Virginia Willis Blog

Salt: Making Every Grain Count & The World’s Most Essential Mineral

Did you know there are more about 10,000,000 crystals per pound of salt?

I get lots of questions about salt.

I have at least twelve different salts in my kitchen. In general, I cook savory foods with plain old Diamond Brand or Morton’s coarse kosher salt. I use fine sea salt or uniodized salt for baking. I prefer to use uniodized salt because I think it tastes slightly bitter. I use sea salts to enhance the flavor of food.

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, so it still contains the minerals from the water it came from. Sea salt from the coast of France is going to be different from sea salt from the coast of Spain, or Georgia, if we harvested salt.

Sea salt can be as inexpensive as a couple of dollars a pound for mass produced salts to $25 a pound for artisan salts. Some, but not all, sea salts are considered finishing salts. Finishing salts such as fleur de sel are premier salts and add something special when applied to food. They are usually a bit more expensive and added at the end of cooking. It’s a salt not just added for seasoning – it becomes part of the recipe as an ingredient to enhance the flavor and texture of the food.

I may sound snotty about iodized salt, however, it cannot be completely ignored. Iodine is a necessary nutrient that is often naturally present in the food supply. However, where natural levels of iodine in the soil are low, iodine added to salt provides the small but essential amount needed by humans. Iodine is critical in the first years of life, extraordinarily important up to 3 or 5 years of age.

Smoked salts and flavored salts are gaining traction in the kitchen, too. I love to use smoked salt because it allows for smoky bacon flavor without the saturated fat, and in fact, like it enough to make it and sell it in My Southern Pantry®.

My colleague Mark Bitterman of The Meadow with locations in Portland and New York has written an amazing book — no, rather a manifesto on salt, what he calls the “world’s most essential mineral.” It’s called Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes.

I’d have to agree.

Mark calls himself a selmelier. He is committed to exploring, promoting, and celebrating gourmet finishing salts from around the world. Check out his blog, Salt News. He is a Rock Star or Salt Star, as the case may be. Mark has been featured in The New York Times, The Splendid Table with Lynne Rosetto Kasper, and Martha Stewart.

Clearly, I’m not the only one that likes what Mark has to say about salt.

His book has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award and an IACP or International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award.

It’s a beautiful book, wonderfully written, and exceptionally well-done. (In the interest of full disclosure, we share the same editor, Melissa Moore, and publisher, Ten Speed Press. It makes me very proud to be part of such an amazing team that does such amazing work.

And speaking of …. Here’s the cover for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company! I am so thankful to Helen Dujardin, Angie Mosier, and Gena Berry. I love the Creole Country Bouillabase, especially in that beautiful Le Creuset French oven! (PS You can pre-order my book here. )

Ok – back to Salted! Sorry for the departure, but I literally got the word about the cover on Amazon while I was writing this piece!

There’s a lot in the news about cutting back on salt. Well, there’s cutting back on salt — then there’s cutting back on salt. There’s so much sodium in processed foods — chips, crackers, soup…. I’m not even talking about really bad for your fast food. So, when you can have salt, Mark teaches you how to have *really* good salt and make every grain count.

So, to get us back on track, here are a few recipes from Mark’s book. And, I’ve added my recipe for a simple Salt Roasted Salmon, as well.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Chèvre with Cyprus Black Flake Sea Salt and Cacao Nibs
Serves 8 as an appetizer

1 cup unsweetened cacao nibs
1 (8-ounce) log fresh goat cheese
2 three-finger pinches of Cyprus black flake sea salt
1 (8-ounce) baguette

Spread the cacao nibs in a single layer on a sheet of foil. Roll the log of goat cheese carefully in the nibs so that cheese doesn’t stick to your fingers. Once the cheese is well coated, roll the log with a little more pressure to embed the nibs into the cheese. Place on a serving plate.

Sprinkle the cheese with salt, allowing the crystals to tumble across the plate.Cut the baguette into thin slices and arrange them around the cheese log or place them in a basket to serve alongside.

To show guests how to serve themselves, cut a round of cheese from the log and place it on a slice of baguette; top with a few of the scattered chunks of black salt.

