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Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Like many that love to cook, I have a vast array of cook books. It’s an incomplete collection, constantly growing and evolving. Some of my favorites have been bestowed upon me by my mom, who also has a vast collection of cookbooks and recipes.

A couple of  birthdays ago Mom gave me a couple of great cookbooks that she found at a local home collective, one of those being The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I flicked through it a few times and dog eared some pages for future reference, but didn’t do a whole lot other than make some killer fried rice. Well, a few weeks ago I was paging through it while exploring the idea of an internet-search-free month of cooking (which I think I’m going to do, should be fun!). I un-dog eared a few pages and turned down a few different ones for things that are our ‘restaurant favorites’, now that we don’t have a Chinese resto within 15 miles of home (what the what? how’s a girl supposed to get a fix?!). We have a good one two towns south of here, but unless I’m already there I probably won’t make a special trip too often.

With the sadness of my dearly departed greasy Chinese joints (I used to live across the street from one of them and have fond memories of takeout and Sapporos and Sex and the City with a pal of mine), I decided to deploy some of the stuff I found in this book. The techniques that I learned in it made for superb fried rice, so what the hell, said I, let’s try some more.

One thing I love at most Chinese joints is really good Sweet and Sour Chicken. The bad stuff is bad to say the least, all that Red No. 5 and MSG and the 5 lbs of sugar and all. But when it’s done well, and is actually sweet AND sour it’s so, so good.

Granted, there’s still sugar in the sauce recipe but you can sub for honey if you have some, or brown sugar which is really tasty too. And spread out between 4 servings, it’s not that much sugar per capita.  The ingredients couldn’t be simpler and for me are things I always have on hand, so a batch of the sauce + whatever vegetables are in the crisper + a boneless skinless chicken breast + a pot of rice = dinner for 4 in less than no time. Less than the time it takes to order and pick up/have delivered your takeaway of choice. And I know there are a lot of recipes that claim this status, but this one means it.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 4 as a single main, 6 if you throw in some frozen egg rolls or pot stickers, and makes great leftovers.

First, start a pot of rice, make a cup and a half (dry), using your favorite method. I like white rice with my Chinese food, and make mine on the stove top in a 2:1 water to rice ratio for 20 minutes, and this whole recipe comes together for me in about that time. But use your rice cooker, or boil and rinse method, whatever method you prefer. Start it early unless you’re using parboiled rice.

Sweet and Sour Sauce, adapted from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook

3/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar, honey, or brown sugar
1/2 c. rice wine vinegar (or regular distilled white or apple cider, whatever you have)
1 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch
3 T. water

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add in vinegar and sweetener of choice, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir together soy, cornstarch and remaining 3 T. water and add to vinegar mixture, stir until thickened. Set aside.

Chicken and Veggies

1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces, AND/OR
1 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces,
1/2 yellow onion, cut down the poles (top to root end), cut into thin half moon slices
1 1/2 c. pineapple chunks, preferably fresh but drained, canned chunks will work too
4 green onions, sliced into 1″ pieces
Canola oil, for frying (don’t use olive oil here, it doesn’t have a high enough smoke point and tastes icky when it gets this hot)

Cut up all vegetables and chicken and set aside. Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan over high heat until SMOKING HOT. Add in 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil, swirl around the pan, and add in the chicken. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes, letting the outside of the chicken brown a bit and get crispy, and remove from pan. Add another teaspoon of oil, add in onions and stir fry for a minutes. Add in bell pepper of choice and pineapple, and stir fry for two minutes or until all vegetables/fruits are starting to char. Throw the chicken back in the pan, pour sauce over, add green onions and cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot rice.

Little Rituals

Little Rituals

It’s happening.

I thought it was about to last weekend, but Monday I knew for sure.

You see, the summer sun shines DIRECTLY into our bedroom window, as bright and cheerful (or as hot and menacing) as the summer sun should be.  It fills our bedroom with early morning brightness that you just can’t deny, and makes me smile and want to greet the day with open arms, up and at ‘em. The air outside on those mornings is already pleasantly warm and smells like everything that’s ripening in our valley.

