The Weekend Gourmet F

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.

    Sunday, September 28, 2014

    Wendy's Favorite Things for September!

    For this month's edition of Wendy's Favorite Things, I'm sharing some of the best food and kitchen items that I've discovered over the past few weeks. I'm sharing a trio of great on-the-go snack options for you -- along with a fabulous condiment, low-sugar beverage, gourmet jams, and a pair of fabulous kitchen helpers. So...let's get started!!

    (1) Not Ketchup. I first tasted Not Ketchup at the Food & Wine Conference in July. I went nuts for Erika Kerekes' line of fruit-based dipping sauces that contain no processed sugar, no artificial flavors or colors, and no preservatives. Not Ketchup is a tangy gourmet dipping sauce made with ripe seasonal fruit instead of tomatoes. Not Ketchup isn't sweet, though. Thanks to the addition of cider vinegar and savory spices, Not Ketchup is tangy like ketchup -- with a fruity twist. This versatile sauce comes in four flavors: Cherry Chipotle, Blueberry White Pepper, Smoky Date, and Spiced Fig. I love using the Spiced Fig to dress up simple grilled chicken sandwiches. I brush some of the Not Ketchup on the chicken as it grills, then spread more on the bun before serving. I'm not the only one who's gone nuts for Erika's sauces -- Not Ketchup is a finalist in the Martha Stewart 2014 American Made Awards!! Not Ketchup can be ordered via their online store. It can also be found at select retail locations.

    (2) Strong & KIND Bars. The makers of KIND Bars recently introduced Strong & KIND, a line of savory bars to their lineup of fruit-based bars. These savory and spicy bars feature bold flavors, as well as 1o grams of protein. Check out these flavors: Hickory Smoked, Thai Sweet Chili, Honey Smoked BBQ, Honey Mustard, and Roasted Jalapeño. Strong & KIND bars are 22% protein and contain a combination of nuts, legumes, and seeds. These tasty and healthy ingredients include almonds, pumpkin and hemp seeds, pea crisps, and bold spices. I love to keep one of these bars in my bag for an after-work snack that keeps me going until dinner. The bold flavors make these bars guy-friendly too! All of the flavors are great, but I especially love the Roasted Jalapeño -- it's not overly spicy, but it packs a big flavor punch. To find Strong & KIND Bars near you, check out their convenient Store Locator. If no stores near you carry these bars, they can also be ordered online.

    (3) Twistos Baked Snack Bites. With football season here, I'm always on the lookout for new game day snacks. I recently discovered Frito-Lay's new Twistos Baked Snack Bites, and they were a big hit with everyone who tasted them! They come in three flavorful varieties: Parmesan & Garlic, Bruschetta, and Asiago. Unlike chips, Twistos are baked until they're light and crispy -- and they're not at all greasy. I served two kinds of Twistos with paired dippers, and they were a big hit. I served the Asiago flavor with garlic hummus, and I paired the Parmesan & Garlic with a store-boght soft garlic & herb spreadable cheese. The Twistos were sturdy enough for dipping, and they are a perfect bite-sized treat. I also love to use the Bruschetta flavor as a crouton in my Caesar salads!


    (4) The Royal Gourmet Jams, Marmalade, and Preserves. This line of small-batch artisan jams is made in Florida, and they offer a wide variety of creative flavors based on seasonal Florida-grown fruits. The Royal Gourmet's all-natural products feature intense fruit flavors -- and they don't contain corn syrup, additives, preservatives, or artificial colorings and flavors. What I especially love is that they offer unique flavors that I don't normally see, including Brandied Blueberry Jam and Balsamic Strawberry Jam. My personal favorite is the sweetly tart, smooth Guava Marmalade. I first tasted guava a couple of years ago and quickly fell for its intensely tart flavor. This marmalade is a great balance of sweet and tart. I especially love to toast a bagel, then top it with cream cheese and some of this Guava Marmalade -- so indulgent! The Royal Gourmet products can be ordered online at the company's website.

    Friday, September 26, 2014

    The Most Sophisticated, Versatile of Gift Ideas? Wine It Is!

    Today, I'm sharing a guest post that offers helpful information about gift-giving for wine lovers. With the holidays right around the corner, this handy gift guide will help you discover unique ideas for the wine lovers on your shopping list! 

    "In vino verities," goes the famous Latin proverb – and the truth in wine will definitely reveal just how much thought and time you invested into choosing an appropriate oenological gift for the people in your life with an appreciation for viticulture and its aromatic products. The good news is that wine gifts are an endlessly creative category, and -- while certainly limited by budget and local availability -- a unique, tailor-made gift can be curated with good planning and strategic wine shop research. Depending on the occasion, a single bottle of the right wine can be a gift on its own. Be sure to do your homework, and make the recipient feel special by telling them the story behind the particular wine you selected. The eventual tasting will be immensely more appreciated once everyone involved knows how special or exclusive that precious liquid is.

    A nice recommendation would be to think outside of the wine box, and look for importers and distributors of the more exotic wine regions. You'll definitely impress a wine-loving friend if you produce a bottle coming all the way from Georgia, the oldest wine growing location in the world. Tell the story of the 7000-year long oenology tradition and the unique ancient fermenting technology in quevri -- huge clay jars buried in the ground for temperature control. Georgians even invented the word gvino being the etymological source of wine. Wines from this stunningly beautiful country are made in an artisanal, natural way and are consequently among the purest wines in the world. You can't go wrong with semi-sweet gems, like Khvanchkara or the popular Kindzmarauli.

    How about giving a bottle of the wine that was served to the Austro-Hungarian empress and her Vienna court entourage, but also found in the wreckage of the Titanic? Track a local wine dealer who can procure Bermet, the spice and herb-infused dessert wine produced in no more than 20k bottles a year in Sremski, Karlovci, and the surrounding monasteries of Fruska Gora mountain in the northern region of Serbia. Bermet's aphrodisiac properties make it a very special Valentine's gift! 



    Speaking of sweet wines, they are traditionally considered a feminine drink, but it's also worth knowing what foods to pair them with to make an irresistible gift set. Pair a bottle of sweet wine with a nice selection of blue and harder cheeses. Sweet oxidative wines like Andalusian Pedro Ximinez or Muscatel -- as well as Sauternes, Port, vintage champagne, and sweet Riesling -- will balance the saltiness of parmigiano reggiano, pecorino, cheshire, stilton, roquefort, and gorgonzola in your gift-packed cheese selection plate. Add fruit and nuts not only for their decorative value, but for bringing the best flavor from the cheese and wine tasting experience. 

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