Where to Eat in Paris Wednesday, May 29 2013 


Where to Eat in Paris

This time of year I am often asked where to eat in Paris, France. Folks are going on vacation and are curious for my suggestions on where to eat and what to do.

This is by no means a definitive list, but a list of places we have really enjoyed the past few years.

I try to search out restaurants off the beaten path and I love trying cuisine other than French. Crazy, I know. Paris is a major metropolitan city with a population representative of that, and also has well-established enclaves made of citizens of former French colonies. Give some of those foods a try. And, the neat part about eating “foreign” food in Paris is that it’s cheap — which allows for balancing things out with extravagant, expensive splurges at Michelin-starred restaurants such as L’Arpege, Le Meurice, Benoit, or Pre Catalan.


Paris Cookware Shop

You can’t eat there, but let’s start with shopping for cookware. Dehillerin will be crazy crowded, the purchasing system is strange, and the salesmen are typically gruffly French, but it’s been open since 1820 and the best cookware store in Paris. It’s located in the area of Les Halles that used to be where the main food markets were from 1183 until the market center was demolished in the early 70s. (It only makes sense that there are cookware specialty stores near the markets. Chefs would go into town and buy both food and equipment.) When I was an apprentice working in Paris I would save my money for weeks and weeks to afford one copper pot. Now, life has changed a bit, and I can afford to buy more than one pot — but I’ve maintained my tradition — and restraint!

18 et 20, rue Coquillière
75001 Paris

In regards to food shopping, there are more places than you can possibly imagine. However, make sure you also pop into Maille, Hediard, and Fauchon for goodies to bring home — as well as your provisions for your charming picnique at the Tuileries.


The seafood at L’Ecume St. Honore is beyond phenomenal. It’s an actual fish market and Parisians can buy seafood to take home and prepare, but they also have a few tables, as well. It’s kind of pricey, but well worth it. I have seen and tasted unusual seafood there that I’ve never seen before or since. The owner and workers are a friendly bunch. (You’d be friendly, too if you had a packed restaurant selling at those prices.) The food is fresh, fresh, fresh and just amazing. The first time I was there, I saw super chef Alain Ducasse standing in line like a mere mortal! Then, and I am not making this up, the next year I saw him there again! Maybe he thinks I am stalking him.

L’Ecume Saint Honore
6 Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris, France


Le Cuisine Traditionelle

We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Bistro Paul Bert with Anne Willan — at Dorie Greenspan’s suggestion. Major double whammy with the French cuisine experts.

Bistrot Paul Bert
18 rue Paul Bert
75011 Paris, France

More old-school French. It’s not quite as fabulous as it was, but Ma Bourgogne is still really good. They waiters can be a seriously grumpy, but the Frisee au Lardons is pretty much worth it. It’s at the Place des Vosges, with lovely shops and galleries. Make sure to check out the Dammann Freres Tea Shop just up the block – tea merchants since 1692. It’s exquisite.

Ma Bourgogne
19, place des Vosges
75004 Paris, France

Willi’s Wine Bar has been around a long while. The food is solid and the best thing is that the whole experience is easy. Even though most Parisians speak English, sometimes it can just be tiring trying to navigate a menu and a dining experience in rusty French. Willi’s solves all that for you.

Willi’s Wine Bar
13 rue des Petits-Champs
75001 Paris, France

We adore this old-school restaurant that features rustic food from the Auvergne. The aligote potatoes are absolutely out-of-this-world. The Chocolat Mousse needs its own fan club. Great service and seriously awesome food.

L’Ambassade d’Auvergne
22 Rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare
75003 Paris, France


Les Exotiques….

Morocco is a former French colony and there are some amazing Moroccan restaurants and cafes throughout Paris. Zerda not the easiest place to find, but well worth the search. The photo above doesn’t do it justice, as the hand-rolled couscous was light as air and positively microscopic. Paired with tender, rich, and delicious lamb, it was a feast of flavor. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. Go.

Café Zerda
15 rue René Boulanger
75010 Paris, France

The Vietnamese food in Paris is beyond stellar. At Le Bambou you will be jam-packed at a table with strangers. The restaurant is very loud and French spoken with a Vietnamese accent is nearly impossible to understand. Lastly, it’s a trek to this part of town, but it’s all well worth that first satisfying bite. Give it a try.

Le Bambou
70, rue Baudricourt
75013 Paris, France


Sapporo ramen house was our very 1st stop when we last arrived in Paris! It was cold and snowing and the warm, comforting ramen absolutely hit the spot after our overnight flight.

276 Rue Saint-Honore
75001 Paris, France

Supposedly there are over 40K restaurants in Paris so I could go on and on, but I think this will give you a taste of some fun places to try. I love doing the research and seeing what other chefs and food writers have to say!

