Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holidays with Extended Stay America

My Friday morning was very exciting! I was asked to represent Extended Stay America and show off some delicious Holiday dishes from their Away From Home Cookbook on the local Austin morning news.
I made Sunny's Nutty and Fruit Pilaf and Chocolate Candy Bar Pie the night before and prepped all of the ingredients for the Panzanella Salad so I could demo it once I got there.
I made a mess, as you can tell, but it was fun and my kitchen smelled amazing! The recipes were all created for being made in your hotel room, so the ingredient lists are short, and the instructions are simple!
Once I got to the station I realized that we were actually taping the segment and it would be played the next day. For some reason that really helped me relax knowing that it wasn't live. I felt really comfortable and was the least nervous I've ever been on camera. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of this!
 If you'd like to see the segment, HERE it is!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Little's Lunches 3

Happy Monday! I can't believe how fast this month is flying by! I'm so excited to have received such a great response from the previous Little's Lunches, I have had a lot of fun putting these posts together!
Monday: M has bronchitis, so I heated up chicken noodle soup in the kid's thermos bowls and sent that with some goldfish and a mini Hawaiian banana nut muffin
 Tuesday: Roast Beef and Chive Cream Cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, veggies (my kids get a kick out of the baby corn!) dried apple slices and prunes in these Sistema cubes
 Wednesday: Roast Beef and Chive Cream Cheese rolled in tortillas, honey wheat pretzel sticks, pickles, carrots and dried cranberries in the yumbox
Thursday: Roast Beef, Whole Grain Crackers, hard boiled egg, olive snack cup, baby cheese wedge, veggies and ranch dip, frozen strawberries in the Sistema cubes
Friday: Egg Salad, Whole Wheat Pita Wedges, Cheese Sticks, baby carrots and mushrooms with Ranch, a prune and a mini Hawaiian Banana Nut Muffin in the yumbox
It's so funny to me that my kids love prunes. When I was little, prunes grossed me out so much and I was convinced that no one below the age of 85 ate them. I know they're healthy and I'm glad my kids are willing to try anything but I can't help but giggle when I put them in their boxes. Is there anything your kids eat that you won't touch?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NOLA Thanksgiving Restaurant Tour

For Thanksgiving week, we were in New Orleans, and keeping with tradition we stuffed ourselves like we do each time we go home. Louis and I have a running joke (but we're not really joking) that every time we go home we gain 5 pounds. At least a week before we arrive usually, every meal has already been planned for us, and this time was no exception. Here are just a few highlights of the meals we tried while we there:
You can't go to Drago's without getting their charbroiled oysters, and our order of a dozen lasted about 3 minutes. The kids fought over who would get more of them and pretty much inhaled them the minute the waiter set the platter on the table. If you've never had them before, Charbroiled Oysters are fresh shucked oysters on the half-shell that are brushed with an herb butter and then loaded with parm and romano cheese and broiled over a hot grill. I really can't decide what I love more; the oysters themselves or soaking up the herb and cheese butter that's leftover with French bread.
My mom got the lunch special: Stuffed Crab topped with Crabmeat Au Gratin, served with Rosemary Potatoes and Greens. Even though she could only finish half of it, she loved it! I got the Fried Shrimp Remoulade Po-boy which was REALLY heavy on the horseradish- if you don't like spice, this is not the dish for you. Louis got a fried oyster po-boy and both po-boys were roughly the size of an infant. I couldn't even eat a fourth of it, but we all left stuffed and happy.
That night we met friends for dinner and tried Legacy Kitchen. To start we ordered the Blue Cheese Chips. House made thick cut chips covered in a creamy béchamel, truffle herb aioli and crumbled blue cheese. Holy deliciousness- these are so rich, decadent and completely divine. I tried their Prosecco with Limoncello and it was SO good with the chips! Louis got the prime rib for dinner. He said it was great but I couldn't even look while he ate it. Beef has never been a favorite of mine, and the pink meat with huge hunks of fat on the side is not appealing to me. After eating the super rich blue cheese chips I settled on the Tuna Tango Salad; seared ahi tuna with avocado, mango, macadamia nuts, won-ton strips and a delicious ginger-lime dressing. By the time I got my salad I was too busy chatting to get a picture, but here's the pic from their website so you can see just how pretty the salad was:
(photo above is from Legacy Kitchen
 The next day I was so excited to finally try Coquette for brunch. The last two times we were in town we made attempts to get over there and for one reason or another it fell through. I was so happy to make my way to Magazine Street and finally see what all the fuss was about
Coquette has a new menu every day, which in turn, will always leave you with something new, exciting and hyper seasonal to try. We started off with the charcuterie board which included house pickled vegetables, hogs head cheese, boudin balls and a really delicious pate. The plate below it is a crudo topped with one of the best shaved Brussels sprouts, parsley and mint combos I've ever had. Totally bright, crunchy, fresh and so nice along side the heavy meat board.
For our meals, we tried the Shrimp and Grits with a Louisiana hot sauce gravy, tasso, Brussels sprouts and fried kale.  The sauce was absolutely delicious and I kept reaching into Louis' plate with my spoon to get the rest of it before the waitress snatched up the plate. I had the perfectly crispy seared scallops with chorizo, arugula, charred red onion and a surprise sauce that wasn't listed on the menu. It looked like small bubbles on the plate, but it was actually spicy and sweet and very thick. If I had to guess I would say it was pepper jelly reduction, but whatever it was, I ate it all happily. 
That evening we went to Katie's in mid-city. It's been featured on Diners Drive Ins and Dives before and I love how right outside the door they have a small plaque showing you the line of water left by Hurricane Katrina. I had to try their Pimm's Cup and it did not disappoint!
We started the meal with Charbroiled Oysters and their Seafood Stuffed Beignet. This Beignet is HUGE and overstuffed with crawfish, crabmeat, shrimp, jalapeno peppers, onions, and three kinds of cheese; fried then topped with a jalapeno aioli
For our entrees we got "The Legend"; a piece of French bread about as long as my forearm stuffed with their amazing cochon de lait and BBQ shrimp. This was one of those sandwiches that is so messy it ends up being all over you and so delicious you don't even care that you're wearing it. We also tried the nightly special which was Drum on top of a Seafood Stuffed Mirliton with a Seafood Cream Sauce. I forgot how much I love mirlitons and after having this delicious version, I will definitely be making some at home soon!
I made sure to go to Rouse's and stock up on some essentials before heading home  in the worst holiday traffic EVER. Thank the good Lord for DVD players that come with headphones because that is all that saved us that day.
What is your favorite restaurant in NOLA to visit?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Little's Lunches 2

