Frying the Friendly Skies: Old-Fashioned Apple Hand Pies Tuesday, Dec 6 2011 

I’m off on a whirlwind tour of Texas teaching at Central Market this week.  Last week I was in Nashville, Atlanta, and Chicago. I had a great time teaching at the Viking in Franklin. I also got to speak at the Culinary Historians of Chicago meeting on the “Exceptionalism of Southern Foodways.”

Folks ask me all the time about traveling. Sure, sometimes it’s hard, but mostly? Mostly, I love it. I get to meet so many nice people. Many folks are friends on Twitter and Facebook. And, the part I love the most is when students bring in their spattered and well worn copies of Bon Appétit, Y’all  for me to sign. I call that my carrot. It’s impossible to describe.

FEELING EXTRA CRISPY

Having said that, I’d like to make a few comments about air travel. I’m feeling a little extra crispy about a couple of things. First of all, there seems to be a direct correlation between how sleep deprived I am with the number of people that recognize me at the airport, which is, actually in and of itself, really, really weird.

So, heads up, although there are biscuits, Meme, and Mama — this post is a bit more colorful than my typical MO of biscuits and reminiscences of Meme and Mama.

I think a substantial number of the TSA agents were bullies growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot imagine having that job. I would just be very happy if the King of TSA would make up his mind if my shoes are meant to go in or out of the bin when going through the X-ray machine. I will do as I am told. Quit moving my cheese. Or shoes, as the case may be.

Madame Real Housewife of Atlanta, I don’t think your thigh high lace up high heel boots are the best choice of footwear for the security line.

I sound like a grumpy old woman, but I do not think that college coeds need to be in their PJs with “Juicy” stamped on their butt with their tan, toned, and taunt mid-drifts showing. It’s practically soft porn in public. I am fairly certain I saw a dirty old man in the beginning stages of heart failure the other day when a bevy of sorority girls on holiday break passed him in the corridor. BTW, I didn’t stop – he was old enough to be their grandfather.

What is up with pillows at the AIRPORT? Why not just use your bed linens to wipe out the dumpster at the CDC? Eeeew.

I don’t need to watch the news or a special report about how America is failing it’s school children in math.  Airplanes board in zones that are numbered sequentially. 1-2-3-4. Never, ever does 3 jump to the front of the line. It’s not like lotto where they pull numbers off of bouncing balls. And, by the way, the plane does not board faster if you block the entrance and your zone has not been called.

TWO carry-ons are allowed per person. The number between ONE and THREE. (See above.)

If you can’t lift it, you shouldn’t be carrying it. And, if it’s the size of a body, no, it is not going to fit in the overhead compartment, otherwise, the airlines would sell seats there, too.

Off means off. It does not mean everyone on the whole plane turns off their phone except one lucky person. It means everyone. And, yes, Mister Platinum Business Man, I can see you fly a lot because you are platinum. And, no, it hasn’t changed since your flight yesterday. Off means off and that means you, too. (see Alec Baldwin)

I’d like to ban the ability for seats to recline. Seriously, is it really that much more comfortable to recline the seat? Dude, does it really transform the cattle car realm of existence you are laboring in, into the naugahyde Barcalounger back in your man cave? I don’t think so.

On that same note, I want to know who exactly figured out that the tray back on the seat in front of you is the exact height necessary to pop the screen off of a laptop? It’s exact almost to the millimeter. We’re talking infinitesimal space, “Can’t-insert-a-sheet-of-paper-between-blocks-at-Mayan-ruins” kind of thing….

That same engineer should be put on something really, really important, like creating a wall to activate instead of the armrest that comes down between you and your seatmate. I tweeted this and someone commented on the potential increase in mile-high club activity. I don’t care. At least then contorting would be worthwhile.

Maybe a force field would be best. It would need to go all the way to the floor and be extra strong near the seat area. It has become clear to me that there are some gentlemen that are quite confused about how wide their legs need to be when they sit down. Honestly. If their package were as large as they seem to think it is, they’d need a harness and a back brace.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

MAMA’S READING LIST & UPCOMING EVENTS

Check out Country Living for great party and holiday entertaining ideas.

Need roasting recipes? Take a look at Eating Well.

Seats are selling fast, so please sign up for a Media Skills Seminar in Birmingham at Food Blog South.



