jars of stock concentrate, but we all know what’s going on.

I know, because I used to be just like you.

Yes, for years, even a culinary school graduate like me, who prides herself on her homemade everything, couldn’t be bothered to make stock.  For me, the problem wasn’t the requisite 4 hours of simmering, it was the ingredient list.  The very specific ingredient list.  The very specific ingredient list that, if deviated from, would turn any effort into nothing but a massive waste of time.

As I was taught, and as many recipes indicate, a proper homemade stock requires the following: bones, lots of them, and all from the same kind of animal; a meticulously diced mirepoix of onions, carrots, and celery, in a perfect 2:1:1 ratio; and a bouquet garni of parsley stems, bay leaves, fresh thyme, and black peppercorns, preferably tied up in a cheesecloth bag.

And people, I don’t mind spending time in the kitchen, but that’s an awful lot of work for something you can just buy at the store when the need arises.

So I made sure the need would arise only rarely.  I learned to quietly avoid recipes that used words like “use homemade stock if possible”.  I learned which purchased stocks were the best.  I lived a risotto-less, chicken-soup-less, pan-sauce-less life.  I carried a twinge of shame within me that I crushed easily and repeatedly with a flippant, “That’s too much trouble.”

I’m here to tell you that it’s all a lie.  Stock is easy!  I am now a converted stock-maker and -freezer.  And therein lies the secret: the freezer.  Well, the freezer, and a plastic zip-top bag.

It struck me like a great striking thing, when I recently read on a blog (which one is now forgotten, unfortunately) that there are brilliant people out there who save vegetable scraps and trimmings in bags in the freezer, solely for the purpose of making stock.  They even had a clever name for it: a stock bag.  Everything goes in one bag, then into the pot when there’s enough.  I’ve ambitiously saved bones before (and then very un-ambitiously thrown them away months later) , but never thought to save vegetable odds and ends.

True, it’s not a classically correct stock, and you might never get the same result twice (which I find exciting), but it’s the simplest way I’ve heard yet to keep your fridge stocked with (ahem) stock.  Whenever you cut up vegetables for anything, keep the scraps.  Pile them all in a freezer zip-top bag.  Everything goes here, as long as it’s been washed, from onion skins, to carrot peelings, to parsley stems, to snapped-off asparagus ends.

Whenever you have them, save bones of all sorts, wrapped in foil.  Even shrimp shells will make an excellent stock.  The only caveat is to avoid mixing meat and fish.  Pork bones and chicken bones will go together, but not so much beef bones and a grouper skeleton.  Other than that, it’s as simple as simple gets.

Here’s the method: empty the bag of frozen vegetable bits into the biggest pot you have.  In this batch, I’ve got scallion ends, celery root skin, leek tops, shiitake stems, and lots of other random scraps.  I happened to have half an ancient onion in the freezer (God knows why), so that went in as well.

Add any bones you’ve got, though this is actually optional!  This is a pheasant carcass…

…and I threw in some chicken leg bones too, for good measure.  If you remember, a bay leaf or two, and a small palmful of black peppercorns are nice additions, as is a branch of thyme, but it’s fine to leave them out too.

Cover everything with cold – that’s important – water.  (Luckily for you, since all your vegetables are frozen and will chill your water further, even room temperature water will work here.  Don’t use hot water, is all.)  Things will float up as you add water; just gently push them down.

Bring everything just to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Depending on how frozen your vegetables are, and how cold your water is, your pot may condense.

If your pot is very full, things might not stay submerged as they simmer, which will lead to darkening (which you don’t want).  If this is the case, cover the top with a round of parchment paper.

Simmer uncovered, or with the lid slightly askew, for at least 2 hours (3 if you’re using bones), and up to 5 or 6 hours for the most extraction of flavor.  The timing is up to you; there’s no correct amount of time to simmer everything.  Classically, they say to simmer at least 4 hours for stock with bones, but if you’ve only got 3, then I say it’s close enough.  Simmering longer won’t do any harm, though, and it will probably make a more flavorful stock.  Oh, and no stirring!  Stirring will make a cloudy stock.

