Six Southern cookbooks

A round-up of recent cookbooks featuring new twists on traditional Southern tastes.

Kendra Nordin
A collection of six Southern-themed cookbooks.

I've had a collection of recently published cookbooks on my desk that I have been meaning to tell you about. They are all Southern-themed with gorgeous photographs, funny stories, and recipe collections that range from familiar comfort food such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese to the exotic – pickled crawfish tails, anyone? Peanut butter turns up in the most unexpected places. 'Chow-chow,' a pickled relish of vegetables, is a perfect use for an abundance of cabbage.

If these cookbooks made noises you'd hear the squeak of screen doors and the creak of old wooden floors with distant sounds of the guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Stereotypical? Perhaps. But that's what those of us who have traveled or lived in the South love about that region. Things don't change too much. Things are slow and uncomplicated. And food has to be good enough to keep folks at the table long enough for the storytellers to run out of wind.

A Southerly Course: recipes and stories from close to home

By Martha Hall Foose
(256 pp., $32.50, Clarkson Potter)

Martha Hall Foose, a charming storyteller and cookbook author, released another Southern-flavored volume this spring titled A Southerly Course. (Her first cookbook "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" earned her a James Beard Award.) With the gentle rhythm of her prose that even seeps into her lists of ingredients, it's hardly a surprise to discover that as a child Foose lived down the road from Southern writer Eudora Welty. With recipes such as "Yazoo Soufflé" and "Charming Cherry Pie" alongside delicious photos and gentle, humorous essays y'all will be smitten enough to slow down and stir things up in the kitchen, and that's all right.

Glazed Rutabags
From "A Southerly Course"
"These glazed rutabagas look like topaz when cooked down with brown sugar, cider vinegar, and butter. My friend Jule adores rutabagas and thrift store jewelry. I came up with this dish for her."

Serves 6

1 large rutabaga (about 2 lbs.), peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Put the rutabaga in a large skillet and add enough salted water to cover. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes or until slightly tender. Drain off the water and add the butter, brown sugar, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 12 minutes or until the rutabaga is very tender and the butter begins to brown. Serve warm.

Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited recipes from Asheville's New South Kitchen

By Elizabeth Sims with Chef Brian Sonoskus
(222 pp., $29.99, Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC)

Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville, N.C., has a New South Spirit – it takes food traditions from Appalachia and gives them a modern twist. Grits become "Cheesy Grits Cakes with Sunshot Salsa and Smoked Jalapeño Sauce" and meat loaf becomes "Chicken Apple Meat Loaf with Tarragon Tomato Gravy." Asheville's tastes have always run wide with the Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate at one of town and the foothills of the Smoky Mountains at the other. Its famous author Thomas Wolfe may have penned "You Can't Go Home Again," but the folks at Tupelo Honey Cafe want to assure you that you'll always have a spot at their table.

Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower
From "Tupelo Honey Cafe"
"We serve this side at the restaurant in place of mashed potatoes, and sworn cauliflower-haters are immediate converts. It's hilarious, in fact, to tell someone he's eating cauliflower and watch the look of surprise on his face. The texture of the dish is meant to be a little chunky, a little funky, and surprisingly tasty."

Makes 8-10 servings

2 large heads cauliflower, cored and broken into florets
4 ounces cream cheese
1-1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
2 teaspoons roasted garlic pureé*
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter

Steam the cauliflower for 10 to 12 minutes, until just tender. Place the cauliflower in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork. In another large bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, garlic purée, and butter. Pour the hot mashed cauliflower on top of the cheese mixture and combine, using a large spoon, until the cheeses are thoroughly melted. Serve immediately.

*Roasted Garlic Purée

Another basic in our pantry, roasted garlic purée is the end product of simmering 12 to 14 garlic cloves over medium heat in 1 cup olive oil in a saucepan for about 20 minutes, or until the garlic turns golden brown. Strain the oil, reserving the garlic, and use the oil for sautées, salad dressings, and marinades. Purée the garlic cloves in a food processor until it forms a smooth paste. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen

By Sara Foster
(392 pp., $35, Random House)

Sara Foster is the owner of Foster's Market in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C., and the author of several cookbooks. Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen presents comfort food in an elegant manner, but never loses its Southern sensibility of casual and unfussy. It has bonus tips such as what to keep stocked in your Southern pantry (grits and Carolina Gold Rice) and where to stop for the best barbeque (Bozo's Hot Pit Bar-B-Q in Mason, Tenn.). Have you joined the masses that are pickling and jamming this summer? You'll find a whole section in this cookbook just for you.

Tomato Jam
From "Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen"
"Whenever I'm at the market during tomato season, I keep my eyes peeled for what the farmers call 'ugly tomatoes.' You can buy them for a song because they're bruised, misshapen, or ripe to the point of bursting, but that makes them perfect for canning or cooking. This sweet and savory tomato jam, which is equally at home on toast for breakfast or on a baguette with fresh mozzarella and baby greens for lunch, is one of my standards."

Makes about 2 pints

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
3 lbs. tomatoes, cored and chopped
2/3 cup unpacked light brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 small chile pepper, cored and minced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 whole cloves

Heat the olive oil in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook and stir for about 5 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, orange zest and juice, ginger, thyme, chile pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and clove and stir to mix.

Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a low boil, and simmer until thick, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash the jam to a chunky-smooth consistency. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve, or for up to 1 month.

