Sunday, January 31, 2016

Take the Red Gold Challenge!

I only feature brands here that I have personally tried and enjoy cooking with in my kitchen. One of my longest brand partnerships is with Red Gold -- I've been working with them since 2013! When I say they're the only brand of canned tomatoes that I use in my recipes, I truly mean it. I'm very excited to share that I'm a 2016 Red Gold Blog Ambassador! I'll be sharing lots of great information about this family-run company...and lots of tasty recipes too. Last Fall, I visited Red Gold's Indiana headquarters for a few days to see exactly how tomatoes go from the field to the can. It was certainly a fun and interesting trip!

Red Gold's tomatoes are all grown on Midwest family farms. In fact, many of these farms have grown tomatoes for Red Gold for multiple generations! We visited one of these family farms and saw first-hand how the tomatoes are harvested. We even tasted one of these tomatoes right from the vine. Talk about as fresh as it gets! From there, the harvested tomatoes are sent via truck to Red Gold's processing facility. These tomatoes then go through a step-wise process to clean them and turn them into a wide variety of canned tomato products and ketchup. Touring the Red Gold processing facility was interesting and informative -- and it also reinforced exactly why I love to use their tomato products. The Reichart family, owners of Red Gold, are such friendly and warm people. They take a great deal of pride in the products that they produce -- and it shows in the finished product. As part of our visit, we also took part in the Red Gold Challenge. This exercise really highlights exactly why Red Gold Tomatoes are the freshest, best-tasting tomatoes that you can buy. I recently conducted the same Red Gold Challenge comparing Red Gold with a rival canned tomato brand in my home. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stonyfield Clean Plate Club: Layered Greek Dip...Featuring Ball Canning Jars #CleanPlateClub

This month, the Stonyfield Clean Plate Club is partnering with the nice folks at Ball Canning to feature easy recipes that can be served in their wide range of lidded jars. I used ultra creamy Stonyfield 0% Fat Greek yogurt and Ball Canning's convenient wide-mouth pint jars to create a Layered Greek Dip. This fun appetizer features all of my favorite Mediterranean flavors like hummus, lemon-infused Greek yogurt, briny feta, and fresh veggies to create a colorful and pretty dip. This multi-layered dip can be assembled in about 15 minutes, then it can be stored in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Each pint-size serving is enough for two people to share, making it a fun and romantic idea for any upcoming Valentine's Day celebrations that you might be planning. Just add some crunchy pita chips on the side, and you've good to go!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January Mode Foodie Contributor Roundup: Beat the Boring Brown Bag Lunch!

Check out Beat the Boring Brown Bag Lunch

by Wendy Wofford-Garcia at Mode

Brown bag lunches are a fantastic way to save money...and you get to have total control over the ingredients in your food. The only problem with packing your lunch is that it can be BORING! The key is to think outside the box -- beyond simple sandwiches. For this month's Mode Foodie Contributor roundup, I'm featuring some fabulous recipes that will revolutionize your brown bag lunch! I'm sharing creative sandwiches, veg-friendly salads...and even a hearty soup that you can pack in a thermos to stay warm until you're ready for lunch. With these recipes, you're sure to be the envy of your lunch room! 

Disclosure: This is a compensated article for Mode Foodie. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Wendy's Favorite Things for January #WendyFaveThings #GreatEight

After a break for last month's Holiday Gift Guide, Wendy's Favorite Things is back! To kick off the new year, this month's Great Eight is featuring some fantastic items that food lovers are sure to love. So...let's get started!!

(1) Rustichella d'Abruzzo Laganelle with Saffron. My go-to pasta is Rustichella d'Abruzzo. Their pasta is made in Italy, and it cooks perfectly every time! I recently tried their saffron flavored laganelle egg pasta, and I was floored by its flavor. The pasta is made with eggs and semonlina flour utilizing traditional pasta  making methods. Then, it is sheet extruded through bronze -- which results in a slightly textured surface. This slight roughness makes this pasta ideal for absorbing flavorful sauces. The addition of pure saffron gives this tender egg pasta a gorgeous yellow color, along with the exotic taste and aroma of saffron. This pasta cooks quickly too -- in about 5 minutes! I like to serve this saffron-infused pasta topped with lemony garlic shrimp scampi. The flavors work absolutely perfect together, resulting in a restaurant-quality meal for a fraction of the cost. Rustichella d'Abruzzo pasta is imported from Italy and is available via specialty grocers in the U.S. My Texas readers can purchase this pasta at Central Market. It can also be purchased via Amazon.

