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Friday, October 24, 2014

Ouita's Ourld Ouows!

It was just recently I said to hubby that we needed to make a trip to West Sixth Brewery as we hadn't stopped by in a while. And then what should I notice on Facebook but a notice that local chef extraordinaire, Ouita Michel, would be doing an evening with food samples from all of her restaurants!

For those of you not familiar with Ouita Michel, (and you are forgiven ONLY if you do not live in the Central Kentucky area), she has made a huge impact on the local food scene. As owner of the Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market, Midway School Bakery, and Smithtown Seafood, not to mention Chef-in-Residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery, this entrepreneurial dynamo champions locally grown food and innovative twists on traditional regional cuisine, and proves that good food does not have to break the bank. When does she get time to sleep?

But back to the event. Each of Chef Michel's dining enterprises was offering a taster plate, and with each dish came a recommended West Sixth brew to accompany. Kentucky-style tapas at its finest!

Settling down with our respective brews, the lemongrass wheat for me and the Belgian blonde for hubby, we clasped our tickets and tried to decide what to start with first.

Nic began with Stone Cross Farm sweet and sour pork belly on a puffed barley cake with candied chilies, produced by Woodford Reserve Catering and Culinary. No picture, I'm afraid as he had all but polished it off by the time I returned with my Windy Corner Kentucky Lyonnaise Salad. He had, however, saved me a bite. The puffed barley cake looked rather like a breakfast cereal creation at first and I admit to having my doubts, but it offered a crunchy contrast to the pork, which was so delightfully tender, it melted in the mouth. As for the presentation, Nic said it looked like a piece of exquisite sushi. I must learn how to make pork belly so delectable.

Meanwhile I got to enjoy my salad all by myself: organic greens with warm Andouille sausage, smoked caramelized onions, soft-boiled egg, black-eyed peas, green tomato relish, and Smithtown Brown vinaigrette. Okay, I did allow Nic a bite of the Andouille sausage, but given his dislike of eggs, he did not try the rest. The chefs did offer to make one without the egg but that would have meant losing out on the joy of breaking it open and allowing the yolk to ooze over everything. Simple salad heaven.

But we're not done yet!

We were sitting outside on the patio, next to the Holly Hill Inn booth. As soon as we saw someone receive their Boiler Maker bird, we knew we had to have one of those too. Quail, marinated in bourbon and Oktoberfest, was stuffed with roasted poblano peppers and Capriole goat cheese, and then grilled. It was served over grilled pumpkin with an apple cider and bourbon reduction.

Neither of us had eaten quail before and we had great fun playing mini Viking with the smallest drumsticks in the world! The meat was much darker than I expected but perfectly spiced, the goat cheese and peppers providing a rich creamy stuffing.

On to Wallace Station with a shared country ham and pimento cheese panini slider style griddled on Wallace Station wheat bread. Wallace Station is a local favorite of ours and I adore their Hot Ham and Brie and their Inside Out Hot Brown, and their...oh let's face it, I have never had a sandwich I didn't like at Wallace Station. The bread had the perfect crunch; the cheese was just right; this is grilled cheese done right!

And on to dessert. I must hang my head in shame as I admit that I still have not made it out to Midway School Bakery, although that may be a good thing for my ever-expanding waistline. The Coco Chocolate Porter baby cake with cream cheese and Oreo crumb icing, with an accompanying sampler of West Sixth's Pay It Forward Porter was the perfect end to our culinary evening. The cake was moist, rich and chocolatey, and although I am not usually a fan of porter ales, the sampler size was just the right amount to go with the cake. Who needs tea and cake when you can have cake and ale?

My only regret was that we did not leave enough room to try Smithtown's Scallops Crudo. On the plus side, though, Ouita Michel came over and introduced herself, something which I can only describe as the Kentucky foodie equivalent to meeting Mick Jagger. Not since meeting Gloria Steinem have I been so pleased to actually talk to someone I admire.

