Victual Files: Another Hole in the Wall

If you weren’t going to Newcastle, Texas, you probably wouldn’t have much of a reason to be there. It’s up on the tip of the rolling plains where the hill country turns into dusty west Texas. Around 1950, the town had about 1,500 people living in it, and was a thriving coal mining community. However, they long-ago closed the coal mine, and since there’s not a railroad anywhere close the town’s citizens are mainly those who either are from Newcastle or whose parents and grandparents are from Newcastle. They sit below 500 these days on total population, however something very magical happens in the Fall in that part of the world.

The deer hunters converge.

You see, along with sparse population comes wide open range, and it just so happens that the nearby Brazos River makes for some of the best deer hunting in all of north Texas. At one point in the last century, the area was also known for its incredible dove and quail hunting. However, due to environmental changes, the dove population tends to wain from year to year, and the Bobwhite quail population is close to 25% of what it was just 50 years ago.

Nonetheless, on weekends in the Fall (aside from some of the best 6-man football in the region), you’ll find the town almost doubled in size with four wheel drive trucks, ATV’s, feed corn, and camoflauge from head to toe. You can buy beer and liquor from the stores, and the gas at the gas station is some of the cheapest around. If you venture into Jerry’s Meat Market on the corner of 380 and 380, you can get incredible cuts of beef ribeye steaks, marbled to perfection and cut in the butcher room in the back.

However, across the road there sits a red building that locals know as the local eatin’ joint, and visitors know as the home of the best damn hamburger on Earth. This is: Another Hole in the Wall.

Oh, sure…there’s a drive thru if you are picking up groceries for the family after church on Sunday, but you’ll want to go in to experience what AHitW is all about. In addition to their hamburgers, they have a yearly Big Buck competition and a longest turkey beard competition. Adorning the walls are pictures from previous years; a “yearbook” of sorts showing trophys pre-mount of all the harvested deer and turkeys from the local hunts.

Understand that this isn’t the place to go for a prom date. It’s good food, good company, and all within the close confines of your friendly Newcastle neighbors.

You want coffee? Serve yourself. Cups are on the wall.

You want tea or cokes? The owner, Bob, offers that, too. He will refill your tea glass for you, but it’s all unsweet so you have to spice it up yourself. Cokes are charged by the can, and they have three or four different types of “cokes” here. (In Texas, any type of soda is a “coke”. We often ask, “What sorta coke you want? Dr. Pepper?” )

Bob will even sit with you to discuss OU football or the Cowboys, but if you don’t like cigarette smoke, I suggest you sit along the edges or even the front area. This is his restaurant, and by gawd he’s going to have a cigarette while he’s working.  You can always get your order to go if the smoke bothers you that much, but it’s worth the pain to have this food served right off the grill.

Another Hole in the Wall is named as such because it was the 2nd location of a restaurant in nearby Graham called Hole in the Wall. The owner opened this location in Newcastle, however the original Hole in the Wall is long gone and all that’s left is the sequel. The be frank, the Newcastle location was always the better of the two. When you walk in, you get a menu with an angry looking character on it. Now, AHitW is world famous for its Hog Burger. The Hog is the unofficial mascot, which you’ll find on both the menu and t-shirts available behind the counter.

There’s a daily special along with a list of different regular menu items. Breakfast is served early, and lunch and dinner menus are the same. You can even get a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, but as the menu warns, it’s $21.49 and takes up to 30 minutes to prepare. I’m sure it’s good.

Above the front desk, you’ll see Bob’s wedding photo and his prized Sooner gear. He lets Aggies, Raiders, and Longhorns eat there, but he’ll make sure you remember who won the most recent game.

Aside from the charm and décor, we are here for the food. I mentioned earlier that the burgers are the best on the planet. That’s no hyperbole…they are the best. They are all made to order per your specification, and aren’t stuck on the grill until you order them. In addition, you can get fries, but what you want are the “house chips”: thinly sliced potatoes, fried to a crisp. They are incredible. I think I could eat an entire bucket of these things before I gave up.

If you are hungry, get the mini-cheeseburger. If you are really hungry, get the regular cheeseburger. If you think you are a man, get the Piglet (which is what we are having today). You think you are a badass? Get the Hog. The Piglet is the mini version of the Hog, but you’ll feel your cholesterol and blood sugar spike after eating either one.

