Best Winter Squash Recipes: Cozy Comfort Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 


Winter Weather 

pan seared winter squash on

Wintery mix and snowy weather call for cozy, comforting foods. One of my absolute favorite recipes when I was a little girl was Roast Acorn Squash. Mama would halve the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. She’d fill the scooped out center with a thick pat of butter, amber maple syrup, and chopped pecans and roast the halves until perfectly tender. The buttery syrup would seep into the squash and create a  magical mash, closer to dessert than a healthful vegetable.

Winter Squash Glossary on

Clockwise, starting at bottom left: Delicata, Acorn, Kabocha, and Butternut Squash

I’m still a huge fan of winter squash, although my recipes are now a bit less decadent. Winter squash are earthy, creamy, and rich – the definition of cozy comfort. Many varieties are available year-round, but their natural season runs from late summer to mid-winter. Many people gravitate towards acorn squash because they are familiar with it, but there are many other flavors and textures. Sure, they are all quite similar, but just different enough that I want you to give them a try. In fact, except for spaghetti squash, virtually any winter squash, including pumpkin, can be substituted for another in any recipe, from main dish to side dish to dessert. Here are a few of my favorites.

Delicata – Sweet and thin-skinned, this winter squash is quick cooking and very useful. The cream colored skin has dark green stripes in the ribs. My favorite way to cook this is to thinly slice it and roast it, seeds and all, to make delicata chips.

delicata squash on

Acorn – Sweet and nutty, the most common acorn squash are dark green in color, sometimes tinged with a bit of orange or yellow. The flesh is pale yellow and somewhat fibrous. As the name suggests, it is shaped much like an acorn. It has distinct ridges and a fairly tough skin, making it difficult to peel.

acorn squash on

Butternut – This is one of the easiest of all the winter squashes to work with because its smooth skin just pares away with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Also, they keep well even once they have been cut upon – meaning, I shop for a large one, use what I need, and wrap the rest. It will easily last a week or so and can be carved on and be part of more than one meal. The long slender neck of the squash is perfect for cubing and I roast the bulbous end, skin and all, as in the recipe below.

Kabocha – Kabocha is the generic Japanese word for squash. It has a green, bluish-gray streaked rind and the flesh is deep yellow. Kabocha squash has a rich sweet flavor, and can be a bit dry when cooked. The outer skin is pretty tough so follow my instructions for handling rutabagas to cut these hard-skinned squash.

kabocha squash on

This week, I am sharing a vibrant, beautiful, and tasty recipe for Pan-Seared Winter Squash with Maple Syrup and Pecans. Check these recipes out, too:

Speaking of comforting foods for winter weather, I am having a great time with my column on called Down-Home Comfort. (You can follow  the Down-Home Comfort feed on FN Dish with this link.) Stay tuned later this week for my Fried Chicken with Rice and Black Pepper Gravy!

Believe it or not, I am currently working on my next batch of posts that will run this summer. Please help me out and answer this poll:

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Pan Seared Winter Squash -

Pan-Seared Winter Squash 
Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil, more if needed
1 acorn squash, cut into eighths
4-6 1/4-inch thick slices of butternut squash
1 small red onion, stem end trimmed and root attached, cut lengthwise into eighths
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 thyme sprigs, preferably fresh
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350°F. Brush a large skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Add squash wedges without crowding and cook on both sides until mottled and browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. (You will need to sear the squash in batches.) Repeat with remaining oil, squash, and onion. Return all squash and onion to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Tuck the herbs about the skillet and transfer to the oven. Bake until tender to the point of a knife, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the maple syrup and sprinkle over the pecans. Return to the oven to warm the syrup and lightly toast the pecans, about 5 minutes. Remove the herbs and 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, Thanks so much.

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All Photos by Virginia Willis. Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Busch Gardens F&W Festival: Grilled Lemonade Chicken & Summer Succotash Thursday, Jun 6 2013 

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA

This month I am the headline chef at the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival. I was there last weekend and I’ll be back June 15-16. If you are in the area or have friends in the region, please tell them to come check it out! I have 30-minute demonstrations throughout the afternoon in an amphitheater that are open to all park guests and one special dinner show called the Chef’s Guest in the evening. The entertainment team producing the shows are top notch! Everything runs like clockwork and everyone is kind, professional, and hospitable.

