The Homesick Texan Cookbook Review

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Original Cookbook Review by

A Cure for the Texas Homesick Blues

Pity the displaced Texan. After growing up and living in the Lone Star State, they find themselves in locations so foreign to Texan and southwestern cultures that people think chicken fried steak comes from a bird, Mexican food is a ninety-nine cent taco and nobody knows how to serve a glass of iced tea. Since we began TexasCooking.com in 1997, a significant portion of our readers have been displaced Texans from all over the US and the rest of the world who desperately seek a connection back home.

In 2005, Dallas-area native Lisa Fain was in exactly this situation having moved to New York City to pursue her publishing career. Here she started her blog, The Homesick Texan, documenting her missteps and successes with regard to finding decent Texas-style food in the Big Apple.

As always, necessity is the mother of invention, and she ultimately learned how to make many of her favorite recipes with ingredients found in grocery stores and ethnic food boutiques. Five years of active blogging, coupled with extensive research, has produced her first print cookbook -- a nice hardcover food diary with just over 150 recipes. The book is divided into twelve chapters ranging across subjects like morning food, chilis, soups and stews, seafood, sides, breads and sweets.

The book contains splendid food photography, as well as memorable landscapes, all shot by the author.

Texas Food Homesick Cures

What are some common themes and features of The Homesick Texan Cookbook? There's a lot of Tex-Mex. Even beyond the Tex-Mex section, you'll find Carnitas and other beef, pork and chicken dishes done with a Tex-Mex twist in the meats chapter, and Elotes in Vaso (Mexican corn) in the sides chapter. Not only that, but Fain obviously loves heat. Yes, heat. Heat as in cayenne, ancho, chipotle and adobo. That's right, folks, Lisa Fain is a chile head.

Many of these recipes contain powerful amounts of chile. The West Texas Stacked Enchiladas that we prepared from the cookbook made our mouths come alive. Furthermore, some of the Fain's recipe combinations will spark tumultuous debate among some Texans: Should chicken fried steak include cayenne pepper? Would you really want to bake a Texas Sheet Cake with ancho chile powder? (This ingredient is stated as optional.)

These are just a few examples indicating that buyers of this book should not expect completely traditional recipes. In fact, we think it's better to think of this cookbook as taking traditional Texas-style food and showing it in a new light -- a spicy light.

Beyond that, Fain presents some new (to me, anyway) food ideas. She makes her pie pastry with vegetable oil. It never occurred to us to press our corn tortillas between two sheets of parchment paper.

Texas food fans will find many keepers in Fain's cookbook. The Pumpkin Empanadas and the Pork Chops with Salsa Verde Rice sound really good. So do the Dr Pepper Ribs. The Tomato Cobbler grabs our attention, too.

A stand-out recipe is the West Texas Stacked Enchiladas, a popular dish in El Paso where the enchiladas are stacked like flapjacks, not rolled. We selected this recipe to try out for ourselves. Making this brought back memories of assembling King Ranch Chicken. Once baked, these enchiladas are served with a fried egg atop the stack. It's a wonderful combination. (This style is commonly advertised in central Texas restaurants as New Mexico Enchiladas.) However, be warned: Fain calls for two cans of chile adobo sauce. We cut the the amount of adobo sauce in half and they were still plenty hot.

Fain likes fire in her food. Many people will want to adjust some of the spices for their own tastes.

We met Lisa Fain during her recent book tour which took her through Austin, where she spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the city's independent bookstore, Book People. The Homesick Texan Cookbook takes a new look at the numerous foods and food regions of Texas. We expect it to burn up the cookbook bestseller charts.

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From The Homesick Texan Cookbook

West Texas Stacked Enchiladas

For the Enchiladas
  • 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil, divided
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 large eggs
For the Chili Sauce
  • 6 dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
  • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  1. In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the ancho chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff, Fill the skillet with enough water to cover chiles. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chiles.
  2. Put ancho chiles, chipotle chiles, garlic, half of the diced onions, cumin, oregano, allspice, and chicken broth in a blender and puree. It should be thick and smooth.
  3. In a pot, heat 1 tablespoon of lard or oil on low heat and then whisk in the flour. Pour in the sauce, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and black pepper to taste and adjust other seasonings as needed.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a large baking dish.
  5. In a skillet, heat on medium 1 tablespoon of lard or oil. Cook each tortilla for about 30 seconds on each side (or until soft). Keep warm in a towel or a warmer.
  6. To assemble the enchiladas, take a tortilla and place it in the baking dish. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the sauce on each tortilla and then add 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, mixed and 1 teaspoon of onions. Add another tortilla, and add some amount of sauce, cheese and onions. Add a third tortilla, and again top with sauce, cheese and onions. Repeat until you have four stacks.
  7. Bake enchiladas in the oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. While enchiladas are cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of lard or oil in the cast-iron skillet and then fry the eggs two at a time (or however many will fit). To serve, place an enchilada stack on a plate and top with a fried egg.

* * *

Lisa Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who currently resides in New York City. She writes her food blog Homseick Texan, and has also published in Saveur and Edible Austin. Her photographs have been exhibited worldwide, including two which reside permanently in the Library of Congress.

Book
The Homesick Texan Cookbook
Softcover
368 pages
Publisher
Hyperion (September 13, 2011)
Purchase
Purchase Book on Amazon.Com
Website
http://reata.net
Twitter
@reatarestaurant

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