Now, though, the sun has shifted just a couple of degrees, behind a valley oak across the way that’s larger than life. I’ve awakened each morning of the past week thinking that it was overcast, only to find most mornings that it’s sunny and a little hazy on the hills. It’s getting light a little later, getting dark a little earlier. And when I walked outside on Monday morning, the air was crisp and cool enough that I needed a jacket. And this morning, just this morning, I smelled a wood fire burning in someone’s hearth.

Autumn is creeping in.

On my way to work on Monday, I saw the telltale spill of an overladen grape truck on a sharp corner, a smattering of green grapes so fresh to the pavement that they were not yet smashed by oncoming traffic, littering the ground like glittering jade. And that evening I saw in the paper that “Harvest Has Started!”, with the first grapes (Sauvignon Blanc for those keeping score) harvested in a vineyard in my sweet little hamlet.

You all know it’s my favorite season. Baking, cooking dressing up, wearing boots, decorating my house, changing my pillows and throws out to be more cozy and fall. Wearing socks. Drinking hot tea and warming cocktails, having a fire in my (now dearly departed) fireplace. Harvest parties. Pumpkin carving. The smell of the year’s grapes  being crushed to make wine, and the subsequent start of fermentation lingering in the air. The vineyards changing from lush green to fiery autumn dresses (and for my East coast readers who think that Californians don’t know Fall colors, well, you have no idea if you’ve never been in Sonoma County for the changing of the guard). I want it. I can smell it. It makes my pulse quicken and I want to put all my sundresses away. Bring it on.

And though this is Labor Day weekend, the supposed ‘last weekend of summer,’ I’m using at least one of the days to get out my cute Fall decorations and cheer up my little house. We’re doing all of the proper Labor Day salutes, including barbecuing and going tubing down the river and giving summer a good last hurrah, but my I’m also starting my little Fall rituals too.

You can’t stop me!

What I’ll Miss Most

What I’ll Miss Most

~ Finishing my chores early so I can take myself on a picnic and read all afternoon.

~ The spontaneous feeling of baking a pie,  just because I have the time.

~ This face, my little buddy, all day long. I’ll miss Ted all day while I’m away, miss him following me from room to room as I move through my day.

~ Sewing an entire dress start to finish because, well, I have the time.

~ The time, the time, the time.

I’m headed back to work on Tuesday. It’s bittersweet: I’m so excited to be working again, to have that surrounding sense of camaraderie within my fellow workers. I’m looking forward to sharpening my skill set in sales, and to culminate my long training in a sales-type atmosphere. I’m looking forward to having a bit of a schedule again, and to having more folding money (folding money is always a nice thing to have).

I’m going to miss so much, though. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of having an extended period of time away from a traditional office setting. Your days are your own, but I found myself quite busy each day. Errands to run, a house to clean, dinner to make, sewing to accomplish. Life is too busy to work, I don’t know how we fit it all in to one little 24 hour day, a single 7 day week. I understand why we’re all so stressed, why disconnecting is so important, why Keeping Up With the Joneses isn’t necessarily good for us. Trust me, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But once you’re over there, well, it takes an awful lot of maintenance to keep that grass green, evenly mowed, and upkept. Sometimes having a yard full of crabgrass isn’t so bad. You get me?

I’m thankful for my respite, my sabbatical. my sweet summer of unfettered, unstructured fun. I’ve learned a lot in the last few months: what it takes to live, what we can live without, and what we would spend money and time and worry on that Just. Wasn’t. Worth it. I’m recharged and revalued and relaxed. And I’m ready to learn and take on a new, sort of scary position in a company whose industry I know little about. It’s going to be a vertical learning curve. It’s going to be tough. And it’s going to be wonderful.

Forgive me, though, if I go astray for a bit. I promise I’ll come back, like I always do. My brains are going to be filled with the brim, and our dinners are going to be mundane (read: glorified frozen pizzas) for a period. Finding my sea legs in the wide world of work is going to be a task; please remind me that it will get easier!

