Summer Sippers, Wine…

Sangria

I love Pinterest.  Can I just say that?  Seriously, I swear, it has become a search engine for me and all things food & beverage!  I “googled” the search term “cocktails made with wine” while researching for this blog post and the second listing in Google was a link to a board on Pinterest titled Cocktails Made with Wine.  Click on the link to see this board; it’s pretty incredible how creative people are with wine!  Gone are the days, where the only way you found wine, other than by itself in a glass, was as a spritzer!

Fruit

In putting together this post, I decided my focus was to be Sangria.  I had many friends share their Sangria recipes with me.  One of those, listed below, was given to me by husband & wife foodie duo, Lynne & Keith Morioka.  It’s what I will be making next!  I was also surprised to see what a popular drink it has become, with so many delicious variations on the traditional white or red Sangria.  We are gearing up for a birthday-Father’s day camping weekend and so I thought it would be fun to make a batch to bring with us.  I decided to try the Grilled Citrus and Grape Sangria.  In the future, I am going to try to gently smoke some fruit for a Sangria too!

Apothic

St. Germain Sangria-  “we hosted a party last summer, and I made this up to be our signature cocktail for the party, and everyone loved it. Even the people who normally are just beer drinkers were loving it…”  Sounds like a winner! 🙂

Here’s what you’ll need to make it:

1 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc
3/4 cup St. Germain
1/2 cup Simple Syrup (you could probably substitute fine sugar if you want, but reduce the amount if you do)
3/4 cup San Pellegrino Limonata
1/4 cup White Grape Juice
1 Green Apple (Diced)
1 Pear (Diced)
Some White Grapes (cut in half)
Club Soda

Combine everything but the club soda together in a pitcher, and chill for several hours. When ready to serve, pour some club soda in the glass, pour Sangria in to top it off. I prefer not to have any ice in the glass, as I don’t like to water my Sangria’s down as the ice melts. With the fruit, I think that I actually used less than a whole apple and less than a whole Pear. The fruit will soak up the booze, so make sure that you eat that too!

And another recipe, from the wonderful John Michael Lerma was for his famous Hollywood Sangria.  Sounds like another winner to me!

JOHN MICHAEL’S HOLLYWOOD SANGRIA
4 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon, warm
1 bottle White Zinfandel, warm
4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ½ cups pineapple juice
1 can lemon-lime soda
¼ cup Grand Marnier
3 oranges, cut into slices or stars
3 limes, cut into slices or stars
6 strawberries, sliced
Additional fruit for garnish
1. Place all ingredients into a large glass or ceramic container. Cover and let flavors blend while warm for 2 hours, then refrigerator overnight. Serve in decorative glasses filled with ice and fresh fruit. Serves 24 or more.

Pineapple Sangria

Another gorgeous Sangria recipe I found on Pinterest was that of this Pineapple Sangria, Erin’s Food Files.  She graciously allowed me to use her picture, which makes my mouth water!  I love how she uses Pineapple soda as well!

Yet another food blogger friend’s recipe for Diane’s Sangria

Cooking Channel’s Tropical Sangria

Food and Wine’s Watermelon Sangria

Bon Appetit’s Stone-Fruit Sangria

How Sweet It Is, food blog’s Blood Orange Sangria

Girl versus Dough shares her Sangria Slushies, totally a grown-up snow-cone in my book!  In this same post, she shares a recipe for White Wine & Elderflower Sangria, so be sure to check that out too!

Here’s hoping for a long, hot summer, where we can sit back and enjoy these perfect Sangria recipes!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Summer Sippers, fruit/herbs, mixers & cubes…

Bar recipe books...

Greetings cocktail lovers!  First, I am sorry for not posting when I said I would…life took over this past week and so here I sit, 9:19pm on a Saturday night, trying to get this ready for your viewing pleasure as soon as possible!  One thing I failed to mention in my last post, that when you are setting up a bar, it’s helpful to have some sort of bar recipe guide.  I have a couple physical recipe books and probably my favorite one I have for my iPhone, it’s from Food and Wine, it’s free and you can get it here!

This week we talk mixers, cubes, fruit and more!  Of coarse you’ll want the basics for your bar, when it comes to mixers.  Sweet & sour, margarita mix, club soda, tonic water, and various other bubbly sodas etc.  You’ll also want bottles of grenadine, tabasco, bloody mary mix if you are planning on making those.  The recent explosion of “craft cocktails” has found the resurgance of “shrubs” and other delicious “craft” fruit & herb cocktail syrups.  No, I am not talking about the shrub out in the front yard, but about the kind you can mix in a cocktail, taking it to yet another level.  To learn more about what a shrub is, and how to make your own, visit the Serious Eats-drinks section and the “Cocktail 101: How to Make Shrub Syrups”.

shrub-syrups-best

One local favorite making all things fruity goodness, is those you’ll find at HeathGlen Farms.  They offer several different varieties of both shrubs & fruit/herbs syrups, all which you can find listed on their website here.  I’m thinking I need to pick up some of the Ginger Lime Syrup and the Blueberry Tarragon Shrub Syrup!