A huge thank you to Ouita Michel and all the fabulous folks at her eateries and at West Sixth for putting on a truly wonderful and delicious evening.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Few Favorite Things

Even I didn't realize it has been so long since I last blogged. I've been so busy with travel, book promo, writing, and preparing for tomorrow's Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show book signing and presentation that I don't have a lot of new exciting food discoveries.

I do have one new discovery from Trader Joe's - their wonderful pizza dough. Friends had told me about it and I recently decided to try it for myself. I usually make my own pizza dough. Those flat cardboard-type bases in the grocery store are always so dry and disappointing.

Trader Joe's does three types: plain, garlic herb, and wholewheat. I bought the two latter. It's easy to work with, flexible, and tastes great. One word of warning though. I froze the wholewheat batch but found it was not as good after freezing, despite what I'd read online. My advice is to buy what you need as you need it.

This one was the garlic herb base, topped with alfredo, red onions, a few jalapenos, some black olives, and pepperoni. Plus lots of cheese, of course.

For a later one I used more pepperoni and goat cheese.

The pizza base is definitely something I'll buy again. It's priced well and much easier than making my own.

Since it's fall, I'm back to cooking with some of my favorite seasonal foods: apples, pumpkin, cranberries, squash, etc. This stuffed acorn squash is easy and filled with some of the season's best:

Cut your squash in half and scoop out all the seeds. Place each half face down on a baking tray and cook at 350F for about 45 minutes.

Saute some shallots, diced apple, cranberries, apple cider, and torn up bread.

Use the stuffing to fill the squash halves and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Great on its own or with a pork chop.

And with that, I'm off to finish my cake for tomorrow's show!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fresh Mint and Chocolate Brownies

Everyone tells me mint is the easiest thing in the world to grow.
"It grows like a weed!"
"Grow it in a container - the only way to stop it taking over."
Every time I try to grow it, it dies.
No idea what I'm doing wrong. It just dies.

So if, like me, you bought a bunch of fresh mint for yesterday's nachos, you are wondering how to use the rest of it. And, like me, you're probably going to look at this recipe and think to yourself, "It's got green bits in it!"

Fear not.
Yes, it has green bits. But once the brownies are cooked, you won't notice them. All you will notice is the fabulously minty flavor.

At this point, I had planned to insert a nice photo of the afore-mentioned fresh mint, but my camera battery died and attempts to use my phone were less than impressive. Suffice to say - fresh mint - it's pretty.

Fresh Mint and Chocolate Brownies

They're fudgy, intensely chocolatey, and minty.

8 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped very finely
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp salt

Lie a 9x13 inch baking pan with foil. Butter and lightly flour the foil. 

Melt the chocolate and butter together. (I do mine in the microwave, being sure to remove and stir well every 30 seconds.)
Stir in the sugar. Beat eggs into the mixture one at a time, and then add vanilla and mint.

Fold the flour and salt into chocolate mixture until smooth. Transfer to prepared baking pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Let cool completely before removing the brownies from the pan by loosening the foil and lifting them out. Once cool, cut them with a sharp knife and store them in a tightly sealed container.

Still have some mint left? Make yourself a nice cup of mint tea to enjoy with your brownies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spangler's Spectacular Nachos

What a month! There have been so many ups and downs while I've been rebuilding my writing website that the last thing I've wanted to do is to then write a blog post. But now the site is 95% complete and this recipe is too good not to share.

One of my good friends is a wonderful man by the name of Bill Spangler. Besides being an incredibly talented photographer, he is also a foodie. Just last week, he introduced me to the raw quail egg, and I also have him to thank for letting me know about a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant in Louisville, Queen of Sheba. He shared this recipe with me a few months ago, after a craving for Middle Eastern food led to the creation of these wonderful nachos. I'd been meaning to try them and yesterday they met all my foodie needs. In his honor, I give you....

