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.

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4G Summer: Glorious, Gardening, Grilling, & Garlic + Three Condiment Recipes Wednesday, Jul 4 2012 

Life is Good

This summer has been glorious. Life is good, love is good, work is good. I am happy.

The past weeks have been filled with lots of gardening and grilling. I absolutely love to dig in the dirt. It’s so therapeutic. I can’t tend a houseplant to save my life, but vegetables? Love. It is so amazingly satisfying to watch them grow — and then eat them!

I am a simple creature, I really am. I insist. Feed me, love me, and I am good to go. Or grow, as the case seems to be.

Decompression from working and writing is spent in the garden. At the end of each day we go to the garden to weed and water. We enjoy drinks in the Adirondack chairs as the grill heats. It stays light quite late, it’s so beautiful outside, and grilling keeps the heat out of the kitchen. Last night we picked our first squash which I grilled seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and just a hint of oil. We also had salad from the garden – that I didn’t grill – but we enjoyed with a simple garlic dressing. It’s garlic harvest now and although we didn’t plant any in our garden, we’ve been buying fresh, sticky, hot delicious garlic at the Farmer’s Market. We’ve been putting it in everything.

Gardening, Grilling, and Garlic. That’s pretty much my summer in a nutshell.

I told you I was a simple creature.

Simple Food

Simple food is best to me. “Let the goodness of the ingredients shine” is my philosophy, especially in summer when the produce is fresh and bright. My friends and colleagues the BBQ Queens, Karen Adler and Judith Fertig have a tasty new cookbook that is spot on perfect for this summer. The Gardener and the Grill brilliantly combines the bounty of the garden with the sizzle of the grill. It’s packed with recipes for honest, good food. The photography is mouth-watering and it will inspire you to do more than the typical hot dogs and hamburgers on your grill this holiday weekend.

The recipes emphasize seasonality, sustainability, and recognizes that grilling from the garden has two rewards: growing your own food AND making it taste good – which I wholeheartedly endorse! Their book has new twists on grilled produce and great vegetable sides. And, there’s far more. Karen and Judith include an explanatory pantry chapter with recipes for homemade salts, seasonings, and dressing to enhance your grilling experience. Then, they break out the grill for appetizers; sandwiches, flatbread, and pizza; soups and salads; meat, poultry, and fish; and a sweet finish with fruits and desserts. Even if you aren’t able to grow your own,you will find plenty of recipes to use with vegetables from your local farm stand.

One recipe that caught my eye of course, involved garlic. I adore Romesco Sauce. So, in honor of my 4G glorious summer I want to share some garlicky goodness condiment recipes with you – Bagna Cauda and Aioli. With the 3 of these simple condiment recipes you can have a glorious picnic, too!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Click here to see my video for the Washington Post on How to Pack a Perfect Picnic!

Flame-Licked Fingerlings with Romesco Sauce
Makes 8 servings

Flame-licked? More like finger-licking with this full-flavored Romesco Sauce! Try it with grilled zucchini or even grilled meats such as steak or chicken. Pretty much tastes good on anything.

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
2 roasted red bell peppers or jarred roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 slice white bread (crust removed), toasted and crumbled
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds fingerling potatoes
Pure olive oil, for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a food processor, grind the almonds. Add roasted peppers, garlic, bread, parsley and hot pepper flakes. Blend until it becomes a paste. Add the vinegar and pulse to blend. With the motor running, gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube in a steady stream until the mixture thickens like mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. (Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

Meanwhile, prepare a hot fire in your grill. Drizzle the fingerling potatoes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the fingerlings in a perforated grill basket or an aluminum pan with holes in it. Place over the hot fire and close the grill lid. After about 3 or 4 minutes, open the grill and toss the potatoes. Clove the lid again and repeat the tossing in about another 3 or 4 minutes. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve the grilled fingerlings on a platter with a bowl of the Romesco sauce set in the middle for dipping.

Adapted from THE GARDENER & THE GRILL © 2012 by Karen Adler & Judith Fertig, Running Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.

Lisa’s Bagna Cauda
Makes about 3/4 cup


Instead of a mayonnaise or sour cream based dip, try this recipe for an exquisite warm oil-based dipping sauce. It is a lot of oil, but it’s heart-healthy olive oil. Packed with flavor that pops, all you need is the quickest, lightest coating on the dipped vegetables.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets in oil
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh garden vegetables, for serving

Place the oil, anchovies, garlic, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until smooth. Transfer the mixture to small heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat 15 minutes, stirring, occasionally. (The sauce will separate.) Serve with fresh vegetables.

Virginia’s Aioli
Makes 1 cup


This is an indulgence, but oh-my-goodness it is some kind of good. It’s homemade garlic mayonnaise and is awesome on grilled bread or vegetables. This would take your burger bash to a whole new level.

2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with salt
1 cup oil such as canola, olive, or a combination, room temperature
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grilled bread, for serving

Whisk the egg yolks, mustard, white wine vinegar, and garlic together in a medium bowl until smooth and light. In a slow steady stream whisk the oil, a drop at a time, until the mixture starts to stiffen and thicken. As the mixture thickens you may add the oil, slightly faster. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Note: Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, or anyone whose health or immune system is compromised should not consume raw eggs.

Potato Photo credit: Steve Legato
Bagna Cauda and Aioli: 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.

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.

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