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
Serves 4 to 6

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.

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

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
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.

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