Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Wendy's Great Eight for August 2018 #WendyFaveThings #greateight #tryit

Summer is speeding right by -- hard to believe that it's nearly time for back to school. It's also time for another exciting edition of Wendy's Great Eight! This month, I'm featuring my new favorite health food finds, snacks that are perfect for packing in those back-to-school lunches, and a great way to get a quick coffee fix. Let's get started!

(1) International Delight Ready-to-Drink Iced Coffee. One of my favorite indulgences this Summer is iced coffee. Lightly sweet, cooling, and caffeinated...it's a perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a hot Texas afternoon! I was thrilled to discover International Delight's easy-to-drink iced coffee in the refrigerated section of my local grocery store. It couldn't be more convenient -- simply pour the coffee over ice and drink! International Delight Ready-to-drink ice coffee is made with coffee, a bit of pure cane sugar, plus real milk and cream. It comes in four great flavors: chocolaty Mocha, smooth Caramel Macchiato, creamy Vanilla, and fun Oreo (their latest flavor!). My favorite flavor is the Caramel Macchiato -- the ratio of coffee to cream is spot on. Each 8-ounce serving is 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. I typically add a bit of vanilla almond milk and one packet of stevia-monkfruit sweetener to suit my tastes. To save a few calories, International Delight also offers 90-calorie Iced Coffee Lights in Caramel Macchiato and Mocha flavors. To find International Delight Ready-to-Drink iced coffee at a retailer near you, be sure to check out their handy online store locator -- which is searchable by product.

(2) Hammond Chocolate Bars. Over the past few months, I've made some big changes to the way I eat. I've been focusing on eating less sugar and better carbs. However, I always include one or two treats each week to keep things fun -- typically a bit of chocolate! One of my favorite recent discoveries is Hammond's line of creative and delicious chocolate bars. Their fun flavors include Midnight Snack (milk with pretzels, cookies, brittle, marshmallows, and cereal); Grasshopper Pie (dark with a minty filling); and Bourbon Pecan Pie (milk filled with a decadent bourbon pecan caramel). My personal favorite Hammond chocolate bar is their addicting sweet-salty Pigs n' Taters -- milk chocolate with pieces of real bacon and potato chips! If you're a fan sweetly salty treats, this chocolate bar will blow your mind! Silk milk chocolate is studded with bits of crunchy-salty potato chips and crispy-savory bacon! To find Hammond's products near you, check out their searchable Where to Buy function. Hammond also has an online store that offers nationwide delivery.

(3) Simply7 Snacks. There's something that is so satisfying about eating crunchy snacks -- they're perfect for dipping, snacking, and pairing with sandwiches. The key is to make wiser choices. This Summer, I've been enjoying Simply7 snacks made with quinoa, hummus, lentils, kale, and organic veggies. This Houston-based company makes their yummy gluten-free snacks using clean and simple non-GMO ingredients, zero added preservatives, no trans fat or cholesterol. I love that these snacks are not only a healthier option...but they taste great too! My favorite Simply7 varieties are the light and crispy Cheddar quinoa chips (1 ounce is 140 calories and 6 grams of fat) and the spicy Jalapeno Lentil Chips (40% less fat than traditional potato chips!). Love popcorn? Simply7 has recently teamed with Giada De Laurentiis to create a line of popcorn from blue and red corn that's simply flavored with Italian-sourced ingredients. To locate Simply7's snacks and popcorn near you, visit the Store Locator at their website.

(4) Laughing Cow Cheese Cups. I love Laughing Cow cheese -- until recently, you'd find a round package of their creamy cheese wedges in my fridge nearly all of the time. However, I've found a new way to enjoy this favorite food item: in convenient single-serving Cheese Cups! This fun product comes in three flavors: Original Creamy Swiss, Creamy Swiss Garlic & Herb, and Creamy White Cheddar. Each single-serve cup contains 90-1oo calories and 4-5 grams of protein. These convenient portion-controlled cups are portable -- making them perfect for school lunches or work brown bags. They're great with pretzels, and I add them to my morning egg scrambles -- they melt in, providing pockets of melty cheese goodness! Want to find this product near you? Visit their online Product Locator, which is searchable by specific Laughing Cow product.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Texas BBQ Weekend Road Trip Part 2 #WGTravel #texasbbq