The Chef’s Guests demonstration includes wine, dinner, and is much more intimate. Here’s a quick snap of what’s for dinner with the Chef’s Guests – Sweet Tea Brined Pork Chop atop a bed of Parmigiano Reggiano Grits and a Tangle of Garlicky Collard Greens. I have become a Grits and Greens missionary, converting the unknowing to the joys and pleasures of both Southern staples. If I heard once last weekend, “I usually don’t like grits, but I love these” — I heard it a dozen times. I saw one lady sneak back for 3rds and 4ths on the grits!

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Food and Wine Around the World

I didn’t do it all by myself. Executive Chef Justin Watson is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute and has a long history working for resorts including Woodstock Inn and Resort and Kingsmill Resort & Spa. His culinary team did an absolutely superb job with my recipes setting up the mise en place for the demonstrations as well as catering the Chef’s Guest Food and Wine Dinner Demonstrations.

For the Food and Wine Festival Chef Watson has created a collection of food and beverage selections representative of each European country at the park – England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Germany and France – as well as countries such as Spain, Canada and Greece that are not currently in the park. Each country has a kiosk and for a small fee, guests can sample dishes from that country. This is not turkey legs and funnel cakes, my friends. It’s really tasty. The scallop wrapped in Serrano ham from Spain was one of my favorites and I can guarantee I’ll be tweaking that recipe soon for my blog! The chef’s expertise and dedication to further improve the quality of the food in the park was evident. Everything I sampled was very nicely done.

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The festival also features culinary experts throughout the park, including sugar and chocolate work as well as incredible fruit and vegetable carving. Check out the watermelon carved by Chef James Parker of Veggy Art. You would not believe what this talented man can do! I was in awe of his knife work.

I had lots of requests for my demo recipes so I promised I would post them on my blog. I think they are superb for summer. The Lemonade Chicken is as easy as 1,2,3 and the Summer Succotash can be served hot, warm, room temperature – or even made ahead and served cold. Hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

Lastly, I have fun posting pictures while I am out-and-about so click on each if you want to keep up with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

Bon Appétit Y’all!


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Grilled Lemonade Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 cups lemonade
¼ cup freshly chopped mixed herbs such as basil, mint, and parsley
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken in a medium bowl. Add lemonade, herbs, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate to marinate for 30 minutes.

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

Remove chicken from marinade; place on grill. Discard marinade. Cook, turning once or twice, until the meat is firm to the touch and the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with the tip of a knife, about 10 minutes.

Summer Succotash
Serves 4 to 6

Succotash has many versions, but all contain corn and beans. If butterbeans are not available, I often substitute shelled edamame or black-eyed peas. Small farm stands, local and state farmer’s markets, and even the Whole Foods in my area usually carry shelled peas and butterbeans in the summer. They are both doubly precious—extremely delicious and fairly expensive, the result of the luxury of not having to shell your own.

1 1/2 cups shelled fresh butterbeans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled) or frozen butter beans
2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
Scraped kernels from 4 ears fresh sweet corn (about 2 cups)
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 cup grape, cherry, or teardrop tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup freshly chopped mixed herbs such as basil, oregano, and parsley
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To cook the beans, place them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and season the water with salt and pepper; decrease the heat to low. Simmer until tender, about 30 minutes for fresh beans, less for frozen. Drain well and set aside.

To cook the potatoes, place them in a second saucepan and cover by 1 inch with cold water; season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. (You can also microwave the potatoes whole, then dice them. They simply need to be parcooked before being added to the succotash.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil and the butter over high heat until the foam subsides. Add the drained potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook the potatoes, stirring infrequently, until nicely crusted, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the onion, corn, squash, and zucchini and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved butter beans and cook, stirring, until heated through. Add the tomatoes and fresh basil, stirring to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

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.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Photo credits – Lisa Ekus & Virginia Willis

Disclosure: My appearances at the Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival are sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. This post is not a requirement of our agreement and I am not additionally compensated for this post or any social media efforts publicizing this post.

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!

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, Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

New England Seafood + Five Recipes Wednesday, Jul 11 2012 

Cape Cod

Isn’t that gorgeous? It’s sunrise in Chatham, Massachusetts. The water was like glass and the sea was so calm the waves were barely lapping on the shore. It was pure magic.

