Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Best Road Trip Snacks 2019 Part II...Savory and Salty #roadtrip #summertravel #travelsnacks

There's something about Summer adventures that screams ROAD TRIP! There's something special that comes filling the car tank with gas, cranking up some amazing tunes, and making new memories with friends and family...and the packing the perfect road trip-worthy SNACKS! For our five-city Texas-Louisiana road trip last week, I packed an assortment of sweet and savory snacks for us to enjoy on the road. It saved us lots of time...and money...during pitstops our route. Planning ahead also helped me determine which types of snacks -- and how much of each snack I enjoyed. Today, I'm sharing my picks for the best crunchy and savory snacks that we enjoyed last week! 

Healthy Hint: Before hitting the road, pre-portion crunchy bagged snacks into individual portions via ziptop bags. This pre-planning action ensures your on-the-go snacking is portion controlled. Take it from me: it's very easy to mindlessly eat an entire bag of crunchy snacks if you're not careful!

Our trip lasted three days, starting and ending in our home base in San Antonio. We were joined by one of our very best friends for a laughter-filled trip. Along the way, we enjoyed award-winning BBQ in Waco; visited a big cat sanctuary in Tyler; explored a trio of attractions in Shreveport, Louisiana; stayed at a boutique hotel in Irving/Las Colinas; and sampled more amazing BBQ in Fort Worth. More to come on these activities in the days ahead! Between stops, we munched on some yummy snacks.
(1) Pop Art Snacks Gourmet Popcorn. There's popcorn...and then there's Pop Art's creatively flavored gourmet popcorn. If you're tired of plain popcorn, you've GOT to try their uniquely fun flavors! Check out these options: Rosemary Truffle, White Pepper Parmesan, White Coconut Curry, and Nori Sesame. Talk about big flavor...I am in love with this popcorn, with its fluffy kernels and creative flavors. Popcorn is naturally a healthy snack...and these flavors make it fun too!

WW Freestyle SmartPoints
  • Rosemary Truffle: 4 SP for 3 cups
  • Thai Coconut Curry: 5 SP for 2 3/4 cups
  • White Cheddar Jalapeno: 5 SP for 2.5 cups
  • White Pepper Parmesan: 5 SP for 2.5 cups
  • Hawaiian Sea Salt w/Avocado Oil & Nori Sesame: 4 SP for 2 cups
    (2) Sun Puffs Four Cheese Flavored Whole Grain Snacks. Cheesy, crunchy...two great travel snack characteristics! Sun Puff's new Four Cheese Flavored Whole Grain Snacks provide the cheesy taste and crunchy flavor you crave...with the benefits of 100% whole grain. These munchable squares are delicious on their own, or paired with a sandwich. This snack's cheezy flavor comes from Gouda, cheddar, Monterey Jack, and mozzarella cheeses! Each 15-puff serving -- the puffs are pretty big -- has just 150 calories.

    WW Freestyle SmartPoints: 3 SP for TEN puffs

    (3) Sabra Breakfast Toast Kits. For road trips, use your cooler to store more than cold drinks! Why not bring along Sabra's chilled Breakfast Toast packs? They're individually portioned with a container of hummus or avocado, whole grain crackers, and a seasoning packet. These toast kits make a handy on-the-go snack or meal that fills you up with healthy protein and fats! Other flavors in Sabra's on-the-go toast kit line are Everything Hummus Toast and Avocado Toast. I especially love the avocado kit -- add a piece of fruit, and you have a perfect on-the-go breakfast for those days you need to hit the road bright and early!

    WW Freestyle SmartPoints
    • Lemon Poppy Seed Toast: 8 SP
    • Everything Hummus Toast: 7 SP
    • Avocado Toast:  6 SP

    (4) CHESTER'S® Puffcorn Snacks. CHESTER'S® Puffcorn is one of my personal favorite road trip snacks. We drive home to Houston from San Antonio about once per month. This is my go-to snack! It's fluffy like popcorn -- minus the hulls. It's also an economical option, priced at $2 per bag. There are three fun flavors to choose from: Butter, Cheese, and fiery Flamin' Hot®. I especially love that each serving is quite generous: 160 calories or less for approximately 45 pieces! My personal favorite is the Butter flavor...reminds me of buttered popcorn. 

