Lady Luck: Black Eyed Peas and Greens Tuesday, Jan 1 2013 

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Eating black eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day is a special Southern tradition, and folklore says it brings luck and money in the upcoming year. However, eating greens actually isn’t a rarity for me. We eat greens 3 or more nights a week. I buy bunches at the farmer’s market, but I will admit to taking a shortcut with the pre-washed and pre-chopped bags of greens, too. They are just so easy and so good! It’s simple to simmer a couple of handfuls with an onion and a little vegetable or canola oil, just until they are tender. Meme used to cook them for hours and hours with salt pork or fatback. The salty, delicious greens would be so soft and tender they would practically slide down my throat. I like them prepared the old-fashioned way, but I also like them a bit more toothsome.

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In the spirit of clean-eating and starting out the new year with a new you, I  am  sharing a recipe for a Black Eyed Pea Paella from my friend and colleague Kim O’Donnel. Kim is such an inspiring person, writer, and friend. Her most recent book is The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebration: Year-Round Vegetarian Feasts (You Can Really Sink Your Teeth Into). Her recipes are flat out delicious and, they just happen to be meatless. They are built on sound technique and good flavor. This book is a beautiful follow-up to her first book The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour. Her recipes are about good food, first. She’s a meat eater — she eats meat, just not as much as she used to.

Kim is very involved in the global movement Meatless Mondays. Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Meatless Monday premise is that going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel. One pound of commodity ground beef – meaning not grass fed or all natural – takes 2000 gallons of water to produce. That’s astonishing. Thoughtful and mindful eating is a good way to make a small change in our health and our lives. The tiny step of going meat-free one day a week can make an impact on your own health, and the health of the global community.

Often at this time of year people make resolutions. I find those grand proclamations can be perfect set ups for massive failure. Instead, I prefer the Japanese concept of kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency. Lordy Mercy, I know I am flawed and I have plenty to work on. If I think of all the things I should work on in my life, it’s far too overwhelmingBut, if I think about improving my life a little bit at a time, it’s manageable. Kaizen.

Here are a few tips for cooking black eyed peas and greens from a recent interview with  the Charlotte Observer. I also have an article in this month’s Fine Cooking on Hoppin John. Meaty or meatless, you’ve got the recipes for a lucky start to the New Year. Many wishes for a safe, prosperous, and healthy 2013.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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VA’s Lucky 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. 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 canola oil
2 sweet onions, chopped
2 cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, for serving

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 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 just tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Black eyed pea paella

KIM’S BLACK-EYED PEA PAELLA
Serves 6 

Kim says, “I learned how to make paella many years ago from one of Spain’s great culinary ambassadors, chef José Andrés. Using the technique Andrés taught me, I have created a meatless version with
black-eyed peas, a new twist on New Year’s hoppin’ John.”

The amounts below are for six hearty servings. Ideally, you’ll
want to use a 15-inch paella pan to ensure the most even cooking
results, but don’t worry if that’s not an option. Use a wide and
shallow skillet (lid not necessary) as close to 15 inches in diameter
as you can get. For a half-batch, use a pan about 10 inches wide.

Saffron, which is a spice derived from a variety of crocus, is a
traditional seasoning in paella, for both flavor and color. For this
dual tribute to the Catalan and the American South, the saffron
is not as integral to the final dish as is the pimentón (smoked paprika),which adds layers of flavor to the beans. You can do this
dish without the saffron, but in my humble opinion, you can’t do it
without the pimentón.

4 cups vegetable stock
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onion (more than 1⁄2 medium-size onion)
1 cup seeded and diced bell pepper of your favorite color (about 1 medium-size pepper)
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen black-eyed peas, or 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, cooked*
1 1⁄2 teaspoons smoked paprika (also known as pimentón)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1⁄4 cups tomato puree
1⁄2 teaspoon crumbled saffron (optional)
1/2 cup white wine you enjoy drinking
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 cups uncooked short-grain white rice (1 pound)
Optional garnishes: Pickled peppers, chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest

*To cook dried black-eyed peas: Soak the peas for at least 2 hours in enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Drain the peas, then place in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a lively simmer over medium-high heat.Cook at a hard boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender to the bite. This should take about 1 hour.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO: In a medium-size saucepan, warm the vegetable stock until heated through and keep covered, on low, until ready to use.

Over medium-high heat, heat a 15-inch paella pan until it’s too hot to place your hand about 3 inches above the pan. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, tilting the pan so that the oil coats the entire bottom surface. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning or sticking.

Add the bell pepper, stir well, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and smoked paprika, stirring until the vegetables are evenly coated with the spice, about 90 seconds.Transfer the black-eyed pea mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean with a dry paper towel to remove any burnt, stuck-on bits. Add the remaining olive oil plus the garlic and cook over medium heat until, as chef Andrés says, “they dance.” (When
heated, the garlic moves around the pan in the bubbling oil.)

Add the tomato puree and stir often, over the next 5 minutes, until the color has transformed from red to a more golden, orange-brown shade. Add the saffron, if using. Then add the white wine and increase the heat to medium-high, stirring to keep from burning.

Return the black-eyed pea mixture to the pan. Add the stock. Bring to a boil, taste for salt, then season accordingly. You want the mixture to be slightly salty. This is also your last chance to add salt before
the rice is added.

Add the rice and set a timer for 16 minutes. For the first 6 minutes, gently stir the paella, to minimize burning and sticking. For the remaining cooking time, please heed the advice I learned from chef

Andrés: no more stirring or touching. Otherwise, you
will have a gummy rice concoction. This is also why you cannot add salt at this stage.

At minute 16, taste a grain of rice for doneness. It should be slightly al dente, like risotto. Turn off the heat and allow the paella to sit for at least 5 minutes. The results should be dry, not soupy. Serve hot in bowls.