Earlier this year, The Weekend Gourmet team went on a three-day weekend road trip to check out six of the highest rated BBQ joints in Texas. It was a fun, delicious weekend -- my first official trip after completing inpatient stroke rehab. When selecting BBQ joints to feature, we opted to feature up-and-coming places; an area of the state we don't typically visit; and a legendary BBQ restaurant that's a cornerstone of the Texas BBQ scene. Our route took us from San Antonio to east of Austin...to Longview and Tyler in East Texas...and back to Austin. In a state as big as Texas -- where BBQ is revered and loyalties run deep -- narrowing our list of places to feature was very difficult. After a lot of online research, we narrowed our list to six of Texas Monthly's 2017 Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas List honorees: San Antonio's 2M Smokehouse, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly in Longview, Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q in Tyler, and Austin's Micklethwait Craft Meats and  la BARBECUE. Part 1 of this feature share our visits to 2M, Louie Mueller, and Bodacious on Mobberly. Today I'm sharing our experiences at Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, Micklethwait Craft Meats and la BARBECUE in Austin, and our overnight stay at Austin's Lone Star Court boutique hotel.

When I last left our story off, we had just eaten some amazing BBQ at Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly in Longview. From Longview, we made the easy 45-minute drive to Tyler to sample the BBQ at Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, which has been serving delicious BBQ for FIVE DECADES! We arrived and quickly discovered that Stanley's is comprised of two areas. The main building is where hungry customers order their food, and there are also a few dining tables. Stanley's also has a large partially enclosed patio deck outside that features live music and a bar. The patio deck was the perfect setting to listen to some live music...and enjoy some delicious smoked meat and a pair of very creative BBQ sandwiches.
Stanley Famous Pit Bar-B-Q owner and Pitmaster Nick Pencis warmly welcomed, showed us to our picnic-style table, and chatted with us for a bit. He left us to enjoy the music, then returned with a tray of smoked meat that included brisket, pork tenderloin, sausage, turkey breast, and pork ribs. The meat was served with traditional BBQ fixings of bread, onion, pickles, and jalapenos. Everything was expertly prepared and delicious -- but my personal favorite was the not-often-seen smoked pork tenderloin. It was supremely and juicy! The jalapeno cheese sausage was lightly spicy and had multiple pockets of melty cheese.
Stanley's also offers a number of unique BBQ sandwiches on its menu, so we were excited to try a pair of them. The Super Deluxe featured cheese, a hot link of sausage, a generous amount of chopped brisket, and BBQ sauce -- served on a house-made jalapeno-cheese sourdough bun. Talk about an explosion of flavor! The smoky meat and tangy BBQ sauce paired perfectly with the mildly spicy bun. Y'all...this one's a WINNER!
The second sandwich in our handheld duo was the Shrove, with a fried egg added to up the wow factor! This delicious sandwich featured grilled ham, BBQ sauce, cheese, chopped brisket -- and an over easy fried egg. We simply couldn't resist smashing the sandwich to see the yolk run down the sandwich before taking a bite!

Stanley's has a couple of features that distinguish their menu from typical Texas BBQ joints. First, they offer breakfast weekdays from 700 - 1000 AM. They also offer a vegetarian taco option to ensure everyone can find something on the menu to eat. Owner Nick Pencis was a friendly, welcoming host -- he even posed with The Weekend Gourmet team for a quick selfie wibefore we said goodbye.
Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Q is located at 525 S. Beckham Avenue in Tyler. They're closed on Sundays, but serve breakfast Monday thru Friday 7:00 – 10:00 AM. Lunch and dinner are served Monday thru Saturday from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM. On Fridays, Stanley's is open until midnight for your late-night BBQ fix needs! Bellies full, we loaded into our car for the 4-hour drive to Austin for the final leg of our weekend BBQ adventure. 

