[Review] The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook belongs in every home in the Bluegrass State

Maggie Green’s The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook is the only cookbook that has ever migrated from my kitchen into my bedroom.

There’s just too much interesting material to keep this book near the stove.

The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook is filled to the margins with everything you need to know about food and cooking in Kentucky. Green, a dietitian and culinary specialist originally from Lexington, expresses an appreciation and love of Kentucky’s culinary side throughout the 368 pages of The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. Green’s plainspoken writing, from the anecdotes accompanying many of the more-than-200 recipes to the step-by-step instructions for each dish, is injected with a contagious passion for food that makes her first book an engaging work. Her easy-to-follow style will appeal to all levels of cooking expertise.

Green’s emphasis on buying local food and seasonal produce is one of my favorite components of The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook. Green is very commonsense about the importance and ease of eating locally at a time when the message can get lost in pretension. The most effective way Green teaches about seasonal, local cooking is by separating her recipes by the month in which the main ingredients are in season. For example, a recipe for oven-baked pumpkin butter is in the October chapter, while a recipe for rhubarb crisp with granola topping is in the May chapter. The book also provides an index of Kentucky farms and food producers and charts showing the availability of seasonal produce. These components can help any Kentuckian incorporate more local food into their recipes.

And the recipes, by the way, are good. Very good. Green covers every meal of the day, along with providing menu ideas for bigger gatherings, such as the Kentucky Derby or Oktoberfest. I have waited to review The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook for a couple of months until I could actually make some of the dishes. Sometimes, I felt like Green wrote this cookbook just for me. Most of her recipes include basic pantry items that I usually have on hand. So far, nothing out of the cookbook has been difficult to prepare. The dishes aren’t super fancy or intimidating, and that’s how I like them. All of the creations seem to be destined for a family dinner, a holiday party, or a backyard barbecue, food that is to be enjoyed with the people you love.

My favorite dish so far is the Crunchy Pecan Granola. I’ve made it twice, and there’s a request for round three. Each batch makes seven to eight cups, so granola used sparingly and kept in an airtight container has lasted about a month in my two-person household.

Crunchy Pecan Granola

(from The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups chopped pecans (I’ve substituted walnuts and almonds and it tastes great)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola or flax seed oil
  • 1/4 cup Kentucky sorghum or molasses
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup or Kentucky honey
  • 1 cup raisins or dried peaches or cherries, optional (I’ve used a mix of golden and regular raisins — DELICIOUS)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, cinnamon and salt. Toss the mixture with the oil, sorghum and maple syrup.
  3. Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and stir in the optional dried fruit and coconut.
  5. Cool and store in an airtight container.

(Buy your own copy of The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook here. Learn more about Green and her company, The Green Apron Company, here.)

Get some local brews, good bourbon and free appetizers at Four Roses Bourbon Loft opening

Got some free time tonight?

The folks of Bluegrass Brewing Company and Four Roses Distillery will celebrate the opening of the Four Roses Bourbon Barrel Loft with a party today from 5:30 to 10 p.m. on the third floor of BBC at 300 W. Main Street across from the Yum! Center.

The 3,000 square-foot loft will be “an upscale, contemporary location for private parties, luncheons, wedding receptions and dinners,” according to the companies. And BBC will also “age some of its specialty beers in barrels that previously aged Four Roses bourbon.” That sounds downright tasty.

And this event sounds like it has a lot going for it, especially if you’re like me and probably can’t afford to rent the space:

  • Free and open to the public
  • Free appetizers
  • A chance to talk to BBC Brewmaster Toby Hunt and Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge

Check out the Smithsonian Magazine’s food blog for my essay about dormitory cooking

Smithsonian Magazine has a great food blog called Food and Think in which they ask for readers’ essay submissions in a feature called Inviting Writing.

This month, the blog asked for readers to submit essays about their relationships with kitchens. I submitted an essay about cooking in dorm kitchens, and it made it to the blog!

Here’s an excerpt from Inviting Writing: A Mad Dash from the Dorm Kitchen:

I traveled through a medley of kitchens befitting of the life of a young adult during my college years. Dormitory kitchens were the worst.

These kitchens were dark and abandoned rooms at the end of the hall outfitted with a stove, sink and little else. The rooms always smelled of stale pizza and popcorn from other students’ half-hearted cooking endeavors.

