Virginia Willis Blog

Chilly. Chili. Chilies. Chillin’.

We recently had a cold spell in Atlanta, as well it seems as the entire Northern hemisphere except, bizarrely, Greenland of all places, which I really pretty much thought was a glacier with a little dirt caught in the cracks. As Jack Frost was nipping at my toes, along with every other cook and food writer, my thoughts turned to soups and stews. So, these last weeks I have enjoyed hearty beef and vegetable stew as well as a robust lentil soup with collard greens and bits of delicious guanchiale from the Batali (yes, that one) family’s shop Salumi in Seattle. Yesterday, I was enjoying a spicy bowl of chili con carne, with pungent pieces of poblano chilies simmered until meltingly soft. Distracted as ever and effortlessly accomplishing the skill of NOT writing, I let my mind wander…. Brrrrr. I’m chilly……chili is so delicious……I should make this more often… I like that meatless one I make…..especially with a little sour cream and hot sauce…hmmm……Chilis…..I love chili peppers…… I think poblanos are my favorite…….complex heat…..I should look up a recipe from Rick Bayless … dang, he’s sooooo handsome….I love his work……chef crush……Mexico….. whew…….I bet Mexico is really warm right now. Ummmm. Hot….Mexico….. ummmm…..warm…….those firm hands…. nimble fingers…. breathless…. the pulsing rhythm…..drums…….the flavors…..sensations…. ummm….all that delicious stretching…..that warm undulating water… you, know, I just didn’t know I could bend like that….the pleasure….but, the pain is really what did it… wow, it just hurt so good….ummm, gosh, it’s been a while….. dang I sure could use…. What? No! Not THAT! I was thinking of Rancho la Puerta! Rancho la Puerta is Spafinder.com’s favorite spa in North America. Amazing. Beautiful. Whole mind. Whole body. It’s the first time ever I went anywhere and my job was to do nothing but take care of myself. To chill, to relax, to rest, and to regenerate. So, that’s how chilly gets to chillin’. It’s a phenomenal place. It was founded in 1940 by founded by Edmond and Deborah Szekely and is the original destination fitness resort and spa. The believe in providing space, “Space to breathe freely amidst nature. To relax. To renew, reflect and redirect one’s longer-living life. To explore the possibilities of changing course in one’s life…. one strengthened and emboldened by good health and fearless life-long learning, which unleashes the willingness to change…for the better.” I spent a week there in November. There are classes and seminars all day. Stretch, yoga, swimming, pilates for the body. Drawing, sculpture, beading for the mind. Chaise lounges surrounding the four pools on site, dance, and drumming for the soul. You can come for a week or just a few days. Guests are housed throughout the property in little casitas or cottages that vary in size and price. All are charming and lovely with patios and many have fireplaces. The flowers are exquisite and the views are spectacular. At the end of the week, after such healthy eating, 6 hours of exercise a day, long walks, mindful meditation, and warming glorious sun I felt like I had been transformed into a 5’11″” super model. In my mind I was long, lean, in fact, you could practically see my six-pack abs. (Ok, that’s not exactly true, but like I said in my MIND. It’s a spa, not a miracle camp!) The food is incredible. The ingredients are farm fresh, and grown on the property. Portions are realistic but filling. It’s not just rabbit food. It’s full of flavor and alive. (All meals are provided in the cost of the stay.) Their cooking school La Cocina que Canta is where I come in. (You know it wasn’t the circuit training.) I am teaching Southern Comfort SPA style the week of May 15 – 22. To find out more about it or to register click here or call 1-800-443-7565. The week I was there Marie Simmons was the teacher. Here’s a photo of my friends and colleagues Anne Willan and Lisa Ekus-Saffer in her class. Guess what? Mama’s coming. She is really looking forward to it. However, she already told me NO to the pre-dawn morning hikes. But, that’s just it. There’s as little or as much as you want. It’s about taking care of what YOU need. Come see me this spring at Rancho la Puerta and let’s enjoy a little Southern Comfort, SPA style. In the meanwhile, enjoy my recipe for a HOT bowl of meatless chili. Bon Appétit, Y’all! VA

PS. Yes, I think Rick is very handsome, smart, and talented. And, I like his smart, talented, and wonderful happily married wife, Deann, as well. 

