Virginia Willis Blog

Grace and Beauty: Celebrating Japan

In mid-April I went to an event in Boston at o ya hosted by Chef’s Collaborative with Elizabeth Andoh.

Elizabeth is a fellow client of The Lisa Ekus Group as well as a fellow Ten Speed Press author. I’ve admired her work for years, including her book Washoku. Her latest book, Kansha is beautiful, too.

Her recipe writing is clear and meticulous, the books are well-designed, and the photography is pure art.

The session in Boston was fantastic. Kansha is a celebration of vegan and vegetarian cooking in Japan.

I was also thoroughly touched by her description of the tragic situation in Japan. In late March the official death toll was 9000 and domestic news agencies were reporting 20,000 dead or missing. The economic effects are staggering and there is still a real nuclear crisis. It’s bad. To see the effect on such a gentle, beautiful woman – and her resilience – was inspiring. She has a gentleness and grace that’s absolutely lovely.

A couple of days later I got a call from Shannon, the Cooking School Director of Salud! wanting to know if I would help with a benefit cooking class to raise donation for disaster relief in Japan.

I immediately said yes.

I also reached out to Chef Joe Truex of Watershed and Gina Hopkins from Restaurant Eugene. Both jumped quickly to participate.

Here’s are some snaps of the benefit class at Salud! at Harry’s Farmer’s Market in Alpharetta. Sadly, a bit of confusion prevented Gina from participating, but I know she was there in heart. Joe and I had a great time.


Joe and I getting ready before class.


Many thanks to Samantha Enzmann, instructor at Salud! and the volunteers for all their help setting up for class.


Our menu was Southern, not Japanese. Here I am making biscuits.


Joe and I actually grew up about 30 minutes apart in Louisiana. He’s my Cajun brother from another mother.


Sweet Tea Brined Pork Tenderloin. Got to wait for Basic to Brilliant for this one! 😉

GREAT NEWS! We raised over $1100 for the Red Cross! Thank you Shannon, for asking me to be a part.

Click here to learn more about what you can do.

And, here are some of Elizabeth’s recipes from Kansha. I hope you enjoy them.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

heaven-and-earth tempura pancakes
Ten Chi Kaki Age
makes 8 pancakes

winter pancakes
1/2 red onion, cut into thin slices through the stem end to make crescent shapes (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Scant 1/3 cup julienne-cut carrot peels (1-inch strips; about 3 ounces)
Scant 1/3 cup julienne-cut Japanese-style sweet potato or other sweet potato peels (1-inch strips; about 21/2 ounces)

summer pancakes
3-ounce chunk bitter melon, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed, very thinly sliced, salted with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and drained, about 1/4 cup
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 small zucchini, about 4 ounces total weight, tops trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut on the diagonal into thin slices, about 2/3 cup
Scant 1/3 cup julienne-cut kabocha squash peels (3/4-inch strips; about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons finely shredded summer herbs such as fresh shiso leaves
4 or 5 fresh chives, cut into 1/2-inch lengths

batter
Several ice cubes
1/3 cup cold water
1/4 cup self-rising cake flour

Vegetable oil for deep-frying
1 to 2 teaspoons aromatic sesame oil (optional)

condiments
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Generous pinch of kona-zanshō
Generous pinch of tōgarashi
Generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Lemon or lime wedges

Depending upon seasonal availability, choose to make either the winter pancakes or the summer pancakes: To make the winter pancakes, place the red onion in a bowl. With a pastry brush, dust the slices thoroughly with some of the cornstarch. Pull gently to separate the crescent shapes, dusting again with a bit more cornstarch. Add the carrot and sweet potato peels to the bowl and dust with the remaining cornstarch. Toss to distribute the vegetables evenly.

To make the summer pancakes, with a pastry brush, dust the bitter melon slices thoroughly with some of the cornstarch, then place them in a bowl. Dust the zucchini slices and kabocha peels in a similar manner and add them to the bowl; toss to distribute evenly. Dust the shredded shiso leaves and chives with cornstarch and add them to the bowl; toss again to distribute evenly.

Make the batter just before frying: Place the ice cubes in a small bowl with half of the water. Sift the cake flour over the water and stir to mix slightly; there should still be lumps. If needed, add water, a few drops at a time, until the batter is the consistency of a thin pancake batter.