    WW Freestyle SmartPoints
    • Butter Puffcorn: 5 SP for 46 pieces
    • Cheese and Flamin' Hot Puffcorn: 5 SP for 42 pieces

      Sunday, June 23, 2019

      Instagram-Worthy Roasted Eggplant and Chickpeas...Featuring Pearl Barley and Feta #eatyourveggies #meatlessmonday #plantbasedmeals

      Today, I'm featuring a new post from The Weekend Gourmet's Contributor Elaine Griffiths. Elaine is sharing a healthy, delicious eggplant and barley salad that's perfect for Meatless Monday. It's simple enough for a weeknight family dinner...but the addition of feta and pomegranate arils makes it an elegant dinner party entree too! This post may contain affiliate links.
      If you're tired of healthy food that tastes boring, you're not alone! Most people would rather chow down on a juicy burger than something as spartan as a chickpea and pearl barley salad. That has nothing to do with the food itself...and everything to do with how it's prepared. Most people know that to make meat taste good, you can cook it on a BBQ grill to sizzle away...then add it to a fresh, soft bun with a flavorful condiment. It's a magical combination! The same approach can be taken to transform ordinary pearl barley from a dull grain to big-flavor taste sensation!

      It turns out that with a bit of know-how, you can work miracles on this healthy grain! Simply combine cooked pearl barley with roasted eggplant, chickpeas, and feta...and a few other key ingredients...and you have a veritable taste sensation on your hands!

      If you read HelloFresh Reviews, you'll find people waxing lyrical about the food delivery company's roasted aubergine/eggplant and feta salad. Granted, this salad takes about 40 minutes to prepare. However, it's low in salt, sugar, and calories...making it a perfect healthy weeknight meal.

      If you've never tried roasted veggies -- especially roasted eggplant -- you're missing out! The roasting process completely changes the taste profile of the eggplant. Boiled eggplant is nothing to write home about, but add a drizzle of olive oil and some seasonings. Then, you have something that tastes rich, flavorful, and utterly delicious. It's doesn't feel like you're eating veggies at all. Combine the roasted eggplant with a handful of other fresh ingredients, and you end up with something quite remarkable. How do you make a healthy roasted eggplant and chickpea meal that serves four people? Easy...just make the following recipe! If you're not familiar with the harissa paste called for in the ingredients, it's a North African hot chili pepper paste. Harissa is made with roasted peppers, spices, and herbs.

      Thursday, June 20, 2019

      Amazing Recipes for Your Next Barbecue #bbq #grilling #summerentertaining

      Today, I'm sharing a contributing post from Elaine Griffiths. Elaine will be a regular contributor here at The Weekend Gourmet going forward. Today, she's sharing some simple and delicious barbecue recipes that are perfect for your Summer entertaining. This post may contain affiliate links.
      It’s finally barbecue season again, and we can all look forward to those long, hot, and fun days out in the sun with our family and friends! Today we are going to take a look at some of the different ways that we can make our barbecue the best it can be with some stunning and simple recipes which will impress anyone at the table!

      (1) Smoky Ribs. You can enjoy some really amazing flavors in the Summer Sun such as St Louis style ribs or smoky barbecue. Here is a simple recipe for easy ribs, which are perfect on the barbecue.

      Ingredients:
      • Your favorite smoky barbecue rub
      • Your favorite barbecue sauce
      • Pork ribs of your choice
      Rub the pork with the smoky barbecue rub, then bake in the oven at 400℉ for approximately 15 minutes to start the cooking process. Once this is done, make sure to coat the ribs in barbecue sauce, then get them on the grill. Keep turning, adding sauce as you grill, until the ribs are sticky and smoky.
      (2) Caprese Chicken. One of the best things about a grill with a hood/lid is that you can melt cheese and make some amazing meals. This flavorful caprese chicken is sure to impress anyone!

      Ingredients:
      • Chicken breasts
      • Ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
      • Fresh basil, finely chopped
      • Balsamic glaze
      • Tomato slices
      • Salt and pepper to taste
      Start off by sprinkling the chicken with the basil, salt, and pepper. Grill for 8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Once cooked, lay a tomato slice and mozzarella slices on top of each chicken breast. Melt the cheese under the hood/lid until soft and gooey. For a stunning meal, drizzle each cooked breast with balsamic glaze just before serving.

