Texas Hill Country’s Fall Comfort Food Trio

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Tony Maples Photography


Photos by DiAne Gates

So for those cool nights when a salad just won’t do—come into my kitchen and I’ll share with you this grown-up version—a dinner sure to please even the pickiest eater. And good enough for company.

If your mom cooked greens like my mama did—all day on the stove. Please don’t. An hour’s all you need.

I bake the ham the day before I cook the Mac ‘n Cheese and if can finagle the time, I also do the prep work—like chopping onions, garlic, the cooled ham, or anything I can do to save time and arrive at the dinner table able to enjoy my guests and the food.

Like a New York stage play, any dinner has a leading dish, supporting dishes, then walk-ons. Make the stars of your table shine by using the best, but with those walk-ons you can fudge a little by using a good pre-packaged mix and sneaking in an extra ingredient or two to amp the flavor. Krusteaz distributes a wonderful honey cornbread mix that will save you a gallon of time, but still give you oohs and ahhs. And you can throw the box away. We’ll never tell.

Mixed Greens

Texas Hill Country’s Fall Comfort Food Trio


3 bundles of greens (I prefer a mixture)
Collards, Turnips, Mustard or Kale
1 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1 carrot peeled and sliced in rounds
1 tomato seeded, fluid removed, chopped
¼ cup roasted Hatch Chili peppers seeded and chopped
2 packs of Goya Ham Flavored Concentrate
Two chunks of cooked ham rind
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 32 oz. chicken or vegetable broth
Red pepper flakes to taste (a shake or two goes a long way)
¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar

Slice greens in pieces, discarding tough stalks and immerse green mixture in large pot of water to rinse. Remove greens from water to colander. Empty pot, refill, and rinse greens two more times.

Sauté chopped onions, garlic, carrots and tomato in ¼ cup of olive oil in pot you will cook greens in. Place greens in pot. Do not add any water other than what is on the greens. Pour broth over greens. Add salt, pepper and sugar together with ham rind and Goya Ham concentrate.

Fold into greens and sprinkle a shake or two of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

I add ¼ cup of Balsamic Vinegar 15 minutes before serving and remove the ham rinds.

“Dressed For The Party” Mac’N Cheese

Texas Hill Country’s Fall Comfort Food Trio


1 box macaroni of choice. Cook according to package directions. Drain.
1 onion chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 jalapeno seeded and chopped (optional)
2 or 3 cups of ham chopped
5 or 6 cloves of garlic minced
2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
2 cups of good quality shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 1/2 cups of shredded Parmigianino Reggiano Cheese
2/3 box Panko Italian Bread Crumbs
1 stick butter (not margarine)
1 Tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
3 cups milk
4 eggs beaten
3 Tablespoons prepared mustard (yellow or Dijon)
Red Pepper flakes (optional, according to taste)

Return drained macaroni to pot. Add butter.
Sauté onion, red pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and ham. Add to macaroni and stir.
Add Monterey Jack and Cheddar Cheeses, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes if you wish, and stir.
Combine milk, eggs, and mustard. Pour over macaroni mixture.
Stir and pour into greased or sprayed casserole dish. I use one loaf pan and one deep 9 inch round. If using shallow 9×13 dish adjust cooking time.
Cook covered 15 minutes in 350 degree oven.
Remove foil and cover macaroni with combined Panko Bread Crumbs and Parmigianino Cheese. Drizzle with olive oil or spray with Pam, and cook uncovered until bread crumbs and cheese are browned…approximately 35 to 45 minutes.

Crunchy Nothin’ Pie

Texas Hill Country’s Fall Comfort Food Trio


30 Ritz crackers crushed
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

Beat egg whites stiff. Add sugar, vanilla and salt.
Mix dry ingredients and fold into white mixture.
Pour into greased pie plate and bake 30 minutes @ 350 degrees.
Serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or favorite sauce.

Be creative. Enjoy. Then share with me how you and your family liked my contribution to your recipe collection. And don’t forget to thank the good Lord for your food.