Virginia Willis Blog

Make Ahead: Make it Easy for the Holidays


I’m smiling here, teaching at Stonewall Kitchen. What’s not to smile about? Really, nice people, an incredible kitchen, and I adore Maine. It’s a very special place for me and holds very precious memories.

I smile a lot in the kitchen. I love, love, love what I do.

But, don’t get me wrong, I’ve scowled plenty. Plenty.

Sometimes cooking is hard back-breaking work. And, it’s dangerous – it’s hot and filled with things that can burn you and sharp things that can make you bleed. You think that’s bad? The worst part is adding disorganization. Not being organized and efficient just makes Hell worse.

I haven’t worked on a line in a while, but I have, and when you are “in the weeds” it can be absolutely insane. It becomes comedic at certain points, like a Lucille Ball skit, the orders piling in one after another seemingly one quick second after another. Line cooks rely on the (often scowling) expiditer to keep them on track. I’ve also scowled when facing plate up for 800 or so many people – the quantities just become absurd. A spoonful of grits for 800 people becomes 25 gallons of grits. Waking up at o-dark thirty for food television, unripe apricots for a prima donna celebrity chef’s margarita segment, getting the screamers on set from the cooking show host, and finding the “beauty” plate in the trash before it’s been shot does not bring a smile to my face.

No matter what the kitchen, the most important thing to consider is doing what can be done ahead — before you are slammed so bad you can’t see straight.

And, here, I point out to you that we are now in the holidays, a crazy time for everybody. There are parties, shopping, entertaining, lots of obligations we don’t normally have. Often the weather is bad and people’s driving skills become nonexistent.

My answer? Make it easy and make it ahead. It’s about spending time with friends and family – and smiling – not stressing in the kitchen. Here are some recipes I hope you will enjoy.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS There are a couple of additional hors d’oeuvres on my website, as well. See Holiday Recipes



Burgundian Honey Spice Bread

Makes two 9 x5 x 3-inch loaves

The wealthy and powerful Dukes of Burgundy controlled the spice trade in the Middle Ages. The windows of the shops and bakeries of Dijon are filed with tightly wrapped loaves of pain d’épice, the traditional honey spice bread of the region. It’s similar to American-style gingerbread only in that they both contain a variety of spices. The texture of the French bread, however, is denser, as it is traditionally baked at a low temperature for several hours, and the spice combination is slightly different. I’ve adapted this version to cook in less time at a higher temperature. The texture is not as traditional, but the flavor is still incredible. Ground fennel seed is not widely available; to order it, check out World Spice Market or simply grind your own in a spice grinder.

While at La Varenne, we served this bread for breakfast for special guests. It’s also wonderful with a hot cup of tea on a chilly afternoon.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, for the loaf pans
11/4 cups milk
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
11/2 cups honey (preferably tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover)
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons very finely chopped candied ginger
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans with butter. Cut four strips of parchment: two 15 x 5 inches, and two 14 x 8 inches. Lay the two long pieces of parchment the length of the buttered pan and press to adhere. Brush the parchment with butter. Lay the two wider pieces crosswise on top. Brush the parchment with butter. Everything must be very well buttered or the bread will stick.

Heat the milk, brown sugar, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside until slightly cooled.

To make the batter, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, ground fennel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. In two batches, add the honey mixture and candied ginger. Scrape down the sides as needed, and blend on low speed until just combined.

In a small liquid measuring cup, combine the egg, egg yolk, and baking soda. Stir to combine. Add the egg mixture to the batter and beat until well blended.

To bake the loaves, pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans, dividing it evenly and not filling the pans more than halfway. Bake, rotating once, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil if the bread starts to become too dark.

Remove the loaves to a rack to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Turn them out of the pans and immediately remove the parchment paper. Store very tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 week.

French Toast Casserole
Serves 8

When my sister and I were young, our favorite mornings were when Mama would prepare French toast for breakfast. The smell of butter, kissed with cinnamon, combined with the heady scent of sizzling egg was a most welcome greeting as we bounded down the stairs. This version is made the night before, so you won’t find yourself camped in front of a hot griddle in the early morning, groggy and in need of caffeine. The next morning, remove it from the fridge to take the chill off. Grab a cup of coffee and pop it in the oven. By the time the table is set, the family is assembled, and you’re ready for your second cup, breakfast is ready.