(2) Pacari Andean Rose Organic Chocolate. Valentine's Day is just around the corner, so I had to include Pacari's organic Andean Rose chocolate in this month's column! Pacari is single-origin 100% Ecuadoran chocolate that is both biodynamic and organic. Simply put: it's chocolate that you can feel good about eating. I've tasted several varieties of Pacari, and each has a fabulous depth of flavor. The Andean Rose is no exception. The first thing you notice when you taste the chocolate is the deep, rich chocolate undertones. Then, as the chocolate starts to melt in your mouth, you notice the aroma of roses. It's a luxurious experience, perfect for pairing with wine for a romantic Valentine's celebration. Pacari chocolate products can be purchased online or at select U.S. retailers -- including Whole Foods and Central Market. Stonewall Kitchen Sea Salt Caramel Sauce. Stonewall Kitchen produces a line of delicious sweet and savory condiments, sauces, and baking mixes. They save me time in the kitchen, and they taste fabulous! My current favorite item in their collection is the addictive Sea Salt Caramel Sauce. This jarred sauce is ready to use and adds a pop of salty-sweet caramel flavor to a wide range of dishes. Spoon it over ice cream and add some chopped pecans for a quick dessert. It's also great spooned into a little dish and served alongside apple slices for dipping. I've also heard that it's perfect straight from the jar with a tablespoon...not that I know from experience. I always have a jar of this amazing, versatile dessert sauce in my cupboard! It can be purchased at the Stonewall Kitchen website and retail stores nationwide.

(4) Sheet Pan Paleo Cookbook. If you're someone who adheres to the protein-centric paleo eating plan -- and even if you're like me and don't specifically eat paleo -- Sheet Pan Paleo needs to be in your cookbook collection! This cookbook features 200 recipes that are cooked on a sheet pan and feature simple prep. All you have to do is toss all of your dinner ingredients on a pan...then roast, bake or broil. One pan also means less cleanup after dinner! Recipes focus on healthy protein, fresh veggies, and spices. All recipes are also naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Some of the recipes that quickly caught my eye include Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts and Raisins and Citrus and Herb Marinated Pork Shoulder. Sheet Pan Paleo can be purchased directly using several options through publisher Ulysses Press.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Experience the Laid-Back Side of Las Vegas...Off the Strip! #vegas #OffTheStrip

