The Weekend Gourmet F

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween #Spookyfood with Frieda's Produce...Featuring Spicy Purple Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Green Goo Dipping Sauce

Halloween definitely calls for serving up fun #Spookyfood to set a spooky mood! Whether you’re serving dinner before or after trick-or-treating -- or if you're planning a scary movie fest like I am -- today’s fun dish is a perfect addition to your Halloween menu. My friends at Frieda’s recently sent me some vibrant Stoke’s purple sweet potatoes to create some #Spookyfood to serve this Halloween. My mind immediately went to oven fries…served with a fun dipping sauce. The end result is my Spicy Purple Sweet Potato Oven Fries with Green Goo Dipping Sauce. The vibrant colors of the sweet potatoes and the dipping sauce are really fun…and the flavor is spicy good. All you need are some fun Halloween serving pieces and creepy decor to complete the Halloween mood!
If you’ve never had Stoke’s purple sweet potatoes, you’re in for a real treat. They taste similar to regular sweet potatoes, but they have a vibrant purple color and a richer flavor. I tossed the purple sweet potatoes in olive oil seasoned with herbs and spices. Just before going into the oven, I sprinkled them with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. While the fries baked, I whipped up the “green goo” dipping sauce to go on the side. This spicy dipping sauce is ranch dip made green by adding a puree of cilantro, green onion, and seeded jalapeno. The end result is definitely green…and monstrously good! This combo makes a great side dish paired with burgers or other sandwiches for your Halloween dinner.

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Favorite Workout Tunes + Staying Hydrated with Crystal Light Drink Mixes #PlatinumPoints #CollectiveBias

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone.

I've been a fan of Crystal Light drink mixes for years! They contain no sugar, and they come in a wide variety of yummy fruit flavors. I've always got one or two of their convenient on-the-go powdered drink mix packets in my purse...and a bottle of the liquid drops at my desk. Both varieties are great for making flavorful low calorie drinks -- especially after a workout! I recently started back at the gym, so I understand the importance of staying hydrated during and after working out. Water is the best way to stay hydrated, but sometimes the taste of plain water gets a bit...boring. Enter Crystal Light! I simply add a few drops to a bottle of water, and I get all the benefits of water...along with a burst of yummy no-calorie flavor. 

Most of the time, I purchase my Crystal Light from the Drink Mixes aisle at the Walmart nearest my office. They offer a good selection of both liquid and powdered flavor packs, which I love to combine to create customized flavored waters! I especially love tropical flavors. My current post-workout favorite combines equal amounts of Tropical Coconut and Mango Passionfruit Crystal Light liquid in a 16-ounce bottle of water. It's sweetly tart, with a perfect coconut background flavor...and the vibrant orange color is gorgeous too!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Frightfully Fun Entertaining with Gallo Family Vineyards...Featuring Ghoulishly Good Red Moscato Punch #SundaySupper

Halloween is almost here, and #SundaySupper is teaming up with our good friends at Gallo Family Vineyards to bring you a collection of frightfully fun food and beverages that will help you set the perfect scary mood! All of the recipes that are being featured today either have Gallo Family Vineyards Merlot or Red Moscato as an ingredient in the recipe OR they're paired with one of these two featured wines. Since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, I decided to create a spooky cocktail!

I opted to make a fun adults-only punch that features Gallo Family Vineyards’ Red Moscato. Moscato is one of my favorite wines, so I wanted to showcase its lovely sweetness. My Ghoulishly Good Red Moscato Punch is fruity...and a bit fizzy! It contains Gallo's sweet and refreshing Red Moscato, orange liqueur, a duo of fruit juices, and citrus soda. A ghoulish ice hand floats eerily in the punch bowl. I’ll even show you how easy it is to make the icy hand as part of the recipe!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for October: Viola's Ventanas

