It’s back to reality time: back to school, back to work, back to putting a wholesome, inviting dinner on the table almost every night. No problema! The Casserole Queens, Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, two ebullient Austin cooks, have managed to put their special magic for making one-dish wonders between the covers of a cookbook. The Casserole Queens Cookbook sets the classic American casserole back on center stage, refreshed and revitalized with a healthy helping of retro-chic and gourmet flair. With their bubbly header notes, advice on a well-stocked kitchen and a casserole-stocked freezer, the Queens show you how to make weeknight delights like Royal Cottage Pie, Shrimp and Grits with smoked gouda or Corn Dog Casserole (adults love it too) that are guaranteed dinner winners. When friends are coming over, the same goes for phyllo-topped Greek Pastitsio or saffron-infused Pimpin’ Paella. Whether a casserole starts the day, dresses up for dessert or stars as the main event, it gets the royal treatment—in fact, the Queens have turned them all into casseroyals!

RANCH CUISINE GOES HAUTE
What happens when a staunch Texan from the rural ranching world goes to culinary school and trains in high-end restaurants? If that Texan is Louis Lambert, you get haute ranch cooking that blends the bold, simple flavors of his cattle-ranching heritage with sophisticated cooking techniques, a rustic repertoire touched with elegance. Now Lambert shares his West Texas food heritage in Big Ranch, Big City. This is a serious cookbook by a serious chef with five successful restaurants. The 125 recipes included are the kind you want to read through carefully, savoring the details and the often intriguing juxtaposition of ingredients. I’d save most of these dishes for weekend cooking when time is not an issue. You don’t want to rush through the prep or the enjoyment of dark roux-based Port Arthur Seafood Gumbo (his grandmother’s pièce de résistance), Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Quail Stuffed with Chorizo Corn Bread, Bock-Braised Beef Short Ribs or any of the proudly Texan treasures served up here.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
The timeworn neon sign on Highway 100 southwest of Nashville simply says “Cafe Loveless Hot Biscuits Country Ham.” It should say “the iconic place for country food,” the place you can come home to, even if you’ve never been there before. Started 60 years ago by Annie and Lon Loveless (“loveless” isn’t, as I was sure, a country music comment on romance gone bad), the name has stuck through good and not-so-good times. But since it was bought in 2004 and spiffed up in every way, the Loveless has attracted crowds of country connoisseurs, native and otherwise. Adding a fabulous array of traditional South­ern desserts to the time-honored menu was a major part of the spiff-up, and adding Alisa Huntsman as queen of confections was a culinary coup. With true Southern hospitality, Alisa offers us her trove of recipes in Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe. Although your mama may never have baked a Double Coconut Cream Pie, Blueberry Skillet Cobbler or Lady Lemon Squares, the Loveless legacy is now yours.

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