Down-Home Comfort with Red-Eye Gravy and Deadlines Friday, Feb 28 2014 

Grits with Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy on Down-Home Comfort on Food Network

I’ve got a stack of books I’m in love with and can’t wait to share with you – Summerland by Anne Quatrano, Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen by Dave Joachim, Latin American Street Food by Sandra Gutierrez, just to name a few….But, my friends, I’m on deadline for my next book with Ten Speed Press, titled Lighten Up, Y’all.

It’s due March 17 and I have to stay super focused.

So, this is more of a catch-up than a proper post. Testing has been going really great – I am loving the recipes, as are my guinea pigs. How about a Lightened Up Cream Cheese Brownies, Macaroni and Cheese, AND Old-Fashioned Pot Roast?!

I’m especially excited because I requested this next book to be paperback — and less than $25. I want people to cook from my books and want this one to be as accessible as possible. It will have 100 recipes and over 75 extraordinary photographs by my dear friend, the beautiful and talented Angie Mosier.

There’s been a good bit going on — I’m working with IdeaLand and Pixie Wizard on a new website that will be AWESOME. I’m thrilled with their work so if you need someone to work on your corner of the web, make sure to check them out.

I’ve got lots of events and classes lined up for spring; please check out my events page. (Summer will be up soon.)

DSC_0958

The big news is that Down-Home Comfort on FoodNetwork.com is a BIG success. I’m heading into a photo shoot for the summer Down-Home Comfort posts as soon as my manuscript is finished.

This week I am sharing a recipe for Stone-ground Grits with Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy.

So, please forgive the sound of crickets from my own blog — and in the meanwhile, please follow Down-Home Comfort  on FoodNetwork.com — and, help a sister out – please like, pin, share, and tweet!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

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

Keep up with me on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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

 

Winter Weather 

pan seared winter squash on www.virginiawillis.com

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 www.virginiawillis.com

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 www.virginiawillis.com

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 www.virginiawillis.com

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 www.virginiawillis.com

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 FoodNetwork.com 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!
VA

Pan Seared Winter Squash - www.virginiawillis.com

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Keep up with me on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest.

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

The Dark Side: Five Recipes for Winter Greens Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 


Slide20

Summer produce is easy. Summer produce is the embodiment of an easy, breezy sunny day. Tomatoes are sliced. Okra only needs a short simmer or perhaps a bit of grilling. Fresh corn takes a quick dip in salted, boiling water and is eager and ready for a soft, melting knob of butter.

Fall brings wet mornings and long cool nights. The darkness of night lingers longer in the morning and quietly eases in earlier in the evening. As the days grow shorter, cabbage, kale, collards, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens replace the tender lettuces and easy vegetables of spring and summer. The dark leafy greens of fall are more complex than sunny summer produce.

DSC_0713

Winter greens are members of the Brassica family and are noted for their bitterness. They need full, bold flavors to meet their match and test their mettle, like the red pepper flakes shown in the photo above. Yet, winter greens are also wonderfully versatile. The peppery heat of turnip greens are pungent and sharp when compared to the subtle grassiness of Swiss chard or the aggressive vegetal flavor of kale.

One troublesome aspect of cooking these nutritional powerhouses is that winter greens can be quite gritty. The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

As a helpful hint, if you don’t buy your produce from the local farmers market, look for the washed bagged greens sold in most supermarkets. These bagged greens can save a lot of time in the kitchen. After a day or so, make sure to blanch them in boiling salted water once you get them home so they don’t spoil in the bags. Once they’ve been blanched, you can store them 3 to 5 days in a sealable container in the refrigerator.

IMG_0224

Traditional Southern cooking cooks the life out of them. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Slow-cooked greens with some form of glistening fatty pig suspended in salty, smoky potlikker are the primary DNA of the taste memories from childhood. There’s nothing like a wedge of cornbread dipped in that rich, oily, green broth. However, it’s a real revelation when you understand you can cook greens 4 to 5 minutes, not 1 hour 45 minutes!

