Virginia Willis Blog

Save the Flavors: Easy Summer Ratatouille

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Easy Summer Ratatouille

A recent evening’s garden harvest rewarded me with the ingredients for a vibrant, tasty, and easy summer ratatouille — as well as the realization that the garden has suffered a bit from all of our recent travel. Much of the broccoli is flowering and the collard green leaves have grown large and tough. The chili peppers have had a bit too much competition with the weeds, yet there are a couple of scraggly volunteer cherry tomato plants that will likely continue to perpetuate until the end of time. The summer squash are doing sub-par, which thankfully means they are producing amounts that we can keep up with! I do get extreme garden guilt when I see our little patch choked with weeds. As a cook, there’s nothing more satisfying to me than harvesting from the garden and walking immediately into the kitchen to prepare it. The vegetables sing and easy summer ratatouille is the perfect way to save the flavors of the season.

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One vegetable that’s done rather well despite neglect is eggplant. This year we planted six different varieties of eggplant, including this Little Finger Eggplant, seen above and the purple striped eggplant below. I adore eggplant. At a typical grocery store, shoppers have grown accustomed to finding one or two different types of eggplant: Italian, which is the large smooth, black bell-shaped and sometimes, maybe, depending on the store, there also might be small display of long, skinny violet-hued Asian eggplant. Why is there such a difference of what’s in our gardens and what’s available at a typical grocery store?

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How is it that typical grocery stores have everything all at once, and small, specialized co-ops only contain what’s in season? It’s pretty simple. Essentially, the post WWII approach to food and agriculture has been that size, durability for shipping, and appearance are far valued over flavor and seasonality. Modern agriculture has effectively narrowed the varieties of fruits and vegetables available for purchase to most people, and the result is that consumers and cooks have often forgotten that there are multiple varieties of individual vegetables. Folks are limited because they  rarely know any different, and we all don’t have the ability to have a garden, growing and cooking our own food. The availability of certain vegetables is reflected in  this Endangerment Meter.

tomatometer-legend

Imagine the produce department at the grocery store and consider the tomato section. Regardless of the time of year, very often there’s an installation of perfectly red, perfectly round globes of tomatoes and stacks of ready-to-eat pint containers of grape or cherry. Now, think about the farmer’s markets in the summer where there are all sorts of different kinds of tomatoes with exotic names like Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Brandywine, and Arkansas Traveler. Those tomatoes don’t find their way very often into the grocery store. According to Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit,  “For the past 50 years tomato breeders have concentrated essentially on one thing and that is yield.” Those exotic heirloom tomatoes aren’t durable enough for shipping and don’t produce high enough yields to make sense for large-scale farming.

Now, cast your eyes towards the apple section. As consumers, we’re still accustomed to seeing different kinds of apples. Even in the smallest little po-dunk market there are often many different kinds of apples: Granny Smith, Red Delicious, MacIntosh, and sometimes a few more. In the fall the gourmet markets and more robust grocery stores will offer Honey Crisp, Gala, and Fuji. Our hyper-local, ultra-seasonal co-op offers up a wide and varied selection of obscure heirloom apples such as Ananas Reinette, Sheep’s Nose, and Maiden’s Blush from local farms in the fall.

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Easy Summer Ratatouille

Save the Flavors

As a chef and cookbook author who specializes in creating recipes for home cooks, I want more people to have more accessibility to flavor, more variety, and fewer limitations. I want vegetables that are “scarce” to move up the meter to “abundant.” I want to save the flavors in a real and meaningful way.

How can we change this? In my home garden, we very often use the Seeds of Change online catalogue, other heirloom specialty seed companies, and seek out heirloom seedlings at our local nursery. The seeds from Seeds of Change are organic, non-GMO, heirloom or traditional varieties, and the mission of the company is to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable agriculture. This simple mission very effectively promotes vegetables with flavor.

What can you do? How can you save the flavors? We’ve got to eat it to save it; we’ve got to increase demand.

Modern agriculture listens to money — think about how many more organic fruits and vegetables are available in comparison to only 5 years ago. It’s because the public demanded it and created a market. The best way to save endangered species is to eat them!