Other folks to check out for suggestions include Betty Rosbottom, David Lebovitz, Cowgirl Chef (no, that’s not a typo), Dorie Greenspan, and Patricia Wells (she has a Food Lover’s Guide to Paris Food App). You can also take a peek at Bon App’s list, the NY Times, or LeFooding.com for more advice.

I hope if you travel to Paris this summer, you will enjoy my suggestions. Let me know what you discover and I’ll add it to my list!

Bon Appétit Y’all!

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Photo credits – Virginia Willis

Paris Cookbook Fair: Pulled Pork with BBQ Sauce Saturday, Feb 23 2013 


Paris Cookbook Fair 2013

Bonjour! Sending out a quick post from the Paris Cookbook Fair, Festival du Livre Culinaire from Le Carosel du Louvre. There are so many amazing, beautiful books from all over the world – France, the UK, South America, Israel, New Zealand — all over! I was thrilled to be asked to do a cooking demonstration. Of course, I knew I wanted to share my style of cooking, a blend of French and Southern — but with an extra special nod towards my Southern roots. So, I put it out on Twitter to ask folks what I should make…..

chicken 1 copy

Fried Chicken at the Louvre?

You will laugh at the reply from the Twitterverse!

chicken tweet copy

So, I didn’t. The last thing I want is an international incident over Fried Chicken. Although I am convinced that if the Mona Lisa could taste my fried chicken she’d have a full blown grin instead of her quirky little smile.

Southern Living saw the conversation and decided they had to write about it on their Daily South blog — “No, Virginia, You Can’t Fry in the Louvre.” Funny, right!?

Instead, I chose to make Pulled Pork Tenderloin with Georgia BBQ Sauce paired with Heirloom Stoneground Grits and Greens topped with Cole Slaw in a Mustard Vinaigrette. I actually brought My Southern Pantry® grits from home. I’m delighted to say that everyone loved it. It was a real blast.

I’m off to go see some beautiful food photography from the award-winning, international photographer Nancy Bundt. She’s absolutely phenomenal. I love her work. Later tonight, two people very important to me, Lisa Ekus and Anne Willan are receiving Gourmand Awards. More soon!

Bon Appétit Y’all!




Pulled Pork Tenderloin with Georgia Barbecue Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small very finely chopped onion
2 1/2 cups ketchup
2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cupDijon mustard
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and simmer until soft and melted, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until flavors have smoothed and mellowed, about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, to prepare the pork, trim off the fat and silver skin: insert the tip of a sharp boning knife just under the silver skin about 1/2 inch from the edge of the meat where the silver skin begins. Keep the knife closer to the membrane than the meat, and pulling up slightly with the knife, slide the knife along the length of the meat to remove a strip of the membrane. Repeat until no silver skin remains. Season the pork with salt and pepper.

To sear the pork, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sear the tenderloin until well browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from the heat and place lengthwise on the prepared baking sheet. Top with about 1 cup of the barbecue sauce and roll to fully coat. Fold the foil over the top of the meat and pinch the ends of the foil to seal well. Bake until very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a large bowl. Discard the cooking juices remaining in the foil. Using 2 forks, shred the pork tenderloin into strips. Add barbecue sauce to taste, about 1 cup. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve on the split buns with the remaining 1/4 cup of sauce 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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.


Paris + Texas: Fall Recipes & Change is Good Friday, Oct 5 2012 

Fall Produce

While there’s absolutely nothing like a summer vine-ripe tomato or fresh sweet corn, have you ever considered that perhaps they wouldn’t be so special if we had them all the time? You know absence makes the heart grow fonder. Could you overload on summer produce? I’m not so sure, but I do love the transition to fall produce. It’s like a whole new playground! Pumpkins and winter squash, sweet potatoes, kale, collard, and mustard greens speak my language. I bought a rutabaga yesterday and simply cannot wait to cook it and make a comforting, savory mash.

Summer produce needs little or no cooking. The corn I enjoyed in Massachusetts this summer was so fresh and good it basically just needed a quick dip in boiling water. Fall produce means new cooking techniques like roasting and braising. Fall produce means long slow cooking. Fall produce means new flavors and textures. Fall produce means doing something different.

Change is Good

Doing something different in the kitchen can be good. Don’t you get tired of the same old-same old? But, regardless how small, change can be scary. People have expectations. Big changes create ripples and effect other people’s lives.One of the food folks I follow is Cowgirl Chef Ellise Pierce. She’s done what so many cooks dream to do — pull up lock, stock, and barrel and move to France. She made a big life change. Moving is a big break – especially when it’s far away from home. I know a little about being a displaced Southerner in France — and loving it and hating it at the same time. Being homesick hurts. Ellise and I have never met, but I think we’re kindred spirits. She has a wonderful new book out called Cowgirl Chef and I am just as proud of her as I can be and so happy for her. I know a little about blending Southern and French cooking; she’s married French and Texas! It’s Texas Cooking with a French accent – Paris, Texas in a whole new way!