You may have avoided these nutritious greens in the past because of their bitter reputations and gritty nature, but when you balance their flavors with full flavored ingredients like garlic, red pepper flakes, creamy cheeses, smoked meat, and rich, crème frâiche —it’s easy to moderate their bitterness. Now is the time to celebrate the dark side this fall and welcome these beautiful greens into your kitchen.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Mozz Greens Bruschetta

Mozzarella and Winter Greens Brushchetta
Makes 8

Fresh mozzarella is increasingly available in better stores and markets. This cheese is moist, soft, and delicate. It’s miles away from the hard pizza cheese. Mozzarella was originally made from water-buffalo milk, but now most fresh mozzarella comes from cow’s milk, both in Italy and here in the United States. Fresh mozzarella is normally sold in a container of water. It’s highly perishable, so refrigerate it in its liquid for no more than a few days.

1 baguette or Italian loaf
1 garlic clove, halved
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound tender dark greens, stems removed, leaves chopped
4 garlic cloves and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded fresh mozzarella cheese
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the broiler. Slice the bread crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and place on a baking sheet. Broil the toast about 4 inches from heat until golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove to a rack to cool.

Rub toasts with garlic on one side and lightly brush same side with about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large heavy-bottom sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the garlic paste and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the greens and season with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium high heat, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the mozzarella and taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide the greens between the toasted bread and serve immediately.

DSC_0813

Kale Tangle
Serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium bunch kale (about 1 1/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the slightly damp ribbons of greens; season with salt and pepper. Toss once or twice, and then add the garlic. (I add mine after the greens to buffer the garlic from possibly burning.) Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

DSC_0070

Vegetarian Collard Greens

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 medium bunch collard greens (about 1 1/2 pounds), stems removed and discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
4 cups water
1 tablespoon smoked salt
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot Pepper Vinegar, for accompaniment

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

Smoky Slow-and-Low Mustard Greens
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste
1 pound mustard greens, tough stems removed and chopped
2 cups fruity white wine (such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer)
4 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups water
1 smoked turkey neck or drumstick
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds.

Add the greens and cook until the greens are slightly wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil; cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, water, and smoked turkey neck; season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the greens are very, very tender, about 1 hour. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed serving bowls with plenty of the flavorful broth. Serve immediately.

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chicken stock low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth, heated
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
2 shallots, very finely chopped
2 pounds spinach, tough stems removed
Pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the raisins in a small bowl. Pour over the heated chicken stock. Let rest to plump and rehydrate, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the pine nuts in a large heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. Toast, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in the same skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the spinach, and stir-fry until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain the golden raisins, discarding the liquid or reserving for another use. Add the drained raisins, toasted pine nuts, and red pepper flakes.Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

DSC_0543

Braised Cabbage
Serves 4 to 6

This is another example of simple country cooking that would be equally at home cooked in a cast-iron skillet in the South or simmered in a cocotte on grandmère’s stovetop in France. Cabbage is an inexpensive vegetable, and if stored properly, will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 sprig of thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the bacon fat over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the cabbage and saute until the cabbage starts to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Decrease the heat to medium, and simmer until the cabbage is meltingly tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the sprig of thyme and taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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

Photo credits – Virginia Willis, Ellen Silverman, and Kathy Waites

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Cooking with Basil: Pick it Fresh! Friday, Jun 28 2013 

DSC_0455

There’s nothing like the aroma of basil. It is the herb that most heralds that summer is in full swing. Perhaps because it requires bountiful sunshine and seems to thrive in the heat. Basil is often associated with Mediterranean cooking, but basil is native to India and Asia as well as parts of Africa. The leaves are used in cooking, imparting their bold flavor to recipes. There are many cultivars available with different nuances of taste, size, and appearance, including those with cinnamon, clove, lemon, and lime overtones.

DSC_0475

The basil in the photo above is Thai basil, also known as Tulsi or Holy Basil, and has a minty, almost smoky aroma. I love it. The purple basil in the photo below has a mild licorice flavor and aroma and provides a rich pop of color in the garden.

DSC_0478

Up in Massachusetts, we harvest our Thai basil and dry it for tea and make and freeze pesto from the Italian, or Genovese, to enjoy in the winter months.

Having a garden is especially satisfying, but if you don’t have the space and inclination, basil is a great herb to grow in a pot on the windowsill or patio. If you’ve followed past posts, you know that we love to dig in the dirt. Several months ago, I was able to spend some time with an absolutely wonderful woman and master gardener, Mary Beth Shaddix. She’s my kind of people! After 10 years working in the marketing and research department at Cooking Light, Mary Beth traded in her business suits for garden gloves. She and her husband have a wholesale nursery and farm, Maple Valley Nursery, near Birmingham, Alabama. They also grow a garden for the test kitchens at Cooking Light Magazine.

