Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Big Reds & Bubbles Video

Special thank you to Moth to Flame Films for filming Big Reds & Bubbles 2011. See the video here:

And be sure to "like" them on Facebook too (https://www.facebook.com/mothtoflamefilms)!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 Scholarship Winner, Renee Morgan Using Talents in a New Way

A lot of folks have been asking what I’m up to since graduation. Well, I have an exciting new project to tell you all about. I’m thrilled to introduce Chefalicious Hospitality, Inc., a 503(c) non-profit foundation. You see, as a mother, grandmother and culinarian, I feel very strongly about children’s nutrition and it’s effect on their health and development. In Williamson county, Texas, over 60,000 people are food insecure at any one time. Of those, over 32,000 are children under the age of 18. (These statistics are according to the U.S Federal Census Bureau and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.) As a long time resident of Williamson county, I know that much of the county is rural, which means many times it is exceptionally difficult for these people to obtain assistance. Even if a family receives assistance in the form of SNAP (food stamps), a family of four generally receives around $150 or less per month. If the children of such a family receives free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school, they many times still go hungry nights, weekends, summers. That’s where Chefalicious Hospitality comes in.

Our mission is to use our culinary talents and resources to provide for the nutritional welfare of the economically disadvantaged children of Williamson County, Texas, the surrounding area and the world. We aim to do this through providing nutritious food, education, partnerships with area schools and daycare, cooking lessons, installation of home gardens and scholarships for the study of culinary arts to deserving students.

What does that mean exactly? Well, here’s the way it works. Chefalicious Hospitality offers catering, personal and private chef services, meal delivery for those know don’t have the time or inclination to cook, cooking lessons and classes and summer cooking camps for kids. Let’s say you need one of these services. If you chose to hire Chefalcious Hospitality (CH) as you would any other caterer or private chef, you also get the added benefit and peace of mind in knowing that your money is helping to feed hungry kids. You see, all of our proceeds are used to provide nutritional services to food insecure children in Williamson county.

We seek to assist children and their families in several ways:
-  CH will partner with No Kid Hungry™ to provide grocery store tours to economically disadvantaged parents to teach them how to read nutritional labels, menu plan, avoid unhealthy foods, and shop on a limited budget.
-  CH will provide a hot and healthy meal to any child under the age of 18 in need. We seek to partner with the USDA to provide lunch for children in the summer and this grow this service to include all other meals.
-  CH will provide cooking lessons to parents and children in food insecure families. Our intent is to teach children to prepare simple healthy snacks and give parents the tools they need to prepare delicious, quick and healthy meals for their families.
-  CH will gift a home garden to food insecure families, teach them how to grow and maintain their garden, and how to preserve their harvest for long term consumption.
-  CH hopes to offer training and culinary scholarships to promising high school students who demonstrate talent and financial need.   
Why now? I suppose my own story impacted my decision to start this foundation. Prior to attending culinary school, I had been a successful realtor and business owner. My husband owned a prosperous delivery company. We enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. When the recession hit our country in 2009, we found ourselves to be casualties. Along with so many others in this country, we lost everything. After trying to find work for over a year, I decided it was time to reinvent myself by going to culinary school. It was very difficult but it was something I had always wanted to do. Sometimes we didn’t have enough food, heat or even utilities. But I had a goal and nothing was going to stop me. I am grateful and blessed to say that I was able to finish culinary school with no debt because of winning the Stephan Pyles Cook-Off Scholarship, along with several others. I am forever indebted to the The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and Chef Stephan Pyles.

This experience forever changed me and highlighted the plight of so many in my community.  While I was in Boston completing my culinary internship with America’s Test Kitchen, I saw a billboard that advertised a place where any child under 18 could get a meal in the summer. It was sponsored by the USDA. I started thinking about how I could start something like that at home. Once back home in Texas, I started talking to people about my idea. Pretty soon, I had a professional kitchen, a dining room and office space with utilities donated by a local church in Leander. Next a farmer began donating organic vegetables. Then a certified master gardener offered to help with the gardens. A retired grant writer offered to help raise funds. We were on our way!

