Sometimes you just want the classics. No one understands that better than Lisa and Tom Perini, proprietors of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap. “The only dining establishment between Fort Worth and Santa Fe where you need a reservation” opened in 1983 as the logical extension of Tom Perini’s family cattle business. It became much more than that, a destination restaurant on the far northern edge of the Hill Country, just south of Abilene. Perini Ranch was in many ways ahead of its time—the original ranch-to-table restaurant, serving seasonal vegetables grown on the property and other local ingredients.
The Perinis’ new cookbook, Perini Ranch Steakhouse: Stories and Recipes for Real Texas Food—written with cookbook author Cheryl Alters Jamison and featuring photography by Wyatt McSpadden—details the restaurant’s classic Texan fare, with a nod toward chuck-wagon traditions. That means beef and lots of it, mostly cooked over mesquite. There are other Perini Ranch favorites too: queso and salsas, a killer margarita, chili, and bourbon bread pudding. If you’re looking for a Texas comfort food recipe, chances are there’s one between the covers of this book.
You’ll also find their unusual sides. Instead of baked potatoes and french fries, the restaurant serves a variety of dishes with Texas twists and occasional nods to the family’s Italian heritage. They are universally warm and comforting, and occasionally richly indulgent without being boring. In other words, perfect additions to a Thanksgiving table.
Here’s a trio of sides to add to your repertoire this year. Tom Perini recommends Maker’s Mark for the carrots, which turn buttery and sweet enough that you might just skip the sweet potatoes this year. Next, a cheesy yellow squash casserole that could become even more colorful and festive if you swap half the yellow squash for green zucchini. And finally, a decadent corn pudding that’s smoky and spicy, thanks to bacon and poblano chiles.
Bourbon Glazed Carrots
1 pound baby carrots
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 pinches of cayenne
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons bourbon
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the carrots and salt, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the carrots can just be pierced with a fork. Drain in a colander, and return the carrots to the pan.
While the carrots are cooking, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne in a bowl. Toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often so they don’t burn, until they are aromatic. Set aside.
Stir the butter into the warm carrots, and return to low heat. When melted, add the bourbon, then stir in the brown sugar mixture. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the carrots are glazed and tender. Add salt to taste. Top the glazed carrots with the pecans and serve.
Roasted Corn and Poblano Pudding
Vegetable oil spray
6 thick slices bacon
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup chopped onion
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced
5 cups corn kernels (from 5 ears, or frozen)
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into cubes, at room temperature
¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray.
Put the bacon slices in a large, cold skillet. Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook the bacon for 3 minutes on one side. Turn the bacon, and cook on the other side to the desired doneness. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon with your fingers and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.
Add the butter, onion, salt, and pepper to the bacon drippings in the skillet and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft. Add the poblanos, corn, cream, cream cheese, and Parmigiano, stirring well to combine.
Whisk together the eggs and milk in a bowl. Add about ½ cup of the hot corn mixture and stir well. Pour the corn mixture into the prepared dish and stir in the bacon. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the top browns. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Yellow Squash Casserole
4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, at room temperature
1 large sweet onion, halved from top to bottom, then sliced ⅛-inch thick, preferably on a mandoline
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ pounds yellow summer squash, sliced ¼-inch thick, preferably on a mandoline
2 ½ cups (10 0unces) shredded medium or sharp cheddar
½ cup panko bread crumbs, toasted in a dry skillet
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and saute until tender and translucent. Cool briefly.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the cooked onion, squash, 2 cups of the cheddar, half of the bread crumbs, and half of the basil. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish. Scatter the remaining ½ cup cheddar, ¼ cup bread crumbs, and ¼ cup basil over the squash mixture. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes, until the squash is tender and the casserole is bubbly. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.