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

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

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Home & Family: Creole Country Bouillabaisse Tuesday, Dec 11 2012 

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I had an absolutely great time taping Home & Family on the Hallmark Channel. Hosts Mark Steines and Cristina Ferrare were super nice, truly, and it was a really, really neat show.

Here’s a link to the segment if you missed it.

The how-to segments evoked shades of my days with Martha Stewart TV! I loved David Walrod’s gardening tips and the succulent gardens. (For more about the Urban Dirt folks, make sure to check out urbandirt.tv)

Ok, and hello?! Fan Girl! Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman! I was in makeup at the same time as Jane Seymour! I could hardly breathe, so yes, of course, I was too shy to ask her for a photo.

The other crazy part was the show is shot on the Universal Studio back lot. So, it’s like a neighborhood, but it’s not. The Home & Family house is a functioning house-set mashup, but the neighbors are just facades! In fact, I walked past the Leave it to Beaver house! It’s black and white in real life, too. 😉

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Lots of folks have emailed me this morning asking for the recipe so here it is! It’s a great dish for the holidays when you are feeling a bit turkeyed out and you feel like you are about to sprout tail feathers. Other fish can be substituted if you can’t find halibut, just make sure to check out Seafood Watch to insure you are buying sustainable seafood for your seafood feast! You can download the app for your phone. It’s fantastic. On that note, I am very, very proud to announce I’m a founding member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force along with chefs Hugh Acheson, Cindy Pawlcyn, Richard Blais, and John Ash, just to name a few.

Happy to also announce today that I’m writing another book! LIGHTEN UP Y’ALL!: 150 Comfort Food Recipes for Heart and Soul for publication in Spring 2015. I’m very excited. Much like this seafood soup, Southern food doesn’t have to be unhealthy! The book will be real food for real people. No boxes or mixes, no “fat free” fake food, just easy, delicious chef-inspired recipes to make for your family at home.

Many thanks, once again to Home & Family for having me on the show. If you watched and order a copy of Basic to Brilliant, Y’all or Bon Appétit, Y’all, I’d be happy to send you a bookplate, just send a note to info@virginiawillis.com with your address and I’ll pop it in the mail. Thank you, thank you, once again for your encouragement and support. Feeling very full right now….Thank you.

Bon Appétit, Y’all

VA

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Creole Country Bouillabaisse

Serves 6 to 8

This is a marriage made in heaven. I grew up in Louisiana enjoying crawfish boils. The Low Country, the area of the Atlantic coast between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, is famous for its Low Country boil, also known as Frogmore Stew. The south of France is famous for bouillabaisse. All are simple country seafood stews. I’ve combined the three, taking the best from each. Crawfish are available by mail order, online, and are sold live in better seafood markets in the spring.

2 tablespoons pure olive oil

1 onion, chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 to 16 red new potatoes, about the size of golf balls

4 quarts homemade seafood stock or water

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

½ cup (3-ounce bag) Old Bay Seasoning

Bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, preferably fresh, 5 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, 10 black peppercorns, tied together in cheesecloth)

¼ cup tomato paste

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

2 pounds fresh kielbasa, cut into pieces

6 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed, broken in half

12 live crawfish

1½ pounds skinless halibut fillet, cut into large chunks

12 large shrimp (21/25 count), in the shell

12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded

12 cherrystone clams, scrubbed

Heat the oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, seafood stock, garlic, Old Bay, bouquet garni, tomato paste, tomatoes, and cayenne pepper. Cover the pot and heat to a rolling boil. Decrease the heat to simmer and cook until fragrant and flavorful, about 15 minutes. Add the sausage, corn, and live crawfish and return to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the fish and cook gently until just opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp, mussels, and clams and cook until the shrimp shells are pink and the meat is white and opaque and the mussels and clams have opened, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, transfer portions of the seafood to warmed shallow soup bowls. Spoon the broth over the seafood and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Bouillabaise photo credit Helene Dujardin.

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

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Modern Thinking with Sauce on the Side Sunday, Dec 2 2012 

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Chef Boy-ardee

In the past week, much has been said about my appearance on Food Network’s Chopped and how I was the only woman, as either contestant or judge. I noticed, believe me.  Most of the side commentary hit the editing room floor, but there was not a lack of off-color jokes during the judging of the appetizer round. Put a platter of testicles in front of a man and he reverts to being an 8-year old.

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Many folks were also surprised I was on a show with all restaurant chefs and not a special food writer’s episode. Interestingly enough, it’s pretty safe to say that a majority of restaurant chefs are men and the majority of food writers and cooking school teachers are women. I’ve seen sexism and experienced it first hand. I was once paid less than a man at a major position — and, I was working for a woman! I just try to do the best job I can and let my work speak for itself. It’s modern thinking. I certainly don’t believe that any appendages – other than a good set of hands – make someone a better cook.

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Chef James Beard?

If anything, I feel my not being a restaurateur has made things more challenging for me.  I’ve worked in restaurants, but it was never my passion. If I had a dollar for each time I answered the question, “what’s the name of your restaurant?”, I would be a very wealthy woman. I worked my way through culinary school by working in restaurants, but I never really wanted to own one. One of the greatest parts about being a culinary professional in today’s modern age is that there are so many choices. I have enormous respect for restaurant chefs. It’s hard work to make a living feeding people day in and day out. Yet, without intending to sound pompous, I feel like for the most part, I can cook clog to clog with anyone.  Of course there’s always more to learn. I am not saying I am the female Thomas Keller, but I certainly would not shrink from cooking for him or with him. I actually find the insinuation that I am somehow a lesser cook because I am a food writer slightly more insulting than any potential sexism.

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I am a cook that became a writer. I find it ironic that James Beard, the American culinary icon, whose award is seen as the penultimate recognition of culinary prowess, was not a restaurant chef. James Beard was a food writer.