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Probably one of the biggest movements within the craft cocktail phenomenon is that of the small but mighty Bitters.  And locally, two gifted bartenders turned craftsmen led the way.  Meet Bittercube.  Not only providing unique Bitters, free from extracts & oils, using only “raw” ingredients, this creative duo provides consultation for food & dining establishments and “designs unique craft cocktail menus for bars, restaurants, weddings, anniversaries, corporate events, and private parties. We also create signature cocktails with event specific ingredients and names.  Beyond cocktail menus, we offer libations expertise and execution for trade shows and other events.

      Mint Simple Syrup Cubes                    Mint simple syrup in cube trays

I am honored to belong to a community of local food bloggers called Fortify.  The other night, I stalked a conversation that was happening in our private Facebook group about someone who was trying to figure out what to make with some orange bitters he recently acquired.  The conversation eventually moved to making simple syrups, something that I had recently started experimenting with myself.  I started off simple (no pun intended) with Mint Simple Syrup and then froze them (as much as they would) in ice cube trays for later use.

Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup

Then, feeling a little braver, I tried my hand at Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup.  It was really good, and has left me inspired to try many of the other herbs I have bursting in my garden already.  I envision an Oregano Simple Syrup you could add to sweeten a Bloody Mary or as basic as a Basil Simple Syrup that could be added to the kids Lemonade on a hot summer day!

Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup2

Interested in making your own Simple Syrup?  It’s easy!  Take a cup of water and a cup of sugar, place in a small pot on the stove.  Stirring constantly, once the mixture has boiled & the sugar has melted, remove from the heat.  Take your cleaned & dried herbs and place into the pot, cover with a lid and steep for at least ten minutes or until your syrup has infused to your liking.  While perusing one of my favorite cocktail blog sites, Imbibe, I found this great list of Simple Syrup ideas & recipes!  Enjoy!

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I tried my Lemon Thyme Simple Syrup with both Rum & Gin tonight, using Club Soda as my mix.  I preferred the Gin, as I suspected I would.  Both were better with a healthy squeeze of lemon and in the drink made with Gin, I felt I could taste the Thyme better.

Bacon Ice Cubes

And of coarse there’s always fun ice cubes you can use to add a bit of whimsy to your cocktails.  I found these awesome bacon strip ice cubes trays at Target the other day!  If you are on Pinterest, you can follow my Beverages & Cocktails board where I’ve pinned some really fun flavored ice cube ideas!

I hope you’ll expand your cocktail menu and try some of the great things I’ve listed here!  When you do, be sure to share it with me either here in the comments, or by posting a comment on my Facebook Page!

As always, thanks for following along in this #summersippers cocktail series and until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Summer of Salads, dressings…

Salad

First, an apology.  Right out of the gate, I dropped the ball on my posting this series, when I said I would. Originally I hadn’t planned to start this until this weekend, but I wanted to give you a little something to start with, over Memorial Day weekend and so I stupidly started earlier than I was ready for.  I am sorry for that.  I want you to be able to count on me to post when I say I am going to!  So, let’s get back on track, starting with this dressings post!

My husband usually doesn’t use dressing when he has a salad.  Unless its a Caesar Salad, or comes dressed at a restaurant.  So, for me, I sometimes end up just grabbing the bottled varieties, as I just don’t want to go through the hassle of making something special just for me. Not my favorite thing to do, as most of those are filled with things I can’t pronounce and don’t belong in a dressing.  We have tried a million different types of creamy Caesar dressings, which my kids tend to like best.  Recently we tried Ken’s Steak House brand and it was pretty good.  Blue Cheese dressings are also one we tend to buy instead of make.  I like Marie’s Super chunky Blue Cheese dressing, that you find usually by the other refrigerated dressings at the grocery store.  I will also buy the packets of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at the store for my son and make my own with that, but still don’t feel like I am making the best choice there.  I did find this recipe for homemade Ranch dressing that I am going to try.  If you do, let me know what you thought of it!

Do you make your own dressings ever?  Do you know where to start?  I found a couple of GREAT resources online, that I couldn’t have done any better with, so I am linking them both below.

