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June 2012 Cookbook of the Month: The Homesick Texan Cookbook, by Lisa Fain

Welcome to the June 2012 Cookbook of the Month! This month we will be cooking from Lisa Fain's The Homesick Texan Cookbook.

If you've never participated in the Cookbook of the Month discussion, we hope you'll give us a try in June. We have a lot of fun, and we learn from each other's experiences. The basics of COTM, and the archive of past books, can be found here:
http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_m...

If you are curious about the selection process, and the accompanying discussion, the voting thread is here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/849454
and the nomination thread is here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/848648

Here are the links to the reporting threads for The Homesick Texan:

Pickles and Preserves; Salsas, Sauces, and Gravies; Morning Food
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851919

Appetizers; Chiles, Soups, and Stews; Tex Mex Classics
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851920

Beef, Pork, and Fowl; Seafood
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851921

Sides Hot and Cold; Breads; Sweets
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/851922

In addition to using the above threads to report on specific recipes, please feel free to use this thread for general impressions, menu ideas, ingredient sources, and links to online recipes.

The Chowhound Team has asked me to remind you that verbatim copying of recipes to the boards is a violation of the copyright of the original author. Posts with copied recipes will be removed.

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  1. Here's a link to the Recipe Index at the Homesick Texan's blog site...
    http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/p/r...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      Love the cookbook, will at least be watching, but hope to participate.

      1. re: bayoucook

        Same here. Got the book from the library last night and was surprised (I should have expected it) to see how prominently fresh and dried hot chiles were featured in most recipes. I've just graduated from Rotel to using ancho chile powder. It will be fun to just lurk for now.

    2. Big thanks LN!!

      Looking forward to cooking from this book as the recipes are not especially familiar to us but they sure look and sound appealing! I do have some questions about ingredients and was hoping one of y’all would give a gal a hand:

      Longhorn Cheddar: New to me. LF describes it as being milder than most cheddars. If you’ve worked w it, is this a melty cheddar?

      American Cheese: Is this Velveeta?

      St. Louis Ribs: Huh? I’m assuming this is a cut. Back ribs? Side ribs? Pork? Beef?

      Mexican Red Chorizo: When I first saw this in an ingredient list I was wondering what it was. I later found a recipe for it on pg. 213 of the book. Not all recipes that call for it actually refer back to the recipe for it on p. 213 so I thought I’d post this here in case others share in my confusion.

      14 Replies
      1. re: Breadcrumbs

        I can try to answer some of these questions, not sure if I have the right answers though so others may want to chime in.

        Longhorn Cheddar is a very mild cheddar, also sometimes known as Colby and you can sub Monterey Jack. It is relatively melty but American cheese (which is not real cheese) is meltier.

        American Cheese is a processed cheese of which Velveeta is the most well-known brand, but there are other brands as well. Personally I can't stand the stuff. It melts very well though.

        St. Louis Ribs - a cut of pork spare ribs, see Wikipedia entry for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_ribs

        1. re: Westminstress

          Not much information to add, except when you are looking for either Longhorn Cheese or American Cheese:
          I have always found that Longhorn is sold in 1/2 of a round which round was about 8" in diameter.
          I have always found that American cheese has been sold in slices. (Perfect for hamburgers - you would always see the tip of the square outside of the hamburger).

          To me Longhorn cheese is a 'thing past' of my childhood, even though I do see it in some grocery stores;

          the same as American Slices, I sat up and took notice that they are still selling this when my aged father-in-law decided he wanted some cheese and American Cheese was what he wanted. As I recall, DH found some at Costco (some 2 years ago, I believe.) Costco sells other slices of cheese, but are not American. Is not Kraft the main supplier of American Cheese today?

          Colby cheese was used quite a bit for the mixture of cheese, pimentos and mayo.

          1. re: Rella

            Kraft Singles are not cheese but cheese food.
            American cheese is a different product.

            http://blog.fooducate.com/2012/04/25/...

            1. re: Berheenia

              I think I may have said somewhere else that Kraft 'was' American cheese after I saw some Kraft cheese slices on a site. I take that back!
              Thanks, Berheenia.

