First of all, when it comes to cocktail parties you don't want to be slaving over the stove while you are entertaining a dozen guests. So everything I choose to prepare was make-ahead so that I could just pop 'em in the oven at the last minute.
In the hours before everyone arrived, I made these things, wrapped them in plastic wrap, wrote the time and temp in marker on the plastic wrap (so I wouldn't have to get the recipes out again when everyone was over), and stuck them all in the basement fridge. I took them out of the fridge about 45 minutes before it was time to heat them up so that I wasn't putting cold stuff in the oven.
Almond Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates
First off, a classic with a twist. Everyone loves Bacon Wrapped Dates. I switched them up by stuffing an almond in them.
1/4 piece of bacon per date (I had long bacon, you might want to bump this up to 1/3 to 1/2 piece per date if your bacon is shorter than mine)
1 raw almond per date
Start by stuffing almonds into each date. Assembly line baby!
Lay out your bacon strips and drop a date on each one
Roll 'em up and poke each one through with a toothpick
Wrap a cookie sheet in foil and place your skewered dates on the sheet.
At this point you can wrap them up and stick 'em in the fridge.
Take them out of the fridge about 45 minutes before it's time to eat 'em.
Put them in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp. These are actually a good thing to put in the oven with other things because they can pretty much go in at any temperature so long as you watch them and take them out when the bacon is done.
And after you let your friends eat most of them they look like this. What crappy presentation huh?
Goat Cheese with Sauteed Garlic and Herbs in Olive Oil
This is my new favorite last minute appetizer to make. It takes roughly 5 minutes to throw together and it is HEAVENLY!!!!
Log of Goat Cheese (The number of people you are serving will dictate the size of the log. I used about 6 oz)
Chopped fresh herbs (Rosemary, thyme, sage, etc.)
Chopped fresh basil
Take your goat cheese out of the fridge at least 20-30 minutes before serving to soften it.
Mince your garlic and herbs ahead of time. Put the garlic and all of the herbs except for the basil in one prep bowl and the basil in another. Refrigerate these till it's time to go.
In a small skillet heat up a bunch of olive oil. Maybe 1/2 cup or so? Enough to dip lots of crusty bread in!
Toss in the garlic and all of the fresh herbs EXCEPT for the basil
Sauté everything for about 5 minutes until everything is deliciously fragrant.
Plop your goat cheese in a serving dish and pour the hot olive oil herb mixture right on top.
NOW it's time for the basil, sprinkle it in and watch it kind of deep fry itself in the hot oil. This part is what makes the dish I think... oh wait, maybe it's the goat cheese... or the perfect olive oil... or the garlic? What are you waiting for, make this already!
Serve with a big basket of toasted crusty bread and then watch it disappear. Because it is heaven on earth.
Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms
I'm going to have trouble with this recipe... because I just kept tossing stuff in until it looked good... So I guess I'll tell you what I put in them and just trust you to eyeball it, I think it would be pretty hard to go wrong.
2 cartons of portabella mushrooms
dried bread crumbs
grated pecorino romano cheese
chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Also, butter to saute mushrooms.
De-stem and clean all of your mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Save about 1/2 the stems and dice them up.
Toss the diced stems in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients in whatever proportions you feel like and stir it all up.
Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pan and when it's good and hot and melted throw in the mushrooms. Saute for a minute or two, then flip them over and get the other side so they are basically totally covered in melted butter.
Place all of the mushrooms in an oven proof dish and then spoon some of your mixture in each one
At this point you can cover in plastic and throw it in the fridge until your guests arrive. Write this on the plastic wrap in a sharpie: 400 degrees, 20 minutes
But keep an eye on them when they're in the oven and take them out whenever they look done.
I'm pretty worthless for providing an accurate, repeatable recipe, huh?
Ok, I didn't totally copy it. I made the following modifications
Out of guilt for possibly giving my guests a heart-attack with the other recipes, I used Low-Fat Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, and Mayo.
But then I went and doubled the cheddar cheese.... oops.
And the rest of the stuff I didn't take pictures of but I also offered a large tray of crudités & humus as well as a dish of Ikea's Swedish Meatballs (by the time I walked over to the table to take a picture of them there were only 2 left... and I did take a picture of those two, it just came out horribly).
And with all of this heating up of food I only burnt my hand once! (Picking up the cast iron enameled lid of the Dutch oven holding the meatballs with my bare hand)
I'm proud to say there was not a single bite of any of these appetizers left!
Adam and I scored tickets to the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, WI (where we got engaged!) So on St. Patrick's Day, we took the day off of work and headed up to Madison.
Our first stop was at the Yahara Bay distillery where we were greeted by the owner's step son who offered us samples of two of their Gins, Vodka, Aged Rum, Apple Brandy, and Limoncello.
We loved all of it (And how it was made from local ingredients like Washinton Island Juniper berries and Wisconsin grown honeycrisp apples). We took home two bottles of Gin, 1 bottle of Apple Brandy (wish we got more!), and he tossed in a small bottle of the aged rum since it wasn't available for sale.
Then it was off to lunch at our favorite Madison restaurant, The Old Fashioned. (Where we split cheese curds, a cheese burger, and beer cheese soup since we were worried we might not get enough cheese later).