Gonna Dress You Up In My Love:  Four Easy Vinaigrette Recipes To Make Now” – by The Cuisinerd.  They also give a great “Gear for Yo’ Greens Salad Making Tool Box” list!

and

StoneGable Blog and their “Salad Dressing Primer” where they show you the basic “formulas” for making dressings & vinaigrettes.  I am TOTALLY going to try the Caesar & Green Goddess dressing recipes!

Watermelon Vinaigrette - Liv Life

I also was on Facebook the other day, and one of my foodie friends posted a link to this gorgeous Arugula Salad with a Watermelon Vinaigrette from the food blog www.http://livlifetoo.blogspot.com (photo credit to Liv Life) and new cookbook “Vinaigrettes and other Salad Dressings” written by Michele Anna Jordan.  I NEED this dressing & cookbook!

Strawberries

And last, one of my favorite things to do it Pin things on Pinterest!!!  It’s actually been super helpful, researching for this series and my #summersippers cocktail series as well.  One recent Pin, was for this Roast Strawberry Balsamic Dressing, I am dying to make!  Strawberry patches around me will soon by bursting with fresh fruit destined for this dressing!

dressing bottles

So, you don’t have time to make your own dressing and need help narrowing down the overwhelming store-bought varieties?  It’s okay, don’t freak out!  In addition to those I mentioned above, a couple other  favorite lines for us are Newman’s Own Dressings.  I especially like to use the Parmesan & Roasted Garlic to make a killer & quick pasta salad to take to potlucks in the summer.  We also like to buy packets of Kraft-Good Seasons Zesty Italian dressing and then we can add our own favorite oil & vinegar to it.  Store-bought dressings can be expensive as well.  Shop around, read your labels & share with me some of your favorites!

vinegars

Speaking of vinegars, the choices you’ll find at the grocery store can be just as many!  We usually have several varieties of vinegar on hand.  The basic-white distilled, apple cider, rice wine, red wine and then usually a couple different types of balsamic vinegars, like dark, white, fig and/or pear.

Alessi Vinegars

My favorite line of store bought vinegars are Alessi brand.  In researching them online, I found they also make a Ginger Infused Balsamic & a Honey Balsamic vinegar I have to get my hands on!

Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze

Last year, while shopping at Trader Joe’s, I found this.  Balsamic Glaze.  I want to put it on EVERYTHING but what I tend to put it on most, is salads.  It’s great when I want the taste of Balsamic Vinegar, but not the tart.  I’ve put it on little crostini’s with fresh Ricotta cheese.  Or on bruschetta made with roasted grapes, Brie cheese & Rosemary (my homage to Swirl My Wine’s dish I had on my birthday…read on!) A little drizzle goes a long way and, like everything at TJ’s, it might not be available when you go in.  Don’t be mad at me for teasing you.

Stillwater Olive Oil Company

Last summer, I spent my birthday with my sweeties in Afton at Swirl My Wine eating delicious nosh & sipping on cold, sweet glasses of wine.  From there, we headed to Stillwater to walk along the St. Croix River and found this great little shop, the Stillwater Olive Oil Company right on Main St.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul area offers many of these great stores, where you can purchase different varieties of olive oils & vinegars.  At the Stillwater Olive Oil Company, they specialize in imported extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and specialty oils from award-winning artisan and small-run producers around the world. You can sample & browse as long as you need to & offer many different sized vessels to take your purchases home in.  I picked out a bottle of Organic Persian Lime Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon Vinegar.  They were both AMAZING!  It was extremely hard to pick just one of each, but I had to limit myself the first time out!  If you haven’t been, plan a trip soon!

Thanks for reading along today.  I hope I have provided you with some great resources & ideas!  Just remember, a dressing is made to enhance your salad, not take it over!  Plus, many extra calories lie in those creamy, delicious dressings!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken & my #straycat Beatrice….

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The days of January, started slow enough, but as the month wains, the days are seeming to go by quicker & quicker.  I have been up to my elbows in paperwork, getting ready for tax time & trying to get organized.  I love the fresh new year…I love the feeling of a clean slate…I get all fired up to clean out closets, organize drawers & cupboards!  It’s a great way to kick off a new year, isn’t it?  I have been trying to get my food blogging calendar in order as well, but have been cooking in more of a knee-jerk reaction state lately.  I had some chicken breasts pulled out a week or so ago and was wracking my brain with what to do with them.  I am not a big fan of chicken breast.  They are always dry to me, unless swimming in sauce or dressing.  The real flavor lies in the thigh meat!  Anyway, I started my search on Pinterest, where I’ve been playing around lately with my boards and my new business account.  I did a basic search for chicken breast and came up with a million different options.  Then I saw one that was a stuffed breast…oh ya, I have a can of artichoke hearts I have been wanting to use…so I did a new search for “stuffed chicken breasts”.

