Summer Sippers, starting with the basics…

Trio of cocktails

Alright, so here we are, on the verge of the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day weekend.  What do you have planned?  Picnics?  Fishing?  Spending time with those who’ve served and honoring those who can’t be here with us?  Oh yes, that’s what I am planning too!

Will there be some cocktails in your weekend plans?  I know there will be in mine 🙂  And so we begin post number ONE, #summersippers!  Over the next fifteen weeks (if I say it out loud here, I’m obligated, right?) I will share one cocktail post a week..each week, highlighting a different liquor and a few different varieties of cocktails you can make with that liquor.  I am going to get help from some of my amazing Minnesota food blogger friends along the way, so don’t think these are going to be your run-of-the-mill cocktails, I plan to share unique twists on the basics!

So, let’s start today with basic bar set-up.  First, an explanation taken from the Huffington Post Taste blog, of basic alcohol terminology:

Two terms are often confused: liquor (lik-er) and liqueur (li-kur). Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:

Liquors are hard alcohols, a.k.a. spirits, such as gin, vodka, whiskey, or brandy. They are distilled from grains, fruits or vegetables and contain no sugar.

Liqueurs are alcohols flavored with herbs, fruits, nuts and/or spices and have sugar added. A liqueur can be enjoyed sipped as an aperitif (pre-dinner drink) or digestif (post-dinner drink) or mixed to make cocktails.

Bitters are a very concentrated form of liqueur (yet they don’t taste sweet, but rather bitter as their name suggests) used in small amounts (a few dashes is all you need) in drinks and cocktails.

Mixers are non-alcoholic additions in mixed drinks and cocktails. They include sodas, such as tonic water, seltzer, lemon-lime soda, and juices such as cranberry, orange, lemon and lime.

Syrups are used to sweeten drinks and cocktails. The classic type is a simple syrup, made from equal amounts sugar and water heated to a simmer and then chilled. Simple syrups can further be infused with fruits, herbs or spices or they can be made from alternative sweeteners like honey or agave syrup.

I’ve linked to this particular blog post because it gives more great info on what to stock your bar with if you want to make what type of drinks etc.

Next week I think I will talk about Mixers, bitters, syrups, fancy cubes etc.  So we move from the basics, to bases and then we’ll get into the good stuff!

Alright, so your opinion of what to have on hand might be different from mine and that’s perfectly okay!  I am just giving you a basic list of what a home bar might have.

Basic booze set-up

My booze list:  Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey and/or Bourbon, Brandy, Tequila…I like Grand Marnier instead of Cointreau and I like to have Bailey’s and/or Kahlua on hand for bedtime/bonfire sippies or adding to coffee on a Sunday morning!  Of course within each of these categories you’ll have MANY different varieties of that particular alcohol.  For example, Smirnoff Vodka has 33, yes, 33 different flavors of Vodka.  This number doesn’t even include the mixers, pre-made cocktails, malt beverages etc. they produce.  They even have a new line called “Sorbets- without the spoon”.  Check it out here.  I will admit to having a bottle (almost empty) of BACARDI Limón in my cupboard.  But, sadly, I don’t drink enough cocktails (one of the reasons I am doing this post series!) to remember why I bought it and how I drank it! 🙂

Wine & beer opener, jiggerStir sticks & umbrellas

zester, strainer & juicerfun straws

Now let’s talk a bit about bar tools & equipment.  Pictured above, are a few basic ideas of what to start with.  Most of these items are fairly inexpensive to pick up.  I use my zester for cooking all the time so that was probably the most expensive item of the lot.  And don’t give me a hard time for all the colorful straws, stir sticks and yes, drink umbrellas!  My kids love them!  (oh ok, so do I!)

Variety of wine glasses

So, you can probably tell that we mostly drink wine, right? 🙂  Glassware can be a bit tricky and at the same time, you could just use the same type of glass for all of your cocktails!  There is no right or wrong way, it’s your house!  We have white & red wine glasses.  We have stemmed & stemless.  When I was a kid, I would tag along with my grandparents to flea markets & garage sales.  I started collecting mason jars (the large kind I used for flower vases over the years) and match books (don’t ask) and since then have been using smaller mason jars for drinking glasses over the years and now they are actually in style to use as a drinking glass!  Ball even just came out with a retro line of jars in a beautiful blue color.  I gotta get me some of those!

