Book Review: Mini-Review
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., May 3, 2002
Texas on the Plateby Terry Thompson-Anderson
Shearer Publishing, 304 pp., $34.95
Luckily, the release of Terry Thompson-Anderson's new book coincided with the recent Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. The talented cooking teacher and executive chef of Halliburton Corporation's Maner Lake Lodge in West Columbia was featured at the impressive Texas Meets Tuscany event, and I had the opportunity to sample some of her good cooking first-hand. She served green chile-spiked polenta cakes topped with a zippy Texas tomato sauce plus an assortment of beautifully presented spreads and dips. Tasting Thompson-Anderson's food inspired me to hurry home and rescue her cookbook from the mountain of new titles that arrive in my office in the springtime.
At first look, Texas on the Plate appears to be a lushly illustrated coffeetable book, graced with more than 100 elegant color photographs of Texas food and Texas scenery. However, since I had the flavors of the author's food fresh on my palate, I already knew it couldn't be just a photographic showcase. At that point, it was time to apply my three other judging criteria: How well does the author succeed at doing what he or she sets out to do, do the recipes inspire me to actually go in the kitchen and cook, and are the recipes reliable? In her introduction, the author extols the diversity of modern Texas cuisine, taking into consideration the many ethnic influences that come together on today's Texas plate. Her collection of recipes reflects the entire state, with plenty of Hispanic tastes, earthy recipes and techniques from ranch cooks, the sophistication of truffles and foie gras, here and there a German dish, and the bright flavors and exotic ingredients brought by our newest Asian immigrant neighbors. Texas beef is well-represented, as are Gulf Coast seafood, and various game meats and birds. There are also side dishes ranging from traditional sweet potato pone and frijoles borrachos to more recent arrivals at the Texas table such as quinoa, lentils, and couscous. The recipe collection offered in Texas on the Plate is diverse and inclusive without setting off my very active "fusion confusion" meter.
Now to the kitchen. As a pastry cook, I often find the first recipes I want to sample from any new cookbook are either breads and pastries or desserts. That really didn't happen with this book. While the Rosemary and Garlic Country Bread (p.84) or the Sweet Potato and Peach Empanadas (p.258) certainly sounded inviting, I found myself heading straight for the entrées. The idea of Mustard-Fried Catfish Fingers with Homemade Tartar Sauce (p.106) made my mouth water just reading the recipe, and the tangy dish did not fail to satisfy. The Quail in Country Ham with Peppered Coffee Gravy on Dirty Rice (p.146) elevates Texas hunting-camp cooking to a fine art. The final product was worth the preparation time but made me wish I'd had a group of hungry hunters to share it with. Fortunately, I only had to fix one of the Texas Chicken-Fried RibEye (p.176). It was perfect medium rare with a generous dollop of zippy Tabasco Cream Gravy. Another evening, I made dinner out of field green salad and Couscous and Goat Cheese Flans (p.215) made with the marvelous Texas chevre from Pure Luck. I'm still working my way through the entrées with no clinkers yet to be found!
One of the most appealing facets of Terry Thompson-Anderson's book is her unabashed enthusiasm for the Texas wine industry. Many of the recipes come with wine-pairing suggestions, and there is a section in the back of the book featuring information on the author's 15 favorite Texas wineries and their varietals. The book itself is very attractively presented, with expert food photography by Houston's Ralph Smith and scenic shots by Bob Parvis of Bastrop. This book will make a worthwhile addition to any serious cook's Texas culinary library. It represents us well.
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