Wokin' Willies

Liquid Smoke

by yessewilson

I cooked red beans for a party recently and made a separate vegetarian batch. A friend of mine asked me how to get veggie beans to have a smoky flavor without the addition of ham hocks or smoked sausage. I told her I used liquid smoke, which she had heard of but always avoided. I used to avoid liquid smoke as well, due to the common misconception that it is a nasty synthetic concoction. In reality it’s a great seasoning created by a natural and ingenious method. 


Liquid smoke is created by capturing smoke from wood chips in a chilled container which caused the smoke to liquify. This liquid then runs through various filters to remove impurities. Wright’s is the original but I have always used Colgin. Colgin ages their liquid smoke in oak barrels and seasons it with vinegar and molasses. 

The key with liquid smoke is not to use too much! Like bitters in a cocktail, liquid smoke’s flavor is extremely concentrated and can easily overpower what it is seasoning. Putting liquid smoke on baked, sautéed or grilled meat is no substitute for true smoking but it definitely can add some flavor. It also great in bbq sauce and soups. So give it a try, but mind your pour. 


Consider the Anchovy

by yessewilson

A mention of anchovies to many eaters evokes an image of small fish slapped randomly on a slice of greasy pizza. While I personally enjoy this preparation, there are much more subtle ways to use these tasty little fish in your cooking. Anchovies are one of the greatest source of the delicious savory flavor known as umami (say it out loud and you will know what flavor it’s describing). They are best used when liquified into food either in the form of fish sauce or salted filets melted into sauce.

Fresh out of the sea, the anchovy does not look like a fantastic meal. They are closer to the size of a shrimp than a trout and look to be more bone than meat. While they may not initially seem appealing to a casual human eater, anchovies are an important source of food in every ecosystem they exist in.  In order to for anchovies to reach their culinary potential they must first cure in a salt brine.

In Roman times, salted fish was a huge trade and anchovies were considered one of the finest salted fish. Another popular use for anchovies was the production of garum or liquamen. Garum was a sauce produced by salting, fermenting and eventually straining the liquid off of small fish such as anchovies.  While this practice has faded in the region it remains a vital practice in Southeast Asia where fish sauce, called nuoc mam in Vietnam, is still produced and enjoyed on a massive scale.

While the use of Garum faded from western cuisine, salted anchovies remained present in italian and at one point english cooking. The original ketchup was a British condiment influenced by indonesian fish sauce (called kecap ikan). Eventually fish was phased out in the vinegar based sauce and replaced by walnut or mushroom. Only once the sauce made it to America did it transform into the ubiquitous tomato sauce that we know today.

Next time someone puts their nose up at the mention of anchovies, remind them that they are in the marinara at any decent italian restaurant, pretty much any dish they eat at a southeast asian restaurant (notably vietnamese and thai), as well as in their bloody marys, barbecue sauce and on their steaks (in the form of Worcestershire sauce). Or you could just slip it in their food and watch them enjoy it.

A couple uses:

For Marinara: Chop up filets and liquify them in your sauteed garlic and olive oil before adding your canned tomatoes (a Wilson classic!)

For Bloody Marys: Add fish sauce to your bloody mary mix.

Vietnamese Grilled Pork

The beloved hollandaise & a decadent crab cake benedict experience

by chloecrab

My friend Ginger and I decided we wanted to make ourselves a deliciously decadent brunch.  It turned into quite the ordeal. but I must say that it turned out amaaaaazing!  Ginger works at an awesome mushroom farm, so sometimes at the end of the farmers markets she gets to trade with the other stands and get amazing stuff so she brought over some crab cakes.  We decided we needed to make a crabcake benedict! So, of course, we had to make hollandaise.  I remember yessewilson making hollandaise sauce at home for us all many years ago, but I couldn’t totally remember how he did it.  Ginger is quite the purist and she refused to use my earth balance butter instead of real butter or to use a blender instead of a double-boiler either! So I got the fanciest ‘european style butter’ and we borrowed some pots to build a double-boiler from a neighbor. Image

We also had some shallots/onion/garlic/greens to go with it!

We melted about one stick butter, boiled one pot of water to poach the eggs in, and boiled another smaller pot of water to serve as the bottom of the double boiler.  There was a lot going on at once.  Image

I separated the yolks from the whites (of four eggs).

ImageWe started sautéing the shallots and placed the crab cakes in the oven for about 15 minutes on 350 and finished it off by adding a healthy dab of butter and putting them under on broil for about 5 minutes at the end.

