I just returned from a week in Texas Wine Country. Not exactly an exotic getaway, since I live 30 short minutes away, but it’s always nice to get away for a while. For a few years now, my parents have been renting this great little old ranch house for a week in the summer, and they, plus we three sisters and our own families head there for some much-needed R&R. That’s Red Wine and Rum, in case you weren’t clear.
The house sits on 60 acres just north of Fredericksburg, Texas—an old log and stone saltbox style farmhouse built-in 1896. But the fully modern amenities include a tennis court, black bottom pool and hot tub, and a barn decked out with 3 flat screen T.V.’s, a pool table, and a ping-pong table. A go-cart and 4-wheeler are available for the older kids. There is NO cell phone reception, and NO internet. That means a period of forced technology withdrawal for those of us who are techno-addicts. And that’s a good thing.
A few lazy mornings were spent swinging in a hammock, in the breeze under the shade of some ancient oak trees. Or having morning coffee in a rocking chair on the front porch. Life was pretty rough in those moments.
One of the things most people LOVE about vacation, is NOT having to cook. Dining out, or ordering in are part of their vacation experience. Not me. It’s not how I roll. Thusly, much of my vacation is spent in the kitchen. You may spend much time packing your clothes and shoes, but I spend the most time packing my knives, my favorite pots and pans, and an assortment of kitchen tools and high quality spices. Some people obsess about not forgetting to bring their prescription drugs, their phone chargers, or their reading glasses. I obsess about making sure to bring my micro-plane zester, my citrus reamer, and a good bourbon vanilla.
When possible, I love to make use of locally produced foods. Whether it’s produce, meat, honey, or wine, I love to immerse myself in the local flavor. Fredericksburg is famous for two things: wine and peaches. Fredericksburg produces the juiciest, most flavorful peaches in the world. They are smaller than the giant mutant ones from California, but have twice the sugar content.
This area of Texas is rapidly becoming a huge wine mecca, rivaling even the Sonoma Valley. You can visit individual wineries, or go on day-long winery crawls around the many in the area. Whatever your preference, you’ll find it.
I have mentioned before, have I not, that my sisters famously love red wine? To be clear, they will drink ANY wine, but they LOVE red wine. And Red Wine is, apparently, the devil. I have always heard that “loose lips sink ships”, but really I think it’s the red wine that does it. Because red wine makes for loose lips. And purple teeth. And shenanigans.
Suffice it to say that as the oldest, and therefore the most mature and responsible child, I have a duty to lead these hooligans off the wrong path by setting a good example. I have had to take on the role of teetotaler extraordinaire, and designated driver to the winos in the lot. The middle sister asked me one late, late, late night on this trip “so what’s it like being the only sober one in the room?” I simply said that I often felt a sense of superiority. Which IS true. But there is more.
I have seen things that a big sister ought not see, and I have heard things that a big sister ought not hear. And I know things. Horrible things. Twisted things that a big sister ought not know. My eyes and my ears and my brain have bled from these things. You see, red wine turns my lovely little sisters into minions of Satan. Foul-mouthed misanthropes. Pea-soup barfing, 360* head spinning little Linda Blairs.
There may or may not be videos on YouTube.
Other than the aforementioned wine, other locally produced food products include blackberries, strawberries, pecans, honey and sausages. Due to the large number of fruit orchards in the area, jams, jellies, and sauces can be found at every turn. Texas also produces by far the best citrus fruits and mammoth pecans money can buy.
Owing to the predominant German heritage of the Texas Hill Country, you can find some of the best wursts around. Every other restaurant has its own special recipes. Schnitzels, knockwursts, bratwursts, rouladens and sauerbraten. And potatoes done in many ways, each heavier than the other. You will not find much German food being served in a health spa, that’s for sure. If we spent a week eating all of that, we would have had to go home stark naked, because we would have grown too fat for even our undergarments.
But since the above mentioned wine-swilling dynamic duo wanted to eat light and healthy food, and since it’s my favorite pastime, I cooked. That’s what we call a win-win.
So, I know you are all just dying to know what I cooked and ate on vacation. Okay, maybe not, but humor me and take a little look-see anyway, mmmkay? You may be inspired towards new ways to use your locally produced food and beverage offerings.
