The saying goes: April Showers Bring May Flowers…well, May is going to be blooming because it is definitely showering around here. When the weather is like this, I think there is only one drink that feels appropriate: A Dark and Stormy.
The Dark and Stormy is a simple cocktail made up of only three ingredients, but it packs a big punch! The drink consists of lime juice, ginger beer, and dark rum. You float each layer on top of the next, ending with the rum to create a stormy atmosphere in a glass. The lime is tart, the ginger beer is spicy and the rum serves up sweet molasses notes for the perfect spring cocktail.
In a highball glass (that’s the long skinny one) add the lime juice, add ice, then begin to layer ginger beer and finally, the rum. Garnish with a lime twist or wedge. Cheers!
In my constant quest to combine the two things I love the most: booze and baked goods, the Dark and Stormy seemed like the perfect marriage. Ginger has a natural place in the dessert world, and rum has the right balance of sweetness to glaze a cake perfectly. I went back to my favorite bundt cake for this month’s Boozy Baking installment. I made a ginger and lime bundt cake with a rum glaze. I candied lime on the top for a delicious and bright bit of decoration. Here’s the recipe below!
Ingredients for cake:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for pan)
2 tablespoons grated lime zest
⅓ cup minced candied ginger (it’s really important that the ginger is minced very well, otherwise it will sink to the bottom of the cake)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 large eggs
1 cup greek yogurt (fat is your friend, in this case)
Ingredients for the glaze:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
⅓ cup Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
⅓ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour bundt pan
In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until white and fluffy
Whisk together flour, lime zest, ginger, salt and baking soda
To creamed butter mixture, add eggs one at a time, beat well after each addition
Alternately add flour mixture in 3, and greek yogurt in 2. Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
Spoon mixture into prepared pan, create a level surface
Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Wait at least 15 minutes before turning out cake onto cooling rack. Once cake has cooled completely, pour over glaze.
Melt butter in small sauce pan
Add rum, lime juice and sugar
Stirring constantly bring glaze to a simmer to thicken slightly
Candied lime is optional, and sort of a pain in the ass to do, but it definitely makes for a pretty topping. Here’s instructions on how to do it, because nobody does it better than Martha. Cheers and Ciao!
The calendar tells me that it’s spring. However, here in Ohio, “spring” could mean a myriad of things. It could mean rain, it could mean 80 degrees, it could even mean snow. When I was younger I used to spend spring break in Florida, we’d get home, pull into the driveway and see that our tulips had bloomed… and then died of frost. Unfortunately adulthood ensures that I never get to celebrate spring break, so I have to endure the seasons’ “awkward phase” where it doesn’t know what the hell it wants to do. But, I know what I want to do…I want to sit on a god damn patio and drink a god damn cocktail. So, until the weather makes up its mind and decides to be sunny and 70 degrees, I will just be over here wishing for spring and the delightful drinks that come with it. Here are my favorite things to sip on:
Rosé season is my favorite time of year. Seriously, I don’t care a single bit about Christmas or my birthday…all I care about is the newest batches of rosé are being bottled and I get to drink them. But also, because I’m basic, I like a good wine spritzer. Spritzers are great drinks for warm weather (and compliment a hangover perfectly!) So combine these two delightful things and you’ve got yourself a rosé spritzer. True to form, I’ve gussied it up a bit:
6 oz. Dry Rosé (not white zinfandel, I’m serious…throw that away immediately)
The elderflower tonic adds nice bubbles, a little touch of sweetness and lovely floral note to your wine. Once rosé season really kicks off, I’ll be listing off my favorites for the year, but in the meantime I poured myself a glass of Italian rosé, known as Chiaretto.
I’m not a huge beer drinker, more often than not I’ll opt for a cocktail or a glass of wine, but if I’m out at a very casual restaurant enjoying “bar food,” beer is my drink of choice. I recently tried Rhinegeist’s Bubbles Cider and I have become obsessed. Highlighted with flavors of peach and cranberry, this cider drinks sweet, almost like a sangria. But it’s got a crisp tartness that I love. One sip of this and you’ll be feeling that Spring in your step, guaranteed.
