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’!

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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Grilled Shrimp with Chimichurri Sauce

It’s the end of the summer and you are bbq’d out.  You’ve fired up that grill more times the past 2 months than you do all year round.  Wait! There is one more recipe you must try!  This one is light, fresh and vibrant.  The herbs in this recipe’s chimichurri sauce -mint, basil, and parsley- add tang to any grilled dish.  Add this delicious sauce to shrimp and you have a fabulous meal to share with family and friends.

Ingredients: Serves 8-10

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds large shrimp, peeled, tail left on if desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • chimichurri sauce
  • grilled peppers and tomatoes (1 lb cherry tomatoes, 8-10 orange/red peppers)

Chimichurri sauce:

    • 1/3 cup chopped basil
    • 1/4 cup chives
    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
    • 2 TB chopped dill
    • 2 TB chopped mint
    • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
    • zest of 1 lemon
    • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil.
    • salt pepper to taste.

Grilled Peppers and Tomatoes:

  • 1 TB Kosher salt
  • 10-20 Summer tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb cherry tomatoes

Directions:

For Sauce:

  1. Mix together all ingredients in food processor until well combined.  Do not over mix (don’t let it become a paste).

For Grilled Peppers and Tomatoes: These can be made 1-3 days ahead of time.

  1. Boil a pot of water and add kosher salt. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Boil summer peppers (1 to 2 per skewer) until tender, 1 to 33 minutes. Drain. Thread onto skewers with cherry tomatoes (about 3 per skewer).
  2. Grill over high heat until charred and tomatoes just begin to burst, 6 to 8 minutes, turning often.

For Shrimp Skewers:

  1. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes. Heat grill to high.
  2. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Thread onto skewers. Grill over high heat, turning once, until curled and opaque, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Brush and serve with chimichurri and grilled peppers and tomatoes.

Enjoy!

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Downsizing….The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

Some people choose to downsize their home based on family circumstances, life changes, or they just want a smaller space to maintain.  Our latest move to Rhode Island forced us to downsize based on economic factors.  For one, we were moving from Peoria, Illinois where housing prices are much cheaper than in Rhode Island.  Also, we were dealing with a quickly changing housing market.  We had previously bought and sold houses in California with no problem at all, but now with the declining market, we were having many issues trying to sell in Illinois.  It ended up taking us about a year to sell.  I was holding on to the value I thought our house should be, and in retrospect I should have listened to my husband who wanted to drop the price significantly much earlier than we did.  All I did was give us more heartache, separation from each other, and stress.  We ended up selling our house for less than we bought it for, and we spent five months apart (as he had to come to RI to work at URI with me staying in IL to try and sell the house with a 3-year old and 1-year old at my side).  So, for the difference in housing prices, the loss on our house, and the new PMI we were having to pay in our monthly mortgage, we were forced to downsize from 2,710 square feet to 1,974 square feet.  It has been quite an adjustment, as well as the adjustment of having a brand new home on a golf course to a 1960’s fixer-upper.  The only thing that made the adjustment a bit easier was being able to live in a lovely rental home in Warwick in between houses (which was close to 2,500 square feet).  Sadly, the rental ended up being too expensive for us to buy in the end as well.  Here is what I’ve learned in the past two years:

Downsizing:  The Good

*  Less area to clean!

*  More environmentally friendly (use less resources and heating/air bills much cheaper)

*  Taxes are cheaper

*  More money to spend on traveling and other things for the family (going to Ireland in June for our 10-year!)

*  Forced cleaning and getting rid of unnecessary items (constantly)

*  Have just what we need, and are happy with what we have

*  It’s cozy and keeps the family close together!!!

*  The ability to make the choice to stay-at-home with the kids

Downsizing:  The Bad

*  As the kids are getting bigger, the space seems to be getting even smaller

*  Not enough space to host parties/playgroups

*  Not enough space for an office or workout area (my husband uses the dining table for his work)

*  Hard to host out-of-town family and friends (we are from D.C.)