Pour the vegetable oil to a depth of 11/2 inches into a small wok or small, deep skillet. Add the sesame oil and heat slowly. Check the temperature with an unvarnished long wooden chopstick (or a bamboo skewer). Small bubbles will form around the tip when the oil is about 350°F. Wait for about 45 seconds longer to allow the temperature to rise a bit more–to about 370°F–and then test the oil temperature with a few drops of batter. If they sink slightly, then rise to the surface and puff quickly but do not color, the oil is ready. You may need to fry the pancakes in batches to avoid crowding them in the pan. Preheat the oven to 200°F for keeping the cooked pancakes warm.

Spoon a bit of the batter over the cornstarch-dusted vegetables and toss lightly to coat the vegetables with the batter. Dip a large spoon or ladle into the hot oil. Place one-eighth of the vegetable mixture in the bowl of the oil-dipped spoon. Carefully tilt the spoon to slide the pancake into the hot oil, aiming to make a disk about 2 inches in diameter. The batter and cornstarch act as “glue” to keep the vegetable slivers together. Repeat to make more pancakes, being careful not to crowd the pan.

Most important, refrain from touching the pancakes for a full 30 seconds after you place them in the oil. It will seem like an eternity, but gaman will yield the best results. If wayward bits are strewn at the edges of your pan, carefully pick them up and place them on top of the still-moist pancake batter in the center. (Skill with long chopsticks will be well rewarded, though a long-handled fine-mesh skimmer can scoop beneath as well.) If the center of the pancake is very dry, dip the wayward bits in some fresh batter before “gluing” them in place. When the batter in the center of the disk seems barely moist, carefully invert the pancake.

After flipping, allow the pancakes to fry undisturbed for about 1 minute, or until crisp. Using cooking chopsticks or a skimmer, remove the pancakes from the oil and place them on a rack set over a baking sheet to drain. If frying in batches, place the baking sheet in the oven to keep the fried pancakes warm. Use the skimmer to clear the oil of batter bits between batches.

When all of the pancakes are fried, transfer them to paper towels to absorb any additional surface oil.

To serve, line a plate or shallow bamboo basket with folded paper (the Japanese use ones called shikigami or kaishi that are oil-absorbent on one side and oil-repellant on the other). Paper doilies make an attractive alternative. Mix together the salt and 3 peppers in a small bowl. Arrange the pancakes on the folded paper and put the lemon wedges and the pepper mixture on the side.

good fortune pickles
Fukujin-Zuke

makes about 3 cups
brine
3 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 chunk daikon, about 3 ounces, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 carrot, about 11/2 ounces, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 small Kirby or other pickling cucumbers, each about 2 ounces, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 ounces burdock root, scraped, cut into 1/4-inch dice, blanched for 1 minute, and drained (do not refresh in cold water)
1 small knob tender new ginger, about 1/2 ounce, scraped and finely minced
1 Japanese eggplant, about 3 ounces, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 package enoki mushrooms, about 31/2 ounces, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch lengths

pickling medium
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3-inch piece kombu, preferably high-glutamate variety such as ma kombu
1/4 cup sake
1 cup rice vinegar
1 tōgarashi, broken in half and most seeds removed, or 3 or 4 black, green, or pink peppercorns

Make the brine: Combine the water and salt in a small saucepan and heat through, stirring, just until the salt dissolves. Remove from the heat and transfer to a widemouthed glass bowl or other nonreactive container. Let cool.

Place the daikon, carrot, cucumber, burdock root, ginger, and eggplant in the cooled brine and let soak for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours at cool room temperature. Because the vegetables tend to bob to the surface, use an otoshi-buta (page 243) or a flat plate to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine.

Drain the vegetables, squeezing them gently to rid them of excess moisture. Add the enoki mushrooms to the mixture in the bowl and toss to distribute.

Make the pickling medium: Combine the sugar, soy sauce, and kombu in a wide, shallow pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat to maintain a steady, gentle simmer. Add the vegetables, stir once, and wait until bubbles form around the rim of the pot. Stir again and remove the pot from the heat. Allow the vegetables to cool in the liquid until there is no longer any steam rising.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a widemouthed 1-quart Mason-type jar, arranging the kombu on top of the vegetables.