This month's edition of The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out is featuring Viola's Ventanas, the newest addition to the Barrios Family group of restaurants. We're already big fans of the authentic Mexican food served at their flagship restaurant Los Barrios and La Hacienda de los Barrios, so we were excited to visit Viola's Ventanas earlier this month. The spacious, light-filled restaurant is located on a few minutes from our home, so it's a convenient neighborhood location for us! Viola's Ventanas is named after the Barrios family's matriarch Viola Barrios, who was a well-known San Antonio restauranteur. The restaurant is dedicated to honoring her memory and serving some of her favorite homestyle Mexican dishes.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and were warmly greeted by the staff. We were shown to our table, where we looked over the cocktail menu while we waited for the kitchen to send out a couple of signature starters for us. Michael opted for the El Jefe Top Shelf Margarita served on the rocks, while I chose the fruity Strawberry Lemon Drop Martini. Both cocktails were well made -- not too strong, not too weak! As we sipped our cocktails, a duo of flavorful starters appeared at our table.
We each tried a small bowl of house-made Sopa de Fideo. It contained fideo noodles, a spicy tomato-based broth, tender chicken, and vegetables. The soup's slow-simmered taste was lick-the-bowl good! We also shared rich and spicy Mama's Queso. It's made from a blend of white Mexican cheeses and flavored with chopped tomato, onion, and spicy Serrano peppers. It had quite a kick and was fabulous rolled inside house-made flour tortillas. Dinner was off to a fabulous start! Owner Diana Barrios-Trevino came by our table to sit and visit with us for a while. She's such a warm and welcoming hostess, and she made us feel like part of the family.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#Homegating with Applegate Natural & Organic Meats...Featuring Baked Layered Chicken Enchilada Dip

This month’s football food menu is a dude-friendly #Homegating menu featuring Applegate's line of natural, organic meat products. I first tried their products this Summer for their fun Weinervention promotion, and I fell in love with the taste of their products. The fact that their meats are natural and organic makes me feel even better about serving them to my family and guests! Applegate recently sent me a package containing their uncured smoky cocktail pork franks, natural uncured mini turkey pepperoni, and natural grilled chicken breast strips. I used all three products to create a no-fuss game day menu. Everything is a snap to assemble – some items can even be made ahead – and they're guaranteed to be a hit at your next #Homegating party!

For the flavorful uncured turkey pepperoni, I made one of my very favorite appetizers from last football season: my spin on Hip Foodie Mom's yummy So Simple Pizza Puffs. Like the name says, they're indeed SO simple to make! You start off by spreading your favorite pizza sauce on a puff pastry square. Then add six pepperoni slices, three rounds of fresh mozzarella, sliced mushrooms and fresh basil down the center. Finally, fold in the sides, secure with toothpicks, and bake until golden brown. These fun pizza bites are always a huge hit when I serve them at parties -- and I really liked that the Applegate turkey pepperoni wasn't as greasy as traditional pork pepperoni!
I used the organic uncured smoky cocktail pork franks to make a football party staple: saucy cocktail sausages. The sauce combination that I used is one of my favorites that a co-worker taught me years ago: ½ cup apricot preserves, ¼ cup spicy brown mustard, and 1 tbs. of your favorite hot sauce. This time, I used Tabasco's Sweet and Spicy hot sauce, but feel free to use what you have on hand. Simply add the sauce ingredients and cocktail sausages to a bowl and microwave for 3 minutes until they're heated through. Then give it a stir and place in a serving platter. You can also put all of the ingredients in a slow cooker on Low 2 hours before kickoff.
I decided to use the convenient pre-cooked grilled chicken breast strips in a fun new dip creation. We love Mexican food, so I knew that my Baked Layered Chicken Enchilada Dip would be a huge hit! This amazing hot dip features a layer of seasoned cream cheese, a layer of the diced chicken tossed in spicy enchilada sauce, and a layer of melted Colby-jack cheese.
Before serving, a chopped avocado confetti made from lime-infused avocado, tomato, and green onion is sprinkled on top. This dip is positively addictive – if you love enchiladas, you’ll go absolutely crazy for this dip!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seasonal Halloween Peeps...Featuring Spooky Halloween Cat Cocoa Jars

