The Mossback Cafe Cookbook




Other Books by Thomas Fenske

The Fever

A Curse That Bites Deep











Mossback Cafe




[[A companion book to
The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep]]


By Smidgeon Toll, proprietor


Compiled and published by Thomas Fenske









A few notes:


The recipes are from a US perspective; “chili powder” refers to a Mexican-style chili powder. For a substitute, try mixing finely ground ancho pepper, salt, and ground cumin.

I did not include recipes for common items like guacamole, refried beans, and salsa. Refried beans and salsa are readily available in most stores. For guacamole, the simpler, the better -- mix well: mashed ripe avocados, a splash of lemon juice, and a splash of salsa; salt to taste. For Salsa, you can also use the less chunky product known as picante sauce.

About heating corn tortillas: some people fry them for a few seconds, but they can also be wrapped in wax paper or a clean kitchen towel and heated in the microwave. If doing 10 or twelve for enchiladas, do them for about a minute in twenty-second intervals, rearranging them after each time. If heating less, reduce the time. The same rule applies for flour tortillas. Just remember, the heating is to make them more pliable for folding and rolling.

The recipes for Chicken Cornbread Casserole and Corn Casserole were both originally developed using a product called Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. The dry cornbread dry ingredients listed are based on substitution recipes.

Another wonderful version of Huevos Rancheros Especial was developed for an episode of the video channel Hilah Cooking (hilahcooking.com).

Also note that there is an awesome and charming Mossback Café in Kingson, Washington. This book has no connection with them, but they are awesome folks, so go visit if you are up that way.





Find more information about Thomas Fenske and his books at:


The Fever and [[A Curse That Bites Deep
]]are published by Wings ePress (books-by-wings-epress.com))
Available in paperback and ebook.



Published by Thomas Fenske


Copyright 2017 Thomas Fenske, Mebane NC, USA



The Mossback Cafe is a fictional West Texas café that provides a frequent setting in my first novel, The Fever. It is even more prominent in the sequel, A Curse That Bites Deep. Both books are published by Wings-ePress. This cookbook is an independently published companion book to those two novels.

The term “mossback” has quite an interesting etymology, with several distinct usages. The most common current definition refers to an older curmudgeonly fellow dead-set in his ways. During the Civil War, men who disappeared and lived in the woods to escape conscription into the Confederate army were called mossbacks. An old turtle or even an old fish can be called a mossback too, quite literally in some cases. The term is also sometimes used to describe a cunningly elusive old elk or moose. Finally, on 19th-century Southwest cattle ranges, the term mossback (or sometimes moss-horn) commonly referred to a wild cow or bull, especially one who had been living out on the range for a long time.

This old-west interpretation is what I was going for, because of the ranch-country locale of the café. Of course, the first definition could apply as well, since such folks are common inhabitants in many old country cafés.

So, how does this relate to the novels? The story in The Fever focuses on an obsessive search for a legendary lost gold mine. The main character, Sam Milton, regularly visits The Mossback Cafe, a small country café located in the vicinity of his searches. After he meets the owner, Smidgeon Toll, a glimmer of romance is sparked between the two in The Fever as they share several pivotal moments in the story. This romance emerges in full flame as their story continues in A Curse That Bites Deep. But it isn’t all hearts and roses; there is evil afoot, and it threatens them, their love, and, ultimately, The Mossback Cafe itself.

About this cookbook: the café is fictional, the characters are fictional, but the recipes are real. Most are adaptations from some of my favorite comfort foods, and several are mentioned within the pages of the books.

This is Smidgeon’s cookbook, so I’ll let her continue in her own words; I hope you enjoy this glimpse into her world.

Thomas Fenske



This booklet could not have been possible without the generous help of many people. I want to thank following people for their patient contributions: Debra Ferguson, Ginger Millican, Gary Gee, Marian Russell, Janet Fenske Peri, Carol Bonomo, Laura Rittenhouse, and Jeanne Smith.










The Basics – various basic recipes you’ll need


On the Side – our customer’s favorite side dishes


Y’all Wanted Something Special? – our regular specials


Standard Bearers – the standards that keep us open


Just Desserts – people complain when we’re out


Weekenders – for a quick weekend bite




Hey … You Made It – an afterword



The Mossback Cafe, around 1960




My name is Smidgeon Josephine Toll, and The Mossback Cafe has been the center of my life for as long as I can remember.

My daddy, Joe Toll, opened the cafe not long after he came back from World War Two. It served as a central place for people in the area to have a good meal and a nice chat with friendly folks. After Mama passed away, Daddy and I ran it together. People used to call me “Little Jo” since I was always Daddy’s little shadow. Some of the old-timers still do.

The name Smidgeon came about after I was born. When my grandmother first saw me, she said, “Why, she’s just a smidgeon of a thing!” Mama liked the sound of it, so the name stuck.

After my daddy died, I ran the place as best as I could. He was always set in his ways and avoided change like the plague. He always said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I pretty much agree with that philosophy, but from time to time I’ve made a few changes. Running a restaurant in this day and age, you have to make adjustments sometimes because people’s tastes change through the years. The biggest change by far was when Sam Milton came into my life and started helping me run the place. If Daddy taught me one thing, it was this simple fact: people want good food for a fair price. They also appreciate good service and a friendly smile. These are the things I try to serve up in my restaurant.

