The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain

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Sometimes, food is just about love. That’s it. No redeeming nutritional value, no hidden veggies, no sustainability/local produce/seasonal meals considerations, just love. And usually a lot of cheese.

That’s when I turn to Lisa Fain’s The Homesick Texan Cookbook. Fain is the author of one of my favorite blogs, and after reading it, this book became my immediate go-to for anything Texan or Tex-Mex, from a perfect oil pie crust and pecan pie to chili verde and oven brisket. The amount of love and thought and effort that goes into her recipes is truly astounding, and I highly, highly recommend adding this to your bookshelf. (No one paid me to say that.) I’ve cooked many recipes from it that were easily adapted to be gluten-free, and even the Paleo among us should be able to find a few staple recipes in here that they can’t live without.

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The most recent recipe made from this book was King Ranch Casserole. I had never heard of it until a coworker from Houston brought it into the office one day, and immediately, my husband (then boyfriend) leapt on it. The King Ranch Casserole became something akin to the sour cream chicken enchiladas I made for the last Super Bowl: a quintessentially Texan dish that he was sure I couldn’t make, which of course made me even more determined to succeed…with Fain’s help, of course.

I made a few tweaks to her recipe, but it impressed both my husband and (I think) his mother. So, treat yourself — and someone you love — to a slice of this cheesy, disgusting, delicious mess. And then go make Fain’s fish tacos or something. 

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(Note. I tweaked this version to be gluten-free. And you could make it vegetarian by skipping the chicken and using bell peppers and onions instead, more of a vegetarian fajita casserole. Fain’s original online version can be found here.)

King Ranch Casserole
 
Recipe Type: Casserole
Cuisine: Tex-Mex
Serves: 12
A “Texas Lasagna” full of spice, cheese, chicken and love. You know you want it.
Ingredients
  • 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts, butterflied
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, diced
  • 1/2 anaheim pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp masa or corn flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 10-ounce can of tomatoes with green chiles, drained (such as Ro-Tel)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 12 gluten-free corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
Instructions
  1. Heat first tablespoon of oil in a large cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until browned and done through, about 10 minutes per side, turning once. Remove and shred with two forks. Set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic, spices and masa and cook for 1 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, then reduce heat to low. Continue to cook until mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in half-and-half and canned tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Uncover the pot and stir in sour cream, lime juice and half of the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn off the heat.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  5. Heat tortillas either in a skillet or the way I did — by wrapping them in a slightly damp paper towel and throwing them in the microwave (gasp!) for 30 seconds. Wrap in a kitchen towel to keep them warm as you work.
  6. Spoon 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of your baking dish. Layer half of the tortillas along the bottom of the dish on top of the sauce (and you can tear up some of the tortillas to fill in gaps). Add half of the chicken, half of the remaining sauce, all of the remaining cilantro, half of the cheddar cheese and half of the pepper jack cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese.
  7. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Serve. Also freezes well.
 

 

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

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Did you know that my first foray into the blog world was on Literary Transgressions, a book reviewing blog I created with a friend? In fact, I still post there occasionally, though Corey has truly made it her own and is doing the heavy lifting. Anyway, this post was originally conceived as a crossover between the two blogs. See the post over at Literary Transgressions, here — and take a look around while you’re at it.

I like the way Molly Wizenberg eats. I’ve been depressed for the past few weeks because I couldn’t think of a single vegetable I want to eat when it’s 18 degrees out. No one should try to eat lettuce for lunch in winter.

But guess what? Not only is Molly the charming genius behind Orangette and therefore a role model in all things, she happens to be married to a vegetarian. Who is also apparently a cooking genius. So she’s managed to produce this wonderful book, A Homemade Life, that is just filled with vegetable-based recipes that you actually want to gobble down, like, right now.

For example: there is a red cabbage salad I have been thinking about for days. Apparently you can shred cabbage and dress it with lemon juice, black pepper and parmesan cheese and have it taste fantastic. My whole mind is blown.

Another example? Radish slivers and butter on a baguette, shown above. I have been walking past beautiful bunches of radishes in my grocery store for weeks now, wishing I could think of something to do with them. And now I do.

If the whole book was comprised of those two recipes, the one for perfect chocolate cake and maybe the one for French toast, I would consider it well worth it. But there’s more. Shortbread cookies with cherry frosting, squash soup with vanilla bean, pickled carrots, oven roasted tomatoes…everything you didn’t know you wanted to eat.

And, of course, each recipe is prefaced by a poignant, humorous and utterly delightful essay about the place this recipe holds in Molly’s life and the people who brought it to her. Molly’s writing style is so conversational, so frank and open while being perfectly lovely, that I can’t bring myself to refer to her as “Wizenberg,” as one should when one is reviewing an author’s work.

Molly’s writing is exactly like her recipes — simple, unfussy and eminently satisfying. I just want to call her up and invite her over for coffee and chocolate cake, over which we’d brag about our husbands’ cooking skills and talk about how sometimes, our recipes go horribly wrong. My dog can even play with her baby. It would be great. But until that very unlikely day, I’m just going to have to be content with cooking from this book again and again and again.