        2. re: Breadcrumbs

          About the chorizo, even though she has a recipe for homemade, I think she assumes you can get this at the grocery store. It would be a very soft, rusty-colored sausage, in a casing, which is always removed from the casing (at least for every application I can think of). Since we've been cooking Spanish for the past month, it's important to understand that this is nothing like Spanish chorizo.

          1. re: Breadcrumbs

            .
            American cheese is real cheese. It is heated with emulsifiers, which allow it to melt without separating.

            Technically and legally,
            Cheddar cheese = 39% moisture (water) and 50% milkfat
            American cheese = 43% moisture (water) and 47 % milkfat

            Velveeta is different-- 60% moisture and 20% milkfat -- it can contain dry milk, whey -- which reduces the amount of cheese in the product.

            American cheese--the flavor is mild, the texture is uniform, but I think it would be hard to find an American who hasn't really enjoyed many a cheeseburger or grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese.

            The French cheese that comes in the little triangles, The Laughing Cow brand, is also a processed cheese. I'd say the best American cheese is Boar's Head brand. I don't like the individually plastic-wrapped kind -- it can taste of plastic.

            1. re: blue room

              You can count me as an American who doesn't like a hamburger or grilled cheese sandwich made with American cheese. And in fact, I don't like laughing cow either. I do appreciate the correction on my cheese info though!

            2. re: Breadcrumbs

              Breadcrumbs - Here in Washington I can find Mexican chorizo at the supermarket, and an even better selection at our one little Mexican market. If you have a Mexican or Latin American market, you could look for it there. And MelMM is correct, *very* different from Spanish chorizo.

              Wikipedia has an interesting read on American cheese, and mentions that it is sold as Canadian cheese in canada:
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American...
              Personally, I would never have it in my house, let alone cook with it. To me, it has a plastic texture and tastes like a petroleum product.
              Snobbily yours,
              LN

              1. re: L.Nightshade

                My Canadian husband (as opposed to my other husband/s?) swears that he grew up on "cheese slices" in his grilled cheese, and that it is the same thing we call American cheese. So I'm going to guess that in some form it is available there.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Absolutely LM, we get Kraft singles (and various copy-cat/similar products by other brand names). Sounds as though it's the "fancy stuff" like Boar's Head that we may have trouble finding.

              2. re: Breadcrumbs

                Not sure what brands are available in Toronto (and I've never bought American cheese, myself), but this thread discusses various brands Chowhounds recommend, including the Boar's Head blue room mentions: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/705705

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  Thanks to everyone for all this wonderful information. Other than Velveta and Kraft Singles I don't believe we have anything similar here in therms of the American cheese. I did ask at a small gourmet market today and those 2 were the only they came up w as well. Caitlin thanks for the link to that thread. I've saved it to my profile as there's a lot of useful info there. I'll ask about the Boar's Head brand (thanks too for your input on this blue room) when I'm at my favourite cheese shop. LN thanks for that link too. I've never seen Canadian cheese or Canadian singles as the article suggests. That said, I've never looked for it so who knows. I'm keen to find out now!!

                  For the chorizo, fortunately I do have access to excellent Mexican chorizo however it was LF's distinction of Mexican "Red" Chorizo that threw me off since in some recipes, she simply calls for Mexican Chorizo. I now see that she also has a recipe for Mexican Green Chorizo in the book (another chorizo I've never heard of). I'll ask my Mexican butcher about this. Mel it sounds like you're very knowledgeable regarding chorizo and I'd be interested to get your thoughts on how LF's recipe compares to the ingredients you'd normally expect to see in the Mexican chorizo you purchase.

                  The St Louis ribs look like what we'd just call side ribs (thanks Westminstress). That being the case I may just use baby back ribs since we prefer those and the Dr Pepper Ribs in this book just sound too interesting to pass up.

                  Westminstress thanks too for the info on the Longhorn cheddar. I can definitely get colby cheese so that's a tremendous help!

                  1. re: Breadcrumbs

                    Kraft singles is American Cheese.
                    or
                    American Cheese is Kraft - :-))

                    http://www.livestrong.com/thedailypla...

                2. re: Breadcrumbs

                  Whenever we bbq ribs we try to get St. Louis style (just our preference) - but have substitued regular spare ribs with no problem. They are clearly labeled as "St. Louis" on the package or in the case.

