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.

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Get Your Grit On: Short Stack and SFA Grits Muffins Friday, Nov 8 2013 

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I love grits. I am a Grits Missionary. Folks tell me they don’t like grits and I tell them they haven’t had the right grits.

I like grits so much I wrote a little book about them that’s coming out in a few weeks. It’s a little collectible booklet by Short Stack Editions. Short Stack is a series of small-format cookbooks about inspiring ingredients, authored by America’s top culinary talents.  Each edition is a collectible, single-subject booklet packed with recipes that offer ingenious new ways to cook your favorite ingredients. They are  beautifully designed, hand-stitched, and retail for only $12. I am thrilled  to be a part of something so innovative in publishing and honored to be in such good company.

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To be able to write about grits is a dream come true. I can preach the gospel of grits beyond the Mason Dixon line! My grandmother fed my mother and her siblings grits for breakfast each morning when they were children. She would fill the plates to the brim. To this day, my mama has cheese grits every morning without fail.

I come from grits-loving people.

My short stack has over 20 recipes for grits of all kinds. I’ve got old-timey Southern recipes for grits including Cheese Grits Casserole, Nassau Grits, Garlic Cheese Grits, and my version of Shrimp and Grits. I’ve also got Italian polenta inspired recipes like Rabbit in Red Wine with Sage Grits and Baked Grits with Sausage Ragu. I share recipes for Caribbean-style savory grits with Fish Stew and Jamaican style sweet breakfast grits. I went crazy and mashed grits up with recipes from other cultures — I have a recipe for Chinese Congee made with grits not rice, and with the Grits and Pork Tamales below, in which the traditional corn product masa, is replaced with grits.

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Or, with these idlis, a traditional Indian steamed lentil bread I replaced the traditional accompanying grain, rice with grits. These are served with Spiced Okra and Tomatoes. Crazy, I tell you, I got to go crazy! Theses recipes may be out of the box, but every last one of them are absolutely delicious. It was very freeing to shake loose convention and just get gritty-with-it.

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My grits book explains the difference between hominy grits and stone-ground grits as well as the difference between polenta and grits. (There’s not much.) We include a source list of grits to try and chat a bit about the difference between yellow and white corn, as well as cormneal and grits. That little book is packed!

Then, in the midst of all of this, I was asked to cook the grab-and-go breakfast at the Southern Foodway’s Alliance Symposium. Director John T. Edge stipulated that whatever I served needed to be able to stand up to the excesses of the night before….I knew we needed starch and fat.

Typically, the grab and go is a breakfast sandwich or a biscuit. And, I might add it’s for about 400 people so make ahead was a must. I contemplated a few different dishes, but then I saw the light.

What could possibly be better than Cheese Grits Casserole? Who doesn’t like cheesy-baked goodness? I added a bit of sausage and bread to fill the boozy bellies. We made them in muffin cups so they would be grab and go and served heirloom apples on the side. Word on the street is that they were a huge success. It was such an honor to cook for this esteemed bunch, and I am glad everyone loved them so much.

Grits proverb 1: Grits are good and good for you.

Grits proverb 2: Grits will cure what ails you. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe for my SFA Cheese Grits Casserole Muffins. And, I hope you’ll consider buying my Short Stack Grits book, too.

It’s my Grits Missionary Bible.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

PS Lots of BIG news coming – including a great, new gig on Comfort Food that launches in the new year. Details to come! Please keep up with my on Facebook and Twitter.

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Many thanks to John Currence and his staff for helping me get the job done and make 500 cheese grits casserole “muffins.” They did a great job and I couldn’t have done it without them.

SFA Cheese Grits Casserole “Muffins” 
Makes 8

Use extra stiff paper liners for these and understand they don’t actually come out of the paper like a baked muffin, and still need to be eaten with a spoon. I think they will be excellent for the holidays with guests and company. And, if you don’t want to make individual servings, you can always bake this in a buttered casserole dish. Simply increase the cooking time to 45 to 60 minutes.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 cup coarse-ground grits
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces country style breakfast pork or turkey sausage
2 slices challah or egg bread, cubed
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a jumbo muffin tin with cups. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the water and milk and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the grits and return to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Decrease the heat to low, and simmer until creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes.

While the grits are cooking brown sausage in a skillet until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes, breaking up the meat with the edge of your spoon.

Remove the grits from the heat. Add the cheese and 2 tablespoons butter.Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add ¾ of the sausage, the eggs, cayenne, jalapeño, and green onions and 
stir until well incorporated. Scoop a heaping 1/2 cup of the mixture into each cup.

Meanwhile combine the remaining sausage with the cubed bread. Top each cup with a couple of tablespoons of the bread-sausage mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly before serving.

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

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Mix it Up: Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

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Winter Wonderland

“Wait, where are you?”, the person on the other end of the line asks in complete disbelief.

Many conversations have gone along these lines this month. Yes, it may seem crazy to some, but I decided to come to New England for January. The winter wonderland is absolutely exquisite. Most snowbirds are heading to the sunny South and I decided to go North. What? Well, I have the flexibility and desire. And, of course, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.

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I’m guilty of flying on auto-pilot in the kitchen sometimes. I don’t stretch with techniques or out of my normal palate of flavors. Sometimes, just like you, I just want to get dinner on the table. And, after a long day of exacting, precise recipe testing, the last thing I want to do is follow a ding-dang recipe. So, you know, sometimes you just have to mix it up.

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I’ve had a stack of books to check out from Ten Speed Press, my publishing house.  I’m proud to be one of their authors. Robb Walsh is a fellow Ten Speed Press author and I am a sincere admirer of his work. Robb is an award winning author and journalist. He’s the real deal and his take on Texas is just the right thing to mix up your cold January.

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Robb’s latest book is  Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook. He covers the classic Texas favorites like chicken-fried steak, cheese enchiladas, barbecued brisket, and King Ranch casserole.  He also delves into other Texan fusion cuisines, and there are more than a non-native might expect. There’s more to Texas than Tex-Mex, my friend. He shakes things up with Texas-versions of soul food, German-influenced recipes, and Vietnamese crossovers. With more than 200 recipes and captivating photography, Texas Eats brings Texas food and culinary history vibrantly to life.  It’s a beautiful, wonderful book.

