All Posts By Virginia Willis

Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others.

Pecan Tassies — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, November 21st, 2014

For those of you not familiar with pecan tassies, they are bite-size pecan pies. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, they are perfect for holiday festivities and easy to prepare. We always have these on our Thanksgiving table. The pecans are freshly harvested and at their peak so they taste fantastic. And, after a big meal of turkey and dressing, one or two of these diminutive desserts are the perfect way to end the feast. A “tassie” is defined as a small cup, and these petite pies are baked in a mini-muffin tin. Pecan tassies feature the flavors and textures of pecan pie — tender and buttery crust, crunchy pecans and brown-sugar filling — all in one delicious bite.

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Sweet Potato Casserole — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, November 14th, 2014

Sweet potatoes are good, and good for you. Most comfort-food recipes absolutely drown them in butter and sugar. I haven’t always been fond of sweet potatoes. Then, I realized it wasn’t the sweet potato I didn’t like; it was the insane amounts of granulated sugar, brown sugar, marshmallows, maple syrup, vanilla extract and butter Southerners traditionally heap on top of them. With all that added flavor, it’s impossible to taste the naturally sweet and earthy essence of the actual sweet potato! In regard to marshmallows, frankly, I prefer them in a steaming cup of cocoa or sandwiched with a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers! This down-home-comfort fall dish is certainly sweet enough and is topped with a seasonally appropriate partner of chopped pecans. Read more

Chicken Pot Pie — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, November 7th, 2014

Who can resist this creamy, savory comfort food with moist, tender chicken and vegetables bathed in gravy and crowned with a buttery, crispy topping? There’s nothing heartier than a rich, flaky pot pie. Chicken pot pie is a comfort food known for its satisfying richness.

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Tailgate Chili — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, October 31st, 2014

The Southeastern Conference is home to some of the best college football in the country, and with it, some of the most-fervent fans and most-passionate tailgating. Football in the South is a bit like religion. People get really worked up; I mean really worked up. And, to that end, tailgating in the South is extreme as well. At the University of Alabama, fans are allowed to start tailgate setup at 6 p.m. the Thursday before the Saturday game — and dismantled as late as noon the day after! At my alma mater, the University of Georgia, there is Bulldog Park; a luxury RV tailgating facility offers the owners access to a wide range of amenities plus game-day shuttles to the stadium! Foodwise, there’s everything from LSU, where folks have big pots of meaty gumbo bubbling on a propane cooker, to The Grove at Ole Miss, where folks are super-fancy and serve dishes of hors d’oeuvres that you might be more accustomed to seeing at a ladies’ luncheon. (The real reason the food is so ladylike is that there’s a limited amount of electricity, and open flames and propane are prohibited — something that might not be a bad idea, considering the amount of alcohol consumed while tailgating!)

Personally, I prefer less work when I get to the stadium, and I suggest slow-cooked dishes prepared ahead of time. The best dishes are those you can cook at home and then add the finishing touches to at the stadium. I think the perfect tailgate food just might be chili. It works well in the fall, because it’s hearty and warms you up in the cool weather. Read more

Smothered and Covered Chicken and Gravy — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, October 24th, 2014

I love gravy. I really love gravy. I really, really love gravy. I’d like to think that there are rivers of gravy in heaven. Gravy is a down-home comfort food that soothes, satisfies and satiates like no other. And Smothered and Covered Chicken and Gravy is extra-special. This old-timey recipe is a mash-up of fried chicken and gravy, cooked together in a skillet: Where one ends, the other starts. In other words, pretty much the most nearly perfect comfort food. Ever. Read more

Red Beans and Rice — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, October 17th, 2014

There are some dishes that are emblematic of a culture. Fried chicken is as Southern as kudzu and sweet tea. Lobster defines the food of New England, and chili peppers speak to Southwestern cuisine. There are many others to consider, but red beans and rice, a true Creole classic, means Louisiana country cooking. Like many of the best recipes from simple food, red beans and rice is made up of humble ingredients that, after a slow simmer, are transformed into a sustaining, nourishing bowl of down-home comfort.

