Sit down and eat

When I visit a new part of the state or country, I look for a community cookbook. They are great for getting a real sense of a place. And they are full of good home cooking, not cuisine from coiffed heads on TV. Can there be a community cookbook for the entire South, with all its diversity? The Southern Foodways Alliance has proved it can be done.

“The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook” edited by Sara Roahen and John T. Edge (University of Georgia Press, $24.95) brings together recipes and stories from across the region. The SFA, based at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, documents and celebrates the area’s food cultures. I’ve been a member for several years.

These are real recipes cooked by real people, ranging from greens and rice to game and desserts. In the interest of full disclosure: My recipe for Strawberry Jam is included in the Put Up chapter.

You can walk right into this book and hang out for hours, reading the notes and history throughout. When you get hungry after all that reading, there are plenty of classics to try. My eye was caught by the inevitable Southern love of pork and the recipe for Deep-Fried Bacon. Nothing is more appealing than a touch of excess. More restrained folks can sample Corn Fritters, Grits and Grillades or Gumbo z’Herbes, a lesser known Louisiana gumbo packed with greens of all kinds. And you know you’re reading a Southern cookbook when you see an entire chapter on gravy.

Another thing I like about the book is that is has a spiral binding. That means it will lay flat on my counter while I’m cooking instead of needing to use the coffee grinder to press it open. So, dig in.

Your holiday party tips

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) recently offered holiday party dos and don’ts from experts. They’re useful enough, and I heartily agree with the advice to start with an empty dishwasher. But they don’t cover all the possible things that can happen at a festive soiree. So, here are my personal tips, gleaned from at least 20 years of holiday party throwing. I can’t tell you exactly how long the hub and I have been holding our annual Cajun holiday fest because, well, we get a little fuzzy on dates after so many Abitas. But the following advice is rock solid.

– Don’t invite two women named Erin (with the same hair color), then agree on the day after the party to fix up a guest with the woman named Erin that he met at your house. You will, undoubtedly, pick the wrong Erin.

– If you invite guests to use the hot tub, make sure none of them arrive with scuba gear.

– Moravian beeswax candles + long wicks + decorated paper tablecloth = festive conflagration.

– Make your house easy for partygoers to find by placing some unusual object in the yard, such as a five-foot lighted flamingo with a Santa hat.

– Disconnect your VCR or DVD player, in case someone shows up with martial arts practice videos. Claim the machine broke last week.

Now, go forth and entertain!

Food news roundup

Last-minute Thanksgiving planners, there’s plenty of help out there for you. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer  offers management tips and quick recipes here, including a cranberry sauce recipe I can get behind – it has jalapenos. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), too, along with a rundown of the Triangle’s growing craft beer movement. Read about that here.

After the eating comes the shopping, and the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal offers gift ideas for cooks, including some fancy measuring spoons. Those may look silly, but I look at them as kitchen jewelry – it’s fun to use something funky if you cook a lot. Read more suggestions here.

And what comes after eating and shopping? The leftovers. Thanksgiving leftovers are great, but a little creativity makes them even better. There are some great-looking turkey sandwiches using cranberry sauce and Fontina cheese in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), plus other goodies.

Thanksgiving is the most conservative, food-wise, of holidays. People expect certain things, like sweet potatoes the way Grandma made them, not the way you’d like to do them, with a little chipotle and tequila. But gratins are a nice way to sneak in something new in side dishes, and the Detroit Free Press has recipes here.

In my part of the world, there’s no over-the-river-in-the-snow Thanksgiving. Which means we can grill to our hearts’ content. For www.JanNorris.com, I’ve offered a menu that puts most of the meal out of the house and over the coals. There are other recipes here as well.

Courtesy of USA Today, we have today’s wackiest Thanksgiving-related phrase: Beltsville Poultry Semen Extender. Find out what it is here.