***BONUS Tip*** Slovacek's is a perfect pit stop for Texas road trips that travel through the tiny town of West on I-35. Inside is a meat market that features house-made sausages and other meats...and a fantastic bakery known for its amazing kolaches! For those unfamiliar with the kolache(pronounced ko-LOCH-ee), the Czech pastry features sweet or savory items rolled in or topping a sweet yeast dough. We ALWAYS stop at Slovacek's when we have the opportunity to grab a couple of kolaches and stretch our legs. This trip was no exception!
After our pit stop at Slovacek's, it was time for the final leg of our journey to Austin. We arrived at Lone Star Court hotel -- our home base for Saturday night -- just as the Sun was setting. This boutique hotel property is conveniently located at The Domain shopping and entertainment district. The hotel has a vibe that is retro, while offering plenty of modern amenities that today's travelers enjoy. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Weekend Gourmet Recipe Do-Over: Cajun Baked Shrimp and Corn Dip #dip #spicy #shrimp #corn

I love appetizers...especially crunchy chips and creamy dips! Two Summers ago, I created a creamy dip that feature two seasonal ingredients: sweet corn and shrimp! I remembered a baked shrimp and corn dip that I had seen at the Tabasco website, so I used it as the inspiration to create my lightly spicy Cajun Baked Shrimp and Corn Dip. This Summer, I've made a few tweaks to make this dip more aligned with some of the healthier eating habits I've recently incorporated into my cooking. The good news is that the flavor and texture of this dip is so decadent no one will guess you're using ingredients with less fat and calories.

This hearty, big-flavor dip is assembled and baked in the same cast-iron skillet, which streamlines prep and cleanup. The dip features a creamy base that's accented with sweet corn kernels, plump shrimp, green onions, finely chopped celery, Cajun spices, and a bit of highly flavored sharp cheddar cheese. It's hard to stop eating this dip once you start dipping crispy tortilla chips into it. This dip is perfect to take to parties even after Summer is over -- we love to eat it when watching football games in the Fall too

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Texas BBQ Weekend Road Trip Part 1 #WGTravel #texasbbq

Earlier this year, The Weekend Gourmet's four-person team hit the road to check out six of the Texas' highest-rated BBQ joints. It was a smoky, delicious weekend -- my first official trip after coming home from stroke rehab. Planning the trip was actually part of my occupational therapy during the final weeks of my inpatient rehab! When selecting which BBQ joints to feature, we decided to focus on newer, up-and-coming places; an area of the state we don't typically visit; and a legendary BBQ restaurant that's a cornerstone of the Texas BBQ scene. Our three-day weekend route took us from San Antonio to east of Austin...to Longview and Tyler in East Texas...and back to Austin. In a state as big as Texas...where BBQ is revered...narrowing our list of places to feature was tough. After a lot of research, we narrowed our list to six of Texas Monthly's 2017 Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas List honorees: San Antonio's 2M Smokehouse, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly in Longview, Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ in Tyler, and Austin's Micklethwait Craft Meats and  la BARBECUE. Part 1 of this two-part article will share our experiences at 2M, Louie Mueller, and Bodacious on Mobberly. 

To say that us Texans take our BBQ seriously would be an understatement! Everybody has their favorite BBQ joints...and there's plenty of debate from loyalists about whose BBQ is THE best. Smoked low and slow...with vinegar-based sauce served on the side...the meat is the focus here in Texas! The typical Texas trifecta is brisket, ribs -- pork and beef varieties -- and robustly seasoned sausage. You'll also find turkey breast, chicken, and pork butt on many menus too. Until recently, sides were more of an afterthought at many Texas BBQ joints...but the recent Texas BBQ explosion has brought a new generation of locations that offers sides like cheese grits, creative potato salads, and decadent desserts other than the requisite fruit cobbler and Blue Bell ice cream. It's truly a great time to be a BBQ lover in Texas, so we set out to try some of the best BBQ our home state had to offer!

