Tag Archives: Texas

Bar Stool Fridays – Autumn Sangria

My husband and I recently visited my parents in Laredo, Texas.  Now, not to rub it in or anything, but the weather was pretty great.  Sunny.  Warm, but not hot.  Not humid.  Pretty great.

I was in the mood for a beverage with fall flavors, but I wanted to drink something refreshing that would be nice over ice…a drink for us to enjoy as we sat in the sun on the patio by the pool.

Autumn Sangria
Makes 8 servings

1 orange, sliced
1 apple, diced
1 lemon, sliced
1 bottle full-bodied and fruity red wine
1/2 cup brandy
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 – 4 Tbsp orange simple syrup (see note below)
ice

Add fruit to pitcher.

Pour in wine and brandy.  Add cloves and cinnamon stick.  Add simple syrup and stir.

Serve over ice.

To make orange simple syrup combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan.  Add 1 Tbsp of orange zest and stir.  Simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolved and syrup is slightly thickened.  It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks.

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Sweet Taste of Homesickness

Boy, have I been homesick lately.  I know that Texas is in the midst of a horrible drought and suffering from record-breaking heat, but I still miss it.  I don’t need you to understand.

I know it is no surprise to any of you who read this blog to hear that I miss the food almost as much as I miss the people and places.  One thing in particular that I miss is my dad’s peach tart.  Made with Hill Country peaches, it is sublime.  You cannot beat butter and freshly picked fruit, right?  It makes the house smell wonderful when it is baking and it is a delicious finish to a summer meal.  And, I know I am loved when Dad sets aside the last piece and lets me have it for breakfast the next day.  It is just as good cold as it is warm.  Sigh.

Here’s how to share some love in your house…I only hope you have enough to save a piece for breakfast.

Peach Tart
Makes two tarts

Modified from Fine Cooking Magazine

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
16 Tbsp very cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup of ice water
approx. 1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and drop into flour mixture.  Cut in with knives or pastry cutter until it resembles tiny peas.  Add ice water all at once and mix just until the dough comes together.  Take care not to over mix.

Gather the dough with your hands and shape into two disks and wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Sometimes if the kitchen is really hot or we are in a hurry, Dad and I will cheat a bit and put the dough in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  Be careful, though.  Don’t put the dough in the coldest part of the freezer or it could become tough.  Just so you know, Mom thinks we are taking too great a risk with her dessert and she doesn’t like that we do this.

After the dough has chilled, roll out each disk of dough between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/8-inch thickness.  Take care not to over work the dough and just remove one disk from the refrigerator at a time.  You can place the rolled dough in a tart pan or just lay out on a baking sheet for a free form tart or galette.

If you go with the rustic shape, place the rolled dough on a parchment covered baking sheet.  Put the fruit in the center of the dough round and fold up about 2 inches of the dough all around and pleat slightly to secure.

Slice the peaches and arrange on top of the dough in the tart pan.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.  You may decide to use a little more or a little less.

Regardless of the shape, bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  The formal tart needs to cool on a baking rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the tart pan ring.  The galette should cool about 5 minutes, then slide off the baking sheet to cool on a rack.

Serve warm or cold.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Shiner Ruby Redbird

I’ve been charmed by Spoetzl Brewery’s new summer seasonal, a beer they’ve named Shiner Ruby Redbird.

It is brewed with Texas Rio Star grapefruit from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and ginger.  I love those flavors and I love the name.  I’ve never tasted a beer like this.  Ice cold, it is very refreshing for a hot day.

Beer is a great beverage offering for your outdoor entertaining, especially the crisp, summery brews you can find now.  One of my favorite summer activities is hanging out with friends in the sunshine while you can smell something delicious on the grill and drinking ice-chilled beer.  I think beer from an ice-filled cooler or galvanized bucket is so much better than beer from the refrigerator.

Now, back to the Shiner…I like this beer, it is different, but it doesn’t have as much of a ginger bite as I would like.  It is pretty mild, but I guess that makes it more palatable for most folks.  So, don’t expect a big kick of ginger.  It does have a lovely grapefruit aroma, though, even in the bottle, which, as we know, is how most people drink beer at a cookout.

My friend, Cady had her first taste of Ruby Redbird on a tour of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  Boy, am I jealous.  Unfortunately, it has been a little tricky for her to find back here in DC, so I’ve promised her that I’d buy an extra 6-pack just for her next time I see it.

Bottles up!  Have a great holiday weekend!

