Sunday, January 29, 2017

Paying it Forward with Stonyfield Yogurt...Featuring Homemade Pampering Gift #StonyfieldBlogger

As most of you know, I'm a proud member of Stonyfield Yogurt's Clean Plate Club. I love using their delicious organic yogurt products to make good-for-you recipes all throughout the year...and I love their big hearts too! Last month, Stonyfield sent me a $50 VISA gift card to take part in their holiday Pay It Forward program. I could use the money any way I chose to donate to a cause close to my heart. What an opportunity! The holidays can be rough for those who lack the financial resources to provide holiday presents for their kids. Not that presents are the main focus of the holiday season...but every child deserves to have a little something under the tree on Christmas morning!

At my previous job, we provided holiday presents every year to high school students who otherwise wouldn't receive any gifts. It was such an amazing feeling to watch them open a present from their wish list during our annual holiday party at the school. I immediately knew I wanted to do something similar with my gift card. I contacted a local community service organization and asked them to recommend a school that might have some female students who were in need of a holiday gift. They helped me connect with a high school, and I took it from there!
I selected items for the baskets that my teenage niece would like -- fun items the students' family budgets might not permit. I wanted the items to be pampering...and definitely girly! Nearly all of the items were purchased at a "dollar store" so I could provide baskets for four young ladies. I started with a sturdy wire basket that could be re-used after the contents were gone. I lined each basket with a colorful towel, then filled it with a variety of items. The baskets contained a scented candle, candy, nail polish, hot chocolate, trail mix...and some cozy holiday slipper socks. 

When the baskets were assembled, I delivered them to the school's guidance counselor -- who distributed them to four young ladies who wouldn't have otherwise received a holiday gift. It was a completely anonymous act...I don't know who received the baskets, and the students don't know who gave them their gift. I'm so happy imaging their faces when they received a little bit of unexpected holiday cheer! I hope you'll look for opportunities to Pay it Forward in your own life during the coming year. It doesn't have to cost a fortune to do something nice for someone else...and it will also bring you immense joy and satisfaction!

Disclosure: This was a compensated post on behalf of Stonyfield Yogurt. They provided me with a $50 VISA gift card to purchase the supplies to make the donated gift baskets featured in this post. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road...Featuring Houston's Hotel Sorella CITYCENTRE #WGHitstheRoad

Photo provided by Hotel Sorella CITYCENTRE
My hometown of Houston is on a lot of radars at the moment, because the Super Bowl is being held there next weekend. We typically spend our time visiting our families when we go home. However, during a recent trip we enjoyed an overnight getaway with our teenage niece Lili at the elegant Hotel Sorella CITYCENTRE. This 266-room luxury boutique hotel is located within the city's popular CITYCENTRE development -- which features lots of great restaurants and retail locations. We especially loved that once we parked our car, we never had to leave the CITYCENTRE area during our stay at Sorella. Everything we needed was available either at the hotel, or it was just a short walk away within the CITYCENTRE complex. Talk about convenient! Sorella is part of the Valencia Hotel Group. Key amenities include on-site dining, a large rooftop swimming pool area, a fitness center, high-speed Internet access, and a convenient complimentary continental breakfast in the lobby area each morning. 

