Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Perfect Duo for TV Lovers: S'mores Popcorn Snack Mix...and Beamly!

When I'm not busy whipping up tasty creations in the kitchen, I enjoy chilling out with Michael in front of the television. We enjoy watching food-related shows, but we also love watching comedies, late-night TV, and a few animated series. Beamly is a really cool website and smart phone app that I recently discovered, and I've been having a lot of fun checking it out this week! Beamly lets you chat with other fans about your favorite TV shows. You can follow my Beamy profile and join me in my favorite TV Rooms to chat with me about some of my favorite programs. A few of the Rooms that I'm currently following are The Tonight Show, True Blood, and Hell's Kitchen. If you love to watch TV...and love to talk about it...this is the perfect platform for you!

When Michael and I watch TV, we always enjoy having something to munch on...and what better than popcorn? But not just any popcorn, mind you. I love to whip up a big bowl of my addictive S'mores Popcorn Snack Mix. With a few simple ingredients and a super-quick prep, this is a fun and easy snack to make before you settle in to catch up on your favorite TV programs. If you love s'mores, you're going to go crazy for this simple and satisfying snack. It's a sure-fire hit with kids of all ages!

S'mores Popcorn Snack Mix
a Weekend Gourmet Original
Ingredients:

  • 4 cups popcorn, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tbs. cocoa powder
  • 2 tbs. powdered sugar
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup bite-sized graham crackers
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
Step 1: Add the room-temperature popcorn to a large mixing bowl. Combine the cocoa powder and powdered sugar and add to the bowl. Stir until the cocoa mixture evenly coats the popcorn.
Step 2: Add the marshmallows, grahams, white chips, and chocolate chips to the popcorn mixture in the bowl. Use a spatula to evenly combine the ingredients and scoop into plastic cups for easy serving.
It truly doesn't get easier than this! For such a little investment of time, you're rewarded with a delicious and fun sweet treat. Each bite features all your favorite s'mores flavors...and the cocoa coating on the popcorn kernels really ties all the flavors together. I hope you'll whip up a batch of this s'mores popcorn snack mix for your next TV night. I also hope you'll watch this commercial to learn more about Beamly:

Beamly is THE 24 X 7 social and content network for TV and TV fans. Join me today in TV conversations and get the latest juice and gossip about your favorite shows! To join in on the fun at Beamly, simply visit their website and sign up for Beamly. You can also download the app for your smart phone and take the fun on the go!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Beamly. The opinions and text are all mine.




Monday, April 21, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for April...Featuring Sea Island Shrimp House

This month's The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out featured restaurant is a San Antonio favorite for the past five decades: Sea Island Shrimp House. For seafood lovers in the city, this is THE place to go for fresh Texas seafood. The food is consistently excellent, the prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is laidback and casual. For those reasons and more, loyal fans have been flocking to the restaurant's six local locations since 1965! We love to take visiting friends and family here for relaxing seafood dinners, and everyone who's tried it loves it as much as we do. As a testament to Sea Island's popularity locally, they were selected 2013 Best of San Antonio Winner for Best Seafood Restaurant, as well as being selected San Antonio Express-News Readers' Choice for both Seafood & Longtime Favorite Restaurant last year.
Our neighborhood Sea Island location recently had Michael and I out for a Lenten Friday dinner feast so we could try some of their signature menu items and share them with you. We were warmly welcomed the moment we walked in the door -- despite the restaurant being packed with hungry customers. We were quickly shown to our table and given menus to look over. First up on our tasting was one of Sea Island's signature appetizers, the refreshing and light Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail. 
Served with crispy tortilla chips, this chunky appetizer features huge chunks of sweet boiled shrimp, chunks of creamy avocado, onion, tomato, cocktail sauce, and cilantro. It is the perfect start to a meal...perfect for sharing. We were just getting started, though. Up next came a duo of fried entree classics: Crispy Catch platter and Fried Colossal Shrimp (my personal favorite). The food was fried up crispy and light...not the least bit greasy.
The Crispy Catch features two panko-crusted whitefish fillets, two stuffed shrimp, and two sides. The Fried Colossal Shrimp includes a half dozen sweet, jumbo-sized shrimp lightly breaded and fried up golden-brown. For shrimp lovers, this is the ultimate: huge butterflied shrimp fried when you order for maximum freshness. We weren't done yet...there were still two more entrees coming out of the kitchen: Sea Island's signature Lemon Pepper Fish & Grilled Shimp...and the lighter-option Broiled Catfish Platter. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Biscoff-Toffee Easter Truffles

It’s Easter weekend, so I wanted to share one of my favorite Easter treats from Easter 2012 – my Biscoff-Toffee Easter Truffles. These babies are super easy to make and really fun to decorate. They’re as much fun as coloring Easter eggs, they look equally colorful and festive in an Easter basket…and they’re a perfect addition to your family’s dessert table. How’s that for a win-win scenario? These truffles can even be prepared Saturday and refrigerated until Easter morning. Simply arrange the finished truffles on a seasonal serving platter – or inside a small Easter basket – and everyone will go absolutely crazy for them. 