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Food Blog South

Education is a great way to shake things up.  Later this month I will be learning and sharing at Food Blog South in Birmingham. It’s a fantastic conference that has grown into a super event in just a few short years. On 25 January, the day before the conference actually starts, Lisa Ekus and I are teaching Honing Your Edge: Media Skills and Branding for Bloggers and Culinary Professionals.  The seminar will be held at Rosewood Ballroom, the site of the conference. The seminar is in a classroom setting and is limited to 50 people. There are still spaces available.  This is a great opportunity to learn and grow. Let me know if you need more information.

Lastly, on 28 January members of the Atlanta chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier are hosting a Simple Abundance cooking class at The Cook’s Warehouse to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. It’s going to be a great night and seats are limited. Sign up today!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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Robb’s Beef Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing

Serves 10

4 pounds trimmed beef brisket
1 large white onion, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon salt
10 peppercorns
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
8 cups water
4 cups beef broth

Chipotle Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Chopped tomatoes, radish slices, cucumber slices, and chopped red onions, for garnish
20 Crispy Taco Shells

In a Dutch oven, combine the beef, onion, bay leaves, 
garlic, salt, peppercorns, and serranos. Pour in the water and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the brisket will register 190°F. Alternatively, bring to a boil as directed, then cover and cook in a preheated 350°F over for 3 hours. Or, combine all of the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on the low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let cool. Meanwhile, strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside. When the brisket is cool, trim and scrape away any fat and gristle. With your fingers or 2 forks, tease the meat into shreds. Cut the shreds into 1-inch-long threads and place in a bowl. Moisten the meat with ½ cup of the broth. Save the remaining broth for another purpose.

To make the dressing, in a blender, combine the oil, lime juice, vinegar, and garlic and sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. Drain the chipotles, pouring all of the adobo sauce into the blender. Then add the chipotles to taste: there are about 10 chipotles in a can. For a little heat, add just 1 chipotle; for a medium-hot dressing, add 2 or 3 chipotles; and for a spicy dressing, add 4 or more chipotles. Turn on the blender and process until you have a smooth dressing. Add the dressing to the shredded beef. The mixture should be moist but not soupy. Chop the rest of the chipotles and put them on the table as a condiment.

Salpicón is a mixture of chopped fish, meat, or vegetables in a sauce, used as fillings for tacos, croquettes, and pastries. It is customarily chilled, then served at room temperature. To chill, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to several days. When you remove it from the refrigerator, the top will be dry and the dressing will have collected on the bottom of the bowl. Just before serving, dump the mixture into another bowl and retoss it.To serve, arrange a bed of lettuce leaves on a deep platter, and spoon the salpicón onto the lettuce. Garnish with the tomatoes, radish slices, and cucumber slices and top with a sprinkling of onion. Serve with the taco shells.

“Reprinted with permission from Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook, with More than 200 Recipes by Robb Walsh, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”

Beef Photo credit: Laurie Smith © 2012

Winter Wonderland photos by Virginia Willis

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

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Cooking with Fat: Animal to Vegetable Thursday, Mar 1 2012 

Folks think of Southern food and envision Fried Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Catfish, and Fried Okra. There’s a suspicion that is not completely unfounded, that if something doesn’t move fast enough in a Southern kitchen it will soon find itself sizzling away to golden brown perfection in a cast iron skillet. However, that’s merely a one-dimensional view. The truth is that Southern food doesn’t have to be unhealthy or trapped in the past. And, frankly, some food that is portrayed in the media and on television isn’t actually real Southern cooking.

But, yes ma’am, there’s no doubt, we Southerners do love our fat. I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not pretending that we’re not known for things like Biscuits smothered in Tomato Gravy   and that  Bacon is pretty much regarded as a food group.

Fat enhances the taste, aroma, and texture of food. Fat makes food taste good. With the entire nation embracing Southern cooking it has brought attention to a regional American cuisine that’s not fearful of fat. Our bodies are hard-wired to like fat. There are some fats we actually can’t live without! In fact, our cell walls are built of fat. Fats play a crucial role in transporting nutrients throughout the body, healthy skin, good eyesight, to name just a few of their many benefits. Healthy fats can also help you lose weight.

The trouble is, most Americans, Southerners included, no – especially – generally eat too much fat and too much of the wrong kind of fat. Look at this map of obesity rates from the CDC. The red indicates a real problem.

Here’s a primer on fats so when you make the choice to enjoy fat – in matters of both indulgence and moderation – you’ll know what just what needs to sizzle in your skillet. (And before I lose you, there are some delicious recipes – including a cookie – for you at the end.) 

FAT FACTS: There is a well-established link between fat intake and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Diets rich in “bad fats” – saturated fat and trans fat – cause high blood cholesterol. But, all cholesterol is not the dirty word most folks think it is. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. It is also present in the foods that we eat. Our bodies need cholesterol to build healthy cells, produce hormones, and help the brain, skin, and other organs to properly function. Once again, however, Americans tend to over do it. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can collect as plaque on vessel walls causing them to narrow. Over time this keeps blood from moving freely and can cause less blood and oxygen to reach your brain and heart. This can result in a heart attack or stroke. Eat this, don’t eat that. Low fat isn’t always good fat. Good – and bad – cholesterol? It can be pretty confusing, so it’s important to know your Fats Facts:

Unsaturated fats are found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. These fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats. Food containing unsaturated fat include salmon, trout, herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive, and sunflower. Omega 3 fatty acids are class of unsaturated fat. They are found in foods including walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sturgeon, and anchovies. Omega 3 promotes healthy blood circulation and helps reduce inflammation. The bottom line on unsaturated fats is that these are the ones you want to use the most.

Saturated fat is found mostly in foods from animals and some plants, including tropical oils such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil and cocoa butter. Too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol. The bottom line on saturated fat is that they should be used in moderation.

Trans fats or Trans-fatty acids are mainly found in processed hydrogenated oils such as margarine and shortening and processed foods made from processed oils. They are also found in lesser amounts in animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, and milk. Some science indicates naturally occurring trans fats aren’t viewed as harmful as those that are from processed foods. Companies like using processed trans fats in their foods because they’re cheap. Stay away from processed foods with trans fats.

