Monday December 23, 2013 | 07:16 AM

It’s not too late to use what’s left from your Christmas gift dollars to give an appreciative recipient a cookbook worth its sugar, salt and spice.

 In the past year I’ve acquired some unusual cookbooks that go beyond the standard fodder of Quick Meals in  a Rainstorm or How to Look  Inside the Heart  of an Artichoke.

Seriously here is my short list of highly recommended cookbook titles that would not only make great gifts but would add diversity to your cookbook library, too.

You’ll notice that my picks have a southern bent, since it’s the American cuisine that I like the most.  And until someone shows us how New England Cookery can be enlightened, I’m perfectly content with southern flavors.  However, I have added to the list, The Durgin-Park Cookbook by Jane and Michael Stern, which I found recently stuffed in the back of my bookshelves.  I’ve been exploring the recipes again, and they are terrific.. So if you need the definitive word on Indian Pudding, Clam Chowder, Baked Stuffed Lobster, Fish Cakes and so forth, this is your source.

Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee is a fascinating account of a Korean-American who grew up in Brooklyn, trained in classical French kitchens and now finds himself for the past decade living in Louisville, Kentucky, where he runs the restaurant 610 Magnolia.

Thus far I’ve only made one recipe from the book, Yellow Squash Soup, but it was a brilliant mix of flavors, especially the last touch of salted strawberries as a garnish for this summertime puree. Other unusual adaptations are recipes for Kimchi Poutine, Lardo Cornbread, Parsnip and Black Pepper Biscuits, among others too good to pass up.

The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm by Sam Beall is not just another one of those pretty coffee-table books but rather a serious look into the culinary mind of Sam Beall and his fabulous luxury lodge-resort in the foothills of Tennessee.  Besides being coddled in the beauty of the farm and the rigors of this serious southern kitchen, there are some incredible recipes within. 

The book follows on the heels of his first book, The Blackberry Farm Cookbook, which you should definitely look at.   Foothills extends its wit and wisdom of the area’s artisan chefs and purveyors of this glorious countryside in Eastern Tennessee.   In this book you’ll find recipes for Pickled Beets and Strawberries, Shaved Carrots and Pea Shoots, Sumac Dusted Brook Trout with Carolina Gold Rice Grits, Duck and Dumplings with Poached Eggs and a luscious version of Peanut Butter Pie with a topping of peanut brittle over whipped cream. 


Fred Thompson’s Southern Sides, by Fred Thompson, is all about side dishes, those fillips of flavor that complement the main course,   Some of the recipes I’ve made include Nick’s Stewed Tomatoes, a great casserole using up seasonal tomatoes; Rachael Thomas’s Deviled Eggs, which shows off the much maligned Miracle Whip, the south’s go to for mayonnaise put to good use here along with pickle juice to flavor those eggs.  And of course how can you pass up Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sage, Sorghum and Black Walnuts.  Speaking of “sorghum” it’s a variation on molasses but much lighter, more flavorful and certainly worth using.  Amazon sells the product.  I got mine from a member of the Amish farming community in Thorndike, Maine, who hailed originally from the south..

Another southern tome worth looking at is Southern Comfort by Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing.  They are from New Orleans but had been chefs in some of New York’s finest restaurants (Ducasse, for one) and returned to their roots in New Orleans where they run the highly regarded  MiLa restaurant.   The recipes are more than just updated southern cooking with a twist.  Such preparations as Sweet Potato Pappardelle with Rich Shiitake Sauce, King Ranch Chicken (probably the best Tex-Mex inspired tortilla casserole) and Rice Pudding with Rum Raisins are some of the standouts that I’ve made.

Perhaps the most unusual book is Hot and Hot Fish Club by Chris and Idie Hastings. This book is actually on loan  from Jay Villani of Local 188, Sonny's and Salvage BBQ fame.  His restaurants have adapted many of the recipes in the book.  It features the cooking of a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, the Hot and Hot Fish Club.  I haven't made any of the preparations yet, but there are fascinating receipts in the book like Grilled Veal Liver Steak with Fennel Mashed Potatoes, Onion Rings and Tamarind Sauce. Itr's a treasure trove of creative cooking from one of Birmingham's finest restaurants.

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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