Wine Tasting Party Ideas – Plus Brussels Sprouts Salad

Wine Tasting Party Ideas – Plus Brussels Sprouts Salad

It’s always a good time for wine, right? Add a little wine tasting into your next party to spice things up a bit! Sarah Weber is back with more great party ideas! This time we’ll talk about incorporating a wine tasting into your next affair. Plus she shares a great Brussels Sprouts Salad recipe to nibble on between wines. So pour yourself a glass, sit back, and let Sarah inspire your next party!

Need to spruce up that dinner party or gathering with friends? Add a wine tasting! Friendly competition over who can guess the most varietals correctly adds fun to your usual gatherings, and you might discover a new must-have wine for your collection!

Here are some ideas for wine tasting games my friends and I have played.

There are several ways to structure a wine tasting — taste multiple wines from the same region or country, taste local wines if you have vineyards nearby, or taste only reds or whites. I live in an area with several local wineries, and it’s always fun to share new vintages and seasonal varietals, especially once the wineries close after the summer season and I can’t spend my nights there. One note about selecting wines for your tasting party — stick to wines that are similar on the dry-to-sweet spectrum, or serve them in order of dry to sweet. It’s very disconcerting to taste a fantastic sweet white wine, and then suddenly assault your taste-buds with a full-bodied red. Trust me.

Wine TastingFirst off, drinkware! Each guest should have a wineglass easily distinguished from everyone else’s. This can easily be done with wine charms, patterned glasses, or decorated wineglasses. There is special paint designed to paint glass that you can pick up at a craft store, but I’ve also used puffy paint. Personalize your guests’ glasses to use as a party favor. As long as you’re not painting the inside of the glass, you’re safe. If you have a guest or two who are SERIOUSLY into wine and need a handicap, look for tinted wine glasses to try and even the playing field. I have read that it’s not recommended to use stemless wineglasses because the heat of your hand could affect the temperature or taste of the wine. Depending on how much of a wine enthusiast you are, take this rule into account. Personally, I like stemless glasses because I’m less likely to tip them over and spill red wine on my carpet.

So once you have drinkware and an idea of how to structure your tasting, what happens next? You need wine tasting games! A blind tasting is a fun way to try new wines without your perception being affected by the label or varietal of wine you’re trying. If you don’t usually like merlots, you might be surprised to find you actually enjoy merlot when you haven’t seen the bottle first. Wines can be poured by a third party in another room (give a designated driver, non-drinking, or non-wine drinking friend a job so they don’t feel left out) and placed on numbered trays, or bottles can be placed in numbered paper bags for people to serve themselves.

Wine Tasting

See which of your guests can correctly identify the most wines in your tasting. Another fun twist is to check out the tasting notes most wines have printed on the bottle. If your red wine claims to have notes of cherry, for example, have fresh or dried cherries on hand (or a cherry dessert). Sample the tasting note foods while tasting your wine to see how it changes the way the wine tastes. Fun wine tasting fact? If you’ve ever heard someone comment that a wine has “legs” and want to know what that’s about, tilt your wineglass. When you straighten it, you might see a clear, blurry trail of wine that is sticking to the side of your glass, running down slowly like rain down a windowpane. Those are “legs” and refer to the alcohol content of your wine.

And if you need a side dish to nibble between wine tastings? I have just the thing. I modified this recipe by using almonds instead of walnuts and adding bacon. This is totally better the second day, so feel free to make this the night before, and make extra!

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad with Bacon

Ingredients:Wine Tasting

2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
½ cup Almonds
1 cup Pecorino, grated or crumbled
1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound bacon

-First, preheat your oven to make your bacon and toast your almonds (if they’re raw like mine were). I laid out my bacon on a baking sheet while the oven preheated to 375°F. Eight minutes was a HAIR too long for my almonds, which got a little more brown than toasted, so keep an eye on those while you prep the next step. You want your bacon to come out a little more crispy than usual so it will hold up to the salad with its dressing.