Something about those first few warm days of spring makes me want to sit out on a patio, and sip on something fancy. My sister Natalie created this cocktail that sings of spring and is definitely worthy of a long night on a patio, and a basket of chips and salsa. We call it a “Cosmopolita” because it’s all the cosmo fixings, but with tequila in place of vodka. Because tequila is delicious and vodka is boring.
2 oz. silver tequila
½ oz. Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
½ oz. Lime juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
1 oz. cranberry
More than an ounce of cranberry and your drink turns red instead of pink, and I’m not sure if you’ve sensed a theme here…but apparently in spring I only drink pink. So, now I hope you’re all very thirsty and ready to sit outside with a glass of wine…and possibly a parka. Ciao!
I’m a bad blogger. I didn’t post anything last week. It’s a lame excuse, but the truth is, I just got busy. I didn’t find the time to write, which sucks. The thing I did manage to do, however, was make dinner for my sister, my brother-in-law, and my husband to celebrate Tim’s birthday.
It’s a tradition in our family to make the birthday boy or girl’s favorite meal to celebrate their day. The problem is, that excluding my sister (Natalie) and her husband (Jack), everyone else in my family hates, and I mean HATES Tim’s favorite meal: Chicken Tika Masala. My dad lived in England for a little while as a young adult and got burnt out on curry, fair enough. And the rest of my family doesn’t like “spicy food,” which is a damn shame, because it’s divine.
We celebrated Tim’s birthday with the rest of the family separately. The four of us, however, broke naan and ate delicious curry. We drank a big ass bottle of Schramsberg (my favorite, as you know), ate cake and ice cream, played cards and laughed a whole lot. It was the kind of cozy night in, with a big bowl of food and good people, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside; and it got me thinking about why I love food so much.
How cool is it that food can not only nourish your body, but your soul? How amazing that food is a part of a person’s history, and a person’s future. How lucky are we that food is something that we can create memories around? Food brings people together, it becomes a conversation starter, and at least for me, I associate times of happiness around meals that I eat.
Several years back one of my uncles put together a cookbook full of Vella and Sbarra (my paternal grandmother’s maiden name) recipes. When it comes time to do some real Italian, soul cooking, I turn to this book. This book includes our family meatball recipe, stuffed squid, anchovy sauce…all the really good shit. Some recipes haven’t been made since my grandma passed away, and that just can’t be. I want my family food recipes to live on through the generations, so I’ve decided to cook my way through my family cookbook. Food and family are one in the same to me, and I think that will make my grandma Jo very proud.
Also, some of these recipes need some serious work. Me thinks a few of my relatives were sipping too much vermouth when they wrote “Put in Oven and Bake.” Ok, Uncle Nick, I get it…but for how long, and at what temp? Or my favorite recipe for our the Christmas Eel: “Peel Skin, put on pan, broil.”
So in the process of letting my grandmother’s cooking legacy live on, and making delicious food, I’ll also be giving the cookbook a much needed edit. I hope you’ll join me on my family food journey, and we’ll share some seriously good eats and some serious fun working out the Vella-vagueness of the recipes. Ciao!
My parents used to throw lots of parties. I remember watching my mom float around the kitchen cooking and setting up, delicious smells filling the air. I’d peek through the banister as guests entered the house, smiling and laughing. I’d trot downstairs in my pj’s and sneak a few snacks with my sisters. My parents made it look so effortless and adulty, I couldn’t wait to grow up and throw parties like my mom and dad. Flash forward 20 years, and it’s now something I take great pleasure in.
I love having my friends gathered around the table, drinking wine, and having fun. What I’ve learned though, is while my parents made it look easy, there’s quite a bit of work involved. Hosting a party requires organization, lots of planning, and even more attention to detail. Back when I used to plan events for a living, inevitably something would slip through the cracks and I would learn quickly never to make that mistake again next time. The same goes for hosting in your home. There’s a million ways to make sure your party goes right, and here’s just a few tips to ensure your friends have a blast, and there are no party fouls.
