Mix it Up: Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 


Winter Wonderland

“Wait, where are you?”, the person on the other end of the line asks in complete disbelief.

Many conversations have gone along these lines this month. Yes, it may seem crazy to some, but I decided to come to New England for January. The winter wonderland is absolutely exquisite. Most snowbirds are heading to the sunny South and I decided to go North. What? Well, I have the flexibility and desire. And, of course, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.


I’m guilty of flying on auto-pilot in the kitchen sometimes. I don’t stretch with techniques or out of my normal palate of flavors. Sometimes, just like you, I just want to get dinner on the table. And, after a long day of exacting, precise recipe testing, the last thing I want to do is follow a ding-dang recipe. So, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.


I’ve had a stack of books to check out from Ten Speed Press, my publishing house.  I’m proud to be one of their authors. Robb Walsh is a fellow Ten Speed Press author and I am a sincere admirer of his work. Robb is an award winning author and journalist. He’s the real deal and his take on Texas is just the right thing to mix up your cold January.


Robb’s latest book is  Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook. He covers the classic Texas favorites like chicken-fried steak, cheese enchiladas, barbecued brisket, and King Ranch casserole.  He also delves into other Texan fusion cuisines, and there are more than a non-native might expect. There’s more to Texas than Tex-Mex, my friend. He shakes things up with Texas-versions of soul food, German-influenced recipes, and Vietnamese crossovers. With more than 200 recipes and captivating photography, Texas Eats brings Texas food and culinary history vibrantly to life.  It’s a beautiful, wonderful book.


Food Blog South

Education is a great way to shake things up.  Later this month I will be learning and sharing at Food Blog South in Birmingham. It’s a fantastic conference that has grown into a super event in just a few short years. On 25 January, the day before the conference actually starts, Lisa Ekus and I are teaching Honing Your Edge: Media Skills and Branding for Bloggers and Culinary Professionals.  The seminar will be held at Rosewood Ballroom, the site of the conference. The seminar is in a classroom setting and is limited to 50 people. There are still spaces available.  This is a great opportunity to learn and grow. Let me know if you need more information.

Lastly, on 28 January members of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier are hosting a Simple Abundance cooking class at The Cook’s Warehouse to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. It’s going to be a great night and seats are limited. Sign up today!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


Robb’s Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing

Serves 10

4 pounds trimmed beef brisket
1 large white onion, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon salt
10 peppercorns
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
8 cups water
4 cups beef broth

Chipotle Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Chopped tomatoes, radish slices, cucumber slices, and chopped red onions, for garnish
20 Crispy Taco Shells

In a Dutch oven, combine the beef, onion, bay leaves, 
garlic, salt, peppercorns, and serranos. Pour in the water and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the brisket will register 190°F. Alternatively, bring to a boil as directed, then cover and cook in a preheated 350°F over for 3 hours. Or, combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on the low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let cool. Meanwhile, strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. When the brisket is cool, trim and scrape away any fat and gristle. With your fingers or 2 forks, tease the meat into shreds. Cut the shreds into 1-inch-long threads and place in a bowl. Moisten the meat with ½ cup of the broth. Save the remaining broth for another purpose.

To make the dressing, in a blender, combine the oil, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic and sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Drain the chipotles, pouring all of the adobo sauce into the blender. Then add the chipotles to taste: there are about 10 chipotles in a can. For a little heat, add just 1 chipotle; for a medium-hot dressing, add 2 or 3 chipotles; and for a spicy dressing, add 4 or more chipotles. Turn on the blender and process until you have a smooth dressing. Add the dressing to the shredded beef. The mixture should be moist but not soupy. Chop the rest of the chipotles and put them on the table as a condiment.