Sure, there are a lot of food writers that can’t cook like restaurant chefs. They know words, not execution. There are also some food writers that feel uncomfortable cooking with or in front of other people. Some food writers hate to teach cooking classes; I love it. I also relish the opportunity to cook with other cooks and chefs at events and for special book dinners, fundraisers, or as part of a food and wine festival. It’s outside of my day-to-day box and I like it. Maybe because it’s one of the few opportunities I have to show that I can do it, that I can cook with the “big boys” — which is also why embraced the challenge of Chopped.

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One of the elements that separates the men from the boys, so-to-speak, in cooking are sauces.  Home cooks rarely make sauces and trained cooks and chefs often do. A sauce can completely transform a dish.The saucier position in a French kitchen brigade is the highest of all the line cooks, just below the sous chef and chef. French chef Antoine Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five “mother sauces”: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole; Hollandaise, and Tomate.

Carême devised this organization in the early 1800s and indeed, they are classics, but there is definitely room for something new! My friend and colleague Martha Holmberg has a new cookbook that is the answer. Modern Sauces: More than 150 Recipes for Every Cook, Every Day is a tool kit of incredible sauces for cooks to prepare at home. It’s “sauce-making for everyone.” She, too is a fellow LaVarenne alum and Anne Willan protege. Martha is also the former food editor for Fine Cooking magazine. True to form, the recipes are excellent and very clearly written. The book is receiving very high and deserved praise.

“Modern Sauces is my favorite book this year. It is destined to be a classic reference for the rest of my cooking life, on one of the most valuable but least understood facets of cooking: sauces. Martha Holmberg brings great intelligence and lucid writing and instructions to the important craft of sauces. She is both respectful of and illuminating about classic sauces, innovative in her thinking about contemporary sauces, and practical in terms of everyday cooking. This is a great book.” – Michael Ruhlman

The photography is by Ellen Silverman, the photographer for my 1st book, Bon Appétit, Y’all. Martha’s book is absolutely lovely in words, photos, and flavors. She’s done an excellent job of what good food writers strive to do, to teach people how to prepare restaurant quality, chef-inspired food at home. 

With a big wink and a nod, I’m sharing her recipe for a very home-style bread pudding with a very cheffy ginger caramel sauce. It’s the best of both worlds. Try it this holiday season for a simple dessert or as she suggests, give it a go it for an indulgent breakfast!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS If you missed it, here’s a link to part of my appearance on Chopped – ice cream fiasco included. 😉

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Martha’s Buttery Apple Bread Pudding with Ginger Caramel Sauce
Serves 8

Challah or brioche makes a rich and tender pudding, and white artisanal loaves make a denser but still delicious pudding. You can serve this dessert warm from the oven or cold the next day, and it microwaves beautifully if you want to warm it up for breakfast.

1 pound bread such as challah, brioche or a rustic white artisanal loaf, crusts left on unless tough, cut into 1-inch cubes
2-1/2 cups half-and-half or whole milk
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
3 to 4 medium apples such as Braeburn, Pink Lady or Fuji (about 13/4 pounds), halved, cored, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
Ginger Caramel Sauce, recipe below
1 cup crème fraîche

Arrange the bread in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and leave it out on the counter overnight to dry out. (Or dry the bread in a 200-degree oven for about 30 minutes.)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, 1 cup of the sugar, the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until the sugar is dissolved. Add the bread to the bowl and gently fold it into the custard. It will take some time for the bread to absorb all of the custard, so keep folding.

In a large frying pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples and cook, shaking the pan frequently and flipping the apples once or twice, for about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the apples are soft and beginning to brown, 5 to 6 minutes more.

Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and continue to cook, stirring often, until the apples looks golden and yummy, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the apples to a large plate to cool. When they are barely warm, fold them into the bread and custard.

Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 2-quart souffle dish or baking dish with high sides (you can use a shallower, wider dish, but you will need to shorten the cooking time). Transfer the bread-and-apple mixture to the dish, spreading it evenly. Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon butter into small pieces and dot the top of the pudding.

Bake the pudding until it is firm and no longer jiggly in the center and slightly puffed, 45 to 60 minutes. It can be hard to tell when the pudding is completely done, so if you have an instant-read thermometer, use it. It should register 160 degrees in the center.

Let the pudding cool briefly. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the creme fraiche to loosen it. Scoop portions of the warm pudding onto small plates or into little bowls. Garnish each serving with the caramel sauce, drizzling it in one direction over the top of the pudding. Then drizzle the creme fraiche in the other direction. Serve right away.

Ginger Caramel Sauce

1 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 tablespoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the cream and ginger and bring just to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and let the cream infuse for 20 to 30 minutes. Taste the cream, and if it isn’t gingery enough, let it sit for another few minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently on the solids to extract the ginger flavor (press too hard and the cream will have a vegetal taste).

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring just until the sugar is moistened. Let the mixture boil, without stirring but with an occasional swirl of the pan, until it is a deep amber, smells like caramel, and you can see just the tiniest wisps of smoke, 9 to 12 minutes. The caramel will be very hot at this point. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully add a little bit of the ginger-infused cream; the caramel will bubble up furiously.

Return the pan to low heat and whisk in the remaining cream a little at a time (to avoid bubbling over), then whisk in the butter and salt. Continue to whisk until the sauce is very smooth, another minute or so. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool in the pan; it will thicken as it cools. Serve warm or at room temperature.

— From “Modern Sauces” by Martha Holmberg (Chronicle Books, $35)

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

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Awe, Gratitude, and Rooming with Julia Child Tuesday, Aug 14 2012 


L»R: Julia Child, Nathalie Dupree, and a young Virginia Willis

Meeting Julia Child

The first time I actually met Julia I was completely awestruck. My mentor Nathalie Dupree and I were attending a media breakfast event at Food Network. (The very, very first time doesn’t count. It was a booksigning and I was struck dumb and mute. I had to be nudged to take my newly signed book from her and then was escorted away. It was kind of embarrassing.) Anyway, after the breakfast I was in a pre-production meeting for Nathalie in the test kitchen and Julia poked her head in to say what a good job everyone had done on the breakfast and thanked all the cooks. I was so impressed at her gratitude. By that time I was working behind the scenes with quite a few other celebrity chefs and believe me, some of them were not that kind or gracious. Her polite kindness and professionalism really stuck with me.

