Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Christmas Giftingby John Raven, Ph.B.
If you want to be the most popular kid on the block, give that loved one who likes to cook something special this season. A pair of socks or a tie can't compete with a kitchen gadget as a sure favorite.
A cherished gift does not have to be expensive, but if you feel you need to give a stainless steel grill from Needless Markup that costs as much as a two-door Buick, go right ahead.
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Something else that makes a nice stocking stuffer is a melon baller. You can make round anything with one of these items. Just be sure to get one that has sharp edges on the bowl.
For someone just getting started cooking, a food processor is a winner. Good ones can be had for about forty or fifty bucks. They will slice, dice, shred, mix and puree to a fare-thee-well. Aside from the slicing, they are dandy at mixing dough for pasta, biscuits and piecrust.
If your special someone does a lot of baking, an electric mixer is a blessing. Here you want to be sure you get a good one. It should be heavy so it doesn't walk around when in use. The bowl should be metal, the beaters metal or very sturdy plastic. You want a beater for whisking, one for mixing and a dough hook. Ask if you don't know. These things take all the work out of making homemade bread. The only thing I have against them is that every once in a while they will "poof" flour all over your counter. I've seen some that have a sort of funnel for adding ingredients to the bowl while the beater is running. You might look for that feature.
That griller on your list might enjoy an assortment of wood chips for making flavored smoke. Most large stores with an outdoor cooking section will have three or four different types of chips. Oak, hickory and mesquite are the most popular. Some apple or pecan chips might be a nice addition.
There are some real nice sets of grilling tools on the market now. The sets typically come in a carrying case and include tongs, fork, and spatula. The more advanced sets can have skewers and steak knives included.
A real neat item is a remote thermometer for use in grilling and smoking. You find these at electronic supply stores and at well-equipped outdoor cooking departments. They have a probe that goes in the food with an insulated wire that leads out to the "brain" of the thermometer. The "brain" can call you when the temperature of your food reaches a certain level or it can call you after a preset amount of time. There are thermometers that will handle several different items of food at one time.
Another something for the griller would be some assorted aluminum throw-away pans in different shapes and sizes for use on or in the grill. These are always handy. A big roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil would fit right in here.
I never have enough nice serving platters around. If you go to all the trouble of cooking something special, you don't want to present it in a scorched aluminum pan. Look around for some really nice platters. Avoid the plastic ones. Swanky serving Fiesta ware platters in the Texas Dinnerware store.
Every cook, no matter his or her specialty, needs a couple of good knives. Here you get what you pay for. A good knife will be a tad on the expensive side but in terms of usability, it's a bargain. The knives come in all shapes and sizes. You can't go wrong with a chef's knife. These have a rather broad blade that comes in several lengths. One about seven or eight inches long would be just right. Here, avoid the knives from China; I know that's a politically incorrect statement, but the English and the Germans make the best steel for knife blades. If your chef has a drawer full of assorted knives, a set of poultry shears might be in order. These are just heavy-duty scissors that have many uses in the kitchen.
Avoid aprons and hats that have the cute sayings on them. Your giftee will wear an apron that says "My meat is hotter," but he will also wear that Gawd awful necktie you gave him just to keep from hurting your feelings. Chef's aprons and hats are white.
It just would not be the holiday season without something sweet from the kitchen. Here's the recipe for my favorite holiday snack. The original came out of Mama's cook book that was published in 1903. I would still have it, but it just disintegrated. The original recipe was Prune Cake. Prunes have fallen out of favor, so I changed the recipe a tad to use raisins and pecans. I recently noticed that prunes are now sold as dried plums. What's in a name?
Here we go.
Be sure and use real butter in this recipe, salted or unsalted. Using the cheap stuff just does not give the desired results.
* Dredged means you put some flour in a bowl and dump in the pecans and raisins and mix them until they are lightly coated with flour. Lose the excess flour. This keeps the nuts and raisins suspended in the batter so they don't all sink to the bottom of the pan.
I usually double this recipe. The cake rises pretty good, so fill your pan just a tad over three-quarters full so it don't run over.
After about an hour and a half in the oven, check for doneness with a skewer or broom straw inserted in the center of the cake. When it comes out clean, the cake should be done. Let it cool five or ten minutes before turning it out onto a rack to finish cooling.
Happy Holidays to all, and I'll see you next year.
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