Virginia Willis Blog

Celebrate Summer with Sustainable Seafood

grilled trout recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

Celebrate Summer

The Fourth of July means fireworks, fun, flags, and of course food. It’s time to celebrate summer! Nearly 80% of Americans will be grilling this weekend, making it one of the biggest seafood buying weeks of the year. A lot of folks will be grilling burgers and brats, there will be flocks of barbecued chicken, and plenty of smoked pork shoulders and beef briskets, too.  We’re doing a little bit of both this weekend. Slow smoked brisket on the Big Green Egg one night — and fresh fish and shellfish the next. It’s the best of both worlds!

According to the USDA, we should to be eating seafood twice a week. Seafood and shellfish are high in protein, low in fat, and the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish are good for your heart. As you are making your seafood purchases, make sure to consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines to ensure you are purchasing sustainable seafood. So what does “sustainable seafood” mean? Sustainable seafood is defined as fish or shellfish that is fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on ocean health and ensures the availability of seafood for future generations. As a result of technology, we are now consuming fish at a higher rate than ever before. The global fishing community’s advances and lack of any serious regulation are enabling humans to fish deeper, farther, and for longer periods of time. The global fishing fleet is operating at two and a half times the sustainable level—there are simply too many boats chasing an increasingly dwindling number of fish. The bottom line is that we are simply catching and eating fish faster than most species can reproduce.

grilled trout recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

As a chef, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I write about it as often as I can in print, online, and through my blog. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I do this because I am on the Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a member of Chefs Collaborative. “I walk what I talk.” According to many scientists and scientific organizations like Seafood Watch, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Blue Ocean Institute, we are seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of the oceans.

grilled trout recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

So, I am sharing a recipe for farm-raised trout. According to the New England Aquarium, rainbow trout is very closely related to salmon, with the main difference being they are most commonly raised in freshwater on land based farms. These fish are well suited to farming, with fast growth and good environmental tolerances. Farm-raised rainbow trout is consistently high-quality, which makes buying decisions very easy. The flesh may be white, pink or orange and will turn paler when cooked. Buy U.S. farm-raised rainbow trout when possible. U.S. farm-raised rainbow trout are most commonly raised in raceways, which are essentially artificial streams. U.S. farmed rainbow trout is considered an ocean-friendly seafood choice because it is farmed in a manner that does not harm the environment.

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Trout is inexpensive and an extremely user-friendly fish to grill. Not only does its durable, leathery skin help keep the fish from falling apart, but it also insulates the flesh from the direct heat of the grill, cooking into crispy deliciousness.

Be safe and have a happy 4th of July!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

grilled trout recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

Grilled Trout with Olive Oil
Serves 4

This is the time to break out your best extra-virgin olive oil. The smoky, herb-infused fish just needs a little kiss of liquid gold.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) whole trout, butterflied
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, very thinly sliced
8 sprigs of thyme, more for serving
8 sprigs of basil, more for serving
4 dill sprigs, more for serving
Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the trout on a clean work surface and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Equally divide the lemon slices and herbs among the trout cavities.

Place the stuffed trout on the grill, heads facing in one direction. Grill, covered, until cooked on one side, about 5 minutes.

Uncover the grill, and flip the trout over (simply roll them over with a metal spatula). Cover, and continue cooking until the trout is done on the second side, an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, remove the trout to a warm platter and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with the fresh herbs and serve immediately.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Blueberries: Berry, Berry Good

Blueberry Delight

Blueberries are Berry, Berry Good

Blueberries are the Doris Day of summer fruit – happy-go-lucky, bright bouncing balls of flavor. Blackberries are moody, musky, and more complex. Watermelon is refreshing, juicy, and crisp. Cantaloupe is just a bit exotic. Peaches are downright racy — seductive, sexy, and sensual. We don’t get much in the way of cherries in the Deep South, but they, too, seem to be a very grown-up fruit. Blueberries however, are rated G. Blueberries are all-American. Blueberries are summer. Blueberries are healthy. Blueberries will put a smile on your face.

Well, mostly…but more about that on down the line.

When blueberries are in season, we enjoy them on a daily basis. When shopping, I always buy an extra pint just for the ride home from the farmer’s market. Many of you that follow my traveling exploits on airport apparel commentary on Facebook know that I fly a lot. (I also have “professional page” that sticks to more traditional commentary.) I’ll often buy a pint to throw in my carry-on bag for healthy snacking or a good-and-good-for-you breakfast.  Sometimes I can get a little carried away. A few weeks ago I was really nervous about something and mindlessly ate an entire quart. I laughed at myself binge-eating on blueberries, but hey, that’s heck of a lot better than a bag of potato chips!