Add the sake, vinegar, and tōgarashi to the liquid remaining in the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to maintain a steady, vigorous simmer and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until reduced by half. Skim away any clouds of froth with a fine-mesh skimmer. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Pour the cooled liquid over the vegetables. When the jar no longer feels warm to the touch, secure the lid, label and date the jar, and refrigerate it. The pickles will develop flavor slowly during the first week. After 4 or 5 days, open the jar and, with clean chopsticks or a fork, pull out a sample and taste. If the flavor is too intense, add 2 or 3 tablespoons cold water to the pickling liquid, re-cover, and refrigerate for about 2 more days.

The pickle will taste best 1 to 2 weeks after assembling, but it can be enjoyed for 4 to 5 weeks if kept refrigerated throughout. Flavors will continue to intensify, however, and you may wish to dilute the pickling liquid after a couple of weeks.

When ready to serve, select an assortment of chunks, draining only the amount you wish to use at that time. Briefly rinse the pieces under cold running water and squeeze out excess moisture. Mince the pickled vegetables, then gently squeeze the pile to form a low-rising mound.

Do not reuse either the brine or the pickling medium; assemble with fresh ingredients each time you wish to make a batch of Good Fortune Pickles.

“Reprinted with permission from Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”
Photo credit: Leigh Beisch© 2010

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Wrap it Up: Super Sandwiches

Take a look at that.

This is the Banh mi at Star Provisions, one of my absolute favorite places on earth. I have commented on more than one occasion that it is a shame to waste those luscious, precious juices by wiping your mouth with a napkin when eating this sexy sandwich.

Lick those lips, darlin’.

Closer to home – and a bit more Rated G – what about a burger?

Juicy and delicious meat with tender, but toothsome bread, layered with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. I shot that All-American beauty with photographer Ritchie White last summer. Yum.

One of my favorite breakfast combinations is orange marmalade (made by Sherri Brooks Vinton) with peanut butter on toasted sandwich bread from H & F Bread Company. That and a tall glass of milk is an awesome way to start the day.

I love a good sandwich.

My friend and colleague, Birmingham blogger and recipe developer Alison Lewis has just released her new cookbook, 400 Best Sandwich Recipes.

Her website Ingredientsinc.net is packed full of family friendly recipes and her sandwich book is, too. It’s soooo great to see someone have their book published. It’s such a labor of love and lots of hard work. The feeling of finally holding your own book in your hand is pretty darn amazing. I’m very happy for her.

“Sandwiches?” You ask, “Why do I need a book about how to make a sandwich?”

Oh, come on.

You know how easy it is to be boring. Bread and filling does not automatically make a good sandwich. Wrap up a bunch of dull and you’ve got exactly that — dull. But, in this day and age we all often need simple meal – it needs to filling, not complicated, not a lot of dishes, and most important? Good and good for you.

A sandwich can be the way to go.

We’ve all heard the food myth about the Earl of Sandwich not wanting to leave the drinking and a-smokin’ at his gambling table and “invented the sandwich.” I never actually believed that tall tale. It was one of the many wonderful stories in the Childcraft books I poured over as a child. Ever since there has been bread and something to put between the slices there have been sandwiches and I can guarantee that it was before a gambling parlor incident in the late 1700s.

There’s no doubt about Alison’s book!

She has 400 recipes — from classics to burgers to more modern wraps and condiments for them all. It’s a great starter cookbook for a graduation present, fun to have at the cabin or beach house, and just a splash of surprise to counteract dull dinners and lackluster lunches. Busy moms will love it. She shares recipes for Stuffed Pizza Burgers, Balsamic Glazed Chicken with Peppers and Goat Cheese, Grilled Crab Quesadillas… and 397 more — including the tantalizing temptress, the exotic, exquisite, Banh Mi.