I’m not alone; click here to check out my friend and colleague Hugh Acheson‘s video (along with another friend, Atlanta Eats Radio Host Mara Davis) promoting Endangered Eats.

This week I am sharing a recipe for Easy Summer Ratatouille, perfect for this time of year, and a great way to save the flavors of summer in your freezer.  It’s a bright and flavorful melange of fresh-from-the-garden flavor and a welcome bit of summer sunshine in the cooler months. You’ll notice I’m suggesting a total weight for most of the vegetables so you can mix and match the variety you are able to use.

I would also like to suggest that you consider what you can do to save the flavors.  Thanks so much for reading and watching. Take part; seek out unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables. Eat seasonally and make sure to tag your heirloom vegetable dishes with the hashtag #SavetheFlavors

Bon Appétit Y’all! 
Virginia 

 

Easy Summer Ratatouille on www.virginiawillis.com

Easy Summer Ratatouille

 

Easy Summer Ratatouille

Serves 6 to 8

The French have ratatouille; the Sicilians, caponata; the Basque, pipérade; Indians, chutney; and Southerners have relish. All nationalities have a way to preserve and save the flavors of summer. Freeze this ratatouille in airtight containers for up to six months to serve later as an appetizer, side dish, or main dish.

Chopped kale and collard greens aren’t normally an ingredient in ratatouille, but I love the nod to the food of my people, the increased flavor, and best of all, the addition pumps up the nutritional density.

2 tablespoons pure olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds eggplant,  cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 pounds green and yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup water
1-2 large sweet peppers, such as red bell, banana, or Hungarian Wax, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped, or 2 cups cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh winter greens, such as kale or collard greens
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar

Heat the oil a large, heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Stir in the eggplant: season generously with salt and pepper. Stir fry until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the water and squash; cover, and simmer, stirring once, until the vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers; simmer, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and chopped greens;  bring to a boil.

Decrease the heat to medium-low. Partially cover; simmer, stirring often, until the vegetables are just tender, about 8 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

Just before serving, stir in the basil and splash with vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. Or, freeze in airtight containers for up to 6 months.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Seeds of Change and their Save the Flavors campaignAll opinions are 100% mine. 

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Photography by Virginia Willis

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Salmon Fishing in Alaska + Salmon Recipes

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Salmon Fishing

For the past two weeks I have been on a working vacation in Alaska. I was offered the opportunity to be the guest celebrity chef on Holland America. Anywhere in the world, mind you… and I chose Alaska! I’ve wanted to go to Alaska since the 3rd grade. My grandparents traveled there often when I was a child. Listening to their stories and watching slides on the old-fashioned projector, Alaska seemed to be a great wild land of mystery. My grandparents loved to fish and I do, as well. I think that’s one reason Alaska held such enchantment for them — the fishing.

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Before our cruise started we stopped for a few days at the beautiful Tutka Bay Lodge. The scenery was breathtaking, the hospitality was unrivaled, and the food was incredible. Tutka Bay Lodge sits at the entrance to a splendidly rugged fjord at the southern end of Kachemak Bay, near Homer, Alaska. My grandparents used to park their motor home in Homer to go salmon fishing. The Tutka Bay area is ripe with rugged coastlines, dramatic mountains, quiet rocky beaches, old growth Sitka spruce forests, and amazing tidal fluctuations that revealed fantastical sea life. It was beyond exquisite.  These photos below taken at low tide off of the sea anemone, urchin, and starfish are not retouched!

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The lodge set us up for a day of salmon fishing. It was everything I could have hoped for and more! The water glistened like mercury and the next minute it roiled ebony black in our wake. The snowy peaks of the Alaska Peninsula were on the horizon and we saw playful otters, a multitude of sea birds, majestic eagles, and breeching humpback whales.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic storyboard. I shot a little video about our adventure for Seafood Watch.

Check out this video I shot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch of our salmon fishing trip!