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

There are two basic kinds of blueberries: high bush and low bush. High bush blueberries belong to the same family of plants as cranberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas and will grow up to eight feet! My home state of Georgia is in the top 5 high bush blueberry producing states in the nation. Low bush blueberries will only grow up to 24 inches. These wild bushes are native to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States, growing as far south as West Virginia and west to the Great Lakes region, Minnesota and Manitoba. Generally low bush blueberries are smaller. I Both high and low bush blueberries are low in fat and sodium, have just 80 calories per cup and contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols.  This group includes anthocyanins, which are compounds that give blueberries their blue color. Anthocyanins have demonstrated ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases.

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A few years ago, a friend and I drove a few hours south of Atlanta to pick some of those delicious Georgia blueberries so that we could put up some jam. Let me tell you, it was hot as absolute blue blazes in that blueberry patch. The sun mercilessly beat down on our efforts for a farm-fresh harvest. Sweat dripped, no, ran in rivulets into our stinging eyes. Sunscreen washed off of us in waves. Gnats buzzed about our faces, pestering our eyes, ears, nose, and mouths. Birds dive-bombed our heads in competition for the fruit. Mosquitoes freely fed at our ankles like they were at a Las Vegas buffet. The combination of the smothering humidity and brutal sun caused our clothes to adhere to our flushed skin in awkward, uncomfortable configurations much like misdirected plastic wrap. It was 100% pure misery.

My second attempt at harvesting blueberries happened last summer. We have blueberry bushes in Massachusetts. I’d carefully covered them in tight-grid plastic mesh to keep the birds away. I diligently weeded and watered the soil, rich and teeming with earthworms. I braved terrified birds that had become trapped in the mesh. Slowly and surely, the unripe green orbs began to blush pink, then turned purple red. As they fully ripened the fruit turned deep blue in color, seemingly magically dusted in silver powder. The branches were bent heavy with fruit and it looked to be a great harvest. I was beyond excited, eagerly anticipating the two of us harvesting the fruit from the land. I had visions of jewel-toned quilted jelly jars lined up on the shelves in our pantry, premonitions of thirst-quenching blueberry lemonade, and lofty dreams of healthy blueberry smoothies to start our upcoming mornings.

Finally, the time came to harvest. The evening wasn’t nearly as hot as my experience in Georgia. There were no gnats or mosquitoes, no sunscreen was required, and the birds stayed a respectful distance away. It was looking pretty good. As we descended to the field, I was channeling equal parts Laura Ingalls Wilder and P. Allen Smith, two folks I immensely admire. We started our harvest. Birds chirped in the adjacent willow tree. Butterflies flitted in the air. There may have been a bunny at the edge of the meadow nibbling on grass.

Then, the horrific nightmare began. As we removed the protective mesh, we found not one, not two, but two-and-a-half dead snakes entangled in the mesh. Why dead? They’d slipped under the mesh and had become trapped. They were harmless garter snakes, but I come from a long line of snake-fearing women. And, as I have to repeatedly explain to my Yankee loved ones, all 5 deadly snakes that inhabit the North American continent live, nay, flourish and thrive in Georgia. I am positively terrified of snakes – harmless, deadly, live, dead, fake, and yes, halved. I basically lost my, well, stuff. I ceased to be helpful or cooperative. I moved to a safe distance of 25 feet from the flaccid, lifeless serpents.

Oh, hell no.

I have now officially decided buying blueberries nicely packaged in containers will be the way to go.

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

Please make sure to check out the July/August issue of Country Living. It’s on the stands now and I’ve got an article with lots of recipes in our Farm Fresh Feast. Also, I’m going to be teaching and speaking in Nashville, Lexington, and New England over the next few months. Check out my events page for more information. Come see me!

Now, for the recipes!

You can keep it keep it wholesome like Doris Day or jazz it up with chilled vodka. As for me, on this incredibly momentous day, I think Blueberry Lemonade might go really well with champagne!

Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

Blueberry Mint Lemonade
Serves 8

It’s great on it’s own, but also makes a great adult version, too. Instead of adding alcohol, I prefer having a pitcher of non-alcohol lemonade with a bottle of chilled vodka adjacent and a jigger for measure. It’s kid-friendly and allows everyone to make their cocktail as mild – or as stiff – as they like. Make sure the vodka is on ice and very well chilled.

