Some of you have been asking if my new book will be ready in time for Christmas. The Homesick Texan’s Family Table will not be published until April 1, 2014, but it is available for preorders.
The Homesick Texan’s Family Table will be available wherever books are sold and if you do preorder, you’ll be one of the first to receive it! You can order it from some of these fine establishments:
Barnes & Noble
If you do choose to order it for someone as a gift, here are some cards you can download to let the recipient know that it’s on its way. Just click on the image and it will take you to a separate page where you can print it or move it to your desktop:
I think it's a mighty fine book but of course, I'm biased. So in case you were wondering, here's what some other folks have had to say:
“Lisa Fain’s new book, The Homesick Texan’s Family Table, takes readers back to the origins of her inspiration—the family celebrations and community gatherings where platters of enchiladas, bowls of ranch-style beans, and great conversations combine to create lasting memories. It’s a magical place that’s changed the way we entertain—bring on the chiles, the masa, the chorizo!”
—Matt Lee and Ted Lee, authors of the Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen
“Who doesn’t want to wake up to chilaquiles, enjoy a spicy soup for lunch, dive into a plate of peppery ribs, and finish up with a delicious, zippy version of cowboy cookies? With Lisa Fain’s recipes, anybody, anytime, anywhere can rustle up down-home Tex-Mex fare— be it for an everyday meal or a special celebration. Now I just need a Texas-sized table to hold it all!”
—David Lebovitz, author of My Paris Kitchen and The Sweet Life in Paris
“I’ve always admired Lisa Fain’s remarkable ability to express sentiment through flavor—and with her latest book, this talent is on full display. Her beautifully photographed recipes inspired me to not only revisit some of my own family favorites (which I dressed up with the help of the salsas, jams, and in her ‘Accompaniments’ chapter), but also introduce her family’s classic flavors into my home. Hello, Frito Salad!”
—Martha Foose, author of Screen Doors and Sweet Tea and A Southerly Course
“She had us at potluck! The fact that Lisa Fain says her most memorable meal was a family potluck warms our heart. We share with her a mutual desire to get people back around the table, since enjoying a meal with family and friends really is the best way to create lasting memories. Lisa invites you in with stories of her family and their connection to the recipes, and her warm, personal writing envelops you like a comforting blanket.”
—Crystal Cook and Sandy Pollock, authors of The Casserole Queens Cookbook
My publisher hasn’t given me any preview page images just yet, but as soon as I have them I’ll post them on the site. That said, I’m real excited about my new book and can’t wait to share more with you!
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Friday, December 06, 2013
How do you feel about fruitcake? For some, it’s a cherished Christmas tradition but for others it’s more of a joke. We’ve all heard the one about the 20-year-old fruitcake that people keep giving away.
There are several different types of fruitcake. There are those that are so loaded with dried fruit and nuts that you need a tall glass of milk to make it through a slice. Then there are the fruitcakes that that have been soaking in spirits since the summer, and one juicy bite makes you feel crazy and wild. There are sticky fruitcakes and dry fruitcakes, heavy fruitcakes and light fruitcakes. If you think you you’re not a fan of fruitcake, just keep looking, as I’m sure there’s at least one out there that you might like.
In my family, fruitcake doesn’t play too prominent a role, as it’s usually shuffled to the side, hiding behind all the tins and platters filled with cookies, candies, crunchy snacks, and other types of cake. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was writing my new book and going through my great-grandmother Blanche’s letters, she would mention fruitcake often. She’d either be baking one and then sending it to someone in the mail, or a friend of hers may have dropped by for a visit and brought fruitcake as a gift.
As I was looking through her papers I found a recipe for fruitcake she attributed to her friend Mrs. Ollie Edwards. I never met Mrs. Edwards but I did know her husband, a man I called Mr. Edgar. He was a neighbor who helped my great-grandma plant her crops, and I have fond memories of him driving around her farm on his tractor, always quick to offer a kind word or a big smile.
Now, Mrs. Edwards’ fruitcake was unusual in that there weren’t any eggs, oil, or leavenings. Instead, it was simply dates, pecans, and coconut all held together by a bit of flour and some sweetened condensed milk. When I asked my grandma about it, she said this fruitcake wasn’t my family’s usual one, but as the recipe was in my great-grandmother’s collection, I assumed as some point it had been made. I was curious and decided to try it.
