My Southern Pantry™ Limited Holiday Release Friday, Oct 29 2010 

My Southern Pantry™ is a collection of wonderful ingredients I really like having in my kitchen and I thought you might, too. – Chef Virginia Willis, author of Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking

I am thrilled, nervous, excited, breathless – you name it – I am it – about the launch of my product line, My Southern Pantry™ available for a  limited holiday release on 11/1/10 through my website virginiawillis.com.

Someone asked me who was doing my “manufacturing” – well, it’s me and a group of folks that believe in what I am doing. I didn’t call up a company and have my name slapped on someone else’s stuff. I figured if I wanted to do this, I had to do it and I had to do it the way I wanted it to be.

Early on I decided I wanted “green” packaging, or as much as possible, and it’s expensive. I could only find one bag in the right size in the whole, entire United States that had a biodegradable window on an eco-friendly bag, but I had to have a window to show off the colors of the beautiful heirloom granite ground grits. My brownies are made with 2 kinds of semisweet Guittard chocolate – chips that melt away and chunks that retain their shape when cooked. The salt for the Pecan Smoked Salt is from my friend and colleague Mark Bitterman’s shop The Meadow in Portland (and soon to open in NYC). The spices for my French Quarter Spice Rub are from World Spice Merchants, my favorite spice store located in Seattle. I sought out ground Tabasco pepper, not the widely available ground cayenne pepper because I love the idea of using a pepper so strongly associated with Louisiana. I also use Café Du Monde coffee that reminds me of a very special morning with someone I care for very much and it makes me smile.

Everything I have chosen as an ingredient is top of the line and has a reason, a back story. I’ve made up my mind My Southern Pantry™ is going to be what I want – or it simply won’t be. This week I labeled each and every bag of grits and brownies myself. It’s honest and earnest – these are things I have in my kitchen that I love — and I hope you do, too.

So, I am starting with a limited holiday release. My Southern Pantry™ is currently available through my website and in Atlanta at The Cook’s Warehouse. We’re starting national expansion in January.

To order, please visit www.virginiawillis.com

I thank you for remembering these items as you make your holiday gift giving decisions.

Many, many thanks for your consideration and support.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA


Heirloom Grits

From the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains comes an heirloom corn over 100 years old. Seeds passed family to family, this corn grows 3-colors to a stalk, creating an unusual and colorful meal. Beauty aside, these are quite simply some of the best grits I have ever had. Ground on granite millstone these grits are batch numbered and dated with a “ground on” date. I tasted different grits for almost 2 years before I decided these were the ones. (20 ounces $9.95 + S&H)

Pecan Brownies Mise en Place

Everything you need to make the best brownies ever, everything, but the butter and the eggs. ‘Cause if all you need to do is add oil and water, those aren’t the best brownies ever. Forget additives and anti-caking ingredients. This “mise en place”, French technique terminology for “putting in place” or what you need to make the recipe consists of rich semisweet Guittard chocolate, flour, pure cane sugar, cocoa powder, pecans from my friends at Pearson Farms, baking soda, and fine sea salt. It’s just like you came over and we made them together, except you pour your own glass of milk. (21 ounces $9.95 + S&H)

Pecan Smoked Salt

Large flake sea salt from Cyprus cold-smoked for over  8 hours over  South Georgia pecan wood. Open the tin and smell a campfire. Sweet, nutty, and mildly bitter, it is an excellent addition to your southern pantry. Use as a finishing salt with vegetables for a smoky bacon flavor without the fat. (1.5 ounces $7.95 + S&H)

French Quarter Spice Rub and Seasoning Blend

Heady with the aromas of the French quarter – dark roast coffee with chicory, the thick scent of brown cane sugar, spicy Tabasco chile powder, and a specially crafted Quatre Epice, a warm blend of peppercorns, ground cloves, nutmeg, and ground ginger, this spice rub and seasoning blend calls to the complex flavors of New Orleans. More complex than a simple Creole seasoning it’s excellent on steaks, pork, lamb, chicken, bringing a different flavor to each. It’s also wonderful on rich fish like salmon. (1.5 ounces $6.95 + S&H)


