How to Make Meringue: The Perfect Spring Dessert Thursday, Apr 5 2012 

Recently, I had an interesting exchange with an editor that wanted to use my recipe for Meringue Pillows with Strawberries and Cream  from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all in a non-food publication. We exchanged a few emails and I sent the recipe along — then she emailed me back, saying that it looked too hard.

Huh? Really. Wow.

That was a wake-up call. Her concerns involved the term “heavy-duty mixer” and the usage of parchment paper to line the baking sheet.

Well, the usage of the term “heavy-duty mixer” is a carry over from my days at Martha Stewart, that was the sly verbiage we used to indicate our preference for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. The parchment paper fear worried me a bit, but I guess she felt her readers might not have parchment paper, much less a silpat.

Instead of being ticked off, I was grateful. My goal, the reason I write recipes, food stories, and cookbooks is to get folks in the kitchen cooking real food. The exchange made me realize I can change my language to make it more user-friendly.

My whole raison d’etre is that proper technique is the key to good cooking. And, proper technique doesn’t mean something is difficult, expensive, or time-consuming. Julia Child supposedly once said, “If you understand the technique, you don’t need a recipe.” Outfitted with a foundation of solid techniques and fundamental recipes, a cook can accomplish many things. Most of us aren’t going to grow up and become Julia Child, but what she said is true.

So, going forward I will remove the words “heavy-duty” when using a mixer, alert people who the parchment paper is on the same aisle as the garbage bags and is nothing to be scared of, and lastly, continue with my absolute best effort to teach folks how to cook.

I hope you enjoy my recipe for Meringue Pillows. It’s the perfect spring dessert for your Passover or Easter table.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


PS Want to share some really awesome news.  Bill Daley from the Chicago Tribune listed me as one of Seven Food Writers to Know in his piece about American food writing!

Let’s Get Cooking – Whip it Up

This is easy. Promise. It’s just egg whites and sugar whipped and then baked. Meringue is a combination of egg whites and sugar whipped to form a thick, stiff foam. Different textures are achieved by varying the methods of mixing the sugar and egg whites, and varying the baking times and temperatures. Meringue can be made soft to top a pie, or dried in the oven to make a dacquoise or meringue cookie.

A French meringue is the simplest meringue; it is made by beating sugar into egg whites until stiff and fluffy.

A Swiss meringue is made by heating egg whites and sugar in a double boiler until the mixture reaches 110°F to 120°F. Then the mixture is beaten until stiff. This technique ensures that the sugar is completely dissolved and stabilizes the meringue.

An Italian meringue is the most stable meringue. It is made by heating a sugar syrup to the soft-ball stage, 232°F to 240°F, then beating the hot syrup into the egg whites. Adding butter to the finished meringue makes it buttercream frosting.

Seven Simple Steps for Successful Meringue

  1. Use very fresh eggs for the most stable foam. Properly beaten egg whites are the key to a masterful meringue. Beating egg whites is quite simply incorporating air into the egg white foam.
  2. It is imperative that the whites must be absolutely free of any yolk or fat.  Use only glass or stainless steel bowls, plastic bowls can retain a film of oil. The bowl and beater should be perfectly clean. Any dab of grease or the tiniest amount of fat will keep the egg whites from expanding properly.
  3. The ingredients should be at room temperature to get the best volume out of your meringue. However, since it’s far easier to separate whites from yolks when they’re cold, go ahead and separate your eggs straight out of the refrigerator. Then, let the whites warm to room temperature. You can also speed the process by putting the bowl over warm water.
  4. When separating the eggs, crack one egg at a time into a cup, transferring each individual white to the mixing bowl of egg whites only after it is successfully separated. There is nothing worse that ruining the entire batch on the last egg!
  5. When ready to beat the whites, start slowly. In the clean metal bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whisk beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add a bit of cream of tartar or vinegar. Adding acid helps create a stable foam that will hold up until heat cooks the egg proteins and sets the meringue.
  6. After adding the acid, increase the speed to high and continue beating just until the whites are stiff, but not dry, and no longer slip when the bowl is tilted.
  7. Don’t try to make meringues on a very humid day. The humidity can prevent the meringues from ever getting crisp.

Meringue Pillows with Strawberries

This sweet dessert is actually virtually fat free – unless you top it with whipped cream, of course. It’s a delicious indulgence that marries perfectly with fresh spring strawberries.

Unsalted butter or canola oil and all-purpose flour for the pans, if using parchment paper
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon, or to taste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, or to taste
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Whipped cream, for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with silicone baking liners or parchment paper; set aside. (If you are using parchment paper, it is necessary to butter or lightly oil and flour the parchment. Then, before shaping the pillows, dab a little bit of meringue at the corners to hold the paper in place.)

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed with salt and cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually – just a little at a time – add the 1 cup granulated sugar and vanilla, beating at high speed until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. (If the sugar is added to fast it will weigh down the eggs and they won’t inflate.)

