Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brewery Tours

As we settle into life in the Dallas suburbs, we have begun our search for good local breweries. We sure do miss places like Night Shift and Wachusett up in the Boston area, but we're finding new beer to love as well. Turns out the Texas craft beer scene has changed a lot in the 7 years that we've been out of state, so we have a lot to learn. We kicked off our search with a short drive up to Sherman for 903 Brewers. Next, we met up with friends at the local McKinney favorite, Franconia. They take a different approach to brewing, but we loved both tours, and we loved the beers that they're pouring.

First up, 903 Brewers. I have a soft spot in my heart for this one, as it's named after the area code used throughout East Texas, including my hometown of Paris. We made the trip to Sherman around lunch time, so we stopped at a wonderfully dive-y local spot, City Limits, for lunch prior to our brewery visit. They're famous for their chicken fried steaks and for good reason. You get a generous portion doused in creamy white gravy served on paper plates with french fries and a side salad. It's nothing fancy, but to be fair, it shouldn't be.
After lunch, it was time to sample beers! At the brewery, there's a great outdoor seating area along with a large area inside for cold afternoons (or really hot ones). We started with a pint of Coffee Pecan Porter, a special release of their Pecan Porter brewed with locally roasted coffee. Delicious. Next, we split a sampler of four beers, served on an old cafeteria tray. Our favorites were Sasquatch Chocolate Milk Stout, Chosen One Coconut Ale (surprisingly good and very refreshing), the 903 Blonde, and the aforementioned Pecan Porter. While you pay for your beers, the tour given by the owner and brewmaster himself is free as well as short and sweet. We got to see a few iterations of his brew equipment starting with a single homebrew pot that he started brewing with to shiny new kettles that require a ladder and a paddle to stir.
Our visit to Franconia was on a perfect, sunny Saturday morning. Before the brewery tour, we tried Bill Smith's Cafe for breakfast. It's the oldest restaurant in McKinney, and when we pulled in, the parking lot was packed (mostly with big farm trucks). If the guys in farm trucks approve of a greasy spoon breakfast spot, that's a good enough endorsement for me! There's kitchy, faded decor on the walls, ranging from old signage to vintage photographs to high school football posters. It looks just how you would expect the oldest diner in town to look (and I mean that as a compliment).  I opted for the chicken fried steak and eggs served with hash browns and a side of biscuits and gravy. Please don't ask me how biscuits and gravy qualify as a side, because I just don't know. I figured it was best not to argue! Y'all, this was such a great breakfast and such a great atmosphere.  I can't wait to go back! Also, it's starting to look like I can't visit a brewery without first stopping for chicken fried steak. I assure you this isn't the case, but maybe it wouldn't be such a bad tradition to adopt.
We arrived at the brewery maybe 10 minutes before the tour was to begin at 11:00, and folks were already crowding around the entrance, excited for the doors to open. The brewmaster, a fourth generation brewer from Germany, came out to welcome everyone and to lay down a few ground rules. After paying our $5 entry fee, we were able to enjoy unlimited samples (Pro Tip: be sure to bring a glass from home so you don't have to buy a glass there) and a highly entertaining tour of the facilities thanks to the brewmaster's vast brewing knowledge and sense of humor. As you might expect from a German brewery, the beers adhere to the German Beer Purity Law allowing only water, barley, yeast and hops to be used. You won't find any sours or pumpkin beers here, but there's still plenty of variety to enjoy. While all of the samples were great, my favorite of the day was the Wheat, perfect for sipping while we soaked up some sun outside of the brewery. Though what we most enjoyed was getting to sample a new beer poured right from the spigot of a fermenting tank!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My 10 Favorite Things in December

My final installment of "Favorite Things" for 2014 is better late than never, I suppose. I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! December is always such a whirlwind month between finishing up tasks at work for the year, shopping for presents, Christmas parties and activities, and in the special case of this particular year, coming down with the flu! Despite being under the weather for a few days, there was still plenty to be thankful for throughout the holiday season.

