Thursday, January 30, 2014

My No-Stress Gameday Spread...Featuring My Best Party Prep Tips!

This weekend is one of my favorite events – The Super Bowl! For me, it ranks right up there with the Oscars and the Grammys, only the commercials are a lot more fun! Today, I’m sharing my No-Stress Gameday Spread…featuring some of my favorite tips and recipes that let me enjoy the big game and still make sure my guests are well fed. All it takes is a  little bit of planning to create a tasty menu that everyone will love…and won’t leave my kitchen looking like a disaster area! I hope some of my tips and suggestions help you maximize your fun on Super Bowl Sunday, while minimizing mess and stress. Sound like a plan? Then, let’s get started!

My first tip is to watch for takeout specials at your favorite restaurants. One of the best deals I found this playoff season is the Carrabbas Festa Party Platter. For just $25, you get a variety of Italian appetizers that will easily feed 6-8 hungry football fans. This hearty Italian platter contains the following goodies: Meatballs & Ricotta, Roasted Tomato Bruschetta, Caprese Skewers with Pesto, and Arancini (fried risotto balls). Simply pick up the platter, then transfer the appetizers to a colorful serving platter. A bonus is that two of the appetizers offered are veg-friendly! To sweeten this deal, Carrabbas will add two wood-fired pizzas to this platter for just $10 – pepperoni, Margherita or cheese. For the quality and amount of food you receive, this is an amazing deal. So you don’t miss out, make sure to call your local Carrabbas a day or two ahead to reserve your platter for the big game this Sunday!

My second tip is to make sure the foods you put out are easy to eat. I love to serve bite-sized goodies that are easy for picking up and enjoying out of hand. Face it: nobody wants to deal with bulky food when they’re concentrating on football. RITZ crackers to the rescue! RITZ is teaming with four iconic New York restaurants to share fun and delicious gameday recipes. We love visiting Carnegie Deli when we’re in New York, so I’m serving these yummy RITZ Pastrami and Corned Beef Mini Sandwiches. You can get this recipe, as well as recipes for Lombardi’s RITZ White Pizza Meatball Dip, Dinosaur BBQs RITZ Country Fried Ribs with Ranch Dressing, and Serendipity 3’s RITZ Humble Pie with Peanut Butter Mousse, by visiting The RITZ NY Blitz Game Day Bites page at Allrecipes. I was able to locate Carnegie Deli pastrami and corned beef at a local deli, so my bites are 100% authentic! They feature a simple homemade thousand island dressing...and I added a bit of Swiss cheese to the mix. 
My third tip is to feature dishes you can prepare ahead of time, either the day before or morning of your party. This tip alone will save you tons of stress by allowing you to spread your party preparations over two days. You'll feel much less frazzled by kickoff, I guarantee! This Sunday, I’m featuring  Deluxe Taco Cups featuring Ortega’s brilliant new Fiesta Flats. These are cup-shaped taco shells that fit easily into your hand…and the raised edges let you really pile on the toppings. All of the chopping and prepping for these tacos can be done the day before. Simply reheat the creamy corn and beef filling just prior to kickoff…and set up a condiment bar with all the festive toppings so people can customize their tacos with their favorites.

Monday, January 27, 2014

#RGLasagna Party...Featuring Lighten Up Supreme Pizza Lasagna

My good friends at Red Gold Tomatoes recently invited me to take part in their January special Simply Fun, Simply You Lasagna Party promotion. I literally jumped at the chance to create a lasagna recipe using their 100% natural tomatoes! Lasagna is a popular dish that’s so versatile…but sometimes making the perfect  lasagna can be a challenge. I rarely make lasagna at home for some reason, but Red Gold’s easy All-In-One Lasagna recipe has made me a convert! Their recipe uses dry noodles (which cook during baking), Red Gold Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic & Oregano, Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes, and lots of gooey cheese. By adding a few simple ingredients to the base recipe, you can easily create a customized gourmet lasagna! My contribution to Red Gold's Lasagna Party is my fun and tasty Lighten Up Supreme Pizza Lasagna.

