Sunday, December 30, 2012

#SundaySupper Kicked-Up New Year's Potluck...Featuring Columbia Street Grinders from Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches Cookbook!

Sandwiches…who doesn’t love them? Little (…and not-so-little) kids love PB&J…and grown-ups love BLTs and chicken salad. Here’s the thing, though. Done incorrectly, a sandwich can be a little on the boring side...but done right? They are a thing of beauty. Emeril Lagasse is my kind of chef: he specializes in the big-flavor cooking that I crave. His latest cookbook is Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches. As part of this week’s New Year's Eve Potluck #SundaySupper Emeril Style, I was selected to receive a copy of this amazing book and share a recipe with you. What can I say? This book is AWESOME! I found so many recipes that I can’t wait to make! Check out these selections: French Bread Pizza Sandwiches with Hot Italian Sausage, Roast Beef "Debris" Po'Boy, and Chicken and Biscuits with Redeye Gravy. I'm going to have a blast cooking my way through this cookbook!

One recipe stood out as the perfect Texans football game-watching food, though: Columbia Street Grinder. This stuffed hoagie-style sandwich pairs crusty bread with tons of tasty deli meats and cheese, flavorful veggies, and a zingy herb-flavored balsamic vinaigrette. This sandwich is super-easy to assemble the morning of the big game, and you don't even have to fire up the oven. I followed the recipe exactly, with one small exception: since I'm making my sandwich for a party, I made two large sandwiches rather than four smaller ones. Then, when everyone’s ready to eat, they can simply slice off part of the sandwich and dig in. Men especially seem to love eating a meaty sub sandwich for some reason, so this one’s going to be a big hit at my house!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

King Ranch Chicken Soup...Featuring Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes

We have strange weather in Texas. One day last week, it was in the upper 70s…in December…really?!?!? It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit when you have to turn on the a/c in the car when you’re out running holiday errands! Then…like a light switch…a huge cold snap rolled through overnight, which meant instant Christmas spirit at Casa Garcia! I bought marshmallows for hot cocoa, we popped It’s a Wonderful Life into the blu-ray player…and I sprinted into the kitchen to whip up a big pot of soup for us to enjoy with our movie! My good friends at Red Gold Tomatoes recently sent me two cans of their crushed tomatoes to create a recipe with, and I had been saving it for the next round of soup weather. I wanted to make something that would warm us up and fill us up! I did exactly that with my original creation: King Ranch Chicken Soup. It has all the flavors of everyone’s favorite King Ranch Casserole…in a satisfying soup!

This hearty soup is flavored with Red Gold crushed tomatoes, onion, diced chicken breast, green chiles, half and half, and a generous helping of cheese. Confession: I can be a bit of a cheese purist, but sometimes good old Velveeta is exactly what a recipe needs. Don’t judge: this is one of those recipes, folks! I bought a package containing 2 cups shredded Velveeta -- it melted perfectly into the soup and gave it the smooth texture I was looking for. To thicken the soup to a chowder-like consistency, I whisked in some cream cheese at the end. Each bowl of soup is topped with crispy tortilla strips and festive “confetti” made from diced roma tomato, green onion, and avocado. Yeah…this soup is as good as you’re imagining!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Gift Baskets...Featuring HEB Primo Picks

The Texas-based HEB grocery store chain introduced a new line of Primo Picks products earlier this year. Primo Picks are items that are unique, tasty and cool products. You might not have heard of them before, but HEB has searched the globe to bring their customers these one-of-a-kind products. They're easy to spot in their stores, because all Primo Picks are tagged with the logo above next to the items on the shelves! This Fall, I began partnering with HEB to showcase one Primo Pick product each month. I use the product, share my thoughts with you, and feature an original recipe that I made using the Primo Pick as an ingredient. 

