Besides just the fun of writing about whatever I want to write about, there are a few other perks to being a food blogger. No, I’m not talking about big advertising space checks, I don’t know anything about those perks. I’m talking about the occasional opportunities that are delivered to my email from time to time asking me to review or promote an item. Sometimes I turn them down because it doesn’t really fit the style of the blog, but sometimes I get a really cool offer that I can’t pass by. Being asked to review a cookbook is one of those opportunities. I mean, how could I turn down a new cookbook?! And make it a cookbook from a Top Chef contestant and I practically swoon. So, I was asked to review this new cookbook from chef Hugh Acheson called A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for your Kitchen, and I’m here to tell you I am happy to do so.
When I recieved the email from Clarkson Potter Publishers, they actually had a list of four or five cookbooks for me to choose from. There were casserole cookbooks and quick-cooking cookbooks, but I was looking for something out of the ordinary. That’s why I picked A New Turn in the South, because it promised a new take on traditional Southern cooking. Being a Southerner myself, I was intrigued. What kind of new spin can you put on Southern food? It could be done well, but it could also easily be done poorly.
My first impression when I first opened the book and began to read the introduction was one of shock. This guy isn’t even from the South! And he’s writing a Southern cookbook? The gall! But as I continued to read I realized that Hugh Acheson freely admits that he’s not Southern, but has a deep abiding love for all things Southern regardless. After many years of training in and out of the South in the culinary arts, Acheson returned to Athens, Georgia to open up his own place called Five and Ten. A restaurant that is well known in Georgia not as a Southern restaurant, but more as a “Southern inspired” place to eat.
So what do the recipes say about Hugh Acheson? I think that the Southern inspiration certainly shines through in every recipe. I feel like the recipes honor not so much the deep-fried and sugary sweet concoctions that it seems most outsiders see the South as, but instead honor the fresh, ripe, and simple flavors that those of us who grew up in the lower half of the country understand as “Southern”. The recipes are pretty seasonal combinations of ingredients with a concentration on fresh. While many of the recipes are indeed nontraditional, they all but scream Southern. With recipes such as Fried Green Tomatoes with Pickled Shrimp,Field Pea, Ham Hock & Mustard Green Soup with Cornbread Croutons, and Local Lettuces with Feta, Radishes and Dill Pickle Vinaigrette, it is undeniable that Acheson has definitely been inspired by his surroundings. And even though there are several recipes in this book that will never fit in my budget, there are just as many that will.
Besides the recipes, the book itself is beautiful. The photography is gorgeous and the playful illustrations and side notes make you feel like you are reading the chef’s personal cookbook. The feel of the whole book is casual, confident, simple and flavorful. A new turn in the South? I think so, and all the better for it.
Cornmeal Campfire Tomatoes from A New Turn in the South
- 6 ripe tomatoes
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup AP Flour
- 1 t . dry or fresh thyme
- 1/2 t . salt
- 1/4 t . black pepper
- 3 T bacon fat
Cut the ends off of each tomato and then cut in half again so that you have 2 thick round slices of tomato. Mix flour and cornmeal together and set aside. Sprinkle each tomato half with salt pepper and thyme. Then press each tomato half into the cornmeal mixture, coating both sides.
Heat bacon fat in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and fry the tomatoes on each side until the crust is golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve.