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Dining at Uchiko!

The fantastic Uchiko!

Ugh, I’m mad at myself for not posting this earlier, but a few weeks ago, I was able to cross off yet ANOTHER experience from my Austin Bucket List: dining at Uchiko!

I discovered Uchiko, after seeing the original “Uchi” on an episode of “Food Porn” right when I moved to Austin and I hoped that one day, I’d get the chance to devour some of their top-notch sushi. Austin is home to Uchi and Uchiko.

Well, fate was on my side because… you may recall a few months ago when my friend Corey and I WON a “Saved By The Bell” trivia contest. Part of our prize was a giftcard to… *drumroll* …Uchiko!

It was meant to be!

Uchiko is a farmhouse restaurant, and they focus on using fresh ingredients – flying in seafood everyday from Eukuoka and Tsukiji markets in Japan.

Naturally, I was too busy enjoying the food to recall everything we ate, but here’s some of the things we had:

  • Yokai Berry: Scottish salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian kale, yuzu
  • Coffee Bacon: peach, apricot, onion
  • Ham & Eggs: katsu pork belly, yolk custard, espelette
  • Brussels Sprouts: fish caramel, lemon, chili
  • Kokumostu: toasted and fried milk, cereal, chocolate mousse
  • Seasonal Ice Cream: I believe we had cinnamon… it was so yummy!

We had at least three other items… but I probably had too many glasses of wine to recall their names. I DO know that everything was fresh, delicious, and impeccably presented. It was really a fantastic experience!

Tyson Cole is a partner and the chef of both Uchi and Uchiko – here’s his story from the Uchiko website:

Best Chef Southwest, James Beard Foundation 2011
One of the few American sushi masters, James Beard Award-winning Chef and Owner Tyson Cole is a passionate student of the Japanese tradition. Having trained for more than 10 years in Tokyo, New York, and Austin under two different sushi masters, he continues his path of study and experimentation each day at the restaurants in the Hai Hospitality family. Employing classical cooking techniques with a Pacific Rim perspective, Cole marries global ingredients with traditional Japanese flavors, resulting in inspired combinations of flavor, texture, color, technique, and style.

Cole became fascinated with sushi in his early twenties while working at an Austin Japanese restaurant and quickly dedicated himself to learning every aspect of the cuisine. Working his way up from dishwasher to head sushi chef, his dexterity with the knife led him to Austin’s top sushi restaurant Musashino. During an intensive traditional apprenticeship under owner Takehiko Fuse, Cole traveled to Japan to experience the cuisine firsthand while gaining technical skill.

Challenged by Fuse to learn the Japanese language, Cole moved on to train at Bond Street, one of the busiest sushi restaurants in New York City. In his last year at Musashino, Cole ran the restaurant in Fuse’s absence and began experimenting with new flavor ideas, influences, and ingredients. Opening Uchi in 2003 as executive chef and co-owner, Cole quickly garnered national attention, most notably a coveted spot on Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005 list; a James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Chef: Southwest” in 2011; and a James Beard Foundation semifinalist spot for “Outstanding Chef” in 2016 among many other accolades.

Citing the newly easy accessibility of ingredients and flavors from across the globe, Cole continues to push the envelope with every bite, stating, “The cuisine I create is playfully multi-cultural, mixing the Japanese tradition with tastes that inspire me.”

Impressive, right?

The even COOLER part is – Corey and I still have two more giftcard to burn as part of our prize. Doesn’t get better than that!

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Queso me crazy?

Queso Fundido from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’!

I know I’ve written a few posts about my resolutions and goals for 2017, but there’s one tiny thing I haven’t mentioned: I kind of wanted to enter some sort of contest, particularly a cooking contest. I don’t really know what brought it on, although I’d be lying if I said the episode of “Real Girl’s Kitchen” where Haylee enters a Texas pie contest really had me curious.

Sure, I’ve entered in writing contests all the time (and happily lose them one-by-one), but I also love to cook, and I’m always saying that I’m getting tired of impressing MYSELF in the kitchen, right? What better way to see what you’re made of than by entering a contest?

A few weeks ago, I randomly came across a Tweet that was advertising a local food contest, with all of the money going toward charity. Sounded right up my ally, so I saved it for a later day.

Upon further inspection, this contest is the 7th annual “Quesoff”, allowing anyone to enter, and all of the proceeds and donations go to the Austin Food Bank. Umm, yes! If you remember, another one of my goals for 2017 was to “Just go for it”, so I did, without really considering it.

Yep, it’s official, Team Bitter Lemon is a contestant in the 7th Annual Quesoff, which takes place at the end of August.

…Which is probably a good thing, because… I’ve never made queso. That’s right, I entered a contest to make something I’ve never made. Awesome.

Of course, it doesn’t seem that competitive and it’s for a great cause, so it’s whatever, but you better believe I want my queso to be delicious. It should also be noted that I’ve entered my (so far non-existent) queso into the “Meaty” category, so it’s got to have meat.

While I do not consider myself a queso connoisseur, I already know that I’d like to make a white queso that features lean, shredded meat with a smoky flavor, possibly duck. I also want it to be nice and spicy (edible, of course).

I haven’t tried recipes as of yet, but I have recruited some local foodies to my team, and I’ve rounded up several folks to help me taste recipes as I jump into this cheese wave of summer. It’s gonna be a fun one, I can promise you that.

In general, we use the term “queso” to describe a delicious bowl of melty cheese, often enjoyed with nacho chips. But of course, queso refers to cheese; queso blanco is white cheese; queso fresco is fresh cheese.

There are so many different ways to make queso – with several cheeses, meat, beans, spices, tomatoes, chiles… the possibilities are endless!

While this endeavor doesn’t really go with my current diet, I’m going to have fun testing out new recipes for the contest. The Bitter Lemon will NOT be embarrassed showing up in Queso country with a first timer cheese dip! Let the cheesing begin…

Yep, I just geeked out over groceries.

Introducing Whole Foods’ 365 stores.

Friday after work, I decided to venture slightly north to an area of Texas I’ve come to know well – Cedar Park, near where the Texas Stars hockey team plays. I’d recently learned about a new store opening there, a 365 by Whole Foods Market.

So, I took the 20 minute drive and ended up in a new, really nice shopping center, complete with the freshly minted market. Supposedly, the 365 versions of Whole Foods are a test for the company, and the one in Cedar Park is one of five in the country. These stores are smaller, and house more of the 365 brand products, and are supposedly more affordable than the Whole Foods megastores we’re used to.