Currently, we are working on putting together our board of directors and infrastructure of the foundation and expect to be fully operational early in 2012. We hope to have a grand opening and a gala fundraiser in upcoming days. I would love to invite all of you to consider being a part of this important work, either by volunteering time, donating, or hiring CH for your events and culinary needs. We look forward to serving you and the children of Williamson county.

Please contact me regarding opportunities or to contract CH for events and services at renee.morgan1@gmail.com, 512-300-6128 or PO Box 1058, Liberty Hill, TX 78642.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It’s Exactly What I Wanted…
The beloved holidays are upon us. It’s my favorite time of the year! I get warm fuzzies just thinking about the smell of a decorated tree, the taste of our cul-de-sac cookie exchange or the tune of a soft holiday song. All of our senses are enhanced during the holidays. We want you to spend more time enjoying the holidays and less time trying to decide what to get your family and friends as gifts, so we’ve done the work for you and hope you can check everyone off your list with these amazing gift selections. And, as usual, we include the special WFF wine & spirits section.
By Marika Flatt

The Instant Wine Refresher by Ravi
If you’re like me, you always need to chill wine at a moment’s notice.  I have my reds in a wine cabinet and my whites in a wine cooler, but they don’t get as cold as we Americans like our whites. As wine accessory specialists, each of Ravi Solutions’ product lines is designed to maximize drinking pleasure while offering sophisticated style and flawless performance.  The smallest and fastest wine chiller on the market today, this unique tool transforms room temperature white and red wine to cellar temperature in seconds, for a smoother taste and enhanced flavor. The wine chiller can also be used to chill spirits. $39.95, http://www.ravisolution.com

Custom iPhone case
Whenever you go to an electronics store to get a new iPhone case, they are all the same. If you’re like me, you love a case with personality! All oenophiles will adore the wine cork case from Zazzle. 

It will be a great conversation piece and then you can tell the person your favorite wines. Zazzle can print literally any picture, graphic or design onto a case, letting you design something completely original. Custom Zazzle and Case-Mate mobile cases range from $34.95 to $39.95, www.Zazzle.com/cases

Cookies by Design’s “Aged to Perfection” cookie bouquet
Who doesn’t love to eat sweets during the holidays? This cookie bouquet is perfect for all of us oenophiles! This adorable design is great for hostess gifts or a gift you want delivered to someone. Check out this “Aged to Perfection” bouquet: http://www.cookiesbydesign.com/gift-baskets/birthday-gifts/aged-to-perfection-boutray ($90.99). And, for that hard-to-buy-for guy, Cookies by Design has licensing agreements with the NFL, NCAA and MLB to reproduce team logos and colors on cookies. It’s a great gift for the ultimate fan, especially with his name on a jersey cookie! Check out: http://www.cookiesbydesign.com/nfl-gifts/dallas-cowboys-gifts/dallas-cowboys-cookie-bouquet

Woozie wine insulators
The first time I saw a Woozie wine glass insulator, I was at my sister’s 40th birthday party and I was coveting her gift of this stylish and functional little Woozie. Just like using a koozie for your beer, you pull this fashionable Woozie over your wine glass and it creates an insulated and adorable glass of wine, not to mention you don’t need a wine glass charm. Now, Woozie has wine bottle insulators and glass insulators that come in holiday designs and even a Woozie to cheer on your favorite sports team! I just love this inexpensive gift idea for anyone who enjoys wine, www.woozie.com.


Foreverlily perfume
My favorite flower is the lily and I am a real girly girl with perfume so I was giddy when I heard about this! This is a wonderful fragrance from GoodTrueBeautiful in the most gorgeous packaging I’ve ever seen for a perfume bottle!
The recipient of this gift will be amazed and impressed simply by looking at the chic aqua and red box.  This is definitely an upscale fragrance – the Collector’s Edition (3.4 ounce eau de parfum) retails for $125 (www.mygtblife.com).

