Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Strawberry cobbler

strawberry cobbler

According to a spring 1957 issue of the Claude News, the Business Women’s Club of this Texas panhandle town got together for a luncheon meeting. On the menu were roast beef, chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, vegetable salad, rolls, corn muffins, and (if you had any room after such a feast) strawberry cobbler for dessert.

When I go through Texas newspapers from the past, I’m always struck by how people’s local gatherings, whether for business or for pleasure, were considered newsworthy. If you dig around the archives, you’ll find stories about forty-two parties, ice cream socials, civic group meetings, and a host of other reasons for people to find time to spend with each other and enjoy some good food.

While the articles always conjure up charming images of people enjoying each other’s company, my favorite thing is reading about what our Texas ancestors shared at the table, such as the strawberry cobbler served in Claude all those years ago. While these days cobbler may not be the most common way to serve this beloved spring fruit, it’s definitely a dessert that deserves more consideration.

strawberry cobbler

The past few weeks I’ve been hearing about my friends in Texas going on strawberry-picking excursions and while we have seen some decent days here in New York (though as I write this it is once again freezing outside), it will probably be a month before we see fresh, local strawberries at the market. Early spring is like this, and a trip to the farmers market can be confusing as the trees are in bloom but on offer are the same lumpy potatoes and heads of cabbage that have been on display for the past few months.

While I like to eat seasonal local foods, it’s hard to stay true this time of year. Even the most committed often let their convictions slip. You’ll see people at my grocery store give a resigned shrug before grabbing bunches of asparagus or bags of fava beans flown in from warmer places. As for me, my non-local guilty pleasure is strawberries. At this point, I can’t wait any longer to enjoy their juicy, tart essence.

Of course, there is nothing finer than a strawberry picked fresh from the vine; the ones trucked in from far away can’t compare. Sure, the non-local ones have a strawberry’s basic flavor but they’re still a bit dry and cottony in the mouth, not to mention they often have more white flesh than red. If I were a more patient person I would wait.

However, the other day one of my favorite Houston food shops, Revival Market, announced they were serving strawberry cobbler. This seemed serendipitous, as I’d just been reading about strawberry cobbler in that old Texas newspaper. Clearly, it was time to make a batch myself.

There are several different crusts you can use for a cobbler. For this one I went with a biscuit crust, as the soft crust does an excellent job of soaking up the berries’ juices. And since cooking the strawberries coaxes out more flavor, a warm cobbler is a terrific dessert when you have less-than-perfect berries and chilly spring days. While I confess to making this because my berries weren’t very ripe or juicy, I believe it would be even better with the freshest berries in the crop. And while the cobbler is good on its own, it’s even better when served topped with large scoops of vanilla ice cream, which provides a creamy cool balance to the tender crust and soft berries.

strawberry cobbler

Whether you find yourself hosting a business club luncheon, a Sunday dinner, or are just looking for a quick and easy dessert during the week, I think you’ll find strawberry cobbler a welcome addition to the table. While it might not be as prevalent today in Texas as it was in the past, it’s certainly worthy of a comeback. Think of it as strawberry shortcake in a more cozy and warm form. And, you have to admit, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Strawberry cobbler

For the filling:
4 cups (2 pounds) strawberries, hulled and halved
3/4 cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup light cream
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar and let them rest for 30 minutes or until juicy. Drain off the excess juice, reserving for another use. (If you prefer a soupier cobbler, skip this step.) Toss the strawberries with the flour, cinnamon, and vanilla, and place in a large cast-iron skillet or a 9-inch square baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the topping, in a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pour the melted butter and the cream into the dry ingredients, and then stir until sticky, wet dough forms.

Using a spoon, drop spoonfuls of the dough evenly over the strawberries, though it’s okay if some of the strawberries are exposed. Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is light brown and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream.

Yield: 8 servings

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dr Pepper pulled brisket

dr pepper pulled brisket

The first time I recall having brisket, it wasn’t the smoked hunk of beef that many people associate with Texas. No, instead it was an oven brisket prepared by my grandmother. While normally our pot roasts were made with chuck along with lots of potatoes and carrots, this roast of brisket had been slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce. It was tender, juicy, and delicious.