This family-friendly lasagna features healthier version of all our favorite pizza ingredients, including: turkey Italian sausage, turkey pepperoni (70% less fat!), mushrooms, fresh basil and a reduced-fat pizza cheese blend. Assembly is a snap, and it cooks up perfectly in about 1.5 hours. To save time, the lasagna can even be assembled the night before and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake it the next day. Red Gold's original recipe makes a 13x9 pan of lasagna, but I scaled the ingredients in half and cooked it in a 9-inch square pan since there’s just two of us at my house. You’ll never guess that this lasagna uses lower-fat ingredients – it's bursting with flavor!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Slow Cooker Spicy Curried Chicken...Featuring Cuisinart's 4-Quart 3-In-1 Multicooker

I've got some exciting news to share with you today. Every month, starting today, I'll be sharing a slow cooker recipe with you thanks to a new partnership with Cuisinart! For this series, I'll be featuring their amazing 4-Quart 3-in-1 Multicooker! I've wanted to incorporate more slow cooker recipes here, but never had much motivation to use my previous slow cooker. The insert was heavy, it was hard to clean the cooked-on food, and it was always "out of sight...out of mind" in one of my cabinets. Then, I received this versatile appliance and became a convert. This cooker features a lightweight non-stick insert that cleans up in seconds after dinner. I love that! A bonus is that this unit is so pretty that it has a place of honor on my kitchen counter so I can use it when the mood hits. This unit features three cooking modes: Brown/Saute (up to 400 degrees), Slow Cook and Steam. That means you can sear a roast to seal in juices, then switch to Slow Cook mode to complete the cooking process -- all in the same pan! You can also use it to steam rice or veggies, roast a whole chicken, or make soups and stews. Its modern design features a 24-hour timer and a Keep Warm function via an easy-to-use touchpad.

I am in love with this appliance!! I've used it three times so far just this month: for my San Antonio Chicken Stew, to cook a pork roast...and for today's recipe. My Slow Cooker Spicy Curried Chicken comes together in about 15 minutes, then it cooks in the multicooker until the chicken is juicy and tender and all of the spices blend together into a flavorful sauce! I wanted to make something new to me using ingredients I had in my kitchen during yesterday's "ice event" here in Texas. I used a chicken curry recipe I found in Real Simple as my starting off point. I swapped out lean chicken breast for the thighs called for in their recipe, and I used chicken stock in place of the water the recipe called for. I also added a few extra ingredients I had on hand, including: chopped tomato, cinnamon sticks and a diced red chile. This recipe was easy to make and so delicious!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wendy's Favorite Things for January...Featuring My Favorite Healthy Lighten Up Foods

This month’s edition of Wendy’s Favorite Things is featuring some of my favorite healthy dishes in honor of this month’s Lighten Up theme. These are some of my recent food finds that helped me tremendously with this month’s post-holiday reboot. These better-for-you options prove that healthy food can still taste great! Let’s get on with it, shall we? Here’s this month’s Great Eight!

(1)    Halos Mandarins. This is mandarin orange season, and I recently tried a new brand on the market: Halos. These tasty seedless California mandarins are easy to peel, juicy and tartly sweet! Even better, they're GMO free! This is pretty much an ideal snack or meal component: fat-free, low in calories, and high in Vitamin C.  Halos make a great portable snack or lunchbox addition. I personally love to eat one Halo mid-morning and save the other two for an at-work afternoon snack at my desk. As an added bonus, the smell when you peel them is the perfect refreshing pick-me-up! Halos can be found in the Produce Department of major grocery retailers around the country.  

(2)    Pressels. If you like to enjoy a crunchy, salty treat…have I got a find for you! Chips can be full of fat, so I’ve been enjoying new Pressels instead. These bite-sized baked pretzel flats curb those salty-crunchy cravings perfectly. Pressels have 80% less fat than traditional chips...and they're GMO free. Each generous 22-piece serving contains only 2 grams of fat and 110 calories. Pressels come in three great flavors: Original, Everything, and Sesame. All three taste great, but I especially love the Everything. If you like the flavor of Everything bagels, then these are perfect for you. They’re topped with garlic, black caraway seeds, sesame seeds and onion. They're so flavorful that they can be enjoyed as is…but they’re also great for dipping too. My Texas-based readers can find Pressels at their nearest H-E-B location.

