Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out...Featuring Mi Dia from Scratch #WGDinesOut #WGTravel

After we returned to Texas en route back from Memphis, we spent the night in Dallas before heading home to San Antonio. While in Dallas, we enjoyed an *amazing* meal at the Plano location of Mi Dia from Scratch! What makes this restaurant different is its menu inspirations. Mi Dia from Scratch includes a fusion of delicious Tex-Mex, Mexico City, and New Mexico menu items. The end result is both familiar and innovative! The Weekend Gourmet team was warmly welcomed and shown to our table. What transpired over the following couple of hours was a delicious guided tour of the Mi Dia from Scratch menu.

While we were being seated, one of the first things we noticed was the restaurant's upscale casual décor and open feel. There was lots of light and colorful art on the walls. As we looked over the menu, we chatted with the general manager, who suggested we with cocktails and their signature Tableside Guacamole. The Mi Dia from Scratch bar décor is modern and very eye catching! Their mixology program is extensive, creative, and bold. It features margaritas, martinis, and lots of uniquely fun cocktails. Mi Dia's signature Cloud 9 cocktail features Codigo 1530 Blanco tequila, Cointreau Noir, lemon and lime juices, and vanilla agave. Before being served, the drink is topped with hibiscus air -- foam  that is created via molecular gastronomy with an immersion blender. The light pink color of the foam is very pretty. As you sip the drink, you smell a faint aroma of hibiscus. Love this interactive cocktail!

The dramatic and spicy Hell Freezer Over cocktail featured green chile-infused Herradura Silver tequila, Cointreau, lime, cucumber, basil, agave, and dry ice. This bubbly cocktail is served rimmed with spicy Hatch pepper and salt. The presentation when it comes to the table is a really fun surprise! 

While we waited for our cocktails to arrive from the bar, we were treated to a show as a friendly server created a batch of customized Tableside Guacamole for us to enjoy with our cocktails. Perfectly ripe avocados were combined with cilantro, onion, tomatoes, spices...and our preferred level of spicy create guacamole just the way we like it. The crowning touch that Mi Dia from Scratch offers for its guacamole? Smoky crumbled bacon added to the top before serving. about a mic drop moment! The smokiness of the bacon definitely added a little something special to the creaminess of the avocados. Our meal was off to an amazing start with these next-level cocktails and guacamole.

Next from the kitchen was a duo of starters: Sopes de Carnitas and Quesadillas de Huitlacoche. The sopes were comprised of made-in-house corn masa boats topped with Oaxacan black beans, savory pork carnitas, crumbled queso fresco, pickled red onions, roasted tomatilllo salsa, and micro cilantro. The combination of rich roasted pork, tart pickled onions, and earthy masa made for a perfect bite!
The Quesadilla de Huitlacoche was my first time try this delicacy from Mexico. If you haven't had huitlacoche, it's a fungus that grows on corn as it grows in the fields. It's earthy, reminiscent of truffles or mushrooms...but with a flavor entirely its own. In the quesadilla, its flavor married very well with queso asadero, roasted vegetables, and house made blue corn tortillas. The crema and New Mexico chile sauces provided another level of flavor to this tasty dish.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Memphis Road Trip Part 1: Louisiana, Mississippi, Graceland...and More #TXtoMemphis2018 #WGTravel #roadtrip

Earlier this Summer, The Weekend Gourmet team embarked on a weeklong road trip from Texas to Memphis, Tennessee. We also visited Louisiana and Mississippi en route to Memphis. The drive from our social media team's home in the Golden Triangle area (near the TX-LA border) to Memphis took about 9 hours -- including stops in Louisiana for some authentic boudin sausage and Jackson, Mississippi, for lunch! Today, I'm sharing Part 1 of our journey. If you've never been to Memphis, it's a fabulous city to visit...especially if you love good music, good food, and history! We hit the road early Monday morning and headed east toward Louisiana. After a pit stop in Hammond for boudin, our route headed north toward Jackson -- and lunch at Pig & Pint.

