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"I Survived the Texas Tortilla Tour 1997"
--Liz, October 1997

I recently entered a recipe contest (pumpkin recipes) on AOL's Digital City DFW that was hosted by Jim White's Food & Wine Online and sponsored by dani Foods and Seventeen Seventeen Restaurant, which is located here in Dallas inside the Dallas Museum of Art.

To my great surprise, I won the grand prize: a day trip to Austin and New Braunfels called The Texas Tortilla Tour. I took the trip on Saturday, October 11, and it was the most fun I've ever had on a one-day outing. As a matter of fact, I had so much fun that I would and shall gladly do it again and pay for it! The trip was very well planned and we couldn't have had a better group. The highlight was our visit to Central Market in Austin, the most amazing store/restaurant/everything else I've ever seen.

We were treated to the company of Corporate Executive Chef and General Manager Kent Rathbun (and also TV Food Network celebrity--watch for him and his brother Chef Kevin Rathbun of Atlanta on Ready...Set...Cook! beginning Wednesday, October 15) and Executive Chef George Brown, recently named by Food & Wine Magazine as of one 1997's "Top 10 Best New Chef's in America". They were wonderful hosts and prepared a delicious dinner of mixed grilled fajitas, black beans, fresh tortillas (we had picked up at Lupe's Tortilla Factory in Dallas) and several other delights in a beautiful setting in New Braunfels.

Everyone from dani Foods could not have been nicer or more fun to hang out with. They even prepared a goodie bag for us including an "I Survived the Texas Tortilla Tour" t-shirt. We played a Texas trivia game--for prizes--and watched cooking videos on the bus. Despite a little rain here and there, it was a perfect day.

My winning recipe exactly as I submitted it to the contest:

Here is one of my favorite pumpkin recipes. I came up with it in 1985 after purchasing my first "real" pumpkin to carve, a nice, big one, and having a large amount of pumpkin with which to experiment. It was, of course, a fall day and rather cool, and I had decided to make a comforting stew for dinner that evening. Then, the lightbulb went off, why not add pumpkin? I did, and the results were delicious. Try it for yourself and see.

Liz's Pumpkin Stew

Cut 1 1/2 lbs. of beef (I use a chuck roast) into chunks of your liking, season with salt, white pepper, and a bit of allspice, and dredge lightly in flour. Brown them nicely (a medium flame, take your time) in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large dutch oven.

While that is browning, small dice a baseball-sized onion. Chop about 2 cups of pumpkin into chunks and very lightly sprinkle just a bit of allspice and rub it around over the chunks. Mince up a small handful of parsley.

Dump the onion into the pot with the nicely browned beef and stir and continue to brown and scrape up the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add a bit more salt and white pepper to your liking. Cook for a few minutes until it starts to smell really good and the onions begin to wilt. Then add the pumpkin and stir and bring a little color to them. (Your neighbors will begin to appear at this point :)

Let that go for a bit and give it a stir every minute or so while you chop 5 good-sized carrots and 3 medium sized potatoes into bite-sized chunks (I have a special technique for root vegetables I call chipping: hold the vegetable in one hand and your knife in the other and "chip" away nice sized chunks right into the pot. It's the only way I do it).

Open a large can of stewed tomatoes and break them up into pieces (I know they have chopped tomatoes in cans but this is better, trust me).

You have a few choices for the next part. You need chicken stock. A couple of regular-sized cans will do, or you can use boulllion, but mix it up first and then add it and watch your salt. If you have some stock in the freezer, that would be best, canned would be my second choice, but use chicken stock, not beef, it's better for this particular stew.

Add the carrots to the stew and continue to brown and stir for a minute and then add the potatoes and do the same. Add more salt and pepper to your liking--for the amount of food you've added (I've found over the years that "layering" seasoning is more effective than adding it all at once). Toss in the parsley. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Stir it up and let it come up to a bubble. Put the lid on it. Turn down the fire to low and leave it alone.

Come back in about an hour and check on it. Give it a stir. Taste it and see if your seasonings are right. (A tip here: Don't put garlic in it. I love garlic, but I tried it with this, it doesn't work, nor does celery. And these are two ingredients I like in beef stew, just not this one. This one is very simple and earthy.) Make whatever adjustments you need to make and let it slow simmer for another hour.

After at least two hours (I generally let it go for 3, but keep it low and slow and leave it alone, no need to stir it too much in the simmer stage), add some nice baby peas, fresh or frozen, an amount to your liking, a few handfuls or one of those small boxes frozen, and cook till they're done.

Turn off the fire and let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes. Serve in soup bowls with a glass of zinfandel. This one is so good it doesn't even need bread--you won't want to waste the room! And it will, as most dishes of this type do, taste even better tomorrow.

Makes a big pot full. Servings depend on how much you eat.

Enjoy :)

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16 Oct 97