Halloween is coming up next week…and I have a simple, fun food craft project to share with you today! My friends at Peeps recently sent me a box of their Halloween-themed Peeps to play around with in my kitchen laboratory. My Spooky Halloween Cat Cocoa Jars feature Chocolate Mousse Flavored Cat Peeps. Even if you’re a bit craft-challenged like I am, I promise that you can make this simple layered jar craft! I saw a recipe for Casper's Hot Chocolate in Woman’s World magazine a couple of weeks ago. Their recipe uses Marshmallow Ghost Peeps and regular chocolate chips. I tweaked things a bit to go with the slightly different theme since I was using chocolate cat Peeps. I flavored the cocoa mix layer with cinnamon and powdered sugar for sweetness…and I used a festive Halloween chocolate chip blend with dark chocolate chips and orange white chocolate chips.

It only takes a few minutes to assemble everything and layer it in a screw-top jar. Then, the decorating fun begins! The key is to have a good time and let your creativity shine. I printed the cooking instructions that pair with the cocoa using a free online template and printing it on card stock. The décor on top of the lid is cut from a Halloween card and glued on top, and the ribbon around the lid was recycled from a gift basket I received last Halloween! These decorated cocoa jars would make a really fun weekend project for kids to help out with. The finished cocoa jars make great teacher gift or co-worker treats….or simply use them as décor until Halloween. Then you can serve the cocoa as part of your Halloween festivities!

Monday, October 20, 2014

October Foodie Contributor Post...Featuring Big-Flavor Soups for Chilly Evenings

Check out Big-Flavor Soups for Chilly Evenings

by Wendy Wofford-Garcia at Foodie.com


Once the weather finally starts to cool off here in Texas, my thoughts immediately turn to soup. There's something so comforting about a warm hearty soup to warm you from the inside out when cold North winds are blowing. We're just starting to feel the first whispers of Fall here in Texas, but that means the "soup weather" is just around the corner! For this month's Foodie Contributor Program, I'm sharing a collection of Big-Flavor Soups that are perfect for chilly evenings. 

I've got everything from spicy seafood gumbo...to Mexican caldo de res (beef and vegetable soup)...to hearty chowders. There's also a creamy spin on traditional chicken noodle soup and a creative Buffalo chicken soup inspired by one of our favorite game day foods. All of the soups in my collection are hearty enough to be a complete meal in a bowl, and they're bursting with the big flavors that we like. I hope you'll check out my collection of flavorful soups -- and that you'll find one that you're as excited to try as I am!

Disclosure: This is a compensated post as part of the Foodie Contributor Program. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Budget-Friendly #SundaySupper...Featuring Comforting White Bean-Pancetta Soup

This week, #SundaySupper is focusing on budget-friendly recipes that taste great and are easy on your wallet. With the holiday season fast approaching, it's good to have a collection of recipes that are inexpensive to make. It seems there are millions of extra expenses between Halloween and New Year's Eve! Our hosts for this week's event are T.R. of Gluten Free Crumbley and David from Cooking Chat. My recipe for Comforting White Bean-Pancetta Soup is a perfect Fall budget-stretching meal. It only costs about $12 for the ingredients to make a pot of soup that serves 4-6 hungry people! I always have a can or two of beans in my pantry, because they're a versatile, inexpensive source of protein and fiber. 

This hearty Italian soup is perfect for chilly Fall evenings. It contains white beans, aromatic vegetables, tomatoes, a pinch of red pepper for a little bit of spice, and lots of flavorful Italian herbs. Just before serving, each bowl is topped with cooked diced pancetta and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese. All you need to complete the meal is a green salad and some garlic bread. This soup is made with simple ingredients and is ready in less than an hour, making it perfect for busy weeknights.

