Balanced Choices for Game-Day Goodness

November 10, 2017

Fall. It makes me think of leaves changing color (less of this happens in Dallas but my childhood in Kansas City was full of weekends raking and brilliant-colored trees), cozy layers (bring on the chill!), holidays within reach (no, I haven't started Christmas shopping yet), and football. Lots of football. I admit that I'm not the biggest sports fanatic...you won't find any jerseys or team paraphernalia in my closet and I'm the last girl on earth to throw a ball around (or run after one, for that matter). But my dad and brothers love watching sports so much I feel like the sounds of ESPN were part of the soundtrack to my childhood. As an adult, I've learned that there's way more to sports-watching than knowing teams, rules, rankings, etc. There's also eating. And drinking. And usually both. So with fall firmly in the air I welcome football season and the opportunity to partake in the food and beverage side of game day festivities!

Now, I don't just want to snack and sip on anything while I pretend to blend in with those legitimately invested in whatever game is happening. I want satisfying and somewhat indulgent but more on the healthier side of the spectrum than not. Recently I've been into a certain "tailgate" combo of nachos and spiked sparkling water. I know what you're thinking...nachos are not healthy and spiked sparkling water sounds a lot harder to come by than twisting the cap off a beer. Not so my friends! It's as easy as picking up the right toppings from the store and a case (or two) of Truly Spiked & Sparkling. Keep reading to see my fave healthy-ish nacho recipe and learn why Truly is my light drink go-to for game days and life in general!

Here’s what you need to know about Truly: it’s gluten free, 100 calories (!), has 1 gram of sugar and 2 grams of carbs, and is 5% alcohol. What also makes it special is that it doesn’t contain any liquor or spirits – the alcohol comes from fermented cane sugar and a hint of fruit. I kind of figured this beverage would be a “too good to be true” situation and that the taste wouldn’t live up to the hype. After trying all five flavors I can say that not only is Truly delicious, but it’s so light, crisp and bubbly that I feel great about my decision when enjoying it. It’s as refreshing as traditional sparkling water, just with a bit of booze! Truly was my go-to drink over the summer (so refreshing) and I’ve continued to incorporate the flavors into various cocktail recipes or have them on their own now that we’ve rolled into fall.

What I love most about Truly is that the flavors – which have no artificial flavoring or sweeteners – are all citrus based, making them tasty but not overpowering. My favorite flavor is the Colima Lime but the others (Lemon & Yuzu, Grapefruit & Pomelo, Pomegranate, and Sicilian Blood Orange) have the same smooth, light taste and fizzy bubbles. The fruit base of each makes them the perfect thing to pair with just about anything food-wise. And when it comes to football/tailgate/game-day food my brain automatically goes to nachos.

Spoiler: Truly + nachos = match made in heaven.

I learned the art of homemade nachos in college. Back then it was greasy corn chips, way too much cheese and a lot of sour cream and salsa. Not so healthy. With age comes wisdom and I’m happy to report that while I still like indulging in libations and making/eating nachos, I’ve found healthier ways to do both. My most recent go-to nacho combo looks like this:

  • A mix of blue corn and white corn chips (my favorite brand is Xochitl!) placed on a baking pan so that the bottom of the pan is covered but the chips aren’t overlapping too much (you want to get an even amount of toppings on each chip!)
  • Top chips with a light layer of shredded cheddar cheese (I really love getting the fresh shredded cheese from the deli but sometimes I feel less fancy and use a bag of Mexican style shredded cheese)
  • Top cheese layer with shredded chicken (my tip: buy chipotle seasoned and grilled chicken breast from the store and shred it at home!)
  • Put in a 350 degree oven for about 6 minutes or till cheese is melted but not getting crispy!
  • Once out of the oven, top with fresh pico de gallo
  • Serve along side a bowl of guacamole and pickled jalapeños so friends and fellow snackers can dress them how they wish

Not the fanciest of nachos but 100% a crowd-pleaser and definitely more on the healthy side! To keep the healthier choices going, I suggest enjoying the nachos while sipping on Truly – the slim can mix pack has four flavors and is great to bring to a gathering so people can taste and choose favorites. I like to set out glasses, some ice, straws, and lemon and lime wedges so people can make Truly even more personalized.

