Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tuscany in Texas

In the Texas Hill Country, goats and grapes are grown on spare limestone hills. Artisans produce specialty items like hand-made cheese, boutique bread.  And now Texas-grown olive oil. 

I know, most folks think longhorns and beer when they think of Texas. And we do grow good beef and make good beer, but there's more to our land these days.
At Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, entrepreneur Jack Daugherty makes flavorful olive oil from the fruit of the 800 or so olive trees he planted on his rolling hills.  At the Hill Top Cafe outside Fredericksburg, restaurateur Johnny Nicholas sells olive trees along with his made-with-love menu.

And at a growing number of Hill Country homes, folks are enjoying the flash of year-round silvery-green foliage and possibility of harvesting their own olives.

A few weeks ago I wrote a news article about olive trees in the home landscape.  Now I'm thinking we need Mission olive trees, two for a greater chance of fruit. 

Don't tell Denny, who doesn't love levering boulders from our limestone to make room for root-balls. 

If you'd like a view of the Mediterranean in your yard too, click here for the article and more information.

Or visit our Texas Hill Country and see for yourself.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wherever You Find It

I'll admit, I'm not a snob when it comes to bluebonnets.  I'll take pictures anywhere--road medians, ditches...or the local HEB parking lot.

Who knew going to the grocery could be a beautiful experience?

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Red Rooster Cafe -- New Braunfels

We had breakfast with Elvis this morning.

Maybe he's not your iconic cowboy but you never know in the Texas Hill Country...

The first time I saw him at the Red Rooster, he was on this red-draped stage in the back room.  

 And now he's front-of-the-house by the main-drag window, next to a 6' Santa and 12' red Christmas tree.  With a strategically located pink Cadillac bench for fans.

Looking on the other side of the room, the unique antique HE'S NOT HERE coffee and soda-shop bar is clothed in coin and papered in Washingtons.  A fine place to enjoy a cappuccino. Which I did, smooth and delicious and I won't need a nap until next week.
Breakfast was good too.  I calorie-splurged on crab cakes in lemon-butter sauce over pasta.  Sweetly crustacean with barely enough breadcrumb to hold together.  Next time I'll ask for the assertive sauce on the side, but it didn't stop me from finishing two crab cakes and then twirling half the pasta in the sauce before slurping it down.

You gotta love a place that will serve you the lunch special at 9:30am. The Red Rooster isn't normal, in that way and others. Elvis, for example.  And the Coffee Bean brothers and Big Boy.  Plus a full-sized exotic antelope in the window, moose head on the wall and twin throne chairs for sale in the seating area.

Don't get me wrong, the Rooster is full of locals breakfasting here more for the food and value than the setting, but it doesn't hurt to be entertained before your first cup of coffee, as long as you're sure you're not still dreaming.

I've had the Red Rooster's buttermilk pancakes with pecans and would happily have them again.  And they'd happily serve them to me for dinner if I wanted since they view their mission as giving customers what they want and more. 

Some day I'll get around to trying other lunch and dinner entrees.  And maybe sooner than some day, the Coconut Cream Pie.  I've been thinking of proposing a newspaper article about the best coconut pies in the Hill Country...after I lose the five pounds from my last article.

But don't you wait until you lose five pounds to try the Red Rooster in New Braunfels. The next time you need a lift, get yourself some Red Rooster.  And say Hi to Elvis for me.

UPDATE:  Red Rooster Cafe closed in 2012.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hummingbird Season 2011

Our first Spring feeder went up March 11th.  First customer, a male black-chinned, March 12th.  Local lore says we'll see our first bird March 15th but hummers keep their own we know from the wanderers who spent a good part of the winter here.

Now the first thing I do after I wake is run to the window to watch them perform their daily ablutions.  It's a good start to everyone's day.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Magnolia Pancake Haus

Denny took a day off work last month to celebrate my birthday.  I know, I'm a lucky woman.  

We rarely take days just for play.  Yes, we have a good time traveling for articles, I love wining and dining and exploring.  But it's also work--we're on a schedule, interviewing, taking pictures and notes for the article(s) to come.
So on my birthday, Denny indulged me in a day without requirement.  We started with a mid-morning breakfast at the Magnolia Pancake Haus in San Antonio.  I'm a fan of all things pancake and I'd heard Magnolia offers arguably the best in Texas.  I like a good argument so Magnolia was on my list.  And there's no better day than your birthday.

The restaurant is a storefront in a landscaped shopping center.  Outside awnings sigh Deep South.  Inside, the rooms have a relaxed comfortable feel with bluebird-blue booths, warm colors and plates hung on the walls.

The rumor was looking like fact when super-waitress Karen brought our menus with the coffee.   Magnolia specializes in homemade.  Any breakfast place that makes its own sausage... The menu wasn't modest.  Under the title of World's Best Pancakes (is the World larger than Texas?) were pancakes blueberry, bacon, pecan, bananas foster and more.

Other deliciousness too, like a seasonal favorite, Poached eggs on Crab Cakes, hollandaise over all.  (We all know calories don't count on your birthday.)  Proper crabcakes crispy, herby and crabby, not burdened with breading.  With a side of light and fluffy, softly tangy buttermilk pancakes. Melt in your mouth amazing. 

Denny and I had a difference of opinion about which was better, his Jambalaya Omelet piquant with chicken and sausage, peppers, tomatoes and spices.  Or my eggs and crabcakes.  I tasted his, he tasted mine.  Our mouths agreed on merit all 'round in spite of difference in preference.