Photo provided by Hotel Sorella CITYCENTRE

When we arrived, we parked our car and checked in at the Sorella's spacious lobby. I loved the cool, modern decor. Our room wasn't quite ready, so we left our bags and decided to have lunch at Grimaldi's pizza at CITYCENTRE. Grimaldi's was a quick 5-minute walk from the Sorella. We're huge fans of Grimaldi's delicious New York-style pizza, so we were so excited to introduce Lili to it! We ordered our signature flavor: pepperoni and Italian sausage with pesto, paired with a Mediterranean salad. The salad was super fresh and bursting with flavor thanks to a generous amount of feta cheese and the perfectly tart vinaigrette. We always enjoy this salad at Grimaldi's while we wait for our pizza to cook.
The pizza came to the table with a perfect thin crust, zesty tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, flavorful pepperoni and sausage, and a drizzle of basil pesto. This is pizza nirvana, folks! After our lunch, we explored CITYCENTRE a bit more as we walked over to have dessert at Sweet bakery. This adorable bakery is known in Houston for its creative cupcakes, macarons, and locally produced Greenway Coffee. We decided to try a few of their signature cupcake and macaron flavors. 
The macarons were perfection! We loved all of the flavors, but our favorites were the Rose, Nutella, and fun Fruity Pebble flavors. Sweet's cupcakes were amazing as well, especially the Berry Cheesecake and their signature S'mores. The S'mores cupcake features a graham cracker base, dark chocolate cake, and a generous amount of marshmallow fluff that's dipped in rich chocolate ganache. Heaven! By then, our room was we made the short walk back to our home base at the Sorella.

We picked up our room keys at the front desk, then we headed up to our room. It featured dark hardwood floors and amazing views of CITYCENTRE from our large floor-to-ceiling window. After we admired the view for a bit, we noticed that the friendly staff at the Sorella had left us some snacks and wine as a welcome gift...such a nice touch! Our Double beds were very comfortable, and they featured luxurious Egyptian cotton linens. We were very impressed with the creature comforts in our room -- including a 37-inch flat screen plasma television and designer toiletries. After a brief rest, we decided to check out the rooftop pool area -- which is one of the Sorella's main social hubs. We changed into our bathing suits, grabbed our robes, and headed down to the pool.
The pool area features comfy poolside chaise lounges -- some with elegant white canopies -- and tasty cocktails from the adjacent Monnalisa Bar. We had fun splashing in the pool, visiting...and sampling some of the bar's signature cocktails.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wendy's Favorite Things for January...Featuring Healthy Products! #GreatEight #WendyFaveThings

In the new year, many of us are focusing on eating healthier and moving more...myself included! For this month's Wendy's Favorite Things, I'm sharing some of my favorite healthier food finds that have helped keep my healthy eating goals on track the past few weeks. Let's get started!!

(1) CedarLane Natural Foods Vegetarian Frozen Entrees. I try to balance indulgences with healthy eating for my good health, but I refuse to sacrifice flavor. CedarLane’s delicious line of frozen vegetarian meals helps me do just that! Their product line includes ready-to-eat frozen omelets, egg white frittatas, and vegetarian burritos. Their line of vegetarian entrees includes Eggplant Parmesan, Lowfat Garden Vegetable Enchilada, and Three-Layer Enchilada Pie. Every product I’ve tried in the line is tasty, filling…and healthy! My personal favorite entree is the Lowfat Garden Enchiladas. They're made with organic corn tortillas, pinto beans, cheese, and veggies…and topped with a lightly spicy sauce. It’s a delicious and filling meal that has just 280 calories and 6 grams fat for a hearty 2-enchilada serving. To find CedarLane products near you, be sure to visit their online Store Locator.

(2) Burt’s Bees Daily Plant-Based Protein Powder. You know Burt's Bees for its popular line of natural makeup and body care products. But you probably didn't know that they recently introduced a line of Daily Plant-Based Protein Powders. I've been using their Vanilla Daily Protein this month, and I'm loving it! It comes in Chocolate flavor too! Each serving contains 15 grams of plant-based protein, and it contains an optimal blend of plant-based protein and vitamins from fruits and vegetables. Each serving provides me with 15 grams of plant-based protein from Pea, Rice, Flaxseed, Sunflower Seed, and Oat, two servings of fruits and vegetables, and 10% of my RDA for a dozen essential vitamins. As an added bonus, it's non-GMO and made from 70% organic ingredients. The bottom line for me is that it tastes good! The instructions recommend stirring it into water, but I prefer it blended with milk and ice so it's more like a shake. The entire line of Burt's Bees protein powders can be purchased online directly from Burt's Bees.