LET’S GET COOKING

Animal Fat The flavor of all animal fats is rich, savory, and, well, meaty. Lard is rendered fat produced from pigs, schmaltz is rendered fat from chickens, duck fat is the equivalent of liquid gold, suet is raw beef or mutton fat, and once it is rendered it is called tallow. (Rendering is a process of cooking that melts the fat and makes it fairly shelf stable.) Lard was the premier Southern fat of days gone by and biscuits and piecrusts made with lard are old-fashioned Southern classics. Potatoes fried in duck fat are simply otherworldly, and the secret to many a Jewish grandmother’s light-as-air matzo balls is schmaltz. Uses include frying, sautéing, and for use in baked goods. Alas, any thing that tastes this good should be enjoyed in moderation.

Butter Classic French cooking pretty much considers butter to be a food group. My view is on butter is that, if you’re going to eat it, you may as well eat the absolute best since the gourmet like French Echiré Butter has the same amount of calories as the cheap stuff. The great part is just a little butter will go a long way. Butter lends a smooth and creamy taste to foods and is silky on the mouth and tongue. Magical, exquisite, wonderful things happen when the milk solids in butter begin to brown. Butter can be used in medium temperature sautéing, sauces, and perhaps most famously, in baking.

Canola Oil Canola oil is among the healthiest of cooking oils. It’s high in Omega-3s, a class of unsaturated fat that helps promote healthy blood circulation and reduce inflammation. As a chef, I often use canola oil because it’s flavorless and allows the flavor of the food shine through. I look for Expeller Pressed Canola Oil canola oil, which is a chemical-free mechanical process that extracts the oil. Canola is a good all-purpose cooking oil and is excellent for sautéing, frying, and baking or for use in raw form in salad dressings, mayonnaise, and vinaigrettes. It’s hands down my favorite oil in the kitchen.

Olive Oil Olive oil is at the heart of all Mediterranean cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and is the least refined of the olive oils. Depending on the olives, from which it was pressed, will have varying flavor and aroma. This oil is best for low to medium heat cooking due to its low smoke point. The finest Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best used without cooking at all and simply as a finishing touch on a dish. Pure olive oil is slightly more refined and has a higher smoke point. It is best for sautéing at medium heat. Both oils are flavorful and best used where the oil’s full flavor is intended as an integral part of the finished dish.

Peanut Oil If you’ve had a deep fried turkey at Thanksgiving, it’s likely it was fried in Peanut Oil or a peanut oil blend. Refined peanut oil has a very high smoke point. Smoke point is just what it sounds like – the point an oil will start to smoke and break down when placed over high heat. The higher the smoke point, the better it is for frying and high-heat cooking. Since peanut oil used for deep-frying you’ll often find 1 to 5 gallon jugs that are pretty heavy for shipping if buying online. Instead, look at local hardware stores or big box supercenters.

Safflower and Sunflower Oil Sunflower Oil and the related safflower oil are both used as cooking oils in cuisines over the world. Produced from related flowers, they are very versatile. Safflower oil is a favorite for salads because it doesn’t solidify when refrigerated and chilled. Both can be used in cold dressings and mayonnaise as well as high heat cooking and sautéing and are neutral enough for baking. These oils are heart healthy and fairly inexpensive.

Vegetable Oil Growing up, my grandmother had a small bottle of “salad oil” in her cupboard. That’s a pretty non-definitive term, much like the term Vegetable Oil. It’s a bit sneaky; for the most part vegetable oil is actually soybean oil with a few other plant-based oils blended in. The deal with vegetable oil is that it’s less expensive than pricier oils such as olive, sunflower, or safflower. Vegetable oil is widely available.

Thanks for reading! Please visit my website virginiawillis.com for more recipes and stories. You can also sign up for my newsletter and keep up with events and classes. And, I waste time have lots of fun with my iphone when I travel if you’d like to friend me on Facebook and Twitter.

Below are some recipes using oil including a basic vinaigrette that shares some tips on choosing oil for a dressing, my grandfather’s grilled chicken using peanut oil, and lastly, shortbread cookies made with butter.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS: Happy to announce Basic to Brilliant, Y’all was nominated for a Southern Independent Booksellers Award and that I am a new contributing editor for Southern Living!

Classic Shallot Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

There’s been a whole lot of talk about culinary “apps” (as in smartphone applications, not starters or nibbles) and cooking by ratio, not by recipe. Vinaigrette is an excellent example of this premise. To make a proper vinaigrette, that is, one that is a perfect balance of smooth and creamy to acidic and tart, a certain ratio of ingredients must be followed: one part acid to three parts oil. The recipe emerges from the technique when the acid is sherry versus balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice versus a combination of white wine vinegar and champagne vinegar. One could also use apple cider, white wine, or red wine vinegar, each vinegar with a different flavor profile. The recipe continues to unfold when the oil is chosen. Is it a full-flavored vinaigrette for tomatoes and cold meats made with extra-virgin olive oil, a milder combination of corn and olive oil, or even milder still, with grapeseed or canola oil? The choice is yours!

2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the shallots, mustard, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Dede’s Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup peanut oil, plus more for the grate
2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning the chicken
1 (4 to 5-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 lemons, sliced Freshly ground black pepper

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.

Combine the water, vinegar, peanut oil, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt in a squirt bottle. Set aside. Season the chicken with salt and 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 and squirting with the marinade, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes. Add lemons and grill until charred. Remove the pieces from the grill as they cook and transfer to a warm platter. Give them a final squirt of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with grilled lemons on the side.

Button Shortbread
Makes about 3 dozen

These are delicious, indulgent, and incredible. It’s basically just enough flour to hold the butter together. They are perfect along with ice cream or a cup of tea. And, since they are so very indulgent, it’s good to know they freeze exceptionally well in an airtight container.

2 cups all purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, more for flattening the cookies
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking sheets. Set aside. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and vanilla; beat until just combined.