Beer mug & pint glass

Over the years my hubby has collected beer glasses, so we have LOTS of that style beer glass.  Last year, when I was posting about my Beer for a Year (see previous posts) win from Summit Brewery, I picked up these two from their store at the brewery.  I love the mug, but oddly enough, it holds more than just one beer!  So yeah, I guess I have to drink two then, right?

Margarita & Daiquiri glasses

A few years back, my husband and I were on a Margarita kick and I decided I HAD to get traditional glasses to use.  Let me just say, they are adorable, but they are hard to drink out of!  You really have to be quite sober so you don’t spill it on yourself.  And, uh…you are drinking right?  Get where I am going with that?!  🙂  Anyhoo, the other glass pictured is from a set an awesome friend just gave me and could be used for margaritas, daiquiri’s, iced tea and as you’ll see in a later post…sangria!!

Martini glass

So….I had to go buy this gorgeous Martini glass, cause, big surprise, I am not a Martini drinker!  But, I am going to try a few fun things over the course of this series, so we’ll see if that statement remains the same at the end of all this!

Cordial glasses

My husband loves his nighttime “sippies” (don’t get mad at me honey…) so we have always had plenty of snifters, cordials glasses etc.  You can use they glasses for brandy, cognac, even shots.

Rocks & Highball glasses

Above are just a few basic drink glass sizes (there’s the mason jar!)  that you can use to make your basic cocktails.  I am sure you have something in your cupboard that would work.

Additional bar stuff...

In addition, you might want to have a few miscellaneous items as shown in the picture above.  We always have Kosher Salt on hand for cooking; you’ll need this for rimming your glasses for Margaritas.  Lemons, limes, oranges and other fruits (we’ll talk more about that next post) are good to keep on hand.  Bitters, again, we’ll talk about this, but many basic cocktails call for this, so pick up yourself a small bottle to keep on hand.  And for fun, colored sugars are great to use when rimming the glass for some specialized drinks.  More on that as we move along.

Below I’ve listed a couple of great links I didn’t include above.  A delicious foodie-friend of mine, Joy Summers (of City Pages blog & other fame) put together this great list of the top ten Craft Cocktail bars in the Twin Cities for my Minnesota followers.  And the last link is one I found from Martha Stewart and in addition to basic bar set-up, she gives a breakdown of different liquors/liqueurs and cocktails you can create from each.

Top 10 Craft Cocktail bars in the Twin Cities

The Basics on home bar set-up, from Martha Stewart

So friends, I hope you enjoy a long, relaxing weekend and thanks for beginning this #summersippers cocktail journey with me!

Cheers, Shawn

Chronicles of a crazy 20 days!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY month so far and it’s only the 20th of June!  I constantly complain about the months of May & June, as every year, they completely derail me with field trips, the end of school, parties etc.  This year, I threw in a couple extra new events, just to challenge my strength…or because I am crazy.  I know the days have been ticking by, still no post since last month….and now that I’ve had the chance to catch my breath, I thought it would be fun to, instead of the usual post, do a little recap of my activities!  Yea!  Hope you enjoy the ride…….

June 2, 2012#TECHmunch, an event I had been anxiously waiting to attend.  It is a one-day conference for food bloggers, sponsored by BakeSpace.com and was held at Studio 514 in Minneapolis.  You can read more about it here.  Because I have never learned the art of “sitting on my hands” (like they used to say in Girl Scouts so you wouldn’t volunteer for everything!) I decided to volunteer to help with set-up the day before and during the event!  All kidding aside, let me just share one piece of advise I have learned over the years…if you really want to make the most of an event you plan to attend, volunteer to help.  It exposes you to (work, which oddly enough, I actually enjoy-so be prepared if signing on in this capacity) many more people than if you just came as an attendee.  I met & got to know better, some really great people (Babette, Tammy, Lisa, Brenda, Meghan, Emily, Joy, Cathy, Stephanie, Scott, Molly & anyone I forgot (so sorry!) and all the food-famous speakers & panelists!) that hopefully over time, I will become better friends with!  I helped with the manual labor part of set-up the day before, something of which after my years of banquet management/service I am very familiar with.  The next day, I was assigned to help with AV.  That stands for Audio-Visual….yeah, for those of you who know me, not exactly my forte. Ha!  I managed through and the only real glitch of the day ended up not even being my fault!