Using a rubber spatula, spoon six 1-cup blobs (yes, it’s a technical term) of meringue onto each prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 to 3 inches of space between the blobs.

Using a small, wet offset spatula, shape the blobs into rectangles, creating 6 smooth pillows. 

Decrease the oven temperature to 200°F. Place the baking sheets in the oven; bake until the meringues are crisp on the outside but have a marshmallow consistency inside, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check the consistency by poking into the bottom of one meringue pillow. If the meringues start to brown, decrease the oven temperature to 175°F. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, combine the strawberries, Grand Marnier, and the remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. When you are ready to serve, using your hands or the back of a knife, gently crack the meringue pillows and place on small plates. Top with the macerated berries. Garnish with mint, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, and a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

PHOTO CREDIT: Helene Dujardin of the blog Tartelette (and the photographer of my most recent bookBasic to Brilliant, 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, Thanks so much.

Easter Dinner: April “Country Living” on the Stands! Sunday, Mar 13 2011 

Wow. That’s all I have to say.

Well, that’s not true. I also have to say thank you. Lots and lots of thank yous.

Many thanks to Country Living Magazine and Monica Willis (no relation!) for asking me to be a part of this special issue. I am so grateful to Jona and the rest of my family for allowing their Easter dinner to be transformed into a photo shoot last year, thank you to my aunts and cousins for helping with the food, thank you to Gene, Kathy, and Meghan for opening their home, thanks to Gena Berry for her assistance, delicious thanks to Robert at Melissa’s Produce for helping with the ingredient sourcing, thank you to Heather, Harry, and John for making such beautiful photos, and lastly, but by far not the least, thanks to my Mama for all her love and support.

I told her it was TEN pages. She asked me where the rest of it was. I reminded her the magazine wasn’t titled Virginia Willis’s Country Living.

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

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

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

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

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

Easter Menu

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

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.

Most Delicious Deviled Eggs Saturday, Apr 11 2009 

Spring Flowers

I took the above photograph a few weeks ago at the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market. It was a rainy Saturday morning, overcast and cool. The light can be so nice on days like that. I just love this photo, but I can’t claim too much credit. At this farmer’s market, like many, there was not much to do. Just point and shoot! I would really like to take photography classes. (In my spare time! Ok – maybe a reward for when I complete my second book proposal.)


These deviled eggs are amazing. It’s very important to puree the yolk mixture completely, and really I prefer using a sieve or tamis. This prevents lumps and makes the mixture so much smoother as well as prettier. This is another one of those recipes that there are very few ingredients which makes the technique is so important. 

I made these once for a political fundraiser at my friend Melita Easter’s house, attended by the governor of Georgia, who stood there and practically ate the whole plate. The secret is butter, a tip I picked up in culinary school that takes this Southern staple from delicious to sublime and renders people unable to use the sense God gave a cat to stop eating. (more…)

Easter Feast: Herb-crusted Fresh Ham Thursday, Apr 9 2009 

Spring Flowers at the Chapel Hill Farmer's Market

Spring Flowers at the Chapel Hill Farmer's Market

I’ve had great success with my newsletter and after a few sessions at IACP last week have decided to venture into the blogosphere. I thought I would start with sharing a recipe for Easter. 

Bon Appétit Y’all!



Herb-crusted Fresh Ham

Serves 6 to 8

Mama and I now share the cooking at the holidays. I usually prepare the main courses, we share the side dishes, and she prepares the desserts. This ham is an Easter favorite.

You may be surprised to see lavender listed as an ingredient in this herb crust. Although very commonly found in desserts, lavender—especially sweet English  lavender—is an incredibly versatile herb for savory cooking. Be sure to use only pesticide-free, food-grade leaves and blossoms from an organic farmer’s market or online; lavender from florists, spas, or home décor shops are probably not appropriate to eat. The key to cooking with lavender is to start out with a small amount of flowers, and add more as you go. A little amount of the sweet, perfumed herb is wonderful, but adding too much lavender to your recipe is much like eating a bar of soap. A little goes a long way.


1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

1/2 teaspoon dried untreated lavender flowers

Half of a fresh bone-in ham (6 to 8 pounds), preferably shank end, with skin 

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chicken stock  or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth


To prepare the ham, in a small bowl, combine the thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and lavender. Season the ham with salt and pepper. Rub the herb mixture all over the ham and set aside to marinate and come to room temperature, 30 to 45 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the herb-crusted ham in a roasting pan. Bake approximately 25 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted near the bone, 2 to 21/2 hours. Remove from the oven to a rack. Tent the ham loosely with aluminum foil and let stand until the center of the ham registers 155° to 160°F on the instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, to make the sauce, pour the pan drippings into a fat separator. Remove and discard the fat. Transfer the drippings into a small saucepan to make the jus. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium to keep warm until serving. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.


Once the ham has rested, transfer to a cutting board, carve, and serve with the jus on the side.

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