Using a small ice cream scoop, portion the cookies about 2-inches apart on the prepared sheet pans. Dip a smooth glass in confectioners’ sugar. Press to flatten to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a wooden skewer, make 4 holes in the center of a cookie so that it resembles a button.

Transfer the cookie sheets to the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake until the cookies are pale golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheet then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 7 days.

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.

Food pics by me.

Labor Day Appetizers and Summer’s Sweet End Thursday, Sep 1 2011 

I’ve spent the summer in New England. It’s been an eye-opener on many levels.

First, I was told all about the corn. “Our corn is the best in the world,” she said.

In my mind, I silently dismissed it.

“Oh-okay,” I responded. The half acknowledgment that conveys the unspoken sentiment, “You really don’t know what the h*ll you are talking about…”

Best in the world? Yankee corn. Seriously?

Well, let me tell you. It is the best corn I have ever tasted.

I had no real idea. The amount of agriculture in the area is astonishingly prolific. They pretty much grow all the things we grow down South, it’s just the season is shorter and the peak of the season comes a few weeks later. In fact, due to the extreme heat in the South, some things grow better up North.

It’s been a great lesson.

There’s a farmer’s market in the area practically everyday of the week. Also, everyone with a substantial garden has a little shed, stand, or table at the end of their driveway for selling produce and sometimes, flowers. One of my favorites is the farmer with his battered old Ford pickup truck open and backed toward the road. The roadside tables – or tailgates – are filled with freshly harvested produce and a handwritten sign, often on the back of a cardboard box, with the price list. Sometimes there’s a moneybox, but sometimes there’s just a Mason Jar or an old dinged up cookie tin. No lock, no strap, nothing to prevent theft.

I grew up in the country. Montezuma, Georgia. The population at the time hovered around 3000. It’s nice to once again have a healthy, wholesome dose of real country living.

This summer has enlightened me. Over the course of these past few months I have realized, that for the most part, country folks are country folks all across the US.

Sure, I get some funny looks with my  slow drawl and Southern accent, and believe me, we sure don’t sound alike. I’ve heard some voices straight out of central casting – curmudgeonly old Maine fisherman with their here-uhs and there-uhs, Yo-Joey Italian American foodies from Rhode Island, and fast-talkin’ BAHSton city slickers.

I feel like I am in the middle of a Rockwell painting with the red, white, and blue bunting that graces so many of the windows and balconies, farm stands at every turn and curve, and tall white spires of 18th century churches piercing the crisp blue cloudless sky.

Freedom of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear.

There’s something about the summer holidays that bring out a heartfelt feeling of pride and patriotism. Memorial Day is a day that honors those that have died in service, July 4th celebrates our independence, and Labor Day is dedicated to the achievements of American workers that have contributed to the strength and well-being of our country.

What I’ve grown to appreciate, once again, is that at the end of the day, we’re all Americans.

My friend and colleague Judith Fertig has a new book out titled Heartland: The Cookbook that celebrates another seemingly Rockwellian region of the US, the Midwest.

It’s a an absolutely beautiful book and embraces that eating local and farm to table is really just plain old eating for many rural Americans. It’s like I wrote for a piece called “Being Southern is a State of Mind” for CNN’s Eatocracy, “We were country when country wasn’t cool.” Residents of the Midwest have been living off the bounty of the land since the pioneer days.

Judith is one half of the dynamic duo, the witty, wise-crackin’ BBQ Queens along with Karen Adler. The two of them have written over 20 cookbooks together – and sold over 1/2 million books. Phew.

However, Judith isn’t simply tongs and tiaras. She is a fellow alumni of Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne and part of Anne Willan’s La Varenne Mafia.

This cook knows her stuff.

Heartland marries modern cooking with an authentic approach to the bounty of the land, presenting 150 recipes for farm-bounty fare. It’s far more than pig and polka. Heartland embraces the spirit and flavors of the modern farmhouse. Judith highlights ethnic food traditions, seasonal flavors, artisan producers, heirloom ingredients, and heritage meats.

Included are recipes for Chocolate Buttermilk Poundcake, Heirloom Bean Ragout stuffed in Acorn Squash, Four Seasons Flatbread, and Bacon Bloody Mary – with housemade bacon vodka –  that you are certain to enjoy regardless of where you call home.

Since you’ve likely got the grill going with BBQ Chicken or Steaks this weekend, I am featuring a couple of recipes to serve for apps and snacks. I’m sharing my own recipe for Quick Pickled Vegetables to go along with Judith’s recipes for Smoked Goat Cheese, Branding Iron Beef, and {End of} Summer Sangria.

Mama’s Reading List

A couple of weeks ago I started a section to let you know where I’ve been and what I’m up to. As tour dates firm up I’ll add those here, too. This section happens to be my mama’s favorite. 

Kim Severson, author of Spoonfed and writer for the New York Times asked me about field peas for a piece titled Last Call for Summer. Other delicious treats to make sure you have before summer’s end include peaches, flank steak, corn, and blackberries. (Click through to see them all — and it’s interactive. You can share your essential summer eating recipes, too.)

Icebox pies are hot according to the Oregonian. Leslie Cole speaks to Martha Foose and also recommends a litany of Southern books by me as well as Nancy McDermott, Sara Foster, and Hugh Acheson.

Check out what tea-expert Lisa Boalt Richardson says about coffee and  My Southern Pantry!

And, by the way, I’ll be back at Williams-Sonoma at Lenox Mall this Labor Day weekend on Saturday 3 September from 12-4 pm for the Artisan Market series.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VA

VIRGINIA’S PICKLED VEGETABLES
Serves 8 to 10

1 cucumber
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 cups assorted cut vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower florets, green beans, wax beans, and small okra
6 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cup sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, cut into slivers
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon white peppercorns
4 small red peppers

Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Remove alternating stripes of peel from the cucumbers. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Place the 8 cups of vegetables in the boiling water and let cook until vibrant in color but still firm, 1-2 minutes. 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. Drain well. Set aside.

Place ½ the red onion, garlic, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in the bottom of a large sealable bowl or jar. Transfer the blanched vegetables to the jar, layering to alternate the color and texture. Layer in remaining ½ onion, cucumber, and peppers.

Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture comes to just under a boil. Pour mixture directly over vegetables and spices. Depending on the size container and the size of the vegetables you may not use all of the vinegar. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Cover or seal and store refrigerated, stirring occasionally, for at least 48 hours. Serve well-chilled.

How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese:

When you’re already grilling something else, put these on at the end and you’ll have double the pleasure. You can make any quantity of smoked tomatoes or goat cheese with this easy method.

1. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, with no fire on one side. For a charcoal grill, place about 1 cup wood chips on ashed-over coals. For a gas grill, place ½ cup of wood chips in a metal smoker box or in a homemade aluminum foil packet with holes punched in the top; place the smoker box or packet nearest to a gas jet.

2. Stem and core the tomatoes, brush them with olive oil, and put them in a disposable aluminum pan. Brush a log of goat cheese with olive oil and place it in a disposable aluminum pan. Place the pan(s) on the indirect side of the grill. When you see the first wisp of smoke, close the lid. The tomatoes and goat cheese take about 30 minutes or until they have a burnished appearance and a smoky aroma.

3. Peel and seed the tomatoes. To puree, put the peeled and seeded tomatoes in a food processor and puree until smooth.


Branding Iron Beef with Smoked Tomato Drizzle
Serves 8

Kansas is, literally, “home on the range”—at least it was to Brewster Higley, the Smith County settler who wrote the song there in 1871. Today, there are still deer and even a few antelope, but mainly beef cattle in the Flint Hills and the western prairie. To make your taste buds sing, get your outdoor grill a-smokin’ so you can rustle up this easy version of beef carpaccio. The beef gets a little tasty char around the outside, is very rare inside, and has a smoky sauce to finish. You can make the sauce and grill the beef a day ahead, then assemble the thin slices a few hours before your guests arrive and keep chilled.

For the Smoked Tomato Drizzle:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon smoked tomato puree (see How to Smoke Tomatoes and Goat Cheese)
¼ cup bottled smoked chipotle pepper sauce

For the beef:
1 pound boneless eye of round, top loin. or beef tenderloin
Olive oil for brushing
Coarse kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper
Drained capers and baby arugula for garnish

1. For the drizzle, whisk together the mayonnaise, tomato, and smoked chipotle pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle. Chill 8 appetizer plates.

2. Prepare a hot fire in your grill and place a cast iron skillet or griddle on the grill grate to heat for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. Brush the steak with olive oil and season the exterior with salt and pepper. When the skillet is very hot, sear the beef on all sides until blackened, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.

4. Let the beef rest until it is at room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap. To serve the same day, place it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. To serve the next day, place in the refrigerator, then in the freezer for 30 minutes.

5. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the beef into paper-thin slices and arrange on the chilled plates. To serve, drizzle the sauce on each plate in a cross-hatch pattern and scatter with capers and arugula.

{End of} Summer Sangria
Serves 8

Stir up a pitcher on a hot day, then sit back and relax. It’s summer! Choose a semi-dry white wine from Heartland wineries and a Triple Sec made in Cincinnati, Ohio. Perhaps a Prairie Fume from Wollersheim in Wisconsin or the Vignole from Sainte Genevieve Winery in Missouri, and De Kuyper Triple Sec from Ohio.

2 bottles semi-dry white wine, chilled
2/3 cup Fresh Herb Syrup (see below)
2/3 cup Triple Sec
1 liter sparkling water
½ cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
2 cups fresh fruits in season, such as peach slices, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or gooseberries
Fresh lemon balm or basil sprigs to garnish
1. Combine the wine, syrup, Triple Sec, sparkling water, and lime juice over ice in a large pitcher. Add some fruit to the pitcher, portion the rest among 8 glasses. Pour in the sangria, then garnish with a sprig of lemon balm.

Fresh Herb Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

For this recipe, use the freshest, most aromatic tender herbs you can find, such as basil, mint, or lemon balm.
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh, aromatic herb leaves, packed, coarsely chopped
1. In a large, microwave-safe glass measuring cup, combine the sugar, water, and herbs. Microwave on high until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool. Use right away or store in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

corn, pickled vegetables, and field photos by me.

Judith’s recipes and images from Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig/Andrews McMeel Publishing
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA



GREAT RECIPES FOR A HEALTHY SOUTHERN SUMMER



Cornmeal-Crusted Grouper
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade
Makes about 1 cup

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

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


Green Beans Provençal
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Makes about 1 dozen

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

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

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

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

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

Blackberry Cobbler
Serves 8 to 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT FOR MY SOUTHERN PANTRY PHOTO – CHRIS HORNADAY.

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Vidalia Onion Quiche Wednesday, May 4 2011 

Spring may mean lamb to some, asparagus to others, and perhaps for a lucky few, spring means morel mushrooms. Not for me.

Spring for me means Vidalia onions are in season. The season starts with the baby Vidalia’s. They look like an overgrown green onion or like an overly  bulbous leek. A short while later the real deal arrives, golden squatty onions with just covered in yellow and white, papery skin.

Being from Georgia, I am a huge supporter of Vidalia onions. Much in the way that France regulates food and wine with appellation d’origine contrôlée, the Georgia state legislature got together in 1986 and decided that Vidalia onions had to be grown within a certain region of Vidalia, Georgia. This is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil. If Vidalia onions are unavailable, make something else. No, I’m teasing. You can use another sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Texas sweet.

All onions need circulating air to stay fresh. Vidalia onions are particularly tricky due to their high sugar content. Mama taught me one of the best ways to store Vidalia onions is in the cut-off legs of pantyhose: drop an onion down the leg, tie a knot, and repeat. Hang the onion-filled hose from a hook in a cool, dry place. They will keep for months.

Their natural sweetness creates a candy-like confit, which is excellent as a condiment or a spread, and absolutely divine in this quiche.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Vidalia Onion Quiche
Makes one 10-inch quiche

French Pie Pastry (recipe follows), blind baked
11/2 cups Vidalia Onion Confit (recipe follows)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper

Prepare the pastry shell and the onion confit; let both cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, parsley, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Spread the cooled onion confit in the pastry shell. Pour the custard over the onions. Bake until the custard is lightly browned and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

French Pie Pastry
Makes one (10-inch) tart shell

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
2 large egg yolks
5 to 6 tablespoons cold water

To prepare the dough, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine.

