PICKLES & PRESERVES by Andrea Weigl ($18.00, University of North Carolina Press). This latest in the Press's innovative "Savor the South" series is "answered prayers" for those eager to "put up" summer's best. Weigl, the Raleigh News & Observer's able food writer, admits to being a "late bloomer" when it comes to pickling and preserving. But now, with several seasons of preserving what her husband grows and more, she qualifies as a voice of experience. To allay the fears of Nervous Nellies, she writes, "Believe me, canning is easier than you think." Weigl then passes along what she's learned in "baby-step-by-baby-step" recipes. I can testify to their excellence. More than once I would return home from an errand to find a jar of Yellow Squash Pickles (page 57) waiting on my doorstep. Or one of Blackberry Jam (page 29). Flipping through PICKLES & PRESERVES, I not only found a number of old "friends" but also a number of new recipes that I'm eager to try, among them this oh-so-easy freezer jam (rewritten here in my website style):
PEACH AND BLUEBERRY FREEZER JAM
Makes 5 Pints
I love to pull a jar of this jam out of the freezer on a dreary winter day. The taste of peaches and blueberries reminds me of summer. Savoring this jam on buttered whole-wheat toast or an English muffin helps me remember that no matter how cold the weather is, it won't last forever.
- 1 cup fresh blueberries, stemmed
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 (1.59-ounce) pouch pectin (also called no-cook freezer pectin)
- 3 cups finely chopped peeled and pitted peaches
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Place blueberries in small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on HIGH for about 2 minutes, pausing several times to stir and crush berries with back of large spoon. Continue microwaving until berries begin to boil.
- Combine sugar and pectin in large nonreactive bowl and stir, breaking up lumps. Add blueberries, peaches, and lemon juice and stir 3 minutes more.
- Ladle jam into clean 1-pint plastic freezer jars leaving 1/2 inch headroom at top of each.
- Snap lids onto jars. Label and date each jar, then let stand at room temperature until jam thickens -- about 30 minutes.
- Serve jam immediately. Or, if you prefer, refrigerate (jam keeps for about a month). Even better, freeze (jam will keep for as long as a year in the freezer).
LODGE CAST IRON NATION: GREAT AMERICAN COOKING FROM COAST TO COAST (24.95, Oxmoor House). This is what's known as a "cookbook by committee" because there were many fingers in "this pie." But unlike too-many-chefs anthologies, this one is a winner. Get a load of the contributors: TV star Lidia Bastianich, award-winning cookbook author Jim Villas, and James Beard Best Southern Chef John Currence of Oxford, MS not to mention a number of Tar Heel chefs and food writers I admire, among them Elizabeth Karmel, Debbie Moose, and Fred Thompson. I find the book's recipe range surprisingly broad with such unlikely candidates for cast iron cooking as Bay Country Oysters and Fish (page 39). You'll find breakfast-perfect dishes in these pages, soups, sandwiches, meat, fish, and fowl, even breads and desserts. The book begins with the story of the Lodge family, this country's premier manufacturer of cast iron cookware, and dishes up scores of Lodge family favorites. In fact, Cast Iron Nation offers so many appealing recipes it wasn't easy to pick one to share here (rewritten in my website style).
THE CRISPIEST CHICKEN THIGHS EVER
Makes 4 Servings
"This is one of those back-pocket recipes that I share with my friends and family who want to know more about cast iron cooking," says Hunter Lewis, Executive Editor of Southern Living magazine. It will serve you well on a busy Wednesday night or a lazy Sunday afternoon. This recipe will deliver super juicy meat with potato chip-crisp skin. "I usually squeeze lemon into the pan juices and serve them with the chicken, slices of a rustic French or Italian bread, a green salad, and a glass of wine," says Hunter.
- 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Preheat oven to 425º F.
- Sprinkle chicken thighs all over -- lightly -- with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet over moderately high heat until oil shimmers.
- Nestle chicken thighs in skillet, skin side down, reduce heat to moderate, and cook, rotating skillet every 2 minutes until chicken is golden brown -- about 12 minutes.
- Transfer skillet to oven and roast chicken uncovered just until cooked through -- about 12 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken skin side up and cook 2 minutes more.
- Transfer chicken to heated platter and let stand 5 minutes before serving to allow juices to settle.