Simple Summer Suppers: Everyday to Entertaining Friday, Jul 8 2011 

Tonight, I’m visiting friends in Westchester, NY. It’s a somewhat cool night. Well, mostly and at least to me, who is used to Georgia in July. It is in the 90s in Atlanta and it’s in the upper-70s here. Indoors is too warm for comfort without AC, but dinner on the porch was quiet and comfortable. First our hostess put out some easy nibbles for before dinner. Then, we enjoyed a selection of salads from a local gourmet shop. Entertaining guests in summer doesn’t have to be difficult. A nice loaf of ciabatta and a chilled white made a simple summer supper.

Earlier today, we enjoyed a casual business lunch and even in the middle of the day, the breeze was nice. I served fresh lettuces and arugula from our garden mixed with handfuls of parsley, basil, tarragon, and chives. After the rain last night I was able to harvest our 1st yellow squash. It was so sweet, I didn’t even want to cook it. I very thinly sliced it and tossed it with the salad in a sherry dressing with extra virgin olive oil. On the side we had cucumbers, Vidalia onion, and radishes in rice wine vinegar with chervil and dill. I also served cold roast chicken from a large hen I cooked last night with spicy Dijon mustard.

Simple, simple, simple.

Both meals were enjoyed al fresco and both meals were exceedingly easy. I commented as we sat watching the fireflies in the twilight that the meals today reminded me of eating in France.

Everyone thinks that French food is so fanciful, but I think the French revel in simple summer suppers. The honestly of the food and good ingredients, the concept of doing as little to something as possible so as not to mess it up, is what the French do best.

Truth is, sometimes that simplicity can be unnervingly hard to achieve. My life isn’t that perfect all the time, believe me. Sometimes it’s one of Jared’s sandwiches from Subway, not simple.

But – the thing, or at least my thing – is to try. I don’t have a garden in Atlanta, but I do try to go by the Grant Park Farmers Market to buy fresh, local produce. To find a farmers market in your area, check out localharvest.org. I find the vegetables are so much fresher they last longer.

It’s about sharing food with friends and family, and not the drive through. It’s about asking that seemingly sisyphean question, “What’s for dinner?” and being able to answer with good, simple, food — for both everyday and when entertaining.

Two friends and colleagues of mine, Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder have released a great new book, Everyday to Entertaining: 200 Sensational Recipes That Transform from Casual to Elegant. It’s seasonless, and while I am certain it will be great anytime of the year, it also seems perfectly suited for summer. I am enjoying it immensely.

I love their approach to the recipes. They’ve organized their cookbook in a strategic way that makes “everyday” simple to navigate, and “entertaining” easy to accomplish. Each section has side-by-side instructions for everyday and entertaining. They come equipped with supplies, cook time, start-to-finish time, and how many it will serve.

It’s dead simple and the recipes are delicious. I’m sharing some of their recipes here I think you’ll enjoy with farm-fresh summer produce. I’m also including their super easy recipe for salmon. (Make sure to only buy sustainably sourced salmon. For more on that, check out what Seafood Watch has to say.) And, we’ll finish up with classic chocolate mousse.

What’s not to like about classic chocolate mousse? I’ll take that everyday OR entertaining!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS. This may seem antithetical to shopping at the local farmers market, and it is to a great extent. But it’s good news for Costco shoppers. The US farm-raised Steelhead Trout at Costco is rated by Seafood Watch as a Best Choice and would be excellent, here. Suburbanites can be sustainable, too.

Corn, Zucchini and Basil Fritters
Adding zucchini to these corn fritters takes them to the next taste level. And it gives you another use for the proliferation of zucchini that land on your porch, aka the surplus from ardent neighborhood gardeners. Thank heavens for the many uses the zucchini inspires, from sweet zucchini bread to these toothsome hotcakes.

Make Ahead
The fritters can be made up to 1 hour ahead and kept in a warm (200°F) oven.