 Jockey Person to Person Convertible Cardigan and Ponte Jacket
The Convertible Cardigan is my new favorite piece of clothing! With a shorter back length and front panels that cascade into a longer length, this cardigan is the most versatile garment I’ve ever seen. There are literally a dozen ways to drape and wear this piece!
There is a video of one of the designers showing several ways to wear the Convertible Cardigan (http://jockeyp2p.com/DesignerCorner/ConvertibleCardigan). It comes in black/graphite stripe, pink scarlet, and Marrakech turquoise, $82. The Ponte Jacket is a denim-inspired look that comes in charcoal heather, black, true love, $95, www.JockeyP2P.com.


Sea Salt collection
I recently read a health article about how using sea salt is so much healthier for your body than the typical table salt. The Spice Lab offers over 150 sea salts from 30 countries. They have a unique gift item – Gourmet Sea Salt Collections that offer 5, 6 or 11 test tube sampler sets of exotic salts, all attractively displayed in a handcrafted wooden base.
Great for the foodie to keep in the kitchen and use in those tasty recipes! The sampler kits run from $24.95 - $59.95,  www.thespicelab.com.

Grafton Village Cheeses
During the holidays, we’re all entertaining and looking for yummy goodies to bring to dinner parties. Handcrafting world-class artisanal cheeses for over a century in the quintessential town of Grafton, Vermont, Grafton Village Cheeses are perfect for the holidays.
Pair these signature cheeses with crackers from the deli and a bottle of red wine. Grafton Village Cheese offers a variety of gift baskets that feature their award-winning cheeses along with an array of specialty Vermont goodies. Holiday flavors like Sage Cheddar and Garlic Cheddar make these baskets a delicious and welcomed change to the foodie gifts that friends and family have been sending for years. $39.99 - $59.99, http://www.graftonvillagecheese.com/.

Guylian Artisanal Belgian Chocolates
First of all, we all know how decadent fine chocolates and red wine are to our palettes. During the busy holidays, sometimes we just need to slow down with a truffle and a glass of cabernet in the evening. So, forget about purchasing this gift for someone else, just go ahead and purchase it for yourself and hide it away in your favorite decadent hiding spot.

This is truly a new chocolate experience (think hazelnut filled praline seashells). Guylian Chocolates are small treasures that are only sold at specialty, artisanal chocolate stores (2 piece $0.99 to $1.49; 6 piece $2.99 to $3.99 and 22 piece ranges from $7.99 to $14.99, www.GuylianBelgianChocolate.com)

McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil
Those of us who enjoy cooking from fresh ingredients find ourselves using olive oil on a regular basis. Whether you’re sautéing veggies or following a yummy winter soup recipe, EVOO is almost always in need.

Grown and produced in Northern California, McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil has been written up a variety of national print publications and holds many culinary distinctions. A blend of six early-harvest Italian varieties—bottled immediately, without filtration—in the traditional Tuscan style, McEvoy Ranch Olio Nuovo has a distinctly vibrant green color, rich fruit flavor and peppery finish. McEvoy Ranch Olio Nuovo retails for $22 (375mL) / $42 (750 mL) www.mcevoyranch.com and Whole Foods.

GLOB Paint Kit
Most arts & crafts paints stink. GLOB is a new line of all natural botanical paints made from fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices.  With colors like lemon verbena, pomegranate and basil green, (and they all smell like the color) GLOB paints are delightful for projects. Using non-toxic, food-grade ingredients, GLOB paints are all natural and biodegradable. Each kit includes 6 color packets, 6 compostable jars with lids & 2 bamboo brushes. $15 www.globiton.com

Funky Junque Accessories
For girls, we know it’s all about the accessories!  This online site is a great location to shop for the young girl in your life (no matter the age). Some of this season’s great finds are the Silicon Wrap Watch, which comes in Black, Hot pink, light pink, purple, $26.00; and the Kitty Cat Fold Over Glove in assorted colors, $24. Either of these would make a great gift or stocking stuffer. www.Funky-Junque.com

Soulo Karaoke
The vocal performance/karaoke application and microphone developed for the iPad, Soulo transforms iPads into cutting-edge personal karaoke singing machines that you can bring anywhere and have non-stop singing fun. Soulo is a really cool mic/accessory and super easy to use - just plug it in, launch the app and start singing.

