Berry Berry Good: Strawberry Desserts Monday, May 5 2014 

Strawberry Semifreddo on

Strawberries are the most popular berry fruit in the world, and while they are available in grocery stores every week of the year, spring is their true season. (Technically, strawberries aren’t actually a fruit or a berry; they are instead the “enlarged receptacle of the strawberry flower.”) Regardless of the correct botanical terminology, strawberries are a most welcome salute to spring! Their bright red bursts of color and flavor are refreshing after the winter months of apples, pears, and citrus. Although you can get seasonal strawberries grown in Florida and California, there’s nothing better than picking your own fully ripe berries or picking up farm fresh berries at your local farmer’s market.

Choose strawberries that have a good aroma and sweet fragrance. When ripe, the color of strawberry varieties can vary from a more medium red to deep red, so color is not always the best indicator. However, since they do not ripen after being picked, only choose strawberries that are fully red without any creamy white or pale green, with fresh-looking caps and perky green leaves. Health-wise, strawberries are fantastic with a good amount of fiber and more vitamin C than any other berry.

Topped with a spoonful of plain yogurt, they are a sweet-tart, wonderful, and delicious way to start your day. I’m not a fan of cooked strawberries (except in jam) so I prefer them as bright and clean bursts of flavor in salads or tossed in vinegar as a fruity salsa.

However, we all have destiny, I believe. And, to me there’s no doubt that strawberries shine their brightest in dessert. This Strawberry Semi-freddo was created by my dear friend and colleague Tamie Cook. It’s a creamy, indulgent, and awesome spring fling.

Strawberries and cream are classic decadence. For some Down-Home Comfort, please also take a look at for my golden brown and incredibly tender Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcakes. Absolutely nothing beats the taste of real whipped cream so just leave the non-dairy topping in the fridge for both desserts.  You know, yogurt is virtuous and yes, even delicious, but fresh strawberries and cream are simply divine.

Brown Sugar Strawberry Shortcake on Down-Home Comfort

When I was 18 I spent the summer in London. That summer I thought I was especially grown up, living abroad and galavanting all over London. I had heard about the beauty of Kew, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and planned a visit. It was a few train rides away and off the normal metro line, but I managed to find my way there — all by myself. (I only want to add London England is a long, long ways from the red dirt roads of South Georgia.) Just before entering the majestic splendor, I popped into a grocer and purchased a pint of strawberries and a small glass bottle of clotted cream. It was a Anglophile’s dream date and I wanted a special private picnic for my solo garden tour. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at the combination of my sophisticated sojourn and the very British bites I had in store. Yet, after the shop, I found myself at the gate without enough money to enter the gardens. I was scared I wouldn’t have enough money to get back home. So, I sat down on the bench by the gate and gazed through at the amazing beauty within the ornate iron gates. I remember thinking to myself what a silly little girl I had been, but I loved every mouthful of strawberries and cream none-the-less.

When whipping cream it is very important the cream be well chilled as well as the bowl and the beaters. (Cream simply will not whip if it is warm.) For best results, make sure to use cream that has either a 36 to 40 percent milk-fat content (heavy cream) or 30 to 36 percent (light whipping cream). Lastly, don’t over-whip the cream – it turns to butter. On that note, you won’t find either dessert in my next cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all (spring 2015), but this book is all about saying YES! not saying no. You can have enjoy indulgent desserts – just not every day, not without moderation, and not without putting in an extra bit of exercise. So, enjoy!

Along with strawberries, spring has brought about a bit of spring cleaning. Please check out my new website, I’m thrilled with the design and technology. It’s responsive to smart phone, tablet, or computer screen. Pretty cool stuff and great job by IdeaLand and Pixie Wizard Graphixs. I am so thankful to work with such a great team. Stay posted for big changes on my blog, too. Lots of new comings and goings on the horizon. Thanks so much for reading!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

Strawberry Semifreddo on

Simple Strawberry Semifreddo 

Makes 8 3-ounce

2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup strawberry puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
Fresh strawberries, for serving

Place a large saucepan with 2-inches of water over high heat. Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Set the bowl atop the simmering saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.Whisk constantly, over the heat, until the mixture reaches 170° degrees F and has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the heat, add the strawberry puree and whisk until combined. If necessary, refrigerate until cooled to room temperature. Whip the cream in a large mixing bowl until medium peaks form.Fold whipped cream into strawberry mixture until well combined. Transfer to molds and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. Unmold and serve with fresh strawberries.

