FOOD WISE: Celebrating Texas Wine Month…in Liberty Hill

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Chicken breasts with Port Wine and Mushrooms

Something very special has just happened in Texas, second only to Texas Independence Day in my mind. In fact, one might almost consider it a religious experience. As such, it deserves the reverence due the most auspicious of occasions.

Therefore, let us observe a moment of silence together….. For what, you ask? Only my most favoritist holiday ever, Texas Wine Month!

That’s right. For the entire month of October, our great state pauses from her labors to revel and luxuriate in the beauty of her vineyards and celebrate that blessed nectar of

the gods. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but Texas does have some fine wines.

Andre Simon said “Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” I guess that’s one reason I’m fond of it. There is a great line in the movie “Bottle Shock”, in which the Steven Spurrier character says “Wine is sunlight contained by water.” Most things are so serious in life and it seems there is little enough time or occasion for celebrating. A well-made wine that is perfectly paired with a delicious meal is a special celebration all on it’s on.

Oh, I know many of those high and mighty wine snobs think good wines can only come from Europe and Napa. But the truth is, Texas started producing wine about a hundred years before California. Franciscan priests first planted wine grapes around 1650 in West Texas around what is now El Paso, so we’ve had a bit of practice making wine by now.

Anyway, determined not to let the celebration pass me by, I set aside last Saturday to visit some of my favorite wineries in the Hill Country. Based on my research, I knew that I could purchase a tasting pass for $20 to try wines at each of the participating wineries.

Many wineries and vineyards were also advertising special chef-prepared meals paired with their wines, discounts on wine purchases and musical entertainment. I even talked

my husband into accompanying me. This was a stroke of genius if you ask me. I’m sure you’ll remember from our previous conversations that John doesn’t really drink, so by

convincing him to go, I’ve got my designated driver. Smart thinking, right?

Did you know we have over 200 wineries in Texas? Its true! And many of them produce award-winning wines. Growing conditions for wine grapes in Texas is ideal for many varieties. Our sunny and mostly dry climate allows us to produce wines that are quite akin to Portuguese wines. If you aren’t familiar with many Portuguese wines, I’m here to tell you, they are spicy and jammy, and rich and yummy!

I planned to head out towards Marble Falls and stop by my favorite winery, Flat Creek. Lucky for me that my favorite is also the one closest to home. I find their wines, especially the reds to be somewhat on the spicy side, in the tradition of Australian wines.

From there, I planned to head on towards Fredericksburg where I would stop in at Becker Vineyards, where there are lovely Lavender fields in addition to the vineyard. I use a lot of lavender in my cooking, so I was looking forward to that stop. Maybe I would also stop in at Pedernales Cellars, Torre di Pietra Vineyards and Fredericksburg Winery. That should just about do it.

Some of the vineyards even offer a selection of deli items, such as antipasti, cheeses, olives, and artisan breads. How delightful to sit out by the vineyard, under a tree with my little deli picnic and a bottle of wine with my true love. It would be the best ever date with my honey. This was going to be a great day!

As fate would have it, my middle grandson, Brendan, had been ill with pneumonia. I guess I had been up late caring for him too many days in a row. I was pretty tired. As a result, I woke up later than expected on Saturday morning. No worries. I wasn’t on a set schedule. I flipped on the TV to keep me company while I got ready. The channel my honey had left it on from the evening before was playing a movie about winemaking called “Bottle Shock”, which struck me as humorous considering my plans for the day.

As I continued my getting ready routine, I began to get involved in the plot of the movie.

Boy, was I tired. Anyway, the movie stars the yumalicious Chris Pines and takes place in Napa in the 1970’s. It’s all about the beginning of the wine industry in Napa, back when the vintners were mostly hippies left over from Woodstock. It’s based on real events.

(Seriously, I was really exhausted.)

The gist of the story is that an English sommelier living in Paris concocts a plan to conduct a blind taste test of wines from all over the world, including California. This was unheard up. The European wine community had poked fun of wines produced in America because Europe was considered the expert. Nothing good could come from America. So, when they get to the blind tasting, the fun begins. The European sommeliers taste each wine, discuss and grade them. Of course, they speak quite disparagingly of what they believe to be American wines. Do you see what is happening here? I am losing steam. I should be out the door by now. The wineries are only open until 5 p.m. I need a snack. As you might have predicted, it turned out that the snobby European sommeliers had it all wrong. The wines that they snubbed as garbage, thinking they were American turned out to be fancy French wine and the ones they extolled as the best, and therefore naturally French, turned out to be from the American Chateau Montelena. Go America! Chateau Montelena is, today, one of the oldest wineries in California and is

still in operation, making some of the finest wines in the world.

Well, now I just have no motivation at all. My legs felt like they were made of lead. I’m sure you know the rest. Instead of my big plans, I simply put on another of my favorite

culinary movies, “Julie and Julia” and settled in with my own little home spun deli picnic, adorable hubby napping on my shoulder and a glass of my favorite zinfandel from, you guessed it, a Texas winery. Good thing I stay stocked up. I guess I didn’t really need to be chasing around all over Central Texas to enjoy Texas Wine Month, after all.

Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist . She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

 Chicken Breasts with Port Wine and Mushrooms

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoon butter

1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1/2 medium-dry port wine

1/2 cup cognac or brandy

salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan. Saute the chicken until golden brown and cook through. Set aside and save the pan drippings. Meanwhile, trim, clean and quarter the mushrooms.

2. Bring the water to boil in a pot with 1 tablespoon butter, the lemon and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss in the mushrooms and simmer for 8 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and set aside the cooking liquid for a later use.

3. Whisk together the cornstarch and a tablespoon of the cream. Pour this into the remainder of the cream and mix in the mushrooms. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside.

4. In the pan drippings from the chicken, saute the shallots for a minute or two. Add the port and mushroom cooking liquid and boil down rapidly, scraping up and incorporating the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the liquid has reduced about half. Add the mushrooms and cream. Simmer for a few minutes until thickened slightly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper and season with a little more lemon juice as needed.

5. Butter the inside of a heavy duty pot, lightly salt the cooked chicken and layer into the pot. Set over medium heat until the chicken begins to sizzle. Then pour the cognac over the chicken, avert your face and ignite. Shake the pan slowly until the flames subside. Then pour in the mushroom mixture, making sure all the chicken is covered. Cover and steep 5 minutes without allowing the mixture to boil. Serve immediately over rice or noodles.