Focus in on the delights of the kitchen and the table with ...

Rebecca Lang’s “All Things Sweet Potato Casserole” will be on my own Southern Thanksgiving table this year. Like me, she knows this classic could run right over and fit in among the desserts. Like me, she considers that a compliment, and not in any way a flaw…

Holiday season is in full swing in my world, and while the food and cooking are not the only focus, they have always brought me great joy. For me, getting in the kitchen to cook and serve big holiday meals has always been a pleasure and a worthwhile gratifying form of work. Not everybody feels this way, and thank heavens for that! Those of us who love the food and cooking part need people, lots of people, to come over and sit down and eat what we’ve cooked up. My friend Rebecca Lang ‘s beautiful, practical and delightful new cookbook, Around the Southern Table: Coming Home to Comforting Meals and Treasured Memories  centers us on a powerful, moving truth: sitting down to eat at the table with people we care about matters. While the book positively glows with gorgeous images of irresistible food, I love her invitation to notice the gift of sitting down to eat, of having food to cook and people to share it. She writes movingly from the heart about the tables in her own life, and all that has happened around those tables. Read  her essay HERE:

After being a fan of Rebecca’s, I loved meeting her at the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival in 2011. I count on her book Quick Fox Southern: Homemade Hospitality in 30 Minutes or Less  for busy weeknights and sudden covered-dish supper inspirations. I love her attitude toward food and cooking in general and Southern food in particular. She seems to love what her grandmother did without putting old-time kitchen ways into a museum or a temple. She cherishes her beloved maternal grandmother’s antique oak table with abundant leaves for extending it, but it’s the people and the moments that matter. Reading her words reminded me of precious tables in my life: the formica-covered kitchen tables in my grandparents home, the card tables where the kids were seated during the big dinners of my childhood, woven mats spread out on the kitchen floor in Thailand, even the t.v. trays in the den with the plaid sofa and the wood paneling. Spectacular meals, modest ones, hilarious ones —  Decades, many decades down the road of my life,I still remember meals and people and occasions clearly, long after menu details have faded away.

This fall Rebecca came to town on her book tour for Around the Southern Table. In addition to teaching cooking classes and television appearances, she was Guest Author at a Cooks and Books event at The Granary in Fearrington Village.  Co-hosted by Fearrington House Restaurant and McIntyre’s Books, the events include lunch, a signed book, and the opportunity to listen and visit with the author over a meal.  Fearrington’s award winning Executive Chef Colin Bedford and his team served up a memorable luncheon from the pages of Rebecca’s book.

Forgetting my plans to write about the feast, I dove right into my Marinated Asparagus and Pecan Salad,  eating it all it up without taking a photo for you to enjoy here. Thinking fast, I maneuvered my copy of the book, open to the photograph of that very salad alad as featured in the book. Bonus! You can pretend you too got to enjoy Rebecca Lang talking about the book as we sat right there at the table with her, enjoying her recipes.

The Main course? Got it. From then on, I was focused. Atlantic Shrimp on Yellow Grits. Magnificent, as tasty as it was lovely on the plate.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie made for a marvelous finish to an exquisite meal. Rebecca’s company and conversation made it even more satisfying.

My favorite aspect of sharing this meal with Rebecca was hearing details and stories about how she got started in her work in the world of food. This involves my hero and friend Nathalie Dupree, whose new book you will be hearing about here soon. Read the introduction to Around the Southern Table, written by Nathalie, to learn the the story. Read this, too, for more on that story, from Rebecca’s wonderful, excellent-recipe-filled blog.

I’m writing this post with Thanksgiving on the near horizon, and for me, sweet potatoes have been crucial beloved items on the Thanksgiving table, all my life. Each year I read numerous disdainful references to sweet potato casseroles with mini marshmallows on top. I silently pretend that I too, am shocked, SHOCKED! at the persistent affection for this dish around the land. But there it is, in Rebecca Lang’s lovely, elegant book, photographed handsomely and spoken of with pride! Yes! Me, too! I made her recipe, and mine is not as pretty but it is mighty tasty.  I think stirring in or sprinkling on chopped pecans and raisins would be a good thing to do, and I might at a tad bit more sugar myself. So glad I have this book for this week, for all the rest of this year, and for the new year(s) to come. Here’s to good times at your table1

Rebecca Lang’s All Things Sweet Potato Casserole

4 1/2 cups mashed baked sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds whole)

2 large eggs

2/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and divided

1 1/2 cups crushed gingersnaps (30 cookies)

3 cups miniature marshmallows

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine potatoes, eggs, next 5 ingredients, and 1/2 cup of the melted butter in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon into a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

2) Stir remaining 1/4 cup melted butter into crushed gingersnaps. Top potato mixture with marshmallows and the gingersnap mixture in alternating crosswise rows.

3) Bake at 350 degrees F for 28 minutes or until marshmallows are lightly browned.

Note: To bake sweet potatoes, place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F until tender, about 45 minutes for small potatoes, 1 hour for medium potatoes, and 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes for larger potatoes.

From “Around the Southern Table: Coming Home to Comforting Meals and Treasured Memories” by Rebecca Lang. Oxmoor House  2012. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Leave a Reply