Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Texas turkey chili

Texas turkey chili

The other day someone asked me what I always keep in my refrigerator. After going through the usual list of things such as salsa, cilantro, and jalapeños, I added that you will usually find a jar of chili gravy in my refrigerator, as well. “What do you do with it?” he asked. I then explained that I use it for impromptu batches of enchiladas, drizzle it on eggs, or pair it with leftover meat to make a quick and flavorful stew.

Now, speaking of leftover meat, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the few days afterwards when you have a refrigerator loaded with food. Not only does this mean you get to enjoy cold slices of pecan pie for breakfast, but there’s also a mountain of leftover turkey begging to be made into new and exciting dishes, too.

Enter my jar of chili gravy. When you take shredded cooked turkey and then cook it in a sauce that’s rich with chiles, onion, garlic, and spices, you soon have an easy Tex-Mex dish that can be served in a bowl, scooped into tortillas, or even rolled into cheesy chili enchiladas. For lack of a better name, I like to call this marriage of chiles and meat Texas turkey chili.

Texas turkey chili

Now, typically Texas chili is made with beef. That said, there are a handful of recipes out there for something called Texas turkey chili, yet these dishes are not very chili like at all. For instance, when it comes to spice they only have a slight shake of chili powder along with perhaps a jalapeño slice or two. There are also always beans, along with tomatoes and bell peppers. Matter of fact, the final result seems more like a turkey, tomato, and bean soup.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jalapeño creamed corn

jalapeño creamed corn

“It’s all good, but whatever you do, you must get the creamed corn,” said the woman waiting in line behind me at Killen’s Barbecue. It was my first time to visit this new Pearland, Texas smoked-meat hot spot, and she and I had been discussing the menu. I’d heard good things about owner Ronnie Killen’s brisket, beef ribs, sausages—heck, all of the smoked meats had been lauded as some of the best new barbecue in the state. So her recommendation surprised me.

“I don’t usually order sides at a barbecue place,” I said. She shook her head and said, “Trust me. You don’t want to miss this corn.” She was correct. While I did enjoy the ribs, the turkey, and the brisket, it was the corn that I kept dipping into, savoring each sweet and creamy bite.

After my visit to Killen’s I went to visit a friend, and when I told her where I’d been the first thing she said was, “Did you try the creamed corn?” Then two weeks later, when I was back in New York, another person who’d eaten there said the same thing. Clearly, Killen’s much-lauded creamed corn merited investigation so I could cook something similar in my own kitchen.

jalapeño creamed corn

A little research lead me to his recipe. Ronnie Killen had generously shared his technique with several Houston media outlets, and I discovered his method is quite simple. He uses fresh cobs of corn and after he removes the kernels, he infuses cream and milk with the cobs for a spell, so the cobs’ sweet corn flavor will enrich the dish even more. Lots of butter and a bit of sugar also add to the dish's rich appeal.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Scenes from my fall tour of Texas

This year I’ve had the pleasure of spending almost two months in Texas, which may be the most time I’ve been there since I moved to New York. I’ve had a marvelous time during these visits, not only getting to meet so many of y’all at book events but also simply driving around our beautiful state and eating very, very well.

When you’re eating (at least) three meals a day over this amount of time, you do indeed accumulate a lot of fine food memories. While it’s almost impossible to have a bad meal when you’re in Texas, here are some highlights from my recent trips home.

Back in September, I began with a meal at Hot Joy in San Antonio, hot off of its being named one of the ten best new restaurants in the United States by Bon Appetit magazine. The migas fried rice was deemed the dish to order and I was very impressed with this Asian-Tex-Mex dish.

On my way to an event in San Angelo, I stopped in the tiny town of Melvin to get a chicken-fried steak at Jacoby’s Café. Owner Jason Jacoby sat down with me as I enjoyed his excellent version of this iconic Texan dish, and he hold me about his cattle ranch, which supplies the all-natural beef for his restaurant in Melvin as well as his son’s restaurant, also called Jacoby’s, in Austin.

After San Angelo, I spent a night in San Antonio, where the next morning I ate my weight in breakfast tacos, such as these bean and cheese and migas tacos from Pete’s Tako House.

That weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of spending time in Silsbee, Texas, where after my event we had a fine meal at The Cottage. The owner Flo told me that it’s her burgers that she’s famous for, but I have to say her fried chicken livers may be the best I’ve ever had.

In Pearland, I stopped into Killen’s Barbecue, and had the beef rib plate along with some brisket, pork, ribs, and turkey. Though I have to admit that as much as I loved the barbecue, my favorite thing on the plate may have been the creamed corn.

A stop at my grandma’s got me a chocolate pie:

On the way to Austin, I grabbed an excellent sliced beef and sausage sandwich at HWY 29 BBQ in Bertram.

And I finished that leg of my tour with a No. 1 dinner from Matt’s El Rancho.

After a couple of weeks in New York, I returned to Texas again. This trip began in Austin at El Azteca, where I had a chalupa dinner, which I joked was from the healthy side of the menu, as there was guacamole, lettuce, and tomatoes involved.

After having a fantastic time at the Texas Book Festival, I spent a few days in Wimberley. There, I enjoyed an excellent smoked brisket taco from Rufino’s barbecue trailer on the outskirts of town. The owner, Andre Rodriguez, told me that he’s been smoking meat with his dad since he was a boy, and his grandfather makes the Spanish rice and fideo side dish that also enjoyed. I love hearing about families cooking together like that.

One morning, on the advice of a good friend, I headed up to Blanco to have breakfast at the Blanco Bowling Club. She told me this bowling alley had the best cinnamon buns in Texas, and I believe she is correct. They were sweet, soft, and rich with cinnamon and sugar.

While I ate well in the Hill Country, I also had a nice time just enjoying the views, such as this lovely sunset.

I then headed back to North Texas, where I was honored to do an event at my alma mater, Austin College. And everyone knows you can’t go to Sherman without stopping into City Limits for their famous turkey cheddar sandwich.

After this, I decided to stop taking photos and instead focus on my family and friends. But I’ll leave you with these bluebonnet sprouts I saw on a short visit to my grandma’s farm. We had scattered the seeds back in September and she was so proud to show me these baby bluebonnets coming out of the ground, a promise of good things to come

Thank you to all who came to my events and made the trip so memorable. As always, it was wonderful being back home.

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