Three things I’ve got to say about New England beaches:

  1. The beaches are LOVELY.
  2. The ocean is COLD.
  3. The seafood is GOOD.

We’ve just spent the last few days on Cape Cod, meandering up into the Cape Ann area around Ipswich, Essex, and Gloucester, and visiting friends in the Calendar Islands in Maine. I’d never been to this area of the country and it was astonishingly beautiful. The hydrangeas on Cape Cod are like nothing I have ever seen!

Cape Cod has been in the news because of the great white shark following the kayaker. We saw the seals that are drawing in the sharks — as well as the posted warnings. No worries. I wasn’t in any hurry to get in the water to begin with, to be honest with you. My Southern blood is waaaay too thin for 64° F water. Brr.


I have been keen on visiting Gloucester since getting in a fish fight with the tuna fishermen over my Wicked Tuna blogpost and the piece I wrote about the same subject for CNN’s Eatocracy. Folks have been fishing off Cape Ann since 1626. There’s a long, proud history of fishing. Sustainability is a hot button issue. Whole Foods Market recently stepped up it’s efforts to source only sustainable fish. Consequently, much of the fish caught off Cape Ann is no longer available in Whole Foods.

Lots of the locals aren’t happy about it, and it’s certainly not black and white. It’s just not. I can’t imagine my reaction if someone said to me, “You can’t cook or write for a living anymore. It’s no longer allowed. You have to do something else.” I’d be pretty upset. It’s what I do. Well, it’s the same thing for these fishermen.

There are still plenty of choices. I’m almost embarrassed to document the seafood we consumed in 5 days. We had seafood for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We used the Brook Dojny’s New England Clam Shack Cookbook as our guide and grazed up the coast. (She has a new book on Lobster I need to check out, too.) Yelp was quite helpful, as well.

I’ve calculated that we enjoyed: Raw Oysters, Fried Oysters, Raw Scallop Hand Rolls, Fried Scallops, Raw Clams, Steamed Clams, Fried Clams, Clam Chowder, Raw Fluke Sashimi, Fried Haddock, Grilled Swordfish, Haddock Fish Chowder, Lobster Roll(s), Steamed Lobsters, Lobster Stew, Fried Maine Shrimp, Mussels, and Jonah Crab.


The best part was that it was all local! Our five day feast wasn’t as completely gluttonous as it sounds. We paced ourselves, ordered small portions, and skipped the fries.

Here’s a list of the places we liked the most:

Chatham Fish and Lobster Home of the best lobster roll I may have ever had.

Chatham Squire Cold beer and awesome Mussels Marinara.

Essex Seafood Incredible Fried Clams and Shrimp.

The Causeway in Gloucester. Fish Chowder that will make you a believer. It opened at 11 and we arrived at 11:05 to a packed restaurant. Good food at amazing prices.

In honor of our New England Tour, here are five easy seafood recipes inspired by our journey for you to try!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS If you are in the area or have plans to be, I’m heading back to Maine in late August to teach at Stonewall Kitchen. Hope to see you there!

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6

Quahogs are the kind most often used for linguine with clam sauce or chowder. Small quahogs are called cherrystone or little necks.

2 ½ cups fish stock or bottled clam juice
40 Little Neck clams
2 slices bacon, diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the fish stock in a shallow pot to a boil. Add the clams and simmer until the shells open, about 2 minutes. Then, remove the clams and remove the meat. Chop the meat and set aside. Strain the remaining fish stock through a fine mesh sieve and reserve for the chowder.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, add bacon and cook until slightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onions and celery to the pot and cook in the bacon fat until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

Whisk in the flour, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, to eliminate any raw flour taste. Add the potatoes, fish stock, milk, and cream and bring to a simmer. When the potatoes are almost cooked (after 5 to 10 minutes), add the thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper, and clams. Simmer until clams are cooked, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Lobster Rolls
Serves 4

Apologies for my indulgence, but I absolutely love this picture taken at the Chatham Fish and Lobster Market. They had the best lobster roll of the entire trip.

