Tag Archives: East Texas

EAST TEXAS DONUTS

I have been promising to make donuts with my grandson for so long that I am sure he began to see it as one of those promises that never get fulfilled. Finally, I was able to make good when he spent the night with us while his parents had a late evening. On such occasions, it has been our tradition to walk across the street for sushi at a little neighborhood sushi bar (Remember this is LA!) This time we got our sushi fix, came back home, and watched a movie. I had already made the donut dough and let it rest in the refrigerator. In the morning, my grandson was up early, anticipating the donut making and eating the results. I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator and rolled it out so we could cut, fry, and eat until Mom and Dad came by to pick up our charge.

The recipe comes from our family cookbook, but the original source was a dear friend of Mom Mom, my mother-in-law who lived in East Texas. Mom Mom lived on the farm, and Elizabeth lived in the city (population 400), but they visited often with one another and belonged to the same quilting circle. One time many years ago, Elizabeth brought a batch of freshly made donuts to the farm. They were so good that Mom Mom asked for and got the recipe. It should be understood that fried donuts are a great tradition in East Texas. There were Krispy Kremes before it was cool, and one of our must-stops on any trip to the farm was Bobby Jo’s Donut Palace in Fairfield.

Elizabeth Montgomery was an excellent cook. I have written about her kitchen exploits before when I wrote about East Texas Casserole. This recipe is another of her contributions that became a welcome addition to our family repertoire. These donuts are raised rather than cakes and fried rather than baked. We used a small donut cutter, so they are not as big as Krispy Kremes, but a bigger cutter would bring them closer to that pinnacle. Eat them plain or add whatever kind of sugar bomb you choose. We shook them in a bag of sugar – plain, powdered, or cinnamon – and that was all they needed.

RECIPE

Elizabeth Montgomery’s East Texas Donuts

Ingredients

  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • ½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6½ cups all-purpose flour
  • canola or peanut oil for frying
  • sugar, powdered sugar, and cinnamon for coating

Method

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside to proof.
  2. Melt the butter and transfer to a very large mixing bowl. Stir in the milk, water, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has cooled a bit. Stir in the proofed yeast.
  3. Add beaten eggs and salt. Then stir in the flour, one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition of flour. The dough will be very soft.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. When you are ready to make the donuts, work with half of the dough while keeping the other half cold in the refrigerator. It is important to make sure the dough remains chilled while you work with it. On a heavily floured work surface, roll the dough into a circle about ¼ inch thick. The cold dough will not absorb the flour, and the flour will keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or the work surface.
  6. Using a donut cutter, cut out the donuts. Finish with the second half of the dough when you are ready.
  7. Cover the donuts (and donut holes) with a clean cloth and let them rise for about 30 minutes before frying them.
  8. Fry the donuts, 3 or 4 at a time,  in canola or peanut oil heated to 350°F, turning the donuts so they are nicely browned on both sides. Remove to a cooling rack or several layers of paper towels on a brown paper sack.
  9. Shake, one at a time, in brown paper lunch bags containing sugar, powdered sugar, or sugar and cinnamon. Serve while still warm.

Yield

  • The recipe makes about 2½ dozen donuts.
  • If that’s too many, you can freeze half the dough for another day of donuts.

 

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SLOW COOKER CHICKEN SPAGHETTI

Our stove is still unrepaired so I continue using my daughter’s slow cooker. I hope that she doesn’t ask for it back any time soon as we’re still uncertain about how much longer the stove will be out of commission.  The rotisserie chicken for Sunday dinner turned out well. I had done two chickens so there were lots of leftovers for us and for Carol. I tried to think of how I could use the chicken in some slow cooker recipe. Soup immediately came to mind, but it seemed too hot outside for soup. I couldn’t figure out how to make chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings without a stove. Old-fashioned chicken spaghetti sounded like a good option. We ate chicken spaghetti at the East Texas farm for as far back as I can remember. The recipe was a treasure of Susan’s mother and included a generous amount of Velveeta. I suspect the original recipe came from a Velveeta box and that it has been copied onto 3 x 5 cards in many families. This is not the authentic recipe. I used sharp Cheddar instead of Velveeta. I also wound up cleaning out the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator along with using up all of the leftover chicken.  Since the leftover chicken had been topped with garlic butter, I did not add garlic, but you could if you like. The slow cooker was the perfect utensil for the project.