This is the Piglet with house chips:

It’s a regular hamburger with bacon, cheese, and a thick slice of grilled ham. A true “ham burger”. Those delicious chips:

I take my Piglet with mayo and all the vege.

This thing is massive, and it’s the smaller version of their famous burger. If you can get your hands around it, you may have to give it a squeeze to get it into your mouth.

I like to take some of the ketchup on the table and squirt it on to my chips, then dab a little of the ketchup onto the burger.

I’m telling you…this is the best burger you can find. There is no better burger than this thing.

For the little guy, he gets the mini with fries:

…and shows his appreciation with a hearty single Gigger. You’ll notice Bob in the background having a smoke and watching TV:

That, my friends and fellow Arcadians, is what small town is all about. Good food, good company, and an experience you won’t soon forget.

Another Hole in the Wall Café

510 Houston St

Newcastle, Texas

Chicken Pot Pie

This is a classic recipe for a cold day and left over chicken. It’s hearty and flavorful and downright yummy. It seems like a lot of ingredients, but you can omit something if you don’t have it on hand.

Chicken Pot Pie Ingredients:

3 sticks celery, chopped

1 med. onion, chopped

2-3 carrots, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 red bell pepper

3-6 baby bella or button mushrooms

½ C. frozen green peas

2 C. cooked chicken

2 tbs. butter

¼ C. flour

Chicken stock

¼ C. cream

Tarragon (fresh or dried)

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

1 egg (for the egg wash)

Preheat oven to 400

Heat a large sauté pan with olive oil and add onion and season with salt. Let the onion sweat for a few minutes, then add the celery, carrots, garlic and bell pepper. Add about ½ C. chicken stock and let it cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the mushroom and continue to sauté. Add more liquid if it starts to get a little dry.

When the veggies are soft, pour into a bowl and set aside. In the same sauté pan add two tablespoons of butter and melt until bubbly. Pour ½ of chicken stock into a cup and add 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir well with a small whisk or fork. When the butter is bubbly pour the flour mixture in to create a roux. Whisk vigorously to cook the flour. When the mixture starts to thicken, add chicken stock, whisking the whole time. It may be a little lumpy at first, but keep whisking and it will become satin smooth.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the cream and bring it to a simmer. Then add the chicken. (I use leftover roast chicken.) Add the veggies back into the mix. And very last add the peas.

Add tarragon and salt and pepper. Get it all hot and bubbly. Then add to the crust/pot.

Cover with the top crust and brush with egg wash to make it GBD. Stick it in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 min or until the crust is golden brown delicious.

Now for the Crust ….

This is an old-school crust and not as easy to work with as the Never Fail Pie Crust. But this makes for a delicious, flaky and savory crust.

Pie crust ingredients:

2/3 C. Crisco

2 C. AP flour

1 Tsp salt

3-6 Tbs cold water

Cut the shortening into the flour and salt until it makes a crumbly pastry. Then add the water a tablespoon at a time until it just comes together.

This dough is stiff so don’t worry if it’s seems difficult to handle. divide the dough in half. Sandwich the first half between plastic wrap to roll out. This is one of the handiest tricks. By placing the dough between sheets of plastic wrap, you eliminate the need to add extra flour to the dough, which will make the dough tough. Also you can rotate the dough around to roll it out evenly. Plus, it’s super easy to clean up afterward.

To prepare the dough/pot, you need to prebake the shell for about 10 minutes. This keeps the dough from getting too soggy. The plastic wrap trick makes it easy to put your crust into the pot, with is very helpful since the dough is very crumbly. I use copper pennies as pie weights.

Bake the shell for about 10 minutes, take it out of the oven and fill with the veggie/chicken mixture. (see above for instructions)

Happy Eats, Y’all.

Pizza Pie

A good homemade pizza pie is a wonderful thing. This is not Viktor’s Special, but it’s my special version and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ to 2 C. bread flour (plus more for kneading)

¾ C. Warm water (110 degrees)

¼ C. Olive oil

1 Tsp Rapid rise yeast

1 Tbs Honey or sugar

1 Tsp Salt

Add yeast to the warm water, add the sugar/honey. Give it a stir and let it stand for a couple minutes. It should be foamy and opaque after a few minutes. Mix the flour and salt together and set aside. (All-purpose flour can be used instead of bread flour.)

