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BookShelf: 'Tupelo Honey Cafe'

By Elizabeth Sims with chef Brian Sonoskus

Andrews McMeel Publishing, $29.99

I liked this book the moment I saw it. Tupelo Honey Cafe is in one of America's hippest towns: Asheville, N.C., and with the promise of delivering "Southern comfort" food that is "made from scratch, sassy and scrumptious" and a striking yellow-and-black cover, I was a little gleeful at the prospect of cooking from it.

Elizabeth Sims and chef Brian Sonoskus have written a Southern cookbook with a twist. There are recipes for a Macaroni and Gouda Cheese Casserole and Warm Pimento Cheese With Chips. They offer an incredible version of Tomato Pie. The customary Ritz crackers have been replaced with panko breadcrumbs, and it has one of the best and easiest piecrusts I've ever made.

The book provides wine and beer pairings and has a fabulous section titled "The Larder" that gives recipes for an abundance of salsas, gravies and sauces, dressings and spreads, and preserves and pickles.

From the "Heavenly Appetizers and Soups" section, I made a simple but lovely soup: the Coconut Sweet Potato Bisque. So easy to make, silky and smooth, with just a slight kick of cayenne. This is definitely a soup I will make again. It would be great served in demitasse cups or shot glasses for a party.

The sandwich section is excellent, with choices such as the Grilled Club Sandwich With Brie and Raspberry Honey Mayonnaise, the Southern Fried Chicken BLT, and our new favorite, the Grateful Dead Black Bean Burger with Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise. I served the Black Bean Burger to a group of diners that included both vegetarians and carnivores (and everything in between), and it was declared to be the best veggie burger ever. Just beware that the recipe calls for 2 cups of oil to cook the burgers. I cooked them in a fraction of this and they were amazing.

We also tried the Chorizo-Baked Sea Scallops With Basil Cream Sauce, which was delicious, and the Chicken Apple Meat Loaf with Tarragon Tomato Gravy, which was not.

The best test of the book was the Banana Pudding. It's one of my family's favorite desserts and it is now the one I will always make. I made a couple of other banana puddings in the last few weeks and this was the clear winner.

I can't wait to get my hands on some green tomatoes to try the Fried Green Tomato and Grilled Portobello Sandwich With Basil Roasted Red Pepper Mayonnaise, and the Pickled Green Tomato Salad With Fresh Mozzarella. I think I'll hit the farmers market this weekend with my fingers crossed.