Virginia Willis Blog

Eat Right for Your Sight on National Kale Day!

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Eat Right for Your Sight on National Kale Day!

A year or so ago I helped edit a cookbook called Eat Right for Your Sight for the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. It was a fascinating project and increased my awareness of this incurable disease.

At present, Macular Degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.

It wasn’t just your mother telling you to eat carrots for better vision! People have known for centuries that certain foods can be good for your eyesight, including 16th Century Spanish explorers who carried chili peppers on voyages to help with night vision. Your mom and the explorers were smart: those chili peppers contained beta-carotene, vitamins C, E and B6, and folic acid, and the carrots had carotenoids and antioxidants. A diet rich in these nutrients may reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and slow the progression of the disease in those already diagnosed.

While Eat Right for Your Sight targets those who are particularly concerned with maintaining eye health or slowing macular degeneration, it is a great cookbook filled with delicious recipes for everyone. Each recipe includes comprehensive nutrition information, and they have been carefully crafted to act like medicine, but not taste like it! With the variety and creative food combinations, it is perfect for food enthusiasts as well as those who simply want a healthier diet.

In the spirit of National Kale Day, I want to share my recipe for Kale Omelet from my book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, and this warming, satisfying recipe for White Bean Soup with Kale from Eat Right for your Sight.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 
Virginia Willis

PS Speaking of a healthier diet — Lighten Up, Y’all is on sale on Amazon for only $16.66!

Kale Omelet on


Kale Omelet 

Serves 6 to 8

3 slices thick bacon, cut into lardons or 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
5 cups hearty greens (such as kale, chard, or mustard greens), cleaned, tough stems removed, and chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (2 ounces)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup ricotta cheese (6 ounces)
1 tablespoon canola oil

Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a plate with paper towels. Heat a large nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp and brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the prepared plate; set aside.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings (reserve the excess fat for another use or dispose). Alternately, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low, add half the greens, and toss until they begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the remaining greens and season with salt and pepper. Add the water. Toss to coat. Decrease the heat to low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are wilted and tender, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to a large bowl, leaving any cooking liquid behind.

Rinse and dry the skillet. To the greens, add the eggs, ¼ cup of the grated cheese, the reserved bacon, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Fold in the ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.

Return the now-clean skillet to the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and rotate the skillet to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is shimmering, pour in the egg mixture and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Cook over medium-low heat until the omelet is barely set at the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup grated cheese over the eggs.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until set, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and, using a butter knife or long spatula, loosen the omelet from the sides of the skillet. Give the skillet a shake and slide the omelet out onto a clean cutting board. (Don’t use a knife in the nonstick skillet!) Using a serrated knife, slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Brilliant: Presentation
Baked in a Sourdough Boule

Your brunch guests will certainly think this is Brilliant.  Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner or parchment paper.Slice off the top of an 8-inch round sourdough or firm white loaf; remove the bread in chunks, leaving a shell.Reserve the bread for another use. Prepare the filling. Instead of returning the egg and kale mixture to the skillet, transfer the mixture to the prepared boule. Top with remaining ¼ cup grated cheese. Bake until the eggs are set, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Present on a wooden cutting board with a serrated knife. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


eat right for your sight white bean soup with kale

White Bean Soup with Kale
Serves 4-6

Kale turns an ordinary white bean soup into a lutein and zeaxanthin powerhouse. (As a rule, the darker the green, the higher the lutein.) As an alternative, add 6 to 8 ounces of chopped smoked sausage, such as Andouille or chorizo, for a meatier dish with a kick.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly chopped thyme
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups dry navy or great Northern beans, soaked overnight
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chopped kale leaves, tough stems removed

Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, carrot, and celery for 7 to 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the thyme and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the broth, beans, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 11/2 hours, or until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

Partially purée the soup with an immersion blender or transfer half the soup to a blender or food processor and purée before adding back to the stockpot. Add the kale and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste. Ladle into warm bowls and serve immediately.

