Monday, March 26, 2012

French Fries Don't Have to Be Bad...

I'm on a health kick right now for many different reasons-the main reason being that I'm in my late 20s and I want to do the best I can to set a healthy lifestyle now so it's easier to follow as I get older.  The other reason-I'm going to Mexico in May and I want to look AWESOME!  ;o)

I have an amazing hubby that was blessed with some fantastic skinny genes and who can eat whatever he wants and still look great.  I, on the other hand, only have fabulous skinny jeans that can only continue to look fabulous on me as long as I stare at carbs and cupcakes from afar.

As I attempt to lose my last 10 pounds heading in to May, I have been faced with a dilemma: how do I cook  food that the hubby will love and that I can actually eat too (and not gain 2 pounds each meal)?  Luckily, I married a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy, so as long as there is a big piece of steak, chicken, fish, etc. next to some kind of starch and possibly a veggie, I can usually "WOW" him.  Typically, I just eat the meat and veggies and skip the starch, but it was Friday, and I wanted a potato, too, even though I was watching my carbs.

So, my compromise was ditching the deep fryer and package of frozen, seasoned grocery store fries, and making my own homemade, baked fries.  AND!  They turned out great, and I was able to have some without feeling guilty!  I did skip the fry sauce (ketchup, mayo, seasonings), but the fries were so deliciously seasoned, I was perfectly happy dipping them in the left over balsamic vinegar that had run off my salad to mingle with the fries.

Finished Product:  Oven-Baked, Homemade Seasoned French Fries
with a homemade fry sauce (the fry sauce was NOT healthy)

I will warn you.  These fries take some time, so plan for a good hour of prep (20 minutes) and cooking (40-55 minutes).  I started these fries at 5:00 and timed everything so dinner would be ready at 6:15.

First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F, and grabbed a cutting board, potato peeler, knife, bowl, spices, and oil, and set everything out on my island.

This is how I prep...

I peeled and cut up two large russet potatoes, which was more than enough for the two of us.  Then I "measured" out some spices into the bowl and covered the bottom of the bowl with oil.  I use grape seed oil because it seems to get the best health and wellness reviews.


This is where the fun begins, and by fun, I totally mean messy.  I had to have the hubby photograph because my hands were a little too oily to operate my iPhone.

I threw in all of my potato spears into the bowl and tossed the potatoes until every single one of the spears was coated in oil and spices.

I actually have issues with getting messy,
but this was totally worth the amount of soap I had
to use to get the oil off my hands!

After the potatoes were nicely coated, I arranged them on a baking sheet so that they weren't touching (as best I could).  In the future, I will heavily coat the pan with oil or use a silicone baking pad because these little guys stuck to the pan pretty bad.  Hey, live and learn, right?!

They smelled sooooo insanely good, even before
they went into the oven!

I placed the potatoes on a lower rack in the oven and let them back for a total of 55 minutes.  When I checked them at 20 minutes, I went ahead and placed some foil over top so they didn't get too crispy on the outside before they were done.  I continued to check on them every 10 minutes until they were perfect.

Here's my finished plate:  Grilled pork chop, side salad with O/V,
3 oz. french fries, and a glass of red wine. My whole dinner
had less than 25g of carbs!

Oven-Baked, Homemade French Fries

2 large Russet Potatoes (makes enough for 4, 3-oz. servings)
Grape Seed Oil (approx. 1/4 cup / 4 tablespoons)
Seasonings to taste
Note:  I used: Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Season All, Minced Garlic, Garlic Powder, Salt, and Pepper this time around, but you can season your french fries however you like!

-  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
-  Rinse, dry, and peel potatoes
-  Slice potatoes into spears or desired sizes
-  In a large mixing bowl, throw in seasonings and add the oil
-  Toss the potato spears in the oil, adding more seasonings as needed, then arrange the spears on a greased or lined baking sheet in one layer 
-  Bake on a lower rack in the oven for a total of 40-55 minutes, first checking at 20 minutes and then every 10 minutes after that.  I did end up covering the sheet with a loose piece of foil after 20-30 minutes so that the fries wouldn't burn on the outside before they were completely finished.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My First Salt Lick Experience

If you read my post on Friday, I mentioned that we (Hubby, Troy and Susan) were taking a mini road trip down to Gruene, Texas, for St. Patrick's Day, and I would be blogging sometime this week about all the exciting food we ate while we were down in the hill country.