She says that Cowgirl Chef is “about cooking with abandon, with a sense of adventure. Of not being afraid to try something new. Or something old in a new way.”

Don’t you love that? We all need a swift kick in the pants sometimes to change things up. Change is good. It’s good to overcome fear and not be afraid. Here’s a big welcome to fall. I love her new book and hope you do, too. We’re mixing things up. Kale is more often cooked so I am sharing a raw kale recipe. Winter squash is usually prepared as a side and she’s sharing a delicious recipe for a roast squash salad. Enjoy your weekend and your newfound sense of adventure.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia’s Smoky Spicy Kale
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. 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. I use it most often in Southern-style vegetables (and sell a pecan smoked salt in My Southern Pantry product line) to replicate that smoky taste evocative of hog jowl or bacon without the fat.

8 ounces young tender kale, washed, dried, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt, to taste

Place the kale in a medium bowl. Pour over oil, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, and salt. Toss to combine. Let sit for about 20 minutes. That’s it!! Serve at room temperature.

Cowgirl Chef’s Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Bacon Salad
Makes 2 dinner-size or 4 first-course salads

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes
olive oil
sea salt and pepper
2 big handfuls (about 5 ounces/140 grams) of baby spinach
4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
Apple Cider Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
about 2 ounces/55 grams of fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat your broiler.Put the squash pieces on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and drizzle them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with your hands and make sure they’re evenly coated. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven for about 15 minutes, checking and turning the pan around if necessary. When the edges of the squash turn brown, they’re done.

Assemble your salad while the squash is still warm. Just get out a big salad bowl, and add your spinach, still-warm squash pieces, and bacon bits. Add some of the vinaigrette on top and toss (you may not need all of the vinaigrette). Crumble the goat cheese on top and serve right away.

Swap It: Instead of butternut squash, roast some pumpkin or acorn squash, or even sweet potato.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Makes ¾ cup/180 ml

1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup/60 ml of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of grainy Dijon mustard
sea salt and pepper
½ cup/120 ml of grapeseed oil

In an old jam jar, add your minced shallot, apple cider vinegar, and grainy mustard along with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Give it a shake and let this let rest for 10 minutes. Add the grapeseed oil, shake again, and taste for seasonings. You can store your vinaigrette in the fridge for a few days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from COWGIRL CHEF © 2012 by Ellise Pierce, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Kale pic by Virginia

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Healthy Summer Sides & Rancho la Puerta Thursday, Jun 28 2012 

Organic Cooking School

Last week I was in Mexico teaching La Cocina que Canta at Rancho la Puerta. At every turn there are sights, smells, and sounds that fill the senses. Such amazing beauty — and as incredible as those fields of flowers are, the gardens that really fill my soul are the organic vegetable and fruit gardens. Tres Estrellas is the 6 acre organic garden that provides much of the produce in the main kitchen and nearly all of the produce used by the cooking school.

Executive Chef Denise Roa works closely with the energetic and gregarious Head Gardener Salvadore with planting and harvesting the fruits and vegetables in the garden. She’s developed a very tight system in that 2-3 weeks before the chefs arrive she knows what will be ready for harvest. The visiting cooking teachers and chefs can then plan their menus accordingly. Frankly, I know of no other program like it, certainly in North America. It’s amazing for the cooking teachers, and most definitely, for the guests. It’s incredibly enlightening to be in an organic garden and see real food, to learn how to cook real food, and to push your body in physical exercise.

Really Losing It

Last year after teaching at Rancho la Puerta, I wrote a rather controversial post about the F word. Well, face it. Many people visit spas to lose weight. Regardless, a lot of people were quite surprised at my self-deprecating remarks. I have had issues with my weight my whole, entire life. I admitted in that post that I had truly never felt beautiful.

Mama was very upset with my post, mad that I said I wasn’t pretty, then she said she shouldn’t have fed me so much when I was a little girl. Lordy Mercy. It wasn’t her fault. We didn’t eat junk food growing up and she cooked homemade, wholesome food. My dad’s side of the family are large and stocky. There’s a lot about our bodies that boils down to genetics.

Y’all, some folks look like Charlize Theron and most folks don’t.

I wince when I hear women see a superthin waif-like supermodel and vocalize “I wish I looked like that!” Looking back at photos of when I was younger and thought I was fat, I actually wasn’t. A good deal of it was in my mind. But, even with my weight issues I’ve never, ever wanted to be super thin. I want to be strong. I guess if I could look like anyone other than myself, it would be a swimmer or a volleyball player, but never, ever a stick figure. The deal is no matter how much weight I lose, the likelihood of me growing another 3 inches is slim to none.

