Virginia Willis Blog

Stay the Weekend, Y’all at the O. Henry Hotel

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Getaway Weekend at the O. Henry Hotel

with Virginia Willis

I want to let you know about a chef-inspired getaway weekend at the beautiful O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro, NC May 2, 3 featuring Lighten Up, Y’all. I am very excited and it’s the first time I’ve done anything like this!

The O. Henry Hotel is exquisite. It’s a AAA Four Diamond hotel and part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection, a carefully selected collection of Four and Five Star level independent resorts, hotels and inns, diligently vetted and creatively marketed by Southern Living, and devoted exclusively to and offering the best in authentic southern travel, hospitality, and experience. All Collection members share a commitment to excellence as defined within the four pillars of Southern Living: Food, Travel, Home and Garden. Each member of the Southern Living Hotel Collection reflects the core values and culture upon which Southern Living has been created.

We’ve cooked up a special, value-packed, exciting getaway weekend that’s centered around Lighten Up, Y’all. It’s pretty exciting! The O.Henry is timelessly elegant and an absolutely beautiful hotel. I can truly say – even as much as I travel – that this is one of the finest boutique hotels I have ever had the pleasure to visit. I am thrilled to partner with them to create this exciting Getaway Weekend.

o. henry hotel at www.virginiawillis.com

Stay the Weekend, Y’all!

We kick off the weekend with a Champagne reception then enjoy a Four-Course Dinner with Executive Chef Leigh Hesling as I demonstrate the recipes. It’s Dinner Theater like you’ve never experienced!

Passed Hors d’oeuvres
Cheese straws
Pimento cheese
Cornmeal Crusted Chicken Bites
BBQ meat balls

Bacon Wilted Greens with Warm Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese
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Salmon Patties with Lemon Caper Sauce
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Spinach and Parmesan Stuffed Beef Tenderloin
Cream Corn Stuffed Tomatoes
Buttermilk Sweet Potato Gratin
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Brown Sugar Strawberry Short Cake
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Chocolate “Brookies” and Coffee

Saturday is Derby Day, so you’ll be certain to enjoy icy cold Mint Juleps in the Green Valley Grill & Bar.

Then, Sunday morning, you’ll enjoy Buttermilk Biscuits with Turkey Sausage Gravy with a book signing. I’ll also talk about the inspiration for Lighten Up, Y’all and we’ll talk about what Southern food means today. You’ll be extra happy with  a late check out of 2 pm!

OHenry Hotel in Greensboro NC 2

STAY THE WEEKEND Y’ALL
The weekend package includes:

  • Overnight accommodations on May 2 in a King Room
  • Cooking demonstration/and 4-course dinner
  • Autographed Cookbook: Lighten Up Y’all
  • Southern-style breakfast buffet and cookbook signing on Sunday
  • Late checkout of 2 PM

$275 per person, plus tax, based on double occupancy.  (Single-occupancy rate is $375.)

LIGHTEN UP WITH DINNER
Can’t spend the night with us? Then just join me for dinner!  Executive Chef Leigh Hesling and I will demonstrate the recipes that you will enjoy during a four-course dinner on May 2. $150 per person, plus tax.

RESERVATIONS
Call the Reservations Department at 336-544-9605, Monday-Friday, 8 AM-6 PM, or Saturdays, 10 AM-4 PM, to reserve the overnight package or purchase dinner-only tickets. If you call outside of these hours, a message will be taken and you will receive a return call during regular hours.

I hope you’ll consider joining me for this special weekend. Thanks for your consideration. 

Bon Appétit Y’all! 

Virginia

 

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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 

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Chocolate Nut Cake for Passover and Easter

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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!

Please make sure to take a look at my events page – I will be all over the US in the next few months and have some amazing events planned outside of the regular book-signings and classes including the Santa Barbara Food and Wine Weekend; a Lighten Up, Y’all Weekend at the O. Henry hotel in historic Greensboro, NC; and dinner and demonstrations at the Earl Scruggs Center with two of my absolute “sheroes” – Ronnie Lundy and Marcie Cohen Ferris.