And so, off I go into the work world. Like I said, I’ll be back to report my adventures, hopefully sooner than later. Wish me luck….

Peeking and Peaking

Peeking and Peaking

I’m conflicted these days. I want it to be Fall so bad that I’m already getting in to my woolen and winter fabric stash to stitch up some skirts to wear with boots, I’m already thinking about where all of my autumn decorations will live around our new house. I’ve been peeking into my decoration boxes and longing to see my old friends in them. I’m ready for warm days, cool nights, boots and shorter days.

On the other hand, summer is just peaking. My tomatoes haven’t hardly begun to ripen and my plants are laden with them. My zucchini is ready for takeoff. The grapes on the vines are just barely starting to variegate, as Nick and I noticed on a walk yesterday morning. I’m still having a love affair with peaches and stone fruits. My tummy wants pot pie and chicken and dumplings but is still charmed by large dinner salads chock-full of the season’s bounty.

See? Conflicted. My want for Fall will have to wait, we’ve got lots of summer left to enjoy, and the the weather couldn’t be better. There’s camping to do, swimming to be swum, and lots of warm nights ahead. And to celebrate the month of August that is suddenly upon us, I propose this beautiful salad. It comes together quick and like many of my recipes it’s nice enough for company. The shining star is the candied nuts, nice and sweet with just a little bit of heat to compliment the nectarines. The dressing is nice and fresh and light, letting the brightness of the flavors shine through without smothering them.

Grilled Chicken and Nectarine Salads
Serves 4

1/3 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. roughly chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 t. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. canola oil
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 t. honey
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 T. Herbs de Provence
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 T. Herbs de Provence
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
6 c. herb salad mix, spring greens, or torn leaf lettuce
2 nectarines, pitted and sliced
4 green onions, chopped
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

For Candied Walnuts: Place sugar in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until sugar dissolves, stirring gently as needed to dissolve sugar evenly (about 1 minute). Continue cooking 1 minute or until golden (do not stir). Remove from heat; carefully stir in cayenne pepper and nuts to coat evenly. Spread nuts on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; separate nuts quickly. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside until cool; break into small pieces.

For vinaigrette: combine 1/4 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. cider vinegar, 1/2 t. salt and 1 T. Herbs de Provence in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to combine, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Prepare chicken: combine Herbs de Provence, chicken breasts, 1 T. olive oil and 1/2 t. salt in a shallow dish, marinate for 1/2 hour to 1 hour. Grill chicken over medium-high heat (gas grill) or medium-hot coals (charcoal grill) until 180*F, 15-20 minutes total. Remove to cutting board and tent.

Assemble salad: Place greens in a large bowl, shake up and drizzle on 1/3 of the dressing and toss well to coat. Divide dressed greens between 4 dinner plates. Slice chicken against grain and divide between plates. Divide nectarine slices, green onions, candied walnuts and goat cheese between plates. Drizzle a scant tablespoon of dressing over each of the completed salads, top with a crack of fresh ground pepper and a pinch of salt if desired, serve with additional dressing on the side.

A day worth celebrating

A day worth celebrating

OK, so those of you who are regular morning tea drinkers, in lieu of coffee, may want to skip this one.

The rest of you lot, who are slaves to the bean as I am, should read on.

My recent bout of unemployed bliss has made me rethink and recalculate my everyday spending, even more than before (I am awfully thrifty by nature). There are no more afternoon coffees after my prepaid coffee card is empty, no more frozen yogurt just because it’s nice outside. Luxuries like this must be foregone, those pennies add up. And as it happens, this morning the coffee maker died. DIED. Rolled over into a ditch and heats no more. Thank heavens I have a french press in our camping box (don’t judge) or it was going to get ugly in a hurry around here.  I’m also thankful that we ended up having room in our new house for the camping equipment, otherwise instead of writing to you I’d be headed to the storage locker in town right now.

You think I’m kidding.

