Friday, September 24, 2010

cocktail and bar snack: gold rush + oven fried okra with smoked tomato aioli

Every summer for the past four years, I've traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, for eight days in order to read and score high school essays from the current year's AP English Literature Exam. There's much more good stuff from Louisville than you'd think: baseball, horsesMuhammad Ali, killer Ethiopian and Persian food, My Morning Jacketcool fossils, and bourbon a-go-go... 

Because this small city's downtown suddenly swells with over a thousand high school and college English teachers during that week in June, it's always a bit of a mixed bag: it is admittedly something of a socially awkward nerd-fest (present company included), but also, and at the same time, it's full of some of the coolest and most interesting people you'll ever hang out with, all of whom are packed into one frigid, fluorescent-lit convention center for a week of eight-hour days spent scoring largely mediocre high school writing, and who are chomping at the bit by five o'clock in the evenings for anything else to do but read. So, to pass the time, we have been known to find good restaurants, go bowling, do silly karaoke, dance at Howl At the Moon (shout-out to my man Ed), and drink lotsa bourbon.

This just in: whiskey
futures are soaring.
One of the more surprising spots in the downtown area is Proof, the bar and restaurant attached to the 21st Century Museum Hotel on Main Street - part hotel and part museum - which is also so much fun to visit for its rotating art exhibits. My AP friends and I generally eschew Proof on the typical go-out-to-dinner night because it's nearly impossible to get a reservation, but we do insist on going there for drinks on the final evening, when most of the other English teachers are already in bed in preparation for their flights the next day.

Proof has a constantly evolving menu of the best-named cocktails I've seen in a while. Two years ago, I felt obligated to try something called the Dirty Presbyterian, which completely lived up to the name (I only hope I could do as well...). This year was no different: we had a couple of rounds of delicious drinks, including the gold rush (which I found so haunting that I actually hunted down a recipe for it), as well as a basket of fries with an intriguing smoked aioli. I had no idea how to replicate that one at home, but I had just watched a Top Chef episode in which a contestant mentioned a smoked-tomato-something-or-other, so here is my homemade version.

It's probably too fancy to call this aioli. This is basically just a spicy, smoky, tomato-n-mayo-based dipping sauce, but it is GOO-OOD, to quote Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation

I've posted the recipe for oven fried okra here, which I realize is only in season during the dead middle of the summer in the South. At any other time, the romas for the aioli will still be available at any grocery store, as will baking potatoes for this best home fries EVER recipe. I recommend substituting your dip-ables as needed, season-wise.

gold rush cocktail
3/4 oz. honey, warmed
3/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz. bourbon

Pour all three ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice and stir until well combined. (Stirring before adding ice keeps the honey from getting cold and congealing into taffy consistency, which will mess up the drink.) Now add several cubes of ice, put the lid and cap on the shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain into a highball glass with a lemon twist or a sprig of mint for garnish.

oven fried okra
1 lb. okra, washed, dried & split down the middle lengthwise
1/2 c. corn meal
sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne to taste
olive oil spray (or Pam)

smoked tomato aioli
2 to 3 small roma tomatoes
1 medium garlic clove, minced
sea salt, pepper, sugar, olive oil
2 tablespoons Hellman’s low-fat mayo
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a few shakes of chipotle Tabasco sauce (for the spicy smokiness)

Roast tomatoes:  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice roma tomatoes lengthwise into thirds and remove ribs, seeds, and pulp. Drizzle with olive oil and toss them a bit so that they’re covered completely. Arrange them peel side down in a shallow oven-proof skillet and sprinkle with garlic, sea salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar – making sure that these ingredients are on top of the tomatoes and not on the bottom of the pan itself. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re nicely caramelized and brown. Let them cool.

Don’t turn the oven off! Keep it preheated to 450 degrees.

In a paper bag, pour in cornmeal, garlic powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake it around so that it mixes together. Put in halved okra, twist the top closed, and shake it around so that it’s all coated with the breading mixture. Dump the breaded okra into a not-so-fine sieve over the garbage can and shake all the extra corn meal off of it. Grease the bottom of a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and then arrange okra in a single layer, cut side down, spraying the top of everything well with Pam (or drizzling with olive oil). Roast okra for 30 minutes, shaking or turning it halfway through cooking time to make sure both sides get browned and crunchy.

While okra is cooking, in a small food processor combine cooled roasted tomato pieces, mayo, liquid smoke, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Add a sprinkle of cayenne and or few shakes of chipotle Tabasco sauce to taste (more if you like it spicy) and give a couple of extra pulses of the food processor to incorporate.  

Serve okra with aioli for dipping.

Sit back on your porch and enjoy your Kentucky-endorsed cocktail and bar snack.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

tarte tatin with chantilly cream

Let's get one thing straight: I've never been a baker. There was a short stint, back when I was taking Adult Living in high school, when I managed to make a nice sour cream pound cake and, more impressively, an apple pie completely from scratch, crust and all. But ever since then, I've been more of a savory sides-and-main kind of girl. 

I have another confession: this is not entirely my recipe. It's largely another cook's adaptation of a tarte tatin recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which I found at Deb Perelman's blog Smitten Kitchen. All I did was add the idea of the puff pastry crust, which makes the whole thing easier. I've proven once in my life that I can make a pie crust from scratch. I don't need to do it every time I make a dessert, especially when I like puff pastry better anyway.