1) Make your guests feel comfortable by taking out the guess work
Make your guests feel comfortable…duh. This seems obvious, right? But this is more than welcoming your guests in with a smile, and offering them a drink right away. This requires the attention to detail I’m talking about. This means having a predetermined spot for your guests’ coats to collect. This means having enough seats for every butt. This means having glassware sitting out and drinks readily accessible. You never want your guest to ask “Where should I put my coat” or “Can I get a glass of water.” Have all of this stuff accessible for them ahead of time. If you want your guests to use a coaster, make sure there are coasters out already. If you want them to help themselves to food, have the buffet ready to go. If you’re having a sit down dinner, have place cards set up so there’s no awkward moment of telling people where to sit. Your guests come over to your house to relax and enjoy, so let them do just that and take out all of the possible guess work.
2) Stage everything out strategically
When I was an event planner I would walk around the event space and pretend to fill my plate up at the buffet and then walk to my table, or pretend to stand in line at the bar so I could map out where everything fits and what will work. I recommend doing the same at home. Of course, you know your own home like the back of your hand, and chances are you’ve carried a plate of food from the kitchen to in front of the couch, but I find it beneficial to map out where everything will go and how your guests will get around. If you’re staging a buffet, it’s good to anticipate where the buffet will start and end. You may think it makes sense initially going left to right, but find that one area will get really congested and block space to the bar. Again, you want to make your guests feel at ease, and the smoother your service goes, the better.
3) Make it feel fancy
You don’t have to serve caviar from the Caspian Sea to show your friends a luxurious time, but if you’ve already taken the steps to work through every detail, why not go the extra mile and add a little flourish here and there. For example, flowers brighten up party and add a little or a lot of drama depending on the arrangement. But my favorite way to spruce up a party for your guests is in the bathroom. When we have guests over, we keep our guest bathroom stocked with some comfort items that friends can put to good use. We have hairspray, hand lotion, dental floss and the best and most important item of the bunch: Poo-Pouri. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial, you spray Poo-Pouri over the toilet before you go numbero dos, and it completely masks the smell of your business. It’s a miracle product, and when a guest goes into our bathroom it either makes them laugh, puts them at ease, or both. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than having to go at a party, and being worried that someone else is going to get a whiff. So maybe you don’t want your friends feeling SO comfortable at your house that they are ready to do that in your bathroom, but as my mother would say “When you’re window is open, there is no stopping it.” So at least you’ve made your friends’ party poopy experience stress free.
When it comes to party planning, the devil is in the details. Keep in mind these three steps to give good host, and your friends will be able to focus solely on how good of a time they are having…no stinky bathrooms, awkward moments, or long buffet lines will stand in their way! Cheers and Ciao!
I am not a big whiskey gal. Believe me, I would feel a lot cooler if I was. In college I was super basic and drank vodka tonics all night long (Or double vods tons as my more obnoxious self would call them.) Then when both my taste buds and my taste level grew up, I moved on to gin. When I drink liquor, I drink gin. I personally like a good old martini, but I have one and I’m done for the night. When going out with friends, it’s best not to get sloshed after one cocktail. I’m learning, and trying to turn on to the flavors of whiskey so I have something to sip on.
Here in Dayton we are lucky enough to have one of the top bourbon bars in the country, and when you visit The Century Bar it’s your Daytonian duty to drink one of the hundreds of different bourbons they offer. This is how I got turned onto Old Fashioneds. The Old Fashioned is the perfect cocktail for a whiskey newbie because it still has a touch of sweetness to override the whiskey burn. Plus, you look almost as cool as Don Draper when you drink it…almost.
Now, picture me inching my spectacles up the bridge of my nose when I tell you that over the course of cocktail history, Old Fashioneds have evolved with different preparations and garnishes. While today’s version is not technically the original cocktail preparation, the recipe I’m about to give you has become the norm and widely enjoyed:
2 oz. whiskey (I like rye whiskeys, but the choice is up to you!)