The Soulo App is available for free at the App Store and integrates with your iTunes account.  The Soulo Digital is available at Target and the Apple Store for $99 and a wired microphone is available for $69.

Happy Napper
This plush goes from a soft comfortable pillow to a cuddly companion with a simple zip - and back again. Eight total designs are now available including Bug Bungalow to Lady Bug, Doghouse to Dog, Igloo to Penguin, and Castle to Dragon.  Each reversible Happy Napper lives in his Home Sweet Home complete with sleepy sound doorbell.  Kids ring the bell to wake up their Happy Napper, and then unzip the door to invite their friend to come out and play. Designed for preschoolers to teens, a portion of sales proceeds for all Happy Nappers goes to the Home Sweet Home Fund benefitting the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation (www.cbtf.org). www.happynapper.com, $20  

Mario’s Pizzeria game
It’s amore!  If the parent is a foodie, sometimes the child is too! Children will “cook up” tons of fun with this fun game. The 8-piece play set has all the ingredients of a perfect pizzeria – three pizza pies, chef, delivery boy and vehicle, along with a very special oven that “fires-up” when the button is pushed.  www.ravensburger.com, $40


Cakebread wines, i.e. the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
I was lucky enough to tour the famous Cakebread vineyard and winery in August and was completely overwhelmed with how amazing their operation is, how they utilize modern technology in their vineyards and how amazing each and every pour tasted! 

I now have my souvenir Cakebread glasses and enjoy their wines whenever possible.  The grapes for their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon come from terrific vineyards in prime locations in the Napa Valley. With fruit sources from multiple, diverse microclimates, they craft a sumptuous, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon that melds the opulent black fruit character and firm tannins typical of the valley’s warmer northern microclimates with the bright fruit tones and crisp acidity characteristic of its cooler southern precincts. Enjoy with a great steak!

Alex Elman Wines
This summer, Alexandra Elman, entrepreneur and wine expert, launched a collection of accessible, organic wines. The inaugural offering is made up of four varietals from Argentina—a Chardonnay, a Torrontés, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Malbec, and are representative of what the collection aims to deliver: hand crafted, sustainable, honest wines that are truly emblematic of their terroir.

Alex's story is an inspiring one. The self-dubbed "Blind Wine Chick" lost her sight at age 27 and instead of slowing her down, Alex discovered that her palate had become even more focused and her passion for wine even more intense. She now travels the world seeking out sustainable fine wines to bring to the U.S. market, accompanied by Hanley, her seeing eye dog.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon
Rarely do you find a winery that exists to produce just one variety of wine. But how refreshing is that! Make what you know and focus on making the best in that variety and exceed your customers’ expectations!

While the 2007 Silver Oak cab is great for the holidays, be it a holiday meal or as a gift to your holiday party hosts, what really stands out is Silver Oak's ability to etch their bottles of wine. The etching takes the classic bottle of wine and turns it into whatever the customer would like; messages, pictures, logos...the bottle's can be completely customized and etched however they would like. The etchings can be done on either of the two most recent Silver Oak vintages, the 2007 Alexander Valley as well as the exquisite and ever popular 2006 Napa Valley Cab (www.silveroak.com)

 Rutherford Hill Merlot
At just $25, Rutherford Hill Merlot proves that you don’t have to spend a lot for great, quality bottle of wine thus making it ideal for a holiday host or hostess gift.

Rutherford Hill’s Merlot is an elegant, refined blend of classic Bordeaux varietals that create its rich aroma and flavor. Bursting with notes of cherry and plum, this silky, full-flavored wine is balanced, firm and the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates fine wine.
To learn more, please visit:  www.rutherfordhill.com

2009 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay
Stumped on what wine to gift to your foodie friend whose typical Monday night menu sounds something like this -- Caramelized, balsamic-glazed heirloom figs and parmesan crisps with Chanterelle Mushroom tapenade?

With a rich and round mouth feel, this well-structured wine will pair well with anything, from crab cakes with saffron aioli to roasted rabbit. Your foodie friend will appreciate the versatility of this food friendly Chardonnay. http://www.landmarkwine.com/, $28

2009 JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon
For the friend who always knows everything on the up and up, give the gift of wine from one of California’s up and coming wine regions, Paso Robles. Only 14 miles from the coast, the limestone soils, hot days and cool nights in Paso give birth to elegant, high caliber wines.  JUSTIN Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception.