When most people think about a Las Vegas vacation, they immediately think of the glitz and glamour of the Strip, opulent casino resorts, the world-class cuisine, and amazing shows. However, there's an entirely different side to Las Vegas that's located off of the Strip! During our recent Las Vegas getaway, we rented a car and spent a relaxing day exploring the more laid-back side of the area. We started our day with a fabulous breakfast buffet and luxurious spa treatments at Green Valley Ranch Resort, located in nearby Henderson. This gorgeous Mediterranean-style AAA Four Diamond resort and spa is located about 20 minutes southeast of Las Vegas. We started our visit with breakfast at the resort's Feast Buffet.
The buffet features a wide range of hot and cold breakfast foods served in an elegant setting. Some of the items we could choose from included fresh fruit, freshly baked pastries, and custom omelettes. We especially loved the Eggs Benedict and the mini Belgian waffles topped with fresh fruit compote. Not only is the breakfast buffet at Feast tasty -- it's a total bargain too. Each morning Monday through Saturday, this buffet is priced under $10 per person! After breakfast, we headed over to Green Valley Ranch's award-winning salon and spa for some much-needed pampering. While my Social Media Manager Crystal enjoyed a relaxing 90-minute massage in the spa, I indulged in a 60-minute spa pedicure and a haircut at the adjacent salon!
The atmosphere of this very spacious salon and spa complex is totally relaxed and elegant. It also features tons of natural light thanks to numerous floor-to-ceiling windows. The changing area features soothing music, plush robes, flavored spa water, and even a few healthy snacks. We left the spa and salon 2 hours later completely relaxed -- and I was even sporting a new hairstyle and gorgeous red toenails! While us ladies enjoyed our time at the spa, the men relaxed a bit at the spa's adjacent beach-like pool, where they enjoyed some cold beverages and took in the...ahem...scenery. They also took some time to explore the manicured grounds of the Green Valley Ranch Resort & Spa and its gorgeous landscaping. Everywhere you turn here, there's a gorgeous vista that catches your eye!
I have to share a new electronic find with you that really came in handy during our daylong excursion off the Strip. My cell phone tends to use a lot of battery power very quickly -- and it can be really hard to locate an electrical outlet to keep your phone charged up when we're on the go. My new go-to solution? Ventev's amazing powercell 6000c portable battery charger! I simply plug in the charger overnight while we're sleeping. Then, I never have to worry about running out of battery power when we're visiting restaurants or attractions during our culinary travelogues! This portable charger comes in version for both Android and Apple phones, and it provides me at least one full recharge if it's fully charged overnigh. This handy device truly takes the stress out of my day when we travel. I never have to miss a call -- or social media share -- with my colorful orange Venvev powercell 6oooc!

Before we knew it, our time at Green Valley Ranch was over. It was time to head to nearby Boulder City to enjoy a relaxing paddle boat tour of Lake Mead! Lake Mead Cruises offers a variety of cruises on its Desert Princess paddle boat. Built especially to cruise the clear, blue waters Lake Mead and its views of Hoover Dam, this three-level, Mississippi style paddle wheeler provides a relaxing sightseeing experience. During our 90-minute Mid-Day Sightseeing Cruise, we enjoyed clear blue skies and gorgeous natural scenery. This cruise was provided the perfect break from the to the glitz and glamour of the Vegas Strip! During our cruise of Lake Mead, a narrator shared the interesting history of Boulder Dam -- now known as Hoover Dam. Our cruise even included close-up views of the back side of this massive dam.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hamilton Beach Stand Mixer and Hand Mixer Giveaway...Featuring Blueberry Muffins with Coconut-Citrus Glaze #giveaway #hamiltonbeach

Photo provided by Hamilton Beach
I'm so excited to share two fabulous mixers with you today -- and an equally fabulous blueberry muffin recipe! I'm a Hamilton Beach Brand Ambassador, and I was recently invited to take part in one of their promotions. They sent me two of their mixers to try out in my kitchen: a deluxe hand mixer and a powerful stand mixer. Even better, two of you are going to win one of these fantastic mixers via a giveaway! I was really excited to try out their 6 Speed Hand Mixer with Snap-On Case. This versatile hand mixer features 290 watts of power and a burst button when you need extra power. It also comes with six handy attachments: twisted wire beaters, dough hooks, a whisk, and even a fun milkshake maker! The snap-on storage case is perfect for keeping all all of the items in one place between uses. 

Photo provided by Hamilton Beach
I also received Hamilton Beach's Stand Mixer to try out. The model I received packs 300 watts of power and tons of great features: 
  • Mixing action gives complete bowl coverage 
  • Stainless steel 4-quart dishwasher-safe bowl
  • Includes splatter shield
  • Features 7 speeds for maximum flexibility
  • Three attachments offer mixing versatility -- includes dough hook, whisk, and flat beater
  • Hands-free mixing action means the mixing head spins as it rotates completely inside the bowl
  • Nonslip feet to ensure it doesn't "dance" on your countertop
  • Tilt-up head lifts out of the way for easy bowl access