The first stop on our weekend BBQ tour was Friday, right here on the Southeast side of San Antonio, at 2M Smokehouse. Opened in late 2016, word quickly spread that they were creating some amazing Texas BBQ...with a few unique menu twists. By Summer 2017, Texas Monthly magazine included 2M in its coveted Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas list. This was our first time to try 2M, and we were very impressed! We arrived 30 minutes before 2M opened for lunch so we could visit with Pit Master Esaul Ramos before he became busy with the lunch crowd lining up outside. We were warmly greeted by Esaul...then we filmed and photographed him in action slicing a variety of fresh-from-the-pit smoked meat for us to try !

Mercy! Can't you just smell the smoky goodness while watching that video?!?!? Esaul expertly sliced juicy smoked brisket and spice-rubbed turkey breast for us. We couldn't wait to get to our table and dig in!
In addition to slices of smoked brisket and turkey breast, Esaul added meaty pork spare ribs, brisket burnt ends, and 2M's uniquely delicious spicy smoked sausage flavored with Oaxaca cheese and poblano peppers. The brisket and turkey were smoky and moist, with the perfect amount of spice/bark on the outside. The ribs were slightly sweet and fall-off-the-bone tender...and the sausage? It had a nice snap, pockets of melty cheese, and a nicely controlled level of heat. They also offer diners fresh flour tortillas to make BBQ tacos.

2M Smokehouse also offers a lineup of made-from-scratch side dishes. We tried the decadent Chicharoni Macaroni and Cheese, creamy potato salad, tangy cole slaw, and spicy borracho beans. This is definitely Texas BBQ with a delicious Tex Mex accent! Our favorite side was the mac and cheese -- the crispy crumbled topping was a nice contrast to the rich, creamy cheese sauce.

2M Smokehouse is located at 2731 South WW White Rd. in San Antonio. They are open Wednesday through Sunday 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM -- or until sold out. 2M is quite popular, so expect to find a long line outside the door nearly every day. On Thursday and Friday, 2M offers a $7 lunch special that includes a chopped brisket sandwich and a fountain drink. In addition to their regular menu, 2M offers big beef ribs on Saturdays...and barbacoa is served the first Sunday of every month.

From 2M, we hopped in our rental SUV to digest during the 2.5-hour drive to iconic Texas BBQ joint Louie Mueller Barbecue aka The Cathedral of Smoke. Louie Muller Barbecue is located in Taylor, a town of 13,ooo residents located about 30 minutes northeast of Austin. Louie Mueller opened the restaurant in 1949, and his son Bobby began operating it in 1974. Bobby’s son Wayne has owned Louie Mueller Barbecue and served as its Pit Master since 2008. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Wayne. He showed us to our table, then left to craft a customized sampler tray for us. 

We grabbed sodas and settled in for BBQ that's been considered among the very best in the state for decades! Wayne came to our table with a gorgeous tray overflowing with brisket, house-made sausage in beef and jalapeno beef, and a signature Colossal "Dino" Beef Rib. 
Rounding out our platter were traditional Texas BBQ accompaniments cheddar cheese, onion, and pickles...along with rolls to make sandwiches if we wanted to. The tray also included a trio of sides: beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. What happened next was a leisurely afternoon enjoying perfectly smoked meat and lively conversation about BBQ and life in general with Wayne Mueller. He was an excellent host, telling us about Louie Mueller's history, how they balance keeping decades-long traditions with offering what today's BBQ lover is seeking. All of their smoked meats were perfection...but we crowned the ginormous, succulent beef rib as our favorite menu item. As you can see, Michael tried (unsuccessfully, I might add...) to claim the massive rib all for himself. In all seriousness, this huge smoked beef rib can easily be shared between several hungry BBQ lovers. 