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.

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings? Lets connect on  Facebook , Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

virginia willis cookbooks

Down-Home Comfort with Red-Eye Gravy and Deadlines Friday, Feb 28 2014 

Grits with Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy on Down-Home Comfort on Food Network

I’ve got a stack of books I’m in love with and can’t wait to share with you – Summerland by Anne Quatrano, Cooking Light’s Global Kitchen by Dave Joachim, Latin American Street Food by Sandra Gutierrez, just to name a few….But, my friends, I’m on deadline for my next book with Ten Speed Press, titled Lighten Up, Y’all.

It’s due March 17 and I have to stay super focused.

So, this is more of a catch-up than a proper post. Testing has been going really great – I am loving the recipes, as are my guinea pigs. How about a Lightened Up Cream Cheese Brownies, Macaroni and Cheese, AND Old-Fashioned Pot Roast?!

I’m especially excited because I requested this next book to be paperback — and less than $25. I want people to cook from my books and want this one to be as accessible as possible. It will have 100 recipes and over 75 extraordinary photographs by my dear friend, the beautiful and talented Angie Mosier.

There’s been a good bit going on — I’m working with IdeaLand and Pixie Wizard on a new website that will be AWESOME. I’m thrilled with their work so if you need someone to work on your corner of the web, make sure to check them out.

I’ve got lots of events and classes lined up for spring; please check out my events page. (Summer will be up soon.)


The big news is that Down-Home Comfort on is a BIG success. I’m heading into a photo shoot for the summer Down-Home Comfort posts as soon as my manuscript is finished.

This week I am sharing a recipe for Stone-ground Grits with Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy.

So, please forgive the sound of crickets from my own blog — and in the meanwhile, please follow Down-Home Comfort  on — and, help a sister out – please like, pin, share, and tweet!

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, Thanks so much.

Keep up with me on Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest.

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Down-Home Comfort on Wednesday, Jan 8 2014 

slow cooker brunswick stew

Food Network

I’m thrilled to announce that I have a new weekly column on!

It’s called Down-Home Comfort and will feature user-friendly, seasonal recipes that will make your mouth water! I am honored to be able to promote Southern food and cooking and ecstatic to be a part of presenting these foodways to a very broad audience. While I will certainly feature some classic, indulgent recipes like Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese, I am very excited to show that Southern food is a living, growing cuisine, and not all Southern food is — or has to be — unhealthy.

I kicked off the series last week with Collard Greens with Whole Grain Cornbread.

This week’s post is Slow Cooker Brunswick Stew— the perfect antidote to a Polar Votex. The other exciting piece of this is that I am shooting the photos, as well. I love learning and growing; it’s so exciting!

Please sign up for the feed and stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m getting back on track with my own blog, so look for new posts in the next few weeks! In the meanwhile, please enjoy some Down-Home Comfort.

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, Thanks so much.

Photo credit – Virginia Willis

Copyright © 2014 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

BIG NEWS! I’m going to be on Chopped! Thursday, Nov 1 2012 


I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a chef-testant on Food Network’s  cooking competition show Chopped!! The episode premiers on November 27 at 10 pm EST/9 pm CT.  I am sooo excited. It was a fantastic experience — and really, really hard! No kidding, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Take a moment and noodle on that for a second.

I started college when I was 16. I’ve worked for Martha Stewart, Anne Willan, Nora Pouillon, and Nathalie Dupree. I trained under French chefs in DC and in France. I worked in a 2 star Michelin kitchen where we cleaned the kitchen with rubbing alcohol on Saturday nights after 150 covers, just for kicks and giggles. I’ve slept on the dining room floor of a restaurant where I cooked between day and nighttime shifts because I was so exhausted. I’m a very hard worker — and yet, being a guest on Chopped was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was seriously intense.