Our Trip to The Salt Lick

We left for central Texas after work on Friday so that we could make it down to Driftwood, Texas, for dinner at The Salt Lick.

The "Pit" at The Salt Lick... they'll let you get up close and personal!

The answer to the question in your head right now is, "Yes.  That meat was definitely as good as it looked!"  YUM!  We finally arrived in Driftwood around 8:30pm. The wine tasting place was closed but the restaurant was still open, still packed, and still cooking!  Because we got there so late, we couldn't really get the full effect of the grounds (bocci ball, vineyards, gardens, wine tasting room, etc.) but there was live music already on the patio and no line to be seated.  We'll definitely have to come back again during the day so we can fully experience The Salt Lick, but as a first time goes, my mind was still totally blown by the awesomeness that is The Salt Lick.

This was my plate:  Pork Ribs with Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, Beans, and Bread

The pork ribs were fall-off-the-bone amazing.  They were a little dried out on the outside because we got there so late, but the inside was so tender and juicy.  These ribs are definitely tied with Hard 8 (original in Stephenville, TX) for most awesome ribs ever.  The potato salad was like no potato salad I've ever had, and it was to die for.  The beans and cole slaw were both good, but I would still have to give the "#1" ribbon for both to either Hard 8 or Coopers (original in Llano, TX).

My only complaint about The Salt Lick is that they don't offer sweet tea.  They don't even offer those giant sugar shakers at the table, so you'd have to tear open seven sugar packets in order to sweeten your tea.  Thankfully they did offer root beer, so I was able to get my fall-back BBQ drink, but the night would have been absolutely perfect had they had sweet tea.

My husband's chopped brisket sandwich and my ribs plate.
PS... the brisket is by far the best brisket in the state, even at 9 PM.

We ended up having to get dessert (blackberry cobbler) to-go because we were just too darn full to eat anything else before we left.  The cobbler was very good, but my "#1" ribbon would also go to either Hard 8 or Coopers for their dessert options.  I happen to like a more flakier, pie-like cobbler crust, and The Salt Lick's cobbler has a more cake-like crust, which is why I say the cobbler was just "alright."  

All in all, the location, atmosphere, and meat completely sealed the deal.  I will make it a point to come out to The Salt Lick as often as I can.  The food was amazing, the staff was super sweet, and the atmosphere was excellent!  I can't wait to come back during the day so I can experience the rest of this fantastic "BBQ resort"!  =)

Make sure to take a detour to Driftwood, Texas, next time you're in the hill country and try out The Salt Lick-but make sure to bring cash because credit cards aren't accepted!  

Stay tuned!  Coming soon (enough) I'll talk about our eats and fun on St. Patrick's Day (Sherwood Forest Faire, Adobe Cafe, and Gruene Hall)!  You can also check out my St. Patrick's Day Weekend Flickr Set from our weekend in the hill country if you get bored and want to see more pictures!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Green Is My Favorite Color

Happy Shamrock Day Eve!  I am by no means Irish, though my mother says we are 1/16 Irish, but that doesn't mean I cannot celebrate a day of drinking beer (one of my many favorite things, though to this day, I have yet to consume an actual green beer on St. Patrick's Day), wearing green (which is totally my favorite color), and celebrate the beauty of a country that actually holds the #1 spot in my "MUST TRAVEL TO" list.

I'm highlighting my "Irish Countryside Wallpapers" folder from My Docs...
How gorgeous is this?!

Sigh... I think I dream about Ireland because we only see this kind of green
here in Texas when the hay fields have just sprouted...
corn never gets this green.  It's pretty but hay/alfalfa is closer...