As it cooks, keep an eye on the liquid level.  If it drops below the top of the ingredients, just add a little extra water.  Things will start to look drab, as the color and flavor leaches out of the vegetables and into the liquid.

When the time is up, lift the solids out of the stock into a fine mesh strainer set over a large bowl.  Press on them to extract as much liquid gold as possible, and then discard them.  When all the big solid pieces are out of the pot, gently pour the stock through the strainer into the bowl.  Straining like this (as opposed to dumping everything into the strainer all at once) will make for a less cloudy stock, and will make much less of a mess.  (Trust me on this one.)

Cool the stock to room temperature as quickly as possible (but definitely within 2 to 3 hours).  You can do this by splitting the stock into multiple smaller containers, or by setting the large bowl of stock in an ice bath.  Do not simply put the huge bowl of hot stock into the refrigerator!  Unless, that is, you’d like to spoil all the food in your fridge in one go.

Once the stock has cooled to room temperature, either freeze it or refrigerate it.  If you’ve got no room in the fridge, you can reduce the strained stock by boiling it; add extra water back in whenever you need it.

stock photography

And that, Gentle Readers, is how I learned to stop worrying and make stock.  Despite the lengthy description, it’s really this easy:

1. Put frozen vegetables and/or bones in pot.

2. Cover with water.

3. Simmer.  Go about your day.

4. Strain and cool.

5. Profit.

No more excuses, now.  Get yourself a gallon zip-top freezer bag, and start saving those scraps!  They’ll add up before you know it, and you’ll soon be savoring your very own, very simple, homemade stock, ready for you to cook rice in, make soups with, deglaze pans, even make risotto with.  I won’t fault you for keeping an emergency can of stock in the pantry, but you might end up forgetting all about it with the wealth of stock you’ll have in your freezer.

Take it from one who knows.

My Old Kentucky Derby Party

When I was young, my mom used to decorate our front door and our dining room table for each season and important holiday.  Down from the sweltering attic came boxes full of trappings: the box of pastel Easter eggs and bunnies, and the two papier-mâché baskets shaped like chickens (blue for me, pink for my sister); the spooky Halloween box with cheesecloth ghosts and tiny black kitten finger puppets; the purple, green, and gold box for Mardi Gras with a million plastic king cake babies and only the shiniest of beads, caught in the previous year’s parades.

But one of my favorite boxes contained a decidedly unusual decoration: the miniature Churchill Downs racetrack.  There were miniature horses and jockeys, and a few little ceramic ducks to swim in the infield pond.  What pony-obsessed little girl wouldn’t love it?  This singular tabletop decoration was for a holiday that no one else I knew celebrated, the Kentucky Derby.

Though I was born and raised in New Orleans, my parents are both originally from near Louisville.  As I would come to fully realize years later, when I myself lived in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is far more than a two-minute race on the first Saturday in May.  The best equivalent I can give is that Derby is for Louisville what Mardi Gras is for New Orleans.  It’s far more than one party, one day, one event.  It’s a season.

The party kicks off two weeks in advance, with the largest fireworks show in North America, Thunder Over Louisville.  Attended usually by around three-quarters of a million people, it’s the sign for Louisvillians to start polishing their mint julep cups and finish selecting the perfect hat, whether or not the race itself is actually attended.

Despite having lived in Louisville for a few years, I have never actually been to the Kentucky Derby itself.  You see, I worked in the service industry; for us, Derby was a series of forced-smile 14 hour days spent in constant frenetic motion, punctuated only by the mandatory after-work Bourbon and then falling into the deepest sleep imaginable.

These days, living in Chicago, I am determined to enjoy Derby in a way I was denied during my time in Louisville.  My party starts about an hour before post time, so that all my guests can settle into a drink or two before the excitement of the race, which is over in a flash.  Pre-race hors d’oeuvres whet appetites for the more substantial food served after the horses run, and individually-sized Bourbon pecan chocolate pies wait for those with a taste for something sweet (recipe here).