Where's the Beef Chili

Yield: serves 6

Truthfully, I don't normally use many meat replacement products. I'll most often use ground beef or ground turkey in chili, but I love the recipe for this chili with TVP, or texturized vegetable protein. The thing is, the texture is the same as ground meat - but there's no oil or fat. Even serious meat eaters like it.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
2 onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups dry TVP (texturized vegetable protein - available at Whole Foods Market and other health food stores)
3 cups tomato juice
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1/4 cup chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
3 cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Add TVP and tomato juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and add bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. Add tomatoes, beans, and stir to combine. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for at least one hour. Adding water if the mixture becomes too thick. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve HOT.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2010/01/chilly-chili-chilies-chillin/

 

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Guest Cook: Slow Cooker Beef Stew on pauladeen.com


Hi there – Hope everyone had a happy and safe Thanksgiving. We had a very nice time. It was very bittersweet because this was our last holiday at the family home.

I’ve been taking lots of pictures. I think I will miss the pond the most. It is truly, truly one of my favorite places on earth – and I am counting Paris, the Alps, and the Caribbean in that list. And, don’t worry – I am taking Meme’s cabinets! It’s a long story, as most family dramas are, but at the end of the day, it really is the best thing for mama. This house is too big and too much for her, needs too much work.

Logic and emotion rarely exist on the same plane. I am feeling a little wounded, feel like I need a little cotton padding around my heart. It’s been very sad, almost like dealing with my grandmother dying again. I stand and wash the dishes, looking out the window, knowing it is all ending soon. That all those meals I enjoyed in that heart of pine kitchen will only be a memory and that the heart of pine kitchen, as well as part of my heart, will be razed along with the rest of the home.

I wrote this article months ago for Pauladeen.com , not knowing about the timing, not knowing just how much a comforting bowl of beef stew would be. My original thought was that it would be perfect after Thanksgiving. (‘Cause, if you haven’t eaten all the leftovers, I have to say, it’s time.) I knew that I would want something radically different, but still comforting and satisfying, and most of all? NOT turkey.

But, it’s more. My little story is about Mama, Dede’s cows, memories of steamy windows on cold fall days. It’s Uncle Frank and my father skinning the buck they shot in the valley east of the pond. It’s the little bit of France I brought back and couldn’t wait to share with my dearest Meme.

Home is where the heart is, there is no doubt, but memories and love aren’t held in walls of wood and brick. Walls crumble, wood rots. Memories and love are everlasting.

Click through to check out my visit as guest cook in Paula’s Kitchen and for my recipe for Slow Cooker Beef Stew.

Many thanks to Libbie and Paula for the opportunity.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

 

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Thanksgiving Morning: Two Great Ways to Start the Day

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and websites – everywhere you look are recipes or stories about Thanksgiving sides or The Best Turkey. I’m guilty, too having sent out recipes for winter greens and winter vegetable gratin just last week.

But, I was talking to some folks this past weekend at Mistletoe Market in Perry, GA and we were talking about making breakfast for a crowd. I suggested they try my recipe for French Toast Casserole. It’s great. (If you click on the photo you can see it featured in Paula Deen’s magazine.) I’ve shared it before so excuse the redundancy, but it’s perfect and I don’t think you’ll mind because it tastes soooo good.

Breakfast can get the short shift on Thanksgiving. There’s so much food later in the day, but the morning can be hectic. When my sister and I were young, our favorite mornings were when Mama would prepare French toast for breakfast. The smell of butter, kissed with cinnamon, combined with the heady scent of sizzling egg was a most welcome greeting as we bounded down the stairs.

Sounds great – but nothing to make with a full house of people and lots of cooking still left to do. So, instead of another side dish to compete with Mama’s Sweet Potato Casserole or dessert to compete with Cousin Kathy’s Buttermilk Pecan Pie, I am sharing a couple of recipes for breakfast or brunch. (I will admit however, I have served the cassserole before as a dessert, but that’s neither here nor there 😉 )

My French Toast Casserole is made the night before, so you won’t find yourself camped in front of a hot griddle in the early morning, groggy and in need of caffeine. Make it tomorrow night and then, Thanksgiving morning remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. Turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, give many thanks you aren’t in that crowd lining the streets of NYC, and basically, breakfast is ready. It’s a sturdy dish, nothing to fuss over, and responds well to being kept in a low oven while family members emerge for the day.

