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Chef Marcia’s Awesome Drunken Turkey Brine Recipe

Turkey Day is almost here and I use this every year!! In a large pot Warm over the stove just till salt and brown sugar dissolve...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Surprise Stroll Through North Texas' Wine Country

Often times when we are enjoying hors d'oeuvres with our guests during social hour, people ask what we do for fun around the town when we are not consumed with work.  After the initial laughter at the prospect of free time, I tend to name the usual suspects, like going to the lake, the golf course, dinner with friends, etc... but recently my husband and I spent a day in a way that I think rather succinctly answers that question with the information they are looking for.

We have many friends that live in the area and own businesses like vineyards and restaurants and they are always asking us to come for a visit.  We always say we will, but the timing never works out.  That was until last week when we had a surprise afternoon and evening off.  My husband decided to surprise me with a bit of fun, and after a few calls he had something cooked up I didn't see coming!  He told me to get dressed so we could go out to a movie, and when I was ready, I was blown away when I saw a car out front to drive us around.  He had a fun day all planned out that we sorely needed. 

Our first stop was in Valley View, just to the southeast of us, at Firelight Vineyards.  This was my first time here, and Brad's as well.  We had heard about it and wanted to visit for a while!  The owner is also a fireworks pyrotechnician, so we were curious to see how that played into the concept.  When we got there, I was sold.  The tasting room is set in a classic Texas town square storefront with a charming patio on the side.  We did a sampling of their wines and found a few real gems in the mix. They do live music, and you can order pizza from the neighboring restaurant, but we were a bit early for the music and not yet hungry enough for a meal, so I settled for a sangria... it's fresh fruit.  In my opinion, that's practically a healthy smoothie.  After enjoying the fresh air for a bit, we rejoined our driver to make our way to the next destination.


Our next stop was about 30 minutes away so we had time to enjoy a charcuterie that my husband brought along, packed with different cheeses and artisan meats from home.  This was nice because we were headed to the next winery and I was definitely ready for a snack before we tasted more wines. 

As we pulled up to our next stop on the tour, Blue Ostrich Winery, we were greeted by the rolling hills that surround the great white building housing the tasting room.  We have been here before, and I always love coming back.  This place is a prime example of Texan ingenuity, in that if there is a chance it can make money, you can bet a Texan has tried it.  The name of the vineyard comes from its history as a real ostrich farm.  There are still plenty of them running around if you don't believe me.  We settled in at the tasting room and were walked through a selection of their wines; they have a sangiovese that I have a soft spot for.  After the tasting, we found a shady spot under the arbor covered patio area outside and enjoyed a glass before moving on.



Our final wine stop was at Arche just down the road, which we have also been to before.  This is another gorgeous spot in the north Texas hill country.  The architecture and layout here reminds me so much of a spot that I love on the (current, but not for long, I'm sure) outskirts of Austin, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.  Here we had our third and final wine flight in their tasting room, though I already knew what I was going to have a glass of, I selected 4 other wines to remind me why it is always a hard choice.  After the staff waltzed with us through our tasting, I ordered a glass of the intended Texas Rose.  I'm not always in the mood for a rose, but on a beautiful day like this, I felt it was the perfect fit to enjoy as the afternoon burned down.  Not overly sweet as most expect from roses past, but more the modern iteration that is becoming so wildly popular.  This fruit forward yet still cool and crisp wine is a great choice when the day has a warmth to it. We found a cozy spot


On our way out and on to our last stop, for dinner, we grabbed a bottle of the Syrah to take with us.  Right between the two last wineries is a place called Ancient Ovens.  The location is convenient because they don't sell alcohol, so you are close to some options on the approach!  I have recommended this place so many times to people that they really need to start paying for the advertising.   They only seat by reservation, so call ahead if you want to try it out.  One of my favorite things about this place is that the do one service per evening  when everyone comes and has a saved seat (I always request a spot by the fire pit).  We sat and opened our bottle next to the fire, while watching the sun set on a cliff overlooking the valley below and miles of rolling hill country.  I don't care if it is your first date, or you've been married for decades, a kiss is coming your way, that's just going to happen.  They start with some fresh from the stone oven appetizers for the first course served on hot stones next to the wood burning "ancient oven" that is the place's namesake.  This was an amazing fresh baked rustic sourdough bread from a 90 year old starter that is served with a homemade spinach garlic artichoke dip.  After we enjoy this, we chat for a short time while they prepare the next course, a vast selection of hand tossed artisan pizzas on scratch made dough, which they have to serve en masse because they are so delicious that they don't stay around long.  Finally, after the sun has fully set, they serve the last course, a crispy dough with melted dark chocolate and hazelnut on top.















