Virginia Willis Blog

Bourbon Apple Cider

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Here’s a festive cocktail for your holiday pleasure!

Bon Appétit Y’all
Virginia

Bourbon Apple Cider
Serves 2

3/4 cup freshly pressed apple cider
1/3 cup Bourbon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 thin slices fresh ginger
2 thin slices apple, for garnish
2 sprigs thyme, for garnish.

Combine apple cider, bourbon, and lemon juice in a shaker. Shake to combine. Pour into rocks glass over ice. Garnish with ginger, apples, and thyme. Enjoy!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake & Holiday Memories

caramel cake on www.virginiawillis.com

Layer cakes are joyful, towering celebrations. Even in these super busy times, it’s nice to dust off the cake pans and bake a layer cake at Christmas. I like Red Velvet and Coconut Cake, but I have to say my favorite just might be Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake. It was my grandfather’s favorite holiday treat, too. The Southern sweet tooth reigns in supreme glory during the holidays. Divinity, fudge, mints, melt-aways, cookies, and pies all had their place, but he loved Caramel Cake the most.

You might think baking a cake during the Holiday Rush as absolute sheer madness and decide you’d rather pick one up at a bakery. I can understand; there’s no doubt the holidays can be hard. I admit to a bit of holiday melancholy. It might be triggered by a song, a little taste of something, or even an aroma wafting through the air. Sometimes it’s the glimmer and twinkle of a sparkling ornament in the tree. I feel my throat tighten so much it hurts and find my eyes full, holding back a tear or two. Generally, I am a very happy person, but I think that during the holidays I just miss the folks I’ve lost a little bit more. Undoubtedly, both of my grandparents are at the top of that heavy-hearted list.

old fashioned caramel cake on www.virginiawillis.com

My grandfather, whom I called Dede, was a mountain of a man, nearly 6-feet tall with sculpted, strong arms and massive, thick hands. Rumor has it he was only in one fight in his adult life. His appearance was foreboding, but the truth of it is that he was a gentle giant. He’d cry at the sound of a church organ playing his favorite hymn and tended his flowers just as well as he did the vegetables that helped to feed his family. He was a hard-working man and had grown up in the country, fishing and farming his entire life. Dede only attended school until 8th grade; he had to go to work and help support his family, but he was an avid reader. When I was a child, he would tap my young head and say, “Get it up here, they can’t ever take that away from you.”

My grandmother was from a more privileged family and had attended college. They fell in love at a fish fry on the Savannah River and eloped. (I still can’t believe it! Can you imagine how scandalous that was?! And, to defend my grandmother’s honor, their eldest child was not born shortly thereafter.) My grandfather was a Greyhound bus driver and made a solid middle class living; Mama says they never went without. He amassed a good deal of land and he also put his three of his daughters through college, a nod at the education he hadn’t been able to achieve.

old fashioned caramel cake on www.virginiawillis.com

Needless to say, Dede and my grandmother were quite a pair. This Old Fashioned Caramel Cake is especially bittersweet during this time of year because my grandparents used to prepare this cake as a team. They did a lot of cooking together, especially during the holidays. They made buttery yeast rolls; spicy cheese straws; ambrosia prepared with freshly grated coconut; and boozy fruitcake, just to name a few of their classic dishes.

For this caramel cake, Meme would “burn” the sugar in her cast iron skillet and Dede would whip the molten mixture by hand, using a wooden spoon until it cooled enough to spread on the tender yellow rounds of cake. I can see him now, sitting in his chair at the kitchen table, in his plaid shirt. His glasses would slip down just a bit and his brow might glisten a bit in the warm kitchen, but his bright blue eyes were sparkling and he was happy. He loved to cook, too, and he loved to be surrounded by his family and loved ones during the holidays.

So, now, I hold him in my heart when I pull my cake pans from the shelf. I hold him in my heart when I cream the butter and burn the sugar in the very same cast iron skillet. I hold him in my heart with every stroke of the offset spatula as I slather the caramel icing on the firm yellow rounds. I cherish his memory and squeeze it tight, so it can’t fade. And, when it’s all finished and hours later, I am finally able to slice the cake take a bite, I feel and taste his love in each and every buttery crumb and sugary morsel.

Happy holidays to you and your family.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

 

PS I’m happy to send a bookplate if you pre-order Lighten Up, Y’all. And, if you want to try some holiday desserts that are a bit easier — and a lot lighter — please take a look at my recent holiday cookie recipes in Eating Well magazine. The story is written by my dear friend Claire Perez and is about my Christmas tradition with her and her daughter, Ruby.