Have you figured it out yet?  I am distracting you with gorgeous Irish countryside pics because I'm not giving you a recipe today.  Sorry.  

Are you over it yet?  You'll get plenty of recipes next week... Enjoy Ireland.

BUT... I did have a reason for posting today, though.  I wanted to let you know that on Sunday or Monday, I'll have a super fun post for you all about the exciting foods and drinks I get to consume on our mini-getaway to Gruene, Texas.  

It's German.  It's pronounced Green.  And, I think it's a perfectly fitting place to celebrate St. Patrick's Day!  If you've never been, Gruene is an adorable tourist trap historic town between San Antonio and Austin just off I-35 in the center of the hill country, perfectly situated on the banks of the Guadalupe River.  

I've been going to Gruene with my family for little "day trips" since I was in high school (going on 14 years now), and it just never gets old.  There are so many cute shops, eateries (including The Grist Mill), and wine tasting places-not to mention an historic dance hall and beautiful hill country views-that you can keep returning without every getting bored.

Weekend trip to Gruene in August 2011 for a Bachelorette Party
This was taken at The Grist Mill

Us in front of Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas
(that's southern talk for, "No AC even in the summer")

And, now back to the reason you are reading this...  as I mentioned above, I am going to document my weekend in Gruene with the hubby and our friends (Troy and Susan) as I eat and drink my way through the Hill Country this weekend!  

On the Agenda This Weekend

-  Hopefully we stop at the famed Austin BBQ place, The Salt Lick, for dinner tonight
-  Sherwood Forest Faire on Saturday (this is where I hope to get my first green beer)
-  I'm sure an excellent dinner at one of Gruene's great eateries after the faire
-  Roger Creager (pronounced CrAger) concert at Gruene Hall Saturday night
-  And I'm sure we'll plan something fabulous on our way back to DFW on Sunday

So, I hope I've provided you with a nice little break today, and I hope you come back Monday to see how much weight I put on over St. Patrick's Day weekend.  Just kidding.  I'll be dancing the calories away, but I promise to have some fun stories for you next week!  Have a safe and fun St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In Honor of Lent, I Give You: Herb-Crusted Grilled Tuna Steak

Happy Friday!  It's not Friday?  Oh.  Well d@mn.

I'm so in the mood for Friday, I'm going to post a perfect Friday dinner recipe for you today--perfect for Friday because if you observe Lent (which actually, I do not, but still), traditionally, as observers, you should refrain from eating any meat on Fridays with the exception of fish.  Hey, don't groan.  At least you don't have to fast like back in the day.  =)

Kind of boring article but this link offers a great explanation of Lent and all its intricacies.

Now that you have your daily religious reading out of the way, let's move on!

Because I do not participate in Lent (and I only
skimmed the article above), I have no idea if red wine
is appropriate for Lent, but I won't tell if you won't!

First, I want to point out the beautiful hatched grill marks on the Tuna.  Didn't the hubby do an excellent grilling job?!  My favorite part of warmer months is that all I have to do (for food prep/cooking) is season meats and veggies and pass them off to the hubby for grilling.  It makes up for "all the slaving away" at the stove (and CrockPot) I do during the winter months.  I joke.  I actually love cooking and am by no means chained to the kitchen in the winter, but it is nice to get a break every now and then.  Now to the recipe at hand!

This amazing recipe is actually adapted from one I received while doing the Standard Process Purification Program back in 2009.  If you've ever done this program the proper way--through a nutritionist who signs you up in the Standard Process programs--you are matched up with a consultant who e-mails you daily during the process with handy information like what you can and can't eat on any particular day, what you should be experiencing along the way, and a delicious recipe.  So, with all of that said, this was one of those recipes for days 11-21 of the cleanse (the part when you can finally eat meat and fish).  I, of course, have adapted it to meet my personal tastes, but the original recipe came from one of the consultants with Standard Process.