      (3) Sweet Potato Wedges. Potato wedges are a classic side dish for Summer get-togethers, but how about making them a little healthier this year by making sweet potato wedges instead? For an amazing side dish that will impress anyone, sweet potato wedges cooked on the grill are a delight.

      Ingredients:
      • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
      • 2 tsp. paprika
      • 2 tsp. garlic powder
      • 1 tsp. mixed herbs
      • 1 tbs. oil
      • Salt and pepper to taste
      Start off by parboiling the sweet potato wedges for approximately 6-8 minutes. Once you have done this, place the potato wedges in a bowl and combine with the spices and oil. Place the sweet potato wedges on the grill to cook for a few minutes on each side. Keep checking to make sure the wedges are fully cooked and soft. These sweet potato wedges paired with a refreshing mint yogurt dip make a perfect side dish for any fun party!

      Wednesday, June 19, 2019

      Best Road Trip Snacks 2019 Part 1: Sweet Treats #roadtrip #snackonthego #ontheroadagain #WGTravel

      The Weekend Gourmet team is hitting the road this week for a three-day Texas road trip! We'll be spending time in Waco and Fort Worth to check out two of Texas Monthly magazine's Top 25 new BBQ joints, visiting an animal sanctuary in Tyler, enjoying authentic Louisiana cuisine in Shreveport, and visiting a new Texas themed boutique hotel property in Dallas. That's a lot of miles over four days...so we need to ensure we have plenty of fun road trip snacks to fuel us for our Summer adventure! Just in time for this trip, I'm sharing my second annual roundup of the best road trip snacks. Last year's roundup was so popular, I decided to do it again! 

      I'm starting today with my picks for the best portable sweet treats -- including plenty of healthy options that won't fill you up with exctess calories and sugar! I'm also providing WW Freestyle SmartPoints information for each of these snack options for my fellow WW members. I want to show that smart snacking can be part of any road trip! By choosing the items that I pack for my snacks, I also avoid the temptation of unhealthy snacks available at convenience stores along the way. Pre-planning is one of my favorite ways to save calories, fat, and points. That said...there aren't a few splurges in my selections. This IS a vacation after all!!

      (1) S'mores OREO Cookies. Leave it to Nabisco! One of their Limited Edition Summer flavors is a cookie riff on a quintessential Summer favorite: s'mores. These tasty cookies feature crunchy graham cracker-flavored cookies paired with marshmallow and chocolate fillings. I think this might be my favorite Limited Edition OREO...so far. The flavor is spot on! Be sure to grab a package fast, because they won't be around forever. The key to responsibly enjoying these cookies is portion control!
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints: 3 SP per cookie

      (2) Wildway Grain-Free Granola and Fruit & Nut Snack Mix. Wildway is based here in San Antonio, and they offer a tasty range of single-serve grain-free granola and snack mixes that are sugar free, healthy, and delicious! Their single-serving packages of grain-free granola are soft and chewy...with nuts, dates, and only natural sweeteners. Flavors include Banana Nut and Vanilla Bean Espresso. Wildway Fruit & Nut Snack Mixes are made with 100% natural ingredients...with no added sugars. Flavors include Pineapple Mojito and Salted Chocolate Truffle.
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:
      • Grain-Free Granola:
      • Fruit & Nut Snack Mix: 8 SP per pouch
      (3) Bob's Red Mill Bob's Better Bars. Instead of reaching for a sugary candy bar on the road...reach for one of these oatmeal and peanut butter bars instead! These tasty bars come in six flavors that complement their oatmeal and peanut butter base: Peanut Butter Jelly, Peanut Butter Banana, Peanut Butter Chocolate, Peanut Butter Coconut, and Peanut Butter Apple Spice. Each filling snack bar is made with simple, natural ingredients...and sweetened with honey and tapioca syrup. Add a piece of fruit or yogurt, and you've got yourself an on-the-go breakfast for those busy mornings when you need to hit the road bright and early!
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints: 7 SP per bar