The results were not what I was expecting. Instead of being a soft cake studded with fruit, this pecan date fruitcake was chewy, gooey, and yet a little crisp. Are you a fan of dolly bars? Well, then this is the fruitcake for you. While this dessert is a bit more virtuous as it’s filled with dates instead of chocolate chips, it’s just as good. And while the basic recipe is fine on its own, to make it even more seasonal I added some orange zest, cinnamon, and ginger.
What I like about this pecan date fruitcake is that it tastes decadent but also healthy, the latter enabling you to eat more than one slice without feeling too guilty. For instance, as I baked mine up in a Texas-shaped pan, I soon found that I’d eaten most of the Panhandle and was well on my way to finishing up everything between Lubbock and El Paso, but because it’s full of wholesome ingredients like dates and pecans, I didn’t feel too bad.
This is definitely not a traditional fruitcake, though for some I suppose that will be a virtue not a fault. Though welcoming flavors aside, I believe my favorite thing about this pecan date fruitcake is that it was a recipe shared between two friends, perhaps as they sat at my great-grandmother’s table enjoying a slice or two. And for me, being with those that you love is what truly makes the holidays a delicious time of year.
Pecan date fruitcake
4 cups chopped dates
2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease and flour or line with parchment paper a 9-inch baking pan (square, round, or Texas shaped) or a 9x5 loaf pan.
In a mixing bowl together the chopped dates, pecans, coconut, flour, orange zest, salt, cinnamon, and ginger until well combined. Pour in the sweetened condensed milk, and stir until a thick, sticky batter forms.
Spread the fruitcake batter into the baking pan and then bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly brown. Be careful not to over bake it, as it will harden as it cools. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before slicing. The cake can keep in an airtight container for several days. It also freezes well.
Yield: 16 servings
Note: I used unsweetened coconut because I didn’t want my fruitcake to be too sweet, but if you prefer a sweeter cake, either use sweetened coconut or perhaps add a little sugar to taste.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Like chili, gumbo has many rules, with most folks believing that their way of making this stew is the best. As I’m not a native of Cajun country, I tend to follow my friends’ leads when making gumbo, though even amongst that group I’ll see variations.
For instance, I have one friend who eschews celery in his gumbo, though another friend swears that without it the pot will never be authentic. Though this celery-loving friend can’t abide by okra in his gumbo, even though an African word for that vegetable, ki ngombo, is what some say gives gumbo its name!
Most of my friends do concur that tomatoes have no place in gumbo, though there are still a few who believe pouring in a can of Ro-Tel certainly won’t hurt. Then there are those that believe potato salad instead of rice is the better starch to add to your bowl, an affectation that seems strange at first but after a few bites you might wonder why you haven’t been serving it this way all along.
I could go on about the endless variations, but let’s jump to why I’m here—to talk about turkey gumbo, a time-honored day-after-Thanksgiving dish in East Texas and Louisiana, of course.
As the name implies, turkey gumbo is made with turkey. First you take the carcass and boil it up with some aromatics for a fragrant broth, and then you slide into the pot your roux, along with some vegetables, chopped leftover turkey, and leftover ham. (Though if you're not the type to serve ham along the turkey on Thanksgiving, sliced smoky sausage such as kielbasa or andouille is a terrific thing to add, as well.)
You let this cook for an hour or so (though it only gets better the longer it stays on top of the flame; likewise, it’s also much better the next day), ladle it into bowls filled with rice, and then dig into an agreeable stew that bears little resemblance to the feast you had the day before.
And this is why I think that turkey gumbo is so popular. While there’s nothing finer than a turkey, cranberry, and dressing sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re like me and have been thinking about Thanksgiving almost non-stop for the weeks leading up to the big feast, you just might be suffering a bit of Thanksgiving-food fatigue by Friday, and are ready to move onto something else.
That said, you probably still have a refrigerator groaning with Thanksgiving odds and ends that need to be eaten. Though if you make a pot of turkey gumbo with all that remains, you’ll not only have a satisfying good meal but also a dish that makes leftovers taste like something new.
Now I offer you a recipe, but in the spirit of all things gumbo, take this more as a guide than a directive. If you don’t like okra, don’t add it to the pot! If you want to serve this with sweet potato salad, go right ahead, I don’t think anyone will mind. After all, when it comes to gumbo no two pots are the same. Though there is one thing that most people will agree upon—when it’s chilly outside and you want something warm, gumbo is very, very good.