So there you have it. Fall means football. Football and other sports call for snaking and drinking. More balanced – and oh so satisfying – choices like Truly and light nachos will be your next game day touchdown (couldn’t help myself, had to squeeze in a sports pun)!

Wearing: J.Crew "Amour" Sweatshirt // MOTHER HIGH WAIST RASCAL ANKLE JEANS (ON SALE! ALSO HERE) // KAREN LAZAR BRACELETS (WEARING SIZES SMALL, MEDIUM, LARGE AND X-LARGE)

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Summer Pairing with Rueda Verdejo

August 14, 2017

One of the things I love most about enjoying a bottle of wine is pairing it with some food. Snacking while sipping - it's one of my all time favorite activities. Lucky for me, I have some lovely friends and family that enjoy delicious food as much as they enjoy great wine and this activity is one I get to enjoy more often than not. And while there are various libations I like to drink during the summer, a chilled and crisp white wine seems to be the biggest crowd-pleaser and universally loved. After sampling a smattering of white wine varietals this summer I can say with certainty that I'm drawn to those with more of a acidic taste (versus the oak-aged or very sweet). Another thing I've come to find is that if a white wine was a Rueda Verdejo  - no matter which specific vineyard or year - it was always a winner in my book.

For anyone unfamiliar (and I was up until recently) Rueda Verdejo is a top selling white wine from Spain that's known for pairing well with just about anything...both foods and occasions! Similar in taste to a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, Verdejo from Rueda is a vibrant and complex white that has just the right amount of fruit, a hint of spice, and a crisp refreshing finish. In a few words: it's incredibly easy to drink. Even more pleasing than it's taste profile is its pricing - most Verdejo from Rueda bottles are under $20! 

 

Inspired by my frequent sipping of Rueda Verdejo I wanted to do a little offering of appetizers that pair well with white wine. As I mentioned earlier, snacking while sipping…it’s something I’m serious about. Of course Verdejo wine goes well along side just about any food – and sometimes I get lazy with my snacking choices (fact: popcorn, string cheese, and peanut butter cups do in fact go well with Rueda Verdejo) – but I wanted to educate myself on “true” white wine pairings. And I’m glad I did, because the three pairings below were next-level delicious with Verdejo!

Here’s what I put together:

  • Avocado + lime crostinis: lime is one of the dominant acidic flavors of Rueda Verdejo wines and because both the wine and limes pair so well with buttery avocado, this was a super satisfying “veggie” appetizer option. I just mashed one fresh avocado, added the juice from half a lime, spread on toasted baguette slices, and topped with a little lime zest and kosher salt. Kind of like a bite-sized version of avocado toast but super fresh tasting with the addition of lime.
  • Manchego cheese + serrano ham crackers: ohhemgee meat and cheese is my all time fave appetizer, especially with wine. I did a little research into specific cheese that pair best with Rueda Verdejo and manchego was one of them. And because serrano ham is a staple in Spanish cuisine and often served alongside manchego cheese as a tapa this seemed like an easy peasy app! I sliced up the manchego and folded some serrano ham slices on top of some thin crackers that were the perfect size and pain in flavor so as to not compete with the meat and cheese.
  • Mango + pecorino cheese bites: I think we all know that grapes are the easy out when it comes to building an appetizer board for wines. But in my aforementioned Rueda Verdejo cheese pairing research I found that pecorino cheese was also recommended. And what goes well with a salty cheese but a naturally sweet fruit. Verdejo’s dominant fruit flavors – in addition to lime – are green melon, grapefruit pith and white peach. Peaches would be the most natural go-to for me but I wanted to go outside my comfort zone and do fresh mango. After slicing bite-sized chunks of mango and cutting small pieces of pecorino cheese I skewered one of each together and the pairing was perfect.