“Chopped” is a top-rated competition cooking show that focuses on skill, speed, creativity, and execution. Chefs are challenged to create dishes that showcase their passion, cooking style, and culinary talent, all within a 30 minute deadline. The catch? We had to use mystery ingredients pulled out of a basket just seconds before we started cooking. In the past, contestants have pulled out items such as animal crackers, octopus, yucca, rice cakes, and Gummi Bears.

Believe me, I was wishing for gummi bears. You will not believe what we had to cook. Check out the press release to read more about it!

Of course, I can’t share anything I cooked on the show. In honor of weird, strange ingredients I’m going to share a recipe for one of the more normal things I can think of — Tomato Soup!

Remember to mark your calendars and save the date!
Watch Tuesday 11/27 at 10 pm  on Food Network!
Make sure to tune in and see if I survive the Chopping Block!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Mexican Tomato Soup

Serves 4 to 6

Well, it’s not really a super normal recipe – it’s a Mexican version. The key here is charring the tomatoes. Normally I would never suggest cooking fresh tomatoes out of season, but charring them really transforms their flavor.

2 medium Roma tomatoes, cored
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, CHOPPED
2 garlic cloves
1 quart reduced-sodium fat-free chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
2 cups low-sodium tomato juice
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 green onions, CHOPPED
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup CHOPPED fresh cilantro
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat 2 minutes until it’s nuclear hot. Add the tomatoes, and cook, turning occasionally, 10 minutes or until charred on all sides. Transfer to a food processor.

Let the skillet cool down just a little. Add the oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the whole (not CHOPPED!)  garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Transfer onion mixture to food processor with tomatoes; process until smooth.

Transfer the tomato mixture to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in broth and tomato juice. Add bay leaf, cumin, coriander, and red pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Stir in green onions, lime juice, and cilantro. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into warmed bowls and enjoy!

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.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

Cooking with Fat: Animal to Vegetable Thursday, Mar 1 2012 

Folks think of Southern food and envision Fried Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Catfish, and Fried Okra. There’s a suspicion that is not completely unfounded, that if something doesn’t move fast enough in a Southern kitchen it will soon find itself sizzling away to golden brown perfection in a cast iron skillet. However, that’s merely a one-dimensional view. The truth is that Southern food doesn’t have to be unhealthy or trapped in the past. And, frankly, some food that is portrayed in the media and on television isn’t actually real Southern cooking.

But, yes ma’am, there’s no doubt, we Southerners do love our fat. I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not pretending that we’re not known for things like Biscuits smothered in Tomato Gravy   and that  Bacon is pretty much regarded as a food group.

Fat enhances the taste, aroma, and texture of food. Fat makes food taste good. With the entire nation embracing Southern cooking it has brought attention to a regional American cuisine that’s not fearful of fat. Our bodies are hard-wired to like fat. There are some fats we actually can’t live without! In fact, our cell walls are built of fat. Fats play a crucial role in transporting nutrients throughout the body, healthy skin, good eyesight, to name just a few of their many benefits. Healthy fats can also help you lose weight.

The trouble is, most Americans, Southerners included, no – especially – generally eat too much fat and too much of the wrong kind of fat. Look at this map of obesity rates from the CDC. The red indicates a real problem.

Here’s a primer on fats so when you make the choice to enjoy fat – in matters of both indulgence and moderation – you’ll know what just what needs to sizzle in your skillet. (And before I lose you, there are some delicious recipes – including a cookie – for you at the end.) 