Wine Tasting

-While your bacon and almonds are cooking, start your brussels sprouts. This is by far the most tedious part of prepping this salad, so put some music on and jam out while you’re doing this! Rinse and dry your sprouts, then trim the woody base/ends off. This will loosen up the outer leaves, which may have some stubborn dirt on them. Since we’re not cooking these, it’s important to get rid of any leaves that look battered or grimy. Once those have been stripped off, slice each baby cabbage as thinly as you can. The original recipe instructs you to separate each layer as you add them to your bowl, but if you throw them in as slices and occasionally fluff/smoosh them, I won’t tell anyone.Wine Tasting

-Grate your cheese. Feel free to add more or less to your taste- I added much more, being a fan of punch-you-in-the-mouth FLAVOR. Asiago would also make a good cheese for this salad if you can’t find pecorino, or if that’s more expensive than you’d prefer. Toss it in the bowl

-Once your almonds are cool, rough chop them. Toss them in the bowl

-Once your bacon is cool, towel it off with paper towels to help absorb the grease, then rough chop it. Toss it in the bowl.

-Finally, we’ll make the dressing. Squeeze someWine Tasting mustard into a large, empty bowl. Add lemon juice and whisk them together. While whisking with one hand, pour a slow stream of olive oil into your bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

-Pour your dressing over your salad, and toss it together. If it doesn’t seem like enough dressing, whisk some more together and pour it over. This salad is rather thirsty, and likes to absorb dressing, but don’t be afraid to make too little the first time. You can always mix up more and add it. Now toss this all gently together, and put in the fridge overnight.

 

Printer friendly recipe: Brussels Sprouts Salad with Bacon

Talk Like a Pirate – Eat Like a Pirate

Talk Like a Pirate – Eat Like a Pirate

All this “Talk Like a Pirate” nonsense is cracking me up. I’ve never participated in Talk Like a Pirate Day beyond making the “Rated ARRRR” movie joke, but butcher block lends itself surprisingly well to pirate lingo. Apologies to everyone I’ve forced to listen to puns about wooden legs and planks over the last few days. I’ll let Chef J take over for now, mateys!

Yo-ho, ya scurvy dogs! September 19th is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, not that I need to tell you, of course. We’ve been waiting all year for this spectacular holiday!

Talk Like a Pirate Day is a day to spend time with your family, honoring the grand tradition of using words like “scallywag” and telling people to walk the plank.

To properly uphold the legacy of the Jolly Roger there would likely be some pillaging, eating of spoiled meat, and hobbling around on peg-legs. That all sounds like little-to-no fun. Instead of doing any of that, let’s just talk funny, drink some rum, and maybe wear an eye-patch.

Try the beard-ticklin’ Cap’n Fizzy: 1 part dark rum to 2 partsTalk Like a Pirate ginger beer over ice, with a wedge of lime.

Or top 1 ounce of Goldschlager with 1 ounce of spiced rum for a Pirate’s Treasure shot.

Or for something everyone can enjoy, even in the morning, go for a classic Long John! Try to work some silver in there somewhere…

Long Johns(ilver)

  • 1 TBS dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 cups of all-purpose flour
  • Oil or shortening for frying

Combine the yeast and warm milk and let it sit until the yeast begins to bubble and foam.
Combine the sugar, shortening, salt, and boiling water and mix until the shortening has melted.
Combine remaining ingredients except flour in a mixer. Slowly mix while gradually adding the flour until the dough is smooth.
Switch to a dough hook attachment or transfer to a floured surface and knead until the dough becomes elastic.
Let the dough rest for about 10-15 minutes while you prepare the glaze.
Cut the dough into 16 equal strips, loosely cover and set in a warm place for about an hour or until they have doubled in size.
Carefully fry the dough in in small batches in 350° oil until golden brown, flipping once.
Remove from oil and allow to cool.
Top with glaze and enjoy!

 Glaze

  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp sugar

Bring the milk and butter up to a boil.
Add remaining ingredients and remove from heat.
Try adding ¼ chocolate chips or maple syrup for extra deliciousness.
Let the mixture cool and dip the top surface of each Long John.

Printer friendly recipe: Glazed Long Johns

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day BBQ – Perfect Beer Pairings

Labor Day is next Monday — are you ready to say goodbye to Summer? WE ARE! There’s no better way to bid adieu to this nasty heat than with a nice, frosty brew. As you can see in the photo, Chef J inspired me to try a few new brews myself (I even found a few treats from nearby states!). Chef J has some pairing tips for your Labor Day fest featuring some AZ local brews. We’ve got some spectacular breweries around town and I bet you do, too. Even if you can’t get these exact ones, this is a great jumping off point to try something new in your locale!  Beer me, Chef J!

