Virginia Willis Blog

Southern Saturdays with Virginia: Vidalia Onion Quiche

Spring may mean lamb to some, asparagus to others, and perhaps for a lucky few, spring means morel mushrooms. Not for me.

Spring for me means Vidalia onions are in season. The season starts with the baby Vidalia’s. They look like an overgrown green onion or like an overly  bulbous leek. A short while later the real deal arrives, golden squatty onions with just covered in yellow and white, papery skin.

Being from Georgia, I am a huge supporter of Vidalia onions. Much in the way that France regulates food and wine with appellation d’origine contrôlée, the Georgia state legislature got together in 1986 and decided that Vidalia onions had to be grown within a certain region of Vidalia, Georgia. This is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil. If Vidalia onions are unavailable, make something else. No, I’m teasing. You can use another sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Texas sweet.

All onions need circulating air to stay fresh. Vidalia onions are particularly tricky due to their high sugar content. Mama taught me one of the best ways to store Vidalia onions is in the cut-off legs of pantyhose: drop an onion down the leg, tie a knot, and repeat. Hang the onion-filled hose from a hook in a cool, dry place. They will keep for months.

Their natural sweetness creates a candy-like confit, which is excellent as a condiment or a spread, and absolutely divine in this quiche.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis



Vidalia Onion Quiche

Author virginiawillis


French Pie Pastry (Makes one 10-inch tart shell)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 stick, cut into bits and chilled
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 5 to 6 tablespoons cold water

Vidalia Onion Confit

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 5 onions about 11/2 pounds, preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme plus small sprigs for garnish


  • French Pie Pastry blind baked
  • 11/2 cups Vidalia Onion Confit recipe follows
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper


For the Pastry

  1. To prepare the dough, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Add the egg yolks and pulse to combine.
  2. With the processor on pulse, add the ice water a tablespoon at a time. Pulse until the mixture holds together as a soft, but not crumbly or sticky, dough. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm and evenly moist, about 30 minutes.
  3. To prepare the dough, lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Place the dough disk in the center of the floured surface. Roll out the dough, starting in the center and rolling up to, but not over, the top edge of the dough.
  4. Return to the center, and roll down to, but not over, the bottom edge. Give the dough a quarter turn, and continue rolling, repeating the quarter turns until you have a disk about 1/8 inch thick.
  5. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, unrolling over the tin.
  6. With one hand lift the pastry and with the other gently tuck it into the pan, being careful not to stretch or pull the dough. Let the pastry settle into the bottom of the pan.
  7. Take a small piece of dough and shape it into a ball. Press the ball of dough around the bottom edges of the tart pan, snugly shaping the pastry to the pan without tearing it.
  8. Remove any excess pastry by rolling the pin across the top of the pan.
  9. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with the tines of a fork to help prevent shrinkage during baking. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
  10. To blind bake, preheat the oven to 425°F. Crumple a piece of parchment paper, then lay it out flat over the bottom of the pastry. Weight the paper with pie weights, dried beans, or uncooked rice. This will keep the unfilled pie crust from puffing up in the oven.

For the Confit

  1. To make the confit, heat the butter and remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely for continuing with the quiche.

For the Quiche

  1. Prepare the pastry shell and the onion confit; let both cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, parsley, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Spread the cooled onion confit in the pastry shell. Pour the custard over the onions. Bake until the custard is lightly browned and set, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Photo credit: Ellen Silverman © 2008

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Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: 3 Great Grain Recipes

Doesn’t that photo make you want to grab a fork? Lordy Mercy, that photo makes me want to eat. I swear I can taste that grilled cheese and nutty rye berries.

It’s the cover of a BEAUTIFUL new book by Maria Speck with photography by
Sara Remington called Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More.

The title is quite a mouthful, but a good one.

We all know we’re “supposed to” eat more whole grains. I know my way around the grain bin pretty well, but even as a professional cook I sometimes face the wall of bulk food at Whole Foods Market with more than a smidgen of bewilderment.

Well, my friend, be bewildered no more. This book is the answer.

Maria was raised in Germany and Greece – where they’ve had an appreciation for these ancient grains for a long while. Her style of cooking and teaching lends a distinctly European approach to simple yet delicious dishes made with whole grains. Her vast knowledge of the centuries-old traditions of cooking and baking with barley, polenta, quinoa, spelt, and farro shines through in both the text and recipes. She transforms these ancient staples into quick and modern foods for busy lives.