Create a well in the bottom of the bowl with the flour. Add the water mixture and oil. Mix together until the dough comes together. Add more flour if needed. Tonight I started with 1 ¾ flour but added ½ cup more because it was a really humid day here and my dough was too sticky otherwise.

Turn it out and knead for a few minutes. Pizza dough should be on the wet and sticky side.

Form into a ball and grease bowl well with more olive oil. Toss the dough in the bowl to coat with oil. Put the dough in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. I like to heat my oven up to about 150 degrees, then turn it off to let it start to cool, then I put the dough in to rise.

After it has risen, punch down and add a tablespoon or so of flour to the dough and knead lightly for a few turns inside the bowl. Get your oven going again by preheating it to 475 degrees. (note that my pizza stone is already in the oven here). if you don’t have a pizza stone, no problem. You can bake your pizza on a cookie sheet or pizza pan instead.

Pull out onto a large piece of cling wrap (I stitch two pieces together with the seam in the middle). Dust the top of the dough with flour. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough and flip to the parchment side—cling-wrap side up. Add a little more flour if needed. Roll the dough out to a 14-inch round or larger. When you are happy with the shape and thickness of the pizza crust, leave it to rest for at least 10 minutes.

This pizza pan has been through it all. I bought this when I was in college and moved into an apartment for the first time. I didn’t have anything that resembled a cookie sheet or pizza pan. I couldn’t afford both so I got this so it could do double duty. It has been one of the cheapest and handiest of kitchen utilities. 20 years later I’m still using it almost daily to make everything from cinnamon toast to biscuits. I’m about to use it in place of a pizza peel (that’s one of those wooden paddle-looking-things with a long handle – the pizza bakers slide pies in and out of the wood burning ovens with the peel.)

Slide the pan (or cookie sheet) under the dough and beneath the parchment. This is how we’re getting the dough onto the pizza stone. Remember pizza dough is sticky and once the pie is loaded up, it’s heavy. After you get it on the pan, take the cling wrap off. Ta-dah.

Now we’re ready to put on the toppings. Use your favorite bottled sauce or you can make a quickie sauce. Spread the sauce around. Add the meat of choice (or not). Here I’m using pepperoni and sausage. No need to brown the sausage prior, it will thoroughly cook in the overall process. Add your veggies. In this pie, I’m adding green and black olives with orange bell pepper. It’s really about what you like at this point. If you want to skip the whole thing you can. Top with mozzarella cheese.


Slide the pizza onto the stone inside the oven. The parchment can go right on top of the pizza stone.  (I only have 2 hands so, that was impossible to capture in photos. Sorry, y’all)

Look, Elvis Parsley is watching the pizza cook.

OMG! I have died and gone to pizza heaven. And, Yes! It is worth it to make your very own homemade pizza pie.

Pizza heaven!

Quickie Pizza Sauce

This is one of the most ridiculous little recipes, but it works so well. I developed it out of necessity. I was hosting a small party once and pizza was to be the appetizer and, well, I thought I had jarred pizza sauce, but didn’t, and it was too late for a last-minute grocery run. So I improvised and it worked. I got tons of compliments on the sauce. (Pizza recipe.)

Ingredients:

1 small can tomato sauce

1-3 Tbs Italian season mix

1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced or run thru a garlic press (or 1 tsp of ground if you don’t have fresh)

1 squirt of Anchovy paste

1 Tbs sugar

2 Tbs Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper

Throw it all together and give it a stir. Feel free to ad lib here. If you don’t like or have any of the ingredients, don’t use it. Or if you want to make a substitution, do it. Dried Italian parsley works well if you don’t have an Italian herb blend. You can add more or less of anything or you could add something extra or completely different.

But please do try the anchovy paste … it adds a depth of flavor that will astonish you. It only takes a small squirt, about a ½ tsp. IMHO, it’s what makes the sauce.

Ta-dah! It’s really tasty and so easy. Use with your favorite pizza recipe.

Random Awesomeness in Pictures

Sometimes things don’t quite come together. Tonight was one of those nights… I had plans for this blog post, but Jdubs is not cooperating so I had to redirect. But now maybe it’s going to be something more awesome than I had originally planned.

I looked through my random photographs and there are several I haven’t been able to use elsewhere. So I decided to write this post as random awesomeness in pictures.