(3) Miss Jones Organic Baking Products. Even if you're trying to eat healthy, you're going to want to enjoy a sweet so you don't feel deprived. The key is to treat yourself smartly. I recently gave Miss Jones Organic baking products a try, and I really loved them! Their line of organic, non-GMO cake mixes, brownies, and ready-to-use frosting tastes great...and they don't have a bunch of hard-to-pronounce preservatives. So far, I've tried their brownie mix and Salted Caramel Buttercream icing. The brownies bake up fudgy, with a deep chocolate flavor -- and they even provide instruction to make the brownies vegan. The salted caramel frosting is made with sustainable palm oil from Colombia instead of it's vegan and dairy free...and it doesn't have any artificial colors or flavors. Hint: it tastes especially great spread on one of Miss Jones' brownies! To find these amazing baking mixes and frosting at a store near you, be sure to check out their Find a Store option.

(4) Cast Iron Paleo Cookbook. If you follow a paleo eating plan -- or if you simply want to focus on eating more veggies and protein and fewer carbs -- Cast Iron Paleo is a fantastic cookbook! Whether you use your cast iron on the stovetop or in the oven, cast iron is a fabulous way to cook. Here in the South, cast iron pans are often handed down from generation to generation like an heirloom, so I was really excited to receive this cookbook. This cookbook contains 101 one-pan recipes for quick and delicious meals, including Sizzling Portobello Fajitas, Honey Mustard Rosemary Chicken Thighs, and Maple Glazed Pork Chops. As a bonus, one pan means less cleanup after dinner! This handy cookbook is available at bookstores nationwide, and it can also be ordered from Amazon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Celebrating National Soup Month with Yucatan Chicken-Lime Soup

January is National Soup Month, so I wanted to share one of my favorite soup recipes with you. I originally shared the recipe for Yucatan Chicken-Lime Soup...aka Sopa de Lima...a couple of years ago. It's so crazy good that I wanted to share it again in honor of National Soup Month. This soup is very similar to chicken-tortilla soup, with a citrusy kick from the addition of lime juice. This recipe is my spin on an Emeril Lagasse recipe, by way of Rick Bayless. I also made a few minor tweaks based on some tricks I learned from a server in Merida, Mexico -- where we first tasted this dish while on vacation a few years ago. 

I use skinless bone-in chicken breast to give a richer chicken flavor to my broth. Second, I add lime juice AND simmer lime halves in the broth for 15 minutes before serving. This allows the lime's citrus oil to infuse a deeper lime flavor. Finally, I add a bit of chihuahua cheese to the top of each bowl before serving -- because a little cheese is never a bad thing! This Yucatan Chicken-Lime Soup is the perfect soup to serve on a chilly Winter day, and it'w also great for any upcoming game-watching parties on your schedule.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Vegolutions with MorningStar Farms®...Featuring Lighter One-Pot Meatless Pasta #ad #CollectiveBias #DailyVegolutions

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #DailyVegolutions #CollectiveBias
Like many of you, I’m making a conscious effort to eat a bit healthier in the new year. One of my goals is to include at least one meatless meal per week. Luckily, MorningStar Farms® offers a convenient line of delicious meatless products that help me meet my Vegolutions – and enjoy great-tasting meals in the process! MorningStar Farms®’s flavorful recipe-ready veggie crumbles are perfect for making healthier versions of your favorite recipes like chili, spaghetti sauce, and tacos. I love that they let me enjoy healthier, meat-free versions of traditional comfort foods! MorningStar Farms® items are convenient and delicious for everyone – not just vegetarians and vegans. Even my meat-loving hubby enjoys eating them! MorningStar Farms® products are a convenient way to help us stay on our healthier lifestyle journey.

I recently went to my local Walmart to pick up packages of MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™ and Meal Starters® Steak Strips – along with some Great Value™ frozen chopped spinach -- to create a healthier meatless pasta dish. All three items were easy to locate in the freezer case.
To purchase MorningStar Farms® items to meet your personal Vegolutions plans, be sure to use a special Ibotta to earn yourself some money! Simply buy any three (3) MorningStar Farms® products at Walmart, and you’ll earn $3! This Ibotta offer applies to all MorningStar Farms® products available at Walmart. The offer began on 1/09/2017, and it lasts throughout the month of January.