I know that for me, it just makes me want to get in the kitchen to cook and eat. I hope you, too, enjoy this sampling of Maria’s book.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Leek Salad with Grilled Haloumi Cheese and Rye Berries

Serves 4 to 6

11/2 cups water
3/4 cup rye berries, soaked overnight and drained

2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut into 3/4-inch segments (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 (2- by 1-inch) strip orange zest, white pith removed (optional)
1/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, 2 teaspoons oil reserved (see page 138)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
2 tablespoons nonpareil capers
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

to finish
1/4 pound haloumi cheese
11/2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano or thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)

1 To prepare the rye, bring the water and the rye berries to a boil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the berries are tender but still slightly chewy, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and steam for 10 to
15 minutes if you have time. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer to a large serving bowl to cool.

2 While the rye cools, prepare the salad. Bring the leeks, chicken broth, and orange zest to a boil in a large saucepan. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the leeks are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the leeks, and add them to the serving bowl with the rye berries. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup of the mint, and the capers, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, keeping in mind that capers and haloumi are quite salty.

3 To finish, position a rack about 6 inches below the heat source and preheat the broiler. Cut the haloumi cheese into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick, and put them on a plate. Sprinkle with the oregano, pepper, pepper flakes, and reserved 2 teaspoons of tomato oil; rub the oil and spices all over to coat the slices on both sides (work gently, as haloumi breaks easily). Transfer the cheese to a medium cast-iron skillet or a broiler pan.

4 Broil the haloumi until the slices just start to brown at the edges, about 5 minutes, turning once with a spatula. (Watch closely as you don’t want the cheese to dry out.)

5 Top the salad with the haloumi. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons mint, and serve right away.

to get a head start: Make the rye berries, as in step 1, ahead (see page 23). The salad (without the haloumi) can be prepared 4 to 6 hours ahead. Chill, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Spelt Crust Pizza with Fennel, Prosciutto, and Apples

Makes 2 pizzas, to serve 4 to 6 as a main course, or 8 as a starter

spelt crust
2 cups whole grain spelt flour (8 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons linseed oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg
Coarse cornmeal, if using a pizza peel

4 or 5 green onions
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup drained nonpareil capers
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored, and sliced very thinly
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced very thinly
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
Linseed or extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 First, make the dough. To prepare the dough by hand: Whisk together the spelt flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, linseed oil, and the egg and beat with a fork until smooth. Pour the ricotta mixture into the well. Combine with a dough whisk (see page 30) or a fork, stirring from the center and gradually incorporating the flour from the sides until a fairly moist dough comes together.

To prepare the dough by food processor: Place the spelt flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl and process for about 10 seconds. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, linseed oil, and the egg and beat with a fork until smooth. Pour the ricotta mixture across the top of the flour mixture and pulse, in 1-second intervals, just until a ball forms, 5 to 10 pulses. The dough will be fairly moist.

2 Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface. Lightly flour your hands and briefly knead 5 to 7 turns to get a smooth yet slightly tacky dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes to allow the bran in the flour to soften.

3 Meanwhile, place a baking stone on a rack on the bottom shelf and preheat oven to 425°F. Liberally sprinkle a pizza peel with coarse cornmeal. Finely chop the white and light green parts of the green onions until you have 1/2 cup. Combine them with the sour cream, capers, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a small bowl. Finely chop the dark green parts as well (about 1/4 cup) and set aside for garnish.

4 Unwrap the dough, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and cut into 2 pieces. Keep 1 piece covered with plastic wrap. Lightly flour your hands and briefly knead the other until smooth, 7 to 10 turns. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into an elongated pizza, 11 by 8 inches and about 1/4 inch thick. Do this in stages, occasionally turning the dough over and rolling it out further, lightly flouring your work surface and the rolling pin each time. Place the dough on the pizza peel. Spread half of the sour cream topping across, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Cover with half of the apple slices, top with half of the fennel slices, and sprinkle with half of the prosciutto. Brush the border with oil.

5 Slide the dough onto the baking stone and bake until the fennel just starts to brown at the edges and the rim turns golden brown and starts to crisp—it should yield when pressed with a finger—about 15 minutes. Use a large spatula to lift the edges of the pizza so you can slide the peel underneath; carefully transfer the pizza to a wooden board. Sprinkle with half of the reserved green onions and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Cut with a sharp knife and serve at once. Repeat with the second pizza.

to get a head start: The dough, as in steps 1 and 2, can be prepared 1 day ahead. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap. Remove the dough from the fridge and unwrap; flatten it slightly, and allow to come room temperature while you prep the ingredients and preheat the oven, about 1 hour.

to lighten it up: Feel free to use part-skim ricotta, lowfat milk, and lowfat sour cream, but do not use nonfat.

