Lifelong Learning: One Soufflé at a Time Monday, Nov 25 2013 

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I can’t describe how proud I am of this photograph. I’ve previously written about my admiration for my mentor and teacher, Anne Willan in a post titled The LaVarenne Way. I was recently able to be her sous chef at Rancho la Puerta and it was such an honor and privilege to assist her, once again. She graciously insists we teach together, but I know better. I may be an accomplished chef and food writer, but with Anne I am the constant student. She’s had an amazing career and each and every time I am in the kitchen with her I learn something.

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I admit I take it personally when folks don’t realize what an enormous contribution Anne has made to the world of food, cooking, and food-writing — or even sometimes who she is. Those who are in the know are also in awe. In May, Anne was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame for her body of work, which includes 40 cookbooks and a 26-part PBS program. The list of LaVarenne alumni goes on and on — Amanda Hesser, Alex Guarnaschelli, Tanya Holland, Steve Raichlen, Kate Krader, and Gale Gand are just a few.

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All those folks may be in media and on TV, but that’s the thing, Anne is, as one review stated, “not the next Food Network Star.” Indeed, she is not, but without her there wouldn’t be one.

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Anne’s latest book is her memoir called One Soufflé at a Time. In it she documents her wonderful, wondrous life in food. It’s peppered with stories of smuggling truffles, as well as the birth of LaVarenne Pratique, the culinary masterpiece that was eventually translated into 9 languages and sold over 1 million copies. (It’s out of print and much sought after on e-bay. However, it will be available as an e-book soon. Make sure to “Like” Anne Willan on Facebook to hear about the release.

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Born and raised in England, she attended Oxford University and graduated with a degree in Economics. Her scores were not stellar and her father suggested she attend secretarial school. Instead, she thought she’d do something different and studied at Le Cordon Bleu. She went on to cook for the Van der Kamps at Chateau de Versailles where she cooked for British royalty, French aristocrats, and Heads of State. She later became the Food Editor for the Washington Star and an editor for Gourmet Magazine. In 1975, encouraged by her dear friends Julia Child and James Beard, she founded the Parisian cooking school LaVarenne, the first bilingual French cooking school in Paris. Whether you recognize her name or not, Anne Willan and LaVarenne were hugely impactful in popularizing French cuisine to the American public. She demystified classic French culinary technique for regular people who love food. Her recipes and instructions are clear and direct, much like Anne.

The reviews of One Soufflé at a Time have been been solid:

“Ms. Willan tells the story of her life—interspersing it generously with recipes, classic French and otherwise—in an easygoing, readable style, full of anecdote and insight. Along the way, she lets us intuit, rather than informing us, just what an influential figure she has been.” — Colman Andrews, Wall Street Journal

“When Julia Child introduced me to her dear friend, Anne Willan, she said, ‘You must get to know Anne, she is remarkable!’ Julia was almost right: Anne is extraordinary! For those of us who love Anne and have admired – and benefited – from her work (she trained some of my favorite chefs and editors), this memoir is filled with insights, lessons, inspiration and so many tales of adventure. And for those of you who are just meeting Anne, you’re lucky – you have a treat in store.”–Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and co-owner of Beurre & Sel cookies

..a memoir inundated with easy-to-follow recipes for classic French foods than a regular cookbook, the book reinforces what I’ve suspected all along: Storytelling is the best way to teach.” Praised as a “Book worth Buying” by Saveur Magazine

I have to be honest and admit I haven’t quite finished it. I’m savoring it like a French buttery sablé, enjoying bits at a time, sneaking reads in between a slew of deadlines. In it I hear Anne’s clear, strong voice and I feel like I am the constant student, joyfully learning once again.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share Anne’s recipe for Moroccan Roast Turkey found in One Soufflé at a Time. I actually originally tested this recipe as an editorial assistant — over 15 years ago for her cookbook Cooked to Perfection. It’s positively delicious and like much of Anne’s work, has stood the test of time. If you’re wanting to try something a little different this Thanksgiving week, I can’t think of anyone else to trust.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

MOROCCAN SPICED TURKEY
Serves 8

A 10-pound/4.5 kg turkey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup/100 g slivered almonds, very finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 onion studded with 6 whole cloves
2 tablespoons softened butter

For basting
1/2 cup/110 g honey
2 cups/500 ml chicken stock, more if needed
String for trussing

1. Heat the oven to 350F and set a shelf low down. Spread the chopped almonds and sesame seeds in a single layer in a shallow pan and toast them in the oven, shaking the pan occasionally, until golden, 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

2. In a small bowl, mix the ground cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger and cloves with the salt and pepper. Rub both the skin and cavity of the turkey with the spice mixture. Set the bird on its back in a roasting pan and spread the skin with softened butter. Put the whole onion inside the turkey and tie it in a neat shape with string. Warm the honey and half the stock in a small pan and pour this over the bird.

3. Roast the turkey in the heated oven until it is golden brown all over and the meat starts to shrink from the drumsticks, 2 1/2-3 hours. During cooking, turning it on one side, then the other, and finally returning it to its back. The turkey is done when you lift it with a two-pronged fork, juices from the cavity run clear, not pink, and when you rotate a drumstick it will feel pliable not rigid. During roasting, baste the bird often and, when the juices begin to brown, add the remaining stock. Dilute with more stock towards the end of cooking if needed as that the honey scorches easily.

