Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cookbook Review: Basic to Brilliant Y'All: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607740095
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607740094

Product Description


Virginia Willis’s legion of fans love her knack for giving classic French dishes a down-home Southern feel and reimagining homey Southern favorites en Française. In Basic to Brilliant, Y’all Virginia builds on her signature style, offering 150 soul-satisfying recipes and accompanying each with a new preparation technique, fresh presentation style, or creative recipe variation that transforms an already wonderful dish into an all-out show stopper.

In Virginia’s hands, a cozy Kale Omelet becomes sophisticated brunch fare when it’s baked in a sourdough boule; rich Gruyere Flans elevate a rustic red wine-infused Roasted Tomato Soup; and Spiced Skirt Steak with Shallot Marmalade is enhanced with just a few simple changes into a gorgeous roulade. Peach Dijon-Crusted Pork Tenderloin goes from elegant continental entrée to the pride of Dixie when it’s cradled between Chive Cornmeal Griddle Cakes, and a country dessert like Sweet Biscuits with Stewed Blackberries is kicked up a notch when served topped with Blackberry Fool.

Throughout Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Virginia paints a vivid portrait of growing up in Louisiana and Georgia, spinning tales of close family and friends—and unforgettable food—interwoven with vignettes from her years living in and visiting France, drawing you in with vibrant accounts of cooking and eating at La Varenne in Burgundy.

Whether you choose the Basic or the Brilliant approach, this bounty of Southern flavors dressed up with time-honored French techniques delivers meals that will keep you and your kin coming back for more. 

About the Author


Virginia Willis is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all, which was nominated for the IACP Best American Cookbook award and voted the Comfort Food Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. She has been featured in Cooking with Paula Deen, House Beautiful, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. Willis has appeared on Real Simple Television, Martha Stewart Living, Paula Deen’s Best Dishes, and numerous local television shows across the country.

A graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, Willis has served as a television producer for Turner South and Shirley Corriher, was the kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living Television, and the executive producer of The Discovery Channel’s Epicurious. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more at Review

Featured Recipe: Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce
Makes about 24
3 pounds chicken wings (12 to 14 whole wings)
1 teaspoon Madras or spicy curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 to 3 jalapeños, cored, seeded, and very finely chopped, plus more for garnish
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup plain low-fat or whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons peach preserves
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish


To prepare the chicken wings, cut off the wing tips (reserve to make stock), and halve the wings at the joint. In a large bowl, combine the wings, curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, soy sauce, canola oil, jalapeños, garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the yogurt, preserves, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Remove the marinated wings from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil. (I don’t like to use a nonstick baking liner on the baking sheet in this instance because the curry can stain the silicone.) Transfer the wings without crowding to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until the wings are deep brown and the juices run clear, turning once, 15 to 20 minutes per side. (If you like charred bits, after the 40 minutes, turn the oven on to broil for about 5 more minutes.) Taste the yogurt dipping sauce and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and serve the hot wings with the dipping sauce on the side.

Brilliant Technique: Chicken “Lollipops”

I first learned this watching Jacques Pépin on television. It’s impossible to watch him without learning something. This converts regular old chicken wings to Brilliant hors d’oeuvres.
To prepare the “lollipops,” cut off the wing tips (reserve to make stock), and halve the wings at the joint. (This will leave you with the drumette and flat.) Using a paring knife, cut the tendons at the narrower end of each drumette joint. Hold that end with a kitchen towel and scrape down the meat as far as possible toward the thicker end to make a plump lollipop shape. Then, take each flat and cut through the cartilage at one end of each piece, separating the bones. Scrape the meat down the larger bone to make a lollipop shape; remove and discard the smaller bone. Proceed with the Basic recipe to marinate as instructed.


“This is a fabulous book. If you love authentic southern cooking prepared in a refined way then this is the book for you.”
—, Family Kitchen blog, 10/5/11

“As Willis demonstrates with this vibrant, informative guide to Southern cuisine, great cookbooks can offer a window into their author's life. . . . By turns inspiring and appetizing, this work is a valuable resource for anyone interested in regional American cooking.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW, 7/11/11

“Virginia Willis could cook a memorable meal from a sock and some twigs. Whether she's making southern food (her home turf) or French country dishes -- or helping you get ready for company as she does in this treasure of a book, Virginia is someone you want by your side in the kitchen.”
—Amanda Hesser, co-founder of and author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook

