Virginia Willis’s new book Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking

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is the featured chef for my newsletter this month.

This lady is dear to my heart because I too am from the South (Texas) and grew up making all of the same kinds of recipes in her book. Everything from “Fried Pork Chops with Pan Gravy” to “Mama’s Pecan Pie”. So grab you a “sweet tea” and let’s do some “Country Gourmet Cooking”.

The Featured Recipes Are:

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Virginia Willis is a French-trained chef, television producer, food stylist, cooking teacher, and food writer. Formerly Martha Stewart Living’s kitchen manager (and yes, she did have a few things to say about Martha which I will share later), she now makes her home in Atlanta Georgia. Her book
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has some wonderful recipes and stories about her Southern roots, along with beautiful pictures.


In the picture below are three appetizers Virginia served us: Vidalia Onion Confit With Garlic Toasts, Mama’s Sausage-Pecan Balls With Red Pepper Jelly and La Varenne Gougeres. They all were absolutely delicious and they are all in her book.

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The first recipes is:

Vidalia Onion Confit with Garlic Toasts

Confit is most often meat, such as duck, that has been cooked and preserved in its own fat, but the term also describes a jamlike condiment of cooked seasoned fruit or vegetables. This confit is wonderful as suggested, served on toasts as a nibble, but it also shines served as a condiment with pork or chicken. It is absolutely incredible with blue cheese and in a quiche. The key to this recipe is to cook the onions low and slow so they will caramelize properly. Don’t stir the onions a lot. Let them carmaelize on their own.

  • 1 baguette, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, halved, for the toasts
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 onions, preferably Vidalia, chopped (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus small sprigs for garnish

Position an oven rack 4 inches below the broiler element and preheat the broiler. To make the toasts, arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush on one side with some of the olive oil. Broil until brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the toasts and broil the other side. Remove the toasts from the oven and while warm, rub one side of each toast with the cut surfaces of the garlic clove. Transfer to a rack to cool.

To make the confit, heat the butter and remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced and the onions are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Add the thyme; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve: Place the reserved toasts on a large serving platter and top each piece with a spoonful of confit. Garnish each with a sprig of thyme.


Mama’s Sausage-Pecan Balls

Virginia’s mama found the original of this recipe on the back of a box of Bisquick, a premixed baking product containing flour, shortening, salt, and leavening. According to General Mills, the recipe continues to be one of their most popular. Her mama added pecans to the sausage balls, which she served during the holidays and at cocktail parties. Virginia made a few additional changes and developed this “from scratch” version.

This recipe works best if you grate the cheese yourself rather than buying it already grated, which is coated to keep the pieces from sticking together. You can add additional cayenne if you like, or use extra hot sausage.

  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 10 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese (freshly grated)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces raw mild pork sausage

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.

Place the pecans in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until chopped, but not too finely. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Replace the blade with the grating disc and grate the cheese. Remove to a second bowl and set aside.

Switch back to the metal blade. To make the sausage mixture, in the same bowl of the food processor (no need to clean it), combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pulse to combine. Add the shortening and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the grated cheese and the sausage and pulse until well combined. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add the reserved pecans and, using your hands, press the dough together until well combined. (The dough will be very crumbly).

To form the balls, using a small ice cream scoop and your hands, shape the mixture into 1-inch balls and place about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Serve immediately.

Plating: serve on individual plates with Red Pepper Jelly! I grew up on these sausage balls and make them every year at Christmas!

The last appetizer was La Varenne Gougeres. They are a savory version of the classic French pastry dough pate a choux used to make profiteroles and eclairs. Gougeres are a classic Burgundian treat commonly served with aperitifs at parties, bistros, and wine bars. They were wonderful! And as I said before, the recipe is in her book.

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Now for the delicious “entree”

Mustard-Crusted Pork Loin with Herb Pan Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 (3-pound) boneless center-cut pork loin
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard seed
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard seed
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil (optional)
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

To season the pork loin, combine the garlic, bay leaf, mustard, and thyme in a large bowl or sealable plastic bag. Add the meat and turn to coat evenly. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to overnight, turning the pork occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the mustard seeds on a baking sheet. Remove the meat from the bowl, season it with salt and pepper, and roll it in the mustard seeds to coat evenly. Place the roast in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140 to 145 F, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pork will be slightly pink in the center. This is desirable and perfectly safe.


For dessert, Virginia served us a decadent brownie with vanilla ice cream! Yum!

Georgia Pecan Brownies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush a 9 x 13-inch baking dish or pan with butter.

In a saucepan, melt the 1 cup of butter over medium heat; add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Keep warm. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate, and nuts. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the ingredients are combined (the batter should be very thick). Alternatively, you can mix the batter in a heavy-duty mixer. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Bake until set, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Cut into pieces and serve. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Plating: On a small plate, place a large brownie and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

NOW FOR THE SCOOP ON MARTHA: Virginia said that Martha was a perfectionist (NO!) and that she only surrounded herself with people that were the best! She did not tolerate anything else! In all fairness, she said it was a great place to work and Martha is successful today because she is such a hard worker. The other story was about an incident that occurred when Virginia was asked to guest appear on Martha’s show. Virginia said Martha had not seen her in a while and made the comment that her hair had gotten a lot grayer. (OUCH!)


March Tip and Technique – Leftover Cheese

Never discard those little leftover bits and pieces of cheese lurking in your refrigerator. The tab ends of Brie, cheddar, farmer cheese, chevre, Roquefort, Mozzarella, and scores of other cheese can be quickly transformed into a tasty mixture that the thrifty French call fromage fort (“strong cheese”). Seasoned with fresh garlic and a few splashes of wine, it makes an assertively flavored topping for toast or thick slices of bread and tastes best when briefly melted under the broiler.

To make the fromage fort, gather together 1 pound of leftover cheese (3 kinds is enough, 6 or 7 will be even better). Trim off any mold or very dried out parts from the surface. Toss 3 or 4 peeled cloves of garlic into a food processor and process for several seconds until coarsely chopped. Add the cheese to the garlic along with 1/2 cup dry white wine and at least 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Process until the mixture becomes soft and creamy, about 30 seconds. Remove the mixture from the processor and transfer it to a crock or bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate….Steve Jenkins Cheese Primer.

I hope you all will try these delicious Southern recipes. Bon Appetit Y’all, and I will talk with you again next month.

Chef Kathy