I've enjoyed all of the Primo Picks so far, and I'm very excited to try even more in the coming year! This week, my friends at HEB sent me a huge holiday gift basket that showcases the wide variety of Primo Picks that they offer in stores. Check out the wide array of goodies: everything from organic chocolate truffles to Shiner beer-infused borracho beans...and even non-food items like a cute red spatula and brightly colored measuring spoons from Cocinaware!
This basket was full of things I love...all arranged in a pretty box, enclosed in cellophane, and topped with a festive bow. Check out the wide array of items that they sent for me to try at my holiday celebrations this week! Crackers and olive tapenade, anyone...or how about whipping up a batch of Sea Salted Truffle Brownies? I'm thinking the Roasted Pineapple and Habanero Dip would be really good served over cream cheese for an easy Christmas appetizer!
I've already broken into the truffles, and they are an intense burst of chocolate decadent! The Cookwell & Company Agave-Dijon Glaze is already reserved for the wings I'm making for next week's Texans-Colts game. For my Texas readers, I hope you'll give some of these amazing Primo Picks a try the next time you go grocery of them is sure to add to your holiday festivities!

I hope that you have a fabulous Christmas week...Michael and I are headed to Houston this afternoon to celebrate with our families. I wish every single one of you a fabulous holiday filled with family and friends...lots of love...and lots of amazing food! I'll be back in San Antonio later this week, but I have a fabulous soup recipe scheduled to share with you later this week. If you like King Ranch Casserole, you'll go crazy for this soup...come by Wednesday for the recipe. In the meantime, Merry Christmas from all of us at The Weekend Gourmet: Wendy, Michael, Lucy Cat, and Maggie Kitten!

Disclosure: HEB sent me a Primo Picks gift basket to facilitate this post. All photos and opinions are mine alone.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frieda's Holiday Gourmet Box Giveaway...Featuring Cheesy Sausage-Mushroom Crepes

Earlier this year, I started a fantastic partnership with my friends at California-based Frieda’s Specialty Produce. Each month, they send me an item from their huge selection of produce -- like peppers, cherimoya, vanilla beans, or Meyer lemons. I share my thoughts and also feature a feature a recipe incorporating the product. I always look forward to receiving their package each month, because their quality is great -- and the foods are so much fun to work with! I also love having the chance to try new-to-me products like exotic and delicious cherimoyas. This month, Frieda’s sent me a fabulous Holiday Gourmet Box that’s chock-full of all kinds of fun goodies, including: dried cranberries, shallots, mulling spices, purple sweet potatoes, and crepes. The box also contained an adjustable measuring spoon, canvas tote, and spatula…all in Frieda’s signature purple color and featuring their logo.

I decided to use the French-style crepes to make a savory dish that’s equally good for breakfast, brunch, or even a light dinner. I love crepes, but I haven’t had consistent success making them from scratch. Frieda’s crepes are fresh-made and come refrigerated and ready to be filled with sweet or savory fillings.. They’re a real time saver too! I wanted to do something a bit different, so I tweaked a recipe I found online and have dubbed Cheesy Sausage-Mushroom Crepes. The savory filling is made with sage-infused bulk pork sausage, cream cheese, cheddar, and a few aromatic veggies and herbs. The filling comes together in about 15 minutes, and the crepes are rolled up and ready for a quick trip to the onion to heat through. While the crepes bake, you have a pocket of time to whip up a simple creamy sauce to spoon on top of each serving.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for December: Chart House at Tower of the Americas

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out December spotlight is Chart House at Tower of the Americas, a San Antonio landmark that provides a lot of bang for your buck! It features delicious food, but it also boasts stunning nighttime city views. This restaurant is perfect for anyone looking for a romantic evening or someplace to celebrate a special occasion. As you dine 75 stories above Downtown San Antonio, the lights are low, the food is upscale and delicious, and the nighttime city views are amazing! During the course of your meal, the restaurant rotates, giving you an ever-changing view of the city lights. The Chart House, which is part of the Landry's Restaurant Group, recently hosted Michael and I for dinner to enjoy many of their signature items – from cocktails and appetizers to dessert. Chart House is known for its excellent seafood and prime rib, and we tried many of their most popular menu items during our visit.

Chart House is located 75 stories atop Tower of the Americas,
on the 75th floor. The restaurant rotates as you eat,
providing AMAZING city views!
We arrived and immediately noticed how festively the Tower of Americas is lit for the holidays! The base was green, and the top was colored with bright primary colors. We checked in with a hostess inside the Tower of Americas lobby, then we took an outdoor elevator up to the restaurant. I’m a little afraid of heights, but even I was amazed by the views as we ascended up the side of the building! Once we arrived at the restaurant, we were warmly welcomed by the staff and quickly escorted to our beautiful window table. The lights were dim, and the atmosphere was sophisticated and elegant.

