Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Weekend Gourmet's Top 10 Most Popular Recipes of 2013!

It's New Year's Eve...a time for festivity and reflection. Before we turn the page on 2013 and jump into 2014 with both feet, I wanted to take a moment to look back on some of our best foodie experiences, as well as the recipes that my readers selected as their Top 10 of 2013. We had some great culinary travel experiences this year...Austin, Dallas and TWO trips to New York. We also enjoyed some fabulous dinners at regional restaurants here in Texas. Two events that especially stand out took place during our visits to the Big Apple. During our April visit, we enjoyed a fantastic 5-course dessert tasting at Thomas Keller's renown Per Se. The experience was a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds as each course appeared from the kitchen...and the service was impeccable. This playful presentation is just one of the amazing dishes we enjoyed...the "egg" is a crisp meringue filled with mango puree. Resting below is a small serving of ultra-creamy rice pudding.
In October, we had the great fortune to serve as Guest Bloggers on behalf of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council at the James Beard Taste America event. It was a fantastic weekend full of amazing food and wine!
We were fortunate to experience some great culinary experiences on the road, but the heart of The Weekend Gourmet is cooking and sharing recipes! Here are the 10 most popular recipes I shared in 2013...as selected by my readers. There's everything from appetizers to desserts -- and everything in between. Let's see if any of your favorites made the cut!

#10 Baked Ham & Egg Cups. These super-simple breakfast entrees became very popular this Summer thanks to being featured in the DailyBuzz Food Top 9. What's not to like? Cheese, eggs and ham...all baked together in a muffin tin. The presentation is really pretty, and it tastes great. All you need is some fresh fruit and biscuits, and you've got a fabulous weekend brunch or on-the-go weekday breakfast!
#9: Big Easy Eggrolls with Creole Dipping Sauce. These fun appetizers combine two of my favorite foods in one fried package. The filling includes chicken, spicy andouille sausage, trinity (onion/celery/bell pepper) and cream cheese. The dipping sauce is basically a simple remoulade sauce. Make a batch of these for your upcoming football-watching party, and I guarantee they'll disappear in a flash!
#8: Chocolate-Peppermint Puff Pastry Bites. I shared these easy-to-make turnovers for #ChistmasWeek earlier this month, and they were a huge hit. During the holiday rush, these easy treats were perfect to whip up. These also are my most Stumbled post of 2013...with more than 1200 stumbles! If you didn't get a chance to make them this year, make sure and Pin them to make next year...or if you're like me? Whip them up anytime just because you love chocolate and peppermint!
If you're looking for something to whip up to please a group of men at an upcoming sports-watching party, you're going to whip up a batch of my next recipe. Click to get to the next page for that...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Stress-Free New Year's Eve Celebration for Two...Featuring Creamy Shrimp Polenta Bites

Now that Christmas is over, it's time to focus on the next celebration on the calendar: New Year's Eve! Some years we go out for a late dinner at a fancy restaurant and ring in the New Year with a big crowd of festive guests. Other years, we take a low-key approach and watch the Times Square ball drop on TV just the two of us. If you're planning to celebrate at home this year, I've got a fabulous no-stress menu for you featuring a festive bubbly cocktail, a lovely array of chocolate-based treats...and an elegant appetizer that's so simple to whip up. Who says elegant has to be complicated?!?!?

My Creamy Shrimp Polenta Bites feature two products from my friends at Frieda's Specialty Produce: Organic Basil & Garlic Polenta and Tomato Pesto. The polenta is pre-cooked and formed into rolls that you simply slice and pan saute before topping with your favorite ingredients. The flavorful pesto is made with dried tomatoes and herbs. To keep the Italian theme going, I topped each polenta round with flavored cream cheese. I purchased pre-cooked boiled shrimp, which also saved me time. The cream cheese mixture can be prepared a day ahead, which means you can whip up these appetizers in less than 30 minutes on New Year's Eve. I'll tell you all about my Ruby Sparkler cocktail and simple chocolate plate immediately following the appetizer recipe. If you're planning to go out for New Year's Eve, this menu would also be perfect for a romantic Valentine's evening as well. Just saying.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bounce Back After the Holidays With Driscoll's Berries...Featuring an Antioxidant Bounce-Back Smoothie