After working for Nathalie, I left to apprentice with Anne Willan at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France. As if living and working in a 17th century French chateau weren’t life-changing enough – eating new foods, tasting new flavors, learning new cooking techniques – Julia Child would come to visit Anne for several weeks each summer. Seriously. Those were bizarre, surreal times. One moment I would casually say to her, “Ma’am, could you please pass the salad” or “Would you care for cream” as we stood in the kitchen drinking coffee. It was as normal as normal could be. The next moment I would be overcome by screams in my head of “OH MY GOSH, THAT’S JULIA CHILD!!!”

She was always kind, always polite, always interested in what we stagiares were doing. She always said thank you for the meal and our work. She would thank the caretaker, Monsieur Milbert, when they crossed paths in the morning as he dropped off the vegetables from the potager. (I am sure she wasn’t always a saint, but my high esteem for her had a great deal to do with why  I got sooo ticked off about the movie and wound up on the phone with ABC news.)

We cooked together several times over the weeks she was there, and that was one of the more rewarding experiences of my whole, entire life. After all, the primary reason I was in France to begin with was greatly the result of her books and influences on my mother, which deeply affected my thoughts and feelings on food and cooking, as well. LaVarenne, itself, was created at the encouragement of Julia Child. To say she was a “huge influence” on me does not remotely express the fullness and depth of it. And, she affected many, many lives. For all practical purposes, she started food television and was one of the biggest influencers of food and cooking of the 20th century. It was a true honor and pleasure to cook with her.

LaVarenne at the Greenbrier

Summer ended, my apprenticeship at LaVarenne led to a job and in winter I travelled stateside when Anne would go to the US for “LaVarenne at the Greenbrier.” One cold March I drove over from DC to West Virginia along winding mountain roads in freezing rain and snow to arrive long after dark. I was staying with Anne and her husband Mark in their cottage, yet when I entered, I {somewhat gleefully} realized they were still out at dinner. I was very tired and thought what luck! Anne and I can catch up on reviewing my work and recipe testing tomorrow morning. I quickly dozed off and shortly thereafter, I heard a loud “knock-knock” at my bedroom door.

Anne’s crisp English accent called out, “Virginia, are you there?”

I rubbed my eyes and {less gleefully} quickly changed from my pajamas for our meeting. Clearly, Anne didn’t want to wait as I did to discuss the recipe testing results of the previous week. Sigh. We sat around the coffee table and discussed the work. After our meeting, she began to hem and haw. It seemed she wanted to ask me something.

I was a bit grumpy at our late-night meeting and began to be concerned. Anne Willan is not one too hesitate, hem, or haw.

Finally, she slowly, carefully said, “Stephanie is going back to Boston and I’m wondering if you would mind staying with Julia?”

She asked me like it was a favor.

I nearly passed out, but somehow I kept it together and sputtered out a “Yes, ma’am.” The next moments are blurry and I’m not at all certain I slept that night. I wanted to do cartwheels down the mountain. I do know the next morning the bellman came and moved my belongings to a suite with wallpaper festooned with loud, garish pink rhododendrons the size of a dinner plate in typical Greenbrier fashion.

I was rooming with Julia Child.

I treated her just as I did my grandmother. I helped her get from point A to point B. I carried her books and papers, made sure she didn’t forget her cane. Late at night I escorted her back after the long fireside chats. It was incredible. She was always very nice, kind, polite, and very thankful for my assistance.

I don’t think my toes touched the ground for days.

In the next year or so we’d see each other at professional events and conferences. She was always mobbed with people. She was an absolute rock star, yet I never heard a cross word about her or her behavior. One event was a professional dinner in NYC while I was working for Epicurious. It was years after her guest appearance during my stint as Kitchen Director at Martha Stewart, even longer after LaVarenne and sharing a suite at the Greenbrier. My friend suggested I go over to her and say hello like all the others. I declined, I really just wanted her to be able to eat her dinner in peace. Finally, there was a bit of a lull in the adoration so I got up the gumption to go say hello. (Yes, I was still positively awestruck.)

Honestly, I didn’t know if she’d remember me. She met so many young doe-eyed girls just like me who somehow felt that she had saved their lives. I decided I might need to give her a hint, a point of reference. I walked over and re-introduced myself, “Julia, it’s “Anne Willan’s apprentice, Virginia, I am so sorry to bother you…”

In her great, warbly voice she interrupted me, “Yes, I know who you are, I was wondering why you hadn’t come over to say hello.” She then patted the seat beside her and I sat down to catch up. Once again, she was kind, interested, and polite.

Julia Child has long been an inspiration and will long continue to be for me and many others. It was an honor and pleasure to have made her acquaintance. I always endeavor to keep her professionalism and gratitude in my mind and heart.

In honor of the anniversary of her 100th birthday I’m sharing a recipe from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all for a traditional French vegetable salad, Salade Macedoine with my own Southern twist.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS For those of you in New England, I’m at Odyssey Bookshop this Thursday August 16th with a demo, tasty samples, and signing.

Southern Salade Macédoine
Serves 4

Corn, butter beans, and green beans are summer staples in the south. Macédoine refers to a mixture of cut fruits or vegetables of different colors. The key in this salad is everything is cut about the same size. In classic French cooking, the use of an artichoke bottom as a garniture is termed châtelaine, also a term for the mistress of a château, indicating something very elegant. If you wanted to simplify, you could simply put the salade macedoine in a cored and scooped out tomato.