Before I actually provide the recipe, though, I would like to say that I was NOT a fish person before the cleanse.  I actually hated everything fish, and I still hate bottom feeders (Tilapia, Catfish, etc.) and Salmon.  Instead, I am a firm believer in fresh, deep sea whitefish (Tuna, Cod, Sea Bass, etc.).  These fish have a more steak-like consistency and (if it's good fish) does not have any kind of hint of fish flavor or scent.  I now eat whitefish at least once a week!

This recipe was actually the very first fish recipe I tried because it was recommended to me by my consultant because it's the most "steak-like" fish you can get.  Tuna steaks cook like steak (best rare, of course), cut like steak, and feel like steak in your mouth, in case you're a "texture" person.  So, before you knock it because it's fish, try this recipe!

Herb-Crusted Grilled Tuna Steak

4 - 8oz. Fresh Ahi Tuna Steaks (sushi grade so you don't have to worry about not cooking it long enough)
3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, removed from stem and chopped 
(Note:  Fresh really does make all the difference people, suck it up and grow it or buy it)
Handful of Flat-leaf Parsley, chopped
4 cloves Fresh Garlic, minced
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, Sea Salt, and EVOO

-  Rinse and pat steaks dry
-  Combine chopped rosemary, parsley, and garlic
-  Rub EVOO on each side of the steaks, just enough to coat each side, and sprinkle herb mixture on each side of the fish, and finish with fresh cracked sea salt and pepper
-  Grill tuna steaks over a medium high heat grill for approximately 3-5 minutes on each side

Note:  If you get sushi grade tuna steaks (same goes for good cuts of beef), you do not have to worry about cooking the meat any certain amount of time (like chicken or pork).  I like my tuna and beef steaks both with a cold, red center (rare or blue at some upscale restaurants), so I opt for about 2.5-3 minutes on either side, but if you want that fish white and that beef brown/black, up the cooking time closer to 5 minutes on either side.

Another Note:  If you don't have the luxury of an outdoor grill, it's not a nice day to grill, or you'd rather cook inside, you can easily prepare this steak on a Panini Press or indoor grill.  You don't get that outdoor-grilled flavor, but you'll get over it, I'm sure.  =)

Enjoy and eat your fish!  It's good for you and tasty (when prepared properly)!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cheesecake Filling for Cupcakes

You know how the Cheesecake Factory has all of these wonderful half-cheesecake, half-cake desserts like their carrot cake cheesecake and red velvet cheesecake, just to name a few (of my favorites)?  Well, I'm obsessed with those desserts, but I'm also obsessed with cupcakes because they're just such a perfect size and easy to transport, so I've devised my own cheesecake filling for cupcakes.

It may look like a regular cupcake on the outside....

But there's cheesecake on the inside!!!
Cheesecake-filled carrot cake... UH-freakin'-mazing!

And, in case you were wondering, these were Christmas gifts for family...
Warning:  I am not responsible for weight gain or diabetes onset...

I want to let you in on a little secret while I'm talking about cupcakes.  Cupcakes are only as plain as you make them.  Sure, I've slaved away using cake flour and twenty different ingredients to make completely homemade cupcakes, but Betty Crocker isn't bad if you use it as a base.  Those cheesecake-filled carrot cake cupcakes I made last Christmas started out as a Betty Crocker cake mix, but I added extra vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, pineapple, carrot, and pecan chips, and no one could believe I didn't work all day to make a cake from scratch.  Of course, no one also could get past the cheesecake and icing, which were homemade, so I guess it doesn't matter what kind of cake you use as long as you make your own filling and icing.  

So, below is the recipe for homemade cheesecake filling for cupcakes and how to make it work.  I will note that the cheesecake filling only works well with dense cake batter.  If you have a very thin batter, this isn't going to work well for you.

Typical white cupcake with white frosting?  Nope.  Not in this house!