It's a wrap, folks! Just like that, Christmas is the books for another year. We had a great time celebrating the holidays with our families and friends back home in Houston this week! Nothing beats great company and lots of tasty treats. As usual, Santa was quite generous. While I absolutely adore the holiday season – time spent with loved ones, colorful lights, beautiful music and décor – it’s also a very hectic and tiring time. Nearly every year, I end up with a post-holiday cold or virus. That’s not fun…so this year, I’m determined to do my best to stay healthy during cold and flu season. I'm starting by eating more healthy fruits and veggies. I was feeling tired and run down after returning home yesterday, so I decided to whip up a tasty and healthy Antioxidant Bounce-Back Smoothie featuring vitamin-packed berries from my friends at Driscoll’s.

This smoothie is just what I needed to bounce back after a hectic week of indulging in holiday foods! I selected berries that are naturally high in Vitamin C and healthy antioxidants for my smoothie: blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. To up the antioxidant factor even more, I also added tangy pomegranate juice. For a smooth, creamy texture, I added some ripe banana and a bit of low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt. Depending on how sweet you want your smoothie, feel free to add a bit of honey or agave. This recipe makes enough for two smoothies. They're a fabulous on-the-go breakfast or healthy snack. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Today is a day to spend celebrating with family and friends...so I wanted to take a break from the usual ramblings in here to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas! We're in the Houston area enjoying a few days with our families and some close friends...and eating lots of fabulous goodies, of course. Whether you're having a huge celebration with tons of extended family like I am this week...or if your celebration more cozy...I hope that it's filled with warmth, love and joy! I wanted to share a couple of holiday pics of my two sous chefs, who are also featured in my new banner at the top. Lucy is my cranky orange cat...and Maggie is my little spitfire. She's all energy and mischief.
Lucy isn't that keen on having her picture taken, so we were very happy to find her checking out the Christmas tree earlier this week. Michael got her to look up at him, and I snapped a sweet picture of her! Maggie, on the other hand, is a supermodel wannabe...she lets me snap pictures of her all the time. The basket is her favorite place to chill out...and it allows her to keep a watchful eye on the tree. 

I'll be back with some great New Year's Eve appetizer and cocktail ideas later this week, so make sure to come check that out...especially if you like bubbles and chocolate. I'll be featuring both, along with a fun savory appetizer. In the meantime, Merry Christmas from the entire gang here at The Weekend Gourmet: yours truly, dining out and travel photographer extraordinaire Michael, and the feline sous chefs!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for December...Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden

This month's The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out spotlight is shining on Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden, located at the Pearl Brewery complex. This popular restaurant is located in the Pearl Brewery's former “boiler house,” which powered the adjacent brewery. To honor the historical significance of the building, many of its original architectural features have been preserved and incorporated into the restaurant's design, including two of the three large boilers that powered the brewery more than 100 years ago. The Boiler House describes their menu as "Texas Hill Country Gourmet" paired with wines from around the globe. The large menu features tons of great options that are perfect for taking a group of friends or family and sharing bites as you enjoy some excellent wine. Ingredients are fresh and local, which I can really get behind! Michael and I visited as the holiday season was just starting to gear up, and we were very impressed with the eclectic menu! There's something for everyone...from carnivores to vegetarians...and everything in between. 
We arrived and were warmly welcomed by the hostess. We were quickly shown to our table and brought two flutes of delicious LaMarca Prosecco from Italy...bubbles are always a great way to start out a meal! Our dinner menu that night was personally selected for us by Sous Chef Gerald Toomey, and our wine pairings were selected by our sweet server, who also happened to be Chef Toomey's wife! Between each course, the chef came to our table to talk about each dish we were tasting. It was informative and gave our entire meal a very personalized feel! We started out by sharing three small plate selections from the Breads, Skewers and Tastes sections of the menu. We enjoyed their signature Quail Poppers with Bacon, Jalapeno and Green Goddess; Chicken Liver Mousse and Charred Red Onion Jam; and Braised Kurabuta Pork Belly with Kraken Run Demi, Pickled Radish and House Mustard. 
The Boiler House is well known for their quail poppers, and they did not disappoint! They were spicy and savory with a ton of Texas attitude. They were paired with Willakenzie Pinot Gris from Oregon. The chicken liver mousse was creamy and rich. We enjoyed spreading it on toasted bread and topping with the sweet-savory onion jam. It was paired with Willakenzie Pinot Gris from Oregon. The pork belly was rich and decadent on a slightly sweet sauce. The pickled radishes and house-made grainy mustard provided sharp contrasting flavors that worked really well with the rich pork belly. It was paired with a fruity Reserve M Syrah from Pays d'Oc, France. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peppermint Bark Mocha Shakes...Featuring Bolthouse Farms Peppermint Mocha