The day consisted of seven different topics:  Eating your way to the top; a Fireside chat with Andrew Zimmern & Jason DeRusha, Mastering your Story, with Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate.  SEO for food writing; with experts in the field of SEO Lee Odden, Joshua Unseth & Erik Deutsch.  A panel discussion on creating, distributing and syndicating mouth-watering content with Shaina Olmanson, Zoe Francois, Amanda Rettke & Brenda Score.  Design & Page Optimization with the Geek Girls, Meghan Wilker & Nancy Lyons.  Lessons in partnerships & monetization with Babette Pepaj and Erik Deustch. And finally, a session titled, How to get on a Food Editor’s Radar, with Stephanie March, Lee Dean, Rachel Hutton & Joy Summers.   It was a GREAT event and I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

Of course a food blogger conference isn’t complete without amazing food, which you see a bit of above.  We had beautiful pastries donated by Patisserie 46 and gorgeous berries from Driscoll’s Berries.  Fresh squeezed juices  were provided by Whole Foods, Joia Life donated some of their amazing natural sodas, Bull Run coffee helped us all stay fueled up and I cannot forget that Sangria…made by Scott Pampugh.  A backyard picnic lunch was catered by Tastebud Catering and included Chicken & fresh Corn off the grill (with a couple of amazing butters to spread), two awesome salads (a carrot slaw I NEED the recipe for!) and a refreshing Basil Lemonade that I am totally recreating at home!  Dessert, decadent chocolate brownie like confections was sponsored by (and eaten early by many of us standing in line for lunch!) Bogart Loves.  An afternoon nosh, consisting of pita breads, hummus, olives, cheese and roasted veggies was provided by Whole Foods and served along with more of that magical Sangria.  We had swag bags donated by and filled with nourishing snack bars, natural produce bags and awesome coupons from Land O’ Lakes &. others.  (sorry I didn’t link any of those….& hopefully I am not missing anyone but holy crap we had a lot of great sponsors that day!!!)

A geeky moment of the day, pictured below, is where I asked the legendary Scott Pampugh (who was also volunteering that day) to take a picture with me.  We are both from Winona, MN (that automatically makes us kindred spirits right? Although he was a Cotter boy…I won’t hold that against him!) and if you don’t know much about Scott, he’s out to change the landscape of food as we know it.  Read more about him here.  The day finished off at Fulton Brewery, where attendees got to tour the facility, dine on Hola Arepa & Anchor Fish & Chips food trucks, conveniently parking outside and of course drink beer!!  There’s gonna be a #TECHmunch in Philadelphia in October…hmmm maybe I need to plan a trip out to see the Pennsylvania relative contingency!

   

I got a day to rest up, (although I spent most of it standing in my kitchen prepping for dinner the next night!) after being on my feet at that event for 13 hours, before my Dad and his family, packed into their new RV, rolled into town.  We got him for one night, and he requested his Mother’s Rhubarb Pie.

 Oh that pie.  What did I ever do before that pie… Want to make this pie?  Check out my previous post with recipe here.  And this time I made it with homemade pie crust, another first for me.  He said “his Mother never made it better” which I guess means he liked it.  🙂

This is my almost 7th grader, just after finding out she tied for first place in overall books read for the year with her class.  When I look at this picture I just want to wail…she is growing TOO damn fast.  It truly takes my breath away.  The kids last day of school was June 7th and took the day off to hang out with them.  They both had carnivals, and my daughter had a 6th grade graduation picnic that I helped with.  It was bittersweet watching her with her classmates.  I know that next year I won’t be able to volunteer like I had this past year, going on field trips etc.  I also know that Junior High is tough, not like grade school.  At the beginning of this year I felt like there was no way she would be ready to take on the challenges of 7th grade, but now, I feel differently.  My baby, growing up so fast

   

On Sunday June 10th, we went to our first ever Minnesota Twins game.  Yeah, I know, lame.  Lame that we hadn’t gone in the last two years!  I had bought tickets through the kids school and as luck would have it, ended up sitting right next to our close friends and their kids!  It was a HOT day and I worried about us actually making it through the whole game (at one point I looked over at my daughter, and if you have kids, you’ll know the look she gave me…something between “I am about to puke or I am about to pass out”)  It was a bit terrifying, but we persevered and made it through the game!  The pictures above are of my first ever Big Ginger a delicious drink made with 2 Gingers Whiskey & Ginger Ale (again lame, that I work at the hotel, connected to The Liffey and haven’t had one yet!) and the Nacho Helmet helped!  (seriously $14 well spent!)
  

