Our love affair with Louisville continues. During on our recent trip to Kentucky, we became enamored of the cooking of Edward Lee, the owner of two restaurants there — 610 Magnolia and MilkWood. Both restaurants meld Lee’s Korean heritage with Southern traditions, and the result is a fascinating riff that makes you think differently about Southern foodways. Louisville’s food scene is not so deeply rooted in Southern culture as, say, New Orleans or Charleston.
Another factor affecting the food culture there is the existence of a culinary school at Sullivan University, which is turning out graduates who if they not able to find jobs in restaurants, open places of their own where they do as they please. Mr Lee has stated that since Louisville is not so rooted in Southern traditions, people in Louisville are open to new interpretations of Southern classics.
This year Lee branched out of Louisville and teamed up with a local restaurant group and opened Succotash, a new restaurant in the Washington, DC-area at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In a story in The Washington Post about the venture, Lee noted that Maryland has a similar mind-set as the people of Louisville (not being so rooted in Southern traditions), which has an appeal for him (“Edward Lee to open Southern-themed Succotach in National Harbor,” by Tim Carman (29 January 2015).
We chanced upon Lee’s first cookbook at Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville’s Crescent Hill neighborhood, and adapted a recipe of his for braised lamb, a technique we have not tried before. Mr Lee suggests serving it with grits and a Red Cabbage-Bacon Kimchi, but it also works served over rice. Adapted from Smoke & Pickles, by Edward Lee (New York: Artisan, 2013).
Braised Leg of Lamb.
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 leg of lamb, about 3 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup black bean paste
1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
Make a rub by mixing the salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then rub all over the lamb and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
Add all of the vegetables to the pot, tucking them around the meat. After about 3 minutes, add the bourbon, ketchup, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, molasses, black bean paste, chocolate and chicken stock. The liquid should completely cover the lamb. If it doesn’t, add more stock or water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Skim any foam that rises to the top. Lower the heat, put a lid on the pot, and simmer gently for 2 1/2 hours.
Remove the lid and cook for an additional 30 minutes.Check for doneness; the meat should pull easily from the bone, but not so tender as to turn to shreds. Off heat and let the lamb rest for 15 minutes.
Transfer the lamb to a cutting board. Slice the meat against the grain or pull it off in large chunks. Serve over grits or rice, and ladle the braising liquid with the vegetables over the meat and serve.
Feeds 6 as a main course. The heat from the jalapeño called for a wine with a little residual sugar, so we served this over rice with our slightly off-dry Annefield Vineyards White 2013.
We’ve been invited to so many weddings this year! They’ve been in all styles and iterations — formal events in churches, a touching, informal ceremony barefoot on the beach, and the latest was a Hindu extravaganza in Jersey City, New Jersey a few weeks ago.
After the brevity of the western ceremonies, you feel like you get your money’s worth with a Hindu wedding, which takes hours. We aren’t complaining, mind you; each part of the ceremony is loaded with meaning.
The celebration begin with what is called a Baraat, or Groom’s Parade. Traditionally the groom is joined by his friends as he travels to the home of the bride to claim her. The customarily the groom rides on the back of a mare (and there are numerous stables that provide horses just for Hindu weddings). If you groom really wants to show off, he arrives on the back of an elephant, but this being downtown Jersey City, one must improvise, so our groom chose . . . a white hover board — a brilliant solution.
Police were on hand to stop traffic so the parade could make its way from across the street to the entrance of the hotel, where the bride and her family waited on a balcony overlooking the parade, which included much dancing and drumming. Finally the parents emerge, everyone exchanges gifts, then the groom is escorted to the Mandap (Wedding Altar) for the next ceremony.
The wedding was conducted in Sanskrit, and the officiant would pause periodically to explain in English what was taking place and what each ritual symbolized. There’s really too much to go into detail here, from the arrival of the bride, exchanging garlands, giving away the bride, tying the knot, lighting a sacred fire, circling the fire, exchanging rings, nourishing the relationship (feeding each other sweets), the priest’s blessing, and more blessings, blessings everywhere for everyone. Cue the flower petals, which are showered onto the happy couple as they exit.