We then poached the 2 remaining eggs we had (oops, used too many in the hollandaise).  We slipped them into the water from bowls as carefully as we could but they still looked like a crazy stringy mess.  However, when we took them out a few minutes later they looked pretty near perfect!

For the sauce- first you whip the 4 egg yolks until they change to a thick consistency and double in size, then we added these into the melted butter that was over the double-boiler- adding a little at a time.  We also added the juice of one lemon, salt, pepper, and cayenne to our taste.


And continued to stir SUPERFAST


After the shallots had sautéed for about 5 minutes we added the garlic and spinach and tossed it in olive oil for a minute or two until the spinach was wilted to our satisfaction.

We were then ready to put it all together (on toasted and buttered gluten free bread!).

ImageIt was really awesome, though time consuming, and a bit hard to move afterwards!  The sauce was kind of the best ever and even better than it tastes at your average delicious brunch!

Next time I propose that we make the sauce in the Vitamix and see if it is as delicious as this labor-intensive method.


Intra-Family Inspiration: Grilled Paneer Bruschetta

by yessewilson

Here is a dish inspired by Chloe’s eggplant halloumi pizzas that I made for my movie catering company:
The dish is a piece of grilled paneer topped with heirloom tomatoes, chinese eggplant baba ghanouj and fresh basil pesto.

I brined the paneer (cut into 1/4″ thick slices) in a kosher salt, peppercorn and thyme solution for a couple hours (the longer, the better, paneer is pretty bland on its own). The eggplants should also be rubbed with kosher salt at least 30 minutes before being placed on the grill to help reduce their bitter alkaloids.

The eggplants should be grilled until their skin is very dark and you can easily slide a knife through them (remember to poke holes in them as they grill or else they can explode. Remove any burnt skin and dice the eggplant into rounds. Mix into a light mash with olive oil, salt and pepper and a bit of diced raw garlic if you like.

Remove the paneer from the brine, pat dry with a paper towel and place diagonally on grill until there are nice marks on both sides.

The pesto is a classic basil pesto made in a food processor with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble all the food and top each ingredient with salt, pepper and olive oil.

It was a hit! Thank you Chloe for inspiring me on a delicious vegetarian dish.

Eggplant Pizzas and Mango-Fennel Vodka Spritzer!

by chloecrab

This post, our first post due to our crazy perfectionistic/overthinking tendencies, is dedicated to my mother on her 60th Bday- from whom I discovered the Joy and Zen of cooking, tasting, and appreciating.

Justin made a delicious fennel and mango cocktail which he will explain next!

I am gluten-free and often feel bad that we can’t indulge in yummy treats such as pizza which typically include gluten in the crust.  I, personally, have always been a huge fan of eggplant.  However, I have always shied away from cooking it myself because I wasn’t sure of the correct time/temperature/method of cooking.  Yesterday I googled eggplant pizza’s and found a post commemorating a recipe Julia Child had made.  I saw that it had been done and decided to do it myself with what I had around the house using her advice to preheat the oven to 375 and dehydrate the eggplant.


Leftover from Justin’s cocktail-making was the fennel which I sauteed with some garlic, tomatoes, herbs/spices, and anchovies (the signature secret? to my ma’s amazing pasta sauce!) to make the pizza sauce.  While this was going on I sliced the eggplant in slightly smaller than one inch thick slices and dehydrated them a bit on some paper towels sprinkled with sea salt.  Once the oven was preheated I coated the slices in olive oil and some pepper and threw them in the oven.  About 30 minutes later I took them out, flipped the eggplants over, added the sauce (very very sloppily!) onto the eggplants and then layered them with a few different cheeses.


I happen to be obsessed with Halloumi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloumi) and had spotted some at Trader Joe’s that I couldn’t resist earlier, and also had some mozzarella and parmesan around.  To be honest, the Halloumi may have been to thank for how delicious this turned out to be.  I then put it all under the broiler on high for about 5-10 minutes (whenever I noticed the cheese on the top starting to brown) and they were deeeelicious!!!!!!!