The holiday season means many things: time spent with family and friends, baking, holiday music, shopping, decorating and wrapping gifts. Oh yes…and indulging in goodies.  I try my best to eat healthfully as possible and avoid excess calories where I can between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve. That’s not always easy to do when you’re surrounded by tempting food. However, I recently discovered a way to indulge without overindulging when it comes to enjoying holiday beverages. Bolthouse Farms recently introduced a trio of healthy seasonal holiday refrigerated beverages that can be enjoyed solo or used to create delicious holiday-inspired drinks. Their three seasonal flavors are Peppermint Mocha, Holiday Nog and Pumpkin Spice Latte. All three are low in fat, high in calcium and taste fabulous! It’s nice to know you can save a few calories without sacrificing flavor in the process! Bolthouse Farms recently sent me a bottle of each variety to enjoy…and to create a healthier holiday recipe to share with you. 

If you spend any time here during the holiday season, it quickly becomes evident that I'm crazy for peppermint. Whether it's in baked goods or beverages, I'm a certifiable peppermint freak! I decided to use the chilled Peppermint Mocha beverage to create delicious reduced-fat Peppermint Bark Mocha Shakes. Bolthouse Farms Peppermint Mocha has only 2.5 grams of fat per serving, so I wanted to keep the rest of my shake ingredients on the lighter side too. This shake is made with lowfat frozen yogurt, crushed peppermint pieces, a bit of white chocolate, chocolate extract and Bolthouse Farms Peppermint Mocha. I prefer a milder coffee taste, but feel free to add a bit of espresso powder or instant coffee if you prefer a more pronounced coffee flavor. This treat is super quick to whip up and enjoy as you watch your favorite holiday movie by the light of the Christmas tree. A festive glass rimmed with white chocolate and more peppermint takes a few extra minutes, but this extra little step makes a really impressive presentation!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out...at Salata's Next Generation Salad Bar

We were recently invited to try out Salata, which recently opened in San Antonio. This Houston-based chain terms itself a Next Generation Salad Bar, offering customized salads and wraps that are created by friendly staff right before your eyes! We stopped in at the Huebner Oaks location for a healthy dinner earlier this week...and we left huge fans of this new concept! Salata has locations in the Houston area, Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio -- along with a few locations in Los Angeles. The first San Antonio location opened in October, and it's getting lots of buzz around town for quality, fresh ingredients that taste great and fill you up without filling you out. We arrived and stepped up to the long salad bar. I opted for a hearty main dish salad, while Michael opted for a wrap sandwich.

The variety of ingredients offered on Salata's salad bar is amazing! Starting with several types of salad greens, your personalized creation is assembled in front of your eyes by a friendly server in a large metal bowl. You can choose from a variety of chopped veggies, beans, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, cheeses and a variety of proteins. The prices can't be beat: a large salad is $8, and a wrap is $7. For $2 extra, you can add one of several flavors of diced chicken breast...and for $3 extra, you can add flavored shrimp or grilled salmon. I had a great time creating my salad. They also offer several varieties of soup daily to pair with your salad or wrap. 
This system makes Salata a great choice when you're dining with a group that includes meat eaters and vegetarians -- everyone can create a meal that meets their needs! My salad creation featured field greens, cucumber and diced tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets, green apples, dried cranberries, strawberries, feta, herb-marinated chicken breast, herb vinaigrette and garlic croutons. Michael went more savory with his selections, which were stuffed into a large and filling wrap sandwich served with pita chips on the side. As you can see, the ingredients we chose were pristinely fresh...and the portions are very substantial.
The holidays can be an indulgent time, but our dinner at Salata was exactly what we needed. It was light and refreshing...the perfect antidote to the extra cookies and other goodies we've been enjoying since Thanksgiving! Good news: San Antonio is getting a second Salata location next week, in the Sonterra area. More good news: through the end of this month, Salata is featuring smoked turkey from Sadler's Smokehouse in Henderson, Texas. Its smoky goodness makes it the perfect taste for the holiday season.