(3)    Eat Well Enjoy Life Hummus. This month, I’ve enjoyed dipping my Pressels in Eat Well Enjoy Life's delicious line of hummus. It’s creamy and full of flavor, and it comes in varieties you don’t normally see. In addition to traditional chickpea hummus, Eat Well Enjoy Life features “other bean” hummus varieties, including: edamame, black bean, and yellow lentil. All of the varieties I tasted are delicious, but my favorite is the Tuscan Roasted Pine Nuts and Herbs. Each 2-tbs. serving contains 90 calories and 6 grams of fat. They also offer a Low Fat Line made with Greek yogurt that averages 50 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per serving. This hummus is great paired with Pressels or a few pita chips for a protein-packed snack or light lunch. I also like to spread them on lowfat flour tortillas to make veg-friendly sandwiches for our weekly meatless day. To locate a store near you that carries Eat Well Enjoy Life, visit their online Store Locator.

(4)    Red’s All-Natural Burritos and Quesadillas. Imagine a burrito that's 100% natural, non-GMO and no preservatives. Sound too good to be true? It's not, as Red's proves with its line of tasty "clean" frozen burritos and quesadillas. I recently tried out their smaller snack-sized burritos for my work lunch. The size was the perfect portion for me. It was very flavorful and filling. The snack-size Chicken and Cheese Burrito has just 250 calories and 6 grams of fat. The chicken was tender and plentiful, and I stayed comfortably full during the afternoon. For those with a larger appetite, the standard 10-ounce Chicken Burrito has 430 calories and 9 grams of fat. Red's burritos and quesadillas are available at grocery stores across the country. To find a location near you, check our their online store locator.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Football Food Focus...Featuring Houston Texans Tailgating!

Photo of JJ Watt courtesy of Houston Texans
I’m wrapping up my monthly football food series with a bang ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl! As many of you know, Michael and I are huge Houston Texans fans. We watch all of their games here in San Antonio, but we had never attended a game in person. Until this season, that is. We were invited by the Texans to come check out their award-winning pre-game tailgating, then stay to watch the Texans take on the New England Patriots! We had a fantastic time enjoying some great food and meeting tons of fellow Texans fans who take tailgating to amazing heights. We arrived three hours before the game and parked our car just outside the Texans Methodist Training Center, located directly across from Reliant Stadium. The team practices inside the bubble during the week, but it’s transformed into Churrascos Club, an upscale indoor tailgate party on gameday! Churrascos restaurant provides a huge buffet, there’s live music, and appearances by the  Houston Texans Cheerleaders. Imagine a huge pre-game pep rally with amazing food and cocktails and you’d be right on track.
Each home game of the season, Texans fans can purchase tickets to take part in this premium pre-game tailgate event. The ticket price includes a reserved seat and game program, a huge multi-station buffet of mouth-watering food, including: a multi-selection carving station, customized omelets, and an eye-popping dessert display. One especially nice touch is that regional foods from the opposing team's home city are featured. The Texans were playing the Patriots that week, so we enjoyed sampling regional New England specialties like lobster rolls and spinach & potato pirogies. The food was expertly prepared and presented, and there were enough stations placed around the room that the lines didn’t stack up at all. Everyone at our table seemed to enjoy the food as much as we did!
The all-inclusive price of admission to the pre-game Churrascos Club tailgate event also includes beer, wine, mimosas and sodas. We had a great time trying out all the specialties and getting geared up for the game. It was definitely a party atmosphere...perfect for getting in the mood for the big game! Before we knew it, it was nearly an hour before kickoff. That meant it was time for us to walk over to the tailgate festivities going on in the parking area just outside of Reliant Stadium. The Texans tailgating program is known for having great food and lots of die-hard Texans fans. We couldn't wait to check it out! 

We walked across the street to Reliant Stadium and around the corner to the large designated tailgatingarea. The Texans not only allow tailgating -- they wholeheartedly encourage it! It's definitely a great place to get in the spirit for some football. We found dozens of tailgate teams ranging in size from a few friends enjoying some pre-game snacks out of the trunk of their car...all the way to elaborate corporate-sponsored setups. The smell of BBQ was in the air, and upbeat music was playing. No matter the size, the tailgaters that we met had two things in common: they're all die-hard Texans fans…and they share a love of good food and good times! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#SundaySupper Virtual Tapas Party...Featuring Manchego-Stuffed Spanish Meatballs

This week, the #SundaySupper crew is having a virtual Tapas Party! Our hostess Constance from The Foodie Army Wife asked us to share our favorite small plates...aka tapas! The tapas concept originates in Spain, where friends and family gather in the late afternoon and evening to enjoy some wine and small plates of delectable goodies. It's a great concept, yes? Michael's maternal grandmother was born in Spain, so I was very eager to take part in this week's event! This event is perfect for my January Lighten Up theme, because the tapas are by their nature are portion controlled. All I had to do was make a few healthful substitutions for these Manchego-Stuffed Spanish Meatballs to fit this month's healthy eating criteria...but I promise you won't feel any sacrifice. These meatballs are full of flavor!

