Texas On The Plate Review
By Terry Thompson-Anderson
The author's passion for Texas and Texas cuisine illuminates her latest cookbook, Texas on the Plate. Terry Thompson-Anderson, veteran chef and culinary instructor, has created an exciting, beautiful testament to Texas food as it exists right now in the 21st century. Her fascination is due in large part to the evolutionary process that has resulted in what Texans are eating these days. In the four-page introduction, Thompson-Anderson says:
Texas, as a unified entity, has existed under six flags: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. In addition to these six major influences on the state's culture, twenty-eight major ethnic groups settled in various parts of Texas where native Indians had inhabited Texas for thousands of years. Each brought their skills at preparing the foods of their native homelands. In many instances, they introduced new food items to the area. They also developed new ways of preparing the native ingredients that they found in Texas. These dishes formed the basis of an ever-evolving "Texas Cuisine."
Now, as anyone familiar with cookbooks knows, most of them do not contain four-page introductions. But there is a great deal about Texas on the Plate that is not ordinary.
The first thing one notices about this book is its beauty. It's big (10-1/4" x 8-3/4"), and its 304 pages are absolutely littered with impressive photographs, including beautiful presentations of many dishes found within the book, and Texas and its people, too, mountain to prairie, seaside to forest.
I found myself reading Texas on the Plate straight through, unusual for me as I have a habit of skipping around when evaluating a cookbook. The book is so well ordered, the recipes so good, and side notes so interesting that my attention was not diverted from the front cover to the back. Without going into detail about any one of them at this point, the book's sections are:
- Foods for Grazing
- Soups, Salads, and Great Breads
- If It Swims
- Things with Wings
- Meat, Tame and Wild
- The Good Stuff
- My Favorite Texas Wineries
- The Texas Cook's Pantry
There is no mistaking the fact that Texas on the Plate was authored by a chef. The brilliant recipes give that away. But the "average" cook should not be intimidated by a chef's cookbook. Like recipes in any cookbook, Thompson-Anderson's collection ranges from quick-and-easy to labor-intensive-but-worth-it. Oh, if you're a fan of those four-ingredient cookbooks, Texas on the Plate probably isn't your cup of tea, but you'll be missing a lot.
Even a seasoned cook may shy away from a chef's cookbook after glancing at recipe titles. Take, for example, Crawfish Boulettes with Orange-Tequila Sauce from the book's Foods for Grazing (think Appetizers) section. Sound too impossibly fancy? Well, a boulette is a meatball, for heavens sake, which is about as down-to-earth as it gets.
Nor does Thompson-Anderson turn up her nose at ingredients that lend convenience and economy to preparation. She advises in her excellent Chili Con Queso Dip recipe,
Another tip: don't try to fancy it up by using some gourmet variety of real cheese. It just won't be chile con queso if you do. Just use plain old pasteurized processed cheese - the kind that comes in rectangular blocks. The Texas-born-and-bred grocery chain H-E-B markets a good one under the name Easy Melt - The Party Cheese.
You will also find recipes that call for Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes with Chiles, together with other pre-made items that will hasten preparation, like brownie mix and Smucker's peach preserves. Perhaps that will dispel any notions you may have about chefs cooking everything from scratch.
Before I get to the recipes, I must mention the Basics and The Texas Cook's Pantry sections. The Basics is six pages of closely packed culinary wisdom and savvy. Stock making is given an in-depth treatment, along with breading and frying tips and techniques, egg poaching, garlic roasting and more. Fascinating information is everywhere to be found in this book. For example, Thompson-Anderson's Gumbo Roux instructions include the best defense of lard that I have read yet. She relates:
Of course, the Cajuns, who invented gumbo, use lard. It will produce a roux with the best taste. If you just can't bear the saturated fat content, then you can substitute solid vegetable shortening or canola oil. (Coconut oil, which is used in most convenience foods and fast foods, contains 87 percent saturated fat, while pure pork lard contains only 42 percent.) When you're considering sacrificing the great taste of lard, keep in mind that gumbo is a lot of work. I personally want the optimum amount of taste when I expend that much effort.