It was truly one of the best days of my entire life, an absolute dream come true. The video is just a snippet of our beautiful day on the Falcon with Captain Tony. We caught 14 large fish, enough to ship home 30 pounds of dressed filets. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am on the Blue Ribbon Advisory Board for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. As a cook, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I am concerned for our oceans. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I “walk what I talk.” It really and truly hit home for me to see how important it is to seek out sustainable seafood while on this trip.

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Before we left on our incredible trip I was enthralled with a new cookbook. I have to share a bit of a secret. I don’t really read cookbooks. Of course, I flip, glance, and peruse. I use them for research, but even then, I normally suss out the bits that are relevant and study those pages. I can’t tell you how many folks tell me, “I read your cookbooks just like I read novels.” I am very thankful for such praise. So, it’s big doings for me to put this out in the world, but the honest truth is that I seldom read a cookbook cover to cover. A rare, recent exception? Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I love her work. Her writing is delightful and her recipes “read” delicious. The photography is stunning, shot by the talented Ellen Silverman who also did the photography for Bon Appétit Y’all. It’s been a real joy to read Yogurt Culture from start to finish.

There were so many recipes I wanted to share, but I instantly knew that on the heels of our trip to Alaska that her Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon was the one. And, here’s a link to another one of my favorite salmon recipes, what I call “NY Times Salmon“.

Thanks for reading and watching! Let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 

Virginia 

salmon recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon
Serves 6 to 8

Fennel seeds and fresh tarragon quietly infuse a yogurt marinade in this delicate fish supper. After it has spent a few hours in the fridge, slide the salmon into the oven and stir together the golden breadcrumb topping. You’ll be rewarded with a meal completely out of proportion to the amount of effort expended.

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup plain yogurt (not Greek), preferably whole-milk
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
6 to 8 (5- to 6-ounce) wild salmon fillets, 1 inch thick, or 1 (2- to 2½-pound) salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

MARINATE THE SALMON
In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper together until powdery. Transfer to a small bowl. Whisk in the yogurt, mustard, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of the tarragon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place the salmon on the parchment and spread the yogurt marinade thickly and evenly over the top. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 4 hours.

BAKE THE SALMON
Preheat the oven to 375°F, with a rack in the center position. Bake the salmon until cooked through but still moist, about 15 minutes for individual fillets or 20 minutes for one large fillet.

MAKE THE TOPPING
While the fish bakes, or just after you pull it from the oven, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the panko. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon tarragon.

SERVE
Sprinkle the panko over the salmon and serve.

Excerpted from Yogurt Culture, © 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Photography is © 2015 by Ellen Silverman.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

my photo was taken by Lisa Ekus

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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How to Fry Chicken – Southern Fried Chicken

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Southern Fried Chicken

When my dear grandmother was alive and I would come home to visit, it did not matter if it was 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon—I would walk in the door and she would be standing at the stove frying chicken for me. Yes, clearly I was spoiled absolutely rotten. But also I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about the subject: there are few foods in this world I love as much as I love as Southern Fried Chicken.

Last meal request? Fried Chicken.
Tired and grumpy?  Fried Chicken.
Homesick and missing Mama? Fried Chicken.
Celebrating a momentous occasion? Fried Chicken.

Wait, what? Where’d Lighten Up, Y’all go?

Well, here’s the deal and I even write about it in the headnote for Oven Fried Chicken on a Stick in Lighten Up, Y’all. Oven fried chicken is NOT Fried Chicken. It’s a good substitute, but we all know that a Broadway understudy is really, really good, but just not quite the star that everyone wants to see.

Fried Chicken is so loved in the South it’s become a caricature, a cartoon. But, to define Southern Food by only Fried Chicken is a gross oversimplification. Especially when there’s fast food fried chicken, gas station fried chicken, and grocery store fried chicken, none of which can hold a candle to real honest-to-goodness homemade skillet fried chicken. So, I save my calories for incredible fried chicken, not mediocre fried chicken. Southern Fried Chicken is serious business. And, if you thought there was only one Southern classic, I would simply remind you that there are as many Southern Fried Chicken recipes as there are Southern grandmothers.

