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Cocktail Infusions

The original craft that Tram planned to bring for the Craft Party was a very cool black and white-painted harlequin pumpkin. She and I looked at several options on Pinterest and we were both quite excited about it.  Then… time passed and well, if you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know that Tram has adorable 7-month old twins, Zak & Zoey. 

Z&Z

Yeah, I know! They are just about the cutest thing on this Earth! And to think that when they start talking up a storm, they will be calling me “Aunt Linda” – I’m super excited about that!

Anyhow, Tram has her hands more than full. As the party approached, I decided to take the pressure off and offer an easier craft option. One that I could help her with and one that was close to her strength. One with coffee! You also probably know that Tram and her husband, Steve, own Press Coffee Roasters.

So… I found some awesome bottles. Here are the bottles we used. Next, I gathered up all the ingredients needed – except some cinnamon sticks, and the coffee, of course, which I left to the expert! Somehow, between the two of us, we came up with the most popular craft at the party.

infussionsPhoto courtesy of Tram Mai

Cocktail Infusions!

And not just one flavor, but three delicious options!

Shopping Notes: All of the dried fruits were purchased at Trader Joe’s.  The whole spices can be found at any grocery store. The brown sugar cubes at Cost Plus and the rock sugar at an Asian market.

They come together in no time and make THE perfect hostess gift for the holidays. Or just a super cool thing for your own bar. Enjoy!

cranberry

To make the Cranberry Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place about 5 of each of the three varieties of cranberries in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 8 white rock sugar pieces. Tear 2 of the large pieces of the dried Mandarin fruit into the bottle.

Return the cork topper and add the Cranberry Infusion label.

 (Trader Joe’s carries at least three varieties of cranberries. All have slightly different coloring and texture, so I bought 3 packages for added interest. You can use just one variety and drop in 15 cranberries of the same type.)

ginger

To make the Ginger-Cardamom Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place 4 pieces of the Crystallized Ginger and 6 pieces of the Uncrystallized Ginger in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 8 white rock sugar pieces. Add 1 tablespoon Cardamom seeds to the bottle. Tear 2 of the large pieces of the dried Mandarin fruit into the bottle.

Return the cork topper and add the Ginger-Cardamom Infusion label.

(Same thing with the ginger. It would be perfectly fine to just use either ginger, but the two add a better look to the bottle with more variety and interest.)

espresso

To make the Espresso Infusion:

Gently remove the cork topper.

Place 2 tablespoons coffee beans (preferably Press Coffee!) in the bottle. Add 2 brown sugar cubes and 6 white rock sugar pieces. Next add 1 piece of vanilla bean (cut a vanilla bean in thirds and just add 1/3 of the bean) plus 1 piece of cinnamon stick, and 3 whole loves.

Return the cork topper and add the Espresso Infusion label.

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October 15, 2014   5 Comments

dinner on the fly

market

I wander through farmer’s markets and produce departments with the best intentions. Squash for a gratin, cucumbers for a dip, apples for a pie, spinach and mushrooms for a salad.  Unfortunately, once I get home and pack it all away in the produce drawers – gratins, dips, pies and salads don’t always get made.

mushrooms

Such was the case with my most recent packages of mushrooms and spinach. The meal that the salad was planned for didn’t happen when we were invited out to dinner with friends, and for some inexplicable reason, I didn’t feel like a spinach salad the next night. OK, honestly, I was too tired to make an entrée and a salad.

spinach

Instead, I combined the ingredients and just made one dish. The result wasn’t especially inspiring, but it did get dinner on the table … with minimal thought, time and effort. Sometimes, one can’t ask for more than that!

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October 8, 2014   2 Comments

pumpkin, butternut and red kuri squash soup

sugar pumpkin

Aaron Chamberlain, co-owner and head chef from St. Francis, recently taught at Les Gourmettes.

butternut

He made this soup, which he simply calls Pumpkin Soup. As you’ll see, it is much more than just pumpkin soup.

red kuri

Aaron uses a combination of squashes to create a more complex flavor. If he wants to call it Pumpkin Soup, so be it. I call it good!

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October 7, 2014   1 Comment

quick chicken pasta dinner

creamy cajun

We’re on a chicken kick at my house. Boneless skinless chicken breast is what I make for dinner when I’m uninspired. Not that that’s a bad thing.

After all, one can’t be creative and “in the mood” to make a “wow” dinner every night!

Even so, this quick and easy pasta dinner put smiles on the family’s faces.

The best part …. even though the cupboards are quite bare … I had everything on hand and didn’t have to make a trip to the grocery store.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

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September 30, 2014   No Comments

accidents happen

This summer, when we were out of town, my full-size freezer in the laundry room was accidentally left open for a day.

oops

It wasn’t all the “openers” fault.

Although the freezer is only a few years old, the seal had come loose and instead of figuring out how to fix it, I used duct tape to keep it closed.

Additionally I had a little chalkboard chef on the front of the freezer who told “would be openers” this:

do not open

“Do NOT OPEN! It is next to impossible to re-shut and keep shut.”

Unfortunately, the “opener” did not see or heed the chalkboard chef’s warning.

Even though I knew of the “freezer-breach” immediately upon my return home, I avoided the freezer and refused to open it and face the music until two months later.

Nearly everything was a loss; homemade chicken and beef stocks, frozen citrus juices, handmade puff pastry, lobster broth, homemade mole, demi-glace, frost-burnt cookies and brownies, and quite a bit of meat. I threw out more chicken breast and chicken thighs than I’d care to mention.

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September 29, 2014   1 Comment

Pumpkin season is upon us!

cookies!

