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Books that Cook: 'Mary Mac's Tea Room'; 'Recipes From the Root Cellar'; 'In the Sweet Kitchen'

TITLE: Mary Mac's Tea Room: 65 Years of Recipes from Atlanta's Favorite Dining Room by John Ferrell (Andrews McMeel, 208 pages; $27.99).

Generally speaking: Good Southern recipes are what you will find in Mary Mac's Tea Room. The tea room has been an Atlanta institution since 1945, but it doesn't fit the common definition of a tea room. You won't find cucumber sandwiches and petit fours here. This restaurant serves tried-and-true recipes as reflected in the book. While perusing the recipes, enjoy tidbits from regular diners, staff and owners.

For: Southern food lovers.

Recipes: Daddy's oyster stew, pecan pie muffins, shrimp and grits, green tomato pickles, white lima beans and ham over rice, and caramel cream cake.

Love story: From all of the delightful stories in this cookbook, it is apparent Mary Mac's is a special place. The owners and staff make you feel at home; this collection of recipes does the same.

TITLE: Recipes From the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables by Andrea Chesman (Storey Publishing, 387 pages; $18.95).

Generally speaking: The title says it all: These recipes are all about root and winter veggies. That means you'll find recipes for Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, carrots, beets, turnips and celery root, to name a few. It's refreshing to see recipes for some less popular vegetables as well.

For: Vegetable lovers.

Recipes: Lemony Brussels sprouts, crispy kale chips, potato-stuffed pierogi, turnip puff, spicy sweet-potato oven fries, Portuguese kale soup and shredded root-vegetable linguine.

TITLE: In the Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 704 pages; $24.95).

Generally Speaking: These recipes could be intimidating to an inexperienced baker. They have long names, long ingredient lists and long instructions. But the book does teach what you need to know — with more than 350 pages that discuss all the parts of baking: fats, sweeteners, tips, techniques and more. Many of these recipes are treats you would likely find in a fine bakery.

For: Serious bakers.

Recipes: Pecan toffee coffee cake, caramel apple and sweet cream cheesecake, pistachio cranberry Florentines with white chocolate and orange, tropical fruit crumble, and sugar cookies with rock sugar borders.

>>moderate

Blackberry Jam Cake

For the cake:

2/3 cup shortening

2 cups sugar, divided use

4 large eggs

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2/3 cup buttermilk

1 cup seedless blackberry jam

1 cup applesauce

For the caramel icing:

1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar

1/3 cup cream or evaporated milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter

1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar

To make the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.

In the bowl of a standard mixer, combine the shortening and 1 cup of the sugar. With the whisk attachment, on medium speed, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together three times the flour, the remaining 1 cup sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cinnamon.

Add the dry ingredients to the shortening, alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in the jam and applesauce. Divide the batter among the 3 pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

While the cake is cooling, make the icing. Combine the brown sugar, cream and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil; cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the confectioners' sugar. Using an electric hand mixer, beat at medium speed until smooth. Use immediately to frost the cake so the icing doesn't stiffen or harden.

Spread the caramel icing between layers and on the top and sides of the cake.

Serves 12 to 14.

Source: Mary Mac's Tea Room: 65 Years of Recipes from Atlanta's Favorite Dining Room by John Ferrell (Andrews McMeel, 2010)

>>easy

Balsamic Chicken With Vegetables

8 bone-in chicken thighs

6 shallots, peeled and halved if large

1 whole garlic head, cloves separate, peeling optional

1 ¼ pounds russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove any fat from the chicken. Rinse and pat dry. Combine the chicken, shallots, garlic, potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips and carrots in a large roasting pan. Add the rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Whisk together oil and vinegar, then pour over the chicken and vegetables and toss well to coat. Arrange the chicken skin-side up, tucked among the vegetables in a single layer.

Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the chicken and vegetables (leaving behind the fat that has accumulated) to a heated platter and serve hot.

Serves 4.

Source: Recipes From the Root Cellar: 270 Fresh Ways to Enjoy Winter Vegetables, by Andrea Chesman (Storey Publishing, 2010)

>>moderate

Chocolate Crisps

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl or the bowl of an electric or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until it is thoroughly mixed in, then beat in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add ½ of this mixture to the creamed mixture and stir until mostly incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and work it into the dough, using your hands in the final stage of mixing. Make sure there are no pockets of flour in the dough.

Divide into 2 equal portions and place each on a piece of plastic wrap. Use the wrap to help form the portions into flat discs, then wrap each disc securely. Chill the dough for at least 4 hours, or up to 3 days. (The dough may be frozen at this point for up to 3 months. Use additional plastic wrap and outer wrap of aluminum foil. Defrost the dough in the refrigerator overnight before proceeding with the recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line at least two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one portion of dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm just enough to be soft to roll out. On a lightly floured surface, and using just enough dusting flour to keep the dough from sticking to the surface or the rolling pin, roll out the disc of dough to a thickness of 1/8 to ¼ inch. Brush any excess flour from the surface of the dough.

Using a biscuit or cookie cutter dipped in flour, cut as many cookies as possible from the dough. Transfer the cookies to the prepared sheets with a palette knife, spacing them 1 ½ to 2 inches apart. Place the filled baking sheets in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes, or until the cookies are chilled and firm.

Meanwhile, gently pat the scraps of dough together and reroll; again cut as many cookies as possible and repeat this process if necessary. Chill the cookies from this portion while the first cookies are baking.

Bake each sheet of cookies in the center of the preheated oven for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the centers are firm and the edges are just barely beginning to darken. Cool 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely before storing.

Repeat with the remaining sheets of cookies, chilling the hot baking sheets under cold running water and drying them between bakings.

These simple biscuits are actually better once they have cooled and crisped. They store very well, in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to 1 week. Try them sandwiched with ice cream.

Makes several dozen, depending on the size of the cutter you use.

Source: In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker's Companion by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 2010)

Books that Cook: 'Mary Mac's Tea Room'; 'Recipes From the Root Cellar'; 'In the Sweet Kitchen' 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 5:30am]
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