Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Celebrate National Strawberry Month This Memorial Day...Featuring Strawberry BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches #strawberrymonth #pulledpork #bbq

May is National Strawberry Month! Juicy sweet-tart strawberries are my favorite fruit all Summer long. I'm celebrating by sharing a dish today that's perfect for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend: Strawberry BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches. I know the flavor combination might seem odd at first...but this dish is one that everyone who tries asks me for the recipe! So...why not shake up your holiday weekend BBQ routine and give this fun dish a try? Tart strawberries pair perfectly with succulent pork. The strawberries are added in two stages for this recipe: half when the pork and sauce simmer on the stove for two hours. The other half of the strawberries are added shortly before serving. The first round of berries cooks down into the BBQ sauce...but the second batch provides a fruity compliment to the savory pulled pork. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

How to Spend 24 Hours on Catalina Island #WGTravel #visitcatalina #avalon #SoCal2019

Earlier this year, Michael and I enjoyed an amazing and immersive 24-hour visit to California's picturesque Catalina Island. Located just 22 miles from the California mainland, Catalina certainly feels like it's a million miles away! This small, easy-to-navigate island features gorgeous scenery around every corner, friendly residents, and a perfect destination to unwind and relax. During our visit, we stayed at a lovely boutique hotel, ate some fabulous food, took a glass bottom boat tour, and enjoyed a private tour of the new Catalina Island Museum. Going to and from Catalina was a snap thanks to the Catalina Express high-speed boat transportation service. Each day, several hour-long trips depart from San Pedro, Dana Point, and Long Beach on the California mainland. We stayed in Los Angeles the day before our visit to Catalina, so we left from Catalina Express' Long Beach terminal.

We arrived in Long Beach in the early morning and unloaded our bags just outside the terminal. Catalina Express allows each passenger to carry on up to two bags that weight less than 50 lbs. While I checked us in and got our boarding passes, Michael parked our rental in the convenient onsite parking garage. We met up at the waiting area inside the terminal while we waited to board our boat. Catalina Express offers passengers a range of fare options. Passengers can select general seating tickets, or they can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge or Captain's Lounge. These upgrades include additional amenities. The boarding process was quick and easy -- despite it being an overcast, drizzly morning. As you can see, it really does occasionally rain in Southern California!
Our tickets were for the upstairs Commodore Lounge. We enjoyed comfortable leather seats on either side of a shared table. Michael and I enjoyed expansive ocean views the entire trip thanks to large seat-to-ceiling windows beside our table! Commodore Lounge upgrade amenities include a complimentary beverage and snack served by a friendly cabin attendant. After shooting some video of our departure from the pier in Long Beach, we settled in to enjoy our snack.

Before we knew it, we were entering Avalon Harbor, which is Catalina's largest town. We were immediately captivated by breathtaking views from our boat's outdoor deck! There were several boats in the water surrounding Catalina, as well as a breathtaking view of the colorful buildings located up the sloping sides of the island terrain. This view reminded us of a Mediterranean island, but were only a few miles from the California mainland. One look was all it took for us to realize the next 24 hours would be magical!
Disembarking our Catalina Express boat was easy and quick. We picked up our bags on the boat's lower level and exited to the busy Avalon pier. We immediately noticed the Welcome to Avalon sign -- it was made of beautiful colored tiles. We quickly located a taxi for the quick drive up a steep hill to the Aurora Hotel, our home base for our Catalina adventure. This intimate boutique hotel property features ocean views and complimentary WiFi. That's just the start of the great amenities we enjoyed during our brief stay. The hotels soothing color scheme put us at ease immediately upon entering the comfortable lobby.

