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Holiday gift guide 2012

While I love spending time in the kitchen, I’d have to say I’m happiest when I’m driving around Texas, enjoying our state’s rich and gracious bounty. No matter where I go, there’s always something new to see. This year’s gift guide reflects some of the trips I’ve taken this year, a year that’s been full of family, friends and many joyful discoveries.

Homemade Texas cookies
One of the good people I had the chance to meet this year is Jerita Howard, proprietor of One Smart Cookie, an Abilene-based business that sells, yes, cookies and brownies. Her recipes are based on old family recipes, and the results are warm and delicious. She uses all-natural ingredients and every cookie is handmade, which results in a sweet treat that feels like it was made with love. The raspberry brownies are my favorite.

Cajeta from Texas goats
When I was staying in Houston during Sandy, I had the chance to visit Revival Market. The owner Morgan Weber, who’s also a rancher, is very passionate about good stewardship of the land and raising healthy and happy animals. His shop not only offers charcuterie and prime meats, but local produce, cheeses and breads as well. There’s also a pantry section with canned goods both made in-house and locally sourced. Revival Market can’t offer mail order just yet (but do visit the shop if you’re in Houston), but one of the things they sell—Blue Heron Farm’s Bourbon Cajeta—can be ordered online. Cajeta is a goat’s milk caramel that’s wonderful on ice cream, spread into a warm tortilla or just eaten straight from the jar with a spoon, and Blue Heron’s one is especially fine if you don’t want to make it yourself.

Smoked turkey
Like many Texan families, we usually have a smoked turkey from Greenberg’s on our holiday table. Now, I’ve mentioned this Texas institution before, but since I’d never actually visited their smokehouse in Tyler until this fall I thought they were worth repeating. Greenberg’s building is plain and doesn’t call much attention to itself, save for a sign sporting a graphic red turkey. But even if you miss the sign, you can’t miss the fragrant smoke the rises from the building, filling the air with the scent of Texan holidays. If you’ve never had one, Greenberg’s turkeys are tender, juicy and full of flavor. Be sure and save the bones as they make for an incredible stock.

Texas jelies and jams
My family has a theory that my grandma knows everyone in Collin County, where our family has lived for years. For instance, we’ll throw out a name and she’ll nod her head and say how much she likes that person and then she’ll tell us their entire family history, as well. We get to test this theory occasionally, like this past fall when I asked my grandma if she was familiar with the Luscombe family, who makes fine jellies and jams at their Anna farm. “Of course, I know them,” said my grandma. She then said that not only was their farm was right down the road from hers, but they also attended her church. I decided to pay a visit to the Luscombe Farm’s store, but it wasn’t yet open for the season when I arrived. But that’s okay, because Leslie Luscombe offers her award-winning jellies—such as Jalapeño Blackberry and Sweet Fire confetti—online, too.

Smoked sausages and smoked cheese
When I’m visiting the farm, I like to take a Sunday drive along Highway 82. It’s lovely, as the landscape is pristine and there are many charming small towns along the route. One of these towns is Muenster—an old Texas town with a strong German heritage. And as you would expect in a German community, there’s a large meat market called Fischer’s that sells house-cured sausages. (They’ll process your deer for you, too). The sausages are excellent, but they also cold smoke a variety of cheeses. I love their smoked cheddar, which I like to pair with their sausages or melt with bacon and jalapeños on thick slices of bread, which makes for a decadent grilled cheese.

Texas cookbooks
Now, a friend recently asked what was my favorite Texan cookbook, and I couldn’t come up with just one as they’re all pretty wonderful. That said, Robb Walsh’s books are always a welcome addition to my library and this year he came out with the excellent Texas Eats. If you’re familiar with Robb’s work, you know he’s passionate about the foodways of Texas and enjoys exploring both where Texas food is headed and where it’s been. While his books usually focus on a particular topic, such as Tex-Mex or barbecue, this one takes a broader look at the state’s cuisine, exploring not only the old favorites but also discussing some newer influences, such as the rise of the Vietnamese population in Houston. Other new Texan cookbooks to check out are Jesse Griffiths’ Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish; El Paso native Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack’s Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor; Ellise Pierce’s Cowgirl Chef; and Houston chef Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico.

Foodways Texas
Finally, one of my favorite organizations is Foodways Texas, a non-profit group with a mission to preserve, promote and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas. Membership not only helps us document and honor what makes Texan cuisine so unique, but it’s also a lot of fun to attend their gatherings. This year’s symposium will be in Austin and will focus on barbecue. I’ll be there and it would be a treat to see you, too.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday, everyone!

  1. Can I ask an honest question? Obviously, up to you whether or not to answer. You've been so successful with such a great blog and book, I would think you could work from anywhere. Does this make you want to move back to Texas, since it seems to be such a part of your soul and the place that will always be home to you? Yes, my motivation for asking is partly personal since I am living in a city I don't 100% love. I don't get the impression that you love NY, but maybe that's just not the focus of the blog.