Brioche and challah are yeast breads, rich with egg and butter, and make superlative French toast. My friend Barb Pires tells me H & F Bread Company has weekly orders from their stand at the Peachtree Road Farmers Marketfor this make ahead breakfast casserole. It’s certainly one of the most popular recipes in Bon Appétit, Y’all

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 loaf brioche or challah, sliced
11/2 inches thick (about 11/2 pounds)
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Confectioners’ sugar, for accompaniment
Sorghum, cane, or maple syrup, for accompaniment

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar in a baking dish. Arrange the bread slices in the dish. Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a bowl. Pour over the bread, letting it soak in. Top with the pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Let the chilled casserole stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Bake until browned and set, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Sift over confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot or warm with sorghum, cane, or maple syrup.

Dede’s Cheese Straws
Makes about 6 dozen

When I was growing up, our nibbles were most often the cheese straws made by my grandfather, whom I called Dede. Dede was a tall, strapping man who knew the secret of a long, happy marriage to his iron-willed wife. As he put it, his blue eyes twinkling, he always got in the last word: “Yes, beloved.”

Dede would layer his cheese straws in a tin lined with sheets of butter-stained waxed paper smelling of sharp cheese and peppery cayenne. Everyone loves these cheese straws—I once caught a party guest stuffing his pockets with them.

A cookie press is needed to make these savory crackers. I prefer the version that resembles a caulking gun, although a turn-crank one will do. Some hard-core cheese straw makers invest in the electric version!

11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, at room temperature, freshly grated
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Position the oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 2 baking sheets.

To make the dough, in a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cayenne. Set aside. In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and well combined. Gradually add the flour mixture. Mix on low speed until smooth. (The dough can also be made in the bowl of a large food processor: grate the cheese with the grating blade, then transfer the cheese to a bowl and insert the metal blade. Pulse the dry ingredients to combine, then add the butter and cheese. Process until smooth.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

To shape the dough, work it in your hands; it should be soft and pliable (like Play-Doh). Shape the dough into a cylinder and pack it into a cookie press fitted with the serrated ribbon disk.

Holding the cookie press at an angle to one of the prepared baking sheets, press the trigger twice, dragging the press away to make a long straw the length of the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve covered the sheet, spacing the ribbons of dough 1 inch apart. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, cut each ribbon into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Repeat with the remaining dough and the other baking sheet. (If your cookie press extrudes the dough in fits and spurts, simply pick up the dough and reuse.)

Bake the cheese straws, rotating the baking sheets once, until lightly browned on the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheets to a rack to cool slightly. Using an offset or slotted spatula, remove the individual cheese straws to cool completely.

making ahead: Store the cheese straws at room temperature in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper. They will keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

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 for food images: Ellen Silverman © 2008

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My Southern Pantry™ Limited Holiday Release

My Southern Pantry™ is a collection of wonderful ingredients I really like having in my kitchen and I thought you might, too. – Chef Virginia Willis, author of Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking

I am thrilled, nervous, excited, breathless – you name it – I am it – about the launch of my product line, My Southern Pantry™ available for a  limited holiday release on 11/1/10 through my website

Someone asked me who was doing my “manufacturing” – well, it’s me and a group of folks that believe in what I am doing. I didn’t call up a company and have my name slapped on someone else’s stuff. I figured if I wanted to do this, I had to do it and I had to do it the way I wanted it to be.

Early on I decided I wanted “green” packaging, or as much as possible, and it’s expensive. I could only find one bag in the right size in the whole, entire United States that had a biodegradable window on an eco-friendly bag, but I had to have a window to show off the colors of the beautiful heirloom granite ground grits. My brownies are made with 2 kinds of semisweet Guittard chocolate – chips that melt away and chunks that retain their shape when cooked. The salt for the Pecan Smoked Salt is from my friend and colleague Mark Bitterman’s shop The Meadow in Portland (and soon to open in NYC). The spices for my French Quarter Spice Rub are from World Spice Merchants, my favorite spice store located in Seattle. I sought out ground Tabasco pepper, not the widely available ground cayenne pepper because I love the idea of using a pepper so strongly associated with Louisiana. I also use Café Du Monde coffee that reminds me of a very special morning with someone I care for very much and it makes me smile.

Everything I have chosen as an ingredient is top of the line and has a reason, a back story. I’ve made up my mind My Southern Pantry™ is going to be what I want – or it simply won’t be. This week I labeled each and every bag of grits and brownies myself. It’s honest and earnest – these are things I have in my kitchen that I love — and I hope you do, too.

So, I am starting with a limited holiday release. My Southern Pantry™ is currently available through my website and in Atlanta at The Cook’s Warehouse. We’re starting national expansion in January.

To order, please visit

I thank you for remembering these items as you make your holiday gift giving decisions.