How lucky are those test kitchen cooks! How smart is that magazine! I love it when big companies do smart and creative things. Mary Beth has collaborated with the magazine and they’ve produced a really smart, fun cookbook with lots of amazing recipes called, Pick Fresh. I absolutely love it.

Book Cover

The book features 200 full color photographs and 150 recipes from starters to sides, light salads to hearty main dishes, and incredible desserts — all with nutritional analysis so you can stay on track for healthy eating. The chapters are divided into fruits, vegetables, and herbs with guides for growing, choosing, storing, and preparing each ingredient. It’s really fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough. The Peach Lemonade, Summer Squash with Bacon and Mozzarella Quiche, and Mint Gremolata Zucchini with Sea Salt are top of my list to try.

Today, with a nod to the myriad of basil varieties available, I’m sharing a couple of basil recipes. First, is the Cooking Light Pick Fresh Spicy Basil Beef Salad. Delicious, bold flavors with cooling cucumber make this dish a great meal for a hot summer night. You could also serve it on a bed of arugula, spinach, or butter lettuce if you wanted to enhance it with additional greens.

I love to eat fish in the summer. It’s light and quick cooking. Today, I’m sharing a simple recipe for Basil Crusted Trout with Creamy Garlic Aioli. I’m using farm-raised trout here, but if you can’t find trout, just make sure to check with Seafood Watch for a sustainable substitute.

Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve got lots of great things happening and want to share — I’m now a contributing blogger for Ty Pennington’s Good Eats blog and next up for the 4th of July is Sweet Tea Brined BBQ Chicken. I’ll also be blogging for the Southern Foodways Alliance this July and August. Lastly, I’ll be at the Fancy Food Show on Monday July 1 as the Chef Ambassador for Roland Foods. Please stop by and say hello if you are in NYC!

Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Spicy Basil Beef Salad

Spicy Basil-Beef Salad
Serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
12 ounces hanger steak, trimmed
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh lemongrass
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
1 1⁄2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup thinly sliced English cucumber
3 large ripe heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat a large ovenproof stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat. Add canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle both sides of steak evenly with black
pepper and salt. Add steak to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Turn steak over. Bake at 425° for 8 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of steak registers 135° or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steak from pan; let stand 10 minutes. Slice across grain.

Combine soy sauce and next 5 ingredients (through sambal) in a small bowl,stirring well. Combine basil and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over basil mixture; toss gently. Divide salad evenly among 4 plates; divide beef evenly among salads and serve immediately.

DSC_0542

Basil-Crusted Trout Fillets with Creamy Garlic Aioli
Serves 4

If you are new to cooking fish or worried about overcooking, this recipe has “training wheels”. The spicy-herb topping helps protect the fish under the broiler and can help prevent it from drying out and overcooking. This trout would be lovely served with freshly sliced tomato on a bed of crispy greens.

For the Creamy Aioli:
1 head garlic, peeled
1 large egg yolk
6 sprigs flat leaf parsley
Juice ½ lemon
¼ cup olive oil

For the Fish:
8 sprigs chopped fresh basil
8 sprigs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 small cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 8-ounce trout filets, halved

For the Creamy Aioli:
Place the peeled cloves in a in a small saucepan with 1 cup cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then drain. Repeat process 4 times, always starting with cold water. Place the softened garlic, egg yolk, parsley, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a blender; blend until creamy. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Set aside.

For the Fish:
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450° F. Combine the parsley, basil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Brush each fish with olive oil, season with salt, then dust top side with mixture. Place fish on an oiled baking sheet and bake until the fish is opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Top with Creamy Aioli and serve immediately on warmed serving plates.

Trout – photo credit Virginia Willis
Pick Fresh photo and recipe credit photo credit, Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook/Oxmoor House.

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

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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

DSC_0054

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

the-meat-lovers-meatless-celebrations-year-round-vegetarian-feasts-you-can-really-sink-your-teeth-into

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

DSC_0070

VA’s Lucky Greens
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 sweet onions, chopped
2 cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Black eyed pea paella

KIM’S BLACK-EYED PEA PAELLA
Serves 6 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Chill Out: Summer Small Plates Thursday, Aug 2 2012 

Whew. Last week was a blur in NYC. I had a great time hosting Cooking Today for Martha Stewart Radio interspersed with various meetings and eatings. The meetings went great and the eatings were delicious. Stay tuned for more exciting events this fall!