      (4) Welch's Fruit 'n Yogurt Bites. Welch's Fruit 'n Yogurt Bites combine Welch's fruit snack bites covered in a creamy white yogurt coating. I especially love that these bites come packaged in portion-controlled, single serving pouches. Each pouch has just 80 calories too! Welch's Fruit 'n Yogurt Bites come in Strawberry, Blueberry, and Cherry flavors.
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints: 4 SP per pouch
      (5) Zeno's World's Most Famous Salt Water Taffy™. I love salt water taffy...but many brands I try are hard on my teeth. Not Zeno's! Their soft, chewy taffy has been made by four generations of family toffee makers since 1948. You can shop their toffee by color, flavor...or even a "try all the flavors" assortment. There are 90+ flavors to choose from...and they're all fun. I especially love that each shipment comes with a color card that helps you figure out what flavor every piece of taffy is before you pop it in your mouth!
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:  5 SP per 4 pieces

      (6) Cookie Pop Popcorn. What's better than popcorn, you ask? Popcorn covered with your favorite cookies and candy! Cookie Pop comes in two great flavors: Mrs. Field's Cookies & Cream and Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookie. There's even a Candy Pop Popcorn that features Butterfinger candy. Each single-serving bag is made from non-GMO popcorn and has 140-150 calories! A bag of this sweet drizzled popcorn feels like a splurge, but I love the portion-controlled bags -- to keep me from overeating this delicious treat!
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:  
      • Cookies & Cream: 6 SP per 1.5-cup bag
      • Chocolate Chip Cookie: 7 SP per 1.5-cup bag
      • Butterfinger: 6 SP per 1.5-cup bag
      (7) Bobo's Oat Bars and Oat Bites. Love oatmeal? Then you'll go crazy for Bobo's Oat Bars and Oat Bites! The company started in 2003 as a mother-daughter tradition to bake the bars for family. Now? They're available nationwide. These healthy, delicious bars are made in small batches with organic whole grain oats and other natural ingredients. They come in a wide range of flavors like Coconut, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Maple Pecan, and Lemon Poppyseed. Bobo's Oat Bars are lightly sweet and super filling -- one bar with a piece of fruit is a perfect on-the-go breakfast! Prefer a smaller serving? No problem! Bobo's Oat Bites provide the same great taste of their original bars in a smaller portion size.
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:
      • Bobo's Oat Bars: 7 SP per bar
      • Bobo's Oat Bites: 6 SP per bite
      (8) Honey Stinger Organic Waffles. If you've ever tasted stroupwafffle cookies, then you'll absolutely love Honey Stinger's delicious organic waffles. Two crisp waffle wafers are sandwiched with a range of flavored organic honey fillings -- including simply honey, caramel, lemon, and gingersnap. These cookies are healthy, but they taste downright decadent. Each single-serving waffle has 150 calories...and zero trans fat or cholesterol. These cookie-like waffles are one of the best new-to-me food items so far this year!
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:  7 SP per waffle

      (9) Rhythm Superfoods Crunchy Mango Bites. These crunchy mango bites are a seriously delicious way to enjoy a crunchy treat that's healthy too! Organic mango pieces are dehydrated, then pressure popped. The end result is a sweet, fruity treat that's also a great source of fiber and potassium. An entire 1.8-ounce bag has 180 calories and 4 grams of filling fiber. The tropical flavor and crunch make these mango bites a delicious treat that can be enjoyed all day long.
      WW Freestyle SmartPoints:  5 SP per 1.8-oz bag

      That's it...my personal suggestions for sweet treats that can be enjoyed when you're on the road vacationing this Summer! Be sure to come back next week, when I'll share my favorite savory and crunchy road trip snacks...along with some suggestions for refreshing Summer beverages.

      Disclosure: The manufacturers of the products featured in this article provided me product samples to facilitate inclusion. I only recommend food items to my readers and social media followers that I have personally tried myself and enjoy.

      Saturday, June 15, 2019

      Victoria, BC, Canada Day Trip...Featuting Tea at the Empress and Butchart Gardens #WGTravel #daytrip #canada #teaattheempress #butchartgardens

      During our recent trip to Seattle -- more coming up on those adventures soon! -- The Weekend Gourmet team enjoyed an action-packed day trip to Canada to experience two of British Columbia's most iconic attractions: afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel and an afternoon stroll through The Butchart Gardens. Getting to Victoria from Seattle is a breeze! The early morning Victoria Clipper ferry offers direct service between both cities. The ferry ride departs each morning from Seattle's Downtown Pier 69, arriving at Belleville Terminal in Victoria's Inner Harbor approximately 2 hours 45 minutes later. For example, our ferry left Seattle at 800 a.m., and disembarked and made it through Customs -- ready to explore the area -- by 1115. 

