In the Kitchen With: Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan
The first thing you notice about Lisa is her cowboy boots. Cherry red, spit polished and worn-in just enough, they tell you everything you need to know about the Houston transplant's cooking: It's bright, approachable, comes from the West and will linger in your memory for days afterward. To bring some welcome variety to the winter kitchen, we invited the James Beard Award winner to our Manhattan headquarters in Chelsea Market to make Chicken Spaghetti, one of her favorite dishes from her latest volume, The Homesick Texan's Family Table. Make this simple and comforting recipe in your own kitchen with help from Lisa’s step-by-step how-to.
Packed with appealing dishes, The Homesick Texan cookbook will have you sprinting to the kitchen to try your hand at crowd-pleasers like the Crazy Nachos and Banana Pudding with Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies. That's what we wanted to do after Lisa visited Food Network Kitchen. To get started, we stocked up on some of her must-have ingredients. Here’s a sampling of the Tex-Mex staples that Lisa always keeps on hand – get her top 10 in the full gallery.
"This is my favorite herb, though I know some people hate it," said Lisa, who favors the sweet tender stems at the top as well as the leaves. She adds them to pesto, salsa, eggs and enchiladas. "Always buy fresh," she said. "Dried has no flavor."
"My grandmother calls me 'The Chile Girl,' I love them that much," Lisa said. Her go-tos are chipotle (smoky and hot), guajillo (berrylike), pasilla (earthy) and ancho (hints of raisin). "Make sure you don't buy dried chiles that are too old. They should be pliable and soft," Lisa said. She soaks them in water and then whizzes them into purees to add to enchilada sauces, chili and soups.
"Lard makes pastry so supple and easy to work with. And refried beans become unctuous," said Lisa. Look for lard that hasn't been hydrogenated, and keep it in the refrigerator. "It'll last a month or two. Smell it to see if it's good." She buys hers from a local butcher, "but you can easily make it yourself from pork back fat," she said. Bacon grease and vegetable oil are fine substitutes.
"They're the most-widely used beans in Texas. You find them in Southern recipes and also Tex-Mex cooking. On Sundays, I'll make a big pot of pintos and use them all week long."
"They are so tangy and bright," Lisa said of the fruits that go into her salsa and Pork Chili Verde. "Store tomatillos in the fridge with the husks and remove them just before cooking. Stick them under the broiler and they turn soft and juicy."