Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Part 1

This year has been quite the eventful year for Joe and me, so when our week-long vacation was coming up Thanksgiving week, we wanted to go on vacation but couldn't break the bank doing it. After our trip to the Louisville area and the Maker's Mark distillery, we decided to take a trip to the Bourbon Trail, see more of the distilleries, and eat, drink, and relax. Only 2 and a half hours from Nashville and all but one of the tours are free, making it a very affordable get-away.

We left Nashville after church on Sunday and arrived at our bed and breakfast in Bardstown, Kentucky by 4 pm. After consulting and comparing several websites, the You're Invited Inn B&B was the most affordable and ranked #1 on We stayed in the red and gold room, which was exquisitely decorated and comfortable. Alvin and Easter, the owners, were so kind and welcoming that we felt like we were staying at some friend's parents' house. Every morning included a 3-course breakfast, which kept us full nearly until dinner. I cannot say enough good things about You're Invited Inn and would recommend it to anyone looking to stay in the area. It's just a few miles from historic Bardstown but very close to the Bluegrass Parkway, which provided easy access to the Lawrenceburg-area distilleries.

Once we got settled in and took a short nap, we decided to venture out to downtown Bardstown. Note: it is very difficult to find restaurants in small towns in the South that are open on Sunday. We weren't hungry yet, so we stopped at the Old Talbott Tavern Bourbon Bar to get our first taste of the Bourbon Trail.

They had a sampler of bourbons where you could pick 5 for $25, which we split. This was quite a good deal since some 1 oz pours of the same bourbons can run $8 or $9. From left to right, we had Bakers, Blantons, Four Roses Single Barrel, Elijah Craig 18 yr, and Wild Turkey Rare Breed. I particularly liked the Wild Turkey Rare Breed for its smokiness. Even after 4 other bourbons, it stood out in flavor. With our bourbon itch scratched, we roamed the dark streets of downtown looking for food to no avail. Our GPS did not provide many options either, but we ended up at an American casual restaurant called BJ's for some sandwiches and beer and then headed back to the B&B to rest up for our day of visiting distilleries.

Our plan for the day involved starting at the Jim Beam distillery (about 20 miles NW of Bardstown). However, when we arrived, we found out there was no tour, and the person who normally shows the video was out. The lady working informed us that the Tom Moore Distillery, our next stop, only had two tours a day, 9:30 am and 1:30 pm, by reservation, but if we hurried, we could make it. I called up the distillery, reserved our spots, and we zoomed back to Bardstown. The Tom Moore Distillery's most well-known bourbon is the 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, though they make 6 brands. They also have a very large bottling facility where they bottle 52 brands. They only recently reopened to the public in 2008 and have no visitor's center or tasting room, so we drove around the campus in a shuttle bus. The tour lasts approximately two hours (the longest tour of all the distilleries). There was only one other couple with us, so it was a small tour.

The bottling facility was incredible. Three lines were working that day bottling brandy, a lower-shelf bourbon, and tequila. The average length of career at Tom Moore is 26 years, so there is very little turnover. Everyone was friendly and let us gawk all we liked.

In addition to the distillation equipment, we also observed the barrels waiting to be filled and then shipped off to the rickhouses. Barrels that are used to age bourbon must, by law, be virgin, charred, white oak barrels. The charring caramelizes the natural sugar and gives the bourbon its flavor and color as the liquid moves in and out of the wood over several years. Bourbon must be aged at least two years in the barrels. When the barrels are emptied, they can be used to store brandy or other spirits and are often sold to Scotland to store Scotch. Empty, the barrels way about 130 pounds, but when full, they can weigh between 500-550 pounds.

Above is a barrel that has been aging for 10 years. The markings on the barrel show that it was barreled on November 22, 1999. When you walk into the rickhouses (the storage facilities for the barrels), you can smell the bourbon in the air. Over time, liquid in the barrel evaporates. The loss is approximately 5% the first year with 2-4% every following year.