I went to the store with a list of things I needed for the week, but also kept the mindset that if they didn’t have what I needed, I’d just get what looked good and hit up my usual H.E.B. later. As I was walking up to the store, I noticed nearly all of the picnic tables outside were filled with people having dinner and drinking fresh juice.

Once I got inside, I could see why: the store had two counters to order food, pizza sold by the slice, ready-made sushi, a coffee counter, and a Juice Land. Major score for those living nearby, and especially for those working inside the shopping center.

At first, I was thinking the place looked a little small (like a Trader Joe’s) and there was no way they were going to have the things I needed. But, I grabbed the produce I needed and then thoroughly checked out the bulk aisle, where I got a big bag of trail mix for $6.

Next up was meats and frozen goods, where they had a bin of Mochi – a Japanese treat made from rice flour. I had never seen it before – it looks like a bath bomb – but I Googled it immediately. Hmm, ok, cool, they’ve got new things here, I thought.

As I left the olive bar, I discovered there was an entire other side to the store that had aisles, along with a section for fresh-baked goods. I went down every aisle, checking things off my list one-by-one. I even picked up a few unique bottles of wine, and got some decently healthy crackers for the salmon salad I planned on making.

But, the geeking out didn’t truly happen until I rounded the corner for the ready-made aisles. There was the sushi (a favorite of mine – I love the rolls with brown rice), and also ready-made meals from Snap Kitchen.

And then, there, under the light from the heavens was the section for cold coffees and energy drinks. For the first time ever, I saw it: Blue Bottle Coffee – right in front of my face.

“Oh my God,” I whispered under my breath. “It’s here!”

There’s only three Blue Bottle locations in the US – two are in California and one is in the Northeast. I discovered it via Instagram and have only drooled over the thought of the stuff given its hefty price tag and that I’d have to have it shipped. But there, on the shelf, was their NOLA iced coffee packaged in small milk cartons, right beside little cans of their cold brew.

It took every ounce of my insides not to do two things: 1. squeal with delight, and 2. put my arm on the shelf and slide it across it in a manner that would place all 40 cartons and cans into my cart.

It was then I realized my life has really turned a corner: There I was, 7pm on a Friday, Cinco de Mayo, and I was talking to myself over gourmet cold brew. Sing it with me, “I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ thirty twoooo-o-o-o-o!”

Amirite?

My geeking out didn’t stop there, because I soon discovered bottles of Picnik’s paleo butter coffee, along with a wide collection of Evolution’s pressed juices.

Needless to say, my fridge is really happy right now… even opening it makes me smile. As I write this, I’ve been eating olives from the olive bar, cheese, sesame crackers, salami, and sipping some sangiovase rose. It’s fantastic.

So there. I don’t know how often I’ll make the trek (and fork over the money) to hit up the 365 Market, but it sure was fun while it lasted… and now I have the joy of eating all this delish, healthy stuff!

These chefs are on fire!

When is it not an okay time to think (and write) about hot chefs? I can’t quite recall what spurred the need for this post – perhaps that one of my favorite chefs was on this season of Top Chef, and was sadly one of the first to go (there’s always “Last Chance Kitchen”, though, no spoilers!).

I used to have this crush (okay, if I saw him today it would still be real, let’s be honest) on a chef that worked near where I lived in Baton Rouge. He made delicious, impressive, modern food that I loved, and he had fantastic, distinguishing tattoos – a mark of the culinary world I secretly love.

Chefs – they cook, they eat, sometimes have tattoos, and are sometimes sexy. Let’s go!

Chef Roble Ali

Known to many as simply “Chef Roble”, I first became aware of him on his Bravo TV series, “Chef Roble & Co”, which debuted in 2011. The show was mainly about his catering company, which often catered huge events surrounding celebrities.

The show also touched on the fact that Roble is super attractive, and during the show’s taping, he had a long-distance girlfriend, but could basically have anyone he wanted.

In the culinary world, he’s known for his Brooklyn street food, and for being young, talented, and charismatic. He lives, and apparently skateboards, in Brooklyn.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Chef Michael Voltaggio.

Michael Voltaggio 

You may recognize this chef as the winner from season 6 of “Top Chef”, where he beat his brother, Brian. While they were very competitive on the show, the pair wrote a pretty serious cookbook together called “VOLT Ink“.

Although he never went to culinary school (!), he’s earned himself a Michelin star, after years of learning the ropes by working alongside top chefs for years.

He owns two restaurants in Los Angeles: ink. and ink.sack – where ink. is New American, ink.sack. is known for its well-priced sandwiches.

Sam Talbot

Sam is the chef that I was SO excited to see on this season on “Top Chef”, after he’d been on two previous seasons. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and lives in Brooklyn. Hells yes.

Although Sam is known for his cooking, he’s also known for the fact that he has diabetes, and he works to help others who have it, too. He started a non-profit called Beyond Type 1, which helps to raise awareness around diabetes and help erases the stigma.

He also has a cookbook, “The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries“.

He has served as executive chef at many impressive restaurants in New York City, but owns Pig + Poet in Camden, ME, along with The Surf Lodge in Montauk (which he supposedly left), and has a new restaurant, Pretty Southern, in Brooklyn.

Michael Chernow

I’ll be honest here, at first glance, I wasn’t sold on Mr. Chernow. But… he’s known for his fantastic meatballs. No, seriously. He owns The Meatball Shop, which started in New York City, but now has six locations spread across New York.

I’ve never eaten one of Chernow’s meatballs, but I do know him from the show “Food Porn” on the Cooking Channel. The show goes inside restaurants that are popular on social media to see what the hype is about, and gets the scoop on their most popular recipes and dishes. It’s how I found out about Hopdoddy and Frank’s, right here in Austin!

If you can’t get to New York any time soon, you can make your own delish meatballs with Chernow’s cookbook from The Meatball Shop.

…There you have it, my roundup of hot chefs. Got any you’re admiring? Or maybe doctors are your thing? Police officers?

The only downfall about a chef is… technically they work in the service industry, and it’s really difficult to date someone in that industry without also working in it. The hours, the stress, the workload… it’s a lot. But, a girl can dream!

The skinny: What I’m eating.

Real Simple

Deep-dish pizza with turkey sausage and brussels sprouts.

Last week, I announced that I’m getting back on track with my life. I’m getting sleep (when possible), exercising six times a week via dance classes (and shopping, of course), and I’m eating right. So, this weekend, I pretty much took everything Trader Joe’s had and spent a lot of time in my kitchen prepping meals for the week.