The check in process was quick, and the desk staff was friendly and helpful. The lobby area features comfortable seating, and it's also the location for the complimentary continental breakfast served each morning. After check in, we made our way to our room. I need to mention that the three-story Aurora Hotel does not have an elevator, so all guests must use stairs to access their rooms. I'm able to walk stairs following my stroke, so this wasn't an issue for me. The friendly front desk staff helped transport our luggage up the stairs to our corner room on the third floor -- so the stairs were not an issue.
Our room was small, but very cozy. It featured a comfortable Queen Tempur-Pedic bed, lovely art work, and a flat screen television. We especially loved the step-out balcony, which had a tempered glass rail -- which provided us lovely views of Catalina and the ocean. We unpacked and rested for a bit, then decided it was time to grab some lunch and explore Catalina! 
On our way downstairs, we took a few minutes to check out the gorgeous rooftop deck, located on the hotel's third floor. The deck features tons of places to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and the town of Avalon. Aurora guests often enjoy their complimentary breakfast or Friday Wine & Cheese Reception snacks on the outdoor rooftop deck.
Photo provided by Aurora Hotel Catalina Island
Our first stop in Avalon was lunch at The Lobster Trap, a seafood restaurant located a short walk from the Catalina waterfront. The Lobster Trap is a bustling restaurant that's popular with Avalon residents and visiting tourists. Our server helped us navigate the lunch menu, suggesting that we try one of their signature lobster rolls. We also ordered their Blackened Salmon with Mango Salsa -- which was served with steamed veggies and a baked potato. The lobster roll was different from the ones we've eaten on the East Coast...but it was totally delicious! It featured chopped chilled lobster claw meat and a creamy tarragon sauce served on a round bun. The tarragon worked perfectly with the sweet lobster!

As you can see, they didn't skimp on the amount of lobster in the roll! After lunch, we made the quick walk to Avalon's Green Pleasure Pier for our hour-long Catalina Island Tour UnderSea Expedition. We boarded our boat and took a flight of stairs below deck, where we found seats with individual portholes looking into the water. The expedition began, and we made our way into the ocean surrounding Avalon.
We saw a wide variety of colorful fish -- orange, dark grey with white spots, silver, etc. The onboard crew was very informative, telling us about the area's ecosystem and the variety of fish we were seeing. They even fed the fish during part of our trip, causing tons of fish to swarm just outside our portholes. As this video shows, it was an amazing sight!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste...Featuring Vanilla-Scented Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Hard Sauce #vanillabean #apple #baking

I'm the first to admit that I don't bake a lot. But when I do? I make sure to use the very best ingredients I can get my hands on -- including Nielsen-Massey's amazing vanilla products! For my family's Mother's Day celebration last weekend, I baked a fabulous apple cobbler featuring Nilsen-Massey's Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. Tahiti is a South Pacific island in French Polynesia...the island's tropical climate makes it ideal for growing vanilla. Vanilla bean paste is an ingredient that every cook should keep on hand at all times! It provides intense vanilla flavor...with tons of vanilla bean seeds. As an added bonus, the paste has a consistency similar to molasses, so it won't thin out your batters or fillings!

This was my first time to use Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste, and I loved its delicate flavor. It has a floral/fruity flavor profile that pairs perfectly with fruit desserts -- like my homey Vanilla-Scented Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Bean Hard Sauce! This delicious southern-inspired cobbler features Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste in the apple filling, cobbler topping, and the simple three-ingredient hard sauce that tops each serving. This recipe received a unanimous thumbs up from everyone who tasted it over the weekend...meaning this recipe's a keeper!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Celebrating Mother's Day...Featuring Deluxe Salted Caramel Turtle Sundae #mothersday #saltedcaramel #sundae

