Planting Gardens and Growing Monday, Jun 13 2011 

Spring and early summer have blessed me with the opportunity to meets lots of new gardens. A few weeks ago I cheffed at the Cooking for Solutions event for Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (For more on that, check out what Maria Rodale has to say.) I was able to listen to Maria speak along with Corby Kummer in this garden at Earthbound Farms, where I snapped the “Kitchen Garden” photo.

Another recent garden visit includes a thank you picnic in honor of the Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier hosted by Georgia Organics with Yeah! Burger, Skip Glover, and Ivabell Acres Farms.

Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics said that the dames have raised over $100,000 for “GO” in the history of the chapter. That’s just incredible and as a member, I am honored and proud to be a very small part of that accomplishment.

Skip Glover is a long time friend of both Georgia Organics, Les Dames d’Escoffier, and local food. For many years, the Glovers have mentored young farmers through Georgia Organics providing internships, organizing field trips, doing awesome work, and basically saving Planet Earth.

The young women of Ivabell Acres who farm a piece of Skip Glover’s land are inspiring, too. They are joyful they are farming on land that has been farmed for nearly 200 years. It’s the kind of thing that just makes you smile. Two women, best friends who studied speech communications – not Ag – at the University of Georgia that are making a go at being farmers. Red-haired Rebecca with sparking eyes and smiling Katherine walked a group of us in the enveloping heat around the farm showing us the cackling laying hens, bustling bees, and gloriously weedy yet well-tended rows of tomatoes, squash, turnips, and broccoli. That soil, that garden, is alive, fecund, and growing.

More special gardens of late include a vegetable garden and a previously existing herb garden I helped plant over Memorial Day in New England. I haven’t had a garden for almost four years and my hands and fingers are ready for dirt and roots.

I am dismal, absolutely dismal, with house plants. It’s a serious struggle and I abhor fake plants. I must have easy low-maintainance plants like pathos and orchids. But, if it’s to grow to cook and eat? I love the nurturing, the building, the purpose, the time, and care. In fact, the day that I planted that garden? At the end of the day I was muscle-weary, bone-tired, beyond-dirty, and covered in a potent pungent mix of bug spray and sweat. I also reflected at the end of that very long day of shoveling heavy, dark chocolate-brown dirt that it had, indeed, been a very wonderful day, perhaps one of the best in my whole, entire life.

We planted tomatoes and lettuces that had been started patiently, carefully, lovingly from seed. We hand-scooped each hole and carefully placed the plants, pressing the earth, and setting them to grow.

The next day the lettuces were struck flat-dead from the intense heat and a fair share of the tomatoes had been decimated by fuzzy, hoppy eared pestilence. (My dreams of Lapin Normandie are, as the recipe, creamy and rich.) I liberally scattered cayenne pepper to ward off the beasts until we could arrange for a fence to keep the hordes at bay.

Growing, growth, and loss. Life and death. Growing and tending a garden is perhaps one of the most primal, basic, and soul-centering activities one could possible do. Not much more could connect us to each to the earth and life.

I for one, am most happy to be reconnected.

Hope you enjoy my new favorite very garden appropriate thing, Kale Chips, that I learned from my friend, Kim O’Donnel. I made them all week with the greens I bought at Ivabell Acres.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
VA

PS I met Lisa Fain of Homesick Texan fame at IACP. She, too, has a book coming out this fall. She wrote a nice piece about sharing, growing, and The Pork Chop Theory on her blog.

Kale Chips
Serves 2 to 4

1 medium bunch (4 to 5 cups) Lacinato kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350° F. Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick silicone baking mats. Using your hands, pull to remove the stem and middle rib of each kale leaf so that all you have left are leaves. Wash the leaves, then dry thoroughly, preferably in a salad spinner.

Transfer the leaves to a medium bowl and add the olive oil and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. With your hands, massage to coat the leaves.

Place the kale in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, giving the leaves plenty of room to roast. Bake for 8 minutes, maybe a few seconds more. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

Pix by me.

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.

EZ Does It: Slow Cooker Vegetarian Wednesday, Sep 8 2010 

Fall is just around the corner. This morning in Atlanta the low was 64 degrees – yes, it still got up in the 90s, but the morning was cool.

I love, love, love mornings like today. I slowly opened my eyes, took in my surroundings, and smiled.

I have a lot of reasons to smile and be thankful.

Lot’s happening lately – we shot a TV pilot on harvesting shrimp for What it Takes, a show about what it takes to get the food on your plate.

Saveur Magazine decided I was one of the sites they love! Yippeee!! They featured my Grilled Chicken with Mama’s BBQ Sauce recipe for Labor Day.

Food News Journal decided my friend and colleague Rebecca Lang were both worthy of their “Best of the Blogs” on the same day!

