The Homesick Texan Cookbook

2011 Texas Book Festival cookbook reviews

Chews Wisely

The Homesick Texan Cookbook

by Lisa Fain
Hyperion, 357 pp., $29.99

Many cookbooks have tried to capture the cuisine of this immense and idiosyncratic state that we call home. Somehow, no one book has ever managed to truly define the ineffable characteristics that make certain dishes Texan – until now. The Homesick Texan Cookbook successfully codifies the myriad foodways of the Lone Star State.

When seventh-generation Texan Lisa Fain accepted a position in New York City, she didn't realize exactly what she was leaving behind, culinarily speaking. In a way, Texas cuisine became sharply defined for her as the very dishes and flavors that she had to fly back home to Texas to get. Because of this, she was able to see Texas and its particular cuisine in sharper focus than previous writers. She didn't have the option to stop by a favorite restaurant for carnitas or chicken-fried steak or all-meat chili or fried okra or green salsa or barbecued brisket or any of the hundred and one dishes that we Texans take for granted. The only way she could enjoy the dishes she found herself craving was to actually learn to make them herself at home. (Even tortillas!)

Because of this real-world constraint, her recipes are worked and reworked to be surefire and reliable, to be consistent, and to taste right. The cornbread recipe is perfect ("[T]he one thing a Texan will never, ever put into their corn bread is sugar. Corn bread is for dinner, not dessert."), turning out a crusty, skillet-shaped slab of aromatic goodness. The recipe for calabacitas likewise resulted in an authentic dish of pork and summer squash that tasted like it was fresh from a taco trailer – a really great taco trailer. Fain's attention to detail and exhaustive research cannot be exaggerated. There are many "Texas" cookbooks published, but none that I have had such excellent results with. I predict this cookbook will become the text de rigueur for authentic Texas cuisine. It is that good. Every Texan should buy a copy because life is unpredictable; you never know when you might be the one stranded far from Texas!

Lisa Fain will appear at 12:45pm Saturday in Capitol Extension Rm. E2.036.

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