Our favorite part of it all was when it was time for speeches at the Western-style reception. After all the ceaseless ceremonies and prayers and blessings, the Father of the Bride (who customarily claims his moment and speaks a tad too long — after all, he’s usually footing the bill) offered the briefest and most eloquent speech imaginable. He said simply, “I am so happy, I am without words,” and handed the microphone back to the disc jockey. He is my hero.
So last week we partied like it was …. 1979! Or 1969 — or 1999! This year’s Harvest Party was an old-fashioned tea dance with a disc jockey from Official Entertainment out of Lynchburg spinning the best of the last four decades.
The spread came from The Drug Store Grill in Brookneal (in retrospect — how appropriate!). The food did not disappoint, and our take-away sweet were “Chill Pills” (fab Jelly Belly jelly beans) filling prescription bottles. Very, very cute, if a bit scandalous. No one seemed put off, thankfully.
Kudos to the immensely talented and creative Cameron Anctil for putting on a fabulous party for us. While her true calling is photography — check out Studio Luxe Photography — we’re always thrilled that she’s willing to put on a spectacle for us. Thank you.
After several years of faithfully posting every Wednesday, we chose to take a little hiatus while on vacation. In years past we made our way overseas – Portugal, Italy, England – but for this year’s adventure, we chose to stay state-side and traveled to the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky to relish what that Commonwealth does best: horses, bourbon and some pretty amazing food. We divided our time between Lexington and Louisville.
In the Bluegrass, we were constantly reminded that, like with winegrowing, “it’s all about the dirt.” In this case, the Bluegrass physiographic region is clearly defined, being restricted to the central part of the Commonwealth where primarily Ordovician-age rocks (being about 450 million years old) are exposed at the surface. These ancient rocks form gently rolling hills that are composed of limestone, creating rich, fertile soils. Kentuckians claim the crystal-clear water flowing through this limestone are responsible for its superior Bourbon, while the horse industry insists that horses raised on these limestone soils are superior because of the grass they feed on that grows in this region.
Some of the most revered winegrowing regions in the world rest on limestone — Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire Valley in France, Rutherford in Napa Valley, a few parts of Tuscany, Coonawarra in Australia — which leads one to hope that wineries in the Bluegrass hold similar promise. Unfortunately we did not find time to visit any Kentucky wineries, and noted with some disappointment that Kentucky wines did not appear on any menus of any of the restaurants we visited. We will seek them out next time.
Kentucky’s Holy Trinity: Football, Horses and Bourbon.
The first night was the Auburn-University of Kentucky football game in Lexington, an at times raucous affair, though when Auburn scored the place was mostly silent but for the small contingent of devoted Auburn fans in one corner of the stadium. Our seats were in the front on the goal line – we’ve never been this close to the action, ever. One spectator remarked that “We’ve never had a more polite visiting section.”
We nearly missed the game, though – our flight was supposed to depart at 8 am on Thursday, but kept getting delayed and delayed, with a transfer through Chicago and an arrival 20 minutes before kickoff. A call to Expedia and a helpful rep got us a flight through Charlotte that got us there with time to spare – barely. Auburn won, by the way – 31/27.
We stayed the first three days at a Home2 Suites by Hilton, which has its charms, being ultra modern (electronic shades) and convenient, but our next place – still in Lexington – was a house rental found via Home Away, the Hart-Featherston House, which dates from 1790, the second oldest house in Lexington (the oldest being the Adam Rankin House (1784) in the South Hill neighborhood). The Hart-Featherston House would have been on the outskirts of the city when it was built, and today is in the middle of a modern residential subdivision, but there is just enough land (1 ¼ acres) for you to forget the setting. The western edge is a nature trail, further insulating it from the city.
A Day at the Races.