Speaking of amazing women, I recently met Lynn Shapiro, author of Food, Family, and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances. I have been thoroughly enjoying her very beautiful cookbook and thoughtful stories and want to share with you her recipe for Chocolate Nut Cake.

Food, Family, and Traditions on www.virginiawillis.com

Food, Family, and Tradition is more than a cookbook. It is a wonderful book of stories. It is a family history, the history of Hungarian Kosher Foods, a book about Jewish food, and holiday celebrations. Lynn’s family’s story is compelling and inspiring, and everything I’ve made and tasted has been fantastic!

I’m certain you and your family will enjoy this simple and delicious recipe for Chocolate Nut Cake, perfect for your Passover or Easter table. Many blessings to you this spring!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

 

DSC_0240

Chocolate Nut Cake

Yield: 1 (9- or 10-inch) springform pan, serves 8 to 10

As this cake is kosher for Passover, it happens to be gluten free, as well. 

10 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups finely ground pecans, walnuts, or almonds
Pinch of fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and light yellow. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate, then, fold in the nuts.

In a separate large bowl beat egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff. Using a large rubber spatula, carefully fold the whites into the cake mixture.Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Bake cake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. To serve, cut with a serrated knife and raspberry sauce on the side.

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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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Comfort Food: Grits Recipes

 

comfort food stone-ground grits recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

Comfort Food: Grits Recipes

I love grits. I wrote a book about grits. I am a Grits Missionary. Grits are ground corn, and like many porridges, the ultimate comfort food. The difference is the kind of grit. If the only grits you have ever had came out of a paper packet and were cooked in a microwave with a coffee cup of water, of course you don’t like grits! Heal thyself with a bowl of good grits, real grits, grits with soul. The key to finding comfort and salvation in a bowl of grits is simple: use whole grain grits that taste like corn; use plenty of liquid to ensure the grains cook until they are smooth; and lastly, slowly cook grits for a long period of time to entice the natural starch from the grains so that they are rich and creamy.

DSCN0110I’m home in Evans, GA visiting my mother and sister this week. I also taped an episode with my friend Vera Stewart of her cooking show VeryVera that will air March 21 on NBC26. It just so happens that Mama is feeling a bit under the weather. It’s nothing terribly serious, but it’s still my mama and it’s still worrisome. Fast forward to the above mentioned bowl of comfort. My mama has a bowl of cheese and bacon grits every morning for breakfast, pretty much every single morning. This is where I found my love for grits.

comfort food stone-ground grits recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

Grits and cornmeal are ground from “dent” corn, a type of corn with low sugar content and a soft, starchy center. It gets its name from the slight dent in the center of the end of the kernel. Although grits and polenta are very similar, Flint corn is the type of corn used for polenta in Italy and gets its name from being “hard as flint.” You can imagine how much I love it when a Food Snob says to me, “I don’t like grits, I only like polenta.”

I guess she likes a to-mah-toe more than she likes to-may-toes, too.

Regardless of being made two types of corn, grits and polenta are almost universally interchangeable. White dent corn produces white grits and yellow dent corn produces yellow grits. (The heirloom red kernels called “Bloody Butcher” seen in the bowl at the top produce yellow grits with red flecks.) Grits are further defined by how they are prepared and ground. There are hominy grits, stone-ground grits, and various grades of commercially ground grits.

  • Hominy is made from corn kernels soaked in an alkaline solution of water and lye to remove the kernel’s outer hull. When hominy is dried and coarsely ground, the result is hominy grits.
  • Stone-ground grits are made from dried whole corn kernels ground between two stones, just as it has been for centuries, which guarantees their corn flavor. The same stone-ground corn can vary in flavor depending on the size of the grind. Stone-ground grits are whole grain, more perishable, and should be refrigerated or frozen. They must also be simmered very slowly for 45 minutes to an hour to coax out their  creamy, comforting texture.
  • In commercially ground grits, the germ and hull are removed to improve the product’s shelf life. Instant grits have the germ and hulls removed and are cooked then the paste is spread in large sheets. They are then dried and reground. They are virtually a pot of starch with no flavor.