Louie Mueller Barbecue's smoky dining room features plenty of wooden picnic-style tables and smaller tables to accommodate parties of all sizes. The dining room is located on the former site of a basketball court -- and much of the original structure remains. It's very charming...and a key part of the restaurant's history.
After we finished eating, Wayne gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the large back area -- where the Louie Mueller Barbecue magic happens! We saw the large wood-burning smoker pit, as well as freshly smoked meats coming off the pit and ready to slice for hungry customers. Louie Muller Barbecue is located at 206 W Second St. in Taylor. They are open Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM, and 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM on Saturdays -- or until they sell out of BBQ. They are closed on Sunday. Don't live in Texas and want to try Louie Mueller's amazing BBQ? You're in luck! They ship their BBQ nationwide via Goldbelly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hamilton Beach Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker #Giveaway...Featuring Smoky Cheese Brocolli-Cauliflower Rice Soup #soup #entertowin #sponsored

I love being a Hamilton Beach Brand Ambassador -- because it gives me the opportunity to try out their amazing small kitchen appliances! This month, I've been having a great time using the versatile Hamilton Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker, From breakfast to dinner, the Hamilton Beach Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker lets me cook a wide range of foods! I can definitely use it to cook grains, hot cereals, and rice mix without boiling water or setting a timer. I simply add my ingredients to the cooker's nonstick pot, turn it on, and select the proper cook setting. Then I sit back and let the Hamilton Beach Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker cook it to perfection. An included 2-in-1 basket can be used to rinse rice or grains before cooking -- or it can be used to steam veggies or seafood. The cooker's delay start function allows me to plan ahead -- I can set oatmeal to cook before bed to save time and stress in the morning! The cooker automatically shifts to a Warm function once the cooking cycle is complete.

The Hamilton Beach Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker has six different cook settings, which takes the guesswork out of cooking
  • Hot Cereals: Make creamy oatmeal, grits, or Cream of Wheat® cereal with little prep using the Hot Cereals setting
  • Steam Cook: Cook healthy vegetables, meats, fish, and more to perfect tenderness with Steam Cook.
  • Rice & Grains: There are three different settings. White Rice, Quick Rice, and Whole Grain -- which lets you cook everything from a 10-minute batch of white rice to farro, quinoa, and other whole grains.
  • Heat/Simmer: Use the Heat/Simmer function to make flavored pasta and rice mixes, beans, soups, and other one-pot meals.
I used the Hamilton Beach Rice & Hot Cereal Cooker's Heat/Simmer function and handy steamer basket to cook my Smoky Cheesy Broccoli-Cauliflower Rice Soup! From sautéing the onion and celery...to steaming the broccoli and cauliflower...to simmering the soup to creamy perfection...the cooker made a perfect pot of soup. I love eating soup all year long -- even in Summer. I especially loved that making this hearty soup didn't heat up my kitchen at all. Everyone in my family went crazy for this soup, which was ready to eat in less than 45 minutes -- most of that hands-off simmering.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Wendy's Great Eight for July 2018 #WendyGreatEight #tryityourself #myfaveproducts

June was a very hectic month at Casa Garcia! My post-stroke speech therapy was 3x per week, our teenage niece visited us from out of state for a few days, and we enjoyed a fun road trip to Memphis. That meant I didn't get to post much around here over the past few weeks...but I had a great time enjoying life's blessings! I'm back and planning some really fun posts this month-- starting with my Wendy's Great Eight column. I'm featuring some of my favorite healthier food options that help me eat better...and also taste fantastic. I can't wait to share my latest discoveries with you!!!

(1) Yasso Frozen Yogurt Bars and Pints. July is National Ice Cream Month! That's a holiday that I can definitely get behind, but most premium ice creams have large amounts of fat and sugar. I recently tried Yasso Frozen Yogurt Bars and Pints, and they're delicious! Made with Greek yogurt, Yasso frozen desserts are big on flavor. However, they're low in fat and calories! With fun bar flavors like Mint Chocolate Chip, Fudge Brownie, and Sea Salt Caramel (!!!)...and pint flavors like Loco Coco Caramel and Chocolate PB & Yay...you definitely do *not* sacrifice fun flavors by eating Yasso! Their creamy, portion controlled Frozen Yogurt Bars average 100 calories each, with 5 grams of protein, no more than 4 grams of fat -- most flavors have 2 grams or less of fat -- and no sugar alcohols. Pints contain four 1/2-cup servings with no more than 150 calories and have 5-7 grams of protein. We found that for the pints to reach prime eating consistency, it worked best to take them out of the freezer to soften for 10-15 minutes before we were ready to eat them. To find Yasso Greek yogurt bars and pints -- by specific flavor -- near you, be sure to check out their handy online store locator.