These truffles feature a double shot of Biscoff, incorporating both crushed Biscoff cookies and a generous helping of creamy Biscoff spread. For flavor and crunch, I also added toffee bits from the baking aisle. For décor, I bought pink candy melts and a container of assorted Spring/Easter décor at a local craft store and had a great time decorating these no-bake goodies. The filling comes together in minutes, gets rolled into balls, and hangs out in the freezer for a few minutes. That gives you a pocket of time to prep the candy melts and set up your dipping and decorating station. Have fun, and let your creativity flow!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Springtime Desserts with Driscoll's...Featuring White Chocolate Cheesecake-Berry Trifles

Spring has arrived here in Texas, and lots of fresh berries are arriving in the Produce department of my local grocery stores. I enjoy eating and cooking with sweet, juicy berries this time of year...and my very favorite berries are from Driscoll's. They're consistently sweet, juicy, and at peak ripeness. The nice folks at Driscoll's recently asked me to create a fun Springtime dessert showcasing their berries, and I jumped at the chance! I knew that I wanted to make something light and refreshing that allowed the sweet berries to take center stage. I'm in love with my individual trifle cups and decided to create another original mini trifle recipe. 

My White Chocolate Cheesecake-Berry Trifles use cubed angel food cake, because it's lighter in fat and calories -- something many of us are thinking about as bathing suit season draws near. Strawberries were a must, and I paired them with blackberries...also known as dewberries here in the South. I grew up eating them and love them! The cheesecake filling is made from cream cheese, half and half, and a healthy dose of melted white chocolate. Put it all together, and you've got a fabulous Springtime dessert that's perfect for Easter this weekend. Even better? The individual components can be made up to a day ahead, saving you time in the kitchen on Easter Sunday!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road...Dallas Roadtrip Part II


Photo courtesy of Rosewood Hotels
Our Dallas weekend adventure continued with an overnight stay at one of the city's best luxury properties, The Rosewood Crescent. Located in the tony Uptown Dallas area, this property features gorgeous decor and beautifully landscaped grounds. The location was perfect for easy access to many of Downtown Dallas's most popular attractions and restaurants. Although it's in the heart of the city, we felt miles away once we drove through the gates and entered the property. We arrived and were very impressed with the property, starting with check-in. I had a headache and inquired if there was a gift shop where I could buy some aspirin. The friendly desk attendant smiled, walked over to a wooden armoire behind the desk, and came back with complimentary meds for me. The armoire is fully stocked with a wide range of travel-size toiletries and meds that are complimentary for guests. Forget to pack your toothpaste? No problem...they've got you covered. We pay close attention to customer service, and little extras like this really impressed us! 
We hopped on an elevator and discovered that we'd been booked in one of their spacious bi-level Loft Suites. These suites features a spacious living area, a spiral staircase, loft bedroom and bathroom area, and Juliet balcony. All rooms on the property include complimentary WiFi, individual thermostats, and some of the most luxurious bed linens we've ever experienced! Other amenities offered at the property include an on-site spa, fitness center, and pool. Dining options include Starbucks and Nobu Dallas. All of these features combine to make the Rosewood Crescent the perfect home-away-from-home!
We relaxed for a bit, then it was time to get ready for dinner. We had a double feature planned: appetizers and cocktails at El Fenix, then entrees and dessert next door at sister restaurant Meso Maya. The original location of Tex-Mex chain El Fenix is located in Downtown Dallas. They invited us for margaritas and a sampling of their signature appetizers to start our evening! Their margaritas have been voted the best in Dallas for the past 3 years, and they are excellent! I had the Strawberry Margarita, while Michael opted for The Original. To go with our perfectly sweet-tart cocktails, we enjoyed two appetizers. We started with the Appetizer Combo, featuring homemade guacamole and fire-roasted queso. We followed it with the Assorted Botana Platter.