Makes 10 fritters
Hands-on time 35 minutes
Start to finish 35 minutes

• Preheat oven to 200°F (100°C)
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper

1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1⁄2 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1⁄2 cup minced onion
1⁄4 cup minced red bell pepper
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1⁄4 tsp baking soda
1⁄4 tsp salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 large zucchini (about 6 oz), grated
2 tbsp coarsely sliced fresh basil
2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg, beaten
1⁄4 cup milk
1⁄4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
Sour cream, optional

1. In a large bowl, combine corn, cornmeal, onion, bell pepper, flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking soda, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add grated zucchini, basil and parsley.
2. In a small bowl, combine egg, milk and sour cream. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Be careful not to overmix.
3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add scant 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) of the batter per fritter. Flatten with tines of a fork and tidy up the edges. Fry for about 2 minutes, flip and cook other side for 2 minutes more or until browned and cooked through. (The fritters will be a little more fragile to turn than the previous recipe, but they will also be more vegetal and less bready as a result of the added zucchini.) Transfer fritters as they are cooked to prepared baking sheet and keep warm in preheated oven. Continue to cook remaining batter in the same manner, adding more oil and adjusting heat between batches as necessary.
4. Garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Cornmeal. All cornmeal is not created equal. Though any cornmeal will do, searching out fresh stone-ground cornmeal will reap tantalizing rewards. The coarse texture and enhanced flavor of a locally grown and ground product will add pizzazz to everything that you make with it.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Salmon with Rosemary Butter

Yes, we enjoy a challenge, but what we love even more is something that’s easy but looks like a challenge. This prosciutto-wrapped salmon certainly fits into that category. The simply seasoned seafood is encased in a paper-thin slice of prosciutto, baked, then topped with a dollop of rosemary-spiked butter. By the time the savory little package reaches the table, the hot salmon has melted the butter, creating the easiest sauce ever.

Serves 6
Hands-on time 10 minutes
Start to finish 25 minutes

Make Ahead
The salmon fillets can be seasoned and wrapped with the prosciutto up to 8 hours ahead and kept covered and refrigerated.

• Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper
Rosemary Butter
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
11⁄2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 salmon fillets (each 6 oz/175 g), skin removed
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto

1. Rosemary Butter: In a small bowl, whisk together butter, rosemary, 1⁄4 tsp salt and 1⁄4 tsp pepper. Set aside.
2. Season salmon lightly with salt and pepper. Gently wrap one slice of prosciutto around each fillet. Place fillets on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until salmon is just cooked through and flakes easily when tested with a sharp knife.
3. Place a dollop of Rosemary Butter atop each salmon fillet and serve.

Paper-Thin Slices of Prosciutto. Although you can buy prosciutto at almost any grocery store deli counter, you can’t always find someone who knows how to slice it and package it. Prosciutto in most instances should be sliced nearly see-through thin. If the slicing is done correctly, stacking them together in the typical deli style will mean you’ll have to tear them to shreds trying to get them apart. The solution: single layering in sets of two or three on pieces of wax paper (or whatever paper the deli uses).

Chocolate Mousse
Luscious, decadent and done in a flash – we’re already in love, and we haven’t even got to the chocolate part yet. Our version of chocolate mousse is as simple as it gets. All we do is melt a generous amount of good-quality chocolate with a splash of coffee and fold it into a billowing cloud of whipped cream. How easy is that?

Tip
A higher percentage of cocoa makes for a more intense and less sweet chocolate flavor.

Make Ahead
Chocolate Mousse can be made 1 day ahead and kept covered and refrigerated.

Serves 6 to 8
Hands-on time 20 minutes
Start to finish 20 minutes

• Large pastry bag and tip, optional

8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz bittersweet (dark) chocolate, chopped
(see Tip)
1⁄4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
3 cups heavy or whipping (35%) cream

1. In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine semisweet and bittersweet chocolates and coffee. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from simmering water and whisk in vanilla and salt. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a chilled bowl, using an electric mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Fold about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate to lighten. Add chocolate mixture to remaining whipped cream and fold gently to combine. Transfer mousse to pastry bag and pipe or simply spoon into chilled serving cups or bowls.

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls. When a double boiler is not in your kitchen cabinet, a stainless steel bowl comes to the rescue and does double duty as a mixing bowl and an efficient heatproof container to set on a pan of simmering water.

Excerpted from Everyday to Entertaining by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. http://www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission.

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.

Edible Communities & Corn: Taking Care of Mama Wednesday, Aug 25 2010 

Funny how things work out in life.

For those not aware I am in on deadline for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections of a Southern Culinary Journey. I am in the final stretch so I am enlisting the assistance of friends and sharing recipes from books and people that I think do good work.

