Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: Behind the Scenes & Free Recipe Sampler! Tuesday, Sep 27 2011 



Basic to Brilliant, Y’all is now on sale! 

We sealed the deal on Christmas Eve of 2009.

Can you believe it? Writing a cookbook is a long process. Most folks aren’t aware of just how long it takes. Yes, some books are pushed quickly through the system and some books, frankly aren’t always carefully produced. My experience with both of my books has been one of slow, careful growth. I like it. I love it. I feel that something worth having is something worth the wait.

First, there’s the tiny little wisp of a thought that might, just might be something. That little thought needs nurturing, so I roll it around my brain and marinate on it until it’s bona fide, the real deal. Then, I write my proposal. This is the piece for the publishing company to be able to understand the idea, see if they are game, see if they think it’s bona fide, too. (My words, not theirs; they are from Northern California, I am from the South.) My proposals have a full recipe list, sample chapter, a selection of recipes, as well as a summary of each intended chapter. It’s basically the skeleton, or the outline, of the book. Once the proposal has been accepted, in both instances, I’ve had one year to complete the manuscript.

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

Completing the manuscript means writing, testing, and developing all the recipes. For this process, in my experience, it means that I have one year to complete the task. It also means some of the recipes listed in the proposal may fall to the wayside and replaced with better ideas – but just a smattering. I build my proposals with real intent.  I also learned recipe testing from Nathalie Dupree and Anne Willan. It’s a meticulous process.

First, I write a rough recipe before I even walk into the kitchen. I may have been cooking supper or eaten something somewhere that sparked my interest. It’s not always from absolute zero that an idea becomes a recipe. But, then, I test and test again. And, it needs to get an A or a B. If it gets a B, we retest it. Often, if it gets a C, I’ll walk away from the concept. I’ll test a recipe 3 or 4 times. If it can’t achieve an A – I feel like it’s not just meant to be.

For Basic to Brilliant this meant 150 Basic recipes — and 150 ways to make them Brilliant. There’s a lot of information packed in that book!

Once the year has passed and I turn in all my recipes with my manuscript, it starts the editorial process. From the time it’s turned in until it’s printed, it’s an additional year. For Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, I worked with an editor, a series of proofreaders and copy editors, and a designer for 6 months. It takes the proverbial village. Only after all that work is it sent off to the printer to be printed, and that takes another 6 months!

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

Food Photographer Helene Dujardin

As I was working on my manuscript, I started looking for a potential partner for photography. I wanted a partner, not someone to just take pretty pictures and move on to their next project. For Basic to Brilliant, Y’all I started looking around online, on blogs, on websites. One super special magical day I came across a really wonderful blog called Tartelette by Helene Dujardin. I subscribed, I watched, I read, I looked and each week I was absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of her images.

Long story short? I sent Ten Speed her link and we all talked. We agreed it was worth a shot. I sent her a tweet and our conversation started.

I had already asked Angie Mosier and Gena Berry to collaborate with me again. They had both worked with me on my first book.

We packed up our cars and headed down to Charleston. We had a team of 6 interns and culinary students helping cook the food. We were shooting 6 photographs a day; it’s quite the production. And, it’s a lot of groceries! Gena would send the food out of the kitchen to the studio and Angie, Helene, and I would set the scene. Each surface had to blend with the next, have the same feel, but not be repetitive. Betsy, the designer taped each shot to the wall and mapped out the entire book. It was such satisfaction to look at the new images from the day before at the beginning of a day. We were watching it grow.

Technically, Angie is listed as the prop stylist, Gena is the food stylist, and Helene the photographer, but we all worked together. No one person has one job. At the end of the day, it’s my name on the cover of the book, and I had to approve, but I love to work with talented people and let them do what they do.

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

Me and the beautiful and talented Angie Mosier

That’s the way I like to work. Collaboration. It’s the Pork Chop Theory. The Pork Chop Theory is based on the premise that if you put one pork chop in the pan and turn the heat on high, the pork chop will burn. If you put two pork chops in the pan, however, and turn the heat on high they will feed off the fat of one another. It’s the ultimate in giving, sharing, and developing mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships. It’s not about competition; it’s about sharing the fat, sharing the love.

It’s about everyone getting what they need to be satisfied and happy.

And, you know what? The older I get, the more I know that’s what life is all about.

Following your heart and being happy. This book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, makes me happy. It’s the collaboration of many folks sharing their love and talents.

MAMA’S READING LIST

Lordy Mercy, I’m on Oprah. Here’s a little bit on Oprah.com about my Beurre Monte in a piece about How Chefs Make Food Look Good — (but, Oprah I only want to add, “Taste Good,” too!)

Wendell Brock wrote a lovely piece on Basic to Brilliant, Y’all in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. And, check out these amazing photos by Renee Brock.