Mother's Day is coming up this Sunday, so today I'm sharing a fabulous dessert that I created especially for my Mom. When it comes to dessert for Mom? I know one thing for sure: it MUST include chocolate! It's nearly Summer weather here in Texas, so I've created a truly  over-the-top Deluxe Salted Caramel Turtle Sundae especially for Mom. It features homemade salted caramel, rich dulce de leche ice cream, good-quality store-bought hot fudge sauce, Texas pecans, and a bit of whipped cream. To truly make this sundae deluxe, I made some mini puff pastry triangles coated in cinnamon sugar, dipped in chocolate, and sprinkled with finely chopped pecans. The homemade salted caramel sauce and puff pastry garnishes can be made a day or two ahead. That makese this sundae a snap to whip up at a moment’s notice. Serving in a clear martini glass makes a really fun presentation. This sundae is a very special dessert...for my very special Mom!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Mother's Day 2019: The Best Food Gifts #mothersday #foodgifts

Mother's Day is coming up this weekend, so it's time to decide how you want to show your Mom just how much you love and appreciate her for everything's she's done for you. But you may wonder exactly what gift you should give to her. If your Mom is a food lover, I've got six great Mother's Day gift ideas to share with you today. I've got you covered whether your Mom prefers a little something sweet...something savory and comforting that will save her a night in the kitchen...or even a sentimental, personalized gift she can use or display in her kitchen.I've truly got something for every Mom...and all can be shipped direct to Mom's front door this week! Let's get started!!

(1) Mrs. Prindables Gourmet Caramel Apples. Mrs. Prindables invented gourmet caramel apples three decades ago. Their decadent apples feature tart Granny Smith apples, homemade caramel, and a coating of premium chocolate! This year, Mrs. Prindables is offering a wide range of gourmet caramel apples -- single apples and gift sets -- for Mother's Day. For a great gift that contains a trio of sweet treats, the Happy Mother's Day Caramel Apple Gift Set is perfect! A collection of sweet goodies are packed in a pretty Mother's Day hat box...including a Triple Chocolate and a Milk Chocolate Walnut Petite Caramel Apple, a bag of Natural Caramels, and a duo of Milk Chocolate Pretzel Twists decorated with pink sugar. It's ideal when you can't decide on one item to give Mom! Prefer to gift Mom one large caramel apple? I suggest Mrs. Prindables White Chocolate Raspberry Hibiscus Sweet Spring Jumbo Caramel Apple! A large Granny Smith apple is hand-dipped in creamy small batch caramel, then rolled in tart dried raspberries and hibiscus. Finally, it's dipped in melted white chocolate and topped with even more raspberries and hibiscus. 
The White Chocolate Raspberry Hibiscus Sweet Spring Jumbo Caramel Apple comes embellished with a pretty pink ribbon, displayed inside of a clear display box. It essentially arrives ready to give! As an added bonus, Mrs. Prindables is giving readers of The Weekend Gourmet 20% off on purchases across their entire website! To redeem, enter WEEKEND20 at checkout!!

(2) Ladurèe Antoinette Poisson Box of 12 Macarons. Not to be confused with coconut macaroon cookies, French macarons feature delicate exterior cookies made from egg whites and almonds that are sandwiched with flavorful fillings. My hands-down favorite macarons are made by Paris-based Ladurèe. This Spring, they're focusing on roses...and they're featuring a beautiful gift box designed in collaboration with the acclaimed artisanal wallpaper specialists A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson. This beautiful box features pink roses and vines...and contains a dozen delicious floral-forward macarons. Flavors included are Chefs choice and will include Seasonal Rose Cardamom, Rose Petal (my personal favorite!), Orange Blossom, Cherry Blossom, Lavender Chocolate, and Vanilla. Any Mom would love to receive this upscale gift...a little taste of Paris wherever she lives! This 12-macaron gift box retails for $41 plus shipping. To purchase this...and Ladurèe's entire Mother's Day collection, be sure to visit Goldbelly.