My Lighter One-Pot Pasta Dinner conveniently cooks in a Dutch oven, and it’s ready to eat in about 45 minutes – making it perfect for a busy weeknight dinner. This pasta features MorningStar Farms® Grillers® Crumbles™ in place of ground beef, chunky organic marinara sauce, high-fiber bowtie pasta, mushrooms, and nutrient-rich Great Value™ spinach. The end result is a hearty pasta dish that’s lower in fat and calories than my typical pasta dinner.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Stirrings Blogger Recipe Challenge...Featuring Sparkling Watermelon-Mint Limeade Cocktail #simplybettercocktails

I was recently invited to take part in the Stirrings first annual Stir It Up Holiday Blogger Mixology Challenge. Stirrings makes a delicious line of super premium cocktail mixers that are made with real juice and no preservatives. These mixers taste great, and they make mixology a snap! They provided me with my choice of two mixers and a cocktail rimmer to create a Simply Better Cocktail. I opted to received Stirrings' Watermelon Martini and Mojito cocktail mixers, along with their Lemon Drop Rimmer for garnish. I used both mixers to create my Sparkling Watermelon-Mint Limeade Cocktail. This refreshing cocktail proves a delicious hint of Summer that can enjoyed year-round. A little sweet...and a little tart...this fizzy cocktail is ready to enjoy in about 5 minutes thanks to convenient ready-to-use Stirrings mixers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Almost Time for Culinaria's 2017 Winter San Antonio Restaurant Week #SARW

It's a new year...and it's it's time for San Antonio's most highly anticipated culinary event of the Winter season: Culinaria's San Antonio Restaurant Week! This fun, tasty event is taking place January 16-28, and it literally offers something for every kind of food lover! Restaurants all over the city are offering diners special three-course lunch and dinner prix fixe menus. Prices come in two tiers to ensure San Antonio food lovers a range of budget options:
  • Tier 1 Restaurants: $15 lunch and $35 dinner
  • Tier 2 Restaurants: $10 lunch and $25 dinner
If you've never taken part in San Antonio Restaurant Week, this is the perfect year to jump in with both feet! This delicious two-week culinary event is a great way to try a new-to-you restaurant...or dine out at one of the city's best restaurants for a much lower price point. There's truly something from everyone -- from casual family-friendly restaurants to high-end gourmet dining. Be sure to visit the San Antonio Restaurant Week website to check out the mouthwatering menus!

Photo provided by Asado Seafood & Grll
The Weekend Gourmet team is going to be sampling the creative Restaurant Week dinner menus at a duo of Tier 1 restaurants. We'll enjoy traditional American, South American, Caribbean, and delicious rotisserie creations at Bolo’s Rotisserie Grille. We'll also be returning to a favorite restaurant from last year's Restaurant Week: Asado Seafood & GrillWe'll be sharing these dining experiences live via Instagram (WEEKENDGOURMET) and Twitter (@TheWeekendGourm). Be sure to follow The Weekend Gourmet's social feeds to see lots of pictures and video of our San Antonio Restaurant Week dining adventures!
Photo provided by Bolo's Rotisserie Grill
While reservations are not required to dine out during San Antonio Restaurant Week, they are strongly encouraged -- especially if you want to dine at the city's most popular restaurants. All reservations should be booked directly with the restaurant(s) you wish to dine at. As an added bonus...not only will your meal be a delicious dining experience, but it will be a charitable one too! With every meal that is ordered during San Antonio Restaurant Week, each participating restaurant will donate $1 for lunch and $2 for dinner to Culinaria San Antonio and all of the great programs it supports.