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Brown Sugar Apple Crisp — Down-Home Comfort

by in In Season, Recipes, October 10th, 2014

Brown Sugar Apple CrispIn my family, fall means a trip to the mountains for apple picking and apple cider. We love buying a variety of different kinds of apples — some to refrigerate and keep for eating, some to make jelly, and always, always a couple of pounds of cooking apples for apple pie and crisp. While I adore apple pie, I have to admit that an apple crisp is so simple and easy that it’s my go-to apple dessert. There’s no pastry to make and no dough to roll out, and with a little pep in your prep you can have dessert in under an hour.

Crisps, along with their culinary cousins — crumbles, grunts, brown betties and pandowdies — are all simple, old-fashioned, homey desserts. The desserts in this genre use a streusel-like mixture of flour or breadcrumbs, sugar, warm spices and butter, along with rolled oats and nuts. I especially love to use fresh, in-season Georgia pecans in the fall, but almonds and walnuts are great, too. Crisps are flat-out easy, and everyone loves a piping-hot fruit dessert with a sweet, buttery topping. You can serve the crisp with ice cream, whipped cream, or even creme fraiche for an ultra-indulgent dose of down-home comfort. Read more

Cheesy Broccoli, Chicken and Rice Casserole — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, October 3rd, 2014

Somewhere along the way when women were being “liberated” from the kitchen, processed and convenience foods became dinner du jour. One-pot casseroles became a go-to for many busy moms and families. One of my favorites growing up was Broccoli, Chicken and Rice Casserole. What’s not to love? It’s filling chicken and rice with creamy gravy, topped with cheese. It’s real down-home comfort.

Most often this indulgent casserole is made with frozen broccoli and a couple of familiar red-and-white cans of cream of mushroom soup. This version is made with fresh, wholesome ingredients. It takes just a smidgen more time, but the results are absolutely extraordinary. I’m pretty adamant that down-home comfort can be made without bags and boxes. The truth of the matter is that all too often those shortcuts aren’t really timesavers and they are packed with salt and food additives. I personally really like recipes with ingredients that you can pronounce and don’t need a degree in chemistry to decipher. That gives me a very deep, satisfying feeling of comfort.

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Steakhouse Rib Eyes with Creamed Spinach — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, Restaurants, September 26th, 2014

It’s a rite of passage to go to one of America’s great steakhouses. Dark knotty, wide wood; warm, well-polished brass; and banquettes upholstered in worn, creased leather set the stage. When partnered with excellent food and excellent service, it’s an all-American experience. Our attraction to the scent of meat cooking on fire is basic; the wafting smoke seems to awaken some sort of primordial urge buried deep in the recesses of our carnivorous brains. There’s not much heartier and more satisfying in terms of comfort food than a meaty, perfectly charred steak topped with mushrooms and served with a baked potato and creamed spinach. This is how the West was won — or at least west Wall Street.

Life occasionally calls for a thick, juicy steak. Those special times might be celebrating something such as a big promotion, a graduation or an anniversary. The celebrations often come with a big price tag, too. Down-home comfort steakhouse-style is a real cause for celebration, because you can do it in the comfort of your own home. No rude waiters, no dings in the car due to the careless teenager in valet and no eye-popping bill that costs as much as a house payment.

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Scalloped Potatoes — Down-Home Comfort

by in Recipes, September 19th, 2014

Scalloped PotatoesScalloped Potatoes. Potatoes au Gratin. Potato Cheese Casserole. Potato Cheese Bake. Many names describe this mouthwatering, golden-brown, bubbly dish of down-home comfort.

I have a friend who is a personal chef in Atlanta. She told me that she once described a possible menu dish to her customer as a casserole and her customer responded with a slightly disdainful, haughty voice, “Oh, no, our family doesn’t eat casseroles.” Duly noted, my wise friend observed. A few weeks later she thought she’d try again. She described pretty much the same dish, but this time as a gratin. The same customer replied in that same disdainful voice, “No, that’s too far too fancy, our family doesn’t eat gratins.” My friend knew her stumbling block was the language, the description, the perception, because she knew she meant the same recipe. So, going up to bat for a third time, a few weeks later still, she described the dish as a “bake.” It worked. “Oh, yes,” the customer happily replied, “that sounds lovely.”

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