My favorite coffee shop in town has this drink that is, oh, around $4.75 apiece and worth every stinking penny. Made with two shots of house roasted, fair trade espresso, a healthy spoonful of sweetened condensed milk, and topped with a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg, it’s exotic and tasty and just a little more festive than my usual double dry cappuccino. I never even sweeten my coffee but this is different. A handful of years ago, a roommate and I used to drink them with reckless abandon, either warm or on the rocks, until I remembered what a can of condensed milk, even the organic brand, costs.

For the record: a single can, not on sale, even from the little organic overpriced grocer, is less than $4, any day of the week. One single can has enough servings of this beverage in it to send anyone into a diabetic coma.

She and I quickly got onto this bandwagon of stirring in a stout spoonful into our morning joe at the apartment, on an almost everyday basis (everyday is a day worth celebrating, and life’s too short!). And then we stopped abruptly after reading the back of the can. Yikes.

Anyway. If you need a pick me up, a way to spoil yourself, or a fancy coffee to share with a friend one afternoon, and you happen to have a can of condensed milk laying around (or bottle, did you know Trader Joe’s has it in squeeze bottles?), then try this. It’s so easy, so decadent, and makes any day a day worth celebrating.

No real recipe here. Fill your favorite fancy coffee mug with hot joe. Add in a healthy tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk, and swirl around until it melts off of the spoon. Top with a fresh grate of nutmeg, sit back, and enjoy. That easy.

Racing for the Finish Line

Racing for the Finish Line

I keep telling myself that my life is going to slow down. I’ll have more time for crafts, for sewing, for ANYTHING that isn’t chore related, work related, or school related. So far, my busy life isn’t getting any less so and feels like it’s racing for some unseen finish line.

Make it stop.

School is about half over for the semester and I’m doing pretty well (by my own standards at least, we haven’t had a test yet). I’m taking my bookkeeping class for personal gain and not a letter grade, so I’ve removed my self-inflicted MUST GET AN ‘A’ pressure of perfection. We’re finally completely moved out of our old house (someone remind me the next time we move that we are going to do so when I don’t have a blackout period at work), we cleaned it yesterday and Nick is getting the final bits and pieces out today while I do homework and laundry here in Downtown Wine Country. I need to make chicken stock out of last week’s chicken (and a subsequent pot of soup for work this week), I have clothes to put away and more boxes to unpack, which, I’ll be honest with you, I’m saving them for next weekend. I’ve had just about enough moving, thankyouverymuch.

In between everything else that we’ve been doing I’ve been trying to make sure that we’re eating well and Read the rest of this entry

Dare I say, wholesome

Dare I say, wholesome

OK, so 2012 read my letter and things are looking up. I guess communication is key with a year, just like it is for the rest of us. Wish I would have thought of this a long time ago, but with age comes wisdom, I suppose.

It’s been a long week, as I’m sure many of you agree. It’s so hard to get back to Normal Everyday Life after the holiday season. The house seems stark, the world doesn’t have that low glow from all of the extra well-placed lighting, the cookies are gone and we’re all resolving to work out, lose weight, get our collective lives together, etc. Having a 5 day work week after a couple of short ones (or after a vacation, as many people do) is the longest 5 days of your life. Who’s with me?

I met one of my mini goals and signed up for swim lessons at my gym. I had my swim assessment with the instructor the other day and I’m glad to report that 1) she didn’t think that I swam like a drowning muppet, and 2) my heart didn’t explode from the extreme workout that was getting to the opposite end of the pool and back. Hey man, don’t judge: the pool at my gym is olympic sized, and when you’re swimming like you mean it, it’s a lot of work to haul yourself down and back. I normally swim on my back and let my, er, endowments do the heavy lifting. Swimming on my stomach like a normal person means I’m working against buoyancy and trying not to drown.

It was hard work. I’m proud of myself. I have my first swim class next week.

