Cooking in the Texas Hill Country

A Christmas gift given last year started my youngest daughter and I on a culinary journey into the Texas hill country this August. We left the babies and husbands behind and drove south to Waco for our first stop. Since we left late evening, we found our hotel and settled in for one night. Our toughest decision was how early to rise. It would be Elizabeth’s first night in a long time not being attached to a baby monitor. We settled on 7:00 and turned out the light.

By 8:00 we were drinking coffee and sitting in a courtyard waiting our turn at the table.

The coffee was delicious and within no time we were being paged to come into the restaurant, Magnolia Table. A delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash brown puffs, and biscuits with jalapeño drip jam was set before us.

After fortifying ourselves with this hearty meal with made our way down to the now famous Silos to check out all the decor for sale.

Needless to say we came home with one or two treasures and decorating ideas for a project or two in the future.

We didn’t shop long because we had a few miles to go to reach our destination for the next days. I got to race down a toll road at 85 miles an hour out in the middle of nowhere just south of Austin for about 100 miles. Slowing down when we came off to travel the backroads of the hill country made it seem like we were crawling along. After winding our way up and down farm to market roads we arrived at Blair House Inn.

We hurriedly checked into our room and got ready for the first step in our adventure, cooking tonight’s dinner with the chef. Elizabeth and I had been enrolled in the BBQ Cooking School at the Inn. So over the next three days we would be making breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with 6 other classmates for ourselves and guests of the Inn. No pressure, right?!

Our chef, Chris Huffman, gave quick introductions and then we were put to work immediately preparing that nights dinner: smoked salmon with mango avocado salsa, corn bisque, and Shiner Bock Bread. We finished off with a Jalapeño mint sorbet. Of course we prepped for meals the next day.

Elizabeth and I prepared the corn bisque which required a lot of vegetable chopping and sautéing. While we were working on this others were making creme fresh brining chicken soaking beans, beginning the custard for an ice cream, and preparing the brisket to be smoked.

At dinner we held our breath as our corn bisque was served first. It was delicious and we must have followed the recipe correctly because it was what most people said they would go home and cook first. Whew! Wish I had thought to take a picture.

We shared this adventure with 6 others. Our classmates came from as far away as Canada and Alaska and as close as only an hour away from the Inn. Each were interesting and we enjoyed getting to know everyone.

We ate all our meals family style, sharing stories and discussing the food, relating how we followed the recipe or changed it according to chef’s instructions. Our evenings were spent either going to bed early or by the pool. The stars are incredible and just like the song from my childhood,” the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas” it is true. Wildlife was abundant. There was a little resident fox, deer, and a bobcat that toured the property. Each meal was delicious and I gained 3 lbs!

Our last meal prep was for a picnic to be eaten on our field trip to an olive grove. We were treated to a tour of Bella Vista Ranch and learned more information about olives and how to grow them than I could possibly remember. Jack Dougherty who originally grew up in the orchards of California bought a old run down ranch in Texas. He planted the first olive grove in Texas and proceeded the one in Queen Creek in Arizona which is the only other olive grove I have visited. He runs cattle, raises grapes for wine, olives, figs, and other Mediterranean vegetables.

The only picture I have of Jack is one I took inside and he asked me not to publish it. All things are secret in this business you know. His olive oil is delicious and so is the balsamic vinegar I purchased which has fig incorporated into it.

The Texas hill country is full of bed and breakfasts and small boutique businesses. Wimberley, Texas is worth your time exploring.

I loved all the food we made. It was great to spend time and share this adventure with my youngest daughter. I highly recommend the experience for all you cooks out there!

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