If you’re anything like me, each new week presents a challenge of what to eat. Why? Because if I’m going to keep eating healthy (which I’m planning on it), then it’s got to be exciting – no eating chicken and veggies for every meal, because I’ve definitely done that, and although I looked great, I hated it.

So, I’ve found that eating something for lunch and then something different for dinner helps keep things fresh. I usually pick something easy to pack for my lunches, and then something perhaps a little more complicated for dinner, since I usually eat at home during the week. Here’s what I’m eating this week:

Breakfast: Pumpkin Waffles

No, I’m definitely not up making these suckers from scratch – I bought frozen pumpkin waffles from Trader Joe’s (they have pumpkin EVERYTHING out now). Pop two in the toaster, slice up a banana, drizzle with a little raw honey, and bam, breakfast is served!

Lunch: Salmon & Apple Salad Wrap

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

Salmon and apple salad wrap.

If you’re looking for easy, yummy, healthy recipes, sign up to get the email newsletter from Self magazine. I have found so many awesome recipes there, and this is my latest try.

INGREDIENTS

1 can (5 oz) skinless, boneless wild salmon

1/4 cup chopped apple

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

Black pepper

1/2 cup chopped lettuce

1 8-inch whole-wheat wrap

1/2 cup broccoli

3 tablespoons hummus

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl, mix salmon, apple, celery and red onion. In another bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil and honey; season with pepper; toss with salmon salad. Spread salad on whole-wheat wrap; top with chopped lettuce; roll up. Serve with broccoli dipped in hummus.

Please note that the recipe above is only for one wrap. To make a week’s worth, which I did, I completely eyeballed the ingredient-measurements and just tasted along the way. And yes, I even got hummus and veggies to eat with it! Yum!

Dinner: Deep-Dish Pizza with Turkey Sausage & Brussels Sprouts 

You might be thinking – okay, this isn’t really that “healthy”, but truthfully, it’s not so bad. I got this recipe from an old issue of “Real Simple”, and catered it to what I could find. I used whole wheat pizza dough and chicken sausge (because I already had some in my freezer), so it’s really a pretty wholesome meal. Plus, I love brussels sprouts!

INGREDIENTS:

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ pounds store-bought pizza dough, at room temperature
  • ⅓ cup prepared pesto
  • 1½ cups shredded provolone (6 ounces)
  • ½ pound uncooked turkey sausage, crumbled
  • ½ pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 425° F with a rack in the lowest position. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
  2. Press the dough into the pan, covering the bottom and sides. Top the dough with the pesto, cheese, sausage, and Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the sausage is cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Snacks & Extras

I’ve been going to dance after work for two hours at least three times each week. So, I definitely need a good snack in the late afternoon to keep me moving until 8pm when I can get home to that pizza. This week, I stocked my kitchen with the following:

  • Apple sauce with cinnamon
  • Celery (leftover from the salmon salad) and peanut butter
  • Organic nut & dried fruit mixes

Usually a combination of two of these, plus a cold can of La Croix, and I’m good to go.

Yaaaassss!!

Yaaaassss!!

I also did some baking over the weekend, as one of my coworkers found a new job. I wanted to get her a little goodbye gift, so I bought her a coffee mug and baked some decadent cookies to pack inside of it. And yes, I saved a few back for myself – remember to treat yourself! Plus, these things looked so good, I couldn’t resist. I made Double Chocolate Chip and Caramel cookies using a recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking:

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 ½ cup dark chocolate chocolate chips

½ cup caramel bites

1/2 cup Oven Roasted Sea Salt Blue Diamond Almonds, chopped

Maldon salt for dusting

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips, caramel bites and chopped almonds. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment lined baking sheets and dust with Maldon salt.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are puffed. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.

What are you cooking up this week?

What I would cook for Patrick Cantwell.

You may have recalled my mention of the Mr. Patrick Cantwell after I attended my first Round Rock Express game over Memorial Day Weekend. Cantwell is a fine, fine looking catcher and isn’t so bad at batting, either. He’s 26, from New York, and I wouldn’t mind cooking him dinner… more than once.

Sure, I bet he lives in the Austin/Round Rock area and could get a delicious meal just about anywhere – there is a Salt Lick right outside of the stadium, afterall. But who doesn’t love a good, homecooked meal?

And that, my readers, is what I’d like to give away today: organic ingredients for meals delivered right to your door, for FREE! I’ve been ordering from Green Chef for six months now, and I love it. You get to choose how many meals (by meal they mean serving) you want delivered, and set your preferences. You can change your food preferences as often as you want, or skip weeks if you’re not feeling it, and there’s NO penalty for it.

I generally have my preferences set on “omnivore” and I get ingredients for 6 meals each week; however, most of the time, it ends up being enough ingredients for 9 meals. Usually the box (which is right on my doorstep and packed with ice packs) has two recipes with meat, and one vegetarian. Some of my favorite meals I’ve gotten so far include:

  • Shrimp Fettucine Alfredo with Tomatoes and Snap Peas
  • Poached Tuna Salad, with Spinach Salad and Olive & Red Pepper Couscous
  • Chickpea Shawarma Salad, with Cucumber & Tomato Millet, Olives & Pine Nuts
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken with Black Quinoa, Edamame, Ginger, Pineapple & Pepper
  • Greek Gyro Flatbread with Baba ghanoush, Ground Beef, Tzatziki & Feta
  • Pumpkin-Stuffed Shells with Spinach & Walnut-parsley Pesto, Orange-chard Salad

So, you’ll get the ingredients and then you cook the meals at your leisure. All of the ingredients are pre-measured, and organized with color-coordinated labels. Some of the ingredients are even prepped for you (chopped, mixed, etc.), so it makes the meals pretty fool-proof. But seriously, no catch with the free meals – I really just want other people to try this delicious stuff!

I have one free gift to give away, so if you’re interested, shoot me your email address using the form at the bottom of this post. I’ll draw numbers tonight at 10pm Central time, and the winner will get an email from me with your code for the free meals.

In the meantime, I’ve got the recipe for this fantastic burger I’m going to make for Patrick Cantwell on our fantasy date, where of course, he’s going to fall madly in love with me.

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 ounces grass-fed ground beef
  • 2 whole-wheat hamburger buns
  • 2 slices nitrate-free bacon
  • Onion & shallot
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • ⅓ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Honey-mustard balsamic vinegar
  • Slaw dressing
  • Carrots & cabbage
  • Scallions & celery

DIRECTIONS

Place carrots and cabbage in a medium bowl. Thinly slice scallions at an angle; discard root end. Small dice celery into about ¼-inch pieces. Add scallions and celery to bowl. Drizzle with slaw dressing to taste. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat.

