Cinco de Mayo Margaritas!

It would really be a shame if you only made these margaritas today. I am hoping that you will enjoy them all weekend long. Heck, all summer long and then perhaps into fall. Or maybe for Christmas Eve. This will be your new favorite marg recipe for sure. I like to think of myself as somewhat of a marg connesiour of sorts. Not that there is a licensing committe that has relegated this honor upon me or anything, but let’s just say that the margarita and I? We have been around the block a few times. That block has gotten progressively  blurry a few times, but that doesn’t matter, does it?

Now if you are still using that awful pre-made mix to which you just add tequila? Or even worse,  the ones with the tequila already mixed in? You need to move into the new milennium. Really people, those are packed with sugar and artificial colors and flavors. Not that I mind those things when I am eating an Oreo, mind you. But for the love of all that is good….take a few steps and make it a bit more fresh. You won’t regret it! Here’s what you need to get people hanging from the chandeliers make this recipe!

1 Container of Minutemaid Limeade (found in the freezer section of most grocery stores, and not the itty bitty ones)

Tequila (not the Jose Hornitos kind, either)

Triple Sec

2 fresh limes

Gran Marinier (this will set you back a few but lasts forever and is fully responsible for the awesomeness of this drink)

Salt (optional)

Okay. Salt the rim of your glasses if you like. And if not, I will just call you wussy. No, that’s fine….some of my most upstanding friends like their margs saltless! I don’t judge. Keep limeade mix in freezer till ready to party use. Take out one half of mix and reserve in a different container. Empty other half into blender. Fill half way again with tequila. (I use Jose Gold, but if you are packin’ the Patron, more power to ya!) Fill one quarter full with Triple Sec and add. Squeeze juice of both limes in blender as well. Fill to the brim with ice. Mix will be thick, but softens to a loveliness over just a few minutes. Here’s the key!!! Pay attention. Don’t drink yet! Slowly drizzle some Gran Marinier over the top of each drink. Now taste. Aha! Who’s your momma now? Wait, don’t answer that! I am only two peoples’ mama. That I know for sure. Okay, drink up, put on some Tito Cruz and get dancin’!

How to Create the Perfect Cheese Platter

If there is one thing that I always have at every gathering it’s a delicious, rich, cheese platter.  I am not talking about the mixed cheese cubes you buy at the grocery, heavens no! For a couple of bucks more I like to wow my guests with a variety of cheeses that are gone before we get to the appetizers.

What types of cheese do I serve?  Here is the low down on the types, costs and the reasons I think you should serve a cheese platter too.

Goat Cheese: This is a simple cheese that has a rich and tangy taste with a smooth crumbly texture.  It pairs well with crackers and preserves.  My favorite way to pair goat cheese is with raspberry preserves.  You’ll find it wrapped in a 4-8oz log and it is very affordable.  Look for a pristine white color when buying your goat cheese.

Cheddar Cheese: You won’t find soft mild cheddar meant for sandwiches on my platter.  Cheddar is everyone’s favorite cheese, so why not move on up to something fancier?  A nice aged cheddar will bring plenty of flavor to your platter.  I also like an English-style cheddar but if you don’t find it you can get the Vermont aged.  Cheddar goes great with apple slices.

Blue Cheese: Embrace the funk.  The “moldy” blues might scare some people but if it wasn’t good they wouldn’t make an entire dressing to celebrate it!  Oh how I love blue cheese.  My grandmother used to cook it with so many things!  I love blue cheese paired with cherry tomatoes.  If you want something milder and sweeter try Gorgonzola cheese.

Sheep Cheese: Haven’t heard of it? You are really missing out!  Being that I am from Spain I grew up with Manchego cheese on every sandwich, salad, cheese platter… Manchego everywhere!  Look for “curado” or “aged” for a stronger sharper cheese.  Aged Manchego is firm and salty while the young milder Manchego is softer and sweeter (great for grilled cheese sandwiches).

Triple Creme Cheese: Say hello to my favorite cheese! Brie! This cheese is ultra rich and its triple cream cousins will melt in your mouth they are so delicious!   Triple cream usually means around 75% butterfat but the Brie comes in at a leaner 45%.  Do yourself a favor and don’t get reduced fat versions; they are rubbery and not as decadent.

How to put together a good platter?  Grab a variety of each cheese and find something to pair it with.  Not every cheese should be eaten with crackers so it’s ok to serve alongside fruit (grapes), bread, or nuts.

Enjoy!