Joe and I very much enjoyed the Tom Moore tour and thought it was the most thorough tour of the whole bourbon-making process, from when the corn and other grains arrive at the distillery to the bottling, labeling, and shipping process. It was lengthy and tiring, however. It also gives one a sense of the large distillery industry. The distillery itself was not very pretty, and we had to wear safety goggles, though it was fascinating to get such an inside glimpse of how bourbon is made today.

Our next stop was the Four Roses distillery near Lawrenceburg. The unique thing about Four Roses is the Spanish mission-style architecture, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Having seen so much on Tom Moore, I was not as impressed with the Four Roses tour, though they make some fine bourbon.

Above is a picture of the room that holds the fermentation tanks. After the corn (at least 51%) and other grains are mashed up and cooked, they are put into these tanks with special strains of yeast. Four Roses uses 10 recipes, which is also unique: 2 grain ratios and 5 strains of yeast. The blending of these recipes is what produces their bourbon. The other unique thing about the Four Roses process is that they store their barrels in single story warehouses. The other distilleries' warehouses are up to six stories tall. When you walk into one of these fermentation rooms, the smell of yeast is almost overpowering, and anyone who has worked with yeast in the kitchen will recognize it immediately. The tanks bubble away as the yeast goes to work turning sugars into ethanol for three to five days. At the end of the tour, we tasted the Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Single Barrel. My favorite was the Small Batch.
The Four Roses gift shop is very nice, and the gift shop attendant was quite helpful as we wanted to go to Lover's Leap Winery as our next stop but didn't have an address. After Tom Moore and Four Roses, I was bourboned out and needed to rest my feet.

Lover's Leap Winery is located in Lawrenceburg and provided the perfect respite after several distillery tours. When we visited, it was chilly and misting, but the winery has a beautiful outside porch. We tried 6 wines for $5 (which included the wine glass) and bought a glass for $5 each along with some locally made cheese and crackers. We were the only patrons and enjoyed having the place to ourselves.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the wines, particularly the reds. I tried the Vidal Blanc (light, dry, crisp), the Bianca (more citrus and floral notes), the Sloppy Seconds (a surprisingly good blend of 7 different varietals), the Merlot, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cynthiana. I had a full glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, and as you can see, it was a generous pour!

Having been unimpressed by the dinner offerings in Bardstown, Joe suggested we drive the short distance to Lexington for some drinks and dinner. Our first stop was Soundbar where I had a Manhattan, and Joe had some Knob's Creek. On our way to find a place for dinner, we spotted the Bluegrass Tavern, which we had written down as a place to try in Lexington. Their bourbon selection was incredible, and Bobby, our bartender, was extraordinarily helpful, recommending bourbons we might like and just chatting with us for a while. We had half-ounce pours of Bulleit, Elijah Craig 12 yr, Pappy Van Winkle 15 yr (which was AMAZING), and Elijah Craig 18 yr single barrel. Then Bobby pointed us in the direction of Mia's, a locally-owned gay restaurant. The crabcake sandwich was perfect for soaking up some of the bourbon. Unfortunately, they had run out of potatoes for their hand-cut fries, but we enjoyed our (quite affordable) dinner and the hip atmosphere. Joe drove us safely back to Bardstown where we rested up for another day on the trail! To be continued...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stuffed Poblanos

Poblanos are probably my favorite pepper: more exotic than a bell pepper but can be used in similar ways. At Mexican restaurants, if I see some sort of item with poblanos involved, I will most likely order it. These stuffed poblanos scratched the Mexican food itch without the grease normally involved. It starts with a salsa made in the blender, which the poblanos cook in. I liked the cornmeal filling for the poblanos as it adds some heft. I realized, after I took these out of the oven, this meal does not require the stovetop at all! I served this with the salad from the Black Bean and Rice Stuffed Poblanos I made last spring.