“A charming, gorgeous, and thoroughly practical guide to the best fundamental French techniques mixed with Willis’s uniquely American saucy Southern style. An instant classic.”
—Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

“Virginia Willis is a natural teacher, a gift that shines in each of her carefully crafted and doable recipes. In Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Virginia gives us a fresh, bright, beautiful book that beckons us into the kitchen to cook—daily,
happily, and very well.”
—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table
“Virginia Willis creates a refined Southern cuisine in Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, bringing you into her world through the pages of this gorgeous and inspiring book. A fellow Southern chef, she blossomed during her years in France and New York and returned empowered with culinary knowledge. Virginia has hit a home run with this exciting and wonderfully articulate book. It is destined to become a classic for anyone’s culinary library—north or south of the Mason-Dixon line.”
—Frank Stitt, chef-owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fonfon

“Virginia Willis is amazing at putting that finishing polish on down-home Southern specialties that will fill your home with automatic hospitality.”
—Bobby Flay, chef-owner of Mesa Grill, Bar Americain, and Bobby Flay Steak

“Virginia Willis has married some of the most beloved Southern dishes with flawless technique. It is a match made in heaven. Home cooks who desire a collection of recipes for any day of the week will find just what they need. And those who want to put on some party clothes will be overjoyed! This book will spend plenty of time on my kitchen counter—and by my favorite reading chair. Really, y’all are going to love it!”
—Martha Foose, author of Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

“Virginia Willis has done it again—created a totally unique, mouth-watering book of recipes, wisdom and charm. This is a book you will savor reading as well as cooking from.”
—Nathalie Dupree, author of New Southern Cooking
“As a busy mom, I truly appreciate Virginia’s Brilliant tips that accompany every recipe; many of them take only a few minutes more to transform ordinary family favorites to extraordinary, company-worthy centerpieces. From these tips, I’ve learned so many clever techniques, short recipes, and presentation ideas!”
—Jaden Hair, author of The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook

My Review

This fabulous cookbook has twelve chapters with the following recipes:

1. Fundamental Recipes
Chicken Stock  •  Beef Stock  •  Vegetable Stock  •  Seafood Stock  •  Shallot Vinaigrette  •  Garlic Confit  •  Mayonnaise  •  Crème Fraîche  •  French Pie Crust  •  La Varenne Sweet Pie Pastry  •  All-American Pie Crust  •  Quick Puff Pastry  •  Basic Crème Anglaise  •  Pastry Cream  •  Caramel Sauce

2. Starters and Nibbles 
Southern Ratatouille  •  Butter Bean Croustades  •  Anne’s Roasted Pepper and Cheese Gratin  •  Pickled Vegetables  •  Shrimp Rillettes  •  Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce  •  Sautéed Spiced Chicken Livers  •  Pork Terrine  •  Pigs in a Blanket Bites  •  Mini Country Ham Cheddar Biscuits  •  Apple Roquefort Turnovers  •  Black Pepper Cheese Shortbread

3. Salads and Slaws
Summer Squash Slaw  •  Southern Salad Macédoine  •  Summer Tomato Salad  •  Chilled Haricots Verts with Crème Fraîche  •  Celery Ribbons with Tarragon Vinaigrette  •  Arugula with Country Ham and Pecans  •  Mama’s Macaroni Salad  •  Endive and Roquefort Slaw  •  Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato and Green Bean Salad  •  Alabama “West Indies” Crab Salad  •  Warm Summer Shrimp Salad  •  Lentil Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

4. Eggs and Dairy     
Skillet-Baked Eggs with Mushrooms and Spinach  •  Perfectly Soft Scrambled Eggs with Grilled Buttered Toast  •  Tarragon Egg Salad  •  Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce  •  Kale Omelet  •  Vidalia Onion and Sweet Pepper Strata  •  Omelet with Herbs  •  Marinated Feta  •  Oven-Roasted Camembert with Garlic Toasts

5. Fish and Shellfish
Pan-Seared Georgia Trout  •  Poached Salmon with Herb Mustard Sauce  •  Whole Roasted Fish with Herbs  •  Oven-Roasted Crusted Fish Fillets  •  Fried Benne Shrimp  •  Grilled Shrimp “Gumbo”  •  N’awlins-Style BBQ Shrimp  •  Panfried Shrimp Po-Boy  •  Steamed Herbed Mussels  •  Seafood Jambalaya •  Creole Country Bouillabaisse  •  Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs with Lemon Gremolata

