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Sunday, January 12, 2014

A beautiful cookbook

 Because I do some food writing, cookbooks wander across my desk from time to time. It’s rare, however, that one takes my breath away. The last one I can think of was Terry Thompson-Anderson’s Texas on a Plate. The combination of food philosophy, magnificent photography, and wonderful recipes had me spellbound. I still want to try the quail with dirty rice and coffee gravy.

But a week or so ago, I received a copy of Temple Ranch Cookbook. It’s what co-author and former publisher Ellen Temple calls a memory cookbook; it will never be on the cookbook shelf of your local bookstore.  So I’m not saying “Buy this,” but I do want you to know that it’s out there. If you ever get a chance to browse through a copy, jump to do it.

Two things I like (among many)—the book introduces us to Patrick Hieger, now a full-time chef at the ranch, but watch for his name to become well known in Texas culinary circles. Patrick is the other author, and he writes in an introduction to the cuisine section that food is the centerpiece for a visit to the ranch. It draws people together, and gives them reason to celebrate…and ways to celebrate. I love that philosophy about food, which I have always thought, from a simple dinner for two to a large celebration, binds us together. Further, he assures us his recipes are not so complex that we cannot duplicate. They are meant for the home cook. To the right is Hieger's version of eggs benedict.

The theme of Ellen Temple’s introductory essay is conservation and historical restoration. The ranch is located on the South Texas Plains, a land of chaparral and prairie. The ranch began in the 1860s as El Rancho La Gloria and has maintained its record of conservation of the land ever since. During the Temple years several historic structures have been renovated, including the Rock House, which once served as cookhouse and lodging for the shepherd to a large herd of Merino sheep. The discovery of a subterranean lime kiln nearby indicated the founding Gray family made their own mortar, plaster, whitewash and chipichil flooring. A cemetery for the Labbé family and a chimney are the only evidence of the brief residency of that family in the 1860s on a small portion of the land. Preservation of artifacts is important, but more important is the effort made by the Temple family to restore and preserve the native, rapidly vanishing Texas landscape. This landscape and its wildlife are captured in smashing photography by Chase Fountain and David Nix, with occasional photos credited to others. Cover design is by David Nix.

Having been a publisher (she published some of my Texas young-adult books), Ellen Temple knows beauty in a book, and this is one spectacular volume, from the hard case cover, without a bothersome jacket, and simple but bright endsheets to the understated, simple typography and design.

Food is the centerpiece of any cookbook, but I have room only to list a few items—chicken fried venison, veggie burger with black-eyed pea hummus (left), fried fish and dirty rice, steamed mussels in chorizo-fennel broth, pan sausage and cabbage, venison chili with jalapeño cornbread, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and cream gravy, migas, chocolate orange mousse with cinnamon shortbread cookies, Temple family mayonnaise, tartar sauce—I could go on and on but you get the drift. The recipes are a combination of ranch cookery and South Texas Hispanic influences.

Me? I think the first recipe I’ll try is grilled quail with white beans, mushrooms, and argula. Then again, I’ve always wanted to make dirty rice, and I love venison chili….choices, choices. Whatever I cook, the book will be protected from splatter in one of those cookbook shields. It’s a collector’s item, and I’m grateful to have been on the list to receive it.

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