Stuffed Poblanos
source: Ezra Pound Cake as adapted from Everyday Food

  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes in puree
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, minced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves (2 whole, 1 minced)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 can (19 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (I used a 15 oz can)
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 large poblano chiles, halved lengthwise (stems left intact), ribs and seeds removed
  • Garnishes: sour cream, cilantro, lime zest

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. In a blender, combine tomatoes in puree, jalapeno, half the onions, and 2 whole garlic cloves; puree. Season with salt. Pour sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, combine beans, cornmeal, 1/2 cup cheese, remaining onions, minced garlic, cumin, and 3/4 cup water; season with salt and pepper. (The mixture might look watery and not so appetizing. Forge ahead!)

4. Stuff poblano halves with bean mixture; place on top of sauce in baking dish. (If you have extra bean filling, you can add it to the dish.) Sprinkle poblanos with remaining 1/2 cup cheese; cover dish with aluminum foil.

5. Bake until poblanos are tender, about 45 minutes. Uncover, and continue to cook until sauce is thickened slightly and cheese is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more, rotating after 6 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spiced Pork Tenderloin

I can't remember how I stumbled upon this recipe. I may have simply been browsing MyRecipes when it jumped out at me and noticed that it included items that I normally have on-hand, minus the pork tenderloin which is easy to acquire. I don't think that I've ever cooked pork tenderloin myself, though my dad likes to grill it. It came out so tender and flavorful but also very lean. Joe felt like he was getting a meat-centered meal, and I got to eat healthfully. The cinnamon and bourbon gave the pork a very seasonal taste. The recipe calls for grilling it, but I roasted mine in the marinade. I'm looking forward to preparing pork in other ways! I served this with steamed broccoli, garlic mashed potatoes from Trader Joe's, and beer bread.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin
source: My Recipes

2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 (1 lb) pork tenderloin
salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

2. Mix sugar, bourbon, Worcestershire, and cinnamon together in a bowl. Place pork tenderloin in a freezer bag and pour the marinade over the meat, sealing the bag to close. Let sit for 10 minutes (or slightly longer) turning to coat.

3. Spray 9x13 pan with cooking spray and add pork and marinade to the pan. Roast pork in oven until thermometer reaches 160-degrees (or about 30 minutes). Let rest for 5 minutes and carve into slices.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Maple Ice Cream

November doesn't exactly seem like the best month to bust out the ice cream maker, but entries in Google Reader keep popping up with seasonally flavored ice cream like pumpkin, cinnamon, and, today's treat, maple. The maple flavor is not terribly strong, but it contains just a hint. I think maple extract would make it stronger. Like most custard-based ice creams with 5 egg yolks, this is intensely creamy and smooth. Joe and I have been enjoying our ice cream with a Maple Leaf Creme Cookie from Trader Joe's.

Maple Ice Cream
source: The Perfect Scoop via Erin's Food Files

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup dark maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


Warm milk and sugar in medium saucepan. Pour cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream to cool. Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla, and stir over ice bath until cool. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Freeze until solid & scoopable.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spicy Butternut and Peanut Soup

For my birthday, my wonderful mother-in-law gave me an immersion blender. When I received it in the mail, I immediately started planning a whole roster of soups for the next week's menu. I reconsidered, however, thinking that I might not want to go on a completely liquid-based diet for a week and that my husband might want to chew his dinner. I did keep this soup on the menu. I had saved it in January, and I knew the list of ingredients would satisfy Joe's and my love of spicy things with peanut butter.

Wow. This soup is the best soup I've ever made. Usually my soups turn out too something: watery, heavy on one ingredient, chunky, etc. I prefer soups of a uniform consistency, so I pureed the whole thing, and I love how you can taste all the flavors in one bite. Pureeing it also made it incredibly creamy. Joe was amazed there wasn't any cream in it. The flavors are so warm. It would be the perfect soup to curl up with on a cold night when you don't want something too heavy. The chipotle en adobo lends just a hint of heat and a lovely roasted flavor. I absolutely loved this soup and loved using my new immersion blender!