4 whole lobsters, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 rib celery, finely minced
4 top-split hot dog rolls
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters comfortably; do not crowd them. (A 4- to 5-gallon pot can handle 6 to 8 pounds of lobster.) Put 2 inches of seawater or salted water in the bottom of a large kettle. Set a steaming rack inside the pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Just before cooking snip away the rubber bands. Add the live lobsters one at a time, cover the pot, and start timing. Halfway through, lift the lid (careful—the steam is hot) and shift the lobsters around so they cook evenly.

If the lobster weighs
1 pound – steam for 10 minutes
1-1/4 pounds – steam for 12 minutes
1-1/2 pounds – steam for 14 minutes
1-3/4 pounds – steam for 16 minutes
2 pounds – steam for 18 minutes

Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath. Remove lobsters from pot and immediately transfer to ice-water bath until chilled.

Twist claws with their knuckles from the body. Separate knuckles from claws. Crack knuckles open; remove meat and set aside. Grasp “thumb” and bend it back to snap it off. Crack claw in half; remove meat and set aside. Pull of legs. Twist tail from the joint where it meets the body. Pull off tail fins. Bend tail backward to crack off end of shell. Use your fingers to push tail meat out opposite side; remove with fork and set aside. Discard any remaining lobster.

Roughly chop lobster meat into about 1/2-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl, along with mayonnaise, lemon juice, and celery; season with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Butter hot dog rolls and place on the griddle or in skillet. Toast until golden on each side; transfer each roll to a serving plate. Divide lobster mixture between the 4 rolls. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

The photo above is what are referred to as “steamers”. They are soft-shell clams found in the sand along the shoreline. The first time I had steamers was a few years ago at Barnacle Billy’s in Perkins Cove, Maine. It was a revelation. The briny minerality of the seafood combined with the hot melted butter is intoxicating.

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 gallon cold water
5 pounds steamer clams
1 quart hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Bread, for serving

Combine the cornstarch and about 1 tablespoon of the water in a large bowl to make a slurry. Add remaining 1/2 gallon of water. Add clams and stir to submerge. Refrigerate so the clams will purge their sand, about 20 minutes. Lift the clams out of the water, leaving the sand on the bottom of the bowl.

Meanwhile, bring the quart of hot water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat. (A pasta pot with a metal insert works great.) Carefully add the clams so as not to break their shells. Cover and cook until the clams are firm, but not overcooked, about 10 minutes. Remove clams and place in a large bowl.

Ladle some of the cooking liquid from the top of the pot so as to leave the sand on the bottom of the pot into a small bowl. Combine the lemon juice and melted butter. Set both aside.

To eat the clams using your hands, remove the clam from the shell. Peel the outer, dark skin from the “foot”. Holding the clam by the now-clean foot swish the clam in the small bowl of cooking water to further remove any sand or sediment. (This gives a whole new meaning to rinse and repeat.) Dip the clam in melted lemon butter. Eat so that butter and clam juice drips on bread. Lick your fingers and enjoy.

Clam Shack Clams
Serves 2

The clams are the ones on the left in the photo above and the shrimp are on the right. I had never had Maine shrimp before and loved them. They were delicious and sweet. In terms of a recipe, I am fairly certain the coating and use of evaporated milk is the same.

1 cup fine yellow corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
11/2 pounds shucked whole steamer clams
1 12 ounce container evaporated milk
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups canola oil, for deep-frying
lemon wedges, for serving

Combine the corn meal, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Set aside. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels or newspaper. Set aside.

Place a sieve over a bowl. Place the clams in the sieve to drain. (Reserve juice for another use.) Place the evaporated milk in a large bowl and season with additional salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large heavy deep pot until it reaches 375°F. Add the drained the clams to the evaporated milk. Using a wire-mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, clift up a small batch allowing the excess milk to drip back into bowl, then drop the clams into the flour mix and toss it to evenly coat.

Add to the oil and fry in batches until golden brown and crisp, 30–40 seconds. Drain on prepared baking sheet. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with lemon. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

photos by Virginia Willis except the one of me, which was taken by Lisa Ekus.

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.

Buon Appetito, Y’all! Glorious Pasta Recipes Friday, Jun 3 2011 

I read something today in a magazine referring to a dish as not “Comfort Food”, but “Therapy Food.”

Pasta would fall under that category in my kitchen.