 

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Cool Weather Calls for Chili

Just when I think I can’t HANDLE the truth regarding the change of seasons in Phoenix (cue Jack Nicholson voice); we get a cold front that upends us all and has us running from our cars into the already busy Starbucks to get some piping hot concoction that will make up 1/4 of our daily allotment of calories, (THANK YOU VERY MUCH EGG NOGG LATTE!). Wow, what a long sentence that was! I digress. It’s been cold here, and I actually kind of love it. I refuse to complain about it, I just wear more clothes on my morning runs. Every morning for the past week, the temp has started with a 3, as in 36, 38, 34, 33, etc. This morning, NYC and Phoenix were the same temperature, according to Syrie. Syrie is the new woman in my husband’s life. Syrie, if you don’t know and haven’t heard, is the voice of all authority and knowledge in the iphone, and lately, well she has been answering a lot of his questions. He kind of crushes on Syrie. I refuse to worry until she figures out how to make his favorite Penne alla Vodka, or until he starts wondering what she looks like “in real life.” Back off Syrie!

One of my favorite things to make, as it cools down, is an assortment of soups and chilis. I have some great white bean chili, some chicken chili and the like. But sometimes, nothing beats a good ole’ fashioned meat and bean chili with a little kick, and this one fits the bill. I also like to bake, pick up some fresh Sourdough bread for dipping, but you can go with whatever tickles your fancy, or just eat it plain. The kids will love it too. On a side note, it looks like you are adding a LOT of cayenne, but with the heartiness of the tomatoes and beans and meat, it doesn’t taste too spicy at all. I like to make mine with extra lean ground beef and turkey sausage, but again, whatever makes your skirt fly up is just fine. Start this chili early afternoon, let it simmer a bit, pop open some Zin or a hearty Cab, and voila! The stuff dreams are made of. Let’s get down to it.

ALL AMERICAN CHILI:

6 oz hot italian turkey sausage (I use 8)

2 cups chopped onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

8 garlic cloves (I know!! Yet it never tastes too garlicky)

1 lb lean ground beef

1 jalapeno, chopped

2 T Chili powder (large T is for Tablespoon, small t for teaspoon)

2 T Brown sugar

1 T ground Cumin

3 T Tomato paste

1 t dried oregano

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

2 Bay leaves

1 and 1/4 cup Merlot or other fruity wine (See! Aren’t you glad you already have some open?)

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained

2 15 oz cans kidney beans, drained

1/2 cup low fat or regular sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over med high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage, onion, and the next 4 ingredients to pan; cook 8 mins or until sausage and beef are browned and crumbling. Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients and cook for 1 min, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, tomatoes, and beans, bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves (if you can find them:)) Sprinkle each serving with some cheese, low fat sour cream, and green onions.

Holiday Entertaining: Easy Mediterranean Appetizers

Want to get away from the classic bowl of hummus served with pita chips?  Try something fancier and just as easy this year.  I came across this picture on Whole Living this week and I had to try this combo and see if my favorite hummus recipe worked well!…and it does! I love the idea of slicing up cucumbers and pre-serving hummus on top.  Talk about easy finger food!  Once you try my recipe, you’ll make this a staple.  The garnishing options are endless! I love kalamata olives or a tad of pesto on top of my hummus… but you can do so many variations,  you’ll wow your guests!

Ingredients:

Hummus Recipe Courtesy of MOMablesLunch Menus

  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 TB Tahini
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

What you’ll need:

  • Thyme leaves for garnish
  • Coarse ground pepper
  • English cucumbers 2-3 or more if you double recipe
  • Roasted Red peppers, cut into small strips
  • Kalamata Olives

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, oil, and 1/4 cup water; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and process until combined.
  2. Dividing evenly, dollop chickpea puree onto cucumber slices, top with a roasted red pepper strip and thyme leaves. Serve immediately.

 

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Lunch Indulgence: Grilled Pear & Brie Sandwich

There are a few indulgences that even a pregnant woman can’t resist.  Chocolate and Brie are my downfall.  Seriously, how can one resist the sweet deliciousness of French Brie?  I love it on toast, with crackers, in omelet, sandwiches… and the list goes on.

The other day, I was left to my own devices to prepare lunch when a business lunch meeting was cancelled (I usually pre-make my lunches ahead of time and have them ready).  It was a Friday and the fridge was empty of our lunch items and leftovers were scarce.  Good thing there was Brie!! The outcome as a sweet delicious grilled sandwich that will soon be placed in one of our MOMables menus (my kids loved this sandwich too).

Ingredients:

  • 2 Slices of bread
  • Sliced Brie
  • 1 pear, sliced thin
  • Butter/spray for grilling

Directions:

  1. Slice pear and Brie.
  2. Place sliced pear and brie on bread and close.
  3. Spread or spray butter on bread.
  4. Grill

Enjoy!

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Roasted Fall Vegetables

During my last visit to the farmer’s market I loaded my tote bag with in-season vegetables.  While I’ve never been a huge fan of fall vegetables, I recently discovered that it’s not the vegetable variety I wasn’t fond of; it was the way it was being cooked! I got nearly 10 pounds of squash and zucchini for $9.  What was I going to do with all that, besides making some zucchini bread, of course.

I decided that I would simply roast my vegetables with minimal ingredients.  The outcome… what can I say? Delicious.

