Virginia Willis Blog

Sinless Seven Layer Dip for Your Super Bowl Party

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Super Bowl Party

The Atlanta Falcons are in the Super Bowl — and there’s going to be a lot of tailgating. Falcon and Patriot fans alike will be dining on wings, pizza, nachos, and guacamole. According to Forbes magazine, Americans will eat almost 200 MILLION pounds of Avocados from Mexico on Super Bowl Sunday! (more…)

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Chicken Wings for the Dirty Birds


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Other than the recent reports concerning Georgia’s Fifth District, the big deal right now in The ATL is that the Falcons are playing the Green Bay Packers for the NFC Championship — and a ticket to the 51st Super Bowl. In honor of the Falcons, also known as the “Dirty Birds,” I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recipes for wings. The sweet heat glaze for the Dirty Bird Chicken Wings is made with none other than Coca-Cola, which of course, also hails from Atlanta. And, the Curried Wings are served with a (Georgia) Peach Dipping Sauce. Both recipes are guaranteed winners. It’s a toss up to which one will score more points at your Falcon’s Tailgate! Each wing recipe can be made ahead and reheated; both recipes are baked, not fried, making for healthier wings; and lastly, no oil means a pretty easy clean-up. I’m also including a short video on how to make the Dirty Bird Chicken Wings. Check it out below or on my Facebook page. I’ve got a feeling!  (more…)

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Ground Corn 101: Cornmeal and Grits

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The importance of corn in the Southern diet cannot be overstated. Corn was eaten fresh in the summer, and dried and ground into meal for boiling and baking in the winter. Cornmeal has also played a major role in Northern foodways and while grits are far more popular down South, cornbread is a universally American dish. However, all ground corn is not the same. (more…)

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside! Soup’s On!

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Soups On!

Snow, sleet, freezing rain means that soup’s on in my kitchen.  There’s nothing like a steaming hot bowl of soup in in the winter to take off the chill. And, not being adverse to leftovers I love making a pot of soup early in the week and enjoying it for lunch for a few days. Towards the end of the pot, I usually freeze a pint or two for later. Then, when I am at a loss for what to have for lunch or dinner or don’t have time to cook, I love to go “shopping” on the soup shelf of our freezer. Between recipe testing and the saved last bits from the pot, we often will have quite the variety of soups.

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Soup Swap

My friend and colleague Kathy Gunst takes this concept on the road! She has a new book out called Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share. Kathy is an award-winning cookbook author, journalist, and radio host. She’s the resident chef for NPR’s “Here and Now” and I love her sense of taste, well-written recipes, and writing style. Her brilliant idea is to host a soup party where everyone brings a different soup — then everyone gets to go home with an array of soups for later. It’s genius!

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Sharing is Caring

The book’s premise is that there is no better way to cultivate community, foster friendship, or simply nourish family than over bowls of homemade soup. Kathy offers 60 terrific recipes, featuring such classics as Tomato Soup with Grilled-Cheese Croutons and New England Fish and Clam Chowder, plus international favorites like Provencal-Style Fish Soup with Rouille; Portuguese Kale, White Bean, and Chorizo Soup; and Sopa de Lima, the recipe I am sharing with you in this blog post. Kathy has suggested side dishes for each recipe that will make a pot a soup a meal (Buttery Biscuits, Skillet Cornbread, and Salads and Slaws) as well as tips for easy transporting, which makes them just right to bring to a soup swap where everyone can sample the offerings and then take home a variety of leftovers to enjoy all week. Love it!

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Southern Living: #CookingwithVirginia

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I want to share that my seasonal column “Cooking with Virginia” for Southern Living is going great! Thanks for all the kind notes and social media love. I am thrilled that my Cinnamon Pecan Rolls from the November issue were rated as one of the favorite recipes of 2016! YAY! This month’s issue features Brussels sprouts including a cool recipe for Brussels Sprouts Tacos inspired by my visit to Houston’s Eight Row Flint. If you give any of my recipes a try and post on social media, please tag me and post with the hashtag #CookingwithVirginia (By the way, Southern Living is currently offering a subscription promotion for both online and in print.)