Michael gave me The Meatball Shop cookbook for our anniversary last month, and this is my spin on their The Spaniard meatball. This New York-based restaurant specializes in meatballs in a wide variety of creative's definitely on our must-try list for our next trip! Instead of using all ground pork as the original recipe suggests, I used 1 lb. 90% lean ground beef and 1/2 lb. of ground pork to shave fat and calories. The other major change I made was to place a cube of manchego cheese in the middle of each meatball rather than incorporate grated manchego into the meatball mixture. It's fun to cut into the meatballs and see a pocket of melty cheese inside! Finally, I added additional spices to my meatball mixture for flavor and color.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Driscoll's #3pmSnack Movement...Featuring Berry Parfait with Brown Sugar Cream

I don’t know about you, but most days I get what I call The Afternoon Hungries. It's been a few hours since lunch...and dinner is still a few hours away…and I’m sitting at my desk with a growling stomach. At the office, that could mean a trip to the vending machine. Luckily, my office offers healthier options in the vending machine, but it’s hard for me to make a wise choice when I see crunchy chips and sweet goodies through the glass! Do you find yourself searching your desk – or your kitchen – for something to snack on in the afternoon? If so, you’re not alone. A new survey sponsored by Driscoll’s Berries revealed that 97% of those surveyed indulge in a between-meal nibble at least once a day, and almost three fourths of afternoon snackers feel they should be making healthier snack choices. Another interesting finding is that half of those surveyed reported that they most often want snack around 3 p.m. – and 79% of those respondents snack in order to refuel or beat “the afternoon slump.”

The survey also revealed that the time of day people reach for their snacks affects their snack choice. People who snack between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. are more likely to choose fresh fruit. “It’s great to see that people often make a fresh fruit choice as an afternoon snack,” says Frances Dillard, Director of Marketing, Driscoll’s. “We know that it’s not easy to always make a healthy choice. That’s why we are excited to launch a campaign that will introduce great tasting blueberry snacks to replace the unhealthy 3 p.m. snack, especially as people are trying to keep their New Year’s resolutions on track.” Driscoll’s is launching its #3pmSnack campaign to encourage people to snack on fresh fruit, including their healthy and delicious blueberries.

Many people are looking for a sweet but nutritious way to crush their cravings and hunger. Blueberries offer the perfect healthy indulgence, and Driscoll’s is making it easier than ever to incorporate antioxidant-filled berries into your diet. At just 80 calories per cup and containing virtually no fat, fiber-rich blueberries keep you satisfied the entire afternoon. Blueberries are a super food that contain more antioxidants than many other foods; they also contain Vitamin C to keep health in peak condition while enabling you to meet your 2014 weight management goals. I’m taking part in this campaign by creating Berry Parfait with Brown Sugar Cream, a healthy and delicious afternoon treat that can be enjoyed at your desk…or in your kitchen. It’s a great after-school snack for kids too! Make the simple creamy sauce the night before and assemble the parfaits whenever your #3PMSnack cravings hit!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Introducing a New Feature at The Weekend Gourmet: ZipList!

If you're a long-time reader of The Weekend Gourmet, you may have noticed a big change in my recipe format lately, along with a new Save Recipe symbol at the top of each new recipe. My readers asked for a more organized recipe format, and I listened! I'm excited to share a powerful new application that I've recently added: ZipList. It's a handy tool that allows you to easily save any recipe that you see here in a personalized Recipe Box. If you already have a ZipList account, simply click on the little blue Save Recipe button that's included with any of my recent recipes...and simply save it to your Recipe Box. Don't have a ZipList Account? Well...what are you waiting for? It's quick and easy to set up an account and start using all of the great tools ZipList offers.  
ZipList partners with many popular food blogs, including my friends That Skinny Chick Can Bake, Noshing With the Nolands, Creole ContessaGirlichef and lots more. They also feature recipes from prominent food websites such as Epicurious and Bon Appetite. In the right sidebar of my main page, you'll see a “Recipe Box” link located directly under the ZipList logo. That's where you can click to use all of the great tools that ZipList offers. In no time, you can start saving recipes from your favorite food blogs, as well as add them to your personalized shopping list or meal planner. How easy is that?

