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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To order, please visit www.virginiawillis.com

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

Many, many thanks for your consideration and support.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA


Heirloom Grits

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

Pecan Brownies Mise en Place

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

Pecan Smoked Salt

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

French Quarter Spice Rub and Seasoning Blend

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


Smoky Collard Greens
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

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

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Alphabet Soup: IACP, PDX, PRS, and SPA!! Monday, Apr 26 2010 

Had a GREAT week in Portland for IACP, but am in serious need of a bike ride, yoga, and some real exercise, not to mention a hardcore deep tissue massage to remove the gnarly gremlin that has moved into my shoulder blade from toting too much heavy luggage. It’s mean. Mean and mad.

AWESOME food. Pok Pok was a real fave. The hot wings are frankly something you just kind of want to roll around in they are so good. Ping was good, too. Big new experiment from both of those experiences will be the flavored drinking vinegars. Stay tuned.

The Heathman Hotel was OUTSTANDING. Their tag is “where service is an art” and they are not kidding. James Beard award-winning Best Chef Northwest Philippe Boulot, originally from Normandy, is brilliant. He trained in Paris with Joël Robuchon. Think Rock Star. Very charming, handsome Rock Star.

Everything I put in my mouth at the Heathman (and one day, practically everything including breakfast, lunch, and dinner originated there) was absolutely superb. Seriously perfect execution. The Dungeness Crab Salad with Mango and Avocado? Sure, I knooow, that’s been done and done again, frankly. But this one? A perfect combination of sour, salty, bitter, sweet. French influence runs deep in the heart of Northwest cooking. Exquisite.

One night we enjoyed razor clams the chef had dug up from the sand himself from the Washington State coast just the day before. The minerality and sweetness was positively and distinctively seductive in my mouth. Rich lamb tongue salad was counteracted with an bracing mustard vinaigrette; meltingly soft smoky cedar plank salmon was paired with sweet, green sauteed pea shoots; rabbit was stuffed with meaty mushroom farcie, wrapped in caul fat and roasted until smoky and brown.

Veal sweetbreads on a perfect julienne of apple and pear with bitter lettuce. Even thinking back to that bite induces a dreamy sigh of contentment from me as I type. The Heathman food was really amazing. Very, very balanced flavors and just really good cooking.

IACP, or the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference was great. Kim Severson , NYT journalist and author of Spoon Fed (Ahem, BUY IT.) enjoyed her inner Ellen with Ruth Riechl. Ruth Riechl addressed the Big Elephant in the Room about the demise of Gourmet. The opening reception was amazing with a great assembly of restaurants and representatives from the PDX street food culture. There were tons and tons of great seminars and of course, the cookbook awards. The best of the best for the year. One of the books nominated for an IACP award was Golden Door Cooks at Home by Chef Dean Rucker and Marah Stets.

Um, no caul fat. None. Not the first bit.
Spas? Their point is to make that stuff go away.

Marah and I were at LaVarenne together working with Anne Willan back in the 90s.

We were laughing last week. I walked into the kitchen the first day, scared to death, really. Thinking I was going to peel potatoes or chop onions or such, I somewhat hesitantly leaned in to ask Marah, “So, um, what can I do?”

She cleanly looked at me and replied, “Cook dinner.”

Alrightly, then.

And there I was and it was most likely the best words that could have been spoken. Those two words meant, “You are a cook, so cook. This is a busy place. Sink or swim, but don’t weigh anyone down in the meanwhile. Get to work. Don’t be scared. And, when you are done? Do the dishes.”

I have long admired her no nonsense New England attitude. She hired me to do some work on The All New Joy of Cooking; it was an real honor to work with her. Lest I make her sound like an ogre, she is not. She’s an absolute master at French, speaking proficiently in lyrical, dulcet tones, and yet was always exceedingly patient with my clumsy butchery of her adopted tongue. She’s a dear beautiful, smart woman and a first rate editor and writer.

Ok, enough with the niceties and back to that caul fat.

