For countless Mexican American families and Texans, the holidays mean tamales. (Fun fact: the season starring fresh masa technically runs from the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th through Three Kings’ Day on January 6th.) Since we’re not traveling for the holidays this year, I decided to join in the fun, put my family on the assembly line, and steam a couple batches of our own. 

To procure the fresh masa, I stood in a long (socially distanced) line at El Milagro in Austin. After chatting with the gentleman in front of me, who was buying masa for his wife’s sweet tamales (made with raisins and coconut) I purchased 5 pounds of coarsely ground, unprepared masa (prepared masa is mixed with lard and ready to go), which had a sweet, earthy aroma the consistency of fresh Play Dough.

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Prime rib, Frenched lamb racks and crab legs...Tis the season to indulge in fancier-than-normal fare. People tend to place duck in this category, but as I prepared this one-skillet dinner a few nights ago, I wondered why. Sure, duck is decadently rich and flavorful, but it’s also as easy as a roast chicken. In other words, “fancy” doesn’t have to be complicated.

The best part of this recipe might be the potatoes. As the duck roasts over a charcoal fire, the fat renders and bastes the rounds of Yukon golds, making them crisp and incredibly flavorful. To balance the richness, I like to serve the duck and potatoes over a big salad of frisee (or another bitter green) tossed in a mustardy vinaigrette.

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This rich, smoky stock made from the carcass of a smoked chicken (or two) might be my favorite recipe in my latest cookbook, “Thank You For Smoking.” The deeply flavored results are so satisfying and elevate countless meals, including gumbo, tortilla soup, chicken and dumplings, and need I mention gravy?

When I smoke chickens with the intention of making stock, I put the drip pan to work. Since it catches the delicious seasoned drippings and heats for about an hour, I infuse that liquid with additional aromatics, just as I would when simmering stock. (Whenever I ask a butcher to spatchcock or split chickens for me, I save and freeze the backbones for these occasions.) I also take extra care to keep the drip pan mixture free of ash. I clean the grates before I place the drip pan on the grate, and use a light hand when moving hot embers or adding more fuel, so I don’t kick up a flurry of ashes.

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Paula: Have you heard about the turkey industry woes? They’re taking a hit because people are hosting smaller holiday gatherings this year (and might not need a whole bird), and leg sales are down because Renaissance Faires have been cancelled. There are a lot of disgruntled Lords and Ladies out there.

Scott: You can count me among them! That reminds me, I was the turkey leg juggler at the Middlefaire Renaissance Festival in Hillsboro during high school. That’s where I got the nickname Smoked Turkey Legs Moody. Well, that and a special dance move I’m known for. I think I still have my muffin hat somewhere.

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