Customers are always pestering me for some of our recipes, so that’s why I’m offering some up in this booklet. Understand, we are a working restaurant and we cook in large quantities. I’ve done my best to cut the recipes down to something you can use in your home kitchen. Luckily, some of them came from my own kitchen, so I had a head start!

I hope y’all come visit soon! Smidgeon





These are recipes that we use again and again.


Just like us, you’ll need these for a lot of the dishes mentioned in this book; for instance, you’ll see chili, basic chili gravy, queso, and even pimento cheese in several of the recipes. That last one was my mama’s recipe. I smile and cry every time I make it because it reminds me so much of her.

Then there’s the subject of biscuits. The first thing you should learn when you run a country café is biscuits. My daddy had me baking them since I was a little girl. I hear tell that Colonel Sanders figured his first big success was not because of his chicken, but because of his biscuits. I believe it! Just remember that if your biscuits are good enough, while people are eating them they’ll think you’ve got the best restaurant in the world.

This isn’t meant to be a beginner cookbook, so I assumed you already might know a thing or two about cooking. For instance, if I say “heat tortillas” … well, there are any number of ways to do it, and I’m hoping you know them. Just be careful. When I was a kid, my friends would heat flour tortillas right on the flame of a gas stove, flipping them with their fingers. I found out the hard way, that’s a good way to get burned.

There aren’t recipes for salsa, guacamole, or refried beans because, to my way of thinking, they are almost too basic. I didn’t include recipes for fried chicken and chicken fried steak in some of the other sections for the same reason. But we do use a great basic frying batter that I thought people might find useful, so I’ve included that in this section.

Just follow what I’ve written here and I’m sure you can enjoy food almost as good as you get in the café.




Mossback Biscuits

You can look at a hundred different biscuit recipes and they all have mostly the same proportions of the same ingredients. The secret to good biscuits lies in how you make them, so remember these two things: stir the dry ingredients with the buttermilk just enough to make the dough; then knead it just enough, but not too much.

3 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk

At home, I don’t preheat the oven to 450F until after the biscuits are mixed and cut. It gives the baking powder extra time to work. I’ll remind you again later. In the café, we just let them rest.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients then cut in the shortening until it looks sort of like a coarse gravel in your bowl.

Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk all at one time. Use a fork and stir everything together until it makes a dough. It’s okay if it is a bit sticky. Dust it with a little flour to help that.

Now flour a flat surface and dump that dough onto it. Dust the backside with flour too. Knead it two or three times, just like you would for bread.

Gently pat it out to a slab about 1/2 inch thick and cut straight down with your cutter. Don’t twist. Rework the scraps and cut again. In the café, we cut them in squares to cut down on that reworking; if you do that, you have to trim the outer edges too. People love our square biscuits.

Be gentle when you pick the biscuits up; let them rest 6-10 minutes.

Now you can heat the oven to 450F. Brush both sides of the biscuit with melted butter and put them on an ungreased pan, about an inch apart.

Bake them for about 12 minutes, but check them after 9.

Chunky Ranchero Sauce

You’ll use this in chili mac, huevos rancheros especial, double trouble dog, and chorizo scramble. It is also mentioned with our baked meatballs.

1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic minced
2 teaspoons ancho powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
16 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced stewed tomatoes, drained
1 cup chicken broth, more if needed

Sauté the onion and all the peppers in the oil until the onion begins to turn color, then add the garlic, ancho powder, and cumin; cook 1-2 minutes more.

Add the crushed tomatoes and let it simmer while you cut the sliced stewed tomatoes in half; you can toss them in as you cut them. Add the broth and simmer gently, loosely covered, for about 20 minutes.


Mama’s Pimento Cheese

You’ll never buy that grocery store stuff again after eating this!

8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 jar (4 oz.) of pimentos, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
dash of tabasco
dash of Worcestershire

Mix all ingredients together until it looks like, well, pimento cheese. It’s best if you refrigerate it overnight before using. We use for regular pimento cheese sandwiches, and in the Best Danged Burger, Grilled Pimento Cheese, and THAT BLT.


Joe Toll’s Chili

Daddy made this chili since just about forever. It’s great for eating -- Sam likes it over cooked rice -- but we use it in our Chili Mac too.

1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 pounds coarse ground beef (We call it “chili grind” in Texas)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can (10 oz.) tomatoes with green chilies
1 packet beef bouillon, powdered (cube will do)
2 cups Mossback chili gravy (recipe page 5)

Sauté the onion and bell pepper in the oil just until the onion begins to wilt, remove and reserve, then add the beef and brown. As the beef begins to change color, drain off excess grease and moisture; add the salt and spices. Allow those to cook into the meat as it continues to brown. Stir frequently for up to ten minutes; don’t let it burn.

Reserve about half the liquid from the tomatoes and green chilies, and add them to the meat mixture along with the bouillon. Add the reserved onion, pepper, and the chili gravy. Stir until well mixed. If it gets too thick, you can add a little water if you need to. Cover loosely and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Options: if you think it needs thickening, stir in a smooth flour paste of 1 tablespoon flour mixed with 1/4 cup of the tomato water. Some people prefer to use masa harina -- that's fine if you have it. It’s not listed above, but you can add cayenne if you want the chili to have more heat.