MEME’S OLD FASHIONED APPLE HAND PIES 

MAKES 15

Mama, Lisa, and I made these the morning after Thanksgiving using Lisa’s homemade applesauce. They were incredible. Mama and I took a bite and immediately burst into tears. They tasted just like Meme used to make. (See, you know I had to have a maudlin moment.) For serving, dust them with powdered sugar or serve them Yankee-style with maple syrup.

2 cups White Lily or other Southern all-purpose flour, or cake flour (not self-rising), more for rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
3/4 to 1 cup milk
1 heaping cup applesauce, preferably homemade
Canola oil, for frying
Confectioner’s Sugar, for serving
Maple Syrup, warmed, for Yankee-style serving

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Set aside. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the milk, and gently mix until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat 8 or so times. (It’s not yeast bread; you want to just barely activate the gluten, not overwork it.) Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 4-inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the dough will rise evenly when fried.

Place about a tablespoon of applesauce just to one side on the circle of dough. Fold the dough over, using your fingertips to remove any air pockets. Dip the tines of the fork in flour and press to seal.

Pour oil in a cast iron skillet to 1/2-inch deep. Heat over medium high heat to 350°F. Add the pie and cook until golden on both sides, 3-4 minutes total.

Repeat with remaining dough and applesauce.

Make them a few at a time to fry; don’t be tempted to make them all and then fry them. The dough is far too delicate.

It’s a good tag team dish. Have one person on the skillet and 1-2 people making the pies. When bundling the scraps, don’t smush them together in a tight knot. Lay the scraps on top of each other to roll out. The hand-pies will be more tender.

Serve hot with confectioner’s sugar or warm maple syrup.

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.

Food pics by me.

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Vidalia Onion Quiche Wednesday, May 4 2011 

Spring may mean lamb to some, asparagus to others, and perhaps for a lucky few, spring means morel mushrooms. Not for me.

Spring for me means Vidalia onions are in season. The season starts with the baby Vidalia’s. They look like an overgrown green onion or like an overly  bulbous leek. A short while later the real deal arrives, golden squatty onions with just covered in yellow and white, papery skin.

Being from Georgia, I am a huge supporter of Vidalia onions. Much in the way that France regulates food and wine with appellation d’origine contrôlée, the Georgia state legislature got together in 1986 and decided that Vidalia onions had to be grown within a certain region of Vidalia, Georgia. This is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil. If Vidalia onions are unavailable, make something else. No, I’m teasing. You can use another sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Texas sweet.

All onions need circulating air to stay fresh. Vidalia onions are particularly tricky due to their high sugar content. Mama taught me one of the best ways to store Vidalia onions is in the cut-off legs of pantyhose: drop an onion down the leg, tie a knot, and repeat. Hang the onion-filled hose from a hook in a cool, dry place. They will keep for months.

Their natural sweetness creates a candy-like confit, which is excellent as a condiment or a spread, and absolutely divine in this quiche.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Vidalia Onion Quiche
Makes one 10-inch quiche

French Pie Pastry (recipe follows), blind baked
11/2 cups Vidalia Onion Confit (recipe follows)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper

Prepare the pastry shell and the onion confit; let both cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, parsley, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Spread the cooled onion confit in the pastry shell. Pour the custard over the onions. Bake until the custard is lightly browned and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

French Pie Pastry
Makes one (10-inch) tart shell

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
2 large egg yolks
5 to 6 tablespoons cold water

To prepare the dough, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine.

With the processor on pulse, add the ice water a tablespoon at a time. Pulse until the mixture holds together as a soft, but not crumbly or sticky, dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm and evenly moist, about 30 minutes.

To prepare the dough, lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Place the dough disk in the center of the floured surface. Roll out the dough, starting in the center and rolling up to, but not over, the top edge of the dough.

Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the bottom edge. Give the dough a quarter turn, and continue rolling, repeating the quarter turns until you have a disk about 1/8 inch thick.

Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, unrolling over the tin.

With one hand lift the pastry and with the other gently tuck it into the pan, being careful not to stretch or pull the dough.

Let the pastry settle into the bottom of the pan.

Take a small piece of dough and shape it into a ball. Press the ball of dough around the bottom edges of the tart pan, snugly shaping the pastry to the pan without tearing it.

Remove any excess pastry by rolling the pin across the top of the pan.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with the tines of a fork to help prevent shrinkage during baking. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

To blind bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper, then lay it out flat over the bottom of the pastry. Weight the paper with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice. This will keep the unfilled pie crust from puffing up in the oven.