A Chicken in Every Pot

Thanks so much for reading. I hope you enjoy Kathy’s recipe for Sopa de Lima as much as we did! I am also sharing my quick and easy recipe for Chunky Chicken Noodle. Shhh. Don’t tell. It’s really vegetable soup with just enough chicken and noodles in it to warrant the name. And I’ve got another secret: both of our soups use a rotisserie chicken. Because, guess what? If you start with a store-bought rotisserie chicken and work with a little zip, you can have homemade soup on the table in just about 30 minutes.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

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Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup

Makes 9 cups to serve 6

2 teaspoons pure olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 cups homemade chicken stock or reduced-fat, low-sodium chicken broth
Bouquet garni (see note, below)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
6 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 ounces (1 cup) uncooked egg noodles
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (about 12 ounces), from 1 (4- to 5-pound) rotisserie chicken

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to wilt and brown, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Add the bouquet garni and sweet potato. Bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to simmer and cook until the sweet potato is just tender, 15 to 17 minutes.

Add the green beans, egg noodles, and chicken. Stir to combine and poke with your spoon to make sure the beans and noodles are submerged. Simmer until the noodles and green beans are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately.

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Sopa De Lima

Makes 8 to 10 tasting portions or 6 full servings

For the Tortilla Strips
Canola oil for frying
6 corn tortillas, about 51/2 in [14 cm] in diameter, cut into 1/2-in- [12-mm-] thick strips
Sea salt

For the Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and finely chopped, plus more as needed
1 cup [240 g] diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
4 cups [960 ml] Roasted Chicken Stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 cup [110 g] cooked shredded chicken
1/4 cup [60 ml] fresh lime juice, plus more as needed

For the Garnishes
1 poblano chile, seeded and chopped
1 ripe but not overly ripe or mushy avocado, cut into 1/2-in [12-mm] cubes
1/4 cup [10 g] finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup [80 g] cotija Mexican cheese or feta, grated or finely chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add enough canola oil to reach a depth of 1/2 in [12 mm] and heat until a small piece of tortilla or a speck of salt immediately sizzles on contact. Cook the tortillas, one at a time, for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and slightly puffed. Using tongs, transfer the tortillas to paper towels to drain; sprinkle with salt.

In a large stockpot over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the jalapeño, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and oregano and cook for 5 minutes more. Turn the heat to high, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Just before serving, add the lime juice to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, jalapeño, or lime juice if needed.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, top each with two or three tortilla strips, and serve. Have all the garnishes arranged decoratively on a large serv­ing plate and let guests add their own.
Cinnamon Pecan Rolls by Iain Bagwell
Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup 1  and Sopa de Lima by Virginia Willis
Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup 2 photo by Angie Mosier



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

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

Copyright © 2017 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Turkey 101: All You Need to Know

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Turkey 101

The first time I ever brined a turkey was over 10 years ago. I had read about it in Cook’s Illustrated and was pretty curious, so we thought we’d give it a try. We made an overnight brine with salt, sugar, and spices. The result was a moist and tender bird with the most beautiful caramel-colored golden brown skin. I’ve wet-brined my turkey ever since! That’s step #1 for Turkey 101.

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What’s all this business about brining? Brining – soaking meat in a saltwater solution – is the key to a juicy, tender turkey. Salt causes the food proteins to form a complex mesh that traps the brine so the muscle fibers absorb additional liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid is lost during cooking, but since the meat is juicier to begin with, it cooks up juicier at the end.

The size of the salt grains used in a brine is very important. Grains of table salt are very fine, while those of kosher salt are larger. The crystals of the two most widely available brands of kosher salt, Morton’s and Diamond Brand, differ. Half a cup of table salt is equal to 1 cup of Diamond Brand kosher salt or 3/4 cup Morton’s kosher salt. My recipes call for Diamond Brand because the conversion is easy at 2:1.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for brining – it all depends on how long you want to brine. However, keep in mind that the stronger and more concentrated the brining solution and the smaller the piece of meat, the shorter the brining period. A turkey is best brined in a weak solution for a longer period of time. For smaller pieces of meat, my philosophy is to use a strong brine that takes an hour or less.