Recently, a friend in New York was lamenting that their briskets never tasted anything like the briskets they ate at home. I asked what was the problem and he said that he didn’t have a yard and therefore he didn’t have a smoker, and without those two things his brisket wasn’t as he wanted it to be.

Being in the same situation I know how he feels, yet there are plenty of oven briskets being made in Texas, too, so it’s never been that much of an issue for me. As long as you can reconcile that the two slabs of beef will not taste the same, then you can appreciate the unsung glories of a brisket not cooked outside on a smoker but instead slowly roasted in an oven.

While I’m a fan of thick, juicy slices of brisket served with mashed potatoes, sometimes when I make a brisket in the oven, I’ll shred the beef and then use it in tacos, enchiladas, or nachos. I have several different ways that I like to prepare brisket, though I recently slowly cooked my brisket in a smoky, sweet sauce made from Dr Pepper and chipotle chiles and it turned out superb.

There’s a famous oven brisket recipe that’s made from Coca-Cola, onion-soup mix, and chili sauce. My pulled brisket is a take on that, yet I’ve made my sauce with Dr Pepper instead of Coke, and used real onions, along with some garlic, molasses, ketchup, spices, and chipotle chiles for added heat.

While I was starting a bit more from scratch with this recipe, it’s not difficult. First I made the Dr Pepper sauce, which is simply throwing a bunch of things into a blender. Then I placed the brisket in a roasting pan, covered it in the sauce, tightly covered the pan, and let it hang out in a low oven for a few hours.

After a couple of hours, an inviting aroma took over my entire home. It took tons of will power not to open the oven and take a peek, but I continued to busy myself with other things as the brisket slowly cooked and became tender in both its own juices and that Dr Pepper sauce.

When I finally pulled the brisket out of the oven, I let it rest while reducing the pan juices. Then I shredded the brisket with two forks, poured in the reduced pan juices and let the two mingle together to create a spicy, savory, and juicy plate of pulled beef. (That said, if I’d been more inclined to serve this Dr Pepper brisket in a more traditional sliced manner, I’d would have let it rest overnight in the refrigerator before slicing, and then served it with the pan juices on the side.)

If you make this, know that the mountain of pulled brisket will be staggeringly delicious. To serve it, I like to slip mine into fresh tortillas and top with onions, jalapeƱos, and cilantro for a smoky, sweet Tex-Mex take on the classic chopped beef sandwich. Though you can also use the pulled beef in enchiladas, on nachos, on buttery Texas toast, in queso, or on a bun. It’s an easy-going protein that is happy just about anywhere you introduce it.

dr pepper pulled brisket

Like most meat-eating Texans, I am a huge fan of smoked brisket. There are plenty of reasons why this glorious piece has received so much praise. But at the same time, I am not opposed to eating brisket cooked in the oven. For most people, it’s a lot more accessible, and yes, while it doesn’t taste the same what comes off the smoker, it’s still a royally delicious way to cook beef.

Dr Pepper pulled brisket

1 (4 pound) brisket, first cut
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/2 cup Dr Pepper, not diet, preferably made with cane sugar
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Pinch of ground cloves

Sprinkle the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper, place in a roasting pan fat side up, and allow to come to room temperature.

To make the sauce, place in a blender or food processor the onion, garlic, chipotle chiles, 1/4 cup of the Dr Pepper, ketchup, mustard, molasses, Worcestershire, smoked paprika, and ground cloves. Puree until smooth, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Lift up the brisket and pour half the sauce into the bottom of the pan. Place the brisket, fat side up, on top of the sauce, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup of Dr Pepper, then pour the rest of the sauce over the brisket.

Cover the pan tightly with foil. Place the pan in the oven and cook 5 hours or one hour and fifteen minutes per pound. At this point, you’ll want to test it to see if it’s fork tender. To do this, remove the pan from the oven and carefully pull back the foil as a lot of steam will escape. If you can easily stick a fork into then it’s done. If not, continue to cook it covered until it is fork tender, checking it every 20 minutes.