Frying Batter

This is what we use for frying just about everything. It never fails.

1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup ice cold water

Mix well by hand until nice batter forms. You can dust whatever you want to fry with flour, then coat it with this.

Mossback Chili Gravy/Sauce

The sauce we use in our chili and for stacked and rolled enchiladas

1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 1/2 cups beef broth or water (chicken is okay too)

Heat oil/lard in a skillet over medium-high heat, then stir in flour and continue stirring for 3-4 minutes until it makes a light brown roux.

Stir in all the dry ingredients until well blended and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, a little at a time, mixing and stirring each time until all is smoothly blended.

Turn the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water as necessary if it seems way too thick, but it should be like a nice, thick gravy.

Sam’s Chorizo

For years we used a commercial chorizo. It was okay, but after Sam worked up this recipe a while back, well, the customers almost crave it now. It’s used in breakfast tacos and in chorizo scramble

1/2 pound boneless pork, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons vinegar (red wine vinegar or cider vinegar are best)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped onion

Combine everything, except oil and onion, in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground, about 20 seconds. Let it sit at least 15 minutes before cooking (overnight doesn’t hurt either).

To fix it: heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, stir in the chopped onion and cook for a minute. Add the chorizo and brown, breaking it up as it cooks. Drain if necessary.

Mossback Queso

Used in our Chili Mac and, well, people just get a bowl of tortilla chips and munch down on a bowl of this.

3 tablespoons butter, melted in the pan
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ancho powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half
1 cup grated longhorn style cheese (or mild cheddar)
1 cup grated Monterrey Jack cheese
1 small can (4 oz.) diced green chilies drained
1/4 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained

Sauté the onion and pepper in the butter. Add the flour and stir to blend. Let this all cook together for a minute or two.

Add the spices and garlic and stir just to blend. Give it about 30 seconds to cook together, then gradually add the half & half, gently stirring.

It should get to the consistency of a thick gravy before you start adding the cheese, alternating between the two, stirring to blend until it melts each time.

Add the chilies and stir well then add the tomatoes last, stirring to blend.

Let this heat for another 5 minutes. If it is too thick, add more half & half, a little at a time while stirring.

The Mossback Rub

You might have your own favorite rub. This is ours and is what we use on our beef barbecue.

1 1/2 teaspoons ancho powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon red pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 cup salt

Mix everything thoroughly. The recipe makes enough rub to season about 15 pounds of meat. We mostly use it on our beef barbecue, but it also works great on pork and chicken. We’ll even sprinkle it on your fries if you ask.

Rub in as much seasoning as will cling to the meat and let stand about 15 minutes before you start cooking. It keeps well, stored it in a tight jar.

Whoa! Barbecue Sauce

Back when Daddy started the place, you couldn’t get good barbecue sauce so we had to make our own. Now it seems like everybody and their dog makes a barbecue sauce. We’ve done right nicely with this one and use it in our ranch beans and on our beef barbecue, so here you go.

2 cups onion, sliced
1/2 cup oil
1 quart catsup
1 quart water
1/2 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon Louisiana hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 lemon, sliced
1/2 bay leaf
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water

Sauté the onion in the oil until limp. Add the next six ingredients (liquids), and blend well. Mix the dry ingredients together, then stir it into the liquid. Now add the lemon slices.

Simmer 1 hour, then add 1/2 bay leaf and simmer another half hour. Remove bay leaf and lemon rinds.

At this stage, you can use this as a basting sauce but remember, there’s a bit of sugar in it, so be careful over a hot fire or it will burn.

To thicken to use as a serving sauce: combine 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup cold water to a smooth paste and add to remaining sauce with the mustard. Simmer 20 more minutes.



On The Side

We have other side dishes every day, regular things like corn, salads,
and mashed potatoes, but I think these dishes are unique to The Mossback.
At least they are the ones people clamor for.




Baked Garlic Cheese Grits

Mama was from North Carolina originally. Can you tell?

1 cup quick grits
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons canned chopped green chilies, drained

Cook grits according to the package directions. While still hot, stir in the garlic, butter, and onions and let cool. Blend the beaten eggs, cheese, milk, and chilies into grits. Pour the mixture into a buttered 2-quart casserole.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake about 1 hour.


Cheese and Orange Salad

Mama simply loved this salad and made sure that Daddy kept it on the menu. I totally agree with her decision.

2 boxes (3 oz. each) orange Jello

1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 pound American cheese, finely grated

8 ounces heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Add 1 cup boiling water to Jello and stir until dissolved. Drain pineapple and add to Jello. Stir to mix well and let it stand for about an hour in the refrigerator. You can whip the cream while this is chilling.

Stir in the cheese and whipped cream; chill until fully set. Trust me; nothing tastes as good in this as American cheese.


Corn Casserole

It’s so good it’s one of our biggest sellers. I’m not sure where it came from but it’s been on our menu as long as I can remember.