Disclosure: Culinaria provided me a pair of dining vouchers for Bolo's, and Asado Seafood & Grill is hosting us for a Restaurant Week Dinner tasting, to facilitate coverage of the event. All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lean Beef Recipes #SundaySupper...Featuring Lighter Tex-Mex Albondigas Soup

Happy 2017, everyone!! It's time to say goodbye to holiday indulging -- and hello to making healthier food choices. This week, #SundaySupper is focusing on Lean Beef Recipes. Just because you've resolved to eat lighter doesn't mean you have to give up beef! Our hostess this week is Sarah from Chef Next Door, and she asked us to share our favorite light recipe showcasing beef. I knew the weather was turning downright frigid by Texas standards by the end of this week, so I knew I wanted to make a hearty -- yet healthy -- beef soup. I decided to make a lighter spin on classic Mexican albondigas (aka meatball) soup!

This flavorful recipe features meatballs made with 93% lean ground beef and rice. The meatballs are simmered with healthy veggies in a flavorful broth. This is definitely a complete meal in a bowl, and it's bursting with the big flavors we love! The spice level in this soup is moderate, so even those who are spice-averse will love it. To save time, the meatballs can be made up to a day ahead and stored in an airtight bowl in the fridge until you're ready to cook the soup. This is the kind of soup that will fill your tummy...and keep you toasty warm...on the chilliest of Winter days!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out for January...Featuring San Antonio Detours' Pearl Brunch Tour

This month’s edition of The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out features San Antonio Detours’ tasty and fun weekend walking brunch tour of San Antonio's Pearl Brewery District. This tour company is based in Austin and recently expanded to San Antonio. They offer a wide variety of group tours that explore some of the city's famous historical well as a pair of food-based tours that spotlight some of San Antonio's best food. San Antonio Detours' motto is "We Create Fun!", and they really deliver on that promise. Group tours are kept to no more than 11 people to ensure a more personalized feel. Samantha was our tour guide, and she was friendly and knowledgeable. During the 2-hour the Pearl Brunch Tour, we enjoyed amazing food and beverages...and we learned a lot about the Pearl Brewery District that we didn't know. 

Known by locals as simply "The Pearl", this hot spot is located on the historic site of the former Pearl beer brewery. This multi-use complex offers area residents and visitors so much to see and do! The Pearl has several residential areas, 15 of the city's best restaurant, 13 retailers, 18 businesses, and a very popular twice-weekly Farmers Market. That makes this vibrant, growing neighborhood a fabulous place to explore on foot. One thing’s for sure: the Pearl District is one of the coolest places to eat and drink in San Antonio. With some of the city’s best restaurants, it’s a true culinary destination! The Pearl Brunch Tour weaves through the complex, making four different stops. At each location, Samantha told us about its history, what makes it so unique, the various cooking styles and ingredients used, and why certain menu items are so popular.

The first stop of our tour was for a cup of freshly brewed coffee at Local Coffee. As their name implies, Local Coffee sources the best coffee beans from around the world. The coffee beans are then roasted locally at their Merit Roasting Company. Local Coffee's commitment to quality means customers get to enjoy a cup of coffee that’s robust and smooth-as-silk. Local Coffee is very popular with San Antonio residents, as the line outside the door ably demonstrated!
The next stop of our tour was Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, where we enjoyed a cocktail and chilled starters. Southerleigh is located adjacent to Hotel Emma and offers seasonal comfort food and a variety of house-made craft beers. We started our brunch visit with a refreshing Pineapple Cocktail, which was a very nice change from the typical brunch mimosa. This delicious sparkling cocktail includes pineapple cider, champagne, and pineapple juice. While we sipped our cocktails, we enjoyed a trio of cold dishes. First up was the lovely Green Salad with Shaved Radish, Sweet Onion, Soft Boiled Egg, White Cheddar, and a delicious house-made Dijon vinaigrette. Next out of the kitchen were Iced Texas Gulf shrimp, which were served with house-made Fresh Horseradish Cocktail and Celery Root Remoulade dipping sauces. Finally, we sampled a seasonal fresh fruit plate with a variety of berries and melon. Everything was perfectly prepared and so fresh!