Sometimes we get a little hung up on competition. I’m all about doing one’s best and healthy contest, but there’s a lot to be said for sharing. They are helping me; I’m helping them. Not to overdo the idioms, but think “a rising tide floats all boats.”

However, since I am from the South, we’ve got to involve pork, not boats. It’s called The Pork Chop Theory and I learned it from my friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree. It’s a very sharing and feminine approach to life and work.

This week, I asked Tracy Ryder, co-founder of Edibles Communities with Carole Topalian, if she would share some recipes for corn.

I’ve had some great corn all summer – Georgia , Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts. My grandfather always preferred to plant his corn patch in the fruitful black soil at the river’s edge. He taught me that when corn is ripe and ready to be picked, the silk at the top of the ear should be dark brown, almost black. It is not unusual to see people peeling back the husks in search of ears with perfect rows of kernels. Just take a peek to make sure the ear is full and free of worms, but keep the husk on to keep the corn moist and sweet.

Lately, I’ve been consumed with corn, dried corn that is. Grinding grits, when to grind, where to grind, how much to grind. The top photo and the photo just below is of my heirloom granite ground grits for My Southern Pantry. (Much more on that later, but if you want to stay posted, please follow that story on the MSP Facebook Page.)

I have a dual sided Zuni Corn Maiden created from turquoise that I wear on my “life necklace”. My life necklace is sort of like a charm bracelet, but not exactly. It is a select group of items either lovingly given to or purchased by me when something was happening that I wanted documented.

Something to have close to me to touch when I want a “physical” memory.

Corn Maidens reflect the agricultural and ritual importance of corn to native Hopi and Zuni culture. Corn Maidens are emblematic of this respect for corn as a sustainer of life and spirituality. It’s a very female oriented aspect of the culture. Corn, essentially represents the Mother.

And, you know, it’s all about taking care of Mama.

The dual sides of the Corn Maiden represent the younger and the older woman. On the younger side the Corn Maiden is shown with her cob full of corn. Mature Corn Maidens are depicted without corn kernels — but their robes are much richer.

The coincidence of the corn is that I had purchased my Corn Maiden while in Santa Fe with Edibles Communities.

My Corn Maiden was meant to document an amazing, rich, and fulfilling experience.

Being in Santa Fe was truthful, challenging, and stimulating. Seeing new things, tasting new flavors, feeling new emotions, thinking about things in a way I had never before was immensely rewarding.

Edible Communuties is a national network of award-winning regional magazines that is dedicated to transform the way consumers shop for, cook, eat and relate to local food. It’s the world’s largest publisher of information on local foods with the specific flavor of each community.

There are currently 62 magazines that celebrate the abundance of foods season by season through documenting local and authentic food traditions. These magazines connect the people in the food community with stories of real people making real food, a truthful source of local food information for consumers.

It’s an amazing group of talented dedicated people making really good magazines.

Through its printed publications, websites, and events, Edible Communities strive to connect consumers with local growers, retailers, chefs, and food artisans, enabling those relationships to grow and thrive in a mutually beneficial, healthful and economically viable way. Think of it as a sound business model built on taking care of Mother Earth.

Given my experience in Santa Fe, they had me at hello, but it gets better.

They now have a cookbook.

In the continued exercise of spreading the love and the tenets of The Pork Chop Theory, with a nod to Mama Earth and the Corn Maiden, I am sharing some recipes from my friends and colleagues.

Their beautiful cookbook Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods is a collection of essays and recipes from the individual EC magazines on local food heroes and traditions incorporating the very best regional foods from every area of the United States, as well as British Columbia and Ontario.

This week, we celebrate corn.

Many, many thanks to Tracy and Carole.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA


SUMMERTIME SWEET CORN FRITTERS

Much lighter than hush puppies, these corn pancakes are perfectly seasoned and bring out the sweetness of corn kernels freshly cut from their cobs. You might want to consider doubling the recipe; these fritters disappear very quickly!