Pig & Pint specializes in two things: BBQ and beer -- not a bad combination in my book! We loved their creative spin on traditional BBQ, and they offer one of the largest selections of craft beer in the entire state of Mississippi. We had a blast trying Pig & Pint signature menu items selected for us by co-owner Chris Clark -- including the uniquely delicious Pork Belly Corn Dogs. Let that sink in for a sec...a crispy cornbread exterior surrounding a center of silky pork belly. It goes without saying...but this appetizer was INSANELY delicious! We also tried two of Pig & Pint's specialty sandwiches: the Fried Baloney Sandwich and the surprising Bacon Melt. The Fried Baloney Sandwich is definitely a cut above the baloney sandwiches you ate as a kid! It features a brioche bun filled with a thick slice of spicy house-made bologna, an over-easy egg, American cheese, creamy-spicy comeback dressing, and house-made BBQ pickles. This is definitely next-level comfort food...a bit messy, but supremely delicious. 

What we weren't prepared for was the Bacon Melt. It's not something we'd typically order, but Chris assured us it was amazing. The sandwich features pork belly, brisket, Swiss cheese, collard greens, comeback dressing on Wheat Berry Bread. All it took was one bite for us to agree. Mind blown...this is easily the very best sandwich I've eaten this year!! The combination of rich pork belly, smoky brisket, slightly bitter greens, and earth Swiss cheese was a flavor bomb we won't soon forget.
We also had to try some of Pig & Pint's traditional BBQ, so we shared a slab of their Award-Winning Pepsi Cola-Glazed Baby Back Ribs. They were fall-off-the-bone tender, with a sweetly spicy sauce...Michael definitely found them "kiss worthy!" Before saying goodbye to Pig & Pint, we split an order of their deliciously rich bread pudding for dessert.
I can't recommend Pig & Pint highly enough! The next-level BBQ is delicious and creative...and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual. After our lunch, we piled back into our rental SUV for the last leg of our drive to Memphis.

Photograph provided by IHG
We arrived in Memphis in the early evening and headed straight for the Holiday Inn Memphis - Downtown (Beale St.), our home base for the first half of our stay. This recently renovated hotel features spacious rooms decorated in soothing tones of gray, convenient valet parking, and a location that truly can't be beat! Within an easy walk of the hotel are several iconic Memphis restaurants and entertainment  options -- including the legendary Beale St.! The check-in process was quick and simple -- I loved the modern, open lobby. During the day, it had a ton of natural light. The onsite Downtown Bar and Grille made it easy for us to start both mornings of our stay with breakfast -- offering both a buffet and menu options.
As this video montage clearly demonstrates, Holiday Inn Memphis - Downtown is an ideal home base for any extended stay in Memphis!

When we got to our room, we settled in and quickly discovered a fun package of goodies from Memphis Tourism waiting for us! Included were tickets to visit Sun Studio and the Stax Records Museum (more on those coming up soon!) -- along with some handy Memphis branded mementos. Memphis Tourism is a fabulous source for anyone planning a visit to Memphis! Their user-friendly website is a central location to learn about the city's best attractions, hotels, and restaurants. Instead of searching all over the web randomly, you'll find all of the information you need to plan a Memphis location in one convenient location. 

Speaking of convenient...Holiday Inn Memphis Downtown is located a few short steps from one of Memphis' iconic BBQ restaurants! Charlie Vergos Rendezvous is a Memphis legend, serving up its famous charcoal-cooked  ribs since 1948. All we had to do was walk outside of the hotel, take a left, and walk less than a block to reach Rendezvous for dinner. It doesn't get more convenient than that! For SEVEN DECADES, the Vergos family has served their signature dry rub ribs in a basement located in a Downtown alley -- eating at Rendezvous is a uniquely Memphis dining experience!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gorton's Game Day Appetizer...Featuring Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Dip with Herbed Pita Chips

Football season started this weekend (GO TEXANS!!), and baseball playoff time for my beloved Houston Astros starts in a few short weeks. That means it's time for me to come up with some new gameday snacks to add to my appetizer roster  -- because all that cheering takes a lot of energy. Today, I'm featuring Gorton's Simply Bake Creamy Alfredo Shrimp in a warm, cheesy dip that everyone will LOVE! This delicious Gorton's item featured individually frozen shrimp coated in a rich Alfredo sauce. Because it's ready to use, Gorton's Simply Bake Cream Alfredo Shrimp saves me a ton of preparation time!

My Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Dip with Herbed Pita Chips tastes so decadently rich that no one will ever guess it's made with lower-fat ingredients and homemade baked pita chips. Another great feature of this dip is that can be assembled a day ahead and refrigerated until just before you're ready to pop the serving dish in the oven to bake. I'm all for saving time, because it helps ensure I don't miss a single play because I'm in the kitchen!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wendy's Great Eight for September 2018 #WendyGreatEight #tryit

It's September...and the Summer heat is finally moderating in Central Texas. It's definitely not Fall weather yet, but I'll take it! It's also time for another edition of my monthly Wendy's Great Eight column! I have some really great new...and new-to-me food items to share with you this month. So...let's get going!