I’ve got a Virtual Potluck going on! A special group of folks are posting the recipes on their blog. If you read one of the blogs and buy a book, I’ll send you a bookplate! I’ll let you know as they post.

The first one to give it a go was the lovely Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy. She loved my Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I loved her kind words! Thanks Cousin!

If you want to take part, cook from the book and send a photo to info@virginiawillis.com. And, fill out this form, and I’ll send you a signed bookplate if you buy a book in the next two weeks!

Please make sure if you cook from my book to send me a photo or a link!

I hope you enjoy my recipes and stories. Thanks so much to everyone for your support.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

VA

Click on the link below to download the FREE recipe sampler! 

Basic to Brilliant Sampler

Helen Dujardin’s photo by Taylor Mathis.
Cover photo by Helen Dujardin.
Angie and me by Jenni Coale.

Julia and Julie: Yes, the Swap is Intentional Saturday, Jul 11 2009 

IMG_0741

THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE FOR THEIR INTEREST, SUPPORT, AND COMMENTS, BUT THIS BLOG POST IS NOW SHUT DOWN FOR ADDITIONAL COMMENTS. MANY THANKS FOR READING AND I LOVE THE DIALOGUE, BUT WE ALL NEED TO MOVE ON. 😉 BEST VA

July 15th I had the real pleasure of seeing a sneak preview of “Julie and Julia”. Tony Conway, owner of Legendary Events in Atlanta hosted an amazing Girls Night Out. Following cocktails and dinner, a group of about 400 women filed into the theatre at Phipps Plaza. The movie doesn’t actually premiere until early August! The event itself was truly spectacular and a perfect example of why Tony Conway is regarded as one of the best in his business.

The movie was so charming that I left wanting to see it again. Based on true stories, “Julie & Julia” intertwines the lives of two women in a fascinating way. I am a huge Meryl Streep fan and she was amazing. She is such a chameleon and, of course, had Julia’s voice and mannerisms nailed.

But, it triggered something that’s been nagging me ever since.

First, the movie. In short, the plot is the story of a frustrated temporary secretary, Julie Powell, embarking on a year-long culinary quest to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She chronicles her tribulations in a blog called “The Julie/Julia Project: Nobody here but us servantless American cooks”. The blog caught on and was eventually featured in a piece in the New York Times by food writer Amanda Hesser. Julie’s life was changed forever, her blog turned into a best-selling memoir, Nora Ephron wrote her screenplay, and now Amy Adams is playing her on the big screen.

The film, also covers the years Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) spent in Paris during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Their portion of the story was adapted from My Life in France, written by Julia Child with nephew Alex Prud’homme. Basically, this was the time when Julia became Julia, attended Le Cordon Bleu and met her collaborators Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. They began to teach cooking to American women in the Child’s kitchen, calling their informal school L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three researched, developed, and tested French recipes for the American kitchen. The result of this long collaboration was Mastering the Art of French Cooking edited by the imitable Judith Jones.

I promise this will eventually address the source of my irritation. Stick with me.

The first time I met Julia Child was at a book signing when I was in culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine in DC. I stood there like a zombie in front of her, incapable of speech. A friend eventually jotted me out of my stupor and pushed me along.

After DC, I became an editorial stagiaire for Anne Willan at Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne . I was supposed to be there for 3 months,but was there on and off for almost 3 years. Julia actually encouraged Anne to open the school. My first year I was working with none other than Amanda Hesser (see above), who at the time was also working on her first book, The Cook and the Gardener. During that time Julia would come to visit, staying weeks at a time. The staff at LaVarenne was predominantly young food knowledge hungry Americans. We had grown up seeing her on TV and she was one of the reasons we were there in France. We would vacillate wildly from “OH MY G*D, IT’S JULIA CHILD” to complete nonchalance. It was normal. She was always very pleasant. I don’t remember why, but once at the dinner table, in her famous warbling voice she declared, Eisenhower nothing more than a “big powder-puff”. Sure wish I could remember the context…. One winter at the Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier we shared a suite. I treated her like my grandmother, made sure she didn’t forget her cane and carried her books. (That was a hoot! I’ll write about that some other time.)

Promise. It’s coming.

After France I moved to New York to work for Martha. I ran into Julia at food events, and that was pretty much the extent of it.

Ok, here we go.

I also read the Julie/Julia Project blog and for a time, I followed Julie Powell. I was very intrigued by her nerve actually, of cooking the book. Pretty stiff stuff for an untrained cook. Good for her, I thought. What an undertaking. But one day she made a comment implying a recipe being wrong for roast chicken. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it struck me as being so disrespectful, completely without deference to Julia Child, that I stopped. What the hell did she know about food? Had she even heard of poulet au Bresse? Didn’t go back. No malice. Just didn’t want to follow anymore.

That brings me back to the present. Wednesday night I watched the Julie and Julia movie.