It’s time to get the crew together for one of the last excuses to fire up the BBQ this season. Labor Day is upon us once again! So mow the yard, skim the pool, and scrape down the ol’ grill. I usually go into some long-winded rant about how barbequing is a great way to waste the day away with friends and family, eat too much, and drink some delicious beer; since we have covered the ins and outs of grilling and smoking, it’s time to turn our attentions toward the sweet, sweet nectar that washes it all down. Though the suds market is still almost entirely controlled by cheap, bland, mass-produced swill, there are more and more craft breweries popping up all the time. Take a look around your town and chances are you’ll find a cold, refreshing gem or two.

So get your burgers pressed, your ribs rubbed, and your chickens ready to fly — but don’t forget about the main ingredient of the classic back yard party! Here are some of my local favorites for Labor Day. They aren’t all available everywhere, but wherever you are, there is probably a tasty brew not too far away.

Whatever you decide to grill up for Labor Day, there is a perfect beer to go along!

Four Peaks Peach Ale

Last time around I went on and on about my love for peaches. Unfortunately, more often than not, fruity beers come off as overly sweet and overpowering next to anything they are served with. Four Peaks Brewing Company has managed to capture the essence of a Labor Dayperfectly ripe peach without it being too strong. This golden ale is incredibly refreshing and easy to drink. It goes great with a warm day and pairs nicely with lighter foods like fruits and cheeses, though it can be a cleansing addition to a plate of spicy ribs. [Pardon the interruption, but if you are anywhere near Arizona, get thee to a Four Peaks retailer immediately and try this ale. It is fantastic! -Candice]

San Tan Devil’s Ale

San Tan Brewery has a number of great beers, ranging from everyday staples to unique special occasion brews. This is my favorite of their offerings. Devil’s Ale has a golden red color with a rich citrus flavor. It has a strong body and a hoppy taste but doesn’t overwhelm; the flavors are delicately balanced. The gentle caramel makes it a good match for either grilled pork chops for a casual dinner or a big, fat cheeseburger on a hot afternoon.

Lumberyard Red Ale

Lumberyard Brewing Company has been supplying northern Arizona with a variety of their lovingly crafted beers for 20 years now, but their Special Bitter Red Ale is their most popular — and for good reason. It is incredibly balanced and gets along nicely with a wide variety of foods; from lightly buttered shrimp to spicy brisket to picant Gorgonzola. Using crystal and caramel malts along with a tempered serving of hops, Lumberyard has managed to create a full flavored beer that won’t get in the way on a hot day.

Nimbus Pale Ale

For those who like a strong PA (and there’s at least one at every party), Nimbus has crafted a Northwestern style pale ale that is almost out of control. While this beer is very clean and refreshing, it might not be the best introduction for novices looking at pale ales for the first time. The beer is hopped four times during the brewing process and five malts are packed into each batch, making this PA very intense. While the flavor packs a punch, the bitterness can stand up to fatty, spicy meats cooked over wood or charcoal. Not for the weak of palate, but definitely recommended for those looking for something bold.

Papago Coconut Joe

For years Papago Brewing Company has been a favorite watering hole of locals because of their huge selection of bottled and tap beers from their own stash and around the world. One of my favorites is their Coconut Joe stout. Even on the warmer days, this thick coconut and coffee beer hits the spot. Though it is very dark and tastes rich, it is an easily approachable stout for those who may not usually go for dark beers. The slightly sweet coconut and roasted coffee flavors can fit in with either grilled shrimp, barbequed beef, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a grown-up summer float!

What are your plans for Labor Day? Do you have a favorite brew to go with your favorite BBQ? Let us know in the comments!

Friendship Week – Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

Friendship Week – Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

 In honor of Friendship Week, we have my friend Sarah Weber here as a guest blogger to talk to us about throwing parties! Sarah and her book club friends come up with some really clever themes and the photos are always inspiring! This week Sarah will be sharing an awesome brunch party with some great ideas to spice up your next get-together. We can always use more ideas for feeding friendships. Take it away, Sarah!