(2) Fresh Express Saute Kits. One of the biggest dietary changes we've made this year is to eat a vegetarian diet 1-to-2 days per week, as well as eating more veggies every day. I've not always been a fan of green leafy vegetables, but I was recently introduced to tasty Fresh Express ready-to-cook saute kits. I'm officially a convert! This quartet of bagged side dishes includes a variety of leafy greens; additional veggies like carrots, broccoli, and shaved Brussels sprouts; crispy accompaniments; and tasty sauces. Everything you need is washed, chopped, and ready to use...so it literally takes 5 minutes to prepare with a bit of oil and a non-stick skillet. Flavors include Bacon & Cider Greens, Tuscan Kale Saute, Teriyaki Bok Choy, and Lemon Garlic Spinach. The flavors are robust, and add-ins like bacon pieces and crispy onions add flavor and texture. All four flavors are totally delicious, but our favorite is the Bacon & Cider Greens. The kit includes shaved Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and baby bok choy and kale. After a quick saute, it's tossed in tangy apple cider vinaigrette and topped with honey roasted soy nuts, crumbled bacon, and crispy onions. Add grilled chicken breast and steamed brown rice, and dinner's ready in no time! To find Fresh Express products in the Produce department of a grocery store near you, be sure to check out their Where to Find Us tool.

(3) Kween Granola Butter. Let me introduce you to a crazy good product that needs to be on your foodie radar: granola butter. Imagine all of your favorite granola flavors like oatmeal, cinnamon, and coconut in a spreadable form! Original Granola Butter is vegan, low in sugar, and gluten free. Kween's Granola Butter is made with gluten free oats, flax, olive and coconut oil, maple syrup, and a bit of salt and spices. It also comes in Original with Collagen. Each 2-tbs. serving of Original Granola Butter contains 4g of protein (the Collagen variety contains 7 grams of protein) -- with less than 3 grams of sugar. Honestly, I ate most of my two jars of Granola Butter straight from the jar with a spoon as a quick post-gym pick-me-up. That said, I also enjoyed it spread on slices of apple...and as a smoothie add-in. Granola Butter can be ordered direct from Kween's convenient online Shop. Orders of $20 or more include free shipping!

(4) Maxine's Heavenly Cookies. I was recently introduced to delicious Maxine's Heavenly Cookies. I was thrilled to discover they are made from nutritious, wholesome ingredients! Maxine's cookies come in four great flavors: Chocolate Chocolate Chunk, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk (my personal favorite!), Almond Chocolate Chunk, and Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin. Each flavor is made with gluten free oatmeal, brown rice flower, palm fruit oil, and flaxseed and sunflower lecithin "eggs." The subtly sweet cookies are sweetened with coconut palm sugar. These ingredients mean Maxine's Heavenly Cookies are perfect for those following a gluten free or vegan eating plan. I love it when a product tastes great AND is healthy too! I have given these cookies to friends and family to taste -- without mentioning their healthy ingredients first -- and everyone immediately LOVES them! To order Maxine's Heavenly Cookies, be sure check out their easy-to-navigate online store. Currently, orders of $40 or more include free shipping!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Texas-Oklahoma Road Trip Part 3: Denton, Texas #TXOKRoadtrip2018 #discoverdenton

I recently shared the Oklahoma portion of our #TXOKRoadtrip2018 adventure with you -- sharing all of the excitement of our 24 hours in Tulsa to catch the opening show of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour, then 24 hours exploring Oklahoma City. We explored both cities' food scenes, as well as local attractions. After leaving OKC, we decided to spend an evening in Denton, Texas en route home to San Antonio. Our stay in Denton was hosted at Embassy Suites by Hilton™ and the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau. Embassy Suites offers its guests a lot of bang for their buck, with tons of great included amenities to make your stay a pleasant one.