Cut root end off onion; remove peel. Cut into about ¼-inch thick slices. Heat about 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; stir. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 4 minutes, or until edges brown, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut ends off shallot and remove peel; mince. Halve grape tomatoes. Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add shallot to hot pot; stir. Cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to soften, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, place ground beef in a large bowl. Add mozzarella cheese. Season with about ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix to evenly distribute cheese. Form into two patties, about ½-inch thick. Halve bacon widthwise.

Add honey-mustard balsamic vinegar to pot with tomatoes. Fill container halfway with water; pour into pot. Stir. Cook 5-6 minutes, or until liquid has reduced by at least half, stirring occasionally. Gently smash tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add burgers to hot pan. Add bacon to pan around burgers. Cook burgers 5 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. Cook bacon alongside burgers until crispy, flipping as needed. Transfer bacon and burgers to a paper towel-lined plate.

Meanwhile, turn oven to high broil with rack 6-8 inches from the top. Cut whole-wheat hamburger buns open. Place on a baking sheet cut-sides up. Broil 2-3 minutes, or until toasted. Crumble (or roughly chop) bacon. Add to bowl with slaw. Toss to combine.

Divide caramelized onion between bottom buns and top with Memorial Day mozz burgers. Spoon tomato jam over burgers. Finish burger with top bun. Serve with bacon slaw on the side. Enjoy!

When I cooked this meal for myself, I ended up putting the bacon on the burger, instead of in the slaw – because bacon on a burger was just a match meant to be. So, enter the giveaway – and, if you don’t win, you can still get a HUGE discount on your first Green Chef order by using my link here.

 

Memorial Day weekend plans(!).

Cheers to the (long) weekend!

Cheers to the (long) weekend!

At precisely 5:30pm today, the long weekend begins and I cannot tell you just how excited I am! This is my first REAL Memorial Day Weekend, as previous jobs I’ve had for the last 8 years did not grant us Monday off. So… I have been thinking about this weekend for a very long time.

And, I also want to mention that it’s important to remember the reason we have the day off – to remember and be grateful for those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom. I cannot image the bravery our soldiers have each and every day they go to work – I couldn’t do it.

So, what’s on my agenda this weekend? I don’t have a set time for most of these things, and some of it depends on the weather (it’s supposed to rain all three days in Austin), so who knows how much I’ll actually get done. But here are my ideas:

Food – Of course I’m planning to get my summer eat-on this weekend! I am definitely on the hunt for a taco truck, as I’ve been slacking when it comes to my local eating adventures. I also have ingredients for a bomb-ass burger, and there’s a watermelon in my fridge that I’m ready to carve. And I will also be hunting for a good bottle of rose, following my own advice from the guide to rose.

Movies – If it rains, I’m hitting up the Alamo Draft House to see “Neighbors 2”, where I’ll be able to see the hot Zac Efron, while mowing down a hot dog and fries. It’s a win-win for this unofficial kick-off of summer. I also set my DVR to record “JAWS”, because what is more festive than watching an old movie about a giant shark that haunts a beach town?

Shop – There’s going to be some good sales out there, and I’m ready to tackle them. I am on the lookout for some cute, white skinny jeans, so this may be another good rainy-day activity, if needed. I am also looking for a good outdoor chair for my patio. I might have to lose myself in IKEA.

Relax – I am really hoping to hit the pool this weekend, but between the shitty weather and my complex’s habit of never opening the pool, I am kind of accepting the fact that this will not happen. However, either way, I want to spend some time getting some rest and relaxation. I’m reading a great book (see: Blanche’s Book Club), my DVR is full of good TV (not to mention season 1 of “The West Wing on DVD”), and my bed is super comfy.

Sports – There’s a Round Rock Express baseball game every day this weekend, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate America than a good old fashioned ball game, complete with a chili dog and a beer. Haayyyy batta batta batta, sah-wiinng battaaah. See you there!

Tourism – I bought a ticket to take a ferry tour of downtown Austin. It’s good for any weekend this summer, but if the weather permits, I’ll go for a ride.

What are you up to this weekend? I’ll truly be taking time off and skipping the blog on Monday, but I’ll be right back at it come Tuesday. Until then, feel free to stalk me on Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat @OrangeJulius7 – Have a great weekend everyone! 

What I would cook for Brody Jenner.

Oh so handsome.

Oh so handsome.

On Friday, I heard Brody Jenner got engaged, and although this isn’t the FIRST time he’s been seriously in love – we all knew that whole Avril Lavigne thing wasn’t going to last… or at least, we really hoped it didn’t, and thank God it didn’t. But this one, this engagement to the gorgeous blonde model Kaitlyn Carter, seems like it’s pretty real. Because of course.

And yeah, I have always thought Brody Jenner was fine as hell. So, to ease the pain, let’s talk about food, and… do a food GIVEAWAY! Hells yeah!

But first, Brody. And the fact that once they get married, his wife’s name will be Kaitlyn Jenner. Hmm. Awkward.

Jenner got his TV start on “The Princes of Malibu” which starred him, and his brother, as well as his mom Linda Thompson and his former stepdad, David Foster… as in, the David Foster, who just dumped poor Yolanda. Like… I totally did not know this relationship ever happened.

And then he was on “The Hills” and I guess dated Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad, although he said in a later interview that he never slept with anyone on “The Hills”…erreeeeaaallly? He was also dating Playmate Jayde Nicole while on later seasons of “The Hills”.

And then came Avril, and that was two years of complete oddness, and terror when she moved in and stole our hearts and our hot guy. Why you have to go and make things so complicated, Avril?!

Then in 2014, he started dating Kaitlyn, and was really open with the press about how great their sex life was, because she’s open to threesomes. Le sigh. THIS IS WHY IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN FOR ME.

But that’s besides the point. Let’s say Brody Jenner is still single, and he’s coming over for dinner, what would I cook for him? I’m going with Beef Picadillo from Green Chef.

Delish!

Delish!

I made this recipe about a month ago and was pleasantly shocked at how delicious it was, given it’s array of different ingredients. I know Brody has probably had some high-class, fancy shit on his plate, but I get the feeling he’s open for just about anything. So, we’re going with it.