¼ oz. simple syrup
2-3 dashes angostura bitters
2 Luxardo Cherries
In rocks glass, muddle together orange slice, cherries, simple syrup and bitters. Pour whiskey on top, add ice and enjoy like the ladies and gentleman that you are. It’s that simple.
Now, because drinking in the morning is not acceptable in our society, but breakfast pastries are, I decided to see if I could combine the two. So, without further adieu, this month’s boozy baking: Old Fashioned Scones.
I start with orange and cherry scones, which are slightly sweet, bright and citrusy. The glaze on the scones is where it gets boozy, plenty of whiskey, a few dashes of bitters and more orange juice. The glaze offers up the nice whiskey bite, with some sweetness from the orange. The bitters are optional (in the baking, not the drink), but I think it provides the glaze with a nice round flavor. Recipe below! Happy Baking and even Happier Boozing!
Old Fashioned Scones:
(Makes 12 scones)
2 ½ cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
Zest from 1 orange (about 1 Tbsp, but feel free to add more for a brighter flavor)
1 stick butter, cold, diced
2 large eggs
½ cup heavy whipping cream (plus extra for brushing)
1 cup dried cherries
4 Tbsp melted butter
1 ½ cups confectioners sugar
Juice from 1 orange
¼ cup whiskey
8-10 dashes angostura bitters (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest.
Add butter pieces and cut butter into the mixture until you have small coarse crumbs. (I’ve found that a pair of kitchen scissors is the easiest way to go, otherwise two knives will work.)
Toss in dried cherries and stir to coat.
Whisk together the eggs and heavy cream. Pour into dry mixture and stir until just combined.
Flour a dry surface, turn out dough and form into a round disk, about ¾” thick. Cut into 12 equally sized wedges. Brush with more heavy whipping cream.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden.
While scones are baking, over medium heat, melt butter.
Add confectioners sugar, whiskey, bitters and orange juice.
Whisk until combined. Let it come to a simmer, but not a boil.
With another large baking sheet, put cooling racks on top. Cool scones slightly, then pour glaze on top. Once glaze has stopped dripping off a bit, gather the glaze that has collected on the baking sheet, and continue process until scones are glazed to your liking.
Every winter Tim and I head out of town for the weekend to a snowy (sometimes) cabin in the woods. We sleep in, drink coffee in the hot tub, spend the day hiking, enjoy a proper cocktail hour and go to bed early. We stare at each other instead of our phones, and we have one rule: no TV. The reality is, the cabin we always stay in is tiny and sort of a shit hole, but it’s rustic, relaxing, and we love it.
The only heat source is an old wood burning oven, which Tim guards over as it fulfills his base, prehistoric instinct to provide warmth. The only cooking source is a toaster oven, and it feeds my prehistoric urge to eat perfectly toasted carbohydrates. It also gives me the opportunity to menu plan, which aside from napping and drinking, is my favorite thing to do. We hit the road, settled into our cabin in the wilderness and I prepared breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack with only a toaster oven, the way nature intended!
We arrived at the cabin around 5:00 on Friday night, and knew we had a big hike ahead of us the next day, so we didn’t want to eat anything too heavy. When we want to eat something substantial, but relatively light, I like to make Chicken Caesar Salads.
Ahead of time, I made Chrissy Teigen’s Sriracha Caesar Dressing. I try to stay away from celebrity cookbooks, but she is impossible to hate, her recipes are simple and whimsical, and she’s hilarious. The cookbook is worth it just for her witty recipe introductions.
So – the dressing was made, I had all the fixings in tow, now I just needed to make the chicken. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous to make chicken in a toaster oven. Chicken is a bird you don’t mess with, dead or alive. I cranked up the toaster oven to 450 degrees, sprinkled the chicken with salt, pepper and minced garlic, lightly coated it in olive oil, set the timer for 20 minutes, and crossed my fingers. The toaster’s timer went off (about a glass and a half of wine later) and I tiptoed over to the kitchen, half expecting to see to a raw chicken breast sneering at me, but alas it was cooked through! It was garlicky, and juicy; the toaster oven god’s had shined down upon me!
