Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Recipe: Nacho Best Move

Hurricane Sandy off the Carolinas
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons: NASA Goddard Photo and Video:

A recipe for all the idiots currently lined up at various sea walls on the East Coast in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy.

Nacho Best Move

1 bag of chips
1 can of black beans
1/4 cup cheese
Sour cream
Hot sauce
Your iphone
Your friend's iphone, as needed
Serves: no one to 2 people and a stray dog
1. Turn away from the storm surge and 10 ft waves, open a bag of chips. They will be soggy in 1 minute, but that's the price of being an idiot.
2. Open the can of black beans and dump them on the wet chips, in a bowl, ideally, but honestly they will scatter all over the Boardwalk on the back of a 65 mph wind.
3. Hold the sour cream up in the air and let it be carried on a current and blopped onto the road. Some will find its way onto the beans, or onto some broken bikes, upturned trees, your drunk friend or a water-logged car. 
4. Hold the hot sauce horizontally if you can and wait for a wave to crash on your back, sending you and the hot sauce onto the beans.
5. Now, when you've recovered, use your now broken and water-logged iphone to scrape some nachos off the street.
6. Use your friend's iphone (still working) to videotape the making of the recipe, post to Youtube and then use your friend's iphone for a plate (now broken).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pike Place Market Magic

I got this print from the Museum of History and Industry. Not sure of the year, but it was clearly taken just prior to Pearl Jam striking it big. If you blur your eyes you can see Eddie Vedder on the left,  just past the horse, in a dress. Vedder's in the dress, not the horse.

Jess Thomson, in her new book Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle's Famous Market, writes that many of us refer to the market as the "soul of Seattle".  I would add that it's also our heartbeat, larder and muse.  It defines us, shows us where we've been and how we might want to be in the future.

A lot has been written about our historic market. Here are some things you might already know:

1. The market attracts an incredibly diverse stew of people from all walks of life -- it's filled year-round with locals and tourists and it's home to a senior center, a daycare, a medical clinic and a food bank.
 2. You can buy anything and everything at the market except for maybe a vacuum cleaner or a trapeze costume (oh, actually, I bet the Pink Door would probably sell you one, so scratch that).
3. You can be entertained on every block by buskers of every stripe.
4. Fish are thrown here.
5. The original Starbucks is here.
6. People meet up with each other at Rachel the Pig, a huge bronze piggy bank which raises over $10,000 each year for the Market Foundation.  At any point in the day there is a bottleneck at Rachel the pig -- and yet, people always seem to find each other.
7. Deep in the bowels of the market, just a short walk down an alley, you'll find the Gum Wall, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people have chewed, spit and stuck their gum to the wall. I'd like to say there is some profound mystical or spiritual reason for this homage to Hepatitis A, but no -- it's just a bunch of nasty gum stuck to a wall.
8. The Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continually running public farmer's markets in the U.S.
9. We almost lost it in the 60's to development until Victor Steinbrueck, a UW prof, reinvigorated our city's love for its historic market through his group "Friends of the Market".  His group helped force a vote in Seattle and our city responded resoundingly that the Market should be kept. When the news hit, people poured out onto the streets to celebrate and children erected statues in Steinbrueck's image made out of geoducks and apples.  That last bit isn't true.
10. The year I was born, 1970, Pike Place Market was designated as a Historic District and in 2010, we celebrated its 100th birthday.

Here is something you might not know about Pike Place Market:

1. You will find magic here. Especially if you are open to it. I don't mean magic in a woo-woo way or even in a hocus-pocus way (though you can be sure to find that here too) I mean 'magic' insomuch as if you walk through the market with an open mind and a desire to experience all that it has to offer, you will be richly rewarded. I have, every time I have come here.   Sometimes the magic comes in the form of powdered donuts at the Daily Dozen and the snap of the bag as they open it up with panache; other days the magic comes in a produce vendor taking extra time with me to share his passion for a fava bean or a hedgehog mushroom or the perfect local strawberry.

Sometimes, the magic just has to be heard.                


I moved to Seattle in part because I fell in love with Pike Place Market.  One day -perhaps some day soon - I want to spend an entire day there, taking photos, eating at places I've never tried, wandering from stall to stall, getting lost, finding little treasures, striking up conversations with random folk and shopping for my dinner just like thousands of people before me,  for over a hundred years.