Comforting White Bean-Pancetta Soup
adapted from Fine Cooking 

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 ounces small-diced pancetta 
  • 1/2 white onion, diced 
  • 1 medium carrot, diced 
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2  garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbs. finely chopped basil
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped oregano
  • 1 tbs. finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 14-oz. can petite diced tomatoes, well drained
  • 4 cups good-quality chicken stock
  • Parmesan rind (optional)
  • 2 15-oz. cans white beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Directions:
Step 1: Add the olive oil to a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the pancetta and cook until browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened -- about 8 minutes. Add the basil, oregano, parsley, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste.
Step 2: Add the drained white beans and diced tomatoes to the Dutch oven. Add the chicken stock, bay leaves, and parmesan rind (if using). Raise the heat to med-high and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. 
Step 3: After the soup has cooked, remove the bay leaves and parmesan rind (if using). Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Just before serving, sprinkle each bowl with 2 tbs. of the parmesan and some of the reserved cooked pancetta. Serve with warm bread on the side. I especially like toasted garlic bread.
This soup may be inexpensive to make, but you'd never know it based on how good it tastes! The creamy white beans, aromatic vegetables, and parmesan work so nicely together. The red pepper flakes impart a subtle heat that I really enjoyed. And the pancetta? Its meaty flavor permeates the broth, and the little bits of cooked pancetta sprinkled on top provide a crunchy-salty punch of flavor. This is my kind of dish: easy to make, tons of flavor...and easy on the grocery budget too! 

Be sure to take a look at all of the great inexpensive recipes that the rest of the #SundaySupper participants are sharing today. We've got everything from budget-stretching dinners to sweet treats and snacks. Check out this great list of mouthwatering recipes:

Scrumptious Mains (Breakfast and Dinner)
Satisfying Sides
Sweet Treat
Sips, Spreads, and Snacks
    Sunday Supper Movement Be sure to join the #SundaySupper conversation on Twitter later today! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly live chat starts at 6:00 pm CST this evening. Simply follow the #SundaySupper hashtag -- and remember to include it in your tweets to join in on the lively0 chat. To get more great Sunday Supper Recipes, be sure to visit our website or check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest boardWould you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy. You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    Announcing the 5-hour ENERGY® Yummification Contest Winner!

    The makers of 5-hour ENERGY® recently announced the winners of this Summer's Yummification contest. Sadly, my creation --Pomegranate Pink Lemonade Sparkler -- didn't win. However, three creative beverages were selected! First Place -- and a $50,000 prize -- was Pomelimelade, created by Los Angeles' Tim Merlau. His winning submission mixes a Pomegranate 5-hour ENERGY® shot with limeade, and then takes us on a musical journey through all that can be accomplished over several hours (spoiler alert:  it’s a lot!).  Check out the winning recipe and video!
    Second Place -- and a $30,000 prize -- was awarded to Ramalamadingdong by Mark Golembeski, also of Los Angeles. Ramalamadingdong combines a glass Lemonade with 1 shot of Berry 5-hour ENERGY® . Third Place -- and a $10,000 prize -- went to the Arnold Power. This beverage was created by Zac Sheorn of Lugoff, South Carolina. He mixed a Pink Lemonade 5-hour ENERGY® shot with decaffeinated iced tea. To see all of the winning videos, visit the Yummification contest page. Congrats to all of the winners...the level of creativity was amazing!

    Disclosure: This is a compensated post for 5-hour ENERGY®. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2014

    Slow Cooker Turtle Brownie Pudding…Featuring the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Programmable Slow Cooker #SlowCookerMeals