While the chicken was resting, I cut up the romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes and shaved the Parmesan cheese. Then I turned down the oven a bit and threw in some nice, crusty sesame bread for croutons. Before the croutons hit the toaster they were tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes because mama likes her salads spicy. (Apparently I’m referring to myself as mama?)
Then, since I’m working on this thing where I try not to be fat, I’ve been eating vegetables…so boring, I know. Anyway, I chopped up some zucchini, more olive oil, red pepper, salt, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and threw those bad boys in the toaster oven next to the croutons. Just about 10 minutes for each and voila! A light meal, made almost entirely in the toaster oven, enjoyed next to a cozy fire, with a good bottle of wine. We went to bed around 11:00 (which is very good for this night owl!) I went to bed dreaming of coffee and breakfast in the morning…
Tim and I have this thing when we go on vacations, we have to have bagels and lox. The first two nights of our honeymoon we stayed in a hotel with one of the nicest breakfasts I have ever seen. It also came with a hefty price tag, but I obnoxiously told everyone that we were on our honeymoon in an effort to get free shit, and of course it worked. We had a complimentary and very bouji breakfast. Every morning, Tim and I sat in a corner booth, sipping espresso and going back for seconds (and thirds) of their smoked salmon buffet. As we made our way to our next destination on our honeymoon we decided to keep the lox train rolling…and on and on it went. For 8 blissful days we ate bagels and lox. So now, whenever we travel, even just to a cabin a few hours away, we always enjoy savory everything bagels, onion cream cheese, and smoked wild caught salmon. So, this weekend breakfast was a no brainer, and wasn’t that complicated: I toasted the bagels to a golden brown and added capers, onion, and tomatoes. Oh, and coffee…of course. Always coffee!
Tim and I got back from our 4 mile hike, which was gorgeous, strenuous and included one person’s (cough, mine) boot breaking with a mile left to go. I got my hiking boots when I was a sophomore in high school, and apparently the glue holding the sole on has a 15 year expiration date. I felt like I was Cheryl Strayed in Wild – except for all the devastation and personal turmoil…but I did come pretty close to throwing my boot into the gorge.
Anyway, when we returned in the late afternoon we were teetering towards hanger (and by we, I mean me) so it was time to get cooking. I bought a few kinds of spicy Italian deli meats, provolone cheese, and sandwich rolls. I spread a nice zesty mustard on the bread, piled on the sandwich fixing and let the toaster oven take care of making them ooey gooey, and greasy in all the right ways. We also housed a bag of Skinny Pop Popcorn, but hanger will do that to a girl.
The post-hike dip in the hot tub turned into a long, lazy nap in front of the fireplace. I woke up at 5:00, more commonly referred to as cocktail hour. I popped open a bottle of bubbly and set about getting some snacks on the table. We had a smattering of olives to nibble on, but the piece de resistance was my toaster oven creation. Prior to leaving town, I made my favorite garlicky hummus: chick peas, olive oil, cumin, tahini lemon, and garlic (of course) blended until smooth. I decided to jazz up the hummus appetizer with some roasted cauliflower. I cut up the florets into small pieces, tossed them in olive oil, garlic and the ever present red pepper flakes. I put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 350. The veggies were then added on top of the hummus with a healthy dose of chopped parsley. The vegetal additions added a nice, spicy, warm texture to the hummus and ensured that Timmy and I swapped some very garlicky smooches the rest of the night.
The meal possibilities in a toaster oven are endless. If you can successfully bake chicken, I’d say you can do just about anything in there. It’s a miracle machine, and while I only use it once a year at the cabin, I look forward to coming up with new creations every time. What are your favorite toaster oven recipes? Here’s to relaxing weekends, fighting off hanger, and to lots of toasty treats! Cheers and Ciao!