Smoky Collard Greens
Serves 4 to 6

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon. The flavor comes from smoked salt. In its pure state, salt is a simple chemical compound, sodium chloride. There are many types of salt from all over the world that contain different elements and minerals. But things get really “fired up” when salt is smoked. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to deep amber. This ingredient adds a unique flavor to a wide range of dishes, including beef, pork, duck, chicken, and fish. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables, to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat, and it is great for vegetarians.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium bunch collard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned tough stems
removed and discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
4 cups water
1 tablespoon Pecan Smoked Salt
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot Pepper Vinegar, for accompaniment

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and
cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the greens, water, smoked salt, and apple cider vinegar. Season the mixture with pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the greens are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with smoked salt and pepper. Serve immediately with the hot pepper vinegar on the side.

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, www.virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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Messing with Winter Greens Tuesday, Nov 3 2009 

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Check out this mess of collard greens!

I was teaching in Fort Valley, Georgia a few weeks ago at the Peach Palette and I asked Beth to go out and get some greens for the Tangle of Winter Greens. I think I said 4 bunches. This is HALF of what she came back with! And, being that it was Fort Valley – she just pulled up to the farmstand pickup truck and he put them in her trunk. Drive Through Collards. Only in the South. We had a good time with it and my cousin Kathy Waites took this great picture.

Love it. Love greens, too. Cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens. All are brassicas and have a little bite.
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I am on the road again at the Women Chef and Restauranteurs Conference in DC. Great group. But, Mama and I are already talking about the Thanksgiving menu. The amusing thing about Thanksgiving it is the one meal that is almost immovable in terms of menu. Each family member has that one dish that is their favorite and for some, it’s like the entire holiday is absolutely positively ruined if the sweet potatoes are topped with something other than toasty brown marshmallows or the Squash Casserole is missing. A day which is supposed to be a joyful gathering of family and friends instead becomes a day without sunshine. This I know. The deal is, dishes can be added, but nothing can be removed from the menu. I learned this the hard way. As a chef and now in charge of most of the savory aspects of the Thanksgiving meal (Mama still does the desserts) I have tried to branch out a bit. I once put panko breadcrumbs on the squash casserole and I sincerely felt like an enemy of the state.

One dish I absolutely won’t mess with is the mess of greens. I have had without fail, some form of cooked winter greens at every Thanksgiving meal of my entire life. I dare say even longer than turkey because my grandmother, whom I called Meme, cooked them for hours until they were meltingly soft. They were indeed appropriate as pabluum for an infant. During the fall, I generally like them a bit more toothsomeness, but I know better. For Thanksgiving I cook them just like Meme did, in a salty smoky broth flavored with hog jowl. The fat melts and the pot likker is oily and slick, perfect for sipping later and enjoying with a wedge of cornmeal.

In late November, the fields have been kissed with a touch of frost, something that Meme said brings out the sweetness in the bitter collard, kale, or mustard greens. They are at the beginning of the peak of the season and absolutely the epitome of eating local and in season. Sweet potatoes and panko are one thing. Messing with the greens is quite another.

The saying if it’s not broke, don’t fix it comes to mind, but here are a few choices for your fall and Thanksgiving menus.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Tangle of Winter Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

I once demonstrated this recipe on a local morning TV show. Aunt Louise was watching and told Mama later, “She took those greens out of that pan just like they were done!” You won’t believe how fast they cook, either.

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see below)
1 medium bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded,
and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

COLLARDS WITH HOG JOWL
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
2 cups water
1/2 pound hog jowl or fat back, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and hog jowl and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 60 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

NOT MEME’S GREENS! SPICY COLLARDS WITH SMOKED TURKEY
Serves 8

5 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard or turnip
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 smoked turkey leg, about 1 1/2 pounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a clean sink with cold water. Tear greens into large pieces and place in water to soak. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl, allowing grit to fall to the bottom the sink, rinse sink. Repeat process at least three times or more as needed.
Using a large pot over high heat, combine onions, oil, jalapeno and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more. Add the turkey leg and cover with greens, season with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, being careful not to over cook. Remove the
turkey leg, cool slightly and remove meat from leg. Dice meat and add to greens. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

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