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As if I didn’t love her enough, my dear and wonderful friend Rebecca Lang has written an entire book that celebrates and glorifies my favorite Southern recipe, Fried Chicken: Recipes for the Crispy, Crunchy, Comfort-Food Classic. Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite people on this planet. She is smart, beautiful, kind, talented, sweet, sassy, a great cook, and a positively brilliant cookbook author.  Her latest book goes straight to my heart! A whole book dedicated to Fried Chicken!

She covers all the Southern favorites such as Buttermilk-Soaked Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken Smothered in Gravy, and Nashville-style Tennessee Hot Chicken. Yet she goes beyond Southern Fried Chicken and explores international fried chicken—fried chicken from Saigon, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Korea. She’s even created a Gluten Free Fried Chicken!

The photography is mouthwateringly beautiful and these recipes are guaranteed to work. She’s a diligent and expert recipe tester and cooked through a whole hen house to make sure these recipes are the best they can be. This is the end-all, be-all book if you want to know how to fry chicken.

This blog post, as Rebecca’s lovely book, celebrates Fried Chicken. To tantalize your taste buds, I’m including Rebecca’s recipe for Chinese Lollipop Chicken and my recipe for my grandmother’s classic Southern Fried Chicken. And, at the end, I am sharing a short photo tutorial on “How to Cut Up a Chicken. I find it’s cheaper to buy a whole bird and break it down yourself.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia 

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Southern Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 9 pieces (see below)
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups canola oil

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place the flour in a shallow plate and season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until the temperature measures 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, to fry the chicken, starting with the dark meat (since it takes longer to cook) and working one piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, turning to coat. Shake to remove excess flour. Reserve any leftover seasoned flour for the gravy.

One piece at a time, slip the chicken into the hot fat without crowding; the fat should not quite cover the chicken. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature at 375°F. At this stage, a splatter guard (a wire cover laid over the pan) may prove useful to contain the hot grease. The guard lets the steam escape, while allowing the chicken to brown nicely.

Fry the pieces, turning them once or twice, until the coating is a rich, golden brown on all sides, 10 to 14 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the juices run clear when pricked with a knife, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170°F.) Remove the pieces and drain on the prepared baking sheet. (Do not hold the chicken in a warm oven; it will get soggy.) Enjoy immediately.

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Rebecca’s Chinese Lollipop Wings 
Serves 4
5 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 
11teaspoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as Sriracha 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 teaspoons light sesame oil 
1 egg, beaten 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1teaspoon ground white pepper 
2 pounds chicken drumettes Peanut oil, for frying 
Cilantro, chopped, for serving
To make the marinade, process the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely chopped. Add the salt, chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg, cornstarch, flour, and pepper and pulse twice to combine. Transfer the marinade to a large mixing bowl. 
To form the lollipops, grab the exposed bone at the end of each drumette and use a paring knife to push all of the meat to the other end, exposing the bone and forming a rounded lump of meat at one end (to look like a lollipop). The bone should be stripped of all meat to form about a 1-inch stick for the lollipop. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the marinade, toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 2 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 350°F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. 
Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Carefully place the lollipops in the hot oil. Fry for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Maintain a frying temperature of 325°F. Drain the lollipops on the wire rack.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

Reprinted with permission from Fried Chicken, by Rebecca Lang, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by John Lee. For more information about Rebecca, please visit www.rebeccalangcooks.com

How to Cut Up a Chicken

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Cut the wing tip off and save it for stock. Sometimes, when frying chicken, I leave the wing fully intact in its three sections and cut it off so they are their own piece and not connected to the breast.

IMG_1004

Remove the thigh and drumstick.

IMG_1006

Make sure to insert the knife into the meaty area of the thigh known as the oyster.

IMG_1007

Look for the line of fat that divides the thigh and drumstick. This indicates where the joint meets and where best to cut. If you have a hard time here, it means your knife is in the wrong place.

IMG_1008

If the knife is directly between the joint it will cut easily through the cartilage.

IMG_1010

Cut through the rib cage to nearly separate the full chest from the backbone.