Many, many thanks for your consideration and support.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


Heirloom Grits

From the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains comes an heirloom corn over 100 years old. Seeds passed family to family, this corn grows 3-colors to a stalk, creating an unusual and colorful meal. Beauty aside, these are quite simply some of the best grits I have ever had. Ground on granite millstone these grits are batch numbered and dated with a “ground on” date. I tasted different grits for almost 2 years before I decided these were the ones. (20 ounces $9.95 + S&H)

Pecan Brownies Mise en Place

Everything you need to make the best brownies ever, everything, but the butter and the eggs. ‘Cause if all you need to do is add oil and water, those aren’t the best brownies ever. Forget additives and anti-caking ingredients. This “mise en place”, French technique terminology for “putting in place” or what you need to make the recipe consists of rich semisweet Guittard chocolate, flour, pure cane sugar, cocoa powder, pecans from my friends at Pearson Farms, baking soda, and fine sea salt. It’s just like you came over and we made them together, except you pour your own glass of milk. (21 ounces $9.95 + S&H)


Pecan Smoked Salt

Large flake sea salt from Cyprus cold-smoked for over  8 hours over  South Georgia pecan wood. Open the tin and smell a campfire. Sweet, nutty, and mildly bitter, it is an excellent addition to your southern pantry. Use as a finishing salt with vegetables for a smoky bacon flavor without the fat. (1.5 ounces $7.95 + S&H)


French Quarter Spice Rub and Seasoning Blend

Heady with the aromas of the French quarter – dark roast coffee with chicory, the thick scent of brown cane sugar, spicy Tabasco chile powder, and a specially crafted Quatre Epice, a warm blend of peppercorns, ground cloves, nutmeg, and ground ginger, this spice rub and seasoning blend calls to the complex flavors of New Orleans. More complex than a simple Creole seasoning it’s excellent on steaks, pork, lamb, chicken, bringing a different flavor to each. It’s also wonderful on rich fish like salmon. (1.5 ounces $6.95 + S&H)


Smoky Collard Greens

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon. The flavor comes from smoked salt. In its pure state, salt is a simple chemical compound, sodium chloride. There are many types of salt from all over the world that contain different elements and minerals. But things get really “fired up” when salt is smoked. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to deep amber. This ingredient adds a unique flavor to a wide range of dishes, including beef, pork, duck, chicken, and fish. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables, to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat, and it is great for vegetarians.
Author virginiawillis


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 onion preferably Vidalia, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1 medium bunch collard greens about 11/2 pounds, cleaned tough stems
  • removed and discarded and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Pecan Smoked Salt
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Hot Pepper Vinegar for accompaniment


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and
  2. cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the greens, water, smoked salt, and apple cider vinegar. Season the mixture with pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the greens are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with smoked salt and pepper. Serve immediately with the hot pepper vinegar on the side.

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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More Pork Chop Theory: Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits

My first job cooking was on a TV cooking show hosted by Nathalie Dupree. I started with her as a scared, untrained, but hardworking, novice hungry for knowledge. She took me by the hand and showed how to cook. Nathalie took me out of my mother’s kitchen and showed me a world I did not know existed. I felt like I was tasting for the first time.

Without her I would have never found my way to this path, much less on it.

She has been my friend and guide all along the way. She’s a very complicated woman. All at once she is passionate yet carefree, strong yet vulnerable, and selfish yet giving. While apprenticing in her home, she used to drive me absolutely positively crazy, leaving her peanut butter covered knife on the counter after making a sandwich, or mixing her ladies garments into the laundry with my kitchen towels.

Several months after I left her apprenticeship she called me in DC to ask about how to work her microwave. (She’s going to call me vicious for telling you that.)

We have gone round and round, experienced the range of emotions from absolute joy, as it was dining together in France at the famed 3-star L’Esperance in Burgundy, to pure pain, each of us crying over hurtful words. When I am nice and she is being nice, she calls me her “little chicken.” When I tease her mercilessly, as now I am more apt to do, about her quirks and eccentricities I am deemed a “vicious woman.”

It is somehow wonderfully poetic she now lives on Queen Street in a historic home in Charleston, SC. She has a battalion of tea cups and a freezer in the guest bathroom. Her universe seems like utter chaos, but there she is at the center, calm as the eye in the storm. She is prone to working at her laptop in a wing-back chair, surrounded by towering mountains of books and magazines, ensconced in her own petite fortress.

Pat Conroy once wrote she was “more like a fictional character than a flesh and blood person.” That still makes me howl with laughter. But, it’s not because she putters about in myopic Mr. McGoo fashion, uttering epithets like “if I were the woman I wish I was” or when dropping a bowl/chicken/apple/you name it, on the floor, “Oops, I dropped my diamond.” It’s not because while taping one of her hundreds of TV shows the this or that wouldn’t go right and she’d say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”(See some of her clips on the Charleston Post & Courier.)

