Virginia Willis Blog

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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Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Seafood Gumbo

It’s so cold in much of the country. This winter has been astonishing! It’s snowed twice in Atlanta, Georgia and we were shut down for a week. Last week I was in Birmingham, Alabama for Food Blog South and it was freezing! Even though it was cold, I had a great time listening and learning from so many great speakers and attendees including Alison Lewis, Kim Severson, Jennifer Davick, and
Christy Jordan of Southern Plate.

Since I was speaking I couldn’t get in the kitchen with you so thanks so much for all of you that sent me photos and notes from last weeks’s Southern Saturdays with Virginia! WOW!! Very cool. Isn’t it awesome we can connect all over the world in the kitchen?

Let me share this note – it made me, leakey around the eyeballs…

I must say, that I made these for the first time 2 years ago when I saw them in my new recipe book, Bon Appetit Y’all, and now we can’t have a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without them. Even before my husband or kids ask what the menu is, they always want to confirm that we are having Meme’s rolls. We love the lightly sweet taste and they are so fluffy. It’s truly a party in your mouth. Lately when I made a batch, it was a Saturday, and I left out enough for dinner that night, but froze the rest in packages of 6. They made great buns for our pulled pork and sloppy joes. You have our two thumbs up for this wonderful recipe. I just wonder if in the years to come, my kids’ kids, which aren’t born yet, will wonder who Meme is?

Gulp.

And, check out this beautiful photo of the rising dough from The Karmic Kitchen

And, finally, a photo of Lynnette’s grandson Buddy making rolls and biscuits with her, just like I did with Meme many years ago.

See….

We’re gearing up for the second photo shoot for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them up for Company with Helen Dujardin in Charleston, SC. Many thanks to the folks at Whole Foods Market in Charleston for all their help. I am looking forward to seeing my dear friend Nathalie Dupree, again. She made fried chicken THE DAY I LEFT! Hmmpf.

Well, there’s lots of other good eating there, too.

We ate at Sean Brock’s new restaurant Husk. Yum. Let’s just say this, not a lack of pork fat. But, it’s more than just pork fat. We enjoyed some locally caught amberjack that was incredible. It’s all about friends, farmers, and fishermen. (Click here to check out Sean on twitter. I’m also looking forward to eating at O-Ku and The Glass Onion.

I just found out this morning you can actually order Bon Appetit, Ya’ll on Kindle! And, the great folks at IdeaLand have made a YouTube channel for me. I’m working on some fun things and about to “flip out” amongst other things, so subscribe to stay tuned. Lastly, please check out the events page on my website, www.virginiawillis.com for updates on where I will be teaching around the country and abroad! I’m teaching in both Paris and Mexico at Rancho la Puerta this spring.

So, if you missed the inaugural post of Southern Saturdays with Virginia, click here to see Meme’s Yeast Rolls.

And, if you want to sign on for week two, give Mama’s Seafood Gumbo a try!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

 

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Mama’s Seafood Gumbo

To quote the regional cookbook Louisiana Entertains, “Good gumbos are like good sunsets: no two are exactly alike, and their delight lies in their variety.” All gumbos use a roux. However, in addition to a roux, some gumbos flavor and thicken with okra and others call for filé powder. Integral to Creole and Cajun cooking, filé powder is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. It is used not only to thicken gumbo but also to impart its mild, lemon flavor. Filé powder should be stirred into gumbo toward the end of cooking or it will become tough and stringy.
Author virginiawillis

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 onion preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper cored, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups water or shrimp stock see below
  • 2 cans tomato paste 6-ounce
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds large shrimp 21/25 count, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound  jumbo lump or lump crabmeat picked over for cartilage
  • Hot sauce for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon filé powder optional
  • Cooked Rice for accompaniment

Instructions

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring slowly and constantly, and cook to a medium-brown roux, about 30 minutes.
  2. Add the onion and bell pepper and stir to combine. Cook until the vegetables have wilted and are lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the water and tomato paste and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavorful and thickened, 11/2 to 2 hours.
  3. Add the shrimp and crabmeat and stir to combine. Continue cooking over very low heat until the shrimp are cooked through, an additional 10 minutes. Season with hot sauce and stir in the filé powder, if using. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with rice pilaf.

Seafood soup, stew, and gumbo all taste better when prepared with homemade stock as opposed to bottled clam juice, the favorite stand-in to freshly made stock. When you peel the shrimp, save the shells (heads also, if you are fortunate enough to have them), and rinse with cold running water. Place the shells in a pot and add enough water to cover. Add a few fresh bay leaves, sprigs of parsley and thyme, a quartered onion, chopped carrot, and chopped celery, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until fragrant and flavorful, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock in a strainer layered with cheesecloth, discarding the solids. If I don’t need to make shrimp stock every time I peel shrimp, I save the shells for later in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer. For fish stock, it’s the same principle, but use bones instead of shells. Do not use oily or heavy fish such as mackerel, skate, mullet, or salmon; their flavor is too strong and heavy. Use approximately 4 pounds of fish bones to 10 cups of water to make 8 cups of stock.

Mama’s Seafood Gumbo
Serves 6 to 8

To quote the regional cookbook Louisiana Entertains, “Good gumbos are like good sunsets: no two are exactly alike, and their delight lies in their variety.” All gumbos use a roux. However, in addition to a roux, some gumbos flavor and thicken with okra and others call for filé powder. Integral to Creole and Cajun cooking, filé powder is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. It is used not only to thicken gumbo but also to impart its mild, lemon flavor. Filé powder should be stirred into gumbo toward the end of cooking or it will become tough and stringy.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
4 cups water or shrimp stock (see below)
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled and deveined
1 pound jumbo lump or lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
Hot sauce, for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon filé powder (optional)
Cooked Rice, for accompaniment

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring slowly and constantly, and cook to a medium-brown roux, about 30 minutes.