2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
1 tablespoon onion, finely minced
1 can (14.75 oz.) whole corn, drained
1 can (14.75 oz.) creamed corn
1 tablespoon canned chopped green chilies, drained

Combine the dry ingredients first, then add the sour cream, butter, and vegetables. Mix thoroughly and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Bake in a 300F oven for 1 hour 45 minutes.


Mossback Ranch Beans

Another of Daddy’s old ranch recipes. Another big seller.

5 cups pinto beans, washed and soaked overnight
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup catsup
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup prepared mustard
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup any sweet BBQ sauce (our BBQ sauce)
1/2 cup bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 cup chopped ham
dash of liquid smoke

After soaking the beans, drain the water and rinse. Add enough fresh water to cover; simmer for about an hour.

Drain the beans partially, leaving them juicy but not too wet. Add the remaining ingredients and pour into a shallow baking pan. Bake at 250F for two more hours.


Our Famous Mashed Browns

You know, these started out as a mistake. One day, I told our cook there weren’t enough shredded potatoes for an order of hashed browns. He got huffy and patted some mashed potatoes on top and flipped it. I got really mad when I saw him do that and I fired him on the spot.

While I recooked the order, well, the first order was on the prep table, and I hate like the dickens to waste anything, so I nibbled at the plate. By the time the new order was ready, I had gulped down every bit, and I realized that, just maybe, we were on to something. We tried them as a special for a while, but the customers loved them so now you can order this every day. Oh, I managed to un-fire the cook before he left.

1 tablespoon melted butter (or cooking oil)
1/2 cup shredded potatoes
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon minced onion
sour cream

This recipe is for one serving, but you can make as much as you like, or at least as much as your skillet/griddle allows.

Melt the butter on a hot skillet or griddle. Mix the onion with the shredded potato and spread in a flat patty on the griddle for about 4 minutes, then spoon the mashed potatoes on top, spreading them to cover the shredded. Press them in with a spatula and let the shredded potatoes cook for about another minute or two. They should get nicely browned on that first side. Very lightly sprinkle the mashed side with salt.

Now flip and press down gently and let this cook for another three to four minutes or so. It takes practice -- make sure the shredded potatoes are fully cooked; the mash should get toasted but not burnt.

Serve this with a dollop of sour cream on top.

On the potatoes: we use pre-packaged shredded potatoes we get from the supplier. These are pretty much the same as those you can get at the grocery store. When we’re busy, we precook them a little to speed them up later. Of course, you can shred your own fresh potatoes too.


[Y’all Wanted
Something Special?]

These are some of our most popular lunch specials. We don’t do specials on a set schedule, but almost every day someone will ask me when we’re going to have one or another of them. I like to surprise the customers …it keeps them coming in every day. Hey, that’s what makes them special, right?




King Ranch Chicken Mossback Style

Most of our specials are based on down-home, stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods. This version of the old Texas favorite King Ranch Chicken is a home recipe I adapted.

2 cups chicken, cooked and chopped into chunks
12 corn tortillas, cut into quarters
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 can (10.5 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
1 can (10.5 oz.) cream of chicken soup
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
2 small cans (4 oz.) whole green chilies, drained
12 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
chili powder and salt to sprinkle over layers

Heat the tortillas and set them aside to keep warm. Grease a casserole dish. Combine the soups and the tomatoes.

Layer enough tortillas to cover the bottom of the dish. Spread half the chicken, sprinkle with onion and pepper.

Spread 1/3 of the soup/tomato mixture. Sprinkle with chili powder and just a little salt. Add 1/3 of the cheese. Spread a layer of whole green chilies over the cheese. Spread another layer of tortillas. Add the rest of the chicken, onion/pepper (save a little), 1/3 of the soups, spices, 1/3 of the cheese, and the green chilies. Top with another layer of tortillas and add the remaining onions/pepper, soup mixture, and cheese.

Bake at 325F for 30 minutes. Let it sit a few minutes to “set” before you start cutting into it.


Baked Meatballs

We generally serve these with spaghetti and a commercial sauce, but the way people really like to eat them is on a bun, topped with our ranchero sauce and some shredded cheese.

1 pound ground meat, a mix of beef and pork is best
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash pepper

Mix everything together and form into balls about the size of ping-pong balls. Place on a greased aluminum foil-covered shallow pan, about 1 inch between meatballs.

Bake in 350F degree oven for 30 minutes, but turn them over after 15 minutes. Drain them a little, while they cool.


[* MCM --- Mossback Chili Mac *]

When we make this, it never lasts very long. Once, I was out of macaroni and used broken-up spaghetti instead. Nobody said a thing!

16 ounces macaroni, cooked
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
2 cups chili (recipe page 4)
1 1/2 cups queso (recipe page 5)
3/4 cup ranchero sauce (recipe page 3)
3/4 cup grated cheese

Cook the macaroni just like the package says but drain it when it is still a little chewy.

Sauté the onion and pepper in the butter and add this to the macaroni. Stir the queso into this and put it in a casserole dish. Dollop the ranchero sauce over the top and spread it out over the macaroni. Top with the chili, spreading it around evenly. Top with the grated cheese. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.


Chicken Cornbread Casserole

When I first saw this, I thought to myself, “This don’t seem right, mixing cornbread and meat together.” Well, let me tell you … it don’t seem right until you put it in your mouth.