Spangler's Spectacular Nachos

1 lb Ground Beef or Lamb - I wanted to use lamb but the store was out.
1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Pine Nuts, chopped
2 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped (or more...)
2 Tbsp Fresh Mint, chopped (or more...)
1/4 tsp Allspice, ground
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp Cardamom, ground (optional)
1/4 tsp Fenugreek, ground (optional)
Fresh Lemon Juice to taste
Salt, to taste
1 Cup Havarti Cheese, grated (or more...)
1/2 Cup Feta Cheese, crumbled (or more...)
Famous Brand Falafal Chips (Spicy!) - These were Bill's recommendation but I was unable to find these either so I used Screamin' Mimi's Garbanzo Bean Tortilla Chips

1/2 Cup Tahini
Water (to desired consistancy)
Fresh Lemon Juice (to taste)
2 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
Salt, to taste

3 Scallion Greens, chopped
1 Cup Fresh Tomatoes (diced and drained, home grown if possible)
3 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, chopped

Heat oil in skillet, add onion and cook until soft and slightly browned.
Add ground beef and cook until about half is browned.
Stir in cinnamon, black pepper, allspice, cardamom, and fenugreek, cook a minute or so.
Add chopped parsley, mint, pine nuts and salt to taste. Cook another 2 minutes.
Arrange chips on a serving platter and cover, as desired, with meat mixture.
Drizzle fresh lemon juice as desired to taste.
Sprinkle with Havarti And Feta Cheeses, scallion greens, cilantro, and fresh diced tomatoes.
Serve immediately with Tahini Sauce.

Verdict: Bill is a genius! These a full of flavor without that greasiness that typical nachos have. The freshness of the mint, cilantro, parsley, and tomatoes combine into something wonderful. 

And if you're wondering what to do with any leftover fresh mint, my next post will be some chocolate mint brownies so stay tuned.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Laotian-influenced Chicken Dinner

Don't ask me how these things get started. As life gets busy, we come up with ways to make certain days or meals special.

For several years now, I've been doing "special" meals. It used to be a monthly thing where I'd ask my husband to choose an ingredient or a country, and I'd do a meal based around it. We've had tapas night, Moroccan night, a whole variety of things. And believe me, when you started your dating life in Japan, it's not always easy to come up with "exotic".

So it came about that the other week, I mentioned that I hadn't done one of our meals in a while and that I hadn't used one of my old standard cookbooks for a while.

I bought my copy of Charmain Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook almost 20 years ago in Japan and for years it was my regular go-to book. Then I stopped using it as much. Every time we eat at Lexington's Tandoor restaurant, I remark how I need to make my vindaloo again.

It was time for a special meal and preferably something from Charmaine's book. Nic casually said, "Make me something Laotian."

Seriously? Laotian???!!!!

So I did. 

Kai Lao (Laotian Chicken)

1 chicken
2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs oil
2 onions, chopped finely
8 oz ground pork
salt and pepper
1 red chili
1 tbs fresh coriander
1/2 cup sushi rice
1 cup coconut milk (thick)
2 cups coconut milk (thin)
1 tbs fish sauce

Wash and dry the chicken, and then rub the inside and outside with the 2 tsp salt and 1 clove of garlic. Heat the oil in a skillet. Fry the garlic, onions, and ground pork. Season with salt, pepper, and the chopped chili pepper. Add the coriander, rice and thick coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Once the pork mince is cool enough to handle, stuff the chicken with it. Put the chicken in a large pot, and cover with the coconut milk and fish sauce. Cover the pot and simmer for at least an hour, until the meat is tender.

The flavor was much more subtle than my husband expected. The chili was just a hint of spice among a gentle coconut sauce. I served it with rice and (in a probably un-Laotian twist) steamed French beans. 

Trust me - give this a try. It's nothing like Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, or any other Asian food you've ever had.

Fort Harrod Beef Festival

A friend's young son once told us about someone he knew who claimed to have eaten so much meat that he got the "meat sweats."

At the time we laughed, but after a trip to Saturday's Fort Harrod Beef Festival, I now understand the concept of "meat sweats" or a beef hangover.