Salpicón is a mixture of chopped fish, meat, or vegetables in a sauce, used as fillings for tacos, croquettes, and pastries. It is customarily chilled, then served at room temperature. To chill, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to several days. When you remove it from the refrigerator, the top will be dry and the dressing will have collected on the bottom of the bowl. Just before serving, dump the mixture into another bowl and retoss it.To serve, arrange a bed of lettuce leaves on a deep platter, and spoon the salpicón onto the lettuce. Garnish with the tomatoes, radish slices, and cucumber slices and top with a sprinkling of onion. Serve with the taco shells.

“Reprinted with permission from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More than 200 Recipes by Robb Walsh, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”

Beef Photo credit: Laurie Smith © 2012

Winter Wonderland photos by Virginia Willis

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Labor Day Appetizers and Summer’s Sweet End Thursday, Sep 1 2011 

I’ve spent the summer in New England. It’s been an eye-opener on many levels.

First, I was told all about the corn. “Our corn is the best in the world,” she said.

In my mind, I silently dismissed it.

“Oh-okay,” I responded. The half acknowledgment that conveys the unspoken sentiment, “You really don’t know what the h*ll you are talking about…”

Best in the world? Yankee corn. Seriously?

Well, let me tell you. It is the best corn I have ever tasted.

I had no real idea. The amount of agriculture in the area is astonishingly prolific. They pretty much grow all the things we grow down South, it’s just the season is shorter and the peak of the season comes a few weeks later. In fact, due to the extreme heat in the South, some things grow better up North.

It’s been a great lesson.

There’s a farmer’s market in the area practically everyday of the week. Also, everyone with a substantial garden has a little shed, stand, or table at the end of their driveway for selling produce and sometimes, flowers. One of my favorites is the farmer with his battered old Ford pickup truck open and backed toward the road. The roadside tables – or tailgates – are filled with freshly harvested produce and a handwritten sign, often on the back of a cardboard box, with the price list. Sometimes there’s a moneybox, but sometimes there’s just a Mason Jar or an old dinged up cookie tin. No lock, no strap, nothing to prevent theft.

I grew up in the country. Montezuma, Georgia. The population at the time hovered around 3000. It’s nice to once again have a healthy, wholesome dose of real country living.

This summer has enlightened me. Over the course of these past few months I have realized, that for the most part, country folks are country folks all across the US.

Sure, I get some funny looks with my  slow drawl and Southern accent, and believe me, we sure don’t sound alike. I’ve heard some voices straight out of central casting – curmudgeonly old Maine fisherman with their here-uhs and there-uhs, Yo-Joey Italian American foodies from Rhode Island, and fast-talkin’ BAHSton city slickers.

I feel like I am in the middle of a Rockwell painting with the red, white, and blue bunting that graces so many of the windows and balconies, farm stands at every turn and curve, and tall white spires of 18th century churches piercing the crisp blue cloudless sky.

Freedom of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear.

There’s something about the summer holidays that bring out a heartfelt feeling of pride and patriotism. Memorial Day is a day that honors those that have died in service, July 4th celebrates our independence, and Labor Day is dedicated to the achievements of American workers that have contributed to the strength and well-being of our country.

What I’ve grown to appreciate, once again, is that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans.

My friend and colleague Judith Fertig has a new book out titled Heartland: The Cookbook that celebrates another seemingly Rockwellian region of the US, the Midwest.

It’s a an absolutely beautiful book and embraces that eating local and farm to table is really just plain old eating for many rural Americans. It’s like I wrote for a piece called “Being Southern is a State of Mind” for CNN’s Eatocracy, “We were country when country wasn’t cool.” Residents of the Midwest have been living off the bounty of the land since the pioneer days.

Judith is one half of the dynamic duo, the witty, wise-crackin’ BBQ Queens along with Karen Adler. The two of them have written over 20 cookbooks together – and sold over 1/2 million books. Phew.

However, Judith isn’t simply tongs and tiaras. She is a fellow alumni of Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne and part of Anne Willan’s La Varenne Mafia.

This cook knows her stuff.