I used the stand mixer to quickly whip up a batch of blueberry muffins this weekend. Not just any old blueberry muffins -- Blueberry Muffins with Coconut-Citrus Glaze. These super-moist muffins are flavored with cream of coconut and lemon extract. While the muffins are still warm from the oven, they’re glazed with a mixture of orange juice, cream of coconut, and powdered sugar. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tutorial: Making a Split Decision Sweet and Savory Snack Stadium for the Big Game! #GameDayGlory #CollectiveBias #ad

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #GameDayGlory #CollectiveBias
January means it’s playoff time – when every game is The Big Game! Game day also means that you'll likely be serving your guests lots of yummy snacks to fuel all that cheering. Today, I’m going to share how to make the perfect game day appetizer centerpiece – my Split Decision Sweet and Savory Snack Stadium using delicious SNICKERS®, Skittles®, Pepsi™, and TOSTITOS® products! If you’ve never seen a snack stadium, it’s basically a collection of snacks that's constructed to look like a football stadium. It's an EDIBLE stadium, y’all!! Snack stadiums can be quite elaborate, but I personally find the prospect of assembling a behemoth snack stadium to be very intimidating. My Split Decision Sweet and Savory Snack Stadium is stress-free and super easy to assemble. It’s also totally cute and feeds 4-6 hungry football fans.
I found all of the food components – and most of the constructions supplies -- for my #GameDayGlory snack stadium at my neighborhood Walmart. They can also be purchased at I quickly and easily located the following key items to incorporate into my Split Decision Sweet and Savory Snack Stadium:
  • SNICKERS® Minis
  • Skittles®
  • Diet Pepsi™ 12 oz. 12 pack
  • TOSTITOS® Scoops
  • TOSTITOS® Medium Chunky Salsa
Once everything was purchased, it was time to go home and construct this fun – and tasty – centerpiece for my football game day food table! Let me show you step-by-step just how simple it is to create my simple snack stadium with SNICKERS®, Skittles®, Pepsi™, and TOSTITOS® products!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Behind-the-Scenes: My Recipe Video Shoot at Cindy's Kitchen Headquarters!

Photograph provided by Cindy's Kitchen
This Fall, I had the opportunity to create a trio of original recipes for Cindy's Kitchen. Located in Brockton, Massachusetts, Cindy's Kitchen offers a line of creatively flavored refrigerated salad dressings, dips, and cooking sauces. After one taste, I was hooked! Now, they're the only salad dressings that I use in my recipes. Cindy's Kitchen has a gorgeous state-of-the-art kitchen studio inside their Brockton headquarters, and they invited Michael and I to come up in November to shoot a trio of videos to accompany my recipes. It was a busy day of prepping, cooking, and shooting my recipes with a group of talented multimedia professionals. Today, I want to share some behind-the-scenes photographs of this video shoot. As you can see, there were a lot of lights and multiple cameras to capture every recipe step from a variety of angles.
My first video just went live on the Cindy's Kitchen website, so I wanted to share it with you here today! My Acapulco Chicken Cobb Salad features their unique and flavorful Mexican "Pepita" Caesar Dressing -- both as a chicken marinade and to flavor the romaine lettuce in the salad. Here's some scenes from the video shoot for this delicious, healthy 30-minute dinner.
This hearty salad is a filling meal that's perfect for keeping those healthy-eating resolutions in the new year. Now, I hope you'll take a minute to watch the creative video the Cindy's Kitchen media team has created of me preparing my Acapulco Chicken Cobb Salad. 

You can find Cindy's Kitchen products at grocery stores nationwide, including Whole Foods. Check out their handy Store Locator to find their dressings, dips, and cooking sauces near you.

Disclosure: Cindy's Kitchen flew Michael and I to their Massachusetts headquarters and provided overnight hotel accommodations to facilitate this video shoot. All opinions expressed are solely mine. The video shared is copyrighted by Cindy's Kitchen.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Idaho® Potatoes National Sunday Supper Day…Featuring Loaded BBQ Roast Potato Poutine #SundaySupper #FWCON #poutine

Today is National Sunday Supper Day, and the #SundaySupper family is encouraging everyone to take The Sunday Supper Pledge -- committing to sharing Sunday Supper with their loved ones at least once per month. This week, #SundaySupper is partnering with Idaho® Potatoes to share our fun and creative spins on poutine. If you’ve never had poutine, it’s a Canadian comfort dish that features French fries, cheese curds, gravy, and possibly meat. I tried poutine for the first time at last year’s Food Wine Conference, when Idaho® Potatoes sponsored a poutine bar for lunch during the conference. All it took was one bite of this comfort classic to make me a huge fan! I was so excited when I heard this week’s #SundaySupper theme was poutine. I decided to make a regional spin on poutine to share today. 