                3. I got an early start on this book, as I know I'll be doing a lot of traveling later in the month. It's an odd book for me to cook from. I'm a homesick Texan myself, now living in SC. In the early nineties, I went through an experience much like the author's, except even worse. I spent three years in Albany, NY. At that time, I really couldn't get anything there. No tortillas, no decent salsa, a real dearth of ingredients. I remember spending hours on a Saturday morning, making tortillas by hand, making salsa, cooking beans, all just to recreate the breakfast taco that, when living in Austin, I would walk to the corner for and buy for 59 cents.

                  So while I truly appreciate the sentiment behind this book, I find it odd to cook from. Most of this food is stuff I don't need a recipe to cook. And when I read through the book, I find myself shaking my head and mentally arguing with the author. Because I have my own "religion" on how these things should be made. But for this COTM, I will put this aside, as much as possible, and try the recipes and make an honest assessment if someone else's "way" works as well as my way.

                  18 Replies
                    1. re: MelMM

                      I would be very interested to hear your way as well. I didn't cook much before I left Texas and my mother is from Alabama and never embraced Tex-Mex, so most of my love of the food came from restaurants. I have a great appreciation for Lisa Fain because her blog helped me through some very bad bouts of homesickness (enchiladas were the hardest thing for me to get right) after I moved to Montreal after a year in DC. It's also been nice to have her blog to point to when I try to explain to friends here about nachos, queso, or chili without beans. I do find it odd, however, to see recipes for breakfast tacos or biscuits and gravy. I also wish she had given a savory recipe for the kolaches instead of the fruit filling!

                      1. re: TxnInMtl

                        I loved reading your post TxninMtl. Did you find the breakfast tacos and biscuits & gravy recipes odd because you didn't have those in Texas? mr bc & I would love to visit Texas one day (we're drawn to San Antonio but would welcome suggestions for the best food-lover locations). I can only imagine how different Mtl would have been for you! A great food city but nothing like the types of food you'd been accustomed to!

                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                          Thanks. Breakfast tacos and biscuits & gravy are a fixture in Texas food. It's more odd to me to see a recipe for something that's as varied as breakfast tacos. For breakfast tacos, I usually just throw whatever leftovers I have in. For biscuits and gravy, I think I still consider that to be normal and something that you wouldn't need to be told to do, despite not having access to decent biscuits unless I cook them myself for several years now.

                          San Antonio is an excellent city to visit. If you're interested in barbeque, you'll probably want to go up to Lockhart, at which point you'll be so close to Austin, you should spend some time there. Austin's Whole Foods is gigantic and worth a visit. My boyfriend is from Sudbury and was sad he didn't get to go ice skating on the roof outside when we were there over Christmas and it was almost 20C. If you want to see more of the German influence on Texas and the bluebonnets in the spring, Fredericksburg is a short drive west of Austin. If I remember correctly, they sell quite a few nice jams and thing like that out there. I'm also hesitant to recommend it because I think of it less as a vacation destination, but Houston's food scene has gotten quite good. San Antonio, Austin, and Houston are all a short drive from each other, so they're feasible for one trip if you have enough time to explore.

                        2. re: TxnInMtl

                          I remember going to a little hole in the wall Tex-Mex place in Montreal when visiting friends. It was pretty good, but it was obvious that, if this was the best the city had to offer (as our friends said it was) then there was work to be done. Has it gotten any better? This was about 5-6 years ago.

                          edit: obviously they have amazing food of other types there!

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            As a general rule with one exception, I avoid all Tex-Mex and Mexican style places in Montreal. We were having dinner with some friends of ours from LA last night though who were raving about a cute Mexican restaurant near them. The city's slowly improving on Mexican I think, but that's a bit different. Oddly enough though, about a year and a half ago, some Australian friends of ours highly recommended a new Chilean place, Icehouse, that's on my way home from work. I stopped in and was looking at the menu for a while thinking that red fish tacos, frito pie, and fried chicken didn't sound very Chilean. Then I noticed that the flag was most definitely a Texas flag (the Chilean is quite similar). The chef is originally from Houston, but has been in Montreal for 20 years or so. The cuisine is more fusion than straight-up Texan and the menu is eclectic to say the least, but the feel of the restaurant reminds me of home and it's the only place in the city that I know of that serves frito pie. If they did brisket and chicken fried steak, it'd be heaven, but their tacos, chili cheese fries, and ribs make up for that. It's not a place I'd take out of town guests when the city has so many more amazing things to offer that are more unique, but their food is good.