INGREDIENTS

    • Organic grass-fed seasoned ground beef
    • Organic garlic, onion, poblano chile & green bell pepper
    • Organic raisins & almonds
    • Organic green olives & capers
    • 1 15-ounce can organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
    • Chile seasoned masa
    • 10-12 sprigs organic parsley
    • 1 ounce Cotija cheese, crumbled
    • 1 organic zucchini

Mince garlic. Cut root end off onion and remove peel. Small dice into about ¼-inch pieces. Medium dice poblano chile and green bell pepper into about ½-inch pieces. Cut ends off zucchini. Medium dice into about ½-inch pieces; reserve. Destem parsley. Roughly chop leaves; set aside.

Heat about 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan (with lid) over medium heat. Add garlic and onion to hot pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes, or until onions are translucent, stirring occasionally. Add poblano and bell pepper. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add seasoned ground beef to pan with veggies. Stir to break up. Cook 5 minutes, or until browned, stirring frequently. Roughly chop green olives and capers. Add to pan. Cook 2 minutes.

Add fire-roasted crushed tomatoes to pan with picadillo. Add raisins and almonds; stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer 8-10 minutes, or until liquid reduces by at least a quarter, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, place chile-seasoned masa in a medium bowl. Add about ½ teaspoon salt and ⅔ cup water. Mix thoroughly until a stiff dough forms and pulls away from sides of bowl (see Pro Tip). Form dough into four patties, about ½-inch thick.

Pro Tip: If dough is too dry to come together, add water in tablespoon increments to reach ideal consistency.

Heat about 1 ½ tablespoons cooking oil in a medium nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add masa cakes to hot pan. Cook 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 ½ tablespoons cooking oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add zucchini to hot pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 3-4 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Divide beef picadillo between plates. Pile sautéed zucchini next to picadillo. Shingle two masa cakes on the side. Sprinkle with parsley and Cotija cheese. Enjoy!

And that, my friends, is what I’d like to give away today: organic ingredients for meals delivered right to your door, for FREE! I’ve been ordering from Green Chef for about four months now, and I love it. You get to choose how many meals (by meal they mean serving) you want delivered, and set your preferences. You can change your food preferences as often as you want, or skip weeks if you’re not feeling it, and there’s NO penalty for it.

I generally have my preferences set on “omnivore” and I get ingredients for 6 meals each week; however, most of the time, it ends up being enough ingredients for 9 meals. Usually the box (which is right on my doorstep and packed with ice packs) has two recipes with meat, and one vegetarian.

So, you’ll get the ingredients and then you cook the meals at your leisure. All of the ingredients are pre-measured, and organized with color-coordinated labels. Some of the ingredients are even prepped for you (chopped, mixed, etc.), so it makes the meals pretty fool-proof. But seriously, no catch with the free meals – I really just want other people to try this delicious stuff!

I have two free gifts to give away, so if you’re interested, shoot me your email address using the form at the bottom of this post. I’ll draw numbers tonight at 10pm Central time, and if you win, you’ll get an email from me with your code! If you don’t get an email from me, you can still get 4 free meals from Green Chef, using my code here.

Raisin toast: A love story.

Yummmm...

Yummmm…

I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, Holly, you really don’t have anything better to write about than TOAST?!” And I say, don’t you worry about THAT! If you know me at all, you should see all the crap I’ve got on my list to write about, but I had to interject here and talk about the gloriousness that is raisin toast.

Why? Well, for starters, I am well on my way to finishing an entire loaf of the stuff. Last Friday, I stopped at Whole Foods on my way home from work. I was on a mission to get Ramen (follow me on SnapChat @OrangeJulius7 to see all of my Ramen missions), and of course, I wandered over to the bakery section.

You see, on the weekends, I like to have “special” breakfasts. They aren’t really anything special, but I always make sure I have something in the house other than my Monday-Friday breakfasts of yogurt, a protein shake, or a piece of fruit. On the weekends, I like to have eggs or bacon or biscuits (or all three), and I like to savor it while sitting on my couch with my coffee. I’ve pretty much done this since college.

I LOVE BREAD.

I LOVE BREAD.

So, I came across this pretty loaf of organic raisin bread at Whole Foods, and I was really looking forward to putting a few slices in my toaster and biting into a piece of bread that offers a pleasurable juxtaposition of crunchy and soft; savory and sweet, all at once.

Do I sound like Oprah right now, raving about bread?

Saturday morning, I did just that. I toasted two pieces of the raisin toast and I put a little bit of orange preserves on them. And it was delicious.

You know that scene at the end of “Ratatouille”, when Anton Ego comes to the restaurant and asks for something from the chef, and it’s a dish of ratatouille – typically a peasant dish, and he takes a bite, he closes his eyes, and his world is completely ROCKED?

Yes, well, I’m not going to lie and say raisin toast rocked my world; I don’t have much going for me, but I’ll at least give myself more credit and say I’ve got things happening that are better than toast here. But, my carb-loaded breakfast choice definitely brought me back.

As a kid, it was a real treat to go to Hardee’s and get the raisin biscuits. Remember those? They were basically cinnamon rolls and they had a little bit of icing on them. If I waited until I got home to eat them, the icing was slightly hardened, and that was the SHIT.

And in college, my then-boyfriend always had a loaf of Pepperidge Farm cinnamon raisin bread in his kitchen. If I stayed the night, he would “make us” some the next morning – meaning, he would toast it and put it on plates. He would also walk to the end of his brick path in purple Crocs to get the paper. What can I say? I was a fool in love.

I worked about two blocks from his house, so if time permitted, he would make me lunch on the weekdays. Lunch meant deli meat on white bread with mustard, and  a side of Doritos. It was not my number one lunch choice, but I always liked it because he made it.

When I think about it, a lot of men in my life have served me bread. And hell, bread is delicious, filling, and affordable, and it doesn’t affect men’s bodies the way it often does a woman’s. So, bread for all!

If I’m being honest here, it’s been a bit of a shitty week. And in weeks like these, I latch on to anything that keeps me from jumping off my second-story balcony. Be it a cold bottle of tequila, a bloom on my magnolia bush sitting on my crappy patio, a loaf of raisin bread, or a few simple memories full of ignorant bliss.

Tomorrow is Friday, and that means two things: I’ve survived another week of spreadsheets, and there’s a few good breakfasts on the horizon.

What I would cook for Matt Harvey.

Helloooooo! It’s been a hot minute since I featured two of my favorite pieces of this blog: “Celeb Crush” and a “Boyfriend Recipe”, so I figured why not combine the two for something steamy, plussss…. did I mention I have a giveaway? A FREE FOOD giveaway?! Yes!!

But before we get into that fun stuff, let’s pick up what hottie Matt Harvey is throwing down (baseball puns!). Let me paint the landscape for you: I enjoy going to baseball games, but mainly because I’m willing to do just about anything for a chili cheese dog and an icy beer.