What to buy? Check out McEwen and Sons, Anson Mills, Riverview Farms, Red Mule Grits, and Hoppin Johns just to name a few. And, if you don’t have access to whole grain stone-ground grits without ordering online, try Bob’s Red Mill, available in many mainstream and specialty grocery stores.

stone-ground comfort food grits recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

Comfort means safety. Comfort means satisfaction. Comfort means simplicity. Comfort means home. Grits are fairly inexpensive, easy to prepare, can be treated as a main meal or a side dish, held for hours on a low stove with little harm (if they get dry, add liquid, and if they get too wet, cook them down a bit) and the leftovers reheat wonderfully, even in the microwave. Grits are undeniably comfort in a bowl and grits, well, they mean home to me.

Here are a few more delicious Comfort Food Grits Recipes for you to sample:

Make sure to take a look at  my events page – I’m kicking off a big tour and will be all over the US in the next few months. Also, please tune into QVC on Sunday as I’m In the Kitchen with David at noon (or thereabouts.)  Lastly, press is staring to come in and folks are liking Lighten Up, Y’all! Check out what  Tasting Table, Serious Eats, and Weight Watchers!

Feel better sweet mama! I love you!!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

comfort food: stone-ground grits with bacon and cheese on www.virginiawillis.com

Stone-Ground Grits with Bacon and Cheese
Serves 2

This is hardly a recipe as much as it is a technique. My ratio is 4 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grits. I often use only water, but you can use a combination of water and milk. Honestly, I never use cream. I find it overpowers the taste of the corn. Even so, I know you’re likely looking at the photos of the butter and grits above or the cheese and bacon and thinking, “that so unhealthy!” Here’s the deal: these grits are whole grain and are topped with less than 1/2 ounce of cheese, and only 1 slice of bacon. On my WW plan it’s 9 points, granted not a fruit salad, but it’s rib-sticking goodness. (I had a green salad with poached chicken for lunch to balance out my morning.) I figure a bowl of comfort like this is worth every bite.

2 cups water
1/2 cup stone-ground grits
unsalted butter, optional
1 ounce grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped bacon
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring the water to a boil over bigh heat. Whisk in the grits and reduce the heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until creamy and thick, about 45 minutes.Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve topped with butter, cheese, and bacon.

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.

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

Lighten Up, Y’all is available for pre-order! Order yours today!

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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Weeknight Broccoli Recipes … with Side Dish of Honest Truth


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I adore broccoli. It’s one of my favorite vegetables, especially in the dreary winter months. High heat roasting creates crispy bits and coaxes mild sweetness from the slightly bitter brassica. Steamed broccoli is crisp, clean, and bright. Stir-fried broccoli seems to pull the best from both of the aforementioned cooking techniques.  It’s great finely chopped raw in salads. I also peel and thinly slice the stalks for nibbles. I pretty much like broccoli any which way except overcooked to dreary mush. It’s a handy vegetable to keep in the produce bin, even if it’s not the main star, to add a flash of green to rice, farro, quinoa, or pasta. Broccoli is a great team player for other dishes. You can pretty much throw a handful into anything but ice cream and it will work!

LUY cover

In this week’s post, I am sharing two down-home, comfort-food, classic-weeknight broccoli recipes. The first, Makeover Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese, is featured on the cover of my cookbook which launches March 3rd, Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome. I am also offering a recipe for Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole that is a bit more indulgent, but lightened up nonetheless, and far more healthy and wholesome that the typical Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole. I’m certain you’re going to love both of them. I am also sharing a big heaping helping side dish of honest truth.

weeknight broccoli recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

I want to take a moment and try to explain a bit about my cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all. It’s not a diet book. It’s not a book of makeover recipes, although there are a few, like the Broccoli Mac and Cheese. It’s not a book of fake “low-cal” food. I don’t lie to you and tell you that fat-free carob yogurt is going to quell your chocolate craving or that chewing gum will satisfy your sweet tooth.