RECIPE

Slow Cooker Chicken Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • leftover roasted chicken, bones and skin removed, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Sweat onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes with slow cooker set on High. Add pepper, celery, and optional garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add chicken stock and cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
  2. Break the spaghetti into pieces that will fit into the slow cooker and stir into the pot. Cook for 20 minutes on High or until the spaghetti is just al dente.
  3. Reduce the heat to Low. Stir in the grated cheese until it is melted. Add the chicken and cook just long enough to warm it thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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CHICKEN SPAGHETTI FOR ONE

When my wife is away for a while, I always bounce around the house at loose ends. One of my main challenges is to decide what to eat. Sometimes I will go to a restaurant, but feeling comfortable at a table for one is always a problem. Sometimes I buy a bunch of frozen dinners with the misguided, maybe even delusional, notion that I can lose some weight during Susan’s absence. The other alternative, cooking for one, is neither easy nor appealing. Still, this time I decided to cook something fairly simple that could be eaten as leftovers.

I had bought a chicken breast during my planning for meals for Susan’s trip, but I wound up not using it. So, needing to cook the chicken, I settled on a family favorite that could be scaled back from the usual crowd-pleaser.

When Susan’s mother and father were living on their East Texas farm, the many siblings and their children would often visit. The old-fashioned Southern comfort food, chicken spaghetti, was on the list of must-cook favorites. Mom Mom would often comply by cooking up a big batch. Her version included boiling a whole chicken to get a lot of chicken broth and shredded chicken. The recipe also called for Velveeta or American cheese. The finished dish fed a houseful of relatives.

For my home-alone effort, I wound up paring down the recipe and substituting ingredients including mild cheddar cheese for Velveeta.  I’m sure my friend, Jim, would want to add green chiles, and that would be good, too. It was fairly easy to make, and there was enough left over from the first dinner for the next night. It tasted good, but I am anxious for Susan’s return.

RECIPE

Mom Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti For One

Ingredients

  • boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 scallions including green tops, sliced
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 ounces mild cheddar cheese + more for topping
  • 1/3 pound dry spaghetti
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a large pot, cover the chicken with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat to low boil and cook for 3o minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and reserve the broth.
  2. With two forks, shred the chicken and set aside.
  3. Return the broth to the boil and stir in the scallions, peppers, and mushrooms. Simmer for 10 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still crunchy.
  4. In the meantime, make a blonde roux by combining the butter and flour in a small saucepan over medium low heat. As the butter melts, stir until  they form a smooth paste. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to get rid of any raw flour taste. The roux should be smooth and not browned. Pour in a few tablespoons of the stock mixture, stirring at the same time. Then add the tempered roux back to the broth. (This should prevent lumps)
  5. Add the grated cheese and shredded chicken to the broth mixture and simmer for 10 minutes until everything is heated through.
  6. While the broth and chicken are simmering, cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until tender, about 10-12 minutes. With tongs, transfer the cooked spaghetti to the hot broth mixture and stir gently until well combined. If needed, use some of the cooking liquid to thin the broth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Ladle the mixture into a serving bowl making sure to include chicken, spaghetti, vegetables, and broth. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and serve immediately. Enough for one with leftovers for a second meal.

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GOODBYE TEXAS – EAST TEXAS CASSEROLE

We recently had a wonderful family gathering with our children (their spouses didn’t attend) and some of our grandchildren. My wife’s family has had a beautiful farm in East Texas for over fifty years. Our children had spent many times during their growing-up years there, enjoying swimming, fishing, hiking. horse riding, and just generally having a good time. Now, because we all lived so far away and because travel to the fairly remote place was difficult and expensive, we decided to sell the farm. After we had accepted an offer on the farm, we needed to make one last visit to load up personal items and to enjoy the place for one last time.

It turned into a great family gathering when all of the kids found a few days to spare in their busy schedules. For nearly a week, people came and went, fished and hiked, laughed, sat in front of a camp fire, and ate some good food.