Sartori Romano Cheese

I saw a few others and then started to think about what I have in my cupboard…sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, a whole bunch of delicious Sartori cheese that I won last month…so I decided to make something a little Mediterranean of sorts!  I didn’t really measure this one…so I will give you a list of what I used, and how I made it, and  you can wing it as well!  It’s a little putzy, so give yourself enough time to put it all together & then bake it before dinner.  Might be a better weekend meal, or get it ready on Sunday, to bake on Monday!  This would serve four hungry humans! 🙂

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breast:

~four skinless, boneless chicken breasts-pounded thin

~a half a pint of white mushrooms, finely diced

~a half an onion, finely diced

~artichoke hearts (I used a half of a can), sliced thinly

~sun-dried tomatoes (I used a jar version, that was already minced), finely sliced

~a small handful (or more) of kalamata (or green) olives, finely sliced

~two good handfuls of fresh spinach/kale

~Pine nuts- as much as you’d like, whole or chopped as you wish

~Sartori Cheese (Romano, Asiago, Parmesan) grated-as much as a half cup or more

~salt, pepper, granulated & chopped garlic, olive oil & butter

~Panko (japanese bread crumbs), 2 eggs-whisked, 1/2 cup flour (seasoned if you choose)

Equipment you’ll need: meat mallet, baking sheet, plastic wrap, sauté pan, big bowl, knife, cutting board, three plates (or pie plates work great) and about 20 toothpicks.

First thing you’ll want to do, is to take your chicken breasts and pat them dry with paper towels and place between plastic wrap, on a clean countertop.  Take a meat mallet, using the smooth side, flatten each breast as much as it will take.  Set the chicken aside on a baking sheet, which makes it easier come rolling time.  Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands and the countertop and any surface that came in contact with the chicken.  Okay, PSA over. 🙂

Preheat a sauté pan and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil & butter.  Then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes alone, then add the mushrooms. I like to season as I go along, so feel free to add salt & pepper to taste.  Once both have nicely browned, scrape onto plate and set aside.  Add a bit more olive oil to your pan, keeping the heat at a nice medium temperature and throw in the spinach/kale and sauté until either wilted (spinach 2-3 minutes) or until the kale has developed a nice green color and is somewhat tender to the bite.  Just before removing from heat, add a tablespoon or so of the fresh chopped garlic and a bit more salt & pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and place on the plate with the mushrooms & onions to cool slightly.

Mise en placeIMG_5897

Using a large bowl, mix together the artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, cheese (save a bit for sprinkling on the chicken & pasta when it comes out of the oven!) and then the mushroom/onion mixture and finally the kale or spinach.  Set aside.  Take out three (pie) plates, add the flour to one, the Panko bread crumbs to another & the last, add the two eggs and whisk to combine the yolk & whites.  You can certainly season any/all of the three with a little salt & pepper.

Here is when, you are gonna want to be organized; preheat your oven to about 325 degrees.  Start by placing the baking sheet with the chicken next to the filling mixture and then flour/egg/Panko to the right of those.  Starting with the chicken, take a good handful of the filling mixture and place in the middle of each breast.  Carefully & tightly wrap/roll each chicken breast together, encasing the mixture in the middle.  Use toothpicks to secure the breast from un-rolling after you finish.  You may need as many as five toothpicks to keep it all together.  Finish the same with all chicken breasts.

Move to the flour/egg/Panko; starting with the flour, dip each stuffed breast in the flour, coating as much of the chicken as possible.  Then move to the egg, doing the same.  Finally coat each stuffed breast fully with the Panko and place back on the baking sheet.

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Place the baking sheet in the oven and you’ll want to keep an eye on it, that the temperature isn’t too high.  You’ll need to cook them for close to an hour, but at about 45 minutes, take them out and temp them, carefully not to go all the way through them, but insert the temperature stick in the widest part of the stuffed chicken.  They’ll need to be at 165 degrees to be safe.  Like with any meat, let it rest a bit once you pull it out of the oven before slicing.  (don’t forget to remove the toothpicks!)

We had these with spaghetti-style pasta, but you can do whatever.  It would be great with polenta or even couscous!  To make a great lemon butter sauce for the pasta and to drizzle a bit on the chicken, in a sauté pan, melt a half a stick (yes, I said that) of butter and once melted, whisk in three (+/-) tablespoons of lemon juice.  Add more pine nuts at the end if you’d like and even a bit of fresh parsley if you have some.  I would even reserve a bit of the pasta water in case you need it to loosen the pasta up a bit.  Sprinkle both the stuffed chicken & pasta with more cheese!  Enjoy!

