Rolling and Getting Crunk 

Two local cookbooks - one sushi, one vegan - on the scene.

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In 2002, while working as a caterer in Starkville, Mississippi, Marisa Baggett was caught off guard when one of her clients requested sushi.

"I had no clue what sushi was," she says. "I wound up checking out a bunch of books from the library. It seemed so fascinating, and I couldn't get it out of my mind."

Her love affair with the Japanese culinary art blossomed from there. Soon she was working at Tsunami, then Dō, then teaching private in-home sushi classes. After an intensive three-month sushi program in Los Angeles, Baggett began her website, marisabaggett.com, to share her passion and expertise with the Mid-South. Not long after, she was approached by Tuttle Publishing to write her own sushi cookbook.

Sushi Secrets: Easy Recipes for the Home Cook will be available in October at Burke's Book Store, the Booksellers at Laurelwood, Barnes & Noble in Collierville, and on Amazon. Readers, particularly beginners, will benefit from the introduction to sushi, including basic techniques and ingredients, as well as the stand-alone recipes. (Each page includes step-by-step instructions on how that type of roll is made.)

The book is divided into chapters dedicated to a different method of making sushi, including methods behind the classic inside-out roll, futomaki roll, nigiri, and sushi in a bowl.

"Basically, sushi in a bowl is rice in a bowl with different toppings," Baggett says. "There are traditional methods of mixing things in with the rice, methods for decorating the toppings on top of the rice, things that go on top of the rice and then get torched."

Baggett also covers how to substitute for ingredients you might not be able to find and how to purchase fish and shellfish, a talent she picked up in the landlocked Mississippi college town where she discovered the art.

"I use a very realistic method, especially in areas where you can't really go to a seafood market and see the whole fish," she says. "So all of my tips are specific for fish that has already been cut. That's realistically what people are going to be buying."

You can see Baggett in action, making sushi and signing books, at the Bookstock event at the main library on October 6th or at her first official booksigning at Burke's Book Store on November 1st. She'll also be hosting a kosher sushi event on November 29th at Temple Israel. Sushi Secrets is available for $18.95.

It's hard to imagine Southern food without meat and dairy. No bacon, no cheese, no barbecue pork ...

But that's exactly what you'll get in Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South, the first cookbook from the Flyer's very own Bianca Phillips.

A reporter by day and vegan blogger by night, Phillips has 18 years of vegetarian living and eight years of veganism backing her up. She started her blog, Vegan Crunk, in 2007, and began working on recipes for her cookbook that same year.

"I started developing recipes so that I'd have something to post [on the blog] every day," Phillips says. "After a while I had a stack of recipes and I was like, 'You know what? I should write a cookbook.' I didn't have any kind of theme. I just had some recipes."

Quickly, Phillips recognized a dearth of Southern vegan cookbooks. She culled her stack of recipes for Southern dishes, and then focused her efforts on veganizing some of her favorite Southern meals.

"Country-fried tempeh steak with soy milk gravy," Phillips says. "That's my favorite."

In Cookin' Crunk, you'll also find twists on Southern classics like mac and cheese, tofu chicken biscuits, tofu deviled eggs, and hoecakes.

As for desserts, Phillips says the bulk of her recipe tweaking and testing went into the cakes and baked goods.

"You can come up with savory recipes easily because cooking is an art," Phillips says. "But baking is a science, and everything has to be in the right proportions or it turns out crazy."

Cookin' Crunk is available on Amazon for $19.95, or you can pick up a copy at one of Phillips' many booksigning events. She'll be at Imagine Vegan Café with her book and some samples on September 29th from 3 to 6 p.m.; at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on October 2nd for a booksigning and samples at the Bistro; at Whole Foods on October 12th at 3:30 p.m. with more samples; and at the Easy Way on Cooper for a cooking demonstration on October 13th at 10:30 a.m.

Cookin' Crunk; vegancrunk.blogspot.com, phillipsbianca@gmail.com

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