Our family has been lucky to have excellent cooks in many generations, so one of the best memories for all of us is the good food we have enjoyed on the farm: festive Thanksgiving dinners, fried catfish, fresh vegetables from the once-one-acre garden, and wild blackberries from the surrounding fields and woods. One meal that we all remember was a huge buffet that ladies of the church had prepared for a family gathering many years ago at a time of family sadness. The spread was lovingly prepared, but the most noteworthy dish was made by one of my late mother-in-law’s closest friends. I call it East Texas Casserole, but if you look for the recipe on the internet, you will find it called Redneck Casserole. I have changed the name because I would never call any of the gracious ladies of the church society rednecks. The dish is easy to prepare – one of those open the can and dump creations – and it gets uniformly good reviews on the web. You can prepare it in 30 minutes or so.

Most internet recipes call for grated Cheddar cheese, but to me that is not really authentic. For the real thing you will need to use Velveeta cheese food. I grew up on the stuff, and so did most other kids of that era, including my wife. The product has an interesting history which you can read about in great detail in The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink edited by Andrew F. Smith (Oxford University Press, New York, 2007)

The short story is that two American cheese companies were looking for ways to prevent cheese from spoiling so rapidly and to store it at room temperature. A process was patented by Joseph L. Kraft in 1916. Tinned cheese was distributed to the troops in World War I (Remember Spam in World War II?) Eventually the two cheese companies agreed to share the patent and Velveeta made its brand-name appearance in 1928. Velveeta must contain at least 51% cheese (that’s why it is called cheese food) and will keep almost for eternity on a shelf at room temperature. These amazing properties are due to sodium citrate and, later, sodium phosphate among other preservatives. Subsequently Kraft brought out boxed macaroni and cheese in 1937, using a dehydrated version of Velveeta. Millions of boxes are sold each day, and it is discouraging to many mothers when their offspring prefer Kraft’s macaroni and cheese dinner to their carefully made from-scratch version.

RECIPE

EAST TEXAS CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 can (22 ounces) Bush’s barbecued beans
  • 1 package (8) hot dogs, sliced into ½inch rounds
  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) frozen tater tots
  • 8 ounces Velveeta cheese food, grated (chill the Velveeta in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to make it easier to grate)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Heat a 2 quart cast iron skillet over medium heat.Add the diced onions and oil, stirring until the onions are translucent, but not browned, about 55 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Stir in the canned beans and hot dog slices.
  4. Arrange the frozen tater tots on top of the mixture.
  5. Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven until the tater tots are golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, sprinkle the top with the grated Velveeta, and return to the oven for about 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off in the oven and continue to bake for a few minutes until the Velveeta is well melted. Serve immediately.

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MORE EAST TEXAS – FRIED CATFISH AND HUSH PUPPIES

A fish fry is one of the great traditions of the entire South, but nowhere is it more on display than in East Texas and nearby Louisiana and Arkansas. The corners of these three states are so akin to one another that residents of the region call it the ArkLaTex. If you use that name, everyone knows where you live, and everyone knows what you think is important in life. Years ago we lived in Shreveport where one of the favorite eating haunts was the Cypress Inn. This huge, ramshackle place sat on the banks of the Cypress Bayou and though they had a lot of choices on the menu, nobody ever went there except to eat their fried catfish dinner complete with hush puppies.

 

The hush puppies were golden balls of melt-in-your mouth goodness – crispy outside, creamy inside of cornbread and chopped onions.  Now, you may have had the eraser-shaped hush puppies in one of the big “country-style” chain restaurants, but those are a pale, tasteless copy of the real thing. The Cypress Inn had the real thing, and you could make a whole meal of hush puppies alone.

The catfish was equally delicious with a golden, crunchy outside of cornmeal crust  and the flavorful tender catfish inside.

Catfish, especially those caught from a lake or bayou can have a muddy taste to them. These days, though, most are farmed in huge tanks or ponds. Still, it’s worth using an old trick that locals swore by to get rid of the muddy taste. A good soak in buttermilk is supposed to brighten the taste of the catfish, and I do belive that it works. That soak is part of the method of this recipe.

The other parts of the Cypress Inn meal  were the hand-cut cole slaw and the fresh cobbler, apple or peach depending on the season. You probably have your own favorite recipes for these, but you definitely need to have some slaw, tartar or cocktail sauce, and fruit cobbler handy when you sit down to enjoy fried catfish with hush puppies.