Once done, remove the pan from the oven, peel back the foil, and gently lift the brisket out of the pan into a large mixing bowl or baking dish, so when you shred it you won’t lose any juices. Allow the brisket to rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the pan juices from the roasting pan into a pot, turn the heat up to high and reduce in half, about 20 to 30 minutes. (If you have a splatter guard, I recommend using it. Also, I don’t strain the fat, but feel free to do this if you prefer.)

Once the pan juices have reduced and the brisket has rested, shred the brisket in the large bowl with two forks. Pour the sauce over the brisket and toss well to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also usually add another teaspoon or so of smoked paprika for an additional smoky burst.

Serve the pulled brisket with warm tortillas and salsa for tacos. You can also put it on buns, use it for nachos, or throw some into a bowl of queso.

Yield: 8 servings

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Homesick Texan's Family Table is published!

So, I spent the past two years working on another book and today it’s published. Would you like to see a preview?

Like my first book, there are over 125 comforting Texan recipes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. There are also lots of stories and full-color landscape photos of Texas. To get a sense of how it's organized, here’s the table of contents, with a cow.

And here are some more cows. (While it may appear to the contrary, not every photo is of a cow. There are also bluebonnets, windmills, big sky, and numerous other photos taken across Texas. And, of course, lots of food.)

The recipes in this collection are inspired by old family favorites. This is Texan comfort food for any occasion, at any time of day. For instance, when we have the time, my family and friends love to linger at the breakfast table, so I’ve included lots of recipes for morning meals, such as Pecan Lime French Toast Casserole, Bacon and Molasses Breakfast Sausage, Breakfast Enchiladas, and Potato Chorizo Breakfast Tacos, which are made even better with homemade sausage, tortillas, and salsa.

You couldn’t have a Texan cookbook without salads and sides, so I’ve included a host of dishes that will round out any meal, from holiday dinners to backyard gatherings. Here’s my take on that Texan potluck and weeknight dinner mainstay, Frito Salad.

For the main event, I’ve got you covered with plenty of beef, pork, chicken, seafood, Tex-Mex, and meatless dishes, such as Sunday Brisket, Peppery Ribs, Black Bean Sopes with Chipotle Crema, and a decadent Chicken Spaghetti.

My family loves to bake, so I’ve shared some favorite bread recipes such as Bacon Cheddar Biscuits, Sweet Potato Tortillas, and Buttermilk Dinner Rolls. And there are also sweet treats, such as tangy Lemon Pie, creamy Divinity, and Mexican Chocolate Cake, a spicy twist on that Texan classic German chocolate cake.

You’ll also find an appetizer chapter, a soups and chilis chapter, and an accompaniments chapter stuffed with pickles, salsas, and jams.

While the food included is chock full of big Texas flavors, at heart this book is a celebration of spending time at the table with those that you love. My favorite memories come from shared meals with family and friends and I know many of you feel the same. I’ve spent the past two years working on The Homesick Texan’s Family Table and I’m thrilled it’s finally making its way out in the world and hopefully, into your kitchens. It’s available wherever books are sold.

If you’re in New York City this Saturday, April 5, I will be signing books at Powerhouse on 8th in Park Slope from 4 to 5. There will be other book signings coming later this year, which I’ll share with you soon. I look forward to meeting you!

This book is very dear to my heart as the photos and dishes come from places and people that I love. These are some of my favorite recipes and I find myself reaching for this collection whenever I want to make something delicious, whether it’s for a quick supper or an impromptu weekend gathering with friends. No matter the occasion, I've found that cooking this food always brings me closer to Texas and those that I love.

Thank you so much for supporting my first book, as it was your encouragement that allowed me to write another. I am so fortunate to have found this community of like-minded folks and appreciate each and every one of you every day.

But enough about the book, let's get cooking! Creating The Homesick Texan's Family Table has brought me a lot of joy and I'm so pleased that I finally get to share it with you.

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