4 artichokes
4 cups water
2 lemons, halved
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
2 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and silk removed
1 cup freshly shelled butter beans (about 12 ounces unshelled) or thawed frozen butter beans or edamame
6 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch lengths (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as tarragon, flat-leaf parsley, and basil)
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
8 ounces mesclun salad greens

Using a sharp kitchen knife, trim all but an inch of the stem from 4 artichokes. Cut off the top two-thirds, leaving about 1½ inches at the base. Hold the artichoke upside down and pare away the leaves, leaving just the pale green center. Rub the cut surface with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Holding the bottom in the palm of one hand, scoop out the fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place in a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon to reduce oxidation and browning until you are ready to cook.

To cook the hearts, heat 4 cups salted water in a heavy pot over medium-high heat to a gentle boil. Add 1 halved lemon, thyme, an bay leaf, and the prepared artichoke bottoms. Cover with a smaller lid or heatproof plate to weigh down and keep the bottoms submerged. Cook over medium heat until the hearts are tender when pierced with knife, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Line a plate with paper towels. Remove with a slotted spoon to the bowl of ice water to cool.

To cook the corn, bring 2nd pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the corn and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with tongs to the ice water to cool and then transfer to the towel-lined plate to drain. (Do not drain the water from the pot, you will use it to cook the other vegetables.)

To cook the butter beans, add them to the simmering water and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. (Taste one and see how tender it is; the cooking time will depend on their freshness.) About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the green beans and carrots. Meanwhile, cut the corn kernels from the cobs and place in a large bowl.

Drain the vegetables well in a colander, and then set the colander with the vegetables in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the vegetables are submerged. Lift out of the water, shake well to remove the excess water, then transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the corn. Add the mayonnaise and herbs. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Once the artichokes are cooled, remove and pat dry. Drizzle with pure olive oil and season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place artichoke hearts on chilled serving plates, trimming if necessary so they sit flat. Top with the greens and a spoonful of the chilled vegetable mixture. Season with finishing salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

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Photo credit Salade Macedoine: Helene Dujardin
Recipe adapted from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all

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

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

How to Make Biscuits: Baking Secrets and Five Recipes Friday, Aug 19 2011 

What’s The Secret to a Perfect Biscuit?

I’ve been asked quite a bit about biscuits these past few months.

Folks pull me aside at book-signings. As I am spending the summer in New England, random folks hear my accent and ask about Southern biscuits. People reach out on Twitter and Facebook. I also get at least a couple emails a week asking about how to make biscuits.

This week it was a plea for a lost recipe, ” They were very light and fluffy, think she used lard and cut the biscuits out and let the dough rest while we went to church. The bread and biscuits were better than any bread or biscuits I have ever tasted.”

I love biscuits and I am not alone.

I have a fantasy of opening a street-front, window only walk-up restaurant in NYC and sell nothing but biscuits and grits. It’s not that I think that there are that many displaced Southerners in NYC. No, not at all. It’s that everyone loves biscuits. Those folks may think they like bagels, but in my opinion, they just haven’t met the right biscuit.

There’s no doubt in my mind that nothing says comfort like a fluffy, buttery biscuit.

No, I am not talking about those obscenely large and layered monstrosities that the fast food places sell. Or those bizarrely soft and spongy cans of biscuit dough that have a shelf life of 6 months!? Those kind of biscuits only exist because of chemical manipulation and ingredients that end in letters like “-ceride” and “-pylene.”

I am talking about flour, fat, liquid, leavener, and salt.

A few weeks ago I gave an impromptu biscuit making class. We made biscuits side by side with two kinds of flours. In the photograph below, Gold Medal All Purpose flour is on the left, and White Lily All Purpose flour on the right. See the difference?

Secrets of Southern Flour

Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. When you combine flour with water, the proteins create a strong and elastic sheet called gluten. Flours vary in their protein levels, which affects the texture of baked goods. Gluten gives structure to yeast breads, but is not recommended for tender cakes, biscuits, and quick breads. Southern all-purpose flour is milled from soft red winter wheat that has less gluten-forming protein. It is typically bleached, which makes it whiter, but this does not affect the protein. My family has always used White Lily flour, a staple across the South; another dependable Southern brand is Martha White.

Most national brands of all-purpose flour are a combination of soft winter wheat and higher-protein hard summer wheat. White Lily contains approximately nine grams of protein per cup of flour, whereas national brands can contain eleven or twelve grams of protein per cup of flour. If you live outside the South, White Lily is available online or in some specialty shops in other parts of the country.

For results similar to those of Southern flour, substitute one part all-purpose flour and one part cake flour for the amount of Southern flour in a recipe. Finally, high-protein flour absorbs more liquid than does low-protein flour; if you attempt to make biscuits with a high-protein flour, you will need to add more liquid.

Want to know more?

Want to know just how easy it is to make mouth-watering, buttery biscuits?

Want to know how to have hot, fresh, homemade bread on the table in minutes?

Want to perhaps find your lost recipe?

Well, I’ve got the book for you.

My friend and mentor Nathalie Dupree has just released a new book called Southern Biscuits she co-wrote with Cynthia Grauburt.

It’s The Book on How to Make a Biscuit. Period.

It’s the definitive biscuit book with recipes and secrets to creating every style of biscuit imaginable.

It’s filled with amazing photographs including dozens of how-to photos showing how to mix, stir, fold, roll, and knead.

It also explains what ingredients to use and how the type of flour, fat, and liquid affects the end result; how to cut, hand-shape, or scoop the dough; time and temperature.

Like I said, it’s How to Make Biscuits. Period.

Before you get your copy of the book, I’ll leave you with a few recipes and tips on making biscuits. (And, after all, remember, after Meme and Mama, Nathalie first taught me, too.)