2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound cooked chicken, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 can (14.75 oz.) cream-style corn
2/3 cup milk
6 slices American cheese

Combine the first five dry ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

Set aside. Sauté the onion in a small amount of oil until translucent, then add the chilies and chili powder. Add the cooked chicken and cook together over medium heat for a few minutes just to let the flavors combine. Turn it off.

Combine milk, eggs, and 1/2 of the creamed corn, then add cornmeal mixture to this. Stir just until everything gets moist. Pour half of batter into a greased loaf pan. Top with meat mixture. Lay slices of cheese on top. Spread remaining corn over cheese. Top with the remaining batter.

Bake at 425F for 25-30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then cut into squares for serving (or just use a big spoon).

This casserole can be made with a spicy ground beef mixture too; just make sure it’s not too wet, okay?


Quick Rolled Enchiladas

Sam comes from a less civilized part of Texas where, for some reason, they eat their enchiladas all rolled up. I got tired of hearing him say, “I wish I could have some regular enchiladas,” so this is a version I fixed up to feed him at home. Now they’re a special during the summer, and I have to say, even here in West Texas they sell out fast. Well, we do get a lot of tourists.

10 corn tortillas
2 1/2 cups chili gravy (recipe page 5)
8 ounces shredded cheese (cheddar/longhorm/Colby)
1 small onion, minced

Heat the tortillas just until they are warmed through; wrap them in a clean kitchen towel so they stay warm. The chili gravy should be heated too.

Place 1/2 cup of the gravy in a greased rectangular baking dish.

Place one tortilla on a plate and spread a teaspoon of sauce over it. Add a goodly pinch of onion and a heaping tablespoon of cheese, spreading it across in a line. Roll it up and dredge the enchilada seam side down in the sauce on the dish and park it on one end. Spoon a little sauce on the top of it. Repeat with as many tortillas as will fit in the dish. Pour/spread the remaining sauce over the enchiladas, making sure you cover every speck of tortilla with some sauce.

Place in a 350F oven for 15 minutes, then add sprinkles of onion to the top and cover with cheese. Heat for about 7-10 minutes more, until the cheese is melted.


Special Chicken Casserole

This was one of Mama’s favorite recipes. When I was little, we never opened on Sundays, but most of the time we had this casserole after church.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I don’t know how true that is, but I have to tell you that Sam and I didn’t start getting really serious until after I made this for him at home … and it’s still one of Sam’s favorites. Mine, too, considering the result.

2 cups chicken breast, cooked and chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 can (10.5 oz.) cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups potato chips, coarsely crushed

It’s easy. Combine the chicken, rice, onion, celery, mayonnaise, lemon juice, soup, and chicken broth in a big bowl and mix well.

Pour this into a casserole dish. Salt and pepper it if you like. Top with the cheese then spread the potato chips over it all. Bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes.


Texicali Arroz con Pollo

I’ll let you in on a trade secret: we sometimes skip the rice, Mexican spices, green chilies, and cheese, but instead add more garlic and substitute Italian seasoning. Then we serve this over spaghetti as chicken cacciatore.

1 pound cooked de-boned chicken
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ancho chili, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil divided
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced stewed tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chili peppers, drained
2 cups cooked rice
salsa to taste
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I like Colby/Jack in this)

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces, then toss with a 1 tablespoon olive oil and dust it with 1/2 tablespoon of the ground ancho chili and let that sit.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large pot or Dutch oven, and sauté the onion and pepper for about 5 minutes, until the onion just begins to lose its color. Remove them and reserve. In the same pot, make a light roux with the flour and remaining oil, stirring until smooth. As it just begins to change color, add the salt, cumin, and ancho chili; stir until well blended.

When the flour/spice mixture begins to go all aromatic on you, return the onions and peppers to the pan. Blend well. After about a minute, stir in 1/2 cup of the chicken stock. Now blend in the drained stewed tomatoes, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and green chilies; let the mixture simmer over low heat, partially covered. Preheat your oven to 325F and start fixing the rice in a separate pot.

Add stock to the chicken mixture as needed; you want a thick mixture, but not too thick – you need some liquid to work with your rice. Stir the hot rice into the chicken mixture and blend well.

Pour this into a large greased casserole; spread evenly. Glob it here and there with the salsa, then cover evenly with cheese. Bake in a 325F oven until the cheese has melted, about 20-25 minutes.


quick rolled enchiladas


These popular dishes are on the menu every day.

They keep our regulars coming back.




“That” BLT

Daddy thought people wanted a full-sized heap of bacon on their BLT.

We call it “That” BLT because that’s the way people order it.

7 slices cooked bacon
2 slices bread
2 slices tomato
2 tablespoons pimento cheese (our recipe)
A splash of salsa

Spread the mayonnaise on both slices of bread and pile the bacon on what will be the bottom slice. You read that right: SEVEN slices. Fold them to fit any which way you can.

On the other slice of bread, spread the pimento cheese and the splash of salsa then top with some lettuce and two tomato slices. Flip it over on top of the bacon. We slice this diagonally.