Ingredients:

  • Variety of fall zucchini and squash
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Rosemary

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Wash and cut your vegetables.  The smaller you cut them the quicker they will cook, so try to cut them evenly.
  3. In a roasting dish add vegetables, salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary (to taste).
  4. Mix well to evenly coat vegetables with seasoning
  5. Cook about 20-25 or until done.

Serve & Enjoy!

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Up and Coming Cocktail: St. Germain

 

I am a mixologist of sorts. I really enjoy coming up with new and creative cocktails for dinner parties, or just to serve friends. Although I never partake myself (Not!), it’s fun  to come up with  tasty creations that people have never tried which will accentuate the food and atmosphere of the evening. By using some fresh and natural juices, you can really reduce the calorie impact of a cocktail without sacrificing the taste. And unfortunately, since the skinny jean doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon (tragic), saving calories is a good thing.

Enter St. Germaine. If you have never heard of it, you obviously haven’t been watching a lot of Bravo or Real Housewives. Not that I have, someone just told me about it. Or something like that…..Anyway, one day early in the summer I was perusing the aisles of my local Bev-Mo, when one of the gals came up to me and said, “Jessica, you have to try this stuff.” Is it weird that they know me by name there?  I am not sure, but so do the produce guys at Fry’s, and Jerry, the stocker, at Target. So whatever, it’s not like I am ONLY known in places that specialize in various types of alcohol.

The story behind St. Germain is pretty fascinating. It is handpicked in the old, artisanal way of the French. It is made from the Elderflower, which grows in the foothills of the Alps. There are 40 or 50 men in the world who pick the Elderflowers, put them in sacks, and ride them on bikes to the markets. In a matter of weeks, all the Elderflowers will be picked, thus all the St. Germain that will be available for the year, has been spoken for. The smell of it is intoxicating, almost as  you smell it, you can taste it. From the description on the bottle, St. Germain is “neither passion-fruit nor pear, nor grapefruit, nor lemon, but something of all of those.” And that’s a pretty good description if you ask me. The bottle isn’t the cheapest thing you will ever buy, but nothing really good ever is, right? And if you are using it as a mixer, it lasts quite a long time.

So here’s my latest creation. Let’s call it the Phoenix.

THE PHOENIX

one part St. Germaine

one part fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice (or all natural store bought, just not the Ruby Red stuff)

one part Pellegrino or other sparkling water

Splash of citron vodka or other lemon-lime based vodka

Fill a tumbler with ice and mix all ingredients well. Enjoy! You could even add some red food coloring and make this a fun Halloween drink.

Shrimp with Kiwi Lime Relish

It’s Fall and germs are lurking around us in abundance.  You’ve heard of vitamin C as an immunity booster, and many experts say the best way to get it is  directly from the source (our foods).  What better way to grab some extra C than with a kiwi? This recipe is not only super easy to make but also delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 jalapenos, finely chopped, seeds removed for less heat (1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 4 kiwi fruits, peeled and diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 20 large U.S.-farmed shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • Directions:

  1. Stir jalapeno and lime juice together. Add kiwi, 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and cilantro. Stir to combine.
  2. Season shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat oil in a large skillet over high until shimmering. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook without turning until underside is pink, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until opaque throughout, 2 minutes more. Remove from pan and serve immediately with kiwi-lime relish.

Photo Credit

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Avocado and Shrimp Salad

I never get tired of eating avocados.  Their creamy texture helps this salad blend together without the saturated fats from cheese or dairy-based dressings.  They are rich in vitamins, protein and omega 3s… what is there not to like?  If you buy an avocado before it’s ready to eat, put it in a paper bag to speed up the ripening process.  Never throw them in the fridge unless you want to “pause” its ripening.

It’s fall, and apples are in full display at every supermarket and farmers market.  To add a little extra crunch, toss one in!

 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tarragon stems; 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1/2 lemon, quartered
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted, quartered, and thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring 3 cups water, tarragon stems, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and peppercorns to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat, add shrimp and poach until opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a plate (discard everything else) and refrigerate to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, chives, tarragon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add shrimp, apple, and cucumber, and toss to coat.
  4. Divide salad between four bowls. Add avocado to the mixing bowl and toss with remaining dressing. Top each salad with a quarter of the avocado. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

**Photo Credit

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A “Lighter” Blue Cheese Dressing

The facts: I love blue cheese dressing.  I don’t like preservatives or weird ingredients in my food.  I just realized how easy it is to make a lighter version of this heavenly dressing with the help of Greek yogurt! It was easy, delicious, and quick to make!

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • dash black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 c. crumbled blue cheese

Directions:

  1. In a bowl, mix dry spices then add the Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Add the milk then let it sit for a few minutes, to dissolve the spices.
  3. Add the vinegar to the milk mixture. It will start to curdle; this is normal.
  4. Add the mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and whisk together well. When blended, fold-in the Blue cheese crumbles.

The longer you let this refrigerate, the better the flavor will be. A must have for hot wings and salads!

You’ll never buy bottled dressing again once you taste this!

Makes 3 cups.


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