Cheers! Pomegranate martini and a
cucumber-infused cocktail.
We started out with cocktails – a sweetly tart pomegranate martini for me – while the chef prepared samplers of six different appetizers for us to try. One platter contained Calamari and Friends (fried calamari, jalapenos and sweet potato), Maple Glazed Quail, and Fried Asparagus that was topped with tomatoes and an addictive blue cheese butter. The other platter contained Crab Avocado & Mango Stack, Roasted Red Pepper and Edamame Hummus with Plantain Chips, and East Meets West Tuna. All of the appetizers were delicious, but our two favorites were the sweet-spicy quail and the fried asparagus. The quail was like eating an upscale version of chicken wings -- tender and so flavorful! The fried asparagus were perfectly crispy, and that blue cheese butter topping was totally addictive!

Appetizer Sampler #1 featured fried asparagus, sweet-spicy quail, and fried calamari.
Appetizer Sampler #2 featured a crab stack, edamame with plantain, and rare tuna with wasabi and wonton crisps.

While we waited for our entrees to arrive, we enjoyed a really nice Fall salad: Pear and Saga Salad. It contained baby greens, red onions, Bosc pears, tomatoes, Saga blue cheese, and glazed pecans. It had so much vibrant flavor going on. After we finished our salad, the table was cleared. We settled in to enjoy our entrees, which were paired with a really nice bottle of Spanish rioja, El Coto, Crianza. It paired very nicely with all of the entrees we sampled. 

A fabulous Fall salad flavored with Bosc pears and Saga blue cheese.
If you've never tried rioja, give this Spanish red wine a try!
Chef Nedra cooked a fabulous
meal for us...and came by so we
could snap a picture!

We enjoyed three different entree selections, courtesy of the talented Chef Nedra. First up was the Mixed Seafood Grill, which is a perfect way to try a variety of their grilled seafood items. The platter included garlicky shrimp scampi, a delicious lump crab cake, and salmon topped with citrus sauce.  We especially enjoyed the creamy citrus sauce with the salmon, as well as the perfectly made crab cake. We also tried a Chef Special that was created just for us: Seared Salmon with Avocado Pico de Gallo. The salmon was cooked perfectly, and the pico’s heat was balanced by the addition of a generous amount of creamy avocado. Our third entrée selection was a Surf and Turf Skewer: chunks of juicy prime rib, jumbo shrimp, and veggies. The meat was juicy and delicious, and the shrimp were sweet. The skewer was served over crispy fried potatoes. Chef Nedra came out from the kitchen several times to talk with us and see how we were enjoying the food. Not only is she a talented chef, she's very engaging and friendly!

Can't decide? Pick the Mixed Seafood Grill and try three fabulous grilled seafood dishes!
Seared salmon...served over rice and topped with avocado pico de gallo.
The best of BOTH worlds: Surf and Turf Skewer.

The view from our seats...the restaurant rotates around the city,
giving you an ever-changing view as you dine!
While we ate, we enjoyed fabulous views of San Antonio below! The festive holiday decorations on the Riverwalk made the view even more colorful and festive. There are fewer things better in life than dressing up a bit and enjoying  a special evening with that special someone…while drinking fabulous wine and eating some delicious food! Before we knew it, it was time for dessert. We shared two of their signature desserts items: Chart House Souffle with Raspberry Sauce and Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. The soufflé came out first, and it was amazing…light and fluffy, with an orange backnote from the addition of Grand Marnier. The raspberry sauce paired perfectly with the soufflé. After we finished the soufflé, out came the lava cake. OMG…this is one over-the-top dessert. I mean that in the best way possible! It was intense chocolate from Godiva liqueur, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream, and a garnish of Heath Bar crunch. We were getting pretty full by then, but we couldn’t stop eating this cake.

A classic dessert: souffle flavored with Grand Marnier and served with a
raspberry-infused sauce.
A very decadent dessert: Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. Perfect for sharing...