IMG_1011

Place the tip of your knife through the hole nearest the neck. You’ll need to put some umph into it to cut through the bone and completely remove the back from the chest.

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Divide the full chest down the middle. The sternum will require a little effort and leverage, but the soft cartilage at the point of the triangle is soft.

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Chicken breasts are so large, I often divide the breast into 2 pieces.

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The method results in 4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 1 back. You can fry the back as a cook’s treat or save it for stock.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Eat Wild: Elderflower Cordial

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Eat Wild

Recently, I’ve been studying a couple of foraging books and trying to use more wild food in my kitchen. Serving locally foraged ingredients has become a feature of international haute cuisine over the last few years. I’m finding that there seems to be a great deal of interest in eating wild with Appalachian and Southern chefs, as well. There’s a long history of harvesting from the creeks and rivers, forests and woods in the South, driven by necessity rather than trend. I know that as a gardener, I feel exceptionally fulfilled when I make and cook from our endeavors. Harvesting from the wild (well, actually, the edge of the yard) and cooking from it feels even more incredible.

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We’ve got lambs quarters and purslane growing prolifically in our vegetable garden, so that’s pretty easy. Lambs quarter is like spinach on steroids, super vibrant and vegetal. Monsieur Milbert used to grow purslane in the potager at Chateau du Fey; it’s quite odd to see it as a weed. In fact, our garden is in such desperate need of weeding, I feel positively virtuous by considering these two weeds as wild foods. “I think that’s really the whole point of eating “weeds” or wild food. It brings to mind the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s just a way of looking at food and how it gets on our plates with a different perspective.

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So far, it kinda sounds like there are a good many weeds that are edible. But this also causes me to consider, just because it is edible doesn’t mean it needs to be or has to be. Queen Anne’s lace tempura? Cattail pollen pancakes? There are also a lot of notations like, “best eaten in a salad” or “dried leaves make a healthy herbal tea.”  Hmm. Well, I am sure I could make tea out of the yard trimmings, but I prefer English breakfast…. Still, it does seem to be an opportunity to enjoy something that’s not cultivated, something truly wild. I am very cognizant that there is a whole group of wild foods that we don’t eat just because we, as a people, have lost that wisdom. As a cook, I am very curious about regaining at least some of that knowledge.

We’ve grown accustomed to our food being neatly packaged for us, especially in the US. I think that Europeans have a much stronger sense of harvesting from the wild. One of my favorite French factoids is that pharmacists in France are trained to identify certain fungi, and if in doubt, mushrooms can be taken to a pharmacist who will inspect them and declare whether or not they are edible.

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Even though I remember harvesting berries from the woods as a child, I admit I am still somewhat fearful of eating wild foods. We picked these wild black raspberries from around the corner. Bursting with flavor, there’s just something there that a cultivated berry doesn’t have. But there’s just a vestige of uncertainty when harvesting foods from the wild, especially when the foraging books aren’t exceptionally clear and the photographs aren’t as definitive as one might wish. I’d also like to point out that an unusual amount of safe, edible wild ingredients closely resemble one form or another of not-so-edible, deadly herbage – and none I might add that cause a gentle death. Lots of asphyxiation and turning blue and such.

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Recently, in a fit of eat wild-DIY, I braved one of these possible mishaps by making Elderflower Cordial. This is a mildly fragrant, lightly floral simple syrup best served with seltzer water or club soda for a refreshing summer drink. Some recipes indicate that it can be added to sparkling wine as a type of kir royale sauvage, though I think it’s a bit too sweet to add to wine. On the other hand, Elderflower Cordial with vodka and soda sounds like a perfect summer grown-up drink.

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I felt so certain with my harvest that I made enough to share as food gifts. (Speaking of food gifts, I’m really looking forward to Food Gift Love by Maggie Battista that will debut this fall.) I had intended to make Elderflower Champagne, but read one too many blog posts about bursting bottles and cork missiles. Hilarious to consider that I could overlook possible poisoning with hemlock, but the deal breaker was the potential of a sticky mess.

So, maybe I won’t go toe-to-toe anytime soon with Hank Shaw or René Redzepi, but I am very excited to explore what the wild world has to offer.