Though I don’t have a miniature tabletop racetrack, I do have a hat or two in my closet,  and I can lay out a spread of classic Kentuckian foods.  And I can mix a mean mint julep.  I think my mom would approve.

***********

MENU

Pre-Race Hors d’Oeuvres

Crudités with Benedictine Dip
Camembert with Jezebel Sauce and Sliced Baguette
Deviled Eggs

Entrée

Braised Beef Shoulder with Henry Bain Sauce
Biscuits
Celery Root Rémoulade

Dessert

Strawberries with Rebecca Sauce
Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Pies

Mint Juleps
Iced Mint Tea

***********

Benedictine Dip
Adapted heavily from Jennie Benedictine’s original recipe
Makes about 3 cups

Benedictine is a cream cheese based spread, typically used in finger sandwiches (white bread with crusts cut off, please).  Here, I’ve re-imagined it as a slightly softer dip for crudités.  Usually a few drops of green food coloring are added to Benedictine, but I never saw the point.  Serve with whatever vegetables strike your fancy; I used carrots, celery, bell peppers, blanched green beans, and radishes.

8 ounces (1 box) cream cheese, well-softened at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large cucumber (seeded, if desired)
1 small yellow onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 large pinch cayenne pepper

1.  In a bowl, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth (either by hand or with an electric mixer).  Beat in the sour cream.

2.  If you have a food processor, roughly chop the cucumber and onion, add to the processor, and pulse until chopped finely.  Add, juice and all, into the bowl of cream cheese.  (Otherwise, grate the cucumber and onion directly into the bowl of cream cheese.)

3.  Stir until combined, and add salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Benedictine will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Jezebel Sauce
Adapted from Proof on Main, Louisville
Makes 2 to 3 cups

Jezebel Sauce is an appropriately-named sauce, sweet with fruit and spicy with horseradish.  This is no shrinking violet here; this brash sauce will make you sit up and salute.  I love the combination with a soft, good cheese, spread on a slice of baguette; but it’s just as at home on a bit of grilled chicken or meat.  At the estimable Proof on Main in Louisville, it’s served on their locally-raised bison burger, where it also pairs beautifully with the side of hand-cut fries.

3/4 cup pear jam or preserves
3/4 cup apricot jam or preserves
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 scant teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl; mix until smooth.  If the jam or preserves have whole chunks of fruit, you may want to purée the sauce in a food processor, or simply chop the fruit by hand.  Jezebel sauce will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Deviled Eggs
Makes 30, which will never be enough

This is one of those recipes that is endlessly adaptable to however your personal tastes run, or whatever you happen to have in your pantry.  Throw in a little of this, and a little of that, until the filling tastes right to you.  This filling is a little spicy, but not overly so, and has a fantastically creamy texture; these eggs were gone almost immediately after serving.  I specify the use of older eggs, as they will peel far easier than will fresh eggs.  If you use large eggs, increase the cooking time to about 10 minutes.

15 medium eggs (the older the better)
1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Pickapeppa sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Paprika, for garnish

1.  Place the eggs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat.  Cover pan, and let sit for 8 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water.  After 8 minutes (or 10 minutes if using large eggs), drain and transfer eggs to the ice bath to stop cooking.  Let sit for 10 minutes, or until cool.  Cooked eggs may be refrigerated at this point for up to several days.

2.  Knock eggs against a flat surface until the shell is cracked all over.  Peel, running under cool water to help wash away errant bits of shell that may stick.  Set eggs aside to dry.

3.  Cut eggs in half lengthwise, and gently remove yolks, taking care not to damage the whites.  Place yolks in a bowl, and mash with a fork.  Add remaining ingredients (except paprika), and combine with fork until thoroughly mixed.  The mixture should not be too stiff, but not runny, just firm enough to hold soft peaks.  Add additional mayonnaise by spoonfuls to thin, if required, and correct seasoning as needed.