Artichoke-Rosemary Tart with Polenta Crust

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a starter

polenta crust
11/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
11/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
11/4 cups polenta or corn grits
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (about 21/2 ounces; use the large holes of a box grater)
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

artichoke cheese filling
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (about 3)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (12-ounce) package frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 To make the polenta crust, bring the broth and the water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Using a large whisk, slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, and continue whisking for 30 more seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon about every 2 minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times. The polenta will be fairly stiff. Stir in the cheese, egg, and pepper.

2 Grease a 10-inch ceramic tart pan with olive oil or coat with cooking spray, and place on a wire rack. Have ready a tall glass of cold water. Dip a wooden spoon into the water as needed as you spread the polenta mixture across the center of the pan, pushing it up the sides. Set aside to firm up at room temperature, about 15 minutes, and then form an even rim about 3/4 inch thick with your slightly moist fingers, pressing firmly. No need to fret over this—it’s easy.

3 Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.

4 Prepare the artichoke cheese filling. Place the yogurt, eggs, green onions, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a 2-cup liquid measure or a medium bowl and combine well with a fork. Distribute the artichoke quarters over the crust, cut sides up, forming a circle along the rim and filling the center (you might not need all the hearts). Sprinkle the goat cheese on top and gently pour the filling over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

5 Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and set aside at room temperature to firm up for at least 20 minutes, 40 if you can wait. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut into slices. Serve with more freshly ground pepper on top if you like.

to get a head start: The polenta crust, as in steps 1 and 2, can be prepared 1 day ahead, as can the entire tart. Cool to room temperature, chill for a couple of hours, and then cover with plastic wrap. Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving, or gently reheat to warm (not hot) in a 325ºF oven for about 20 minutes.

to lighten it up: Use 1 cup non- or lowfat Greek yogurt in the filling instead of whole-milk yogurt.

“Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.” Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011

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Southern Comfort Spa Style! Spa Food & Culinary Week at The Golden Door


This week’s travels have taken me to and through the Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California for Culinary Week. It’s been fantastic.

I think some of the guests were surprised that I was the choice — Southern food? Really?

Well, clearly I didn’t make Fried Chicken, but I did make recipes from Bon Appétit, Y’all with little or no modifications.

And, you know what? They’ve loved it.

Thursday I taught a grilling class and served the Black Eyed Pea Salad and Grilled Shrimp Gumbo, (sorry, y’all – it’s a recipe in my next book).

The setting is breathtaking, beauty is everywhere.

One of the more enlightening evenings was listening to 89-year old founder Deborah Szekely. She stated she knew at 80 what her next 10 years would be like that would take her to 90, but wasn’t certain about after 90, so she was only planning for 5.

She’s truly inspirational and wise.

Just a few notes I jotted down included, “Dieting is dying” and “Exercise is oxygen” And, perhaps my favorite, “Counting calories makes as much sense as counting kisses while you are making love.”

I’ve really appreciated the experience and learned a lot about healthful eating from The Super Foods Rx Diet author Wendy Bazilian, too.

So, this post is short and sweet. I’ve still got cooking to do and I am also working on the edits for Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. Don’t get me in trouble with my editor!

Here are some of the recipes from one of the dinners. I hope you enjoy!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Cornmeal-Crusted Halibut
Serves 4

3/4 cup fresh or panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs
3/4 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
4 (4 ounce) halibut fillets (about 3/4 inch thick)
6 tablespoons canola oil
Lemon wedges, for garnish
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper.

Combine the breadcrumbs, cornmeal, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a shallow dish, and stir well to mix. Place the beaten eggwhites in a 2nd shallow dish.

Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Working with one fillet at a time, dip one side of the the fish into the eggwhites, then into the cornmeal mixture. Transfer the fish to a plate.

In a large, heavy-bottomed, ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron), heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. Fry the fillets until the undersides are golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, crusted side up. Bake until the fish are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately garnished with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Walnut Oil
Serves 4 to 6

4 medium fresh beets
1/4 cup walnuts, for garnish
1 shallot, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons grapeseed olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 ounces mâche or tender young greens
2 ounces fresh goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and bake them directly on the oven rack until completely tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Set aside.

