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What's Cooking? - Posted November 24, 2017 10:11 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Christmas with the Woodburns

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From tamale meals to cookie trays, every family loves to prepare certain foods when the holidays approach. Growing up in Rio Grande City – a small border town between Laredo and Brownsville – Alicia Woodburn’s Christmas traditions definitely have a regional influence. The mother of Livia Woodburn, owner of Pan-Handlers Cafe & Catering, Alicia has always loved preparing tamales, cooking the stew-like puerco verde, and baking English muffin-style bread for friends and family.

“We call it ‘Dale Bread,’” Livia says of the family recipe. It’s named after Dale Andrews, the maternal grandfather of Livia’s cousin, Lizzie Smith. (Andrews Street in the Olsen area is named for him.) The Woodburn family makes the bread every year and serves it with a special cranberry-wine jelly. “We call it ‘company jelly,’ because anytime anyone would come visit, my dad’s grandmother would serve them this jelly,” says Livia.

“She put it in a nice dish and served it special,” Alicia adds. “I make it every year and give it out.” With Christmas approaching, Livia and Alicia shared the family’s bread and jelly recipes, along with a beloved recipe for peanut butter balls and the hearty puerco verde. “Every time my brothers come home, they want her to make this,” Livia says of the traditional pork dish.

Recipes courtesy of Alicia and Livia Woodburn


English Muffin "Dale Bread"
2 packages Fleischman's active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups unsifted flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup water
Cornmeal

Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt and soda. Heat liquids until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Add to dry mixture; beat well. Stir in rest of flour to make stiff batter. Spoon into 2 (8 ½- by 4 ½-inch) pans that have been greased (or sprayed) and sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover; let rise in warm place for 45 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from pans and cool. Slice, butter, and place under broiler until brown. Non-buttered bread can also be placed in the toaster. Serve with your favorite jelly or jam.

Makes 2 loaves

Cranberry-Wine "Company Jelly"
3 cups cranberry juice blend (100 percent juice)
7 cups sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup port wine
6 ounces liquid pectin
Paraffin

Combine juice, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in large sauce pan. Bring to boil, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; stir in wine and pectin. Skim off foam with metal spoon. Quickly pour jelly into hot, sterilized jars, leaving a half-inch headspace. Seal with thin layer of paraffin. Cover with lids. Decorative jars can also be used. If using Ball jars with lids that seal, jelly can be processed in boiling water for 20 minutes. No paraffin will be needed if using this process.

Makes 8 to 9 half-pint jars


Butterfinger Balls
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies

Mix peanut butter, butter, powdered sugar and Rice Krispies. Roll into teaspoon-size balls and chill.

Chocolate Coating
1/3 stick paraffin
1 (6-ounce) package chocolate chips
1 ½ (8 ounces) Hershey chocolate bars

Mix paraffin, chocolate chips and Hershey bars. Dip peanut butter balls in chocolate mixture. Set on wax paper to cool.

*Optional: Can be sprinkled with dry roasted peanuts before cooling.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen balls


Puerco Verde (Green Pork Stew)
5 to 6 pounds pork (butt, country ribs, or any other lean cut)
All-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
10 large tomatillos
2 poblano peppers
10 large garlic cloves
2 to 3 jalapeños (de-seeded)
Small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small onion, quartered
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

For sauce, roast tomatillos, poblanos and jalapeños in oven. Place in food processor with garlic, onion and cilantro and puree. Cut pork into small cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle seasoned meat with flour and saute in oiled pot, until browned. Pour prepared sauce and broth over meat. Stir and simmer 1 hour or until tender, stirring occasionally. Can be served over rice. Cubed potatoes may also be added.

Serves 6

Meet the Cooks: Livia and Alicia Woodburn


Alicia Woodburn grew up on the Texas-Mexico border in the small town of Rio Grande City. Her mother passed away when Alicia was young, leaving the young girl in control of the family kitchen. “She grew up taking care of her siblings and her father every day,” says Alicia’s daughter, Livia, the owner of Pan-Handlers Cafe & Catering in downtown Amarillo.

Alicia is almost entirely self-taught. “I didn’t have recipes,” Alicia says. “It was just guesstimation. People ask me ‘What did you put in this?’ It’s a little of this and a little of that. They want measurements but it’s hard to do that when you haven’t used recipes.”

Still, Alicia taught her daughter to cook, and after spending a few years as a graphic designer and layout artist, Livia turned that at-home education into a career. “I grew up with my mom cooking amazingly all the time, year-round, and then doing extra stuff during the holidays,” Livia says. “Now that I have a restaurant, we do a lot more cooking together than we did when I was young.”

After catering together for several years, Livia and her cousin, Lizzie Smith, opened Pan-Handlers in 2011 in the basement of Amarillo National Bank’s Plaza One. Known for its fresh, local food and soup and salad bar, the cafe proved a hit with health-conscious bank employees as well as the larger Amarillo community.

Earlier this year, Lizzie Smith stepped away from the restaurant to spend more time with her young family, leaving Woodburn the sole proprietor. Pan-Handlers continues to offer its popular lunchtime salad bar, which has a reputation for providing some of the best variety in Amarillo. “We try to keep it new and different,” says Livia, who tries to use locally grown produce whenever it’s in season. She and her staff prepare their own homemade dressings, pickles, and pre-made salads on a daily basis.

Colder temperatures mean homemade soups are more popular than ever at Pan-Handlers. “We always have two soups every day, and it changes daily,” Livia says. “The really popular ones I do every week, like fire-roasted tomato basil every Wednesday and Thursday.” When she’s not preparing for weekday lunches, she stays busy catering business lunches, small dinners, and – with Christmas approaching – a variety of holiday parties. “We’re pretty booked up already,” she says.

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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