We're all about full disclosure here on the Internets these days -- so for FULL DISCLOSURE, I'd like you to know that I know the author of the book pictured above, Jess Thomson.  I have a great deal of respect for her abilities as a writer.

I look up to her. I'm taller so I have to duck. It's a little awkward.

I also got this book for free because that is one of the rare perks you have as a food writer.  Now getting a free book does not mean I am under any obligation to write a thing about it, positive or negative.  I choose to only write about the books I like, so I skim them in bookstores or online and then if I like what I see, I may ask for a review copy. Now that we have that taken care of, let's discuss this book and how it sparked in me a wave of nostalgia for a place that is still very much alive -- there should be a word to describe that.

I loved this book right away -- because I love Jess' writing, for one, and also my buddy Clare Barboza (known to her friends as Fisty B, or more recently as Fisty Clamboza) took all the pretty photos - but most importantly because I love the Market and this book is a celebration of the magic I was just talking about. Pay attention.

I had a day off today so I grabbed the book and April and I made a morning of it.  We had lunch at Steelhead Diner and flipped through the pages and picked a few recipes to make for dinner and then I followed Jess' lead and sought out the ingredients vendor-treasure-hunt style.  I bought bacon from Bavarian Meats and chatted with the produce guys at Frank's, who insisted I take pictures of their hands to show what "real produce guy's hands look like."  And then we gathered up all our bags of food and jumped on the light rail home, so that I could cook and read and drink wine and shoot photos and write and eat and drink wine.  Not a bad day. Not a bad day at all.

Strong and dirty.

Cracked and dry.

Waiter, there are flies all over my plate!

We picked two recipes to try out. I was instantly drawn to the Spring frittata recipe because the asparagus, morels and ramps looked incredible at the Market and it was obvious that this was THE day to make this recipe.

I'm still fairly new at this food photography thing and I remembered to take a shot of the finished frittata after we had snarfed down half of it.  Dee-lish.
We also tried out the Smoky Bacon and Kale Gratin,  because, duh, why wouldn't we? We ooze kale in these parts and I don't know any Jews who have self-control in the face of bacon.

Prep for Smoky Bacon and Kale Gratin

Both dishes were solid hits.  April gave a huge thumbs up to the gratin, which had no chance of being anything less than stellar after a quick glance at the ingredients --- bacon, parmesan, kale, stock, butter and cream, hello. I loved both, but preferred the lightness of the frittata and the nod to such spring delights as morels, asparagus, peas and ramps.  The recipes in Jess' book are simple in design and execution but full of complex flavors -- and right there is some Pike Place Market Magic at work.  What I love even more than the recipes is that she seems to have captured the "soul of Seattle" between the pages of a book - no easy feat, that, and one that will help locals and tourists, alike, celebrate our market for what I hope is a hundred more years.

A final word on tourists and Pike Place Market:

At least 75%* of tourists call it Pikes Place Market, which is wrong and makes Rachel the Pike Place Market mascot cry piggy tears of sadness. Why would you want to make Rachel the pig cry? There is nothing wrong with being a tourist, just try to show extra respect for our market by not giving it a gratuitous 's'.

It doesn't need anything added to it.

It's perfectly magical, just as it is.

* I made this number up.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Herbivoracious, it's better than Cats!

I can't actually say the word "Herbivoracious" without spraining my tongue, but that hasn't stopped me from talking about it.  And by 'it' I mean the blog by Michael Natkin and now his first book of the same name.  I was tempted to refer to his blog as a "vegetarian" blog but I feel that diminishes it somehow.  Not that there's anything wrong with vegetarians mind you (some of my best friends eat vegetables) but qualifying a blog by its focus might steer people away just because someone might label themselves differently.  It would seem a shame that an omnivore like myself might pass by Herbivoracious, thinking it wasn't for them.  To beat a dead horse (sorry vegetarians) my point made a different way:  when I think about Rachel Maddow I think, "she's really smart." I don't think, "she's really lesbian smart."

Herbivoracious is a really good cookbook. Period.