Heartland marries modern cooking with an authentic approach to the bounty of the land, presenting 150 recipes for farm-bounty fare. It’s far more than pig and polka. Heartland embraces the spirit and flavors of the modern farmhouse. Judith highlights ethnic food traditions, seasonal flavors, artisan producers, heirloom ingredients, and heritage meats.

Included are recipes for Chocolate Buttermilk Poundcake, Heirloom Bean Ragout stuffed in Acorn Squash, Four Seasons Flatbread, and Bacon Bloody Mary – with housemade bacon vodka –  that you are certain to enjoy regardless of where you call home.

Since you’ve likely got the grill going with BBQ Chicken or Steaks this weekend, I am featuring a couple of recipes to serve for apps and snacks. I’m sharing my own recipe for Quick Pickled Vegetables to go along with Judith’s recipes for Smoked Goat Cheese, Branding Iron Beef, and {End of} Summer Sangria.

Mama’s Reading List

A couple of weeks ago I started a section to let you know where I’ve been and what I’m up to. As tour dates firm up I’ll add those here, too. This section happens to be my mama’s favorite. 

Kim Severson, author of Spoonfed and writer for the New York Times asked me about field peas for a piece titled Last Call for Summer. Other delicious treats to make sure you have before summer’s end include peaches, flank steak, corn, and blackberries. (Click through to see them all — and it’s interactive. You can share your essential summer eating recipes, too.)

Icebox pies are hot according to the Oregonian. Leslie Cole speaks to Martha Foose and also recommends a litany of Southern books by me as well as Nancy McDermott, Sara Foster, and Hugh Acheson.

Check out what tea-expert Lisa Boalt Richardson says about coffee and  My Southern Pantry!

And, by the way, I’ll be back at Williams-Sonoma at Lenox Mall this Labor Day weekend on Saturday 3 September from 12-4 pm for the Artisan Market series.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

Serves 8 to 10

1 cucumber
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 cups assorted cut vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower florets, green beans, wax beans, and small okra
6 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cup sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, cut into slivers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
4 small red peppers

Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Remove alternating stripes of peel from the cucumbers. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Place the 8 cups of vegetables in the boiling water and let cook until vibrant in color but still firm, 1-2 minutes. Drain the vegetables well in a colander, and then set the colander with the vegetables in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the vegetables are submerged. Drain well. Set aside.

Place ½ the red onion, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in the bottom of a large sealable bowl or jar. Transfer the blanched vegetables to the jar, layering to alternate the color and texture. Layer in remaining ½ onion, cucumber, and peppers.

Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture comes to just under a boil. Pour mixture directly over vegetables and spices. Depending on the size container and the size of the vegetables you may not use all of the vinegar. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Cover or seal and store refrigerated, stirring occasionally, for at least 48 hours. Serve well-chilled.

How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese:

When you’re already grilling something else, put these on at the end and you’ll have double the pleasure. You can make any quantity of smoked tomatoes or goat cheese with this easy method.

1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, with no fire on one side. For a charcoal grill, place about 1 cup wood chips on ashed-over coals. For a gas grill, place ½ cup of wood chips in a metal smoker box or in a homemade aluminum foil packet with holes punched in the top; place the smoker box or packet nearest to a gas jet.

2. Stem and core the tomatoes, brush them with olive oil, and put them in a disposable aluminum pan. Brush a log of goat cheese with olive oil and place it in a disposable aluminum pan. Place the pan(s) on the indirect side of the grill. When you see the first wisp of smoke, close the lid. The tomatoes and goat cheese take about 30 minutes or until they have a burnished appearance and a smoky aroma.