Tailgate controversy at Duke

Tailgate nation, what do you think of this:

From The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Duke’s Tailgate falls to school’s better judgment

Food news roundup

I didn’t know what a whoopie pie was until a few years ago, probably because they were common in Pennsylvania and other parts of the frozen North, not the South. When I did encounter them, I was suspicious. They are not pie. They resembled the packaged creme-filled oatmeal cookies my mother used to buy by the truckload. But the real thing couldn’t be more different, and whoopie pies are sweeping cupcakes out the door in national popularity, so says the Charlotte Observer. After reading the article, I can see why: Fluffy filling between soft, cakey, portable cookies. No sugary frosting all over your nose, as happens to me when trying to eat the towering cupcakes people seem to produce. Read more here. It’s also in The News & Observer.

A coveted veggie burger recipe from Raleigh, N.C.’s Vivace is in The News & Observer here.

Whoa, there’s a winter weather advisory for Winston-Salem, N.C.? Oh, wait, I was supposed to be looking for food articles… Chapel Hill, N.C. cookbook author Nancie McDermott will be doing a signing in my old hometown and you can read about it in the Winston-Salem Journal,  here.

You can be a smart wine buyer who gets good vino without floating a loan. The Minneapolis Star Tribune will tell you how here. And the catwalk of dressed-up wine bottles is adorable.

An Indian-spiced version of raita using apples is a different approach to the fall fruit. Find the recipe in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

The much-discussed Husk restaurant in Charleston, S.C. opened this week, and the Post and Courier has a video report on the opening here. Husk’s chef Sean Brock has vowed to use predominantly ingredients sourced in the South.

Getting flaky

Chapel Hill, N.C. author Nancie McDermott was winning over the room at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday as she talked about her new cookbook, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan” (Chronicle, $22.95). The table full of pies from the book, that she’d baked for sampling later, was attracting gazes. Then McDermott said something that drew gasps: Crust doesn’t matter.

The biggest gasp came from my friend and neighbor, whom I call the Queen of Pie. She has been making pie crust from scratch since she was 10 years old and could do it in the dark.

Isn’t pie all about the crust?

McDermott explained that she meant that people should make and enjoy pie without stressing over creating The Perfect Pie Crust. The pressure of the crust often scares off cooks. Without that pressure, making pie is – well – easy as pie, especially when you compare it to the efforts frequently required to make even a simple cake. Cake is an opera; pie, a folk song.

Pie is a good filling, using things an even moderately well-stocked kitchen would have (sugar, lemon juice, buttermilk, canned pumpkin, peanut butter) inside a simple crust. It’s the weeknight dessert, not the towering special-occasion effort of a coconut or devil’s food cake.

There’s no fuss and bother about pie, just enjoyment. And McDermott encourages cooks to approach it that way. Her cookbook includes crust instructions, if you want to make your own. I do make pie crust…most of the time. I have to say, the refrigerated crusts are not bad at all. Don’t let a mere crust stand between you and pie.

The cookbook leans toward classic pies, with a whole section on variations of chess pie. There are a goodly number of chocolate pies and classic apple. But there are also some intriguing left-field pies, like Sweet Tea Pie and Summer Squash Custard Pie (another way to use up excessive summer squash without leaving it on neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night).

When I left the signing, the Queen was having a word with the author over her crust statement – she had just won the QRB-sponsored pie contest and was flush with confidence. Emails were exchanged, but only sweet words.

Moo-ving out the dairy

An early holiday snowfall of cookbooks is accumulating on my desk. I’ll start digging through to see which ones are worth packing away and which should just melt away.

Ever since The Hub found out that he’s allergic to dairy, the biggest challenge for me has been baking. So I was excited to see “Living Dairy-Free for Dummies” by Suzanne Havala Hobbs, a Chapel Hill, N.C. registered dietitian and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. She also writes the On The Table column for The News & Observer. I also know that she enjoys good food.