Transform Dinner Parties into Brunch Parties

by Sarah Weber

Dinner parties are one of my favorite reasons for existing. They’re a great excuse to drink copious amounts of wine, build up friendships, and taste the kind of food that’s too much trouble to make for myself on a regular basis.That being said… when you’re having and attending the same dinner party over and over, things get a little stale. Enter brunch.

A themed brunch party is a great way to strengthen friendships and let everyone show off their creativity!

Friendship

I have a wonderful group of friends who get togetherfriendship every month or so for a fancy dinner party — we formed a book club. So we decide on a book, read the book, and bring food and drink related to or themed around the book we read. We’ve been doing this for about a year, and those parties are among my favorite memories with friends.

My good friend Amy is a high school English teacher who blogs over at The Wordy Teacher. She hosted our most recent party. We read a book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio,which her entire school is reading as a One School One Book project. The book itself, I would highly recommend — it’s a quick read, and has overarching themes of “Be a little kinder than you need to be” and “Everyone deserves a standing ovation,” which I think are great principles to live by whether you’re a high school student or an adult.

mimosas

 

We were all feeling a little bit of the dinner party blues, so decided to mix it up by making our party a brunch. We had mimosas spiked liberally with peach-mango juice, which is a great twist.

 

Our kind hostess made each of us coasters featuringfriendship our own faces drawn in the style of the book’s artwork. Cute favors are a great way to make a party more interesting and personal. Coasters are easy to make cheaply, too. Pick up tiles at the hardware store along with some felt to line the bottoms, and then decorate with scrapbook paper, paint, printed photos, whatever you fancy. Don’t forget to seal them (most hardware stores also carry spray sealant) to make them waterproof.

Amy made the most adorable mini quiches using a cupcake pan and Wonder-ful blue lemonade, a friend made cupcakes decorated with elements from the book art, and I made one of my favorite easy recipes to date — a sparkling champagne jello mold studded with fresh raspberries. Isn’t friendship great?friendship

Sparkling Jello Mold

Recipe slightly modified from seriouseats.

  • 3 TBS (3 envelopes) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1 cup cold white cranberry juice
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 2 cups cold champagne (I used pink champagne — it turned out a pretty pale pinkish color)
  • 6 oz. (one little clamshell) fresh raspberries

Sprinkle gelatin over cold juice in a large bowl and let stand until gelatin is hydrated, about 1 minute. Use a slightly bigger bowl than you think you’ll need if you’ve never bloomed gelatin before.

Add boiling water and stir until gelatin completely dissolves. Stir in the sugar, then slowly stir in champagne. Carefully skim any foam off the top with a large spoon and discard.

Transfer to refrigerator. Chill until thickened but not set (the gelatin should still be jiggly, not entirely firm), 1 to 2 hours. I didn’t have two full hours because I am impatient, but after about 45 minutes (up to an hour and fifteen minutes), this is pseudo-set enough to try the next part.

Spoon in enough of the gelatin mixture to just cover the bottom of a 7 cup mold.

Add more than half of your raspberries, then pour in the rest of your jello mixture slowly. This will make the berries you’ve added move around a little bit. Add the rest of your raspberries to any spots that look sparse. Make sure your raspberries are completely submerged in jello.

Chill for several hours (overnight is good).

Before serving, dip the mold into warm water for no more than 10 seconds to help release. If you’re feeling brave, run warm water on the sides of the mold while you’re holding it, being careful not to get water in the jello mold.

Place a large serving platter upside-down over the mold. Holding both the mold and the platter firmly, invert. Gently shake mold to release Jell-O. Serve immediately.

This is a grown-up jello shot that you won’t even feel bad about bringing to a fancy grown-up party. It’s crisp and bubbly-tasting from the champagne, while the raspberries and cranberry juice give it a sweet and slightly tart flavor that is very refreshing in between mini quiches and hummus. The six of us easily ate an entire jello mold, with no leftovers.