For a partially baked shell that will be filled and baked further, bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the paper and weights. (You can reuse the rice or beans for blind-baking a number of times.) The shell can now be filled and baked further, according to the recipe directions. For a fully baked shell that will hold an uncooked filling, bake the empty shell until a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes total.

Vidalia Onion Confit
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

One of Mama’s favorite recipes is to simply peel and quarter Vidalias, top them with a pat of butter, and microwave the pieces until they are tender. This recipe is not much more difficult.

Confit is most often meat, such as duck, that has been cooked and preserved in its own fat, but the term also describes a jamlike condiment of cooked seasoned fruit or vegetables. This confit is wonderful as suggested, served on toasts as a nibble, but it also shines served as a condiment with pork or chicken. It is absolutely incredible with blue cheese.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

5 onions, preferably Vidalia, chopped (about 11/2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus small sprigs for garnish

To make the confit, heat the butter and remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely for continuing with the quiche.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Photo credit: Ellen Silverman © 2008

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: 5 Weekend Breakfast Recipes Friday, Feb 4 2011 

It’s cold. It’s wet. Half the country is buried under snow. It’s snowing in Austin, Texas?

So, this my friends, may be the one blog out of the 120 million not devoted to wings, dip, or chili. (By the way, here’s one we did when I was at MSL).

It’s also not a blog tweeting and posting about Superbowl for this weekend. I prefer college ball, myself, but I do care about Taste of the NFL. Each year, net proceeds from the Taste of the NFL’s Super Bowl event are donated to Feeding America affiliated food banks in each of the NFL cities with an emphasis on the Super Bowl host city’s food bank.

Now, that’s something to cheer about! But it’s cold and it’s wet and I can’t seem to stay focused.

Last weekend Southern Saturdays with Virginia was all about seafood gumbo. Teri Grooms made it for her dad and sent me the pic above. Cat over at
Neo-homesteading put her very cool spin on it and Karmic Kitchen made me very hungry for the fresh picked crab in her version.

So, what to do this weekend?

It’s cold. It’s wet. Soup again? Nope. I want to snuggle in and make breakfast. Not yoghurt and fruit. That’s weekday. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s the weekend. I want eggs, grits, biscuits, and bacon.

Wings, chili, and dip are for Sunday. So, in the meanwhile, here are 5 of my favorite weekend breakfast recipes. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch Baby Pancake
Serves 2 to 4

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Sorghum, cane, maple syrup, or jelly, for accompaniment

Heat the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter in a 10 inch iron skillet in the oven. Meanwhile, whisk together the mix flour, milk, eggs, and salt. When butter has melted, pour the flour mixture into hot skillet. Bake until puffed and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven & sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges serve with syrup or jelly.

Skillet Baked Eggs
Oeufs en Cocotte

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetables such as cooked spinach, kale, or broccoli
1/4 cup “savory” such as chopped ham, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sautéed onion, or sautéed mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, and chives
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to broil and place a rack 10″ from the heating element. Grease two small gratin dishes with butter. To each dish, add 2 tablespoons of vegetables. Using your fingers, make 2 nests in each and crack 2 eggs into each dish. Add the savory element such as ham, bacon, tomato, or onion. Divide herbs equally. Pour 1 tablespoon of heavy cream into each dish.

Sprinkle each dish with 1 tablespoon of parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to oven rack and broil until the cheese is golden brown, the whites of the eggs are set, and the yolks are still slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Use tongs and a kitchen towel to transfer dishes to 2 serving plates lined with paper napkins to prevent the dishes from slipping. Serve immediately.

Ham-and-Swiss Frittata
Serves 4 to 6

An Italian frittata is an open-faced omelet similar to a Spanish tortilla. A French omelet is cooked very quickly over high heat, and additions like herbs, cheese, or vegetables are enclosed in the center of a two- or three-part fold. Frittatas and tortillas are cooked more slowly. The additional ingredients are whisked into the eggs and cooked at the same time. This delicious and easy dish makes a satisfying, simple supper with a side salad. Or take the Spanish approach, and cut the frittata into bite-size cubes and serve it skewered as a simple hors d’oeuvre. Ham and eggs are, of course, a marriage made in heaven. Used cured ham in this recipe, or if using country ham, halve the amount, so it will not be too salty.