Thirsty for some Rueda Verdejo wine and hungry for some complimentary appetizers? I’m not sure how you couldn’t be given this summer spread. Come over any time and I’ll treat you to a repeat. Or pick up your own bottle of Rueda Verdejo – just look for the Rueda logo when visiting your local store or find a great selection on wine.com – and get creative with pairings that sound delicious to you! AND, if you’re ordering Rueda via wine.com, use code “RUEDA” at checkout for 10% off!!

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Perfect Size for 1 Treats + Toppings

August 1, 2017

Not many people know this about me, but I love to bake. Back when this blog was a baby I would make one baked good a week as a selfish way to satisfy my sweet tooth and share with friends and coworkers. After a while I started to question my baking hobby. Mostly because I'm a person who loves leftovers and hates waste and I constantly felt the need to eat every last crumb of whatever I had made, even if I didn't want to. As great as that first slice of cake or square of brownie was I didn't necessarily want to keep indulging day after day. My sweet tooth needed a vacation and now my baking passion comes out for birthdays or when I'm delegated to bring dessert to a party. That's all fine and good but my cravings haven't gone away. There are days when all I think about is being able to enjoy a warm baked good from my own kitchen and I have to trample my temptations in lieu of going to the store for ingredients, getting all my baking equipment dirty, and making a huge cake I can't finish just because I wanted one serving in the moment.

Duncan Hines® Perfect Size for 1® has answered my sweet tooth dreams while solving my woes of baking for myself and having leftovers with their cakes and muffins. The cakes and muffins come in a variety of flavors - from chocolate brownies to cinnamon coffee cake and strawberry shortcake - and just one serving per pouch allows you to mix up a personal-sized warm treat that can be ready in about a minute. How perfect is that? So perfect that I had to get my friends and family in on the goodness with a "pick your cake, pick your toppings" themed cake dessert bar.

 

Each Perfect Size for 1 flavor is delicious on their own but when I was choosing between the options at my local Kroger I started thinking, “How good would it be to add some fresh berries, ice cream, or whipped cream to make the perfect little cake next-level delicious?” Minutes later I was adding toppings to my cart and making dinner plans with friends where I would be taking care of the dessert. The only thing better than a personalized sized cake is getting to dress it up with your favorite toppings!

Because it’s summer I picked Perfect Size for 1 flavors that are perfect for the season: Strawberry Shortcake (the obvious), Lemon Cake (so fresh), and Confetti Cake (a nostalgic classic I couldn’t pass up). For toppings I went with: fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, home made whipped cream, vanilla bean ice cream, mini chocolate chips, and rainbow sprinkles. Baking a Perfect Size for 1 is as easy as grabbing a mug, emptying a pouch of mix, and stirring in 3 tablespoons of water. Then a minute and ten seconds in the microwave and it’s ready to be topped and enjoyed!

To say that my friends loved getting to pick a Perfect Size for 1 and dress it up to their own specifications is an understatement. People got creative – some started mixing the fruit into the batter before microwaving or substituting the water for milk – but everyone had similar reactions of, “This is the perfect portion,” and “The warm, fresh-baked cake I always want but never get.” Below are examples of flavor and topping pairings that happened:

Cake is by far my favorite baked good and I love that now I can indulge in a personalized-size serving whenever I want and not wait for a special occasion to bake a whole cake! So easy and so satisfying. And of course, I’m going to be trying out some of the Perfect Size for 1 muffin varieties…blueberry muffin, banana bread and cinnamon coffee cake all sound too perfect for a warm breakfast treat.

Next time you’re in Kroger I highly suggest getting a box (or two, or three) of Duncan Hines Perfect Size for 1 from the baking aisle and indulging in the warm, delicious goodness. You can thank me later.

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Rosé + A Porch Picnic

July 14, 2017

Rosé is the wine synonymous with summer. It's crisp, light, easy, and an ideal refreshing beverage when served chilled. If you're like me, you already know all this and make rosé a go-to wine varietal starting in March and sip on it all the way through September. If you're also like me, you probably shoot in the dark and/or stick to familiar labels when buying said wine. I'm not a wine expert (by any stretch) so I tend to go off price, packaging, suggestions, and luck when buying. That being said, I love tasting and trying wines from vineyards and regions that are new to my tastebuds. Even with my inexperienced palate I know what I like and adding new names to my list of "wineries I like" is always exciting.