½ cup sugar
3 ½ cups water
½ pint blueberries
4 sprigs mint, more for garnish
Juice 4 lemons
Lemon slices, for garnish
Chilled Vodka, optional

Combine the sugar and ½ cup of the water in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, just until the sugar melts. Set aside.

In the bottom of a pitcher combine the blueberries and the mint. Using the end of a spoon or a muddler, crush the berries and the mint until pulpy and smashed. Add the juice of 4 lemons, the remaining 3 cups of water, and the reserved simple syrup. Stir to combine. Add ice to fill the pitcher and chill the lemonade.

To serve, fill a glass with ice. Pour over lemonade and additional mint and lemon slices to garnish. For an adult version, fill glass with ice and add 1 ½ ounces vodka, or to taste, and top off with lemonade, mint sprigs, and lemon slices.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Georgia Peaches: A Bushel of Recipes

 

peaches on www.virginiawillis.com
Georgia Peaches

Peaches have been in season in Georgia a few weeks, but I think that mid-June is when things really become serious. I grew up in Macon County, adjacent to Peach County in South Georgia and I absolutely love peaches. They are my favorite summer fruit. People get pretty riled up in regards to the flavor of South Carolina versus Georgia peaches. Well, being from Georgia, you know where I stand. I love Georgia Grown! However, to paraphrase, let’s just say, “A peach is a peach, is a peach, is a peach.” And, in summer when peaches are fresh, fragrant, and ripe, you need to enjoy them as much as you can.

peach and basil chicken

I’ve been buying peaches from Pearson Farms in Fort Valley, Georgia for nearly 20 years and am going to place an order next week! I’ve shared an incredible summer supper recipe for Basil Peach Chicken Breasts on their website. If you give it a try, please let me know what you think. And, to add to your bushel basket of peach recipes, make sure to check out my Peach Upside Down Cake for Southern Living. Also, here’s a link to a piece for Eating Well magazine about Pearson Farms a few years ago with all sorts of peach recipes for your bushel basket!

Lightened Up Y'all Peach Cobbler on www.virginiawillis.com

Garden & Gun featured my Blueberry Cobbler recipe from Lighten Up, Y’all in their column, Anatomy of a Classic  — and guess what? You can do it with peaches, too! The photo of my Peach Spa-aah Cobbler above was taken by Carolyn O’Neil, author of Slim Down South at La Cocina que Canta at the beautiful Rancho la Puerta. She also reminds us, “We’re supposed to drink 10 glasses of water. And, a lot of people forget that summer fruits and food can be really great sources of hydration, too.”

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Taste of the South also recently featured an interview along with a whole slew of other folks. I am so thankful and LOVE the fact that folks are LOVING my book.

You CAN have comfort food that’s good AND good for you! 

I’m continuing to travel far and wide. I’ve got some fun events coming up in Chicago and Nashville. I’m also speaking in Boston; teaching in several schools in New England including Northampton, Massachusetts; York, Maine; and Weathersfield, Vermont. Check out my events page for more information and links for tickets.

If you are cooking my book (and especially if you are enjoying it!) please post an Amazon.com​ review. That sort of thing is very important and I’d greatly appreciate your help.

I hope you enjoy this very last recipe in your bushel basket for Peach Ice Cream. Nope, it’s not lightened up. You know, when it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it!

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Virginia Willis

 

PEACH ICE CREAM ON WWW.VIRGINIAWILLIS.COM

 

Peach Ice Cream 
Makes 7 cups

4 large ripe peaches (about 2 pounds), pitted and quartered
1/4 cup mild honey
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and water. Place the peaches and honey in the jar of a blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the milk almost to a boil over medium heat. Add the scraped vanilla bean. In a second saucepan, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light (be careful not to make the mixture foamy). Mix in half the hot milk, then transfer the mixture to the other saucepan with the remaining milk and blend.

Decrease the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring the custard until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and the mixture reaches 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat. Set a sieve over a large, clean bowl and pass the custard through the sieve. Discard any eggy solids. Add peach puree and stir to combine.

Cool custard completely over an ice bath or refrigerate until cool. Churn the ice cream according to the machine instructions.