For the turkey broth:
2 ribs celery
2 carrots, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
4 whole cloves
For the gumbo:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
8 okra, stemmed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups turkey broth or chicken broth (if not making your own broth)
2-3 cups chopped cooked turkey
2-3 cups diced ham or sliced smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 green onions, green part only, chopped
Cooked rice, for serving
First, to make the turkey broth place the bones in a large pot, along with the celery, carrots, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cloves. Add enough water to cover the pot contents by an inch (about 12 cups), bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour.
When done, strain the broth, discarding the bones and vegetables, and then remove the fat from the broth with a gravy separator. If you don’t have a separator, you can take a quart-sized plastic storage bag and pour some broth into it. Snip a bottom corner of the bag and drain the broth, stopping when you get to the fat layer that is on top. (You will probably have to remove the fat in batches).
Wipe the large pot clean of any remaining debris, then return 8 cups of broth to the pot, reserving any remaining for another use. (If using pre-made broth, skip these steps.)
Meanwhile, as the broth cooks you can make the roux. To make the roux, heat the oil on medium high in a cast-iron skillet. Start adding flour a little bit at a time. Stir continuously for 30-35 minutes until the roux is a dark praline brown. Remove from the heat.
In another skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the okra and cook for 5 more minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Remove from the heat.
Once the roux is done and the vegetables are done, add both to the large pot with the broth and stir until well blended with the broth. (If using store-bought broth, then you’ll add it at this time instead). Also add the turkey, ham (or sausage), parsley, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally, though you can let it simmer for several hours if you prefer. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in the green onions and then serve over rice. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Yield: 8-12 servings
Note: If using sausage, you might consider frying it in the large pot for a few minutes until it begins to brown and crisp, before adding the broth and then continue with the recipe. It’s not necessary, but would add flavor.
Also, this gumbo is good with both regular roasted turkey and smoked turkey.
Friday, November 08, 2013
The other day, my cousin who now lives in New York asked if I was available for a quick lunch. I mentioned I was about to test a recipe for cauliflower and Gruyere macaroni and cheese and offered for him to come join me. “That sounds really good,” he said. “I’d love that!” But when I told him the recipe would take a little over an hour, he realized his didn’t have that much time, so we grabbed a quick burger instead.
The burger was satisfying. But a couple of hours later when I pulled out of the oven a bubbling casserole full of tender cauliflower and pasta smothered in nutty Gruyere and parmesan cheese, I found it hard to stop taking bites of this simple and satisfying dish, even though I’d already had a big lunch.
Now, I have to admit, when I first saw the recipe for the cauliflower and Gruyere gratin, as it’s called in the book Melt by Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti, I didn’t think too much about it. Melt’s subtitle is The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, and indeed the book is full of recipes for this comfort classic.
Yet, at heart, the book is a celebration of cheese, and to showcase a wide range of cheeses the authors have taken liberties with the phrase “macaroni and cheese” and also provided recipes for soups, salads, and even desserts where both cheese and pasta are present. If you love cheese, then it’s definitely a book that you will flip through and keep saying to yourself, “I want to make that!”
As there are so many intriguing recipes in Melt, I was a little surprised that it was the cauliflower macaroni and cheese that kept calling me to the kitchen. Perhaps it’s because cauliflower is in season right now or perhaps it’s because I love Gruyere and am always looking for an excuse to eat it. But no matter, the stomach knows what it wants, so that’s what I decided to make.
It’s an easy recipe that takes little effort, with chopping the cauliflower and grating the cheese the most laborious part of the process. With many macaroni and cheese recipes, there’s a lot of stirring as you make a flour-based sauce, but this recipe is a cinch as the sauce is just heavy cream along with dashes of powdered mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. And after you pour it over the cauliflower and pasta, and slip it into the oven, the hardest part is waiting for the casserole to be done.
While macaroni and cheese is always in season, now is the best time for this particular version as cauliflower is at its best in the fall. This makes for a good vegetarian main dish, though it’s also just as welcome as a heartier side dish. And that’s how I plan to serve it—as an offering on the Thanksgiving table—so my family, including my cousin, can enjoy it, too.
Cauliflower and Gruyere Macaroni and Cheese, adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord
1 head of cauliflower (any color—I used orange), chopped into tiny florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces elbow pasta
8 ounces Gruyère, shredded
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 clove garlic, finely minced (optional)
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the cauliflower in a lightly greased 9x9 baking dish or large cast-iron skillet, and then toss the florets with the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven, leaving the cauliflower in the dish.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add about 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, and then boil until the pasta is al dente, or softened but still a little chewy.
