Virginia Willis' Valentine's Day Menu

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Prime outdoor cooking season used to commence on Memorial Day and end when those last smoky sweet ribs came off the grill on Labor Day. No more, my dear. Aficionados of the Big Green Egg like myself know that a little sleet and snow isn’t enough to stop an Egghead! Due to its high-tech ceramic composition, a Big Green Egg can endure extreme temperature differences and can maintain internal temperatures irrespective of the weather. You can cook in every season, in any weather, even in rain, sleet, or snow. What’s a six-foot snow drift when you’ve got a hot date?

For this Valentine’s Day, I am offering up a special sneak peak at my newest cookbook, Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome. It’s a soul-satisfying and deeply personal collection of my absolute new favorite recipes. Each dish is packed with real Southern flavor, but made with healthier, more wholesome ingredients and techniques. I promise you’ll never know they’re lightened up — and I know you’re going to love trying many of them on the Big Green Egg.

Our menu starts with the very seasonally appropriate and very chef-inspired combination of Bacon-Wilted Greens with Warm Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese. A delicious and judicious amount of smoky bacon is married with gently wilted kale and crisp apples then topped with warm, creamy goat cheese. Pop those goat cheese apple slices on the grill for really incredible smoky, sweet, results.

Then, we’ve got Bourbon Grilled Pork Chops with Peach Barbecue Sauce because, in my mind, nothing really says, “I love you” like a perfectly cooked juicy pork chop! Pork chops are a tender, quick-cooking cut of meat. (In fact, so quick-cooking, that they are actually very easy to overcook.) Cooking these chops on the bone, instead of using boneless chops, will help the pork cook more evenly, and make them less likely to dry out. These savory chops are also brined in a quick brown sugar-bourbon solution for extra flavor, moisture, and tenderness. They are finished on the Big Green Egg with a tangy Peach Barbecue Sauce, flavored with the zip of ginger and vinegar that’s perfectly sweetened with natural honey.

Our Valentine’s Day Meal wouldn’t be complete without decadent, delicious chocolate brownies. These are what I like to call “grown up” brownies. Believe me, these are not PTA bake sale brownies. These are dark, rich, knock-your-socks-off chocolate brownies that I guarantee you and your sweetie are going to love.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Virginia Willis

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This Valentine’s Day, spend the time with your loved ones around the EGG. This three course meal from Chef Virginia Willis is sure to be the perfect menu for this (and any!) special occasion.

Adapted with permission from Lighten Up, Y’all by Virginia Willis, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2015 by Angie Mosier.

Click here to pre-order Lighten Up, Y’all from your favorite book retailer.


Bacon-Wilted Greens with Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese

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2 center-cut bacon slices, cut into lardons
1⁄2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 apple, such as Gala, Granny Smith, or Honeycrisp, skin on, cored and diced
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups tender kale, stemmed and cut into chiffonade
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons very finely chopped pecans
1 (6-ounce) log goat cheese
1 small apple, such as Gala, Granny Smith, or Honeycrisp, skin on with core, cut crosswise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices

Line a plate with paper towels. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate. Pour off all but a film of the grease on the bottom of the pan. (Just eyeball it instead of trying to measure, but it should be just about 1⁄2 teaspoon; discard the remaining grease.)

To make the salad, return the skillet to low heat. Add the onion and the diced apple. Season with salt and pepper. Add the kale; cook until the kale begins to wilt, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar; cover, and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, taste, and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, set the EGG at 350°F/177°C. Place the finely chopped pecans in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. Roll the goat cheese log in the pecans to evenly coat. Refrigerate until firm if necessary, then cut evenly into 6 rounds and place each round of cheese on the sliced apple. Place on the pan in the EGG and cook until the cheese is melted and browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the kale salad among the plates. Top with an apple-cheese round and garnish with the reserved bacon. Serve immediately.

Makes 51⁄2 cups to serve 6

Calories 255 Fat 16 g Carbs 18 g Fiber 4 g Protein 14 g


Bourbon Grilled Pork Chops with Peach Barbecue Sauce

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4 peaches (about 11⁄4 pounds), halved, pitted, and quartered
2 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
1⁄4 cup honey
2 tablespoons bourbon
1⁄4 cup coarse kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
3 cups ice cubes
4 center cut, bone-in pork chops, about 1-inch thick, well trimmed (23⁄4 to 3 pounds)

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, puree the peaches and tomatoes until smooth; set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the reserved peach-tomato puree, vinegar, honey, and bourbon; season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to simmer. Cook until the mixture is reduced by half and thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for the seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve 1⁄4 cup sauce for basting the chops, and keep the remaining sauce warm in the saucepan until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, place the remaining 1⁄4 cup salt and brown sugar in a medium heatproof bowl. Pour over the 2 cups boiling water and stir to dissolve. Add the ice cubes and stir to cool. Add the pork chops, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate to marinate, about 30 minutes. (Do not marinate any longer or the pork will be too salty. If you can’t cook it right at the 30-minute mark, remove the pork from the marinade and refrigerate until ready to continue.) Remove from the brine, rinse well, and thoroughly dry pat with paper towels. Set aside.

Season the pork chops with pepper. Set the EGG for direct cooking at 400°F/204°C.

Place the pork chops on the cooking grid for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F/63°C, brushing with Peach Barbecue Sauce in the last few minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest and let the juices redistribute, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately with reserved warm sauce on the side.

Serves 4 and makes 3 cups sauce

Pork Chop
Calories 327 Fat 13 g Carbs 7 g Fiber .4 g Protein 44 g

Peach Barbecue Sauce (per tablespoon)
Calories 19.18 Fat .4 g Carbs 4 g Fiber .4 g Protein .3 g


Clarie’s Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies

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4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1⁄2 cup cocoa powder
3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄4 cup canola oil
6 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1⁄2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Set the EGG for indirect cooking with the convEGGtor at 325°F/163°C. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and vanilla, stirring until creamy and smooth. Separate one of the eggs, reserving the white for later use, and add the yolk to the cream cheese mixture. Stir to combine, then set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and chocolate over medium heat, whisking until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the sugar and stir until melted. Add the buttermilk, applesauce, and vanilla. Remove from the heat. Add the remaining whole egg and the reserved egg white, whisking constantly until incorporated to prevent the eggs from curdling. Add the reserved flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Transfer brownie batter to the prepared pan.

Using a tablespoon, drop 9 dollops of the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie batter. Draw the tip of a sharp knife or skewer through the two batters in a criss-cross fashion to create a swirled effect.

Bake the brownies until the top is just firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Coat a serrated knife with nonstick cooking spray and cut into 16 squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Makes 16 2-inch square brownies

Calories 199 Fat 9 g Carbs 27 g Fiber 2 g Protein 3 g

One thought on “Virginia Willis' Valentine's Day Menu

  1. I would like to find the recipe for the big green egg savory pecan seaoning but cannot locate it on your website. Please advise.

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