Tips and Techniques on Making Biscuits

  • Chill the bowl used to mix the dough as well as the pastry blender to prevent the butter or shortening from warming up.
  • Cut the butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Cold bits of butter or fat will melt during baking, creating pockets of steam that give biscuits their flakiness.
  • When working with butter, cut it into small pieces, and chill again before adding to dry ingredients.
  • Dip the cutter in flour. Cut the biscuits smoothly and cleanly straight down without twisting. Twisting can seal the dough and prevent the rise.
  • As Nathalie used to tell me, “Get your hot little hands off that dough.” Handle the dough as little as possible. You don’t want to make the biscuits tough by overworking, and you want the fat to stay cold until the biscuits bake.
  • A very hot oven is essential. The steam interacts with the baking powder to create the biscuit’s ideal textures inside and out.
  • The perfect biscuit should be golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside, with a light, airy interior. For a flaky, tender biscuit, don’t overwork the dough: gently combine the ingredients until just blended.

I hope you enjoy this collection of recipes. Keep me posted on what you’re doing – both success and failure stories. Shoot me a comment or email. I’m happy to try to help.

Lastly, a couple of things to share since I am marrying my newsletter and blog. I’ve decided I should call this “Mama’s Reading List!” This week I was interviewed for USA Today about Georgia peaches and Roberta and Lois from Kosher Eye called to chat about Southern Food. And, please check out Lisa is Cooking to see what’s on my bedside table.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS The recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits is a sneak peek at Basic to Brilliant, Y’all .(Shh, don’t tell!)

Meme’s Biscuits

Makes about 9 biscuits

Meme most often made rolled biscuits. For large biscuits, she had a special aluminum cutter with a small wooden handle that fit in the palm of her hand. She cut out small biscuits with an empty apple juice can open at both ends. Some purists use lard instead of butter. Although I like biscuits made with lard and understand the tradition and history, Meme and Mama had started using butter by the time I was born.

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 buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 500°F. 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 buttermilk, 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 1/2 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 21/4-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 an ungreased baking sheet or in an 8- by 2-inch round cake pan. If the biscuits are baked close together the sides will be moist. If the biscuits are baked further apart, the sides will be crisp.

Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool just slightly. Serve warm.

variation: If I don’t feel like rolling out biscuits, or just want a different texture, I tweak the recipe by adding more buttermilk to the dough and make drop biscuits: use 3 cups of flour—2 for the dough and 1 cup placed in a bowl to shape the dough into biscuits. Increase the buttermilk to 2 cups. The dough will be very wet and resemble cottage cheese. To form the biscuits into balls, scoop up some dough with a large ice cream scoop; place the dough balls in the bowl with the 1 cup of flour. Working one at a time, roll the balls to coat in flour, then set in an ungreased 8- by 2-inch round cake pan. The baking time will be the same as for cut biscuits.

Sneak Peek Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 16

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/3 cup low-fat or whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400°F.Bake or microwave the sweet potatoes until soft and tender, about 45 minutes in the oven or about 10 minutes in the microwave. Set aside to cool.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to touch, peel and mash until smooth in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or with an old-fashioned potato masher. Measure out 1 cup and reserve the rest for another use.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. Set aside. In the same bowl of the food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Combine the sweet potato and milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the potato mixture to the flour mixture, pulsing just until moist.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly four or five times. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 10 biscuits with a 2-inch biscuit cutter, pressing the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Gather together the scraps (by placing the pieces on top of one another in layers instead of bunching it up). Roll out 3/4 inch thick. Cut with the biscuit cutter into 5 or 6 more biscuits. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Discard any remaining scraps.

Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nathalie’s Yogurt Biscuits

Makes 12 (2-inch) biscuits

Yogurt makes a very light, tangy biscuit. With homemade or commercial self-rising flour, it is a simple matter. Yogurt varies in consistency, from the thick cream-topped to the thinner generic brands, so it is always a judgment call as to how much to use to make a wet dough. Do not be tempted to use nonfat or light yogurt as they have additives that will change the nature of the biscuit. But if the yogurt is so thick you can’t incorporate it, feel free to add a bit of milk or buttermilk. These crisp biscuits triple in size and cut easily.

2 1⁄4 cups self-rising flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, divided
Softened butter, for brushing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, select an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or oven-proof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of flour and the salt in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1⁄4 cup of flour. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 2⁄3 cup of yogurt into the hollow, reserving the 1⁄3 cup yogurt, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the yogurt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of reserved yogurt, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1⁄3- to 1⁄2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1⁄2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3⁄4-inch-thick for a tall

biscuit, and 1-inch-thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter.

The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits. Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.

Senator Holling’s Carolina Biscuits

Makes 20 (1-inch) biscuits

According to Nathalie, U.S. Senator “Fritz” Hollings, one of the truly great raconteurs of the twentieth century, posted this recipe on his website. Also called Carolina Biscuits by some, they are the kind of Southern hors d’oeuvre greedily eaten as opposed to nibbling while standing around drinking and telling stories. Without a doubt the flakiest and richest of all the biscuits we’ve made, these tiny

bites melt in the mouth, need no embellishment, and can be served unadorned, warm out of the oven or at room temperature. As someone said, “I can’t believe how good these are.”

There is no sense doing this by hand when a food processor is available, making it easy and stress-free.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2⁄3 cup butter, softened
1 cup self-rising flour, divided
Softened butter, for brushing

Pulse together the cream cheese, 2⁄3 cup of butter, and 1 cup of the flour two or three times in a food processor fitted with the knife or dough blade. Turn the dough out onto waxed paper and divide into two rounds. Wrap in waxed paper, plastic wrap, or a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour. With floured hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out one portion of the dough at a time to approximately 1⁄2 inch thick. For each biscuit, dip a 1- to 1 1⁄4-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits.

Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet, placing the biscuits 1 inch apart. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 12 minutes until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard browning.

Continue baking another 4 to 6 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, lightly brush the tops with melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up. These biscuits may be frozen, unbaked or baked, and reheated.