(1) Coffee-mate natural bliss® Products. One of my favorite daily indulgences is a morning iced coffee latte. I have a couple of tips to reduce calories and fat in my little treat, though. I start with a bit of cold coffee, then I add a cup of vanilla almond milk. Finally, I add a bit of flavored creamer for sweetness and added flavor. Lately, I've been using Coffee-mate's natural bliss® creamers. They're made with simple ingredients and all-natural flavorings -- like milk and cream from cows that do not receive growth hormones, cane sugar, and natural flavorings. Don't use dairy? No problem! natural bliss® creamers also come in non-dairy almond milk and coconut milk varieties. All of the flavors I've tried are smooth and lightly sweet, without being overly sweet. My personal favorite flavor is the Honey Cream almond milk creamer. This non-dairy creamer is flavored with Madagascar vanilla extract, cane sugar, and honey -- I love the warm sweetness it adds! For those mornings when I'm in a big hurry, I also love the natural bliss® Cold Brew Coffee! It's bottled ready-to-pour over ice and enjoy on the go...and it contains nonfat milk, cold brew coffee, cane sugar, and cream. An 8-ounce serving over ice has just 135 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 6 grams of protein, and 18 grams sugar. Coffee-mate's natural bliss®  line has definitely improved my morning coffee game!

(2) Peet's True Iced Espresso Canned Beverage. When I make my morning iced coffee, I feel that it's important to start out with a quality coffee for my that is smooth and intense (without being overly strong). One of the best brands I've tried recently is Peet's line of True Iced Espresso, which comes in ready-to-drink cans. I typically use half of a can for a morning's iced coffee. Each variety starts with Peet's signature dark espresso -- flavored with simple, all-natural ingredients. Peet's True Iced Espresso comes in four great flavors: Black and White, Caramel Macchiato, Vanilla Latte, and Mocha. They can definitely be enjoyed straight from the can for an on-the-go beverage...but I personal use them as a base for my morning iced coffee. With 100-to-130 calories for an 8-ounce serving, Peet's True Iced Espresso is an indulgence that won't leave you feeling guilty all day! It can be found a major retailers nationwide or ordered directly via Peet's website.

(3) Morningstar Farms Meat Lovers 1/4-lb Vegan Burger. There's nothing quite a classic hamburger...but I am watching my fat and cholesterol intake these days. That means eating more plant-based meals. Morningstar Farms recently introduced a new Meat Lovers 1/4-lb. vegan burger that makes a mean cheeseburger -- with a fraction of the fat in a traditional burger! Each 280-calorie patty provides 27 grams of plant based protein and 26% less fat than a regular beef patty -- and 4 net carbs! Also important does it *taste*?!?!? We love these huge burgers -- the texture is very meat like, and the taste is great! We add lots of veggies, a slice of lowfat cheese, and our favorite condiments and thoroughly enjoy these plant-based burger patties on our weekly "vegetarian days"! To find Morningstar's new Meat Lover...and Veggie Lover...1/4-lb. vegan burger near you, visit Morningstar's handy online store locator.

(4) Tillamook Sauce Starter. Cheese is one of my favorite foods...and one of my favorite cheese brands is Tillamook! We visited the factory during a trip to Oregon a few years ago, which only affirmed my love for this delicious cheese. I recently tried their new line of Sauce Starter kits...and I'm hooked! Each package includes a blend of coarsely shredded Tillamook cheese and a spice packet. Add the ingredients and milk in a saucepan...then heat and stir until the cheese melts and you have a creamy, cheesy sauce! Tillamook Sauce Starters come in four flavors: Creamy Alfredo, Aged Cheddar, Three Cheese, and Spicy Queso. I used this versatile product two ways so far. First, I used the  Creamy Alfredo to make a sauce for a butternut squash spiral "pasta" skillet. Then, I used the Three Cheese to make a pot of cheesy broccoli-cauliflower soup. I can't wait to use the Spicy Queso to make queso dip for the Texans game this weekend! These Tillamook Sauce Starters are on the short list for my Best New Food Item of 2018 designation. To find these sauce kits near you, use the search engine found at Tillamook's website.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Touchdown Popcorn Toffee Bark #gameday #fingerfood #sweetandsalty

I am SO EXCITED that the NFL season starts next weekend! Although the Astros are heading toward the MLB playoffs, we're also HUGE Houston Texans fans -- so game day each week finds us in front of the TV watching the game...and noshing on yummy food! I typically focus on spicy, savory appetizers for game day...but everyone loves a simple, fun sweet treat too! When I saw a recipe for a quick graham cracker-based toffee bar in Bon Appetit, it immediately caught my eye. I tweaked their recipe a bit to create my addicting Touchdown Popcorn Toffee Bark.