FAT FACTS: There is a well-established link between fat intake and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Diets rich in “bad fats” – saturated fat and trans fat – cause high blood cholesterol. But, all cholesterol is not the dirty word most folks think it is. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. It is also present in the foods that we eat. Our bodies need cholesterol to build healthy cells, produce hormones, and help the brain, skin, and other organs to properly function. Once again, however, Americans tend to over do it. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can collect as plaque on vessel walls causing them to narrow. Over time this keeps blood from moving freely and can cause less blood and oxygen to reach your brain and heart. This can result in a heart attack or stroke. Eat this, don’t eat that. Low fat isn’t always good fat. Good – and bad – cholesterol? It can be pretty confusing, so it’s important to know your Fats Facts:

Unsaturated fats are found mainly in many fish, nuts, seeds and oils from plants. These fats may help lower your blood cholesterol level when you use them in place of saturated and trans fats. Food containing unsaturated fat include salmon, trout, herring, avocados, olives, walnuts and vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive, and sunflower. Omega 3 fatty acids are class of unsaturated fat. They are found in foods including walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sturgeon, and anchovies. Omega 3 promotes healthy blood circulation and helps reduce inflammation. The bottom line on unsaturated fats is that these are the ones you want to use the most.

Saturated fat is found mostly in foods from animals and some plants, including tropical oils such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil and cocoa butter. Too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol. The bottom line on saturated fat is that they should be used in moderation.

Trans fats or Trans-fatty acids are mainly found in processed hydrogenated oils such as margarine and shortening and processed foods made from processed oils. They are also found in lesser amounts in animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, and milk. Some science indicates naturally occurring trans fats aren’t viewed as harmful as those that are from processed foods. Companies like using processed trans fats in their foods because they’re cheap. Stay away from processed foods with trans fats.


Animal Fat The flavor of all animal fats is rich, savory, and, well, meaty. Lard is rendered fat produced from pigs, schmaltz is rendered fat from chickens, duck fat is the equivalent of liquid gold, suet is raw beef or mutton fat, and once it is rendered it is called tallow. (Rendering is a process of cooking that melts the fat and makes it fairly shelf stable.) Lard was the premier Southern fat of days gone by and biscuits and piecrusts made with lard are old-fashioned Southern classics. Potatoes fried in duck fat are simply otherworldly, and the secret to many a Jewish grandmother’s light-as-air matzo balls is schmaltz. Uses include frying, sautéing, and for use in baked goods. Alas, any thing that tastes this good should be enjoyed in moderation.

Butter Classic French cooking pretty much considers butter to be a food group. My view is on butter is that, if you’re going to eat it, you may as well eat the absolute best since the gourmet like French Echiré Butter has the same amount of calories as the cheap stuff. The great part is just a little butter will go a long way. Butter lends a smooth and creamy taste to foods and is silky on the mouth and tongue. Magical, exquisite, wonderful things happen when the milk solids in butter begin to brown. Butter can be used in medium temperature sautéing, sauces, and perhaps most famously, in baking.

Canola Oil Canola oil is among the healthiest of cooking oils. It’s high in Omega-3s, a class of unsaturated fat that helps promote healthy blood circulation and reduce inflammation. As a chef, I often use canola oil because it’s flavorless and allows the flavor of the food shine through. I look for Expeller Pressed Canola Oil canola oil, which is a chemical-free mechanical process that extracts the oil. Canola is a good all-purpose cooking oil and is excellent for sautéing, frying, and baking or for use in raw form in salad dressings, mayonnaise, and vinaigrettes. It’s hands down my favorite oil in the kitchen.

Olive Oil Olive oil is at the heart of all Mediterranean cooking. Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and is the least refined of the olive oils. Depending on the olives, from which it was pressed, will have varying flavor and aroma. This oil is best for low to medium heat cooking due to its low smoke point. The finest Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best used without cooking at all and simply as a finishing touch on a dish. Pure olive oil is slightly more refined and has a higher smoke point. It is best for sautéing at medium heat. Both oils are flavorful and best used where the oil’s full flavor is intended as an integral part of the finished dish.

Peanut Oil If you’ve had a deep fried turkey at Thanksgiving, it’s likely it was fried in Peanut Oil or a peanut oil blend. Refined peanut oil has a very high smoke point. Smoke point is just what it sounds like – the point an oil will start to smoke and break down when placed over high heat. The higher the smoke point, the better it is for frying and high-heat cooking. Since peanut oil used for deep-frying you’ll often find 1 to 5 gallon jugs that are pretty heavy for shipping if buying online. Instead, look at local hardware stores or big box supercenters.