If you live in a city where Salata is currently located, I hope you'll stop in and check them out soon! Their new salad bar concept is really fun...and the food is fresh and delicious. We're already planning a repeat visit very soon. Salata offers so many ingredients that you can create a variety of salad combinations. In the mood for Mexican? Stick with spicy and savory ingredients and the Chipotle Ranch dressing. Feeling like something sweet? Go with fruit, nuts, shrimp and Fat Free Mango dressing. The possibilities are endless...and healthy! 

Disclosure: Salata provided us with a gift card to purchase two entrees to facilitate this feature. I receive no further compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Memorable Holiday Meals and Traditions #SundaySupper with @GalloFamily Vineyards...Featuring Cabernet-Shallot Mushroom Cheeseburgers

The holidays are all about celebrating with family and close friends...and a big part of that is enjoying the fellowship that only good food and drinks can provide. This week, #SundaySupper is partnering with Gallo Family Vineyards to celebrate holiday meals and traditions. Gallo offers a wide variety of wines to suit everyone's tastes! I was excited to receive a bottle of their Moscato and Cabernet Sauvignon to create a holiday recipe to share today. I enjoyed drinking the sweet, light Moscato...and I cooked up a special treat using the Cabernet.

Every family has special holiday traditions, including mine. Christmas is reserved for a more formal sit-down
meal, but Christmas Eve is all about casual food. My extended family on Dad’s side gets together for a potluck and white elephant gift exchange on Christmas Eve. We laugh a lot, enjoy lots of great food, read the Christmas story and end the night with the gift exchange. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holidays! This year, my parents are hosting the event...and I’ll be sharing these flavorful Cabernet-Shallot Mushroom Cheeseburgers. With Gallo Family Vineyards’ Cabernet Sauvignon flavoring both the meat and the mushrooms, these burgers are upscale comfort food. Although I made these burgers full size for this article, I’m planning to serve them as sliders for our Christmas Eve party.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pomegranate #TheSaladBar...Featuring Holiday Pomegranate-Pistachio Salad

This month’s theme for #TheSaladBar is pomegranates. Tangy pomegranate is in season this month, and it’s perfect for creating vibrant holiday salads. You can sprinkle pomegranate seeds (arils) on top of the salad, use the juice to flavor the dressing…or both. Pomegranate arils are vibrant purple-pink and look like tiny jewels when resting against salad greens. To me, the seeds inside have a nutty flavor. I love them! My Holiday Pomegranate-Pistachio Salad with Blood Orange-Pomegranate Vinaigrette is a perfect holiday side dish. It’s light and healthy, and it looks seasonal and festive when you serve it. You can buy a whole pomegranate and seed it yourself. If you decide to go that route, POM Wonderful has an excellent step-by-step video tutorial. However, I opted to use another great POM Wonderful product for this salad: POM POMS ready-to-use arils. They’re refrigerated and come packaged in convenient sealed 4- and 8-ounce cups, ready to open up and use.  So simple! This is a really great time-saving product that I keep on hand throughout pomegranate season. One of my favorite holiday recipes featuring pomegranate arils are my pretty Filo Cups with Whipped Brie, Pomegranate Molasses, Pistachios and Pomegranate Arils. These bite-sized appetizers are a snap to make, but they will WOW your guests!

To save time, I also used convenient Dole Seven Lettuces Salad Blend in this salad. It provides a nice variety of tender, flavorful salad greens. The packaging mentioned that it paired well with citrus flavors, so I knew it would be a great choice. To round out my vibrantly colored holiday salad, I topped it with some good-quality feta cheese and chopped green pistachios. My simple homemade vinaigrette was made using O Olive Oil’s fabulous blood orange-infused olive oil and pomegranate champagne vinegar. These two flavors work really nicely together, and the simple vinaigrette only took a few minutes to whisk together. If you're planning a sit-down meal during the holidays, this salad would make a fabulous addition...especially if it's served in a gorgeous holiday-themed bowl. Let me show you just how simple this salad is to whip up.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#ChristmasWeek Day 4...Featuring Eggnog Cookie Truffles and a Swissmar Roaster Giveaway

Welcome to Day #4 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita's Cocina! Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway. We hope you enjoy this fabulous event. Tune in each day Monday, December 9th, and ending Saturday, December 14th.