 

RECIPES

Fried Catfish

Ingredients

  • 4 catfish fillets, skin and bones removed, about 4-6 ounces each
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon  ground black pepper
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method

  1. In a shallow pan or plate, cover the catfish fillets with buttermilk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. In another pan or plate, combine the flour, seasoning, paprika, salt and pepper.
  3. Fill another pan or plate with the cornmeal
  4. When you are ready to fry the catfish, remove the buttermilk-soaked fillets from the refrigerator and transfer to the plate with the flour mixture, letting any excess buttermilk drain from the fillets. Turn each fillet in the mixture so it is completely coated with the flour mixture.
  5. Then transfer the coated fillets to the cornmeal, again turning them so they are completely coated with the cornmeal
  6. Fry the fillets, one at a time or in batches  in a deep pan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil pre-heated to 350⁰F (177°C), turning them over so that both sides are golden brown and crispy.
  7. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately while still hot.

Hush Puppies

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup scallions, green tops only, chopped very finely
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method

  1. Stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt so that they are completely mixed
  2. Add the chopped scallions, buttermilk, and beaten egg. Mix so that they are thoroughly combined.
  3. By spoonfuls, drop the mixture into a deep pan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil that has been heated to 350⁰F (177°C), turning until the hush puppies are golden brown on all sides.
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve while still hot.  Makes about 30 hush puppies.

 

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CORNBREAD AND SPRINGTIME IN EAST TEXAS

This is the best season to be in East Texas. The winter rains have filled up the ponds and encouraged the emerging leaves into a hundred different shades of green.  The days have warmed without the blazing heat that will begin in only a few weeks. The nights are still cool and perfect for sleeping.

Unlike most of the rest of Texas, the “Piney Woods” are set on rolling hills which are filled with Southern pines, hickories, sweet gums, maples, and oaks of several varieties. This time of year, though, the redbud trees announce themselves as well as Spring. Beautiful shades of pink and red light up the woods.

More hidden in the depths of the forests, dogwoods hang like clouds in the shadows. The branches spread, and the white sepals seem to drift suspended. Close up, the markings remind us of the legend of the dogwood serving as the wood of the cross. It seems appropriate that the beautiful show occurs in the Spring.

East Texas has not lost the commercial opportunities of the redbuds and dogwoods. The Palestine Dogwood Festival (that’s Pal’-a-steen, Texas) provides visitors an opportunity to eat street food, watch the crowning of the festival queen, and tour the beautiful woods.

There are lots of foods that typify East Texas, including fried catfish, hush puppies, greens of all sorts (collards, kale, pokeweed), and at other times of year, black-eyed peas.  For me, though, the quintessential food is cornbread.

Cornbread is almost universally popular, especially in the South. Craig Claiborne, the famous New York Times editor and food critic from Mississippi declared that there are more recipes for cornbread than magnolia trees in the South! Yet finding good recipes for plain cornbread in cookbooks is a difficult task.  Moreover, the popularity of packaged cornbread kits has made it even harder to find a real home-made chunk of cornbread.

If you decide to bake your own cornbread,  there are  decisions that need to be made.  Cornbread made from white cornmeal tends to be more popular in the east with yellow cornmeal gaining increasing popularity the further west you travel.  Northern cornbread, or “Yankee cornbread” as it is commonly called in East Texas, usually contains some sort of sweetening – molasses, maple syrup, sugar, or honey;  Southern cornbread  usually does not contain sweetening, but these distinctions between north and south are not absolute.

This is a version of Southern cornbread, baked in a cast iron skillet as, in my opinion,  all authentic cornbread must be. Some time ago, we had an informal family competition for the best cornbread recipe. This was my entry. One of my daughters used a recipe from one of her friends. It contains sugar (heresy!) and is more like cake. But it is so good that you could wind up eating the whole thing by yourself. I plan to post that recipe in the near future.

RECIPE

 

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 jumbo eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C) . Grease a 9 inch cast iron skillet with bacon drippings and place in the oven 10 minutes before you are ready to pour in the batter.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients: buttermilk, beaten egg, and melted butter. When they are well combined, stir them into the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix the batter for only a few beats until the mixtures are combined and the large lumps have been smoothed. Do not overbeat.
  5. Remove the heated skillet from the oven, pour in the batter, and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes in the top half of the oven. Turn  the skillet 180 degrees and continue to bake for another 15 minutes or  until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into eight wedges, and serve immediately while still warm.

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