Keeneland. We had recommendations to visit Keeneland Race Track for breakfast, and one page on a rather confusing website said it started early and stopped early – 6:30 to 8:30 am. So before dawn we made our way to Keeneland, which is probably the most beautiful racetrack in the country, surrounded by the famous, storied stables and miles and miles of white or black stained fences. We followed signs to the Keeneland Kitchen and had a marvelous breakfast, but this was the “wrong” place – the Kitchen is where the jockeys, workers and habitual visitors dine, which suited us just fine – it was cheaper than the track side breakfast, so go there instead.
Since we arrived early, we took a tour which recounted a bit of history of the place. The stables there are completely open – anyone can wander about just about anywhere; just use common sense and don’t touch the horses and don’t get in the way. One supposes its because you never know who might be looking to buy – Keeneland is an active market for horse flesh; horse sales exceed $500 million each year. The stables have room for over 1,900 horses at any one time.
We habitually visit historic houses, and the Bluegrass has no shortage of them. There are a couple of places in the region with ties to Abraham Lincoln, and these are exploited to full effect. The Mary Todd Lincoln House is on Main Street in downtown Lexington, giving a glimpse of the life of wealthy merchants of the time, and in Louisville there’s Farmington, the ancestral home of the Speed family, where for three weeks in the summer of 1841 Lincoln visited his close friend Joshua Fry Speed, with whom he lived for four years Springfield, Illinois in the 1830s. Farmington is also notable for bearing the hallmarks of house designs by Thomas Jefferson, who had connections with Lucy Speed, the wife of the builder, James Speed.
Coincidentally, the dining room in Farmington is papered with a reproduction of a wallpaper found behind the walls of a house in Lexington called Pope Villa. The Pope Villa was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe in 1811 for Senator John Pope, and it is one of only three extant Latrobe residences in the United States and the only one for which the original plans survive (preserved at the Library of Congress), which are being used to re-build the house. The house was unfortunately damaged by fire in 1987. The house is being restored (slowly) by the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation. Tours are by appointment with the director.
Even in its derelict condition, its still an impressive thing to see. As noted in by the Trust,
Its plan is unique in American residential architecture: a perfect square, with a domed, circular rotunda in the center of the second story. Latrobe drew inspiration from 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, but unlike Palladio’s villas, the cubic mass of the Pope Villa conceals within itself a surprising sequence of rectilinear and curvilinear rooms, dramatically splashed with light and shadow. Latrobe called these interior effects “scenery”.
One more: Locust Grove in Louisville, which dates from 1792, the year Kentucky became a state. It’s a notable grand house for the time, when most Kentuckians resided in crude log structures.
The circa 1792 Georgian mansion tells the story of its builders, William and Lucy Clark Croghan. Lucy’s brother was General George Rogers Clark, whose Illinois Regiment captured the (old) Northwest territories during the American Revolution. If it wasn’t for General Clark, the territory of the United States may have ended at the Ohio River. Clark came to live with Lucy later in life after suffering a stroke and injuring and losing a leg. The house also welcomed luminaries of the day: James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John James Audubon, the explorers Lewis and Clark among many others.
Marketing for the Bourbon trail and the craft distillery trail is a bit confusing. We came to realize that the marketing for the official Bourbon Trail is controlled by the large distillers, while the smaller producers (with their smaller budgets) fall in with the craft distillers. We visited a mix, starting with Heaven Hills Distillery, where we enjoyed a guided tasting of several premium Bourbons. Some of their brands are Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, and Larceny, the last two of which came with a fun story. As told on their website,
Revealed in a family biography of Pappy Van Winkle, John E. Fitzgerald was not actually the man he has always been portrayed as. He was in fact a bonded treasury agent, who at the time were the only people legally allowed to carry the keys to the barrel storage warehouses.
Mr. Fitzgerald apparently had a particularly discerning palate for fine Bourbon, and would use his warehouse keys to gain access to the best barrels, which eventually became known around the distillery as “Fitzgerald barrels”. Herbst, and then Pappy, immortalized the man who had both the keys and the fine taste by naming the brand Old Fitzgerald.
