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In March, my husband and I will have been married 5 years, and it's funny how even now, certain wedding gifts stick out. The set of everyday china from my mother-in-law's friends. The hand-blown glass vase that a groomsman's mother gave us that I filled with colored marbles and a candle and place on our bedside table. Gifts that you use or see every day are cherished for years - and that definitely includes the cast iron dutch oven given to us by family friends from down near the "huntin' camp." After several years of frying and sauteing, it's got a nice black sheen to it, and it's one of my very favorite pieces of cookware!

My new-found love for cast iron is one of the reasons I'm so excited that our book publishing division, Oxmoor House, has released a new cookbook in partnership with the Lodge Company, the only American manufacturer of cast iron cookware.

In honor of today's cookbook launch, I was lucky to spend a few minutes chatting with Mark Kelly, Marketing Promotions Manager at The Lodge Company and an editorial consultant for the cookbook.

I've cooked with other brands of cast iron skillets (shhhh!), and I can't ever seem to get that same nice, non-stick coating on them - even after frying bacon. What makes Lodge cast iron cookware so special?

"For one thing, Lodge cast iron is made in America - as we say around here, it's the 'onliest' thing we do! Cast iron foundries in other countries make things other than cookware, so they don't have the opportunity to fine-tune their processes like we do. We continue to refine the metal chemistry to get it right. We monitor every pour, and if it isn't right, we'll change it. Throughout the whole process, if something is wrong with a piece, it's taken out and remelted. If the defect isn't significant, it might get sold as a 'second.' However, even our seconds are of a higher quality than any other cast iron cookware on the market."

I can't wait to try out some of these recipes!! If you could make just one recipe from the cookbook, which one would it be?

"This is like picking your favorite child - I don't like to play favorites! The recipes in the cookbook come from a wide divergence of people. The recipes are all from the heart, whether they are from a professional chef or a home cook. We've included a lot of context in the sidebars. Cast iron is so timeless!

However, my brother, Paul Kelly, has a recipe for Shepherd's Pie in the cookbook. He's a great cook, but he's had some health problems recently. For me personally, just knowing what he's been through - that would be the one recipe I would make."

I was pretty intimidated when I started cooking with our Dutch oven. What's your #1 tip for cooking with cast iron cookware?

"First of all - maintain it well! Rub on whatever oil you want afterwards. And don't put it in the dishwasher!

Also, you'll want to start and slow and learn the intricacies of cooking with cast iron - but don't be afraid of it. It can take as high of a heat as you want, or as low as you want. Kind of like Field of Dreams - if you dream it, you can cook it with cast iron."

Lodge offers so many different products! What is your favorite piece of cast iron cookware?

"I'd have to say the 12-inch skillet - you can cook all 3 meals with it, every day! It will never let you down. You can stir fry vegetables, fry okra, cook bacon and eggs - anything. The Dutch ovens are equally as versatile - you can sear, braise, stir fry, bake, and saute. It's pretty amazing! This is the same technology they were using in the Middle Ages. Our cast iron skillets are also some of the only truly oven-proof skillets on the market."

Seems like everybody down here has some cast iron in their kitchen. Why do you think this cookware is so popular in the South?

"We are a very "familial" people, with a love for history and tradition. We enjoy getting together with family and cooking. I have a skillet and a Dutch oven that were given to my grandmother as a wedding present in 1918. I remember those pieces being used all the time when I was a child, and now I cook with them! To borrow a line from John T. (Edge), cooking with that skillet and Dutch oven is like I'm cooking with my grandmother.

These types of stories create a familial bond within families, and throughout the culture as a whole. However, this happens throughout the the country, not just the South."

How did y'all go about collecting all these recipes?

"The goal of Lodge for the past 10 years has been to make cast iron cookware 'hot' again! The best way to do that is to show the versatility of Lodge and cast iron cooking. That was the goal of the book.

The usual suspects for cast iron recipes are fried chicken and cornbread. We included a whole chapter on cornbread, but most of the cornbread recipes are main dish cornbreads from the Cornbread Festival. For the other chapters, we contacted cookbook authors and chefs and home cooks from all regions of the country, looking for a wide variety of recipes. We've included every cooking technique. Lodge had previously published a cookbook titled A Skilletful, and 30 of the recipes - all traditional Southern dishes - came from there.

All of our contributors were wildly enthusiastic. We were able to show the versatility of cast iron by publishing a wide variety of breakfast, main dish, bread, and dessert recipes. I'm most proud of the fact that there is only one fried chicken recipe in the whole book!"

Any parting words?

"I am so happy that so many people contributed and understood the concept. It's been a real joy to work with all these people from all over the country. It will be an even bigger joy for everyone to see what Lodge is. You get addicted, and then you start making your own memories!"

In partnership with The Lodge Company, the only American manufacturer of cast iron cookware, Oxmoor House is pleased to announce the release of The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook: A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious Recipes. Filled with tantalizing main dishes, desserts, sides - and yes, even a whole chapter on cornbread! - this cookbook features the "best of the best" cast iron recipes from chefs and home cooks around the country.

Click here to purchase The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook from Amazon.com.