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What's So Good about Texas Cooking

by John Raven, Ph.B.

It seems to be a good idea for me to just sit and talk to you about Texas cooking for a while.

I cook every day. Very seldom does the fancy stuff come to life in my kitchen. Mostly I do the old standards that I enjoy.

This week I cooked a killer pot of pinto beans. I strayed from the regular recipe in that I cooked the beans in some chicken stock I had on hand. The stock was a bonus I had leftover from boiling chicken for chicken salad a couple of days before.

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I always get the best results when I soak the beans overnight before cooking them. I drained the soaking water off the beans and put the beans in the stock and brought it to a boil. At the boil, the heat is cut back to a light simmer. The stock had been seasoned with onion, celery, black pepper and salt when it was made. I added a teaspoon of blended chili powder and a good shake of garlic powder.

Depending on atmospheric conditions, the beans may tend to boil dry very quickly. When you add water to cooking beans, always use boiling water. It just works better. Cook the beans until they are the firmness you desire. I like my pintos cooked well done. When they get soft enough, I mash some of them against the side of the pot with a spoon to thicken the gravy.

It is traditional in Texas to have cornbread with your beans. I have been in a cornmeal quandary for a while. Most of the millers are grinding the corn almost into flour rather than meal. I want the traditional meal texture, and I finally found some medium-grind cornmeal. I used the recipe on the package and came up with a very tasty cornbread but it was a bit crumbly for my taste. Next batch I will either add another egg or some shredded Cheddar cheese. The cheese adds another flavor layer and some texture. Try it sometime.

My last visit to the supermarket found some good looking, small avocados on sale. For a long time these "alligator pears" have been too expensive for my budget, but these were priced right.

I opted to use the blender for this guacamole making. First thing was to put some onion, a couple of pickled jalapeño slices and about a tablespoon of cilantro in the blender and chop it real fine. Next, the avocados went in the blender with about two good tablespoons of lemon juice and a light sprinkle of salt. Everything got pulsed until the avocado was still chunky. Then I added a half of a large tomato that I had removed the seeds and pulp from. The tomato was cut into thin slices before going in the blender. (As an afterthought, it would have been better to peel the tomato). Everything was pulsed until it looked right. I sealed it in a container and let it linger in the icebox overnight.

Guacamole requires corn chips. On the second day I ran out of corn chips. I had some experimental whole wheat tortillas on hand. They just did not meet my specifications for tortillas, so I put them in the oven directly on the racks so the hot air would reach all the way around them. If you have a new oven, you can use a cookie sheet. The oven was set at 175°F for about two or three hours. At the end of that time, the tortillas were as crisp as any corn chip and tasted pretty darn good.

Since I have been counting calories on a daily basis, I have a heart healthy sandwich for noon meal, or dinner, near every day. The sandwich starts with two slices of low-calorie bread. Mustard goes on the bottom slice. Next comes a slice of deli turkey, then a slice of American cheese topped with another slice of the turkey. There is a reason for the layering. If you put the cheese on top, when you add the tomato slices they tend to slide off. The turkey has a little texture that keeps the tomato from sliding. Where else can you learn something like this? The sandwich is finished with a couple of thin slices of tomato and some lettuce.

I don't get burned out on this sandwich, and it is only about 250 calories. Top it off with a cup of warm broth or tea or coffee and you feel packed.

I live smack in the middle of the peach capitol of Texas. Starting in June, if the weather conditions have been right, and this year they were, there are hundreds of acres of peach trees heavy with peaches. Customers come from hundreds of miles away to load up on the peaches. This demand for the product produces some really impressive prices. As I am buying peaches rather than selling them, the high price repels me.

For a couple of years I had my private peach tree at the end of the front porch. In a good year it would make all the peaches I needed or wanted. I would let the neighbors harvest the excess. Well, as things usually go, an over-zealous harvester broke one of the main branches off the tree. A little later on, a big wind took off another branch. My tree went into decline and died.

For the past few years, my peach tooth has been satisfied by fruit from California. California has some good peaches, and the bonus is they generally run about a third the price of local peaches.

I always put some peaches away for future use. My favorite method is faux peach preserves. I slice the peaches into a non-reactive pot. A small amount of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt are added. The pot goes on the stove at medium heat until the peaches start to make steam. I cut the heat back to keep a simmer and start stirring the peaches on a regular basis. I use peaches that are just a little green so it takes a while to get them all tender. If I use fully ripe peaches, they just need a good heating all the way through. When the peaches are done, I stir in enough bulk Splenda to get the desired sweetness. You can use sugar if you desire. My peaches go in a fruit jar that is sealed and put in the icebox. They will keep well for several months.

For freezing peaches, you need some "Fruit Fresh" or the like. Use according to package directions, which are to dissolve the powder in cool water and slice the peaches into it. That being done, drain the peaches well. I coat them with the Splenda and bag them up for the freezer. They will stay bright and shiny for a long time.

If you want to use the traditional method, make a simple syrup to put the peaches in before bagging them.

We've run out of time already. I was going to tell you about George's sourdough Dutch oven biscuits. Maybe next month.

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