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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Serves 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit – Lisa Ekus

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Healthy Summer Sides & Rancho la Puerta Thursday, Jun 28 2012 

Organic Cooking School

Last week I was in Mexico teaching La Cocina que Canta at Rancho la Puerta. At every turn there are sights, smells, and sounds that fill the senses. Such amazing beauty — and as incredible as those fields of flowers are, the gardens that really fill my soul are the organic vegetable and fruit gardens. Tres Estrellas is the 6 acre organic garden that provides much of the produce in the main kitchen and nearly all of the produce used by the cooking school.

Executive Chef Denise Roa works closely with the energetic and gregarious Head Gardener Salvadore with planting and harvesting the fruits and vegetables in the garden. She’s developed a very tight system in that 2-3 weeks before the chefs arrive she knows what will be ready for harvest. The visiting cooking teachers and chefs can then plan their menus accordingly. Frankly, I know of no other program like it, certainly in North America. It’s amazing for the cooking teachers, and most definitely, for the guests. It’s incredibly enlightening to be in an organic garden and see real food, to learn how to cook real food, and to push your body in physical exercise.

Really Losing It

Last year after teaching at Rancho la Puerta, I wrote a rather controversial post about the F word. Well, face it. Many people visit spas to lose weight. Regardless, a lot of people were quite surprised at my self-deprecating remarks. I have had issues with my weight my whole, entire life. I admitted in that post that I had truly never felt beautiful.

Mama was very upset with my post, mad that I said I wasn’t pretty, then she said she shouldn’t have fed me so much when I was a little girl. Lordy Mercy. It wasn’t her fault. We didn’t eat junk food growing up and she cooked homemade, wholesome food. My dad’s side of the family are large and stocky. There’s a lot about our bodies that boils down to genetics.

Y’all, some folks look like Charlize Theron and most folks don’t.

I wince when I hear women see a superthin waif-like supermodel and vocalize “I wish I looked like that!” Looking back at photos of when I was younger and thought I was fat, I actually wasn’t. A good deal of it was in my mind. But, even with my weight issues I’ve never, ever wanted to be super thin. I want to be strong. I guess if I could look like anyone other than myself, it would be a swimmer or a volleyball player, but never, ever a stick figure. The deal is no matter how much weight I lose, the likelihood of me growing another 3 inches is slim to none.

Last year’s piece was also about making changes, eating more healthfully. And, I did. The next months were filled with fresh produce and exercise. I was on track and things were going great. Then, I had a serious detour with my fall book tour. It completely messed me up. January came around and I was miserable, absolutely miserable. And, very overweight.

I had a major realization and I joined Weight Watchers. I knew I couldn’t continue on that path without serious consequences. I had to lose weight and I needed help. Coincidentally, one week after I joined the program Paula Deen announced she had diabetes. (I am not making that up.) I was quoted in various publications, including the New York Times. My iPhone was buzzing and dinging like a slot machine that entire week with various media outlets wanting quotes.

One of the things I said in the interviews is that Southern food doesn’t have to be unhealthy and that what is portrayed in the media isn’t always real Southern food. Yes, we occasionally ate Fried Chicken and Biscuits when I was young, but I sure as heck didn’t grow up with Bacon Wrapped Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese.

How can I be taken seriously with my sermon because of my weight? Well, I am working on it.

Since January, I’m happy to say that I’ve lost 25 pounds and I’m working to lose even more. I feel absolutely great. I feel strong. (No, sadly I haven’t grown those 3 lost inches in stature and those Charlize Theron looks just aren’t happening this lifetime.)

It’s slow going, but it’s working and it’s real.

Real Food

It’s all about eating real food. The vegetables at Rancho la Puerta are alive! The gentle, persistent hum of the bees in the herbs is the soundtrack of the garden. The garlic is sticky and fiercely hot; the carrots are crisp and sweet like candy. One row goes to seed as the adjacent row has fledgling seedlings push through the soil. It’s vibrant and moving and pulsing with life. The food is as real and nourishing as it can possibly be. It’s powerful. It’s strong. The entire experience makes you think.

This past week at Rancho la Puerta I felt like I really embraced the philosophies of the ranch. I enjoyed the food and experience as I had never before. I did Monster Cardio Blast and Circuit Training. I laughed when the massage therapist said my calves were like massaging rocks. I taught Southern Comfort Spa Style and French Cuisine, and I felt honest in my skin. It felt really, really good.

Below are some of the recipes from the my classes as well as the famous Ranch Guacamole that I thought you might like as healthy summer sides.

Lighten Up, Y’all!