A crunchy graham cracker base is topped with popcorn and other toppings. Then, a homemade salted vanilla-cinnamon toffee is poured over the top. After baking for a few minutes in the oven, the baked toffee is topped with a generous amount of semisweet and white chocolate chunks. After the bark cools, it's broken into pieces to serve. I guarantee this sweet-salty snack will score a touchdown with your hungry friends and family on game one is ever able to eat just one piece!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Recipe Do-Over: Tex-Mex Egg Bowls with Cheesy Chorizo Grits

Since having my stroke, I've made some significant changes to my way of eating. One big change I've made is to focus on reducing excess fat and upping the protein when cooking meals. That means retooling some of my favorite go-to recipes -- including the Recipe Do-Over I'm sharing today! I reworked my comforting Tex-Mex Egg Bowls with Cheesy Chorizo Grits to have less fat. Rest assured that all of their Big Flavor is still there. A base of creamy grits flavored with spicy Mexican chorizo and a bit of sharp cheddar is topped with an over-easy egg, Cotija cheese, and a quick avocado pico de gallo. Key changes made to the original recipe include:
  • Reduced the amount of butter in the recipe by 50% --using just enough real butter for its unparalleled flavor.
  • Reduced the amount of Cotija cheese that tops each bowl.
  • Used 2% milk in the grits in place of half-and-half.
  • Used a lesser amount of cheddar in the grits, and switched to more flavorful sharp cheddar.
  • Used less chorizo in the grits, and added a step to drain the cooked chorizo between paper towels to remove fat.
With these fat- and calorie-reducing changes, these filling egg bowls are still delicious, comforting, and full of spicy flavor. The end result is a dish that's a better-for-you choice than my original 2017 version!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Up Your Brunch Game! Salted Caramel-Bacon French Toast Bake with Coffee-mate® Artisan Cafe Creamer

If you're like me, there's always a few bottles of fun flavored coffee creamers in your fridge. I typically use them to make yummy iced coffee creations at home that are a fraction of the cost of big-name coffee shops. But...did you know that these versatile creamers can also be used to flavor more than coffee? It's true! I recently partnered with Coffee-mate® to create a weekend brunch dish featuring their delicious Artisan Café Himalayan Salted Caramel creamer! Coffee-mate®'s Artisan Café line is super creamy, because it contains cream, milk, and buttermilk. I especially love dishes with a salty-sweet flavor component, so I created my Salted Caramel-Bacon French Toast Bake to showcase both flavors. This recipe features Artisan Café Himalayan Salted Caramel creamer in the custard that's poured over the bread cubes...AND in the creamy sauce I created to pour over each serving. 

The addition of savory crumbled bacon pairs perfectly with the salted caramel. To up the ante even more, the bread cubes for the French toast are made from two slices of Hawaiian bread with a thin layer of cookie butter spread between. This decadent French toast bake is a very special brunch for relaxing weekends, because it feeds up to six hungry people. It can even be assembled the night before and refrigerated. The next morning, simply pop the baking dish in the oven and start a pot of coffee going. 

I made this dish for our Sunday breakfast while visiting my parents last weekend, and everyone raved about how delicious it was. With the holiday season creeping up on the horizon, this will be a perfect recipe to have on hand!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Grilled Avocado with Confetti Shrimp Salad

It may be nearly September, but the weather here in Central Texas is still it's the perfect time to fire up the grill and create delicious no-fuss meals. Today's recipe is one of my all-time favorites! It can be made on an outdoor grill -- or inside using a cast-iron grill pan. My Grilled Avocado with Confetti Shrimp Salad is refreshing, and it makes a perfect delicious light lunch or dinner. The flavorful shrimp salad can be made up to a day ahead, and the avocado halves grill up in about 5 minutes. This dish is perfect for avocado lovers! Avocados taste great, but they're also a nutrition power house that I include in my meals 2-3 times per week. They provide potassium, essential fatty acids, and 17 vitamins and minerals. Good tasting and good for you is my new eating motto, and this amazing dish accomplishes both of these goals!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Wendy's Great Eight for August 2018 #WendyFaveThings #greateight #tryit

Summer is speeding right by -- hard to believe that it's nearly time for back to school. It's also time for another exciting edition of Wendy's Great Eight! This month, I'm featuring my new favorite health food finds, snacks that are perfect for packing in those back-to-school lunches, and a great way to get a quick coffee fix. Let's get started!