But we had no difference about the Authentic Munchener Apfel Pfannekucken (pronounced fan-e-koo-ken).  Wonderful eggy, appley, not too sweet, buttery, cinnamony birthday-worthy flavor.  I agree, the Magnolia's version of this German apple pancake is the Best Apple Pancake in the World.

I know what you're thinking.  Pfannekucken on top of eggs and crabcakes and hollandaise and buttermilk pancakes?  Think of it as birthday cake.  I did. If it will make you feel better, we took most of it home in a box and I enjoyed Pfannekucken birthday cake two more days.

So the next time you're in San Antonio, treat yourself to breakfast at Magnolia Pancake Haus.  It will make your day. 

Magnolia Pancake Haus, 606 Embassy Oaks # 100, San Antonio, TX  78216, (210) 496-0828, open daily 7am-2pm, moderate $.

Tell Karen I sent you.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wildflowers--Seeds of History

Last year at this time, roadside green promised swaths of blue a few weeks hence, a promise Mother Nature filled to overflowing.
Denny and I let weeds grow in our garden while we drove wildflower lanes, soaking in Texas treasure.  I carried my camera every time I left the house.

This spring's show will be sparse.  No rain in fall, few blooms in spring.

But we'll have a connection to wildflowers past through the PBS documentary Wildflowers -- Seeds of History, created by my blog-friend Linda Lehmusvirta who produces, writes and edits Austin public TV show Central Texas Gardener, and Central Texas Gardener Blog.

I'm impressed when one person can change the world for good.  Lady Bird Johnson was one of those people, leaving a legacy of beauty and preservation.  And Linda is too, weaving Lady Bird's wildflower story of life's connecting web.

Linda Lehmusvirta, writer and producer. 

So get yourself a cup of tea and give yourself permission to glory in the wildflowers and look back in time by clicking here:  Wildflowers--Seeds of History.

You may view on the big screen by ordering a DVD (donation to KLRU, Austin's PBS station) or checking your local PBS channel schedule.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Buffalo Hump Roast

I've been trying to get this recipe posted for a week.  It kept turning into a buffalo post...but I think I've finally wrangled a completion.

Our southern Texas Hill Country suffered a spell of worse-than-the-last-50-years cold this winter.  So I did a little more than the usual hearty-warmth cooking. And I'm sharing one of our favorites now, before winter is only a memory.

You might not have buffalo grazing in your neighborhood, but you could substitute venison or beef.

Denny and I are lucky, Thunder Heart Bison  sells at the Farmer's Market in New Braunfels, my favorite Saturday morning field trip.  Thunder Heart buffalo are raised on a ranch in the grasslands region south of San Antonio.  Free-range, without grain finish, which means optimal health for the animals and the consumers.  And the ranch is certified AWA (Animal Welfare Approved).

Thunder Heart is available in a number of area markets and restaurantsIf you're not fortunate enough to live in Texas, you can buy online, click here. 

Folks who know like buffalo for the rich flavor.  And it not only tastes good, it's good for you--high quality protein, low fat. According to USDA analysis, a serving of 100 grams (~ 3.5 oz.) of buffalo roast has approximately one-quarter the fat of lean chicken. (Click here to see for yourself).

Buffalo Hump Roast
~3 lb buffalo hump roast (yes, it's the meat from the hump, hardworking muscles that move the bison's head)--You can substitute venison or beef pot roast, adjusting cooking time.
1-2 tblsp oil
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
dried rosemary and thyme
kosher salt
fresh-ground pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

Wash and dry roast and cut off any fat pads or silverskin.

Throw some flour in a pan large enough to dredge the roast.  Be generous--you'll end up throwing some away but flour is cheap.  Add goodly pinches of kosher salt, dried rosemary and thyme and grinds of pepper.  Mix well.

Heat oil in heavy pot over medium heat.  I use an enameled cast iron pot because the heat spreads evenly up the walls.

Dredge roast in the flour mixture until well coated.  Shake off excess and add roast to pot after oil is hot.  Turn when crusty brown.  When both sides are browned, add wine and water and scrape bottom of pot to get up browned bits.  Add onions and garlic.  Stir to mix all.

Cover and turn heat to low.  Simmer until tender (approx. 4 hours for buffalo, about 2 for a beef pot roast), checking and stirring once an hour or so. Add a small pinch of salt if needed. When you can easily cut the meat, remove the meat from the pan.

Stir up bits from bottom, taste sauce to adjust seasonings.  I'll warn you that you'll want to lick the spoon more than once as the full-bodied flavor soothes your psyche and the subtle piney-minty tones of thyme and rosemary tickle the edges of your taste.

Slice  and serve the meat in a spoonful of sauce with a side of whatever vegetables you love.  For Denny, I roast a mixed pan of potatoes, carrots and onions, and a separate pan of roasted broccoli.  To take the meal to heaven, I add a piece of warm rosemary sourdough bread to sop the juices. Yes, my husband loves me...

Sometimes I take the leftovers, cut everything up (except the broccoli and bread) and combine it into a stew.  Denny thinks that's even better since he gets meat, sauce and delicious, caramelized, creamy potatoes and sweet carrots and onions in every bite.  Guess that makes it a roasted stew and you now have two recipes from one post.

Enjoy with loved ones.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.