Preserved Lemons
Makes about 1 quart

8 large lemons, scrubbed clean
About 3 cups sel gris
8 juniper berries (optional)
Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Cut the tips off the ends of the lemons. Cut each lemon into quarters lengthwise, leaving them attached at one end. Pack the lemons with as much salt as they will hold. Insert one juniper berry into each lemon.

Put the lemons in a sterilized wide-mouth quart-size jar, packing them in as tightly as possible. As you push the lemons into the jar, some juice will be squeezed from them. When the jar is full, the juice should cover the lemons; if it doesn’t, add some fresh lemon juice.

Seal the jar and set aside for 3 to 4 weeks, until the lemon rinds become soft, shaking the jar every day to keep the salt well distributed. The lemons should be covered with juice at all times; add more as needed. Rinse the lemons before using.

Virginia’s Salt Roasted Salmon
Serves 4

2 cups coarse salt
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
4 star anise
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
4 6-ounce salmon fillets

Heat oven to 375°F. Using a medium bowl, combine salt, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and peppercorns. Spread spice mixture evenly over the bottom of a heavy-duty or enamelware baking dish. Place the salmon, skin side down, one-inch apart on spice mixture. Cover salmon with parchment paper, cover dish with aluminum foil to seal.

Bake until desired doneness, about 15 minutes for medium rare. Remove salmon from oven, allow to rest 3 minutes. Remove the foil and parchment paper. Using a spatula, remove fillets, leaving skin behind, serve immediately.

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

“Reprinted with permission from Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”
Photo credit: Jennifer Martiné © 2010

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Easter Dinner: April “Country Living” on the Stands!

 

Wow. That’s all I have to say.
Well, that’s not true. I also have to say thank you. Lots and lots of thank yous.
Many thanks to Country Living Magazine and Monica Willis (no relation!) for asking me to be a part of this special issue. I am so grateful to Jona and the rest of my family for allowing their Easter dinner to be transformed into a photo shoot last year, thank you to my aunts and cousins for helping with the food, thank you to Gene, Kathy, and Meghan for opening their home, thanks to Gena Berry for her assistance, delicious thanks to Robert at Melissa’s Produce for helping with the ingredient sourcing, thank you to Heather, Harry, and John for making such beautiful photos, and lastly, but by far not the least, thanks to my Mama for all her love and support.
I told her it was TEN pages. She asked me where the rest of it was. I reminded her the magazine wasn’t titled Virginia Willis’s Country Living.

Here’s the full Country Living Easter Dinner article and here are the recipes.

I am so honored and thrilled to be the subject and also the author of the piece, a little written ramble about cherished childhood memories, my abhorrence of dotted Swiss, and sunrise service at Riverview Methodist church. It’s about how my family’s Easter menu has evolved and changed, but much of it remains true to the Easter Sunday dinners of my youth and the memory of my grandparents.

And this year? This spring I look forward to starting new traditions of family celebration and expanding the circle of sharing with people I love. Spring is after all, about shedding the old and celebrating newness and rebirth. It’s the perfect time for new lives and fresh starts.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS Click and read here, too, but help keep print alive my buying one at the newsstand. That is if Mama left you any. I think she’s gathered enough to wallpaper the spare room she’s so proud.

Easter Menu

 

 

Sliced Radishes with Horseradish Buttermilk Dip
Baked Fresh Ham with Herbes de Provence
Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus with Tangerines, Roasted Spring Vidalia Onions, Parmesan Grits with Morels
Buttermilk Angel Biscuits
Turbinado Shortcakes with Strawberries and Whipped Cream

 

 

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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Bon Appétit, Y’all in Paris! Fried Chicken, Grits & Greens, and Biscuits

Bon Appétit, Y'all!

I’m in Paris at the Paris Cookbook Fair — and, that would be Paris, France, not Paris, Texas! It’s been crazy. I’ve been interviewed by Japanese television and there are so many different cultures represented I feel like I am at some sort of culinary United Nations.