Nathalie’s Overnight Biscuit, Sausage, and Apple Casserole

Serves 8

Sausage and apple is one of my favorite food combinations, and I find ways to cook it into everything from quiches to this soufflé-like casserole, great for a brunch or long weekend.

2 pounds bulk sausage
2 tart apples, cored and sliced
6 cups torn or cut biscuits in 1⁄2-inch pieces
9 large eggs, beaten
3⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1⁄2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fry the sausage in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks, and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the fat and let the sausage cool. Sauté the apples in the reserved fat, remove from pan, and let cool.

Move the biscuit pieces to a large resealable plastic bag. Whisk together the eggs, mustard, cheese, and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the sausage and apples. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the plastic bag. Place the bag inside another resealable plastic bag with the zipper facing another direction in order to prevent leaks. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight or up to 2 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour mixture into a buttered 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish or divide between two 1 1⁄2-quart casseroles. Bake covered 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes until eggs are set and the center measures 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Southern Biscuit © 2011 Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Stevens Graubart. Photographs © 2011 Rick McKee

Sneak Peak Sweet Potato Biscuits – Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company (Ten Speed Press 2011)

photos for Meme’s Biscuits and Sweet Potato Biscuits are by me.

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.

BIG Catch on the Full Moon & 10 Wild Shrimp Recipes Friday, Aug 12 2011 



Primal Urges

We’re in the middle of summer and there is a full moon this weekend.

For most folks that’s enough to generate a powerful urge for a barefoot stroll on the beach in the soft light of la belle lune. Perhaps a stolen kiss? A wishful glance? A passionate embrace? Ah, no sweet, dear romantic one.

It means a darn BIG shrimp haul.

A full moon means hundreds of pounds of shrimp on slick, wet deck. It means being at work at 4:00 am, the emptiest, loneliest time on earth. It means mud, sweat, and possibly, blood. It’s dangerous work.

So, what does this have to do with the moon?

The Earth and the moon are attracted to each other, and are constantly pulling at one another, just like magnets … or lovers on a beach. Gravity holds everything solid on earth in place — but that means the moon is able to pull the non-solid, the water. As earth rotates, the ocean is constantly moving from high tide to low tide, and then back to high tide.

You with me?


Last summer I was able to go out on a shrimp boat. It was then that I learned that a full moon typically produces a higher shrimp catch.

First, let me briefly explain the life cycle of a shrimp. Riveting stuff, I know. Just pretend you’re on a romantic moonlit beach.

Shrimp spawn about 4 miles out off the coast of Georgia. Each female lays between 500,000 to 1 million fertilized eggs that drift along in ocean currents and hatch within 24 hours. During the next month or so, the larva continue to grow, eventually migrating from the ocean into the brackish marsh. There, as juveniles, they feed on algae, small animals, and organic debris for 2-3 months until they mature. Once mature, they return to the ocean as adult shrimp.

Shrimp season usually starts in late spring or early summer and lasts until December. The opening of the season is determined by the amount and size of the shrimp harvested within 3 miles of shore. The season opens when it is determined that there are enough fully grown shrimp that have come out of the marsh.


Full Moons and BIG Hauls of Shrimp

Now that you understand the basic premise of gravitational pull and tides, let me explain about the moon. A spring tide is when the sun, moon, and Earth are in alignment creating extra-high high tides, and very low, low tides. Shrimping is often best on the “spring” tides that coincide with both full and new moons. (A neap tide is  when the tide’s range is at its minimum.)

Check out my nifty graphic from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. (You have no idea how excited I am this works.)

Why? The short answer is that the full moon creates the most water movement and sweeps the most shrimp out of the marsh into waiting nets.

Don’t you love knowing that?!

It’s empowering to understand where you food comes from, why, and how. And, you know I am fiercely passionate about sustainable seafood. Mama and I both love fried shrimp—we can’t go to the beach without enjoying a meal of fried shrimp. It’s sad how many of those beach restaurants are serving imported shrimp. I like to put my money where my mouth is and try to patronize restaurants that are supporting the local fishing industry. Read up on what Seafood Watch has to say about shrimp.)

I can’t write about summer and walking on the beach with your sweetie without a recipe for fried shrimp! Scroll down where you will find there’s a whole mess of wild American shrimp recipes for you to try!

Please share with me your photos, comments, and reactions to the recipes. I love hearing about what folks are doing. And, please keep in touch on Facebook, too.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Thanks to everyone helping me make the transition from newsletter and subscribing to my blog.

PSS Here’s a little lagniappe about shrimp from the Southern Food Ways Alliance.

Better than Bubba’s: Ten Wild American Shrimp Recipes

FRIED SHRIMP
Serves 4

1 pound large shrimp, tails on, peeled and deveined
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Canola oil for frying
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Using a medium bowl, combine egg, beer, cornmeal, flour and baking powder, season with salt and pepper, mix until smooth.
Heat oil in deep fryer to 350°F. Add shrimp to batter and stir to coat. Working in batches, carefully drop shrimp in oil. Fry until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

GRILLED SHRIMP AND TOMATO SALAD
Serves 4

1/3 cup olive oil plus additional for brushing the tomato and the shrimp
1 ½ pound jumbo shrimp (about 16), peeled and deveined
½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt
¼ red onion, finely chopped
½ stalk celery, finely chopped
¼ jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
½ bunch of flat parsley, finely chopped
2 large garden-ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered

Preheat grill to hot. Season shrimp with salt and pepper on both sides. Brush the tomato with a little oil. Place shrimp on the grill and cook for 1 ½ to 2 minutes on both sides. Remove the shrimp from the grill. In a bowl mix together yogurt, red onion, celery, jalapeño, cumin, honey, orange juice, parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add shrimp and tomatoes; stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve immediately.

