Sunday, January 27, 2013

High Spirits at the Inaugural Ball

Kentucky Distillers' Association
Spirits were high as the bourbon flowed at the distinctive Bluegrass Ball hosted by the Kentucky Society of Washington and held at Marriott Wardman Park on Saturday, January 19th. This historic event kick's-off the inaugural ball weekend and has been voted Washington Post's "Editor's Pick" in 2005, 2009 and 2013. Guests were downright giddy with anticipation as the evening commenced with a two-hour long bourbon tasting.

Founded in 1912, the Kentucky Society of Washington is one of oldest state societies and is a member of the National Conference of State Societies.  Their president Winn Fleming Williams, states that the society is an "organization that promotes goodwill, fellowship and lasting relations among Kentuckians in the greater Metropolitan Washington area." This goodwill and fellowship was evident as I was greeted with broad smiles, BLT appetizers and a glass of bourbon.  Rather, glasses of bourbon.

This was the second time the Kentucky Distillers' Association has been invited to open the Bluegrass Ball's cocktail event. The seven distillers on-hand to offer single batch and small barrel tastings were: Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Bulleit, Four Roses, Heaven Hill (who featured Evan Williams and Elijah Craig), Woodford Reserve and Maker's Mark.

Wild Turkey featuring American Honey
Evan Williams' "Cooking with Bourbon"
provided by Heaven Hill
Four Roses Small Batch & Single Barrel

Also available, were American Honey, offered by Wild Turkey; and the Makers Mark booth was the busiest, offering The Candidate (one part Makers Mark, 1/3 elderflower, 2 parts apple cider and a touch of ginger ale for added zing), a refreshing drink whose elderflower soothed the sharpness of the bourbon. 

My pick of the night, however, was the Honey Tea offered by Jim Beam's Red Stag. Unlike many flavored spin-offs, this drink was surprising and seemed to enhance the oaky, smoky notes instead of killing the whiskey's natural attributes. 

Marriott Wardman Park Ballroom
Staged and Ready for the Bluegrass Ball

Letcher County Central High School
Marching Band
The Letcher County Central High School Marching Band and the Morehead State University Band serenaded guests as they filed to their seats and took to the dance floor. Former First Lady of Kentucky, Phyllis George and her daughter, Pamela Brown (ABC7/WJLA) emceed the event and guest appearances were made by Miss Kentucky, Jessica Casebolt; Ashley Judd; Governor Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear; and a host of other Kentucky delegates and esteemed distillers.

In the midst of the bourbon buzz, the aroma of Chef Edward Lee's creations enveloped the Ballroom with enchanted air and guests immediately quieted down as the first course was served. Chef Lee, made popular from "Top Chef: Texas, Season 9" and winner of Food Network's "Iron Chef America," developed the menu for the evening at his Louisville based restaurant, 610 Magnolia. He and an unseen army of chefs did an amazing job providing perfect plating for the 800-plus guest list.

The menu, inspired by the discerning palate of Kentuckians (thus, the Kentucky classics) coupled with Chef Lee's popular signature twists, included a Henry Bibb salad, boneless beef short ribs braised in ginger, garlic and Kentucky micro-brewed soy sauce served with grits and local mushrooms and was concluded with chess pie stylized by the Chef's own twist of blackened pineapple salsa with caramel sauce. He graciously provided Capital Cooking with the chess pie recipe from the event!

Greeting me with Bulleit Rye bourbon in-hand, subtly disguised in a wine glass, Chef Lee described his process of finding the perfect recipe is in "working with local food purveyors - less vendors, more friends."

Bulleit 10 - Aged 10 Years
On your next sojourn to Louisville, Ky., be sure to experience Chef Lee's 610 Magnolia establishment, take a cooking class with him at The Wine Studio or visit his soon-to-open, MilkWood restaurant. If you have the opportunity to attend the next Bluegrass Ball, you'll find yourself warmly received into Kentucky's good graces and charm.

Chef Edward Lee's Chess Pie with Blackened Pineapple Salsa and Caramel Sauce

Pineapple Salsa
1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced into ½ inch thick rings
1/3 cup peanut oil
juice and zest of two limes
1 tablespoon dark rum
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Pie Dough
3 cups flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold butter cut into small chunks
4 tablespoons cold shortening
8 – 10 tablespoons cold water

6 eggs + 3 yolks
3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
5 tablespoons cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. For the pineapple salsa, it is best to work in batches.  Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a heavy skillet on high heat.  Fry about two pineapple rings until blackened on both sides, about three minutes each side.  Transfer to paper towels.  Drain briefly to get the excess oil out.  Repeat until all the pineapple rings are blackened.   

2. Chop the pineapple rings into fine chunks and transfer to a bowl.  Mix in the lime zest, lime juice, rum and brown sugar.  Reserve cold until ready to use.

3. For the dough, combine all the ingredients except the water into a food processor.  Pulse until the butter is combined to make a crumbly mixture.  Add the water a spoonful at a time while pulsing until a rough dough ball is formed.  Wrap the dough and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Transfer to a cold work surface.  Roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness and line a 12 inch tart pan with it.  It is now ready for the filling.    

4. Whisk all the filling ingredients together and fill the tart molds ¾ of the way to the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out almost clean and a light crust forms on top of the chess pie.  Remove from the oven and leave at room temperature until ready to serve. 

5. This pie can be served at room temperature or better yet, slightly warm.  Unmold the tart from the pan, slice into six even slices and top with the pineapple salsa. 

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