Last year’s piece was also about making changes, eating more healthfully. And, I did. The next months were filled with fresh produce and exercise. I was on track and things were going great. Then, I had a serious detour with my fall book tour. It completely messed me up. January came around and I was miserable, absolutely miserable. And, very overweight.

I had a major realization and I joined Weight Watchers. I knew I couldn’t continue on that path without serious consequences. I had to lose weight and I needed help. Coincidentally, one week after I joined the program Paula Deen announced she had diabetes. (I am not making that up.) I was quoted in various publications, including the New York Times. My iPhone was buzzing and dinging like a slot machine that entire week with various media outlets wanting quotes.

One of the things I said in the interviews is that Southern food doesn’t have to be unhealthy and that what is portrayed in the media isn’t always real Southern food. Yes, we occasionally ate Fried Chicken and Biscuits when I was young, but I sure as heck didn’t grow up with Bacon Wrapped Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese.

How can I be taken seriously with my sermon because of my weight? Well, I am working on it.

Since January, I’m happy to say that I’ve lost 25 pounds and I’m working to lose even more. I feel absolutely great. I feel strong. (No, sadly I haven’t grown those 3 lost inches in stature and those Charlize Theron looks just aren’t happening this lifetime.)

It’s slow going, but it’s working and it’s real.

Real Food

It’s all about eating real food. The vegetables at Rancho la Puerta are alive! The gentle, persistent hum of the bees in the herbs is the soundtrack of the garden. The garlic is sticky and fiercely hot; the carrots are crisp and sweet like candy. One row goes to seed as the adjacent row has fledgling seedlings push through the soil. It’s vibrant and moving and pulsing with life. The food is as real and nourishing as it can possibly be. It’s powerful. It’s strong. The entire experience makes you think.

This past week at Rancho la Puerta I felt like I really embraced the philosophies of the ranch. I enjoyed the food and experience as I had never before. I did Monster Cardio Blast and Circuit Training. I laughed when the massage therapist said my calves were like massaging rocks. I taught Southern Comfort Spa Style and French Cuisine, and I felt honest in my skin. It felt really, really good.

Below are some of the recipes from the my classes as well as the famous Ranch Guacamole that I thought you might like as healthy summer sides.

Lighten Up, Y’all!

Fennel and Carrot Slaw
Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon mayonnaise or reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons low fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh dill or fennel fronds, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave, or to taste
1 pound fresh fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed, and thinly sliced in julienne
½ pound carrots, sliced in julienne
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a large bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Add the thinly sliced fennel and carrots; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill up to 1 hour. Taste and adjust for seasoning and toss again before serving.

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 or walnut vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 ounces mâche or tender young greens
4 to 6 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 slice the beets 1/4 inch thick. 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 olive and walnut 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.

Rancho la Puerta Guacamole
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup frozen peas, slightly thawed
1 medium Hass avocado, peeled and pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic, mashed into a paste
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, process the peas until smooth. Add the avocado, lime juice, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Pulse until well-blended, but still slightly chunky.

Recipe adapted from Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta by Jesús González, Deborah Schneider, and Deborah Szekely.

Full disclosure: I teach at Rancho la Puerta in exchange for lodging for myself and one guest for the week. In addition, I receive 3 credits for use at the spa. However, this post is not part a prerequisite of our barter agreement and I am not additionally compensated for this post or any social media efforts publicizing this post.

All photos by Virginia Willis

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Three Asparagus Recipes and Four Centuries of Cookbooks Wednesday, Jun 13 2012 

Simple Things

The first time I saw asparagus growing I couldn’t believe my eyes. My friend Tim and I were touring the kitchen gardens at Monticello and there it was, popping up out of the ground one spear at  a time. I was awestruck. Sometimes the simplest of things can be absolutely astonishing.

Hanging on the wall in the corridor at Château du Fey was, at first glance, what appeared to be a menu from Catherine de Medici. (I later found out it was an Middle Ages inventory list of sorts written by her kitchen manager.) It hung in a small, simple frame just outside the bedroom suite of  Anne Willan and her husband, Mark Cherniavsky. I was in France as a stagiare at Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne, founded by Anne at the encouragement of Julia Child and named after Francois Pierre LaVarenne. LaVarenne  was the author of Le Cuisinier françois, the founding cookbook of modern French cuisine. I remember the first time I saw the ancient list. It seemed inconceivable that this historical document hung there on the wall just like you or I might hang a family photo. Other than the fact that it was over 500 years old, it was as simple as simple could be, a list of food in the kitchen for the day – a medieval post-it note. Amazing.