I’m going to keep family friendly and tempt your tastebuds by sharing two classics that I dearly love with you here today: The Classic Club Sandwich and Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches. Oldies, but goodies and guaranteed to satisfy.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Classic Club Sandwich
Serves 4

12 slices white bread, toasted
1⁄2 cup Mayonnaise
8 oz sliced turkey
2 small tomatoes, sliced
8 slices Swiss cheese
8 slices bacon, cooked
4 lettuce leaves

Tip: Deli or roasted turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

1. Place bread slices on a work surface. Spread mayonnaise on one side of 8 bread slices. Arrange turkey, tomato and Swiss cheese over mayonnaise on each slice. Stack 2 slices together, keeping toppings up, then place 2 slices of bacon and the lettuce on top of cheese. Cover with remaining top halves and press together gently. Slice into quarters. Secure with toothpicks to hold the stacks together.

Variation
Updated Club Sandwich: Use 1⁄2 cup aïoli instead of mayonnaise. Substitute 4 watercress leaves for each lettuce leaf, 8 slices applewood smoked bacon, for bacon, 8 oz peppered turkey for turkey and 8 slices pepper Jack cheese for Swiss.

Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich
Serves 4

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that are so wonderful. These are easy to make, adorable and taste delicious.

2 cups vanilla ice cream
16 chocolate chip cookies

Toppings, optional
Sprinkles
Chopped nuts
Mini chocolate chips

1. Let ice cream stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften.
2. Place 1⁄4 cup of the ice cream on 8 cookies. Place remaining cookies on top of ice cream, pressing gently to seal. Roll edges in desired toppings. Serve immediately or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 days.

Tip: Use your favorite chocolate chip recipe for these cookies or store-bought cookies.

Excerpted from 400 Best Sandwich Recipes by Alison Lewis © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Vidalia Onion Quiche

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

 

Print

Vidalia Onion Quiche

Author virginiawillis

Ingredients

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

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

Vidalia Onion Confit

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 5 onions about 11/2 pounds, preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 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

Quiche

  • French Pie Pastry 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

Instructions

For the Pastry

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, unrolling over the tin.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Remove any excess pastry by rolling the pin across the top of the pan.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 the Confit

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

For the Quiche

  1. Prepare the pastry shell and the onion confit; let both cool.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

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

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Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: 3 Great Grain Recipes

Doesn’t that photo make you want to grab a fork? Lordy Mercy, that photo makes me want to eat. I swear I can taste that grilled cheese and nutty rye berries.

It’s the cover of a BEAUTIFUL new book by Maria Speck with photography by
Sara Remington called Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More.

The title is quite a mouthful, but a good one.

We all know we’re “supposed to” eat more whole grains. I know my way around the grain bin pretty well, but even as a professional cook I sometimes face the wall of bulk food at Whole Foods Market with more than a smidgen of bewilderment.

Well, my friend, be bewildered no more. This book is the answer.

Maria was raised in Germany and Greece – where they’ve had an appreciation for these ancient grains for a long while. Her style of cooking and teaching lends a distinctly European approach to simple yet delicious dishes made with whole grains. Her vast knowledge of the centuries-old traditions of cooking and baking with barley, polenta, quinoa, spelt, and farro shines through in both the text and recipes. She transforms these ancient staples into quick and modern foods for busy lives.

I know that for me, it just makes me want to get in the kitchen to cook and eat. I hope you, too, enjoy this sampling of Maria’s book.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Leek Salad with Grilled Haloumi Cheese and Rye Berries

Serves 4 to 6

rye
11/2 cups water
3/4 cup rye berries, soaked overnight and drained

salad
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut into 3/4-inch segments (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 (2- by 1-inch) strip orange zest, white pith removed (optional)
1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, 2 teaspoons oil reserved (see page 138)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

to finish
1/4 pound haloumi cheese
11/2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano or thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)

1 To prepare the rye, bring the water and the rye berries to a boil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the berries are tender but still slightly chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and steam for 10 to
15 minutes if you have time. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer to a large serving bowl to cool.

2 While the rye cools, prepare the salad. Bring the leeks, chicken broth, and orange zest to a boil in a large saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the leeks are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the leeks, and add them to the serving bowl with the rye berries. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup of the mint, and the capers, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, keeping in mind that capers and haloumi are quite salty.

