Christmas is the perfect time to share your cooking with your friends. And you don’t even need to turn on your oven. Texas is a lucky state when it comes to food writing and recipe development. As a state, we have a collision of cultures. That sounds explosive, doesn’t it? But when considered in terms of food only, it is exciting. Not only are we a culture that loves good, old fashioned comfort food of all sorts, but it has stripes of BBQ, Southwestern, Mexican, Tex-Mex, hunter cuisine, Gulf coast seafood, and ranch culture. Let’s not even get going on the Cajun and Vietnamese and Chinese influences. We are a lucky bunch. It is therefore my opinion that the cookbooks that come out of Texas are utterly worthwhile, and they are fun, too.
Cookbooks are the best of all gifts, I think. They are perfect for hosts as a reflection of who you are and where you come from. They are usually under $50 and most often much less than that. They are beautiful. And they feed our imaginations. I know many people who don’t even cook, but they love to collect cookbooks because you can enjoy food through photos and words even if not through taste. You don’t need to be a Texan to love these. But, I’m proud that this is the caliber of work coming out of Texas (or by Texans) so I want to make sure you know about them. I have made a list of my favorite recent Texan-authored (original and spiritual Texans) cookbooks and food related tomes for you to consider for Christmas, for yourself or others. I also asked some of the authors of these great cookbooks what their favorite Texas-authored books are. The little boxes contain some jewels, as little boxes often do.
Where to begin? Let’s start with Robb. Robb Walsh comes up a lot around PIE because he writes the books that I would aspire to write if I was that kind of a gal. They are half history, and all food. His books always have the recipes that you look at and say to yourself, “God…my grandma used to make gravy that way…get out the lard.” His books make you not only want to eat and cook, but travel. You will want to jump in your truck and go all over the state and eat enchiladas and chicken fried steak and BBQ. I don’t “read” many cookbooks. I mostly peruse and cherry-pick cookbooks. I read Robb’s cookbooks. So, consider Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbookas a gift for someone who loves Texas food, or needs to.
The Homesick Texan
Lisa Fain lives in New York and is known by the moniker The Homesick Texan. She loves New York but lives to come home and visit her people and fill up on the foods that make her heart sing. Then, she goes back to New York and spreads the gospel of Texas foods and culture. There are a lot of Texans in the diaspora for whom this message resonates. If you once lived in Texas, and now do not, and have ever uttered the words, “Why in the hell can’t I find any Ro-Tel in this god-forsaken place,” you are going to adore Lisa Fain. She has a pure adoration for all things bluebonnet, chili, and queso. Her recent book The Homesick Texan Cookbookhas been an unquestionable hit. And it even has a fairly significant section of non-meat recipes (doesn’t seem possible, I know, but they are there and they are wonderful sides). It is a great gift for yourself or your favorite cook. If you live in Texas or you pine for Texas…or you have always wondered how to make credible Tex-Mex and other traditional Texan dishes at home, you need to have both Lisa and Robb’s books on your shelf.
“I love all Texas cookbooks but I’m especially fond of community cookbooks. Also, those slender pamphlets that food companies and utilities used to publish are a lot of fun. The best gift, however, is when a family produces its own cookbook. My family did that a few years ago and it’s a treasure.” Lisa Fain, The Homesick Texan
In Austin, there is a lot to the food scene. It is innovative, it is traditional, it is in a word, happening. Then again, Austin is just the hub. It sort of exudes the energy of a thought incubator. We all go there when we are young and eat and drink it up. Some of us stay, some of us go on, but all of us leave a big hunk of our soul there. I have a little warm spot in my heart for Austin still. In one of the loveliest spots in this Austin food world there is a chef named Jesse Griffiths who along with his wife, Tamara, runs Dai Due. He focuses on high quality local foods and produce, but he also cooks a lot of game. This year he published a cookbook called Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish. This one is on my shopping list and my gifting list. This is the one I will be buying for myself, my brother, my dad, and any of my shotgun or rifle wielding pals who are gracious enough not to just plop their kill in the sink for their wives to deal with. This is a book for the hunter-cook (or fisherman). Jesse teaches classes, many directed towards women that want to learn more about hunting and fishing. He teaches people the process from start to finish, from driving through the gate to rubbing your stuffed belly. He shows people that you can still procure and prepare your own food, and it is fun. This is not a new lesson. This is an old lesson. But, he is doing it in a wonderfully inventive and skilled way from a culinary perspective. I am very pleased when hunting and fishing are brought up in the food discourse, as this is my comfort zone.