Nutritional Profile
Serving size: 1 cup
Calories: 357
Protein: 17 g
Fiber: 19 g
Fat: 7 g
Saturated fat: 1 g
Sodium: 847 mg
Vitamin A: 14,721 IU
Vitamin C: 71 mg
Vitamin E: 2 IU
Zinc: 3 mg
Beta-carotene: 8,165 μg
Lutein and zeaxanthin: 21,329 μg

Credit line: Recipe from Eat Right for Your Sight: Tasty Recipes That Help Reduce the Risk of Vision Loss from Macular Degeneration, copyright © American Macular Degeneration Foundation, 2015. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.


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

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If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to 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 Thanks so much.

Photography by Virginia Willis

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My Day in NYC on 9-11

NYC on 9-11

This picture of my sister was taken in August, just a few weeks before the horrible tragedy in 2001. In 2010, when I wrote my original post, I had not written a word about 9-11. It all stayed bottled up for a long while. Today, this anniversary, I do what I do every year. I call my friend Claire and tell her I love her. Her home was my refuge that tragic day. And, I reach out to my friend and colleague, Faye. She was my mouth and ears to the world. Somehow she could reach me via cell when no one else could, so she called my family for me to let them know I was okay. 

I reworked this piece just a bit, but, I think, at least for a while, this will remain my blog post for 9-11. 

NYC on 9-11

I remember that morning very plainly, that crisp, clear September morning.

I was living in Jersey City and would take the PATH train into the city for work. Our street was clean and tidy, but the walk along the main street was cluttered and trashy.

We didn’t live in a bad neighborhood; it was simply urban living.

Sadly, somehow I have always constantly, somewhat obsessively, wondered about the socio-economics of garbage. It used to drive me absolutely mad, how much sheer waste people used to carelessly throw on the ground.

So, I walked that morning, not looking at the cotton-white clouds strewn across the brilliant cerulean blue sky, but at the litter on the sidewalk, the empty, dented cans and bottles, the plastic bags whirling in the wind across the cement, the crumpled, greasy sacks of fast food, and the oily, iridescent psychedelic rainbows in the jagged potholes at every corner and crosswalk.

I remember walking mad.

Can you imagine? Walking mad? Letting filth, garbage, other people’s refuse distress me so? Why do I remember this?

It turns out that my disgust and  irritation actually saved me from watching the first plane hit the first tower.

I know this.

I walked this walk every day —  most often amazed, looking skyward at those tall twin towers across the river directly in my sight. They were a compass point. The papers, the news, the sources on the internet proclaimed the timing second by second, minute by minute of the deadly attack in the days and weeks to come.

I know that I was walking exactly at that exact time.

I didn’t see one of the most horrific things in history because I was looking down at garbage.

Often I would take the PATH from Jersey City to the WTC and then change on the subway to go uptown, but even though I was running late, I waited for the train to take me to 33rd street so I’d only have to make one change.

I’ve thought about that quite a bit in these past years, not taking the train to the WTC. I could have been right in the middle of it.

By the time I changed to the subway and exited the station on 40th Street the streets were buzzing with rumors, that a plane had hit the tower.

I assumed it was a small plane, maybe a private jet.

Once in the office it was clear something else was going on. Cell phones weren’t working and internet access was spotty. Someone said the mall was under attack in DC, then it was declared the pentagon was hit, then the White House.

I was the producer for Epicurious on the Discovery Channel hosted my chef Michael Lomonaco. We didn’t know where he was.

I called my now-frantic family to let them know I was okay.

But, I was in Times Square and which actually didn’t feel very okay at all. If the US was under attack, Time Square might likely be dead center next.

So, we walked down 25 floors of the winding darkened stairwell, it wasn’t far and it wasn’t because we were in imminent danger. It somehow seemed like the sensible thing to do. I had no desire to be caught in an elevator.