Had a lovely time, Tony, thanks so much for a lovely party.”

The next night I saw a link on Twitter from an older article from the New York Times. I clicked through and read. It was in my opinion, decent writing, good writing, but it wasn’t about food. It made me think it maybe needed to be in a blog. It was not appropriate on that stage, on that level. It was the damn New York Times!

To be clear, it was NOT written by Amanda Hesser.

And, then it all made sense. My underlying malaise.

People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts. The incredible proliferation and self-indulgent blabber of many food blogs has given people the freedom to hallucinate, “I can type and I eat, therefore I am a food journalist”!

Granted, Julie Powell did not present herself as a food expert. I am not saying she did, quite the contrary. It’s also not a case of sour grapes on my part. Bravo for her. Her food memoir was a best-seller. A rising tide floats all boats, and as a food writer, I wholeheartedly thank her.

I am not necessarily saying my writing is better. After all, who am I to question what is published in the New York Times? Of course, I recognize the irony that I am sharing this indeed in an aforementioned self-serving blog. But good grief, people who don’t know how to begin to roast a ding dang chicken without following a recipe can be our new, ahem, food experts? This makes me a bit sad and more than a bit aggravated.

The newspaper industry has starved itself to death. In the past two years 10 dailies have permanently stopped the presses. Indeed, the New York Times has been rumored to be circling the drain. The blogs and online content have taken over. The cookbook publishing industry took a hearty bite out of the poison apple, as well. The prerequisite to getting a cookbook published is brand and platform, not necessarily real food knowledge, editorial training, and a passionate commitment to test and develop recipes.

Face it; Julia Child would not be published today.

I had a meeting with a TV production company last year that possibly is interested in partnering on a TV cooking show. The producer told me the worst thing I had going for me is that I was trained and knew how to cook. Everyone who can wield a butter knife wants a TV cooking show. Seems the masses want entertainment, not education. Enough hair product and a sassy catchphrase seems to be sufficient.

Think about the food writers who spent their entire careers pursuing real food knowledge and good, sound, cooking fundamentals. Think about writers who wrote real literature that happened to be about food: Elizabeth David. MFK Fisher. Anne Willan. The real cooks and writers today, the real experts need to be heard, not just any food blogger armed with an iPhone.

On that note, I am sharing my recipe for Roast Chicken.

Bon Appétit!
VA

PS. IT WAS LATER POINTED OUT TO ME IT’S POULET DE BRESSE, NOT AU BRESSE. I LEFT IT AS IS SINCE SOME OF THE COMMENTS REFER TO IT. I STAND CORRECTED. MY FRENCH IS, WAS, AND ALWAYS WILL LIKELY BE, DISMAL.

Herb Roast Chicken with Pan Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

Meme washed her chickens inside and out before cooking them, removing every last bit of fat, overlooked feathers, and any bruises, blemishes, or blood spots. She said if you didn’t, it tasted too “chickeny.” That bird was sanitized—or so she thought. I would never argue with Meme, but according to the USDA, washing chicken is not necessary. If the bird is contaminated, dangerous bacteria are not going to be affected by cold tap water. Washing the chicken actually increases the chance of cross-contamination; water that has touched raw chicken and splashed into the sink can potentially contaminate other food.

This recipe relies on a classic French preparation: stuffing the bird with aromatics, roasting it to perfection, and using the pan juices plus added shallots, wine, and stock to make a light sauce. There’s not a lot to cloud the plate or palate or mask a mistake. I will often order chicken, seemingly the most boring dish on the menu, when trying a new restaurant. Simple roast chicken is the test of a good cook.

1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon, quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large carrot, chopped
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
11/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. To prepare the chicken, trim the excess fat from inside of the chicken cavity. Season the cavity with the herbes de Provence, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavity and then insert the used lemon quarters. Rub butter over the skin and season with salt and pepper. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine. Set the chicken in a roasting pan, on a rack if you have one.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes, then decrease the heat to 350°F. Roast for an additional 15 minutes, then add the carrot and onion to the pan. Continue roasting, basting occasionally, until the juices run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a knife, an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to a warm platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

To make the sauce, remove all but several tablespoons of the fat from the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and increase the heat to high, scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits.

Cook until the sauce is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes more. Carve the chicken and pour any accumulated chicken juices from the cutting board into the roasting pan. Decrease the heat to medium. Whisk in the butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken with the sauce on the side.

From Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

VIRGINIA WILLIS CULINARY PRODUCTIONS, LLC © 2009

Memorial Day & Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs Thursday, May 21 2009 

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Pork Nirvana: Coca Cola Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Memorial Day is the start of grilling season. I want to share with you an absolutely unbelievable rib recipe. I taught these all over last summer and the combination of sweet and heat is soooooooo positively off-the-charts good.