Today, I'm wrapping up my trio of easy-to-make holiday sweets that taste great, save time, and reduce stress. I'm sharing Eggnog Cookie Truffles, a yummy adults-only no-bake treat that's a riff on Emeril Lagasse's classic rum balls. I flavored my truffles with bourbon, nutmeg, cinnamon and prepared eggnog. After being coated in spice-infused powdered sugar, they have all your favorite eggnog flavors. Keeping with the southern feel, I subbed pecan pieces for the walnuts normally found in rum balls. Mercy, these truffles sure are good!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

#ChristmasWeek Santa's Favorite Holiday Bark...and a #Freund Giveaway!

Welcome to Day #3 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita's Cocina! Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway. We hope you enjoy this fabulous event. Tune in each day starting Monday, December 9th, and ending Saturday, December 14th.

Today I'm sharing Santa's Favorite Holiday Bark, a no-bake treat that's festive and full of festive holiday flavors and colors! If you can melt chocolate, you can whip this candy up in about 20 minutes...then let it set in the fridge for another 30 minutes. This is great for last-minute hostess gifts and teacher presents...or anyone who's a peppermint fiends like me. Feel free to sub in whatever holiday toppings you prefer...it's a flexible and fun recipe!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chocolate-Peppermint Puff Pastry Bites for #ChristmasWeek

Welcome to Day #2 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita's Cocina! Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway. We hope you enjoy this fabulous event. Tune in each day Monday, December 9th and ending Saturday, December 14th. 

One of the ironies of my life is that I don't just have A sweet tooth -- I have an entire set -- but baking is something I don't do that much of. Honestly? Measuring and all that preciseness makes me twitchy. Can I bake? Yes...pretty well, actually. I just prefer to get in the kitchen and see what happens. If you do that when you bake? Yeah...you might end up with something inedible. The recipe I'm sharing today is so easy...and so good...that anyone can make it and feel like a blue-ribbon pastry chef! My Chocolate-Peppermint Puff Pastry Bites are gooey and bursting with peppermint flavor. If you've never baked with puff pastry, you really need to jump on the train!

Puff pastry is one of my secret weapons in the kitchen! With a package of frozen puff pastry on hand, you can whip up easy and fabulous appetizers and desserts that will make everyone ooh and ahh...without stressing you out in the project. It bakes up flaky and golden, and you can let your imagination go wild with fun fillings and toppings! When you see how easy these turnovers are to whip up, you're going to want to whip up a batch ASAP. Trust me...I would never steer you wrong!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wendy's Favorite Things for December...Featuring My Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies!

I don't know about you, but I'm finding it hard to believe that the holidays are infull swing and Christmas is less than 3 weeks away! If you're making a list and wondering what to buy all the cooks and food lovers on your shopping list, I've got you covered. This month's Wendy's Favorite Things is featuring some of my very favorite ideas to please the pickiest of foodies. I've got something for everyone, no matter what your price range is. Come check it out!

For the Foodie Fashionista
My pick for the perfect holiday present for fashionable foodies is the gorgeous aprons found online at Jesse Steele. They offer adorable aprons in a huge variety of styles and colors, so there's something to suit everyone. If you think aprons are just for grandmothers, think again! I have the red and cream apron pictured, and I absolutely love it. This particular style comes with a detachable matching hand towel that makes it really easy to wipe my hands while I'm cooking in the kitchen. It's also red -- my favorite color -- and the halter style is very flattering. If aprons aren't on your gift list this year, don't fret. Jessie Steele also offers cute two-piece pajamas and lots of fun accessories. Prices for most of their aprons range from $25 to $50. Go check out their online holiday catalog...and be sure to take advantage of their free shipping offer when you spend $75 via their website. 