With one $6 yellow bracelet, you can eat as many samples as you like of the beef from the 30 vendors. We were there in time for the brisket. And sample we did. We had meat so tender it melted in the mouth. Spicy sauce. Sweet sauce. Smoky sauce. (And to make it a "wholesome" meal, there were several grapes, chunks of pineapple, and a pickle.)

Follow that with a Chocolate Coma sundae from the Kentucky Fudge Company and we were in all sorts of food sluggishness by the evening.

It always helps to have a cute little girl as your official taste tester.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fi's Triple B Sauce with Four Roses Bourbon

In addition to being National Burger Month, did you know that we are also currently celebrating National Barbecue Month? How could this Memorial Day weekend become more perfect?

With everyone preparing to fire up their grills, the good folks at Four Roses Distillery sent me some of their
single barrel bourbon with a request: use it to make a barbecue sauce.

I have been slowly working my way along the Bourbon Trail and first visited Four Roses a few years ago, while my parents were over to visit. If you ever get the chance, be sure to stop by the distillery for a tour. The Spanish architecture is a pleasant surprise in the hills of Kentucky.

A few months later I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Al Young at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. Al is the historian and brand ambassador for Four Roses, and author of Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend. I enjoyed several hours of tales about the history of the brand. Incidentally, the book makes a great gift - if you can bear to part with it.

Fast forward again to this January in Alabama at a food blogging conference and who should I run into giving out samples of bourbon, but my old friends from Four Roses, including Al. And who doesn't love a conference with bourbon sampling!

So on to making barbecue with my Four Roses Single Barrel. The notes accompanying the samples stated:
Four Roses Single Barrel (100 proof)
A premium Single Barrel Bourbon with a taste that begs to be savored again and again. Its taste is complex, full bodied and surprisingly smooth with a delicate long finish that is unbelievably mellow. Contains hints of ripe plum and cherry tastes with fruity, spicy aromas including maple syrup and cocoa. Drink straight up or on the rocks.  
Nose:  Fruity, spicy, floral, cocoa, maple syrup, moderately woody. Palate:  Hints of ripe plum & cherries, robust, full body, mellow. Finish: Smooth & delicately long.

The hints of plum and cherry jumped out to me and I decided that my barbecue sauce should include some sort of fruit element. I also decided to try something different to the usual pork and so when my husband suggested salmon, I was ready to go.

Salmon with Fi's Triple B Sauce 

What does the Triple B stand for?

Let's get this done!

Salmon. I use a wild caught salmon side fillet which I buy at Meijer for about $10. Usually I cut it into portions before freezing but this time I kept it whole.
Salt and pepper.
Olive oil.
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1/2 cup Four Roses bourbon
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs molasses
1/4 tsp allspice

Heat a tablespoon of oil and saute the diced onion for about 5 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and jalapenos. After about 30 seconds, add to the pan the Four Roses bourbon. Turn up the heat and boil for up to 5 minutes, until the liquid has reduced. (Don't panic - you are cooking off the alcohol when you reduce it, but you are keeping that wonderful bourbon flavor).
Add the blueberries, ketchup, vinegar, sugar, molasses and allspice.
Simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, heat the grill. Brush the salmon with a little olive oil and season with some freshly ground salt and pepper. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes.

You can serve the sauce as is, or you can blend it for a smoother and slightly thicker version. As you can see from the photos, I served it with grilled sweet potato slices.

The sauce has a few different flavor levels that come through. First you get the vinegar, followed by the sweetness of the blueberries and the kick of the jalapenos. Underlying it all is the wonderful tang of the bourbon. Despite the blueberries and the added sugar, this is not an overly sweet sauce. You could add more sugar for sweetness if you like.

The sauce was great with salmon but would also be a good accompaniment to pork or chicken. In fact, tonight we are having the leftover sauce on chicken.

Thanks again to the folks at Four Roses Distillery.