Fennel and Carrot Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon mayonnaise or reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons low fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh dill or fennel fronds, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave, or to taste
1 pound fresh fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed, and thinly sliced in julienne
½ pound carrots, sliced in julienne
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a large bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Add the thinly sliced fennel and carrots; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill up to 1 hour. Taste and adjust for seasoning and toss again before serving.

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Walnut Oil
Serves 4 to 6

4 medium fresh beets
1/4 cup walnuts, for garnish
1 shallot, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry or walnut vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 ounces mâche or tender young greens
4 to 6 ounces fresh goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and bake them directly on the oven rack until completely tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and slice the beets 1/4 inch thick. Set aside.

While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts on a baking sheet in the same oven until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly, coarsely chop them, and transfer to a small bowl; set aside.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add the olive and walnut oils in a slow stream, whisking constantly, until creamy and emulsified; season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, toss the beets in a little of the dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, toss the mâche with just enough dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the greens and beets among the serving plates. Top with a spoonful of goat cheese and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts. Serve immediately.

Rancho la Puerta Guacamole
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup frozen peas, slightly thawed
1 medium Hass avocado, peeled and pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic, mashed into a paste
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, process the peas until smooth. Add the avocado, lime juice, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse until well-blended, but still slightly chunky.

Recipe adapted from Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta by Jesús González, Deborah Schneider, and Deborah Szekely.

Full disclosure: I teach at Rancho la Puerta in exchange for lodging for myself and one guest for the week. In addition, I receive 3 credits for use at the spa. However, this post is not part a prerequisite of our barter agreement and I am not additionally compensated for this post or any social media efforts publicizing this post.

All photos by Virginia Willis

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, Thanks so much.

Lighten Up! 11 Great Recipes for a Healthy Southern Summer Sunday, Jun 26 2011 

Last week I taught Southern Comfort Spa Style at Rancho la Puerta. The photo above is of me in the beautiful organic garden at La Cocina que Canta, “the kitchen that sings” with the bounty of the garden and of the land.

It’s a magnificent place and the cooking school is just amazing. The guests harvest vegetables from the gardens with the chefs and Salvatore, the head gardener, then we go inside and cook what we’ve just harvested. Believe it or not, there are people who have never seen potatoes in the ground or how they grow. And, most of these are educated, affluent people, but some still don’t know where their food originates. To help with this situation, Rancho la Puerta has recently hired Chef Denise Roa, here with me below, as executive chef and I just know she’s going to take the cooking school to soaring heights.

You know, I don’t have on a lick of make-up in that picture, but that doesn’t bother me a bit. It’s pretty scary for some women to consider that option. Not too long ago, it was, frankly, really, really scary for me to teach at a health spa. I had this vision of superstar model-type folks and lithe athletes gliding effortlessly from the pool to the weight room and then on to pilates and mountain hikes. I thought they would toast to life gleefully sipping potassium broth and snacking on air-popped popcorn. I thought I was the only one that would be so hungry at dinnertime it would make me want to gnaw my arm off. I thought I would feel just like I did in the locker room in 7th grade.

I have an internal gremlin of low self-esteem concerning my weight, which I mightily struggle with to keep silenced. I thought they would be beautiful and I would be fat. Why would those beautiful people want to listen to a fat chef?

Please notice I am using the word FAT, which is a lot, a whole hell of a lot different than “overweight.”

No surprise, I have had issues with my weight my whole, entire life. I’ve never, hardly ever, felt beautiful. I’ve felt fat. I remember the pain of being in 2nd grade and being at a sleep over and worrying that I was fat in comparison to my schoolmate, Martha. My best friend, Cyndi, was on the Junior Olympics swim team and I on the other hand, was the last one picked for kickball — that is when I was actually on the playground and not squirreled away in the library reading.

Genetics dictate that I am predisposed to being a little more on the thick side than not. My father was a boxer in the Navy and built like a barrel. I inherited his build. I am big-boned with broad shoulders, which if nothing else, gives me at least the illusion of an actual waist. Had I been a boy, I would have played offensive lineman. I am one sturdy, strong girl.

And, yes, heavier than what expert medical knowledge says I should be.

Last year, my lady-doctor told me “I was hosed” given my profession. Sigh. Well, that’s not fair or fun, is it? Her comment actually brought tears to my eyes.

“Hmm, perhaps I’ll take the prescription for happy pills?”

However, I don’t want that. I want better. I am in a really good place in my mind and in my heart and I want my body to be at the party, too.

