Kentucky is blessed with great raw material for chefs. When you start with locally grown beef and pork, seasonal vegetables and fruits, and bourbon, it’s easy to create the kind of food that will have customers asking for the recipe.
Now cookbook author Maggie Green has saved you the trouble. Her new book, Tasting Kentucky: Favorite Recipes From the Bluegrass State, has 102 recipes from some of the best restaurants across the state, accompanied by mouth-watering pictures by Lexington photographer Sarah Jane Sanders.
Others are new twists on old favorites, such as curried lentils topped with goetta, green tomato confit and pickled red onions from Mark Jensen, chef at Middle Fork Kitchen Bar in Lexington, recently named by Open Table as one of the hottest restaurants in America.
Goetta, Green said, “is a Northern Kentucky breakfast sausage made from pinhead oats and pork.”
Jensen used to serve this dish from his Fork in the Road food truck because all the pieces could be prepared ahead of time or quickly, then pulled together into a pretty and tasty dish, she said.
“It has a very unusual use of ingredients,” Green said. “It’s one of the more chef-y style recipes in the book, but one people could easily make at home.”
Green asked locally owned restaurants from the high end to the low end for recipes, and was surprised at the generosity of so many chefs, she said.
“I wanted people to get a flavor for the state,” she said. Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky were the easiest to cover; she had to reach out a little more for Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.
“A couple came from the state resort parks,” she said. “That’s good because I think we have a beautiful state park system, so I was happy to get those in.”
Her old friend Ouita Michel — who has Holly Hill Inn and the Midway Bakery in Midway, and Wallace Station, Windy Corner and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington — contributed recipes and wrote the foreword for the book.
“The diversity of our farming community has deeply inspired me as a chef,” Michel wrote. “The beauty of this farm-fresh food is always breathtaking: multiple varieties of Swiss chard, mustard greens, lettuces, herbs, beans, tomatoes, eggplant, squash ... the list is endless. One farmer I know grew 26 varieties of potato! This diversity brings me so much joy in my cooking and leaves me grateful to live and work in such a beautiful place.”
Green’s book reflects that diversity as well, with recipes for breakfast (the lemon souffle pancakes with blueberry compote and the buttermilk pancakes with bourbon-vanilla whipped butter look like winners), main dishes and desserts.
“The buttermilk pancakes with bourbon vanilla whipped butter are from Red River Rockhouse in Campton, which has become popular for rock climbers who visit the Red River Gorge,” Green said. “And they do a lot of scratch cooking.”
Another favorite restaurant is the Bluebird in Stanford. Chef William Hawkins contributed his recipes for chorizo-cheddar corn fritters and for chicken liver pate with fig mostarda.
Green tapped into the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables with bacon balsamic kale, bourbon mashed potatoes, Shakertown cole slaw and more.
She said it was important to know that home cooks could duplicate the restaurant favorites.
“I tested everything in my home kitchen so people would be able to do it in their homes too,” Green said. And she was choosy: she actually gathered about 130 recipes, then narrowed them down.
“I got more than one fried chicken and wanted to use the best one,” she said.
She went with chef Jonathan Exum’s, from Wiltshire on Market in Louisville. “It has a hickory syrup drizzle on it,” she said. (She included a resource section in the book for where to find some of the more unusual items and found a farm in Owingsville, Old Hickory Hill, that makes hickory syrup.)
Two of her biggest finds were desserts.
Clementine’s Bake Shop in Berea sent a recipe for bourbon ball cake, which turned out to be a sort of inverted bourbon ball, a chocolate cake with white icing.
“It didn’t sound all that exciting, but it turned out to be a neat, simple cake that took a Kentucky candy and turned it into cake,” Green said. A great twist on a Kentucky favorite.
Another was sawdust pie from Patti’s 1880’s Settlement in Grand Rivers, near Land Between the Lakes.
“It’s their signature pie, and has egg white, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, pecans and coconut,” Green said. “You wouldn’t think that would make much, but it does. That was very unique. And they top it with bananas.”
Bananas are surprisingly popular in Western Kentucky because they used to come in through the ports on the Mississippi River, she said.
Green said her goal was to represent the state’s culinary achievements.
“If someone picks this up and they’re not from Kentucky, they’ll be impressed,” she said. “I wanted it to put forth some of the best things we have to offer.”
If you go
Maggie Green will be signing Tasting Kentucky: Favorite Recipes From the Bluegrass State, at the Lexington Farmers Market’s Homegrown Authors table on May 14.
Patti’s sawdust pie
From Tasting Kentucky, courtesy of Patti’s 1880’s Settlement
7 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
2 medium bananas, sliced
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir the egg whites, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, pecans and coconut until well-blended. Pour into unbaked pie shell.
Bake until the filling is glossy and set, 35 to 40 minutes. Do not overbake! When done, the center should be gooey. Serve warm topped with sliced bananas and whipped cream.
Bourbon ball layer cake
From Tasting Kentucky, courtesy of Clementine’s Bake Shop
Chocolate layer cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
Bourbon buttercream frosting
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons Bulleit bourbon (or more)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the chocolate layer cake:
Grease and flour three 9-inch round pans and line them with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk and oil. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stir in hot coffee. Batter will be very thin. Divide evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes.
Cool for about 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of each pan. Carefully turn the cakes out of the pans onto a cooling rack. (If the cake doesn’t fall from the pan, tap the bottom of the pan until the cake is released.) Allow to cool. Remove the parchment paper.
For the bourbon buttercream frosting:
With an electric mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, adding bourbon after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add vanilla, and whip on high for 45 seconds. Sandwich the frosting between the cake layers, saving enough to frost the sides and top of the cake.