Do // Eat // Stay - Austin Travel Guide

We were so flattered to get the chance to write today's guest post over at Horses and Heels - all about Austin hot spots.  Horses and Heels is an Ohio-based lifestyle blog with "touches of western and equestrian flair" where you can find fashion, recipes, DIYs, and home décor.  We're honored to give H&H readers a little taste of Texas today! 

See the travel guide here.

Image Credit: AustinMomsBlog

Super Bowl Sunday: Texas Caviar Recipe

Super Bowl XLIX is fast approaching, and whether you're still mourning over the Cowboys, cheering for the Seahawks or Pats, or just watching for the commercials like we are, let's be honest - the best part of football parties is the food.  This recipe is one that often gets overlooked for queso or traditional bean dip, but try something new this year and bring Texas Caviar to your party!  Don't worry, actual fish eggs have zero part in this hearty dip.  It's simple to make, semi-healthy, and the perfect pair for a bag of Julio's tortilla chips (my mouth is watering just thinking about that Julio's magic dust - and also, forget we mentioned "healthy").

Texas Caviar is the brain-child of Helen Corbitt, a New-Yorker-turned-Texan whose culinary résumé included the Houston Country Club, Driskill Hotel in Austin, and Neiman Marcus's Zodiac Room in Dallas.  She came up with the concoction in 1940 when challenged to create a recipe with only Texas-sourced ingredients that she had on hand, including the dreaded black-eyed peas.  The pickle of the vinegar and kick of the onion and pepper took care of that, and the dip became an instant classic for the Lone Star State. Serve it up with chips this weekend and you'll be surprised how quickly it gets addicting!

Texas Caviar Recipe

(makes a LOT - halve this if you're having a smaller crowd)

215-oz cans cooked black-eyed peas

1/2 cup chopped green onion

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup regular or red wine vinegar

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp basil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

Optional add-ins: black beans, corn, chopped bell pepper, chopped celery, cilantro

Rinse and drain the black-eyed peas.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing and stirring thoroughly.  Refrigerate immediately and let marinate for at least 6 hours before serving.  Drain extra marinade before serving chilled.  Serves 10+.

Images courtesy of Christin at Spicy Southern Kitchen, used with permission.

Driftwood Vineyards

If this winery had a slogan, it could be drink in the view - because that, along with quality, delicious wines, are what you get at Driftwood Vineyards.  With an intimate-feeling tasting room nestled on a high bluff overlooking their Napa-meets-Texas homestead and rows upon rows of grapes, Driftwood has a distinct feel that separates it from the rest of the pack of hill country wineries.  It's a little taste of California right here in Texas, which for the Elliotts, California transplants who have made their home and grown their business on a ranch southwest of Austin, makes perfect sense.

Winemaker Gary Elliott has owned and operated Driftwood Estate Winery since 2002, with the vineyard in production since 1998.  Cabernet, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc varieties are grown on 18 acres.  The California connection remains in the family, as Elliott's sister Patty Bello and her husband operate B&E Vineyard in Paso Robles, California.  Driftwood Vineyards is the only place, besides the B&E tasting room, that sells that wine, including their Cabernet and Red Rhythm blend. 

Driftwood Vineyards earned a little time in the spotlight recently, and deservedly so, as their 2012 Longhorn Red was named the Top Texas Wine by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition.  That's not top Texas wine in a certain category or certain grape variety - that's Top Texas Wine, period.  Out of 2,578 entries, including multiple entries from 43 Texas wineries, Driftwood's Longhorn Red took home top honors in the 2015 competition, and the prestigious award has contributed to a rise in popularity that has caused the winery to outgrow the capacity of their production scale. 

Bottling photos courtesy of Laura Elliott

In 2015, Driftwood Vineyards' wines will no longer be available for purchase from other distributors and retailers; tasting room and wine club sales will max out what the winery can currently accommodate for production.  That just means that to taste this wine for yourself, you'll have to make a trip to their gorgeous facilities just on the edge of Driftwood, Texas.  The tasting room is open daily from 11-6 in the winter and 11-7 in the summer.  A western-facing bluff overlooking oak trees and grapevines is a perfect place to catch a beautiful hill country sunset.  Grab a glass (or a bottle), sit on the patio (or a blanket in the grass), catch a breeze and just drink in the view.

Twisted X Brewery

Quickly gaining popularity among the plethora of hill country breweries and wineries is a craft beer microbrewery that has cornered the market on what they've coined "Tex Mex Beer."  Twisted X aims to create brews based on a fusion of traditional craft beer taste with the more popular Mexican beer varieties already on the market.  We went for a tasting on a crisp fall afternoon and enjoyed the flavorful Tex Mex beers as the breeze came through the open-air tasting room.

With a lineup of six beers, two of which interchange with limited-time special edition brews, Twisted X offers something for almost every palette.  I was excited to try Siesta, a prickly pear lager, and couldn't pass up Fuego, their signature jalapeno-infused pilsner.  Neither disappointed.  The guys enjoyed Cow Creek, the dark lager, and Senor Viejo, a tequila-aged imperial black lager.  The Chupahopra definitely lives up to its name, taking it up a notch on the hops scale and delivering that intense flavor more typical of craft IPAs.  And finally, the Twisted X Premium Lager gives the true Tex Mex flavor profile they're after, with a unique taste that appeals to just about anyone.

Make the 30-minute drive west of Austin to Twisted X's gorgeous facilities and take a tour or just have a tasting.  They'll be happy to provide chips and salsa for you to munch on while you sip your Tex Mex Beer.  And remember, as the Twisted X saying goes, always drink upstream from the herd.

Lubbock Wineries

In September, I ventured up to Lubbock to visit a friend and we spent a Saturday afternoon touring a few of the wineries in the area.  Honestly, before this trip, Lubbock wasn't on my Texas wine radar.  Cotton fields, yes, but vineyards?  Quality ones at that?  I had no idea.  

Our first stop was Llano Estacado Winery.  I have to admit, I really underestimated this winery.  I think every Texan who's been on a college student's budget has bought a seven dollar bottle of Llano wine at some point, but this winery has so much more to offer.  Started in the '70s by a Texas Tech horticulturist and chemist doing simple grape-growing experiments, the winery has expanded over the years to become Texas' best-selling premium winery.  

Llano Estacado gives back to Texas Tech University through sales of their Raider collection of wines, and their premium Viviano Sangiovese is evidence of their true expertise when it comes to winemaking in Texas.  The Viviano was by far our favorite, but we were impressed with several of their varieties, and left with a much deeper appreciation of Llano's full line of wines - I guess you could say we learned not to judge a winery on their cheapest bottle.

We finished the afternoon with a trip out to CapRock Winery.  The facilities alone at CapRock are swoon-worthy.  The tasting and barrel rooms are housed in a beautiful mission-style building with a veranda that makes you feel as if you've been transported straight from Lubbock to Tuscany. The atmosphere at CapRock really enhances the whole experience, and the wines do not disappoint.  At just $5 for a tasting of five wines, the value was great, too.  We sat on the patio for a while just enjoying the view of the grounds and the vineyard in the distance.