Part of the book discusses reasons to eliminate dairy from the average person’s diet. I can’t comment on that, since I’m not a nutrition expert and my interest is in cooking for someone who must limit dairy because of an allergy. I turned straight to the recipes and substitutions. I found a lot of ideas and things I never thought about, including using almond milk in mashed potatoes and soy creamer as an ingredient. The Tofu Sour Cream is a substitute for those onion dips and other naughty party goodies.

My experience baking with nondairy milks is that they do not all behave equally, although many cookbooks imply that soy, almond and rice milks are interchangeable. Hobbs says to use the replacement you prefer from a taste standpoint, but I would have liked to see a comparison of how the milks behave in cooking. Personally, I prefer almond milk in muffins, pancakes and the like.  The book doesn’t mention coconut milk, which has become popular only recently. I’ve seen coconut milk creamer and the like in supermarkets.

Really, nothing truly takes the place of butter and cream for flavor. But this book can help bring flavor to dishes even without them, for those who must limit their intake of dairy.

Food news roundup

It tickles me to see children under double digits in age getting into cooking. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has the stories of and recipes from two who won cooking competitions at the recent North Carolina State Fair. One keeps notebooks of potential taste combinations – could this be a future Iron Chef? Read about them here.

Sweet tea is the traditional accompaniment to a plate of North Carolina barbecue, or maybe a beer if your Mama’s not looking. But the Charlotte Observer offers fine wines for the swine. Read about it here.

Y’all don’t realize how tough a food writer’s job is. Read the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal article on a sake tasting, and have sympathy. Poor Michael Hastings, having to drink all that sake, and provide information too.

Learn to make no-knead focaccia via a step-by-step video at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Couldn’t be easier. Look here.

You can’t get locally grown coffee beans here, but you can locally roast them. The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) tells how to do it in a skillet. I’ve seen people use a Whirley-Pop popcorn popper, too. Find the technique here.

Thoughts for food

I love a good book and a nibble of something good. The only thing better is both of those things put together. Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C. will host a number of cookbook and food writers this month, to whet our appetites for the holiday feeding frenzy.

This Saturday, Nov. 6, bring your best pies and enter a contest in connection with Chapel Hill, N.C. author Nancie McDermott’s new book, “Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan.” Bring pies and recipes at 2:15 p.m. and judging will begin at 2:30 p.m. Nancie will talk about her book at 3 p.m. Prizes will include gift certificates and signed copies of the book.

I never would have connected poets and food, but “The Sound of Poets Cooking,” edited by Richard Kraweic, offers poems and recipes. Local poets will read from the book on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. And there will be poetical snacks.

More seriously, America throws away nearly half of its food, according to Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland.” He’ll discuss what to do about it on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. The talk will benefit the InterFaith Food Shuttle, a local organization that retrieves food that would be discarded for use at soup kitchens and shelters.

Jean Anderson of Chapel Hill is a fount of food knowledge, going back to her years as an Iredell County home economist. Her new book, “Falling Off the Bone,” shows how to use economical cuts of meat and still eat like kings. She’ll talk on Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m.

For more information on all the events, call Quail Ridge Books at 919-828-1588.

The many lives of roast chicken

There are few things better than a roast chicken. For guests on Sunday, I roasted two in my usual manner: Squeeze lemon juice over the exterior, put the lemon halves inside the chicken with some garlic cloves and rosemary, then rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. I roast them at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook another hour and a half or so, until they’re done.

First, you get the homey aroma as it cooks. I don’t know why no one has produced roast chicken-scented candles, because they would beat the leaves off green tea.

The birds arrived juicy and fragrant. The guests tore into them, but about two cups were left at the end of the meal. Mixed with a few chopped carrots and onions, just enough for a chicken pie for dinner.

Today, the final act in the chicken show: The bones and water long-simmered with carrots, celery, onion, garlic and a few peppercorns for broth to fill my freezer. And the perfume lingers.