When you're reading a recipe on my page, you'll be able to easily save the recipe to your ZipList Recipe Box directly from the post by clicking the  icon located directly under the photograph of the recipe. To learn more about ZipList, check out their How It Works page. Save recipes, plan your shopping trips, organize your grocery list and even use their free mobile app when you're on the go! Life's yourself a favor and streamline your meal planning when you can. My hope is that this new feature will be something that my readers will use and enjoy as much as I do! That said, ZipList can’t retroactively go back and add the Save Recipe capability to my older recipes. Going forward, you can use it with all of my recipes from the past couple of months. In the coming weeks, I'll go back and reformat some of my most popular older recipes and add the Save Recipe button. Feel free to share your thoughts on this new feature...and tell me which older recipes you'd like to see reformatted and updated to this new system.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

#SundaySupper Is Turning TWO...Featuring Spice-Crusted Fish Tacos with Confetti Salsa

Today is a very special day...#SundaySupper is turning TWO years old! We're celebrating this milestone with a virtual party of some of our favorite celebration dishes. Our hostess Liz from That Skinny Chick Can Bake is leading this party, and we've got some amazing recipes to share with you! The #SundaySupper group is one of my most cherished blog affiliations for so many reasons, one of which is the amazing people in this group. Not only are the #SundaySupper bloggers amazing cooks and writers, they're fabulous people too! Everyone is so supportive and friendly...and the recipes they share are always mouth-watering.

The glue that holds our #SundaySupper family together is our founder, Isabel from Family Foodie. Isabel founded this movement two years ago as a way to bring families back around the dinner table. Every Sunday, we come together to share in her vision...and feature recipes based on a fun theme. In the past two years, this movement has grown to include writers all over the U.S. -- and beyond. The recipe I'm sharing today is my personal thank-you to Isabel. She lives in Florida and loves fish tacos as much as I do. Knowing this, I created my Spice-Crusted Fish Tacos with Confetti Salsa just for her! These healthy tacos feature chunks of mahi coated in a spicy rub and pan seared. They're topped with a festive fruit salsa and a drizzle of Mexican crema. They're definitely celebration-worthy!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lighten Up Salads for January #TheSaladBar...Featuring Mexican Winter Salad

This month, #TheSaladBar is focusing on Lighten Up Salads…salads that pack a lot of nutrition and flavor, but not a lot of calories and fat. After a few weeks of holiday indulging, many of us are focusing on healthier eating habits this month. I’m sharing a side salad that pairs really nicely with grilled chicken or fish. My Mexican Winter Salad features fresh, vibrant flavors…and a dressing that has only 1 tbs. of olive oil. My jumping off point was a salad that I found at Cooking Light’s fantastic website. I made a few tweaks and additions to make their salad my own. 

I added dried cranberries and juicy mandarin orange segments in place of avocado, and I traded pine nuts for pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds). Jicama and pomegranate arils are ingredients I don't use often in salads, giving the salad extra crunch. This colorful salad is a snap to put together, especially if you buy ready-to-use pomegranate arils and bagged chopped salad mix from the refrigerated produce section.

Mexican Winter Salad
adapted from Cooking Light
 Ingredients for two side salads:
  • 2 cups ready-to-use bagged chopped salad
  • 1/3 cup diced jicama
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate arils [NOTE: I used POM Wonderful POM POMs]
  • 1/2 cup diced mandarin orange segments
  • 1/3 cup pepitas
For the dressing:
  • 2 tbs. lime juice (approx. 1 large lime)
  • 2 tbs. pomegranate juice
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. fresh cilantro
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Step 1: Add the salad blend to a large mixing bowl. Top with the rest of the salad additions. Refrigerate while you make the dressing.
Step 2: Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk to combine and drizzle on top of the salad ingredients in the bowl. Toss with tongs to combine all of the ingredients. Plate to serve.
This salad is bursting with the big flavors I love....the fact that it’s also chock full of healthy ingredients is even better! The dressing is fresh and fruity, and the salad ingredients mesh very nicely together. The tangy pomegranate arils and juicy mandarin oranges work really nicely with the earthy jicama. I could eat this salad all day and not feel the least bit guilty! To make this a main dish salad, simply add some seared jumbo shrimp or maybe cubed chicken breast. If you’re enjoying a meatless day, perhaps add crumbled cotija or feta cheese for a bit of protein.