But let's back up. First, for full disclosure, I should tell you that I know Michael. Not too well, but just well enough that we share a mutual respect for each other's work as well as membership cards from the same tribe - no, not lesbians, JEWS! We recently met for a drink to talk about writing and publishing and after one look at his new book, I told him I'd be happy to review it. The thing is, my blog, besides being the most terribly neglected thing on the interwebs, is not really in the review business. However, when I see something I like, I can't help but pass it on (and having been a reader of his blog, my instinct was that his recipes would be solid).  Testing still had to be done, though, because if a cookbook's recipes don't work, it's worth bubkus to me. I'm so glad they did or I wouldn't be here typing anything right now, I'd be busily trying to figure out how to tell Michael my blog is permanently down due to technical difficulties and it would never be working again, ever, until the end of days or a vampire-human war or a combination of both.  But here I am writing about these paella cakes - which can mean only one thing -- that's right, Fatty McCarbloader (points to self) can't stop eating them.

The photo of paella cakes in Herbivoracious is way better than mine, you'll just have to buy it to see what I mean.
There's something about Michael's blog that I've always liked. He has an artistic sensibility and a gentle confidence with food that you typically only see with experienced professionals. He's staged in some solid restaurants but his career has largely been in technology. This fact makes his quiet comfort producing good food, enticing food photography, and approachable writing all the more remarkable.

The best cookbooks teach me new techniques or explanations with bonus bits of nerdy science I didn't already know.   Herbivoracious does not disappoint. A recipe for brown butter cornbread, pg. 273 : "Browning the butter before making this cornbread contributes a deep, warm taste. For bonus points, you can add a tablespoon of nonfat milk powder to the butter as it is browning. The extra protein increases the Maillard reactions that are responsible for so many of the flavors we love."  A book that throws down the 'Maillard reaction' is a book that is comfortable talking about food on multiple levels, and while some of the recipes seem highly approachable for a busy home cook, there is enough of interest for the seasoned professional (read: old, bitter line cook).

Within 5 minutes of flipping through his book, I spotted 5 of what I consider to be among my most favorite dishes of the world: Banh xeo (Vietnam), Khao soi (Thailand), Fattoush (Lebanon), Mujadara (Middle East) and Chirashi Sushi (Japan). Many of these dishes were already vegetarian to begin with or if they contained meat, it was really as a garnish and not the focus.  While I love Khao soi with chicken or duck, the bedrock of the dish is really the curry paste, the noodles (both boiled and fried) and the pickled mustard greens. A vegetarian version is just a laser-focus on the central components.

With all the recent hubbub about eating more meatless meals (meatless Monday anyone?) I've been seriously considering cutting way back on my meat consumption. I can't think of a better day than Earth Day to write about a meatless cookbook that celebrates so many flavors so passionately that this meatlover did not feel one bit deprived of flavor or texture.  In fact, I felt clean and clear and might I say, somewhat lighter in my earth-loafers. (And while we're on the subject, check out Kim O'Donnel's fabulous Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook).

But back to those paella cakes -- what I most loved about this recipe was that I've been making and eating paella since the mid-80's and never have I thought about a twist on them the way Michael has done here. I'm a sucker for a recipe that combines savory and sweet, with a touch of sour. That little bit of orange marmalade with the smoky, crispy rice cakes and the richness and nuttiness of the Manchego was a little flashcake of brilliance.

Where to next in Herbivoracious? On my "to-make" list there are currently 4 words, taken from pg. 147.

Indian Fry Bread Tacos. 

Paella cakes with Manchego and marmalade
used with permission from Herbivoracious (Harvard Common Press, 2012)

Makes 12, serving 6 to12 as an appetizer or 4 to 6 as a main course 
45 minutes

Everyone agrees that the best part of paella is the soccarat, the crispy crust where the rice sticks to the bottom of the pan. Frying the rice as a patty creates even more surface area for that deliciously toasted flavor.  I learned about the combination of smoked paprika (pimentón) and cinnamon from an Amsterdam-based blogger named Mem, who writes Vegetarian Duck. The pairing sounded surprising to me, but when I tried it, I was blown away. Rather than tasting like two spices, it comes across as a married, individual flavor. The marmalade provides an interesting sweet/tart counterpoint to the rice and manchego cheese. My favorite brand, June Taylor, has large pieces of orange peel, but if you can’t find that, just use a small amount of any brand of Seville orange marmalade that you prefer. Another option would be a little bit of minced preserved lemon.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 white onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups short-grained Spanish rice (a type sold for paella; in a pinch you could use an Italian variety like Arborio)
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 big pinch saffron
Kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 cups homemade breadcrumbs (page 000) or panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for pan frying
12 slices manchego cheese

To serve
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón) mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 1/4 cup Seville orange marmalade
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat the olive oil over high heat. Cook the onion and bell pepper for 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until slightly translucent, about 2 more minutes.