Everyone jumps on the Pumpkin Bandwagon this time of year. Recipe blogs have the best reason to do so! It’s our mission to spread the Pumpkin Joy!

These delicious cookies are inspired by a recipe I found in Better Homes and Garden Magazine.

The first ingredient is scary!

One pound of butter is A LOT!

The upside, if that is possible? The recipe makes 100 cookies. One Hundred – that’s A Lot too.

lined up sheets

Luckily I have enough cookie sheets so I don’t have to use the same sheets over and over. If you do need to use the same sheets, be sure to let them cool completely between batches.

frosted cookies

Plus, I have plenty of cooling racks. One of the advantages of having a cooking school!

I’ve named these cookies “cakey” because of their cake-like texture. I suppose another option could have been to name them “mini-cakes” instead of cookies.

You Decide.

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September 26, 2014   5 Comments

fresh honeycomb in the frame

shelborne honey

In late July, when we were staying at the Shelbourne, in Dublin, we’d have their breakfast buffet each morning. I saw something there that I’ve never seen before. Fresh honeycomb in the frame (direct from the hives) with spoons to help yourself and scoop right off the frame. So Cool!

chocolate covered honey comb

About a week later, at The Ballymaloe House, we were served Fresh Honeycomb Dipped in Chocolate as an after dinner treat. Even Cooler!

I haven’t been able to get either thing off my mind since.

Last Saturday, Sheila invited me to go to Singh Farms (8900 E Thomas – just east of the 101 at the Thomas exit) with her. Their Farmer’s Market won’t be open until late October but their compost yard was open and they were selling herb starts, compost, bat guano, worm castings, fresh eggs …. and honey!

I wondered if they might sell fresh honeycomb in the frame. Sheila encouraged me to ask.

honey frame

I did. And they do! I bought this lovely honey frame (easel not included) for $20.

You don’t have to buy an entire frame of honeycomb to make this recipe. You can purchase fresh honeycomb online HERE and have it delivered right to your door.

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September 23, 2014   2 Comments

a skillet, a slow cooker and the broiler

carnitas

Sometimes I am shocked when I discover the recipes that I have NOT posted on this site in the last five years.

I found a pork shoulder in my freezer and decided that the best thing I could do with it was to make carnitas. I would have sworn, that by now, I would have posted my carnitas recipe. I typed “carnitas” in the search bar over there on the right … No, there was no carnitas to be found. Strange!

crispy browned carnias

In the old days, I’d make carnitas one of two classic ways … deep-frying it in lard (oh my!) or slow roasting it in a hot oven for hours on end (not the best idea in the AZ summer!) … today, I use a slow cooker. OK, not only a slow cooker. Also a skillet at the beginning and a sheet pan, under the broiler, at the end.

The skillet, and a bit of olive oil, is needed at the beginning to brown the meat.  The slow cooker is used in the middle to make the meat fork tender, without heating up the entire kitchen. Finally, the broiler is used for only about 10 minutes at the end to make the pork crispy. Soft meat (which is what the slow cooker produces) does not qualify as carnitas! Below is a photo of some of the meat scrapes from the bottom of the slow cooker, placed in a tortilla. This is what you don’t want! Soft, over shredded, soggy meat. This is not carnitas!

unbrowned over shredded

Even though there are three distinctly different cooking stages, the hands-on time is minimal. Totally worth it! [Read more →]


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September 17, 2014   No Comments

roasted vegetable versatility

IMG_4867

Roasted vegetables are one of the most versatile foodstuffs to have on hand.

IMG_4874

Case in point – I roasted up a bunch of vegetables last week for a meeting I had here at the house.

IMG_4919

I used a few cups of the finished product for mini-pita sandwiches, which were devoured between the meeting attendees and my by guys, after the meeting.

roasted vegetable enchiladas

A couple of nights later I used them to make enchiladas for dinner.

vegetable scramble

And all week long, I added them to scrambled eggs for breakfast.

IMG_4896

No need for the sandwich or egg recipes; just stuff mini-pita halves and warm in a skillet before stirring in a couple beaten eggs. The enchilada recipe is below.

The link for how to roast the veggies has three more recipes using roasted vegetables. The only difference in how I roasted them this time, was instead of using olive oil, I sprayed the foil-lined pans with Pam, placed the vegetables on the foil and then sprayed the vegetables again with Pam before seasoning with salt and pepper and placing in the oven.

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September 16, 2014   2 Comments

nom nom nom

Are you looking for a healthy Meatless Monday meal?

meatless

Move along, this recipe is not for you!

This is decadence at its best!

Oh sure, I used chicken breakfast sausage and soy chorizo …  don’t let that fool you, this is not a healthy, low-fat, low-cal recipe. It is deliciousness to the max!

soy

Are you still with me?

Good… Enjoy!

The recipe makes two skillets of Queso. It is best to do this in two small 8-inch cast iron skillets, as it is best eaten hot from the oven.

A larger skillet would allow the queso to cool and harden, which is exactly what we don’t want! It’s best while hot and melty.

queso fundido

Now you don’t have to use cast iron, but look how good it looks! You just need to make sure your skillets are oven-safe, meaning the handle won’t melt. If your skillet is not oven-safe, or if you’re not sure, just wrap the handle with at least 3 layers of foil… now it’s oven-safe and ready to rock and roll!

Assemble both skillets at the same time, cover one and place in the refrigerator until the other is about gone (This is guaranteed to happen within minutes of being placed in front of a hungry group!) then pop the second in the oven.

nom nom

Hungry Queso fans will be hanging around the oven, waiting for it to come out… that’s fine, it takes less than 10 minutes to bake.

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September 15, 2014   2 Comments