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 3 ears of corn)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup finely chopped spring onions or scallions
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoons paprika
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. In a large bowl, stir together the corn, flour, egg yolks, onions, salt, paprika, pepper and cayenne. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir one-quarter of the beaten egg whites into the corn mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the remaining egg whites into the corn mixture in three additions.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat until the butter has melted. Carefully drop some of the corn mixture by tablespoons in to the hot oil, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook each fritter until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn each fritter over and brown the other side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the fritters to a platter lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt, if desired. Repeat until all of the corn mixture has been used. Serve hot with some broiled tomatoes, a salsa made with chopped avocado, mango, lime and cilantro, and sour cream, if desired.

RICH CORN CHOWDER
It is not surprising that sweet corn frequently appears on Vermont menus during the few weeks it’s in season. This luscious corn chowder uses the whole vegetable – cob and all – to create a dish that is satisfying and distinctive. If you choose to preserve some of the summer bounty for use throughout the year, frozen kernels (and cobs) work very well in this recipe.

Makes 8 servings

Corn broth (optional):
4 ears of sweet corn
8 cups water

Chowder:
4 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice, optional, or 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive or grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped celery root or celery
5 medium potatoes, chopped
4 cups corn broth, chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

1. Make the corn broth, if using (you can use chicken broth or vegetable broth instead): Stand an ear of corn up against a cutting board. Using a large sharp knife, and running the blade downwards between the corn kernels and the corn cob, cut the corn kernels from the cob, rotating the cob until all kernels have been removed. Transfer the corn kernels to a medium bowl. Repeat with the remaining 3 ears of corn; set the corn kernels aside for making the chowder.

2. In a medium pot, add 8 cups of water and the cobs of corn from which the corn has been removed. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer until the water has become rich and golden, about 90 minutes. Strain the corn broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard the solids.

3. Make the chowder: In a large pot over medium heat, add the bacon (if using). Cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 7 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. If not using the bacon, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.

4. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the carrot and celery root and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the potatoes, corn broth, water, salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved corn kernels, bring the chowder back up to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender or a potato masher, lightly break up some of the potatoes and corn in the chowder. Do not over-process, or you will lose the rustic texture of the chowder. Stir in the cream and the reserved bacon. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve hot.

2.To thicken the soup, immerse a stick blender into the pot and pulse quickly 5 or 6 times (or use a potato masher) to quickly break up some of the potatoes and corn. Do not over-process, or you will lose the rustic texture of the soup.

Stir in the cream and reserved bacon. Adjust the seasonings; you may need to add more salt to balance the sweetness of the corn broth and bring out the full flavor of this soup.

NOTE: A corn chowder soup base adds great flavor to this soup and is a wonderful bonus when freezing kernels cut off the cob. Simmer the cobs in water to cover for 2 hours, until the water has turned into a rich corn broth. Cool the broth and store in freezer containers.

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

Corn Soup & Attack of the Killer Tomato Pie Recipe Test Thursday, Jul 29 2010 

It’s hot as blue blazes in Georgia. Last weekend the heat index was 110°. That’s just unbelievable. And, the nights? The nights have been positively wet and thick with heat. Unbearable.

I remember when I was a very young girl my grandparents did not have air conditioning. It sounds so primitive doesn’t it? Yes, of course, they had indoor plumbing! No jokes about me being a hick. Not having AC in a place that can feel like it is as hot as 110° is pretty serious stuff. Meme would sprinkle the sheets with baby powder. Oscillating fans, window fans, and the massive and terrifyingly large attic fan ran at all hours of the day and night. The attic fan was controlled by a switch in the hall closet. It was situated in the center of the house in the ceiling; once the switch was flipped the levered doors would groan open, the motor would hum, and the blades would begin to twirl- thump, thump – as the brass blades pushed the air.

Hot dry summers make for uncomfortable people, but it is pretty much heaven for tomatoes. As long as there is enough water to prevent them from drying up and dying, tomatoes love the heat. Hot dry summers make for intensely flavored tomatoes, not watery or thin-flavored. Same with corn. What grows together goes together and those veggies like it hot.

If you are around next weekend in Atlanta the folks over at JCT kitchen are throwing the 2nd annual Killer Tomato Fest for Georgia Organics. Good food and drink for a good cause. I’ll be up in chilly Maine teaching at Stonewall Kitchen, so if you are in that neck of the woods, stop in and say hello.

The recipes below are perfect for right now, at least down South. The first is from Bon Appétit, Y’all and is just simple goodness.