I do tell you to drink more water. I do tell you to eat less and move more. I do tell you that food can be good and good for you. I do promise you that these recipes taste great. Because, here’s the deal: I am not a doctor, or a nutritionist, or a dietician. I am most certainly not a “skinny bitch!” I am not a professional actor with a staff of trainers and cooks to help me. I am a normal person, just like you. The real truth is that I actually don’t want to be skinny or thin; I want to be healthy and strong.

Y’all know that I am a storyteller. In my books and articles I talk about growing up in the South, traveling all over the world, working for celebrities like Martha, Bobby, Nathalie, and Anne. My recipes are filled with tales of being in the kitchen with Meme and Mama. This book has that, too, but I have to tell you that this is hands-down the most personal book I have ever, ever written. Honestly, I was reading the introduction the other night and had an enormous tsunami-sized wave of fear come over me, I thought, “Oh dear, what have I done?” It felt so raw.

This book pretty much bears my soul, my thoughts, and my shortcomings. I share with you my inner scared little girl who was a bookworm and subsequently picked last on the playground for kickball. I share the pre-teen that was teased about her broad shoulders. I share the teenager that was harassed in high school for never having kissed a boy. (Now, that part of the story is a whole lot more clear….) I share more of me  like I have in no other. And, the point of me telling you all this is that if I can overcome my inner demons, lose weight, and get healthy, then you can, too!

Most importantly, I want to share that I’ve gained a better acceptance of my body. Lighten Up, Y’all is my attempt at being healthy and strong rather than pursuing and obsessing over an idealized weight. Face it, I don’t care how much weight I lose, I’m not growing to super model height, and I’ll never look like Charlize Theron! Lighten Up, Y’all is the story of me focusing on my emotional, spiritual, and physical well being, and not only looking at the scales. It’s the story of me truly enjoying exercise. It’s also the story that I am continuing to learn every single day, that there is beauty in every body. The journey of writing this book changed my life. Is this a lifelong journey? Yes. Will I have to watch what I eat and continue to exercise? Yes. Here’s the difference: now I want to. It’s now my way of life.

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In the Kitchen with David on QVC!

I’ll be traveling all over the country in the next months teaching classes, speaking, and sharing more stories. Please check out my events page to see if I’ll be in your area. I love, love, love meeting new faces and am always so honored to be at your table when you cook from my blog and books. And, if you’d like me to visit your bookstore, book club, cooking school, Weight Watchers meeting, or gourmet store, please shoot a note to info@virginiawillis.com. I’m booking deep into fall and I am always interested in seeing what we can do together!

BIG HUGE NEWS!! I’m so excited to announce that I will be on QVC with Lighten Up, Y’all on Sunday the 1st of March at Noon. I can’t wait to make David do his Happy Dance with my classic Southern recipes made healthy and wholesome!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

makeover broccoli mac and cheese on www.virginiawillis.com

 

Lighten Up, Y’all Makeover Broccoli Mac and Cheese
Serves 10

1 cup shredded 50 percent reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese 
(4 ounces)
¾ cup shredded 75 percent reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
2 tablespoons panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
½ teaspoon paprika
1¾ cups 2 percent milk
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat elbow macaroni
12 ounces (4 cups) broccoli florets and stems

Preheat oven to 450°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray. Combine the two cheeses. Mix ¼ cup of the cheese mixture, the bread crumbs, and paprika in a small bowl. Set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, heat 1½ cups of the milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Whisk remaining ¼ cup milk and the flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1½ cups of the cheese mixture and the cottage cheese until melted. Stir in the dry mustard, and nutmeg, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. In the last 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli florets. Drain well and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread the pasta-broccoli mixture in the prepared baking dish; sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Calories 182 Fat 4 g Protein 14 g Carbs 24 g Fiber 3 g

(All the recipes in Lighten Up, Y’all have the above nutritional information so that you can figure out your “points”….)

weeknight broccoli recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

Chicken Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Serves 8

Most often this indulgent casserole is made with a couple familiar red and white cans of cream of mushroom soup and frozen broccoli. This version is made with fresh, wholesome ingredients – and I’ve also lightened it up, y’all! It takes just a smidgen more time, but the results are absolutely extraordinary. If you don’t have casserole or skillet that will suitable go from stove-top to oven to your table, simply transfer the mixture to a your preferred casserole as soon as you add the rice.