Safflower and Sunflower Oil Sunflower Oil and the related safflower oil are both used as cooking oils in cuisines over the world. Produced from related flowers, they are very versatile. Safflower oil is a favorite for salads because it doesn’t solidify when refrigerated and chilled. Both can be used in cold dressings and mayonnaise as well as high heat cooking and sautéing and are neutral enough for baking. These oils are heart healthy and fairly inexpensive.

Vegetable Oil Growing up, my grandmother had a small bottle of “salad oil” in her cupboard. That’s a pretty non-definitive term, much like the term Vegetable Oil. It’s a bit sneaky; for the most part vegetable oil is actually soybean oil with a few other plant-based oils blended in. The deal with vegetable oil is that it’s less expensive than pricier oils such as olive, sunflower, or safflower. Vegetable oil is widely available.

Thanks for reading! Please visit my website for more recipes and stories. You can also sign up for my newsletter and keep up with events and classes. And, I waste time have lots of fun with my iphone when I travel if you’d like to friend me on Facebook and Twitter.

Below are some recipes using oil including a basic vinaigrette that shares some tips on choosing oil for a dressing, my grandfather’s grilled chicken using peanut oil, and lastly, shortbread cookies made with butter.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS: Happy to announce Basic to Brilliant, Y’all was nominated for a Southern Independent Booksellers Award and that I am a new contributing editor for Southern Living!

Classic Shallot Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

There’s been a whole lot of talk about culinary “apps” (as in smartphone applications, not starters or nibbles) and cooking by ratio, not by recipe. Vinaigrette is an excellent example of this premise. To make a proper vinaigrette, that is, one that is a perfect balance of smooth and creamy to acidic and tart, a certain ratio of ingredients must be followed: one part acid to three parts oil. The recipe emerges from the technique when the acid is sherry versus balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice versus a combination of white wine vinegar and champagne vinegar. One could also use apple cider, white wine, or red wine vinegar, each vinegar with a different flavor profile. The recipe continues to unfold when the oil is chosen. Is it a full-flavored vinaigrette for tomatoes and cold meats made with extra-virgin olive oil, a milder combination of corn and olive oil, or even milder still, with grapeseed or canola oil? The choice is yours!

2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the shallots, mustard, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Dede’s Grilled Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup peanut oil, plus more for the grate
2 tablespoons hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning the chicken
1 (4 to 5-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 lemons, sliced Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or, for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine the water, vinegar, peanut oil, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt in a squirt bottle. Set aside. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Apply some oil to the grill grate. Place the chicken on the grill, leaving plenty of space between each piece. Grill until seared, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for legs and thighs, and 3 or so minutes for breasts.

Move the chicken to medium-low heat or reduce the heat to medium; continue to grill, turning occasionally and squirting with the marinade, until the juices run clear when pierced, 12 to 18 minutes. Add lemons and grill until charred. Remove the pieces from the grill as they cook and transfer to a warm platter. Give them a final squirt of sauce for flavor and serve immediately with grilled lemons on the side.

Button Shortbread
Makes about 3 dozen

These are delicious, indulgent, and incredible. It’s basically just enough flour to hold the butter together. They are perfect along with ice cream or a cup of tea. And, since they are so very indulgent, it’s good to know they freeze exceptionally well in an airtight container.

2 cups all purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar, more for flattening the cookies
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking sheets. Set aside. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and vanilla; beat until just combined.

Using a small ice cream scoop, portion the cookies about 2-inches apart on the prepared sheet pans. Dip a smooth glass in confectioners’ sugar. Press to flatten to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a wooden skewer, make 4 holes in the center of a cookie so that it resembles a button.

Transfer the cookie sheets to the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake until the cookies are pale golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheet then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 7 days.

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.

Food pics by me.

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