Caramel Cake on www.virginiawillis.com

Old-Fashioned Caramel Cake
Makes 3 (9-inch) round layers

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature, well beaten

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Burnt Caramel Icing (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with waxed or parchment paper. Butter and flour the paper. Sift together the flour and the baking powder.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients in three portions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean and the cakes start pulling away from the sides of the pans, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Invert onto the rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cardboard cake round. Spread with the still-warm frosting. Repeat with remaining layers, placing the final layer bottom side up. Working quickly, use a small offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake. Let stand for 2 hours to allow the icing to set before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Caramel Icing
Makes about 2 cups

2½ cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed to loosen

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

In a heavy cast-iron skillet, heat ½ cup of the sugar over medium-high heat. Stir until dissolved, then do not stir again; simply shake the pan occasionally until the mixture reaches the caramel stage 320°F to 335°F on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, combine the remaining 2 cups sugar, the butter, and the cream. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

When the sugar reaches the caramel stage, immediately pour it into the cream mixture and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, 232°F to 240°F. Remove from the heat; add the vanilla and salt and stir to combine. Place on a rack and set aside until just cool enough to touch, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until creamy, 5 to 7 minutes.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Southern Recipes: Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Tacos

Sustainable catfish tacos on virginiawillis.com

Sustainable Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Tacos

Sustainable Seafood: Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Tacos

October is National Seafood Month. Join in the celebration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium & Seafood Watch National Sustainable Seafood Taco Day on Saturday, October 4. Chefs nationwide will be highlighting tacos on their menu and sharing the story of their sustainable seafood ingredients with their customers — and you can, too!

Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Tacos on www.virginiawillis.com

Vibrant greens for the Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Tacos

As a member of the Blue Ribbon Task for Seafood Watch, I’ve developed a simple and tasty Southern-inspired Catfish and Collard Green Slaw Taco. And, with a nod to my next cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all, I’m broiling the fish instead of frying it. The catfish is cut into strips and topped with a pungent combination of lime juice and Serrano peppers.

Strips of catfish, serrano peppers, and lime juice on www.virginiawillis.com

Strips of catfish, Serrano peppers, and lime juice

I grew up eating catfish. My grandparent’s lived about a mile from the Savannah River, one of Georgia’s longest and largest rivers and defines most of the boundary between Georgia and South Carolina.Wild catfish that live in rivers, lakes and ponds are bottom-dwellers, and the flesh picks up a distinctively earthy flavor. I don’t mind the characteristic taste. However, American farm-raised catfish are fed a diet of high-protein pellets made from soybean meal, corn, and rice that give the flesh a consistent, sweet, mild flavor.

collard green slaw on www.virginiawillis.com

Collard Green Slaw

The Collard Green Slaw consists of thin ribbons of collard greens, combined with chopped garlic, more Serrano peppers, and lime juice. The leaves are rolled into a cylinder and then very thinly sliced with a chef’s knife, a technique known as chiffonade. 

chiffonade of collard greens on www.virginiawillis.com

Catfish are environmentally sustainable, inexpensive and the meat is very versatile; pretty much any recipe calling for tilapia can be made with catfish. Make a point to buy American catfish; you just don’t know what you are getting if you buy imported fish.

This simple dish is a real winner with the zesty, spicy collard green slaw and the tender  catfish strips. Good, good for you, and good for the ocean. It doesn’t get better.

Bon AppétitY’all!

Virginia

Southern Recipes: Catfish and Collard Tacos

Serving Size: Serves 4

Ingredients

For the Collard Green Slaw:
6 large collard greens leaves, stems removed and sliced in chiffonade
Juice of 1 lime
1 serrano pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Fish:
Juice of 1 lime
1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Tacos:
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
4 six-inch corn tortillas
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Place the collard greens in a bowl. Add the lime juice, Serrano pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, toss to combine. Set aside to marinate and soften while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Heat the oven to broil. Place fish on small rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Squeeze over the juice of 1 lime juice and top with the serrano pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Broil fish until opaque in center, about 7 minutes.
  3. Divide the fish among the tortillas. Top with the collard green slaw, avocado, scallions, cilantro leaves, and cheese. Fold in half and serve immediately.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2014/10/catfish-and-collard-green-slaw-tacos/

 

photos by Virginia Willis

Check out Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk and read about why I am walking.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Food Photography: Friendship, Inspiration, and Opportunity

Lighten Up, Y'all cover on www.virginiawillis.com

Growing into Food Photography

I’ve got two big announcements to share: Lighten Up, Y’all is now available for pre-order and will be in stores in March. My dear friend Angie Mosier and I worked together over the course of a year shooting the photos so that we could best capture the food when in season.  The photo below of the two of us is before I started lightening things up — and over 35 pounds ago! It makes me so happy to see that progress and know I am so much happier and healthier.

Angie has worked with me on all three of my Y’all books, as the prop stylist on the first two and as the photographer for Lighten Up, Y’all. We’re a good team and her photographs are stunning.