This small document was part of their collection of four centuries of cookbooks. Their oldest book dates to 1491. Unbelievable, right? Cookbooks and other how-to books are the most simple of books, instructing us how to manage our daily lives and feed our families. For the most part, they are not great art and few will go down in history as some of mankind’s greatest achievements. Cookbooks are so much part of our daily lives that they are far from sacred — which to my mind is the real and actual reason that they are.

Clearly, cookbooks are very important to Anne and Mark. Their library is truly one of the best-assembled collections in the entire world. While in France, I once worked on an essay on herbs and used a 1633 edition of Gerald’s Herbal, a very important historical book about botany. My access to such an amazing book was astonishing to me as a novice cook and writer. What a gift!

History and Respect

Their collection has resulted in a collaboration by Anne and Mark titled The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook . It’s a life’s work of such importance and gravitas that anyone that has real interest in food and cooking must read it.

Russ Parsons of the LA Times says, “If you really love cookbooks (or books in general) and you love history, this is a book you have to read.” It’s clear in his glowing review he has a fondness and respect for Anne. Many of those of us that have worked with her share those sentiments. I learned an immense amount working for Anne. I cherish our professional relationship, as well as our personal friendship. Of all the people I have worked for, working with Anne perhaps makes me the proudest. I have huge respect for her and her work. I don’t mean to be disparaging to any other key influencers in my professional life, it’s just that my time in France was life-changing in a very real sense of the phrase.

Recently I attended at a signing for The Cookbook Library. That very afternoon I had attended a talk about monetizing blogging where I realized that I couldn’t worry about what I wasn’t, only what I was, which I wrote about last week. Unknowingly, Anne was part of that realization – it’s more important for me to have her respect than ever compromise my integrity and principles.

Real and Delicious Recipes

I started thumbing through the pages of The Cookbook Library perusing ancient recipes such as Spicy Roast Pork, Quail with Bay Leaf, Apple Dumplings, and Sage Fritters with Saffron. Positioned between the history lessons are very good and delicious recipes, all doable. I am enough of a history and food geek to absolutely love cooking a recipe that’s been made for centuries.

Asparagus caught my eye because it’s asparagus season here in Western Massachusetts. I smiled broadly when I saw it was a recipe from LaVarenne’s Le cuisinier françois.

Many thanks to Anne and Mark for this wonderful book  — and many, many other things.

Bon Appétit, Y’all

Asperges à la Crême
Asparagus in Cream and Herbs
Serves 3 or 4

This is a deliciously decadent dish. I used the bouquet garni method and the flavor and aroma was fantastic — and very, very French.

From François Pierre de la Varenne, Le cuisinier françois (Paris, 1651; recipe from Brussels 1698 edition):

Cut them [the asparagus] very small, leave nothing but the green, sauté them with fresh butter or melted lard, parsley, green onion, or a bouquet of herbs; after that simmer them very gently with crème fraîche, serve if you like with a little nutmeg.

2 pounds (900 g) asparagus
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter or lard
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 green onions, sliced, or a bouquet garni of 4 or 5 parsley stems, 4 or 5 sprigs thyme, and 1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 cup (250 ml) crème fraîche
Freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Cut the green stalks of asparagus on the diagonal into 1-inch (2.5-cm) slices, discarding the tough ends. Melt the butter in a sauté pan or shallow saucepan. Add the asparagus, parsley, and green onions or bouquet garni and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let the asparagus sweat over very low heat in its own juices, stirring oc­casionally, until it is almost tender when pierced with a knife, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the crème fraîche and leave the asparagus to simmer very gently, uncovered, until just tender, about 5 minutes longer. Do not let too much of the crème fraîche evaporate or the asparagus will scorch. Discard the bouquet garni if using. If you like, sprinkle the asparagus with grated nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot.

Recipe reproduced with permission from University of California Press from The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes That Made the Modern Cookbook by Anne Willan with Mark Cherniavsky and Kyri Claflin (University of California Press, 2012)

Asparagus Gratin
Serves 4 to 6

This dish with the sauce Mornay is a wonderful dish for a dinner party. It would be wonderful with broiled salmon. You can also make it ahead and broil it at the last minute.

1 cup 2 % milk
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
6 black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 pound medium asparagus
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1 egg yolk, optional
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat the oven to 350° F. Combine the milk, bay leaf, peppercorns, and thyme in a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Once small bubbles appear around the edges of the saucepan, remove from the heat and let the flavors infuse, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the tough woody ends from the asparagus. Heat the water over high heat in a medium saucepan. Add asparagus and season with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Cover and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove the asparagus to a medium baking dish. Pat dry.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two until foaming to make a roux. Strain the steeped milk into the roux and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and freshly ground white pepper. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 2 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Place the egg yolk in a small bowl. Spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the sauce into the eggs and stir to combine. (This is called tempering and will help prevent the eggs from cooking in the heat of the sauce.) Return the now-tempered yolk to the larger saucepan of sauce and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the asparagus in the baking dish. Top sauce with breadcrumbs and bake until the breadcrumbs are pale golden, about 10 minutes.