We’re working on moving. Anyone that knows us outside of this blog knows that our home is adorable and well placed but that we’re over it. We’ve been looking hard, have put our energy into the universe, and have found some good things. Are we moving yet? No. Will we soon? Yes. When we find a place and get moved in, you will be the first to know. I’m taking the Goldilocks approach and it needs to be just right. Here’s hoping.

I’m eating better with a new approach to food and life and weight loss. I feel better physically than I have in a long time, and for the first time I’m not cutting anything out to do this. I still eat bread, I still eat cheese, I still eat sweets and bacon and pasta. No I’m not stumping for Weight Watchers or something. Go read this blog. Tell me this woman isn’t inspiring.

Anyway. I made some nice light chicken and dumplings for dinner (and yes it’s possible, I’ll tell you later) but I’ve been nice to myself and allowing myself a sweet every now and again. Outside of the holiday season and staff birthdays at the office, I don’t eat a lot of sweets. So many years of hearing that sugar and anything to do with it is bad turns a girl off. And I used to sit down with a scoop of ice cream with my dad Every. Single. Night. as a child. Without fail. He doesn’t hardly eat ice cream at all anymore, and I’m pretty safe in saying I haven’t had a scoop of ice cream in over a year. True story.

I got a bee in my bonnet this week, though, and had an idea. A friend of ours is pregnant, and was eating Peanut Butter Cheerios. Did you ever? I’ve never heard of them either. I immediately dreamed of them in Krispie Treat format with chocolate and butterscotch chips stirred in. I went to the store on my way home to make this happen. I never, ever do this with sweets but I Had A Dream.

A dream that was dashed in the aisle of the grocery store, unfortunately. Our local mart doesn’t carry the elusive Peanut Butter Cheerio. I was heartbroken. I walked the length of the aisle 4 times looking to see if they had them somewhere other than where the rest of the Cheerio family lived, maybe on an end cap? No dice. No dice, and no PB Cheerios.

I almost walked out but my need was too deep. I thought about chocolate Cheerios but ugh, chocolate? I didn’t know why they sounded so much more false than peanut butter but they did. Apple cinnamon? No too much. I’ve never eaten a plain Cheerio in all of my days on this planet, so this certainly wasn’t a time to test drive them. I walked out with a box of honey nut Cheerios, a bag of marshmallows and a bunch of tulips (impulse buy).

And tonight, those Cheerios mingled with the melted marshmallow/butter mixture, and the dregs of the bags of dried cranberries, dried cherries, a couple handfuls of dry roasted peanuts, and a half a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. No real recipe here. Make them the same way you’d make your rice krispie treats, but sub in your favorite cereal. Or, like my mom did when I was a kid, use the bottoms of a couple of waning bags of cereal to make up the full number of cups needed for your treat recipe. That simple.

And, Cheerios make this entirely more healthy, more filling and more robust than the krispie version. Dare I say that the fruit and nuts make this wholesome? However you slice it, they’re really, really tasty. And just one crispy square made me so, so happy.

 

Dashing Through

Dashing Through

Holy Holiday Season! Right now, and I mean right now, almost everyone I know is getting to fever pitch with their holiday madness. Gotta finish Christmas shopping, gotta get my gifts wrapped, gotta get the tree up, gotta get my cookies made, gotta gotta GOTTA.

Hold it right there Buster, just for a second. What you gotta do is eat.

I know, who has time for eating? ‘I’ll grab something on my way from Here to There.’ And then you get There and you forgot to stop. And if you did stop, you probably drove through and ordered something that doesn’t even qualify as food, and stuffed it in your gullet in between phone calls. This, my friends, doesn’t count as a meal. Wilty lettuce does NOT count as a vegetable. And on top of the non-food aspect of it, this low-quality nosh is not enough to fortify your shopping/wrapping/baking/decorating adventures. All it will do is give you an upset stomach that rumbles mercilessly while you stand in the cash register queue. All you can hope for after the long, sideways stares from those around you in line is that they will step aside and let you go first because the monster in your tummy might break out any second. But as we both know, NO ONE steps aside in line during this season. There is very little Christmas cheer running around the after-work shopping crowd, stomach monsters or not. And no, you don’t have any antacids in your bag.

