Cooking with Texas Highways Review


Original Cookbook Review by

Texas Highways, the monthly magazine published by The Texas Department of Transportation, does an amazing job of reporting the sights, sounds and tastes of Texas. Its editors have drawn upon its archives of previous articles and its warm relationships with restaurant owners, chefs, bed and breakfast hosts, readers, food writers and its own staff of Texas foodies to put together an excellent collection of recipes for the dishes Texans love.

Cooking with Texas Highways is a big, beautiful book with fine recipes for Texas favorites like barbecue, chili and Tex-Mex, but you really get more than you might expect in this book. From Snacks & Beverages to Desserts and everything in between, Texas culture in all its multi-ethnic variety is well represented. Take the Snacks & Beverages section for instance -- Vietnamese Fried Egg Rolls and Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls are slipped in between Stuffed Jalapeños and Tex-Mex Popcorn. Likewise, Mexican-Style Hot Chocolate and Swedish Glögg share a page.

There's some good reading in addition to the recipes. The "Name That Pan Dulce!" page is a mini seminar on Mexican breads, complete with glossary, while the "Ro-Tel Forever" page contains a brief history of the canned mainstay of Tex-Mex cooking, along with the Famous Ro-Tel Cheese Dip recipe.

For those cooks who are breaking in to Tex-Mex cooking for the first time, there are helpful tip pages for both enchiladas and tamales, along with a fine selection of recipes for both: Bean Tamales, Red Chile Tamales, Fresh Corn Tamales, and Tex-Mex Enchiladas, West Texas/New Mexico-Style Enchiladas, Enchiladas del Jardin (Garden Enchiladas), Enchiladas con Crema, and more, with all the accompanying sauces and fillings.

Fish and seafood recipes make up a particularly nice part of the Main Dishes section with recipes like Shrimp and Broccoli with Pine Nuts, Crawfish (or Shrimp) Étouffée, Oysters on the Half Shell with Caper Sauce, Oven-Roasted Salmon, Baked Lemon Catfish, Catfish Parmesan and Grilled Snapper. But traditionalists will find what they are looking for, which is to say that barbecue, chili and chicken-fried steak are given plenty of attention. You will find Threadgill's Chicken-Fried Steak, including both their meat seasoning and cream gravy recipes.

The Desserts section contains a page titled "Tunneling to Fame" about the Tunnel of Fudge cake that won the Pillsbury Bake-Off for Houstonian Ella Rita Helfrich in 1966. Pillsbury discontinued a key ingredient - dry frosting mix - when they switched to canned frosting, and cooks all over the country have been trying ever since to come up with a replica Tunnel of Fudge cake. Fortunately, a recipe that "closely approximates the original" is included. And that is just one page. Pie, cake, cookie, cobbler and ice cream recipes abound.

Dutch Oven Joy

One of the nicest surprises in this book is the section that, alone, is worth the price of the book: Dutch-Oven Dishes.

Dutch-Oven cookery has always appealed to me, but I thought I would have to camp out on a regular basis to get very good at it. All you need is a backyard. The Dutch-Oven Dishes section does not merely recite recipes, but is a virtual course in Dutchin'.

The last thing you need is a place to cook. This can be a patch of dirt in your backyard - you just want a spot where you can have a small ring of coals without setting your place ablaze. (I cut an old 55-gallon drum in thirds, discarded the middle portion, and used one of the two ends, filled with 1 to 2 inches of sand, as a Dutch-oven firebox. You can give the other end to another Dutch-oven enthusiast or cook with two ovens simultaneously.)

Thanks to my reading, I know exactly what I need to get started. I also know about the "ring" method of temperature control, along with dozens more tips and techniques.

There are three different recipes for sourdough biscuits, as well as flapjacks, several delicious-sounding dishes like Nutty Chicken, Dutch-Oven Potatoes, Sassy Meat Loaf Ring, Easy Chicken Pot Pie, the elegant Brie with Toasted Pecans, and desserts like Peach Cobbler and, of all things, Black Forest Icebox Pie.

Cooking with Texas Highways is not the first compilation Texas Highways cookbook, nor will it be the last, but it is definitely one you should have. Oh, and did I mention the splendid photography? This is a really nice book to sit down with, but it will shine its brightest in your kitchen.

Selecting one representative recipe from Cooking with Texas Highways is nigh unto impossible. The following recipe though is a good example of the spirit of the book -- good, basic ingredients put to imaginative use. Don't dismiss it because it's a salad (if you are not the salad type). This is a keeper.

Sweet Onion and Fried Chicken Salad

  • 1 large head leaf lettuce, or a combination of lettuces
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 whole chicken breasts, halved, boned, and cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Texas 1015 SuperSweet), thinly sliced
Arrange lettuce leaves, tomatoes, and mushrooms on 4 salad plates; set aside.

In a shallow bowl, mix flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt and coarse-grind pepper. Place milk in a separate bowl. Dip chicken strips into milk and then into flour mixture to coat. Fry chicken in hot oil on both sides for a total of 5 minutes or until golden brown. Drain chicken on paper towels, reserving drippings in pan.

Stir vinegar into drippings, scraping bottom and sides of pan. Pour vinegar mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in mustard. Add shallots and tarragon and season with salt and pepper; set dressing aside.

Arrange chicken strips and onion slices on top of salads. Serve with mustard-tarragon dressing on the side. Yield: 4 servings.

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Cooking with Texas Highways
272 pages
University of Texas Press 2005-05-01
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com