Citrus Marinated Shrimp or Pork Tacos, with Peach Salsa, Serves 12
- Juice of 6 limes
- Juice of 6 lemons
- Juice of 6 oranges
- ½ cup olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 T salt
- 1 fresh jalapeno, stem end removed
- 1 ½ cups packed cilantro leaves (one bunch)
- 3 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- –OR—4 pounds pork meat, for carnitas (or pork shoulder roast)
- 8 small, or 3 large peaches, chopped
- 1 small red onion, minced
- 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 1 cup cilantro, chopped
- Juice of 1 lime
- Corn tortillas
- Shredded cabbage
- Hot sauce
Place the first eight ingredients in a blender, and pulse until garlic and cilantro are finely chopped.
For shrimp tacos: pour the mixture into a large aluminum pan, and add the shrimp. Toss to coat. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
Place pan, uncovered, over hot coals, and cook for 15 minutes, or until shrimp are cooked. Alternately, you could bake them in a 425* oven. (cook time will vary based on the actual heat of your fire, and the size of your pan, but shrimp are done when they are no longer transparent).
For pork tacos: pour half of the marinade into a large bowl or ziplock bag, and add the meat. Allow to marinate for 1-4 hours.
Remove meat from marinade and rub salt all over the outside of the meat. Sear the outside on all sides over a hot fire, or in a hot skillet. Move meat off the direct flame, or to a 375* oven, and roast, basting with the reserved marinade every 15 minutes, until very tender, and able to shred with a fork. Depending on the cut of your meat, this could be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Remove from heat and shred with fork, tossing in any remaining reserved marinade.
While the meat is cooking, combine the remaining five ingredients in a bowl to complete the peach salsa.
Serve the meat with tortillas, and the salsa, shredded cabbage, guacamole, and hot sauce on the side.
Pecan Crusted Tilapia With Strawberry Peach Salsa, Serves 4
–in this go-round, my signature dish is prepared without the margarita reduction sauce
For Strawberry Peach Salsa:
- 6 small or 2 large peaches, chopped (no need to peel)
- 6 large strawberries, chopped
- 1 small Red Onion, diced
- 1 cup Cilantro, chopped
- Juice of one lime
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 large fresh jalapeno, minced
- 1 lb Tilapia (Fish)
- ¼ cup Olive Oil
- 2 teaspoons lemon pepper seasoning
- 4 teaspoons green Tabasco sauce
- 1 cup pecan meal, or finely crushed pecans
For salsa: Finely chop strawberries, peaches, onion, cilantro and jalapeno. Mix with juice of one lime and 1/2 t salt and set aside while preparing fish.
For Fish: Put olive oil in skillet and swirl to cover. Rub filets with jalapeno sauce. Sprinkle with lemon pepper. Divide pecans among the fish filets and coat both sides, pressing into the flesh. Place filets in skillet over medium heat and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, until cooked through and flaky. Serve topped with salsa, with your choice of rice, black beans, or salad.
I serve BOTH of the above dishes with my Garlicky Lemon Rice, which I highly recommend.
Garlicky Lemon Rice
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium white onion, minced
- 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 2 cups uncooked Texmati rice
- 3 1/2 cups hot water
- ¼ cup chicken base (paste style bouillon)
- 2 teaspoons finally ground pepper
- Juice and zest of two lemons
In a large (7 quart) stockpot, heat butter and oil over medium high. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until softened. Stir in rice to coat with oil and butter. Stir in the remaining ingredients, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) 5-10 minutes longer.
Ruby Red Grapefruit Chicken
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 whole roasting chicken, cut up
- freshly ground pepper medley (I use black, green, pink and white)
- ¼ cup butter
- 12 large garlic cloves, peeled
- Juice of two large red grapefruits
- 1 cup pink muscato (wine)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- ¼ cup fat free half and half (or use cream if you wish)
Preheat oven to 450°. In a large, oven safe Dutch oven, or deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season all sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place in the pan, and brown on all sides. Add ½ of the butter, and stir to coat the chicken. Place chicken skin side up. Place the garlic on a cutting board, and give it a good whack with the side of a meat cleaver, just to smash it. Add the Garlic to the pan.
Place the pan in the oven, and roast for 15 minutes. Add the fruit juice to the pan, swirling to mix. Baste the chicken with the sauce, and return to the oven. Bake until done, about 10 more minutes, basting a few times. Remove the chicken to a platter to rest.
Return the pan to the stove top, and add the chicken stock and wine. Allow to simmer, scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil until reduced by almost half. Use a whisk to incorporate the remaining butter and the half and half into the sauce. Place the chicken back in the sauce, and simmer over medium high for a few minutes, to thicken the sauce–about 5 minutes—basting a few times.