Sunday, September 14, 2014

September events

Howdy! I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be in Texas the next couple of weeks doing some events for my new book, The Homesick Texan's Family Table.

This trip, I'll be zig-zagging across the state and will be eating and taking photos every step of the way. My aim is to post some of my adventures here on the blog, but you can also follow along on Instagram.

Here’s the list of places I’ll be and if you’re in the area I hope I get to meet you!

San Angelo, J.P.W. Learning Center Book Gala, September 16, 6pm
, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
San Angelo, HEB, September 17, 10 am to 12pm, signing (free)

Silsbee, Ice House Museum, September 20, 11am
, talk and signing (free)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Culinary Luncheon, September 25, 11:30am, lunch and signing (ticketed event)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Cookbook Gala, September 25, 6pm, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
Austin, Byte of Texas Book Fair, September 27, Bob Bullock Museum, signing, 11am to 12pm (free)
Austin, Byte of Texas conference, September 27-28, keynote (ticketed)

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Squash and green chile casserole

squash and green chile casserole

If you’re a Texan of a certain age, then you probably remember Liz Carpenter. Mrs. Carpenter was most famously Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, but she was also a longtime journalist and public relations specialist, as well. When I lived in Austin many years ago, you’d see her out and about at various functions, and Mrs. Carpenter’s puff of white hair and abundant wit always stood out in the crowd.

During this time, in the mid-1990s, she wrote a book about raising her brother’s children after he died. I knew that my grandma was a fan of both her and Lady Bird so I asked her if she’d like me to get her a copy of the book, as Mrs. Carpenter was having a signing in Austin.

My grandma said that she would love a copy of the book, but also suggested I get one for my dad. I thought that was curious until my grandma explained that Mrs. Carpenter’s brother, Tom Sutherland, had been my dad’s English professor at school.

Apparently, Professor Sutherland and my dad got along very well, and as Professor Sutherland liked to entertain, he had my dad and my mom, along with some other students, over for dinner a few times when they were in college. When I met Mrs. Carpenter at a book signing, I told her this story and how much her brother’s kindness and classes had meant to my dad. She smiled and said that she had heard that a lot—apparently her brother had been a very popular teacher.

squash and green chile casserole

While I don’t know what her brother served his students when he had them over for dinner, apparently hospitality ran in the family, as Mrs. Carpenter was also known for her good food. Her recipe for squash casserole was even heralded in 1987 by Texas Monthly as an excellent dish to take to potlucks and share with friends.

There are many ways to make squash casserole, and for the past few years I have to admit that my favorite recipe has been my own Tex-Mex squash casserole, which is spicy and flavorful with cheese and tomatoes. That said, this time of year when squash is in such abundance I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it, and when I saw Mrs. Carpenter’s recipe, I decided it would be a good time to branch out from the usual.

There are several different ways to prepare squash in a casserole and hers is an egg-based dish that’s rich with cheese and fiery with chiles. Her recipe called for canned green chiles, but since green chiles such as Hatch chiles are now in season, I went the fresh chile route instead.

Her squash casserole recipe also calls for parsley, but I figured if you’re making the dish more Texan by adding chiles, you might as well use cilantro instead. A couple of other additions I made to her dish was adding a little garlic, throwing in a dash of cumin, and sautéing the squash and aromatics in butter instead of boiling them before baking.

squash and green chile casserole

That said, despite the changes I made, at heart it was still her egg-based squash casserole. While ostensibly the squash casserole is a side dish, this one has enough substance that you could easily serve it as a main dish along with a salad or soup. Most importantly, however, I have to say her recommendation that it makes a fine dish for sharing is accurate, as this squash and green chile casserole is just too good to keep to yourself.