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Bar Stool Fridays – Sands of Laredo Cocktail

On New Year’s Day 2011, my husband and I helped my parents move their belongings and pets from Brownsville to Laredo,  Texas.  We followed the Rio Grande north on US Highway 83 past the edge of Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert and over the infamous Falcon Lake.

While I didn’t grow up in South Texas, a number of significant life events for our family have occurred while my parents lived in the Brownsville area.  And we have so many close friends and loved ones that it was bittersweet to help them make the move.  I must admit, I was disappointed when they initially moved to Brownsville, even though I was already living on my own, but I grew to feel at home there.  I’m excited for my parents’ new adventure, however, and my husband and I are eager to become more familiar with another part of Texas.  I’m sure we will grow to love it, too.

Driving to Laredo, as it is all along the Rio Grande corridor where Texas and Mexico meet, I could see that the border is just arbitrary.  The history, food, and culture of Texas and Mexico are so intertwined (and the river can run so low) that it is difficult to see the so-called border.  You can’t really tell one side from the other or where one begins and the other ends.  Well, except for markers like this…

Or the border fence.  But, that is an entry for another day…

So close to the Chihuahuan Desert, Laredo has a semi-arid climate, and they’ve been suffering with unusually high temperatures this spring.  Needing a refreshing and thirst-quenching drink for their Easter celebration, my father came up with a cocktail using pomegranate wine.  When he finished composing the drink, it looked rather sandy colored, so he named it the Sands of Laredo.  But, I think the name is also fitting because you can’t tell where one ingredient ends and the other begins.  Each ingredient is improved by mixing with the others.  It is a real borderland gem.  Thanks for sharing it, Dad.

Sands of Laredo
Makes 1 drink

Pomegranate wine
sparkling wine/champagne
orange juice

All ingredients should be chilled.  In a tall fluted glass pour about 1 1/2 oz of pomegranate wine.

Top the glass with equal amounts sparkling wine/champagne and orange juice.

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October is Texas Wine Month

In honor of Texas Wine Month, I thought I would share a few tidbits of knowledge and give you a recipe that calls for a bottle with an apple in it.

Did you know that Texas has more than 220 family-owned vineyards covering 3,700 acres?  What about the fact that the Texas wine industry contributes more than $1.35 billion a year to the state’s economy and supports more than 9,000 jobs for Texans?  Are you surprised to learn that the Texas Hill Country is  the third largest American viticultural area, dwarfing any in California?

The first vineyards in Texas were established by Spanish missionaries in the 1600s, but the modern Texas wine industry as we currently know it began in the 1970s.  Because the industry hasn’t been around very long (relatively speaking), vitners are still determining which grapes grow best in the Texas climate.  Current front runners include traditional European grapes, such as  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Merlot.  Texas wineries are also doing great work with grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Blanc du Bois, Viognier, Malbec, and Tempranillo.  Plus, some of the cooler climate grapes such as Reisling and Pinot Noir have been successful in West Texas, where the elevation creates a cooler climate.

The major differences between the Texas growing season and that of California are that ours is much warmer with less sunshine and more heat and humidity.  Climate is the single most important factor in viticulture, and there are several grapes that are well-suited to the Texas heat, including Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier.

Viognier is an intense, slightly spicy white wine.  My favorite is from Becker Vineyards outside of Fredericksburg, Texas.   It has hints of floral, peach, and apricot, but still maintains a bit of crispness.

Andrea Immer Robinson, Master Sommelier and wine writer, said it is,
“One of the best viogniers made in America, so it’s worth the search.”

  I think it works pretty well with dishes that you might pair with a reisling,
such as these pork chops in a recipe modified from Saveur Magazine…

Stuffed Pork Chops with Roasted Apples and Calvados
Serves 6

10 Tbsp butter
10 small yellow onions, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 stalks celery, trimmed and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 tsp dried sage leaves
1 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 double-cut, bone-in, pork chops
6 cooking apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
3/4 cup calvados

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Melt 5 Tbsp of the butter in a large skillet over low heat.  Finely chop 3 of the onion halves and add to the skillet along with the celery, garlic, and sage.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until soft, probably no more than 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat, stir in breadcrumbs, and season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper.


Using a sharp knife, cut a deep pocket in the side of each chop.


Fill each with one-sixth of the stuffing, then close with a toothpick.  Season chops with salt and pepper.


Wipe skillet clean and return to medium-high heat.  Brown stuffed chops, 2 at a time, making sure that both sides and the edges get nicely browned.  It was about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer chops to a large roasting pan.


