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Cookbook review: Cowgirl Chef by Ellise Pierce

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And then there is Ellise Pierce, the Cowgirl Chef, who followed a Frenchman to Paris only to get homesick for Texas. There, in the romantic culinary capital of the world, the former journalist found herself yearning for cornbread, hot chilis, and even – gasp – Milky Way candybars.

Unlike Child who started L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, an informal cooking school that taught American expats how to cook French dishes, Ms. Pierce created and started teaching other homesick expats how to cook Tex-Mex.

“I taught them the differences between jalapeños and habañeros, and explained the importance of corn in Mexican cuisine,” writes Pierce in her cookbook, Cowgirl Chef: Texas cooking with a French accent, (Running Press, 2012, 333 pp.). “We rolled out flour tortillas, pressed corn tortillas, and made enchiladas. We made guacamole and salsa, too.”

The success and friendship from those classes opened her heart and then her eyes to the possibilities found in neighborhood markets and restaurants. Soon she began to meld Southwest and French traditions into one – the raucous and large-portioned with the petite and refined. Think: cornbread madeleines and buckwheat crepes.

Pierce has plenty of traditional French recipes, too, but she always manages to stir in just a little bit of home. Her efforts come at an interesting time in Paris, when Parisians are delicately embracing American food trucks, hamburgers, and even American-chef-run restaurants.

Somehow a Texas girl in cowboy boots, plaid shirt, and a carefully draped silk scarf cooking up a storm in a tiny French apartment works. If anything, you’ll feel like a good gal-pal has told you to pull up a chair and eat. You’ll be glad you did.

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