Friday, May 03, 2013

Earnest Summation: The Homesick Texan

Fifty-one dishes, y'all. I made 51 dishes from The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain and it's only taken me 4 months to get around to writing the conclusion to that epic project. Talk about ending with a whimper. But I'm crossing it off the to-do list today, damn it.

I'll keep it short and sweet: I loved The Homesick Texan. I picked it up after spending the fall cooking from a Syrian Christian cookbook followed by Burma, and while I love novelty and challenge, opening Homesick Texan was like getting off an 18 hour flight from Asia, stretching out on the sofa with a cold drink, and turning on Friday Night Lights.

The book has flaws. Fain neglects to mention the size of pans in her dessert  section (where it matters!) and seems to think that adding 1/2 teaspoon of Mexican chocolate to a gallon of chili could possibly affect the flavor. The recipes are not blazingly original and maybe not even original at all, as some Chowhound naysayers have suggested. But what great recipes are? People regularly give Marcella Hazan credit for pork loin braised in milk, but the dish appeared in Ada Boni's Talisman Cookbook decades before Marcella started writing. And who knows where Boni got it? Who cares? It's a living, breathing recipe, not a military code, and the further it travels the better. Right?

Ah, but there are gray areas. I'm seeing more and more of them as I type. Much to say on the subject of recipe plagiarism, but I haven't figured out exactly what I think and in the interest of finishing this post I will do that figuring out later. Last December when I first opened The Homesick Texan, I just wanted to eat delicious tacos, chili, and enchiladas, and the recipes inside helped me do that. The end.

By the numbers:

worth the price of the book  -- 1 (marinated skirt steak from the small apartment tacos)
great -- 13 (chili, posole, meat loaf)
good -- 30
so-so -- 7
flat out bad -- 0

Shelf essential? If you've already have cherished recipes for Tex-Mex classics, you don't need this book. I don't and do.


  1. Last weekend, I made the carnitas recipe (by way of the Smitten Kitchen). I was not impressed at all, but not sure if I did something wrong or if my pork shoulder had been in the freezer too long or what. The texture was mushy and the flavor bland - the way everybody freaks out about her carnitas, it was a big disappointment. Kind of like you said about the Mexican chocolate in the chili, it seemed like the amount of seasoning in "enough water to cover" would be hard to detect in the final product.

    So my question for you is, am I crazy or did you post about the carnitas recipe? I could have sworn you did, but my search of your posts turned up empty.

    1. I thought I posted about carnitas -- I certainly made her carnitas. I thought the recipe was great, but so many variables come into play when you're cooking something like that. Maybe it was the pork, maybe it was the seasoning, maybe we have different taste in carnitas?

  2. I bought Fain's book, and I do like it, but there was nothing to rave about from my perspective. I need to try the skirt steak. I would like a post about plagiarism and recipes. Are there really an original recipes? Aren't there just combinations that have been previously done and rediscovered? Hasn't someone somewhere done everything possible by now? You have given me food for thought!

    1. I think there are original dishes -- like just about every dessert in the Milk Bar cookbook -- but not that many. My question is: isn't the point of a recipe, original or borrowed or adapted, to be disseminated as widely as possible? Preferably with credit, of course, which people don't always give.

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  5. Is there an easy way to search for what recipes you think are great? I just bought this cookbook, mostly because I loved the green chile posole. I'd be curious to see which other ones you thought were best.