1 cup shredded 50 percent reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese 
(4 ounces)
¾ cup shredded 75 percent reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
1 cup panko
2 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced fat low sodium chicken broth
2 cups 2% milk
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1 thyme sprig
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
8 ounces sliced white button mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups long grain rice
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
pinch cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 crown broccoli, cored, and chopped into small florets
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the cheeses then combine the panko and with half of the cheese. Set aside.

Heat the stock and milk in a medium saucepan with the bay leaf and sprig of thyme over medium low heat until steaming. Keep warm while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof casserole or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and celery. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper; cook until tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the flour and stir to combine. (The mixture will be dry.)

Remove the bay leaf and thyme from the stock mixture. Whisk the stock into the flour and vegetables. Add the reserved cup of cheese and stir until smooth. Add the rice and stir to combine. Add the sour cream, cayenne, and nutmeg; stir until smooth. Tuck the chicken breasts into the rice. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven. Bake until the rice is tender, the liquid has absorbed, and the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the broccoli in a microwave safe bowl with ¼ cup of water. Cover and cook on until just tender and bright green, about 2 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave. Drain the broccoli and keep warm.

Once the rice is tender and the liquid has absorbed, remove from the oven and stir in the broccoli. (It’s easiest if you remove the chicken then return it once you’ve stirred in the broccoli.) Smooth the top and sprinkle with the reserved panko-cheese mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, an additional 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly before serving.

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.

 

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

Lighten Up, Y’all is available for pre-order! Order yours today!

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.

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Sweet Potato Recipes

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Sweet Potato

As a child, I used to think I didn’t like sweet potatoes. When I grew older, I actually realized it wasn’t that I didn’t like sweet potatoes; I didn’t like the candy-coated, marshmallow-topped “sweet potato soufflés” that are often found on the Southern table. Now, during the fall and winter months, I eat sweet potatoes at least once a week. I absolutely love them. I crave roasted sweet potatoes, topped with a judicious curl of yellow butter, the bright orange flesh adorned with a whisper of mahogany-colored pure cane syrup. I also enjoy them with a quick drizzle of pecan oil and freshly cracked black pepper, or shouting mad with a fiery hot squiggle of sriracha. In my kitchen, diced sweet potatoes find their way into mixed vegetable sautés; cloddy chunks are slow-roasted alongside other root vegetables like carrot, turnip, and rutabaga; and evenly sliced medallions are seared on both sides until burnished golden brown and finished in the oven. I’ve even turned sweet potatoes into desserts in the form of sweet potato bread pudding and old-fashioned grated sweet potato custard, yet I can assure you, there are no marshmallows to be found.

sweet potatoes on www.virginiawillis.com

Sweet potatoes are great this time of year. I find them far more interesting than most potatoes, which often become vehicles for butter and sour cream. Sweet potatoes are inexpensive, easy to find, good, and good for you. They are good carbs, packed with vitamins and fiber. There’s a bit of a mix-up of the terms sweet potato and yam. During the winter months, and especially around the fall holidays, towering mountains of canned yams are constructed in grocery stores throughout the South. Truth is, the contents are not yams at all. What is often labeled and sold as yams are actually sweet potatoes. Botanically speaking, yams are tubers and a member of the lily family; sweet potatoes are the root of a member of the morning glory family. Yams originated in Africa, whereas sweet potatoes are New World plants. There are many varieties of both that differ in size, taste, shape, and color.

