Corn bread and corn muffins, and biscuits for that matter, are much like barbecue. People are downright passionate about the art-form. These are the most basic of recipes passed down from grandmother and great grandmothers, methods learned by listening and watching. They are soaked in cultural issues and history. It is a my-way-or-the-highway thing. For every family or region there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Some scoff at the notion of adding wheat flour to cornbread. Some are aghast at the notion of adding sugar. And I think that is completely wonderful. Because if we don’t latch on to the ways our people did things, we don’t have this tasty vehicle for remembering and learning.
If you want to get into the controversy between cornbread and biscuits…as opposed to just within each…you will have to read professor Elizabeth Engelhardt’s book A Mess of Greens. It is a fascinating tale of food history, part of which describes how years ago the biscuit team tried to persuade the cornbread team that they were…essentially…poor and stupid and that they needed to join the biscuit team. Paraphrasing, of course. But I’m making a quick bread here, so I’ve got to cut some corners. But there is more to cornbread’s story than you might imagine. And whether you grew up in a cornbread house or a biscuit house, or both, probably tells a story about your family that you have never thought about. This, however is not the topic of the day…onward…
…Continue reading Sweet Cornbread Muffins
Consider the egg. Eggs are fairly amazing. We use them in such an off handed way, really. But what they do is incredible. They are a building block of baking, a sky high dessert topping, integral to spreads such as mayonnaise, a perfect protein, great on top of almost anything as a little fried runny hat, a breakfast staple, and stunning in simplicity when hard-boiled and made into deviled eggs, egg salad, or chopped on a cobb. They come in a dazzling array of shades and sizes though we have come rather accustomed to the uniform white or brown ones at the grocery store. But they come in many sizes and grades too.
Every once in a while I look into all the information available about eggs…and promptly forget it all. I thought I might just write it all down here so I don’t forget again I also thought perhaps you might be curious too, but too busy to sit and ponder the minutiae of this reliable staple.
…Continue reading Consider the Egg
It has taken only three or four trips to Mexico to find out that cooks in Mexico, or at least the ones with whom I have had the pleasure of cooking, do amazing things with a blender.
My first encounter with this phenomenon was a great cook named Aurelia in Cuernavaca. She made a fresh, smooth, green zucchini soup using very basic ingredients that I still make often. She also used a blender to make the sauce for her Chiles en Nogada, which is a poblano pepper stuffed with savory meat and sweet fresh and candied fruits, topped with a sweet creamy sauce.
On my second trip, I met Señora Inez, who was also an accomplished cook. The owner of the home in which Senora worked had told us in advance that we needed to have her make her storied Tart de Limon, or Lime Pie. Inez was more than happy to prepare it and even allowed us into the kitchen to see how she did it. Camera in hand, I watched this tiny woman do something that prior to that I found unthinkable…impossible. She made a pie in a microwave. In my rather hick-ish internal monologue: “I like’d to died.”
…Continue reading Lime Cream Cups
[Dinner at The Farm at Ronin Cooking Friday Evening]
Our first day of the 2014 Foodways Texas Symposium ended at The Farm at Ronin Cooking. It was a beautiful night. But we had more eating and story telling and listening to do, which cannot be done on an empty stomach. So we had to eventually go to bed so that we could wake up and be fed again.
Breakfast on Saturday was lovely. Sometimes simplicity is called for. Following our meal at the farm, the brilliant choice was made to present a simple toast and preserves breakfast. I said simple, not light. It was so incredibly decadent. Here is how it went. Stephanie McClenny is Confituras Jams. She is remarkable. She makes a wonderful product, and she is a very nice person, to boot. Her preserves are simple but nuanced. They are sweet, but celebrate the fruit. Wonderful. She teamed up with my pal Meaders Ozarow at Empire Baking in Dallas. Meaders was asked to do a version of Texas Toast. This, my friends, was Texas Toast made with challah dough, fluffy and thick, buttered and griddle-cooked on big baking sheets over hot coals. Then, as though that weren’t sufficient, Stephanie brought fresh chevre from Blue Heron Farm which was sublime. It was so fresh and quite spreadable. It was so fresh and light tasting that I found myself having to reach to even identify it as a goat cheese. I can’t say enough about it. I piled the goat cheese on top of my toast and then topped it with a giant hat of Stephanie’s orange chile de arbol marmalade. Dear God. Sausage was provided by Salt & Time of Austin and I heard several people wandering by commenting that it was the best sausage they had ever eaten.
…Continue reading Farm to Market 2014: Foodways Texas Symposium, Part II
[Welcome Dinner at The Veranda in College Station, Texas]
I spent the last several days at the Foodways Texas Symposium which was held this year in College Station. Driving back to Dallas by way of Mexia on Sunday morning, I had an opportunity to think about my time at the symposium this year. This is my fourth symposium and each one has been important to me. On the backroads which are just beginning to blanket with wildflowers, I finally slowed my mind enough to begin the challenging task of documenting what I had learned and experienced in the preceding days. It is always fun. But every year I am surprised by just how many great things happen, how many great people I meet and reconnect with, and how many stupendous meals I am served. It is a bit dizzying. And though I needed a nap more than a drive, I was grateful for the generous landscape of Texas through which to ponder this uniquely Texan weekend.
We meet yearly in support of a greater academic archiving project run through the University of Texas to document the diverse cultures of Texas. In fact, Foodways Texas just became a permanent part of UT’s American Studies Department. The panels, talks, and discussions this year were centered on the topic of agriculture at the aptly titled Farm to Market 2014: 4th Annual Foodways Texas Symposium. This alone would have been enough to hold my attention for two days. And, the meals at the symposium would have been enough to justify the cost of admission had there been no discussions at all.
…Continue reading Farm to Market 2014: Foodways Texas Symposium