If you've ever been to Asheville, North Carolina, a stunning city known for its quietly elegant beauty but also for its cultural diversity (fueled in the early days by Black Mountain College, a Depression-era progressive arts education institute), then you know what writer Elizabeth Sims and chef Brian Sonoskus, authors of the soon to be released Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook, are trying to get at in the Introduction. "We are located in North Carolina, but we are not Southern like Charleston or Savannah or Birmingham or Nashville," they say. "Neither are we strictly soup beans and corn bread Appalachian though we are proud of our mountain heritage. We aren't entirely bohemian, but we embrace that spirit."
That the restaurant, which opened in 2000, dubs itself "Asheville's new South kitchen" is apparent when you flip to the dedicated chicken chapter alone, where fried chicken is reinvented with a crushed mixed nut-panko breadcrumb crust, meatloaf arrives table-side in poultry form (chicken-dried apple meatloaf with Vidalia onions and a tomato-tarragon gravy), and classic potpie gets a blackened chicken-poblano pepper makeover. Many of the recipes are in house specialties available in the restaurant's online store, but there's no reason to buy anything other than the cookbook when you can make that ground pecan-honey vinaigrette at home with fresh-from-the-oven toasted pecans.
The book begins rather than ends -- notably -- with a chapter titled "The Larder" with salsas (peach-fennel, green tomato), gravies (tomato-shallot, cremini mushroom-sweet onion), dressings and pestos (spicy smoked tomato vinaigrette, basil cashew pesto), preserves/pickles (cherry apple chowchow, peach butter). From those pantry staples, the authors take us through the restaurant's appetizers and soups (baked goat cheese and smoked tomato dip; coconut-sweet potato bisque) and on to sandwiches and salads (grilled club sandwich with brie and raspberry honey mayo). We could stop there, but there are meats to be had, and copious brunch dishes, of course -- this is the South. Only here, we are happy to report, there are as many pain perdu ideas (cinnamon sugar-blueberry jam topped) as there are pancakes (sweet potato with peach butter).
Or like us, you could start with the creamed cauliflower. According to the authors, it is "meant to be a little chunky, a little funky, and surprisingly tasty." An apt description for so many mysteriously good Southern dishes. Do we really need cream cheese and cheddar? Of course we do.
Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower
From: Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook by Elizabeth Sims and Brian Sonoskus.
Makes: 8-10 servings.
2 large heads cauliflower, cored and broken into florets
4 ounces cream cheese
1¼ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces cheese)
2 teaspoons oven-roasted garlic, pureed in a food processor or blender
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
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1. Steam the cauliflower for 10 to 12 minutes, until just tender.
2. Place the cauliflower in a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or fork.
3. In another large bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, garlic puree, salt, black pepper, white pepper, and butter.
4. Pour the hot mashed cauliflower on top of the cheese mixture and combine, using a large spoon, until the cheeses are thoroughly melted. Serve immediately.