With the processor on pulse, add the ice water a tablespoon at a time. Pulse until the mixture holds together as a soft, but not crumbly or sticky, dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm and evenly moist, about 30 minutes.

To prepare the dough, lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Place the dough disk in the center of the floured surface. Roll out the dough, starting in the center and rolling up to, but not over, the top edge of the dough.

Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the bottom edge. Give the dough a quarter turn, and continue rolling, repeating the quarter turns until you have a disk about 1/8 inch thick.

Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, unrolling over the tin.

With one hand lift the pastry and with the other gently tuck it into the pan, being careful not to stretch or pull the dough.

Let the pastry settle into the bottom of the pan.

Take a small piece of dough and shape it into a ball. Press the ball of dough around the bottom edges of the tart pan, snugly shaping the pastry to the pan without tearing it.

Remove any excess pastry by rolling the pin across the top of the pan.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with the tines of a fork to help prevent shrinkage during baking. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

To blind bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper, then lay it out flat over the bottom of the pastry. Weight the paper with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice. This will keep the unfilled pie crust from puffing up in the oven.

For a partially baked shell that will be filled and baked further, bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the paper and weights. (You can reuse the rice or beans for blind-baking a number of times.) The shell can now be filled and baked further, according to the recipe directions. For a fully baked shell that will hold an uncooked filling, bake the empty shell until a deep golden brown, about 30 minutes total.

Vidalia Onion Confit
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

One of Mama’s favorite recipes is to simply peel and quarter Vidalias, top them with a pat of butter, and microwave the pieces until they are tender. This recipe is not much more difficult.

Confit is most often meat, such as duck, that has been cooked and preserved in its own fat, but the term also describes a jamlike condiment of cooked seasoned fruit or vegetables. This confit is wonderful as suggested, served on toasts as a nibble, but it also shines served as a condiment with pork or chicken. It is absolutely incredible with blue cheese.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

5 onions, preferably Vidalia, chopped (about 11/2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus small sprigs for garnish

To make the confit, heat the butter and remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely for continuing with the quiche.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Photo credit: Ellen Silverman © 2008

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: 5 Weekend Breakfast Recipes Friday, Feb 4 2011 

It’s cold. It’s wet. Half the country is buried under snow. It’s snowing in Austin, Texas?

So, this my friends, may be the one blog out of the 120 million not devoted to wings, dip, or chili. (By the way, here’s one we did when I was at MSL).

It’s also not a blog tweeting and posting about Superbowl for this weekend. I prefer college ball, myself, but I do care about Taste of the NFL. Each year, net proceeds from the Taste of the NFL’s Super Bowl event are donated to Feeding America affiliated food banks in each of the NFL cities with an emphasis on the Super Bowl host city’s food bank.

Now, that’s something to cheer about! But it’s cold and it’s wet and I can’t seem to stay focused.

Last weekend Southern Saturdays with Virginia was all about seafood gumbo. Teri Grooms made it for her dad and sent me the pic above. Cat over at
Neo-homesteading put her very cool spin on it and Karmic Kitchen made me very hungry for the fresh picked crab in her version.

So, what to do this weekend?

It’s cold. It’s wet. Soup again? Nope. I want to snuggle in and make breakfast. Not yoghurt and fruit. That’s weekday. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s the weekend. I want eggs, grits, biscuits, and bacon.

Wings, chili, and dip are for Sunday. So, in the meanwhile, here are 5 of my favorite weekend breakfast recipes. Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch Baby Pancake
Serves 2 to 4

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Sorghum, cane, maple syrup, or jelly, for accompaniment

Heat the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter in a 10 inch iron skillet in the oven. Meanwhile, whisk together the mix flour, milk, eggs, and salt. When butter has melted, pour the flour mixture into hot skillet. Bake until puffed and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven & sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges serve with syrup or jelly.

Skillet Baked Eggs
Oeufs en Cocotte

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetables such as cooked spinach, kale, or broccoli
1/4 cup “savory” such as chopped ham, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sautéed onion, or sautéed mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, and chives
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to broil and place a rack 10″ from the heating element. Grease two small gratin dishes with butter. To each dish, add 2 tablespoons of vegetables. Using your fingers, make 2 nests in each and crack 2 eggs into each dish. Add the savory element such as ham, bacon, tomato, or onion. Divide herbs equally. Pour 1 tablespoon of heavy cream into each dish.

Sprinkle each dish with 1 tablespoon of parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to oven rack and broil until the cheese is golden brown, the whites of the eggs are set, and the yolks are still slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Use tongs and a kitchen towel to transfer dishes to 2 serving plates lined with paper napkins to prevent the dishes from slipping. Serve immediately.

Ham-and-Swiss Frittata
Serves 4 to 6

An Italian frittata is an open-faced omelet similar to a Spanish tortilla. A French omelet is cooked very quickly over high heat, and additions like herbs, cheese, or vegetables are enclosed in the center of a two- or three-part fold. Frittatas and tortillas are cooked more slowly. The additional ingredients are whisked into the eggs and cooked at the same time. This delicious and easy dish makes a satisfying, simple supper with a side salad. Or take the Spanish approach, and cut the frittata into bite-size cubes and serve it skewered as a simple hors d’oeuvre. Ham and eggs are, of course, a marriage made in heaven. Used cured ham in this recipe, or if using country ham, halve the amount, so it will not be too salty.

11/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
4 to 6 slices cured ham, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar or Gruyère cheese (about 21/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the top rack about 6 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. In a large, ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ham and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half of the cheese, and the chives. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook for 3 minutes, occasionally lifting the cooked egg around the edge with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to let the raw egg flow underneath. Decrease the heat to low and cook, covered, until the underside is golden, about 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese on the top of the frittata. Broil the frittata in the skillet until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 1 minute, depending on the strength of your broiler. Let cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour, more for the board and rolling out
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (1.25 ounces)
1/3 cup finely diced country ham (1.75 ounces)
1/2 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour with the baking powder, salt, and pepper. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until it’s the size of large peas. Stir in the cheese and ham and make a well in the center. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Pour the liquid into the well and quickly stir until the dough is moistened. (Alternatively, it may also be made in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Once the butter has been added and is the size of peas, pulse in the cheese and ham. Then, pour in the buttermilk mixture and pulse to combine. The dough will pull from the sides of the bowl.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it holds together. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 3/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 1 1/2 –inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If the biscuits are baked close together the sides will be moist. If the biscuits are baked further apart, the sides will be crisp.

