by Virginia Willis in Recipes, July 18th, 2014
by Virginia Willis in In Season, Recipes, July 11th, 2014
I am an okra missionary. I love okra. Okra lovers passionately love okra in all manners of being. Boiled, fried, steamed, grilled, broiled, pickled, raw, whole, sliced, julienned — you name it, okra lovers love okra. Those who hate it think it’s slimy, gooey and gummy. In my opinion, they haven’t met the right okra.
Okra is perhaps most famous as a common ingredient in the classic Louisiana dish, gumbo. (Okra helps thicken Creole gumbo; the other choice for thickening gumbo is file, or sassafras powder.) It has a long history in Louisiana, as it was popular with the French colonists and thrives in the moist heat.
by Virginia Willis in In Season, Recipes, July 4th, 2014
Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are members of the nightshade family. There’s something a bit sexy about those nightshades; maybe it’s the deadly yet beautiful part …. Tomatoes are, in fact, a fruit, but their affinity for other savory ingredients means that they are usually classed as a vegetable. Fruit or vegetable, they are a rock-solid part of summer down-home comfort.
Fresh tomatoes are only ever good in summer. There is nothing as wonderful as the full flavor of a garden-ripe tomato — and there is nothing as sad and disappointing as the insipid, lifeless flavor of a tennis ball-like tomato held in cold storage and shipped in a case from the other side of the world. I don’t eat those atrocities and strongly suggest that you don’t either. So, when it’s tomato season, I vigorously support eating those glorious ripe ones as often as possible.
by Virginia Willis in In Season, Recipes, June 27th, 2014
I grew up in Macon County, Georgia. Central and South Georgia are well known for their peach crops in the summer. Summer means peach pie, peach jelly, pickled peaches, peach ice cream and peach cobbler. Macon County is adjacent to Peach County, home of “The Big Peach,” a 75-foot-tall peach mounted on a 100-foot-tall pole — a gigantic totem that makes it pretty clear that peaches are serious business in Georgia. So is July, as the temperatures often soar into the triple digits with a humidity that makes life a lot more comfortable when experienced at a slower pace.
Where do you think the expression “easy as pie” originated? Many cooks are scared of making pie — they don’t think it’s easy! Everyone loves pie, but making it can be intimidating. Even perfectly useful kitchen folk are rendered helpless when pie is mentioned. That’s where the cobbler saves the day. The really great part about a cobbler is that it can be made ahead and is equally delicious served warm, chilled or at room temperature. (Don’t limit yourself to only peaches for this simple and spectacular dessert. Other fruits include blueberry, blackberry, plum, cherry and apricot, depending on what is ripe in your part of the country.)
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, June 20th, 2014
Succotash is essentially an all-American stir-fry. Succotash has many variants and adaptations, but by definition, nearly all contain corn and beans. Fresh vegetables are what make this recipe so special, so I gently suggest not to bother with this recipe unless you can make it with peak-of-summer produce. All the ingredients are diced about the same size, resulting in a stellar vegetable medley. I promise you will be rewarded! The key to succotash is that simple ingredients are combined with a minimum of fuss, and the results are a colorful and crisp burst of down-home comfort.
Choosing the vegetables is important. When faced with a mountain of corn at the grocery store, farmers market or produce stand, look for the silk at the top of the ear to be very dark brown, almost black. It is not unusual to see people peeling back the husks in search of ears with perfect rows of kernels. Just take a peek to make sure the ear is full and free of worm. Try to purchase corn still in the husk and keep it on until ready to cook, to keep the corn moist and sweet.
by Virginia Willis in In Season, Recipes, June 13th, 2014
I actually put together my very first grill myself. It took all day and a good deal of patience and persistence. It was a pretty scary moment when I twisted the control on the tank and clicked the ignition. It all worked out and I didn’t blow myself to kingdom come. I love to grill throughout the year, but in the summer it’s just practical to keep the heat out of the kitchen. Burgers and brats are brilliant, and steaks and seafood are stupendous, but my absolute favorite is cheap and cheerful chicken. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, June 6th, 2014
At its simplest, squash casserole consists of thinly sliced tender summer squash and a cheese sauce to bind it all together, perhaps with a smattering of crispy, buttery crumbs strewn on the top for crunch. But, as with many favorite dishes, there are a whole lot of opinions about which recipe is the absolute best. Variations include those with homemade white sauce, those with sauces made with familiar red-and-white cans of cream of fill-in-the-blank soup, decadent heavy cream and cheese-laden versions crowned with smashed sleeves of crackers and pats of butter, and mayonnaise-cream cheese dump-and-stir versions. The truth is, nearly all are foolproof, crowd-pleasing favorites, because nothing, absolutely nothing, spells Down-Home Comfort like a casserole. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, May 30th, 2014
Blueberries are the Disney version of summer fruit, round and gentle like a bouncing sing-along ball. They bring to mind fingers stained purple-blue, fruity tarts, pies and cobblers, and warm, fresh-from-the-oven muffins. I love eating them fresh out of hand as a snack, with creamy, healthful yogurt to start my day — or perhaps topped indulgently with freshly whipped cream to end it! Blueberries are good and good for you, a veritable summer delight. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, May 23rd, 2014
Although it’s pasta-based, old-fashioned Easy Macaroni Salad is pretty far away from anything that might remotely be considered Italian. Only in Middle America would something made of pasta and mayonnaise be considered a salad. Believe me, Rome, Georgia, and Rome, Italy, are more than just a few miles apart. Instead, consider the deli cases all across the U.S. that have mini-tubs and buckets of this lined up like soldiers and at the ready for afternoon picnics and summer suppers on the deck. Macaroni salad is all-American Down-Home Comfort. Moms and dads are also quick to go to this to recipe to accompany BBQ chicken or burgers on the grill. And we all know that store-bought is fine, but homemade is nearly always better. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, May 16th, 2014
If there is any one point that marks the beginning of the backyard barbecue season, it has to be Memorial Day. The official start of summer may be the solstice on June 21, but summer really starts Memorial Day weekend. It’s the kickoff of afternoons spent tending burgers and ribs on the grill, enjoying lazy picnics in the park — before it gets too hot — and supper under the stars. Food just tastes better when served outdoors on a beautiful evening. Our senses are alive and we are more engaged. On my deck I have the very same picnic table my mother’s family used when I was a child. It essentially serves as our dining room table in the spring and early summer. Dining alfresco is one of the true joys of the season. Add a slab of ribs and you’ve got summer front and center. Read more
From the familiar blue box to gourmet eight-cheese combinations, we can’t seem to get enough of mac and cheese. It may be the be all and end all of down-home comfort food. It’s rich, flavorful and satisfying — friendly and familiar but never dull. It’s a great, classic choice for dinner parties and a vegetarian dish that leaves even the carnivores contented. Almost everyone loves it. Creamy and cheesy, there simply aren’t many foods more comforting than homemade macaroni and cheese.
There are two primary formulas for making all-American macaroni and cheese: the bechamel or custard method. Bechamel is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a butter-flour roux. This white sauce can be thin, thick or somewhere in the middle. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of butter and flour to milk and varies according to what you are using it for: for example, thin for soup, medium-bodied for casseroles such as mac and cheese, and thick for souffles. The medium white sauce is probably the most common. The proportions for a thin sauce are 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour per 1 cup of milk, a medium sauce uses 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour, and a very thick sauce, 3 tablespoons each. Bechamel is a very useful sauce in the kitchen, far beyond mac and cheese.