Double Trouble Dog

We call it the DTD. We had a cook who used to make this for himself; it’s sort of a hot dog taco on a bun. Our dishwasher back then laughed and called it his “double trouble dog” -- I don’t know why -- but the name stuck. One day I finally tried it and, well, the next day I put it on the menu.

hot dog wieners
refried beans
chopped onion

People sometimes order them with other stuff added, like mayo, mustard, or cheese, but the DTD is best this way: Cook the hot dogs and spread a line of hot refried beans on the bun before you add the dog. Then you top it with thick salsa and guacamole. If they want onions, we put that on before the salsa.

Some customers get this rolled in a flour tortilla instead of on a bun. It’s a little messy, but it’s sure good. If you get it with chili or pimento cheese, it’s the TTD. After that you’re on your own.


Breakfast Tacos

I’ve heard that in some places people can’t quite understand the idea of a breakfast taco, yet they somehow accept the notion of a breakfast burrito. Seriously, they ain’t that different excepting maybe the fact that a burrito might be bigger. Well, that might just be the best thing about breakfast tacos -- they’re smaller so you can eat two or three. And you don’t have to eat all three the same. You can get an egg and chorizo, a bacon and egg, and a potato and egg. You know what that is? Breakfast.

This shows kind of how we set up for breakfast. In your house, you might just want to make one or two kinds of breakfast tacos on a given day, so this is more like a list of options, not ingredients for a real recipe.

cooked chorizo (our recipe)
cooked diced potato
refried beans
cooked bacon
cooked “country” sausage
grated cheese
chopped onion
chopped pepper
chopped canned jalapeno peppers
flour tortillas (some people like corn!)

Breakfast tacos have a lot of variations, so in the café we prep the ingredients and the tortillas are warmed and ready.

Let’s start with my favorite, chorizo and egg. All breakfast tacos follow this basic procedure: start to scramble an egg in a little butter, when it is about 3/4 done, stir in 1/4 cup of cooked chorizo. When the eggs have fully set, scoop it all into a folded tortilla, top with cheese and serve.

Although anything can be combined, it’s best to keep it to two ingredients, or three at a stretch. Extra onions, peppers, jalapenos, and cheese are just options to go on top, so they don’t count in the two or three ingredients.

Popular combinations are: potato/egg, bacon/egg, chorizo/egg, sausage/egg, and egg/cheese.

Oh, I shouldn’t forget bean and egg, my second favorite, which is made just a little different … the beans are spread down the center of a flour tortilla and topped with scrambled egg and cheese.


Chorizo Scramble

This is just another stick-to-your-ribs ranch-hand breakfast.

1/2 cup cooked chorizo (our chorizo)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup ranchero sauce (our ranchero)
1 tablespoon chopped tomato
1/4 cup shredded jack cheese
tortilla chips

Sauté the onion and pepper in a little oil then add the chorizo to heat through. Shove this mixture to the side of the pan/griddle and top with the ranchero sauce. That gives it a chance to heat up a little.

On the clear side of the pan, melt the butter and break the eggs into it. Break the yolks with the edge of your spatula, then slowly swirl the egg in the butter to mix it up. Pause just a second to let them cook, then swirl again. This is my old-school method of scrambling.

When the eggs are about 2/3 done, start mixing in the chorizo and sauce. Add the tomato and about ¼ cup coarsely broken tortilla chips. Mix gently as the eggs finish cooking.

Top with cheese and cover for about half a minute to melt the cheese. Serve on a bed of about six tortilla chips spread around.


Grilled Pimento Cheese

It’s just like it sounds and it is really good. Some customers eat it with a fork because it tends to be messy. Good messy, but messy

1/4 cup pimento cheese (our recipe)
2 slices tomato
1 tablespoon canned jalapeno pepper, diced
2 slices of bread
Butter for coating the bread

Spread the cheese thick on one slice of bread, spread the diced jalapeno, add the tomato, and top with the other slice of bread.

Butter both sides of the sandwich and slap it on the griddle (or a hot skillet). When the bottom is toasted, flip it and toast the other side.

You can also add cooked bacon for a treat. You can skip the jalapeno, but to me, grilled pimento cheese just screams for it.


Mossback BBQ Beef

Okay, this is Texas and everybody knows Texas is barbecue country. It’s more than just our heritage … it’s a food group all its own.

Because we are a small place, we don’t have a smoker. We use one of our ovens. Because of that we rarely use brisket. Yes, city folks expect brisket these days, and that’s great if you have a smoker, but I’ve been around long enough to know that in the ranching world, almost every cut of beef imaginable was barbecued. Heck, on some ranches they still do an entire side of beef!

At the Mossback, we use chuck most of the time because it is easy to get and it is reasonably priced. We do right nicely with our chuck roasts and usually cook a bunch of them at a time. They cook/tenderize faster than a brisket, and the flavor is great (and yes, we do use brisket sometimes). This is good for you too because you can make it pretty much just the same way we do it. The only complaints we get are if we run out for the day.

1 chuck roast
BBQ rub (our rub)
liquid smoke
cider vinegar
lemon juice
barbecue sauce (our sauce)

Mix equal parts oil, lemon juice, and cider vinegar with a tablespoon of liquid smoke and brush it liberally over the roast, then let it drip over a rack for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Coat the meat with the rub and by coat it, I mean rub it in until it won’t take any more. Don’t forget to wash your hands, before and after working the rub!