I recommend an overnight brine for a turkey. Since most of us don’t have a refrigerator to place a turkey in a 5-gallon bucket, I suggest using a cooler with ice and ice packs. With a 10 to 14 pound turkey, dissolve 1 cup Diamond Brand kosher salt and 1/2 cup sugar in 1 gallon of hot water. Stir until dissolved, then add 1 gallon of ice water to cool the solution. Pour the brine into the bucket or cooler. Add the turkey and if that’s not enough liquid to submerge the turkey, repeat the process in a second container and pour the cooled brine over the bird. Store overnight in a cool place. If you store it outside, make sure to weigh down the lid of the cooler so a curious raccoon or other critter doesn’t take a peak, look-see, or nibble.

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What about Roasting? That’s my step #2 for Turkey 101.  I roast at a higher temperature to start, then reduce the heat to finish cooking. In general, the main point about roasting a big bird is food safety. I suggest using an instant read thermometer. Instant-read thermometers are indispensable when cooking a large piece of meat because, while the doneness of steaks and chicken breasts can often be gauged by touching the meat and feeling for firmness, a large piece of meat such as a turkey needs a thermometer to really register what’s inside. The plastic pop-up timers found in many turkeys are unreliable, often resulting in an overcooked bird. A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with an instant read thermometer. (I swear by my Thermapen.) Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Here’s a general guideline for cooking times for  unstuffed birds: 
8 to 12 pounds 2¾ to 3 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3¾ hours
14 to 18 pounds 3¾ to 4¼ hours
18 to 20 pounds 4¼ to 4½ hours
20 to 24 pounds 4½ to 5 hours

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First, once the turkey has reached the correct temperature, wrap it tightly in foil and let it rest for about 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute.

When carving a turkey, let the bird guide the way. That’s my step #3 for Turkey 101. This may sound a bit odd, but the parts should separate at the joints with little or no effort. If the bird is fighting you, the knife is not in the right place.

Place the turkey breast side up on a cutting board, preferably with a moat to catch the juices.  If the bird is hot, I use a clean kitchen towel to protect my hand and fingers instead of a carving fork, but you can use a fork or a set of tongs. I prefer to use the towel because it doesn’t tear the skin.

Pull the leg and thigh back to expose the joint that attaches it to the body.  Use a sharp knife to sever the thigh from the body, cutting through the separated joint. As you separate the leg, using the tip of the knife, be sure to get the “oyster,” a yummy nugget of delicious dark meat toward the back of the turkey, just above the thigh. Halve the leg quarter into the drumstick and thigh. Repeat the process with the other leg and thigh.

Place each leg quarter on the cutting board, skin side down. Use a chef’s knife to cut through the joint that connects the leg to the thigh. (It should be fairly easy to cut through the joint.) Look for a line of fat, and if the knife meets resistance, your knife is hitting bone and is not placed at the joint, which is easy to carve through. So, reposition the blade slightly and try again.

With the turkey breast still breast-side up on the cutting board, feel for the breastbone, which runs along the top center of the carcass. Begin separating one side of the breast from the body by cutting immediately alongside the breastbone with the tip of your knife. (You are removing the breast from the carcass, not cutting the breast on the carcass.) Work from the tail end of the bird toward the neck end. When you hit the wishbone, angle the knife and cut down along the wishbone toward the wing, then make a cut between the breast and the wing.

Finish separating the breast by simultaneously pulling back on the meat and using short strokes of the knife tip to cut the meat away from the carcass. Place the whole breast on the cutting board. Slice the breast into 1/4-inch thick slices. (Do the same to remove the breast meat on the other side.)

