Take a virtual road trip across the South! James Beard award-winning author and chef Virginia Willis chats with Fox News's Lilian Huang Woo about her book Secrets of the Southern Table-- an ode to its cuisines and people behind the food.    



Spicy Macaroni and Cheese
Photographs © 2018 by Angie Mosier

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 8 to 10 Farmer's Daughter is a farm-driven artisan food business celebrating the flavors of the Southern table and the terroir of the North Carolina Piedmont while gaining inspiration from food cultures worldwide. It was founded in 2007 by April McGreger, who learned the art of preserving at the elbows of her mother and grandmother in rural Mississippi. Her Sweet Potato Habanero hot sauce is a potent and delicious blend of sweet heat; the sweet potatoes add body and also tame the heat of the chile. Farmer's Daughter products are available online, in specialty markets, and in Southeastern Whole Foods Markets. I prefer using penne so that the creamy sauce can seep into all the nooks and crannies. If I have it handy, I always use Farmer's Daughter hot sauce in this recipe, but any hot sauce will be delicious.

4 tablespoons (¼ cup) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish Coarse kosher salt 1 pound penne pasta 1 sweet onion, chopped Freshly ground black pepper 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped 2 jalapeños, or to taste, seeded and chopped ¼ cup all-purpose flour 2 cups 2% or whole milk, warmed 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (8 ounces) 1 tablespoon dry mustard powder 1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste 1 cup fresh plain, whole wheat, or panko bread crumbs 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a large ovenproof casserole or baking dish.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, add the penne, and cook according to the package directions. Drain well and return to the pot.

3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the garlic and jalapeños and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring often, for 1 to 2 minutes. (This helps remove the raw taste of the flour.)

4. Whisk in the milk and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat. Add 1 cup of the cheese, the mustard powder, hot sauce, and red pepper flakes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the drained pasta and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole.

5. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cayenne, and remaining 1 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cheesy pasta. Bake until bubbling and golden brown, about 30 minutes.


Excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Photographs © 2018 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Serves 4 to 6 Green beans are also known as string beans or snap beans and are traditionally simmered for a long time with a hunk of some kind of pork--bacon, fat back, or hog jowl. My grandfather could eat a mountain of green beans and planted his garden accordingly. My grandmother would cook them in her pressure cooker, which would transform them from a bright green, crisp vegetable into soft-as-silk, army-green vegetable noodles. I remember the safety valve emitting little bursts of steam and the meaty, vegetal aroma that filled the air. There's always going to be a place in my heart and at my table for those old-fashioned Southern recipes, even as I appreciate the influences on Southern food and cooking from different cuisines and cultures. Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable, and marry particularly well with spicy ginger in this dish. While most ginger is imported, the sandy soil and hot climate of the Southeast is conducive to growing ginger, and a number of farmers are adding both it and turmeric to their crop rotation. And no, it's not a typo. I'm suggesting ¼ cup chopped ginger in this Southeast Asian-inspired side dish. 1 pound string beans (French-style haricots verts work especially well), stem ends trimmed 1 tablespoon canola oil 1 shallot, finely chopped ¼ cup very finely chopped fresh ginger 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped ½ jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it nearby. Line a plate with paper towels. 2. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander and then set the colander with the beans in the ice-water bath to set the color and stop the cooking, making sure the beans are submerged. Once chilled, transfer the beans to the prepared plate. Pat dry with paper towels and then transfer to a bowl. 3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes and jalapeño and cook until warmed through, 5 minutes. 4. Add the cooked green beans and toss to coat and combine. Cook, tossing and stirring, until the green beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cilantro; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. This dish is delicious served hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If served cold, make sure to taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, as chilling a dish dulls the seasoning.