      Helpful Hint: You'll need a passport to enter Canada once departing the ferry from Seattle. If you don't have a passport, the passport application process is easy, but be sure to allow plenty of lead time to receive your passport before your departure date!

      After passing through Customs at the ferry terminal, we jumped into a waiting taxi for the short drive over to the Fairmont Empress Hotel. This historic hotel has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Iconic Hotels in the World. Its exterior façade, overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor, is instantly recognizable. The Fairmont Empress has been open since 1908...and its elegant "tea at the Empress" has been one of the hotel's signature experiences since the beginning! While the ladies enjoyed a pampering high tea experience, the guys enjoyed cocktails and lunch at the hotel's Q-Bar, which overlooks the city's picturesque Inner Harbor area. Both of these dining experiences were a perfect way to start our afternoon in Canada!

      This traditional high tea experience takes place in the Empress' lovely light-filled Lobby Lounge. There's a talented pianist providing soothing music to set the mood as you drink your tea and enjoy sweet and savory menu items. My Social Media Director Crystal and I love to go to tea! As you might remember, we enjoyed a grand southern tea at Memphis' Peabody Hotel last year. We met the Fairmont Empress' Tracey Drake, who was our hostess for this truly once-in-a-lifetime afternoon tea experiences. Tea at
      the Empress is one of the Top 10 tea experiences in world, so we were in for a very special treat! Our group was seated at a table and asked to make our tea selection from the menu's collection of 21 loose leaf teas -- including the hotel's signature Empress Blend. The tea menu was presented inside a wooden menu that showed what each loose leaf tea looked like...as well as a description of its components and flavors. I selected the floral Rose Congou Emperor Tea, which is said to be a favorite of the late Princess Diana. Crystal chose the lush Cream Earl Gray Organic tea. Both came to the table served in beautiful porcelain teapots. Our tea was poured for us tableside by our friendly and knowledgeable server.

      While we waited for our food to arrive, we started drinking our teas. My tea featured a combination of black tea leaves and rose petals. The floral flavor and aroma of rose was definitely present in every sip, but it wasn't overwhelming. I sweetened my tea with a small amount of natural rock sugar. As we sipped our tea, a three-tier stand of sweet and savory items arrived at our table.
      The top tier of the serving stand contained a selection of miniature two-bite desserts, while the middle tier contained savory items and finger sandwiches. The lower tier included the Empress' signature raisin scones. The scones were served warm with rick clotted cream and strawberry lavender preserves that were made in house. We started out with the savory course. We enjoyed cucumber sandwiches with whipped dill cream cheese on dark rye bread, creamy chicken salad on a freshly baked brioche boule, a cold smoked Pacific sockeye salmon blini with chive crème fraiche, a mini quiche, and whipped goat cheese piped into a crunchy shell. 
      I'm sure you've noticed the beautiful china that the Empress uses for its tea service. Its origins are quite interesting! The Empress Tea China was originally presented to King George IV in 1914 to commemorate the opening of the Booth earthenware factory in England. The Empress hotel first used this china in 1939 for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's Royal visit. The ornate bone china pattern is now produced exclusively for the Fairmont Empress hotel's use by William Edwards in England.
      The savory bites were delicious and perfectly portioned to ensure we had plenty of room for the other two courses! Up next were the Empress' signature raisin scones, which were golden brown outside...and lightly sweetened and fluffy inside. The scones were served with house-made English clotted cream and strawberry lavender preserves.

      Sunday, June 9, 2019

      Imperfect Produce Expands Offerings to Include More Non-Produce Grocery Items...Featuring Slow Cooker Summer Harvest Minestrone with Chicken Sausage #imperfectproduce #stopfoodwaste #seasonalproduce #soupyearround #slowcooker

      I love using the Imperfect Produce home delivery service to save money -- up to 30% -- each month! Did you know that an estimated 40% of all food produced in this country goes uneaten? That figure was shocking to me. If you're not familiar with Imperfect Produce, they were founded to find a home for the 20 billion(!!) pounds of wasted produce on U.S. farms annually. They achieve this by providing customized boxes of produce -- including organic -- that would otherwise be discarded. Each box of seasonal fruit and vegetables is customized for our personal likes and delivered right to our front door. Although the items inside are considered imperfect, they're always fresh and cook up delicious! 