The bridges and tunnels were closed. The subway wasn’t running. I had called a friend and she said to meet her at her apartment on the Lower East Side. Manhattan was under lock-down.

I knew I couldn’t get home.

So, I started walking southeast from Midtown. People were huddled at cars with doors and windows open at street corners listening to the radio. The sound of sirens and the gnawing pull of fear were omnipresent. I saw one act of vandalism, someone breaking into a pay phone. It gave me chills. The concept of being in a lawless New York City was terrifying.

At one point I could see the towers smoldering and smoking against the blue sky, and then at the next corner, when they would have been in sight again, they were gone.

Just gone.

As I walked South, soon I saw people walking covered in grey dust and soot. I kept walking further south, then east. I finally arrived at my friend’s apartment on 5th Street on the Lower East Side. She wasn’t home, yet, so I took my shoes off and waited on the stoop. I remember now that my shoes were new and my feet were blistered. At the time it seemed unimportant and now, I am not certain.

My cell couldn’t call out, it was silent, but somehow my friend and colleague Faye was able to call me. She was my mouthpiece. She called my Mama to tell her I was okay. She called home. She called, she called, she called. She called home for me.

My friend finally arrived home. We quietly walked up the stairs. We then watched the news, silently weeping, watching the horror, the live images, the flying shreds of paper, the grey dust, the people — the absence of survivors, of people — trying, all the while, to keep the children occupied in the other room.

We were in shock and disbelief.

Finally, at the end of the very long day, the news reported the PATH was reopened at 14th. I didn’t care about what might happen to me. I wanted to go home, I wanted to feel safe. My friend didn’t want me to leave.

I wanted to go home.

We kissed, we cried, and cell phone dead, I started walking. I walked alone. The lack of sound was astonishing. It was like a movie set. New York City, but without the people.

No more sirens. No more noise. No radios. No one driving. No one honking. No one on the streets. No people. The avenues were empty and desolate. The occasional car would pass armed with a bullhorn encouraging people to go give blood.

It was incredibly dreamlike and surreal.

I walked North through Union Square where only two lonely candles flickered, the beginning of the massive combination of shrine and wall of missing person posters that eventually established itself on that spot.

The 14th station was closed, so I walked further to 23rd, also closed, so onward to 33rd.

Finally, success.

The cavernous station was packed. People were elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, but you could have heard a pin drop.

Everyone was muted and paralyzed  in fear and shock.

We crossed under the river to Hoboken because my regular station was destroyed and closed. Standing on the platform as we pulled into the station, I saw evacuees from lower Manhattan, covered in soot and ash, now clothed in garbage bags.

Garbage bags.


Tell your loved ones that you love them.
Peace be with you.

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 Thanks so much.

Photography of Jona Willis by Virginia Willis

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Save the Flavors: Easy Summer Ratatouille

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Easy Summer Ratatouille

A recent evening’s garden harvest rewarded me with the ingredients for a vibrant, tasty, and easy summer ratatouille — as well as the realization that the garden has suffered a bit from all of our recent travel. Much of the broccoli is flowering and the collard green leaves have grown large and tough. The chili peppers have had a bit too much competition with the weeds, yet there are a couple of scraggly volunteer cherry tomato plants that will likely continue to perpetuate until the end of time. The summer squash are doing sub-par, which thankfully means they are producing amounts that we can keep up with! I do get extreme garden guilt when I see our little patch choked with weeds. As a cook, there’s nothing more satisfying to me than harvesting from the garden and walking immediately into the kitchen to prepare it. The vegetables sing and easy summer ratatouille is the perfect way to save the flavors of the season.