Light Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Herbs
Serves 4

After the 1st two rather rich recipes I thought I would offer up something more on the lighter side. This salad recipe is fresh and crisp – perfect for summer.

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch thinly baby Vidalia onions or green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 English hothouse cucumber, partially peeled, seeded, and cubed
1/4 cup chopped fresh mixed herbs such as parsley, mint, tarragon, and chervil
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Whisk together the lemon juice and sherry wine vinegar. Add oil and whisk until combined. Fill large bowl with ice water. Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.  In the last 30 seconds of cooking, add the green onions. Transfer vegetables to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add herbs and dressing; toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky Photo Credit: Patty Williams
Asparagus photos by Virginia Willis

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Quick Weeknight Dinner: “NY Times Salmon” Wednesday, Jun 6 2012 

Favorite Recipe: Copper River Salmon

The recipe in the photo above is one of my new favorite dishes. We’ve been buying Copper River Sockeye Salmon at the local fishmonger and I’ve asked for it 2 times in less than 2 weeks. I love it. I love the dish, it’s so tasty. I love it’s a family dish with a well-loved, spattered recipe. (I also love it’s being made for me instead of the other way round!)

See the note in the corner under the splotch? Where it says “NY Times” and directly underneath it the word “superb?”  I adore that the descriptive is the word “superb” not “good” or a star or checkmark. Considering the cookery wordsmith who wrote it, of course it is.

Recipe Attribution and Testing

When I said I was going to write about it in this week’s blog my highly ethical salmon chef said, “It’s not an original. I think it’s from the NY Times.” (It wasn’t until a bit later I understood the scribble in the corner.)  I googled a bit and discovered the original recipe was from 1996. There’s been a lot of fuss and worry about recipe testing – or the lack thereof – and plagiarizing amongst a group of culinary professionals in the blogosphere of late. In regards to recipe writing, I came to a powerful realization a few weeks ago.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am.

It makes me crazy to read blog posts that have recipes that I can tell clearly don’t work or that are essentially overblown ads. Several weeks ago I saw a post with a recipe for really delicious looking grilled herbed chicken — but the bean recipe was to heat the can of beans. I saw another popular blogger had softly lit, shallow focus bags of frozen vegetables in her post. Seriously.

You know what? I don’t have to read them so I don’t. And, if a company or a PR firm wants to pay that person for those recipes – tested or untested, original or stolen –  then so be it.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am.

Earlier this week a journalist interviewed me and relayed praise that Central Market Cooking School raved about my recipes and how well they work. I was thrilled and it brought a big smile to my face. I love teaching at Central Market and it’s very professionally satisfying that I have their respect.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am. You know, that’s a whole lot of freedom.

In terms of the “NY Times Salmon” I’ve made a small number of changes in the original. There’s some magic number, supposedly 3, that transfers recipe attribution. Frankly, my version is probably altered enough that I could more than likely get away with not acknowledging the original source from 16 years ago.  This isn’t a famous recipe like like  Julia Child’s Reine de Saba or Kevin Gillespie’s Onion Bacon Jam. After all, there’s no copyrighting of recipes, which is part of the larger issue, and no one would know.

I would know — as would my kind and honest salmon-cooking wordsmith. And, that’s what’s only worrying about what you are and what you are not really means.

Bon Appétit Y’all

PS For quick, inexpensive, and sustainable keep in mind that Costco Wholesale market sells only MSC certified fish and adheres to Seafood Watch Guidelines. 

Broiled Lemon Herb “NY Times” Salmon
Serves 4 to 6

According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute  salmon are born inland in freshwater rivers then migrate to live in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean where  they grow to adulthood eating foods like shrimp, herring, and other marine life. At the end of their lifespan they return to the streams where they were born to spawn.

The Copper River derives its name from the rich copper deposits found along its riverbank. The salmon travel over 300 miles from the ocean to reach their spawning grounds. This arduous journey requires extra stores of omega-3 fatty acids that make these salmon some of the most prized salmon in the world.

1 large salmon filet, scaled, with skin and pin bones removed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons tamari, preferably wheat free
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme leaves, cilantro, and chives
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup extra virgin oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, thinly sliced, optional
Coarse Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the salmon in a shallow ovenproof baking dish or rimmed half sheet pan. Set aside. Combine the garlic, sugar, soy sauce, herbs, oils, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir to combine and pour over salmon. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate to marinate, 30 minutes to an 1 hour. (Set the table and do your other food prep. Pour a glass of wine.)