Place in a roasting pan, cover with aluminum foil, and “smoke” it in a 250F degree oven for about five hours. Remove the aluminum foil for the last thirty minutes. You can baste it with more of that oil/vinegar/lemon juice mixture if you like. It doesn’t hurt to flip it if it looks like it might be getting too dry on one side. If you try this method with brisket, double the time.

By the way, that oil/vinegar/lemon juice mixture makes a great basting sauce for any grilled meats. You should never use a sweetened sauce on meat until the end of the cooking time because the sugar in it can easily burn. Contrary to what a lot of people think, Texas barbecue gets its flavor from the rub and the long, slow cooking.


Stacked Enchiladas

Pay attention -- this is the real deal. You come to West Texas this is what you want to try. Trust me. This is one serving.

3 corn tortillas
3/4 cup chili gravy (our chili gravy)
3 tablespoons finely minced onion
5 tablespoons grated cheese
1 egg

Heat the tortillas and keep them warm. Heat the chili gravy in a small skillet bit enough for a tortilla. Dip a tortilla in the sauce and put it on the serving plate (oven safe plate). Add a tablespoon of onion and a heaping tablespoon of cheese, spreading both around.

Dip another tortilla and do the same thing. Dip the third tortilla and put it on top. Pour the remaining sauce over it and repeat the onion and cheese. Top with cheese and place under the broiler, just until the cheese melts. Top with an egg, fried sunny side up. The yolk should be oozing when you cut it.


Best Danged Burger

We just call this the BDB! Not for the faint of heart.

1/3 pound hamburger patty
1 bun
1/4 cup pimento cheese (our recipe)
sliced canned jalapenos (optional)
2 tablespoons guacamole
1 1/2 slices cooked bacon
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 slice tomato

Salt and pepper the patty and start it cooking, drain as needed. Spread the pimento cheese on the bottom bun; top with the jalapenos, guacamole, and cooked bacon. Spread the mayonnaise on the top bun and sprinkle with the chopped onion. Top with a lettuce leaf and tomato.

Flip the burger just as the juices start to rise. Let it cook for about the same amount of time. When the patty is done, put it on the bottom bun, then hold the tomato slice with your thumbs and flip the top bun over on the patty. There you have it.


Huevos Rancheros Especial

This is our signature dish, and it’s another of Sam’s favorites! I still remember the time I watched him take his first bite of it. The memory of him savoring the taste still gives me goose-pimples.

3 corn tortillas
3/4 cup ranchero sauce (our ranchero)
3/4 cup chili gravy (our chili gravy)
5 tablespoons grated cheese
3 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 eggs

Heat the ranchero sauce in a small saucepan to a slow simmer.

Heat the chili gravy in a small skillet big enough for a tortilla. Heat the tortillas and keep warm.

Start poaching the eggs in the ranchero sauce. Make a small well with a spoon and crack the first egg into it. Repeat with the second egg. Cover and poach for 3-4 minutes. You want the yolk warm and runny. It takes practice, but even if you overcook the yolk, it tastes good. While the eggs are poaching, you need to start assembling the enchiladas. It’s a good idea to set a timer because you don’t have much time.

Dip a tortilla in the sauce and put it on the serving plate (oven-safe plate). Add a tablespoon of onion and a heaping tablespoon of cheese, spreading both around. Dip another tortilla and do the same thing. Dip the third tortilla and put it on top, pour the remaining sauce over it and repeat the onion and cheese.

When the eggs are done, carefully spoon out the eggs one at a time and put them on the stack. Spoon the remaining sauce over the entire stack. Top with cheese and place under the broiler just until the cheese melts.

This is a single serving.


huevos rancheros especial




Just Desserts

In the early days, Daddy didn’t much fool with desserts. You can thank Mama,
who put her foot down and said, “Who has ever heard of a café without desserts?”
Back then it was chocolate cake and apple pie, but lately, these are the ones people complain about when we’re out.




Best Danged Buttermilk Pie

If you’ve never had it before, trust me, you’ll want to eat this pie! I call it the “Best Danged” Buttermilk Pie” because that’s what people say after eating it. I remember one day we flat ran out of buttermilk and people were getting a might unruly. I thought I was going have to call the sheriff, but then I remembered, he loved that pie too. It took me some looking, but I finally found some.

1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 400F. Beat the butter and sugar together until light. Add the eggs and beat. Stir in vanilla. Stir together the flour and salt, then add to the batter alternatively with the buttermilk; beat by hand until smooth.

Pour into a deep dish pie shell and bake at 400F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake for 50-60 additional minutes.

Pie should turn a nice, crusty golden brown, and a knife inserted should come out clean. It’s great warm, but let it cool before slicing. This pie is also great cold. I’ve seen Sam sneak a slice for breakfast.


Banana Dream Cake

It is not like any other cake you’ve had. Moist and good and yummy!

3 ripe bananas
1 box (13.25 oz.) yellow cake mix
1 box (3.4 oz.) instant banana pudding mix
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F; grease and flour a tube or Bundt pan.

Slice bananas into a large mixing bowl and mash them. Add remaining ingredients and beat 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes to one hour or until cake tests done.