This drink is vodka, seltzer and a simple syrup.  90% of cocktails (or something like that) rely on some variation of a simple syrup, really all “liqueurs” are just gussied-up simple syrups.  To make a simple syrup, a 1-1 ratio of sugar to water to fruit/vegetable should generally be observed, though herbs can be a little under and I like to have it heavy on the “product” side as possible.   In this case combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water and place on high heat, stirring occasionally.  Once sugar is completely dissolved, add 2 cup chopped mango and 1/2 cup fennel greens; chop as finely as possible as it allows for best infusion rate,  Bring to boil for 1 minute, then turn to low and let steep for 10 minutes.  Strain through fine sieve into jar, pressing as much juice out of the fruit as possible in the process and then let cool.  Add ice (see eventual collaborative discourse on ice cubes to come), 2 shots vodka and twice as much seltzer with about one tbsp. syrup. Muddle some of the fennel and mango if you’re up for it. I would soak the mango in the vodka first if you have the time to prep.


PS- forgive the bad photo quality. I promised myself I wouldn’t obsess about it so we would just do the post =)

Summer Half Sour Refrigerator Pickles

by yessewilson


Half sour pickles are your basic kosher dill style pickles except the brine contains no vinegar. They are a delicious alternative to a regular pickle and have a much more refreshing, lively flavor.

Pickling is much easier than most people perceive it to be. If you do not need to store your pickles long term, you can entirely skip the fastidious elements of canning. In the two restaurants I have worked at which heavily feature pickles, the veggies are placed in brine, stored in refrigeration and consumed within a week or two. You really don’t need an unrefrigerated fermentation period to make tasty pickles. If you are a fellow pickle lover, I imagine eating them within a couple weeks will not be a problem.

For this pickle, a standard summer cucumber is great. Cut the cucumber in spears, bread and butter style or leave them whole (which will take longer to pickle).  Pack them into a mason jar, try your best to stuff the jar as tight as possible without smashing the cucumbers.


For the brine, assemble your spices, herbs and aromatics. For this pickle I used roughly 4 cloves of garlic, a tablespoon each of mustard seed, red pepper flake and whole black peppercorns and a pinch of sugar. Salt should be added to taste, roughly 1/4 cup to each quart. If you enjoy pickles you’ll know when it’s right. Fresh dill, bay leaves, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, or cloves are some other potential additions. Turmeric (in small doses) is also a great addition to pickles, it adds flavor and crunch although I personally wouldn’t throw it into a half sour.

Toast the peppercorns (and bay leaves if you are using them) in a small skillet. They will release a lemon-pepper fragrance once they start to release their oils.

Add the toasted peppercorns into a sauce pot along with the rest of the seasonings and however much water is required to fill up the jar of cucumbers (likely around 2 cups). Stir the salt and sugar into the water then heat the mixture up to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil let it sit for a minute or so.

Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers in the jar. Try to fill it as much as possible so there are no pieces of cucumber sticking out of the liquid. Let the jar cool uncovered on your counter for a couple minutes then let it cool a little while longer in the fridge before screwing the cap back on.

Let the pickles sit for at least a day then enjoy!

How to hold a chef’s knife

by yessewilson


Pinch the blade between your thumb and pointer fingers rather than having all your digits on the handle. This will feel awkward at first but you will soon wonder why you ever swung around your knife like a baseball bat.

Energetic Food

by jwingwilson


Our Jamaican friend, Phyllis, told a story about her friend, visiting from the Island, who looked at a chicken they had bought in the Bronx and said, “How can you eat that dead chicken?” Hopefully all chickens have passed on by the time we cook them, but what she meant was the mass-produced chicken was energetically dead; there was no life energy in it.

Her story has come home to us as we start our second year of a year-round, full-diet CSA that puts truly energetic food on our table every week. We have tried to eat “real food” (thank you, M. Pollan) for a while. Choosing organic over no name, frequenting the local farmers’ markets, and opting for fresh over processed whenever we can. It’s been more expensive, some times more hassle but our attempt to rid ourselves of chemicals and other unwanted shadows of our modern, mass-produced food without farming ourselves has been a bit of a quest. While it’s not always easy to tell and labeling is not what it ought to be, nonetheless we were trying to reduce energy waste and pollutants to others and ourselves.

But it wasn’t until we signed on with Rob Moutoux that we realized what we were missing. Rob runs his family farm in Purceville, VA, with his girl friend Mo and, until recently, the best two farm hands ever, Rochelle and Jessi. He also gets help from his folks, life-long small farmers in Northern Virginia. Rob is a bold and determined man. His vision is to provide nearly all the food that 70 people need, year round. His goal is to run, as close as he can, a chemical free, integrated farm that produces milk, eggs, meat, and veggies following the season, with help from hoop houses and lots of crop and animal rotations. Starting his third year, with a lot of hard work, it seems to be working. While he has had to train us all on how to preserve when there’s abundance and substitute when there’s not (did I ever imagine there were so many types of beets, or you can “massage” kale to make a great winter salad or that turnips can be flashed cooked and included in almost anything for a wonderful nutty flavor?). The weekly pickups become a foodie’s dream, as we chat about what weird vegetable has appeared and everyone’s’ favorite way to cook it, how to make instant kimchi, or what happens to mustard greens when you sauté them and add them to scrambled eggs.