I’m not a huge Mets fan, so I’ll be clear here… I had no idea who Matt Harvey was until I saw him on Watch What Happens Live. While it was revealed on the show that he “dates” a lot of models, he was also sexily coy and I pretty much loved every second of it.

Aside from the model-thing, the other downside to having a crush on Matt is his name. If you’re new here, welcome, and all you need to know is that I’ve dated WAY too many guys named Matt in my life and they are all complete douchers.

But that’s the glory of the celeb crush, right? We (me) get to suspend reality and dream on, like the fool that I am! So, a few fun facts about Mr. Harvey:

  • Birthday: March 27, 1989
  • Position: Pitcher
  • Went to college before being drafted by the Mets
  • Set a record during his debut game for 11 strikeouts
  • He is a huge hockey fan and loves the New York Rangers (le siiigggh)

So, what would I cook for Matt Harvey even though he can buy something that may taste a million times better? I would cook Harissa Steak Tacos with smashed beans, ginger slaw, and lime-dressed kale. I actually made this earlier this week, as all of the organic ingredients were delivered to me from Green Chef.

These. Are. Delicious.

These. Are. Delicious.

And that, my friends, is what I’d like to give away today: organic ingredients for meals delivered right to your door, for FREE! I’ve been ordering from Green Chef for about three months now, and I love it. You get to choose how many meals (by meal they mean serving) you want delivered, and set your preferences. You can change your food preferences as often as you want, or skip weeks if you’re not feeling it, and there’s NO penalty for it.

I generally have my preferences set on “omnivore” and I get ingredients for 6 meals each week; however, most of the time, it ends up being enough ingredients for 9 meals. Usually the box (which is right on my doorstep and packed with ice packs) has two recipes with meat, and one vegetarian. Some of my favorite meals I’ve gotten so far include:

  • Poached Tuna Salad, with Spinach Salad and Olive & Red Pepper Couscous
  • Chickpea Shawarma Salad, with Cucumber & tomato millet, olives & pine nuts
  • Sweet & Sour Chicken with Black quinoa, edamame, ginger, pineapple & pepper
  • Greek Gyro Flatbread with Baba ghanoush, ground beef, tzatziki & feta
  • Pumpkin-Stuffed Shells with Spinach & walnut-parsley pesto, orange-chard salad

So, you’ll get the ingredients and then you cook the meals at your leisure. All of the ingredients are pre-measured, and organized with color-coordinated labels. Some of the ingredients are even prepped for you (chopped, mixed, etc.), so it makes the meals pretty fool-proof. But seriously, no catch with the free meals – I really just want other people to try this delicious stuff!

I have three free gifts to give away, so if you’re interested, shoot me your email address using the form at the bottom of this post. I’ll draw numbers tonight at 10pm Central time, and announce the winners in tomorrow’s blog! The Green Chef email with the free meals will be delivered to the email you provide, so keep that in mind.

In the meantime, I’ve got the recipe for those fantastic Harissa Steak Tacos I’m going to make for Matt Harvey on our fantasy date, where of course, he’s going to fall madly in love with me.

INGREDIENTS

  • 10 ounce grass-fed sirloin steak
  • 6 organic corn tortillas
  • Organic red cabbage slaw
  • 1 tablespoon organic harissa spice blend
  • Organic lime, jalapeño & red bell pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can organic cannellini beans
  • 4-5 leaves organic Lacinato kale
  • 3 tablespoons organic pepitas
  • Organic creamy ginger dressing

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pat sirloin steak dry with a paper towel. Season both sides with harissa spice blend, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Zest half of lime with a microplane (or on small holes of a box grater) into a small bowl; reserve. Cut lime into wedges.

Remove center rib from Lacinato kale. Roll leaves into a large “cigar” and slice across into about ¼-inch wide ribbons. Place in a medium bowl. Squeeze juice of one lime wedge over kale. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Massage kale with hands (or tongs) to break down fibers. Salt and pepper to taste.

Place red cabbage slaw in a large bowl. Drizzle with half of the creamy ginger dressing. Add pepitas. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cut jalapeño in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and stem. Small dice desired amount of jalapeño (or omit) and red bell pepper into about ¼-inch pieces.

Heat about 1 ½ tablespoons cooking oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add bell pepper and desired amount of jalapeño (or omit) to hot pan. Stir. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until peppers have softened, stirring occasionally.

Open, drain, and rinse cannellini beans. Add beans to pan with peppers. Add reserved lime zest. Squeeze juice of another lime wedge over pan. Stir. Reduce heat to medium-low. Mash about half the beans with the back of a cooking spoon. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm on back of stovetop, off heat.

Place corn tortillas on foil. Sprinkle with water. Wrap foil over tortillas. Warm in oven 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add steak to hot pan. Sear 4-5 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. Transfer steak to cutting board and let rest at least 3 minutes.

Cut steak against the grain into about ¼-inch thick slices. Pile beans and slaw on each plate. Serve three tortillas each. Place kale in each tortilla and divide steak between tacos. Drizzle remaining creamy ginger dressing over tacos to taste. Garnish with lime wedges. Enjoy!

BBC: ‘Kitchen Confidential’.

Introducing… drumroll… Blanche’s Book Club! I have been thinking for a few months that maaaaybe I should join a book club. After all, it would serve as a way to meet people AND read a few books.

But then I realized, finding the right book club actually takes work, and what if they read books that I don’t want to read? Plus, there’s that whole commitment thing, and I’m not really into it.

So, my genius friend was all, “Why don’t you just have your own book club and you pick the books?” Uh, YEAH. So, Blanche is hosting the book club, but we’re only going to read books I approve of.

We’ve already read one book, and it’s up for discussion until I finish reading the next book on my list (which I’ll mention at the end of this post in case you want to read it, too). Did I mention this book club is completely non-committal?

If you want to contribute to the discussion, leave a comment, email me at Holly@thebitterlemon.com, Snap me or DM me @OrangeJulius7 or whatever you have to do. Or, you can send me a book title to read, but I’m not making any promises, folks.

So, the first book of BCC is “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain.

Even if you’re not a foodie, you may recognize the name from TV: “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” …yes?

Bourdain is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and served as the Executive Chef for many kitchens, but is most well-known for his work at Brasserie Les Halles, which is based in Manhattan.

His book, “Kitchen Confidential” (published in 2000) was wildly popular,  and I was really amped when I came across it in the Half Price Books just down the street from my apartment a few weeks ago.

