Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Mississippi Girls (and one man)

The holiday shopping free-for-all has begun. The retail craziness used to start the day after Thanksgiving, these days shopkeepers begin gearing up the week before Halloween.

No one knows what effect the economy will have on this Christmas season, but one thing is for sure: Whatever happens in 2009, we’ll still be eating.

Consider this column an addendum to your holiday season shopping list. Cookbooks are the perfect gift for men and women alike. My publisher says that most people who purchase cookbooks don’t cook out of cookbooks. Most people read cookbooks as one would a novel— cover to cover— and dream about what they would like to cook (or rather what they’d like to eat). With that in mind, here is a list of must-have cookbooks for this holiday season.

At Home Café by Helen Puckett DeFrance with Carol Puckett (Rodale $32.50)— Veteran cooking teacher, DeFrance focuses on what matters most to me: Food, friends, and family. This book is an essential must-have volume for the modern home cook. For those on the go and for those with time on their hands At Home Café will be your go-to guide.

The book lists menus which cover all aspects of our lives, from tea parties to potluck game nights and everything in between. DeFrance’s book is worth the cover price for the Old Fashioned Lasagna recipe, alone. At Home Cafe is loaded with helpful hints and good ideas to make cooking for friends and family easy and more enjoyable.

We have grown too accustomed to pulling up to the drive-through window, grabbing a paper sack, taking it home and eating it on the TV tray in front of the TV. That's not supper. DeFrance knows supper and her new book is the bible.

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Foose (Potter $32.50)— I buy, and recieve, hundreds of cookbooks each year. This might be the best cookbook I purchased this year. My publisher says that if someone cooks six recipes out of a cookbook, it is a major success. The first time I thumbed through Foose's book, there were several dozen recipes I wanted to prepare.

Foose got her start at the La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, and moved on to several bakeries in Mississippi. However, where Foose shines in this, her first publishing effort, is on the savory courses that take place well before dessert— Inside Out Sweet Potatoes, Lady Pea Salad, and Chicken Thighs and Dumplings to list just a few.

From the banana pudding she cooked for Oprah (in individual Mason jars) to Catfish in a Paper Sack, the book is filled with recipes new, true, and Southern

Crazy Sista Cooking by Lucy Anne Buffett (Wimmer 29.95)— Born in Mississippi, Jimmy Buffett's sister, and owner of Lu Lu's in Gulf Shores, AL, released this cookbook in 2007, but I only discovered it a few weeks ago. Lucy Anne Buffett gives recipes from her restaurant and several menus from her family and friends. The foreword is written by her famous brother, Jimmy, the recipes are easy and uncomplicated, and the stories are out of the ordinary and entertaining.

New South Grilling by Me (Hyperion $29.95)— I almost didn't include my book because it would seem like a blatant attempt at self-promotion, maybe it is. Nevertheless, my seventh book in six years is a solid compilation and it might just transform the way you cook on the grill (it also might help pay my kids' college tuition).

After all, grilling in Mississippi is not just a summer thing. The average Christmas Day temperature in my hometown of Hattiesburg is 61-degrees— Bring on the brisket!

We are living in tight financial times and I would encourage everyone to support the local independent booksellers in their hometown. One of the greatest joys I have experienced in this second career which seems to have blossomed out of nowhere over the last several years is getting to know and befriend local independent booksellers in towns and cities all across the south. They are on the front lines every day, fighting the good fight and leading in the battle of the bookshelves.

Happy holidays and happy shopping!

Jill’s Holiday Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. bag Fresh Cranberries
1 cup Port Wine
1 /2 cup White sugar
1 /2 cup Brown Sugar
1 /2 cup Orange Juice
2 tsp Cornstarch
2 Tbl Cold Water

Combine cranberries, port, sugars and orange juice in a sauté pan and simmer over medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until the cranberries become soft. Separately, mix the cornstarch with the cold water then add it to the cranberry mixture. Turn up heat to a heavy simmer and continue to cook, stirring well, for another 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.

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