Cat Head Biscuits
Photo Credit: Angie Mosier

Makes about 9 My friend and colleague Dr. Marcie Cohen Ferris is a professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. Her research and teaching interests include Southern history and culture--particularly the foodways and material culture of the American South and the history of the Jewish South. In her excellent book The Edible South she writes, "In contemporary worlds of popular and consumer culture, Southern food has become untethered from the complex historical narrative responsible for this cuisine. Think of buckets of Southern fried chicken and cathead biscuits like culinary spacecraft set adrift from the mother ship of southern history, culture, and experience." I wholeheartedly agree. Many people outside the South think all Southern food is unhealthy and/or fried. The term cathead biscuit is an authentic one, indicating that it's a biscuit as large as a cat's head, and a phrase my grandfather once used. This extra-large biscuit would not have been the norm on the everyday table, but it has become the standard size for fast-food biscuits. Ferris continues, "Fried chicken, biscuits, and sweet tea--the icons of Southern food--have become so 'super-sized,' enriched, sweetened, and filled with butter that they are almost unrecognizable to native Southerners." This cathead biscuit is the real deal. There are a few secrets to a tender biscuit: First, flours vary in their protein levels. Reach for a low-protein flour for light-as-air biscuits. After that, you want cold butter--when the cold butter is transferred to the hot oven it melts and produces steam, which helps produce flaky biscuits. Lastly, avoid overworking the dough, which activates the gluten and will produce a tough, heavy biscuit. The perfect biscuit should be golden brown and slightly crisp on the outside, with a light, airy interior. 4 cups White Lily or other Southern all-purpose flour, or cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for rolling out 2 tablespoons baking powder 2 teaspoons fine sea salt 8 tablespoons (½ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled 2 cups buttermilk 1. Heat the oven to 500°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat. (You can also bake the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet.) 2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk and mix until just barely combined. It will be a shaggy mass. (Alternatively, you can mix the dough in a food processor: Pulse to combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. 3. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk through the feed tube and pulse until just barely combined. It will be a shaggy mass.) 4. Turn the shaggy mass out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly, using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a small turn and repeat four or five times. (It's not yeast bread; you want to just barely activate the gluten, not overwork it.) 5. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1 inch thick. Cut out rounds of dough with a 3½- inch round cutter dipped in flour; press the cutter straight down without twisting so the biscuits will rise evenly when baked. 6. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If the biscuits are baked close together, the sides will be tender. If the biscuits are baked farther apart, the sides will be crisp. (I always say biscuits are like people: If you are close to your neighbor, you will be tender, and if you aren't close to your neighbor, you will be crisp!) 7. Once you've punched out the first round from the dough, you can reroll the scraps. However, do not simply roll them into a ball; this will create a knot of gluten strands. Instead, plac e the pieces one on top of the other in layers. Then roll out and repeat punching out the biscuits. 8. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool just slightly. Serve warm. Wheat flour contains two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. Gluten is a strong and elastic sheet produced by these proteins by the combination of moisture and motion. When you combine flour with liquid, the proteins produce gluten. Gluten gives structure and chewiness to yeast breads, but you don't want to develop gluten in tender biscuits. 1. Using a pastry blender, cut the chilled cubed butter into the flour mixture. The butter coats the flour and will prevent the absorption of moisture, therefore lessening the activation of the gluten. 2. Stop cutting when the butter bits are about the size of small peas. The butter will melt during baking, creating pockets of steam that give biscuits their flakiness. 3. Add the buttermilk and stir to combine, but do not stir until it is a smooth dough. You don't want to overwork the dough and activate the gluten. 4. Turn the shaggy mass out onto a floured work surface. Flour is your friend! 5. Using a bench scraper, turn the dough a few times until it starts to come together. 6. Shape the dough into a rectangle. Try not to touch the dough with your warm hands so the butter stays cold. 7. Using a floured rolling pin, start at the middle of the dough and roll backward without coming off the edge. Then start in the middle of the dough and roll forward without coming off the edge. This wi ll help keep the dough even. 8. Using your bench scraper, rotate the dough so it does not stick to the work surface. Add more flour, if needed. 9. Using a floured circular cutter, punch out the biscuits. Do not twist as you punch, as that would seal the edges and possibly inhibit the biscuit's rise. 10. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet. If the biscuits touch, the sides will be soft and tender. If they do not touch, the sides will be crispier. 11. Do not ball the scraps of dough in a knot. Instead, layer the scraps and pat them together. Reroll following the same procedure and punch out the remaining biscuits. 12. The biscuits are ready for the oven! A very hot oven is essential to create the biscuits' ideal texture inside and out.

Asian Cajun BBQ Shrimp with Grilled Baguette

Barbecue shrimp in New Orleans has nothing to do with a grill, a pit, or even barbecue sauce. Barbecue shrimp in New Orleans is a dish of butter-poached shrimp flavored with dried spices and herbs. It's what happened to shrimp scampi as it traversed the Atlantic and crossed the levies of the mighty Mississippi. In the nineteenth century, trade routes opened between Sicily and New Orleans and thousands of Italians migrated to New Orleans. By 1870, New Orleans claimed the largest Italian-born population in the United States--even greater than the New York City area! A more recent immigration trend in the region has been the Vietnamese, leading to the introduction of new flavors into this Southern dish.


1 baguette, cut into thirds and halved lengthwise 1½ pounds extra-large (16/20-count) shrimp 1 tablespoon homemade or store-bought Creole seasoning, or to taste 8 tablespoons (½ cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped ½ jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass Juice of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste 1 teaspoon fish sauce Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Working with a few pieces at a time, cook the bread until browned and toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, heat the oven to broil and broil the bread until toasted, about 2 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler.) Set aside and keep warm.

Place the shrimp in a bowl. Add the Creole seasoning and toss to coat. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, jalapeño, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the shrimp and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the lemon juice, hot sauce, and fish sauce. Cook, turning once or twice, until the shrimp are firm and pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the shrimp and juices atop the grilled bread. Serve immediately, with lots of napkins.

Excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Photography © 2018 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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