Award-winning food writer Lisa Fain gives family table a spicy kick.
James Beard Foundation Award-winning blogger Lisa Fain and her latest cookbook, The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking From My Kitchen to Yours (Ten Speed Press, 2014) are C&I favorites. We last featured here in our August/September 2014 issue, which included recipes for Tuna With Avocado and Red Pepper Baked in Parchment and Banana Pudding With Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies. Here, Fain shares a couple more dishes sure to bring the kin and kith running to the dinner.
Chipotle Ranch-Spiced Oyster Crackers
When you visit our family farm at Thanksgiving, as you walk in the door you will be greeted with a bowl of spiced oyster crackers. We all clamor for the bowl, and because they’re such a family favorite, my grandma has been known to hide some of these crackers away for later nibbling, lest we all eat the whole stash in one go. Yes, they are that good.
Traditionally, the crackers have been prepared with a packaged ranch dressing powder, but I decided to make a homemade version, which not only has fewer ingredients, but has a fresher flavor, too. And while I was shaking things up, I decided to go ahead and throw in some chipotle chile powder for smoke and heat.
These tangy, spicy little snacks, while seemingly innocent, can be dangerously addictive. While you may be tempted to reach into the bowl again and again, you might want to save room for dinner. Consider yourself warned.
— Lisa Fain
(Makes 2 cups)
¼ cup buttermilk powder (see note) or dried milk powder
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 8-ounce box oyster crackers
¼ cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Stir together the buttermilk powder, dried onion flakes, dill weed, parsley, garlic powder, chipotle chile powder, and salt.
Toss the oyster crackers evenly with the canola oil and then stir in the chipotle-buttermilk powder. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Spread the crackers evenly in a 9-by-13-inch pan.
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, this will keep for 1 week.
(Note: Buttermilk powder can be found in the baking aisle at most grocery stores. If it’s not available, dried milk powder can be substituted, but the crackers won’t be as tangy.)
Jalapeño Pesto-Stuffed Pork Roast
One summer, my family had a potluck at my cousin’s house. She likes to claim she can’t cook, but she surprised us all with a homemade pesto-stuffed pork roast that was the hit of the party.
The roast takes a little bit of effort, especially if you choose to cut the meat yourself. But putting together the jalapeño pesto is not difficult, and after you bake the meat, you and your guests will appreciate slices of tender pork swirled with the nutty, spicy green stuffing. As my cousin would say, if she can do it, anyone can.
— Lisa Fain
(Serves 4 – 6)
1 2- to 2½-pound boneless pork loin roast
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and halved lengthwise
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ cup roasted pecans, chopped
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup (1 ounce) cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
First, you’ll need to roll cut the pork roast to open it up for stuffing. You can either have your butcher do this, or you can do it at home. To roll cut the roast, remove any strings around the pork roast and then lay the roast on a cutting board, with a shorter side facing you. With a sharp knife make an incision along the length of the meat parallel to the cutting board, one-third of the way up the height of the meat, as if you were using the knife to open a book. Cut into the meat, gently pulling it back as you cut, making sure not to cut all the way through. Once done, spread the cut meat until it looks like an open book, with the side on the left thicker than the other.
With the meat now open, place the knife at the top of the center crease or “spine,” and cut along the length of the meat parallel to the cutting board, like you did for the first cut, this time halfway up the height of the crease, again pulling back as you cut. At this point, as the meat opens it will be more like unrolling a roll of paper towels. Continue to cut in and unroll until you’ve reached the end and the meat is flat. Cover the flattened meat with plastic wrap, and then gently pound with the flat side of a meat mallet until the meat is ½-inch thick, if it’s not already. If it’s not a perfect rectangle, that’s okay.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil.
To make the jalapeño pesto, combine the jalapeños, cilantro, garlic, pecans, cumin, 2 tablespoons of the cotija cheese, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the lemon juice in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as you blend, if necessary. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Spread the jalapeño pesto in the center of the flattened pork loin, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges, and then sprinkle on top of the pesto the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Starting from the short end, roll the pork roast and then secure with kitchen string at 1-inch intervals. Rub the outside of the rolled roast with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. (And if any pesto oozed out of the roast as you rolled, you can rub it over the outside, too.) Place the rolled roast in the roasting pan.
Roast, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees. Allow the roast to rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Excerpted with permission from The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking From My Kitchen to Yours by Lisa Fain (Ten Speed Press, 2014).
Keep up with Lisa Fain online at www.homesicktexan.com. The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking From My Kitchen to Yours (Ten Speed Press, 2014) and The Homesick Texan Cookbook (Hyperion, 2011) are available at Amazon.com.