(3) UncommonGoods' Family Recipe Cutting Board. Most families have a cherished recipe that has sentimental value! UncommonGoods offers a Family Recipe Cutting Board that's an ideal Mother's Day gift! This 12x9 cherry wood cutting board features ingredients and instructions for any meaningful family recipe! Simply submit a photograph of a recipe card OR submit a typed recipe, and Washington-based artisan Ana Talukder etches it into the wooden cutting board using a font that resembles handwriting. It's a Mother's Day gift that can be used for years to come -- or simply displayed in her kitchen! Please note that there's not enough time for this customized cutting board to arrive before Mother's Day...but no worries! Go ahead and order the cutting board, then print out a notification card available at the UncommonGoods website. The card tells Mom that you've purchased the cutting board for her -- it even includes a picture -- and notifies her that a personalized cutting board is on the way. Problem solved!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

New Mexico Road Trip: Las Cruces and White Sands #WGTravel #newmexico #roadtrip

There's nothing quite like a road trip vacation -- crank up some great tunes, grab some tasty road snacks, and hit the road at your own pace! We recently enjoyed a week-long road trip in New Mexico, exploring several different cities. From El Paso, we drove West on I-10 for about an hour...making to Hacienda de Mesilla in Las Cruces in the late afternoon. This small hotel was just what we were looking for, because it had everything we needed in one convenient location: a 14-room inn, one of the best restaurants in the area, and a peaceful atmosphere. As an added bonus, self vehicle parking is complimentary at Hacienda de Mesilla! We parked and unloaded our car, then we entered the hotel's charming courtyard. We immediately noticed the beautiful landscaping and décor. By nightfall, gorgeous lighted luminarias lined the sidewalks in the courtyard. The check-in process was quick and easy, and we headed upstairs to our room. The room featured a Queen bed and large well as soothing décor. Just outside the room was a veranda with a large sitting area that overlooked the picturesque courtyard peaceful! The veranda also included a dining table that seats four. 
I should point out that Hacienda de Mesilla does not have an elevator, and all rooms require guests to walk up and down a flight of stairs. The staff was very friendly, helping us carry our bags up the stairs to our room. 

One of the best things about staying at Hacienda Mesilla is the onsite Grille & Cantina -- no need to leave the property to enjoy a fabulous meal! The Grille dining room is downstairs, just off the lobby...while the rooftop Cantina is located on the hotel's second level. Since it was a pretty night and there was live music, we opted to have dinner at the Cantina. Our server Trey helped us select a pair of appetizers to start our meal. We opted for Fried Calamari and Crab Cakes. The calamari was perfectly fried and topped with a tangy lemon butter sauce and feta many great flavors and textures. The crab cakes were crispy outside and filled with sweet cram inside -- perfect for topping with homemade tartar sauce!
Our seafood theme continued with our entrée choices. We split a duo of entrees. First was the perfectly seared Chilean Sea Bass, which was topped with grilled shrimp and lump crab. The sea bass was served over a decadent mushroom risotto, with grilled asparagus on the side. This elegant entrée was perfectly cooked and delicious!
We also wanted to sample local New Mexican cuisine, so we selected Blue Crab Blue Corn Green Chile Enchiladas. The green chiles were spicy, but they paired perfectly with the earthy corn tortillas and sweet crab meat and shrimp that were rolled inside. The enchiladas were served with slaw, black beans, and a delicious Mexican corn casserole. We were in Heaven with each bite! After our entrees, Trey helped us select a pair of desserts to round out our meal.
The Mesilla Mud Pie featured creamy mocha ice cream on a chocolate Oreo crust -- topped with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, and spiced pecans. It was creamy and decadent, with just enough coffee flavor. The sweet-tart Hacienda Margarita Pie included a creamy lime filling on a coconut-pecan crust. This pie was like a taste of the tropics...the perfect balance of sweet and tart, with just enough coconut to make things interesting! With that, our meal was over. We lingered on the rooftop for a few minutes, enjoying the moonlight...and the view of the pool below. It was so nice to walk a couple of minutes back to our room, where we sat on the veranda couch for a bit before going to sleep. So convenient!
The next morning, I woke up early so I could catch the colorful sunrise over the nearby mountains from the veranda outside our room. It was such a relaxing and peaceful way to start what would become a busy day of travel. One of the perks of staying at La Hacienda de Mesilla is the included breakfast vouchers to dine at the nearby La Posta de Mesilla restaurant. That amenity definitely gives La Hacienda de Mesilla a bed and breakfast vibe. La Posta is a Las Cruces area mainstay -- serving Mexican food and steaks since 1939. In fact, the La Posta Compound has quite a history. It was originally constructed in the 1830s! Sam Bean and his brother Roy operated a freight and passenger service line from the building in the 1850s. Then after the Civil War, the La Posta Compound was a key stop on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. After checking out at the hotel, we drove a few short minutes to La Posta for a leisurely early-morning breakfast. We were greeted by a large aviary in the front of the restaurant that was filled with tropical birds. I couldn't resist snapping a few pictures of the brightly colored birds on the way to our table.
Once we were seated in one of La Posta's colorful dining rooms, it was time to order breakfast. Michael selected a signature menu item: La Posta's Famous Tostada Compuesta Breakfast Bowl. It's a fried tortilla bowl filled with seasoned potatoes and vegetables, spicy chorizo, fried eggs, red or green chiles, and a bit of cheese. It was bursting with big flavors! I opted for the sweet side of the menu, selecting nutty Mesilla Valley Pecan Pancakes. They were served with bacon and topped with sweet Mexican whipped cream. Our day was officially off to a great start! After breakfast, we spent the morning exploring Las Cruces -- until it was time for an early lunch at Indulgence Bakery & Cafe.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Wendy's Great Eight for April 2019 #WendyGreatEight #tryit #newfoodfinds

This month's edition of Wendy's Great Eight is featuring some great new food-related items...including a great ready-to-eat breakfast, the latest in non-dairy milk beverages, and some great snacks to keep hunger away between meals. Let's get going!

(1) MUSH Overnight Oats. Because mornings are hectic, breakfast tends to be a meal that people eat on the go. Haphazard and unhealthy can happen unless some seious pre-planning takes place. MUSH Overnight Oats is a healthy way to enjoy breakfast on the busiest of mornings. This chilled oatmeal comes pre-cooked and flavored...simply store in the fridge until you're ready to eat. It's so simple and quick that they even include a spoon under the lid!! MUSH is creamy and lightly sweetened with fruits (dates, apples, blueberries, and cranberries). It's a filling, delicious breakfast...but it's also a great late afternoon snack, or post-workout pick-me-up! MUSH comes in five great flavors: Coconut Cold Brew, Apple Crisp, Vanilla Bean, Dark Cacao, and Wild Blueberry (extra delish topped with fresh blueberries!). MUSH can be found at select retailers nationwide, and it can also be shipped direct to you door via MUSH's convenient online store.

WW Freestyle SP per 6-ounce container:
  • 9SP: Coconut Cold Brew and Apple Crisp
  • 10SP: Vanilla Bean, Dark Cacao, and Wild Blueberry

    (2) Quaker®Oat Beverage. Non-dairy plant-based milk beverages have been a staple of my daily diet for nearly year, so I'm always looking for new varieties to try. My recent find is Quaker®'s line of oat beverages. Not only does it taste great in your morning cereal, coffee, and smoothies...they pack a ton of health benefits too! Each lactose-free 8-0unce serving contains 4 grams of fiber from oat bran and chicory extract. It also provides 30% RDA of calcium and 25% RDA of Vitamin D. Quaker® Oat Beverage is available in Original and Vanilla (50 calories/serving) and Unsweetened Original (3o calories/serving). To locate this delicious oat beverage near you, check out Quaker®'s searchable online Store Locator.

    WW Freestyle SP per 8 ounces: 2 SP for Regular and Vanilla; 1SP for Unsweetened Regular.