      Imperfect Produce has recently expanded its available line of non-produce grocery items to include staples like grains, nuts, oil, bread...plus plenty of healthy pantry and snack items! Being able to save money on the food items I use in my kitchen every day is a huge help on my monthly grocery bill. Wonder why these items are being offered by Imperfect Produce? There are four common reasons why produce and grocery items are considered "imperfect":
      • Cosmetic appearance. Items that are too small, are oddly shaped, have damaged packaging, etc.
      • Surplus inventory on hand. Rather than throwing this excess product away, Imperfect Produce sells them at a reduced cost to its customers.
      • Updated/changed packaging. Imperfect Produce sells the items with their old packaging instead of the manufacturer discarding them.
      • Items nearing their "best use by" date. These items are still fresh, but retailers may opt to remove them from the shelves as newer stock arrives.
      My latest Imperfect Produce delivery included grocery staples in addition to produce. I received brand name canned tomatoes and white beans for a fraction of their original cost...along with high-fiber bread, dry pasta, and almond crackers. I decided to use the contents of my Imperfect Produce box as the base of a delicious Summer soup recipe!
      My Slow Cooker Summer Harvest Minestrone with Chicken Sausage is healthy, easy to assemble, and very filling. It features produce and grocery pantry items from my Imperfect Produce box...along with other items already on hand in my kitchen. I know that soup is typically associated with cool weather cooking. However, I make soup year-round using fresh seasonal produce. Wait until you see how easy this complete meal-in-a-bowl is to assemble and cook. Once everything is in the slow cooker, it does all of the work for you!

      Friday, June 7, 2019

      Big Changes Coming to The Weekend Gourmet! #eathealthy #healthyfoodcantastegood #hearthealth #eatwell

      The Weekend Gourmet celebrates its 9th anniversary later this Summer! Since 2010, I've had a great time sharing my favorite big-flavor recipes, food and kitchen products, restaurants, and culinary destinations with y'all. Going forward, I'll keep sharing all of these things...but with a fresh new outlook. Some big changes are coming to The Weekend Gourmet...changes that actually started last year. As most of you know, I had a stroke in late 2017. When I returned home from rehab last year, The Weekend Gourmet returned from my medical hiatus. I began sharing more healthy recipes and foods. These changes are becoming permanent and official effective immediately! 

      After my stroke, I saw a cardiologist looking for reasons why I had my stroke. This year, he's been performing lots of diagnostic tests, including placement of a internal loop recorder heart monitor two weeks ago...and a heart catheterization this week. During the catheterization procedure, my cardiologist discovered that two of my arteries were 90% blocked. Fortunately, he was able to place two stents during the procedure, which is a huge relief. However, it was my second health wake-up call in the past two years! While eating decadent foods at home, in restaurants, and during our travels is great fun...it's not worth my health. 

      Earlier this year, my cardiologist recommended that I lose some weight for health reasons. In response, I joined WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers). I love the program's flexible, individualized approach to weight loss! I've lost 15 pounds so far...and I have at least 30 more pounds to go. With my latest heart procedure, it's become crystal clear that living a healthy lifestyle must become a permanent, all-the-time approach -- including here at The Weekend Gourmet. My goal is to show that healthy food can taste AMAZING! More fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins...and less fat and sugar. You'll see these changes reflected in every recipe, food/kitchen product, restaurant visit, and travel feature going forward.

      What can you expect to see here going forward? I've already begun providing nutritional information and WW Freestyle Smart Points information for products shared in my monthly Wendy's Great Eight column. I'm looking for a good nutrition widget to download so you'll know the caloric and nutrition information for every new recipe I share...stay tuned for that! I'll also share WW Smart Points for my fellow WW members. All travel features going forward will provide healthy eating tips and hints for the cities we visit. Finally...here's where YOU come in. I need to know what my readers want to see me share in here! Please leave a comment below telling me what types of recipes you want to see! Revamped high-calorie favorites, slow cooker, five-ingredient meals, quick 30 minute recipes, etc. 