This summer I've gone international - as far as wines go - and have been loving everything bottled by Villa Maria Estate. While it's New Zealand's most awarded winery, the brand is less well known in the US even though many of the estate's varietals can be found state side. I'm so glad I recently discovered Villa Maria because the wines are beyond delicious and wallet friendly. And when you're stocking your fridge with rosé for the summer, both those factors become very important!

What I love about wine is that it's an "open and enjoy" drink. No mixing or extra ingredients or fuss - just chilling, pouring, and sipping. My favorite spot to twist open a bottle of Villa Maria (no corks, yes please!) is among friends and family at my place or theirs. The comfort of a home allows us to get comfortable and occasionally be creative. A picnic on the porch has become a fun outdoor hangout spot for happy hours. We keep things simple...wine, some snacks, music, and spots for lounging.

 

Opening a bottle of Villa Maria wine is kind of like opening another world. I’ve never been to New Zealand but drinking Villa Maria – and subsequently learning more about the values and heritage that serve as the foundation for their wines – makes me feel like I’m getting a taste of the country. For anyone geographically challenged (me), New Zealand is a country that sits in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, south east of Australia. Though the New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine the moderate marine climate, rich soil, and entrepreneurial spirit of the country has contributed to wineries like Villa Maria being able to thrive.

Being the nerd I am, I loved learning that Villa Maria was started in 1961 by a solo founder – Sir George Fistonich – and over five decades later he’s still the driving force behind the wine and their core values of innovation, sustainability, and family. You’d think that an estate like Villa Maria boasting a title of most awarded wines in New Zealand would make their culture more corporate and less soulful but the opposite is true for them. While the quality of their wines ranks as their primary goal, they credit their incredible wines to the people who help them produce the wines and share their passion for excellence. Sir George may have only been 21 when he started Villa Maria but his youthful ambition and excitement is what’s made the company the continued success it is today.

So yes, the Villa Maria wines are exceptional. I wish I could serve you up a sampling through this blog so you could immediately taste some of the varietals if you haven’t yet. But…you’re just going to have to find local retailers and restaurants near you to do so! Don’t worry, Villa Maria has a super helpful “where to buy” tab on their site which makes this part easy peasy.

If you’re not sure what Villa Maria varietal to try first you can of course read all about the tasting notes, vineyard climate, processing, and other facts for each wine on the website right here. I highly suggest the Private Bin Rosé (it’s has a great fruit flavor but doesn’t have a sweet taste), the Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Villa Maria’s most popular wine – it’s so crisp) and the Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc (seriously incredible, same crisp factor as the flat version but made even more fresh and vibrant with the bubbles). The Private Bin collection wines are designed to be approachable, consistent and excellent value and can attest to all of these points…and add that they are all delicious!

Now that you know a little bit more about the company, my hope is that the next time your browsing the wine aisles of your local store or scanning a wine list while at a restaurant that Villa Maria’s New Zealand varietals stand out from the other options!

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Summer Grilling with La Vaquita Queso

June 15, 2017

Summer. The days are longer. The great outdoors is calling. The backyard grills are...grilling. Despite Dallas feeling like the surface of the sun (re: hot. so very hot) Sally and I have been in full outdoor mode. The arrival of a new stroller (he loves it!) and gorgeous outdoor furniture (showing it off in all its glory soon!) have both contributed to our desire to be outside. But it's really the craving to fire up the grill and cook some delicious summer-inspired food that has us most excited about the new season. I don't always dine with Sally and her husband but when I do, we usually try to cook something. The tricky part is agreeing what to make. One type of cuisine we can always agree on is Mexican - even better if the recipes allow us to doctor the dish to be our own.