Gently press the remaining scraps together and cut out more biscuits. (These are more worked and will be a little tougher and likely not as pretty, but they still taste good!) Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet and using a pasty brush, lightly brush the tops with buttermilk. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown and risen. Serve hot.

Fried Apple Pies
Makes 8 to 10

10 ounces dried apples
8 cups water
Granulated sugar, to taste
2 cups canola oil
2 1/2 cups self rising flour, more for dusting
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, chilled
2/3 cup buttermilk, chilled
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Place the apples in a large bowl. Add 6 cups cold water. Set aside to rehydrate at least 4 hours or overnight. Place the soaked apples with any remaining liquid in a large saucepan. Add remaining 2 cups water and sugar to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook until thickened and the apples are beginning to break down, about 1 hour. Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature. Set aside.

When ready to fry the pies, heat the oil in a large heavy-duty skillet over medium heat. The temperature should read 350 degrees when measured with a deep fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, place the flour in a medium bowl. Using a pasty cutter or 2 knives, cut the shortening into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk and stir until dough forms. Transfer to a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead until firm.

Pull off a biscuit size piece of dough. On the lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a circle 4-inches across, about the size of a teacup saucer. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the room temperature apple mixture in the center of the circle. Fold the dough over to form a half moon. Press with your fingertips to seal the edges. Dip the tines of a fork in flour, then press the tines of the fork around the edges of the dough to seal completely.

Transfer the pie to the heated oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining dough and apples. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.

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

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Seafood Gumbo Thursday, Jan 27 2011 

It’s so cold in much of the country. This winter has been astonishing! It’s snowed twice in Atlanta, Georgia and we were shut down for a week. Last week I was in Birmingham, Alabama for Food Blog South and it was freezing! Even though it was cold, I had a great time listening and learning from so many great speakers and attendees including Alison Lewis, Kim Severson, Jennifer Davick, and
Christy Jordan of Southern Plate.

Since I was speaking I couldn’t get in the kitchen with you so thanks so much for all of you that sent me photos and notes from last weeks’s Southern Saturdays with Virginia! WOW!! Very cool. Isn’t it awesome we can connect all over the world in the kitchen?

Let me share this note – it made me, leakey around the eyeballs…

I must say, that I made these for the first time 2 years ago when I saw them in my new recipe book, Bon Appetit Y’all, and now we can’t have a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without them. Even before my husband or kids ask what the menu is, they always want to confirm that we are having Meme’s rolls. We love the lightly sweet taste and they are so fluffy. It’s truly a party in your mouth. Lately when I made a batch, it was a Saturday, and I left out enough for dinner that night, but froze the rest in packages of 6. They made great buns for our pulled pork and sloppy joes. You have our two thumbs up for this wonderful recipe. I just wonder if in the years to come, my kids’ kids, which aren’t born yet, will wonder who Meme is?

Gulp.

And, check out this beautiful photo of the rising dough from The Karmic Kitchen

And, finally, a photo of Lynnette’s grandson Buddy making rolls and biscuits with her, just like I did with Meme many years ago.

See….

We’re gearing up for the second photo shoot for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them up for Company with Helen Dujardin in Charleston, SC. Many thanks to the folks at Whole Foods Market in Charleston for all their help. I am looking forward to seeing my dear friend Nathalie Dupree, again. She made fried chicken THE DAY I LEFT! Hmmpf.

Well, there’s lots of other good eating there, too.

We ate at Sean Brock’s new restaurant Husk. Yum. Let’s just say this, not a lack of pork fat. But, it’s more than just pork fat. We enjoyed some locally caught amberjack that was incredible. It’s all about friends, farmers, and fishermen. (Click here to check out Sean on twitter. I’m also looking forward to eating at O-Ku and The Glass Onion.

I just found out this morning you can actually order Bon Appetit, Ya’ll on Kindle! And, the great folks at IdeaLand have made a YouTube channel for me. I’m working on some fun things and about to “flip out” amongst other things, so subscribe to stay tuned. Lastly, please check out the events page on my website, www.virginiawillis.com for updates on where I will be teaching around the country and abroad! I’m teaching in both Paris and Mexico at Rancho la Puerta this spring.

So, if you missed the inaugural post of Southern Saturdays with Virginia, click here to see Meme’s Yeast Rolls.

And, if you want to sign on for week two, give Mama’s Seafood Gumbo a try!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Mama’s Seafood Gumbo
Serves 6 to 8

To quote the regional cookbook Louisiana Entertains, “Good gumbos are like good sunsets: no two are exactly alike, and their delight lies in their variety.” All gumbos use a roux. However, in addition to a roux, some gumbos flavor and thicken with okra and others call for filé powder. Integral to Creole and Cajun cooking, filé powder is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. It is used not only to thicken gumbo but also to impart its mild, lemon flavor. Filé powder should be stirred into gumbo toward the end of cooking or it will become tough and stringy.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
4 cups water or shrimp stock (see below)
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined
1 pound jumbo lump or lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
Hot sauce, for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon filé powder (optional)
Cooked Rice, for accompaniment

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring slowly and constantly, and cook to a medium-brown roux, about 30 minutes.

Add the onion and bell pepper and stir to combine. Cook until the vegetables have wilted and are lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the water and tomato paste and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavorful and thickened, 11/2 to 2 hours.

Add the shrimp and crabmeat and stir to combine. Continue cooking over very low heat until the shrimp are cooked through, an additional 10 minutes. Season with hot sauce and stir in the filé powder, if using. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with rice pilaf.

