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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