We might never get to watch Rick Perry and Bill White meet face to face in a debate ahead of this fall's gubernatorial election, but what I'd really like to see is them throwdown in front of a grill.
During interviews in the past month, both Rick Perry and Bill White professed a passion for cooking meat over a hot grill. Off the top of his head, the incumbent Perry recalled the recipe for a marinade made with Shiner beer, teriyaki and brown sugar that he'd used on New York strips just a few nights before. Bill White said he prefers marinated flank steak or chicken when he fires up the grill at his Houston home.
"For family gatherings, I'm the person they turn to on the grill," White says.
The candidates won't be spending as much time at home — grilling, eating or doing much else — in coming weeks as they hit the campaign trail ahead of the Nov. 2 election, but they still have to eat. We talked to them both about their favorite foods, what dishes they look forward to on the road and what keeps their bellies full between campaign stops.
White says that when he's on the road, he always has an eye out for good barbecue (sauce on the side, please), but the San Antonio native says that tamales are his absolute favorite.
"When I was growing up, my standard order was three tamales with chili, but I'll eat them any way," he says. "For a long time, I didn't like vegetable fillings. I didn't think it was right."
He's changed his mind about vegetable tamales and two childhood staples prepared by his mother, who often had to make dinner quickly after spending all day at school as a teacher.
"God bless her," he says. "We'd have huge family meals based on barbecue and a big tossed salad, but as the fridge got bare, we'd get Vienna sausages, ranch-style beans and peanut butter sandwiches. I've had enough Vienna sausages and peanut butter to last a lifetime."
Finding time for dinner is still an issue when White and his team are on the campaign trail.
"It's like fuel," he says. "We catch it where we can. We probably eat too many turkey and tuna fish sandwiches from Subway."
White says that Oreos are his guilty food pleasure, but when he's eating for pure comfort, nothing beats fried food, especially the fried fish dressed up with tartar sauce and pepper vinegar at Luby's Cafeteria.
"I think I could taste some fish in there," says White, who works off the calories he consumes on the road by riding his bike when he's back home in Houston.
Even though he's eaten some pretty lavish meals in his 10 years as governor, Rick Perry says the best meal of his life was served off the back of a tailgate pickup.
"[It was] my mother's chicken-fried steak, gravy, red beans and mashed potatoes," he said on Labor Day, just before hopping on a plane to go to a South Texas pachanga, a cabrito-filled political barbecue where he was slated to speak.
Menudo from Joe's Bakery in East Austin is another one of his favorites, even though he doesn't make it there as often now because of the heavy construction on East Seventh Street.
"I think they have the best menudo I've ever had," he says. He'll buy it in the to-go cup with onions and limes on the side.
Another Mexican food joint he looks forward to visiting is Taco Palenque, a Laredo-based chain that has locations in San Antonio, Houston, McAllen and Brownsville. He says it has some of the best bean and cheese breakfast tacos in the state.
But, like White, Perry is often eating on the go.
"We normally eat whatever's left over at an event," says Perry, who finds eating at the events themselves a little cumbersome.
One of his assistants will gather up food to eat later that day on the airplane or even three or four days later, as was the case for some small key lime, pecan and coconut cream pies from an event in Beaumont.
"The key lime pie was still crunchy."
However, his favorite pie, hands down, is his Aunt Jean's coconut meringue. As a runner, he says he can eat almost whatever he wants but that he generally doesn't eat that much.
His claim to food fame dates back to the late 1970s, when he was ranching near Abilene and shared a fence with Tom Perini, the cattleman who later founded the famous Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap.
"I had a bull get out and that's how we met," he says of Perini. "He knew how to cook, but he wasn't doing it for a living."
A friend of theirs told Perini he needed to get out of the ranching business and into the cooking business, and today, "Tom is one of the most renowned chuckwagon restaurateurs and tenderloin chefs in the world."
When asked to submit a favorite recipe, both White and Perry offered up meaty stews. When their stomachs do the talking, maybe the candidates aren't that different after all.
This buffalo stew is one of the White family's favorite holiday traditions.
"This recipe come from an old cookbook, and we serve it when we have people over for the holidays," Bill White says. "Keep in the fridge, and it seems to get better with time."
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
2 lb. ground turkey
1 1/2 lb. tomatillos
1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 15 oz. can white hominy
1 cup chicken broth
8 oz. frozen corn
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté onions for 10 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms and spices and cook for four more minutes. Remove onion and mushroom mix from pot and brown turkey meat.
While meat is browning, place tomatillos in a medium saucepan, cover with water and boil for 5 minutes. Add cilantro and blend in batches in a blender to create a green salsa.
After turkey meat has browned, add green salsa and onion and mushroom mixture to pot. Bring to a boil, add hominy and chicken broth and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the corn and simmer another 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6-8.
— Andrea White
Texas Tenderloin Stew
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 4-lb. beef tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 2 in cubes
1 large onion, diced
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 lb. baby carrots
1 lb. small red potatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
1 Tbps. fresh thyme or parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large Dutch oven, sauté cubed beef in vegetable oil until browned. Add onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in beef and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and add carrots and potatoes.
Stir in red wine, bay leaf, thyme or parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Cook covered in a 325 degree oven for 2 hours or until potatoes are tender. Serves 8.
— Rick Perry