Shrimp Stock and Fish Stock
Seafood soup, stew, and gumbo all taste better when prepared with homemade stock as opposed to bottled clam juice, the favorite stand-in to freshly made stock. When you peel the shrimp, save the shells (heads also, if you are fortunate enough to have them), and rinse with cold running water. Place the shells in a pot and add enough water to cover. Add a few fresh bay leaves, sprigs of parsley and thyme, a quartered onion, chopped carrot, and chopped celery, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until fragrant and flavorful, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock in a strainer layered with cheesecloth, discarding the solids. If I don’t need to make shrimp stock every time I peel shrimp, I save the shells for later in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer. For fish stock, it’s the same principle, but use bones instead of shells. Do not use oily or heavy fish such as mackerel, skate, mullet, or salmon; their flavor is too strong and heavy. Use approximately 4 pounds of fish bones to 10 cups of water to make 8 cups of stock.

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.

Recipes for Thanksgiving Weekend: Easy HDs Wednesday, Nov 24 2010 

Here are a few recipes you can make over the next few days to nibble on. I have a lot to be thankful for – there’s a whole lot of good in my world. I am very grateful. Please consider taking a moment in these next few days and give thanks.

Drive safe and be careful.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

Thyme Toasted Pecans
Makes 4 cups

Southerners always seem to have candied and spiced pecans around to nibble on during the holidays. My grandmother always made sweet pecans crusted with egg whites and sugar, using the nuts she and my grandfather had collected in the fall. So this version, with extra-virgin olive oil and herbs, is a real departure for my family. Recipes such as this, with a short ingredients list, are completely determined by the quality of the ingredients. The shorter the list, the better the ingredients must be. I prefer to use Elliot pecans from Pearson Farm in Fort Valley, Georgia. Pecans are the star, but the choice of olive oil and salt is crucial to the success of the dish. Use the finest possible. This recipe is splendidly simple, just perfect with apéritifs and for cocktail parties.

4 cups pecan halves
2 teaspoons coarse salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a large, dry skillet, toast the pecans over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the salt, pepper, thyme leaves, and olive oil.

Add the warm toasted pecans to the thyme-oil mixture. Stir well to combine and evenly coat the pecans. The fragrance is amazing! Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

making ahead: Once the seasoned nuts have cooled, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring them to room temperature before serving.


Belgian Endive with Gold Coast Shrimp Salad

Makes about 30 hors d’oeuvres

We sometimes vacation at Jekyll and St. Simons Islands, part of a region that Georgians call the “Golden Isles” or “Gold Coast.” For many years, it was the vacation retreat of very wealthy families from the Northeast. But it was another sort of gold that inspired the name: according to a local historian, it was named centuries ago by the first settlers, who were dazzled by the golden glow of the marshes at dusk. These marshes, the clear estuaries, and the surrounding waters are also home to sweet wild Atlantic shrimp.

With the endive leaves arranged in concentric circles on a platter, this is an especially attractive addition to the buffet table.

12 cups water
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
1 lemon, halved
1/2 onion, preferably Vidalia, peeled
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
1 pound unshelled large shrimp (21/25 count)
4 to 6 heads Belgian endive
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
30 fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

To poach the shrimp, combine the water, carrot, celery, lemon, onion, bay leaves, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes to make a flavorful court-bouillon.

Have ready a frozen freezer pack sealed in a heavy-duty plastic bag or a large heavy-duty sealable plastic bag filled with ice cubes. Make an ice bath to cool the shrimp: transfer several cups (or more, depending on the quantity of shrimp) of the broth to a large heatproof bowl. Place the ice pack in the bowl of broth; move the pack around until the broth is well chilled (drain and add more ice to the bag as needed). Return the heat to high and bring the remaining mixture to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp and boil until the shells are pink and the meat is white, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook.

Drain the shrimp in a colander or remove with a slotted spoon, then immediately transfer to the chilled liquid to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

To prepare the endive, cut off and discard the root ends. Pull the heads apart one leaf at a time. Arrange the leaves in concentric circles like a flower on a large platter.

To prepare the salad, peel, devein, and coarsely chop the shrimp. Place in a bowl with the chopped tarragon and mayonnaise; stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To assemble, place 1 generous teaspoon of shrimp salad near the trimmed bottom edge of each endive leaf. Garnish each with a tarragon leaf. Serve immediately.

making ahead: The shrimp salad can be prepared completely ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. The leaves can be prepared and wrapped in damp paper towels in a sealable plastic bag overnight. Finally, up to 2 hours ahead, the filled endive leaves can be arranged on the platter, covered with a damp paper towel, and refrigerated. Serve chilled.

Pimento Cheese in Cherry Tomatoes

Makes about 32 nibbles, or 4 cups filling

The “pâté of the South,” pimento cheese is the epitome of a summer picnic delight. Everyone has a slightly different recipe, but the primary ingredients remain the same. Don’t be tempted to buy grated cheese, because the end result won’t be creamy enough. Try this stuffed in tomatoes, slathered on a celery stick, or (one of my favorites) straight from the bowl on a spoon.

11/2 pounds grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (about 4 cups)

1/2 onion, preferably Vidalia, grated

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 (4-ounce) jar pimentos, drained and finely chopped

Dash of hot sauce

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

32 bite-size cherry tomatoes

32 small fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

To make the pimento cheese, combine the cheese, onion, and mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir until well combined. Add the pimentos and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Meanwhile, using a serrated knife, slice off the top third of each cherry tomato. Using your index finger or a very small spoon, remove and discard the seeds and inside flesh of the tomatoes.

To fill the tomatoes, place the pimento cheese mixture in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip or use a medium sealable plastic bag with one of the corner tips snipped off. Fill each tomato with the mixture, allowing a little to rise above the tops. Garnish each tomato with a parsley leaf. Serve immediately.

making ahead: The prepared cheese filling can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The cherry tomatoes can be prepared up to 24 hours before serving: prep the tomatoes and store them, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with damp paper towels. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill.

variation: For real comfort food, try warm pimento-cheese toasts. Place slices of sourdough bread on a baking sheet and brown on one side under the broiler. Turn over and thickly spread with pimento cheese. Return to the broiler and toast until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 5 to 7 minutes. Curl up on the sofa and enjoy.


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