While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts on a baking sheet in the same oven until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly, coarsely chop them, and transfer to a small bowl; set aside.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add the oils in a slow stream, whisking constantly, until creamy and emulsified; season with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, toss the beets in a little of the dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, toss the mâche with just enough dressing to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the greens and beets among the serving plates. Top with a spoonful of goat cheese and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts. Serve immediately.

Angel Food Cake Muffins
Makes about 2 dozen

11/4 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
11/2 cups sugar
12 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
11/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 11/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Strawberries and orange segments, for garnish
Low Fat Vanilla Yogurt, for garnish

Position an oven rack in the lower part of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sift the flour with 3/4 cup of the sugar. Re-sift three times. Set aside.

To prepare the batter, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk, place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Whisk on medium speed until foamy. Add the vanilla-bean seeds and almond extract. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when the whisk is lifted. Sift enough of the flour mixture in to dust the top of the foam. Using a spatula, fold in gently. Continue until all of the flour mixture is incorporated.

Gently spoon the batter into 2 lightly greased 12-cup muffin pans, no more than 2/3 full. Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Invert the pan over 4 ramekins at the corners so the muffins can cool and dry upside down to set.

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.

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Salt: Making Every Grain Count & The World’s Most Essential Mineral

Did you know there are more about 10,000,000 crystals per pound of salt?

I get lots of questions about salt.

I have at least twelve different salts in my kitchen. In general, I cook savory foods with plain old Diamond Brand or Morton’s coarse kosher salt. I use fine sea salt or uniodized salt for baking. I prefer to use uniodized salt because I think it tastes slightly bitter. I use sea salts to enhance the flavor of food.

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, so it still contains the minerals from the water it came from. Sea salt from the coast of France is going to be different from sea salt from the coast of Spain, or Georgia, if we harvested salt.

Sea salt can be as inexpensive as a couple of dollars a pound for mass produced salts to $25 a pound for artisan salts. Some, but not all, sea salts are considered finishing salts. Finishing salts such as fleur de sel are premier salts and add something special when applied to food. They are usually a bit more expensive and added at the end of cooking. It’s a salt not just added for seasoning – it becomes part of the recipe as an ingredient to enhance the flavor and texture of the food.

I may sound snotty about iodized salt, however, it cannot be completely ignored. Iodine is a necessary nutrient that is often naturally present in the food supply. However, where natural levels of iodine in the soil are low, iodine added to salt provides the small but essential amount needed by humans. Iodine is critical in the first years of life, extraordinarily important up to 3 or 5 years of age.

Smoked salts and flavored salts are gaining traction in the kitchen, too. I love to use smoked salt because it allows for smoky bacon flavor without the saturated fat, and in fact, like it enough to make it and sell it in My Southern Pantry®.

My colleague Mark Bitterman of The Meadow with locations in Portland and New York has written an amazing book — no, rather a manifesto on salt, what he calls the “world’s most essential mineral.” It’s called Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes.

I’d have to agree.

Mark calls himself a selmelier. He is committed to exploring, promoting, and celebrating gourmet finishing salts from around the world. Check out his blog, Salt News. He is a Rock Star or Salt Star, as the case may be. Mark has been featured in The New York Times, The Splendid Table with Lynne Rosetto Kasper, and Martha Stewart.

Clearly, I’m not the only one that likes what Mark has to say about salt.

His book has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award and an IACP or International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award.

It’s a beautiful book, wonderfully written, and exceptionally well-done. (In the interest of full disclosure, we share the same editor, Melissa Moore, and publisher, Ten Speed Press. It makes me very proud to be part of such an amazing team that does such amazing work.

And speaking of …. Here’s the cover for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them Up for Company! I am so thankful to Helen Dujardin, Angie Mosier, and Gena Berry. I love the Creole Country Bouillabase, especially in that beautiful Le Creuset French oven! (PS You can pre-order my book here. )

Ok – back to Salted! Sorry for the departure, but I literally got the word about the cover on Amazon while I was writing this piece!

There’s a lot in the news about cutting back on salt. Well, there’s cutting back on salt — then there’s cutting back on salt. There’s so much sodium in processed foods — chips, crackers, soup…. I’m not even talking about really bad for your fast food. So, when you can have salt, Mark teaches you how to have *really* good salt and make every grain count.