Happy Monday! I'm excited to share another Little's Lunches with you today! I got a lot of feedback from last week's post so I think this will be a fun way to start the week off from now on
Monday: Sliced roasted turkey, cheese stick, whole wheat crackers, carrots with olives and Ranch, raisins for M and a cutie orange for B in our yumbox
Tuesday: Cranberry Turkey Salad, honey wheat pretzel sticks, edemame, raisins, carrots and olives, dried apples for M and a cutie for B in the yumbox
Wednesday: M had a field trip, so everything had to be disposable and I was worried nothing would be properly chilled so I went with the old faithful PB&J, dried fruit, veggies and a juice box. For B, she had a PB&J, cheese stick, dried apples, a mini chocolate chip banana muffin, and veggies with Ranch served in bad for the environment baggies and a lunch cube
 Thursday: Pasta Salad (a mix of macaroni, pepperoni, edemame, cherry tomato, olives, mushrooms, celery and shredded carrot), a mini cheese wedge, a mini chocolate chip banana muffin, a dried fruit snack for M and a cutie for B served in this box and silicone muffin liners
 Friday: The rest of the pasta salad on baby spinach leaves, cucumber and tomatoes, raisins, key lime yogurt and a mini chocolate chip banana muffin in the yumbox with our Sporks which I love love love. I got mine at the NYC Food and Wine fest, but you can buy some using the link above!
 What do your kids love to see in their lunchboxes?