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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

 

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

all photography by Virginia Willis  (except for cobbler by Carolyn O’Neil and Basil Peach Chicken by Angie Mosier) 

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Finding What You’re Looking For

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Finding What You’re Looking For

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was a kid. During a short pit stop in Atlanta last weekend, I spent some time uploading childhood photos to an online printing service (these photos actually originated as slides). It was a far cry from my childhood memories of my mother sealing a roll of film in a paper envelope and dropping it in a box at the drug store. I didn’t have to move from my living room and they will appear, just like magic in a few days. No cashier, no paper money, and no contact with a human.

fishing on www.virginiawillis.com

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned how personal Lighten Up, Y’all is. This book tour has given me a lot to think about and stirred up a lot of powerful emotions. Honestly, the whole pursuit of me downloading and uploading was that I wanted some paper photographs of me as a child to hold in my hand. I wanted to really look at that little girl and see her, to try to really see her. The one thread I recognized during the process is that I always seemed happiest when I was in the kitchen cooking or fishing and the same holds true today!

little va on making biscuits on www.virginiawillis.com

In these past few weeks I have received many emails and social media messages from people as well as “real human contact” with the folks that have attended my cooking classes or stopped by a book signing. Some of those encounters have been incredible. One young woman who was quite overweight dawdled after class until everyone had left the room. She divulged in a whisper that she had planned on getting lap-band surgery, but after my class had decided that she wanted lose weight and become more healthy through changing her eating habits and increasing her physical activity. Her eyes glistened with tears. I could feel the pain emanating from her.

At another class, a woman shared that she’d struggled with bulimia for nearly 18 years. From all outward appearances, she was of normal size and normal weight – but who could know what she sees? One evening, I chatted with a couple as I signed their book after class. The husband surprised me and in a slightly croaking voice he said, “I wish she’d listen to you; I tell her everyday she is beautiful and she doesn’t believe me.” She stood beside him with her head hung low and nodded in agreement. She was indeed, from all outward appearances, beautiful. Another student was built like an absolute brick house. She’d lost 75 pounds and had become a weight lifter. She had tears running down her cheeks during much of my cooking class, and it’s not because I was chopping onions. It’s all been very inspirational.

little virginia with fish on www.virginiawillis.com

What I have come to realize is that we all have something. Some folks think we’re too fat — others think they’re too skinny, too tall, too short, too pale, too dark, too frail, too freckled, or too “something.” I think that we all have some internal demon nagging us with negative thoughts. To that I say, “be gone Satan!” and I say that only partially in jest. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe we have to take responsibility for our bodies; the doctors aren’t making this stuff up. At the same time, I know happiness isn’t found in a number on a scale or how one looks in the mirror. Happiness isn’t found on the outside. I’m reading a beautiful book called An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. In the first chapter she writes, “Everyone is looking for the X that marks the spot and they can’t see it because they are standing on it.” What we’re looking for is found within each and every one of us, and I strongly believe we all have the power to find it.

little va on www.virginiawillis.com

I am still on a path, a journey. I won’t tell you for a minute that I don’t have my moments; I have plenty. It’s an everyday effort to silence those demons, find what you’re looking for, and meet your goals. Just remember this, when you are working towards a goal, be proud and strong with every step you take toward it, not just when you meet it.

Recipes will resume next week. Thanks for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

End Notes: Out and About

  • Lots of reviews and links to recipes are available on my press page.
  • I’ve got a good many classes, signings, and appearances planned all around the country. Please check out my events page. If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class, book signing, or for me to visit your book club, let me know! Please send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.
  • And, on the note of travel, a lot of you are quite amused by my tongue-in-cheek “Airport Apparel Observations.” I only post those on my “personal page” but if you want to check those out you can follow me here on Facebook or check out the hashtag #AirportApparelObservations.
  • If you are cooking my book (and especially if you are enjoying it!) please post an Amazon.com​ review. That sort of thing is very important and I’d greatly appreciate your help.

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

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

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis 

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

Lets connect on Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest!

Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

virginia willis books on www.virginiawillis.com
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Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover and Easter

Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover on www.virginiawillis.com

 

Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover and Easter

My recent travels on book tour have led me to South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Virginia, DC, and Ohio and all along the way I have been enjoying a most welcome spring. The reviews are coming in and the response to Lighten Up, Y’all has been pretty phenomenal. I’m absolutely thrilled. Amazon’s Recipe Road Test writes, “Willis is something of a miracle worker when it comes to making Southern favorites taste as good as you’d expect but made with healthier ingredients and techniques….” There are more reviews on my press page and the most satisfying experiences have been in my classes and folks sending me photos on social media. I am so thankful to be at your table!  (more…)

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