If you want to go for an even more simple way to start the day, try Sauteed Pears with Vanilla Yogurt and Honey Peanuts. The pears can be sauteed the night before and even microwaved in individual servings on Thanksgiving morning. I love the flavor combination of the peanut and the pear.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I have so much to be thankful for – no, not everything is perfect by a looooong shot – but I am so grateful for what I do have. I have my health, my family, good friends, and love in my life.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

SAUTEED PEARS WITH VANILLA YOGURT AND HONEY PEANUTS
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of fine salt
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup low fat vanilla or plain yogurt
1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat. Add pears and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until softened. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of fine salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Keep warm.

In a small bowl combine the peanut butter, honey, and yogurt; stir until smooth. Set aside.

To serve, place the pears in a shallow bowl. Top with yogurt mixture. Sprinkle over peanuts. Serve immediately.

FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE
Serves 8

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced
11/2 inches thick (about 11/2 pounds)
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Confectioners’ sugar, for accompaniment
Sorghum, cane, or maple syrup, for accompaniment

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar in a baking dish. Arrange the bread slices in the dish. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a bowl. Pour over the bread, letting it soak in. Top with the pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Let the chilled casserole stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Bake until browned and set, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Sift over confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot or warm with sorghum, cane, or maple syrup.

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Mama Says It’s Okay: Root Vegetable Gratin

Last week I wrote about “messing around with greens” with a recipe for Meme’s loooonnnggg-cooked greens and the wisdom of not changing the sacrosant and inviolable Thanksgiving menu.

This week? I’m feeling a little frisky. Actually, a lot.

I’ve taught a lovely recipe for a Root Vegetable Gratin for my next book in class several times over the last few weeks. Everyone has really loved it.

Mama was in town as my date for the Georgia Restaurant Association Awards. (They kindly honored me by asking me to be their keynote speaker.) I was showing her my photos over the past month or so. She drawled, “That’s pretty,” commenting on the golden, bubbly gratin. I told her about it and she thought it sounded nice.

I ventured out on a limb, “I uh, I thought I would maybe try that for our Thanksgiving.” She slightly lifted her brow and queried, “Oh?” Bravely, I proceeded, “Well, everyone really likes it.” (Of course, immediately bringing to mind deeply buried memories of being a child and a parent saying something along the lines of “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”)

Mama smiled sweetly – as only mama’s can do – and replied, “I think we should try it.”

Hope you do, too.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS. Here’s a picture of mama down at the pond earlier this year. Shh! Don’t tell.

 

Root Vegetable Gratin with Sauce Mornay

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Root Vegetable Gratin with Sauce Mornay

French chef Antonin Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five "mother sauces”: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Béchamel, one of the most useful sauces, is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a butter-flour roux. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk. Mornay, the sauce in this gratin is a sauce derivative of Béchamel created by simply adding cheese.

DON'T get caught up on the vegetable combination! It's a mixture of root vegetable and tubers. Can't find celery root? Use Yukon Gold potatoes. Try sweet potatoes instead of carrots and rutabagas instead of parsnips. Get all crazy and add a turnip or two. Mix it up and don't overthink it.

Ingredients

2 cups reduced fat milk
10 peppercorns
3 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs thyme
4 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 small parsnips, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, more for the baking dish
1⁄4 cup all purpose flour
1 1⁄4 cups freshly grated Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup Panko or dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the milk in a small pot until just simmering. Add the peppercorns, parsley, and thyme. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°. Butter a large gratin dish and set aside. Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. (You can also parcook the vegetables in the microwave until just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave.) Add chopped herbs and stir to combine. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two until foaming. Pour in the milk and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season and simmer for 2 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Take the sauce from the heat and stir in half of both cheeses until they melt. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the vegetables and stir to combine.
  4. Spoon the vegetable mixture into the prepared gratin. Cover with foil and transfer the gratin to the oven and bake until the vegetables are tender, 45 to 60 minutes. (Or, if using parcooked vegetables, only about 30 minutes.)
  5. Heat the oven to broil. Combine the remaining gruyère, panko, and Parmesan. Sprinkle over the top of the gratin. Broil until golden brown, about 5 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve.
  6. To make ahead and reheat: Do not add the layer of breadcrumb mixture. Remove from the refrigerator, and let come to room temperature, 15 to 20 minutes. Cover with parchment paper, and reheat in a 400° oven for 20 minutes. Top with breadcrumb mixture, and broil until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2009/11/mama-says-its-okay-root-vegetable-gratin/

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Messing with Winter Greens

DSC_0331

Check out this mess of collard greens!