Photo provided by Embassy Suites
We arrived in Denton early evening on the Friday of our road trip. We self parked our rental car at the new Embassy Suites Denton Convention Center and made our way inside. The hotel opened in January of this year, and it's absolutely gorgeous! The lobby is spacious and full of light, and the decor is colorful and modern. After checking in, we made our way to our spacious upgraded Premium Suite. The layout featured a mini kitchen, a table that was perfect for in-room dining or working, a living area with a comfy couch, and a sleeping area with a King bed and flat-screen television. Like all Embassy Premium Suites, we received free in-suite WiFi; a Keurig coffee maker and a variety of K-Cups; and complimentary snacks, sodas, and water. Those little touches made our stay especially pleasant, because we were starting to be tired as we neared the end of our 6-day road trip adventure.  

This new hotel property also offers guests a number of cool technological innovations -- including Bluetooth capability and speakers built into the bathroom mirror! I absolutely loved being able to listen to my favorite music via the Sirius XM app while I showered before bed and got ready the next morning. Connecting my iPhone to the Bluetooth was super easy, and the sound quality of the speakers was great. For music lovers, this feature will certainly be a highlight of their stay. As the video below shows, our stay at Embassy Suites Denton Convention Center was wonderful from start to finish!

There is a Houlihan's restaurant location on the hotel's first floor, which makes grabbing a delicious meal very convenient -- they even offer room service daily from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM! Since our time in Denton was brief, we decided to hop in our rental and explore the neighborhood surrounding the hotel and grab something quick from a drive-through. We quickly discovered the area around the hotel has developed exponentially since we last visited Denton a couple of years ago. The area around the Embassy Suites has tons of new restaurants and retail stores, making it easy to grab a meal or pick up anything you may have forgotten to pack within minutes of the hotel. For movie lovers, an Alamo Drafthouse theater location recently opened directly in front of the hotel. That means hotel guests can grab dinner at Houlihan's, then catch a movie less than a mile from their hotel room!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Texas-Oklahoma Roadtrip Part 2: Oklahoma City #TXOKRoadtrip2018 #OKC

I recently shared the first leg of our #TXOKRoadtrip2018 adventure with you, sharing all of the excitement of our 24 hours in Tulsa to catch the opening show of U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour. We spent extra time in Tulsa before and after the show to explore the city's food scene and visit a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Gilcrease Museum. For our trip back to San Antonio, we opted to take two days to drive home...spending time in Oklahoma City and Denton, Texas en route. We had never been to Oklahoma City before -- so we spent 24 hours exploring the city. Our stays in both cities were hosted at Embassy Suites by Hilton™ locations. This was our first experience with the Embassy Suites brand, and both of our stays were fabulous! Embassy Suites offers guests a lot of bang for their buck, with lots of great included amenities to make your stay a pleasant one.

We arrived in Oklahoma City (aka OKC) late afternoon on the Thursday of our road trip. We self parked our rental car at Embassy Suites Oklahoma City Downtown Medical Center. The check-in process was quick and easy, and we were shown to our upgraded Premium Suite. The modern suite featured a living room, separate bedroom with King bed, a large bathroom, and a mini kitchen. Premium Suites come with a variety of upgraded amenities, including complimentary in-suite WiFi, a Keurig coffee machine with an assortment of K-Cups, and a basket of complimentary snacks and chilled non-alcoholic beverages. All stays at Embassy Suites also include complimentary Happy Hour appetizers and beverages every evening...as well as made-to-order breakfast with hot and cold items. As this video shows, we thoroughly enjoyed our overnight stay at Embassy Suites!

After we settled in a bit, it was time for a late dinner at Mickey Mantles Steakhouse in OKC's Bricktown dining and entertainment district. The area is home to 45+ restaurants, bars, and shops -- along with family-friendly attractions, museums, the Bricktown Canal, a minor league baseball park, and Chesapeake Energy Arena (home of the NBA's OKC Thunder). Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse is named after baseball legend and Oklahoma-born Mickey Mantle. This fine-dining steakhouse offers a wide range of beef and seafood specialties -- along with memorabilia from Mantle's legendary New York Yankees career wearing uniform #7. The restaurant's atmosphere is upscale and elegant, and the service is superb!