Spicy Butternut and Peanut Soup
source: Cara's Cravings

1 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 lbs peeled, diced butternut squash
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
freshly ground salt & pepper
1 quart fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth (Or vegetable broth to make it vegetarian.)
14 oz can diced tomatoes
2/3 cup natural peanut butter
chopped cilantro for garnish


Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and add onions. Cover and let them sweat for about 5 minutes, until softened, adjusting heat lower if they begin to brown. Add squash, garlic, chipotle pepper, and seasonings; stir and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add broth, tomatoes, and peanut butter, stirring well. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Coarsely mash with a potato masher, or if you prefer a smoother texture, puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Serve with chopped cilantro.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Turkey Pumpkin Chili

I didn't actually make this. You see, last week Joe worked the night shift, so our time together was short or non-existent. The original plan was that Joe would help chop things up and then I would get home and make it, but time was of the essence, so he went ahead and followed the recipe. He did a wonderful job, and I hope that he'll take the lead more often in the kitchen!

Like most chilis, this was better the second day. I loved the hint of cinnamon and thought it brought out the pumpkin flavor. I thought it looked a little thick, so I added about a cup of pumpkin beer just to thin it out slightly. There is nothing quite like coming home to a delicious pot of chili on the stove!

Turkey Pumpkin Chili
source: Cara's Cravings

1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium sized peppers, diced
1 lb ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 small can diced green chili peppers
15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
15 oz can pumpkin puree, or 2 cups homemade


Spray a large pot with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until just softened. Add the garlic and bell peppers, and cook about 5 minutes more until tender. Add the ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and oregano.

Stir in remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes to blend flavors.

Or, just brown the turkey with the seasonings and combine with remaining ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Serve with your favorite chili toppings - cilantro, green onion, cheese, sour cream, etc.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Feta, Mushroom, and Spinach Rotini

After a weekend of heavy eating, there's nothing that sounds better than a whole wheat pasta dish chock full of vegetables. I made this on a Sunday evening right after we returned from a glorious hike in Percy Warner Park. 4.5 miles of hills, fall leaves, and beautiful afternoon light on a clear day made us hungry. This dish doesn't knock you over the head with super-strong flavors but is a nice balance that allows you to taste each individual component. I added two links of chicken sausage for some protein.

Feta, Mushroom, and Spinach Rotini
source: Eat.Drink.Smile


8 oz whole wheat rotini (or other short) pasta
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
10 oz bag baby spinach
4.5 oz can sliced black olives (optional) (I omitted)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 - 6 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled
2 links chicken sausage


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and garlic, and cook until golden brown. After browning the garlic/onion mix, add the mushrooms and saute them before adding the tomatoes, spinach, and black olives. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes more, until tomatoes are heated through and spinach is wilted. Reduce heat to medium, stir in pasta and feta cheese, and cook until heated through.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Spinach, Mushroom, Ham, Feta Quiche

My favorite thing about quiche is that it's hard to mess up. Even though my turkey bacon was moldy and I forgot to get half-and-half at the store, this turned out really well. Feta has such a strong flavor that you don't have to use a ton of it, so this quiche is on the healthier spectrum of quiches but is also hearty enough to satisfy. Don't believe the hype that real men don't eat quiche!

Spinach, Mushroom, Ham, Feta Quiche
adapted from Erin's Food Files

1 frozen pie crust
1 thick slice of ham, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped spinach
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 eggs
3 egg whites
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt & pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat oil over medium to medium high heat. Add onion, saute 2-3 minutes until tender. Add mushrooms & spinach. Saute 4-5 minutes until spinach is soft. Add ham to the pan and stir to combine well.

In a bowl beat eggs, egg whites, and half & half. Season with salt & pepper. Add in veggie/ham mixture and stir to combine. Add feta, stir to combine, and pour into pie shell.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until completely set, and slightly golden & crispy on top.