Do you have a favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, one that you take your family to on Friday nights? Or, is there a place you always take out-of-town guests? For my husband and me, that place is Matt’s El Rancho in Austin. From drinks to enchiladas to perfectly prepared shrimp to the Early Texas Pecan Pralines, we have never been disappointed in more than 20 years of dining at Matt’s. Matt Martinez Sr. opened the well-known Austin restaurant in 1952, but his establishment wasn’t the family’s first. His father, Delfino, opened a restaurant in 1925 in Austin. Five generations of Martinezes have been involved in the business, including Matt Martinez Jr., who opened Matt’s Rancho Martinez in Dallas in 1985.
Even if you can’t visit a Martinez restaurant, you can still enjoy their Tex-Mex dishes by preparing recipes from the cookbook “Mex Tex: Traditional Tex-Mex Taste” by Matt Martinez Jr. (Bright Sky Press, 2006).
Gorditas (“Little Fat Ones”)
1 cup masa harina (dry masa)
½ cup mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying
- In a bowl, mix masa, mashed potatoes and baking powder thoroughly with a pastry knife or wooden mixing spoon. Add about 3/4 cup of cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition until dough is no longer crumbly. When you can squeeze the dough in your hand and the dough keeps its shape, you’ve added enough water. Don’t add too much water.
- Divide dough and roll into 12 walnut-sized balls. Place on a plate or cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Cover with another sheet of waxed paper to keep dough from drying out. Let them rest at least 10 minutes (or longer if you have time).
- Heat half an inch of oil in a skillet over medium heat. While oil is heating, flatten dough balls by hand. Work them with your fingertips to form 2-inch-wide circles.
- When oil is heated to just shy of smoking—about 325 degrees—drop dough circles into the oil. Depending on the size of your skillet, add two to three at a time. Cook for about a minute on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with your choice of filling.
Servings: 6. Serving size: 2 unfilled gorditas. Per serving: 325 calories, 2.1 g protein, 26.7 g fat, 17.8 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g dietary fiber, 134 mg sodium, 0.6 g sugars
Cook’s Tip: Fill with crumbled fresh goat cheese, beans, guacamole and your favorite hot sauce, if desired. Shredded roast beef, pork roast or chicken work well, too.
Early Texas Pecan Pralines
2 cups sugar
¾ cup milk
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups pecan halves or pieces
- Mix sugar, milk and baking soda in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.
- After 12 to 15 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken. Using a candy thermometer, bring to soft-ball stage (235 to 240 degrees). Or, if you don’t have a thermometer, drop a small amount of milk syrup into cold water. If it forms a ball in the water, the syrup has cooked sufficiently.
- Once syrup is ready, remove from heat and add butter and vanilla; mix until creamy. Then stir in pecans so they are thoroughly coated.
- Quickly drop mixture by heaping tablespoonsful onto a buttered baking sheet or a piece of waxed paper. Let cool until solid.
- When cool, place candies in a covered container. They will keep two to three days at room temperature.
Servings: 24. Serving size: 1 praline. Per serving: 118 calories, 0.8 g protein, 4.9 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 0.6 g dietary fiber, 29 mg sodium, 17.4 g sugars, 2 mg cholesterol
Little Matt’s Shrimp Cocktail
3 pounds cooked small shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 bottle (14 ounces) ketchup
1 can (11 ½ ounces) V8 juice
Juice of 2 lemons
½ cup lemon-lime soda
½ cup diced fresh tomato
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped jalapeños
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup thinly sliced celery, divided
2 avocados, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 lemons, cut into wedges
- Chill the shrimp until ready to serve. Combine all of the sauce ingredients except for 1/8 cup of celery; mix well. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- To serve, divide the remaining celery among eight tall glasses (parfait glasses work well). Fill each glass evenly with shrimp.
- Stir cocktail sauce well and divide equally over the shrimp. Place avocado slices on top and garnish with cilantro.
- Serve with lemon wedges and crispy crackers on the side.
Servings: 8. Serving size: 1 glass. Per serving: 252 calories, 25.4 g protein, 5.4 g fat, 23.5 g carbohydrates, 3.4 g dietary fiber, 2,203 mg sodium, 15.5 g sugars, 214 mg cholesterol