Add the onion and bell pepper and stir to combine. Cook until the vegetables have wilted and are lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the water and tomato paste and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavorful and thickened, 11/2 to 2 hours.

Add the shrimp and crabmeat and stir to combine. Continue cooking over very low heat until the shrimp are cooked through, an additional 10 minutes. Season with hot sauce and stir in the filé powder, if using. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with rice pilaf.

Shrimp Stock and Fish Stock
Seafood soup, stew, and gumbo all taste better when prepared with homemade stock as opposed to bottled clam juice, the favorite stand-in to freshly made stock. When you peel the shrimp, save the shells (heads also, if you are fortunate enough to have them), and rinse with cold running water. Place the shells in a pot and add enough water to cover. Add a few fresh bay leaves, sprigs of parsley and thyme, a quartered onion, chopped carrot, and chopped celery, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and simmer until fragrant and flavorful, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock in a strainer layered with cheesecloth, discarding the solids. If I don’t need to make shrimp stock every time I peel shrimp, I save the shells for later in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer. For fish stock, it’s the same principle, but use bones instead of shells. Do not use oily or heavy fish such as mackerel, skate, mullet, or salmon; their flavor is too strong and heavy. Use approximately 4 pounds of fish bones to 10 cups of water to make 8 cups of stock.

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: Meme’s Yeast Rolls

Last week I was in Charleston for part one of shooting the photographs for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them up for Company. It’s the lead book for Ten Speed Press for fall and will be out September 2011. Save the date, the launch party hootenanny is 9/30 at The Cook’s Warehouse and I’ll be traveling the country teaching in the months following the launch. I can’t wait!

The photographer Helene Dujardin is a veritable Renaissance woman! Check out her very popular blog, too.

I am also working with the lovely and talented Angie Mosier, who has a new gig going on with placemat productions, newcomer Jenni Coale who brings such joy and freshness to the experience, and Gena Berry who is also working with Top Chef Kevin Gillespie. Wow! Right? Quite the group!!

So far? Let me tell ya, the photos are amazing. Helene does such lovely work and we all make a great team. No egos, just good, honest, work and a real sense of collaboration. It’s The Pork Chop Theory Redux.

Speaking of pork… We went to dinner one night at Husk, James Beard award-winner Sean Brock’s new restaurant. Our feast started with old-fashioned yeast rolls sprinkled with benne seeds and served with pork butter. Yes, pork butter. Butter mixed with rendered country ham fat. I’ll give you a moment to think on that for a bit….

It was really wonderful cooking all day last Saturday. The house was filled with laughter and smiles. There’s something just wonderful about the freedom of cooking on a Saturday – even when it’s work! That’s the day for long cooking soups and stews, yeast breads, and things that require a little more time, a little more “room” than a weekday will allow. Weekends are the time to try homemade puff pastry or giving a layer cake a shot.

It’s my intention to blog and write a newsletter late in the week with a recipe for you to try over the weekend. We all know good intentions paved the road to hell, but I am really going to try.

So, y’all want to give it a shot? Southern Saturdays with Virginia? Let’s start out with Meme’s Yeast Rolls. Let me know what you think! Please send pics and notes to me at virginia@virginiawillis.com. Can’t wait to see!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

VA

PS Zip over to my website, virginiawillis.com to see updates on the events page.

 

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Meme’s Yeast Rolls

Meme may have made the rolls, but it was Dede who did a lot of the work. He beat the dough with a special wooden spoon that had a small ledge on the end for gripping. He'd cradle the big bowl in his arm and beat the wet dough so it slapped "wap, wap, wap" against the bowl. All that "muscle" developed the dough's structure, causing the rolls to rise in the oven light as air, slightly sweet, and richly sour with the scent of yeast. We all thought it was Meme's gentle touch forming the rolls, but it was actually Dede's strong arms that made them taste so good. When yeast begins to ferment and grow, it converts its food to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gluten sheets that form when water is stirred into flour trap the carbon dioxide and allow the dough to rise.
Author virginiawillis

Ingredients

  • 3 packages active dry yeast 63/4 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup warm water 100° to 110°F
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 cup dry milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn oil more for brushing
  • 4 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 4 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. To activate the yeast, combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Set aside to proof. The mixture will become creamy and foamy after about 5 minutes.
  2. To make the dough, combine the hot water and dry milk in a liquid measuring cup; let cool slightly. Add the reconstituted milk to the yeast. Stir to combine. Add the sugar, the 1/2 cup of oil, eggs, salt, and 4 cups of the flour. With a wooden spoon, hand-held electric mixer, or large heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook at medium speed, beat very hard until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add additional flour, 1 cup at a time, beating hard after each addition. When the dough is too firm to stir, using your hand, work enough of the remaining flour into the dough by kneading and turning the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead, 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. (The dough is ready if it bounces back when pressed with your fingers.) Return the dough to the bowl.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dry towel and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Punch down the dough with your hands, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Flour your hands and pull off equal pieces of dough about the size of apricots and shape into balls. (If you are using a scale, 3-ounce portions will make 28 large rolls.) Place them on the prepared baking sheet about 1/4 inch apart. Brush off any excess flour from the rolls and brush their surfaces with oil. Cover and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 11/2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake until brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly, then invert the rolls onto a rack so they won't become soggy on the bottom. Enjoy!
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