If there is one thing I didn’t expect about food blogging, it was the expense. Take for example my Gilmore Girls inspired day of eating. Not only did that day take it’s toll on my digestive system, it also hurt my wallet. Or my salmon nicoise adventure, and the $30 salmon filets. Ouch, that one really stung. As I am gearing up for lots of food and alcohol consumption, then even more food and alcohol writing, I decided it would be prudent to start exhibiting some skills of a functioning adult, read: budgeting.
Because many of the things I’m cooking or drinking require a trip to a speciality store, the costs can really add up. With that in mind, I have put together some tips and tricks (which are mostly just common sense, but shhhh…) to smart grocery shopping.
1) Plan Your Meals
Meal planning has become a buzz phrase, and synonymous with healthy eating, but it also makes good sense. We are all guilty of it: you get to the grocery store, look around the produce aisle and then say “hmmmm…what should I eat for dinner this week.” Then you end up piling produce, meats, and cheeses into your cart aimlessly. By the time you get to the register you have maybe compiled a few meals, but chances are you’ll still end up with a ton of waste.
I like to go to grocery shopping on Tuesday nights, which means on Monday night I’m typically scrolling through Pinterest, Cooking Light (my fave), and my other cookbooks for meal inspiration. Then I catalog what I’m going to make for the week: “Okay, Wednesday we’re having chicken and polenta, Thursday we’ll have sausage and peppers, Friday and Saturday nights we’ll go out to eat, but Saturday breakfast, I’ll make a frittata. Sunday I’ll make homemade pizzas, and Monday we’re going to have chicken caesar salads.” The next step brings me to point number 2.
2) Make a List
I never thought I was a really organized person until I started meal planning. I cannot lie…the way I write my grocery lists is a little neurotic. If in 100 years, archeologists dig up my grocery lists the only thing they’ll have to say is “Wow, that bitch was anal.”
I start with an ingredient list for each meal I plan to prepare. So let’s take my weekly plan for meals above:
Hot Italian sausage
Assorted bell peppers
Boneless chicken breasts
Bread for croutons
Judging me yet…? Oh, just you wait. Next, I take my list and break it down into sections like: Produce, Dairy, Meat, Inside aisles, etc. (See picture of a different, but similar grocery list below) This is also the time where I add on my staple items, or the things I know we will go through and I purchase every week, like milk, coffee, yogurt, sandwich meat, etc.
I add these items onto the list because it keeps me consistent, I won’t forget anything, and I stick to what’s on my list and only that. Which brings me to…
3) Stick to the List
Impulse purchases are another quick way to rack up a hefty bill. If you’ve planned everything out, and you know what you’re going to eat for the week, then there really shouldn’t be any surprises when you are pulling out your wallet. Here’s a few ways to ensure that you don’t stray too far from your intended purchases (a list within a list, I told you guys, I am a maverick):
Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry – I have a really funny story involving a weed brownie, a grocery trip, and spending the equivalent of a month’s rent…but it wouldn’t be appropriate here. The point is…if you’re starving while you shop, everything is going to sound good to you. You’ll get home and wonder who the hell put pop tarts, cheese puffs, 13 frozen meals and a box of extra butter popcorn in your cart. Have a snack before you go, and save yourself $50, it’s that simple.
When I find myself sliding off the rails and reaching for the chocolate, I often stop and ask myself “Is it healthy?” “Is it processed?” “Can I cross utilize it between meals?” Chances are, it’s not healthy, it is processed, and the cheesy garlic crackers cannot be served for breakfast lunch and dinner. Done…step away from the crackers. The wine aisle is the only exception to this rule…you can always always buy wine.
4) Shop Seasonally
It’s February, which means you should not be buying corn and tomatoes. When you buy produce that is out of season, it’s probably being shipped from another country making it way more expensive and way less delicious. Nothing tastes as good as a nectarine picked in June, or that first crisp pear in September. Lucky for all of you basic bitches, avocados are always in season, so no need to fret about that. (who am I kidding, avocado toast is delicious.)
Ok – so sticking to a plan and staying on budget isn’t brain surgery, but sometimes it helps to have a few basic ideas to keep you organized and on the money. Happy shopping!