    (3) bnutty Gourmet Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods since childhood. It's great in a a smoothie...heck, direct from a spoon! bnutty offers a line of delicious flavored gourmet peanut butters that with tons of creative flavors. This is peanut butter on steroids! With fun gluten free flavors like Blissful Blueberry (with dried blueberries and milk chocolate) and S'more Dreams (with grahams, marshmallows, and milk chocolate)...this peanute butter is a gourmet treat! My personal favorite flavor is Totally Toffee, which features a base of honey roasted peanuts, toffee, milk chocolate and almonds. I love to stir a tablespoon into plain zero fat Greek yogurt for an evening snack! To find bnutty at a store near you, be sure to visit their online Location finder. Special seasonal flavors can also be found via the bnutty Online Store.

    WW Freestyle SP: 5SP per 2 Tbs.

    (4) Dave's Gourmet Organic Pasta Sauce. When I make pasta at home, it's all about the sauce. I want a sauce that's flavorful and made with simple, clean ingredients. I recently tried Dave's Gourmet Organic Gourmet Pasta Sauces...and I love them! Dave's Gourmet has a full line of pasta sauces, but my two favorites are the Organic Red Heirloom and Organic Hearty Marinara. These red tomato-based sauces are robustly flavored and feature a handful of simple, wholesome ingredients like vine-ripened tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs. That freshness really comes through in the taste. I served the Red Heirloom over a high-protein penne pasta with sauteed shrimp, mushrooms, zucchini, and torn fresh basil. It was light, yet flavorful! They also offer a unique Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce that I'm excited to try soon. The entire Dave's Gourmet Pasta Sauce line can be purchased direct from the company's website.

    WW Freestyle (Organic Red Heirloom Sauce) SP: 2SP per 1/2 cup.

    Friday, April 26, 2019

    Giveaway: The 5-Ingredient Dutch Oven Cookbook...Featuring Smoky and Sweet Baked Beans with Bacon #giveaway #dutchoven #fiveingredients #summerpotlucks

    I'm so excited to share a fabulous new cookbook with you today:The 5-Ingredient Dutch Oven Cookbook! This versatile cookbook is authored by my sweet friend Lisa Grant from Jersey Girl Cooks. Her second cookbook features 101 simple and tasty five-ingredient recipes for recipes like Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon, Cinnamon French Toast Casserole, Barbecue Beef Brisket, and more. I love that every recipe in this cookbook features only five tasty ingredients...and they're made in a Dutch oven for one-pot simplicity. Whether you want to make breakfast, main dishes, or dessert...Lisa has you covered. For our family Easter lunch last weekend, I made her Smoky Sweet Baked Beans with Bacon. The dish was quick to assemble, was easy to transport, and everyone raved about its flavor. As an added bonus, it's a very economical dish too!

    Friday, April 19, 2019

    Celebrating National Grilled Cheese Month: Shrimp Scampi Grilled Cheese #grownupgrilledcheese #gourmetgrilledcheese

    April is National Grilled Cheese Month, and I'm excited to share a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich that seafood lovers are guaranteed to go crazy for! I used nutty Comté and smooth-melting Gruyere cheeses to create my Shrimp Scampi Grilled Cheese. My inspiration was two of my favorite dishes: cheesy garlic bread and buttery shrimp scampi. French cheese, artisan bakery bread...and the addition of shrimp scampi and a garlic compound butter...takes this sandwich right over the top. Wait until you see how easy this flavorful grilled cheese is to whip bite, and I guarantee you'll be hooked! 

    Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    New Mexico Road Trip: Morning Star Bed & Breakfast and Sandia Peak Tramway #WGTravel #newmexico #roadtrip

    Michael and I recently enjoyed a leisurely weeklong road trip from San Antonio to New Mexico. The debate over the benefits of car road trips versus plane trips is one travelers often debate. Both modes of transportation offer travelers distinct advantages. Key benefits of road trips include time to really enjoy views of scenic landscapes, flexibility to take short side trips whenever an opportunity presents itself, and the ability visit more than one city/state during a single trip. During our New Mexico road trip, we visited West Texas and three distinctly different areas of New Mexico over eight days! I can't wait to share the best food, sites, and attractions we enjoyed along our route...starting with an overnight visit to Albuquerque and the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.