A few days ago United Supermarkets had a sale on berries. I LOVE berries, and since it was cold, I made oatmeal and berry awesome in a bowl. And I have serious coffee every day. This is pressed coffee. The French version of Cowboy Coffee; it’s not for sissies.

French Press Coffee. Old fashioned oats, fresh berries, walnuts and a splash of cream.

Supper tonight. I made vegetable soup and chicken salad from a leftover roast chicken. The bread is the awesome country French bread we got at Central Market on Sunday. Oh and those are the little garden tomatoes I picked when they were still green, just before the killing frost. If you leave them out, they will ripen.

Soup and sandwich supper.

I almost peed my pants when I saw this (at Central Market on Sunday). You know how I love Scharffen Berger chocolate. Well here is a giant block of San Francisco chocolaty awesomeness!

OMG. I've died and gone to chocolate heaven.

The UPS man left a great big cat playhouse on the front porch. (That’s what I told the cat, anyway). Awesomeness in a cat toy.

This is awesome until the cat tries to play at 2 a.m., then not so awesome.

Who doesn’t love Sock Monkey? This hat is random awesomeness!

This Sock Monkey hat was a big hit at the supermarket tonight.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

This is a gem of a cookie recipe. And the best part is that it’s a “light” recipe. I very first found this recipe in one of my Cooking Light magazines. Cayenne is the secret ingredient, which adds a great punch of complexity that you can’t place, but know it’s what makes it all work. I don’t know what it is, but chocolate and red pepper go so well together.

The key to making this a wonderfully scrumptious recipe is to use really good chocolate. It needs to be bittersweet with 60% cacao minimum. Good brands that are easily available are Ghirardelli, Lindt and Baker’s. Don’t forget to look in the “candy” aisle for the good chocolate.

If you can get to a luxury grocery store, like Central Market, you can find tons of good chocolate. Scharffenberger is the very best American chocolate (HSO). Valharona is overpriced and overrated (another HSO). (HSO=Hot Sports Opinion).

If chocolate is the star of the recipe, use the good stuff. Life is too short for crappy chocolate regardless. For other recipes with Scharffenberger see Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Just remember mediocre chocolate = mediocre results.

Very respectable American Chocolate from San Francisco.
30-second intervals will keep you from scortching the chocolate.
Satin-smooth chocolate.

This is perfectly melted chocolate. Look how shiny and smooth it is.

Cayenne is the perfect complement to chocolate.

You don’t want to pinch cayenne pepper with your fingers. The oils adhere to your skin and God forgive you if you accidentally rub your eye or nose (or any other precious body part with tender skin!). This is the dandiest trick to adding just the right amount of cayenne. Stick your knife into the spice bottle and get a dab on the tip of the knife and add to the dry ingredients. If you would rather use measuring spoons, it will be equivalent to about 1/8 of a tsp.

Butter, sugar and a farm fresh egg.

It’s hard to believe this recipe only has a ¼ stick of butter in it. Just for reference, traditional chocolate chip cookies have 1 cup of butter (4x the butter in this recipe). Believe me, the two greatest flavor-adding ingredients are butter and bacon grease.

Sous chef Jean-Guilliam.

I had my favorite sous chef in the kitchen today. I love cooking with my little boy. Hopefully he will know a few recipes by the time he’s 12 or 13 and can be responsible for cooking a meal a week (totally ripped this trick off from Dr. Jen.)

We drank a keg of this and I still love it. (It took us a few weeks to drink the keg, BTW)

It is Friday night, after all. And the best way to keep from eating all the dough is to drink a beer while you work. Beer and cookie dough is a no go.

Tasting the product. Always a good sign in an aspiring chef.
Payoff. Licking the beaters.

If the dough is good the cookie will be even better.

After 10 minutes in the oven, this is the outcome!

The cookies will have a slight crackling to them. This is perfect. When you break them open, the outer shell should be crispy.

Chocolate awesomeness! Crispy on the outside and chewy, moist greatness inside..
Powdered sugar makes it pretty.

A little dusting of powdered sugar for a festive look … and vla. Chocolate cookie awesomeness.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate

3.4 oz. all-purpose flour (3/4 cup)

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

Dash of pepper

Dash of cayenne

1 ¼ c. sugar

¼ c. butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put chocolate in glass bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted. Set aside to cool.

