Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company

By Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

If you haven’t met or seen Virginia Willis in action, let me just tell you that you have missed one of the best things this world has to offer. Full of life, charm and a smile that shows the depths of her soul, Virginia Willis is as good as it gets.  I have always enjoyed reading her work and when I got a press copy of her newest book, I was smiling ear to ear. She has that effect on people! It was love at first look for me as far as the book goes. I am not very familiar with southern American cuisine and learned so much from reading her recipes and her insights into the dishes. Get the book and read the section on how and why she salts her brine… you will love it. Virginia is a trained chef and knows food inside and out and it shows. Her tips and techniques are results of several years of hard work and experience. You will learn something from every recipe.

Each recipe has a lovely addition to it – Virginia provides ways to make it brilliant. Whether it is a way to dress up a simple recipe, or add a side dish to it or just redo it for a more gourmet feel, the brilliant touches make this book a real standout.

I have a long way to go when to it comes to cooking from this book as I want to try so many dishes. But here is what I did try and what my family loved: the spicy watermelon pickles (I ate them as a snack!), the wild mushroom soup (you have to try this, take my word for it) and I am going to try her fried capers next.

I hope that you will buy it and cook from it. It is a worthy investment. Oh, and when you buy the book, fill out this form:  FORM. Virginia is sending signed bookplates to all those who buy her book!! (If have to buy the book within a 2 week time period of this post to receive a personalized bookplate.)

Skillet-Baked Eggs with Mushrooms and Spinach

Serves 4

“Reprinted with permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”

Photo credit: Helene Dujardin © 2011

16 ounces fresh baby spinach or 1 (12-ounce) bag thawed frozen leaf spinach

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 onion, preferably Vidalia, finely chopped

6 ounces mixed mushrooms (such as cremini, chanterelle, morel, shiitake, and white button), thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, very finely chopped

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1/2 ounce)

Position the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water.

To cook the fresh spinach, heat 1/2 inch water in a large skillet over high heat. Add half the spinach and cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining spinach cover, and cook, over medium-high heat until tender, about 60 seconds. Drain well in a colander, then set the colander with spinach in the ice-water bath to set the color and stop the cooking, making sure the spinach is submerged. Remove the colander?with spinach to drain. Working with a handful at a?time, squeeze the freshly cooked, or thawed frozen, spinach between two dinner plates or by hand to remove any excess liquid. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occastionally, until softened and any liquid is released, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the cream, nutmeg, and spinach. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat.

Using the back of a spoon, make 4 nests in the spinach-cream mixture in the skillet. Break an egg into each indentation. Season the eggs with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

Brilliant: Presentation

Oeufs en Cocotte

Oeufs en Cocotte is made by cooking an egg in a petite casserole or ramekin, nestled on top of other ingredients, including vegetables or meat, with an optional topping of grated cheese. Cocotte translates to “casserole,” but also “hen”—as well as “love” or “darling.” When I was working in France, my chef’s father would affectionately call me cocotte. You can imagine my immediate concern that he was calling me a casserole. There is something absolutely “darling” about serving individual dishes of baked eggs.

To do so, simply divide the spinach-cream mixture among 4 small ramekins. Top each with an egg, then sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, about 8 minutes.

You may also like...


  1. These eggs look wonderful. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never made this way so I’m going to have to try!

  2. Sounds like a great book to add to my cookbook collection. The combination of spinach, mushrooms and the addition of the egg cocotte sound divine! I definitely have to make this.

  3. Monica, I love Virginia, your site and Virginia’s new book! Thanks for the post and I’m salivating looking at the skillet baked eggs image!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.