Make sure to check out the salad creations the rest of this month’s #TheSaladBar participants are sharing. They’re all lower in calories and fat, but big on taste and nutrition. That’s a win-win combination, my friends!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My 2014 Health Goal: Incorporating More Meatless Meals!

It's January...the time for New Year's Resolutions. That said, I don't do resolutions. For some reason, they always seem to end in frustration before the calendar even flips to February. Instead, Michael and I have chosen a realistic health goal that we want to focus on in 2014: incorporating more meatless meals. While we'll never be 100% vegetarian, we want to focus on incorporating more fresh veggies and fruit into our daily diet. After doing some research the past few months, we now realize that eating more plant-based meals will reap great health rewards for us. to do two meat lovers accomplish this goal? Not just for a month or year...but for a lifetime. We knew that if we tried to make the switch too abrupt or drastic, we'd become overwhelmed and decrease our chances of sticking with it for the long term.

We decided our first step would be to start taking part in Meatless Monday. We started this week, and it was really easy. I had protein-packed Greek yogurt with berries and granola for breakfast, a vegetarian bean burrito for lunch, and a veggie oven pancake and sides for dinner. The food tasted so great that I really didn't miss having meat. I still have a lot to learn about cooking tasty vegetarian recipes, but I plan to check out some vegetarian blogs and consult some cookbooks to come up with ideas that are both filling and tasty. If you have any recommendations, make sure to leave a comment below. We've decided to start with one meatless day each week for January, then we'll incorporate one more day starting in February...most likely Thursday. Who knows...we may even get daring and add a third day to the mix later in the year if it feels right! 

What exactly do we hope to accomplish with this change? Better health for one thing. Vegetables and fruit are a great source of fiber and essential nutrients, and they're naturally low in fat and calories. We also wanted to challenge ourselves to try new veggies and fruits by incorporating them into our daily diet. If we lose a little weight in the process? Well, that's a great bonus too! Have you added more meatless meals to your weekly meal plans? If so, tell me how it's working for you...and feel free to share any tips that you have. I may share a bit of our journey along the way in here over the coming months, along with any fabulous meatless recipes I come up with. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Italian Chicken-Orzo Soup...Featuring a Gourmet Garden Refrigerated Herb #Giveaway

After weeks of holiday-related indulgence, we’re really enjoying Lighten Up Month’s lighter, fresher menus. We’ve even decided to incorporate 1 or 2 meat-free days per week for our 2014 health-related change…we don’t use the word resolution in our house! We’re starting with Meatless Mondays in January and adding one more day in February. We couldn’t be vegetarian 100% of the time, but this seems like a great change to us. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes during the year and maybe even share some of our favorite veg-friendly recipes!

One of our favorite Lighten Up meals in Winter is soup…they’re a hearty, warming meal-in-a-bowl. One thing I refuse to compromise on is flavor, which can sometimes happen when you reduce fat and calories in your dishes. I find that using lots of herbs and spices really helps fill the void left by using lower-fat products. One easy way to use more herbs in your cooking is with Gourmet Garden tubed herbs and garlic. They recently sent me a package containing 11 of their most popular varieties, including garlic, parsley, chili peppers, Italian herbs and basil. As soon as I saw this grouping, an Italian-inspired soup immediately came to mind. If you’ve never used Gourmet Garden products, you simply must…I am now hooked on them and plan to keep them in my fridge at all times! They use organic herbs...within 24 hours of being picked, they chop them just like you would yourself. Then, they're packaged in handy squeeze tubes that allow you to use just what you need. They even stay fresh in the fridge for up to 3 months!

