Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Suzanne and I would like to extend our best wishes for a great Thanksgiving holiday to all our readers, friends, and family. This year has been a fantastic journey for us in so many ways. When we first thought about writing a travel blog, we did not know if others would be interested in reading about our travels and adventures. Drawing inspiration from a love of the history of Texas and its people, we embarked on our journey. 

We have met some fantastic people and learned so much about this great state. Our travel blog readership is growing by leaps and bounds! We would like to invite all of our readers to provide us with feedback or to share your favorite travel destinations, food ideas, or other adventures by leaving comments here on the blog page or posting on Facebook.

With a fabulous turkey dinner waiting to be savored, we hope you will enjoy a wonderful holiday family and friends as we share Texas Thru My Back Door!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Bacon Diet

I bet the Bacon Diet caught you by surprise! It’s a carnivore’s delight. The secret to this diet is adding a little bacon to every meal. Bacon makes the food taste great. If your food tastes great, you feel great, which in turn gives you the desire and energy to exercise more and enjoy life. If you enjoy life, what else is there? By now you have probably figured out that I’m pulling your leg.  This diet is only in my dreams, but I do enjoy fresh smoked bacon (in moderation of course) and I’ve got the secret of where to find the best bacon in Texas.

Kasper’s Meat Market in Weimar, Texas, about an hour west of Houston along the I-10 highway, is one of my favorite places to go.  While the sound of the name may conjure up the mental image of a certain friendly ghost, make no mistake, this place is not haunted by anything but locally produced meats and great tasting bacon.  I’m not talking about the razor thin see-through stuff they sell in the big city markets or anything that has been pressed from turkey meat parts.  I’m talking about fresh, smoked bacon from local hogs cut to the thickness of your choice.  Personally, I like mine about an eighth of an inch thick.  You can buy it with or without the rind attached. (Hint: If you like to fry bacon with the rind attached, make shallow cuts into the rind about an inch apart and the bacon won’t curl in the pan.)  Other favorites of mine at Kasper’s include country style link sausage and one inch thick cut pork chops.

As you approach the battered wooden screen door of the establishment, located in the old downtown area of Weimar, the aroma of the wood charcoal from the smoker out back fills your nostrils like a breath of fresh air.  With almost 100 years of perfecting their smoking technique, you don’t need a GPS to know you’re in the right location for great bacon.  Walking into the meat market is like walking back in time. As you enter, a little bell rings to signal your arrival.  No need to worry though, there are plenty of folks to help you when you are ready to order.  As you scan the store front, you see the butchers busy behind the counter taking orders, slicing meat or cutting meat on the band saw.  Most look like they have been doing this for a long, long time.  On the walls are a few deer head mounts, a Texas longhorn mount, photos, local announcements and meat prices.  The people waiting in line to be served are just as friendly as the workers behind the counter.  Everyone seems happy to be there. I wonder if it’s that wonderful smoke-filled aroma circulating about the building that has brought a smile to those faces. Nothing fancy here, just good service and good meats.

Keep in mind that on Saturday, Kasper’s is only open ‘til noon.  Bring your ice chest and credit card (they sell ice if you need it) and load up the wagon.  Buying anything less than 4 lbs will mean your next bacon run may be too soon. One person even brought his freezer on a trailer to fill it up.  How cool is that!

P.S. Suzanne repackages the bacon into single servings and freezes it.  She separates the bacon into individual slices placing 4 to 6 slices on a single sheet of plastic wrap and then rolling the bacon slices inside the plastic wrap ensuring that there is plastic between each slice.  She then places the bundles of bacon in a freezer bag and labels with the date.  The frozen bacon will keep for about 6 months.   When needed, take out the bacon, let thaw for a minute or two and break apart the slices.  Put the bacon in a cast iron skillet with just enough water to cover the bacon and cook.  The water ensures that the bacon does not dry out excessively during the frying process.

Hope you enjoy eating your bacon as much as the trip to purchase it. Speaking of bacon, I smell the best tasting bacon in Texas Thru My Back Door! Time for Breakfast!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pirate Jean Laffite and Snake Island

Recently, I heard on the local news that three shipwrecks have been uncovered about 150 miles from Galveston Island. One of the ships purported to be from the Texas Revolutionary era, possibly a privateer or pirate ship. Every young boy from my era probably dreamed of being a pirate. AAARRRR! But, did you know that a few remains of Maison Rouge, the house that the pirate Jean Laffite built, still exists on Snake Island (aka Galveston Island)? It was called Snake Island not because it was full of the plentiful water moccasins but full of rattlesnakes! Yikes! 