1) Our first big Christmas tree
It was so much fun decorating our new house for our first Christmas back in Texas. From the full-sized Christmas tree that actually fit in the living room (instead of the little tree we had to put in our dining room in Boston) to stringing up lights on the house, things felt downright Christmas-y!
My in-laws drove up for a weekend visit and joined us for the McKinney Christmas parade, complete with all the local marching bands, classic cars, fake snow, adorable kids, and floats lit with thousands of lights!
3) Nate and Kate's visit
December also brought us visitors from Buffalo: Nate and Kate! We had a great time taking them around Dallas along with our friend Joseph!
4) My husband's homemade buttermilk white bread
My husband has many talents, including a knack for baking. One chilly morning in December, he got the itch to bake bread, and opted for an absolutely delicious buttermilk white bread from Beard on Bread. That was a good day!
5) Catching a hockey game with my mom and brother
My mom and brother came to town for a little Christmas shopping, which also gave us a good excuse to catch an Allen Americans game. There's nothing like watching grown men get into fist fights on the ice for a little family bonding.
6) Christmas with our families
This one kind of goes without saying, doesn't it? Despite being under the weather, we loved spending time with both of our families this Christmas. 
7) Decorating Christmas Cookies
I loved watching my husband bake his grandmother's famous Christmas cookies, and we made a glorious mess decorating sugar cookies with (homemade) icing and sprinkles and such.
8) Visiting friends in Victoria
We don't get to see our friends Jimmy and Laura too often these days, so we were tickled pink when they invited us to spend a few days with them in their hometown of Victoria over the holidays. We had the best time! We laughed and caught up, we ate Gulf oysters and fresh-caught flounder, we sipped Jimmy's homebrewed sour beer, we lounged in the hot tub, and we even visited the beach! 
9) Fried Flounder
Growing up in Northeast Texas, we didn't exactly have access to fresh seafood, even from the Gulf of Mexico. So eating fresh Gulf seafood right out of the fryer while visiting Jimmy and Laura is right up there with a lot of my favorite food memories. The fried shrimp and fried oysters were wonderful, but the flounder is what really stole the show.
10) Charlie's First Christmas
Can you even believe how cute Charlie is in his little Santa vest?! Nope, didn't think so. This little guy loved every minute of his first Christmas. He got more attention than a puppy could ever dream of, new chew toys, and even a tennis ball cannon! Does it get any better?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Green Chile Cornbread

Happy belated New Year everyone! Boy am I behind! We rung in 2015 back home after travels to Paris, Austin, and finally Victoria to visit family and friends. Our New Year's Eve was quiet -- just the two of us, the dog, and a bottle of champagne. On New Year's Day, I cooked a big pot of black-eyed peas studded with green chiles and bacon. In the south, there's a superstitious tradition that promises good luck for the year to come if you eat black-eyed peas on January 1st. I love silly traditions like that, and it's a great excuse to enjoy one of my favorite legumes. I served them over this green chile cornbread, and it was a delicious way to kick off the year. Here's hoping that plenty of good luck comes to all of us this year!
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted shortening
2 Hatch or Anaheim green chiles, roasted, peeled, and chopped (or a 4 oz can of green chiles)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Scoop a little shortening into your cornbread pan (I use a round metal pie pan), and let it sit in the oven while it heats up.

Meanwhile, sift together cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg, and stir in the milk.

Pour the milk and egg mixture into your dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in melted shortening and green chiles.

Remove the cornbread pan from the oven. By this time, the shortening should be melted. Swirl it around a bit, so that it coats the bottom of the pan. Then pour the batter into the pan. You will hear it sizzle a little bit.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Cookie - Snickerdoodles

My very favorite cookie, especially around Christmastime, are these wonderfully soft Snickerdoodles. Based on a recipe from The Kitchn, they're always a big hit. Soft and buttery with a cinnamon-sugar crust, I love them with a steaming mug of black coffee, preferably shared with family or friends. Throw in a Christmas tree and a crackling fire, and you've got yourself one heck of a cookie!

P.S. Sorry that I don't have a pretty picture of the cookies...we forgot to take one before eating them!
(photo from WooHome)

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tb cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once melted, remove from the heat. 

While the butter cools, mix together your dry ingredients (brown and white sugar, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt).

Whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract, and then stir in the cooled melted butter (you don't want to scramble your eggs).

Stir together the wet and dry ingredients, just until combined. 

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1 Tb cinnamon. Roll the cookies into 1 inch balls, roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat, and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 8 minutes. 

Remove from the oven, let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

All I Want For Christmas - 2014 Edition

Ok, it's that time of year again! Christmas is almost here! Our tree has been up for weeks, a wreath is on the door, and lights are on the house, but I'm scurrying around doing last minute shopping. Here are some things I'm loving this year! Happy Christmas shopping to those of you who, like me, still have a couple folks left on your list!

How cute is this Julia Child cookbook bookmark? She never fails to make me smile.
(Photo from Food52 Provisions)

I'm a sucker for just about anything from Rifle Paper Co, and these Floral Coasters are no exception.
(Photo from Rifle Paper Co)

Wouldn't this 2015 calendar be perfect in the kitchen?
(Photo from Food52 Provisions)

I'm dying to add this East of Eden print to the collection in our library.
(Photo from  FRAMEDVINTAGE Etsy Shop)

A cheery monogrammed Ring Dish would look great on someone's nightstand.
(Photo from Anthropologie)

Have you seen this Coloring Book? What a perfect way to spend dreary winter afternoons!
(Photo from Amazon)

Who doesn't like a cozy pair of PJ Pants?
(Photo from Old Navy)

Even though I have no room for new cookbooks, I would love to have David Lebovitz's newest, My Paris Kitchen. He's just the best.
(Photo from Amazon)

I know I asked for a pretty copy of Little Women last year too, but have you seen this In Bloom version?! Swoon.
(Photo from Rifle Paper Co)

Finally, how about this completely gorgeous Smeg Toaster? How can someone make a toaster that pretty?
(Photo from West Elm)