Yesterday I did a demonstration in the International Kitchen — and I got all sorts of Southern on everyone. I prepared Fried Chicken topped with Country Ham, Grits and Greens, and finished things off with Buttermilk Biscuits!

It’s been so amazing. I am thrilled to be here. First thing yesterday morning I went to purchase my ingredients. I was practically skipping. Then, I went into the kitchen and got to work.There were some students from Le Cordon Bleu helping me. Made me smile to think about what those young students may have ahead of them. I remember how excited I was to be in France cooking for the first time. And, you know what, I was just that happy all over again.

Cooking up some Grits

Kale and collards are no where to be found, so I used arugula for the greens. Seemed to make sense and they tasted great. Silly me forgot My Southern Pantry cornmeal and grits, but the jambon de montaigne was pretty close to Allen Benton’s unsmoked country ham!

Patty Cake, Patty cake

The ingredients are a little different. I didn’t tote any White Lily over and I used a fermented milk instead of the delicious buttermilk from Johnston Family Farm.

Poulet Frite avec Jambon Montaigne (Fried Chicken topped with Country Ham)

The truth of the matter is that simple country cooking is pretty much simple country cooking all over the world. We served samples and the response was great. I was floating on cloud 9!

Happy Chef Grrl

I wasn’t the only one happy yesterday. The awards were last night. Congratulations to Denise Vivaldo, Dorie Greenspan, and all the other winners!

Here are the recipes from my demo. I’m posting pictures all week so follow me on Facebook, too!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Fried Chicken Breasts with Country Ham
Serves 4 to 6

4 to 6 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
16 to 24 tarragon leaves, plus more for garnish
8 to 12 paper-thin slices country ham, prosciutto, or Serrano ham (about 6 to 8 ounces total)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more if needed
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
Coarse salt

To prepare the cutlets, place a chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound to slightly over 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Place 4 fresh sage leaves on each cutlet; top with 1 or 2 slices of ham and press lightly to adhere. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate to set, at least 10 minutes.

Place the flour in a shallow dish and season with pepper (no salt is necessary because of the salty ham). To cook the cutlets, heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Working with 2 pieces at a time, dredge both sides of the chicken in flour, then shake off the excess flour—the chicken should be lightly dusted. Without crowding, add 2 pieces of chicken to the skillet, ham side down first, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a warm platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Repeat with the remaining chicken, adding more oil if necessary.

To make the sauce, pour off any excess oil from the skillet. Return the skillet to the heat. Add the wine and Marsala and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits. Add the stock and increase the heat to high. Cook until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, and serve.

Grits & Greens
Serves 4 to 6

You could simply stir the raw arugula into the greens, but it is more flavorful to take just a few moments and saute the greens with the garlic.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, grated
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup stone-ground or coarse-ground grits
Tangle of Winter Greens (see below)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until transparent, about 2 minutes.
Add the milk, water, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Whisk in the grits, decrease the heat to low, and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes. Stir in the cooked Tangle of Greens, butter, cheese, parsley, and chives. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Tangle of Winter Greens
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see sidebar)
1 16 ounce box arugula
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and greens; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the greens are bright green and slightly wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes about 20 biscuits

2 cups  White Lily or other Southern all-purpose flour , or cake flour (not self-rising), more for rolling out
1 tablespoon  baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons  (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
3/4 to 1 cup  buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 500°F. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk, and gently mix until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat 8 or so times. (It’s not yeast bread; you want to just barely activate the gluten, not overwork it.) Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/2 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 1 1/2-inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked.

Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool just slightly. Serve warm.

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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Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Simple, Satisfying, Steak

No, that’s not a steak, silly goose. That’s a cheddar biscuit.

WHOA! I was thrilled with last week’s response to Southern Saturdays with Virginia with Five Weekend Breakfast Recipes!

The kind folks from Smith Bites took the photo above and blogged, too. Here are some pics from Molly Folse from BhamDigest and Karmic Kitchen completely blew me away with her twists and tweaks.

This week? I am ready for a steak.

Maybe it’s because I have been eating rabbit food. I’ve always been more on the full-figured side of life, but right now, there’s just a little too much of me to love. So, I’ve been really trying hard to cut back and exercise more.