Meanwhile, place the top rack about 4-inches from the heat source. Heat the oven to broil. About 15 minutes before ready to cook, remove the salmon to the counter to take the chill off and come to room temperature. Scatter around sliced onions. Broil to medium rare, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the strength of your broiler. 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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Food pics by me.


Where do you think the expression “easy as pie” originated? Many cooks are scared of making pie – they don’t think it’s easy! Every one loves pie, but making it can be intimidating. Even perfectly useful kitchen folk are rendered helpless when pie is mentioned. Pie is a dish most often composed of delicious flavorful goodness encased in buttery pastry goodness. And, the peach pie I’m featuring in this post has a double dose of goodness, a butter and lard crust. That, in my opinion, should be enough incentive to overcome any kind of fear.

I grew up in Macon County, Georgia. Central and South Georgia are well known for their peach crops in the summer. Summer means peach pie, peach cobbler, and peach ice cream. Macon County is adjacent to Peach County, home to “The Big Peach”, a 75′ tall peach mounted on a 100′ tall pole. Peaches are serious business in Georgia.

The June issue of Southern Living contains my first story as a contributing editor. It’s all about peaches and I couldn’t think of any subject more appropriate. I am thrilled with the recipes and the photography and styling is absolutely beautiful, created by the talented Jennifer Davick and Marian Cooper Cairns.

Each summer my family would make “put up peaches”. We’d can peaches, freeze peaches, and make peach jelly. You have never been hot until you have been picking peaches in July in Georgia. The air is hot, thick, and wet like a sauna, but it’s about as far away from a spa as you can get. Satan himself would agree that hell is actually cooler. Gnats buzz around your eyes, mouth, and ears as mosquitoes nibble away at your ankles. Peach fuzz covers all exposed skin, and considering the extreme heat, there’s a lot of skin surface. The combination of sweat, bug spray, and itchy peach fuzz is a potent cocktail of misery. But, one bite of a perfectly ripe sweet, fragrant, flavorful peach is worth it.

Based for the next few months in New England, I am a long ways away from hotter-than-Georgia-asphalt summer. I took a couple days to drive up. I picked up strawberries in Maryland and peaches in South Carolina (shh, don’t tell Georgia.) I am thankful my life and work allows this kind of freedom and flexibility. I’m blessedly busy and as long as I have wi-fi and a kitchen I can work anywhere in the world. And, this summer I am exactly where and with whom I want to be. We put in the garden last weekend, have lots of plans, and lots of non-plans. If this past weekend is going to be any indication, I am certain this summer is going to be absolutely wonderful and quite delicious.

For Memorial Day we attended a Oaxacan goat roast co-hosted by  Sally Ekus. (The event was fantastic and will be featured on Food52 at a later date. I’ll be sure to share the link so stay-tuned.) Her sister, Amelia, arrived for the party from New York. She wanted to make pies for the feast — but her arrival time and party start time made that task pretty challenging. So, she asked her mom and I to make the fillings. Lisa made Strawberry Rhubarb and I made the White Peach and Ginger I am featuring today.

Amelia whisked in with several disks of dough she’d made the night before and kept cold on the train. Out whipped a rolling pin and the pies were in the oven within minutes. It was awesome. It was all about mutual trust and working together to get the job done. Collaboration Pies. They were beautiful and tasted incredible. The multi-family member exercise in putting food on the table made me smile from the inside out.

When something feeds the head, heart, and belly that’s about as good as you can get.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

I’ve tried hard to make a very user-friendly recipe complete with hand-holding, but if you are still intimidated about making pie, here’s a bit homework to settle your nerves:


Serves 8

One important cooking note – Amelia suggests to make this crust and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. There is sound science behind these instructions: the dough will be evenly moist and the gluten will be very relaxed, resulting in a tender, flaky pie crust. And, it splits up the work so actually assembling the pie is, well, easy as pie.

6-8 ripe peaches (about the size of a baseball)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Double Recipe Butter-Lard Crust, preferably made the day before, see below

The proper way to peel a peach: Fill a large bowl with ice and water to make an ice bath. Set aside. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, using a paring knife, score the bottom (not the stem end) of the peaches with an “X”. Using a slotted spoon, dip the peaches in the boiling water for just a moment, literally, 30 seconds or so. Transfer immediately to the ice bath. Using the paring knife, remove the skin from the peach.

The not proper way to peel a peach, but it will work if the peach is properly ripe: Simply peel it with a paring knife, by pulling, not cutting the skin off. When peach is just ripe, the skin will easily slip away.