Bon Appétit Y’all
Virginia

PS. Lots of events upcoming in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine before I swing back down South after Labor Day. Please check out my events page

DSC_0448

Elderflower Cordial
Makes about 2 quarts

1 1/2 quarts water
5 cups sugar
30 elderflower heads
Zest of 3 oranges

Bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. Place the flower heads in a large bowl with the orange zest. Pour over the cooled syrup. Cover and let steep for 2 days. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilized bottles and seal.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Frozen Treats: Avocado Popsicles and Coconut Ice Cream

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Frozen Treats

Homemade ice cream and sorbets are some of my favorite summertime sweet desserts. (Peach is undoubtedly my favorite!) I like ice cream, I mean who doesn’t like ice cream? But I really enjoy making ice cream. Homemade ice cream is special and there are so many inexpensive ice cream machines it makes it really accessible. Fresh fruit sorbets are exceptionally simple to make, light and more healthy than many ice cream recipes. It’s just a matter of blitzing a bit of fruit with a sugar simple syrup, agave, or honey. And, I find making sorbet a great way to use berries and fruit that are no longer picture perfect.

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Recently I taught at Rancho la Puerta where my friend chef Denise Roa is doing the same sorts of things with savory ingredients by making paletas, or popsicles. I tasted a few of their frozen concoctions and was very inspired and intrigued. The tomato and herb and  lemon verbena and lime were bursting with flavor. However, the one that really blew me away was avocado. Wow. It  was incredibly creamy and rich, yet dairy-free, simply made with pureed avocado, agave, and water. I recently reworked a version at home with great success.

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That experiment also inspired me to think a bit more creatively when it comes to other flavors of ice creams and sorbets. I also have a dairy free family member and like to be able to serve “inclusively”, meaning I cook dishes that everyone can enjoy. I also often look to the tropics for refreshing summertime desserts.

With July heating up and the produce stands filling up, we’ve been working to eat more vegetables and vegetarian dishes. I’ve been reading my friend and colleague Nancie McDermott‘s Simply Vegetarian Thai CookingWith the temperature rising, tropical cooking is often the way to go. I also admit, sometimes I need a spicy spark to get me out of my Southern-French trained chef box.

You very likely may have read a blog post or an article I’ve written in the past that mentioned Nancie. I’m a huge fan. She’s The Expert on Southern Cakes and Pies — and Asian cooking, too! She gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a North Carolina native, and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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These recipes look phenomenal! There are authentic curries, stir-fries, rice and noodles, and sweets and drinks. Nancie’s a phenomenal cookbook author. Her recipes work and the instructions are clear. She’s a great writer. More than anything I love cooking her recipes because then I feel like my beautiful, sweet, smart, awesome friend is in the kitchen with me! Her Coconut Ice Cream ties in seamlessly with my summertime frozen treat recipe exploration.

Today I am sharing recipes for her Coconut Ice Cream and my Avocado Popsicles. I hope you enjoy!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

PS I have lots of classes, signings, and events coming up including Nashville, Lexington, Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as Weathersfield, VT and York, ME. Please check out my events page!

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Coconut Ice Cream

Makes about 2 cups

Here is the classic Thai ice cream that sweetens the hottest evening in Thailand’s upcountry small towns. It could not be simpler and it could not be better. You can jazz it up with flavors and additions in the modern manner, but in my opinion it is perfect as is. Thais love it sprinkled with chopped peanuts and served in tiny bowls.

You can make the ice cream base in advance, cover, and chill for up to 1 day before you churn it into ice cream.

2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk (about 3 1⁄2 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine coconut milk, sugar and salt. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.

Cover bowl and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve at once or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 weeks.

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Avocado Popsicles

Makes 8 to 12 (depending on the size of the mold)

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 ripe avocados
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Halve the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a blender, along with the cooled syrup, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add the lemon juice and blend just until combined. Divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 4 hours.

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photography by Virginia Willis

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Coconut Ice Cream Recipe Courtesy of Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking by Nancie McDermott, 2015 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

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