Santa Bites

While perusing the foodie blog scene, I came across these cute little treats that I couldn’t wait to make for the annual girl’s holiday dinner I host (which took place last night).  As I brought the tray to the table, they got a similar reaction as to what you would expect a group of ladies would sound like if I just brought out a little puppy dressed in a sweater.  The whole arrangement is rather simple to do and you can change up the base if you want to do something different than brownies- just place a “santa hat” on top of your favorite mini treat and you have yourself a holiday hit!

Nitro Yogurt (Pompano Beach, FL)

Lab coats, liquid filled test tubes, and a clouds of white smoke.   We must have walked into a science lab right? Wrong!  We’ve just entered Nitro Yogurt , a place where you can go to your frozen treat fix. That’s right, there’s a new cool way to get your fro-yo. While store fronts continue to fill up with self serve yogurt dispensers and topping bars, Nitro Yogurt offers a completely different experience.

Michael’s Chicken Francaise

I’ve been wanting to get this recipe up for a while now and since I’ve been so insanely busy recently (tis the Season), what an opportune time it is to feature a recipe from another fantastic cook in the family- my brother!  His expertise comes from his culinary school days and his professional experience (both many moons ago).  We share a passion for food, both making it and eating it, and he’s absolutely fantastic in the kitchen.  This Chicken Francaise recipe is one that makes my mouth water just from reading it-  thin cuts of golden brown chicken breast finished with a classic lemon butter sauce.  What a perfect meal for a romantic dinner (notice the candle light in the picture) or if you really want to wow you and your guests’ taste buds!

Creamy Shrimp, Artichoke, and Tomato Pasta

I found a great way to utilize leftover artichoke quarters I had from the Spinach and Artichoke Dip I made this past weekend.  They were the perfect addition to a creamy pasta dish that I make every now and again.   Sometimes we have it with chicken, but I primarily do it with shrimp.  The vegetables interchange based on what I have on hand, but one thing that is always a constant, is lots of  garlic.   What I love most about this meal is that the sauce has a rich texture, but is still light on fat (thanks to one of my faves- Fat Free Half & Half).  It’s a great weekday dinner as it takes less than a half hour to get ready and doesn’t take much effort to put together.

Piñon Grill (Boca Raton, FL)

Highly recommended it came, so we gave it a try and my “O-Piñon” on Piñon Grill is also a positive one. A beautiful façade matched with a luxurious interior, allow this classy, Southwest inspired restaurant to fit in with the neighboring, prestigious Boca Town Center Mall.  The exterior of the building displays a naturally sophisticated look, which continues as you enter through the oversized double doors.

Apple Streusel Pizza (Submitted by Christie W- Tampa, FL)

I recently got a message from Christie who wrote, “This recipe is soooo good.”  How can I ignore that, especially when she’s talking about a sweet treat featuring Apples…. in the form of a Pizza?!?  Like any good person should do, she did not take credit for inventing this dish (it’s actually one from Publix Apron’s Simple Meals), but she did divulge how delicious it was when she made her very own Apple Streusel Pizza.  The simplicity behind it makes it a tempting recipe, which I will definitely be trying at some point in time, but I gotta save up some calories before I can do that! I’m sure it’s worth every one of them though.

Slow Cooked Black Beans

Holy frijoles!  These Black Beans will complete your favorite Latin meal like Lechon Asado or Ropa Vieja, but also have enough flavor to be eaten solo as a soup.  I cheat by using  canned beans instead of dried ones (hey, I’m only half Cuban so I can take short cuts like that) and I think the canned work better for the slow cooker in my opinion because they won’t turn to mush if you leave them in there a long time.  You could of course use dried beans but that would require soaking them overnight.  Nonetheless, these beans are delicious and I could eat them just about everyday with fresh white rice. Speaking of rice, check below the recipe for bonus tips on using a rice cooker!

Lechon Asado (Cuban Pork Roast)

Que rico! That’s all I can say about the Cuban feast we enjoyed last night. I adore getting back to my roots and chowing down on some home style Latin fare. This recipe isn’t a family heirloom (we actually don’t have one for Lechon Asado). It’s derived from the trustworthy 3 Guys from Miami one along with a little Flavor Appraiser flare. Being that I had to get this meal done on a weekday and revolve it around my work lunch break (I went home to get this sucker suckling in the oven), I didn’t get to cook the roast as long as I wanted to (a little longer and the meat would have been shreddable), but the flavor of the pork was so amazing, it didn’t matter what shape each bite was in.

My first go at Lechon Asado went over very well (just ask the guest of honor, birthday girl Vrenda) and I am proud to share it with you all. If you liked the Ropa Vieja recipe, you’ll love this other Spanish favorite. The next time I make the roast, I’m using the slow cooker (and finishing it off in the oven) so that I can put it in the pot in the morning and avoid the heart palpitations about leaving my oven on unattended. I’ll even provide the slow cooker method that I anticipate using in case anyone out there wants to give that a try!

Make sure you read the recipe all the way to the end for the bonus part of the meal!

Balsamic Asparagus

Asparagus has gained popularity over recent years and it has taken me some time to come around to them. I must admit that I am partial to the size of asparagus that I care for. I am not a fan of the big, thick stalks, but I really love the thin, pencil sized asparagus. Whenever I pass a bunch in the produce section that is full of the “skinny” ones, I have to grab it.  Asparagus is even a good find when I don’t know what’s on the week’s menu  since it goes well with all meats and fish (although I dislike when they stick it in my sushi roll).

You can mess with asparagus by boiling/blanching or steaming it, but I really like to roast it. Aside from it being real easy to do, I like the softer texture and the flavors that come out when it is cooked at a high temperature. I am sure there is a chef out there that would say I am ruining or overcooking the vegetable, but I think you’ll agree when you try this simple preparation, that the texture is fun to eat (kinda like cooked green beans) and the taste is excellent thanks to an uncomplicated combination of balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Tundra Las Olas (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

What’s the coolest hot spot in all of Fort Lauderdale?  Tundra, of course.  The arctic themed scenery defines this new Las Olas locale as the cool place to be (literally), but you can leave your parka at home- while there are ice carvings displayed throughout the dining areas, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  Its cozy interior (aka limited seating) portrays an earthy, modernized lodge housing a series of oversized, icicle-shaped chandeliers that are the focal point of the room.  A full bar (complete with a specialty drink menu) invites those who want to enjoy a cocktail, and perhaps a bite to make themselves comfortable.  The covered patio out front accommodates many more guests and is tastefully adorned with black chandeliers, chic lighting, and ice sculptures.