Reduce heat under skillet to low and melt remaining 5 Tbsp of butter.  Put melted butter, apples, calvados, and remaining onions in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, put apples and onions in the skillet, and saute until evenly browned all over.  It took about 10 minutes.


Scatter and spread the apples and onions around the chops in the roasting pan.  Cover pan tightly with foil and roast until chops are tender, about 3 hours.  Be sure to pull out the toothpicks before serving.

NOTE: Calvados is apple brandy from the Norman region of France.  Apples are pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider, and then distilled into brandy or eau de vie.  After aging in oak casks for two years it can be sold as Calvados.  The longer the aging, the smoother it becomes and the more expensive the bottle.


You will notice that my bottle of Calvados Pomme d’Eve has an actual apple inside.  Cool, huh?  After the blossom, and once the apple has started to grow, carafes are attached on the apple trees, so that the fruit can grow inside.

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Eating Dr Pepper at the State Fair of Texas

Moving East has made it difficult, but I’ve gone to the State Fair of Texas almost every year I’ve been alive.  I love it.  To deepen my fair experience, I decided to enter one of the baking contests.  The contest offering the largest cash reward was sponsored by Dr Pepper.  In honor of the company’s 125th birthday celebration, they asked contestants to bake a birthday cake using Dr Pepper.

How could I miss this opportunity?  Bake a Dr Pepper cake, one of my favorite drinks, for the State Fair of Texas, one of my favorite events?   I decided to modify the recipe for my favorite birthday cake to use both Dr Pepper and Dr Pepper syrup.

Well, I didn’t win, but it was a fun experience.  I got to see a part of the Fair that I’ve never seen and learn a bit about the culture of cooking contests.  I’m not sure if I like them, but I plan to enter more.

The winner of this contest was awarded $1250, and had her cake deep-fried by the Fry King of Texas, Abel Gonzales.  Crazy, huh?

Gonzales took the winning cake and cut it into cake balls.  In order to provide some stability in the fryer, the cake balls were frozen solid using liquid nitrogen.  Before frying they are dipped in flour and a pancake-like batter with Dr Pepper.  After a few minutes in the deep fryer, the fried Dr Pepper cake balls were served with whipped cream and strawberry Dr Pepper sauce.

Here is Abel Gonzales reviewing the cakes.  He was planning his strategy for how to dismantle the biggest one.

This is another winner.  It is a cooler made of cake!  She spent almost two hundred dollars on molds alone!

Well, my cake wasn’t a winner, but it still tasted good.

Dr Pepper Chocolate Birthday Cake
Makes one 9×13-inch sheet cake, or two 9-inch round cakes
For Cake:
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter
1 cup Dr Pepper
½ cup vegetable oil
5 Tbsp cocoa
½ cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp Dublin Dr Pepper syrup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Blend flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl. 
In a medium saucepan, boil together butter, Dr Pepper, vegetable oil, and cocoa.  Stir to blend.  Pour over flour mixture and stir.
Add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, vanilla, and Dr Pepper syrup.  Mix well.
Pour into greased and floured pans.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.  Let cool completely before frosting.
For Frosting:
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp milk
4 Tbsp cocoa
1 ½ tsp Dublin Dr Pepper syrup
¾ to 1 lb powdered sugar
In a medium saucepan, melt butter, milk, and cocoa.  
Stir to blend.  Once butter is melted and ingredients are well blended, remove from heat.  Quickly stir in Dr Pepper syrup.  
Then, gradually add powdered sugar, stirring to remove lumps, until reach desired consistency. 
For Dr Pepper Glazed Pecans:
2 cups whole pecans
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup Dublin Dr Pepper
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 cup white sugar
Combine ingredients in medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring until liquid evaporates.  
Spread out on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  
Roast in preheated oven at 300 degree F for about 20 minutes.
I used the nuts to garnish the cake, along with maraschino cherries.

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Drinking Dr Pepper in Dublin

Last week I paid a visit to the oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant in the world.  It is also the only place to still make Dr Pepper with pure cane sugar, not corn syrup.

Where is this magical place?  Dublin, Texas – about an hour and a half south and west of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  It is not exactly a booming metropolis.  They were pretty excited to see someone with DC license plates visiting their town.

