Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jalapeno cheese bun recipe for a proper Texas burger

When I first moved to New York, I was struck by the presence of what was called a Texas burger. At first I was thrilled, curious as to what it could contain—guacamole, jalapenos or salsa all seemed like reasonable guesses. But I was wrong. In New York, a Texas burger means that it’s topped with a fried egg. A fried egg? Now that doesn’t really say Texas to me—does it say Texas to you?

For almost 15 years, I’ve pondered this burger. You may find burgers in Texas that have a fried egg on them, of course, but it’s definitely the exception not the norm. When I think of the burgers I grew up with, I think about a thick patty topped with cheese, lettuce (preferably crunchy iceberg), tomatoes, onions and dill pickle slices, nestled between a bun spread with mustard and mayonnaise. And perhaps you’ll throw on some jalapenos if you’re feeling racy.

Of course, Texas being a large and diverse place there are variations on our burgers. On some Texas burgers you may find refried beans and corn chips, or cream cheese with jalapenos, or guacamole and bacon or perhaps a hearty dollop of chile con queso. All of these additions, however, still remind me of our native cuisine. But the fried egg? Not so much.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Sour cream chicken enchiladas recipe

sour cream chicken enchiladas

When I was in college, on Saturday afternoons a large group of us would celebrate the weekend by going to lunch at the local Tex-Mex restaurant. We’d toast the weekend with tall glasses of iced tea and salty chips dipped in salsa, and as we were in North Texas, most of us would order the house special—sour cream chicken enchiladas.

Tex-Mex is the large umbrella phrase that covers what people have determined to be Americanized Mexican food, but it’s a very broad term as a Tex-Mex plate found in North Texas will be very different than a Tex-Mex plate found near the Gulf. This is what I discovered when I went to college in the small town of Sherman near the Oklahoma border. Green sauce was gone, with sour-cream based enchilada sauce to be found in its place. Different, yes, but just as satisfying.

sour cream chicken enchiladas

The sour cream enchiladas were stuffed with shredded chicken that had been spiced with generous amounts of salt and black pepper, a simple blend that still had flavor. The sauce itself was a creamy blend of sour cream and chicken broth. A few pickled jalapenos were added, yet they provided more color than fire, as all that cream mitigated any heat. But what this sauce lacked in piquancy, it made up for it in creamy comfort and a taste so smooth I’d always order an extra bowl on the side.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rain makes ancho chile applesauce

I went apple picking in Connecticut with my mom last weekend. It wasn’t the first time I’d picked apples—we have apple trees at the family farm and every August they need to be harvested. (Though this year, some creature ate all the apples so there weren't any for us to eat.) But it was the first time I’d been apple picking in New England.

When we arrived at the farm, I was struck by how the air was fragrant with apples, made prominent by the recent rains. My mom said, “I wish there was a way to photograph this smell so I could keep it with me forever.”

And everyone was so happy! The orchards were filled with teenagers, young families, grandparents and little kids, with nary a frown to be found. While ostensibly, apple picking could be construed as work, it’s definitely joyful work. Is it because apples are so round and cute? Or is it because apples are the hallmark of a new season? I don’t know, but having pulled vegetables out of the ground and plucked apples from trees, I can attest from personal experience that apple picking is definitely the superior farm task.

My mom was in Connecticut for a job interview. This is a very important job that I hope she gets, but at the same time I have mixed feelings about it as it would mean she would have to move away from Texas. And as my brother and dad have moved away from Texas, too, I told her that I just might have to move back home so someone in our immediate family would still live there. Of course, this would be highly ironic since if she does move to Connecticut she will only be a train ride away. She wasn’t pleased with this bit of information.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Homemade cheese: queso blanco

What if I told you that making cheese required nothing more than a gallon of milk, a few limes and a cheese-cloth—would you believe me? OK, you might want to use a thermometer if you’re feeling scientific, but you don’t have to use one. Yep, with as much effort as it takes to go to the store, you can soon impress your friends with your homemade queso blanco.

After reading about Barbara Kingsolver’s cheese-making adventure in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” I knew it was something I definitely wanted to try—she made it sound so easy! But as I started doing research on making cheese, I realized that there were certain ingredients I would need to make most of the cheeses I wanted to create. Strange ingredients—such as rennet, calcium chloride, tartaric acid and mesophilic culture—that you won’t find at your local supermarket.

You can order these supplies online, but when I’m bitten by a bug I require instant gratification. And I was determined to make cheese right at that moment.

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