Check out that lovely view in the background!
The view is even prettier in person...
After dessert, we snapped a few more pictures of the restaurant and the views below. Then it was time to jump back into the elevator and head back downstairs. A quick note: parking outside Tower of the Americas is abundant and well lit. It is a paid parking lot, so make sure to bring a little bit of cash with you. Chart House at Tower of the Americas is a fabulous restaurant for holiday dining or any special occasions you have coming up. I think it's one of the most romantic places to dine in San Antonio. Not dining for two? No worries, the restaurant is family-friendly as well. The staff we met was all fabulous, including our server. He was very attentive and friendly, helping us pick selections from their extensive menu. As you can see from the smiles on our faces…and the beautiful San Antonio view behind us…we had a fabulous time! If you plan to dine at Chart House, reservations are recommended. Their reservation line is 210-223-3101.

Disclosure: Chart House provided us with a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. As always, the opinions expressed are my own. Photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia and may not be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

#SundaySupper Holiday Drinks & Appetizers...Featuring Baked Jalapeno Popper-Ranch Dip

Dear food-loving friends: I am posting today with a heavy heart for all the families in Connecticut who are dealing with the aftermath of this week's tragic and mind-numbing school shooting. I debated whether to post at all this weekend, but ultimately decided to move forward as planned. To me, food is the ultimate comforter and healer...and I strongly believe that fellowship with friends via this #SundaySupper event helps us all cope with the sorrow we are feeling. -- WWG 

This time of year is perfect for appetizers…between holiday parties and playoff football, it seems like I’m always on the lookout for new dips and finger foods to try. That’s why I was so eager to take part in this week’s #SundaySupper theme: Holiday Drinks & Appetizers! This week's event is hosted by Conni at Foodie Army Wife. I wanted to try something new for our Texans game-watching snacks last week, and I kept thinking back to all the Jalapeno Popper Dip recipes I had seen online over the past year or so. I wanted to put my own unique spin on it, so I put my thinking cap on. We always dip our jalapeno poppers in ranch dip when we eat out, so I decided to incorporate that flavor into my dip. 

My creation is Baked Jalapeno Popper-Ranch Dip. It’s got all the flavor of jalapeno poppers…without all the work of stuffing, breading, and frying. This time of year, I’ll take all the time savings I can get! The base of this dip is softened cream cheese and low-fat Greek yogurt. I incorporated a bit of dry ranch dressing mix into both the creamy base and the panko breadcrumbs on top. The ranch flavor wasn’t overwhelming, but you could definitely taste it. Everyone who tried it agreed that it tasted exactly like a crispy jalapeno popper dipped in ranch dressing. I served my dip with festive red & green holiday-themed tortilla chips, but toasted pita triangles would work nicely too. Wait until you see how easy this dip is to whip up!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Nolan Ryan Beef Holiday Giveaway...Featuring Balsamic-Red Wine Crockpot Beef Stew

Food-loving friends: I am posting today with a heavy heart for all the families in Connecticut who are dealing with the aftermath of yesterday's tragic and mind-numbing school shooting. I debated whether to do this post today, but ultimately decided to do so as planned. To me, food is the ultimate comforter and healer...and I strongly believe that fellowship with friends helps you get through the sad and stressful times. 

Consider today my early Christmas gift to you…I’ve got a fabulous and comforting beef stew recipe to share that cooks in the crockpot,  leaving you to take care of the gazillion holiday tasks on your to-do list. If that’s not enough to get your attention? I’ve also got a very special giveaway for you featuring Nolan Ryan Beef. If you love beef, this prize pack is right up your alley! More on the giveaway in just a bit – let’s talk about this fabulous beef stew first. Nolan Ryan Beef asked me to share a crockpot recipe with you using one of their cuts of 100% natural Texas beef. It was a chilly day, so beef stew seemed comforting and appropriate…but not just any beef stew. I wanted to make a stew that was just a bit different and had a rich depth of flavor. To do that, I tweaked a recipe that I found on Martha Stewart’s website.

I made a few strategic substitutions and additions to her intriguing Beef Stew…and came up with my personal spin: Balsamic-Red Wine Crockpot Beef Stew. I replaced the water that the recipe called for with a combination of red wine and beef broth for added depth of flavor. I also added mushrooms to her veggie selection and placed sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary on top just before putting on the lid. Finally, I added a cornstarch slurry before the final 30 minutes of cooking to thicken the stew a bit per our preference. My kitchen smelled amazing while this cooked…and I knew I had a winner of a stew on my hands! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Daily Buzz Food Taste Maker Outreach: Panera Bakery & Cafe Soup!

Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup was just the
thing I needed to warm up on a chilly afternoon!
On a chilly day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a warm bowl of soup. We finally received a proper cold front here in San Antonio over the weekend, so I was off in search of some soup to warm me up on a chilly afternoon! I had a gift card to enjoy some soup at Panera Bread courtesy of Daily Buzz Food's Taste Maker Outreach Program. I held onto the gift card…just waiting for soup weather to arrive. When it did, I hightailed it to my closest Panera Bakery & Cafe for lunch. Panera offers a wide range of hot soups every day, including classic flavors like French Onion and new favorites like Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable with Pesto. All of their soups begin with fresh, thoughtfully sourced ingredients and their “Good Goes In” philosophy of making soup the right way.  I love eating at Panera, and my standard You Pick 2 combo is a cup of their yummy Broccoli Cheddar soup paired with half of a Napa Almond Chicken Salad sandwich. This time, I took a slightly different approach and tried something new-to-me. 

My friendly server recommended I try the Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup coupled with the new Big Kid Grilled Cheese sandwich. That sounded like a winning combo, so I gave it a try…and I’m so glad I did. The tomato soup was warm and fresh-tasting…with chunks of tomatoes and just a touch of cream. It wasn’t too rich, but it wasn’t overly acidic either – it was a perfect balance. The portion size was nice as well…just enough to fill me up without being overly stuffed. Best of all, it came with some yummy croutons to sprinkle on top. The grilled cheese sandwich was majorly cheesy, with four kinds of cheese: gruyere, Vermont white cheddar, organic American, and Applewood smoked bacon.

My You Pick 2 combo: Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup and half of a
Big Kid Grilled Cheese sandwich...
The best way to end a yummy lunch!
Paired together, this soup and sandwich was a perfect lunchtime match. The portion size was just right for me...I was full, but not overly so. Once my croutons were gone from my soup, I got inventive. I dipped my sandwich into the soup with each bite. Amazing! Just for good measure, I added cookie to my order. Really…who can resist a fresh-baked cookie? Especially when it’s a seasonal selection like this gorgeous Red Velvet Crinkle. This cookie was moist and chewy…and full of white chocolate chips. It was the perfect ending to my comforting lunch! The next time you get the urge for some comforting, delicious soup, pop into your local Panera Bakery & Cafe and give one of their soups a try. They rotate out flavors on a daily basis, so there’s likely to be something to catch your eye no matter when you drop in! To learn more about all the soups that are available at Panera Bread, visit their webpage.

Disclosure: Daily Buzz Food sent me a Panera Bread gift card to facilitate this post. I am also receiving a stipend for this post. The pictures taken and opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Fabulous Holiday Side Dish...Butternut Squash Puree from Perry's Steakhouse & Grille

Michael and I attend two big family sit-down meals every holiday season: Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. My side of the family celebrates on Christmas Eve with a casual, fun party that's all about fun finger foods, appetizers, and sweets. Then, Michael and I always have a big Christmas lunch the next day at his parents' house before opening presents in the afternoon. I’m constantly looking for new dishes to share with everyone. Of course, some “tried and true” family favorites are a must every year to prevent a mutiny...but I’m a culinary rebel and like to shake things up a bit. Thanks to my friends at Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille, I’ve got a fabulous new side dish to contribute this year: Butternut Squash Puree. This item is available on Perry’s menu year-round, so I was  very excited when they sent me the recipe and asked me to try it out and share it with you!

This was my first time to cook butternut squash. I've always been intimidated by the idea of cutting a whole butternut squash up. However, our new Trader Joe’s sells bags of peeled pre-cut butternut squash, which made the prep work for this dish a snap! The flavor of this side dish is similar to sweet potatoes, and it’s bursting with flavor thanks to addition of butter, bacon, and maple syrup. How can that be anything but good?!?!? The only changes I made to the recipe they sent me were to half the recipe since I was cooking for just Michael and I. I also subbed panko bread crumbs for the Italian breadcrumbs the recipe calls for. I misread the recipe and bought panko, so I went that. It gave the final product a really nice crunch, which we loved.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

#SundaySupper Holiday Cookie Exchange...Featuring Double-the-Mint Chocolate Kiss Cookies