    As a Hamilton Beach Brand Ambassador, I recently had the opportunity to try out their versatile Set & Forget® 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker. It offers three options for easy, automatic cooking: Program, Probe, and Manual mode. On even the busiest days, simply program the cooking time and it automatically shifts to Warm mode when the cooking time is up – how convenient! Cooking a large cut of meat? Simply insert the included probe, set the desired internal meat temperature, and the Set & Forget® Slow Cooker automatically shifts to Warm mode when the desired temperature is reached. For traditional slow cooking, manually select High, Low, or Warm without setting a cooking time. The Set & Forget® Slow Cooker is travel-friendly too! The convenient clip-locked lid provides a tight seal to help ensure your dish arrives without a messy spill. That makes it perfect for any upcoming holiday parties and football-watching get-togethers you have planned.
    I decided to use my Set & Forget® slow cooker to try something new for me: baking! I had never used a slow cooker to make dessert, so I was curious to see how it would turn out. I was visiting my parents last weekend for Mom’s birthday, so I asked her what dessert she’d like to me to make. Her immediate answer was, “Chocolate!” I found an easy-to-make recipe for a turtle slow cooker dessert at the Betty Crocker website. I made some changes to their recipe to suit our tastes. I added vanilla, a bit of cinnamon, and a cup of high-quality chocolate chunks – because you can NEVER have too much chocolate. I also used half white sugar and half granulated brown sugar to enhance the dessert’s caramel undertones, subbed dark cocoa for the regular called for in the recipe, and used salted caramel sauce instead of regular caramel topping. The consistency of this brownie-like dessert is rich and fudgy -- perfect for pairing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

    Saturday, October 11, 2014

    Gearing Up for National Oatmeal Day with Driscoll’s…Featuring Baked Strawberry-Apple Oatmeal #BerryNOats

    Photo provided by Driscoll's
    When the weather turns chilly, one of my favorite breakfast foods is oatmeal! What’s not to like? It’s comforting, filling, and delicious. It’s also a versatile base for dressing up with a wide variety of flavorful ingredients. In honor of National Oatmeal Day on October 29th, my friends at Driscoll’s are highlighting how well their juicy berries pair with hearty oatmeal. Berries make a terrific oatmeal topping or ingredient. I paired their juicy organic strawberries with seasonal Gala apple to create a delicious Baked Strawberry-Apple Oatmeal. This recipe makes a fantastic weekend brunch. You could also make a batch on Sunday evening and store it tightly covered in the fridge for convenient on-the-go weekday breakfasts. It’s moist and lightly sweet – so we also enjoy it warm from the oven as a dessert.

    Not only do oatmeal and berries taste great…they’re packed with health benefits too! Oatmeal contains significant amounts of beneficial protein and fiber, which help you to stay feeling full longer. Berries are low in calories and high in fiber and Vitamin C. In fact, one serving of strawberries may help improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and lower the risk for some cancers. Delicious and healthy is combination we can all get behind! This Baked Strawberry-Apple Oatmeal is sweetened with maple syrup and a touch of brown sugar, and it bakes up moist with a soufflé-like texture. 

    Wednesday, October 8, 2014

    The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Mini College Reunion at the Westin Galleria Dallas #WGDWestinWeekends

    Have you ever wished you could go back and relive a certain time in your life? If I had that chance, I’d choose my college days at University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton – located north of Dallas. It was the late 80’s -- when big hair and blue eye shadow ruled…and nobody had cell phones or PCs yet. During my time at UNT, I was lucky to have a core group of amazing girlfriends who were my suite mates – as well as my Kappa Theta Delta/Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters. I was from the Houston area, Stephanie was from a small town in central Texas, Debbie was from the DFW area, and Liz was from Texas by way of England. The four of ended up on the same hallway in Maple Hall – on the designated Quiet Wing of all places! We quickly became fast friends, sharing a lot of great times: sorority mixers, late-night gab sessions, cramming for exams, etc. This is us hanging out in our dorm then...and us now.
    As it often happens, we graduated and moved into our adult lives. We didn’t get to see each other very often. This was before the days of social media, so it was easy to lose touch. Over the years, I managed to stay in touch with – and sometimes see – each of these amazing ladies whenever I could. Luckily, social media has helped us reconnect much easier in recent years – despite the miles between us. Steph and I still live in Texas, Debbie lives in California…and our world citizen Liz? She's halfway around the world in Singapore. We hadn’t all been together as a group since 1992…but that changed this Summer thanks to the Westin Galleria Dallas! They hosted us for a mini reunion weekend that included side-by-side rooms and meals. Once we checked in, the Westin Galleria Dallas made sure that all we had to do was have fun!

