More from the book bag

A couple more cookbooks have arrived at my desk. They’re very different, but each interesting. “New Orleans Home Cooking” by Dale Curry is exactly what the name suggests. Most of the recipes are simple and seem like the sorts of things a home cook would put together for Sunday dinner or a weeknight meal. Some are Southern standards (Chicken and Dumplings, Buttermilk Biscuits) rather than typical New Orleans food, but they all fit together. The Italian-seasoned Baked Oysters may end up on my holiday menu.

My husband had a small fit when he saw “The Fallingwater Cookbook: Elsie Henderson’s Recipes and Memories” by Suzanne Martinson with Jane Citron and Robert Sendall. He really doesn’t like Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of the unique home in Pittsburgh. But Wright’s fans are way more numerous, and they may enjoy this cookbook that shows the house from another perspective. Henderson was the longtime cook for the home’s owners. In the 15 years that she cooked at Fallingwater, she prepared only one meal for the architect himself, and the recipe, for a crab salad, is included. There are also recipes from Sendall, a chef who produced special events at the house; Citron, a cooking instructor; and Mary Ann Moreau, former chef of the Cafe at Fallingwater.

Have a holly, jolly Hanukkah

Hey, did any of y’all see the Food Lion sales circular in today’s News & Observer? At the bottom, beneath photos of hams and jumbo cooked shrimp, it says, “Happy Hanukkah.”

Well, as my husband said, it’s nice to be noticed.

Have a wing-ding

My third cookbook should be on shelves within the next few days, and I am pretty darn excited. For an old newspaperwoman, the year or more it takes for a book to appear seems like an eternity. The book includes dozens of recipes for that favorite fuel of sports fans, the wing. With the Super Bowl coming up and the college basketball season going full tilt, you need to feed the frenzy.

I know that, for most people, wings mean hot – flaming, nuclear – flavors. I like ’em hot, too, and I included plenty of fiery recipes in the book. But you can have flavor without a lot of heat, and vary the tastes using glazes, sauces, dips or rubs. One of my favorites is a black pepper-based rub with a rum glaze that the wings are tossed in while still warm.

“Wings: 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” is published by John Wiley & Sons. The first signing for the book will be held at Quail Ridge Books at Ridgewood Shopping Center in Raleigh on Jan. 15, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Of course, there will be samples. Hope y’all will come by.

Not the same old grind

I’m telling y’all about this now that I’ve already gotten my stash. I’ve made the mistake before of singing the praises of a food I love, then finding that my adoring public has rushed out and bought it all up. But you’re not completely out of luck – another time will come.

I’m talking about the cornmeal from Yates Mill in Raleigh. The park around it is lovely and the restored mill has grindings using the old stones. You can get a tour on grinding days and purchase white or yellow cornmeal. Mark your calendars for March, when the grindings will resume.

The cornmeal is “unbolted,” which means it hasn’t been sifted. You definitely need to sift it before using – about a tablespoon’s worth of husk bits sift out of a cup. Folks at the mill tell me that, because it is stone ground, there is an off chance a whole kernel may slip in. Because the cornmeal contains the entire corn kernel, it has a wonderful texture and grittiness. I think it tastes “cornier” than most other cornmeal as well. I’m not the only one who has fallen in love with this cornmeal. At last December’s holiday sale, the person in line in front of me bought 12 bags, temporarily depleting the supply. This year, I pre-ordered before last weekend’s sale. (You can also order online.)

Because the cornmeal is fresh and has no preservatives, store it in the refrigerator. I place the sacks in plastic bags and freeze them, too. So I have loaded up. While I was there, a fellow shopper asked me about the difference between white and yellow cornmeal (besides the obvious). I think it’s mainly a matter of personal preference. Some people consider white to be more refined while others like the color that yellow brings. I think the yellow meal from Yates Mill may have a bit stronger corn flavor, but both make cornbread that goes mighty good with vegetable soup on a winter night.

The Christmas angel toss

On the day after the holiday party that my husband and I threw, I stumbled out of bed, yanked back the shower curtain and began laughing hysterically. I was a victim of The Return of the Christmas Angel.

Last December, our friends Jim and Denise invited us to a party that included a Christmas ornament exchange. Each guest brought a wrapped ornament – which meant you couldn’t see them. We drew numbers to determine the order in which we’d pick out ornaments. When your number came up, you could opt to select a wrapped ornament from the mystery pile or (before unwrapping one) steal someone else’s. Theft and covetousness really brings out the holiday spirit.

My number was near the end, and I could have swiped the much-desired margarita glass ornament (it changed hands several times). But, no. I took my chances. I unwrapped the ugliest Christmas ornament ever. The doll-like angel appears to be made from something similar to pantyhose, stuffed unevenly, with a hank of yarn hair and stitched-on eyes. Oh, and she is buck naked. View Exhibits A and B at right. I rest my case.

Before we left the party, I hid the ornament in Jim and Denise’s kitchen cabinet. During every visit between us in the intervening months, the angel has changed locations. During a summer pool party, I slipped it in their bed. At a board game party, while I was distracted by a domino game, Denise dropped it in my purse. This time, it arrived with a note: “Mommy. I finally found you. Now we can be together forever.” I don’t think so. Hey, Jim and Denise, what are y’all doing New Year’s Eve?

Fruitcakes in the kitchen

I’ll say it right here: I like fruitcake. Don’t bother making the doorstop comments. I’ve heard every fruitcake joke, every cruel slam, each dagger to the heart of a noble dessert. It’s hard to bear the love that dare not speak its name.

When desperate, I will even eat bad fruitcake, since my body has yet to outgrow its need for sugar, fruit and butter. But I prefer my own fruitcake, which I make with dried fruit instead of the candied kind. My secret to good fruitcake is simple: Rum, and lots of it. Some even goes into the cake.

I chop up the dried fruit – this year, a mix of pineapple, cherries, raisins and papaya – and soak ’em all in black rum for at least a half hour. Drain the fruit thoroughly and enjoy the fumes. The rest of the cake includes chopped pecans and a basic poundcake-like batter.

While waiting for the cakes to cook, I like to sing fruitcake carols: (To the tune of We Need a Little Christmas)

Haul out the rum now! Chop up the fruit and toss it in a big ol’ bowl! Sof-ten the butter and add vanilla, sugar and some more rum now!

Because I’m gonna make a fruitcake, just you try and stop me! Then I’ll make you eat it. With a lot of coffee.Now I’m gonna make a fruitcake, just you try and stop me! I’m gonna make a fruitcake now!

A good rum’s work is never done, because when the cakes are cooked and cooled, I soak cheesecloth in it and wrap the fruity loveliness. Then I wrap the cakes tightly in foil and seal in plastic bags. Each day for about a week I re-soak the cheesecloth, taking the opportunity to enjoy the fumes once more, and re-wrap the cakes.

The result is, if I do say so myself, a fruitcake that even fruitcake haters enjoy. Or so I’ve been told by them. “It doesn’t have any of those green things,” my husband says. Like there’s something wrong with that. It must be the rum talking.