Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turkey tamales with guajillo-cranberry mole

turkey tamales with guajillo-cranberry mole

My dad’s family always gets together the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I think this is smart as there’s nothing more stressful then either having to make a choice on where to eat on Thanksgiving or—even worse—shuttling between two huge dinners in order to make everyone happy. Nope, Thanksgiving should be a time where you can enjoy yourself and savor both the meal and company, something that my dad’s side of the family has figured out how to do right.

The food on offer at this Saturday gathering is usually Thanksgiving fare, with Uncle Bubba providing additional entertainment by frying up a turkey or two outside. Now, I have to admit, I haven’t been to one of these feasts in quite some time as I return to New York the Saturday after Thanksgiving to avoid the Sunday-travel rush. Graciously, however, I’m always included in the discussion about the get-together, and this year Aunt Janet decided to mix things up a bit by suggesting that a Mexican feast would be more fun instead.

As I started reading the emails from family chiming in on what they’d provide, I was inspired when I saw a request for tamales. As we enter December it also marks the beginning of tamalada season, a time when Texan families gather to make a mess of tamales to feed friends and family throughout the holidays. And what better stuffing for a tamale than leftover turkey?

turkey tamales with guajillo-cranberry mole

Turkey tamales are usually made with one of two salsas, either a tangy tomatillo or a rich mole (pronounced moe-lay). I find that smoked turkey goes especially well with a zesty salsa verde, but nothing beats roasted turkey paired with the earthy bittersweet flavor of mole—it’s a classic combination. I am, however, not one to follow the rules. So while a traditional mole poblano is usually comprised of ancho and pasilla chiles, along with almonds and raisins, I made up a Thanksgiving-themed mole with dried cranberries, pecans and the bright berry-like guajillo chiles instead.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pecan cobbler with sorghum syrup

pecan cobbler

If you stop at a barbecue joint or at a catfish shack in small towns across Texas, more than likely one of your dessert options will be pecan cobbler. Its appeal is wide yet you don’t see it often offered on larger city menus, which for me makes it all the more of a down-home dessert.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What exactly is pecan cobbler?” I was wondering the same thing myself recently when a reader asked me for my best recipe. See, as much as my family loves its cobblers and our pecans, we’ve never served pecan cobbler. Nope, our pecan dessert of choice is a gooey custardy slice of pecan pie.

A little research was obviously in order. First, let’s talk about cobbler. When I think of cobbler I think of a filling, usually fruit, that has a crust on top. It can be a pie-like crust, a cake-like crust or a biscuit-like crust. But the key to a cobbler is that the crust and the filling intermingle usually with an equal ratio of crust to filling.

The majority of the pecan cobbler recipes I saw, however, had a pecan-pie filling on top of a piecrust. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I failed to see how this was any different from pecan pie, except perhaps that the cobbler was baked in a square baking pan instead of a pie pan.

pecan cobbler

My search continued. I then spoke to a friend who has eaten much pecan cobbler and he assured me that that those recipes appeared to be wrong—the crust should indeed be soft and fluffy, like a biscuit. After a little more digging, at last I discovered a recipe on Texas Monthly’s recipe swap. It was there that I found a woman who did make hers with a biscuit base and so I used that as a starting point for my adaptation.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cactus casserole with rice, ancho chiles and cheese

cactus casserole

Every year at this time, I face the same problem. See, I’m a bit lackadaisical when it comes to buying my plane ticket home for Thanksgiving. And now that it’s so close to the date, prices have risen to insane heights. Oh, you’d think that I’d get wise and start buying my ticket early, but much to the consternation of my family I do this to myself every year.

Of course, I tell myself that if it’s meant to happen I will be with my family. I am patient and calm. But one person who I know for certain won’t be at the farm for Thanksgiving this year is my cousin Andrew, who will be with his girlfriend’s family instead. And since Andrew is always in charge of green-bean casserole, I just don’t know if we’ll be serving it this year or not.

Well, this got me thinking.

cactus nopal

Have you ever eaten cactus? Edible cactus, which in Spanish is known as nopal, comes from the prickly pear cactus, a beautiful plant that dots the landscape of West Texas. The plant has wide paddles that resemble a beaver’s tail and with a little care (yes, you remove the thorns) the paddles make for a delicious vegetable. It’s also extremely nutritious, as some studies have noted that eating cactus helps treat diabetes and lower cholesterol levels. Though health benefits aside, I simply like to eat it because it tastes so darn good.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sweet potato biscuits with chorizo cream gravy and Foodways Texas

sweet potato biscuits

On Wednesday mornings, I take a tour of Texas’s foodways via its newspapers. I may learn about Mexican cookies being baked in San Antonio; a chile pepper rivalry between El Paso and New Mexico; a sausage festival in Lubbock; the effects of extreme heat on the Valley’s citrus industry; and how this year’s crop of Galveston oysters have finally arrived.

Foodways is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period.” And Texan foodways are an endless source of fascination for me, a topic I never tire of consuming whether it’s through research, discussion or by simply sharing Texan food at the table.

I've mentioned my association with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), a group dedicated to preserving Southern food culture. And while I do consider Texas part of the South, I also consider it beyond being simply Southern as Texas, with its diverse foodways that span from the Mexican border, along the Gulf Coast, through the Piney Woods and Hill Country on up to the panhandle plains, is a place unique to itself.

Back in July, I was part of a group comprised of restaurateurs, writers, ranchers, farmers, fisherman, brewers and academics that met on the campus of Texas A&M with the purpose of creating a group dedicated to preserving, promoting and celebrating our rich food culture. And by the end of the day, we had formed a new group known as Foodways Texas.

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