Add the vegetable broth, smoked paprika (taste it first; if yours is hot, adjust down unless you like that sort of thing), and the saffron. If the broth isn't salty, add 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to bare simmer.

Cook until all of the water is absorbed. Taste a few grains. If they aren't fully cooked, add a bit more water. They should be just slightly al dente, not mushy.

Allow the rice to cool. If you are in a hurry, spread it on a sheet pan and refrigerate.

Taste the rice and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Beat the eggs and mix them in. You should have a mixture that you can just barely squeeze into a patty in your hands. Put the breadcrumbs in a flat dish.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add about 1/8 inch of oil to the pan. Working quickly, grab a handful of rice, form it into a rough patty, press it into the breadcrumbs on each side and add to the skillet. Use a spatula to gently shape into a nice cake, not too thick - we want the eggs to set inside.

 Fry until quite crispy and brown on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and top immediately with a piece of manchego. Fry until the other side is also crispy and browned; transfer to paper towels. Continue making and frying patties, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

To serve: Lightly dust your plates with the paprika/cinnamon, add the patty(s), and top each with about 1 teaspoon of the marmalade, some sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Food Styling and Photography Workshop

Sorry for the long delay between posts, but I'm guessing you've gotten used to the regularity of my irregularity.  Luckily, 2 events have compelled me to put something up on my blog - and that something is SOMETHING! Clare, aka Fisty Barboza (please feel free to ask me how she got her nickname) and I have been teaching food styling and food photography workshops for awhile now. I absolutely love working with Clare and I especially love that part of what I get to teach in our classes is how to shoot "ugly" food. Because, let's face it, sometimes a pile of dal on a plate looks like shit.  Not every dish is a stunner. In our classes I help folks learn how to make their food look the best in front of the camera, even "ugly" food can be improved. Anyhoo -- Clare and I are teaching another food photography and styling workshop this April 15th. There are still 2 spots remaining!

Also on the workshop horizon (see the flyer above) is a 3 way class with me, Clare, and the lovely and talented Helene Dujardin who's coming all the way from Charleston, South Carolina (home of my 100 year old grandma!) A 3-way class sounds wrong and that is not included in the ticket price, you sicko. But! you will get some other experiences that will definitely increase your skill set, at least in the photography and food styling realm. Here's more info about the 3 day 3 way workshop in August:

Join photographers Clare Barboza, Helene Dujardin and me for a 3 day workshop full of photography, styling, and delicious food in Seattle, Washington!

When: August 10th, 11th, and 12th 2012

Where: Clare Barboza's studio, as well as other locations out and about in Seattle.

What: This is a 3-day hands-on workshop. Over the course of three days, students will learn about natural light, composition, exposure, utilizing props, and food styling from the perspectives of both the photographer and the chef. They will practice their photography skills in a studio setting, in the busy kitchen of Poppy Restaurant, as well as an outdoor setting. Additionally, Clare and Helene will share their processes with post-production and workflow in both Photoshop and Lightroom. There will be delicious food prepared by Becky each day, and a dinner party for the entire group on the third night.

How much: $1250, which includes 3 days of instruction, lunch each day, and a dinner party with wine pairings from sommelier April Pogue on Sunday night.

How to register: Tickets will go on sale on Monday, March 26 at 8am PST/11am Eastern.
Space is limited to 10 attendees.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to hand forge a simple knife in ten grueling hours with significant forearm torture

One might think, from the title, that I'm prone to being over-dramatic, which - in fact - would be a correct assumption, but more importantly, I'm here to tell you that making tools by hand with fire and steel is not for wimps. There's a reason, a very good reason, we let machines (or migrant labor) do most of our work now. 

In short, hard work is HARD

Nonetheless, when my friend Ashlyn suggested I join her on Vashon Island to learn how to make our own knives, I thought this sounded just like the crazy kind of shit that would make a good blog post so of course I said, "WOW, I've always wanted to do that!"

