Friday, February 27, 2015

Recipe Weekend: Lighten Up, Y'all by Virginia Willis

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this book, free of charge, from Blogging for Books, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it

Winter is still with us, and this new take on traditional comfort food is very timely indeed!

Lighten Up, Y'all  cover


A collection of classic Southern comfort food recipes--including seven-layer dip, chicken and gravy, and strawberry shortcake--made lighter, healthier, and completely guilt-free.

Virginia Willis is not only an authority on Southern cooking, a French-trained chef, and a veteran cookbook author; she is also a proud Southerner who adores eating and cooking for family and friends. So when she needed to drop a few pounds and generally lighten up her diet, the most important criterion for her new lifestyle was that all the food had to taste delicious. The result is Lighten Up, Y’all, a soul-satisfying and deeply personal collection of Virginia’s new favorite recipes. All the classics are covered—from a comforting Southern Style Shepherd’s Pie with Grits to warm, melting Broccoli Mac and Cheese to Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Pie. Each dish is packed with real Southern flavor, but made with healthier, more wholesome ingredients and techniques. Wherever you are on your health and wellness journey, Lighten Up, Y’all has the recipes, tools, and inspiration you need to make the nourishing, down-home Southern food you love.


This is a great cookbook to add to your kitchen! Willis is as witty as ever, and she really understands the Southern cook "we define ourselves and out lives by the food in our kitchens and the food on our tables" Yes Southern fare tends toward the comfort food genre, but as Willis says, it is because it is based on the cops they grew and the animals they raised. So in the Summer there was zucchini based dishes, in winter corn dishes that were hearty and warm, to ward off the cold days and nights. Starch based recipes help fuel long days working the fields and crops. But the Southern cook is all about tradition, so the recipes have remained intact, and we've learned to try to work off the excess calories. Willis takes these traditional recipes and seeks new ways to lesson their calorie load, while maintaining their traditional taste. So you have say Broccoli added to Macaroni and Cheese, with reduced fat milk and cheeses used along with whole wheat pasta. The flavor is still there, but it's healthier for you!

I found myself checking off more recipes than I thought I would! Some seem so simple- Baked Onion Blossom, instead of frying (Panko crumbs get the same crispy texture), others a new twist on old ideas- like Beer Battered Shrimp (which is pan fried, not deep fried) and others insanely unique- Southern Style Shepherd's Pie with Grits (grits instead of potatoes!! Be sure to check out Virginia's blog post about grits, that shares many of her thoughts and techniques with grits from this book.). Yet they are all infused with flavor, to keep you coming back time and time again! She covers everything from appetizers to desserts, and along the way shares about her upbringing and ways to prepare meals, without the use of processed (and bad for you) products). 

This is more than a cookbook- it is truly a hybrid of writing about food and sharing recipes, that is Willis' unique style (you have to love a woman that can make an ode to her love of biscuits  sound like something your best friend is telling you!). My only complaint is that I wish there were color pictures of all the recipes (there are only pictures for about every 2/3 recipes). The book would make a lovely hostess present (Easter is coming), birthday or Mother's day gift too! I highly recommend it! 

Today I'm sharing a recipe that might not seem much, but they are SO good for dinner instead of cornbread or biscuits, and to be honest we've had them with just bacon and maple syrup (it's the Yankee coming out) before for dinner. They are a Southern staple, and this new recipe is perfectly lightened up, making them a great accompaniment to any dinner 

Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

1 cup yellow whole-grain cornmeal (not a mix or self-rising version)
1/2 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
Large egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for the skillet
1 green onion, trimmed and very thinly sliced

1. In a bowl, combine the cornmeal,salt and baking soda. Set aside..
2. In a  large liquid measuring cup, combine the buttermilk,egg white and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir in the green onion.
3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Coat the bottom with a thin layer of oil, using a small ice cream scoop, place up to 6 spoonfuls of batter in the pan (about 2 tablespoons each). using a off-set spatula pat the batter down slightly until its about 1/2 inch thick.
4. Cook until golden brown on the bottom then turn and cook until golden brown on that side as well.( 1 1/2- 2 minutes per side), regulating the heat, so the cakes essentially bake in the pan, instead of deep frying them.
5. Remove to a rack to cool slightly and serve warm. You can make and store and rehear when needed.

About the Author:

Virginia Willis is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all, which was nominated for the IACP Best American Cookbook award and voted the Comfort Food Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. She has been featured in Cooking with Paula Deen, House Beautiful, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. Willis has appeared on Real Simple Television, Martha Stewart Living, Paula Deen’s Best Dishes, and numerous local television shows across the country. 

A graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, Willis has served as a television producer for Turner South and Shirley Corriher, was the kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living Television, and the executive producer of The Discovery Channel’s Epicurious. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more at


  1. This winter is so cold and snowy that I could really use some Southern comfort food! The recipes in this books sound wonderful and I think I would really like the Cornmeal Griddle Cakes.
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