11/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
4 to 6 slices cured ham, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar or Gruyère cheese (about 21/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the top rack about 6 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ham and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half of the cheese, and the chives. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook for 3 minutes, occasionally lifting the cooked egg around the edge with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to let the raw egg flow underneath. Decrease the heat to low and cook, covered, until the underside is golden, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese on the top of the frittata. Broil the frittata in the skillet until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 1 minute, depending on the strength of your broiler. Let cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour, more for the board and rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (1.25 ounces)
1/3 cup finely diced country ham (1.75 ounces)
1/2 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour with the baking powder, salt, and pepper. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until it’s the size of large peas. Stir in the cheese and ham and make a well in the center. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the liquid into the well and quickly stir until the dough is moistened. (Alternatively, it may also be made in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Once the butter has been added and is the size of peas, pulse in the cheese and ham. Then, pour in the buttermilk mixture and pulse to combine. The dough will pull from the sides of the bowl.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it holds together. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 3/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 1 1/2 –inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If the biscuits are baked close together the sides will be moist. If the biscuits are baked further apart, the sides will be crisp.

Gently press the remaining scraps together and cut out more biscuits. (These are more worked and will be a little tougher and likely not as pretty, but they still taste good!) Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet and using a pasty brush, lightly brush the tops with buttermilk. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown and risen. Serve hot.

Fried Apple Pies
Makes 8 to 10

10 ounces dried apples
8 cups water
Granulated sugar, to taste
2 cups canola oil
2 1/2 cups self rising flour, more for dusting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
2/3 cup buttermilk, chilled
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Place the apples in a large bowl. Add 6 cups cold water. Set aside to rehydrate at least 4 hours or overnight. Place the soaked apples with any remaining liquid in a large saucepan. Add remaining 2 cups water and sugar to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook until thickened and the apples are beginning to break down, about 1 hour. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature. Set aside.

When ready to fry the pies, heat the oil in a large heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. The temperature should read 350 degrees when measured with a deep fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a medium bowl. Using a pasty cutter or 2 knives, cut the shortening into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and stir until dough forms. Transfer to a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead until firm.

Pull off a biscuit size piece of dough. On the lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle 4-inches across, about the size of a teacup saucer. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the room temperature apple mixture in the center of the circle. Fold the dough over to form a half moon. Press with your fingertips to seal the edges. Dip the tines of a fork in flour, then press the tines of the fork around the edges of the dough to seal completely.

Transfer the pie to the heated oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining dough and apples. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.

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.

Thanksgiving Morning: Two Great Ways to Start the Day Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and websites – everywhere you look are recipes or stories about Thanksgiving sides or The Best Turkey. I’m guilty, too having sent out recipes for winter greens and winter vegetable gratin just last week.

But, I was talking to some folks this past weekend at Mistletoe Market in Perry, GA and we were talking about making breakfast for a crowd. I suggested they try my recipe for French Toast Casserole. It’s great. (If you click on the photo you can see it featured in Paula Deen’s magazine.) I’ve shared it before so excuse the redundancy, but it’s perfect and I don’t think you’ll mind because it tastes soooo good.

Breakfast can get the short shift on Thanksgiving. There’s so much food later in the day, but the morning can be hectic. When my sister and I were young, our favorite mornings were when Mama would prepare French toast for breakfast. The smell of butter, kissed with cinnamon, combined with the heady scent of sizzling egg was a most welcome greeting as we bounded down the stairs.

Sounds great – but nothing to make with a full house of people and lots of cooking still left to do. So, instead of another side dish to compete with Mama’s Sweet Potato Casserole or dessert to compete with Cousin Kathy’s Buttermilk Pecan Pie, I am sharing a couple of recipes for breakfast or brunch. (I will admit however, I have served the cassserole before as a dessert, but that’s neither here nor there 😉 )

My French Toast Casserole is made the night before, so you won’t find yourself camped in front of a hot griddle in the early morning, groggy and in need of caffeine. Make it tomorrow night and then, Thanksgiving morning remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. Turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, give many thanks you aren’t in that crowd lining the streets of NYC, and basically, breakfast is ready. It’s a sturdy dish, nothing to fuss over, and responds well to being kept in a low oven while family members emerge for the day.

If you want to go for an even more simple way to start the day, try Sauteed Pears with Vanilla Yogurt and Honey Peanuts. The pears can be sauteed the night before and even microwaved in individual servings on Thanksgiving morning. I love the flavor combination of the peanut and the pear.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I have so much to be thankful for – no, not everything is perfect by a looooong shot – but I am so grateful for what I do have. I have my health, my family, good friends, and love in my life.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

SAUTEED PEARS WITH VANILLA YOGURT AND HONEY PEANUTS
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of fine salt
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup low fat vanilla or plain yogurt
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat. Add pears and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of fine salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Keep warm.