4.  Either spoon or pipe filling back into the whites, and dust with paprika to garnish.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours (cover dish with a large upside-down bowl to preserve the look of the pretty filling).

you may need two roasts

Braised Beef Shoulder
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers
Makes 6 to 8 servings

A beef roast might not seem like a very traditional Derby entrée, especially when you consider the famous Hot Brown sandwich which was invented in Louisville, but smart hostesses in Kentucky know far better than to chain themselves to the kitchen with such a fussy and time-consuming dish.  Most will serve either a simple beef roast with Henry Bain sauce, or a sliced ham with biscuits.  I’ve combined the two, pairing a beef shoulder with Henry Bain sauce and biscuits.  David Lebovitz’s celery root remoulade is not a traditional side dish, but there’s enough mayonnaise in it to make any Southern lady proud.

1 beef shoulder chuck roast (preferably an eye roast), about 4 pounds
1 tablespoon kosher salt, approximately
1 bottle full-flavored red wine (such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
3 stalks celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large baking potato, cut into 2 inch pieces
8 to 10 cloves garlic, separated and unpeeled
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 to 2 cups beef or chicken stock, warmed
Henry Bain sauce for serving, recipe follows

1.  At least 24 hours and up to 3 days in advance (the earlier, the better), sprinkle the roast with about 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and rub to evenly coat.  Be sure to get salt into any crevices in the meat.  Place in a non-reactive bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to roast.

2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the bottle of wine to 1/2 cup, 20 to 25 minutes.  Wine reduction can be refrigerated for several days.

3.  When ready to cook the roast, remove meat from the refrigerator and let it sit in the bowl at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

4.  Preheat the broiler.  Meanwhile, trim roast of excess fat, and tie with kitchen twine to hold its shape as it cooks.  Place roast on a rimmed baking sheet, rub with olive oil, and broil 5 inches away from the broiler until just golden brown, a few minutes on each side.  Do not let burn.  Set roast aside, and preheat oven to 325º F.  Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables.

5.  Transfer browned meat to a large roasting dish, along with any accumulated juices on the baking sheet, and surround with the carrot, onion, celery, potato, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns.  Add all the wine reduction and enough stock to come 1 inch up the side of the meat.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, shiny side in to avoid reflecting heat, and transfer to oven.

6.  Roast covered for 2 hours.  Quickly remove from oven, and turn meat over.  Re-cover pan, and continue roasting for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  (When in doubt as to doneness, turn oven off, and leave dish in oven for 30 minutes.)

7.  Remove meat from the pan, place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices, and let stand for at least 20 minutes, and up to 45 minutes.  The meat should readily fall apart when cutting is attempted, though you should try to slice the roast across the grain as much as possible.  Serve with Henry Bain sauce and biscuits.  (Save roasting jus and vegetables for yourself to make les restes for breakfast [or dinner] the next day.)

...and two trays of biscuits

Henry Bain Sauce
Adapted from Henry Bain’s original recipe
Makes more than you’ll ever need

1 (8 ounce) jar Major Grey’s chutney
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) ketchup
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) chili sauce
1 (5 ounce) bottle A-1 steak sauce
1 (5 ounce) bottle Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Pickapeppa sauce
2 tablespoons mild hot pepper sauce (such as Crystal brand; not Tabasco)

1.  Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth.  Henry Bain sauce will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

plenty of celery root remoulade in a double recipe, though

Rebecca Sauce
Inspired by the Courier-Journal
Makes about 2 cups

Rebecca sauce is typically served with, and pairs gorgeously, with strawberries, which usually come into season around Derby time.  This accounts for its ubiquity at Derby parties across Louisville.

1 1/2 cups thick Greek-style plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Combine all ingredients until smooth.  Rebecca sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  If liquid pools on the surface, either blot off with a paper towel, or stir back into the sauce.  Serve with strawberries, or other fresh berries.