  2. Renee–That's a great question and one that's difficult to answer. I do love certain things about New York, though it's not in my heart like Texas. If I moved back, however, I don't know where I'd go since I have family and friends all over the state. They do want me to move back, though.

  3. I'd suggest Austin. Central Texas with a straight shot to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio all within 4 hours.

  4. I love your Texas gift guide! Since I've been reading your site, I've since moved back a little closer to Texas and I'm so happy! The more time we spend in Texas, the happier I am 🙂

  5. James–Austin is definitely on the list. A dear friend who lives there is constantly selling me on her hometown, though having lived there and spent much time there myself, I don't need too much convincing!

    DesserForTwo-Thank you, lady! And I know just how you feel.

  6. Anonymous

    I am also a displaced Texan and miss it quite a bit. Arizona is a place to love in itself, however I look forward to retirement and days when I can spend months at a time in Central Texas where I grew up and all my family still lives.

  7. Arlene

    Thanks for the word about the Foodways Texas seminar – that will be a great gift for my hard-to-shop-for husband (and I get to attend as well)(smile). We lived in Texas for only 18 months but tried to get all the barbecue we could while we were there!

  8. I too am a displaced Texan now residing in the Hudson Valley of New York for the last 24 years. I would advise that if you plan to go home I would do it sooner than later. I often visit the Golden Triangle of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Corpus Christi where my mother and sister now live. While I am there I find that I can't wait to get back to New York. It's true, I am now a New Yorker. I am not sure when that transition really took root but I now view Texas as a place to visit and a piece of my past. This is only my advice but perhaps something to really think about.

  9. TexasGriff Lover

    Hi Lisa, I'm wanting to cook a prime rib for our Christmas dinner. Is there a Texas spin for prime rib, and what would you serve with it besides taters?

  10. Yes I to am a misplaced Texan, only alot farther away in England. But it is good to have access to the recipies I grew up with, I just have to alter some ingredients as they are not always available. Though I do get some funny looks asking for them in the grocery store.

  11. Anon–I bet your family looks forward to that, too!

    Arlene–There's nothing quite like Texas barbecue!

    New Salem Homestead–That is something to think about. Thank you.

  12. TexasGriff Lover–We make it just like everyone else! I don't like to mess too much with good beef as it tastes so great on its own. This Green chile hominy casserole makes for a good side dish.

    Deb–I can only imagine!

  13. TexasGriff Lover

    Thanks for the Green chile hominy casserole suggestion, it is a perfect side dish, and I've made it before. I've been blessed to live in Texas these last 16 years, moving down from Oklahoma, and don't plan on ever leaving, Texas is the best place imo to live.

  14. TexasGriff Lover–You're welcome!

  15. great list as always, lisa. you know we'd love to have you in austin- texas friendly means we have an extra room whenever you need it! happy holidays!

  16. I lived the first 21 years of life in Texas, but have been in California the last 26 years. I miss BBQ the most. My husband is from OK and we get Head Country BBQ sauce from back there and it's pretty good. Can anyone recommend a bottled brand from Texas? Grocery store brands just don't cut it, especially the ones out here.

  17. Karin- Can you get Stubb's BBQ sauce out there? I could get it when I lived in Seattle and now that I'm back in Texas I still use that the most. I think we have 4 different brands in the fridge.

  18. Karin, Absolutely World Class, Inc. of Abilene, TX makes an amazing bbq sauce…Absolutely Mild, Mildly Wild & Absolutely Wild…all three are delicious!

  19. Jennifer C, where can you buy Absolutely World Class?

  20. Anonymous

    Where can you buy the Blue Heron Farm Cajeta online? It doesn't seem to be available on their website.

  21. you post prompted a cooking question for me. My father-in-law smokes Turkeys and other meats. He brought a smoked turkey for Thanksgiving this year. As my wife and I are constantly making chicken stock from home roasted chickens, I decided to make a stock from the Turkey bones after he deboned and sliced it.

    The stock ended up (after several hours of cooking like I do chicken) with a milky whiteish hue to it. Is normal for a smoked turkey?

  22. Stephanie–Muchas gracias, mi amiga!

    Karin and Susan–I'll second Stubb's.

    Jennifer–Thanks for the tip! I've never heard of that brand.

    Anon–If you email them or call, they will be able to take care of you.

  23. JustKJ–Hmmmm…I've never seen that before!

  24. This homesick Texan writer will be cured right after Christmas when I fly east to West Texas, and my brother, who has his own vegetable and pepper garden. Will look at this website w/my family.

  25. Our Greenberg's smoked turkey just arrived via UPS a few days ago. Best Christmas gift! We'll serve it on New Year's Eve. Great gift line-up. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Anonymous

    Where are you, Lisa, we miss you…..

  27. Anonymous

    Hi Lisa,
    I know this is late… but as a gift to myself 🙂 I wanted to try and order the cajeta you listed above. Do you order from the market? or the farm, directly? Any help would be appreciated (before I contact either). Thanks!

  28. Lynda–Try the farm. And enjoy!

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