Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Willis brings Southern-French fushion to entertaining, Y'all

Virginia Willis continues her blend of Southern dishes with a French flare just in time for the holidays in “Basic to Brilliant Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company.” Many readers will know Willis by her award-winning “Bon Appétit, Y’all,” and her latest is a “body of basic recipes that can stand on their own,” she writes, “but they can be transformed to brilliant by a short recipe, presentation tip, or technique — all accomplished without ‘dumbing down’ the basic to make the brilliant work, and without the overuse of expensive or hard-to-find ingredients.”
Talk about my kind of book.
The opening features “fundamental recipes” such as stocks, sauces, pie crusts and the like. Then readers move to “starters and nibbles,” with lovely ideas that run the gamut, such as Southern ratatouille, shrimp rillettes and pigs in a blanket bites. Other chapters include typical meals — soups and salads, fish and shellfish and beef, pork and lamb, gospel birds and game birds and vegetables. In Southern fashion there’s rice grits and potatoes; eggs and dairy, a section on daily bread with items honoring cornmeal and sweet potatoes and, of course, desserts.
And the book is full of helpful hints, anecdotes and ways to turn the basic recipes into brilliant ones.
Here’s a great example. This sweet potato grits recipe can be enhanced into a soufflelike spoonbread; the book offers both. I’ll include it here as grits and lets you check out the book if you wish to know more. Note: If you live in the Lafayette area, there are folks who sells stone-ground grits at farmer’s markets and festivals.

Sweet Potato Grits
2 cups water
2 cups low-fat or whole milk
1 cup stone-ground grits
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Direction: In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the water and milk and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the grits, whisking constantly. Add the sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper. Decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes.
            Taste the grits and sweet potato to make sure both are cooked and tender. Add the ground ginger, cinnamon and butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.
Book events today
The UL Press Annual Holiday Book Sale will be from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. today (Nov. 30, 2011) at the UL Alumni Center, 600 E. St. Mary Blvd. on the UL campus, and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Bourque’s Social Club, 1109 St. Mary St. in Scott. There will be new releases, clearance titles, signed copies and complimentary refreshments, tote bag and giftwrapping. Every title will be discounted by at least 20% off of the regular retail price.
James Nolan will read from and sign his novel “Higher Ground” at 7 p.m. today at the Jefferson Parish Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave. in Metairie. He will also sign at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Latter Memorial Library in New Orleans.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at