Weigh or measure the flour and put in a small bowl. Add cinnamon, baking powder, salt, pepper and cayenne. Give all the dry ingredients a stir.

In a separate (and larger bowl), beat the [soft] butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until just combined. Add the cooled chocolate. Beat for a few more seconds, then add the dry ingredients by stirring it in until just mixed. Use a tablespoon or scoop to drop uniform dollops of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until cookies are just set. When cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 32ish cookies.

Enjoy, Y’all.

Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk pie is a real winner at any function. It’s old-fashioned goodness. And it’s so easy and non-fussy, I’m almost ashamed to share the recipe, (almost, but not quite). This is easy to double too, then you can take two yummy pies to grandma’s for Thanksgiving. This is another recipe that is hard to mess up and very novice-baker friendly.

A buttermilk pie in all its glory!

Ingredients:

2 C. Sugar

½ C. Butter (one stick)

2 tbs Flour

1 C. Buttermilk

3 Eggs, beaten

1 tsp Vanilla

(One pie crust in a 9 inch pie pan/plate.)

Mix sugar and flour then beat in the butter.

Add the buttermilk …

then the eggs and vanilla and stir it all together.

Get out your wonderfully prepared pie crust (see Never Fail Pie Crust). If you’re in a bind, the refrigerated pie dough will work fine. Pillsbury is my favorite brand. Pour the sugary goodness in.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until your pie is GBD (Golden Brown Delicious).

This is actually a pumpkin pie, but the image makes me laugh with Elvis Parsley and Days of our Chives standing guard over the baking pie.

Sometimes things don’t turn out … And I’m talking about Pies

Tonight I worked my tail off to make two different pies for my church’s family night. I planned to blog about it and include several recipes – Buttermilk pie, Pumpkin Pie and Never Fail Pie Crust. The pies turned out great. However in my documentation process, I missed a few key steps in the photography … So I’ll have to go through the process again to fill in the gaps.

I hate it when this happens! I had a little imperfection, then I tried to fix it, but made it worse!

I had a few distractions:

My sweet little kid with his butter knife ready to slice open the pumpkins
  • A helper, who needs a lot of help
  • Burned-out light bulbs, making my photos look really off tonight, way more than usual
  • And a malfunctioning iPhone
  • Kid homework that ended up not getting done – thank God he is only in preschool.
  • Time change … just thought I’d throw that in too

The pie recipes will come later this week. Hopefully it will inspire you to make one of these pies for your family’s Thanksgiving.

Here’s the teaser:

Buttermilk Pie (with the Never-fail Pie Crust) Recipe to follow.
Days of our Chives and Elvis Parsley keeping watch over the pumpkin pie baking.

French Onion Soup

I remember the first time I had French Onion Soup. Actually, I don’t, but if you allow me to totally make up a story, it goes like this: I was hitchhiking across provincial France one summer when I was in college. After stopping in a small town for some bread and cheese, I noticed a wafting smell emanating from a cottage close to the marketplace area of the town. It was heavenly. It smelled like perfume…the perfect blend of peasantry and precision in food that carried me through the air like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gets the perfumed inner thigh smell of a carrot in his nostrils, which renders him helpless and catatonic as he slowly drifts thru the air towards the source of the smell.

I approached the cottage, knocked on the door, and was greeted by the most beautiful French woman you could imagine. She was fetching in the most humble ways…naturally beautiful, however she was reticent in seeing a stranger at her door who was sniffing the air like a bloodhound. In my broken French asked, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

Looking perplexed and glancing down at her feet, she said, “Ils sont mes chaussures.”

Actually, I think the first time I had French Onion Soup was at a Jason’s Deli or a La Madeleine or something like that. Either way, it left an impression on me.

Since I can’t recreate pastoral France nor is there a deli anywhere around me, I have to create my own FOS if I want some. Fortunately for me, my FOS is world’s beyond what you can normally find in a chain restaurant. Every young onion dreams of someday being the main ingredient in this powerhouse soup. So, without further adieu…he we goes.

Mise en place:

-two large yellow onion

-one large red onion

-one large white onion

-3/4c of cabernet sauvignon

-1/4c of port

-6 strips of bacon

-4-5 cloves of garlic

-carton of beef broth

-carton of beef stock

-provolone cheese

-a nice french loaf

Boil some water in a large pot and add a bit of salt to soften the water.

