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.
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.
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.
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!