This past week I had it in my mind that a family taco night needed to happen. I told Sally and Robert that all I needed them for was the grilling and eating - that I would take care of the rest. I'm not typically the one to take the reins but they've been so busy with the arrival of sweet baby and after finding this recipe on Skinny Taste (a go-to recipe source for my whole family) I felt happy and confident to make taco night a reality!

 

True confession: it was the inclusion of Cotija cheese in this taco recipe that caught my attention while I was perusing options. Past posts (here and here) have revealed my affinity for La Vaquita’s Queso Fresco – a really light, creamy, delicious cheese that’s a perfect pairing for Mexican, Tex-Mex and other styles of cuisine – but I haven’t really shared how much I love Cotija. Like all of the La Vaquita cheeses, the Cotija is super fresh and made to reflect the authentic, traditional flavors of Hispanic cuisine. But where the Queso Fresco is mild and bright in taste, Cotija is salty and bold. Due to its aged process and firm texture that can be grated or crumbled, it’s earned the nickname “the parmesan of Mexico.” It’s a great salty addition to savory dishes and packs a great flavorful punch!

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Lettuce Slaw, Avocado and Cotija Cheese: Like I said, this recipe found on Skinny Taste originally jumped at me because of the Cotija cheese. Maybe all the sun I’ve been getting has made me crave some salt? Either way, I was excited to try it out. Because I wanted the taco night to really have options for a “build your own” taco experience, I added the Queso Fresco and some salsa options to the mix. The extra cheese might make the recipe a little less “skinny” but it definitely adds to the delicious factor!

Chicken Ingredients:

  • 14 oz (4 thin sliced) boneless chicken breast cutlets
  • 1 1/4 tsp seasoned salt (I used Lawry’s Season Salt)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lime juice (I ended up using more lime juice – about 3 teaspoons)

Taco and Slaw Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (4 oz) shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup (1 medium) vine ripe tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 loose cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup thin sliced red onion
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • pinch fresh black pepper
  • 8 corn tortillas (I also used flour)
  • crumbled La Vaquita Cotija
  • crumbled La Vaquita Queso Fresco
  • 1 sliced (5 oz) ripe avocado
  • 1/2 jalapeño, sliced
  • 4 lime wedges, for serving

Directions:

  1. Season chicken with seasoned salt, olive oil and lime juice and marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Heat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on medium-high heat.
  3. Oil the grates and grill about 2 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 1 minute, or until cooked through. Set aside on a cutting board and slice into thin strips. (Note: we used a Green Egg for grilling the chicken so our timing was a little different than the Skinny Taste recipe!)
  4. While the chicken is cooking, in a large work bowl mix the lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onions, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  5. On the grill heat tortillas, turning till they slightly char, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side. (Note: we skipped this step!)
  6. Design your taco. Add chicken, lettuce slaw, avocado and top with cotija or queso fresco cheese (or both!), salsa, jalapeño, and/or fresh lime.

Quick Mexican Brown Rice: Because I didn’t want the tacos to be lonely, I found this recipe (also via Skinny Taste) and figured it would be a perfect side dish. I’ve never made my own Mexican rice so I was a little worried that I’d be in over my head but it really was a very easy recipe to follow.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups frozen or cooked (unseasoned) brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, small dice
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, minced (I only used half of a large jalapeño!)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • lime wedges, for serving
  • chopped cilantro (I added some to the mixture and put some leafs on top as a garnish)

Directions:

  1. Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside.
  2.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the onions, tomatoes and jalapeno and sauté until just tender, about 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Stir to evenly coat the vegetables.  Add the cooked rice, stir, and cook for 1 minute or until heated through. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges on the side.

Family taco night was a huge success! The recipes were super easy and packed with flavor and the La Vaquita cheeses were the perfect topping for both the tacos and rice. Summer – while largely being about sun and fun – is really a family sort of season and I feel like we kicked things off in the right way with our homemade meal. There’s just not many things that feel better than eating good food and clinking cold beers with the people you love…even if it does kind of feel like you’re sitting on the surface of the sun while doing it!

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