Find the joint where the wings connect to the body and bend until the joint pops apart. Use a sharp knife to sever the wing from the body, cutting through the separated joint. Using a chef’s knife or your hands, remove whatever meat remains on the carcass. (Reserve the carcass for stock.) Arrange the legs, thighs, wings, and meat on a platter, pour over any accumulated juices to moisten the meat, or use in pan sauce, and serve.  (If you need more information, here’s a great video by Chef Brendan Walsh from the CIA on how to carve a turkey – he’s a fellow Blue Ribbon Advisory Board Member for Seafood Watch!)

Giving Thanks

Whether this will be your 1st bird or your 50th, I wish the best for you and yours. I am most grateful for my family, friends, and my many blessings.

Everyone has their “must-have” dish for Thanksgiving and for me, it’s Cornbread Dressing. My thoughts and suggestions on Cornbread Dressing are included in this piece by Kim Severson in the New York Times.  I’m also excited for my holiday feast that’s featured in Weight Watchers magazine this month – it’s on the newsstands, now!  And, if you have any additional questions about Turkey 101, I will be on the Food52 Thanksgiving Hotline on Wednesday night 23 November from 5 to 6 pm.

Lastly, as you start your holiday shopping, please know that my cookbooks are on sale online. For more information, check out my cookbooks page.  I’m happy to send you a signed and personalized bookplate if you shoot me a note to with “bookplate” in the subject heading.

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis

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Serves 8 to 10

1 cup kosher salt, more if needed
1/2 cup sugar, more if needed
1 gallon hot water, more if needed
1 gallon ice water, more if needed
1 12 to 14-pound turkey, neck reserved for stock
2 stalks celery
2 onions
1 carrot
5 cups chicken stock or water
1 apple, halved
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Apple Cider Gravy, recipe follows

Using a cooler or a 5-gallon food-safe bucket combine hot water with kosher salt and sugar as directed above. Add ice water and stir until combined and quite cold. Add the turkey, cover and chill for 8 to 10 hours. If using a cooler, make sure to add additional ice or frozen reusable ice packs to keep the turkey about 35°F.

(FYI – Make sure to place the ice packs in a sealable plastic bag before placing in the brine so there’s no chance of the ice pack rupturing and contaminating the turkey.)

Place the turkey neck in a medium saucepan and cover with chicken stock or water. Coarsely chop 1 stalk of the celery, 1 onion, and 1 carrot; add to the stock. As you prepare the remaining vegetables, add the stems and skins to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook until fragrant and flavorful, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 425°F, place oven rack in lowest position. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse inside and out with cold running water. Pat dry and season turkey inside and out with freshly ground pepper. Place remaining celery and onion, apple, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, and bay leaf in cavity. Working from large cavity end, run fingers between skin and flesh of breast to loosen skin without tearing. Put 2 tablespoons butter under skin and spread butter evenly. Tie drumsticks together with kitchen string and fold wings under the body. Place the turkey on rack in a large roasting pan. Add 1 cup of the stock to the roasting pan. Brush remaining 2 tablespoons butter over turkey, roast 30 minutes. . Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Baste turkey with pan drippings and continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes, until a thigh registers 165°F on a thermometer, and additional 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Carefully tilt turkey to release any juices from inside cavity into roasting pan. Transfer turkey to serving platter. Discard celery, apple, parsley, thyme,  sage, rosemary, bay leaf and onion from cavity. Allow turkey to rest 30 minutes before carving. Serve with Apple Cider Gravy.


1 cup hard cider
4 cups turkey stock (see above)
2 large onions, finely chopped
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, more if needed
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Remove rack from roasting pan and pour pan juices through a sieve into a 1-quart glass measure. Place roasting pan across two burners over high heat, add cider and deglaze pan, stirring and scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Pour cider through sieve into glass measure with pan juices, skim fat, reserving 1/4 cup. Add enough turkey stock to drippings to equal 4 cups.

Using a large sauté pan over medium heat, add butter. Sauté onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add sage and cook, 1 minute. Add turkey stock mixture and any turkey juices accumulated on platter and bring to a boil. Using a small bowl whisk together flour and reserved 1/4 cup fat. Whisk into gravy, reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

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

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

Copyright © 2016 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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