This week, our #SundaySupper theme is Holiday Cookie Exchange, and the timing couldn't be more perfect. We had a Cookie Exchange at work yesterday, so I made fabulous chocolate-mint cookies for that event...and I'm also able to share them with you. If that's not baking fate, I'm not sure what is. There's just something about the holidays that feels perfect for baking cookies! Even someone like me, who only bakes cookies a handful of times a year, gets into the holiday spirit and breaks out the parchment and cookie sheet to whip up a fabulous treat. To me, nothing says Christmas quite like mint...other people go nuts for eggnog or gingerbread. Me? I'm a total peppermint freak between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. Don't get me wrong...I enjoy mint all year long, but I go into overdrive during the holidays! 

These cookies are for serious mint lovers! The chocolate cookie base is flavored with mint extract, and I added a generous helping of dark chocolate and mint chips. Because there's no such thing as too much mint -- in my mind, anyway -- I topped each cookie with a Hershey Mint Truffle kiss after they came out of the oven. Because these cookies are pretty much brown on brown, I made a last-minute decision to drizzle them with green icing. It was a great call, because the green really popped against the dark chocolate cookies! I picked up a squeeze bottle of Wilton cookie icing on my way to work, but feel free to make your favorite drizzle and tint it with green food color.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: Keurig Vue Brewing System...

Here's something most of you don't know about me: I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker. In fact, until a few weeks ago I’ve never even owned a coffee maker. Hard to believe? It's true! If I got the taste for a latte, I’d just pop into that name-brand coffee shop and have one. Now, I can just walk into my kitchen…and I’m good to go! No long lines, it's more cost-effective…and I can even be in my pajamas. All of this is thanks to Keurig Vue. Last month, Keurig  generously sent me one of their new Vue brewing systems to try out and share my thoughts with you. I jumped at the chance to test drive the Vue, and it’s been a really great experience. I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Keurig machines for ages: individual cups of coffee and other drinks ready in about a minute. Since I don't drink much coffee, I wrongly assumed that it wasn't something I'd use enough to justify it taking up space on my counter. I've heard family and friends rave about their Keurig machines for the past couple of years. After using my Vue for a few weeks, I totally understand why! This machine is amazing, even if you don't drink coffee. This versatile machine can be used to make cocoa, tea, and even iced drinks. 

Vue is Keurig’s newest model, and it’s got all the bells and whistles! It’s tagline is, “Brew what you love, the way you love it.” That pretty much sums it up, folks. The Vue’s reservoir holds 77 ounces of water, so you only have to refill it every few days. You can even adjust the strength, as well as the size, of  your drink -- 4, 6, 8, or 10 ounces -- via its interactive touchscreen. Heck, you can even adjust the temperature level of your drinks to avoid a burnt tongue. It also features pre-set brewing modes for coffee, cocoa, tea, and iced drinks. However you like your drink, the Vue can personalize it! I received the machine and a 10-pack variety of Vue cups that included an assortment of coffee, cocoa, and tea. Setup was easy, and I was ready to brew my first drink in about 15 minutes. Let me show you how easy it is to brew a cup of hot cocoa. Once the machine is set up and filled with water, it takes about a minute to brew a fresh cup of cocoa!

Simply set your favorite mug on the pedestal, directly under where the beverage will brew out. Add a Vue cup to the machine and close the lid. Use the touchscreen to select the Cocoa setting, and decide how big you want your drink to be -- 8 ounces was suggested for cocoa. Finally, press the Brew button...within a few seconds, the cocoa is brewing and into your cup. How you choose to top it is up to you...I added bit of peppermint extract and topped my cocoa with whipped cream and chopped peppermint for a fabulous holiday treat!

Step 1: Set your mug on the base of the machine...and decide
what you want to brew.

Step 2: Add the Vue cup to the machine and
close the lid. Select the Cocoa setting and your desired
drink size.
Step 3: Press the Brew button...and your cocoa starts
brewing immediately. About a minute later? Cocoa time!
Step 4: Add your own personal touch: peppermint extract,
whipped cream, and crushed peppermint works for me!