It’s written from the standpoint that, professional kitchens are not a joke and they aren’t often the places we imagine them to be, or see in the movies. According to Bourdain, they are hectic, often unpleasant, and full of characters.

Bourdain has often been pegged as the rebel of the culinary world – he’s not afraid to tell it like it is, and has been known to bash some of the more popular chefs we all know, for not being authentic to the food world.

But, his sense of adventure is why I enjoy watching him! He’ll eat anything, and he’s got an interesting way of looking at the world.

Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter

Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter

One of my favorite parts of the book was when Bourdain described the first time he had a raw oyster. He was a child, and he ate it as a challenge – he was determined to eat whatever was passed his way. To this day, a raw oyster remains one of Bourdain’s favorite foods.

Because of this, I’ve included a recipe for Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter just for you, in case raw oysters aren’t your thing. If you’ve never tried them – you should!

“Kitchen Confidential” became a New York Times Bestseller, and also has a sequel, “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook“. In 2001, Bourdain was named “Food Writer of the Year” by Bon Appetit Magazine for “Kitchen Confidential”.

While I’ll definitely be adding “Medium Raw” to the BBC reading list, that’s not our next book. Instead, we’ve started reading, “The Liar, The Bitch & The Wardrobe” by Allie Kingsley. It’s a book I’ve had for way too long and it’s time to read it, and report back! We’d love to have you join us, but it’s non-committal, so no pressure.

Pic of the Week.

PrimeTime Burger at Hopdoddy.

PrimeTime Burger at Hopdoddy.

I realize I talk a lot about being a recluse and spending my weekends indoors, and well, part of this is because I find great joy in relaxing at my home, in my sweat pants.

Another thing is that, since I’m working all week, I spend a majority of my weekend writing,  reading, or attempting to just relax. But, I am also realizing that I live in a pretty cool city and I’m not going to discover it or meet people when I’m sitting on my couch.

So, I made it a goal to get out and do some things I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. And so, I did! On Saturday, I got up, had my coffee, hit the showers, and put on something cute, so I could go explore.

I started at Nordstrom Rack, because there was no Nordstrom Rack in Baton Rouge when I lived there (I believe there’s one there now), and it’s been years since I’ve been to one!

Now, you guys know how much of a bargain shopper I am. And yes, Nordstrom Rack has some great deals, but these are “designer deals” meaning, even at 50% or whatever, they are still just too much for my little budget. But, it’s still fun to look.

Gorgeous.

Gorgeous.

I did spy a gorgeous, gorgeous bag (I’m definitely a bag lady, y’all) by Deux Lux, which is a brand I recognized from my seasonal employment at Anthropologie last Christmas. I used my 50% discount on one item and that was a Deux Lux Weekender bag that I couldn’t stop staring at.

It’s plaid and sequined, and was actually in my car when it got broken into, but the thief took my ancient, nearly ripped Coach bag instead. Little did the thief know, the Deux Lux bag was worth more.

So anyway, this “Rivington Weekender” bag at Nordstrom Rack was gorgeous, woven cognac suede, massive in size, and had this navy blue silky liner. I really loved it. But did I need another bag? I walked away. Then looked longingly back at it… then just snatched the sucker up. It was the last one on the rack, and listed for a third of its original price.

It will make a super cute work bag, not to mention a great carry on when I plan my next flight! I also picked up a super slim phone charger (mine was also stolen), that was on clearance for $8 (originally $35).

After skipping out of Nordstrom Rack, I was really excited to hit up a restaurant I’d heard so much about: Hopdoddy. Not only had my coworkers raved of the place, but I also saw it on an episode of Food Porn on FYI:

Hopdoddy is most known for their burgers, but they also sell pretty decadent shakes. I was originally going to go for a shake, but I ended up guzzling some local beer (Thirsty Goat Amber by Thirsty Planet).

Anyway, I headed to Hopdoddy and as predicted, had to wait in a line that was wrapped around the building. But, I was too excited to care.

I’m also facing my fear of eating alone in the midst of all of this, but they sat me at the bar, and the bartenders were nice. I got my beer, and to my delight, it was frosty and delicious, and the Oklahoma/Kansas game was on. Win-Win!

So, I ordered the PrimeTime burger: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Truffle Aioli, Steak Sauce, along with a side of Parmesan Truffle Fries.

Y’all. This shit does not compare! I’ve had In & Out, Shake Shack… no, no. This shit was amazing. If there weren’t so many awesome restaurants here I want to try, I’d go back this weekend! Wow. I’m still dreaming of it.

I sat there, and I stuffed myself, and I recognize that getting straight up nasty with a burger, beer, and fries probably isn’t the right way to meet people, but I’m more interested in getting every morsel of deliciousness to my stomach. And I did.

I left Hopdoddy with a slight buzz. I was full, it was sunny and 74 degrees, and I’d just done what I thought I could never do: enjoy a great meal alone. I felt great, and I promptly went home and took a food-induced nap. It was a lovely little Saturday.

So, I’m certain I’ll be going on even more adventures in this little city of mine. I’m excited to share them with you, of course! Don’t forget to watch “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” tonight! See, I haven’t lost my reclusive tendencies, completely.

Guide to Merlot.

I'll take all three, please.

I’ll take all three, please.

Ever notice that my Monday posts are about alcohol? Perhaps it’s because I’m fresh off a weekend of partying (not really), that I really don’t want to go back to the office (maybe), or that I just have a drinking problem (perhaps), in general.

Eh, who really cares? Last week, I was super jealous of someone I’m following on SnapChat because she was in Temecula, California. Let me just explain that Temecula has a special, special place in my heart: 1. it is beautiful, and 2. it is some to some exquisite vineyards and wineries that produce delicious, godly nectar.

Over the years, I’ve taken several wine classes, worked at different bars and restaurants, and been lucky enough to travel to many wineries. I’ve learned a lot about wine, and I’ve also met lots of people who have the hardest time buying a bottle for themselves or ordering a glass at a nice restaurant.

So, you may recall my “Bubbly Basics” at the end of 2014, but don’t be surprised if you see more wine guides ’round these parts. I’d love to drop some knowledge bombs, in the form of wine barrels!

Merlot is one of my favorite varietals, so I chose that to get us started. It’s also something you’ll see on many restaurant wine lists and even in grocery store aisles. No need to splurge here, you can get a fantastic bottle of this stuff for under $10. Let’s get this Merlot Monday going!

Oh, yeah.

Oh, yeah.

What the heck is Merlot?