However your method of peeling, slice this first peeled peach into eighths and place in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla, ginger, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until well-combined. This will practically liquify this first peach if the peaches are very ripe, making it easier to evenly toss the remaining peaches. Peel and slice remaining peaches. Add and toss to coat.

Heat the oven to 425°F. Prepare the pie shell (see below) and pour the filling into the bottom crust. Top with lattice. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue baking until golden brown, about 45 additional minutes.Transfer to a rack to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Double Recipe Butter-Lard
Makes 1 double crust pie

3 cups all purpose flour, more for rolling out the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
9 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons lard
1/2 cup cold water

To prepare the dough, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter and lard. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. 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 2 equal disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm and evenly moist, at least 30 minutes and preferably overnight.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Place one dough disk in the center of the floured surface.(Keep the other one cold while working with the first.) Roll out the dough, starting in the center and rolling up to, but not over, the top edge of the dough. 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.

Transfer the dough round to a 9-inch pie plate. With a sharp paring knife, trim the dough flush with the rim of the plate. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

To make a lattice, Roll out the remaining disk of the pie crust on a lightly floured surface. Using a pastry wheel, cut the square into 11 1-inch-wide strips. Lay strips, spaced 1/2-inch apart, across the filling. Fold back every other strip almost to the edge; then, at the folds, place a new strip perpendicular to the first ones. Return the folded strips so they overlap the new strip. Fold back the the other set of strips, stopping about 1 inch away from the first perpendicular strip; arrange another perpendicular strip at the folds. Continue until the lattice has been formed. Trim the overhanging strips so they are flush with the pie plate’s edge. Using a fork, seal the strips to the edge. Chill in the refrigerator until the crust is firm, about 15 minutes.

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, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

IPhone Chicken: Poulet Chasseur Thursday, Apr 12 2012 

Until yesterday I was still in New England after Passover and Easter. Eas-over, we called it. How’s that for multi-cultural? It’s spring up there, but to this Southern girl it just felt like winter with pretty flowers! So, I wanted something filling and warm for dinner, but not too heavy.

Poulet Chasseur may sound fancy in French, but in English it’s called Hunter’s Chicken. No, it does not mean chicken in camouflage!

You may be more familiar with a very similar dish, Chicken Cacciatore. The word chasseur means hunter and in classic French cooking generally refers to the inclusion of mushrooms.This recipe is quick and easy – just like this blog post. I shot some happy snaps with my iPhone while I made dinner earlier this week.

So, I’m calling this iPhone Chicken. 😉

And, this blog post is short because I kind of feel like I am running around a bit like a chicken with my head cut off, but it’s all good.

No complaining here. I hope you can hear me smiling!! I am one happy girl. I don’t think you’ll mind my brevity. This recipe was so savory and hearty — and I make it pretty healthy, too, with a few quick tips and techniques.

For 2 people, I chose 2 leg quarters. As often as possible I try to use all natural pastured poultry. It’s even less fattening if you use chicken breasts, but in this recipe I prefer the full flavor of the dark meat. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil in a large skillet.

Sear them on both sides until brown and crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate, then pour off the oil and rendered fat. It was nearly 1/4 cup!

To the pan add 1/2 cup of dry red wine. Stir to loosen the yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add 8 cippoline onions, trimmed and peeled and 1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned, ends trimmed, and halved. Boil away until almost dry.

Return the chicken to the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs such as parsley, oregano, and rosemary. Add 2 cups chunky tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to simmer.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. This is for the farro. I am in love with farro right now. It’s a whole grain wheat that’s good and good for you. (If you are wheat intolerant, you could use rice or quinoa, instead.)

I will cook a pot early in the week then incorporate it into my meals over the next few days. It is really earthy and fantastic served hot in a stir fry with kale or broccoli. I also like it cold in a salad with lots of freshly chopped herbs, carrots, and maybe some leftover turkey cutlets or roast chicken.

Cook the farro until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. And, now, your chicken will be done, too. Check that the juices run clear when pierced with a knife. Also, the skin will be pulling away from the end at of the drumstick. (BTW, if you do use white meat, decrease the cooking time by 8-10 minutes.)

Remove the skin from the chicken and discard. I know you are asking why or maybe, why now? After cooking, the skin is flabby and won’t really contribute good flavor — just fat. And, the reason I didn’t remove it to begin with is that during the cooking process it helps the meat stay tender.

Next, stir in 2 cups of baby spinach. (I forgot to take a picture of this part.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Drain the farro in a fine mesh sieve and place about 1/2 cup on each plate. Top with one leg quarter. Spoon over the sauce with the onions and mushrooms. Serve immediately.

I forgot to take a picture of this part, too, but it was delicious!

Why don’t you take a picture and send it to me! 

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


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