Everything was so tasty! The guacamole was creamy and perfectly seasoned, and the queso was flavorful with just enough spice. The chips were warm and crispy, and not the least bit greasy! The appetizer platter included a nice sampling of El Fenix's classic appetizers, including: Chicken Nachos with Sour Cream, Beef Fajita Quesadilla, Chicken Flauta, and Beef Flauta. These offerings paired perfectly with the margaritas and the guacamole and queso. These bites were the perfect start to our dinner! Before we knew it, it was time to walk around the corner to sister restaurant Meso Maya for the rest of our meal.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road...Dallas Roadtrip Part I

One of the best parts about living in the middle of Texas is that we can enjoy weekend getaways no matter which direction we drive! Case in point is our recent weekend in Dallas, which is a short 4.5-hour drive from San Antonio. All it takes is a tank of gas, so road munchies, and a few good tunes on the iPod...and we're guaranteed to have a fabulous roadtrip! We make the trip to Dallas at least twice a year, and we never seem to run out of fun things to do...or delicious food to eat. This trip was no exception! We left on a Saturday afternoon and came back the following Monday. It was a busy, fun trip...and I can't wait to share our experience with all of you. Although the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is huge, we tend to concentrate our visits near the bustling area in and around Downtown Dallas. This time, we stayed at the Omni Dallas...and we loved it! It location was so convenient for all the fun shenanigans we had planned. We're big fans of Omni hotels, and we especially enjoyed this property.

Our room was spacious and featured floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Downtown Dallas. The decor was tasteful and soothing, and it featured a ton of great amenities. We enjoyed convenient in-room WiFi, an MP3 player...and even a flat-screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror. Our stay was during the Sochi Olympics, so I was able to watch figure skating while I got ready to go out for the evening. It was a nice touch that I really liked! Before we knew it, it was time to head out for the evening.
I had given Michael tickets to see Sting and Paul Simon in concert for last Christmas, so we planned our Dallas trip around the show. We had never been to an event at the American Airlines Center, and we were quite impressed. The area around the arena is very fan-friendly, offering lots of fun restaurants and abundant parking. We even discovered that the arena offers a fabulous pre-show dinner buffet at The Chef's Table at The Audi Club. This is a great concept -- arrive an hour or so before your show, enjoy a great meal, then walk directly to your seats and enjoy the show! We met Chef Mark Mabry, who showed us to the Audi Club and explained the concept. We were blown away by the variety of food offered on the buffet, as well as the artful presentation and quality of the food served. The buffet included both hot and cold stations offering everything from carved meat to an elaborate cheese and fruit display. Add in a tropical cocktail, and our evening was off to a fantastic start!
We sampled the cheeses, fresh seasonal fruit, a crisp veggie platter, soups and salads, pasta, and dessert. Everything we sampled was expertly prepared and flavorful. As this picture shows, we weren't the only ones who took advantage of this pre-show feast...lots of our fellow Sting and Paul Simon fans were enjoying themselves as much as we were! We ended our meal on a sweet note, enjoying a dish of comforting, warm bread pudding topped with a warm cream anglaise sauce. It was about 30 minutes before showtime, so we headed out to buy t-shirts and find our seats. For the convenience, price, and quality of food, you really can't beat this pre-show buffet at The Chef's Table at American Airlines Center's Audi Club. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet's Ultimate Grown-Up Easter Basket

I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge kid at heart when it come sto Easter baskets. I may be a long way from the glory days of my youth, but I love to create Easter baskets overflowing with fun and tasty sweet goodies! This year, I decided to create my ultimate Easter basket by partnering with some of my favorite bakeries and sweets makers. Want to make the Big Kid in your life grin ear-to-ear on Easter morning? My Grown-Up Easter Baket is a perfect start! You migth want to make sure you have some stretchy pants handy, because you’re gonna need them after sampling all these fabulous goodies!!

(1) Woodhouse Chocolate is based in Napa Valley and offers some of my favorite artisan chocolate. Their Easter chocolate collection includes these pretty hand-decorated Flowered Eggs. They come four to a box, each with its own unique flavor. The dark egg is Dark Chocolate Truffle, the yellow is Mandarin Orange, the milk is Praline Noisette, and the pink is Strawberry Caramel. Any chocolate lover will totally flip to taste these handmade chocolates!

