Holiday Entertaining with Chef Virginia Willis


Chef Virginia Willis Shares some Secrets of Culinary Magic that Anyone Can Create at Home & on a Budget

If you're going to talk turkey about holiday parties, entertaining guests or even your homemade Thanksgiving feast, Chef Virginia Willis has the charm and experience to answer all your questions. Chef Willis is the author of numerous popular cookbooks, like BASIC TO BRILLIANT, Y’ALL: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress them up for Company. For many years, she was the kitchen director for Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay’s popular TV shows before establishing herself as one of the top food writers in the country who travels the nation giving cooking demonstrations and making numerous appearances on network and local TV. Chef Willis will shared some timely tips for creating great meals that will entertain and impress your guests.  One interesting fact is that Chef Willis was trained in France, so many of her Southern recipes have a French influence.  

ABOUT: As a popular Southern food authority and writer, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, Okra: A SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, and Grits by Shortstack Editions, featured in the New York Times holiday gift guide. She is also the blogger for Down-Home Comfort on, as well as her own popular blog, that was tagged as a favorite by Saveur magazine. 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.

You national_HBHlogo_1815cannot go wrong with ham. It is a staple on most holiday tables. I’ve have my own recipes, but frankly, during this busy time of the year it is so much easier to just order a fully cooked and ready to eat premium turkey and ham from HoneyBaked Ham. It’s the perfect go-to when celebrating family traditions.  HoneyBaked makes the ham, so I have some extra time to spend on my pumpkin pies and special desserts.  Whether you’re hosting a Thanksgiving dinner or attending a brunch, HoneyBaked is a crowd-pleaser in my family.

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img-logo-topbarYou start by serving drinks. I’ve got a great serving tip. I love festive colors of the new Entertaining Collection by Tervis.  Not only is it the perfect way to serve your drinks, but these cups keep drinks extra cold without leaving rings on your table. They come in eight and sixteen ounce sizes, and in five decorative colors like Chery Fizz, Plum Twist, Mint Spring, Blue Infusion and Clear. They’re so easy to clean, and simple beautiful way to add extra class to a party.  

The cups cost around $15 to $18. They’re also so easy to clean and you can use them over and over.  Order them at or Bed Bath & Beyond. They’re a great gift, too, that’s made in America!

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Dollar-General-LogoOne of my favorite recipes is Coca-Cola Cranberry Chutney to go with your turkey.  Combine six ounces of fresh cranberries with six ounces of dried cranberries that I pick up at the Dollar General Store, with red wine vinegar a cup of Coca-Cola, kosher salt, half cut up Clover Valley Granulated sugar, fresh ginger and orange juice… I got this recipe from Most of these ingredients came from Dollar General. Yes, Dollar General. They carry fresh milk, bread, eggs, flour, sugar and many holiday baking basics for a tasty and affordable holiday. It’s a great place to shop, especially when you are on the go because their foods are fresh and they have great low prices. I also got this pumpkin pie/sweet potato casserole recipe from

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Coca-Cola Cranberry Chutney Recipe
6 oz. fresh cranberries
6 oz. Clover Valley® Dried Cranberries
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup Coca-Cola®
1 pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup Clover Valley® Granulated Sugar
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Combine ingredients in a thick-bottom boiler.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until mixture thickens.

I’m a Georgia girl, born in the peanut state, so of course my favorite snack for a holiday party is homemade peanut brittle. Guest will know you spent time making this beautiful candy, and it’s so easy to make. Corn syrup, sugar, water, butter vanilla, baking soda and lots of peanuts.  I make it a couple day before my parties, which saves previous time. Also, be sure to have little bowls of peanuts for your guests to snack on, and peanuts make any brownies, fudge recipe even better. All the research would suggest that eating nuts every day is a healthy choice and many guests will be glad to see this satisfying, protein-rich snack. Did you know that peanuts have the most protein of any nut and are a good source of healthy monounsaturated fat? Another tip: peanut brittle is a great choice for a holiday gift, too!

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Nut Brittle Recipe
Makes 2 pounds

In the South, peanuts are traditionally used for making brittle for gift giving at the holidays. Mama always has a tin on hand for company.

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
½ cup cold water, plus more for brushing the pan
Pinch of fine sea salt
3 cups unsalted raw peanuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the baking sheet
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda

Butter a rimmed baking sheet or marble slab, or line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking liner.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until the mixture reaches the hard-ball stage on a candy thermometer (250°F to 266°F) swirling the pan occasionally; wash down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystals from forming. Stir in the nuts and continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent the nuts from burning, until the mixture is light amber and the nuts are golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the vanilla. Carefully stir in the baking soda; the mixture will foam up in the pan. As soon as it is combined, pour it onto the prepared baking sheet or marble slab.

Using an oiled offset spatula, quickly spread into an even layer about ½ inch thick. Slip the oiled spatula under the hot candy to loosen the edges and bottom. Let stand until completely cool, 45 to 60 minutes.

Break the brittle into large pieces, and layer between pieces of waxed paper in an airtight container. Store at room temperature up to 1 month.

Chocolate-Dipped Nut Brittle Recipe

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Combine 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on medium-high for about 1 minute. Remove and stir with a rubber spatula. Some chips may not have melted, so microwave again in 10-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate and shortening are smooth and just melted. Let cool slightly. Dip the cooled brittle in the melted chocolate and shake off the excess. Sprinkle with additional chopped nuts, if desired. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate until set.