June 12th brought another day I had been looking forward to for a long time, my #OinkOutings trip!  I had been so looking forward to my Oink Outing, not only because I love pigs…(loved them since Wilbur & love to eat them, in any form), but also because I had never been on a pig farm. I had no idea how pigs were birthed, raised etc. I’m happy to tell you that my expectations were met! I was well-educated that day & although it wasn’t the life I pictured, (Wilbur) I was happy to see the care taken by the Bode family both towards their pigs and staff that tends to them, 365 days a year. They are meticulous about the safety of those pigs, so that the end result, that bacon or pork loin you are cooking for your family is the best quality & safest it can be. Technology has changed pig farming; helping farmers raise pigs that are lean & delicious. Something dictated by consumer desire for leaner meat while still preserving the flavor.

It was a great day, getting to know everyone involved that advocates daily for the Pork producers of Minnesota. We started at Brackett’s Crossing where I met Chef Bryan who had cooked us delicious Pork Carnitas which we then had in that gorgeous taco shell pictured above.  From there we set out to Rebco Pork, the Bode family farm. Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!  We made a pit stop on our way down at Schmidt’s Meat Market were we toured their smoking facilities, sampled their delicious summer sausage & were treated to their award-winning Raspberry-Chipotle Bacon as a take home gift!  Stay tuned for a post later this month, where I share more pictures of our adventure along with some great recipes using my favorite meat, pork!

June 15th brought yet another birthday for me…sigh.  I am thirty-six this year.  LOL!  Really though, birthday’s aren’t a big deal for me.  I don’t expect to be lavished with gifts, but I do like to spend the day doing something I enjoy.  And, if you know me, that’s eating, drinking & shopping!  I decided We haven’t been to Stillwater in quite some time, so I thought, because it worked out that the hubby was on vacation that day, we were free!  I knew for quite some time that I wanted to check out a place called Swirl Wine Bar.  It is located in the sleepy and gorgeous little town of Afton, MN  So, that was stop number one.  There I purchased my first birthday present, a Redneck Wine Glass.  Yea, I know….don’t judge me.  I LOVE using jam jars to drink out of.  We were doing that before it was cool.  We also ordered a couple of glasses of wine, and three delicious appetizers which were devoured by the four of us.  I HIGHLY recommend making the trip and be sure to order the Grape & Brie Flatbread & the Truffle Fries…DELISH!
We then moved on to Stillwater, ducking into a few shops after strolling along the river.  One store we visited for another birthday treat was the Stillwater Olive Oil Co.  I love how these little shops have popped up all over and hadn’t actually been in one until that day!  They had many different varieties of Olive Oils, some infused and Vinegars-rich, syrupy aged Balsamic’s and a great variety of flavored white Balsamic’s.  We chose a bottle of Persian Lime infused Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon white Balsamic vinegar.  The vinegar just exploded the second it hit my tongue… I thought it would be fun to start a hashtag to chronicle my day; you can find my posts by searching for #BirthdayNosh and the picture collage above was some of the deliciousness of the day!

Gorgeous Strawberries!  Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn to can.  It’s been one of those things on my food bucket list, that I have been scared to try.  All it really takes is patience and organization.  The Strawberry Jam I made this weekend was SO good!  Stay tuned for a future post on canning.  I plan to do a Rhubarb Beer Jam for my next ‘Beer for a Year‘ post, and just last week, we signed up for a CSA share from Natura Farms and they have Currents and Elderberries, so hopefully I will get the opportunity to use those in future canning endeavors.  I also plan this summer to make Chow-Chow; a pickled vegetable deliciousness I had back in Pennsylvania Amish country.  Again posts to follow…..

And finally, June 17th, Father’s Day…..

The hubby loves ribs, so I decided that I would break out the smoker and attempt to make a scrumptious dinner for him.  The weather forecasters said “a gorgeous day is on tap for Sunday” and guess what?  It rained on and off ALL day!  The picture above was taken by my daughter, as she came out laughing at me standing there with the umbrella.  Yes, I could have let it go, but seriously at one point it rained for over an hour.  I know this because I stood there that long…and for the first time ever, I was maintaining a consistent temp on the smoker and didn’t want to ruin that!  The things we do for love…..

Oh yeah, his present?  The gorgeous cookbookVolt Ink” written by brothers Michael & Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame.  It was really a win-win gift. 🙂

So, there it is people.  The last crazy 20 days of my life.…hope you enjoyed following along.  I promise to get back on my regular schedule of posts, none of which hopefully will be this long!

Until then,

Shawn