Easy Summer Ratatouille on

One vegetable that’s done rather well despite neglect is eggplant. This year we planted six different varieties of eggplant, including this Little Finger Eggplant, seen above and the purple striped eggplant below. I adore eggplant. At a typical grocery store, shoppers have grown accustomed to finding one or two different types of eggplant: Italian, which is the large smooth, black bell-shaped and sometimes, maybe, depending on the store, there also might be small display of long, skinny violet-hued Asian eggplant. Why is there such a difference of what’s in our gardens and what’s available at a typical grocery store?

Easy Summer Ratatouille on

How is it that typical grocery stores have everything all at once, and small, specialized co-ops only contain what’s in season? It’s pretty simple. Essentially, the post WWII approach to food and agriculture has been that size, durability for shipping, and appearance are far valued over flavor and seasonality. Modern agriculture has effectively narrowed the varieties of fruits and vegetables available for purchase to most people, and the result is that consumers and cooks have often forgotten that there are multiple varieties of individual vegetables. Folks are limited because they  rarely know any different, and we all don’t have the ability to have a garden, growing and cooking our own food. The availability of certain vegetables is reflected in  this Endangerment Meter.


Imagine the produce department at the grocery store and consider the tomato section. Regardless of the time of year, very often there’s an installation of perfectly red, perfectly round globes of tomatoes and stacks of ready-to-eat pint containers of grape or cherry. Now, think about the farmer’s markets in the summer where there are all sorts of different kinds of tomatoes with exotic names like Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Brandywine, and Arkansas Traveler. Those tomatoes don’t find their way very often into the grocery store. According to Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit,  “For the past 50 years tomato breeders have concentrated essentially on one thing and that is yield.” Those exotic heirloom tomatoes aren’t durable enough for shipping and don’t produce high enough yields to make sense for large-scale farming.

Now, cast your eyes towards the apple section. As consumers, we’re still accustomed to seeing different kinds of apples. Even in the smallest little po-dunk market there are often many different kinds of apples: Granny Smith, Red Delicious, MacIntosh, and sometimes a few more. In the fall the gourmet markets and more robust grocery stores will offer Honey Crisp, Gala, and Fuji. Our hyper-local, ultra-seasonal co-op offers up a wide and varied selection of obscure heirloom apples such as Ananas Reinette, Sheep’s Nose, and Maiden’s Blush from local farms in the fall.

Easy Southern Ratatouille on

Easy Summer Ratatouille

Save the Flavors

As a chef and cookbook author who specializes in creating recipes for home cooks, I want more people to have more accessibility to flavor, more variety, and fewer limitations. I want vegetables that are “scarce” to move up the meter to “abundant.” I want to save the flavors in a real and meaningful way.

How can we change this? In my home garden, we very often use the Seeds of Change online catalogue, other heirloom specialty seed companies, and seek out heirloom seedlings at our local nursery. The seeds from Seeds of Change are organic, non-GMO, heirloom or traditional varieties, and the mission of the company is to preserve biodiversity and promote sustainable agriculture. This simple mission very effectively promotes vegetables with flavor.

What can you do? How can you save the flavors? We’ve got to eat it to save it; we’ve got to increase demand.

Modern agriculture listens to money — think about how many more organic fruits and vegetables are available in comparison to only 5 years ago. It’s because the public demanded it and created a market. The best way to save endangered species is to eat them!

I’m not alone; click here to check out my friend and colleague Hugh Acheson‘s video (along with another friend, Atlanta Eats Radio Host Mara Davis) promoting Endangered Eats.

This week I am sharing a recipe for Easy Summer Ratatouille, perfect for this time of year, and a great way to save the flavors of summer in your freezer.  It’s a bright and flavorful melange of fresh-from-the-garden flavor and a welcome bit of summer sunshine in the cooler months. You’ll notice I’m suggesting a total weight for most of the vegetables so you can mix and match the variety you are able to use.

I would also like to suggest that you consider what you can do to save the flavors.  Thanks so much for reading and watching. Take part; seek out unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables. Eat seasonally and make sure to tag your heirloom vegetable dishes with the hashtag #SavetheFlavors

Bon Appétit Y’all! 