A bowl of noodles with yummy meat sauce? Topped with cheese? I feel better just writing that, much less nestling in for a bowl.

“Pasta” isn’t particularly French or Southern, but I love, love, love pasta. Who doesn’t? Every culture under the sun has some kind of noodle dish simply made from flour and water. Down South we just call it dumplings.

My family grew up eating spaghetti with a traditional meat sauce. Well, sort of. . . . The meat was ground venison from a deer Daddy shot, and Mama always added Dede’s homemade scuppernong wine. She also used a McCormick’s seasoning packet, still does. This was one of those rare meals mama didn’t make completely from scratch. Her brand of choice was Mueller’s — kind of funny, German pasta, but it was good. And, I am not sure why, but she always broke the spaghetti noodles in half and cooked them far, far past al dente, more like “all done.”

When I worked with Epicurious TV on the Discovery channel we once went to Abruzzo and made pasta at Rusticella D’Abruzzo. It was really astonishing. They extrude the pasta out of bronze, not teflon, molds, then slowly dry the pasta. The antique bronze plates create tiny nicks and channels in the dough. This allows the sauce to adhere better to the pasta. Shape and texture of the pasta makes a difference in the final dish. (For more about that see here.) And, as artisan pasta makers, they choose to dry it slowly to maintain the flavor, so it takes them 50 hours to produce what the larger companies produce in a mere 5. You can taste the difference.

Now, I still love my mama’s spaghetti – you know how it is with food memories – but those folks at Rusticella know how to make pasta.

So does my friend and colleague Domenica Marchetti. She has a new cookbook out called The Glorious Pasta of Italy.

It’s therapy food abbondanza.

Giuliano Hazan, author of Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta says, “In The Glorious Pasta of Italy, Domenica Marchetti shares her passion with you. Her recipes for my favorite food — pasta — are unpretentious, genuine, and mouthwatering. Brava!”

I’ve enjoyed some time in the kitchen with Guiliano, too. Once I got over the fact that I was cooking pasta for him and the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. You can read more about that here.

Domenica’s book is so beautiful and Guiliano is right — she’s sharing her passion. It’s one of those cookbooks that makes you hungry, makes you want to eat, makes you want to cook. It’s an absolute winner.

So, I’m at IACP in Austin, but Domenica shared a couple of recipes with me to share with you and I developed a simple vegetarian pasta I served last weekend, as well. Hers are more authentic than mine, but I’ve got you covered with a meat, fish, and vegetarian pasta.

You’re good to go for a couple of sessions of therapy.

Buon appetito, y’all!

PS Here’s a list of the award winners from last night! 2011 IACP Award Winners.

Domenica’s Fettuccine with Sausage, Mascarpone, and Sottocenere al Tartufo

Who says you can’t have luxury on a Monday night? Sottocenere al tartufo, a semisoft cow’s milk cheese flecked with shavings of black truffle, dresses up a classic cream sauce, infusing it with truffle aroma and flavor. If you are unable to find sottocenere, substitute Fontina Val d’Aosta and, if you like, a drop or two of truffle oil.

Makes 4 servings

1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sweet Italian sausages, 8 oz/225 g total weight
1/4 cup/60 ml dry white wine
1/4 cup/60 ml heavy/double cream
8 oz/225 g mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
Kosher or fine sea salt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb/455 g dried fettuccine
3 oz/85 g sottocenere al tartufo cheese
1/2 cup/55g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.

While the water is heating, put the butter in a large frying pan placed over medium heat. Remove the sausages from their casings and pick them apart over the frying pan, allowing the chunks of sausage to drop directly into the pan. Sauté, using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to break up the large pieces of sausage, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until no trace of pink remains and the meat is cooked through. The sausage should still be moist and only very lightly browned. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Let it bubble for about a minute, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream and then the mascarpone. Continue to stir until the mascarpone is melted. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if necessary. This will depend on how salty the sausages are. Add a generous grind of pepper. Cover and keep the sauce over very low heat while you cook the fettuccine.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until not quite al dente; it should be slightly underdone. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup/240 ml of the cooking water.

Pour a little of the cooking water into the cream sauce to thin it out a bit, and then add the cooked pasta to the frying pan over low heat. Gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle the sottocenere al tartufo and half of the Parmigiano over the sauced pasta and toss again, making sure the cheeses melt into the sauce and are well incorporated and the pasta is al dente. Add a splash more water if necessary to thin out the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed shallow individual bowls and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano over the top. Serve immediately.