I am also teaching at the Lake Austin Spa and Resort and The Golden Door for Culinary Week, as well as Rancho la Puerta in June. It’s my goal to show that Southern Food doesn’t have to be fatty, fat, fat.

The last thing I need to do is show up and not walk what I talk. I’m teaching Southern Comfort Spa Style — and you know what? I have to choose wisely, and it’s obviously not the fried fatback, but I am able to teach these classes without making any adjustments to the recipes. Serious.

But, a steak you ask? Well, part of it is choosing the right steak. I try whenever possible to choose grass-fed beef.

Will Harris III is a 5th generation cattleman. Will’s ancestor founded White Oak Pastures in the late 1800s after returning home from the Civil War. Will is straight out of central casting. Cue the cowboy. He’s tall and rugged with a rich, deep voice – and a legendary drawl that makes the ladies swoon. He is a Deep South cattleman from the top of his Stetson hat to the tip of his well-worn leather boots.

Check out this great video about Will called CUD from Joe York. Joe’s the resident film maker for the Southern Foodways Alliance

Until the years following WWII, the Harris family raised cattle as they always had, as free-range beef. The pastures and cattle were allowed to follow the natural cycle of the environment. After the war, “improvements” were made in production, pastures were fertilized for year-round green grass, herd size was increased, and antibiotics and hormones were developed to keep the animals healthy. It was science; it was progress.

Dispensing antibiotics to healthy animals has become routine on the large, concentrated farms that now dominate American agriculture. One side says one thing and the other side says another, but medical experts increasingly condemn the practice. They say it contributes to a growing problem in modern medicine, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The grain-fed beef raised in this manner is the most widely produced type of beef in the United States. Grain-fed cattle spend most of their lives eating grass in pastures, and then move on to a feedlot where they eat an inexpensive, high-calorie grain diet for three to six months.

Will raised his cattle in pastures his family had been farming for decades, but then had to send them to the Midwest for corn-finishing in the lots where they could be fattened quickly. He grew to despise sending his cattle off in double-decker trucks on a journey that would take them across the country, without food and water for several days, the cattle on the upper level soiling the animals below.

Will says it just wasn’t right. He made a massive choice, a choice to buck the system and return to the methods his forebears used – traditional, sustainable, and humane. His beef now meets the Humane Farm Animal Care standards, which include “ a nutritious diet without antibiotics, or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.”

His steaks and larger cuts are available in the Southeast at Whole Foods Market and his ground beef is available at Atlanta area Publix.

It’s good for the earth, good for the animal, and good for you. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

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Grilled Boneless Ribeye with Porcini Rosemary Rub

Grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids than traditionally raised beef. The diet of grass-fed cattle creates a naturally alkaline rumen, the first of one of a four compartment stomach, minimizing the possibility of E. coli contamination. Grass-fed cattle also consume a purely vegetarian diet that contains no animal byproducts, thereby virtually eliminating the opportunity for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or Mad Cow Disease.
Author virginiawillis

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless ribeye steaks 1 1/2 inches thick
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 sprig rosemary finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the porcini mushrooms and rosemary in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Puree until very finely ground. Transfer to a shallow plate.
  3. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Place one side in the porcini mixture and press to coat.
  4. Heat the oil a large cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the steaks porcini-side down and sear on all sides until a rich brown crust forms, about 4 minutes per side, plus the edges. (You can use a raw potato to lean the steaks up against so they won’t topple in the skillet.) Remove to a warm plate to rest and let the juices redistribute. Serve.

 

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Southern Saturdays with Virginia: 5 Weekend Breakfast Recipes

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

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

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

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

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

So, what to do this weekend?

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Dutch Baby Pancake

Dutch Baby Pancake
Serves 2 to 4

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

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

Skillet Baked Eggs
Oeufs en Cocotte

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

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

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

Ham-and-Swiss Frittata
Serves 4 to 6

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

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

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

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

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

Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits
Makes about 2 dozen

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

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

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

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

Fried Apple Pies
Makes 8 to 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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