After that we headed over to Middleton to visit Capital Brewery but on the way, Adam insisted we stop at the Mustard Museum.
This place has a "museum" downstairs filled with old bottles of mustard from all over the world. Upstairs, there are more bottles from all over the world but you can actually buy those.
Even Meijer's brand has a place on the shelves of the museum.
The store upstairs:
The sun was shining and we were looking forward to enjoying the unseasonably beautiful weather so we made our way to Capital Brewery, grabbed a few beers and enjoyed them in their Bier Garten. And I was worried it might be crowded :P
Finally it was time to check into our hotel so we could get on with the main event!
For $20 we got to spend 2 hours sampling cheese from across the globe. There were 15 international cheeses and 11 Wisconsin Cheese Makers for a total of about 35-40 different cheeses! We got there early, and they let us in early so I got to snap a bunch of picture of undisturbed cheese.
Get ready for some cheese overload!
This booth was run by Fromagination (right across the street from the Capital). They had a 12, 10, and 5 year Cheddar from Hook's. We heard whispers that they had a 15 year in their store so we stopped on the way home to pick some up. But at $60 a pound we only spray for a quarter pound :)
The Japanese Umami Gouda below on the right here was one of Adam's favorites.
Check out the coolers. Wouldn't you die to roll one of these cheese filled puppies into your basement?
Besides all of the delicious cheeses, there were also appetizers:
So, what was our best in show? It would be this 8 year from Widmer's.
We went back and forth between this one and Hook's 12 year most of the night. Ultimately, we decided the 8 year had the better flavor.
Probably one of the best $20 we've ever spent (except for the way we felt the next day, LOL).
The other day, I sent Adam to the grocery store. He came back with 5 (yes I said 5) Corned Beef's.
He wanted to make 4 pastrami's and (save one to cook the regular way St. Patty's Day way). I thought I'd show you all his method.
Start by giving the corned beef a nice ice water bath for about an hour. This helps to remove some of the salt since it basically comes in a brine.
Then give them a nice rub down with a mixture of coarse freshly ground pepper and coarse freshly ground coriander (which is one of the best smells known to man)
Heat up the smoker to 225 degrees. Add the pastrami in two layers.
About 5 hours later (when the internal temperature of the meat gets up to 165) you take the meat out.
Wrap it up in tin foil to maintain the heat and put in an un-iced cooler for a few hours. At this point you can eat it but for easiest cutting, refrigerate overnight.
The next day, you can cut that beautiful pastrami as thinly as possible.
And just keep going. Obviously we aren't eating all of these at once but it's easier to freeze pre-sliced pastrami in standard servicing sized portions. We used a Food Saver to pack them securely and air-tight in the freezer.
But first we slapped some swiss cheese on rye bread and made some delicious grilled Pastrami sandwiches for dinner.
So as a recap. Pastrami = smoked corned beef. It's time consuming but super easy. Give it a shot next time corned beef goes on sale. (so.... next March 14th or so)
Next up in my series of recipes from our latest cocktail party: Maraschino Brandied Cherries. But first, how about a history lesson?
Maraschino cherries started out as a delicacy for royalty and the wealthy. They were such a treat, served only at the finest bars and restaurants! They were produced by soaking wild sour marasca cherries in maraschino liquer (which does not taste like cherries. It is made from the pit of the marasca cherries so it tastes more like almonds).
They made their way over to the states in the late 19th century and by the early 20th, people were trying to come up with more frugal ways to make them so that everyone could have them. These knock-offs had to be labeled as "imitation" though. Eventually Mr. Ernest H. Wiegand (a professor of horticulture) figured out how to use sodium metabisulfite to preserve the cherries (because of Prohibition, alcohol couldn't be used), and thus that horrible dark time where booze was illegal birthed those day-glo red cherries you'll find all over the place today. And ever since 1940, "maraschino cherries" have been defined as "cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup [sic] flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor".
LOL! (They left out the part where they bleach them first, and then dye them red).
Well once we'd learned all this, we decided we needed to try the real thing.
We'd looked up the cost of buying real Maraschino Cherries like the ones that Luxardo sells. But they were almost $20 for a jar. Ok granted, these don't wind up being much cheaper but we made them ourselves!!! I decided to combine 2 recipes. This one for Maraschino Cherries and this one for Brandied Cherries.
Brandied Maraschino Cherries
1 jar of Trader Joe's Morello Cherries in light syrup (This one is 24 oz. You are looking for a more sour preserved cherry)
1/2 Cup Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 Cup Brandy
1/2 Cup evaporated (raw) cane sugar
Strain the cherries, pouring all of the liquid into a small saucepan
Put the strained cherries in an airtight jar.
Bring to a boil and add the sugar. Stir (so it doesn't burn) until the sugar is dissolved and then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Let cool
Add the cherry syrup, luxardo, and brandy to the jar. Top off with more luxardo as needed to fill the jar.
Let sit overnight and store in the refrigerator.
The next day, your cherries will be ready and will keep for quite some time in the fridge. Once they're ready, how about a classic cocktail to go along with it?