6. Gospel Birds and Game Birds 
Chicken Breasts with Tarragon Velouté  •  Ruby’s Peanut-Crusted Chicken Fingers  •  Oven-Fried Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Spinach  •  Grandmother’s Chicken  •  Deviled Chicken Thighs  •  Stewed Chicken in Peanut Gravy  •  Mama’s BBQ Chicken  •  Brined Roast Turkey Breast with Herb Pan Gravy  •  Roasted Lemon Cornish Hens with Thyme Jus  •  Crisp Roasted Duck with Peach Barbecue Sauce  •  Roasted Quail with Muscadines  •  Mama’s Fried Quail with Cream Gravy

7. Beef, Pork, and Lamb 
Spiced Skirt Steak with Shallot Marmalade  •  NY Strip Steaks with Sautéed Mushrooms  •  Mama’s Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy  •  Mama’s Spaghetti Bolognese with Venison  •  Grilled Entrecôte with Red Wine Compound Butter  •  Garlic-Stuffed Prime Rib Roast with Crispy Potatoes  •  Beef Daube Provençal  •  Sweet Tea–Brined Pork Blade Steaks  •  Pork Belly with French Market Red-Eye Gravy  •  Garlic-Studded Pork Roast in Milk  •  Spicy Carolina Pork Shoulder  •  Peach Dijon–Crusted Pork Tenderloin  •  Grilled Spiced Butterflied Leg of Lamb

8. Rice, Grits, and Potatoes
Low Country Risotto  •  Savory Rice Gratin  •  Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts  •  Nathalie’s Cheese Grits Soufflé  •  Sweet Potato Grits  •  Spiced Sweet Potato Mash  •  Yukon Gold Mash with Coarse-Grain Mustard  •  Parmesan Potatoes  •  Southern-Style Home Fries •  Gnocchi à la Parisienne  •  Pasta Gratin with Sauce Mornay

9. Vegetables 
Asparagus with Blender Hollandaise  •  Glazed Spring Vegetables  •  Meme’s Yellow Squash Casserole  •  Grilled Okra Skewers  •  Okra Cornmeal Cakes  •  Green Beans with Buttery Peaches  •  Meme’s Green Beans with Potatoes and Ham  •  Jona’s Tomato Pie  •  Broiled Tomatoes Stuffed with Cornbread  •  Mustard Greens with Smoked Turkey Neck  •  Winter Greens and Butternut Squash Gratin  •  Summer Vegetable Galette  •  Mushroom Ragout  •  Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Bacon •  Pinto Beans with Side Meat

10. Soups and Stews 
Tomato Consommé  •  Roasted Tomato Soup  •  Melita’s Sweet Potato Soup  •  Wild Mushroom Soup  •  Provençal Vegetable Soup  •  Split Pea Soup  •  High Cotton Brunswick Stew  •  Louisiana Duck Gumbo  •  Charleston She-Crab Soup  •  Meme’s Chicken and Rice  •  Spring Lamb Stew with Vegetables

11. Daily Bread 
Sweet Peach Pancakes  •  Sweet Potato Biscuits  •  Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes  •  Mama’s Dutch Baby Pancake  •  Classic Crêpes  •  Nathalie’s Sally Lunn Bread  •  Savory Monkey Bread  •  Mama’s Sausage Swirls  •  Jalapeño Cornbread Muffins  •  Walnut Soda Bread

12. Desserts 
Sweet Biscuits with Stewed Blackberries  •  Château du Fëy Cherry Clafoutis  •  Meringue Pillows with Strawberries and Cream  •  Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Mint-Blueberry Compote  •  French Beignets  •  Brown Butter–Pecan Tea Cakes  •  Wedding Cookies  • Mama’s Pecan Tassies  •  Skillet Blondie  •  Claire’s Dark Chocolate Cake  •  Bittersweet Chocolate Bread Pudding  •  Anne’s Cornmeal Cake  •  Dede’s Burnt Caramel Cake  •  Coca-Cola Cake  •  Pineapple Upside-Down Cake  •  Old-Fashioned Lemon Meringue Pie  •  Country Apple Tart  •  Michele’s Quick and Easy Fudge  •  Nut Brittle    

This is an excellent reference and practical cookbook to have around the kitchen.  Every recipe is mouthwatering good!  Virginia provides Brilliant thoughts for each recipe whether it be a short cut or a presentation tip.  The photos are gorgeous.

I highly recommend this gorgeous and absolutely brilliant cookbook! 

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