SHRIMP & GRITS WITH COUNTRY HAM

Serves 4 to 6

4 1/4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 tablespoons corn oil
4 ounces country ham, cut into thin strips
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds large (21/25) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup chives, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Using a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring chicken stock, milk, butter and garlic to boil. Gradually whisk in corn grits. Return to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, simmer uncovered until grits thicken, whisking often, 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add ham and cook until crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add shallots and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and shrimp and sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to large bowl. Add white wine and boil until reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Add drained diced tomatoes and half of reserved ham. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add parsley, chives and shrimp, simmer until shrimp are warmed through, about 2 minutes. If needed, thin sauce with reserved tomato juices. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon grits into shallow bowls. Top each serving with shrimp mixture. Garnish with remaining ham and serve immediately.

FRIED COCONUT SHRIMP
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups sweetened finely shredded coconut
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 pounds 26-30 count shrimp, peeled, de-veined tail on
4 cups peanut oil, for frying
3/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons shallot, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon Madras curry powder
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the coconut and panko together in a shallow dish or pie pan. Scatter a handful of the coconut mixture over a baking sheet. Set aside. In another shallow dish, lightly beat the egg whites. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Dip shrimp in egg whites to coat completely; lift from whites (shaking off any excess), and dredge in coconut mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet.

In a large, deep heavy-bottom pan, heat peanut oil over medium heat until 350° on a deep-fry thermometer. Cook half the shrimp, lightly shaking to separate shrimp, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer shrimp to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 350°; repeat with remaining shrimp.

In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, lime juice, minced shallot, curry powder and chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve as a dipping sauce with the coconut shrimp.

SPICY TOMATO BBQ SHRIMP
Makes about 2 dozen hors d’oeuvres

1 small onion, quartered
3/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons apple juice
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons ground celery seeds
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled, leaving tails intact, butterflied, and deveined
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place ingredients in a blender or food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process until smooth. Transfer mixture to a non-reactive saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. Sauce may be prepared up to 1 week ahead.

Prepare a medium-hot fire and oil grill. Starting at the tail end of each shrimp, thread the shrimp on the skewers. Brush with barbecue sauce and arrange shrimp on a large platter. Just before grilling brush the shrimp again with the sauce. Grill shrimp on a rack set over hot coals until just pink, about 1 minute per side. Serve warm or at room temperature.

SHRIMP CAKES
Serves 6

1 pound large shrimp, raw, peeled and de-veined
1 large egg
1 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), divided
2 tablespoons canola oil

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the shrimp a few times to coarsely chop. Add egg, chives, lemon zest and juice, mustard, cilantro, hot pepper sauce, salt, and pepper. Pulse just until blended. Add 1 cup panko and pulse just until mixed in. Form mixture into twelve 3-inch-diameter cakes. Place remaining panko in a pie plate. Crust the shrimp cakes with panko. Transfer to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. (Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.). Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry cakes until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.

SAVANNAH MARINATED SHRIMP

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 pounds large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined
3 onions, preferably Vidalia, very thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and very thinly sliced
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

In a large, nonreactive bowl, layer some of the shrimp, onions, bell pepper, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper. Create several layers of these ingredients until the remaining amount is used. Set aside.

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the vinegar, oil, and lemon zest and juice. Pour this marinade over the shrimp mixture. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp is pink and opaque, at least 6 to 8 hours. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.


MAMA’S SHRIMP CREOLE
Serves 4 to 6

11/2 pounds large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups water, plus more if needed
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 green onions, white and green parts, chopped, for garnish
Rice Pilaf, for accompaniment

Place the shrimp in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to marinate while you prepare the vegetables.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, water, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer until the oil rises to the surface, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. (Use more water if the sauce gets too thick.) Add the shrimp and cook until pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with the green onions. Serve with rice pilaf.

SHRIMP QUESADILLA
Makes 8 wedges

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
8 large shrimp, peeled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large flour tortillas
1/2 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped scallion
2 tablespoons salsa
2 tablespoons sour cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onion and pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Remove to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook until pink and tender, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Do not over cook. Remove to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1tablespoon of canola oil over medium heat. Place one of the tortillas in the pan. Top with half the cheese, onions and peppers, shrimp, then the remaining cheese. Cook for 2 minutes (until underside is golden brown). Place second tortilla on top and flip the quesadilla over. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove. Slice into wedges. Top with sour cream and salsa. Serve immediately.


SHRIMP BUTTER

If making seafood stock with crustacean shells and not fish bones, the lobster, crawfish, and shrimp shells may be used to make Crustacean Butter. (Blue crab shells are too hard, but king and snow crab legs are fine.) Classic French technique instructs to grind shells with cold butter then work through a tamis. The few-and-far-between more modern recipes suggest using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  The former is far too labor intensive and not nearly enough flavor is extracted for all the effort. If using lobster or crawfish shells, discard the claws, they are too hard, like crab. Crush the shells with a mallet. Set aside. I first place my mixer on a rimmed baking sheet. This seems to help with containment. Place 1 pound of crushed shells or shrimp shells in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment with 1 pound of cold unsalted butter cut into chunks. Attach the guard, or carefully wrap a kitchen towel around the mixer. Start the mixer on slow so you don’t wind up with crustacean butter smelly bits everywhere. Work it on slow for at least 5 minutes. Mix the shells with the butter until the butter is pale coral colored and fragrant, pausing the machine to occasionally scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, about 20 minutes. Transfer the butter and shell mixture to a medium heavy-duty saucepan. Place over low heat to melt and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Strain though a fine mesh sieve. Place the liquid in a bowl over a bowl of ice or cover and refrigerate to solidify. Once the butter has solidified into a solid layer remove it with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a clean saucepan. Discard the remaining liquid. Heat the crustacean butter over low heat to melt and remove any moisture. Strain the melted butter through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a measuring cup or Mason jar. Store covered up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Makes 1 1/4 cups of pure seafood gold.

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.

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.

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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