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Cookbook Of The Week: The Homesick Texan's Universal Thanksgiving Relevance + Her Pumpkin Empanada Recipe

When we picked up a copy of The Homesick Texan by blogger Lisa Fain, we had Thanksgiving menu planning on the mind -- and then we flipped right to Fain's pumpkin empanada recipe (get the recipe after the jump).

It brought to mind a familiar Thanksgiving dilemma: When you're cooking for multiple generations, there is that "then versus now" kitchen dance, a balancing act between preserving your great aunt's long beloved (but not all that great, come to think of it) sweet potato casserole versus the desire to dream up a tastier, modern (empanada?) version without causing table-side tuber boycotts.

We can only imagine the root vegetable challenges Fain, a native Texan who lives and blogs in New York City, must have felt over the years as she explained to her friends that yes, people really do occasionally still make casseroles in Texas.

Things like King's Ranch chicken casserole, an old-school classic with fiery lasagna-like layers of corn tortillas and chicken in a spicy poblano pepper-ancho chile powder tomato sauce (only, here freshened up with fresh peppers and sour cream instead of the traditional canned creamed soup). Those dressed up classics make this a great regional cookbook.

By "dressed up" we do not mean gussied-up (and dumbed down) in that Sandra Lee made-for-television style. This is good, honest South Texas fare. It is also quite a meaty book, both in terms of the number of queso flameado recipes and their homespun-but-interesting quality.

Sweet Potato-Cranberry Salad (For Recipe, See Homesicktexan.blogspot.com)
Sweet Potato-Cranberry Salad (For Recipe, See Homesicktexan.blogspot.com)
Lisa Fain

We should add that despite the presence of state-wide ingredient staples like chipotle peppers (the canned version, not freshly smoked) and recipes like chicken fried steak and Texas sheet cake, dishes often found in the Houston and San Antonio area dominate this book's recipe landscape: carne guisada, fish tacos with guajillo-chile slaw, sopa de fideo (a Mexican tomato-based soup with broken bits of tubular pasta often found in the Rio Grande Valley-area cafés). In other words, this book emphasizes the "Mex" half of Tex-Mex, meaning there is a noticeable scarcity of North and West Texas ranch-style potato dishes in favor of green chile rice as the preferred side dish.

That is not a criticism, simply an observation, as Texas is a vast state like California and folks tend to get that same territorial Berkeley vs. L.A.-type North/South recipe allegiance. Nor is it surprising. Fain grew up in South Texas, and her family now lives in Houston.

And yes, the obvious book Introduction observation follows: Fain began blogging about her take on cherished childhood recipes when she couldn't find many of her favorite dishes in the city she now calls home -- something everyone homesick for their favorite Thanksgiving recipe this time of year can relate to.

Pumpkin Empanadas

From: The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain.

Note: Per Fain: "Whenever two homesick Texans get together, it's inevitable that they will discuss what they miss most from home. Take my friend Amy, a homesick Texan who now resides in Mississippi. She adores the pumpkin empanadas found at Fiesta grocery stores in Houston and has let me know on many occasions how much she pines for these Mexican sweet treats. And I have to agree with her--it's always a joy to eat these pastries."

Makes: About 15 empanadas

For the crust:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

1½ tablespoons heavy cream

¼ cup chopped pecans

½ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon orange zest

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the empanada topping:

1 large egg

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1. To make the crust, mix together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Stir in the flour and salt until a smooth dough is formed. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, for the filling, mix together the pumpkin with the cream, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, orange zest, vanilla, and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.

3. To make the empanadas, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.

4. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and roll it out on a floured surface until it's 1⁄8 inch thick. Cut into 5-inch rounds and then gather the scraps, roll out again, and cut more 5-inch rounds until all the dough has been used.

5. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each dough circle and fold the dough to the other side so it forms a half-moon shape. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.

6. For the topping, whisk together the egg and milk and brush this on top of the empanadas. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is browned.


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