Add the onions:

Blanche them for 2-3 minutes.

Then dump into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

This will make the skins easier to remove. You want to remove the outside layers that are papery. They’ll be quite toothsome in the soup, and you don’t want that.

While they are cooling off, get your big stock pot out and render 6 strips of good bacon. Don’t cook on high…you need to be able to crisp the bacon up but not burn.

Remove the skins of the cooled onions.

Half the onions, then julienne into strips. You want nice bite-sized strips. If you cut them too thin, they’ll disappear in the cooking. Make them too big, and they aren’t very fun to eat.

Do this will all the onions.

The red onions make a beautiful addition to the soup. They’ll leach that red color out into the soup.

Once the bacon is crispy and the fat is all cooked out, remove the bacon. Save it for a BLT or something. Don’t throw away good bacon.

Add all of the onion to the bacon fat.

Stir them so they are good and coated with the fat. Add some salt to make them start to cook down to translucent.

Five cloves of garlic, smashed and diced. I like to leave the garlic in small chunks so it has some texture to it in the soup.

Curl your fingers in and let the blade of the knife hit your knuckles. That way, you don’t get cut.

Add the garlic. More salt if you need.

Fresh ground pepper.

While the onions and garlic are cooking, measure out ¾c of red wine. I like using a tasty table wine that is good enough to drink along with the meal. The combo of the wine plus the soup is a great complement.

Plus 1/4c of your favorite port. I had an open bottle of vintage in my bar and needed to use it.

After a few minutes, the onion will start to become translucent so that you can see thru the edges.

Gorgeous.

Add the wines to the onions. The wine will immediately lose its deep ruby color and turn kinda brown. We need it to mellow a bit before we add the stock/broth.

And a bit more salt. Taste this along the way. The salt helps drive the moisture out of the onion and make them soft.

After a bit, the wine will mix with the moisture rendered from the onion and turn all of the onion a nice pink color.

Now, since we are going to be serving red wine with this meal, I like to mix in beef stock and beef broth. Beef stock will have fat where the broth should be just about fat free. When you drink a red wine with big tannins, serve it with a fatty dish. The fat will coat the mouth and calm the tannins so that you can experience the fruit w/o drawing your mouth up.

Stock. In.

Broth. In.

Bring it up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

That needs to simmer on low for an hour and a half. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, but be careful. Over the next hour, the flavor is going to change drastically as all the flavors meld together. Now, notice that all we’ve added so far is salt and pepper for flavor. No herbs, no spices. That’s by design. The beef stock should be prepared with a bouquet garni for flavor. The natural flavor of the wine, the bacon, and the onion/garlic is going to be complex enough for us.

Taste it along the way. You’ll use more salt than you’d think, but be careful not to oversalt it. It’s best to get it to the point where you think it still needs just a bit more, then after the rest you’ll find that it’s perfect.

After an hour (notice the fat glistening on top):

After the hour and a half long simmer, turn off the heat and let it rest uncovered. While it’s resting, cut a french loaf into 1″ slices.

Olive oil.

Brush the olive oil onto both sides of each slice of bread, then salt and pepper for each side.

Into a 425deg oven until nice and brown.

The crispy bread is integral to a FOS.

When the soup is finished, ladle portions into a high-sided bowl or a crock.

Put a crouton right in the middle of the bowl just on top of the soup. Don’t push it down…just float it right on top.

Take a slice or two of provolone cheese and lay it over the crouton.

Now, some people like to turn their broiler on, slide the crock into the oven, and melt the cheese under the searing heat of the broiler. That’s a great way to do it. However, I like to use my kitchen torch to do it. I can be a bit more precise and get the cheese cooked to the perfect sear up close.

Seared:

Served with a bit of that tasty wine, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.

Here it is in its full glory. Bust thru the crouton that’s been soaking up that soup and spoon up the cheese with those onions.

And there you have it. French Onion Soup that will change your life.

Victual Files: La Taqueria Mexicana

If you like to visit different towns to take in and experience the local culture, there’s not a better way to do it than to test out the local food. A community is defined by what they eat and how they eat together. Especially in small towns, the available food is a large part of the definition of that community itself. Anytime we travel, we try to find out where the locals eat. You’ll usually get the best food, the best value, and the heart of what makes the community so much different than others.