      Face it: big changes like this are never easy...but these particular changes are vital to ensure that I live a long, healthy life. I am committed to these healthy lifestyle changes. I hope you'll join me for a new focus at The Weekend Gourmet as well: sharing recipes and food products, dining out decisions, and travel that features the big flavors I love...but in a healthy new way! It's possible, and I plan to show you how I'm reaching these goals every step of the way. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me with your get well wishes...and for being supportive of The Weekend Gourmet's new direction. 

      Disclosure: My opinions about WW (formerly Weight Watchers) stated in this article are solely my own. WW is not a client of The Weekend Gourmet. Be sure to consult with your personal physician before choosing any weight loss plan.

      Sunday, June 2, 2019

      The Weekend Gourmet Hits the Road: Central Texas Weekend in Georgetown, Waco & Austin #WGTravels #roadtripping #traveltexas

      The Summer travel season is finally here That means it's time to think about a few weekend road trips. We absolutely love exploring new places right in our own backyard! Today, I'm sharing a Central Texas weekend getaway that's perfect for families and couples alike. Earlier this year, The Weekend Gourmet team set out from our home base in San Antonio for a weekend visit to Georgetown (just north of Austin), Waco, and a BBQ lunch in Austin. Along the way, we enjoyed a relaxing drive up I-35, some amazing food...and a lot of relaxation! We started out late Friday afternoon driving to Georgetown, which is 115 miles -- less than 2 hours -- from San Antonio. Our first destination? The beautiful Sheraton Austin Georgetown Hotel & Conference Center! This spacious, modern hotel is located near Georgetown's best activities...and it's just 10 minutes from shopping at the very popular Round Rock Premium Outlets.

      We parked our vehicle in the adjacent parking garage and checked in -- a quick and smooth process. The large lobby area featured plenty of places for sitting, with expansive outdoor views from the floor to ceiling windows! The front desk staff was friendly and accommodating, offering suggestions for dinner and local attractions.
      We made our way to our room -- which featured two Queen beds, a comfy bedside chair that's perfect for early-morning reading, and a large bathroom with a bathtub/shower and upgraded toiletries. We loved the soothing gray and yellow tones of the room's décor. As an added bonus, all rooms at the Sheraton Austin Georgetown feature free WiFi and large screen televisions for your in-room entertainment.
      After a bit of rest and refreshing, we were ready for dinner! We headed to 600 Degrees Pizzeria and Drafthouse for a relaxing, casual dinner in Historic Georgetown. In addition to whole artisan pizzas and slices of giant pizzas, 600 Degrees offers customers a selection of 55 draft beers -- with seasonal and rotating drafts. It was a perfect location for our Friday night dinner! The menu features two options: opt for one of the restaurant's pre-designed pizza varieties...or create an original pizza personalized just for you. We opted for the Pirate: Genoa salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and minced garlic. We added a drizzle of house-made pesto for a pop of flavor and color. Just look at the melted cheese pull on this gorgeous pizza!
      The menu at 600 Degrees also offers wings, salads, and dessert. We shared an excellent Caprese salad, which featured fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, salt & pepper, EVOO, fresh basil, and a drizzle of sweet-tangy balsamic reduction. While we waited for our pizza, we enjoyed the salad and an order of roasted garlic wings. The wings were tender and juicy...with plenty of flavorful sauce. 
      After our meal, the four of us shared a slice of creamy cheesecake delivered straight from New York each week! Our cheesecake was served with a generous drizzle of tart strawberry coulis. It was rich, which made it perfect for sharing among the four of us! 600 Degrees is open 7 days a week -- Mon-Thurs: 11AM to 11PM, Fri & Sat 1100AM to midnight, and Sun 11AM to 10PM. After dinner, we made our way back to the Sheraton. On our way upstairs, we stopped by the hotel's convenient lobby store to purchase sodas and in-room munchies. The best part? We charged the purchase to our room. Easy peasy! We made it to our room and quickly fell asleep on the comfy Sheraton Sleep Experience Bed. What is the Sheraton Sleep Experience, you ask? This amenity combines a plush mattress with crisp linens, duvet, and plenty of pillows -- which improves circulation and promotes better sleep. It sure worked, because we woke up feeling rested and ready for the rest of our weekend adventure!