In the three dorms I lived in during my time as an underclassman, there was usually just one kitchen on each floor. I had the misfortune of always being on the opposite end of the hallway from aforementioned cooking spaces. Every time I got an itch to eat something that required more prep than tuna salad, I would have to gather my meager collection of utensils in a plastic grocery bag, go to the kitchen, make my dish, then take it all back. God forbid you leave your cooking tools in a communal kitchen. It would take only five minutes of your absence for your cookware to end up in the trash or in someone else’s grocery bag.

Click here to read the rest of my entry, but also check out the rest of the blog, which provides really insightful pieces about the history of food. And thanks to the bloggers at Smithsonian Magazine for running my essay.

Bits and pieces: Cheesecake Factory, downtown distillery and other food news from the web, 7.11.11

  • Ever wanted to try all the cheesecake selections at the Cheesecake Factory? A group of writers did, and they lived to blog about it. And you can check out this slideshow to see if how many you have tried. (Serious Eats)
  • Some kids in a Cleveland suburb were robbed at their lemonade stand. The bandits made off with at least $13.50. Somewhere, an angel is crying. (Huffington Post)
  • A Michigan woman could face 93 days in jail for planting a vegetable garden in her front yard. Yikes. (Gawker)
  • A distillery is going to renovate and set up shop in a historic building in downtown Louisville. Operations are expected to begin n 2013. (Business First of Louisville)

Make Kentucky proud by voting for Ale-8 as the best Southern soda

Fact: There is a magazine called “Garden and Gun.”

Another fact: The publication is conducting a poll to see what Southern soda (or soft drink, or pop) is the best, and a Kentucky favorite is in the running.

Yep, Ale-8-One out of Winchester, Ky., is one of the choices for this poll. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not too crazy about the soft drink, but I know plenty of folks who are, and I’m all for supporting Kentucky products, so I’ll cast my vote here.

You should do the same.

The magazine will announce the winner Friday on its Facebook page, so you don’t have much time. Get to it.

For love of the Kentucky Derby: New takes on classic Derby dishes

This Saturday, Louisville will be the hot spot for horse racing with the running of the Kentucky Derby.

I love this time of the year. The city puts on its pretty face for the world. We host some (B-, C- and D-list) celebrities. And everyone just seems so excited to be a Louisvillian. That is, until you’re stuck in traffic because of road closings necessary for the Pegasus Parade.

In honor of the best two (or is it three?) minutes in sports, here are a few classic Kentucky recipes and some new takes on the originals. Enjoy, and happy Derby.

Everything is better in tiny portions.

Holy heck, they’ve made a cocktail into a cupcake. This restores my faith in humanity.

This is probably a lot lighter on the belly than a sandwich covered in Mornay sauce.

Kentucky’s homegrown soft drink gets an adult upgrade.

Bits and pieces: Thanksgiving news from the web, 11.24.10

    Gobble gobble, y'all. Photo courtesy of Alan Vernon via Flickr.
  • Each year, one lucky turkey escapes the dinner table, receives a Presidential pardon and lives a pretty cushy life in the process. The Food Network put together a fun slideshow about the process, and the Washington Post profiled the chosen bird, Courage, and his alternate, Carolina, last year.
  • This Thanksgiving, more folks in Louisville (and the rest of the country, from what I’ve read) need help, but donations have fallen flat, according to an article in the Courier-Journal. From the story:

“What I’ve been really amazed by is the number of people who come in and feel somewhat ashamed because they say, ‘I’ve never been in this situation before,’” said George Sanders, executive director of West Louisville Community Ministries. “They’re almost apologetic.”

  • I’ve never had the urge to try the abomination that is turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with … stuffing), but in case you’re interested, here’s a recipe. Somebody should stuff some Tums in there as well.

 

  • Some calls to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line prove that there are such things as stupid questions, according to a piece from Reuters. The story lists some real questions that have been posed to the turkey experts throughout the years, including my favorite: “Is it okay to thaw my turkey in the bathtub while bathing my kids?”

 

  • Need something to talk about at the Thanksgiving table? The good people of Smithsonian.com have compiled a list of science trivia about common Thanksgiving foods.

The $10 Challenge: El Mundo

When the people talk, I listen.

And all the folks who have e-mailed, commented or tweeted about El Mundo had a clear message: this Mexican restaurant is the perfect destination for a $10 Challenge.

So I used my birthday and my roommates’ big hearts (and wallets) as excuses to visit the Frankfort Avenue restaurant.