Once the pasta is done, drain and rinse the pasta and then pour into to the dish with the cauliflower. Add the shredded Gruyere and then stir to combine the cauliflower, pasta, and Gruyere.
Whisk together the cream, garlic, mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour over the pasta and stir until well combined. Evenly sprinkle over the pasta the Parmesan cheese and then bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes so the cream can set and then serve warm.
Yield: 8 servings
Friday, November 01, 2013
This sweet potato cobbler is a little late. My plan had been to write about it back in June, as it’s an adaption of Nathan Jean “Mama Sugar” Sanders’ recipe, a wonderful woman who is renown for her annual Juneteenth celebration where this cobbler is served. But life and stuff got in the way, so I’m sharing it now.
I met Mama Sugar back in March, when Foodways Texas bestowed upon her a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to Texas food. Besides hosting her annual party, Mama Sugar is also a legend in the cowboy world, as she is the leader and cook for her trail-riding group The Sugar Shack Trailblazers. When they’re out on the trail, Mama Sugar and her crew keep the trail riders well fed with her pancakes, stews, and barbecue. But the dish she is probably most famous for her is her sweet potato cobbler.
My first encounter with her version of the recipe was in a 2006 Gourmet article written by Robb Walsh. I wasn’t familiar with the dessert and as a fan of sweet potato pie I was curious how a sweet potato cobbler might taste. That said, I clipped the article, filed it away, and never got around to making it. After the symposium, however, I was reminded that I needed to see what the fuss was about.
Sweet potato cobbler is an old-fashioned dish, and while I’m not exactly sure how long people have been making it, the earliest recorded recipe I could find was in “The Sunny Side Dessert Book,” by S. T. Stone published in 1893. It’s not particularly common, but through the years you do see recipes for it appear in cookbooks, along with references to it in literature, though I could not find any recipe for it in any newspaper food sections or popular magazines (the Gourmet article notwithstanding). So while it’s clearly something people enjoy, it hasn’t quite entered the popular Texan dessert canon as much as its cousin, sweet potato pie.
When I finally made the recipe, I made some changes to make do with what I had on hand. Her recipe calls for cane syrup, but I instead made a simple syrup with granulated sugar and brown sugar. I then goosed up my sweet potatoes with a few more spices, stirring in some nutmeg and vanilla, and I also added orange zest to both the filling and the biscuit crust to make the dish a little more bright.
This is an outstanding cobbler. While sweet potato pie is a custard-based dessert, this dish is instead much like other fruit cobblers in that the sweet potatoes are sliced and left intact. As they simmer and then bake in the dark syrup, they yield into a sweet, tender filling that goes well with the soft biscuit crust.
If you love sweet potatoes, you will love this, too. Of course, it will make a fine addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, though now that colder days are finally here, there’s no reason to wait until then. And speaking from experience, it makes for an excellent breakfast as well.
Now that I think about it, while a good cobbler is welcome at any time, I believe this cobbler’s richness and warm spices make it more in tune with autumn than summer. So the wait has been worthwhile. But before you head into the kitchen to start slicing your sweet potatoes and rolling out your crust, I’d like to share with you some words of wisdom from Mama Sugar. When she spoke to us, she said: “Cooking is what you put into it, cooking is love.” And that’s the truth.
Sweet potato cobbler
For the filling:
2 pounds sweet potatoes
4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
For the cobbler dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Peel the sweet potatoes and then cut in half lengthwise then slice into half-moon shapes, about 1/2-inch thick. Place the cut sweet potatoes into a pot large enough to hold them, along with the water, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, butter, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Bring the pot to a boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender but firm.
Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish or a large cast-iron skillet. Once the potatoes are done, transfer them with a slotted spoon to the baking dish, leaving the liquid in the pot. Turn the heat on the pot to high, and boil the liquid until it’s reduced by 1/2 and slightly thickened, about 15-20 minutes, while occasionally stirring. You should have about 1 cup.
Meanwhile, to make the dough, stir together the flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, orange zest, and salt. Work into the flour mixture the cold butter until it resembles peas. Pour in the buttermilk and stir until well combined.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead it a couple of times and then it out until it’s roughly a 9x13 inch rectangle or a 10-inch round circle, depending on whether you’re baking the cobbler in a baking dish or skillet.
Evenly pour over the sweet potatoes the syrup and then place on top of the sweet potatoes the cobbler dough. Sprinkle over the dough the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar, and then cut into the dough several slits so steam can release. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then serve. Serve each slice topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Yield: 8 servings