The goal is balance. Food need not be wrapped in caul fat to be good, and while I loved the indulgences, we all know, chef Philippe included, rich food like that is not meant to be eaten every day. He loves the woods and the wild; he’s asked me to come back to go out to the river with him and I cannot wait to take him up on it. It’s whole mind, whole body. Nature is good for the mind, heart, and soul.

I am heading to teach at Rancho la Puerta in May to enjoy some whole body nourishment, to get a little wild. So, given my rich indulgent choices last week and seeing Marah, I thought I’d give some of the Golden Door Recipes a shot for some inspiration and encouragement.

Hope you enjoy, too.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Marah, congratulations on your nomination. It was great to see you.

Adobo-Marinated Grass-Fed Flank steak

If you are in the SE, give this a try with Will Harris' White Oak Pastures Beef

Adobo-Marinated Grass-Fed Flank Steak with Spinach Salad
and Roasted Poblano Dressing

Cows are ruminants, which means they have more than one stomach and their digestive systems are specifically designed to break down grasses into proteins and fats to meet their nutritional needs. They are not naturally meant to eat corn and other grain. Grain feeding—the fastest, cheapest way to produce the most beef—is not only unnatural for cows but also has profound consequences for us. To counteract and prevent the damage caused by eating food that is difficult for them to digest, coupled with cramped living conditions, feedlot cattle are often routinely fed antibiotics, which can remain in the meat we buy after the cows are slaughtered. It’s not any better for us to routinely consume antibiotics than it is for cows.

Serves 4

For the steak
1 pound grass-fed flank, skirt, or strip steak (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the pickled red onions
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Pinch of sugar

For the spinach salad
2 ears corn, husked
Olive oil, grapeseed, or canola spray
Roasted Poblano Dressing (below)
1/4 small to medium jícama (5 ounces)
Juice of 1/2 lime
12 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried (about 12 ounces)
1 large red bell pepper, grill-roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced, or 1/2 cup diced store-bought, drained, roasted red peppers
1 medium avocado, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 ounce queso fresco, crumbled (1/4 cup)
Kosher salt (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Prepare the steak. Place the steak in a shallow pan just big enough to hold it. Whisk together the orange juice, lime juice, adobo spice, cilantro, and garlic. Pour over the steak and turn the steak over to fully coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Prepare the pickled red onions. Place the red onion in a small bowl and add the sherry vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Prepare a medium-high grill or set a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray the corn all over with oil and place on the grill. Grill until nicely marked on all sides, turning with tongs as necessary, about 5 minutes total. Remove from the grill and let cool. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the ears and set them aside. Discard the ears.

Prepare the roasted poblano dressing.

Remove the steak from the marinade and season on both sides with salt. Grill until the outside has nice grill marks and the center is pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

While the steak is resting, finish the spinach salad. Peel the jícama and cut it into 1/2-inch dice; you should have 1 cup. Toss with the lime juice and set aside. Put the spinach in a large bowl. Add the roasted peppers, the reserved corn, and the jícama. Add the avocado and queso fresco. Pour half of the roasted poblano dressing over the ingredients and toss to coat well. Taste and season with a pinch of salt if desired. Thinly slice the steak against the grain.

Mound the salad in the center of a large serving platter. Fan the steak slices on top of the salad. Spoon the pickled onion with its juice on top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Serve.

No, these are not poblano, but they are from the Cocina que Canta garden


Roasted Poblano Dressing

Mildly spicy poblano chiles are roasted to soften them and add delicious, smoky flavor. When blended with the other ingredients the peppers become a creamy, emulsified dressing. Serve this with Adobo-Marinated Grass-Fed Flank Steak with Spinach Salad or whenever you want to add or highlight southwestern flavors—on grilled poultry or meat or on a simple salad of corn, tomatoes, avocado, and jícama, for example.

Makes 1 cup

2 whole poblano chiles, roasted (page 74), peeled, and seeded
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
1 garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a blender, combine the poblano chiles, vinegar, agave syrup, garlic, salt, and 3/4 cup water. Blend until well combined but not completely smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the cilantro and pulse a few times until it is chopped. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Recipes from GOLDEN DOOR COOKS AT HOME: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa
by Dean Rucker with Marah Stets (Clarkson Potter, April 2009, $40.00/ Hardcover)

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