Made in a classic Bordeaux style, showcases the universally appealing flavors of delicate ripe raspberries, currant, and vanilla. http://www.justinwine.com/, $26

Herradura Añejo
Casa Herradura is one of the oldest and most respected producers of tequila, which many believe delivers the world's highest quality, most authentic tequila experience because of the expertise and leadership it has developed since 1870. 

Tequila Herradura is 100% blue agave tequila carefully crafted using traditional methods, such as cooking the agave in clay ovens and fermenting naturally with wild yeast. Herradura Añejo is aged for 25 months, which is 13 months longer than the industry standard. Its deep copper color hints to its oaky, spicy taste, which is apparent at the sniff of this refined expression and lingers on even after the first sip. Enjoyed like a fine Cognac or bourbon, Herradura Añejo is a great gift. $59.99 – 750 ml bottle

Sandeman Founders Reserve Collector's Tins
Sandeman, the world's leading port and sherry company, has released Sandeman Founders Reserve Collector's Tins ($20). The tins are decorated with images from the company's iconic poster artwork that makes Sandeman recognizable worldwide, and contain a bottle of Founders Reserve, Sandeman's signature and most versatile port. It is a memorable present for everyone from a cocktail novice (as six tasty cocktail recipes are included inside) to a Sandeman fan.  Sandeman's aged tawny ports come in 10, 20, 30 and 40-year old vintages ($40-$137), are the top rated imported ports in the United States and represent the quality that Sandeman has demonstrated for over 200 years. The rich yet elegant flavors of these tawny ports are sure to please and impress anyone who takes a sip. Of course, they can be given as a collection, representing a whole century of quality ports, but are also great when purchased individually to commemorate any special occasion or anniversary.

Marika Flatt has been a freelance writer since 2002, writing for publications such as: GoodHousekeeping.com, Austin Lifestyle, Austin Woman, FamilyTravel.com, ChickVacations, and several others. Her writing has also appeared on NPR.org. She is also the founder of PR by the Book, www.prbythebook.com. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Austin.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stephan Pyles Celebrity Chef Dinner Recap

Now in its twelfth year, the Annual Stephan Pyles Celebrity Chef Dinner & Live Wine Auction held in Dallas this past weekend at Stephan Pyles Restaurant was anything but repetitive.  With different chefs cooking each year, the event always offers new surprises and inventive culinary creations to keep guests coming back for more.  This year’s line-up included David Garrido of Austin, Joel Harrington of Dallas, Nick Badovinus of Dallas, Jason Dady of San Antonio, and Rebecca Rather of Fredericksburg cooking alongside Stephan Pyles himself.  To get the night started, this year’s Stephan Pyles Culinary Scholarship winner Reneé Morgan prepared three passed hors d’oeuvres for the crowd of 100 that were so good, people were amazed to hear they had been prepared by a recent culinary school grad, rather than a chef with a pedigree such as that of Stephan Pyles.  Morgan’s samplings, paired with a Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne, made for a happy crowd right from the get-go.  After four courses of scallops, salmon, quail, and lamb, each perfectly paired with wine, the lively and exciting auction portion of the evening began as doughnuts, ice cream, and bacon (!) were served for dessert. I don’t know about everyone else, but I practically rolled out of there, happy as a pig in mud.

All in all, a truly wonderful night to support a wonderful cause – this year’s dinner raised over $20,000 to support next year’s Stephan Pyles Culinary Scholarship awarded by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas.  Many thanks to our headlining sponsor Central Market, without whom this dinner would be impossible, all the chefs for donating their time and effort, and the wine sponsors (Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Evening Land Vineyards, Sokol Blosser Winery, Pedernales Cellars, Palm Bay International, and Esprit du Vin) who were extremely generous to donate all wine for the evening.  We’re already looking forward to the 2012 Scholarship competition which will take place in San Antonio March 17-18th.  If the next winner cooks anything like 2011’s winner Reneé Morgan, we’re in for a treat!