If you lived in the 1700's, this is the last thing you'd see before passing out in the dentist's chair.

This is the forge where all the action takes place. Please note that the spikes on top are for (no joke) cooking hot dogs and potatoes. Will creativity and multi-tasking never cease?

We started with what our teacher, Drew, called "tool steel" or "bar-stock". He referred to it by some number which I promptly forgot, rationalizing - sanely - that as I age, new knowledge pushes out old knowledge, so if I remembered the number I'd forget how to put my pants on in the morning. Here is Drew showing us that hot steel is fiery red and orange and it will BURN YOU. 

Here is my anvil-partner showing us the handle-end of his knife.  With a hammer and a very butch swinging motion, he created the 'bolster' of the knife. The bolster creation was probably the hardest step.

Teacher Drew showed us how to make the 'rat-tail' of the rat tail knife, taught to him by another metal worker whose signature addition was not just the rat-bodied handle and the rat tail but just underneath the tail a little tiny rat-sized pucker. Blacksmiths, like cooks, and 7th grade boys and really, most everyone, like a little spot of potty humor.  We did not add this little 'adornment' to our knives. Poor constipated rat tail knife.

This is my knife. This was about 8 hours into hurling a very heavy hammer at a smallish piece of steel while holding it with heavy tongs.  I was very proud of my little rat, even though at this stage it looks like the rat head is bending over at the neck. No matter -- the beauty of this work is that you can just throw it back in the fire to 're-plasticize' it and try again to get the shape you want.

 In this shot, I'm reheating my knife to try to straighten its little rat back.

Drew showing us some technique and making it look very, very easy. Drew made everything look sooooo easy when he did his demo. Drew is clearly a liar. A handsome and nice liar, but still a liar.

I prided myself on doing all the work myself for the whole day until the very end when I was clutching my T-rex arm and making little moaning sounds.  I 'let' Drew put the edge on my knife because, you know,  I'm sure he needed the practice.

Here is a shot of our class' knives, along with the sheaths we also made. The class was a fundraiser  so Drew can teach a teen blacksmithing workshop on the island.  A fabulous day and totally worth the ensuing 48 hours where I couldn't brush my hair, hold a pen, or wipe my rat tail.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Curse you Rachel Finkelstein*

Photo attribution: Creative Commons License from Equalization Schools; Rebekah Dobrasko

A version of this article appeared in the September/October issue of Edible Seattle Magazine where I recently got the DREAM JOB of writing a food humor column every month on the back page called "Back of the House"

Miracle Whip is Satan’s sandwich spread.
I know this because on one of only two occasions that I forgot my school lunch, I ate half of Rachel Finkelstein’s tuna fish sandwich. It took a few bites to confirm, but yes, it was undeniable: I was eating tuna laced with the devil’s condiment. I spat out the filth and committed myself to remembering my lunch each and every day.

Forget for a moment the school lunches you see kids with now, packaged in fancy coolers and insulated lunch boxes with mini ice packs, sub compartments, and happy meal-ish toys. In the 70s, you ate locker-hot tuna sandwiches in greasy paper bags, pb & j’s, or you ate nothing.

Nearly as important as what your lunch was, was what your lunch came in. A brown paper bag, folded over twice at the top was my typical attaché. Crucial to the paper bag aesthetic was the tell-tale jelly stain that seeped through its ineffectual plastic baggie before I could even get off the bus. Eventually, peer pressure forced me to beg for a lunch box and I ran with a lemon yellow Partridge Family model. In my mind’s nose I can still smell the inside of my lunch box: a curious mix of wet metal and peanuty tuna. I loved my Partridge Family lunch box until one day Rachel Finkelstein came to school with a shiny new Welcome Back Kotter lunch box. I could have killed for that lunch box.

I hated Rachel Finkelstein and her stupid lunch box.

What you brought for lunch spoke volumes about who you were and carved your place in the elementary school hierarchy. The Crips brought badass contraband like Ho-Hos or Ding Dongs and tried to sell it at a steep markup. The Bloods bullied you until you shared yours for free. The Hippiekids had to chew through bread so hearty they were still masticating it right through 6th period. The Buyers never brought their own lunch and were waiting in the lunch line so long that I was done by the time they sat down. I never got to know the Buyers, because I was a Bringer and we didn’t associate with one another. There were even subsections of the Bringers: those that brought the same thing for lunch for 10 years and those who were more adventurous. A third group, consisting of just Rachel Finkelstein, was the group that thought Miracle Whip was delicious.