Simplify Your Life Week: Smoothie Edition

Simplify Your Life Week: Smoothie Edition

National Simplify Your Life Week is August 1st through the 7th. I am all about simplifying my life (because I’m lazy, not because I’m organized…), and I want to share a couple of tips with you about one of my favorite things: SMOOTHIES! I love smoothies and so does my son, so we go through a lot of fruit and yogurt. Unfortunately, I was finding that we didn’t go through it quickly enough to use it all up before it went bad, so we were also throwing away quite a bit. I would justify this to myself with the fact that I had saved money by buying in bulk (so it was still cheaper than it would have been in an appropriate quantity from the grocery store), but wasting food just doesn’t feel good. So I started playing around with different ways to freeze and store my ingredients, and I think I have a pretty solid system working here. What’s more, I am now able to easily sneak vegetables into my son’s smoothies without him having a clue. Every time in the past that I tried to get him to eat a smoothie containing a handful of spinach, he would take one sip and act like I had given him poison. Now he doesn’t have a clue it’s in there and happily gulps down his healthy smoothie as a treat every day!

Simplify YOUR smoothie game with these tips!

Shopping Tips:

  • Purchase in bulk only items that can be easily frozen and stored or that you know you will be able to use in about a week.
  • Avoid buying pre-frozen fruits that contain added sugars. You want to be able to control the sweetness level and the types of sugars you are eating.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. One of my favorite finds recently was juicy black cherries. Cherries are usually on the pricy side, but I found some fresh ones on sale and brought home a couple pounds, and I am so glad!

Spinach and other leafy greens:

  • Wash fresh greens thoroughly.
  • Add 1-2 cups of your preferred liquid (I use water, but coconut water is a good way to sneak in some extra nutrients) to your blender and top with a couple handfuls of greens.Simplify your Life
  • Blend on high and continue adding greens in small handfuls until your blender can’t handle any more. You don’t need this to be super watery, but it needs to be thin enough to pour. If you have a monster blender like I do, you’re going to basically be dealing with straight up liquid anyway. Working in smallish batches will simplify this process.
  • Pour your liquid greens into ice cube trays and freeze solid.
  • Empty your beautiful emerald cubes into airtight containers or zipper bags and store in the freezer.
  • Sneak one or two cubes into your kid’s smoothie when he’s not looking and laugh maniacally (on the inside) at your devious ways.

Fresh Fruits:

  • Wash/dry/peel as appropriate.
  • Cut into small chunks.
  • Line a tray with parchment paper and spread fruit pieces in a single layer.
  • Freeze solid.
  • Transfer to airtight containers or zipper bags and store in freezer.

Liquids:

  • Some liquids, like carrot juice, you just won’t go through fast enough to keep in the fridge. I buy the case of 3 bottles of organic carrot juice from Costco, and each one is supposed to be used within 7 days of opening. That’s not happening here. There are only a couple different smoothies I even like it in, and I am certainly not drinking them every day.
  • Freeze some or all in ice cube trays and then store in zipper bags or airtight containers. Most ice cube trays hold ¾ to 1 oz. per cube, so keep that in mind when you go to use them.
  • Some liquids are best left in their liquid state, such as almond and soy milks. Also, you’re going to need something in liquid form to even make your smoothie, so pick the ones that you will be able to go through before expiration. I like the cartons of almond milk because I use it in my coffee as well as smoothies, so I can easily use it up before it goes bad. Other things, like regular fruit juice, I have in the fridge anyway because my son drinks it.

Miscellaneous Tips:

  • Always put your liquids in first. I do: liquid, yogurt (silken tofu is good for a protein boost, too), spices/seeds/sticky stuff (like cinnamon, flax seed, honey or peanut butter), frozen fruits/vegetables, fresh leafy greens if I’m using them. Add more liquid in small amounts if your blender locks up.
  • Start out on a medium low setting and work your way up to full power. In the Vita-Mix, I can knock out a smoothie in about 30 seconds, but experiment slowly with your blender so you don’t burn out the motor.
  • To clean your blender, rinse it out thoroughly, add a drop of dish soap and a cup or two of hot water, then blend (with the lid on!) for 30-45 seconds on high. Rinse again with hot water and you’re all set for next time!
  • Designate a specific ice cube tray to carrot juice if you plan on freezing it. That stuff remains a sticky, staining mess even after it is frozen!
  • Simplify your life even more by portioning out ingredients for single smoothies into small zipper bags. Include everything but the liquids and fresh ingredients and you’ll be start to finish in about one minute!

