Texas Hill Country Cuisine Defined and Made Doable

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
One of the best things about this cookbook is the abundance of vibrant photos.
New Mexican cuisine is a thing. It evokes thoughts of Hatch green chiles and blue corn. California cooking is on the healthy side, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. The Midwest is known for its meat and potatoes, the Gulf Coast its seafood.

But when I saw the new cookbook entitled Texas Hill Country Cuisine: Flavors from the Cabernet Grill, I was initially confused. I've lived in the Hill Country, and there never seemed to be a definable sort of cuisine there, except maybe barbecue, as Lockhart, Luling and Driftwood (home of The Salt Lick) all fall more or less within the boundaries of the Hill Country.

The introduction to the cookbook addressed my quandary immediately.

"What are the hallmarks of Texas Hill Country cuisine?" author and chef at the Cabernet Grill, Ross Burtwell, asks. "It is food created by people who understand the importance of combining area-specific, locally grown and produced ingredients--seasonally sourced--and matching it with Texas-grown grapes and locally produced wines. Texas Hill Country cuisine is the ultimate dining synergy for food and wine lovers."

Burtwell, who's been at the Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg since 2001, notes that Hill Country cuisine is influenced by Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, southern cooking and soul food, Cajun and Creole food, barbecue, and farm-to-table sensibilities. Having spent a great deal of time eating and cooking in that beautiful part of Texas, I think I can agree with that long but inclusive definition.

And having spent a great deal of time in Fredericksburg, but never having eaten at the Cabernet Grill, I can say with certainty that this cookbook makes me want to make a road trip out to that neck of the woods for a meal from Burtwell and some fresh Fredericksburg peaches.

I can't wait to try this recipe.
Recipes or food porn: Both. The photos in the cookbook, taken by Jennifer Whiney, are bold, colorful and illustrative. There isn't a photo to go with every recipe, but several recipes feature photos to go along with each step in more difficult cooking maneuvers.

There are also dozens of photos of the Hill Country itself, from images of dairy goats frolicking in a field to the main drag in Fredericksburg lit up at night. I could actually do with more photos and fewer sidebars with texts and fonts that look like handwriting. If you can look past the multitude of things going on design-wise on each page, the recipes are straightforward and the photos really contribute to a sense of the area.

Ease of use: Burtwell and contributing author Julia Celeste Rosenfeld make ample notes along with recipes that are helpful and informative, if a bit much for the eyes to take in. Few of the recipes have more than a dozen steps, and the instructions are clear and easy to follow.

The sections are divided into "Appetizers," "Soups," "Salads," "Entrées," "Desserts" and "Extras," with side notes and additional information scattered throughout. Every time you open the book to a recipe, you're likely to find another little tidbit of information about, say, a cut of meat or the history of a hoe cake. If you're looking for a specific bit of information, you might have to do some searching, but there is a recipe index in the back.

The story continues on the next page.

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