Erin Hicks Miller was beaming as she put her pen to one bright green book after another at Hugo's last night. It was the first of several book signing parties celebrating the release of her newest cookbook: Houston Classic Mexican Recipes, the second in a series of books showcasing popular dishes from some of the city's most beloved restaurants.
"It's intended to be just as much a travel guide," she told me between signings, "as it is a cookbook." And it succeeds in both categories.
The book is filled with histories and anecdotes about old favorites like Irma's and La Guadalupana, but also highlights lesser known and more off-the-beaten-path places like La Parranda and Romero's Las Brazas.
Like her first book, Houston Classic Desserts, it's filled with beautiful photos and helpful, highly instructive recipes for making each dish. And unlike with many cookbooks, you've likely tasted the very dish you're seeking to replicate, so you already know it's good.
Taking her inspiration for the series from fellow cookbook author Kit Wohl's series of New Orleans classics, Hicks Miller is already planning to have the third book in her Houston series come out this September.
"The combination of my love for food and cooking, along with the amazing chefs and restaurants here in Houston, make this my total dream job," she said. With upcoming titles Houston Classic Seafood and -- potentially -- Houston Classic Italian, it's clear that she's living that dream to its fullest.
But not every restaurant has been as easygoing to work with as, say, Hugo's or Mo's (Hicks Miller snagged a recipe for guacamole from the steak place). "There are some restaurants that will simply not part with recipes," she explained. For her previous book, she said, "I begged Levi Goode for his pecan pie recipe, but I don't think he will ever give it up!"
"If a second volume of Desserts is planned sometime down the road, I plan to beg again," she added with a smile.
And, sadly, there are some restaurants listed in Hicks Miller's Mexican book that have undergone some serious changes: Cielo's is now closed, for example, and with Chef L.J. Wiley gone from Yelapa, his signature guacamole may likely disappear from the menu as well.
In spite of this (or perhaps because of it), Houston Classic Mexican Recipes serves a very vital purpose: chronicling and cataloging Houston tastes and recipes like a time capsule. Of those tastes, though, does Hicks Miller have a favorite?
"Each book is filled with many of my favorites; it would be impossible to pick just one," she demurred. "I will say that there are 19 of my favorite drink recipes in the Mexican cookbook. Margarita testing began very early some mornings while working on that book."