After we finished eating, we sat lazily by the fire a bit longer and finished our bottle of red.  The city light was far away and we could see so many stars, we sat like a couple of kids picking out constellations we could remember, arguing playfully about a couple of them along the way.  For a little bit, I forgot that I had a job and a life back home, which is exactly what I needed.  Eventually we got up and met our driver again for our ride back to the house, and we enjoyed a couple of cold Heffes that we had stashed in the ice.



That is what we do for fun when we have time off, apparently.  I highly recommend any of these places if you are in the area, and especially if you are staying with us at the inn!  Here are links to all of the places we stopped and the company that handled the heavy lifting behind the wheel.  Also, feel free to ask us for this information and more if you are interested in putting a tour like this in your itinerary while you stay at Elm Creek Manor!



Our driver: Big Hat Transportation https://newtonsbighatlimousines.com/limousine-services/
Our first wine stop: Firelight Vineyards Tasting Room https://www.firelightvineyards.com/
Our second wine stop: Blue Ostrich Winery http://www.blueostrich.net/
Our third wine stop: Arche Tasting Room  http://www.archewines.com/
Dinner: Ancient Ovens http://www.ancientovens.com/

Note: I forgot to take pictures, so I added some from the hosts' social media that best illustrated our experience.

Friday, February 23, 2018

For Cheeses Sake!

One of the best parts of my job is that I not just get to, but almost have to travel often. I go everywhere seeking culinary inspiration, to stay on the cutting edge of trends or to soak up classic ways that locals create their various delicacies in the preservation of their cultures. All over the world, places know themselves and their history through the tastes they grew up with. In Italy, each village has it's own wine, or cheese, or cured meat that they hold as close to their identity as the stories passed down from their parents and grandparents. In small towns throughout Mexico, it might be the mezcal that they only make in that pueblito, or the tamals they had made for generations. These are the gems I seek to enrich my life, and my culinary prowess.

One such trip led me to a fellow chef's home I'd known for some time on a visit to Maine. While I was spending time with my friend as she was making some cheese at her home she told me she was about to make some fresh chevre. As I watched her go through the processes associated with taking milk and making cheese, I got to thinking about all the different cheeses. Though I had made cheeses in the past, in the more commonly taught forms, chevre, mozzarella, I wanted to know more about other kinds and how they came about. Most chefs will work with cheeses but do not commonly make their own. It also occurred to me that if I was interested in this, others might be too.

When I returned to our home, here in North Texas, I started researching various other cheeses, and in other travels, made a point to seek out small dairies and cheese making opportunities. It was very interesting to me; I was inspired! I told my husband that we were going to be getting some goats. I'm sure you can imagine the look on his face as this one seemingly came out of the blue.

After some discussion and some further research into the specifics of goat raising, not too much of a stretch for him as he grew up raising cattle, we decided to go for it... Well, more specifically, I wanted to do it, and he was hesitant, so we compromised and bought some goats. It turned out to be a great decision, and while he will never admit it, he likes having them around more than I do.



With our fresh supply of goat's milk secured, I got to making cheeses and using them in my cooking for the inn. People responded enthusiastically and immediately started to ask if they could buy some to take home. I was now producing at capacity and found that people were always asking about the processes and the goats as well. With all of that interest, I decided to let guests have to option to join in and started an onsite cheese making class.




The class is very comprehensive, and goes from milking the goats to eating the cheese! We start by meeting our students in the morning and going to the goat barn to milk the ladies. Then we take the milk to the kitchen and go through the process of filtering and preparing all the ingredients for the cheese making process. Throughout I tell them about where the cheeses came from, and about how they developed over the years, or theories about how various cheese making processes were discovered. We get so many enthusiastic responses, which often, guests staying multiple days show up the next day looking to help out milking the goats again!