4. About 15 minutes before the turkey is done, take it from the roasting pan and strain the pan juices into a small saucepan. Skim off the fat and boil the juices to reduce them if necessary — there should be about 1 cup/250 ml of this glaze. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds and almonds. Return the turkey to the roasting pan, spread the glaze over the top, and continue roasting, basting very often, until the skin is dark golden brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes.

5. Transfer the turkey to a carving board or platter, cover it loosely with foil and let stand 10-15 minutes. Before serving, discard the strings and onion from the cavity.

Buy Grits by Short Stack Editions. And, if you buy any of my books from your independent bookstore or online, I’ll be happy to send you a signed bookplate!

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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.

Photo credit – Lisa Ekus

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Chilly. Chili. Chilies. Chillin’. Thursday, Jan 14 2010 

We recently had a cold spell in Atlanta, as well it seems as the entire Northern hemisphere except, bizarrely, Greenland of all places, which I really pretty much thought was a glacier with a little dirt caught in the cracks. As Jack Frost was nipping at my toes, along with every other cook and food writer, my thoughts turned to soups and stews. So, these last weeks I have enjoyed hearty beef and vegetable stew as well as a robust lentil soup with collard greens and bits of delicious guanchiale from the Batali (yes, that one) family’s shop Salumi in Seattle. Yesterday, I was enjoying a spicy bowl of chili con carne, with pungent pieces of poblano chilies simmered until meltingly soft.

Distracted as ever and effortlessly accomplishing the skill of NOT writing, I let my mind wander….

Brrrrr. I’m chilly……chili is so delicious……I should make this more often… I like that meatless one I make…..especially with a little sour cream and hot sauce…hmmm……Chilis…..I love chili peppers…… I think poblanos are my favorite…….complex heat…..I should look up a recipe from Rick Bayless … dang, he’s sooooo handsome….I love his work……chef crush……Mexico….. whew…….I bet Mexico is really warm right now. Ummmm. Hot….Mexico….. ummmm…..warm…….those firm hands…. nimble fingers…. breathless…. the pulsing rhythm…..drums…….the flavors…..sensations…. ummm….all that delicious stretching…..that warm undulating water… you, know, I just didn’t know I could bend like that….the pleasure….but, the pain is really what did it… wow, it just hurt so good….ummm, gosh, it’s been a while….. dang I sure could use….

What? No! Not THAT!

I was thinking of Rancho la Puerta!

Rancho la Puerta is Spafinder.com’s favorite spa in North America. Amazing. Beautiful. Whole mind. Whole body. It’s the first time ever I went anywhere and my job was to do nothing but take care of myself. To chill, to relax, to rest, and to regenerate.

So, that’s how chilly gets to chillin’.


It’s a phenomenal place. It was founded in 1940 by founded by Edmond and Deborah Szekely and is the original destination fitness resort and spa. The believe in providing space, “Space to breathe freely amidst nature. To relax. To renew, reflect and redirect one’s longer-living life. To explore the possibilities of changing course in one’s life…. one strengthened and emboldened by good health and fearless life-long learning, which unleashes the willingness to change…for the better.”

I spent a week there in November. There are classes and seminars all day. Stretch, yoga, swimming, pilates for the body. Drawing, sculpture, beading for the mind. Chaise lounges surrounding the four pools on site, dance, and drumming for the soul.


You can come for a week or just a few days. Guests are housed throughout the property in little casitas or cottages that vary in size and price. All are charming and lovely with patios and many have fireplaces. The flowers are exquisite and the views are spectacular. At the end of the week, after such healthy eating, 6 hours of exercise a day, long walks, mindful meditation, and warming glorious sun I felt like I had been transformed into a 5’11″” super model. In my mind I was long, lean, in fact, you could practically see my six-pack abs. (Ok, that’s not exactly true, but like I said in my MIND. It’s a spa, not a miracle camp!)

The food is incredible. The ingredients are farm fresh, and grown on the property. Portions are realistic but filling. It’s not just rabbit food. It’s full of flavor and alive. (All meals are provided in the cost of the stay.) Their cooking school La Cocina que Canta is where I come in. (You know it wasn’t the circuit training.) I am teaching Southern Comfort SPA style the week of May 15 – 22. To find out more about it or to register click here or call 1-800-443-7565. The week I was there Marie Simmons was the teacher. Here’s a photo of my friends and colleagues Anne Willan and Lisa Ekus-Saffer in her class.

Guess what? Mama’s coming. She is really looking forward to it. However, she already told me NO to the pre-dawn morning hikes. But, that’s just it. There’s as little or as much as you want. It’s about taking care of what YOU need.

Come see me this spring at Rancho la Puerta and let’s enjoy a little Southern Comfort, SPA style. In the meanwhile, enjoy my recipe for a HOT bowl of meatless chili.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS. Yes, I think Rick is very handsome, smart, and talented. And, I like his smart, talented, and wonderful happily married wife, Deann, as well.


WHERE’S THE BEEF CHILI
Serves 6

Truthfully, I don’t normally use many meat replacement products. I’ll most often use ground beef or ground turkey in chili, but I love the recipe for this chili with TVP, or texturized vegetable protein. The thing is, the texture is the same as ground meat – but there’s no oil or fat. Even serious meat eaters like it.

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups dry TVP (texturized vegetable protein – available at Whole Foods Market and other health food stores)
3 cups tomato juice
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1/4 cup chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
3 cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Add TVP and tomato juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and add bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. Add tomatoes, beans, and stir to combine. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for at least one hour. Adding water if the mixture becomes too thick. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve HOT.

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