Here in Texas, BBQ joints serve Texas-sized baked potatoes loaded with chopped BBQ beef, sour cream, cheese, bacon, and green onions. I used this idea to create my Loaded BBQ Roasted Potato Poutine! The base of my poutine is spiced bite-size chunks of my favorite Idaho® Potatoes that are roasted in the oven. They’re topped with slow-cooked BBQ beef, curds of cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onion…and a sprinkle of bacon. This dish is perfect for the upcoming football playoff season. Simply let your guests assemble their own personalized poutine...and you’ve got a party! Even better, the BBQ beef can be prepared in the slow cooker a day ahead and warmed just before assembling.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Las Vegas Date Night...Featuring Cocktails at House of Blues Foundation Room, Michael Jackson ONE, and Dinner at Le Cirque

Michael and I visited Las Vegas this Fall, where we enjoyed a fun double date evening with our cousins, who accompanied us on the trip. Our evening featured pre-show cocktails complete with stunning views of the Vegas Strip, a wildly entertaining Cirque du Soleil show, and one of the  best gourmet meals that we've ever enjoyed. There are date nights...and then there are truly memorable date nights like the one I'm going to share with you today! We had tickets to see Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay that evening, so we decided to arrive early and enjoy some pre-show cocktails at the exclusive House of Blues Foundation Room, located high atop Mandalay Bay. We were seated on the large outdoor patio area on a large cushioned couch, where we sipped craft cocktails -- including the classic French 75. As we enjoyed our cocktails, we enjoyed a breathtaking sunset view up the Las Vegas Strip.
Our date night was off to a fabulous start! After enjoying our cocktails, we made the quick walk over to the Michael Jackson ONE theater inside Mandalay Bay. We had to stop to snap a picture or two of Michael Jackson's signature black loafers and sequined socks, which are on prominent display just outside the show's gift shop. If you're a fan of Michael Jackson's music, Michael Jackson ONE is definitely a must-see show. Cirque du Soleil did a fantastic job with the choreography in this entertaining, high-energy show. Michael Jackson ONE features all of his biggest hits. The show features talented acrobats, amazing dancers, and lots of eye-popping visual effects (including a very realistic dancing Michael Jackson hologram)! From start to finish, we were enthralled with this excellent show. There's so much to see and experience that we're already looking forward to seeing Michael Jackson ONE again when we return to Las Vegas.
Photo provided by Cirque du Soleil
After the show, we made our way to Bellagio for a late dinner at Le Cirque, the AAA Five Diamond Las Vegas location of the New York French fine-dining restaurant. If you're looking for a truly unforgettable gourmet dining experience in Vegas, Le Cirque is definitely the place for you! Our table was located next to a large window and featured views of the famous Bellagio Fountains. Over the next two hours, we enjoyed a truly spectacular three-course dinner of expertly prepared food.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Weekend in Austin...Featuring JW Marriott Austin and the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest!