       
    Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria Dallas
    The Westin Galleria Dallas was the perfect location for our mini reunion weekend. It’s located adjacent to the Dallas Galleria. The Galleria features shopping, restaurants, and even an ice skating rink! With the holiday shopping season coming up, the Westin Galleria is the perfect location for a girls shopping weekend getaway of your own! Simply drop your car with the valet, and the hotel’s convenient location means you never have to leave to find shopping, delicious food, and entertainment. Michael and I arrived on Friday evening, checked in, and headed to our room. Once we entered the room, we found robes and a bag of welcome goodies laid out on the bed -- along with some Texas-themed chocolates! Our room was spacious and decorated in warm, soothing tones. 
    Photo courtesy of the Westin Galleria Dallas
    In case you’re wondering, Michael went to UNT with us and is also great friends with these amazing gals! I woke up Saturday morning excited for everyone to arrive. Debbie arrived first, followed by Liz and her son Ollie, then Steph. Even though the entire group hadn’t been in the same room in more than 20 years, we were laughing and hugging in seconds. With friendships like these, miles and time simply don’t matter! We all visited in our room for a bit, catching up on the latest happenings in our lives…then it was time to explore the hotel. Our lunch was provided by Prive, located on the Westin Galleria's second floor. They created delicious grab-and-go gourmet box lunches so we could eat poolside. We had our choice of freshly prepared gourmet sandwiches and accompaniments. They even offered a gluten-free option that contained a fig and quinoa salad, steamed asparagus, and roasted chicken breast. 
    We sat under a cabana by the beautiful blue pool reminiscing and laughing for at least an hour…then we headed back to our room to continue the gabfest. Just like our days at Maple Hall and later Clark Hall, we found no shortage of things to talk about. Before we knew it, the afternoon was winding down…and it was time to get ready for dinner. We couldn’t help but laugh that it was just like our dorm days – only this time each room had its own bathroom instead of us having to share! It was very convenient to jump on the elevator and head downstairs to dinner at The Second Floor. We previewed their seasonal menu. We enjoyed cocktails and a fabulous three-course meal. The only thing better than the food was the company! We started out with a trio of colorful and yummy cocktails: House Sangria, Ruby Fizz, and a Cucumber Sip.  
    The cocktails were bursting with flavor and weren't overly strong -- they were just right! Our meal was off to a great start. The first dinner course offered a trio of salads. We could select from Summer Panzanella Salad with Compressed Melon and Goat Feta; Classic Caesar; or Scarlet Butter Lettuce with Red Wine Cherries, Almonds, Bleu Cheese, and Herb Vinaigrette (gluten free). We were very impressed with the freshness of the produce, as well as the creative flavor combinations. I especially enjoyed the sweet melon combined with the tangy, creamy feta in my salad.

    Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Ghoulishly Good Halloween Snack Mix

    In the early days of The Weekend Gourmet, I featured a fun sweet Halloween snack mix. With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it was high time for me to share the recipe for my Ghoulishly Good Halloween Snack Mix once again. This crunchy, sweet snack mix features popcorn, rice cereal squares, bite-size Oreos, and lots of fun Halloween candy...all covered in a sweet homemade salted caramel coating. 

    One of the best things about this recipe is that it makes a TON! I like to serve this colorful snack mix in a large orange Halloween bucket. The plastic Frankenstein figure is optional, but really fun! This addictive treat makes a fantastic game day snack during the football season, and it's perfect for any Halloween parties you might be attending this month. Everyone I've made this mix for absolutely loves it. To keep the seasonal fun going, I serve this snack mix in fun Halloween cups.

