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YouTube star behind Hilah Cooking releases new book on Texas cuisine

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
Hilah Johnson's YouTube show launched her food career, and now she has written three cookbooks and appeared on national TV shows, including "Live with Kelly & Ryan." [Contributed]

Hilah Johnson started posting quirky cooking videos on YouTube way back in 2010. She and her partner, Christopher Sharpe, were living in Austin, and together, they created memorable, informative, how-to videos on hundreds of dishes and cooking techniques, from basics, like how to make tortillas or bacon-wrapped hot dogs, to complicated projects, such as baklava or tamales.

After writing a couple of cookbooks, "Learn to Cook" and "The Breakfast Taco Book," Johnson and Sharpe moved to L.A. and pivoted to podcasting and screenwriting. Her extensive video catalog remains popular — several of the tutorials have more than a million views — but you're more likely to hear new podcast episodes than find new cooking videos. She's still developing recipes, though, and this summer, the eighth-generation Austinite published her third book, "The Little Local Texas Cookbook" (Countryman Press, $14.95), a collection of classic and modernized dishes from around the Lone Star State.

Featuring recipes for kolaches, pickled peaches, Mexican martinis and, of course, chili and brisket, the book is part of a series of small books focusing on regional cuisine from Countryman Press that also highlight the foods of New Orleans, Maine and Portland. Johnson's book is full of the same wit and relatable cooking advice that made her video series so popular, and even though there aren't any photos with the dishes, it's an easy-to-use (and easy-to-gift) snapshot of Texas cuisine. To mark the launch of the book, she's return to Austin next week for a book signing at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at Bookwoman, 5501 N. Lamar Blvd.

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Biscuits and Gravy

Cream gravy was one of the very first things I ever learned to make on my own. The simple recipe I still remember from back then is 2 tablespoons fat, 2 tablespoons flour, and 2 cups milk. Depending on what we had in the kitchen, the fat was either bacon fat or fat left over from frying breakfast sausage patties. When you make it with bacon fat, it’s the same gravy you pour on chicken-fried steak  and mashed potatoes.

— Hilah Johnson

For the biscuits:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen or at least very cold

3/4 cup buttermilk

For the gravy:

2 tablespoons bacon or sausage fat

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole or 2 percent milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the biscuits:

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the dry biscuit ingredients in a big bowl.

If you thought ahead to freeze your butter, use a coarse box grater to grate it into the dry ingredients. If it’s just cold, dice it small and toss it around in the mixture. Using your fingertips, mix the butter into the dry ingredients, squeezing little bits of the butter to break it up and coat it in flour. The mixture should look like pebbles. Add the buttermilk all at once and mix it up quickly.

Turn out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead by folding it over on itself several times — be gentle, as 30 seconds of kneading is plenty. Roll or pat the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or cut into 8 squares with a sharp knife. Place the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

While the biscuits bake, make the gravy: Warm the fat in a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir until lightly browned and smelling toasty, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in about 1 cup milk. Once a thick, smooth paste forms, whisk in the remaining 1 cup milk. Season with the salt and black pepper and taste. You will likely want more of each.

Split the hot biscuits open and pour gravy all over them. Serve. Makes 8 biscuits.

— From "The Little Local Texas Cookbook" by Hilah Johnson (Countryman Press, $14.95)