Cheesecake Wedding Cake Cupcakes
White cake with cheesecake and strawberry filling and buttercream frosting

Cheesecake Filling for Cupcakes

1 block (8 oz.) Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar (brown sugar can give it a slightly different taste, which I personally like)
1/8 tsp salt
Vanilla to taste (somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon)
- With a mixer (I love my KitchenAid Professional Line), beat all ingredients until combined
- With your cake batter, fill the bottom of each cupcake tin just enough to cover the bottom with approx. 1/8" of batter (this doesn't have to be perfect, just fill it less than halfway)
- Now, spoon about a large marble-sized amount of the cheesecake mixture into the center of each cupcake tin
  Note:  If you divide the cheesecake batter properly, you will have just enough to fill 24-26 cupcakes
- Fill the cupcake the rest of the way with cake batter, covering the cheesecake completely (you should have about 1/8" of space left between the batter and top of the cupcake tin
- Bake your cupcakes as you would normally (typically 17-20 minutes; they shouldn't bake any differently)

Note:  You may have a slight marbling effect on the top of the cupcake from some of the cheesecake baking through, but don't worry!  When you ice the cupcakes, you won't be able to see the swirl.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Simple Balsamic Reduction

Warning:  This recipe will make your entire house smell like balsamic vinegar for a good couple of days.  I did not have a problem with this (and actually liked it, myself), but it gave my husband a headache to the point he set up box fans throughout the house and left until the smell had completely vanished.

What an introduction, right?!  I bet everyone will want to make a nice balsamic reduction now!  Oh well, you can't say I didn't warn you.

A balsamic reduction is just a fancy way to say "sweet balsamic vinegar sauce."  It's simple to make with just two ingredients (vinegar and sugar) and absolutely delicious on a number of different things.  I use a balsamic reduction on savory foods like bruschetta and chicken pasta dishes and as a sauce for desserts like chocolate cake, ice cream, fresh fruit (berries are especially nice), and cheesecake.

Thick and delicious balsamic reduction sauce
Simple Balsamic Reduction


1 bottle of (good) balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)

- In a sauce pan over high heat (8 or 9 on a dial), pour in the entire bottle of balsamic vinegar and whisk until it begins to boil

- Once it begins to boil, turn the heat down to medium (about 4 on a dial) and whisk in sugar
   Note:  As I mentioned above, the sugar is to taste.  I personally like a full 3 tablespoons in mine, but I've come across so many reduction recipes that vary between 1/2 tablespoon of sugar, all the way up to 4 tablespoons, so try different measurements and see which amount works best for you!
- Continue whisking until the vinegar is reduced by half and becomes a thick syrup (coats the back of a spoon)
- Once it reduces by half, turn off the burner and let the reduction cool

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasting tomatoes may take the good part of a day, but it's so worth it.  Roasted tomatoes are good on all kinds of things from salads and bruschetta to pizzas and sandwiches.  Sure, you can go to a grocery store and probably find roasted tomatoes in the deli or (heaven forbid) canned, but I promise you, roasting them yourself will not take too much effort and will make all the difference in your recipes that call for them.

This was my first attempt at roasting tomatoes.  Let me caution you against slicing the tomatoes too thin.  Thinly sliced tomatoes will burn before they roast.  The first time I made this recipe below, I failed two times before finally getting it right!

Though they look nice now, I promise you after 2 hours in the oven, they were
black and  shriveled.  This is an example of what NOT to do!  

So, back to what TO do, now that we have a visual of what NOT to do to have the best roasted tomatoes ever!

Roasted Tomatoes

10+ Roma Tomatoes
Fresh Ground Salt and Pepper
Optional: Herbs of your choosing
Optional:  Balsamic Vinegar


- Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees F
- Lightly grease / spray with cooking spray a large cookie sheet that has a small lip (like a jelly roll pan)
- Gently wash and dry the tomatoes, then cut them in half, lengthwise and place them on the pan cut-side down
- Drizzle EVOO (and balsamic vinegar should you choose to do so) generously over the tomatoes
- Using your salt and pepper grinders, crack fresh sea salt and black pepper over the tomatoes
- Finish with sprinkling the tomatoes with dried herbs
  Note: For italian dishes, I like to sprinkle dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, but you can sprinkle any kind of herbs/spices to coordinate with your recipes (chipotle seasoning, cayenne pepper, etc.)
- After you have seasoned your tomatoes to taste, pop them into the oven for about 6 to 8 hours.
  Note:  I like to check mine every hour just to make sure everything looks good.  If your tomato sizes vary, you may need to pull out the smaller ones around 6 hours.  Once you pull the smaller tomatoes out, you can flip the larger tomatoes over to finish cooking.