      I want to point out some Sheraton Georgetown amenities that are perfect for activity-loving guests. The hotel's grounds feature a large heated outdoor pool and a 24/7 modern fitness center. The Sheraton also provides its guests complimentary bicycles to ride on the hotel's onsite biking and jog trail. The landscaped grounds are gorgeous, so it's a lovely area to explore -- with plenty of Texas Hill Country nature all around you!

      Our next stop was Waco, which is 74 miles up I-35 from Georgetown. But first? We had a lunch appointment at Miller's Smokehouse BBQ in Belton on our way to Waco. Miller's Smokehouse is one of Texas Monthly magazine's Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas, so we knew this was a must-add destination to our road trip itinerary! Co-owner Dusty Miller was a welcoming host, sitting at our table to walk us through our menu tasting. First out of the kitchen was a trio of Miller's traditional BBQ and delicious sides. We tasted the brisket, smoked turkey breast, and a trio of sausages made onsite. 

      The brisket was perfectly smoky with a spicy bark...and so tender you could cut it with a fork! The turkey was tender and juicy...and not overly smoky like some turkey can be. There are three kinds of smoked sausage made in house: regular pork-and-beef, jalapeno and cheese, and a spicy hot link. We also sampled Miller's smoked St. Louis pork ribs. They were smoky, meaty, and falling off the bone -- everything I love in a good rib. These ribs were amazing...my team was lucky I shared some with them!
      Traditionally, sides have been mostly forgettable in Texas BBQ joints...where the meat takes center stage. Thankfully, that's starting to change! In addition to the traditional onions and pickles, Miller's Smokehouse sent green beans, mac 'n cheese, and something we've never seen at any other Texas BBQ joint: a tangy, crunchy fresh broccoli salad that was absolutely delicious! 
      The unique menu offerings aren't limited to sides! Miller's Smokehouse offers a trio of menu items that aren't typically found in Texas BBQ joints. Their menu features a lineup of creative Signatures sandwiches, an authentic onsite coffee bar, and homemade desserts made from scratch by Momma Miller -- aka Dusty's mom. The first Signatures sandwich we tasted was The Big 'un. This Texas-sized sandwich includes: sliced brisket, sausage, pulled pork, slaw, onions, and pickles. I'm sure we were a sight trying to get a bite of this delicious...but huge...sandwich! 
      Up next were Tha' Curtis and El Gallo Picante Signatures sandwiches. Tha' Curtis features pinto beans chopped with Miller's Smokehouse brisket, Fritos® corn chips, jalapenos, pickles, onions, and a bit of Miller's original BBQ sauce. The El Gallo Picante has spicy hot link sausage chopped with smoked chicken, slaw, onions, jalapeno, pickles, and original BBQ sauce. This trio of big-flavor BBQ sandwiches is creative, spicy, and delicious. A definite must try for any visit to Miller's Smokehouse!
      While we sampled the sandwiches, the onsite specialty coffee bar made us some amazing coffee creations. Their coffee bar makes authentic espresso, latte, cappuccino, and drip coffee --- complete with design work in the frothy milk on top! The beans are locally sourced from Belton's Penelope Coffee Company
      Our coffees were strong and delicious...and they paired perfectly with Momma Miller's delicious made-from-scratch desserts. The desserts rotate weekly, but everything talented baker Momma Miller makes is going to be delicious. During our visit, we sampled her decadent pecan pie, buttermilk chess pie, coconut cream pie, and a moist chocolate cupcake (a family recipe). Every dessert was delicious...definitely Mom-worthy!!
      With that, our meal was over...and boy was it delicious! Before leaving, Dusty gave us a tour of the smokers in the restaurant's back smokehouse. Because Miller's Smokehouse smokes its BBQ meats in shifts throughout the business day, they're able to stay open for dinner without danger of selling out...and they always have freshly made BBQ to serve their hungry customers! After seeing the BBQ pits, our last stop was the carving block. Luckily, we arrived just in time to see one of the employees slice into a perfectly smoked brisket fresh from the pit. It had a perfect dark bark crust on the outside...and the meat inside was perfectly pink and juicy. 
      Miller's Smokehouse earned an enthusiastic thumbs up from all four member of The Weekend Gourmet team. I can't recommend it highly enough -- Miller's Smokehouse should be on any Texas BBQ lover's list of must-visit BBQ joints! After our lunch pit stop in Belton, we jumped back in our rental for the short drive to Waco.