If you have kids and you send your precious progeny to school with healthy sack lunches, I’m the kid you hate because I’m showing your darling sweetheart the beauty of layering crushed-up Fritos just so on a peanut butter sandwich followed by the ritualistic, highly sequenced eating of an Oreo cookie. By the time I’m done with your kid, there will be no more hummus and sprouts, no more apple wedges, nary a carrot stick. There will be hot tears and whining demands and uneaten hummus.
One day, perhaps it was a Friday—I can’t remember—oh yeah, now I do—it was Friday September 23, 1979 around 11:46 am; a cold sweat was running down my little back because I remembered that my drippy sack lunch was still sitting on the green vinyl bus seat, lonely, without me. A deep, sad hunger rumbled from my stomach. I would need to go get in line with the Buyers. I was so clearly a Bringer I didn’t know where to stand, how to get a tray, or what to say to the lunch ladies. While waiting in line, I tried to work out what I’d ask for, but I felt so much pressure and kids were laughing and cavorting and grabbing for hot pizza and applesauce and rolls and butter pats and Oh. My. God. Where was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Where was the locker-hot tuna sandwich? I panicked and grabbed blindly at a sloppy joe and some ghastly colored jello with chunks of unidentifiable fruit. I walked with my tray back to the table and glumly set it down, scanning for a Crip I could barter with.

Drinks were a whole other ball of wax. Even the Bringers had to buy their beverages. They came in 3 flavors: chocolate milk (10 cents), whole milk (9 cents), skim milk (8 cents). It was of utmost importance to shake the little cardboard box of milk before purchase, no matter the flavor, to make sure that it wasn’t completely frozen. 

The day the chocolate milk price rose to 11 cents was a very dark day in my elementary school’s history. We nearly rioted. Inflated milk prices brought together the Crips, Bloods, Buyers, Bringers, and Hippiekids for one beautiful, fleeting moment. Then Rachel brought out her sandwich with Miracle Whip and we all scattered like roaches back into the safety of our clans.

*The name "Rachel Finkelstein" is entirely made-up to protect the guilty.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: or how I revealed my super-not-so-secret-chefcrush to my wife

photos by the awesome and talented Helene Dujardin

Pretend that you are the proverbial fly on the wall:
Me: April, I have something to tell you.... I... I think, uh, I think I have a chefcrush.
April: A what crush?
Me: A chefcrush, totally innocent.
April: {cue stone cold stare, one eyebrow reaching for the ceiling}
Me: You know, like when you respect someone and you want, well, you want, how do I say this?
April: {cue long, penetrating death gaze}
Me: Honey,  I want Virginia Willis' biscuits.  There. I've said it.
I first "met" Virginia Willis on Twitter.  Twitter, or at least my version of Twitter, is a frenetic, bubbling stew of food lovers' comings and goings; it's a place where I can pull in, order up a conversation, return a favor, get inspiration, give tips, ask questions and leave feeling connected in a way that makes the world seem smaller.  I'm lucky enough to not often feel lonely, but twitter makes me feel surrounded by friends, even when I'm not. It's led to many new *actual* friendships, fabulous new food ideas, collaborations and real connections with people interested in similar things.

In typical Twitter style, one day someone just pops up on your radar and you become aware of them and then before you know it they are adding something positive to your life. So, I met Virginia on Twitter and before long we were bonding over a most unusual subject matter - the fact that we both have a fondness for Isabella Rossellini and April has a downright -- what's that April, speak up now -- that's right, a crush on her; a starcrush, if you will.  The next thing I know Virginia has sent me a somewhat clandestine photo that her seat neighbor snapped of Rossellini at a conference which I then dutifully passed on to April -- because I am nothing if not supportive of a little long distance, completely innocent, biscuit-coveting, southern fried chicken eatin', stone ground grit-crushing crush.