    Sunday, October 5, 2014

    October Secret Recipe Club...Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup from A Fit and Spicy Life

    Where has the year gone to? I just flipped the calendar, and it's hard to believe that it's already October! That means it's finally almost time for "soup weather to arrive back in Texas. I love making a big pot of soup for dinner on chilly evenings, so I'm always on the lookout for great soup recipes. Lucky for me, my assigned blog for this month's Secret Recipe Club offered up plenty of great soup options. Mellissa from A Fit and Spicy Life lives in Minnesota -- where Winters are much colder than the ones we experience here in Texas. She has an amazing collection of healthy and flavorful soups, and I knew I had found a winner when I saw her Chicken Orzo Soup.

    I loved her addition of lemon and orzo, making this soup reminiscent of tangy Greek agvolemono soup. I had to make a few adjustments to her recipe based on ingredients  that I had on hand in my kitchen. Due to some car issues, I wasn't able to get to the grocery store to buy orzo...so I had to improvise a bit to use what I already had on hand. That means I had to use egg noodles instead of orzo. I also subbed a combination of yellow onion and garlic for leeks, used chicken breast instead of thighs, and added a bit of corn that was in my freezer. Luckily, I already had dill and lemons in the kitchen -- which are the essential ingredients that give this soup its unique flavor. 

    Friday, October 3, 2014

    Wendy's Best Bites

    It's time for another edition of Wendy's Best Bites. This recurring column lets me share some of my favorite casual dining menu items with you. Today's pics are from recent restaurant visits I've made, and these items all pass my Big-Flavor test. Be aware that many of these are limited-time, seasonal items -- so where noted, you'll have to act quickly to try them before they're gone. 

    (1) Avocado Chicken Soft Tacos from El Pollo Loco.
    El Pollo Loco is near my office, so I go there once a week for lunch. All it took was one bite of their amazing Avocado Chicken Soft Tacos for them to become one of my favorite lunches! They are full of amazing flavor thanks to a generous serving of marinated fire-grilled chicken, sliced creamy avocado, jack cheese, spicy pico de gallo, crisp cabbage, and flavorful poblano cream. Then everything is carefully wrapped in one of El Pollo Loco's soft artisan tortillas. The tortillas are really unique -- they're soft like a flour tortilla, but they have the earthy flavor of corn tortilla. The chicken has a char-grilled flavor, and the poblano cream reminds me of a spicy ranch dressing. They don't skimp on the avocado either. 

    (2) Pollo Tropical's 1/4 Chicken Platter. Pollo Tropical just opened its first location here in San Antonio last month, and I predict it's going to become a very popular dining destination. Pollo Tropical was founded in Miami in 1988 and has since expanded to locations in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee -- along with several international locations. Pollo Tropical's menu has a definite Caribbean accent, focusing on grilled chicken, slow-roasted mojo pork, and unique sides. I attended the Grand Opening of the first San Antonio location, and I loved the food! I tried the 1/4 chicken platter, which came with Yucca with Garlic Sauce and Caribbean Corn Soufflé  The yucca was starchy and reminded me a bit of potato, and the corn soufflé was like a soft cornbread pudding. The chicken was juicy and flavored all the way to the bone...so good! One of the signature experiences at Pollo Tropical is visiting the sauce bar, which features 10 different sauces. My two favorites were the fruity Pineapple Rum and the creamy Cilantro Garlic. 

    (3) Cheese Enchilada Platter at Taco Cabana. Taco Cabana is one of our favorite casual Tex-Mex restaurants. Their prices are easy on the wallet, and the food tastes homemade. I can't believe that until recently, I had never tried their cheese enchiladas! In my defense, I love their soft tacos and chicken flautas so much that I don't visit the rest of the menu very often. My mistake, because the cheese enchiladas are fantastic! They're filled with gooey melted cheese and topped with flavorful chili gravy. Paired with refried beans and rice, it's a filling dinner. This month, Taco Cabana is bringing back its popular Taco Treat fundraiser to benefit the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC) at Brooke Army Medical Center here in San Antonio.  All Taco Cabana locations in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are selling $1 coupon books good for five free bean and cheese tacos. That's a great bargain..and 100% of the proceeds are going to WFSC. The WFSC is dedicated to providing coordinated services to patients, next-of-kin, and extended family members with a primary focus on wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. The center provides a relaxing entertainment environment for veterans receiving treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center and their families. 