If you would like to participate in testing, the second one, Old-Fashioned Tomato Pie, is for my next book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections from a Southern Culinary Journey. I thought I would put it out there for testing and see what everyone thinks.

There’s a testing sheet at the end and if you wish, you can please send to me at info@virginiawillis.com. I really learned a lot from the Spicy Pulled Pork Recipe Testing Experiment.

So, looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about my Old-Fashioned Tomato Pie!

Thanks in advance!
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Best VA

Corn Soup with Tomato Garnish
Serves 4 to 6

Dede always preferred to plant his corn patch in the fruitful black soil at the river’s edge. He taught me that when corn is ripe and ready to be picked, the silk at the top of the ear should be dark brown, almost black. It is not unusual to see people peeling back the husks in search of ears with perfect rows of kernels. Just take a peek to make sure the ear is full and free of worms, but keep the husk on to keep the corn moist and sweet.

Do not bother with this recipe unless it is summer and you can make it with fresh corn and the best tomatoes, preferably heirloom. You will only be disappointed. Heirloom tomatoes, varieties passed down through generations by farmers and gardeners the world over, come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and tastes. If you cannot find heirlooms, this garnish would also be delicious with any ripe tomato from your garden or market.

Scraped kernels from 6 ears fresh sweet corn (about 3 cups) cobs reserved and cut in half
4 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon corn oil, preferably unrefined
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 russet potato, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal
Bouquet garni (2 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh, 6 whole black peppercorns, tied together in cheesecloth)
2 to 3 heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, or basil)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

To make the corn stock, in a saucepan, combine the corncobs and chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until the stock has taken on a light corn flavor, about 10 minutes. Remove the corncobs, strain the stock into a bowl, and set aside.

To prepare the soup, in the same saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the corn kernels, potato, and cornmeal. Add enough of the corncob-infused stock to cover. Add the bouquet garni and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until the chopped potato is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to prepare the garnish, combine the tomatoes and any juices, olive oil, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To finish the soup, in the saucepan, using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Or ladle the soup into a blender and puree until smooth a little at a time. Leave it coarse and chunky if you prefer a more rustic soup, or puree until smooth for a more elegant soup. Stir in the cream and reheat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon into bowls and top with the tomato garnish. Serve immediately.

Old-Fashioned Tomato Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie

Here’s a recipe for my next book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections from a Southern Culinary Journey. I’d love to hear what you think, so if anyone wants to give it a try and let me know, please do.

1 (9-inch) pie shell lined with your favorite pie crust or puff pastry (1/2 recipe of Pâte Brisée, see below)
4 to 5 garden ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cored and thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, for sprinkling
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mixed freshly chopped herbs such as chives, parsley, and basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyère
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup mayonnaise
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375° F. Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until light golden. Remove to cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Place the tomatoes on a rack in the sink in 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until clear and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. (Don’t skip this step! Not cooking the onion can make the pie soggy and wet.)

Layer the tomato slices, cooked onion, and herb in the pie shell. Season each layer with pepper. Combine the grated cheeses and mayonnaise together. Spread mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool. Serve warm or room temperature.

Pâte Brisée
Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies

Pie crust is one of those terrifying things for most people, but the difference in a homemade crust and a rolled pre-manufactured butterless tube of tasteless dough are night and day. If you like to cook, it’s very much worth over coming your fears. Try the real thing.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to ½ cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream. Pulse until dough holds together without being sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. (To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.)

Divide dough into two equal disks and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator, and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes. Dough may be stored tightly wrapped in plastic film and frozen up to 1 month.

VIRGINIA WILLIS TEST SHEET

Tester’s Name
Email address

Date

RECIPE TITLE: Old-Fashioned Tomato Pie
Basic to Brilliant »
Flavor grade A/B/C?

On a scale of 1-10, one being easiest and ten most difficult, how did this recipe rate?
Please make sure to mark all times and what to look for when XYZ is “done”.

From start to finish, how long did it take you to make this recipe?

Was the dish properly seasoned?

Was any portion of the recipe confusing?

Were you unfamiliar with any of the ingredients? If so, which?

Were any details missing?

What did you like least about this recipe?

Other suggestions/comments?

Copyright © Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC 2010

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.