                            1. re: TxnInMtl

                              I didn't realize how similar the two flags are!
                              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10...
                              Funny how a mistake led you to a little piece of home in another country.

                              1. re: TxnInMtl

                                Mmmm, frito pie! One of my good friends is from Texas and introduced me to this. She told me that when she first moved to North Carolina she'd rave about it to her friends over and over, and then finally made it for them. They took one taste and looked at her like she was crazy and said "This? This is what you've been raving about?" She gave me her recipe, and I absolutely loved it.

                                Glad you found a place that at least sort of scratches your itch.

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  So, frito pie. What is it? Is it actually made from fritos the addictive potato-chip type thing that I've only had once - in Grand Cayman.

                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                    It is chili (meat only, no beans is Texan standard) ladled over Fritos, topped with grated cheese.

                                    ETA, Fritos are corn chips.

                                    http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/201...

                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                      Sounds like heaven, but how is it different to, say, nachos?

                                      1. re: greedygirl

                                        Nachos are pretty "upscale" compared to a Fritos pie. Nachos are broiled with cheese and toppings on a permanent serving dish. A Fritos pie doesn't include that pesky broiler. Instead, the chili and other toppings are dumped into an opened bag.

                                        This is the size bag I would see at the State Fairs:
                                        http://www.amazon.com/Fritos-Original...

                                    2. re: greedygirl

                                      This is the best part:
                                      "Typically, it’s served in the bag—you just open up an individual-sized Frito package, ladle on the chili and dip in with your spoon."

                                      1. re: blue room

                                        This is an education! I've never seen it in a bag, but when I was young I remember seeing a Frito pie occasionally at a pot luck. It was always baked in a dish. So I ended up reading Wikipedia on Frito Pie. Looks like it's been around a long time!
                                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frito_pie

                                        1. re: blue room

                                          Wow, I had no idea about the stuff being served in bags! My friend's recipe was made in a pie dish or casserole.

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            Oh, Frito Pie.... When I was in high school, there was a stand just outside the campus, where many of us would grab our lunch. They served... well, I don't remember, but I think hamburgers, maybe hot dogs, and (this part is certain) Frito pie. I would always get Frito pie. It also would be at the kind of concession stand you'd see at a high school football game. They'd take an individual bag of Fritos, slice it open down one of the long sides, and dump a ladle full of chlle over it, and top with onion and cheese. You eat it right out of the sliced-open bag. Heavenly, at least for a teenager. As an adult, I attempt to replicate the experience by putting some tortilla chips in the bottom of my bowl before ladling the chile in. Not the same. If you've looked at the nutritional info on a bag of Fritos, you'll understand why I don't typically serve myself the concession stand version. But for a Superbowl party? Perfect.

                              2. re: MelMM

                                Mel, please, throw caution to the wind and do share your thoughts on how these dishes compare to your Texan meals. I'd love to hear your variations and suggestions. I have so many tabs in this book its ridiculous! Currently I have 11 dishes tabbed that I'd like to make this weekend so at some point between now and tomorrow morning when I go grocery shopping, I'll need to narrow that list!!

                              3. For those of us using the website as our resource, do we just guess which thread a recipe belongs in? Obviously, I wouldn't know if it is actually in the book or the page number. Just need a quick etiquette lesson.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: smtucker

                                  Good question! Can you just put it in the thread corresponding to the type of dish? I know some of the categories won't be completely self-explanatory (Tex Mex Classics, for example), but things like fish or sauces would be easy to place. If you want to be a perfectionist about it, you can view the index with page numbers on Amazon here:
                                  http://www.amazon.com/Homesick-Texan-...
                                  But, as I understand it, not every recipe on the website is in the book. So just take your best shot!