Gourmet Garden herbs and garlic worked perfectly in my Italian Chicken-Orzo Soup. It’s chock full of fiber-rich veggies: onion, celery, zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes…for protein, I used lean chicken breast. The convenient Gourmet Garden herbs saved me so much chopping time, and they provided the Italian flavor that I wanted for this soup. You can use any pasta you like, but I opted for tri-color orzo. It cooks quickly and is an easy-to-spoon pasta. This was a hearty, healthy dinner that we enjoyed on a cold Texas night. It makes 4-6 servings and tastes even better after an overnight rest in the fridge.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Slowly Bringing In the New Year With #SundaySupper...Featuring San Antonio Chunky Chicken Stew

This week's #SundaySupper is all about taking it S-L-O-W, featuring recipes that are made using our slow cookers. After a quick bit of prep, the slow cooker does the work for you. That leaves you free to do other get some post-holiday relaxation in! As an added bonus, your house will smell fabulous as your food simmers away. I am the first to admit that I don't use my slow cooker as often as I should, so I'm glad our hostess Cindy from Cindy's Recipes and Writings  is helping me stockpile some great slow cooker recipes! Keeping with my January Lighten Up theme, I found inspiration for my recipe from Cooking Light's amazing website!

I used their Spicy Chicken Stew as a springboard for my San Antonio Chunky Chicken Stew. I made several changes to their recipe, including subbing cubed red potatoes for russets and using a can of diced tomatoes with green chile in place of jarred salsa. To up the spice factor a bit, I included additional seasonings that we use a lot here in San Antonio, including: Mexican oregano, cilantro, cumin and Serrano pepper. The end result is a dish that's so hearty and flavorful that you'd never guess it's also high in fiber and low in fat! Who says healthy can't taste good?!?!?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January Is Lighten Up Month at The Weekend Gourmet

The holidays are over for another year...time to focus on 2014 and make a fresh start. If December is about indulgence and enjoying lots of delicious goodies, then January is usually about resolutions to lose weight. I don't like resolutions...or diets. Both are just begging me to give up. Instead, I'm choosing to make January about restoring balance and incorporating more whole grains, fruits and veggies and lean protein. In other words, it's time for Casa Garcia to lighten up and move a bit more! Rather than make drastic changes, I'm choosing to feature recipes that are higher in fiber and lower in fat and calories. There's one thing I won't do, though: sacrifice flavor in the process. All the recipes I'll be sharing will taste so great that you'll never know that they pack a great nutrition punch too!

To get you started, here are a couple of my favorite light and healthy recipes that I've shared before...but they're worth sharing again for their wonderful flavor. These are great examples that healthy food can look and taste fantastic. No need to feel like you're sacrificing just because you want to Lighten Up, right?!?!?

(1) Mixed Berry-Almond Steel Cut Oats. This is a fantastic breakfast dish that will keep you full for hours. It features fiber-rich steel cut oats, antioxidant-packed berries and is sweetened with maple syrup and vanilla almond milk. The end result is creamy and so flavorful! You can vary the berries or fruit used for variety. I plan to make this for brunch next weekend so we can enjoy it for two days. It makes 4-6 generous servings. 
(2) Spicy Shrimp and Corn Bisque. This soup is so hearty and creamy that you'd never guess it's made with light ingredients, including lowfat milk and light cream cheese. Shrimp is naturally low in fat and calories as well. This has a gentle heat and is essentially a meal in a bowl. Add a healthy green salad on the side and dinner's ready in under and hour.
(3) Refreshing Chunky Shrimp Salsa. This salsa is a perfect light appetizer that you can take to any football-watching parties this's so flavorful that no one will ever guess that it's healthy. This salsa is full of fruit and's like at little taste of Summer in January! Avocado does have some fat, but it's heart-healthy fat and only one component of this chunky dip. Serve with baked tortilla scoops and/or endive leaves.
(4) Tex-Mex Chopped Chicken Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing. This main dish salad is hearty enough to enjoy for dinner year-round. I know that salads don't immediately come to mind during colder months, but using warm chopped chicken works great to provide a bit of warmth. The original recipe calls for a using regular cheddar cheese, but I'd use reduced-fat/2% cheese for Lighten Up Month. The homemade dressing has 1/4 cup of heart-healthy olive oil. If you're closely watching your caloric intake, Newman's Own Light Lime Vinaigrette would be a great substitute.
There you have it...some of my favorite Big Flavor, healthy recipes for Lighten Up Month. I've got some great light recipes coming up with month, starting with a fabulous veggie-packed spicy chicken stew for tomorrow's #SundaySupper. Make sure to come back for that recipe, because it's a keeper! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for January...New Year's Eve Dinner at Luke San Antonio