3. Peel and seed the tomatoes. To puree, put the peeled and seeded tomatoes in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Branding Iron Beef with Smoked Tomato Drizzle
Serves 8

Kansas is, literally, “home on the range”—at least it was to Brewster Higley, the Smith County settler who wrote the song there in 1871. Today, there are still deer and even a few antelope, but mainly beef cattle in the Flint Hills and the western prairie. To make your taste buds sing, get your outdoor grill a-smokin’ so you can rustle up this easy version of beef carpaccio. The beef gets a little tasty char around the outside, is very rare inside, and has a smoky sauce to finish. You can make the sauce and grill the beef a day ahead, then assemble the thin slices a few hours before your guests arrive and keep chilled.

For the Smoked Tomato Drizzle:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon smoked tomato puree (see How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese)
¼ cup bottled smoked chipotle pepper sauce

For the beef:
1 pound boneless eye of round, top loin. or beef tenderloin
Olive oil for brushing
Coarse kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper
Drained capers and baby arugula for garnish

1. For the drizzle, whisk together the mayonnaise, tomato, and smoked chipotle pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle. Chill 8 appetizer plates.

2. Prepare a hot fire in your grill and place a cast iron skillet or griddle on the grill grate to heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Brush the steak with olive oil and season the exterior with salt and pepper. When the skillet is very hot, sear the beef on all sides until blackened, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

4. Let the beef rest until it is at room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap. To serve the same day, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. To serve the next day, place in the refrigerator, then in the freezer for 30 minutes.

5. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the beef into paper-thin slices and arrange on the chilled plates. To serve, drizzle the sauce on each plate in a cross-hatch pattern and scatter with capers and arugula.

{End of} Summer Sangria
Serves 8

Stir up a pitcher on a hot day, then sit back and relax. It’s summer! Choose a semi-dry white wine from Heartland wineries and a Triple Sec made in Cincinnati, Ohio. Perhaps a Prairie Fume from Wollersheim in Wisconsin or the Vignole from Sainte Genevieve Winery in Missouri, and De Kuyper Triple Sec from Ohio.

2 bottles semi-dry white wine, chilled
2/3 cup Fresh Herb Syrup (see below)
2/3 cup Triple Sec
1 liter sparkling water
½ cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
2 cups fresh fruits in season, such as peach slices, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or gooseberries
Fresh lemon balm or basil sprigs to garnish
1. Combine the wine, syrup, Triple Sec, sparkling water, and lime juice over ice in a large pitcher. Add some fruit to the pitcher, portion the rest among 8 glasses. Pour in the sangria, then garnish with a sprig of lemon balm.

Fresh Herb Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

For this recipe, use the freshest, most aromatic tender herbs you can find, such as basil, mint, or lemon balm.
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh, aromatic herb leaves, packed, coarsely chopped
1. In a large, microwave-safe glass measuring cup, combine the sugar, water, and herbs. Microwave on high until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool. Use right away or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

corn, pickled vegetables, and field photos by me.

Judith’s recipes and images from Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig/Andrews McMeel Publishing
Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

It’s Summertime and the Living is Easy…. Low and Slow Beef BBQ Friday, Jul 1 2011 

Whew. Last week’s blog post about the F-word with 11 lightened summer recipes set off a maelstrom of activity in the blogosphere and in my brain. The comments and emails I received were kind, powerful, and impressive, but a lot to think about and manage.

So, this week? We’re talking about summertime. Let’s make the living easy. E-Z. Simple. Low and slow. Borderline lazy. Let’s give the personal baring of the soul a rest for a little bit.

I’ve got some projects planned for summer, of course. I’m going to play around with the video camera, write a few articles, work on selling my TV concept, Starting from Scratch. We’re also planning to shoot another episode in the next few months. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m also looking forward to some fishing.

Let us not forget that under the red Chanel lipstick and fancy French cooking that I am borderline redneck. I like baseball, fishing, SEC Football, and trucks. I’m just not illiterate or racist.

Oh, and BBQ. I love me some BBQ. And, it is afterall, high BBQ season.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Austin for the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference. It was a great conference, lots of good information, and on a personal level it was really important, as well. (BTW: Here’s an interesting piece by Tastestopping about IACP and bloggers I thought interesting and relevant.)