Friday, December 5, 2014

San Diego, CA and the Riunite Chili Cook-Off

In October I took part in the Riunite Chili Cook-Off and won my region! I felt pretty proud to win a chili cook-off in TX of all places, and was so excited for the next phase, which was held in San Diego, CA
I can't put into words how excited I was to get back to CA and see the city that means so much to Louis and me again. After Hurricane Katrina, Louis was given an opportunity to work there and we moved to a little town right outside of San Diego called Encinitas. We were married there, our son was born there and we haven't been back in six years! There were so many memories that came flooding back to me as we made our way around the city. At the airport we got in our car and headed straight to one of our favorite spots, Las Olas. While living nearby, we brought anyone that visited us here and it was one of the first places I tried fish tacos!
 It was just as delicious as I remembered it! I tried the Peppered Pineapple Margarita that delivered a serious kick- if you are timid with spice do not get this one! Louis knew what he was ordering before we even got there- the Mixed Seafood Chile Relleno which was served with rice and beans. I got the Mixed Seafood Sauté which was large shrimp, fish and scallops sautéed with white wine, butter, garlic, cilantro, tomato, onion and chile served with cabbage salad and beans. By the time we were finished we were stuffed and walked across the street to the beach
The water was cold, the beach was beautiful and in that moment I couldn't ask for more from life
The next morning was the Cook-Off finals!
We didn't have to be at the stadium until 10am, so we found a cute little café to have brunch at first. Café 21 is absolutely adorable and the menu was quite impressive. Just reading it gave me a handful of ideas on dishes I could create myself once I got back home. I LOVE and adore brunch and reading the menu made it hard to decide what to settle on. I got the raspberry mimosa which did not disappoint. Two of my favorite things in a glass to start the day off sounded like a perfect plan to me. When Louis told the waitress that he'd like a Bloody Mary she replied "red, yellow or green?"
Say What?!
Looking at the dumfounded expressions on our faces she then explained to us that they make all of their drink mixes from scratch and they offer a traditional red, yellow heirloom and a green tomato tomatillo bloody mary. She recommended the yellow one, and Louis is unable to tell people no, so he got it. He really didn't care for it but I thought the sweetness and lack of overt acidity was wonderful. To eat, Louis got the Short Rib Cast Iron Omelet with Fig and Chai Tea Marinated Beef Short Rib, Bell Pepper, Caramelized Onions and Gorgonzola Cheese. The picture doesn't do this dish justice. It was absolutely moan-worthy! I got the Shrimp Corn Cakes- shrimp, sweet corn, potato and  Mozzarella Cheese cakes with Cilantro Cream Sauce. I live for Benedicts of any kind but I was disappointed with this one. The plate was gorgeous but was seriously lacking seasoning. I would definitely try Café 21 again, but I would order a different entrée.
When we were done eating we headed over to the Chargers Stadium for the final Cook-Off
I had a bit of trouble throughout the morning once we got there, which really stressed me out. This is the first cook-off I had been in where we were required to bring our dish already prepared with us. I made my chili the day before, double sealed it in FoodSaver bags and then proceeded to blow TSA's mind by walking like a crazy person through airport security with bagged chili and a fresh pineapple.
(It kind of reminded me of the SATC episode where Carrie is in jury duty and the old man brings a coconut, a pineapple and random things with him each day in his briefcase) 
Because the chili was previously frozen, it was still icy once we got to the tailgating site. We were all provided with crockpots to heat our chili up in, but the generator that my crockpot was plugged into kept shutting off. Over, and over and over. Then the judging time was moved up earlier and I was freaking out. Like total and complete panic mode. I would have felt humiliated if I had served judges ice cold chili. Certain things taste ok if it's not absolutely warmed through. Chili is not one of those things.
I was able to get my dish heated the way I wanted at the last second, and I served the best plate I could. After the judging we had one more fish taco stop before heading home!
 In the end, I didn't win the finals BUT.... I  made amazingly sweet new friends (Hi Ronna, Shana and Donna!!) and I had a free trip to San Diego with my husband. I feel like I was lucky to get the experience and I hope we don't wait another six years to visit again!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Little's Lunches

Happy Monday!! Can you believe it's December already?!
I just returned home yesterday from a whirlwind tour of San Diego and New Orleans that I will fill you in on later, but for now, I thought I'd try something a little different.
I know that packing lunches can sometimes be stressful for parents of little ones, especially if you have a picky eater. It's easy to get stuck in a rut, but I thought it would be fun to share what I pack for my little ones each week when they head off to school. I have to be honest, I have been truly appalled by the choices provided in the cafeteria at my kid's school. I am all for moderation and having treats occasionally, but I've seen enough to make packing a lunch for my kids top priority.
Here's what was in our lunch boxes last week:
Monday: Ham and Cheese spread in flour tortillas, goldfish, berries, veggies and ranch
an applesauce for M and an orange for B packed in these containers
Tuesday: Diced Roasted Turkey, shredded cheese/cheese stick, whole grain crackers, veggies and ranch, cinnamon poached pears packed in our yumbox
Wednesday: Sliced roasted turkey breast and chive cream cheese in a whole wheat pita, cheese sticks, honey wheat pretzel sticks, veggies and dip, an orange for B and a dried fruit snack for M
Thursday: Ham and Cheese Bites (recipe here), whole wheat pita triangles, baby carrots, Pumpkin Granola Muffin, freeze dried apples, cheese stick
 Friday: Thanksgiving lunch at school- Turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, wheat roll, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. The top plate was mine, the bottom plate that's loaded to the brim is for my 8 year old who eats more than I do. He scarfed it down and I think he enjoyed it, but I was not thrilled. It was a special occasion that the kids were excited to share with me and I loved being able to join them at school but I think our boxes look much better than this does!
What do you think is the hardest part of packing lunch for yourself or your kiddos?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cranberry Raspberry Limeade Punch

Happy Black Friday!! I hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving filled with family, love and delicious food!
Once you're done stuffing yourself with leftovers, be sure to make my Turkey and Andouille Gumbo! And, while you're at it, can you vote for my recipe HERE as well pretty please?
For the upcoming Christmas season, and all of the parties and events that are right around the corner, I created a delicious bubbly cocktail
 This is my new favorite drink! It's sweet, tart, bubbly, festive and it's perfect for a crowd. Serve these pretty drinks with these Easy Ham 'n Cheesy Bites and you'll be able to enjoy your friends instead of being stuck in the kitchen while all of your guests are having fun.
 Cranberry Raspberry Limeade Punch
1 can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed
4 cups Cranberry Pomegranate Juice
36 ounces Sprite
1 bottle Prosecco
raspberries and lime slices to garnish
Stir together the thawed limeade, juice, sprite and vodka in a large pitcher and chill. When ready to serve, top off with Prosecco, raspberries and lime slices.
What's your go-to Holiday cocktail?