And now, for the reason I chose this particular tarte tatin recipe: she calls it "Molly's Apple Tarte Tatin." For those who don't know me, I used to have a wonderful cat named Molly. She had a short tail that wouldn't bend and a calico coat so vividly variegated that it prompted me sometimes to call her names like "Butterscotch," "Bumblebee," and "Speckle." She adored pepperoni and anything made of pork - we used to say she lived in Birmingpig. She was (appropriately) a Leo who was sure upon meeting you for the first time that you were just going to love her. She had teeny, skinny arms and legs, an enormous belly, huge green eyes, and donkey ears. This may not make sense, but D always said that her features made her look sort of like Audrey Hepburn. Two years ago this November, we took her to the vet for some apparently innocuous breathing problems, and as it turns out, she had heartworms. She died on the ER table that night, lying between D and me, mercifully sedated. 

So, this recipe is for the lovely Molly, our little piglet.

I apologize that I only have a picture of the final slice of the tarte and not the whole thing, but I made it for dinner on Friday night with D's parents, and we demolished the whole thing in under 24 hours. Not bad. Anyway, I kind of like the picture the way it is: one lone slice left, swimming in a pool of pure salted caramel. 

The gestalt of this recipe is not to be underestimated. It's composed of a deceptively short list of simple ingredients that somehow, when cooked this way, become nothing short of sublime. As a final note, let me just encourage you not to skimp on the chantilly cream - when it comes to dessert, I say go big or go home.

tarte tatin with chantilly cream
7 medium apples (We used Gala.)
1 stick (4 oz.) salted butter
1 cup sugar (white or brown, depending on your preference)
1 frozen puff pastry crust, thawed in the refrigerator overnight

Take out the thawed puff pastry and unfold it. Using the same 10-inch skillet you’ll use for the apple filling as a template, lay the square of pastry over it and cut off the corners so that it’s basically circular and fits inside the skillet’s top edge. Fold it back in thirds and put it back in the refrigerator, covered in a tea towel or paper towel to keep it damp.

Peel and core the apples, cutting them into quarters – nothing smaller, as they’ll cook down quite a bit. You don’t need to toss them with lemon juice to keep them from browning; they’ll brown plenty in the pan, if you’re lucky! :)

In a 10-inch diameter, heavy, oven-proof skillet, melt a stick of salted butter over low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in a cup of sugar. Tap or bump the pan so that the mixture is evenly distributed over the bottom.

Arrange the cut and peeled apple quarters side-down in the skillet, overlapping them first in a layer around the edge of the skillet and then filling in the middle. Stack them as closely as you can.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put the skillet back on high heat on the stove. Boil sugar, butter, and apples over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until juices are starting to brown some. Using a sharp paring knife, spear each slice and carefully flip it over in the pan (it’ll take a couple of minutes to do all of them.) Then continue cooking on high for another 5 minutes or so, until it’s really brown.

Take the puff pastry crust out of the refrigerator and cover the skillet with it, tucking in the edges a bit on the sides. Be careful not to burn your fingers!

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, just until the crust is as golden-brown as you like it.

Take it out of the oven, let it cool for a half hour, and then carefully flip it onto a large plate.  Use a rubber scraper to get all the caramel out of the bottom of the pan, and spoon it on top.

chantilly cream
1 small (6 to 8 oz.) carton whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. sugar

Whip all three ingredients together in a large bowl with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks. Put a dollop on top of your tarte slice.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

sautéed corn with garlic, basil, and parmesan

This recipe was inspired by a Saturday trip to the East Lake Farmer's Market last month (following our visit to Ruffner Mountain for "Breakfast with the Animals," where we were the only adults present who didn't have children in tow, and where we got to meet and pet a possum, a screech owl, a box turtle, and a corn snake). We came home excited, tired, and laden with a huge bag of local produce, which I ended up making into a vegetable plate - incidentally, one of my favorite things to have for a summer supper - including sautéed corn, quick pickles, oven fried okra, and black-eyed peas with onion and bacon.

I have made this dish on a half-dozen occasions since, always to rave reviews, and I can't help but feel a little guilty because it was totally serendipitous, simple, and thrown-together. But it ends up being surprisingly elegant and impressive looking. 

A couple of tips: it's fine to let the corn and onions get a bit golden and even a bit golden-brown, but do yourself a favor and don't let the garlic brown. Just clear a little space in the pan, melt a tiny pat of butter there, add the finely minced garlic, stir it a little into the pool of butter, and let it sit and cook for just a half-minute before you work it into the rest of the corn/onion mixture. It will be buttery and garlicky, and between that and the lemon zest and the basil, your kitchen will smell like heaven. Tip number two: be sure you use a very sharp knife when you cut the corn off the cob. Finally, it can be messy work, so if you have a porch, I recommend doing your cutting outside so that you can just let the kernels fly.

sautéed corn with garlic, basil, and parmesan

4 fresh ears of white corn, cut off the cob
2 or 3 tbsp. butter, divided
1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
half of a white onion, minced (a couple of small shallots will work, too)
1 medium clove garlic, minced
5 or 6 large basil leaves, finely chopped
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt olive oil and 2 tbsp. butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until it's softened and light golden.

Add corn and toss in the butter, oil, and onion mixture until it's completely coated. Sauté corn and onion until it’s golden and caramelized, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Make a little space in the pan and melt the remaining 1/2 tbsp. butter, and then add garlic. Sauté just until fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds.

Remove from heat and stir in the basil and lemon zest, as well as salt and pepper to taste. A minute or two before serving, add the Parmesan and toss just a little bit, so that it doesn’t melt too much and stays in little chunks.

P.S. For my vegan friends, I have a suspicion that this would be perfectly wonderful with just the olive oil and without the cheese. 

My dad says this corn should be illegal.

And a pic of the whole shebang:

I love me some vegetable plate.