The food culture in Texas follows no general rules, as each local town could best identify with BBQ or homestyle cuisine or even Mexican food. In the Old Town area of Graham is home to a non-so-hidden but probably mostly unknown treasure:  La Taqueria Mexicana.

Right on 4th street, residents have probably driven by it hundreds of times without much thought at all. Those who haven’t ventured in have really done themselves a disservice, though, because in the unassuming and relatively small taco shack you’ll find a delectable meal with “authentico” written all over it.

First of all, any Mexican food place that serves menudo on Sundays is as authentic as it gets. For those who aren’t familiar with menudo, it’s a stew that’s noted for its ability to help calm the aching head and rumbling gut of a late-night Saturday spent on the bottom side of a beer bottle. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Menudo is a spicy broth made with chilis, tons of herbs and spices, and glistens with fat that’s rendered from its main ingredient: tripas, or tripe. Specifically, menudo is made with the honeycomb reticulum tripas from a beef’s second stomach. That’s right…one of the best hangover cures in Texas and all points south is a spicy beef stomach stew. Sounds disgusting, right? It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you appreciate real Mexican cuisine and don’t pale at the sight of offal on your plate, then give menudo a try.

I’m not here today for the menudo at Taqueria Mexicana, though. It’s the tacos. If you like tacos (and every non-insane human loves tacos), then this is the place you need to head.

When you walk in the front door, you see the kitchen behind a front counter, and off to the right you have a small dining area.

Taqueria Mexicana has a solid reputation around town as a great place for breakfast burritos (which are more like the size of what we consider to be a taco). There’s nothing wrong at all with coming here for those, because they really are outstanding. Your choices for breakfast burritos include:

Pick either egg with meat or potato with meat. You can’t go wrong with these, although I’m a big fan of the potato with chorizo and egg. A closer look at the full menu:

This is the first page but you can see that you’ve got a pretty good choice of how you want your dish. I’m here for the taquitos, or little tacos. They are served on corn tortillas, which are made fresh back in the back. If you order the burrito, you get a flour tortilla, which is also made in the back. I love either one, and depending on my mood I’ll order either or both. Specifically, I’m here for the tacos al pastor.

Tacos al pastor are made with pork over a rotisserie. The meat is cooked similarly to the way that gyro meat in greek cuisine is made. The meat is cut into small bite-sized bits with just a perfect amount of chewiness and toothiness to make you want to take as many chews as possible to extract the most flavor.

Fresh onion and cilantro highlight the spicy flavors on the tacos al pastor.

While I was there, I went ahead and picked up a handful of the brisket tacos, too. It’s a different flavor profile completely, but it’s a formidable back up to the tacos al pastor on the menu

A close-up of the tacos al pastor:

Roll this over so you have a tight cigar, and you have a compact blast of nuclear Mexican flavor. The soft chewiness of the meat, the crunchy fresh onion, and the perfume of the fresh cilantro is unbeatable.

This is the part that I love…the mouth-coating grease from the pork falls right out the back. The seasonings, a mixture of chili, cumin, and oregano, make for a finger-licking cleanup.

Those brisket tacos I was talking about? They make a great mild compliment to the spicy pork.

Laying these out, you can see the perfect amount of meat, laid perfectly into the center of the taco.  No cheese, no sour cream, no ancillary or superfluous filling to take away or confuse the flavor.

Other menu items of note:

-The gorditas are incredible. They take the same meat as the tacos and put them in a purse of masa (like the texture of a tamale, but not steamed and round like a large ravioli).

-If you think you can handle it, try the chicharrones on your taco. Those are “pig rinds”, or pork skin cut into strips. The texture is like stiff gelatin.  Unless you’ve had them before and know you like them, go ahead and hold off on those until your third or fourth trip to TM.

-The salsa (labeled as “big container of hot sauce” on the menu) is superb. They serve a single serving with each taco/burrito, but you can also buy it in bulk. It’s fresh and delicious.

-You can buy the flour tortillas by the dozen. Homemade tortillas are unbeatable anyway, but the ones at Taqueria Mexicana really are tasty.

-During the week, they have lunch specials served with rice and beans.

Authentic. Homemade. Delicious. Taqueria Mexicana in Graham, Texas.