I want to give a shout out to the National Pork Board for contributing the pork for my event for The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts a week or so ago. We raised 21K + which equals 100,000 meals! We served these ribs and everyone loved them. I know you will, too.

I made some changes to my website. There are a passle of new recipes to try out. Please click on the link to check things out.
www.virginiawilllis.com

Here’s to a safe and happy weekend. Wear your seatbelt and if you are on the water, your life jacket. Seriously.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Coca-Cola–Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Makes about 20 pieces

Coca-Cola is to Atlanta as Guinness is to Dublin. Pork has a natural affinity for sweet, rich caramel flavors. These “nouveau” Southern ribs are by no means traditional, but they are lip-smacking good.

Scotch bonnet peppers are intensely hot, but their fire is tempered by the sweetness of the sugar and Coke. To tone down the heat, substitute jalapeños instead.

1 cup Coca-Cola Classic
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
11/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped
2 racks baby back ribs (3 pounds total)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the Coca-Cola, vinegar, brown sugar, and chiles to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and keep the sauce warm while the ribs cook.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a broiler pan and bake for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

Or, if grilling, simply treat the oven as a grill. Cook the ribs at a moderate heat, 325°F and bake with the grill covered for 30 minutes, glazing the ribs occasionally with the Coca-Cola mixture. Turn the ribs over and continue to cook for an additional 30 minutes, glazing occasionally, or until the ribs are tender and the meat is starting to pull away from the bone.

When the ribs are cooked through, set the oven to broil or place on the hot side of the grill or increase a gas grill to high. Liberally spoon half of the remaining glaze over the ribs and broil until glazed a deep mahogany brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn over; repeat with the remaining glaze, an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve immediately with lots of napkins.

Photo credit: Jeanine Dargis. Adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.

Derby Y’all: French Toast Casserole with Bourbon Crème Anglaise Friday, May 1 2009 

French Toast Casserole

French Toast Casserole



This week was y’all filled. Seriously y’all filled. I was a guest on Paula Deen’s Best Dishes on Saturday and Monday on Food Network. And, the May issue of her magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen has a feature on me with my recipe for French Toast Casserole. She was really, really nice. We had a blast. She called me a “hell of a chef” and said “I could put my shoes beside her stove or under her table any day.” Nice!

This recipe is great for breakfast, brunch, and I will also be featuring it as a dessert this week at May-Gration, a fundraiser for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts hosted by the Blue Heron in Sunderland, Massachusetts. I’m thrilled to be a part of this. It’s a North-South thing, featuring recipes from my book and tasty morsels from owners Chef Deborah Snow and Manager Barbara White. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts distributes approximately 6.4 million pounds of food to more than 100,000 people in the community every year. Click on May-Gration above to check it out.

So, check out this month’s issue of Cooking with Paula Deen. Give my French Toast Casserole a try for breakfast, brunch, or even as dessert. It’d be a great make-ahead dessert for a Kentucky Derby Party served with Bourbon Crème Anglaise. (How often to do you get to say bourbon and breakfast in the same paragraph? Hmm.)

Speaking of bourbon. I got to meet Parker Beam earlier this month at a bourbon tasting at a conference. That’s right, BEAM, as in related to Jim BEAM. His ding-dang ancestor INVENTED bourbon in Kentucky. He’s now the master distiller at Evan Williams. I was in the presence of greatness.

And, yes, I got his autograph. 😉

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Master Distiller Parker Beam and Virginia Willis

PS Couple of blogs about my recent event at Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham if you want to check them out: www.localtable.net/blogs/roben and www.ingredientsinc.net

French Toast Casserole with Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Serves 8


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

For dessert, make it early in the day, or even a day ahead. It’s bread and eggs, y’all. We’re not solving life’s mysteries, and nothing will “go wrong” if it’s in the fridge for a day or so. Just remember to remove it from the fridge to take the chill off about 30 minutes before you cook it. Serve it warm or room temperature.

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

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

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

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

Bourbon Crème Anglaise
Makes 3 cups

This creamy, dreamy deliciousness may also be made ahead. Don’t be trying to make this when you’ve been sipping on the brown stuff. If you don’t pay close attention, the eggs will curdle. Sip too much stuff and you won’t care. Better to make it ahead.

2 cups  whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 tablespoon bourbon

Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and water.

In a saucepan, bring the milk almost to a boil over medium heat. In a second saucepan, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light (be careful not to make the mixture foamy). Mix in half the hot milk, then transfer the mixture to the other saucepan with the remaining milk and blend. Add the bourbon.

Decrease the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring the custard until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and the mixture reaches 180°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.

Set a sieve over a large, clean bowl and pass the custard through the sieve.

Place the bowl in the ice bath, and stir the custard until it has completely cooled. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Store the custard in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories
from Three Generations of Southern Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright ©
2008. Published by Ten Speed Press.
Photo credit: Ellen Silverman copyright 2008.

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