Easy Summer Ratatouille on

Easy Summer Ratatouille


Easy Summer Ratatouille

Serves 6 to 8

The French have ratatouille; the Sicilians, caponata; the Basque, pipérade; Indians, chutney; and Southerners have relish. All nationalities have a way to preserve and save the flavors of summer. Freeze this ratatouille in airtight containers for up to six months to serve later as an appetizer, side dish, or main dish.

Chopped kale and collard greens aren’t normally an ingredient in ratatouille, but I love the nod to the food of my people, the increased flavor, and best of all, the addition pumps up the nutritional density.

2 tablespoons pure olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 pounds eggplant,  cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 pounds green and yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup water
1-2 large sweet peppers, such as red bell, banana, or Hungarian Wax, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped, or 2 cups cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh winter greens, such as kale or collard greens
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar

Heat the oil a large, heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Stir in the eggplant: season generously with salt and pepper. Stir fry until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the water and squash; cover, and simmer, stirring once, until the vegetables are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers; simmer, covered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and chopped greens;  bring to a boil.

Decrease the heat to medium-low. Partially cover; simmer, stirring often, until the vegetables are just tender, about 8 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

Just before serving, stir in the basil and splash with vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. Or, freeze in airtight containers for up to 6 months.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Seeds of Change and their Save the Flavors campaignAll opinions are 100% mine. 


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

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If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to 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 Thanks so much.

Photography by Virginia Willis

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Salmon Fishing in Alaska + Salmon Recipes

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Salmon Fishing

For the past two weeks I have been on a working vacation in Alaska. I was offered the opportunity to be the guest celebrity chef on Holland America. Anywhere in the world, mind you… and I chose Alaska! I’ve wanted to go to Alaska since the 3rd grade. My grandparents traveled there often when I was a child. Listening to their stories and watching slides on the old-fashioned projector, Alaska seemed to be a great wild land of mystery. My grandparents loved to fish and I do, as well. I think that’s one reason Alaska held such enchantment for them — the fishing.

salmon recipe on

Before our cruise started we stopped for a few days at the beautiful Tutka Bay Lodge. The scenery was breathtaking, the hospitality was unrivaled, and the food was incredible. Tutka Bay Lodge sits at the entrance to a splendidly rugged fjord at the southern end of Kachemak Bay, near Homer, Alaska. My grandparents used to park their motor home in Homer to go salmon fishing. The Tutka Bay area is ripe with rugged coastlines, dramatic mountains, quiet rocky beaches, old growth Sitka spruce forests, and amazing tidal fluctuations that revealed fantastical sea life. It was beyond exquisite.  These photos below taken at low tide off of the sea anemone, urchin, and starfish are not retouched!

tut bay lodge on

The lodge set us up for a day of salmon fishing. It was everything I could have hoped for and more! The water glistened like mercury and the next minute it roiled ebony black in our wake. The snowy peaks of the Alaska Peninsula were on the horizon and we saw playful otters, a multitude of sea birds, majestic eagles, and breeching humpback whales.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic storyboard. I shot a little video about our adventure for Seafood Watch.

Check out this video I shot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch of our salmon fishing trip!

It was truly one of the best days of my entire life, an absolute dream come true. The video is just a snippet of our beautiful day on the Falcon with Captain Tony. We caught 14 large fish, enough to ship home 30 pounds of dressed filets. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am on the Blue Ribbon Advisory Board for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. As a cook, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I am concerned for our oceans. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I “walk what I talk.” It really and truly hit home for me to see how important it is to seek out sustainable seafood while on this trip.

yogurt recipe on

Before we left on our incredible trip I was enthralled with a new cookbook. I have to share a bit of a secret. I don’t really read cookbooks. Of course, I flip, glance, and peruse. I use them for research, but even then, I normally suss out the bits that are relevant and study those pages. I can’t tell you how many folks tell me, “I read your cookbooks just like I read novels.” I am very thankful for such praise. So, it’s big doings for me to put this out in the world, but the honest truth is that I seldom read a cookbook cover to cover. A rare, recent exception? Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I love her work. Her writing is delightful and her recipes “read” delicious. The photography is stunning, shot by the talented Ellen Silverman who also did the photography for Bon Appétit Y’all. It’s been a real joy to read Yogurt Culture from start to finish.