(2) Eleni’s Cookies is based in New York and is offering a fun cookie tin that takes Easter egg decorating to new levels! Their Color Me! Easter Egg set comes with a dozen egg-shaped cookies topped with smooth white royal icing…along with a selection of colorful edible-ink markers. First you have fun hand-coloring  the cookies. Then? You get to eat your delicious creations!  This is a creative and fun gift for kids of all ages…and it’s a lot less messy than coloring real eggs.  As you can see, I had fun decorating a cookie or two myself. I just love this creative idea from Eleni’s!!(3) Godiva is offering a large collection of Easter items this year, but I was totally smitten with Hopsy the Bunny. This fluffy stuffed collectable Gund bunny comes with Godiva 2014 stitched on one of his feet, so you can use him as the centerpiece of your Easter décor for years to come. He even comes bearing an organza sack full of foil-wrapped Easter eggs in Dark Chocolate Ganache, Raspberry Ganache, Milk Chocolate, and Almond Butter. I also love Godiva’s foil-wrapped solid chocolate bunnies. It’s a gourmet take on a classic from childhood…and I love the pop of color from the decorative wrapping!
(4) Vosges Haut-Chocolat is based in Chicago and makes some of the tastiest and most creative artisan chocolate anywhere. Their whimsical Easter lineup includes a trio of flavored chocolate bunnies that are long on ears and big on flavor! My Easter basket features their Peanut Butter Exotic Flop-Eared Bunny. Outside, he’s 45% deep milk chocolate…and inside, you’ll find organic peanut butter and Himalayan Pink sea salt. This is a generous 2.5-ounce bunny that’s downright addictive…be sure to start with the ears! Other flavors in the Vosges Flop-Eared Bunny line include Barcelona (45% deep milk chocoalte, sea salt, and hickory-smoked almonds) and the Toffee (45% deep milk chocolate, sweet butter toffee and Pink Himalayan sea salt).

(5) Tate's Bake Shop offers some of my favorite chocolate chips anywhere. They're buttery, thin, and perfectly crispy. For Easter, they're upping the ante, turning their cookies into Easter Cookie Bark. This confection includes Tate's chocolate chip cookies covered with intensely dark chocolate. The bark is topped with colorful sprinkles, wrapped in cellophane, and packed into a decorative box. It's downright addictive! Want to buy some of this bark for your Easter celebration? Tate's is offering The Weekend Gourmet Readers 20% off all online orders through Easter! To redeem this offer, simply enter the code RealSimple at checkout.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Recommends: Dining Out Options During Lent

During the Lent season, it can sometimes be a challenge to dine out on Fridays without getting into a rut. This year, I've discovered some delicious dining-out options for those of you who observe the no-meat-on-Friday requirement during Lent. The following dishes are some of our favorite seafood and veg-friendly options at restaurants that Michael and I frequent. All of these restaurants have locations in San Antonio and/or Texas...and some of them have locations throughout the United States too. These options are absolutely delicious!

Disclosure: The restaurants featured in this article hosted us to try their seasonal Lent selections to facilitate inclusion in this article. All opinions expressed are my own, and all photographs are copyrighted by The Weekend Gourmet and Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without prior permission.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road...JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and La Hacienda de Los Barrios