SWEET POTATOES OM WWW.VIRGINIAWILLIS.COM

If you really want to get your fill of sweet potatoe recipes and valuable and informative sweet potato information, I highly recommend the UNC Press Savor the South© book titled Sweet Potatoes by the incredibly awesome April McGreger. It’s a phenomenal book and the series is super cool. Each SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook is a celebration of a beloved food of the American South. Written by well-known cooks and food lovers, each book brims with personality and the informative and often surprising culinary and natural history of southern foodways. Each volume is a treasure of some 50 recipes, from delicious Southern classics to sparkling international renditions that open up worlds of taste for cooks everywhere. (I admit I am a bit biased about this fantastic series, as I wrote Okra.)

The great part about each book in the series is that each author clearly loves their subject and April’s homage to sweet potatoes is no different. To expand your sweet potato repertoire, this week I’m sharing a couple of healthy and delicious sweet potato recipes and one more along the indulgent side: April’s recipe for Sweet Potato Turkey Burgers and my own recipes for a savory Sweet Potato Gratin with an Herb Crumble and Buttery Spiced Sweet Potatoes.

I absolutely love April’s idea of adding sweet potatoes to turkey burgers! Genius! She says that this recipe came about when she was making meatballs for a gluten-free dinner guest. She substituted some grated sweet potatoes left over from making latkes for the usual breadcrumbs. The recipe worked so well that she started adding grated sweet potatoes to meatloaf, salmon patties, and burgers. Also, they always enjoy the burgers with a pile of crunchy fresh vegetables- cucumbers, romaine, red onion, tomatoes, and forego the buns. She serves pita bread on the side for anyone who wants to sandwich them. I think you’ll enjoy all of them so let me know what you think!

Speaking of healthy, I’m gearing up for my Lighten Up Y’all book tour and I’ll be traveling all over in the next few months. Please make sure to check out my events page to see if I am going to be in your area. I’d like to give a special heads up to the folks in Charleston, SC; the great state of Texas; the Cincinnati area; and in Tampa, Florida in the month of March — come see me!

If you are in the Atlanta area, please make sure to stop by on March 3 from 6-8 pm at The Cook’s Warehouse for my #LightenUpYall launch party. It’s free, but please click here to reserve so that we can plan accordingly. We’ll have delicious nibbles and sips, as well as a chance to win a shiny, new Le Creuset French oven! Many thanks to The Cook’s Warehouse, Le Creuset, and Cabot cheese for sponsoring my party.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

sweet potato recipes on www.virginiawillis.com

Sweet Potato Gratin with Herb Crumble
Serves 8

3 large sweet potatoes
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans + a handful of whole pecans, for topping
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for your hands
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 tablespoons 2 percent milk
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. (This will help with cleanup.) Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Using a fork, pierce the sweet potatoes in several places and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until fork-tender, about 50 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

When the potatoes are almost tender, prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the chopped pecans, flour, Parmesan, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the milk, oil, and sage. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, discarding the skin. Place the pulp in large bowl. Add the brown sugar and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Smash the potatoes with a potato masher until chunky.

Transfer the sweet potatoes to the prepared baking dish. Lightly flour your hands and crumble the topping in small, cherry size pieces on top of the sweet potatoes. Top with the handful of whole pecans. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

April’s Sweet Potato Turkey Burgers
Serves 6

For the burgers:
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups peeled and grated sweet potatoes
1 cup diced red onions
½ cup loosely packed chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg, beaten
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

Preheat the oven to 400°.To make the burgers, mix all ingredients except the oil in a large bowl and form into 4-ounce patties.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat and fry the patties for a couple of minutes on each side, until nice and brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil and bake for 15 minutes, or until until the burgers reach an internal temperature of 165°. Serve immediately.

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Buttery Spiced Sweet Potatoes
Serves 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground
3 pounds small sweet potatoes, halved
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in sugar, fennel seeds, and allspice until combined and sugar is dissolved.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with spiced butter. Season with salt and pepper. In a baking pan, roast potatoes until tender, about 45 minutes, turning once halfway through. Transfer to a warmed platter and drizzle with pan juices. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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