Roasted Heirloom Bruschetta

First, I'd like to note that neither V. Sattui or Domaine Chandon have paid me to write this post.  I am just an absolute fan of both of these wineries, and the experiences I had at both wineries during my 2010 visit to Napa and Carnaros Valley inspire me daily to stop and enjoy good food and quality time with friends as often as possible, and (of course) include amazing wines with those events as often as I can.  Now on to the story...

Over Labor Day weekend back in 2010, I took a girl's trip to Napa Valley/San Francisco with my best friends from college.  The long weekend was filled with amazing memories of fantastic food, touring beautiful San Francisco, and tasting (drinking) our way through Napa and Carnaros Valley.

On our winery tour day, we visited many amazing wineries/vineyards, but Domaine Chandon and V. Sattui were my personal favorites.  I'll write more about Domaine Chandon later.  Today's post is heavily dedicated to V. Sattui Winery.

The Entrance to V. Sattui's Deli and Store

Side Note:  If I can ever convince my wonderful man to renew our vows in an extremely lavish (way more lavish than our actual wedding in 2007) way, I would definitely choose V. Sattui as the backdrop for our special renewal.  Also, if you are planning on touring Napa Valley anytime soon, aside from taking me with you, I suggest you make this winery your lunchtime stop because not only does this winery have an amazing selection of wines and ports, it is a fabulous picnic destination.

The picnic area at V. Sattui

V. Sattui Picnic Grounds provides a gorgeous backdrop to take in the sites and tastes of California wine country.  Pick up a bottle of their gorgeous wine, find a picnic table overlooking the vineyard, and swing by V. Sattui's Barbeque, Wood-fired Pizzas, and Mozzarella Bar for some of the most amazing, fresh food options you can imagine.  I am drooling now just thinking about the smells and sights of their outdoor food bar.

Sorry, this is supposed to be a food blog, right?  Well, I had to give you a background for today's recipe and set the stage for why I chose this particular recipe to be my very first post!  Today's recipe is Roasted Heirloom Bruschetta--a recipe I have adapted from V. Sattui's master chefs.  Yes, the provided me (via their Facebook page) the basic recipe for their bruschetta because they're awesome.

The Roasted Heirloom Bruschetta at V. Sattui

Heather's Roasted Heirloom Bruschetta
Adapted from a V. Sattui recipe

My Roasted Heirloom Bruschetta
Fresh Baguette from your favorite bakery or grocer
Mozzarella, fresh pulled
Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
Balsamic Reduction
EVOO (a good one)
Garlic, fresh minced
Basil, fresh chopped
Salt, Pepper, Dried Herbs to taste

- Slice baguette into small medallions (because it's easier to eat this way) and drizzle each piece with EVOO
- Place medallions on a hot grill, turning till each side is golden brown
  Note:  You can also use an indoor panini press or warm cast iron pan to grill the bread if that's easier for you.
- On each grilled piece of bread, place one or two roasted tomatoes, then one slice of fresh mozzarella, chopped fresh basil
- Drizzle EVOO and balsamic reduction sauce
- Finish with a dash of fresh cracked sea salt and cracked black pepper; you can even dust it with some dried Italian herbs like rosemary and thyme, but that's up to you!

Note:  Though this is a great meal in and of itself, my husband is definitely a meat-eater, so to make this recipe suit his carnivorous taste, I add a slice of grilled chicken to the bread before I begin layering it.  You can use any grilled chicken, but I like to slice the chicken into medallions and grill with some balsamic vinegar, salt, fresh cracked pepper, and Italian herbs.