For the Sweet Tooth Foodie
Do you have anyone with a sweet tooth -- or two -- on your gift list? I've got three suggestions that I guarantee they will love. We discovered all three of these gourmet sweets during recent visits to New York, and all three offer handy online shopping and will ship across the country. If you're on the lookout for creative gourmet cookies, Ruby et Violette has just what you're looking for. Their creative cookies come in delicious flavors like Red Velvet and Champagne Strawberry. The Giverny Box box pictured below is my personal favorite. For $44.50, it contains a dozen cookies in six hand-picked flavors. They come packaged in gorgeous seasonal red packaging and are sealed in clearly labeled two-cookie packages to ensure maximum freshness. 

If cutting-edge sweets are more your thing, then Liddabit Sweets is right up your alley. They feature caramels, candy bars and other sweets in a variety of creative and adventurous flavors, including Beer & Pretzel Caramels and The Dorie. That's a candy bar that features a chocolate sable cookie, salted caramel ganache, sauteed dried apricots and a touch of black pepper. It's definitely not your average candy bar...but it's downright addictive! I also told you all about The Treat House recently...and I knew they had to be included in this gift guide as well. Their delicious handmade decorated marshmallow treats come in fun flavors like Chocolate Mint and Salted Caramel. I promise that kids of all ages will love these gourmet goodies! A dozen two-bite treats plus the colorful packaging pictured is only $29, and they ship within the US.
For the Chocoholic
I recently discovered a fun line of artisan chocolates called Chuao Chocolatier. This California-based artisan chocolate shop is offering some of the most creative chocolate flavor combos that I've seen in some time. Not only that, the quality is superb! For the holidays, Chuao Chocolatier is offering an affordable 5-piece Holiday Bonbon collection for $12.95. It contains seasonal flavors like Peace Love & Peppermint. If chocolate bars are what you're looking for, Chuao's Salty Sweet Bar Set is really fun. This boxed set is $20 and contains four 2.8-ounce bars: Potato Chip (milk), Salted Chocolate Crunch (dark), Ravishing Rocky Road (milk) and Maple Bacon (milk).  Keeping with the holiday theme, all of Chuao's gift sets are packed in festive red boxes.

For the Baker
If you're shopping for someone who loves to bake, I've got a couple of great holiday gift ideas for you. My first suggestion is an essentialtool that I believe every kitchen should have: a Silpat non-stick silicone cooking mat. Silpat comes in a wide range of sizes to fit any size pan. I use my Silpat all the time, and nothing ever sticks to it -- even sticky puff pastry turnovers! They're durable and dependable too. They can be found a major US retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond. Pair it with a matching-sized baking sheet and add a few of your favorite recipes, and it's the perfect present for anyone who bakes.
My other baking suggestion is Emile Henry bakeware. This glazed ceramic bakeware is made in France, and its highly regarded for even baking. I have several of their pieces and have gifted them to family members, who also rave about how much they love them too! I recently added a square baker to my collection. It's perfect for making small coffee cakes and casseroles. Because it's so pretty, you can serve directly from the pan. This 9x9 baker retails for approximately $40. 

For the Socially Conscious Foodie
For socially conscious foodies, you can give a gift and help change a life via World Vision. For as little as $25, you can purchase two chickens in your recipient's name to feed a child who lives in poverty around the world. These chickens will provide the child and his or her family with a steady supply of protein via fresh eggs. Additionally, extra eggs can be sold to provide extra income to the child's family. You can also purchase a $25 donation toward a Clean Water Fun to provide clean sustainable drinking water in countries like Niger. If you prefer, you can donate $85 for World Vision to use wherever need is greatest. In return, you'll receive a gift of Prosperity Cinnamon to give your recipient. The box is cassia wood carved with an Asian symbol for prosperity, and it contains 3 ounces of flavorful Vietnamese cinnamon. It makes a very nice memento of your donation on behalf of a family member of friend. Each gift purchased via this program includes a card to give your recipient telling them about the gift purchased in their name, as well as the lasting impact that it will have on a child living in poverty. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Park and Main Le Creuset 3.5-Quart Braiser #Giveaway...Featuring Tex-Mex Braised Pork Ribs with Pinto Beans

I'm definitely in the holiday spirit: temperatures are hovering in the 30s and 40s this weekend, the tree is decorated, and I'm listening to my favorite holiday music! I'm thrilled to be partnering with Park and Main today to feature a gorgeous holiday red Le Creuset 3.5-quart braiser...and one of you is going to win one too!! Park and Main is a website that unites the modern with the classic and the mainstream with the cool within the confines of your home. They offer the very best brands for all your entertaining needs. From cooking an intimate meal for two, to making sure you have everything you need for the unexpected overnight guest . . . Park and Main has you covered! They're also a great resource for holiday shopping for your food-loving family and friends.