This is how I make the sneaky smoothie for my son:

Berry Sneaky SmoothieSimplify your lIfe

  • 1 cup juice (usually grape)
  • ½ cup yogurt (plain, honey, or whatever is in the fridge)
  • 1 tsp. flax seeds
  • 1-2 spinach ice cubes
  • ½ of one banana, in frozen chunks
  • ½ cup frozen mixed berries
  • ½ of one apple, fresh or frozen

Add ingredients to blender in order listed. This is important because you need to hide the spinach in case your kid walks in on you. Starting on medium low and working up to high power, blend until you can’t tell there is spinach in there, 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on blender strength.

 

Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo – Watermelon Shrimp Cocktail and Easy Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo is almost here! Chef J is back with some more great recipes to help you get your celebration started!

Cinco de Mayo is often thought of as Mexico’s Independence Day, the day we call in sick to work, and a holiday meant for drinking lots of margaritas. In truth, it’s only two of those things. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th; Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexico’s victory over the French during The Battle of Puebla. It’s a real underdog story, so you should definitely look it up on Wikipedia. These days Cinco de Mayo is a more general celebration of Mexican heritage. One of the best things about living here in Phoenix is the vast amount of Mexican culture we have; it’s a beautiful thing to live in a city where the average bar has at least 12 different kinds of tequila and you can’t turn around without running into the most amazing carne asada burrito you’ve ever had. San Francisco has some wonderful, hip food trucks that can please the most discerning of palettes; Atlanta fed me some of the best cheesy grits I’ve ever tasted; Chicago can serve up the pinnacle of late night urban-chic comfort food while drinking you under the table. But Phoenix is the best place this side of the border to find la auténtica comida Mexicana!

But of course there is always room for a little inventiveness. Since spring in Phoenix is more like summer on the surface of the sun, we’re going for something cool and refreshing. We are lucky to have some great food popping up this time of year and I want to eat all of it! We have watermelon and strawberries coming in, chiles and limes almost all the time, and surprisingly, we actually have a sizable shrimp industry. Strange, I know. So whether you will be enjoying your Cinco de Mayo in the pool, on the porch, or hiding from the sun in the sweet air conditioning, have a fun and safe holiday!

Cinco de Mayo is a great opportunity to celebrate with delicious food and drinks!

Watermelon Chiptole Shrimp Cocktail

  • 1 TBS vegetable oilCinco de Mayo Shrimp Cocktail
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 cups watermelon, chopped + juice
  • 2 roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 TBS cornstarch w/ 1 TBS water
  • 2# shrimp, cooked

Heat up a large sauce pot and add the oil. When it is hot, add the onion.
When the onion starts to brown, add the garlic and spices and reduce the heat to medium-low.
After a few minutes, when the garlic has softened a bit, add the watermelon, red peppers, and chipotle and raise the heat back up to medium.
Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the lime juice, zest, and season to taste.
Stir in the cornstarch slurry and let it simmer for another 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and chill.
Serve with boiled or grilled shrimp.

Super Easy Margarita

  •  2 qts. cold water
  • 8 oz. lime juice
  • 8 oz. agave or honey
  • 8 oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. triple sec
  • 2 cups fresh, frozen strawberries

Mix all of the liquids.
Adjust for sweetness/alcohol content.
Pour over a few frozen strawberries.
Add salt if you want. It’s your margarita!

Printer friendly recipes: Cinco de Mayo Celebration

Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

With Easter right around the corner, Chef J is sharing some fantastically fun recipes for your enjoyment. His Deviled Chicks are appropriately twee for our pastel-themed celebrations, but the Carrot-Ginger Smoothie has a zip that will snap you right out of your candy-colored dreams. The Easter Bunny has requested we all start leaving one out for him the night before; it’s not fair that Santa gets all the midnight snacks! So, Chef J, why don’t you hop on over (see what I did there?) and share your treats!

National Deviled Egg Day might not be until November 2nd,  but I just can’t wait that long. Luckily there is another holiday on the calendar that prominently features these delightful little egg-filled eggs. Easter, some could argue, is the far superior holiday.

Easter not only plays host to eggs of the deviled variety, but provides a welcoming table for all manner of ova.

