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Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company Hardcover – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews 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.


“She's just a brilliant cook, y'all.”
—The Austin Chronicle, 10/21/11

“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

“Virginia Willis is like the Southern cousin you wish you had.  . . Virginia's latest book, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, is all about the "something extra special."  Each recipe has a simple component--like the seared trout, and an optional brilliant flourish--like the topping of smoked trout salad. It's what makes this cookbook a real keeper (even if you have other Southern cookbooks). The recipes are fresh and modern and reflect both Virginia's Southern roots and her French training.”
—Cooking with Amy, 9/26/11

“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

“The genius of Atlanta-based cookbook author Virginia Willis lies in her ability to weave together the distinct culinary worlds of France and the American South. . . . In this captivating book, she offers vivid tales from her life in food and a collection of mouthwatering recipes that can be approached two ways: basic and brilliant. Each basic recipe is followed by an endnote—often a clever presentation idea or recipe tweak—that lets you easily elevate the dish to brilliant so that it suits a special occasion. Whichever route you choose, chances are you’ll return to these recipes time and again.”
—Fine Cooking Magazine

“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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press; 1st edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607740095
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607740094
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 1 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked Lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton, catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda, and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother's country kitchen.

As a Southern food authority and writer, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all among others. She has a popular food blog on called Down-Home Comfort and is a contributing editor to Southern Living. She was named by the Chicago Tribune as one of "Seven Food Writers You Need to Know," her fans love her knack for giving classic French dishes a down-home comfort feel and reimagining Southern favorites.

Follow her continuing exploits at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Virginia Willis has created a cookbook updating and `dressing up' southern recipe standard dishes. She writes a few sentences about each recipe and inserts some information along the way such as; sugar stages- what sugar becomes at each higher temperature and the different sizes of shrimp. The big minus in this book is the lack of pictures, especially for those who are not familiar with southern cooking and might have wanted to create something above the usual comfort food level standard. At most there is probably only one picture for every four recipes.
The sides seemed to be the best part for our family, when looking through this. The okra cornmeal cakes are wonderful, and for a second try, for breakfast I actually substituted oatmeal and they were a hit that way too. The version of Sally Lund bread is very good, especially because of the pecan-brown sugar topping; it tastes great and looks outstanding. It is funny that pineapple upside down cake has made such a comeback - a version is included in this cookbook.

The recipes themselves are not terribly complicated, although a beginning cook might be overwhelmed with some of the more time consuming preparations. Included are recipes for: fundamentals - such as chicken stock and puff pastry, starters and nibbles - with not a cheese straw to be seen, salads and slaws, eggs and dairy, fish and shellfish, birds, beef, pork and lamb, rice grits and potatoes, vegetables, soups and stews, bread and desserts. There is an index that lists by dish name and also ingredient, and a measurement conversion chart.

This would be a book for those that love southern cooking and would like to advance it to the next stage.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By K. Gill on December 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am from the south, and often have a hankering for Southern food. This book is "refined Southern" food though, and that's not what I grew up eating. I will put this in the category with Blackberry Farm's book, which I think is a part of Southern cuisine, but not my part. I'd go as far to say that this is Southern-inspired.

There are some Southern classics-- mustard greens with smoke turkey neck, yellow-squash casserole, spicy Carolina pork shoulder (for pulled pork), pinto beans with side meat, jalapeno corn muffins. But many of the others (sweet potato grits? Peach Dijon-Crusted pork tenderloin, low-country Risotto, southern-style home fries (with flat leaf parsley??) are quite..."refined" and can get a bit fussy.

So this is a book for someone who already has the classics down and is looking for a way to use Southern ingredients and ideas in a bit of a different way, to mix it up. (the "brilliant" part, but without the basics to fall back on)

If that's what you're looking for, this book is for you!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug Mosley on May 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book caught my eye because of the premise it put forward: What if you took everyday recipes and made a few changes to add some pizzazz and excitement? That instantly appealed to me and I figured to you as well. After all, isn't that what Anything But is often about?
"Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company" by Virginia Willis ($35, Ten Speed Press, 278pp.) takes that idea and amps up the creativity. For instance, skirt steak becomes Spiced Skirt Steak with Shallot Marmalade with the application of Chinese five spice powder in the rub and the unique condiment. Other examples include pork chops become Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Blade Steaks, plain pork tenderloin becomes Peach Dijon-Crusted Pork Tenderloin and so on.
Following me so far? OK, I know you're already asking, "What's the big deal with those examples?". Here's where this book gets really cool - each recipe includes a Brilliant sidebar that is a brief idea to add a twist. In the example of the Spiced Skirt Steak with Shallot Marmalade, the Brilliant is presentation and it calls for doing it as a roulade. With the Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Blade Steaks, the Brilliant is a short recipe for Grilled Onions and Sherry Vinegar as an accompaniment. It's a Brilliant side for the Peach Dijon-Crusted Pork Tenderloin as well - Chive Cornmeal Griddle Cakes that turns the tenderloin into a sandwich. See the twist? Brilliant, right?
I really enjoyed this book and thought it really delivered on its promise. As a matter of fact, I only found one issue with it: a grammatical error in the title. Did author Willis really mean to speak to us individually with that title? After all, everyone knows that "all y'all" is the plural.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on October 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am loving Basic to Brilliant Y'all. I love the layout of the cookbook giving basic recipes with brilliant options to take that recipe to the next level. The photography is stunning and the stories behind the recipes brings me back to my own childhood in the south. Virginia Willis is a gifted writer and chef and has created a cookbook that I will turn to again and again. From the Coca-Cola Cake to Shrimp Rillettes every recipe is within the home cook's reach and will be sure to impress both friends and family. You will not be disappointed.Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company
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