    Tuesday, September 30, 2014

    No-Stress Football Food: Cabot Creamery Fall Cheddar Cheese Board

    For this month’s no-stress Football Food feature, I’m partnering with my friends at Cabot, Applegate, and Walkers to share simple tips for assembling a Fall-inspired cheddar cheese board that your guests will love. This cheddar cheese board takes just minutes to assemble, and it features the perfect blend of flavors and textures. The best part is that this appetizer can be assembled the morning of the big game. Simply cover it with a bit of plastic wrap, then place it in the fridge. Remember that most cheeses taste best at room temperature, so make sure to take the cheddar cheese board out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. The first step to a successful cheddar cheese board is choosing a variety of flavorful cheeses. Cabot sent me a selection of their new Farmers' Legacy Collection, which served as the foundation of my cheddar cheese board.
    Assemble your cheeses – three in this case – on a sturdy wooden board from the mildest to the most sharp. The three cheddars in Cabot's Farmers' Legacy Collection each have distinctively different flavors. Alpine Cheddar is creamy and nutty, with hints of Swiss and Parmesan. White Oak Cheddar is inspired by Cabot's award-winning Clothbound Cheddar, and has a sweet undertone and hints of oak. The Farmhouse Reserve is bold, creamy, and extra sharp. I loved all three of these cheeses, but the Farmhouse Reserve is my personal favorite. It's fun and educational to try each of the three cheddars side by side and compare their flavors and textures. I like to make printed cards with each cheese’s name and flavor profile and place them in front of each cheese. That allows my guests to select the cheddar that most appeals to their palate.
    Now that the cheddar cheese is laid out, it’s time to add some flavorful accompaniments. Since it’s Fall, I decided to pair the Cabot cheddar with seasonal fruits and some hearty Italian meats. I added thinly sliced Applegate uncured Natural Soppressata and Organic Genoa Salami to my cheddar board. Their bold, spicy flavors paired very nicely with the flavorful Cabot cheddar trio. Applegate’s line of uncured Italian meats contain no nitrates or preservatives -- and they are robustly flavored. Other seasonal Fall items I added to my cheddar cheese board included salty Marcona almonds, plump dried apricots, and chunky apricot preserves. Finally, I wanted to serve a really special cracker to accompany my cheddar cheese board. I wanted something flavorful, with a texture that could stand up to the other components of my cheddar cheese board.
    I found just what I was looking for with Duchy Original Oaten Biscuits. These organic English biscuits are part of the Walkers shortbread family, and they're made from wheat and oats grown on farms in the UK. The addition of oatmeal gives these biscuits an earthy, slightly nutty flavor. These cookie-like crackers are crunchy and have a lightly sweet taste. This makes them a perfect partner for the cheddar, spicy Italian meats, and apricot preserves. For my guests who prefer more traditional flavors, I also served buttery round crackers in a lined basket – along with a squeeze bottle of spicy mustard. That way, all of my guests could enjoy their favorite flavor profiles. Cheese boards are excellent for prompting mingling. As your guests gather around the cheese board, they'll inevitably compare tasting notes! My favorite pairing was to place a slice of salami on one of the oaten biscuits, then top with a slice of the Alpine Cheddar and a bit of the apricot jam.
    The final step is to select the perfect wine and/or beer pairings to enhance your cheddar cheese board. If you're like me and find selecting the best pairings a bit challenging, check out Cabot's handy online pairings chartWith my cheddar cheese board tips, you’re ready to assemble a fun and flavorful cheese board for your next football-watching party!  

    Disclosure: Cabot, Applegate, and Walkers provided me with products to facilitate inclusion in this article. All opinions expressed are my own.

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