It’s also a fantastic excuse to eat chocolate by the basket! Everything feels nice and fresh; spring is blossoming all around us, there are pictures of bunnies everywhere, people are dressed in pastel. Oh yeah, and baskets full of chocolate! How can you not have a good time on Easter?
There are a few tricks to help your eggery go smoothly. Some maybe you know, some maybe you don’t.

  • Don’t use fresh eggs! The fresher the egg is, the more the shell will stick when you’re trying to peel it. For easy to peel eggs you want to use eggs that are about a week to ten days old.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water before you start cooking. This is an old trick that will help the peels come loose more easily, leaving you with a clean, smooth egg.
  • Soak them in ice water for 30-45 minutes before peeling. The shells are porous so they will let a bit of water in, reducing the amount of suction power the shell will have. Cold eggs are also easier to peel.

Deviled Egg Chicks

  • 12 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • large bowl of ice water
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBS mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce (this is optional and can be replaced with Dijon mustard if you don’t like it hot)
  • 1 dill pickle, finely chopped (save a few pieces for the eyes, or use black olives)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A few little pieces of carrot for beaks

Place the eggs and baking soda in a large pot of cold water. Make sure the eggs are covered by about one inch of water.
Bring the pot to a boil. As soon as it boils, cover the pot and remove it from the heat.
Let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for 8 minutes.
Remove the eggs and place them in the ice water. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Gently crack the egg all the way around and begin peeling the shell away carefully.
Using a small paring knife, cut straight across the very bottom of the egg so that it sits flat, then cut a zig-zag pattern through the whites of the eggs about two thirds of the way up.
Pull off the top and gently squeeze the yolk out. Repeat with all eggs.
Egg
Mix the remaining ingredients, including the white part that you cut off the bottom, in a small bowl.
Blend it all together with a fork and season to taste. If you want a smoother texture you can push the yolks through a mesh strainer first.
Spoon the mixture (or pipe with a pastry bag) into the egg white bases and place the caps back on top.
Use the little pieces of pickle that you saved (or black olive) to make the eyes. Cut tiny triangles out of the carrot and place those in as the beak.

The result should look like a baby chick popping out of your shell (but you might need to practice on a few and use your imagination!).

easter chicks

And to wash down these delightful little chickies, a smoothie the Easter Bunny would be proud of!
Carrot Ginger Smoothie

  • 12 oz. almond milkcarrot smoothie for easter
  • 2 medium carrots, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 TBS fresh ginger, chopped
  • ¾ cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 cup ice

If you have a heavy duty blender, like a Vitamix, just throw everything in and blend away!
If you don’t, you can use 4 oz. carrot juice or just chop the carrots up very small.
Blend to your desired consistency.
Makes about 2 – 16 oz. smoothies.

Printer friendly recipes: Easter Recipes

 

Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Holiday Cocktails – Hot Chocolate, Pancake Shots, and More!

Chef J wants you to make it through the holidays with a smile on your face! This week he shares some festive holiday cocktails that are sure to brighten up your party!

We’re on the home stretch toward the big holiday parties! Whether your celebrations are populated by hip friends in freshly pressed suits and little black dresses or extended family in terrible Christmas sweaters that aren’t being worn ironically, chances are the tie that binds is sweet, sweet liquor. It doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the eggnog bright and early or waiting for that final champagne toast: booze is what makes the party world turn. Holiday cocktails bring people together, coax strangers to mingle, and make your aunt’s “famous” casserole almost edible! Anthropologists believe that civilization started because of the discovery and production of alcohol; so the least you can do is put up with grandma’s never ending interrogation about why you aren’t married yet for one night!

Here are a few recipes for fun holiday cocktails that will surely liven up your party.

If you want to be extra festive keep a supply of holiday themed sprinkles, maraschino cherries (they come in red and green), grenadine, food coloring, whipped cream, maybe some fresh mint leaves, fresh berries, etc. The holidays need to be decorated; there is no reason to exclude your drinks. Mix a teaspoon of grenadine in some ginger ale for the kids (or champagne for the old kids) with a green maraschino cherry for flare. Shake some chocolate sprinkles over your hot cocoa to show them that you care. And a spoonful of cream will float on the top of most heavy liqueurs to give your shots a festive, snow-capped look.