Dining was mostly low key, but a couple of the highlights included lunch at Hunan Kitchen in Flushing, Queens. I’d read about it in Andrew Zimmern’s article in Sky Magazine. The Farmer’s Style Tofu was phenomenal and the Cumin Ribs were on fire.

This food was H.O.T.

My favorite two other meals were lunch at A Voce and dinner at Buvette. Really, really fine food by coincidentally, two female chefs, Missy Robbins and Jody Williams. Both chefs used great ingredients and the dishes were well-executed. What more could you want in a meal?

It was hot as blue blazes for a few days. I had forgotten the potent aromatic combination of subway and summer and the hot gust of wind that blows gale-like through the tunnel as the train is pulling into the station, like the breath of Satan. Before any New Yorkers get overly excited at my criticism, I loved living in NYC and still love to visit. There’s really no other place like it in the whole entire world.

One night, we went to see End of the Rainbow on Broadway. It was a breath-taking, amazing performance by Tracie Bennett. She absolutely becomes Judy Garland. (They’ve just announced it’s closing, so if you are able to go, I highly recommend it.) I knew we’d get home late from the theater, so I made a few cold salads that morning to enjoy with rotisserie chicken. At the peak of summer, when its so fiery hot, I prefer to eat smaller plates of room temperature or cold dishes.

This is a quick post, I’m on deadline for a few projects, but these refreshing summer small plates are so tasty I wanted to share. Let me know what you think!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

Summer Squash Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

Although the end result will taste the same, the vegetables are much prettier sliced into julienne matchsticks on a mandoline instead of grated on a box grater or in a food processor.

3 small zucchini
3 small yellow squash
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup pure olive oil
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil

Using a grater or a mandoline, run the squash on the tool to slice, cutting away the colorful part of the vegetables into the white flesh. Stop when you approach the seeds and rotate the squash. In the end, you’ll wind up with the core of seeds to discard, compost, or save for another use. (Cooked they are fine, but I don’t care for them in this salad.) Combine the zucchini and yellow squashes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest and juice, shallots, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until creamy and emulsified. Add the herbs. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Cauliflower Salad
Serves 4 to 6

This unusual cauliflower is purple! If you can’t find it at your local farmer’s market of course you can use the more traditional white variety.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
Pinch cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or piment d’espelette, optional
Freshly ground black pepper

Line two plates with paper towels. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Set both aside. In a steamer basket, cover and steam the florets for 8 to 10 minutes for tender-crisp. Or microwave, covered, with 1/4 cup salted water for 2 to 4 minutes for tender-crisp or 3 to 5 minutes for tender. (One 2-pound head of cauliflower yields about 8 cups bite-size florets.) Shock cooked florets in ice water. Remove to the paper-towel lined plate and pat dry. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add rice wine vinegar, soy saucec, and herbs. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

Farro Salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 cups pearled farro
1/2 cup currants
Juice of 1 lemon, more if needed
2 tablespoons olive oil, more if needed
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and basil
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water. Shake to remove excess water and transfer to a medium bowl. Add currants, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, and scallions. Stir to combine. Once combined, then fold in the feta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately on chilled plates.

PS You can really help me out if you like these recipes by subscribing to this blog (see the top left corner of the page) and “Like” me on Facebook. Tis the way of the world. I promise I don’t sell names, lists, or information. Thanks!

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

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



Primal Urges

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

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

It means a darn BIG shrimp haul.

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

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

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

You with me?


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

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

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

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


Full Moons and BIG Hauls of Shrimp

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

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

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

Don’t you love knowing that?!

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

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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

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

Better than Bubba’s: Ten Wild American Shrimp Recipes

FRIED SHRIMP
Serves 4

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

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

GRILLED SHRIMP AND TOMATO SALAD
Serves 4

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

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

SHRIMP & GRITS WITH COUNTRY HAM

Serves 4 to 6

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

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

FRIED COCONUT SHRIMP
Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHRIMP CAKES
Serves 6

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

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

SAVANNAH MARINATED SHRIMP

Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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


MAMA’S SHRIMP CREOLE
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

SHRIMP QUESADILLA
Makes 8 wedges

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

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

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

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


SHRIMP BUTTER

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

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

More Pork Chop Theory: Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Monday, Sep 20 2010 

My first job cooking was on a TV cooking show hosted by Nathalie Dupree. I started with her as a scared, untrained, but hardworking, novice hungry for knowledge. She took me by the hand and showed how to cook. Nathalie took me out of my mother’s kitchen and showed me a world I did not know existed. I felt like I was tasting for the first time.