Scratch that Summer Itch: BBQ for Memorial Day Friday, May 28 2010 

I am absolutely itching for summer to start.

Ready for it.
Want it.

It’s buzzing in my brain like a hungry mosquito zeroing in for a feast on a naked expanse of skin.

Warm weather, sunshine, and swimming.
Porches, fishing, and laying on the grass by the river.

In celebration, I’ve made some changes to my website and added a few new pieces to virginiawillis.com. I’ve added a new homepage for the summer. While you are there check out my events and and I hope you enjoy my little homage to blackberries and a little something I wrote for Taste of the South about growing up picking them with my grandfather, Dede.

Picking Swiss chard - you didn't think I was going to share naked expanse of skin, did you?

And, like always, it’s the food. I love summer food. Okra. I’ve had a hankering for okra for a few weeks already! Lady peas and butterbeans. Tomatoes. Summer Squash. Corn. Ah, fresh sweet corn.

Garrison Keillor is rumored to have said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”

Ok, well, consider the source. I mean, I think he’s genius and dearly love Prairie Home Companion, but, um… Well, then you know, fresh sweet corn is really good. Simple. Uncomplicated. Satisfying.

I’ll let you ponder that for a bit…..

Ok, getting back on track, summer does mean grilling.

I love to grill throughout the year, but in the summer it’s just practical to keep the heat out of the kitchen. Burgers and brats are brilliant, steaks and seafood are stupendous, but perhaps my absolute fave? The cheap and cheerful pedestrian chicken.

Chicken can be absolutely sublime on the grill. Smoky and charred, yet tender and juicy.

It can also be drier than chalk and just about as tasty, too. The trick is if you pierce the meat with the tip of a knife and the juices run clear, it’s done. If the juices run pink? It’s underdone. If there are no juices? …… Ahem.

One technique that can help prevent dry, tasteless chicken is brining. Brining poultry will produces moist and tender results. Muscle fibers absorb liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid is lost during cooking, but since the meat is juicier at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier in the end. I like to think of this as a cup that is filled “over the rim.”

Moisture loss is inevitable when you cook any type of muscle fiber. The heat causes the coiled proteins in the fibers to unwind and then join together with one another, resulting in shrinkage and moisture loss. Meat loses about 30 percent of its weight during cooking, but with brining and the cup is “filled over the rim” it reduces the moisture loss during cooking to as little as 15 percent.

Here’s a recipe to start your summer. Grilled Chicken with Mama’s BBQ Sauce. The trick is to cook the chicken almost all the way through before you start to brush it with the sauce, otherwise the sauce will burn.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Grilled Chicken with Mama’s BBQ Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

In the heat of the summer, there’s nothing better for keeping the heat out of the kitchen than firing up the grill. Dede would make his barbecued chicken on the Fourth of July, using a potent vinegar bath on grilled chicken that produced a pungent, meaty odor, sending out billowing clouds of steam and smoke as the chicken cooked on the grill. 

1 gallon cold water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 whole chicken, cut into 6-8 pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for the grill
Mama’s Barbecue Sauce, warmed

Combine the water, salt, and brown sugar in a large plastic container and stir to dissolve. Add the chicken; cover and refrigerate to marinate for 4 to 6 hours.

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and rinse under cool running water. Pat dry with paper towels, season with pepper, and set aside.

Season the chicken with pepper. Apply some oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts. Move the chicken to medium-low heat or reduce the heat to medium; continue to grill, turning occasionally, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes.

During the last 5 to 7 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken with Mama’s BBQ Sauce.

Remove the pieces from the grill as they cook and transfer to a warm platter. Give them a final brush of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with additional sauce on the side.

Mama’s Barbecue Sauce
Makes about 6 1/2 cups

There has seldom been a time in my life when a mason jar of this sauce wasn’t in a corner of my mother or grandmother’s refrigerator. The truth of the matter is, once you have had homemade you will go off the store-bought kind for good.

Make a batch, then separate out a cup or so for brushing on the chicken. Don’t dip your brush in the big pot then dab on half-cooked chicken to serve that same sauce on the side. Eew. That’s just bad food safety and asking for a tummy-ache.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, very finely chopped
2 1/2 cups ketchup
2 cups apple cider or distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
Coarse salt

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; add the onions and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have smoothed and mellowed, at least 10 and up to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for months.

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