It was hot as blue blazes in Austin. I’ve heard they’ve had several weeks of triple digits. Whew. My friend Erica says the heat comes up through the shoes into your body like a rotisserie.

Rotisserie or not, one thing that is abundantly clear is that in Texas, BBQ means beef.

We enjoyed some amazing food from Lou Lambert. His book, Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook is coming out this fall. I can’t wait to try some of the recipes.

But, right now? I’m all about easy. Kicking back and letting some of life’s drama of the past few weeks pass me by.

Hope you enjoy my selection of BBQ favorites for your 4th of July. Be safe.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


The photo above is the wood pile at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. This was home to some of the best BBQ I ever put in my mouth. For more on Smitty’s check out the recent Saveur Magazine article, “Zen and the Art of BBQ” by Robb Walsh.

3/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons chile powder (plain powdered chile, not the one with all the other spices, too)
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 10 pound beef brisket
1 cup apple juice or beer

In a medium bowl combine the salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Rub brisket on both sides with the spice mixture. Let sit a room temperature for 1 hour.

Prepare your grill using apple wood chunks or chips. Place brisket, fat side up, on the grill grate. Maintaining a temperature of 225°-250° (if using a kettle grill or bullet smoker, replenish fire with unlit coals, as needed, to maintain temperature), cook until a thermometer inserted in meat reads 160°, about 6 hours.

Remove the brisket from grill, place on two heavy-duty sheets of aluminum foil. Pour in juice or beer; fold up edges to seal. Return to grill grate. Cook until a thermometer inserted in the thickest portion reads 190°, about 2 hours.


Serves 6 to 8

1 pound pinto beans, washed and picked over for stones
2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces OR 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium Vidalia onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic
¼ cup molasses
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon dry mustard
8 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced fat low sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the pinto beans in a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak overnight. Or, place the beans in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the beans come to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour. Before cooking, discard any floating beans and drain.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until it starts to crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Or, heat the canola oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to barely a simmer and cook until the flavors are well-blended, about 20 minutes.

Drain and add the beans. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer, covered, until the beans are tender, about 3 hours. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

This slaw is easy, delicious and very good. I am actually a mayonnaise person. I love a traditional slaw with carrots and green cabbage, but this one is really good, too. And, since there’s no mayonnaise it can sit out at room temperature.

1/2 head green cabbage, cored and finely chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, very finely chopped
1 tablespoons cane sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Place the cabbage, bell pepper, and onion in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the oil, vinegar, dry mustard, and celery seed. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 minute. Pour the hot dressing over the cabbage and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. To serve, remove from the refrigerator and taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve cold or room temperature.

Makes one 9-inch pie

This is hands-down my favorite dessert. Mama makes it almost every time I come home to visit. There’s nothing really low and slow about it, it’s just my FAVORITE comfort food dessert in the world. EVER. So, it made sense to include it here.

1 9-inch Pie Crust, fully baked
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups whole milk
31/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

To prepare the pie filling, in a saucepan, combine the 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of the milk. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the remaining 1 cup of milk, the flour, and cocoa powder in a bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. (Mama uses a shaker and shakes the mixture until it is well combined and frothy.) Set aside.

Heat the saucepan with the milk-sugar mixture over medium-high heat until simmering. Slowly add the milk-flour mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Add the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until it returns to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil, immediately add the vanilla and remove it from the heat.

Pour the mixture into the baked pie crust. Set aside.

To make the meringue topping, place the egg whites in a non-reactive bowl with a pinch of salt. Add the cream of tartar and, using a hand-held mixer, whisk on high speed until foamy. Sift over the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time and whisk until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted.

To finish the pie, spoon the meringue over the pie, making sure it touches the edges of the pie crust. Bake until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Move to a rack to cool completely and set, then serve.

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