Without her I would have never found my way to this path, much less on it.

She has been my friend and guide all along the way. She’s a very complicated woman. All at once she is passionate yet carefree, strong yet vulnerable, and selfish yet giving. While apprenticing in her home, she used to drive me absolutely positively crazy, leaving her peanut butter covered knife on the counter after making a sandwich, or mixing her ladies garments into the laundry with my kitchen towels.

Several months after I left her apprenticeship she called me in DC to ask about how to work her microwave. (She’s going to call me vicious for telling you that.)

We have gone round and round, experienced the range of emotions from absolute joy, as it was dining together in France at the famed 3-star L’Esperance in Burgundy, to pure pain, each of us crying over hurtful words. When I am nice and she is being nice, she calls me her “little chicken.” When I tease her mercilessly, as now I am more apt to do, about her quirks and eccentricities I am deemed a “vicious woman.”

It is somehow wonderfully poetic she now lives on Queen Street in a historic home in Charleston, SC. She has a battalion of tea cups and a freezer in the guest bathroom. Her universe seems like utter chaos, but there she is at the center, calm as the eye in the storm. She is prone to working at her laptop in a wing-back chair, surrounded by towering mountains of books and magazines, ensconced in her own petite fortress.

Pat Conroy once wrote she was “more like a fictional character than a flesh and blood person.” That still makes me howl with laughter. But, it’s not because she putters about in myopic Mr. McGoo fashion, uttering epithets like “if I were the woman I wish I was” or when dropping a bowl/chicken/apple/you name it, on the floor, “Oops, I dropped my diamond.” It’s not because while taping one of her hundreds of TV shows the this or that wouldn’t go right and she’d say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”(See some of her clips on the Charleston Post & Courier.)

It’s because it’s impossible to imagine that anyone could actually, truly be that tender, generous, and loving and be a real live person.

She’s the originator of The Pork Chop Theory. Her flock includes Rebecca Lang, Shirley Corriher, and many many more.

I should write much, much more and one day I will. But for now, I felt compelled to share with you this week this recipe from her Shrimp and Grits Cookbook.

She’s one of my dearest friends ever, and I love her.

Thank you, sweet Nathalie.
I love you.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLÉ WITH SHRIMP SAUCE
Serves 8

A soufflé is just a thick sauce to which egg yolks and beaten egg whites are added. Cheese grits make a sturdy base for the eggs, enabling the soufflé to be assembled in advance and cooked just before serving, or cooked and frozen. Top the servings with the Shrimp Sauce. This is an extraordinarily popular dish for a buffet.
The soufflé:
1 cup uncooked grits, quick or stone ground
4-5 cups milk
1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 large eggs, separated
The shrimp sauce:
1 cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley and basil, mixed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter an 8½ x 13-inch ovenproof serving dish. To make the soufflé: Cook the grits in 4 cups of the milk according to the package directions, stirring. The grits should have the consistency of a sauce. If they are very thick, add all or a portion of the fifth cup of milk and heat until absorbed. Stir in the cheese, butter, mustard, mace, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cool slightly. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Lightly beat the egg yolks in a small bowl. Stir a little of the grits into the yolks to heat them slightly, then add the yolks to the grits mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into the grits. Pour into the prepared pan. (The soufflé may be made several hours ahead to this point, covered and set aside or refrigerated. ) When ready to eat, return to room temperature. Bake the soufflé for 40 to 45 minutes, or until it is puffed and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and spoon onto plates. Ladle the shrimp and their sauce over each serving.

To make the shrimp sauce: Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they start to turn pink. Add the chopped herbs and spoon over soufflé.

Copyright © Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corn Soup with Tomato Garnish
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old-Fashioned Tomato Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIRGINIA WILLIS TEST SHEET

Tester’s Name
Email address

Date

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

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

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

Was the dish properly seasoned?

Was any portion of the recipe confusing?

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

Were any details missing?

What did you like least about this recipe?

Other suggestions/comments?

Copyright © Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC 2010

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

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

I am absolutely itching for summer to start.

Ready for it.
Want it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll let you ponder that for a bit…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: