Interview with Lisa Fain, aka The Homesick Texan (Plus Book Giveaway!)

The Homesick Texan CookbookThe Homesick Texan Cookbook starts out with a long, cold, lonely journey alongside a New Jersey highway.

I like cookbooks that start out like this. I like cookbooks that are more than their recipes. They are also stories; they are life. Lisa Fain’s debut cookbook is exactly what I like.

If you haven’t heard of her, Lisa Fain is The Homesick Texan — a Texas girl moved to New York City. She began her food blog in 2005 and published her first cookbook in September of this year. When I started this site, hers was one of the blogs I frequented for inspiration from her writing and her gorgeous food photos (all of which she takes herself!).

Her cookbook’s focus is Texan and Tex-Mex food. Fortunately for us food-lovers, Texas is enormous and its cuisine varied, so her book includes everything from Dallas-style soft cheese tacos to Austin-style black beans; from West Texas carne asado to East Texas frog legs. I want to try everything in this book.

I was happy to finally meet Lisa at her Austin book signing and I somehow managed to trick her into letting me interview her even though she is incredibly busy with the book tour. She is a pretty nice lady, if you ask me.

You’re a Texan who moved to the Big Apple. How was it adjusting to New York?

Moving to New York had been a long dream of mine, so when I first arrived I was
thrilled with they city’s energy, architecture, and cultural opportunities. But it didn’t
take me long to realize that New York may have just about everything but it doesn’t
have Texas food. I reckon I’d always taken for granted that you could easily find
queso or cheese enchiladas and it was pretty hard finding these things in New York.
I became obsessed with finding the perfect Tex-Mex or chicken-fried steak, and it
was from this that my blog was born.

What ingredients were difficult or impossible to find when you moved to NYC?

When I first got here, you couldn’t find decent chili powder. Nor could you find Ro-
Tel tomatoes, Ranch Style Beans, fiery hot sauce or edible tortillas, both corn and
flour. It was such a shock!

How did you cope with missing ingredients? Did you start cooking more from
scratch or finding substitutions? Any particularly clever solutions you were proud

Well, it was this lack that again got me in the kitchen. While you couldn’t find chili
powder, you could find whole dried chiles at Mexican markets, so I started using
those instead in my chili and Tex-Mex. I also started making my own hot sauces
instead of buying jarred, along with my own tortillas. As for the Ro-Tel (which
incidentally, you can find in New York now though it’s not everywhere), my friends
and I would take canned diced tomatoes and add some roasted or pickled jalapeños
and some cumin. It didn’t taste quite the same, but it was still good. Not having
everything I needed definitely made me a better and more creative cook, so I’m kind
of grateful now.

What do you think defines Texan and Tex-Mex cuisine? How do you differentiate
between Texan and Tex-Mex?

Texas is a vast and varied state, and the cuisine reflects this. Along the Gulf Coast
border, you find seafood dishes, with a Mexican influence in the South and more of
a Cajun influence in the North. German and Czech settlers heavily influence Central
Texas, and this is where the meat-market style of Texas barbecue comes from, along
with terrific sausages and soft pastries known as kolaches. East Texas feels the most
Southern, so it’s there you’ll find traditional Southern dishes such as black-eyed
peas, collard greens, catfish and fried chicken. The West and the panhandle are arid
and dry, so beef dishes predominate. And since Texas shares a border with Mexico,
that country’s influence can be felt across the state.

You just released a cookbook! Tell me about it. How long did you work on it?
What can people expect to find in it?

I like to think of my book as a celebration of our state’s vast cuisine, from enchiladas
to chicken-fried steak and everything in between. In my book, which took about a
year to make all together, you’ll find fried shrimp, fish tacos, enchiladas, brisket,
tortilla soup, huevos rancheros, Houston-style green salsa, homemade tortillas, big
pots of chili, big pots of beans, kolaches, chocolate pie, and lots of other good things,
too. You won’t go hungry!

She’s right about that.

In fact, I love her cookbook so much I purchased an extra signed copy for a lucky one of you, my pretties!
To enter the random drawing, just leave a comment telling me about your favorite Texan or Tex-Mex dish! I’ll announce the winner next Saturday. Good Luck!

Tuesday, November 29 UPDATE:
Using to generate a number between 1 and 42 (total comments minus duplicate comments and my comments) the winner is #9: Carra Martinez! Congratulations, Carra! No more “totchos” for you! (Even though they sound super delicious.)

Thanks to everyone for participating! I hope to do more giveaways in the future.


  1. Jonathan on November 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Wow, tough question. I have to have 2 answers! For Texan, I love me a good chicken fried steak. For Tex-Mex (and this is actually just more Mex), I love me a good chile relleno. Come on random draw 🙂

  2. Chris on November 17, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Pick me pick me! Love your show!

    • Chris on November 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

      My dish would be breakfast tacos. Or texan chili!

  3. peter jackson on November 17, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Come to Papa nom nom nom

  4. peter jackson on November 17, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Oh, that would be BREAKFAST TACOS! What else?

    • peter jackson on November 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Barbacoa. Now stop me before I comment again

  5. Marla Graves on November 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

    My husband is from Texas, and he always loves when I dabble into Te-Mex! I finally perfected chicken fried steak, which is his absolute favorite, so I would love to see what else I could learn to make!!!

  6. Michael Wadle on November 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I love the Fajitas, i ate them first in Kaiserslautern at “Cantina Mexicana” our best Tex-Mex Restaurant.

    Keep going…

    from Germany

    cu wuddel

  7. thomas on November 17, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Hilah, I am one of the most homesick Texans ever and boy was I ever lucky to find your show and your website/blog. You’ve tickled my inner Texan about a hundred times … sometimes more than once in each episode.
    The first time I saw you swigging beer and makin’ biscuits I knew I was a fan for life.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

      I am a fan of yours, too, dude. Fer real. 🙂

  8. J Steen on November 17, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Does the cream corn at Rudy’s count?

    If not, I’m totally going for King Ranch Chicken.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

      Anything at Rudy’s counts!

  9. Ben Jackson on November 17, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Migas. I wish I could eat them every day.

  10. Carra on November 17, 2011 at 11:08 am

    I live in a cold, cold place where bars serve a little dish known as “totchos.” Not nachos but totchos. Why bother with tortilla chips when you can just use tater tots? Tater tots, lettuce, and cheese, all topped with a vaguely sweet salsa–that’s Mexican food in Minnesota. The only thing that stands between me and the flavorless tundra is my own ability to cook. I need this book. I can’t just keep making my grandma’s molé over and over (Guadalupe’s secret ingredient: ground Frito’s).

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

      YOU WIN!!! Congratulations!

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:24 am

      And also, I need Guadalupe’s mole recipe. 😉

      • Carra on November 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

        Her molé recipe would be perfect for Hilah Cooking because she built upon the basic jar mole plus five or six more ingrediants (including Fritos). It’s both doable and delicious. She wouldn’t teach us how to make it from scratch because she wanted us to be studying instead. When my sisters and I went off to college, Guadalupe gifted us with towels, hand-quilted hot pads, and mocahetes and said, “Go forth and learn.”

        The problem is, though, that I don’t really measure when I cook it, I just kind of look. The next time I make it I’ll measure. Or when I’m in Austin next time, we can make it together!


  11. Håvard on November 17, 2011 at 11:10 am


  12. Hector on November 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Breakfast tacos are my favorites! Thanks for the giveaway!

  13. David Reading on November 17, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Hilah I’m a wanna be cook from Idaho. So You know all of our recipes start with the word “spuds”.
    Found your website on YouTube and fell in love with you instantly.
    Whats fun is taking your Tex-Mex recipes and turning the in Ida-Spud recipes for family and friends.
    I will watch you weekly as long as you broadcast!
    Would luv to add that new Cookbook to my collection!
    Now when are you going to offer HilaCooking T-Shirts. I need one of them!

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

      Thank you, David! (T-shirts are in the works. Think limited edition…)

  14. Daniel Stuart on November 17, 2011 at 11:22 am

    It has to be Chili of course, and here in Texas everybody and their dog has a secret recipe for it. Thanks for your HILAHrious and informative videos, viva la TEXAS.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Gracias, Daniel! I love my not-so-secret recipe the most! 😉

  15. Jason "GD" Smith on November 17, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I’m a fool for free stuff.

  16. Great Stone Face on November 17, 2011 at 11:41 am

    When the fall winds start blowing the leaves from the Northern Virginia trees and the sky is gray, my bones ache from the cold. I bundle up and head to our nearby Mexican restaurant for a bowl of pozole. I can feel the warmth from the spicy broth spread out from my core and thaw my arms and legs. My sinuses drain and I have to use the napkin to wipe both my mouth and my nose. The meat strengthens me and the hominy gives me a store of energy that lasts all day. Of course, following it with a sopapilla with honey and some coffee with cinnamon helps, too.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:25 am

      Ahh, sopapillas. Pozole.

  17. Ron on November 17, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Sour Cream enchiladas.

  18. Karan on November 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Chicken-fried anything, hands down. 🙂

  19. Rachael Macry on November 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I’m going to say Brisket. I love me some slow-cooked brisket! Do you know, there are people -in the good ole’ U S of A even- who do not know what a brisket is??? Oh goodness be still my heart.

    I’m in Texas, you know, but this would be a fabulous gift for my brother who left us to live in another (unnamed lol) state. 🙂

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

      Brisket! I need to make me some soon!

  20. Lisa Gauger on November 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    King Ranch casserole (made by my mom, of course!)

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

      Yes! Mom always makes the best!

  21. Bryan Robison on November 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Texan: Chili
    Tex-Mex: Migas

  22. Bonnie Wilkinson on November 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    My favorite Tex-Mex Breakfast would be a breakfast taco with a smear of beans, eggs scrambled with pickled nopales then sealing the deal with shredded Monty Jack cheese and a salsa on the side. In the summer I would probably get an aqua fresca with this and in the winter a coffee.

  23. Patrick Soltis on November 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Egg and chorizo breakfast tacos — chorizo made per the recipe in Hilah’s taco book!

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

      Yay! That’s definitely one of my favorites, too, Pat!

  24. Mike Schulz on November 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Good Texas brisket & beans YUM

  25. Linda on November 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    My favorite Tex-Mex dish has to be loaded steak nachos, with steak bits, salsa, guac, black beans, jalapenos, cheese, and anything else you can put on them.

  26. Candice Withrow on November 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Hey Hilah! My husband and I are from Houston but I have drug him to Northern Colorado for school. It’s a great place but the food is HORRID and I’m pretty sure he would have left me here if I couldn’t cook. The main dish we miss that I’m always trying to perfect is Pollo Especial from a restaurant in Texas City, it’s basically chicken wrapped in spinach leaves with this delicious jalapeno cream sauce.

  27. joeydirt10 on November 17, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    I miss texas BBQ, would love that cookbook

  28. Mike Love on November 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    For me and Texan recipes its a basic Texas Chili (NO beans in the chili, Thank You) and for Tex Mex has to be Chile Relleno’s…. Mmmm Now I’m hungry ! MIKE

    • Kathleen Laird on November 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      No beans eh?, I think I’ll have to try that. Some chile is all beans 🙁 some has some beans 🙂 but no beans? Maybe you could suggest a recipe for me to try.

  29. Kathleen Laird on November 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Did I not post my enchilada story to your G+ page (doh) !! Won’t make you read it twice but the gist of it was OH MY GOSH THOSE ENCHILADAS ARE AWESOME!!
    The warm, soft fluffy tortillas oozing the warm cheesy goodness of the interior. Comfort food at its best my friends, at it’s best.

  30. Renee G on November 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    My number 1 favorite is Texas Chili, but I love anything that is authenic.

  31. Leann Lindeman on November 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Mexican is a fav in my house… I m not sure where the mexi/texmex line is drawn…. We do love cheese enchiladas with chile con carne.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Oh yeah, those are always a winner!

  32. Marie Castro on November 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Chili! Then Frito Pie.

  33. Jay del Corro on November 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    My fondest memory of Tex-Mex came from Junior high school. As the new kid from Canada, I felt like an outsider. Since I’m Filipino, everyone just thought I was Mexican so most of my friends were Mexican. It took a little while to become part of the gang and it really didn’t happen til Play Night. I went to a private school and this was the one night where we could go to school in regular clothes and shoot hoops and hang out. The gym blared the awesome 80’s music and the cafeteria was selling food and drinks. This was the first time I had… Frito Pie!

    I love enchiladas, but Frito Pie has a place in my heart. It was what I had the day I became one of the cool kids.

    • Hilah on November 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

      I love this story. I love it so much. Thank you for sharing!

  34. Carole Resnick on November 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    chili, of course

  35. katherine on November 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Breakfast tacos, without a doubt. The possibilities are endless, they’re easy to make, and they also do a killer job at curing a hangover.

  36. Michelle on November 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Mmmmmm I don’t have a printer and I would Sooooo LOVE a copy! :O)

    Have you seen my Mr Chimichanga? He’s the sexiest Mexican waiter in the world! Ok, so he’s not Texan but I’m sure he eats plenty of Breakfast Taco’s! hehe

  37. Dennis on November 18, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Between your cooking videos and this cookbook, I am going to miss so much when I go to China! Keep up the awesome cooking!

  38. Kelly Baca on November 18, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Huevos Rancheros!!! mmmmmmmm

  39. Brady Hamilton on November 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

    I love Breakfast Tacos and Chili!

  40. Elaine on November 18, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Grilled chicken fajitas w/ grilled veggies and guacamole

  41. Faith Varacchi on November 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Would love a chance to win a signed copy. Recent transplant from NJ to the southwest (AZ)….can’t wait to try out some of your recipes

  42. Diane on November 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Hmmm. Chili relleno for Tex Mex. And do hush pupppies count as Texan food? I remember loving them as a child when we lived in east Texas and used to go to catfish joints. Still need to try your recipe.

    And thanks for the reminder about this blog and heads up about the book!

  43. terry love on December 5, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Hello: thought i’d add my 2 cents worth….I live alone with my cat , and i do all the cooking (the cat isn’t that good at cooking yet) 🙂 she’s there watching me try different things….I did try your way of making chicken fried steak , and let me add that they turned out the best, i’ve had in awhile …Thank you for the info on making it your way….I live in Sweetwater texas , and have relitaves in Austin , I enjoy watching your video’s a lot….and i thank you for making it much easier for people that aren’t to good in the kitchen….Terry Love

    • Hilah on December 5, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Hi Terry!
      I’m so glad you like the chicken fried steak! It’s one one my favorite things.
      Thanks for watching my videos. I’m happy they help! I should make start a new series on teaching cats to cook. 😉

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