The Texas Cook's Pantry Section contains source information for some of the recipes' less traditional ingredients, like certain cheeses, dried and fresh chiles, game birds and meats, herbs and spices, and more chef expertise.
The best product for making stocks, if not making them from scratch, is base paste. These pastes are the end products of stocks that are slowly reduced until they form thickened pastes. Most gourmet shops and specialty markets carry the beef and chicken base pastes. Central Market even carries a lamb base paste. These products can be expensive, but a teaspoon of the paste will make a cup of rich stock. Keep the base pastes in the freezer, tightly covered, for an unlimited shelf life.
Thompson-Anderson goes on to list a source for "the best-quality base pastes available to the consumer." Oh, and by the way, did you know that butchers at Central Market meat counters can special-order most game meats, including rattlesnake. I didn't know that.
A cookbook's reason for being is, of course, its recipes. I've left this to the last because it is so difficult to decide which of Texas on the Plate's recipes to single out. So I'll just plunge in.
- Chilled Shrimp with Spicy and Cool Dipping Sauce
- Serrano Chili Guacamole
- Little Smokies in Whiskey Sauce
- Mexican Pizzas
- Rattlesnake Roundup Chili with Roasted Red Bell Pepper Pico de Gallo
- Golden Triangle Seafood and Okra Gumbo
- Roasted Red Bell Pepper Bisque
- Citrus Salad with Green Chili and Honey Dressing
- Texas Baguettes
- Terry's Tender, Flaky, Lighter-Than-Air Biscuits
- Blue Cornmeal Cornbread
- Broiled Red Snapper with Lemon and Caper Butter Sauce
- Brazos Catfish with Crawfish Cream
- Fried Crappie, Bream or Red-Eared Perch with Homemade Tartar Sauce
- Mesquite-Smoked Oysters
- Seared Shrimp in Basil Cream Sauce over Pasta
- Quail in Country Ham with Peppered Coffee Gravy on Dirty Rice
- Brined and Roasted Turkey with Giblet Gravy
- Roger's Chicken-Fried Chicken with Texas Gravy
- Slow-Smoked Brisket with Hellfire and Brimstone Sauce
- Tequila Beef Fajitas with Pico de Gallo
- Chiles Rellenos with Pork Picadillo and Ranchero Sauce
- Chili-Spiced Barbecued Pork Tenderloin
- Grilled Medallions of Venison Backstrap with Ancho Chili and Honey Sauce
- Frijoles Borrachos (Drunken Beans)
- Mexican Rice and Arroz Roja (Red Rice)
- Grilled Peaches
- Texas Two-Step Potato Salad with Mustard
- White Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crust
- Tres Leches Cake
- Rosa's Sweet Potato and Peach Empanadas
- Stonewall Peach Pie
- German Chocolate-Meringue Pie
- Caramel-Meringue Pie
My original recipe list was much longer, and it was reduced to the above with great difficulty.
Near the end of Texas on the Plate is Thompson-Anderson chapter on Texas wineries. It is not only a mini-primer of Texas wines, but includes sections on her favorite fifteen Texas wineries, each relating contact and location information, a brief history, and tasting notes with mentions and descriptions of her favorite wines from each respective winery. This particular section of the book is a treasure house of information, and is further augmented throughout the book with recommended wine or beer pairings for various recipes.
This review is longer than my typical cookbook review, but Texas on the Plate is an important book, and it more than warrants the extra attention. As a reward for reading the entire review, here is a wonderful Texas on the Plate recipe.
- 4 ripe Stonewall peaches
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/3 cup Mexican crema fresca (see "Basics")
- 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
Dip the peaches into rapidly boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and run them under cold water. Slip the skins off the peaches. Slice peaches in half and remove the pits; set aside. Combine the butter, lime juice, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook just until butter has melted and mixture is smooth. Preheat gas grill to medium heat.
Brush the peaches all over with the butter and honey mixture. Placed them on rack of grill, cut side down. Sear for 3 to 4 minutes, then then the peaches over and grill an additional 3 to 4 minutes.
To make the stuffing, combine ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until smooth.
To serve the peaches, spoon a portion of the stuffing mixture into each peach half. Serve hot.
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