Ok, I digress. What about the energy?

The weird and completely unexpected thing is that there is a quality to this food that makes everything we’ve ever eaten dead in comparison. I imagine if you turned out the lights, the food in his barn would glow in the dark, or maybe you could hear the veggies talking to each other about how excited they were to be added to the Willies’ stew or stir-fry in the next few days. So there are some weird things about this energetic, alive food. While even the best Whole Foods organic spring mix, or even greens from most of the local farmers’ markets, might last a few days, with luck a week with refrigeration, this stuff lasts two or three times as long. The garlic, which can also last for weeks, has a kick and flavor to it that no other I have ever tasted even comes close to. When the food is cooked, the colors are amazing (doesn’t hurt that there are several different color carrots, orange, white and purple ones, and some beets that are white with pin stripes all through them.) And I swear we eat less. We get just MORE from whatever we eat. Even the meats and chickens, while frozen to keep them after some Amish guy has butchered them, have a taste and texture that my Jamaican friends would admire. They are alive!!

So how come? Of course, the food is really fresh. Rob and his gang pick it minutes before our pick up and they store the root vegetables carefully. Also, they take great care with the milk and hand make yogurt and cheese when the cows are happily pumping out a good supply. And it’s definitely his hard work and diligently studied farming methods, which depend on little things like animals to fertilize and turn the soil, chickens to eat the bugs and careful rotation to keep the land healthy. Maybe it’s the proximity to the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. I have to think, above all, it’s the love. They love the dirt, the weather, the little seeds that turn into beautiful vegetables and the joy on our faces as we haul away the bounty. I tell you the energy is tangible. It talks to me!IMG_0335

I don’t know if the energy is measurable, but we plan to go on eating whatever the Moutoux Orchard can produce. I just wonder how we can get energy back into more food for more people. Clearly they can still get “live” chickens in Jamaica, where the farms are close to the people and the chickens scratch in the dirt for bugs. Our Jamaican friends have continued to do something right and I aint talking about adding Jerk Sauce (although that can’t hurt!). Maybe, as the cost of fossil fuel rises and people start to see and taste real food again, we can put the right kind of energy on our tables and less into the sky. Eat one of Rob’s apples, spots and all, or a fresh carrot just yanked from that healthy soil and everyone would sign on to that renewable plan!


by yessewilson

Very Wilson specials at my restaurant today: corned beef pierogies served with apple butter and a fried “tuna dog” slider with wasabi mayo, pickled daikon and carrot, lime teriyaki sauce, and shaved bonito and nori.

photo 1

Mushroom Saute

by yessewilson

Here is a great way to prepare everyone’s favorite freaky space vegetable: mushrooms! This was taught to me by the talented sous chef at my restaurant.


Vegetable Oil

Mushrooms (any work but my favorites are crimini and oyster)

Chicken stock (no substitution for real stock but the Kitchen Basics brand is solid)

White Wine (optional)

Chopped garlic

Picked and chopped thyme

Picked and Chopped Parsley (optional)


MOP (Method of Preparation):

Cut off stems of mushrooms and quarter or half them depending on the size of the mushroom. The size of the pieces is not important so much as their uniformity.photo 1

Heat up an iron clad pan with the burner on as high as it will go. Wait til the pan is screaming hot then add the vegetable oil and let that heat up. [A good way to tell if oil is hot enough is to dip your fingers in water then flick it into the oil. If it sizzles and instantly evaporates you are good to go. ]

Add the mushrooms into the pan. Make sure not to crowd them. If the mushrooms are too close they will steam each other with the moisture that the hot pan causes them to release rather than giving you the delicious caramelization from the sautéing process.

photo 3

Once the mushrooms look to be about halfway cooked, add the garlic and herbs. These really only need to cook for a very short time. Add the chicken stock (and wine if possible) and deglaze the pan with a metal tool (a metal spatula is most efficient). After you have deglazed the pan add a healthy pat of butter and let it melt down and continue to cook the mushrooms until they are done.

This is a recipe that has to be done in batches but it goes pretty quick.

Bon appetit!

photo 4