• Wiley has just published a paperback edition of my Falling off the Bone and given it a snappy new cover. It's priced significantly lower than the original hard-cover and is available both in bookstores and online. To whet your appetite, see the two recipes I've included on the What's New page. They're exactly what we crave in wintry weather.
• Had a thoroughly delightful and engaging 30-minute "phoner" (telephone interview) recently on Raul Gallyot's "Airwaves" (KWMR Radio, Marin County, CA). We talked about the South, Southern food, and my latest cookbook, From a Southern Oven. If you have a plug-in media player and would like to "listen in," click here:
• I just received a review copy of Chefs of the Mountains by John E. Batchelor ($19.95, John F. Blair Publishers), an indispensable guide -- with recipes -- of the best restaurants in the North Carolina high country. From Boone and Blowing Rock, you might say, south to Highlands. Batchelor, restaurant reviewer for both the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal, knows his stuff. What distinguished this guide is that he's profiled each of the chefs in a way that makes us want to meet them and try their signature dishes. I asked Batchelor if he'd tested each and every recipe that appears in the book and here's what he said: "I've cooked almost all, but not all. I can 't eat desserts in more than very limited quantity, so I did not try to prepare all desserts. I know myself well enough to know that if I cook it, I'll eat it! So -- the answer is 'most, but not all.' Also I could not get beef cheeks that satisfied me, so that recipe did not get executed." Would that more authors were so honest. I personally have eaten in maybe a dozen of the restaurants Batchelor recommends -- both Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant G at Gideon Ridge in Blowing Rock, the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, the Bistro at Biltmore in Asheville, the Swag sky-high above Waynesville, and he's spot-on in his descriptions of these and their food. Here's my recommendation: Buy two copies of Chefs of the Mountains, keep one at-the-ready in the glove compartment and the other on the nearest kitchen shelf.
Q & A
Q My grandmother always saved bacon drippings and used them for frying as well as for seasoning turnip salad and collards. Would it be OK to substitute them for lard in biscuits?
– Ella Burdick, Columbus, GA
A No, and here's why. Being almost pure fat, lard is a superb shortening. When well chilled and cut into the dry ingredients until the texture of lentils, it produces supremely flaky, tender biscuits. Bacon drippings have far less shortening power and any biscuits made with them are likely to be heavy and doughy. If it's bacon flavor you're after, you might substitute 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings for lard. But no more than that.
Even better, make the biscuits as directed with lard -- hog lard, not vegetable shortening -- then as soon as the biscuits come from the oven, brush them with melted bacon drippings and for additional flavor, split each biscuit and brush lightly with more drippings. Serve without butter.
Q I've heard you say that more classic American recipes have come out of the South than from anywhere else in this country. Why is that?
– Harriet Cobb, Cincinnati, OH
A Because the South -- early on -- was more of a melting pot than other parts of America. The Spaniards were in Florida as early as the 16th century. Next came the English who colonized the eastern seaboard from New England as far south as Georgia. And as these colonists began to prosper growing tobacco, rice, indigo, sugar cane, and cotton, they imported slaves from Africa to plant the crops, till the fields, bring in the harvest, and of course, to cook and clean at the big house." Also stirring the pot with equal impact: Native Americans, the French Huguenots who settled in and around Charleston, SC, Germans funneling south from Maryland and Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley into central North Carolina, the Scotch-Irish blazing their way inland from the Atlantic into the rolling Piedmont of the Carolinas and even farther West into the Smokies and Blue Ridge. Finally, we're deeply indebted to the Creoles and Cajuns who settled in Louisiana and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. We have them all to thank for dozens of recipes now considered American classics. To name only a few: Barbecue . . . Brunswick Stew . . . Country Captain . . . Jambalaya . . . Gumbo . . . Corn Breads galore . . . Fried Green Tomatoes . . . Hoppin' John . . . Shrimp 'n' Grits . . . the whole huge category of Chess Pies (and that includes Pecan) . . . Lady Baltimore Cake . . . Lord Baltimore Cake . . . Lane Cake . . . Key Lime Pie . . . Black Bottom Pie . . . Sweet Potato Pie . . . Pralines. Need I say more?
LETTERS AUTHORS LOVE:
FROM A SOUTHERN OVEN (Note:You'll find both of the recipes named here on The Recipe of the Month Page):
• "Just had Georgetown Rice and Shrimp (from the Gulf) Pie with Bacon. Fantastic!"
– Dave Tomsky, Asheville, NC
• "I bought your book just a few days ago at Southern Season. Made the Scalloped Oysters tonight and went to heaven!"
– Leslie DeBaun, Cary, NC
FALLING OFF THE BONE
• "Let me just say this has been the best learning cookbook I've tried to date. I have gone through most of the beef and pork recipes with awesome results! My family loves them!!!!! I can't thank you enough!"
– Jagoda Szubert, Riverside, IL
THE FOOD OF PORTUGAL (25 years in print):
• "I'm a first generation Portuguese-American, bought your book years ago and have enjoyed it. I spent this past holiday season with my cousins in Portugal, and I came back mildly obsessed with Portuguese food. Today I made your recipe for Enca Melo's Creamed Salt Cod. I've made this before with good results, but this is the first time my wife had it. It was a big hit with her, and she's not easy to please! I am writing to thank you for helping me connect to the food of Portugal, which for me is tied to so much emotion and memory. I'm always amused when Americans periodically "discover" Portugal, as Frank Bruni did last year in The New York Times. Amused, but also grateful to anyone who shares an affection for Portugal as I do. It would be a great pleasure to speak with you sometime as I would love to get some advice on future travels to Portugal and hear your memories of exploring its food traditions. I work at NYU, so I'm in Manhattan every day. I don't know if you still live in NYC. In any case, I would love to thank you personally for the book you wrote with such obvious affection for a tradition that means so much to me."
– George Reis, Brooklyn, NY
• "I use your Food of Portugal often and especially when I have company and need a more formal meal. You have made such an impact in the life of Portugal and it's gastronomy."
– Anabela Ança Mendes, Rougemont, NC