                                2. I don't have the book, but I've looked through the index @ Amazon -- am I correct that neither the site nor the book offer Tamale Pie? I'm surprised at that.

                                  Also, I'm thinking of buying dried chiles from this place:
                                  http://www.worldspice.com/products/se...
                                  unless somebody tells me I shouldn't...

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: blue room

                                    Both the book and, the author's blog have been indexed on EYB. I'm not a follower of any blogs but I do have the book on my shelf and I can confirm there isn't a recipe for Tamale Pie in the book. Not sure if EYB allows you search the blog if you're not a member but if so, that may be helpful to folks. I looked through the book recipes on EYB and very few shoe an online recipe. Not sure if that means that the book contains recipes that are not on the blog or, that EYB simply hasn't added links to all the online versions recipes for the book yet.

                                    1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                      Just an update to this post. EYB allows members and non-members to search cookbooks and blogs. Also, I just realized that EYB has a relatively new feature that allows you to search recipes from within just one book or blog "Search this book" or "Search this blog" - this makes life MUCH easier!

                                    2. re: blue room

                                      I never saw a tamale pie in Texas when I lived there, but I didn't travel often around the state. I thought they were a California thing. Anyone have a "history of tamale pie" link we could read?

                                      1. re: smtucker

                                        I've never heard of a Tamale Pie so br's post made me curious and hungry! I searched my EYB library and I'm guessing this originated in Mexico since most of my recipes for this dish are in Mexican books (and Ra-Ray!).

                                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                          Well, I've never had anything called a "Tamale Pie" that I didn't like -- and just assumed that Tex-Mex would be where I'd find it. I do prefer the top to be moist masa rather than cornbread. It's actually just a disc / drum-shaped tamale, I suppose. I first became aware of tamale pie in Tennessee in the 1950s -- my mother probably found it in a "woman's magazine." I wonder when/how *canned* black olives came into the picture.

                                          1. re: blue room

                                            mmmmm, stop it br, I so would like to have myself a lovely Tamale Pie right now!! I'm going to have to make one I guess and would likely start w my Rick Bayless recipe since he seldom (if ever...) disappoints.

                                            1. re: blue room

                                              It's a good assumption that it'd be in a Tex-Mex book/blog. The three other books I have that are focused on Texas cooking (Robb Walsh's Tex-Mex Cookbook, Texas Home Cooking, and The Junior League of Houston's Stop and Smell the Rosemary) all have tamale pie recipes. Walsh's book is great for giving the history of the food, but doesn't mention how the black olives got added.

                                        2. re: blue room

                                          Ha! I have to say, that this seems funny to me. The only time I ever heard of tamale pie, was when, as a high schooler, I took a class from our Southern California power company's home economist. She made tamale pie, from supposed leftovers. I've always considered it a bit of a "fake" California/Tex/Mex dish. But maybe there is real version too.

                                          As for World Spice? The best spices I've ever bought, and the best customer service. I love to go into their store in Seattle, but if I can't make it in, I order by phone or online.

                                          1. re: L.Nightshade

                                            Thank you, World Spice gets my business today!
                                            I have the Robb Walsh book TxnInMtl mentioned, and have found the tamale pie. I sure like the looks of the Homesick Texan tamale fillings though, I'll figure something out. It's only 8 a.m. and I'm ready for (more than one) dinner.

                                            1. re: L.Nightshade

                                              L.Nightshade, I received a box today from World Spice -- Ancho and Guajillo chiles are both plump and fragrant --thank you, I'm very pleased with this place. Also now have both Turkish and Mexican oregano -- haha I feel like quite the gourm ... um ... chowhound. Making my own chorizo next week.
                                              Also bought a fistful of tarragon but cannot for love or money remember what I was gonna use it for!

                                              1. re: blue room

                                                I'm so pleased you are happy with your order!
                                                Our neighborhood has a bank of mailboxes a couple blocks from my house. Even though the spice packages are well sealed, I can tell my spice order has arrived about 10 feet away from the mailboxes. So fragrant!

                                                1. re: L.Nightshade

                                                  This is a place I've ordered from and I was happy with my order, too.
                                                  Thanks for reminding me of World Spice as it's been about 2 years ago, and I've forgotten.