    Albuquerque is ideally situated in North Central New Mexico, located just over an hour from Santa Fe. This location makes it convenient to visit both cities in one trip. A great resource for planning a trip to Albuquerque is Visit Albuquerque, the city's official tourism office. Their website provides a wealth of information about things to see and do in the city, so be sure to check out their website when planning your visit to Albuquerque! We only had an evening to spend in the area this trip, and Visit Albuquerque helped us locate a fabulous bed and breakfast and restaurant to feature. 

    We arrived at the charming Morning Star Bed & Breakfast -- located just north of Albuquerque in the town of Corrales -- just before sunset. We drove through the gate at the entrance of the property and parked in front of Morning Star's traditional New Mexico-style adobe home. The spacious grounds of the property were so peaceful There are tons of large cottonwood trees on the grounds, and the back yard features a large backyard pool. Innkeepers John and Carrol Casburn warmly greeted us in Morning Star's large courtyard entryway. After a full day of driving, Morning Star was definitely a peaceful oasis to recharge!
    Carrol is an interior designer who beautifully decorated every room at Morning Star. John is a fabulous cook who bakes goodies for guests to enjoy in the inn's large kitchen...and he also cooks hearty, delicious breakfast for guests each morning. We honestly felt like guests in their private home instead of customers, because John and Carrol were so welcoming. Carrol showed us to our large suite, which featured a full private bath and a comfortable King bed. As this video shows, Morning Star -- including our room -- was gorgeous! I especially loved the Georgia O'Keefe framed prints hung in the hallway.

    After we settled in our room and rested for a bit, it was time for dinner at El Pinto. Open since 1962, El Pinto is one of Albuquerque's most iconic restaurants. The menu features flavorful New Mexico cuisine. We were very curious to taste a variety of New Mexico-style menu items to see how it differs from the Tex Mex we're used to at home. New Mexican cuisine incorporates elements of both traditional Mexican and Native American cuisine, with a focus on the state's spicy red and green chile peppers. The end result may be slightly different...but it's totally delicious! We started our meal with drinks and El Pinto Chile con Queso, which has been served at the White House! The dip featured melty cheese and chopped fresh green chiles. It was spicy and cheesy...a great start to our meal. We also tried El Pinto's famous Red Chile Ribs -- named by Food Network as #3 ribs in the U.S. Baby back ribs are marinated in spicy red chile and slowly baked until they're fall-off-the-bone tender. They were definitely spicy...and so good.
    For our entrees, we opted for combination plates. Michael selected the Ribeye & Enchilada plate, which featured a perfectly grilled ribeye steak, a red chile beef enchilada, fried potatoes, and pinto beans. I opted for Combination Plate #1, which included a rolled taco, pork tamale, red chile cheese enchilada, meaty chile con carne, and pinto beans. This strategy was a perfect way to sample a variety of menu items -- all spicy and expertly cooked. One difference we both noticed: the texture of our pinto beans was somewhere between the soup-like borracho beans and smooth refried beans we typically see in Texas. We were very impressed with our food, which was spicy without being too spicy.
    Before we bid farewell to El Pinto, we shared a duo of desserts: sopapillas with honey, and a perfectly creamy flan. The sopapillas arrived at our table hot, with a golden flaky exterior and a fluffy interior. Simply add a drizzle of honey inside and enjoy! The flan was rich and perfectly creamy. This dessert duo was a perfect ending to a fabulous meal. El Pinto is huge -- with seating for more than 1,200 hungry diners. There are outdoor patios, and several indoor dining rooms. If you're looking for authentic New Mexican food in Albuquerque, El Pinto is a delicious choice!