Plus, as though you needed another reason to want this one…it was photographed by Jody Horton who is, in a word, brilliant.
Robb Walsh’s suggestions:
“Afield by Jesse Griffith and Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain are wonderful, but I’m sure you are listing both. So I’ll recommend some golden oldies: Texas on the Halfshell by Phil Brittan and Joe Daniel (1982 Dolphin, Doubleday)…A madcap roadtrip across the Texas food scene of the 1970s and early 1980s complete with chili parlor listings, barbecue philosophizing, archival photos and anatomical drawings of chile peppers. A chilehead cult classic.
Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company (1975 Houghton Mifflin)…Helen Corbitt ran the restaurants at Neiman Marcus in the 1950s. The Chicago Tribute called her “the best cook in Texas.” Julia Child mentions her cookbooks in the movie Julie and Julia–they were the most successful cookbooks of the era. Corbitt’s food was way ahead of its time. Stephan Pyles is reviving some of her recipes at his new restaurant Stampede 66.”
-Robb Walsh on his favorites
Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent
Ellise Pierce is a Texas expat in Paris. She is a free-lance writer with a rather intimidating list of publications to her credit. But, Texas and, specifically Texas food are her passion. This turned into a charming book of recipes called Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent. I’ve seen several of the recipes and they are first-rate. This is a book I intend to buy for myself, and as a gift for a specific friend.
Edible Dallas & Fort Worth: The Cookbook
I am biased here. I love Edible, I write for Edible and several of my recipes are in this book, Edible Dallas & Fort Worth: The Cookbook. But, in it I am complete filler compared to some of the DFW notables who contributed recipes for this tome. Brian C. Luscher of The Grape contributed a Shitake Mushroom and Goat Cheese Strudel. Jon Alexis of TJ’s Seafood Market shared a lovely Gulf Fish Ceviche recipe. Tim Byres shared a Tomatillo Salsa Verde and Pickled Green Beans and Carrots. I have made these specific recipes already while writing a bycatch article for Edible and they are great. Graham Dodds, Katherine Clapner, Eva Greer, Robert Lyford, Kim Pierce, Beverly Thomas, Chad Houser…the list of Dallas and Ft. Worth farmers and ranchers, farmers market supporters, restaurant and shop owners, chefs, and writers who contributed to this project is very impressive. It is a long list. And it is fun. It celebrates the seasons of our area. I have already bought several of this book and will buy many more as Christmas gifts. Don’t forget to look at the book jacket of this one. There are some great antique map reproductions on the back side…it is like a hidden track on a record.
Suggestions from Terri Taylor, editor of Edible
1. Something by Helen Corbitt–Christmas isn’t Christmas at my house without my mother-in-law Margo’s eggnog. Recently I realized that HER recipe came from the pages of Helen Corbitt’s 1957 “Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook.” Corbitt, of course, was once the Director of Restaurants for Neiman-Marcus. I inherited two of Corbitt’s cookbooks from Margo: one from 1957 and also, an autographed copy of her 1974 “Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company.” It doesn’t have fancy photos but I love the illustrations. The 1974 book has remembrances and details about Neiman’s annual Fortnight celebrations. Some nice trivia in there.
2. Marilyn Romweber’s 1977 ‘Under The Mushroom’ cookbook. Her restaurant “The Little Mushroom,” in the Decorative Center, was a cozy place to lunch in the late ’70’s and early 80’s. Just this week, I made her Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas. Again, no fancy photos but lots of wonderfully simple recipes.
For the Historian: I love TEXAS EATS because Robb has sprinkled in so many historical and cultural tidbits that give life to each recipe. He explains the traditions behind the cuisine.
For the Francophile: Ellise’s COWGIRL CHEF cookbook marries the cuisines of my two favorite locales: France and Texas. Fabulous recipes–a foreign twist on familiar foods!
For the sweet lover: Denise Gee’s Sweet on Texas: Loveable Confections from the Lone Star StateSuch a perky little book with dessert recipes from around the state. Fun little stories accompany each dish. Scrumptious photos by Gee’s husband Robert M. Peacock.
For the sportsman: ‘Afield’ by outdoorsman/chef Jesse Griffiths is absolutely stunning. Griffiths trounces into the Texas fields and waterways to acquire the freshest game for his kitchen. Photographs by Jody Horton. I admire both of these talented guys.
For the cheese-lover: Cheese, Glorious Cheese: More Than 75 Tempting Recipes for Cheese Lovers Everywhereby Mozzarella Company’s Paula Lambert. One look at the cover and you’ll head right out and buy a block of local cheese. Incredible to think that MozzCo is 30 years old. WOW!