Why did I go there?  Well, to get some special Dr Pepper to make a Dr Pepper cake and enter it in a cake contest for the State Fair of Texas.  More on this later…

What is Dr Pepper?  Originating in Texas, it is a popular soft drink that was created to capture the many fruit, spice, and berry aromas of a soda fountain.  The company’s marketing logo is 23 flavors in one sip.  It has always been my favorite soft drink, and I’m glad it is becoming so widespread.  When I first moved to the East Coast, Dr Pepper was really hard to find.  I loaded up several cases into the U-Haul with all my stuff, so I wouldn’t have to go without.

Thankfully, it is no longer a problem for me to find as much Dr Pepper as I would like to drink.  The stuff they make in Dublin, however, is a bit more rare.  They have a limited marketing area and because of the old equipment, they don’t make too much either.

Here’s a look at the bottling equipment.  It is still in use today, but they only bottle about once a month.  The bottles you see on the machines are just for demonstration, because my tour guide thought it would help make for better pictures.  He was pretty tickled to have somebody to talk to, frankly.  They don’t have many visitors on weekdays, so I got a private tour and was able to photograph the whole set-up.  All staff work the line and take turns providing tours and working the giftshop, so he was able to show me how each machine works.

This is a staging of the entrance of the original plant.

The bottles enter the bottling area, loaded by hand…

The bottles come out after being washed and are lined up by the machine and checked out by hand for chips or cracks…

Then they move along a conveyor belt and are filled with water and syrup…

Then, they are capped…

And shaken three times to mix the water and syrup.

Then, come out the conveyor where they are checked by hand on a light machine.  The light is a bit of quality control that ensures the right amount of syrup has been added.

Finally, they are packed into 6-packs and cases.

Stay tuned for my report on the Texas State Fair contest…

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Guest Post: Remembering the Spiced Peaches of Life

I’m lucky to come from a family of cooks.  I’m also lucky to be supported in my blogging efforts by a large circle of family and friends, including my parents.  Turning the attention to them, I’m thrilled to share another guest post with you.  This post on spiced peaches is from my dad with help from my mom.

Recently while on an extended weekend to the Hill Country of Texas we acquired a 1/4 bushel of peaches in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Since we had more fruit than we could reasonably eat, we decided to put up some Spiced Peaches like my mother and I did when I was growing up.

Spiced Peaches

First, you need to peel the peaches and the easiest way to do this is with a water bath. Fill a large pot around 3/4 full with water and bring to a boil. Slowly and carefully put the peaches in the water until no more peaches can be submerged. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes and then quickly put under cool running water to stop the cooking and cool the fruit so it can be handled. The skins will slide right off the peaches, and you can put the cleaned peaches in a bowl to set aside.
In a large sauce pan, mix the following ingredients and bring to a boil, taking care not to let the pot boil over.
5 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar
12 sticks cinnamon, broken
2 tsp. whole cloves
Once the syrup is prepared turn to a simmer and prepare the water bath and jars.
Fill hot water bath canner about half full and begin heating.  Check jars for nicks, cracks on sealing surface.  Wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse, let soak in hot water or wash in dishwasher and let them remain in hot dishwasher.  Also wash, rinse, and let lids and rings remain in hot water until ready to use.
When the jars are ready, bring the syrup to a boil and carefully drop the peaches in the syrup.  Heat peaches in syrup about 5 minutes. 
Pack hot fruit in hot, clean jars; add syrup to within 1/2 inch of top of jar (I like to include a piece of cinnamon and some cloves in each jar), wipe any residue on top and threads of jar (residue could prevent a good seal); place hot, clean lids and rings on jars, screw the ring tight but do not force, and place in water bath canner.  When canner is full, add enough hot water to cover jars with 1’’ – 2’’ of water.  Bring water to a boil, reduce to a gentle boil and begin counting processing time.  The processing time for pint jars is is 20 minutes and for quart jars is 30 minutes.
After the appropriate time, remove jars from canner and place on racks to cool. Do not place hot jars in a cool draft since that could cause jars to crack. Do not tighten rings.  After 12 hours and then after 24 hours, check for seal.  Press center of lid, if it is down in the center then it is sealed. Or tap the center of the lid, a clear ringing sound means it is sealed. Do not tighten ring after jar has cooled.
Seven pounds of peaches will yield about 9 pints.
Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, 1968
Ball Blue Book

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I’m Back

Hi, friends.  Please forgive my absence.  I’ve missed all of you.  Recent developments in the life of Cook in the Bar have taken me away from my kitchen and writing.  First there were home renovations.  Need I say more?  Then, I had some computer problems.  All cleared up now.