This month’s edition of The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out is featuring a very special New Year’s Eve celebration spotlight! Michael and I were invited to take part in a fantastic five-course Chef’s Menu at Luke San Antonio, located on a quiet stretch of the beautiful San Antonio Riverwalk. Luke is a Chef John Besh restaurant, the first located outside of his native Louisiana. The menu is a little bit New Orleans…a little bit Texas...and thoroughly wonderful! The menu features many locally sourced products, and the food is really fabulous. There were two dinner seatings offered that evening, so we opted to take part in the early 630 seating. That way, we could arrive back home in time to relax a bit, pop the cork on some champagne, and watch the Times Square ball drop on television. The early seating also allowed us beat the large crowd of New Year's Eve celebrants partying in Downtown San Antonio. We dressed up a bit, jumped in our car, and made our way to the Riverwalk. 
Photo courtesy of Luke San Antonio
We arrived and dropped our car with the valet, then made our way inside the restaurant. We quickly noticed that the place was really jumping that night…tons of people were having a great time celebrating over an early dinner in the downstairs main dining room. We checked in at the front desk and were escorted to the upstairs seating area, which offers large windows so you can see all the action that's taking place in the kitchen. Executive Chef John Russ and his crew were cooking up a storm already! We were shown to our table, then we sat back and waited for the tasty delights to start coming out of the kitchen. The pacing for the five-course special menu was great, and the portions were filling without making us feel overly stuffed. 

The First Course was perfect for seafood lovers like us. Gulf Seafood Maison featured a trio of appetizers including Oyster en Brochette, Shrimp Remoulade and Gulf Crab Ravigote. The presentation was fun, and the food was great. The seafood was so fresh and sweet! The remoulade sauce had a spicy kick, which we loved; the oyster brochette was crispy and smoky from a bacon wrapping; and the lump crab was sweet and plump. The meal was off to a smashing start!
The Second Course was Potato Gnocchi with Gulf Lump Crab and Truffle. It was one of our favorite courses of the entire meal! The gnocchi were pillow soft, and the truffle-infused sauce was rich and creamy. Both paired perfectly with the sweet lump crab. This dish was so good that I could’ve eaten two portions of it…but then I wouldn’t have had room for the remaining three courses of the meal.
The Third Course was Peeler Farms Chicken Sauce Piquant with Farmers Peas and Sweet Potato. The chicken is sourced from a farm located near San Antonio that’s humanely raised and free-range. The chicken was flavorful and juicy. The piquant sauce was slightly spicy, but it didn’t overpower the chicken. The fresh farmers peas had large chunks of smoky meat that gave them a robust flavor, and the velvety sweet potato puree brought all of the flavors together.
The Fourth Course featured Aged Akaushi Beef Ribeye, Cauliflower Puree and Trumpet Royale Mushrooms and Red Wine Jus. Akaushi is American Wagyu beef that’s primarily bred in Texas. It’s well marbled and very flavorful. The ribeye was cooked med-rare and sliced into thin rounds like prime rib. Sigh…it was amazing! The cauliflower puree looks like whipped potatoes, but has the earthy taste of cauliflower.
The Fifth Course and final course was a decadent dessert: Dark Chocolate, Nutella and Espresso. It featured a dark chocolate dessert resting on a crispy base and topped with dark chocolate ganache. It was paired with an intense espresso ice cream and a chocolate sauce. We enjoyed each component separately, but the dessert really shone when we included a bit of each component on our spoon! The dense chocolate dessert and intense ice cream worked so well together.
This New Year's Eve celebration meal was a fabulous way to end 2013 on a high note before welcoming 2014 with a quiet at-home celebration! Luke San Antonio is located adjacent to the Embassy Suites Riverwalk hotel. Parking Downtown easily can be tricky, but Luke’s convenient location lets you valet your car at the hotel. Luke even validates your ticket, allowing you to pay a $7 reduced rate for parking. Enjoy Riverwalk views during your meal, or maybe go for a relaxing after-dinner stroll. We’ve enjoyed both dinner and Sunday Brunch at Luke, and we've always had a great experience. For those catching a show at The Majestic Theater, Luke is a great place to grab a pre- or post-show dinner…it’s an easy walk from Luke to The Majestic.

Disclosure: Luke San Antonio provided us with dinner to facilitate this article. We received no other compensation, and all opinions stated are my own. All photographs are copyrighted by Michael K. Garcia. They may not be copied or otherwise used without prior permission.