Mint Juleps for a Crowd

This is less of a recipe and more of a drink station for guests to help themselves.  Set out as many bottles of Bourbon as you have or can procure, a bottle of mint simple syrup, a shot glass or jigger, swizzle sticks or spoons, fresh mint sprigs in a glass of water, ice, and plenty of glasses.  Print out the directions, place in a spill-resistant picture frame, and let everyone play mixologist.  True, this isn’t a classic mint julep, as there is no muddling, but it’s much faster, and no one will get green flecks of crushed mint in their teeth.  Southerners always were known for their hospitality.

To make mint simple syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 large bunch mint, leaves picked from stems and crushed slightly

1.  In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring just until all sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat, add mint leaves, cover, and let steep at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.  Strain mint leaves out, and use syrup as directed.

To make 1 mint julep:
1 jigger Bourbon
1/4 jigger mint simple syrup
3 to 4 large ice cubes, or enough crushed ice to fill a short glass
Fresh mint sprig for garnish

1.  In a glass, combine Bourbon with simple syrup.  Add ice, and stir well to dilute drink slightly and chill.  Add a sprig of mint to garnish.

Spice Rack

I’m sure this is highly uninteresting to most people, but this is one of the things that’s been keeping me busy lately.  We built a new spice rack!  I am almost embarrassingly excited about it.

For years, my spice collection has been growing as such things will: slowly and imperceptibly.  You buy a little of this and a little of that for various recipes, until one day you realize that half your spices are being stored in the cabinet above the oven, dying inglorious deaths in the heat therein.  I had long known that the tiny, two-tier lazy Susan that had laughably served as the primary storage location was no match for my collection; but it was only after a tally that I realized exactly what I was up against.  Yes, for my fifty-seven (!) spices, I needed something serious.

I’d seen wall-mounted spice racks, which I liked the look of, and it seemed like that solution would easily accommodate the largest number of containers with a minimum amount of real estate taken up, a real concern in our 500 square feet.  It had to hang on one particular wall, right behind the back door, across from the stove.  Complicating things, the breaker box is on that wall, so we couldn’t install anything permanent or that couldn’t be easily removed.

We built a simple frame from poplar boards and dowels, stained dark, and designed it specifically to accommodate a tin that I found for reasonably cheap online.  The tins are big enough to hold a ridiculous amount of any given spice, somewhere around 1 cup or so.

The tins are fairly air-tight, but more importantly, keep light away from the fragile spices.  A printed label unifies the look, and prevents any mix-ups, as can happen when your unlabeled bag of aniseed looks dangerously similar to the unlabeled bag of celery seed.  (Turns out those two are not interchangeable in the slightest, and your coleslaw will be ruined.  Do not think you are impervious to such mistakes, either; it is hubris, and you will be punished for it.)

As an added bonus, I now have plenty of breathing room in the cabinet for my oils, vinegars, and other liquid seasonings.  Who knew I had tarragon vinegar?

With all my spices carefully labeled and organized (alphabetically, of course), and knowing exactly what I have on hand, I feel absolutely inspired to get back in the kitchen and (ahem) spice things up.  It’s hard to believe that I went for so long with such a crucial part of my culinary arsenal in such disarray.  You may notice there’s a few empty spots towards the bottom of the rack; obviously, I had to leave room for the collection to grow.  At least now, I won’t feel bad about bringing home a new spicy friend, since I won’t have to store him over the stove anymore.

Here are some unglamorous before and after shots:

before
after
before, no hope of shoving anything else in
after, plenty of room!
above the stove before, spices in unlabeled bags shoved into tins
before, all the bags of spices from above the stove; those tins are crammed full
above the stove after, the tins are empty!
after, all my pretty spices in their new home

Mirliton Pickles

I’ve always been intrigued by mirlitons.  Between the puckered pear shape, the Granny Smith color, the summer squash flesh, and the single flat seed, you might not know quite what to make of one.  For many people, it probably falls into the category of “foods you’ve never bought because you don’t know what on Earth it is, or what on Earth to do with it”.

