Simple Pleasures Book Review:
Basic to Brilliant, Y’all (150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company) by Virginia Willis
This is a bit of a new experience for me. We have never reviewed a cookbook before now. So, if I don’t give Virginia’s lovely cookbook its proper due you can blame that on my inexperience in this area.
Don’t get me wrong, I love cookbooks and have a significant library of them myself, but to me they can’t be analyzed quite the same way other books are. Cookbooks are about the parts; the individual recipes that you return to year after year, occasion after occasion. Sometimes they are the well-spring of your own culinary creativity. Basic to Brilliant, Y’all can easily serve both purposes.
For those unfamiliar with Virginia Willis, imagine the talents, creativity and culinary mind-set of Julia Child and Paula Deen combined in one chef. Willis presents basic southern dishes that have been given a unique twist, with an eye toward presentation and culinary occasion.
While at first glance (and I will admit, this was my first impression) Basic to Brilliant, Y’all seemed a little too dressed up and fussy for the average southern cook. Certainly Willis’ training and professional experience account for this first glance impression, but it doesn’t take long to see her southern roots emerge. She reveals, in both her introduction and notes the origins of her love affair with cooking. While she traveled far and wide to expand and refine her culinary experience, she returned to her roots in the south to find her ‘cooking home’. Her whole rich experience is revealed in the recipes included in this cookbook.
From the basic stocks: vegetable, beef, chicken and seafood to homemade mayonnaise or the perfect pie-crust and pastry cream, Willis gives you a rock solid foundation in the preparation and presentation of fine southern dishes. The flair and sense of occasion has an underlying French twist, but the core ingredients and inspiration are all southern.
A sumptuous menu can be planned by starting with “Starters & Nibblers” such as Southern Ratatouille or Sautéed Spiced Chicken Livers and following through to “Deserts” like Meringue Pillows with Strawberries & Cream or Coca-Cola Cake.
When filling your table by choosing from the 150 recipes included in Basic to Brilliant, Y’all it will be easy for guests to assume you had the meal catered by a world-renowned chef, but it will have all the comfort and sense of southern tradition that comes from a down home Sunday dinner.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Helene Dujardin for the wonderful photographs included in this cookbook. The selected dishes are shown with a minimum of accompaniment or ‘window dressing’, the focus being on the beauty of the food itself. These crisp and unfettered pictures are the perfect addition to Basic to Brilliant, Y’all showing the reader that beauty can be achieved through simplicity – with a healthy dose of love and tradition.
This cookbook has earned a spot on my “select” cookbook shelf, along with a few, very select others. It will release in September 2011- just in time for planning menus for some great holiday parties. For me, just thumbing through it gets the culinary juices flowing and I’m sure you will feel the same.
Brenda Seward, Simple Pleasures Books & Gifts
Basic to Brilliant, Ya’ll (150 refined Southern Recipes & Ways to Dress Them Up for Company) by Virginia Willis will be released in September 2011 through Random House