Beatrice

World, meet Beatrice.  Almost a year old, Beatrice has been living in the woods behind our house.  She came to visit me a little over a week ago, for a few days in a row, just sitting outside my patio door looking in.  Then one day, she showed up, covered in snow, shivering and meowing incessantly.  It was at the moment I knew I had to take action.  So for those of you that don’t know me very well, I am a certified (crazy) cat lady.  Currently, I only have two sweet (boy) cats, Indy & Augie.  But given the opportunity (and space) I would have alot more.  About two years ago, one morning I looked out at my front walkway after it had snowed overnight and saw cat prints.  My first reaction was “oh no, that poor thing, it’s freezing out!”  The next day, they were there again.  So I decided I needed put a bowl of food out.  No, I didn’t think that through very well.  The next morning, the food was gone!  Yea!  So, I started putting out food around the same time every night and watched.  I saw the cat pretty much right away!  The next night, I saw another one.  And then another…and another…eventually I realized I was feeding five cats.  What have I gotten myself into?  So, I continued to feed them until Spring arrived and then cut them off.  Over the summer sometime I was talking to a neighbor about them and he mentioned he was feeding one of them.  Ha!  So, I was off the hook.  Last winter as we all know, was pretty nice, so I didn’t feel so guilty about not putting anything out for them.  And then, in early Spring of last year, I was doing dishes at my kitchen window and saw one of the cats jump up on the deck of my neighbors house who was feeding them.  And then slowly, I see tiny little cat bodies jumping up after the Mama.  Yep, kittens….I think there were five total.  Beatrice is one of those.  Last summer the neighbors down that way, took up a collection and had a mobile unit come out and spay & neuter the kittens.

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So, back to Beatrice.  The neighbor who had been feeding them was on vacation, and other neighbors had been tending to them, but maybe not on the same schedule, so I think that’s why she ventured my direction.  When she showed up that afternoon all shivering, I thought (in my crazy cat lady head) I had to get her inside.  But how to do that, without harming her, myself or my other two cats?  Then I remembered last summer I bought a cat carrier and decided to put some delicious wet cat food in it and see what happens.  Well, she walked right in, obviously, because she was apparently starving.  She then spent the next night in the kennel, in my basement. When I went down there the next morning, reality hit me and I realized I couldn’t just keep her in the box forever.  So I rearranged & cleaned an area in my basement just for her.  I even put up a baby gate (there isn’t a door to that room) thinking that would keep her in and my two out.  Ha!  Apparently feral cats can jump really high…and are stronger than they appear….

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That night, she knocked down a couple of huge closet doors I had propped up against the baby gate.  So, I gave her free reign of the entire basement.  Each day, she’s gotten more & more comfortable with us.  We’ve been letting her come upstairs to roam a bit, putting the other two cats in a room and closing all the doors to bedrooms etc.  She definitely wants to go back outside.  She has this cry that as a mother, makes me want to weep.  I’ve had to continuously remind myself that even though she doesn’t know it, I am trying to help her.  And with the temperatures outside below zero (this morning was -17) I feel much better knowing she’s inside than out there.  I called my neighbor last night who had the Daddy-cat and was trying to get Mama-cat inside as we spoke.  She looks very much like Beatrice & is as afraid of humans as she is!  He said he hadn’t seen the other two siblings, so I offered up my kennel & some wet food to see if he could grab them that night.  Haven’t heard back from him today…fingers crossed!

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So, I am at the point of not knowing what to do.  I need to get her to the vet this week, just to be checked out.  And I had a long talk with my husband, and my gut is telling me she won’t be happy here with us.  She (if staying inside) should be somewhere that is less noisy and maybe without any other animals.  Or, in an environment where she can be outside mostly, but has maybe a barn or something she can go into when it gets really cold.  So, once I have her checked out, I will begin the search to find her a permanent home.  If you, or someone you know, would be interested, let me know.  She’s scared but not mean.  She’s been letting me pet her, but will probably take awhile to get really comfortable with touch.  She actually tenses up when I touch her….poor thing.  Wish me luck getting her back in the kennel for the trip to the vet.  You can follow my updated pictures on Instagram here.  Oh, and last night….she purr’d!  Progress! 🙂

Anyway friends, I hope your year is off to to a great start!  I have more recipes I want to share with you, so I will check back in later this week or next.

Until then, cheers!

Shawn