The Salt Lick Cookbook by Scott Roberts and Jessica Dupuy
Jessica Dupuy is clearly a good writer. This I already knew. But she is also very reserved when it comes to self adulation. I know this because she was at Texas BBQ Camp with me this year and did NOT EVEN mention that she had co-authored this giant and impressive book. If you spent or misspent any of your youth, as I did, in Austin, you have been to the Salt Lick. This is the story of that revered institution. It is called The Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love. Whatever your BBQ leanings, the Salt Lick is one you know. I look forward to reading about this family and the legend that they built.
As though these weren’t enough to fill your shelves and the shelves of your favorite cooks, there are two books coming out soon that I am very much looking forward to seeing. They both involve that method of cooking near and dear to my heart: smoking.
My pick would be Robb Walsh’s Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses. –Daniel Vaughn, Full Custom Gospel BBQ
The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn of Full Custom Gospel BBQ
Daniel traveled all over Texas with his faithful friend and photographer, Nicholas McWhirter, and ate at over 200 BBQ joints to “research” our state’s laudable wood-smoked cooking and create The Prophets of Smoked Meat. Such was the serious nature of this enterprise that the book is being published in Anthony Bourdain’s new line of books. This epic adventure is already available for pre-order and will be out in May of 2013. So if you don’t order it now, make note of it, because this will be a solution to many “difficult male” gift issues over the next few years. I don’t mean the men are difficult, by the way. I mean that some men (mine) are difficult to shop for because they just buy precisely what they want on the spot and don’t wait for a bow and wrapping paper.
I love The Homesick Texan – it’s so solid. I use it. I’d also pitch future cookbook. Tim Byres’ Smoke is going to be phenomenal. I was lucky enough to see some of the line drawings from it, I know Tim, and I think that the content is going to be amazing. He really knows fire. And the photography might be OK, too. -Jesse Griffiths, Dai Due Austin
Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim Byres
Tim needs little in the way of introduction but what the Hell. He has been featured in the New York Times and Southern Living. He was named Best New Chef in the Southwest by Food & Wine in 2011, and has received several other such honors. He is the chef and owner of SMOKE and Chicken Scratch in Dallas, which are two of my favorite spots. This book will be out in March of 2013 and is also available for pre-order. I assure you, having eaten far too much of this man’s creative talent, this one will be a keeper. And, it will be a go-to source for anyone wanting to raise their fire and smoke game. This one is also photographed by the inimitable Jody Horton. I can admit that I am a groupie of both of these men, in their respective spheres of influence. I will soon own Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, and I will buy it for others.
Here is the really great news for you. I have met (with the exception of Ellise, which I will soon remedy) each and every one of these authors and chefs and they are all positively lovely human beings. I, actually and truly, really like each and every one of them. How nice is it to buy books, support local authors, raise the discussion about our state’s food traditions…and do it all from text books written and photographed by honest to goodness nice human beings? Very nice. Funny thing, even if they were a lot of jerks, these are still the books that I would have recommended to you. The food is that compelling. But, you get the added bonus of supporting the great work of some neat people. By the way, if you are wondering how I got to meet most of these folks, the answer is Foodways Texas.
Now, I have given you my favorites, and the favorites of some of my favorites. Tell us, what are your favorite Texan authored cookbooks, new and old, that you go back to time and again and give as gifts. I’m opting for a Cookbook Christmas and I want your favorites, too.
A GIFT FROM PIE: I am having my copy of Edible Dallas Fort Worth: The Cookbook signed by many of the people who have contributed recipes. And I’m carrying an extra one and getting it signed for one of you. So, please share one of your favorite cookbooks to give to friends, old or new, Texan or not, by commenting below. I will draw a name from the comments on Monday (12/3/12) and give away a signed copy of the Edible Cookbook. Just make sure you leave a cookbook suggestion here by Monday.
I have provided links here to Amazon…a lot of them. Let me be frank. Amazon has an associate deal where if someone clicks through and buys it I get a nickel or something. But as nice and convenient as Amazon is, I would also suggest that it is a gift to your community to occasionally buy your cookbooks at indie bookstores and even large bookstores that actually pay property taxes in your town and employ your neighbors, even if it costs a bit more. If you have an actual, physical, retailer who sells any of these books, please, by all means, go buy some of the books there. (I say that as someone who has Amazon Prime. It isn’t a lecture so much as a reminder to myself to put my money where my mouth is…LOCAL is more than farmers markets, right? Spread some of your Christmas dollars around your town, too.)