Virginia & Angie

She is hands-down one of the most talented people I have ever met and consider her a real-life Renaissance woman. She’s been an enormous inspiration to me. Her culinary career began over 20 years ago when she started a wedding cake and pastry business.  When her creations were photographed for books and magazines, she found that she loved the process and began working as a food stylist.  She also started writing about food. Then, one day she picked up a camera and started to shoot food, too.

So….Virginia Willis, Chef and Food Photographer!?

My second big announcement is that I’m excited to add Food Photography to my list of services. Angie’s versatility and desire for her own change and growth has inspired me to do the same.

Click here to see my photography portfolio.

 

buttery bundt

I wear many hats in my business, but my work has always been more about the recipes and the words.  However, I have always enjoyed photography and have always shot the photos for my own blog. But, honestly, I wasn’t very dedicated and focused far more on the quality of the food than the photos. Then, a few of my recipe development projects required accompanying photos. Things change for me when it becomes a job. I pride myself on my work. So, I started paying more attention. I started studying. I thought about my talented friend Angie and realized this was something I could do, too. As we worked together on Lighten Up, Y’all I learned more and more. My photos improved. Last year, I was offered the opportunity to shoot the photos for my blog, Down-Home Comfort on Food Network. It’s been awesome. This past year,  I have felt like I was learning to cook a whole new cuisine.

peaches on www.virginiawillis.com

I love that Angie is thoughtful and mindful about her work. We share beliefs about the importance of food and cooking. Her website Placemat Productions states, “By documenting food, and the folks who work to bring good food to the table, Angie hopes to celebrate it, save it, cook it, serve it, and of course, eat it.”

melons on www.virginiawillis.com

She’s super smart. You can clearly see she’s stunningly beautiful. She can also sing. It’s almost unfair that one person could be so amazing, except the fact that I love her and she is one of my dearest friends. I am grateful for her inspiration, our friendship, and this new opportunity.

Let me know what you think!

 Bon AppétitY’all!
Virginia

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

 

 

 

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Southern Recipes: Savory Eggplant Dip

Asian Eggplant Dip on www.virginiawillis.com

Eggplant Dip

It’s funny to me how eggplant isn’t often perceived as a Southern vegetable. Eggplant flourishes in the scorching heat of a Deep South summer. My grandparents grew row upon row of the stately bushes, heavily laden with the shiny black-purple orbs. The plants are absolutely majestic in the vegetable garden with their luscious, draped, fanlike leaves and vibrant colors. Eggplant Dip? No way. My grandmother seemed to only ever fry eggplant. She peeled, then dusted thick ivory eggplant steaks, peppered with an abundance of seeds in seasoned finely ground cornmeal. They were then pan-fried in a bath of sizzling hot oil in a cast iron skillet until golden brown and crisp.

eggplant on www.virginiawillis.com

Eggplant is immensely versatile. It’s truly one of my favorite vegetables. I love the meatiness of it, the texture and toothsomeness of it. How did Southerners not create our own herbed ratatouille, pungent caponata, or cheesy Parmesan? How were we not seduced by these jewel-like vegetables into developing our own sensual Baba Ghanoush or fiery hot Szechuan stir-fry?

Eggplant on www.virginiawillis.com

One of my strongest beliefs is that Southern cuisine is a living, vibrant cuisine. While I embrace traditional ingredients, I also firmly believe that the food of the South shouldn’t be judged solely by plantation cooking or what our grandparents cooked and ate. Also, sometimes I find myself in a French-Southern box – a delicious box that’s been very good to me, but a box nonetheless. It’s important to try new things in the kitchen. When this dish was first made for me, I instantly fell in love with it and still request it often. It’s an adaptation of Strange-Flavor Eggplant, a recipe by chef Barbara Tropp —  that was in turn inspired by a traditional Chinese recipe. Is it Southern? No, not at all. Is it good? Yes, indeed.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia

Savory Eggplant Dip

Serving Size: serves 6

Savory Eggplant Dip

Ingredients

2 medium eggplant
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
¼ cup thinly sliced green and white scallion rings
1 serrano chile pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped, plus more sliced for garnish
¼ teaspoon dried red chile flakes, or to taste
3 tablespoons tamari
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon hot water
2 tablespoons canola oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Wrap the eggplant in foil and place in the oven. Roast until collapsed and very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the eggplant and loosen the foil. Slit it lengthwise to speed the cooling.
  2. Combine the garlic, ginger, scallion, and Serrano pepper in the bowl of a small food processor fitter with blade attachment. Pulse to combine. Set aside. Combine the tamari, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
  3. Heat a wok over medium high heat. Add the canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the reserved garlic-ginger mixture and red pepper flakes.
  4. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant 45 to 60 seconds. Add the reserved sauce ingredients and eggplant.
  5. Stir well to blend, and heat through. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve warm or cold. Keeps up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2014/09/eggplant-dip/

 

All other photos by Virginia Willis

Check out Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk and read about why I am walking.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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