Squash and green chile casserole (adapted from Texas Monthly)

3-4 Hatch or Anaheim chiles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds summer squash, sliced into 1/4” rounds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups (1 pound) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup finely crushed saltines

First you’ll need to roast the chiles in order to peel the tough skin. Place the chiles under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place the chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes. Take the chiles out of the bag and gently rub off the skin. Remove the stem and seeds and dice the chiles.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the squash, and then while occasionally stirring, cook until the squash is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Turn off the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 3-quart baking dish. (If your skillet is oven proof and holds this amount, you can just use that instead.)

For easier mixing, transfer the squash to a large mixing bowl. Add the diced chiles, flour, and baking powder. Stir until well distributed. Add the cheese and again, stir until well combined. Whisk together the eggs with then milk and then pour over the squash and stir until well combined.

Lightly sprinkle half the crushed saltines along the bottom of the baking dish. Pour in the squash mixture into the dish and then sprinkle the rest of the saltines on top. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is set and the top is lightly browned in places.

Serve warm. If you want to take it to a gathering, it can easily be reheated.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits

tomato cheddar bacon biscuits

The other morning I was waiting for the cable guy to arrive. I’m sure you know the drill—the cable company gives you a window of time and if you’re not home within that slot then you miss your appointment. And this you don’t want to do as it might take another week for them to send someone to fix your problem. Not to mention, despite everyone’s good intentions the repair guy usually doesn’t arrive until the end of the allotted time. So you’re stuck at home for a while.

You don’t need me to tell you about waiting for repair people, however, so let’s instead talk about happier things—like this batch of tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits. While I was biding my time at home, I had this urge to bake something. That said, because I hadn’t been to the grocery store or the farmers market in a few days, and I couldn’t leave lest I miss the cable guy, I decided to challenge myself and bake with whatever I had available.

Since I’m always cooking, you’d think that I would usually have a pretty well stocked larder, but this particular morning I didn’t have a whole lot on hand. For instance, it being summer and all, my first inclination had been to make something with fruit, but I realized I’d eaten the last of my blueberries and peaches over the weekend.

I was also out of sugar and eggs, which ruled out making cakes and cookies. But I did have plenty of cheese, buttermilk, flour, and grape tomatoes. As I poked around the refrigerator, I spotted some bacon in there, as well. And that’s how I came to bake a batch of tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits, which now may be one of my favorite things.

To make these, I followed my usual recipe for biscuits and then added some chopped grape tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, along with cooked and crumbled bacon. For good measure, I added a generous shake of black pepper, as well.

If you’re a fan of tomato cobblers or tomato pie, then you will love these biscuits. The soft, buttery biscuit is a perfect vehicle for the juicy tomatoes, while the sharp cheddar and smoky, salty bacon adds depth of flavor, as well. That said, if you don’t eat meat, you can leave out the bacon in these biscuits and they will still be very good, as it’s the tomato and the cheddar that are the true stars.

When my biscuits were fresh from the oven, I scrambled up an egg and made a breakfast sandwich with one while it was still warm. Usually I adorn my breakfast sandwiches with cheese or bacon, but since those items were already in the biscuit, no embellishing was necessary. It was wonderful.

Of course, if you’re like me you know that biscuits aren’t just for breakfast and these savory biscuits are no different. They go well with many things, including soups, salads, and fried chicken. Though they can also be enjoyed simply on their own with a generous pat of cold, sweet butter.

Tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter
4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grape tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup of buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450°F and grease and lightly flour a baking sheet or a large ovenproof skillet.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in the shredded cheddar until well combined. Cut the stick of butter into pieces and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until the flour is crumbly. Stir in the bacon and chopped grape tomatoes. Pour in the buttermilk and then stir until the dough is well combined. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky.

Pour the dough out on a floured surface and knead for a minute. Now the dough should be smooth and no longer wet. (You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find that it’s sticking.) Roll out the dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick and then fold over in half.

Using a round cutter cut out the biscuits from the folded dough. (You may have to gather the scraps and roll out again if you run out of room while cutting.) Place the cut biscuits on the greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up, not out) and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Yield: 8-10 biscuits

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