There were so many recipes I wanted to share, but I instantly knew that on the heels of our trip to Alaska that her Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon was the one. And, here’s a link to another one of my favorite salmon recipes, what I call “NY Times Salmon“.

Thanks for reading and watching! Let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 


salmon recipe on

Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon
Serves 6 to 8

Fennel seeds and fresh tarragon quietly infuse a yogurt marinade in this delicate fish supper. After it has spent a few hours in the fridge, slide the salmon into the oven and stir together the golden breadcrumb topping. You’ll be rewarded with a meal completely out of proportion to the amount of effort expended.

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup plain yogurt (not Greek), preferably whole-milk
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
6 to 8 (5- to 6-ounce) wild salmon fillets, 1 inch thick, or 1 (2- to 2½-pound) salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper together until powdery. Transfer to a small bowl. Whisk in the yogurt, mustard, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of the tarragon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place the salmon on the parchment and spread the yogurt marinade thickly and evenly over the top. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F, with a rack in the center position. Bake the salmon until cooked through but still moist, about 15 minutes for individual fillets or 20 minutes for one large fillet.

While the fish bakes, or just after you pull it from the oven, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the panko. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon tarragon.

Sprinkle the panko over the salmon and serve.

Excerpted from Yogurt Culture, © 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Photography is © 2015 by Ellen Silverman.


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

Lighten Up, Y'all on

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to 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 Thanks so much.

my photo was taken by Lisa Ekus

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How to Fry Chicken – Southern Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken on

Southern Fried Chicken

When my dear grandmother was alive and I would come home to visit, it did not matter if it was 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon—I would walk in the door and she would be standing at the stove frying chicken for me. Yes, clearly I was spoiled absolutely rotten. But also I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about the subject: there are few foods in this world I love as much as I love as Southern Fried Chicken.

Last meal request? Fried Chicken.
Tired and grumpy?  Fried Chicken.
Homesick and missing Mama? Fried Chicken.
Celebrating a momentous occasion? Fried Chicken.

Wait, what? Where’d Lighten Up, Y’all go?

Well, here’s the deal and I even write about it in the headnote for Oven Fried Chicken on a Stick in Lighten Up, Y’all. Oven fried chicken is NOT Fried Chicken. It’s a good substitute, but we all know that a Broadway understudy is really, really good, but just not quite the star that everyone wants to see.

Fried Chicken is so loved in the South it’s become a caricature, a cartoon. But, to define Southern Food by only Fried Chicken is a gross oversimplification. Especially when there’s fast food fried chicken, gas station fried chicken, and grocery store fried chicken, none of which can hold a candle to real honest-to-goodness homemade skillet fried chicken. So, I save my calories for incredible fried chicken, not mediocre fried chicken. Southern Fried Chicken is serious business. And, if you thought there was only one Southern classic, I would simply remind you that there are as many Southern Fried Chicken recipes as there are Southern grandmothers.

Fried Chicken on

As if I didn’t love her enough, my dear and wonderful friend Rebecca Lang has written an entire book that celebrates and glorifies my favorite Southern recipe, Fried Chicken: Recipes for the Crispy, Crunchy, Comfort-Food Classic. Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite people on this planet. She is smart, beautiful, kind, talented, sweet, sassy, a great cook, and a positively brilliant cookbook author.  Her latest book goes straight to my heart! A whole book dedicated to Fried Chicken!