Several months ago, for the first time in my life, a personal trainer told me it was better to be overweight and fit, as I am, than be at my “proper” weight and unfit.

Well, hello. Thank you. Those were some of the most amazing words ever spoken to me. It was an absolute revelation. Shred the meds prescription.

I’ll never be thin. I know that, and actually, I don’t really ever want to be thin. I’ve lived my whole life with me; I am not too sure I actually want to be someone else. I am becoming happier with me. I am starting to see myself as more than fat. I am strong, I am sturdy, and in that there is a form of beauty.

And, yes, I do want to be more healthful, continue this work I am doing, eat better, exercise more, and take better care of myself.

No, don’t get too excited, this isn’t the end of me eating pork chops. It’s just about me being better, more mindful. Or, at least trying.

The philosophy I am learning is Siempre Mejor, which means “always better.” It refers to a life strengthened by good health and life-long learning, which unleashes the willingness to change — for the better.

I’ve got a lot going on and want to be ready for it!

Check out the sizzle reel of the pilot for my proposed TV series Starting from Scratch. The concept of the series is to show folks where their food comes from — and I don’t mean the grocery store. I’ve got lots and lots of work to do and we’ll be meeting with networks over the next few months to sell it. I’ll keep you posted.

And, for the 4th of July weekend, My Southern Pantry debuts at the Williams Sonoma Artisan Market Series at Lenox Mall. If you are in Atlanta, please stop by from 10 am – 2 pm on Saturday, July 2nd.

At the bottom of this email you will find 5 healthful recipes for Southern summer cooking.

I’ve also got an article in this month’s Eating Well magazine with 6 more delicious and light Southern “de-lites”, including Chicken-on-a-Stick, Mama’s Potato Salad, and Brown Sugar Shortcakes!

That makes 11 total recipes in this blog post to play with and enjoy. Thanks for listening. Shoot me a note and let me know how you like the recipes.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


Cornmeal-Crusted Grouper
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup whole wheat panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
1/2 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
4 to 6 (6-ounce) grouper fillets (about 3/4 inch thick)
2 tablespoons canola oil
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper.

Combine the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a large shallow bowl and stir to mix. Place the beaten eggwhites in a 2nd shallow dish.

Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Working with one fillet at a time, dip one side of the fish into the eggwhites, then press the same side into the crumbs. Transfer the fish to a plate.

In a large, heavy-bottomed, ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. Fry the fillets until the undersides are golden brown, about 1 minute, turn and sear the other side. Remove and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the fish are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade
Makes about 1 cup

1/2 package soft tofu, 6 ounces
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 large roasted red pepper, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon capers
3 cornichons, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

In the jar of a blender combine the Silken tofu, mustard, vinegar, and water. Process until smooth. Add the chopped roasted peppers, capers, cornichons, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse in the blender until the ingredients are blended, but still slightly chunky. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Green Beans Provençal
Serves 4 to 6

11/2 pounds haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
15 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 to 3 tablespoons mixed chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, and basil)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with beans in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the beans are submerged.

In the same pot, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and heat until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Drain the beans, shaking off the excess water. Return the beans to the pot along with the tomatoes. Add the olives and herbs and toss to combine. Drizzle over the vinegar and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 1 dozen

1 cup sweet potato, roasted and mashed (about ½ a large sweet potato)
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium size mixing bowl. Add the mashed sweet potato and oil.

Using your hands, mix the dough until it just comes together – do not overwork or the biscuits will be tough.

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out to one inch thickness. Using a round, 1 ½ inch cookie cutter, cut out the biscuits. Gather together the excess scraps and roll out again to make more biscuits.

Transfer the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each. Bake until the biscuits are lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Blackberry Cobbler
Serves 8 to 10

This is a version of a cobbler both my mother and grandmother have made my whole life. Other fruits may be substituted, but peach has always been my favorite. Baking this in cast iron makes for beautiful presentation, the golden brown batter swells around the fruit, making this a delicious indulgence.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup 2% milk
1/3 cup agave syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (1 pint) blackberries
Frozen Yogurt, for serving
Mint, for garnish

Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the butter and oil in a 9 x l3-inch ovenproof serving dish or 10 1/2-inch cast iron skillet and transfer to the preheated oven to heat, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add the milk, agave syrup, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Remove the hot dish with the melted butter and oil from the oven. Add the butter oil mixture to the batter and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the hot pan. Spoon the black berries evenly over the batter. Return the pan to the oven and bake until brown and the batter has risen up and around the fruit, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve immediately with frozen yogurt and garnish with fresh mint.

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, Thanks so much.


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!

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)

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’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!

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.

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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