But if you’re from New Orleans, you and your Mama an’ dem can probably make plenty good use of a sack of mirlitons.  Alternatively known as chayote, cho-cho, alligator pear, or nearly a dozen other names, the so-called “mellyton” is often used in Cajun cooking, though it’s rarely served alone due to its mild flavor.  One favorite preparation of mine is to boil mirliton halves until tender (a surprisingly long wait, up to 45 minutes), then scoop out most of the flesh, and chop it.  These bits are used in a crawfish or shrimp dressing, which gets stuffed into the hollowed-out shells.  Baked until crisp on top, it’s one of the finer uses for a mirliton you’ll ever try, including cho-cho pie.

Coming hot on those heels, however, is the pickled mirliton.  I’m a huge fan of pickles generally speaking, but there’s something especially magical about the way a mirliton will transform in a bath of brine.  Other vegetables will typically retain their natural flavor when pickled; a carrot will taste of carrot, a cauliflower will taste of cauliflower.  But perhaps this is from a tendency to pickle those vegetables solo, and a mirliton naturally needs a bit of help to avoid blandness.  I have yet to see a pickled mirliton recipe that includes less than three other vegetables.

During the pickling process, the brine transfers a fair amount of flavor from the onions, carrots, fennel, and bell peppers directly into the mirlitons.  The result is that the other vegetables taste a bit muddled, though still crunchy and certainly good to eat; but the mirlitons! oh, the mirlitons!  They become vibrant and fresh, with a bouquet of flavors that is impossible to pin down, with a crisp crunch reminiscent of a stalk of celery.  How the mild, slightly-starchy thing turns into such a full-flavored and complex treat, getting increasingly better by the day, is a delight to behold.

Some like to peel the mirlitons before pickling, but I’ve never done so.  The skin is perfectly edible; besides, look at those puckered ends.  There’s no way I could be bothered with peeling around that mess, and there’s no reason you should either.

I feel I should warn you.  It might not seem like this recipe would make a lot, but it makes what I would describe as a “boatload” of pickles.  I estimate it’s about three quarts, but I could be way off.  Either way, you’ll be eating mirliton pickles for a while, so it’s a good thing they’re just as good in martinis and Bloody Marys as they are in tuna salad or on roast beef sandwiches.

Or, you know, straight from the jar, standing in front of the refrigerator.

[And now for the safety lecture and disclaimer: when making pickles, of course you’re supposed to sterilize all jars and bottles within an inch of their lives, then seal the jars by processing them in a hot bath.  Me, I’ve never done that, for two reasons.  First, pickles rarely last so long in my house that they’d have to be treated any differently than normal leftovers.  Second, I store my pickles in scrupulously clean jars in the refrigerator, and I’ve never had any strange creatures growing in my pickles (even the ones that I forgot about for several months).  Between a clean jar, the chill of a fridge, and a saline brine, contamination should not be a problem.  Of course, if you ever spot something fuzzy, funky, or otherwise uncool on your pickles, throw them out!]

Mirliton Pickles
Adapted from Marcelle Bienvenu, exact source forgotten with apologies
Makes about 3 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 mirlitons, seeds removed, sliced into batons
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin batons
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (across the grain)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 to 6 dried chilies (optional, but highly recommended)


Directions:

  1. 1.  In a large bowl, combine the mirlitons, onion, bell pepper, carrots, and fennel.  Cover with cold water and several handfuls of ice cubes.  Place a plate on top to keep vegetables submerged.  Let stand for 3 hours at room temperature.  Drain well.  (This is a good time to sterilize the jars you’ll be storing the pickles in.)
  2. 2.  Combine remaining ingredients in a large non-reactive pot.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Let boil, covered, for about 5 minutes before adding the drained vegetables.  Turn off heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes.  Arrange the vegetables in the sterilized jars, and cover with the liquid.  Seal the jars with the lids, and let cool at room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator, for at least 6 days before using.