From a big bowl of red and kicking red salsa to chocolate-chicharrón cookies, we have a cookbook for the food lover in your life.
If you’re like me, receiving cookbooks as a Christmas present is cause for joy. The opportunity to learn new dishes to test on my loved ones is better than any gift card. Here are several new cookbooks that have found their way to my desk at Cowboys & Indians. They have caught my eye and stomach. I hope they’ll do the same for you or the food lover in your life when the holidays come around.
The Cowboy’s Cookbook: Recipes and Tales From Campfires, Cookouts, and Chuck Wagons
Sherry Monahan (TwoDot Books, 2015)
Cowboy and open-fire cooking has moved off the cattle trail and into the popular realm for backyard cooks and aficionados of the Western lifestyle alike. The Cowboy's Cookbook, the latest from Sherry Monahan, president of the Western Writers of America, adds detailed information mined from 19th-century narratives and other historical sources along with recipes that are sure to become standards for readers’ own campfires. There are recipes for stewed chicken, elk steak, and squash cakes as well as classics like biscuits.
Historical vignettes give context to the dishes. Among my favorites are the stories on Dog Face, the chuck wagon cook (AKA the cookie) of the CA Bar Ranch in Colorado Country, Texas, lauded for his pit-cooked “bean-hole beans.” Also of note is the tale of Jack Hall, a cowboy who turned out to be a woman when forced to reveal herself in 1899. Teddy Roosevelt makes an appearance. These tales imbue The Cowboy Cookbook with a richness that will have readers relishing the recipes all the more. A section on cooking terminology and cowboy vernacular of the era at the front of the book is a nice touch too, giving readers a foundation from the get-go.
The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, With Cook-Off Worthy Recipes From Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian
Robb Walsh (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
James Beard Award-winning writer and champion of Tex-Mex cookery Robb Walsh stirs the pot with this latest cookbook. In it, he traces the history of Texas’ state dish across continents and cultures, from the Aztecs’ chile stews the Spanish conquistadors encountered in the 1500s and San Antonio’s Chili Queens to the influence of Hungarian immigrants on the invention of chili powder. At this year’s Foodways Texas Symposium, Walsh presented a brief review of his work on the book. Some attendees sitting next to me saw red in his research. Perhaps it was the beans — chili, like barbecue, is a divisive grub — or the goulash, a recipe for which is in The Chili Cookbook.
Walsh anticipated a similar response to his book. Right off the bat, he writes, “Mexicans, Texans, New Mexicans, and Midwesterners have been arguing about chili for well over a century. They are still debating what it is, how to spell it, and who invented it.” Walsh continues with “If you love chili, you will probably find some of the recipes in this book comforting and some of them vexing, especially if you’re a purist with firmly held ideas about beans or spaghetti or whatever.” Recipes for Cincinnati chili; vegetarian chilis, such as lentil, sweet potato, and ancho chile; and dishes calling for a mess of beans — among them a lamb and black bean chili from the Sundance Kid himself — all have a place in this book. Walsh, a partner in El Real Tex-Mex Café in Houston, also adds the restaurant’s signature chile con carne, the mother sauce of Tex-Mex. To enjoy the book and the recipes therein requires only a smidge of “trust in your taste buds,” as Walsh notes. Indeed, if you do, you’ll have the diverse flavors that helped create the West at the end of your spoon or fork.
Eat Mexico: Recipes From Mexico City’s Streets, Markets & Fondas
Lesley Téllez (Kyle Books, 2015)
Journalist Lesley Téllez, a native of Southern California and former Texan, thought she knew what Mexican food was, but a move to Mexico City in 2009 turned all of that on its ear. Téllez enrolled in cooking school and started a blog, La Mija Chronicles, for which she explored the endless markets, food stalls, and restaurants of the capital city. Eventually, Téllez established a food tour company and an intimate understanding of her adopted city and friendships with the vendors that make Mexico City one of the most vibrant street food cities in the world. And now, taking its name from the tour company, comes Téllez’s cookbook, Eat Mexico.
There is plenty here familiar to Americans, especially lovers of Mexican food and those in the Southwest. There are flautas (sometimes called taquitos stateside) topped with Mexican crema, queso fresco, and cabbage; chiles stuffed with beans and cheese; hibiscus flower quesadillas; and bowls upon bowls of salsas. Food lovers and home cooks curious to expand their palates and repertoires will find the rich, endless, and accessible possibilities of regional Mexican food. Some of my favorites include how to make traditional fresh masa from scratch, a cactus salad, and beer-braised rabbit. Eat Mexico also makes taking taco night to the next level is easy. And if you want to give your yuletide feasts an extra festive touch, there are tamales, a traditional holiday food across Mexico and the U.S. Southwest, and the sweet-savory combo of dark chocolate-chicharrón cookies.
The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage From 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution
Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith, art by Aaron McConnell (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
Beer is the world’s drink. It’s recorded tale begins in China and the Middle East and spills out to Egypt, Germany, and soaking almost every culture on earth, including the American West, home to the Great American Beer Festival (the NFR of beer) and world-renowned breweries like Stone. Jonathan Hennessey and Mike Smith turn the tale of suds into a vibrant and humorous graphic novel with Aaron McConnell providing art in a variety of styles, including edgy realism, exaggerated forms evoking Sunday funnies, and blocky LEGO-like figures.
The sections on craft beer culture in the American West, especially those covering the history of New Albion, established in Sonoma, California, in 1976 and considered the first microbrewery in the U.S., have a roughhewn quality ideal for representing pioneers.
As handcrafted beer gains popularity across the region and country, a breezy, fun primer such as The Comic Book Story of Beer is a good start for the novice, not to mention a refreshing addition to the comic book cannon. Cheers!