After two years of working in Louisville and producing dozens of hours of Derby coverage, this was the first time experiencing the Derby as purely a spectator, well-rested, sans headset or hat. I’ll admit, it was a bit strange not setting foot on Churchill Downs at all. In 2015 and 2016, the track was my temporary “office.” I didn’t want to miss out on all the Derby fun, though, so I turned my kitchen into a different kind of office, whipping up a couple of dishes to remind me of “my old Kentucky home.”
For my entrée, I took inspiration from Food Network star Damaris Phillips. I loved watching her show when I lived in Louisville, because she always found ways to incorporate her Louisville-roots into her dishes. Take her fried chicken salad sandwich, for example. The fried chicken alone would have been enough of a nod to Kentucky, but she took it a step further, featuring one of my favorite bakeries from Louisville, the Blue Dog Bakery and Café. She put the fried chicken salad on their fresh-baked croissants. So, the day after I saw her episode of “Southern at Heart,” I walked into the Blue Dog to order the croissants myself, and rounded out the rest of the recipe with a trip to a grocery store.
This year, I didn’t have the Blue Dog to help me make my chicken salad sandwich, so I thought I could challenge myself and make another southern dish in place of the croissants: buttermilk biscuits. My cousins, knowing how much I love cooking and baking, gave me “Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook” as a birthday gift last month. I’m in love with it! I’ve tried several dishes so far, ranging from a pesto pasta salad to beef pita sandwiches, and haven’t been steered wrong yet.
Once I assembled the fried chicken salads, I cut open the biscuits almost immediately after taking them out of the oven, so they’d be soft and warm, with a crunch and kick to them from the celery and seasoning of the salads. I assembled the biscuits as closed sandwiches, although my boyfriend pointed out I could fit more chicken salad into each dish if the biscuits were open-faced… so there’s some food for thought if you try out this recipe.
Once I had the main dish squared away, I turned my attention to dessert: chocolate pecan pie. Once again, I flipped “Cook’s Illustrated” open to the pie section. I felt like I was in the mood for a challenge, so I decided to not only make the pecan pie filling, which I’d never done before, but also to make the pie crust. Let me tell you, that was one of the more challenging desserts I’ve ever put together, but I’m happy I can now say I’ve done it! However, if I’ve got multiple recipes to focus on within the same day in the future, I’ll probably cheat and buy the pie crust ahead of time… don’t tell anyone!
Here are the recipes that helped me celebrate Always Dreaming’s big win!
Fried Chicken Salad Sandwich
By Damaris Phillips
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup whole-grain mustard
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 4 c. cold fried chicken, diced (I picked them up from my grocery store, but my boyfriend suggested ordering them from a local restaurant to give your own hometown spin on the dish)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 3 green onions, sliced
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- 4 croissants (I used biscuits, see next recipe)
Whisk the mayo, buttermilk, mustard, Italian seasoning, cayenne and lemon juice together. Add in the chicken, parsley, celery and green onions. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Put salad in fridge for roughly 30 minutes, then serve on biscuits.
Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits
Recipe courtesy Cook’s Illustrated
- 2 cups AP flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 8 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tbs. unsalted butter, just melted
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk and 8 tbs. of butter until small clumps of butter form. Combine the dry and wet mixtures and stir with a rubber spatula until the batter pulls away from sides of the bowl. Scoop out biscuits with a 1/4 measuring cup and drop onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake 12-14 minutes (until tops look golden-brown). Brush 2 tbs. of melted butter on top.
NOTE: Recipe said there would be enough for 12 biscuits, but I ended up with 10… I may have been a bit generous with my biscuits.
Single-crust pie dough
Recipe courtesy of “Cook’s Illustrated”
- 1 1/4 cups AP flour
- 1 tbs. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 6 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into six pieces and chilled
- 4 tbs. shortening, split into two pieces and chilled
- 2 tbs. vodka, chilled
- 2 tbs. ice water
Mix 3/4 cup AP flour, sugar and salt in food processor. Add butter and shortening and blend again. Add remaining flour and blend in processor till floury clumps disappear (I had to scrape my processor’s blade several times to accomplish these steps once the butter and shortening were added).
Pour batter into bowl and sprinkle the vodka and water over the mixture. Stir with a stiff rubber spatula until everything sticks together. Lie a piece of plastic wrap onto counter. Roll dough into a ball and then flatten into a disc (roughly 4 inches) on the plastic wrap.
Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour. The dough can remain in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to a month, so if the weather is nice, this would be a perfect time to check out a hiking trail (I finally walked around the Seven Bridges Trail in Milwaukee and loved it!).
When you remove the dough from the fridge, let it soften for 10 minutes or so. Then, heat oven to 425 degrees, using the middle position rack.
Flour your counter and roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Then, loosely roll the dough around your rolling-pin and unroll it onto a nine-inch pie plate, pressing down in the pan, with excess dough hanging over the edge (you can leave it for the time being).
Refrigerate again for 30 minutes.
Trim the overhang to just 1/2 inch and tuck it under itself so that the folded edge matches up with the edge of the pie plate. Crimp the dough using your fingers and refrigerate again for 15 minutes until it’s fully chilled and firm.
Line the pie shell with two layers of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights.
To partially bake the crust, place in oven for 15 minutes until the dough looks dry and pale. Remove the weights and cook again until light golden-brown (anywhere from four to seven minutes) and remove.
The pie has to still be warm when you add the filling, which is why it’s so tricky. I worked on the filling while the pie was in the oven for that first 15 minute span, and can safely say if I didn’t have my mis en place, or someone willing to lend me a helping hand with chopping the pecans, I would have been in trouble making it to the finish line.
Chocolate Pecan Pie Filling
Recipe courtesy of “Cook’s Illustrated”
- 3 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped coarsely
- 6 ounces chocolate chopped coarsely (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
- 1 single-crust pie dough, partially baked and still warm (see above)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees. Melt butter in a heatproof bowl set in a skillet of water, just below simmering.
Remove bowl from skillet to stir in the sugar and salt until butter is absorbed. Then, whisk in the eggs, followed by corn syrup and vanilla until it looks smooth. Place bowl back on hot water. Stir the mixture until it looks shiny and is hot to touch (130 degrees).
Remove from heat and stir in the pecans. Pour the mixture into the pie crust (just breathe – you’re almost there!) and scatter chocolate on top, lightly pushing it into the pie with a spoon or spatula.
Bake pie until the filling looks set. Test it by pushing the back of a spoon into it – if it bounces back like gelatin, you’re good to go. Recipe says this step should take 50-60 minutes. I removed my pie from the oven around the 55 minute mark.
Let the pie cool for roughly two hours till the filling is set, then serve a slice with a scoop of ice cream and enjoy!