El Mundo isn’t like most Americanized Mexican places that I’m used to visiting. Gone are the bad murals of haciendas and medleys of Spanish singing over the speakers. Same goes for the identical menus and indistinguishable dishes covered in melted cheese. This restaurant takes traditional Mexican dishes and shakes them down Kentucky-style by infusing food with local ingredients and giving the finger to what people expect from a Mexican restaurant.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: El Mundo”

Thank you, Velocity, for thinking I’m kind of cool

Grab a copy of Velocity if you’re in Louisville this week.

Flip to page 22.

That’s me, in all my yellow-sweater glory.

Velocity, the free weekly tabloid published by The Courier-Journal, has put out “The Good Issue” this week that highlights “the people, places and things we like about Louisville.” My Twitter account is featured as “A Good Twitter Feed About Louisville.”

I sincerely appreciate being mentioned in a list that gives shout outs (or is it shouts out?) to some notable Louisville people and websites, such as Michelle Jones of Consuming Louisville and the local website Broken Sidewalk.

And thanks to everyone who reads my ramblings on Twitter. It means a lot.

World Chicken Festival 2010: Light on the chicken, heavy on the history

Me + 6 Colonel Sanders lookalikes = epic encounter

It’s hard to escape the KFC connection when people learn of my Kentucky roots.

On a trip to England, most Brits I met said they only knew two things about Kentucky: the Queen has some horses here, and it’s where Kentucky Fried Chicken comes from.

Last weekend, I embraced my ties to this iconic brand and wound up in Laurel County, Ky., the birthplace of KFC, for the 21st Annual World Chicken Festival.

The festival celebrates Laurel County’s heritage and the area’s most famous exports – KFC and its creator, Colonel Harland Sanders, the county’s white-suit-wearing, goatee-sporting native son whose face is one of the most recognizable in the world. (Interestingly, many people don’t realize that he was a real person).

I didn’t come across a lot of chicken at this celebration of poultry. But I returned to Louisville with an appreciation for the tiny diner that became a fast-food giant.

Chicken Fest, which takes place in London, is a street fair full of vendors, live Bluegrass music, midway rides and, of course, chicken. The big draw of the event was the chance to eat chicken cooked in the world’s largest skillet. But instead of being a huge cast iron skillet like I pictured, the pan was an industrial steel tub split into four sections.

The world's largest frying pan. Cue the Debbie Downer music.

I didn’t try any of the chicken from this record-breaking skillet on the recommendation of a friend who is from London and attends the festival each year. She compared the chicken to cafeteria food. Yikes.

Instead, I bought a $3 bowl of chicken and dumplings. I only came across one shred of chicken meat, but the dumplings were well-flavored, thick and doughy.

Lots of dough. Little chicken.

But the highlight of my trip to southeastern Kentucky took place after I left Chicken Fest (and after my encounter with six Colonel Sanders lookalikes). Two friends and I drove down the road to North Corbin to Sanders’ Café, the diner that was the precursor to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

A view of Sanders Cafe, the original KFC.

Visiting Sanders’ Café was a welcome reminder of KFC’s humble heritage as a restaurant attached to a motel. The lobby features a model of the original motel and restaurant, along with cases of memorabilia such as recipe cards, the barrels that held those 11 secret herbs and spices, and pictures of the Colonel before he became, well, the Colonel (FYI – he was a brunette). The displays taught me a lot about the man behind the brand. For example, Sanders arguably ignited the fast-food revolution by reducing the time it took to fry chicken from more than 30 minutes to just 13. And who knew he ran for state senate in 1951?

The building has been restored to its 1940s luster that allows visitors to eat in the original wood-paneled dining room. There are also recreations of the Colonel’s kitchen and motel room in the dining area.

But with all that history, visitors are smacked with the reality of what Kentucky Fried Chicken has become – a fast-food behemoth.

I thought the café would offer up some original-recipe chicken cooked in small batches and served diner-style. Instead, the historical building is home to the same KFC that is available worldwide.

Original recipe chicken breast with green beans, corn and a biscuit.

The food was tasty, but I couldn’t help but ponder how KFC catapulted from a small business to an enormous chain. Would the Colonel be happy with KFC’s current menu? Would he be happy with he comparably limited selections? Could honestly stand behind the Double Down?

Despite the questions, I had a great time at Sanders’ Café. This should be a stop on every Kentucky road trip. Sure, you’ll get the same food available at your neighborhood KFC, but there are some hefty bragging rights that come with eating where it all began.