Want to try your hand at country cooking? Already consider yourself an expert of the form? Either way, you'll probably find a lot to interest you in these four cookbooks.
Some good cooks have hundreds of cookbooks in their collections, some a trusted two or three. A few are even good enough to cook all our favorites from memory. But for those who enjoy adding a treasure or two to their repertoire each season, we recommend these country cooking-inspired, fresh fall selections.
If you're like many people and cutting back a bit on beef, you've probably reached that point where the thought of another grilled chicken breast is enough to send you screaming. Take heart and take a look at Lorraine Bodger's Chicken Dinners (Harmony Books). Arranged by season, Chicken Dinners details 24 seasonal menus featuring fowl. As elaborate as "Chicken Quenelles in Escarole Soup" and as simple as "Simple Skillet Chicken with Lemon and Thyme," Chicken Dinners is a wonderful source book for seasonal ideas and interesting combinations. For those who thought they had the perfect fried chicken recipe, word has it that the "Beer-Batter-Fried Chicken Drumsticks" are the best around.
Serve with "Grilled Vegetables" and corn on the cob and be able to look at a chicken again.
Mary Emmerling is no stranger to country-style or country cooking. Her previous books have included many coffee-table quality country-classic furnishing guides as well as great collections of recipes from her family and friends. Despite all this, it is best to approach Mary Emmerling's At Home in the Country (Clarkson Potter) as the eye candy that it is. Every recipe emphasizes the fresh and wonderful, although one can't help but wonder who's idea of country cooking includes arugula, cantaloupe, and prosciutto salad. Granted, Mary Emmerling is to country cooking what Ralph Lauren is to country-style, but unlike most who like to think they invented a generations-old genre, Emmerling can't help but improve on it a little.
Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens (also Clarkson Potter) is, plainly, the best cookbook devoted to the Midwest in quite a while. From award-winning author Marcia Adams, Heartland "brings to life the food and folkways of America's sprawling Midwest." Indeed. Adams divided the book by state (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin) and, keeping true to her title, focuses on traditional regional delights (Ohio's peanut butter "buckeyes") and local nouveau specialties ("Corn Chowder" from Wisconsin's L'Etoile restaurant). As a transplanted Michigander, I was thrilled to see a page devoted exclusively to pasties (tasty portable meals in pastry) and early fall favorites like apple fritters and baked cherry dumplings. It was especially nostalgic to hear Adams describe the practice of "planking" Michigan whitefish. Often served in seafood houses, planking involves baking the fish on a wooden slab garnished with piped potatoes, and then serving the whole business as is with a lemon and some melted butter—a whole meal on what would seem to be a cutting board. As they say, if you buy only one cookbook this year....
For everyone who faces another year of the school lunchbox battle, The Creative Lunchbox by Ellen Klavan (Crown Publishers) comes to the rescue. As too many parents know, an empty box doesn't mean an eaten box. You can't be in the lunchroom with them, so how do you stop Lauren or Jason from trading their tofu for Twinkies? A quick skim through The Creative Lunchbox will help. Klavan knows all the tricks (cut raw veggies into interesting shapes, like curly celery sticks) to entice young eaters, and enough flavorful combinations to keep them interested (bananawich anyone?). More than just nutritious and tasty, Klavan keeps the 3-S's theory close to heart: Brown bagging should be squish-proof, sog-proof, and spoil-proof. After all, anything can be fresh and appealing at 7:30 a.m. (especially through bleary eyes) but under the harsh glare of lunchroom lights (not to mention the critical gaze of fellow classmates), bag lunches often fall short. Klavan's recipes for sandwiches, salads, hot meals, and drinks, however, should keep even the fussiest eater happy—well, at least until Halloween.
Also of Interest: Got a craving for a bottle of Butterfield's Birch Beer and Pines Cream Soda? Need a nibble of Norman's Nordic Kringle? Fret no further. You won't have to get by without whatever homemade local edible you fell in love with on your last trip down a back country road now that Food Finds: America's Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them by Jane and Michael Stern With Collins) has been revised, updated, and enlarged to include 250 of the original 340 items plus 150 all new vendors. Each entry includes descriptions not only of the foods themselves, but also of the people who make them and how they are made, as well as information on how to visit and how to order by mail. So should you be short some Sanitary Fish Market Restaurant Hush Puppy Mix or even need a recipe for R & R brownies, you'll find it.