If you've never cooked with Le Creuset cookware or bakeware, you're in for a real treat. Le Creuset cookware is enamel-coated cast iron cookware made in France. When Michael and I were married, we registered for several pieces, and I love them. My 5-quart Dutch oven is one of my favorite kitchen items -- I use it for making soup and gumbo, as well as roasting meats. It cooks evenly and retains heat perfectly. I was so excited to receive my braiser and try it out in my kitchen. Braising is a great technique that uses dry heat, wet heat and slow simmering time. Its ideal for cooking meats that would otherwise be tough. Le Creuset says this braiser is excellent for making stews and roasting tougher cuts of meat. Since it was a cold evening, I opted to use my braiser to create a hearty and spicy stew. My Tex-Mex Braised Pork Ribs with Pinto Beans cooks up tender juicy, with lots of the big flavors that I love. 

This dish isn't one that you'll want to whip up after work on a busy weeknight. That's because it needs to slowly simmer for 2-3 hours minimum after an initial 30-minute preparation time. It's better suited for a lazy weekend at home. However, since most of the cooking time is hands-off, you're not going to be tied to the kitchen. This is also a great dish for entertaining, because you'll have time to visit with your guests while the dish simmers away on the stove. Your kitchen smells heavenly as it cooks too, which is an added bonus. Because it contains meat, beans and veggies, it's essentially a one-pot meal. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: An Autumn Adventure in New York...