Close by was craft-distillery Willett, which gave us the longest and most intensive tour, showing every single step. This tour included a walk through the entire one of the rick-houses where they store the Bourbon barrels. This tour was akin to visiting one of the smaller Virginia wineries — personal and hands on.
In Louisville we booked our stay at the Culbertson Mansion, a Bed & Breakfast in the heart of the Old Louisville, a neighborhood of massive turn-of the last century mansions where the rich of the era resided. The Samuel Culbertson House was built by a longtime president of Churchill Downs; for decades, his house was party-central for the Kentucky Derby.
One morning we took a walking tour of Old Louisville with David Domine, author of numerous books on Louisville. David provided a fantastic look at the amazing architecture of the area and the people who built and inhabited these grand old buildings, both noble and nefarious.
Some places memorable, others not so much. Some standouts:
Coles 735 Main in Lexington. Housed in what was once The Stirrup Cup Restaurant (built in 1938), Cole’s 735 Main is a comfortable, quirky find, with banquettes with overstuffed pillows, perfect lighting, and sublime presentation.
610 Magnolia in Louisville. We stayed at the Culbertson Mansion in Old Louisville, the historic neighborhood in the middle of the city where the millionaires of the time built their in-town mansions. Three blocks away was 610 Magnolia, which presents the artistry of Edward Lee, a James Beard Foundation Finalist who has appeared on Top Chef and Iron Chef. This cool, contemporary space offers a prix-fixe menu with wine pairings that is out of this world.
We were so taken with Mr Lee’s work that on another night we visited his other restaurant, MilkWood, which is much more casual and showcases more Korean-influenced dishes. We spotted Mr Lee there at the bar with friends on our way out.
One more: it seemed a bit hokey, but on top of the Galt House Hotel downtown is a rooftop rotating restaurant, Rivue. The building doesn’t rotate, but there are twin turntables spinning about overlooking the Ohio River. Your view changes every 20 minutes or so. Bonus: the food is outstanding.
What Did We Learn?
We always learn something on these trips. Kentucky has a vibrant and creative food scene, the distillery business is bonkers, there are passionate artists, cool hang-outs in awesome neighborhoods, like the Garage Bar in the East Market District nicknamed “NULU.” We visited two totally distilleries in Louisville: Moonshine University, which offers classes in distilling, and Copper & Kings, which is the only brandy distillery in Kentucky. There’s Bourbon Barrel Foods, which makes Bourbon-infused products like soy sauce, Bourbon-infused salts and “Kentuckyaki” (their motto: “Eat your Bourbon”). Another neat spot we found was the Louisville Glassworks, where you can learn to blow glass art.
We found Lexington to be a bit more conservative and buttoned-up, “preppie,” if you will. One comment: “It looks like Vineyard Vines threw up here.” Though the population of both Lexington and Louisville is roughly the same, Louisville has a more “big city” vibe, and is more diverse and gritty. Not surprising, being a port city, while Lexington is surrounded by multi-million dollar horse farms. Compared to Virginia, it’s like the difference between Richmond and Charlottesville.
It’s more than food, of course, but it’s a vibrant place with lots of interesting places and things to do.
But we had something Sunday that wasn’t rescheduled. It was time for the wine club pick-up party at Screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington, and our distributor representative with Kysela Pere et Fils, LTD asked that we make an appearance and pour for their wine club members. “But of course!” Anything for our Noble cause.
They have two clubs: one for white wines, the other features red wines (and a cheese). October is Virginia Wine Month so the white club included the non-vintage Thibaut-Janisson Virginia Fizz, Cobbler Mountain Vidal Blanc 2014, a fizzy blend of Vidal Blanc and Riesling, and a Meadow Creek Appalachian cow’s milk cheese. The “Club Red” included our Annefield Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2013, and Pollak Vineyards Meritage 2012, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, with the same Meadow Creek Appalachian cow’s milk cheese.
It was funny to watch the regulars, who made a bee-line to the cheese spread then made their way to the tasting stations. It was a lively crowd, and the place was packed.