Within the first few days, we enjoyed cocoa, tea, and latte with our Vue. I’ve already purchased full-size packages of Milk Chocolate Cocoa and Vanilla Latte. I especially love the vanilla latte, because I can doctor it up with extracts and flavorings depending on my mood. One of my favorites is a bit of hazelnut syrup! I have a few coffee Vue cups on hand for when the mood hits…or for  we have company. Now that I have the Vue brewing system, our guests who drink coffee won’t have to run out in the mornings to get a cup of coffee. It’s a win-win: my guests will be happy, and I’ll feel like the hostess with the mostest!

Keurig sells a nice variety of Vue Cups from well-known brands, including: Green Mountain Coffee, Celestial Seasonings, Gloria Jean’s, Newman’s Own, and Emeril’s. If you already own a standard Keurig, keep in mind that K-cups are too small to be used in a Vue machine. Vue Cups don't currently come in as many flavor options as K-cups, but a Keurig representative tells me that more flavor options will be added in the coming months. After using this machine for just a  few weeks, I’m a huge fan! Keurig Vue would be a fabulous holiday gift for anybody on your shopping list who enjoys convenience and quality beverages. To learn more about Keurig Vue and find out where they can be purchased, visit the Store Locator at the Keurig webpage. You can also Like Keurig on Facebook to be among the first to know about their latest news and special offers!

Disclosure: Keurig provided me with a free Vue brewing system and a sample pack of Vue Cups to facilitate this review and resulting post. The opinions expressed in this post are mine.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Time Is Here...Time for a Giveaway! Biscoff Goodies + 150 Best Donut Recipes Cookbook...Featuring Simple Spice Donuts with Biscoff Glaze

It's December, and the holiday season is officially upon us. To celebrate, I’m teaming up with some amazing “elves” to bring you  four weeks of fun giveaways between now and the end of the year!! I’m kicking off the holiday fun today with a double dose of goodies! My good friends at Lotus Bakeries sent me a two-jar pack of Biscoff spread to create an original recipe to share with you. They’ve also got some goodies for y'all as well…more details about that in just a sec. But first? I’m going to knock your socks off with a fabulous and fun baked donut! I’ve been eyeing those cute baked donut pans for ages, and I finally gave into temptation and bought one. All because of a brilliant idea that I had to make a baked cake donut topped with a Biscoff-infused glaze!

It was food fate. I also recently received the fabulous 150 Best Donut Recipes cookbook  from Robert Rose Publishing. While I was looking through the book last weekend, I had what can only be called a baking epiphany – and that doesn't happen to me all that often. I decided that I could make a fabulous baked spice cake doughnut recipe from the book and create a Biscoff-infused glaze to go on top. I knew right then and there that I HAD to make this  recipe happen! So…off I went today in search of a pan for baking donuts at Bed Bath & Beyond. Then, I decided that not only would I top my donuts with Biscoff glaze, I’d also sprinkle pieces of crumbled Biscoff cookies on top of the glaze to take these donuts straight over the top! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Favorite Celebrity Chef #SundaySupper...Featuring Emeril's Shrimp Penne in Pesto Cream Sauce

Happy December, everyone! The theme for this week's #SundaySupper is Favorite Celebrity Chef, hosted by Tammi from Momma's Meals. I was so excited to take part this week, but it was really hard for me to pick one favorite chef to feature a recipe from. I adore so many chefs: Julia Child, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, and Nigella Lawson...just to name a few. However, the one chef who most inspires me in my cooking is Emeril Lagasse: he has a big-flavor approach to cooking that I can really relate to, and I love how his passion for food and cooking shows through in his television appearance and cookbooks! Once I had my chef, it was time to pick a recipe.

I happened to have a pound of lovely jumbo shrimp and some of my favorite pesto from the local farmers market, so I knew I had found what I was looking for when I came across a recipe for Emeril's Shrimp with Linguine in a Pesto Cream Sauce. I made a few small tweaks, but stayed pretty true to the original recipe. I decided to use a high-fiber penne pasta in place of the linguine, and I used half-and-half in place of heavy cream. The only addition I made was a bit of chopped sun-dried tomato...for a bit of extra color, flavor and texture. This dish was pretty quick to make. While the pasta water boiled, I peeled the shrimp...and I made the sauce while the pasta cooked. 

 Shrimp Penne in Pesto Cream Sauce
adapted from Emeril Lagasse