This is not the photo Virginia sent. While Isabella will always be a beauty, this shot was probably taken 20 years ago.
Moving on to the real purpose of this post --- if you find yourself having a chefcrush, you have to - naturally - order their first cookbook, read their blog, and start making some of their dishes, in a completely respectful, non creepy stalker sort of way.

Enter the biscuits.

Before I even attempted Virginia's buttermilk angel biscuits from her first book, Bon Appetit, Y'all, I pondered if an East Coaster like me could successfully channel the South and turn out anything other than a New York Islander's hockey puck of a biscuit. Must have been something about my comfort level around the loft-giving properties of Aqua-net (circa 1980, Short Hills Mall, New Jersey) that set in me a natural inclination towards the light and flaky, bouffant poofs of buttery love that would have made Roseanne Roseannadanna's hair proud.

Simply put, Virginia's biscuits were the best I have ever made.

When Virginia asked if I would be interested in participating in her Virtual Potluck for her second book, I jumped at the chance to snap up a review copy of Basic to Brilliant Y'all, where Southern hospitality meets French elegance.  Basic to Brilliant Y'all presents each recipe in its quick and dirty form and then amps it up with some serious cheffy embellishments. It was just one of these embellishments that caught my eye.  Specifically I saw a reference to a pickled cherry tomato recipe. I'm on a quick-pickle kick these days and I'm just the sort of lazy preserver that leans toward high sugar or high acid recipes because they are least likely to kill you dead with botulism, which is just a terrible way to begin or end your day.

Virginia's recipe for pickled tomatoes uses raw onion in the jar, but I subbed in fennel slices because I love raw onion, but it hates me. Let me also walk you through the other 2 dishes I made from B2B.*  After the success I had with the angel biscuits, I wasted not a moment in deciding to try out her sweet potato biscuits, because there is just no part of SWEET POTATO BISCUIT that can be wrong. I served the sweet potato biscuits with her recipe for Peach Dijon-crusted Pork Tenderloin (recipe below) and served it with a fennel and parsley salad and those tart little pickled tomatoes and extra sauce on the side, as instructed.  I cooked that pretty little pork to a rosy pink because that's how this girl likes her pork and there isn't any trichinosis in the U.S. domestic pig supply anymore to get your panties all in a twist, so stop overcooking your damn pork, ya hear? The dish was simple, yet elegant, decidedly Southern leaning, but with a focus on fundamentals and execution that speak to Virginia's culinary pedigree and time spent in France. In short, that grub rocked, yo!

Virginia is offering you a special gift. If you buy a copy of her book in the next 2 weeks (by Oct 12, 2011), she'll send you a personalized, signed bookplate to place in your copy. So, listen up - if Virginia can get this New Jersey girl drawling out a y'all and pulling biscuits out of the oven so light and airy they could double as angel wings for yer mama, then surely you need this book in your collection.  Fill out this form to get your bookplate and run like you were being mugged in East Rutherford to make that sweet potato biscuit recipe.

*girl, shoot, I'm busy - I don't have time to type out Basic to Brilliant, Y'aaaaaaalllllll - I'm a Yankee in a hurry!

Recipe used by permission Basic to Brilliant, Y'all by Virginia Willis, Tenspeed Press, 2011

Peach Dijon–Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4 to 6

A grill pan is all you need to make a simple supper in 30 minutes or less with this recipe. I return to this recipe again and again. Mama even keeps the sauce already made in the refrigerator and uses it on pork chops as well as chicken. The key is not to start brushing the meat until it’s almost cooked, otherwise, the sweet glaze will burn.

1/4 cup Kosher salt

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 cups boiling water

3 cups ice cubes

2 (11/2- to 2-pound) pork tenderloins

1/2 cup peach preserves

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the salt and brown sugar in a heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and stir to dissolve. Add the ice cubes and stir to cool. Add the tenderloins, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. Remove from the brine, rinse well, and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels. (Do not brine any longer or the pork will be too salty.)

Meanwhile, stir together the peach preserves, rosemary, and mustard in a small bowl. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Or preheat a gas grill to high or grill pan over high heat. Season the tenderloins with pepper. Place the meat on the grill, and grill, turning once, until the internal temperature reaches 145°F, about 15 minutes.

Brush with the peach-mustard mixture during the last few minutes. Remove to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil to rest and let the juices redistribute, about 5 minutes. Slice on the diagonal and serve immediately. 


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