In a small bowl combine the peanut butter, honey, and yogurt; stir until smooth. Set aside.

To serve, place the pears in a shallow bowl. Top with yogurt mixture. Sprinkle over peanuts. Serve immediately.

Derby Y’all: French Toast Casserole with Bourbon Crème Anglaise Friday, May 1 2009 

French Toast Casserole

French Toast Casserole



This week was y’all filled. Seriously y’all filled. I was a guest on Paula Deen’s Best Dishes on Saturday and Monday on Food Network. And, the May issue of her magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen has a feature on me with my recipe for French Toast Casserole. She was really, really nice. We had a blast. She called me a “hell of a chef” and said “I could put my shoes beside her stove or under her table any day.” Nice!

This recipe is great for breakfast, brunch, and I will also be featuring it as a dessert this week at May-Gration, a fundraiser for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts hosted by the Blue Heron in Sunderland, Massachusetts. I’m thrilled to be a part of this. It’s a North-South thing, featuring recipes from my book and tasty morsels from owners Chef Deborah Snow and Manager Barbara White. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts distributes approximately 6.4 million pounds of food to more than 100,000 people in the community every year. Click on May-Gration above to check it out.

So, check out this month’s issue of Cooking with Paula Deen. Give my French Toast Casserole a try for breakfast, brunch, or even as dessert. It’d be a great make-ahead dessert for a Kentucky Derby Party served with Bourbon Crème Anglaise. (How often to do you get to say bourbon and breakfast in the same paragraph? Hmm.)

Speaking of bourbon. I got to meet Parker Beam earlier this month at a bourbon tasting at a conference. That’s right, BEAM, as in related to Jim BEAM. His ding-dang ancestor INVENTED bourbon in Kentucky. He’s now the master distiller at Evan Williams. I was in the presence of greatness.

And, yes, I got his autograph. 😉

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Master Distiller Parker Beam and Virginia Willis

PS Couple of blogs about my recent event at Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham if you want to check them out: www.localtable.net/blogs/roben and www.ingredientsinc.net

French Toast Casserole with Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Serves 8


When my sister and I were young, our favorite mornings were when Mama would prepare French toast for breakfast. The smell of butter, kissed with cinnamon, combined with the heady scent of sizzling egg was a most welcome greeting as we bounded down the stairs. For breakfast, this version is made the night before, so you won’t find yourself camped in front of a hot griddle in the early morning, groggy and in need of caffeine. The next morning, remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. By the time the table is set, the family is assembled, and you’re ready for your second cup, breakfast is ready. Brioche and challah are yeast breads, rich with egg and butter, and make superlative French toast.

For dessert, make it early in the day, or even a day ahead. It’s bread and eggs, y’all. We’re not solving life’s mysteries, and nothing will “go wrong” if it’s in the fridge for a day or so. Just remember to remove it from the fridge to take the chill off about 30 minutes before you cook it. Serve it warm or room temperature.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced
11/2 inches thick (about 11/2 pounds)
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Confectioners’ sugar, for accompaniment
Sorghum, cane, or maple syrup, for accompaniment
Bourbon Creme Anglaise, (See recipe below)

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar in a baking dish. Arrange the bread slices in the dish. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a bowl. Pour over the bread, letting it soak in. Top with the pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Let the chilled casserole stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Bake until browned and set, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Sift over confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot or warm with sorghum, cane, or maple syrup.

Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Makes 3 cups

This creamy, dreamy deliciousness may also be made ahead. Don’t be trying to make this when you’ve been sipping on the brown stuff. If you don’t pay close attention, the eggs will curdle. Sip too much stuff and you won’t care. Better to make it ahead.

2 cups  whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon bourbon

Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and water.

In a saucepan, bring the milk almost to a boil over medium heat. In a second saucepan, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light (be careful not to make the mixture foamy). Mix in half the hot milk, then transfer the mixture to the other saucepan with the remaining milk and blend. Add the bourbon.

Decrease the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring the custard until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and the mixture reaches 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.

Set a sieve over a large, clean bowl and pass the custard through the sieve.

Place the bowl in the ice bath, and stir the custard until it has completely cooled. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Store the custard in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories
from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright ©
2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.
Photo credit: Ellen Silverman copyright 2008.

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