Southern Living off the Eaten Path: Favorite Southern dives and 150 recipes that made them famous

By Morgan Murphy
(256 pp., $21.95, Oxmoor House)

Off the Eaten Path is a part road trip, part diner's guide, part cookbook. It includes fun facts and signature dishes of well-loved Southern restaurants; reviews of kitschy roadside attractions; food finds such as the best local products from honey to barbeque sauce; and annual food events to be found along the way. Award-winning travel writer Morgan Murphy drives readers across 17 Southern states – from route 10 in Alabama to route 244 in West Virginia – pausing just long enough for such treats as "Loretta's Bread Pudding" (Arkansas), "The Hot Brown" (Kentucky), to "Country Smothered Pork Chops" (Mississippi). And if you find yourself in Amarillo, Texas, be sure to stop and stretch your legs at the Crop of Cadillacs: graffiti covered cars "planted" in a bare field. If you missed the chance for a road trip this summer you'll feel like traveler after browsing "Off the Eaten Path."

The Hot Brown
From "Off the Eaten Path"
"Make this classic sandwich with left-over turkey holiday turkey for best flavor." –The Brown Hotel, Louisville, Ky.

Makes 4 servings

1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups heavy cream
10 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 lb. thinly sliced roasted turkey breast
4 Texas toast slices
4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon paprika
8 cooked bacon slices
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat broiler with oven rack 4 inches from heat. Melt butter in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in cream; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly 3 minutes until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese, salt, and pepper.

Trim crusts from toast. Place 1 toast slice in each of 2 (24-ounce) lightly greased individual casserole dishes. Place 2 tomato halves beside each toast slice. Top toast slices with turkey. Spoon cheese sauce over turkey and tomato; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese.

Broil 5 minutes or until cheese begins to brown. Sprinkle with paprika. Arrange 2 bacon slices in an "X" pattern on top of each casserole. Sprinkle with parsley.

Quick Southern Fix: homemade hospitality in 30 minutes or less

By Rebecca Lang
(178 pp., $16.99, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC)

Quick Southern Fix is a simple how-to paperback cookbook if you are pressed for time but still yearning to make something from scratch with a boost of Southern flavors. It doesn't have the gloss of the other cookbooks mentioned in this round-up but for those not wanting to spend more than an hour in the kitchen Rebecca Lang, a contributing editor for Southern Living, is the guide for you. While some of her recipes border on too-simple, when you've got the hankering for okra fritters, sweet ice tea, or refrigerator pickles, you'll find just the quick hit you need.

Shrimp and Grits Bake
From "Quick Southern Fix"
"Shrimp and grits became a favorite of mine while I was living in Charleston, South Carolina, for culinary school. I like to order it when I see it on a menu because every chef makes it differently. Baking it all together in one dish is certainly easier and faster than the traditional recipes."

4 cups chicken broth
1 cup quick grits
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup preshredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 lb. medium shrimp
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup preshredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray a 7- by 11-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the broth and grits in a large stockpot. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook for 20 minutes, stirring very often. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese and Monterey Jack.

While the grits are cooking, peel and chop the shrimp. Set aside.

Finely chop the onion.

Heat the butter in a small skillet. Add the red onion and garlic. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir into the grits.

Add the shrimp, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the grits. Stir to combine. Spoon into the prepared dish. Top with the Cheddar cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Southern Living The Half-Hour Hostess

Featuring Rebecca Kracke Gordon
(272 pp., $24.95, Oxmoor House)

Trying to throw together a party in a hurry? The Half-Hour Hostess put together by the editors at Southern Living wants to show you how. Rebecca Kracke Gordon, the test kitchen director at Southern Living, exudes Southern charm as she beams out from nearly every glossy section, calmly ensuring you that even though you feel frazzled, Calm, Tranquility, Cute Food, and Perfect Hair are just a step or two away. These are very simple recipes, reminders that with just a little bit of effort and vision even store bought cookies can be transformed into an eye-pleasing dessert. Chapter sections range from "Cozy Gatherings" to "Chic Soirées" to "Kidding Around" (parties for kids). Recipes give prep time and there's even the "Hostess Hit List" to help get your ducks in a row the day before the party so you can hit the ground running. There are easy recipes for nearly every holiday, too.

Mini Crab Cakes
From "The Half Hour Hostess"

Makes 16 cakes
Hands-on time: 15 min.
Total time: 30 min., not including sauce

1 (8-ounce) package fresh lump crabmeat, drained
3 whole grain white bread slices
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon Worecestershire sauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable cooking spray
Salt, to taste
Garlic-Chive Sauce*
Garnish: fresh chives, chopped

Pick crabmeat, removing any bits of shell. Pulse bread slices in a blender or food processor 5 times or until finely crumbled. (Yield should be about 1-1/2 cups.)

Stir together mayonnaise and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in breadcrumbs and crabmeat. Shape mixture into 16 (2-inch) cakes (about 2 tablespoons each).

Cook cakes, in batches, on a hot, large griddle or nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-low heat 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Season with salt to taste. (Keep cakes warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 30 minutes.) Serve with Garlic-Chive Sauce and garnish, if desired.

Note: Southern Living tested with Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White Bread

Garlic-Chive Sauce

Makes about 1 cup
Hands-on time: 10 min.
Total time: 30 min.

3/4 cup light sour cream*
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
3/4 teaspoon lemon zeal
1-1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill 20 minutes before serving.

*light mayonnaise may be substituted.

(Wait, there's more! click to the next page for more Southern recipes....)

Still hankering for some Southern recipes? Here are a few from our Stir It Up! archives:

Buttermilk fried chicken

Louisiana shrimp creole

Sweet garlic refrigerator pickles

Crispy picnic slaw

Tennessee corn pone

Pimento cheese biscuits and creamy tomato soup

Cathead buttermilk biscuits

Fresh corn buttermilk biscuits

Southern pecan pie

Sweet potato pie

Peanut butter whoopie pies

New Orleans-style buttermilk beignets

Easy New Orleans pralines

Kentucky Derby chocolate pecan pie

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