I was teaching in Fort Valley, Georgia a few weeks ago at the Peach Palette and I asked Beth to go out and get some greens for the Tangle of Winter Greens. I think I said 4 bunches. This is HALF of what she came back with! And, being that it was Fort Valley – she just pulled up to the farmstand pickup truck and he put them in her trunk. Drive Through Collards. Only in the South. We had a good time with it and my cousin Kathy Waites took this great picture.

Love it. Love greens, too. Cabbage, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens. All are brassicas and have a little bite.
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I am on the road again at the Women Chef and Restauranteurs Conference in DC. Great group. But, Mama and I are already talking about the Thanksgiving menu. The amusing thing about Thanksgiving it is the one meal that is almost immovable in terms of menu. Each family member has that one dish that is their favorite and for some, it’s like the entire holiday is absolutely positively ruined if the sweet potatoes are topped with something other than toasty brown marshmallows or the Squash Casserole is missing. A day which is supposed to be a joyful gathering of family and friends instead becomes a day without sunshine. This I know. The deal is, dishes can be added, but nothing can be removed from the menu. I learned this the hard way. As a chef and now in charge of most of the savory aspects of the Thanksgiving meal (Mama still does the desserts) I have tried to branch out a bit. I once put panko breadcrumbs on the squash casserole and I sincerely felt like an enemy of the state.

One dish I absolutely won’t mess with is the mess of greens. I have had without fail, some form of cooked winter greens at every Thanksgiving meal of my entire life. I dare say even longer than turkey because my grandmother, whom I called Meme, cooked them for hours until they were meltingly soft. They were indeed appropriate as pabluum for an infant. During the fall, I generally like them a bit more toothsomeness, but I know better. For Thanksgiving I cook them just like Meme did, in a salty smoky broth flavored with hog jowl. The fat melts and the pot likker is oily and slick, perfect for sipping later and enjoying with a wedge of cornmeal.

In late November, the fields have been kissed with a touch of frost, something that Meme said brings out the sweetness in the bitter collard, kale, or mustard greens. They are at the beginning of the peak of the season and absolutely the epitome of eating local and in season. Sweet potatoes and panko are one thing. Messing with the greens is quite another.

The saying if it’s not broke, don’t fix it comes to mind, but here are a few choices for your fall and Thanksgiving menus.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Tangle of Winter Greens
Serves 4 to 6
Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

I once demonstrated this recipe on a local morning TV show. Aunt Louise was watching and told Mama later, “She took those greens out of that pan just like they were done!” You won’t believe how fast they cook, either.

The best way to clean greens is to fill a clean sink with cold water, add the greens, and swish them around. The dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Lift the greens out, drain the sink, and repeat until the water is clear and the greens are free of dirt and grit.

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium cloves garlic, mashed into a paste (see below)
1 medium bunch kale, collards, turnip greens, or mustard greens (about 11/2 pounds), cleaned, tough stems removed and discarded,
and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and slightly damp ribbons of 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. Serve immediately.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

COLLARDS WITH HOG JOWL
Serves 4 to 6

Kale, collards, turnip greens, and mustard greens are dark leafy winter greens that are nutritional powerhouses and familiar friends on the Southern table. Look for brightly colored greens free of brown spots, yellowing edges, or limp leaves. Try flavorful seasonings such as smoked turkey or ham hock for the meat eaters and smoked salt or chipotle chiles for the vegetarians.

The best way to clean greens is to first remove the tough stalks and stems. Fill a clean sink with cold water. Place the greens in water and swish around, allowing the grit to fall to the bottom the sink. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl and rinse the sink. Repeat the process at least three times or more as needed until no grit remains.

2 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard, or turnip
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
2 cups water
1/2 pound hog jowl or fat back, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and hog jowl and bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more; season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 60 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

NOT MEME’S GREENS! SPICY COLLARDS WITH SMOKED TURKEY
Serves 8

5 pounds assorted greens, such as collard, kale, mustard or turnip
2 medium Vidalia onions, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 smoked turkey leg, about 1 1/2 pounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fill a clean sink with cold water. Tear greens into large pieces and place in water to soak. Lift greens out of the sink and transfer to a large bowl, allowing grit to fall to the bottom the sink, rinse sink. Repeat process at least three times or more as needed.
Using a large pot over high heat, combine onions, oil, jalapeno and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, gradually stir in the greens, allowing each batch to wilt before adding more. Add the turkey leg and cover with greens, season with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, until greens are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, being careful not to over cook. Remove the
turkey leg, cool slightly and remove meat from leg. Dice meat and add to greens. Using a slotted spoon, transfer greens to a serving dish.

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