We found a free parking on the street just outside the restaurant, but valet parking is also available. We stepped inside and were warmly greeted and shown to our table. Our server came to our table shortly after we were seated to help us navigate the restaurant's extensive menu. We decided to start our meal sharing the Chef's Seafood Appetizer. This sampler was comprised of tender fried calamari with marinara for dipping, crab claws in lemon butter, and jumbo shrimp topped with a tangy tequila-lime sauce. The seafood was very fresh and expertly prepared. The calamari was crispy without being greasy, and the crab and shrimp were sweet and plump. Our meal was off to a fabulous start!
For our entrees, we chose a pair of items from Mickey Mantles' impressive steak menu. Michael selected the bone-in filet mignon topped with black truffle-infused salt -- which was served with garlicky mashed potatoes. I opted for the Tenderloin Tips Trio, which was the perfect way to try three of the restaurant's signature sauces: Béarnaise, Cognac Pepper, and Roquefort. All three sauces offered the big flavors that I love!
To accompany our entrees, we shared two side dishes -- a classic wedge salad...and swoon-worthy mac 'n cheese with crab and pancetta. The salad was crisp and fresh, with the perfect amount of creamy-chunky blue cheese dressing. The mac 'n cheese was downright addicting -- with savory pancetta, generous lumps of sweet crab, and a crispy topping. This side could easily be a meal of its own paired with a salad.
We were feeling pretty full after enjoying our perfectly cooked steaks and sides, but our server suggested that we split one dessert from their menu...the decadent Chocolate Tres Leche Cake. After hearing about this amazing cake, it didn't take any arm twisting for us to agree to share a slice!
The cake featured multiple layers of moist chocolate cake and rich fudge icing. It was served in a pool of sweet, creamy tres lech sauce -- along with fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. This heavenly cake is very rich, making it perfect for sharing to cap off a delicious steak dinner. With that, our steak dinner at Mickey Mantles Steakhouse was complete. We stopped to admire some of #7's sports memorabilia in a large case near the entrance before walking back to our car. The Embassy Suites was a short 5-minute drive from the restaurant -- talk about convenient! We returned to our room and immediately fell into the comfy King bed for some much-needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up and enjoyed breakfast just off the hotel's lobby. With both hot and cold options to choose from, there was plenty to keep us both happy. We enjoyed made-to-order omelettes, customized oatmeal bowls, fresh fruit, and pastries. A day of exploring requires a hearty breakfast, so having this meal included in our Embassy Suites stay was very convenient!
We had a few hours to explore OKC before hitting the road for Denton, so we visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum that morning. The memorial honors those killed and injured in th1995 bombing that shocked the entire nation. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial was dedicated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, on the fifth anniversary of the bombing. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial is located where the Murrah Building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated during the attack. The memorial is open to the public at no charge, but there is a charge to visit the adjacent museum.
While we were visiting, park rangers gave a presentation to tell visitors about the bombing and its impact on the city. They also explained this significance of the memorial's key design elements:

Gates of Time: These twin gates frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 a.m. The East Gate represents 9:01 a.m. on April 19th, and the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate represents 9:03 a.m., the minute after the bombing.

Reflecting Pool: Shallow water helps soothe wounds, with calming sounds providing a peaceful setting for quiet personal reflection. 

Field of Empty Chairs: A total of 168 chairs represent the lives lost on April 19, 1995. The chairs are placed in nine rows to represent each floor of the building, and each chair contains the name of someone who was killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs represent the children who lost their lives that day. The field is located on the footprint of the former Murrah Building.

Survivor Wall: On the east end of the Memorial stands the only remaining walls from the Murrah Building. These walls are there to remind visitors of those who survived the terrorist attack. Today, more than 600 names are inscribed on salvaged pieces of granite from the Murrah Building lobby.
Much like visiting the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum is an emotionally moving site meant for reverence and quiet reflection. We did not have time to visit the adjacent museum this time, but we hope to do so on another visit.