3 To finish, position a rack about 6 inches below the heat source and preheat the broiler. Cut the haloumi cheese into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick, and put them on a plate. Sprinkle with the oregano, pepper, pepper flakes, and reserved 2 teaspoons of tomato oil; rub the oil and spices all over to coat the slices on both sides (work gently, as haloumi breaks easily). Transfer the cheese to a medium cast-iron skillet or a broiler pan.

4 Broil the haloumi until the slices just start to brown at the edges, about 5 minutes, turning once with a spatula. (Watch closely as you don’t want the cheese to dry out.)

5 Top the salad with the haloumi. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons mint, and serve right away.

to get a head start: Make the rye berries, as in step 1, ahead (see page 23). The salad (without the haloumi) can be prepared 4 to 6 hours ahead. Chill, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Spelt Crust Pizza with Fennel, Prosciutto, and Apples

Makes 2 pizzas, to serve 4 to 6 as a main course, or 8 as a starter

spelt crust
2 cups whole grain spelt flour (8 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons linseed oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg
Coarse cornmeal, if using a pizza peel

toppings
4 or 5 green onions
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup drained nonpareil capers
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored, and sliced very thinly
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced very thinly
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
Linseed or extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 First, make the dough. To prepare the dough by hand: Whisk together the spelt flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, linseed oil, and the egg and beat with a fork until smooth. Pour the ricotta mixture into the well. Combine with a dough whisk (see page 30) or a fork, stirring from the center and gradually incorporating the flour from the sides until a fairly moist dough comes together.

To prepare the dough by food processor: Place the spelt flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl and process for about 10 seconds. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, linseed oil, and the egg and beat with a fork until smooth. Pour the ricotta mixture across the top of the flour mixture and pulse, in 1-second intervals, just until a ball forms, 5 to 10 pulses. The dough will be fairly moist.

2 Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface. Lightly flour your hands and briefly knead 5 to 7 turns to get a smooth yet slightly tacky dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes to allow the bran in the flour to soften.

3 Meanwhile, place a baking stone on a rack on the bottom shelf and preheat oven to 425°F. Liberally sprinkle a pizza peel with coarse cornmeal. Finely chop the white and light green parts of the green onions until you have 1/2 cup. Combine them with the sour cream, capers, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a small bowl. Finely chop the dark green parts as well (about 1/4 cup) and set aside for garnish.

4 Unwrap the dough, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and cut into 2 pieces. Keep 1 piece covered with plastic wrap. Lightly flour your hands and briefly knead the other until smooth, 7 to 10 turns. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into an elongated pizza, 11 by 8 inches and about 1/4 inch thick. Do this in stages, occasionally turning the dough over and rolling it out further, lightly flouring your work surface and the rolling pin each time. Place the dough on the pizza peel. Spread half of the sour cream topping across, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Cover with half of the apple slices, top with half of the fennel slices, and sprinkle with half of the prosciutto. Brush the border with oil.

5 Slide the dough onto the baking stone and bake until the fennel just starts to brown at the edges and the rim turns golden brown and starts to crisp—it should yield when pressed with a finger—about 15 minutes. Use a large spatula to lift the edges of the pizza so you can slide the peel underneath; carefully transfer the pizza to a wooden board. Sprinkle with half of the reserved green onions and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Cut with a sharp knife and serve at once. Repeat with the second pizza.

to get a head start: The dough, as in steps 1 and 2, can be prepared 1 day ahead. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap. Remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap; flatten it slightly, and allow to come room temperature while you prep the ingredients and preheat the oven, about 1 hour.

to lighten it up: Feel free to use part-skim ricotta, lowfat milk, and lowfat sour cream, but do not use nonfat.

Artichoke-Rosemary Tart with Polenta Crust

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a starter

polenta crust
11/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
11/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
11/4 cups polenta or corn grits
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (about 21/2 ounces; use the large holes of a box grater)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

artichoke cheese filling
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 3)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (12-ounce) package frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 To make the polenta crust, bring the broth and the water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Using a large whisk, slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, and continue whisking for 30 more seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon about every 2 minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. The polenta will be fairly stiff. Stir in the cheese, egg, and pepper.