Let’s spare ourselves this embarrassment as well as the air quality of those around us, and eat a little bit better. Let’s take the few minutes it takes to whip up this little ditty of a dish, and be pleased that we treated ourselves to a healthy dinner. I promise, you have time, and you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Sauteed Kale and Eggs over Toast

Serves 2

4 slices of bacon (not having bacon around is not a deal breaker! Just skip it if don’t have it/don’t want it!)
1/2 bunch of Tuscan kale, center ribs removed and coarsely chopped (total of about 5 cups, loosely packed)
3 cloves of garlic, or one fat shallot, minced
1 T. olive oil, divided (we used this one)
Salt and Pepper, maybe some crushed red chili flakes if you’re up for it
4 eggs
2-4 slices of bread (we usually use thick slices of french bread, but any kind will do here)

Preheat a large nonstick or cast-iron pan (pick one that has a tight fitting lid if you have one) over medium heat. Throw in your bacon slices and cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan wipe all of the grease out. Yes, all of it.

Place the pan back over the medium burner, and add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Saute the garlic or shallots until they’re soft and fragrant, and then add in the kale. Saute the kale until it’s wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper (and red chili flakes, if you’d like).

Make 4 shallow wells around the edges of the pan, pushing the kale aside to do so. Crack one egg in each of the 4 wells, top with a pinch of salt and pepper, and clap the lid on tight (No lid? Use a sturdy wooden cutting board or a plate that fits over the pan. I won’t tell!). Reduce the heat to medium low and cook eggs for about 4-5 minutes (longer if you like your yolks and whites a bit more set, but keep an eye on them).

While your eggs are cooking, toast your bread slices under the broiler. When they’re toasted to your liking on both sides, remove from the broiler and brush just a bit of that remaining olive oil on one side of the toast. Divide the toast and bacon between two plates, and top with the egg/kale skillet. Squirt on a little hot sauce if you’d like, Sriracha is KILLER with this if you have a bottle.

Poinsettas and Trees

Poinsettas and Trees

Ah, Saturday. And a special one at that, today’s the day we get our Christmas tree. The holiday (and tree) season is my very, very favorite for so many reasons:

  • The happy smiles on people’s faces that only this time of year brings (and it’s a shame they can’t be this nice year round)
  • The warm, happy, twinkling glow of the lights on the tree
  • Getting to light extra candles against the early evening
  • The glow of those candles
  • Fireside cocktails
  • The return of crab season (yes!) on the North Coast
  • The smell of cider (or wine) mulling away on the stove
  • Endless pots of soup
  • Holiday cookies!

Ordinarily I’d drop in something about the nip in the air and bundling up to go pick out the Christmas tree, but I’ll be honest: It was 74 degrees yesterday and today isn’t very far behind. I’ll be performing my annual Electrical Contracting duties of stringing the tree lights in a sundress today, folks. It’s just not right but I really can’t complain. We have all of the colors on the grapevines still for fall color, the leaves are all but gone from the trees out front, but my Meyer lemon tree is loaded and ready to pick too after the warm snap. Lemon drops, anyone?

Not tonight, though. Tonight we’re drinking Poinsettias while we decorate the tree. Champagne while tree decorating in an annual tradition in our house, though we are quick to open a bottle of bubbles on any ol’ night (because every day is a day worth celebrating).

A Poinsettia is a drink of my own design (so far as I know at least, so if you came up with it first I’m really sorry), to be made as follows:

Poinsettia, Serves One

Slice an orange wedge, and run the fruit around the edge of a champagne flute or coupe (we are coupe people around our house these days). Dip the rim of the glass in green cookie sugar. Pour yourself a glass of champagne, prosecco or Cava, about 3/4 full. top off with a hearty splash of Cranberry Cordial. Sip and feel merry.