Country Chocolate Chess Pie

Some people like it just as it is, some people want whipped cream, and some get it with a scoop of ice cream.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon cornmeal
3 eggs, beaten
1 small can (5 oz.) evaporated milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 9-inch deep dish pie shell

Combine sugars, salt, cocoa, and cornmeal. Mix well.Beat eggs, then lightly beat in the milk, cream, butter, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until thoroughly mixed. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, then reduce to 325F and continue for 45-50 more minutes. Knife inserted should come out clean.



Treats we make and serve only on Saturday and Sunday




Apple Thangs

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar, divided
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
A dash of nutmeg, or apple pie spice
1 cup apple, peeled, cored, and grated
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl then cut in shortening with pastry blender until well blended. Add egg and milk and mix thoroughly. Stir in the nutmeg and grated apple -- do not over-mix. Spoon into greased and floured muffin cups; bake at 350F, 20-25 minutes. They should be just brown around the edges. While this is baking, mix the cinnamon with the remaining sugar.

Remove from pan and roll each in melted butter, then in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. This makes about 12 thangs.


Saturday Mornin’ Coffeecake

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Cream 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup sugar, add egg and stir in milk. Mix in the flour, salt, and baking powder. Pour into 9×13 inch pan.

Sprinkle generously with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Dot with the cut butter and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350F. It should pass the knife test. Let cool about 15 minutes before slicing.


Apple Thangs


Baked Garlic Cheese Grits

Baked Meatballs

Banana Dream Cake

Best Danged Burger

Best Danged Buttermilk Pie

Breakfast Tacos


Cheese and Orange Salad

Chicken Cornbread Casserole

Chorizo Scramble

Chunky Ranchero Sauce

Corn Casserole

Country Chocolate Chess Pie


Double Trouble Dog


Frying Batter


Grilled Pimento Cheese


Huevos Rancheros Especial


Joe Toll’s Chili


King Ranch Chicken Mossback Style


Mama’s Pimento Cheese

[+ MCM --- Mossback Chili Mac +]

Mossback BBQ Beef

Mossback Biscuits

Mossback Chili Gravy/Sauce

Mossback Queso

Mossback Ranch Beans


Our Famous Mashed Browns


Quick Rolled Enchiladas


Sam’s Chorizo

Saturday Mornin’ Coffeecake

Special Chicken Casserole

Stacked Enchiladas


Texicali Arroz con Pollo


The Mossback Rub


Whoa! Barbecue Sauce


Hey … you made it!

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my pride and joy, The Mossback Cafe. I think you deserve some kind of a reward for making it all the way to the end, so here are a couple of more tidbits, just for you:

I don’t much care what recipe you use to make your favorite potato salad, but there is a secret ingredient that will change the way you make it forever. Add one cooked, peeled, cubed sweet potato for about every four white potatoes. Trust me on this; it will take the whole thing up a notch or two. The sweet potato breaks down and adds a subtle kick of flavor to the entire dish. I’ve been doing this for years and everybody raves about my potato salad. At most church potlucks, people practically scrape chunks out of the side of the bowl trying to get every last bit. This trick will even work on the store-bought kind.

Now, let’s talk about my pork chops. I promise you, even if you think you don’t like pork chops, you will like these. Season a couple of thick boneless pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Dust the top side with a goodly dose of smoked paprika. Set the chops aside.

Dice some onion and bell pepper, and sauté for a couple of minutes in a little olive oil. Stir in a 14.5 ounce can of drained, diced tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Now, blend in a couple of good shakes of smoked paprika and simmer it for about ten minutes. Set this aside, but keep it warm.

Pan broil the pork chops in a little olive oil with the paprika-side up for about five minutes or so. Turn them, then season the flip side with more smoked paprika; cook about four minutes. Top each pork chop with a mound of the tomato mixture and cover; cook about three or four more minutes. Serve covered with the tomato mixture. It’s kind of like both a topping and an extra side dish.

Guess what? You can do this same thing with skinned boneless chicken breasts too -- just cut down on the cooking time a little.

Don’t forget, you can read more about my little slice of heaven in two books, The Fever and A Curse That Bites Deep, both by Thomas Fenske. I tell you, if I ever get to meet him, I think I’ll give him a big hug.

Thank you so much for reading.  I hope to see you soon! Smidgeon

The Mossback Cafe Cookbook

The Mossback Cafe first came to light when a big plateful of Huevos Rancheros Especial was served in Thomas Fenske's novel, The Fever. You can find that recipe and many other delicious recipes here, in The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, as the fictional cafe owner, Smidgeon Toll, brings the food of The Mossback Cafe right into your own home. Her quirky commentary and homespun wisdom combine to make this little book a lot of fun. And the recipes range from simple to sublime. "THAT BLT" and the "Double Trouble Dog" share the pages with the "Huevos Rancheros Especial" and the best buttermilk pie you've ever tasted. These are just a few of the dishes that made The Mossback Cafe famous. Well ... they would have made it famous if it actually existed! If you've ever wondered what fictional characters eat ... you can find out right here.

  • ISBN: 9781370905836
  • Author: Thomas Fenske
  • Published: 2017-03-18 17:05:20
  • Words: 8746
The Mossback Cafe Cookbook The Mossback Cafe Cookbook