At that time, Snake Island was more like what Padre Island is now, a bunch of sand dunes, grass, and driftwood.  It looked nothing like the tropical landscape of today. Lafitte’s Maison Rouge (Red House) was both a house and a fort.  In fact, it was the only permanent structure at that time on Galveston Island.

 While researching Jean Laffite in Galveston and the French colony of Champ d’Asile near Liberty for one of my future books, we ventured to the site of Maison Rouge. Located on the outskirts of the historic district of Galveston, the site looked abandoned and lonely. The surrounding cyclone fence is tattered and cut in places where people have entered the site. Only the foundation of a house that was built over Maison Rouge remains. Some folks believe that parts of the staircase may be from Jean Lafitte’s original house.

Jean Lafitte, the pirate may have disappeared mysteriously after being kicked out of Texas by the United States navy, but the location of his house is still celebrated by those believe in the free spirit of the pirates of old. So if you want to visit this historic site in Galveston and give a toast of a rum drink to the pirate of Snake Island, drive to 1417 Harborside and let your mind wander to a time when pirates ruled the island. I wonder if Lafitte buried any gold treasure under the house before he left. Guess we will never know. See you about as we travel Texas Thru My Back Door!

Join in our fight against breast cancer.  Visit Suzanne's new blog "My Equations for Life" as she reflects on life B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) and help support new early cancer detection research at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center with our Go Fund Me project below.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Smokin' Hot for the Holidays

It’s that time of year again.  The holiday season is rapidly approaching and it’s time to start cooking.  Gifts are wonderful, songs are sentimental, decorations are lovely, but let’s face it, the food is the critical ingredient for a great holiday season.

If you are looking for a unique way to prepare meals that are fast and tasty, look no further, I’ve got the answer.  I received a gift last year that has turned out to be one of my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets, the Emson Infusion BBQ Pressure Smoker.  When Al told me that he had something “big” for my  Christmas gift last year that he was sure I was going to love, I must admit that an indoor smoker was not the first thing that crossed my mind… or the second ,or the third… you get the picture. However, it turned out to be one of the best additions to ever grace my kitchen.  This electric cooker helps me prepare smoked salmon in under 30 min., smoked cheese in 10 min., a whole chicken smoked and cooked to perfection in under an hour.  As of yet, I’ve never failed to get rave reviews from family and friends on these meals.

Preparation is fairly simple, cover your meat in a spice rub, add your wood chips and a little water to the bottom of the pot, set the timer and go. You can use any spice rubs you like.  I make my own so that I can control the salt content.  For salmon and pork dishes, I use a sweeter rub that contains brown sugar in addition to chili, paprika, etc.  For chicken or ribs, I use a spicier rub to turn up the heat a bit.  I’ve stopped buying rotisserie chickens all together.  I just buy a whole chicken and smoke it for 45 min.  Voila! I have great chicken meat for soups and casseroles that has deep flavor and none of the added salt of a rotisserie chicken. My Emson Smoker can hold up to 4 lbs of meat, but there is a larger capacity version available.

The wood chips actually have more influence over the flavors than the spice rub.  The more traditional flavors like oak, mesquite, and hickory all work great, but they tend to be a bit heavy for more delicate dishes.  Alder wood is a perfect fit for smoking salmon and cherry wood or apple wood are great for pork and complement the sweeter flavors of those dishes.

The smoker is not limited to cooking meat.  Imparting a smoky goodness to your favorite hard cheese takes just 10 min on the cold smoke setting.  Smoked corn is delicious with ribs or chicken.  Cold smoked tomatoes add a unique flavor that really jazzes up your salads.

Here are just a few tips to ensure perfect results.  Place the smoker near your oven hood because you are going to want the vent hood on when you open the lid of the smoker.  Use a combination of cold smoking followed by hot smoking to cook fish or veggies.  And finally, always check the rubber seal on the lid to ensure it’s well seated.  If it’s not, the smoking will still succeed, but you will get some smoke escaping into the room as you cook.

So if you want to be smokin’ hot for the holidays, look no further than your own kitchen counter.   Or better yet, come on over to our place and step into the kitchen Thru My Back Door.