Are folks in this area leading the food and dining trends, or just cooking right up to the cutting edge? Either way, the best cookbooks released this year from publishers near and far celebrate the foods we love right here—and the kind of cooking we do and the sort of resolutions we're making to eat sustainably and carry on food legacies. We, me, what's the difference? We've got super-charged chocolate, super-sustainable preserves, super-simple casseroles, and super-Southern fare.
Cider Beans, Wild Greens, and Dandelion Jelly
by Joan E. Aller (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
These are Southern Appalachian recipes, but from really cool inns and such, like the Iron Mountain Inn Bed and Breakfast just above Watauga Lake in the Cherokee National Forest. Aller's got an eye for combining newfangled prep with old-fashioned goodness and regional produce, as in the case of the Butternut Squash Soup with Sweet Tea and Ginger, or Apple-Pork Brunch Pie. The fun side notes introduce everything from okra to synchronized fireflies, and there's a recipe for Melungeon Friendship Starter and Bread.
Favorite recipe tried so far: Ramps and Bacon
300 Best Casserole Recipes
by Tiffany Collins (Robert Rose)
"One dish meal" may come in a close second to "good night's sleep" and ahead of "so so sex" for most any careworn adult cook. This collection has no glamor—Velveeta makes more than one appearance—but the dishes are still contemporary, quick, and tasty. And they run the gamut, Vegan Tamale Pie to Chicken Noodle Pea Casserole, with such dishes as Wine-Soaked Bread Bake, Tater Nugget Bake, Chai Chipotle Cheeseburger Casserole, and Baked Crab with Sherry White Sauce somewhere in between.
Favorite recipe tried so far: Baked Shrimp Enchiladas
by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle Books)
Billed as "heavenly pies aplenty," and they're not kidding. Sweet potato, rhubarb, vinegar pies, all those are in here, along with directions for the basics, like crust with butter, lard, or shortening, and a chess pie compendium. For farmer's market aficionados, there are two whole chapters on seasonal pies—fall and winter, summer and spring. This is one of the few foods you can't buy just anywhere in Knoxville, yet it's part of our mountain sweets heritage—and inexpensive for a foodstuff so simply stunning. This treatise serves as a gentle reminder to make your own.
Favorite recipe tried so far: Bill Smith's Sweet Potato Pie
by Carole Bloom (Wiley)
Carole Bloom didn't, but she could have dedicated this book to me. Chocolate, chocolate, why do I love thee so? Bloom has an answer: "The use of high cacao content chocolate has taken chocolate desserts to a new and more satisfying place." She never stints on the high cacao content, or other chocolates either, and the results are to die for, from the Semisweet Chocolate, Almond, and Dried Cherry Scones to the Bittersweet Chocolate-Caramel Mousse and the White Chocolate-Ginger Cheesecake. Five-star restaurant quality, every recipe. A book to drool over, with practically pornographic photos.
Favorite recipe tried so far: Semisweet Chocolate Truffle Tart
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook
by Pam Corbin (10 Speed Press)
From teeming Tennessee Valley Fair exhibits to the Birdhouse's recent preserves workshop, there's no denying Knoxville's starting to stir up an interest in preserving local goodness. This gentle manual comes to us from the U.K., but could come from down the street—it's chock full of step-by-simple-step instructions for stuff like a tipsy Bachelor's jam using any produce or shelf liquor you've got on hand; lemon syrup that will yield "fresh" lemonade for months; and "Fruit cheese," aka preserves you can mold and slice. The tone is so reassuring, the ingredients so ordinary, you could have several jars sealed yourself hours after purchase.
Favorite recipe tried so far: Pickled Garlic