Photo provided by JW Marriott
Michael and I recently enjoyed a fun staycation getaway right here in San Antonio. We were invited for a sweet suite getaway at the AAA 4 Diamond JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. Our overnight trip also featured a delicious Mexican dinner at La Hacienda de los Barios, gourmet Sunday Brunch at the Marriott's 18 Oaks, and even a sneak peak at a game in the resort's High Velocity sport bar! It was a fabulous getaway that didn't require plane fare...or even a long drive! The JW Marriott Hill Country is located just north of San Antonio, on the edge of the picturesque Hill Country. The hotel property is gorgeous, the grounds are lush and green, and the staff really goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful. A stay here is like being treated like royalty! We arrived, quickly checked in, and took a look around the lobby area. The first thing we noticed is that it has a very open feel that's conducive to relaxing and spending time together. We noticed lots of families, groups of friends, and couples enjoying the open concept and natural light while enjoying cocktails and snacks...or perhaps reading a good book. There was even a kid-friendly art project going on in one section of the large two-story gathering area!
Whether you want to hang out and relax for a romantic getaway for two...or take part in tons of family activities...JW Marriott has got you covered! The resort features the 36-hole TPC San Antonio golf course, both children's and adult-only pool areas, a bike and nature trail, tennis courts, and the River Bluff Experience. This fun area offers a lazy river, water slides, and  pool! If activity isn't on your agenda, the resort's Lantana Spa offers a full menu of luxurious, spa treatments. There are also seven bars and eateries on premises, including a Starbucks and a well-stocked gift shop that offers a wide variety of snacks. With all of these amenities, there's really no need to leave the property during your stay!
Photo provided by JW Marriott
I haven't even mentioned how fabulous the rooms are! We stayed in a spacious suite that featured a lovely bedroom, two bathrooms, a spacious living/dining area, and a huge wraparound balcony that offered gorgeous views of the grounds. We loved having lots of room to move around in our home-away-from-home. This spacious suite provides enough space for entertaining...or for fitting a family of four. We loved the soothing tones of the decor, and the open feel and natural light. I'm not sure what I enjoyed more -- the fireplace in the living/dining area, the large soaking tub in the bathroom...or the wine, cheese and fruit welcome goodies the management had waiting for us in the dining room area! The room also featured free WiFi, in-room coffee and tea, and spa toiletries. 
After a walking tour of the expansive property and bit of relaxing in our room, it was time to get ready for a fabulous dinner at La Hacienda. The restaurant was voted Best Outdoor Dining by San Antonio Express-News readers, and it's located a convenient 10-minute drive from the Marriott. 
Photo courtesy of La Hacienda
We arrived and were warmly greeted by owner Diana Barrios-Trevino. She was a fabulous hostess, dining with us and explaining the history behind their restaurants, as well as the background of each dish served. La Hacienda is a sister property of legendary San Antonio restaurant Los Barrios, which was founded by her late mother Viola in 1979. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pritikin Longevity Institute's 35th Anniversary Blogger Contest...

This is my official entry in the Pritikin Longevity Institute's 35th Anniversary Blogger Contest. One blogger will be selected to attend Pritikin's official 35th Anniversary celebration at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami next month.

I was recently invited to take part in the Pritikin Longevity Center's 35th Anniversary Blogger Contest. If you're not familiar with Pritikin, they focus on healthy living via a three-pronged approach focused on healthy eatingcardiovascular, strength, and stretching activity; and a healthy mindset. I really like that their approach is holistic and focuses on health rather than a quick-fix approach to weight loss. For my entry, I'm sharing a health goal that I want to reach by 2015. So...here it goes for all of the Internet to see: My health goal for 2015 is to lose 30 lbs. and lower my cholesterol under 200. Because of the nature of what I do via The Weekend Gourmet, this is going to be a challenge...but it's one that I know must be done. I'm closing in on 50 in a couple of years (not sure how THAT happened...), and maintaining a healthy weight is suddenly about more than rocking a bikini. It's about staying healthy and living a longer life. I'm hoping that a weekend stay at the Pritikin Longevity Center will be the catalyst to make some changes in my health...and my waistline.

I love having a food blog...which started because of my love of good food and wine. I freely admit that being a food writer has a lot of great perks. I receive samples of food products several times a week, and we're often invited to visit fabulous restaurants for menu tastings. This is great fun...but it has had one negative aspect that I don't write about much in here: weight gain. True confession time: I've gained 30 lbs. since starting The Weekend Gourmet in 2010...or about 10 pounds per year (yikes!)...and the extra pounds definitely show when I take photographs. If I keep it up at that rate...it's not going to be pretty. I don't want to buy clothes another size larger, so I have to do something pronto. I'm hoping that Pritikin can be the spark that I need to make some much-needed changes. I need to find balance in my life. Between a busy day job and running an ever-growing blog? Sometimes exercise and taking time to focus on me fall by the wayside. I want to learn to balance my time so I can provide great content here...while finding time to go for a 30-minute evening walk. I want to enjoy the perks of being a food writer...but in a responsible way that allows me to steadily lose weight. 

Deprivation simply will not work for me...so Pritikin's moderate, healthy approach really appeals to me! If I'm selected as the winner in this contest, I'll receive a weekend at the exclusive Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. While there, I would take part in the weekend's official 35th anniversary celebration. I'd also take part in fitness classes, and interactive nutrition and cooking classes. I think this weekend would be the jumpstart that I need to meet my health goal. Exercise and healthy eating will definitely help me lose weight and lower my cholesterol to a healthier level. If I am selected by Pritikin, I'll share the experience in here...and keep everyone updated on my progress throughout the rest of the year. To find out more about Pritikin and its program, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Disclosure: I was invited to participate in Pritikin Longevity Center's 35th Anniversary Blogger Contest. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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