We're gonna make a Manhattan!
2oz Rye (or Bourbon) Whiskey. (We used Bulleit Bourbon which contains Rye)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes bitters (Angostura or Old Fashioned Aromatic)
1 brandied maraschino cherry
Chill cocktail glass.
In a mixing glass, combine whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.
Add ice and gently stir the drink (NO SHAKING!!!! You'll bruise the spirits and get a cloudy drink)
Drop the cherry into the bottom of the chilled glass and strain cocktail over the cherry.
When you finish the drink, offer the boozy cherry to your special lady friend.
Meet my new favorite soda mixer. As I've mentioned before, I'm a Club Soda fiend. And thanks to my new SodaStream, I get to make club soda at home whenever the heck I want it.
And if you think I don't make it every night you don't know me at all :P
My other favorite thing is ginger. A few years ago, we saw Miss Flighty whip up a batch of this thing she calls Ginger Sugar and our cocktail party seemed the perfect opportunity to try it out.
This recipe isn't exactly how Miss Flighty makes it but we adapted it to meet our tastes.
Ginger Cardamom Syrup
1 pound of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 1/3 cup green cardamom pods* 2 cinnamon sticks** 2.5-3 cups raw cane sugar (depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have)*** 3 cups water
* You can find green cardamom in Indian stores or the Indian food aisle of a good grocery store ** Try to use real cinnamon sticks (look for the label to say Ceylon. Most of what you find at the store is actually Cassia - we got ours at a speciality spice store) *** I found mine at Trader Joes. You can substitute regular sugar though if you can't find it.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil Add ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom and let simmer for 15 minutes Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Seriously, keep stirring, don't let it burn! Let it simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring periodically. Let cool completely.
Now you have some choices. Whatever you decide, toss out the cinnamon sticks. They'll just fall apart and make a mess.
You can strain the mixture and just keep the syrup, or you can do like we did and keep it all together so that you can dish our some of the ginger and cardamom in each glass as a garnish.
Store it in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (if it lasts that long!).
If you are a ginger ale fan, you have to make this syrup! Add a tablespoon or two to a glass of club soda and you have fresh homemade ginger ale in a few seconds that is better than anything you could buy at the store! Sooooo refreshing!
But of course, this syrup is also perfect in cocktails so expect some of those recipes very soon!
There's so many different trends out there in the digi-scrapping world but I remain a bit of a traditionalist. I like simple designs with the focus on the photos. I'm more of an event scrapper than anything. That's why double-page sketches really tickle my fancy. You can display lots of pictures in big and bold style :)
We didn't have anything exciting going on this weekend so at the last minute we rounded up whoever was around and hosted a big cocktail party. Over the next few days I'll be sharing some of our appetizer, syrup, garnish, and drink recipes that we whipped together for about 15 folks this Saturday.
In the meantime, here are some of the party goers.
Thomas is inspecting one of the 2 bottles of Absinthe that people brought to share.
Erin and Kristin squeezed 2 bags of lemons to make ginger-mint lemonade. Which they then deemed too sour so we made them into cocktails instead:
By adding bourbon to the ginger-mint lemonade concoction we had drinks a plenty for a good hour.
Dave and Hugh sample some Absinthe Drips
Everybody gathering in the kitchen to whip up more drinks.
Dave contributed an ice cream cake to the party. We decided it needed a candle but with no birthdays to celebrate we dedicated it to Kristin's doodlebonger.
Dave eats his piece right off of the butchers knife we used to cut the cake.
Me and my favorite girl
Brent & Anj keeping the couch warm. Where are your cocktails?
So stay tuned for some amazing recipes. I'll start with the garnishes and syrups!
Figuring that tonight's episode of Lost would feature a bloodbath or two, I told Adam we had to make our cocktails with blood oranges that I picked up yesterday.
I'll spare you the gigantic mess squeezing these puppies created and just share the drinks they yielded.
Not much of a recipe here. It's just Blood Orange juice shaken with Tito's Handmade Vodka. Sure was tasty though!
One of our basement bathroom closets has been out of commission for about 8 months now so as boring as these pictures are, it's a huge accomplishment in this house.
Last July, the linen closet in our basement looked like this:
We'd already taken the shelves down at this point because we needed to get inside of that wall.
Shortly there after, all of the drywall was ripped out of this closet and it had been completely non-functional ever since.
While the closet was torn apart, the basement guest bedroom floor looked like this:
mm... now that's a guest room to be proud of!
Anyway, with the summer, and then vacations, and then Christmas, and then more vacations, and lots of work in between, we hadn't really had time to deal with this closet but over the last few weeks, Adam finally tackled it! He re-drywalled, re-hung the shelves, and re-organized not just this closet, but the one next door to it too!
He even doubled the depth of the shelves in here!
It's very exciting :) You should see the guest room floor now! Soooo clean!
And look how he re-hung the shelves and organized the 8 million paint cans in the electrical closet next to this one!
I'm feeling some major organizational zen in the basement bathroom right now - of course it just makes me even more eager to call up my kitchen contractors and ask them to tackle this bathroom and remodel the entire thing... but we won't tell Adam that...