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Paris + Texas: Fall Recipes & Change is Good

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Fall Produce

While there’s absolutely nothing like a summer vine-ripe tomato or fresh sweet corn, have you ever considered that perhaps they wouldn’t be so special if we had them all the time? You know absence makes the heart grow fonder. Could you overload on summer produce? I’m not so sure, but I do love the transition to fall produce. It’s like a whole new playground! Pumpkins and winter squash, sweet potatoes, kale, collard, and mustard greens speak my language. I bought a rutabaga yesterday and simply cannot wait to cook it and make a comforting, savory mash.

Summer produce needs little or no cooking. The corn I enjoyed in Massachusetts this summer was so fresh and good it basically just needed a quick dip in boiling water. Fall produce means new cooking techniques like roasting and braising. Fall produce means long slow cooking. Fall produce means new flavors and textures. Fall produce means doing something different.

Change is Good

Doing something different in the kitchen can be good. Don’t you get tired of the same old-same old? But, regardless how small, change can be scary. People have expectations. Big changes create ripples and effect other people’s lives.One of the food folks I follow is Cowgirl Chef Ellise Pierce. She’s done what so many cooks dream to do — pull up lock, stock, and barrel and move to France. She made a big life change. Moving is a big break – especially when it’s far away from home. I know a little about being a displaced Southerner in France — and loving it and hating it at the same time. Being homesick hurts. Ellise and I have never met, but I think we’re kindred spirits. She has a wonderful new book out called Cowgirl Chef and I am just as proud of her as I can be and so happy for her. I know a little about blending Southern and French cooking; she’s married French and Texas! It’s Texas Cooking with a French accent – Paris, Texas in a whole new way!

She says that Cowgirl Chef is “about cooking with abandon, with a sense of adventure. Of not being afraid to try something new. Or something old in a new way.”

Don’t you love that? We all need a swift kick in the pants sometimes to change things up. Change is good. It’s good to overcome fear and not be afraid. Here’s a big welcome to fall. I love her new book and hope you do, too. We’re mixing things up. Kale is more often cooked so I am sharing a raw kale recipe. Winter squash is usually prepared as a side and she’s sharing a delicious recipe for a roast squash salad. Enjoy your weekend and your newfound sense of adventure.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Virginia’s Smoky Spicy Kale
Serves 4 to 6

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon. The flavor comes from smoked salt. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to deep amber. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables (and sell a pecan smoked salt in My Southern Pantry product line) to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat.

8 ounces young tender kale, washed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt, to taste

Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour over oil, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, and salt. Toss to combine. Let sit for about 20 minutes. That’s it!! Serve at room temperature.

Cowgirl Chef’s Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Bacon Salad
Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 first-course salads

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes
olive oil
sea salt and pepper
2 big handfuls (about 5 ounces/140 grams) of baby spinach
4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
Apple Cider Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
about 2 ounces/55 grams of fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat your broiler.Put the squash pieces on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and drizzle them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with your hands and make sure they’re evenly coated. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven for about 15 minutes, checking and turning the pan around if necessary. When the edges of the squash turn brown, they’re done.

Assemble your salad while the squash is still warm. Just get out a big salad bowl, and add your spinach, still-warm squash pieces, and bacon bits. Add some of the vinaigrette on top and toss (you may not need all of the vinaigrette). Crumble the goat cheese on top and serve right away.

Swap It: Instead of butternut squash, roast some pumpkin or acorn squash, or even sweet potato.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Makes ¾ cup/180 ml

1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup/60 ml of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
½ cup/120 ml of grapeseed oil

In an old jam jar, add your minced shallot, apple cider vinegar, and grainy mustard along with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Give it a shake and let this let rest for 10 minutes. Add the grapeseed oil, shake again, and taste for seasonings. You can store your vinaigrette in the fridge for a few days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from COWGIRL CHEF © 2012 by Ellise Pierce, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Kale pic by Virginia

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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