It’s because it’s impossible to imagine that anyone could actually, truly be that tender, generous, and loving and be a real live person.

She’s the originator of The Pork Chop Theory. Her flock includes Rebecca Lang, Shirley Corriher, and many many more.

I should write much, much more and one day I will. But for now, I felt compelled to share with you this week this recipe from her Shrimp and Grits Cookbook.

She’s one of my dearest friends ever, and I love her.

Thank you, sweet Nathalie.
I love you.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Serves 8

A soufflé is just a thick sauce to which egg yolks and beaten egg whites are added. Cheese grits make a sturdy base for the eggs, enabling the soufflé to be assembled in advance and cooked just before serving, or cooked and frozen. Top the servings with the Shrimp Sauce. This is an extraordinarily popular dish for a buffet.
The soufflé:
1 cup uncooked grits, quick or stone ground
4-5 cups milk
1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 large eggs, separated
The shrimp sauce:
1 cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ pounds small shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley and basil, mixed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter an 8½ x 13-inch ovenproof serving dish. To make the soufflé: Cook the grits in 4 cups of the milk according to the package directions, stirring. The grits should have the consistency of a sauce. If they are very thick, add all or a portion of the fifth cup of milk and heat until absorbed. Stir in the cheese, butter, mustard, mace, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cool slightly. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Lightly beat the egg yolks in a small bowl. Stir a little of the grits into the yolks to heat them slightly, then add the yolks to the grits mixture and combine thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold into the grits. Pour into the prepared pan. (The soufflé may be made several hours ahead to this point, covered and set aside or refrigerated. ) When ready to eat, return to room temperature. Bake the soufflé for 40 to 45 minutes, or until it is puffed and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and spoon onto plates. Ladle the shrimp and their sauce over each serving.

To make the shrimp sauce: Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they start to turn pink. Add the chopped herbs and spoon over soufflé.

Copyright © Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC 2010

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My Day in NYC on 9/11

This picture of my sister was taken a in August, just a few weeks before the tragedy. I’ve never written a word about 9-11, a single word.

So I did.

Virginia Willis

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 absolute 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 blue sky, but at the litter on the sidewalk, the empty 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 peoples refuse distress me so? Why do I remember this?

It turns out that my irritation saved me from watching the first plane hit the first tower. I know this. I walked this walk every day most often looking skyward at those twin towers across the river directly in my sight. The papers, the news, the sources on the internet proclaimed the timing second by second, minute by minute in the days and weeks to come.

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 to the WTC and then change twice 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 more than once in these past years, not taking the train to the WTC.

By the time I changed to the subway and exited the station 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, 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 didn’t feel very okay at all. If the US was under attack, Time Square could be next. We walked down 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. 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 only one act of vandalism, someone breaking into a pay phone. The concept of being in a lawless New York City was terrifying in and of itself.

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

Soon I saw people walking covered in grey dust and soot. I kept walking south, then east. I finally arrived at Claire’s apartment on the Lower East Side. She wasn’t home, yet, so I waited. My cell couldn’t call out, but somehow my friend Faye was able to call me. She was my mouthpiece. She called my Mama to tell her I was okay.

Claire arrived. We watched the news all day, weeping, trying 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 wanted to go home, I wanted to feel safe. Claire didn’t want me to leave.

I wanted to go home.

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

I walked North through Union Square where 2 candles already flickered, the beginning of the massive combination of shrine and wall of missing person posters that eventually established itself on that spot.

14th 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 in fear. 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.

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EZ Does It: Slow Cooker Vegetarian

Fall is just around the corner. This morning in Atlanta the low was 64 degrees – yes, it still got up in the 90s, but the morning was cool.

I love, love, love mornings like today. I slowly opened my eyes, took in my surroundings, and smiled.

I have a lot of reasons to smile and be thankful.

Lot’s happening lately – we shot a TV pilot on harvesting shrimp for What it Takes, a show about what it takes to get the food on your plate.

Saveur Magazine decided I was one of the sites they love! Yippeee!! They featured my Grilled Chicken with Mama’s BBQ Sauce recipe for Labor Day.

Food News Journal decided my friend and colleague Rebecca Lang were both worthy of their “Best of the Blogs” on the same day!

And, yes, I am still on deadline for my next cookbook, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Recipes and Recollections from a Southern Culinary Journey. It’s filled with simple, doable basic recipes much like in Bon Appétit, Y’all. In addition, each recipe has a paragraph with a short recipe, presentation tip, or technique on how to transform the Basic recipe into something Brilliant and more chef-inspired.

