Red Wine’s Evil Minions


UUsually I share with you recipes for famous foods born in Texas. This week, I’m sharing a recipe born in Texas, but not yet famous. It can be though, if you all believe in it enough.  

I made this originally the second time I competed in the Aetna Healthy Food Fight with Bobby Flay. I wanted to create a dish that maximized the bountiful agricultural products native to our  beautiful state. It contains Fredericksburg peaches, Poteet strawberries, Seguin pecans, and coastal speckled trout. I made the dish again for my extended family on vacation, and herein lies our story. 

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.

Pecan Crusted Talapia With Peach Salsa
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

For fish:
1 lb spotted sea bass (Tilapia is a good substitute)
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.