2 Grease a 10-inch ceramic tart pan with olive oil or coat with cooking spray, and place on a wire rack. Have ready a tall glass of cold water. Dip a wooden spoon into the water as needed as you spread the polenta mixture across the center of the pan, pushing it up the sides. Set aside to firm up at room temperature, about 15 minutes, and then form an even rim about 3/4 inch thick with your slightly moist fingers, pressing firmly. No need to fret over this—it’s easy.

3 Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.

4 Prepare the artichoke cheese filling. Place the yogurt, eggs, green onions, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a 2-cup liquid measure or a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. Distribute the artichoke quarters over the crust, cut sides up, forming a circle along the rim and filling the center (you might not need all the hearts). Sprinkle the goat cheese on top and gently pour the filling over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

5 Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and set aside at room temperature to firm up for at least 20 minutes, 40 if you can wait. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut into slices. Serve with more freshly ground pepper on top if you like.

to get a head start: The polenta crust, as in steps 1 and 2, can be prepared 1 day ahead, as can the entire tart. Cool to room temperature, chill for a couple of hours, and then cover with plastic wrap. Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving, or gently reheat to warm (not hot) in a 325ºF oven for about 20 minutes.

to lighten it up: Use 1 cup non- or lowfat Greek yogurt in the filling instead of whole-milk yogurt.

“Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.” Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011

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Southern Comfort Spa Style! Spa Food & Culinary Week at The Golden Door

Spa-ahhhh.

This week’s travels have taken me to and through the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California for Culinary Week. It’s been fantastic.

I think some of the guests were surprised that I was the choice — Southern food? Really?

Well, clearly I didn’t make Fried Chicken, but I did make recipes from Bon Appétit, Y’all with little or no modifications.

And, you know what? They’ve loved it.

Thursday I taught a grilling class and served the Black Eyed Pea Salad and Grilled Shrimp Gumbo, (sorry, y’all – it’s a recipe in my next book).

The setting is breathtaking, beauty is everywhere.

One of the more enlightening evenings was listening to 89-year old founder Deborah Szekely. She stated she knew at 80 what her next 10 years would be like that would take her to 90, but wasn’t certain about after 90, so she was only planning for 5.

She’s truly inspirational and wise.

Just a few notes I jotted down included, “Dieting is dying” and “Exercise is oxygen” And, perhaps my favorite, “Counting calories makes as much sense as counting kisses while you are making love.”

I’ve really appreciated the experience and learned a lot about healthful eating from The Super Foods Rx Diet author Wendy Bazilian, too.

So, this post is short and sweet. I’ve still got cooking to do and I am also working on the edits for Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. Don’t get me in trouble with my editor!

Here are some of the recipes from one of the dinners. I hope you enjoy!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Cornmeal-Crusted Halibut
Serves 4

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

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper.

Combine the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a shallow dish, and stir well 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 the fish into the eggwhites, then into the cornmeal mixture. Transfer the fish to a plate.

In a large, heavy-bottomed, ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron), heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. Fry the fillets until the undersides are golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, crusted side up. Bake until the fish are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately garnished with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Walnut Oil
Serves 4 to 6

4 medium fresh beets
1/4 cup walnuts, for garnish
1 shallot, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons grapeseed olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 ounces mâche or tender young greens
2 ounces fresh goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and bake them directly on the oven rack until completely tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Set aside.

While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts on a baking sheet in the same oven until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly, coarsely chop them, and transfer to a small bowl; set aside.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add the oils in a slow stream, whisking constantly, until creamy and emulsified; season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, toss the beets in a little of the dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, toss the mâche with just enough dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the greens and beets among the serving plates. Top with a spoonful of goat cheese and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts. Serve immediately.

Angel Food Cake Muffins
Makes about 2 dozen

11/4 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
11/2 cups sugar
12 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
11/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 11/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Strawberries and orange segments, for garnish
Low Fat Vanilla Yogurt, for garnish

Position an oven rack in the lower part of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sift the flour with 3/4 cup of the sugar. Re-sift three times. Set aside.

To prepare the batter, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk, place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Whisk on medium speed until foamy. Add the vanilla-bean seeds and almond extract. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted. Sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula, fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Gently spoon the batter into 2 lightly greased 12-cup muffin pans, no more than 2/3 full. Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Invert the pan over 4 ramekins at the corners so the muffins can cool and dry upside down to set.

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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