Domenica’s Spaghetti al Farouk

This is a unique dish, and one that is near and dear to my heart. When I was a girl, my family owned a beach house on Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast. I have many wonderful memories of whiling away summer days on the beach with friends and enjoying late-night marathon meals that featured freshly caught local seafood. One of our favorite restaurants was right on the beach. My memory says it was on the outskirts of the port city of Pescara, but my mother swears it was in nearby Francavilla. Since she is originally from the region, I will defer to her on that detail. Neither of us remembers the name of the restaurant, but we do remember that it was a casual place with a reputation for impeccable fish and seafood. One of its signature dishes was Spaghetti al Farouk, a fanciful curried pasta dish that brimmed with fresh mussels, shrimp, and pannocchie (something like crayfish or tiny lobsters). The dish was named for the deposed Egyptian king who fled to Italy in 1952, and the sauce was spicy, silky, and a deep gold. My mother re-created the recipe in her own kitchen in the 1970s, and I still have a typed copy that she gave me. I’ve tinkered with the sauce over the years, lightening it a bit and trying different quantities of the various spices. In all honesty, I can’t tell you whether it is anything like the original—it’s been some thirty years—but I can tell you that it is a sauce like no other.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
Large pinch of saffron threads, pounded to a powder
1 tbsp curry powder (preferably spicy)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 tsp kosher or fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup/180 ml dry white wine
1 cup/240 ml heavy/double cream
1 lb/455 g dried spaghetti
12 mussels, well scrubbed and debearded if necessary (see Cook’s Note)
16 large shrimp/prawns, peeled and deveined
6 oz/170 g frozen shelled cooked langoustine tails (see Cook’s Note)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously.

In a frying pan large enough to hold all of the seafood, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the onion and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes, or until the onion is softened but not browned. Stir in the saffron, curry powder, ginger, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and a generous grind of pepper, taking care to incorporate all of the herbs and spices. Stir in the lemon juice, raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Let the sauce simmer briskly for about 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the cream. Bring the sauce back to a very gentle simmer. If the pasta water is not yet boiling, reduce the heat under the sauce to low and wait until the pasta water boils.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Once the pasta is in the water, proceed with finishing the sauce.

Add the mussels, shrimp, and langoustine tails to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mussels open, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the langoustine tails are heated through. Discard any mussels that failed to open.

Drain the pasta into a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup/240 ml of the cooking water. If the frying pan is large enough to contain both the pasta and the sauce, add the pasta to the frying pan and gently toss the pasta and sauce to combine thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. If the frying pan is not large enough, return the pasta to the pot, add about two-thirds of the sauce, toss to combine thoroughly, and then top with the remaining sauce when serving. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl or shallow individual bowls. If you are preparing individual servings, be sure to divide the seafood evenly among them. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Note: Much of the shellfish available these days is farm raised and therefore contains less dirt and grit than shellfish harvested from the wild. To clean mussels, scrub their shells with a stiff brush under cold running water. Discard any that do not close tightly when handled. If the mussels have beards, the fibrous tufts they use to hold on to pilings and rocks, you need to remove them. Using a towel or just bare fingers, grasp the beard gently but firmly and yank it toward the shell’s hinge. This will remove the fibers without tearing the mussel meat.

Frozen langoustine tails lack the flavor of fresh ones, but they are much more readily available and they have a nice, meaty texture that captures the sauce and absorbs its flavor.

Virginia’s Penne with Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Serves 6

1 pound penne pasta
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups oven roasted tomatoes
1 cup mixed fresh herbs such as oregano, parsley, and basil, chopped
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water to al dente – not all done – about 10 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. (Do not rinse under running water.) Immediately add the olive oil and toss to coat. (This will prevent the pasta from sticking together.) Add the tomatoes, herbs, pecans, and stir to combine. Add freshly grated cheese. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature.

Domenica’s photography was done by France Ruffencach.
My veggie pasta snap was taken by me.

The Glorious Pasta of Italy (June 2011) Reprinted with permission of Chronicle Books.

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.

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!

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, Thanks so much.

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