G. No manufacturer, bottler, wholesaler, or importer of alcoholic beverages, whether licensed in this Commonwealth or not, may directly or indirectly sell, rent, lend, buy for, or give to any retailer any advertising materials, decorations, or furnishings under any circumstances otherwise prohibited by law, nor may any retailer induce, attempt to induce, or consent to any such supplier of alcoholic beverages furnishing such retailer any such advertising.
But enough about the law. The cheese and charcuterie selection is phenomenal. Just go.
A couple of weeks ago there was much hand-wringing over a lack of rain, then yesterday parts of Virginia saw up to eight inches of rain in a single day. Now this morning we have reports of a possible hurricane strike this coming weekend, with much uncertainty because of a decidedly unsettled atmosphere – between Hurricane Joaquin, a cold front near the East Coast, the remains of Tropical Storm Ida, a bubble of high pressure over the North Atlantic, and a strong area of low pressure along the southeastern states later this week. It’s a bit much.
Yes, we needed rain, and we got rain — lots of it. And this after a decidedly blissful late summer without it that allowed for a bountiful wine grape harvest. Almost too bountiful — last year the industry was moaning that there was a shortage of wine grapes to meet demand, and this year you could not give away some varietals. A check of the Exchange page of the Virginia Vineyards Association website this morning showed that there were 41 tons of Vidal Blanc looking for a home. You can’t give it away.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the constant refrain is the quality resulting from the reduced yields because of a lack of water is extraordinary, and they are speaking rhapsodically about “dry farming,” as if not using irrigation is somehow revolutionary. This while nervously noting that younger, less established vines are suffering dreadfully, while the well established vines are finding moisture deep in the earth, as they should.
Of course the West Coast anticipates, with some measure of dread, its own cataclysmic rain events with this Fall’s El Niño. If it delivers what is hoped for, it will bring torrents of rain, refill reservoirs and dust the Sierra’s with tons and tons of snow. Not bloody likely, but we can dream, right?
You have friends dropping by, and you aren’t sure if they have any “food issues” that would interfere with them enjoying themselves. “I can’t eat dairy!” “No gluten!” “No peanuts!” “I’m Vegan!” and so on. Being a good host, you do what you can.
You can’t please everyone, certainly, but you can try and find a happy medium, of sorts. We’re always on the lookout for things that can please a large number of people, and this Faux Gras is one of them. This is not to be confused with the Chicken Faux Gras we presented one Friendsgiving, which is its own kind of delicious wonder.
We presented this Faux Gras with freshly baked baguettes, a couple of cheeses (one hard cheddar and a scrumptious Camembert), a goose, pork and duck liver pâté (store bought), and a pile of lovely red grapes. No worries about food issues with this crowd — everything disappeared in no time.
Vegetarian Faux Gras
Makes 6 to 8 appetizer-sized servings. We learned of this recipe from the inimitable David Lebovitz’s blog (which boasts a subtitle to make anyone green with envy: “Living the sweet life in Paris”), and made a couple of minor adjustments to suit our taste. He had adapted it from Très Green, Très Green, Très Chic by Rebecca Leffler (New York: The Experiment, 2015).
2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted (if vegan, replace with olive oil)
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups cooked green lentils (about 1 cup dried, simmered in boiling water for 30 minutes, then allowed to cool; for sanity’s sake, do this the day before and refrigerate)
1 cup toasted pecans (bake in an iron skillet at 350°F for 5 to 8 minutes)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce (or substitute tamari if avoiding gluten; Worcestershire sauce would probably work)
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh sage
2 teaspoons Cognac or brandy
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the mushrooms and dry or wipe clean. Trim, then slice them. Heat the olive oil (and butter, if using) in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and cooked through, another 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a food processor, combine the cooked lentils, nuts, lemon juice, soy sauce (or tamari), rosemary, thyme, sage,* Cognac (if using), brown sugar, and cayenne. Scrape in the cooked mushroom mixture and process until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and additional cognac, soy sauce, or lemon juice, if needed to balance everything.
Scrape the pâté into small serving bowls and refrigerate for about two hours, until firm. This will keep for several days in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to two months.