And, drumroll, please…A Cook Walks Into a Bar is now coming to you temporarily from Texas.  Yay, y’all!  Yes, my husband has a temporary position in Fort Worth, Texas for the next few weeks.  Husband came ahead, but I arrived only last night (after driving two days).  I’m thrilled to be back in my hometown.  Plus, I’m really eager to cook with ingredients from the Lone Star state.  In fact, I’ve already made my first trip to Central Market this morning.  (Dave, I picked up some Hatch chiles in your honor.  Yes, I know they are from New Mexico, but it is a tradition to eat them here in Texas, too.)

I have a back-log of recipes to post for your reading pleasure, so some of my posts will be a bit dated, but stay tuned for our eating adventures here in Texas as I try to catch-up.

Cross-Country Road Trip Recipe
Serves me (nobody else would dare)

2002 Honda Civic coupe
1 60-lb excitable labrador mix
1 40-lb arthritic, senile border collie mix
1 12-lb grumpy cat
approx.  150 lbs of clothes, kitchen equipment, books, and other household stuff
1300 mile journey
2 days

Start by being tired – you may want to have done several weeks of manual labor by working on your house, and don’t sleep well the night before.  Perhaps you can get your neighbors two doors down to hold a party and play bass-heavy rap music very loudly all night.

Wake up early.  Load all items into Honda by yourself while climbing down and then up stairs.  The lab mix must be running and jumping at your heels during the process.  It should be hot enough outside to make you sweat.  Pack the trunk as full as possible and maximize your spatial skills by sliding items together like pieces of a puzzle.

Encourage strangers to walk their dogs by this loading process in order to fully excite your dogs before they enter the car.  Also, it makes for a more interesting experience if, before you can load your cat he hides under the furniture that has been pushed together due to home renovations.  I recommend laying on your stomach and getting dust bunnies in your hair.  Then, pull the cat out to his loud protests, wrap him tightly in a large towel, and cram him in a car carrier.  The lab mix should try to help by barking and nipping at both you and cat.

Pull out of your driveway, but then immediately pull back in because your forget a crucial item.  Leave again.  Hit traffic from folks leaving town after Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally.

Drive for 10 hours, stopping only for gas, food, and to walk the dogs.  Once you are sufficiently tired, find a seedy-looking Motel 6 (that’s almost all of them) and get a room for the night.  Make sure your room is up a flight of stairs and far from the stairwell.  It is best if you need to make three or four trips between the car and the room to unload the animals and all your gear.  It is also helpful if strange men call out to you as you pass. Because the older dog has difficulty climbing stairs and the lab mix is excited, the leashes of both dogs should become tangled and cause them to start to tumble down the stairs.  Carry the older dog up the stairs, but only once the other dog’s leash wraps around one of your legs and he half-pulls you up, too.

Once the strange men have been scared away by the dogs and you are finally in the room.  Sigh, open a beer, and take a seat on the bed, but only once you pull back the covers.  I mean, you’ve seen the Dateline report on the bodily fluids on motel beds, right?  Call friends and family, and think about how tired you are of making this same trip over and over in your life.  Sleep soundly until 3:30 am when the cat starts squalling and the older dog decides she is hungry.  Return to bed and lay awake until 5:30 am.  Decide to get ready for day.  Repeat experience of night before in reverse.

Return to car and drive for another 10 hours, stopping only for gas, food, and to walk the dogs.  Smile upon crossing Texas state line.  Smile wider upon seeing husband again.  Sigh, open a beer, and think about how lucky you are to make this same trip over and over again in your life.  Delicious.

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Texas Foodways

Foodways Texas was launched a few weeks ago with the aim to promote, preserve and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas. Its initial members include Texas farmers, cattle ranchers, microbrewers, academics, historians, chefs, restaurateurs, and food writers from throughout the state.  This organization has been modeled after the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit group established in 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama, to document and celebrate the food culture of the American South.
Organizers are planning symposiums and regional events on Texas food culture; documentary films on Texas foodways and food personalities; and efforts to establish itself as the authority for information about Texas cuisine and culinary history. That would include celebrating and documenting Tex-Mex, barbecue, Gulf seafood, Texas beef, chili, Texas citrus, pecan pie, chicken-fried steak, kolaches, frozen margaritas, Texas craft brews, and local artisanal producers of ice cream, cheese, honey, bread and tortillas.  Oh, man…I’m hungry and homesick already.
No webpage or staff for the group as of yet, but stay tuned.

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