Photo provided by JW Marriott Austin
Michael and I are fortunate to live just 1.5 hours from Austin. That means we're able to enjoy several fun weekend getaways to Texas' capital city each year. We recently enjoyed a relaxing overnight stay at the luxurious 1,00o-room JW Marriott Austin. Our hotel stay was followed by a Sunday afternoon enjoying Texas' best BBQ at the Texas Monthly BBQ Fest! We arrived at the JW Marriott Austin on a cool, rainy Saturday afternoon. We were very impressed with the hotel's cool, modern look. Check-in was smooth and quick, and we were on our way to our corner Executive Suite overlooking Downtown Austin. The large suite reminded us of a sleek high-rise apartment. Our suite featured a large living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a pullout sofa, a well-appointed bedroom with a King bed, and a spacious bathroom. The neutral color scheme was very soothing. I could definitely get used to this! 
Before we knew it, it was time for us to head downstairs for a dinner tasting at the hotel's Corner restaurant. Corner features regional Texas ingredients, creative crafted tequila cocktails, and locally sourced brews. Corner's atmosphere is upscale casual, and their menu is full of the big flavors that we love! We started our meal with a sampler of tequila-infused cocktails and a duo of appetizers. The fun Three Dips and Chips sampler included crispy tortilla chips, spicy roasted pepper salsa, creamy poblano queso, and house-made guacamole. We also enjoyed the Low Country Fry Up, which was served in a whimsical fryer basket with paprika-infused remoulade sauce for dipping.
The Low Country Fry Up included a variety of fried foods, including shrimp, spicy andouille sausage, zucchini, and sliced jalapenos. Our meal was off to a fun...and tasty...start! Up next came a trio of signature tacos from Corner's popular Taco Bar menu. We sampled the Pork Carnitas, Braised Short Rib, and Crispy Fish Tacos. Each taco was colorful to look at...and yummy to eat!
The carnitas tacos featured juicy pork, a colorful slaw, and picked red onions. The fish tacos included crispy fish, a sweetly spicy sauce, and a snap pea slaw. The short rib tacos featured earthy beef, chimichurri sauce, and flash-fried shallots. It was fun to sample a bit of all three flavors, but the short rib tacos were my personal favorite. We were getting full, but we decided to share the decadent Pecan Praline Brownie served a la mode to end our meal on a sweet note. It was richly sweet and indeed decadent!
After dinner, we took a brief walk outside to admire the pretty lights on Congress St. outside the restaurant. Before heading back to our suite for the night, we decided to check out the rooftop pool and 24-hour full-service gym. It was too chilly to go swimming that night, but check out the amazing nighttime view of Downtown Austin from the sleek outdoor pool area!
We headed back to our suite retreat and settled in to watch a movie on our living room's 48-inch LED television. We also took advantage of the room's high-speed WiFi to share some pictures on our social media channels. Later that evening, we slipped under the covers of our comfy King-size bed, where we enjoyed a fantastic night of restful sleep -- but not before I enjoyed a bubble bath in our suite's deep soaking tub!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Kicking Off National Sunday Supper Month...Featuring Gramma Buckholt's Yeast Rolls #SundaySupper #FamilyMemories

January is officially National Sunday Supper Month, where the #SundaySupper family is encouraging everyone to take The Sunday Supper Pledge -- committing to sharing Sunday Supper with their loved ones at least once per month. As I've learned since joining the #SundaySupper movement in 2012, Sunday Supper starts off as one day a week, and it soon becomes a way of life. The biggest gift we can give our circle of friends and family is to share good food, laughs, and time together! My Great Gramma Edith Buckholt understood the importance of spending time with family -- and cooking simple, hearty meals. Gramma was my Mom's grandmother. She lived 99 years on this earth, so I was lucky to spend time with her during my teenage and early adult years. One of Gramma's best-loved family recipes were her delicious homemade yeast rolls. She taught my Mom to make them, and I asked my Mom to teach me to make them during the holidays.

Yeast and I have had a complicated relationship, but I was determined to learn how to make this cherished family recipe in my own kitchen! Gramma Buckholt's Yeast Rolls are dense and lightly sweet, and they contain simple, basic ingredients. Because she lived during the Depression Era and through World War II rationing, she learned to create tasty bread without using eggs or milk. The result is one of my family's favorite recipes. Growing up, one of my most vivid food memories is coming home from school when the weather finally turned cool in Texas. I'd come in the front door and smell Gramma's Yeast Rolls baking in the oven. As these rolls baked in my oven on New Year's Eve, the scent immediately recalled this memory. Food can truly provide such strong connections to memories in our minds! Let me show you how simple Gramma's rolls are to make.