And, yes, I am still on deadline for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections from a Southern Culinary Journey. It’s filled with simple, doable basic recipes much like in Bon Appétit, Y’all. In addition, each recipe has a paragraph with a short recipe, presentation tip, or technique on how to transform the Basic recipe into something Brilliant and more chef-inspired.

So, yes, a lot going on…..

Given my schedule, something EZ would be really nice. Put it on and forget about it. That’s where my friend and colleague, Judith Finlayson and her book, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker come in.

In the continued spirit of The Pork Chop Theory, I want to share with you a few of Judith’s recipes. With over 200 delicious she demonstrates that by using a slow cooker, even the most time-pressed person can arrive home to a ready-to-eat and delicious home-cooked meal. She’s got updated recipes for standard and traditional vegetarian dishes. Additionally, classic meat dishes have been recreated in vegetarian versions, with vegan-friendly recipes clearly identified. It’s a must have cookbook, appealing to a wide range of tastes including the flexitarian, aka “the sometime vegetarian” and people who like just like good food, meatless or not, like myself.

Thanks so much, Judith even though there’s not a pork chop in site, your generosity and sharing fits the bill.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Beet Soup with Lemongrass and Lime
Serves 6

This Thai-inspired soup, which is served cold, is elegant and refreshing. Its jewel-like appearance and intriguing flavors make it a perfect prelude to any meal. I especially like to serve it at summer dinners in the garden.

• Medium to large (31⁄2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

1 tbsp olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, smashed and
cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp minced gingerroot
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
6 cups vegetable broth, divided
6 beets (about 21⁄2 lbs/1.25 kg), peeled
and chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 long red chile pepper, seeded and diced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Salt, optional
Coconut cream, optional
Finely chopped fresh cilantro

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, lemongrass, ginger and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 2 cups (500 mL) of the vegetable broth and stir well. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Add remaining 4 cups (1 L) of vegetable broth and beets. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until beets are tender. Add red pepper, and chile pepper, if using. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until peppers are tender. Discard lemongrass.

Purée using an immersion blender. (You can also do this in batches in a food processor or stand blender.) Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in lime zest and juice. Season to taste with salt, if using. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Ladle into bowls, drizzle with coconut cream, if using, and garnish with cilantro.

Arugula-Laced Caramelized Onion Sauce
Serves 4

I love the bittersweet flavor of caramelized onions but on the stovetop caramelizing onions is a laborious process of slow, constant stirring. Made in the slow cooker, caramelized onions require almost no attention. In this recipe, I have added sugar to the onions to ensure deeper flavor. Serve this luscious sauce over whole wheat pasta, polenta, or grits. Complete the meal with a tossed green salad topped with shredded carrots for a splash of healthy color.

• Medium to large (31⁄2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

2 tbsp olive oil
6 onions, thinly sliced on the vertical
(about 3 lbs/1.5 kg)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 tbsp white or red miso
3 cups tomato sauce
2 bunches arugula, stems removed and
chopped
Cooked pasta, preferably whole-grain, polenta or grits

In slow cooker stoneware, combine olive oil and onions. Stir well to coat onions thoroughly. Cover and cook on High for 1 hour, until onions are softened.

Add sugar and peppercorns and stir well. Place a clean tea towel, folded in half (so you will have two layers), over top of stoneware to absorb moisture. Cover and cook on High for 4 hours, stirring two or three times to ensure that the onions are browning evenly and replacing towel each time.

Remove towels, add miso and stir well to ensure it is well integrated into the onions. Add tomato sauce and arugula and stir well to blend. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until mixture is hot and flavors have blended. Serve over hot whole-grain pasta, polenta or grits.

Coconut-Laced Black Sticky Rice Pudding
Serves 8

Rice pudding is a dessert I love and this is one of my favorite versions. It’s exotic and delicious. You can serve it if you’re looking for a Wow! factor but it’s so easy to make you can also prepare it for a personal treat.

• Small (2 to 31⁄2 quart) slow cooker
• Lightly greased slow cooker stoneware

4 cups water
11⁄2 cups Thai black sticky rice
1⁄2 cup raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or
other evaporated cane juice sugar
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 can (14 oz/400 mL) coconut milk
Chopped mangos, peaches or bananas,
optional
Chopped toasted almonds or toasted
shredded coconut, optional

In a small saucepan, bring water and black sticky rice to a vigorous boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt, then transfer to prepared slow cooker stoneware.

Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or overnight or on High for 4 hours. Stir well, then stir in coconut milk. To serve, ladle into bowls and top with chopped fruit and/or toasted almonds, if using.

Excerpted from The Vegetarian Slow Cooker © 2010 Judith Finlayson.
Text, cover and photographs © 2010 Robert Rose Inc.Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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

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