So, to get us back on track, here are a few recipes from Mark’s book. And, I’ve added my recipe for a simple Salt Roasted Salmon, as well.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Chèvre with Cyprus Black Flake Sea Salt and Cacao Nibs
Serves 8 as an appetizer

1 cup unsweetened cacao nibs
1 (8-ounce) log fresh goat cheese
2 three-finger pinches of Cyprus black flake sea salt
1 (8-ounce) baguette

Spread the cacao nibs in a single layer on a sheet of foil. Roll the log of goat cheese carefully in the nibs so that cheese doesn’t stick to your fingers. Once the cheese is well coated, roll the log with a little more pressure to embed the nibs into the cheese. Place on a serving plate.

Sprinkle the cheese with salt, allowing the crystals to tumble across the plate.Cut the baguette into thin slices and arrange them around the cheese log or place them in a basket to serve alongside.

To show guests how to serve themselves, cut a round of cheese from the log and place it on a slice of baguette; top with a few of the scattered chunks of black salt.

Preserved Lemons
Makes about 1 quart

8 large lemons, scrubbed clean
About 3 cups sel gris
8 juniper berries (optional)
Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Cut the tips off the ends of the lemons. Cut each lemon into quarters lengthwise, leaving them attached at one end. Pack the lemons with as much salt as they will hold. Insert one juniper berry into each lemon.

Put the lemons in a sterilized wide-mouth quart-size jar, packing them in as tightly as possible. As you push the lemons into the jar, some juice will be squeezed from them. When the jar is full, the juice should cover the lemons; if it doesn’t, add some fresh lemon juice.

Seal the jar and set aside for 3 to 4 weeks, until the lemon rinds become soft, shaking the jar every day to keep the salt well distributed. The lemons should be covered with juice at all times; add more as needed. Rinse the lemons before using.

Virginia’s Salt Roasted Salmon
Serves 4

2 cups coarse salt
2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
4 star anise
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
4 6-ounce salmon fillets

Heat oven to 375°F. Using a medium bowl, combine salt, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and peppercorns. Spread spice mixture evenly over the bottom of a heavy-duty or enamelware baking dish. Place the salmon, skin side down, one-inch apart on spice mixture. Cover salmon with parchment paper, cover dish with aluminum foil to seal.

Bake until desired doneness, about 15 minutes for medium rare. Remove salmon from oven, allow to rest 3 minutes. Remove the foil and parchment paper. Using a spatula, remove fillets, leaving skin behind, serve immediately.

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.

“Reprinted with permission from Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”
Photo credit: Jennifer Martiné © 2010

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Easter Dinner: April “Country Living” on the Stands!


Wow. That’s all I have to say.
Well, that’s not true. I also have to say thank you. Lots and lots of thank yous.
Many thanks to Country Living Magazine and Monica Willis (no relation!) for asking me to be a part of this special issue. I am so grateful to Jona and the rest of my family for allowing their Easter dinner to be transformed into a photo shoot last year, thank you to my aunts and cousins for helping with the food, thank you to Gene, Kathy, and Meghan for opening their home, thanks to Gena Berry for her assistance, delicious thanks to Robert at Melissa’s Produce for helping with the ingredient sourcing, thank you to Heather, Harry, and John for making such beautiful photos, and lastly, but by far not the least, thanks to my Mama for all her love and support.
I told her it was TEN pages. She asked me where the rest of it was. I reminded her the magazine wasn’t titled Virginia Willis’s Country Living.

Here’s the full Country Living Easter Dinner article and here are the recipes.

I am so honored and thrilled to be the subject and also the author of the piece, a little written ramble about cherished childhood memories, my abhorrence of dotted Swiss, and sunrise service at Riverview Methodist church. It’s about how my family’s Easter menu has evolved and changed, but much of it remains true to the Easter Sunday dinners of my youth and the memory of my grandparents.

And this year? This spring I look forward to starting new traditions of family celebration and expanding the circle of sharing with people I love. Spring is after all, about shedding the old and celebrating newness and rebirth. It’s the perfect time for new lives and fresh starts.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS Click and read here, too, but help keep print alive my buying one at the newsstand. That is if Mama left you any. I think she’s gathered enough to wallpaper the spare room she’s so proud.

Easter Menu



Sliced Radishes with Horseradish Buttermilk Dip
Baked Fresh Ham with Herbes de Provence
Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Steamed Asparagus with Tangerines, Roasted Spring Vidalia Onions, Parmesan Grits with Morels
Buttermilk Angel Biscuits
Turbinado Shortcakes with Strawberries and Whipped Cream



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