I’ve had a great time sharing pieces of our recent New York trip with you, and I’m wrapping the series up today with An Autumn Adventure in New York. We’ve visited New York in June, August, and October. Although the city is amazing any time of year, I have to admit that I’m especially partial to Fall. The weather is crisp, which puts a spring in everyone’s step…and it lends itself to lots of outdoor exploring! We arrived at La Guardia late on a Thursday evening and hopped in a cab to head to Hotel 373. This boutique property is located across the street from the Empire State Building, making it very convenient to hop an elevator to its observatory high above the city. I can vouch from personal experience that kissing your sweetheart as the city lights twinkle below is a memory you’ll never forget! But…I digress. Hotel 373 offers travelers a great value. The rooms are compact, but they offer a ton of fabulous amenities, including: in-room WiFi, comfy beds with luxurious linens, large bathrooms with Philosophy toiletries, and even an onsite Starbucks. Our room offered a gorgeous view of the Empire State Building too! As an added bonus, if you book your room via Hotel 373’s websitethey’ll also include breakfast at the adjacent deli. We loved walking next door for delicious made-to-order omelets and French toast before a day of exploring the city.  
New York is known for its amazing delis, and one of the most iconic examples is Carnegie Deli. They're legendary for good reason: they offer huge portions of delicious food and a convenient Midtown location. When we arrived for lunch, the line of hungry patrons was literally out the door and around the corner. We chatted with Director of Marketing Sarri Harper while we split a HUGE pastrami sandwich and a slice of their ultra-rich New York cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries. Sarri's family has owned Carnegie Deli since 1976, when her grandfather took over the restaurant. She was a fabulous hostess, and the food was absolutely amazing. You haven’t really eaten pastrami until you’ve enjoyed a pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli, and the cheesecake is some of the best you’ll ever taste. They're open daily from 600 a.m. to 430 a.m., so you can satisfy your cravings day or night. Needless to say, we left Carnegie Deli stuffed and satisfied! 
Although we were pretty full at that point, we somehow had a bit of space for some authentic French macarons. We first visited Laduree during a visit to New York this Spring. We were immediately smitten with their amazing flown-in-from-Paris macarons. We knew we had to go back to try some of their seasonal Fall flavors. We arrived at their stylish Upper East Side location and were warmly greeted with a silver tray full of brightly colored macarons to sample. This is pretty much how I imagine Heaven might be: full of delicious cookies! Laduree's delicate macarons literally melt in your mouth, and they feature natural flavors. All the macarons we tasted were fabulous, but our favorites were the mint, gingerbread, and rose petal. We enjoyed a few of our macarons in the store, and they graciously packed the rest of them into a gorgeous box for us to take with us to enjoy later that evening. Which we did. 
New York is also known for amazing and lavish Broadway productions. You'll find everything from dramas to musicals. On a previous trip, we really enjoyed seeing Wicked…so we wanted to include a musical on this visit. We’re huge U2 fans, so we were very curious about Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which they wrote the musical score for. Despite a rough start a couple of years ago, the show has been playing to packed houses of eager fans since. We had great seats on the floor level of the historic and beautiful Foxwoods Theater on a busy Saturday night. Bottom line: we had a total blast at the show! The musical is fun for kids of all ages, and the performers are incredibly talented...and acrobatic. If you want to see this show, you’ll have to act fast, though. It was recently announced that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will end its Broadway run in early January, after a 2.5-year run. After leaving Broadway, the show will head to Las Vegas.
After the show, we walked a few blocks over to Restaurant Thalia to enjoy a post-show dinner. Thalia is a great restaurant for a late dinner, because they’re open until midnight. on weekends. We enjoyed lunch at Thalia during our trip this Spring, so we were excited to check out their dinner menu. We began our meal with shared starters: Iceberg Salad and the gorgeous and tasty Burrata and Flor du Latte Duet. The salad was topped with smoky Serrano ham, grated ricotta salata cheese and a tangy-smoky bacon dressing. This salad was bursting with flavor! The burrata platter included prosciutto de parma, roasted red peppers, pesto and a tangy-sweet balsamic reduction. The combination of flavors and textures on this plate was fantastic, and the house-made burrata was creamy and rich. For vegetarians, this dish could easily be made into an entree with the addition of Thalia's crusty house-made bread. For my entree, I selected Grilled Mayan Prawns, which were served over luscious sweet corn risotto and crab-stuffed mushrooms. The sweetness of the risotto paired perfectly with the seasoned grilled shrimp. Perfection!
While we waited for Michael's entree, the chef sent out a bonus appetizer of smoked salmon, whipped goat cheese and basil-infused oil...serve with crispy handmade waffle chips. It was fresh and light, with a slight smoky flavor from the salmon. Then, Michael's entree arrived: Smoked Grilled Pork Chop. This bone-in double cut chop was topped with a gruyere and leek crust and served with Brussels sprouts, roasted potato wedges and an apple cider sauce. This was the perfect entree for a crisp Fall evening. The chop was grilled perfectly, and the cheesy crust provided an extra layer of flavor. The sweet-tart-earthy cider sauce was the perfect accent. We opted to share dessert. We're both citrus lovers, so it took a nanosecond to agree on Warm Lemon Souffle with Fresh Raspberries. It came to the table warm, light as air, and bursting with the sweet-tart lemon flavor we love. If you find yourself in the Theater District, check out Thalia! They offer a great prix fixe lunch menu, as well as a popular Happy Hour and $1 oysters from 700 p.m. to close nightly.
For the second leg of our trip, we stayed at Hotel Elysee, located in the Midtown East section of the city. It’s part of the four-property Library Hotel Collection...and it's consistently named one of the most romantic hotels in New York! The atmosphere is inviting and relaxed...the perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Elysee's location is convenient to many popular Midtown attractions, as well as Madison Avenue shopping. Our room was a mini suite that featured a huge marble bathroom, an entryway that included a convenient writing desk, and a beautiful bedroom with a comfy sitting area. We had plenty of room to stretch out, and the soothing décor made Hotel Elysee the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. 
Hotel Elysee offers guests a wide range of complimentary amenities, including in-room WiFi, a delicious expanded continental breakfast, an afternoon Wine Hour with hors d'oeuvres, and a convenient Business Center. New York's iconic Monkey Bar is conveniently located adjacent to the hotel, and Elysee offers a lobby entrance for its guests. Whatever we needed, the friendly staff made sure that we had it. The helpful front desk staff expertly assisted us with navigating the quickest walking route to several of our destinations nearby the hotel. We're sticklers for good customer service, and Hotel Elysee sets the bar pretty high for guest satisfaction!