She covers all the Southern favorites such as Buttermilk-Soaked Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken Smothered in Gravy, and Nashville-style Tennessee Hot Chicken. Yet she goes beyond Southern Fried Chicken and explores international fried chicken—fried chicken from Saigon, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Korea. She’s even created a Gluten Free Fried Chicken!

The photography is mouthwateringly beautiful and these recipes are guaranteed to work. She’s a diligent and expert recipe tester and cooked through a whole hen house to make sure these recipes are the best they can be. This is the end-all, be-all book if you want to know how to fry chicken.

This blog post, as Rebecca’s lovely book, celebrates Fried Chicken. To tantalize your taste buds, I’m including Rebecca’s recipe for Chinese Lollipop Chicken and my recipe for my grandmother’s classic Southern Fried Chicken. And, at the end, I am sharing a short photo tutorial on “How to Cut Up a Chicken. I find it’s cheaper to buy a whole bird and break it down yourself.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

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Southern Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 9 pieces (see below)
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups canola oil

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place the flour in a shallow plate and season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until the temperature measures 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, to fry the chicken, starting with the dark meat (since it takes longer to cook) and working one piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, turning to coat. Shake to remove excess flour. Reserve any leftover seasoned flour for the gravy.

One piece at a time, slip the chicken into the hot fat without crowding; the fat should not quite cover the chicken. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature at 375°F. At this stage, a splatter guard (a wire cover laid over the pan) may prove useful to contain the hot grease. The guard lets the steam escape, while allowing the chicken to brown nicely.

Fry the pieces, turning them once or twice, until the coating is a rich, golden brown on all sides, 10 to 14 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the juices run clear when pricked with a knife, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170°F.) Remove the pieces and drain on the prepared baking sheet. (Do not hold the chicken in a warm oven; it will get soggy.) Enjoy immediately.

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Rebecca’s Chinese Lollipop Wings 
Serves 4
5 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 
11teaspoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as Sriracha 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 teaspoons light sesame oil 
1 egg, beaten 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1teaspoon ground white pepper 
2 pounds chicken drumettes Peanut oil, for frying 
Cilantro, chopped, for serving
To make the marinade, process the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely chopped. Add the salt, chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg, cornstarch, flour, and pepper and pulse twice to combine. Transfer the marinade to a large mixing bowl. 
To form the lollipops, grab the exposed bone at the end of each drumette and use a paring knife to push all of the meat to the other end, exposing the bone and forming a rounded lump of meat at one end (to look like a lollipop). The bone should be stripped of all meat to form about a 1-inch stick for the lollipop. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the marinade, toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 2 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 350°F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. 
Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Carefully place the lollipops in the hot oil. Fry for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Maintain a frying temperature of 325°F. Drain the lollipops on the wire rack.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

Reprinted with permission from Fried Chicken, by Rebecca Lang, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by John Lee. For more information about Rebecca, please visit

How to Cut Up a Chicken


Cut the wing tip off and save it for stock. Sometimes, when frying chicken, I leave the wing fully intact in its three sections and cut it off so they are their own piece and not connected to the breast.


Remove the thigh and drumstick.


Make sure to insert the knife into the meaty area of the thigh known as the oyster.


Look for the line of fat that divides the thigh and drumstick. This indicates where the joint meets and where best to cut. If you have a hard time here, it means your knife is in the wrong place.


If the knife is directly between the joint it will cut easily through the cartilage.


Cut through the rib cage to nearly separate the full chest from the backbone.


Place the tip of your knife through the hole nearest the neck. You’ll need to put some umph into it to cut through the bone and completely remove the back from the chest.


Divide the full chest down the middle. The sternum will require a little effort and leverage, but the soft cartilage at the point of the triangle is soft.


Chicken breasts are so large, I often divide the breast into 2 pieces.


The method results in 4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 1 back. You can fry the back as a cook’s treat or save it for stock.


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

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photography by Virginia Willis

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