So, yes, a lot going on…..

Given my schedule, something EZ would be really nice. Put it on and forget about it. That’s where my friend and colleague, Judith Finlayson and her book, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker come in.

In the continued spirit of The Pork Chop Theory, I want to share with you a few of Judith’s recipes. With over 200 delicious she demonstrates that by using a slow cooker, even the most time-pressed person can arrive home to a ready-to-eat and delicious home-cooked meal. She’s got updated recipes for standard and traditional vegetarian dishes. Additionally, classic meat dishes have been recreated in vegetarian versions, with vegan-friendly recipes clearly identified. It’s a must have cookbook, appealing to a wide range of tastes including the flexitarian, aka “the sometime vegetarian” and people who like just like good food, meatless or not, like myself.

Thanks so much, Judith even though there’s not a pork chop in site, your generosity and sharing fits the bill.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Beet Soup with Lemongrass and Lime
Serves 6

This Thai-inspired soup, which is served cold, is elegant and refreshing. Its jewel-like appearance and intriguing flavors make it a perfect prelude to any meal. I especially like to serve it at summer dinners in the garden.

• Medium to large (31⁄2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

1 tbsp olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, smashed and
cut in half crosswise
2 tbsp minced gingerroot
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
6 cups vegetable broth, divided
6 beets (about 21⁄2 lbs/1.25 kg), peeled
and chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 long red chile pepper, seeded and diced
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Salt, optional
Coconut cream, optional
Finely chopped fresh cilantro

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, lemongrass, ginger and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 2 cups (500 mL) of the vegetable broth and stir well. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Add remaining 4 cups (1 L) of vegetable broth and beets. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until beets are tender. Add red pepper, and chile pepper, if using. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until peppers are tender. Discard lemongrass.

Purée using an immersion blender. (You can also do this in batches in a food processor or stand blender.) Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in lime zest and juice. Season to taste with salt, if using. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

Ladle into bowls, drizzle with coconut cream, if using, and garnish with cilantro.

Arugula-Laced Caramelized Onion Sauce
Serves 4

I love the bittersweet flavor of caramelized onions but on the stovetop caramelizing onions is a laborious process of slow, constant stirring. Made in the slow cooker, caramelized onions require almost no attention. In this recipe, I have added sugar to the onions to ensure deeper flavor. Serve this luscious sauce over whole wheat pasta, polenta, or grits. Complete the meal with a tossed green salad topped with shredded carrots for a splash of healthy color.

• Medium to large (31⁄2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

2 tbsp olive oil
6 onions, thinly sliced on the vertical
(about 3 lbs/1.5 kg)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 tbsp white or red miso
3 cups tomato sauce
2 bunches arugula, stems removed and
Cooked pasta, preferably whole-grain, polenta or grits

In slow cooker stoneware, combine olive oil and onions. Stir well to coat onions thoroughly. Cover and cook on High for 1 hour, until onions are softened.

Add sugar and peppercorns and stir well. Place a clean tea towel, folded in half (so you will have two layers), over top of stoneware to absorb moisture. Cover and cook on High for 4 hours, stirring two or three times to ensure that the onions are browning evenly and replacing towel each time.

Remove towels, add miso and stir well to ensure it is well integrated into the onions. Add tomato sauce and arugula and stir well to blend. Cover and cook on High for 30 minutes, until mixture is hot and flavors have blended. Serve over hot whole-grain pasta, polenta or grits.

Coconut-Laced Black Sticky Rice Pudding
Serves 8

Rice pudding is a dessert I love and this is one of my favorite versions. It’s exotic and delicious. You can serve it if you’re looking for a Wow! factor but it’s so easy to make you can also prepare it for a personal treat.

• Small (2 to 31⁄2 quart) slow cooker
• Lightly greased slow cooker stoneware

4 cups water
11⁄2 cups Thai black sticky rice
1⁄2 cup raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or
other evaporated cane juice sugar
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 can (14 oz/400 mL) coconut milk
Chopped mangos, peaches or bananas,
Chopped toasted almonds or toasted
shredded coconut, optional

In a small saucepan, bring water and black sticky rice to a vigorous boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt, then transfer to prepared slow cooker stoneware.

Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or overnight or on High for 4 hours. Stir well, then stir in coconut milk. To serve, ladle into bowls and top with chopped fruit and/or toasted almonds, if using.

Excerpted from The Vegetarian Slow Cooker © 2010 Judith Finlayson.
Text, cover and photographs © 2010 Robert Rose Inc.Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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