by Virginia Willis in Books, Recipes, March 6th, 2015
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, December 26th, 2014
Across the country in recent years there’s been a renaissance of all things Southern, and chefs everywhere from New York City to Portland are offering Southern dishes in their restaurants, cafes and food trucks. Some are more successful than others. Topping grits with pimiento cheese or coating chicken in red velvet crumbs doesn’t make something Southern. Yes, there is a lot of Southern food that is fried, but Southern food is about more than just fried chicken and fatback. Traditionally, Southern cooking was actually a vegetable-based cuisine. We have nearly a 12-month growing season in most of the South. This is the fertile land of peaches, green beans, tomatoes, okra and corn. My newest cookbook celebrates the healthy and wholesome side of Southern cooking. Here, I am sharing with you a handful of iconic Southern ingredients and delicious ways to use them, from my newest cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all! Read more
by Virginia Willis in Holidays, Recipes, December 16th, 2014
This may seem like an odd sort of down-home comfort-food recipe to share with you at this time of year, but if you think about it, it’s actually the perfect time for a bowl of chicken noodle soup. After rushing around for the past month dealing with first Thanksgiving and then the holidays, it’s easy to be worn down and feeling poorly. It’s also easy to overindulge at holiday parties and eat lots of rich foods. And just around the corner are the New Year’s Eve festivities with bubbly and more indulgence, and New Year’s Day gatherings. In fact, a few years ago Mama had a terrible cold on Christmas Eve. Instead of roast goose or prime rib we all enjoyed humble, soothing, nourishing chicken soup! It was just perfect and now has become a yearly tradition. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, December 12th, 2014
During the holidays, cakes have always been part of our Southern Yuletide tradition. Coconut, caramel and red velvet cakes grace sideboards, alongside buttery pound cakes and loaves of spicy gingerbread. The Southern sweet tooth is a force of nature! These festive layer cakes are grand, over-the-top creations, sweet and sensational, with bonus points awarded for stature. From the coconut cake’s snow-white icing spiked with coconut to the boozy, cherry-studded fruitcake, there’s no lack of theater on display. A layer cake waiting on a sideboard under a glass dome is both celebration and welcome. A layer cake defines Southern hospitality. Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, December 5th, 2014
Not long ago a Southern breakfast was a massive meal of eggs, grits, fried country ham or bacon and buttery biscuits. Rib-sticking breakfasts were a robust way to start a long day of hard work on the farm. This has changed; we don’t have the time for big breakfast productions. Doesn’t that sound like a whole lot of work?
This breakfast casserole of bread, sausage and cheese is bound with custard, almost like a savory bread pudding. It can be made the night before so you won’t find yourself groggy and in need of caffeine, camped in front of a hot skillet. The next morning, remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. By the time the table is set, the family is assembled and you’re ready for your second cup, breakfast is ready! Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, November 28th, 2014
Opening the door on a cold night and being greeted by the inviting smells of stew from a slow cooker can be a dream come true. But winter is not the only time a slow cooker is useful. In the summer, using a slow cooker avoids heat from a hot oven — and it takes less electricity. Slow cookers are a modern mom’s favorite weeknight helper. Some chefs peer down their nose at them, but there are so many recipes that are updated for today’s farmers-market sensibilities and farm-to-table tastes, proving that using a slow cooker doesn’t automatically involve also using a can opener! Read more
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, November 21st, 2014
Comforting, bubbling casseroles such as this down-home comfort Turkey Tetrazzini have long been prepared by the ladies of the Methodist church in the south Georgia town where I grew up. They were taken to the families in celebration. As different as most faiths seem to be, they all share some sort of ceremony at key moments in human life: the union of two people, the birth of a child, the celebration of adulthood — whether that be a bat mitzvah, a confirmation or a hunter killing his first antelope — and the celebration of death. Food is more than keeping the family fed. Food is the adhesive that binds the community. This sentiment is especially clear at Thanksgiving as friends and family gather together in gratitude.
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, November 14th, 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.
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, October 24th, 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
by Virginia Willis in Recipes, October 17th, 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
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.