A little razzle-dazzle will go a long way to secure your place as the greatest holiday party host of all time!

Best Hot Chocolate Ever

  • 8 oz. milk chocolate
  • 4 oz. white chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts, ground
  • 8 oz. cream
  • 1 gal milk
  • 4 oz. Frangelico (optional- can be added later)
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate, sugar and cream together.
Heat the milk in a large pot. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the milk along with the hazelnuts; bring to a simmer.
Strain the hazelnuts out of the liquid and add the liqueur, nutmeg and salt.

Apple Cider

  • 64 oz. unfiltered apple juice
  • 32 oz. water
  • ½ lemon, sliced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • ½ cup honey
  • Brandy

Bring all ingredients, except Brandy, to a simmer. Let steep for at least 30 minutes (you can do this a day early and reheat to serve to get more spicy flavor). Serve hot. Season to taste with Brandy. Leave the Brandy on the side so the kids and drivers can have cider, too!

Pancake Shot

  • 1 ½ oz. maple whiskey
  • ½ oz. Irish Cream

Pour the whiskey into a shot glass.
Slowly pour the Irish Cream into it, the cream will sink.
Shoot it!

Christmas Mint Shot

  • ½ oz. Grenadine
  • 1 oz. Creme de Menthe

Pour the grenadine into a shot glass.
Carefully spoon the Creme de Menthe over the grenadine so that it floats on top.
(Peppermint Schnapps will work in place of the Creme de Menthe if you want clear/red instead of green/red).

Ginger Berry Tummy Tonic

  • 1 oz. Bourbon
  • ½ oz. Raspberry liqueur
  • 8 oz. Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic, “real” ginger ale)

Add the Bourbon and Raspberry Liqueur to a champagne flute or rocks glass.
Pour the Ginger Beer over it.
Serve chilled or over ice.
This one helps the ol’ tummy after a long night of stuffing your face with delicious holiday treats!

Do you have a favorite holiday cocktail? Share with us! No, really, share with us!
Printer friendly recipes: Holiday Cocktails

holiday cocktails

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

We are so thrilled to introduce you to Chef J Whiting! Chef J has played an integral role in many Arizona restaurants, and travels extensively within the Southwest. Today he enlightens us on the common misconceptions of the Cinco de Mayo holiday, and shares his fantastic recipe for Hibiscus Margaritas.

We all love Cinco de Mayo – happily enjoying our margaritas, fajitas and a day off- but most of us have probably never thought much about it. Maybe like me, you had heard that it is Mexico’s independence day; something akin to the 4th of July here in the U.S. With just a bit of digging, though, I discovered the true meaning of this holiday and now have a real reason to drink margaritas this weekend.

Cinco de Mayo is, in fact, not a Mexican holiday at all. The day is a celebration of the battle of Puebla in 1862 in which the outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French, throwing a wrench into Napoleon’s plans to prop up the Confederate South. Many scholars believe that the Civil War would have had a drastically  different outcome if the French had not been stopped at Puebla.

Hearing the news of the battle, Mexican immigrants in America began to celebrate and used that battle as a symbol to rally around. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture and how it has impacted the destiny of the United States.

So while you are enjoying your tequila and maybe something a little spicy, remember that without a small group of people standing their ground against the greatest military in the world at the time, the U.S. could be an entirely different place.

And like any celebration, it is best with food! Cultures move a meal at a time and the American culture has been deliciously inspired by Mexico. I am lucky enough to live in the Southwest where cuisine has blurred the border. We have amazing food to explore here, and Mexican ingredients can be found all over. Do yourself a favor and make friends with a chile!

 Hibiscus Margaritas – Courtesy of J WhitingCinco De Mayo Hibiscus Margarita

  • 1 handful of dried hibiscus flowers
  • Juice of 6 limes
  • 6 oz of honey
  • 4 oz of triple sec
  • 12 oz tequila
  • 32 oz water
  • Salt or sugar from rimming glass

Bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and add the hibiscus flowers. Let that steep for about 5 minutes or so. Add honey to hibiscus broth and stir to dissolve. Let cool. Combine honey mixture with remaining ingredients. Test for desired taste. Add more lime juice if too sweet or a bit more honey if too sour. Serve over ice in a salted or sugared glass. Repeat if necessary!