(1) International Delight Ready-to-Drink Iced Coffee. One of my favorite indulgences this Summer is iced coffee. Lightly sweet, cooling, and's a perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a hot Texas afternoon! I was thrilled to discover International Delight's easy-to-drink iced coffee in the refrigerated section of my local grocery store. It couldn't be more convenient -- simply pour the coffee over ice and drink! International Delight Ready-to-drink ice coffee is made with coffee, a bit of pure cane sugar, plus real milk and cream. It comes in four great flavors: chocolaty Mocha, smooth Caramel Macchiato, creamy Vanilla, and fun Oreo (their latest flavor!). My favorite flavor is the Caramel Macchiato -- the ratio of coffee to cream is spot on. Each 8-ounce serving is 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. I typically add a bit of vanilla almond milk and one packet of stevia-monkfruit sweetener to suit my tastes. To save a few calories, International Delight also offers 90-calorie Iced Coffee Lights in Caramel Macchiato and Mocha flavors. To find International Delight Ready-to-Drink iced coffee at a retailer near you, be sure to check out their handy online store locator -- which is searchable by product.

(2) Hammond Chocolate Bars. Over the past few months, I've made some big changes to the way I eat. I've been focusing on eating less sugar and better carbs. However, I always include one or two treats each week to keep things fun -- typically a bit of chocolate! One of my favorite recent discoveries is Hammond's line of creative and delicious chocolate bars. Their fun flavors include Midnight Snack (milk with pretzels, cookies, brittle, marshmallows, and cereal); Grasshopper Pie (dark with a minty filling); and Bourbon Pecan Pie (milk filled with a decadent bourbon pecan caramel). My personal favorite Hammond chocolate bar is their addicting sweet-salty Pigs n' Taters -- milk chocolate with pieces of real bacon and potato chips! If you're a fan sweetly salty treats, this chocolate bar will blow your mind! Silk milk chocolate is studded with bits of crunchy-salty potato chips and crispy-savory bacon! To find Hammond's products near you, check out their searchable Where to Buy function. Hammond also has an online store that offers nationwide delivery.

(3) Simply7 Snacks. There's something that is so satisfying about eating crunchy snacks -- they're perfect for dipping, snacking, and pairing with sandwiches. The key is to make wiser choices. This Summer, I've been enjoying Simply7 snacks made with quinoa, hummus, lentils, kale, and organic veggies. This Houston-based company makes their yummy gluten-free snacks using clean and simple non-GMO ingredients, zero added preservatives, no trans fat or cholesterol. I love that these snacks are not only a healthier option...but they taste great too! My favorite Simply7 varieties are the light and crispy Cheddar quinoa chips (1 ounce is 140 calories and 6 grams of fat) and the spicy Jalapeno Lentil Chips (40% less fat than traditional potato chips!). Love popcorn? Simply7 has recently teamed with Giada De Laurentiis to create a line of popcorn from blue and red corn that's simply flavored with Italian-sourced ingredients. To locate Simply7's snacks and popcorn near you, visit the Store Locator at their website.

(4) Laughing Cow Cheese Cups. I love Laughing Cow cheese -- until recently, you'd find a round package of their creamy cheese wedges in my fridge nearly all of the time. However, I've found a new way to enjoy this favorite food item: in convenient single-serving Cheese Cups! This fun product comes in three flavors: Original Creamy Swiss, Creamy Swiss Garlic & Herb, and Creamy White Cheddar. Each single-serve cup contains 90-1oo calories and 4-5 grams of protein. These convenient portion-controlled cups are portable -- making them perfect for school lunches or work brown bags. They're great with pretzels, and I add them to my morning egg scrambles -- they melt in, providing pockets of melty cheese goodness! Want to find this product near you? Visit their online Product Locator, which is searchable by specific Laughing Cow product.