Merlot is the second-most popular varietal in the United States, right behind Cabernet Sauvignon. It thrives in most climates, which may be why it’s so popular (aside from it being delicious), but it’s known widely in France, Northern Italy, and the warmer regions of Switzerland. In America, Merlot grows well in Northern California and Oregon.

The cool thing about Merlot is that, instead of having a specific flavor, it’s more well-known for it’s smooth, velvety texture. It’s often used to mix in with other varietals, such as Bordeaux and Cabernet. Why? It’s got a thick skin and can mellow out the strong tannins in other varietals. This is what makes Merlot so, so easy to sip.

How do I buy/order the right Merlot?

Merlot is a bit of a chameleon when it comes to flavors, and those flavors really depend on the region where it was grown. So,  when shopping or looking at a menu, pay attention to the location on the label or under the wine name on the wine list. Cooler climates produce one set of flavors while warmer locations create another flavor profile.

Cooler Climate: France, Italy, Chile

  • Licorice, tar, roasted, red, dry, anise, charcoal, mineral,

Warm Climate: California, Argentina, Australia

  • Mocha, cherry, juicy, raspberry, spicy, cocoa, silky, vanilla

What are some delicious Merlots to try?

L’Ecole No. 41 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Merlot, Oregon ($36)

Made in Washington with grapes from Oregon, its black-plum flavors have a subtle bottom note of cocoa.

I'll tap that.

I’ll tap that.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 Reserve Merlot ($19)

Concentrated aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and chocolate are layered with notes of cinnamon and vanilla on the mid palate. The subtle and soft finish lingers with toasted oak.

Sebastiani 2010 Merlot, Sonoma County ($18)

Balanced, elegant, fruit forward but not overly ripe, this is an elegant wine with noticeable tannins and great cherry notes.

Concha y Toro ‘Marques de Casa Concha’ 2012 Merlot, Peumo, Chile ($16)

Aged 17 months is French oak barrels and is noted for its smokiness in scent and taste. It also has notable flavors of cherries, plums, licorice, and dark chocolate.

…And there you have it! Next time you need a little Merlot in your life, hopefully you’ll have a little direction and can treat yourself to something delicious. I hope y’all have a great Monday – see you back here tomorrow!

Pic of the Week.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for Green Chef, an organic food supplier that delivers fresh, ORGANIC ingredients right to your doorstep, along with instructions on how to make delicious meals.

Well, I got my first delivery Friday, and it has proven itself to be a 15-pound box of organic goodness! I have been thinking about signing up for a service like this because the grocery stores in Austin are insanely busy. Busy as in, you can’t reach the broccoli because there’s a line to get to it. It gives me anxiety, and I’m not really down for it.

So, after researching several services, I chose Green Chef because it was all organic (non-GMO, fools!) and the price was on-point. You can choose what type of meals you want: vegetarian, omnivore, pescatarian, or paleo. And you can change your meal preferences at any time.

I chose omnivore, and asked for enough ingredients to make 6 meals each week, meaning 6 portions, 3 different recipes. It’s $80/week, which is pretty good considering I just took a trip to the grocery for almond milk, soda water, and wine, and it was $60.

So, my box arrived and it was completely insulated and packed with ice packs to keep everything fresh. And ALL of the ingredients were separated into ziplock bags and clearly labeled. It also came with colorful menu guides for when I cook my meals.

My box contained all of the ingredients to make pumpkin-stuffed shells (served with orange-chard salad), chicken couscous soup (served with carrot ribbon salad), and steak & beet panzanella (with steak fries).

The other cool thing about Green Chef? Obviously the opportunity to make foods I’ve never cooked before. But, there’s really NOT much cooking to be done. All of the sauces are pre-made, and stored in cute little containers, so the prep and cooking times are all around 30 minutes or less. Works for me!

So, Saturday night, I decided to have a date night with myself (because, that’s just how cool I am), complete with John Green movies, wine, and my homemade steak & beet panzanella, with steak fries.

The meal calls for grass-fed sirloin steak, organic balsamic vinaigrette, horseradish crème fraiche, organic golden beet, organic lacinato kale, organic potato, marble rye bread, organic onion, organic chives, and rosemary tomato aioli.

Then, there’s a colorful, picture-guide, explaining the 8 steps to complete the meal. Overall, it was easy to make because most of the prep-work is done for you. And in the end,  the meal was delicious!

I’m looking forward to trying all of the other meals delivered right to my door! If you’d like to try Green Chef, I’ve got a code that will give you 4 meals for free! I’d love to see what you think of it! Cheers!

The Real Girl’s Kitchen.

My newest cookbook!

My newest cookbook!

Given that I did about ZERO reading in 2015, I only asked for one book for Christmas, and it wasn’t even a novel. Instead, I asked for a cookbook, particularly Haylie Duff’s “The Real Girl’s Kitchen,” which serves as a companion to her TV series on the Cooking Channel.

Upon getting with the times and treating myself to DVR in September, I know I mentioned my slight obsession with her show. I kept seeing plugs for it on Hilary Duff’s Instagram, and wanted to check it out.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what “Real Girl” kitchen she’s referring to, because I don’t usually find myself in the situations that Haylie does: cooking up late night eats for hot Los Angeles bar owners or throwing impromptu Texas Barbeque parties in my Hollywood backyard, but I’ve got a big imagination and I’ll take any excuse to dream. Maybe one day, Haylie, maybe one day.

But seriously, the 30-minute show usually features some sort of adventure where viewers get to see inside the kitchen of a restaurant, see how a dish is made, and then Haylie replicates it in her kitchen, and/or puts her own spin on it. Plus, she’s got lots of little kitchen hacks that are pretty cool.

The cookbook features several meals and appetizers she’s made on the show, but of course, there’s a slew of other recipes in there. Upon first glance, I was really impressed with the beautiful photos for the book, as well as the amount of actual writing – there’s lots of stories in there behind the recipes and the cooking in her family. Very cool.

On Christmas Day, I’d already planned to make a recipe I saw on the show, “Short rib stew” and it was very, VERY delicious! It was hearty, warm,  and full of flavor. The recipe called to cook it in a Dutch oven, but I don’t have one, so I just slow-cooked it in my crockpot for around six hours. It was fantastic!

I also whipped up a batch of organic dog treats that I saw in the very back of her cookbook. I’ll write more on these another day (they’re super easy) and delivered them to all of my puppy loves when I went to visit my friends in Indiana over the weekend (and yes, they are now puppy-approved).

I’m so excited to explore the cookbook some more and see what other simple, yet fabulous and delicious meals I can whip up a la Haylie Duff!

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