Cranberry Cordial is another tradition around here, which my Granma started a few years back. The first year she made it I wasn’t old enough to drink it, but had a sip of the bottle she gave my parents. It’s a great aperitif, sipped ice cold from a teensy little glass. It’ll make your lips pucker just a little and your mouth water. It’s not for everyone when sipped straight, but poured into a glass of bubbles (or shaken up with some vodka and lime juice) it makes for a festive beverage

One caveat, though: the cordial has to sit for 22 days or it is entirely undrinkable (think bright red cleaning fluid). When allowed to mellow for the 22+ days, it mellows enough to be lovely. Seeing as today is the 3rd and all, if you whip up a batch today you can drink it on Christmas. Think of it as an early gift from me to you and yours.

Cranberry Cordial

From Martha Stewart

In a large jar with a tight filling lid, combine:

2 cups of chopped cranberries (deploy your food processor here if you have one)
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of Vodka (save the top-shelf for a martini, it’s wasted here)

Top with the lid and give it a couple of hearty shakes, to dissolve the sugar. Keep it out of direct sunlight at room temperature and shake every day or so for the 22 days. Strain into bottles. You can either toss the cranberries, or I would think it would be a killer addition to banana or zucchini bread. If you mike this and do something festive with the strained out cranberries, let me know!

Hearthside Happy Hour

Hearthside Happy Hour

Man, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you guys, missed my blog. I have a lot of fun stuff to catch you all up on! Let’s have a drink and chat about it.

I’m learning to love bourbon this year. We made a couple of cocktails this summer that called for it, and who doesn’t love an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan every now and again? I’ve loved these retro cocktails for many years, long before they became trendy. Prior to my flirtation with bourbon, I was deep in to brandy. I like to believe the resurgence of the Sidecar movement was my doing.

When we have friends in for dinner, the Good Hostess in me dictates that they should be greeted with a smile, offered a seat in a conversational area, there should be background music and a cocktail on the horizon. The Good Hostess in my head is always my grandmother, actually. I come from hearty hostessing stock, and a long line of great ones. My mom is a great hostess, my aunt is a great hostess, and I have heard stories my whole life about Mom’s aunt and uncle who used to throw epic cocktail parties in the 60′s. I would give just about anything to have attended.

Tonight, like most Saturdays, we’re having friends in for dinner. The weather is gorgeous and warm so we’ll eat on the patio under the rapidly-shedding tree, we’ll grill our pork roast instead of roasting it, a fat pan of spicy macaroni and cheese, and we’ll have antipasti and this tasty drink while we wait for dinner. If it decides to cool off early, or if dinner takes us into the shade of the evening we’ll get out the fire pit and some light throws. I know I’m blessed to call this a typical Saturday evening.

I had something similar to this drink a while ago in a little bar with my mom one sultry March afternoon (yes, it gets that way around here. We’re generally blessed by good weather in the wine country). We had been shopping for something that afternoon that was wedding related, though what has escaped me. Now that I think about it, I think it was the day we ordered my wedding dress. We stopped for a cocktail on our way back in to town, and ended up having more than one after the bartender made a round for some folks that didn’t stick around to drink them (who DOES that?). Rather than toss them, he passed them on to the two of us (who are never one to balk at a free adult beverage). One of them was a freshly pressed apple cider with a yummy brown liquor, and a homemade cinnamon sugar apple chip floating on the top. It was SO good, but I never asked for the recipe.

The other day on Pinterest I saw a post for a drink that was two parts cider, two parts bourbon, and one part ginger ale. It immediately reminded me of that drink in the sweet antique glass with the apple chip. I searched around for an apple chip recipe, bought a bottle of Bulleit, and made it happen. Nick and I made one and decided it needed some zip, and a squeeze of Meyer lemon did the trick perfectly. Served up or on the rocks they are equally tasty. I like the looks of a drink served up, though:

This tastes like fall. And they go down dangerously easy, so be sure to serve these early and don’t let anyone drive anywhere for a while. I’ve been unsuccessful so far in coming up with a name for this libation: Apple Smash came to mind but I know there’s another with that name already. Apple… something. I’m sure we’ll come up with something fitting after the first round. We always do.