After more than 25 years in Texas, I've learned that most of us residents, though many of us may travel widely and cook adventurously from many cuisines, are deeply devoted to Texas food.
Count me among them, and count chef Ross Burtwell's new book, "Texas Hill Country Cuisine: Flavors from the Cabernet Grill" (Creative Noggin Press, $35.95), as a great source for us all. It's especially appealing as it encompasses a less-frequently explored area of the state when it comes to cuisine -- the Texas Hill Country.
Texas Tarragon Shrimp Scampi
Ross Burtwell and Julia Celeste Rosenfeld will be signing "The Texas Hill Country Cookbook" Saturday (May 10) at GauchoGourmet, 935 Isom Road from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Also, they will be at the Twig Book Shop to sign on May 31, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Well-known writers collaborated with Burtwell -- Terry Thompson-Anderson wrote the forward; Julia Celeste Rosenfeld, freelance writer and "The Food Chick" for San Antonio Magazine, researched, wrote and edited. Food photography, a delectable part of this almost 200-page book, is from Jennifer Whitney.
Cabernet Grill Chef Ross Burtwell
The Cabernet Grill, A Texas Wine Country Restaurant, is in Fredericksburg, where the cuisine reflects Burtwell's lengthy career in the Lone Star State. Here, he explores new flavors and reinvents some of our favorite foods while sourcing the best possible ingredients from "local farmers, vintners and entrepreneurs."
In his forward, Burtwell says, "I gravitated to these honest ingredients since my early days as a chef in Dallas, just as the Southwestern Cuisine movement took root."
That cuisine includes wine, of course, as Texas is one of the top five wine-producing regions in the United States and the Hill Country is second only to Napa Valley in popularity among wine tourists.
"Texas Hill Country Cuisine is the ultimate dining synergy for food and wine lovers," writes Burtwell. And the book's recipes offer explicit, step-by-step instruction, making the more complex recipes approachable to most cooks.
It was a little hard picking recipes from his repertoire, Burtwell admits. "It's like picking your favorite children!" After cutting quite a few out of his initial list, the book ended up with about 125 recipes. Otherwise, he'd have had a 400-page tome on his hands.
"We did it all in-house -- we had a very, very good team," the chef says. "I'm on cloud nine -- the book exceeded my highest expectations. I'm really overwhelmed."
A key team member, San Antonio writer Rosenfeld said she enjoyed the process of working with Burtwell and collaborating on the book, a process that took seven to eight months.
"It was a unique opportunity to put my 30-plus years of experience together into one project," she says.
"I didn't know Ross and hadn't eaten at Cabernet Grill," she says. She was one of several writers whom he interviewed for the project.
"We met for the first time in his restaurant and that night I tried a variety of his dishes. We chatted for a while about the food scene, about our views on ingredients, about preferences, about styles. I was one of three candidates for the job and felt elated and honored when selected.
"Ross is so well respected that it was important to me that I do him justice. He had already done a lot of work on the recipes, reducing them to home-cooking proportions. Now it was my job to make it all cohesive," she says.
Burtwell suggests that this book is not simply a compendium of recipes, but an "idea book." It is organized as a menu would be -- appetizers, soups, salads, entrées, desserts and extras. (Extras include such accompaniments as the Burtwell Family Table Mustard and Green Peppercorn Horseradish Cream Sauce.)
Cohesive it is. While we all have our favorite ways to plunge into a new cookbook, you'd do well to take Burtwell's advice and go from the appetizers through all of the sections down to desserts and design your own Cabernet Grill-style Hill Country meal.
Here's just an example: Appetizer: Warm Texas Goat Cheese (with herbs, kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes and roasted garlic); Soup: Crispy Fried Texas Oyster Chowder with Roasted Hatch Chiles; Salad: Ginger Mango Carrot Slaw; Entree: Texas Tarragon Shrimp Scampi; Dessert: Salt and Pepper Chocolate Panna Cotta.
You can pick up a copy of Burtwell's "Texas Hill Country Cuisine: Flavors from the Cabernet Grill," at his restaurant in Fredericksburg, 2805 S State Highway 16, or at a number of markets in that area. To order directly, go to the website at by clicking here
Texas Tarragon Shrimp Scampi
Salt and Pepper Chocolate Panna Cotta