*  Not enough space when the kids are playing loudly and you are craving some quiet time

Downsizing:  The Ugly

*  To add more space (an addition) is very expensive

*  For older homes, maintenance and fixing-up can be costly (yes, even for large homes as well)

*  Your house may not be the house of your dreams

*  You may feel like you’ve taken a step back in your life instead of forward

Overall, downsizing can be a good thing to do both for the environment and your wallet.  I like that the bills are less, and that we are not strapped to a mortgage that is difficult to afford.  However, it is a difficult adjustment after previously having much more space, but if our perspective was coming from a 1,200 square foot house then this place would seem larger than it currently does for us.  The most difficult thing for me with downsizing is losing the space to host parties, playgroups, and family get-togethers.  I really LOVE being a hostess, but if you don’t have the space then you don’t have the space.  I always have to sign-up to host playgroup when it’s warm out so I can do it at the park.  You can always find some way to work things out.  If we can fix up our yard and deck area, then that would be helpful with entertaining space too.  We are slowly working on our “things to do” list for the house, so we will eventually get to the place where we feel comfortable with the space we are in.

2,710 square foot (plus, 1,500 sq. ft. basement) house in Peoria, Illinois:

1,974 square foot house in East Greenwich, Rhode Island:

I have also learned in the past two years that there is more to life than the house you live in and the possessions you have.  Family and health are even greater things to cherish.  I am blessed and happy with my family and my two beautiful kids!

Have you been forced to downsize, or made the choice to downsize?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Kristin Wheeler

Indian Chicken (You Can Make TONIGHT)

The title of this recipe can be a bit decieving in that although it uses some Indian themed spices, you could not be an Indian food devotee and still enjoy this dish. I have also heard versions of it called “Butter Chicken,” and although butter isn’t bad and I like chicken, I don’t think those really go together. Maybe butter and bread. Maybe butter and toast. Maybe butter with popcorn.  Maybe “I can’t believe it’s not butter.” Someone stop me…..I digress. My point is, get over the title and make this tonight! The kids will even love it. Here’s what you need:

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breasts or a pack of chicken tenders

1 onion, diced

1 lime, juiced

1 t salt

5 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground Coriander

1/4 tsp Cardamom

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/4 cup butter

1 can (14.5 oz) Tomato Sauce

1 can (14.5 oz) Petite Diced Tomatoes

1 pint Half and Half or Whipping Cream

1 bunch Cilantro, chopped to taste

2 Cups Basmati Rice or White Rice

Here’s what to do!! Step one, open up a nice bottle of Sauvignon blanc. Oh wait, that’s me, sorry. Combine chicken, garlic, lime juice and all the spices in a ziplock and marinate for several hours or overnight. You won’t believe what these flavors do together. Also, if you don’t have Coriander and are shocked by the sticker price at the grocery store (as my sister was who called me up to gripe about it in the grocery line), you can probably get by without it. However, it is a good spice to have and lasts forever. Onward….Start the rice if you haven’t already made it. Get out the marinated chicken and get busy. Saute the onion in the butter until it is translucent and soft. Add chicken and cook 8-10 minutes or so. Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 25-30 minutes over medium to low heat with the lid. Add the whipping cream or half and half and cilantro just before serving. This dish is a bit spicy, but my kiddo’s loved it. You may want to only do half the cayenne, serve the littles, and then kick it up a notch for the bigs.

Enjoy! It’s a crowd pleaser. (Oh, and it really does pair well with a good Sav blanc, Brancott comes to mind!)

Fun, Creative Cocktails for Warmer Weather

Boy, has it been a long, cold winter here in New England. As the warmer weather slowly begins to approach, I get excited. Not only can my three-year old daughter finally go outside to ride her bike and play on the swings without being bundled up in 3 layers of clothing but it also means using the grill more often and eating on the back deck. Even with a slight chill in the air at night, we love using the grill and feeling fresh air as we eat dinner outside.

The warmer weather also means more gatherings of friends and family on the deck. We love entertaining, having people over and being creative with food and drinks.  So as we approach the warmer weather holidays of Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, I thought it would be the perfect time to share yummy, eye-appealing cocktails. If you prefer non-alcoholic drinks, I provide an alternative version too.

Peach SangriaPeach Sangria
Spring & Summer just wouldn’t be the same without Sangria, the fun, festive wine-based drink ever-present in the warm weather months. This is a different take on the recipe! 

  • 4 peaches
  • 2 tablespoons brown raw sugar
  • 1/2 cup peach brandy
  • 1 750 ml bottle of Prosecco (I prefer Ca’Furlan Prosecco), chilled
  • 1 cup peach nectar, chilled (preferably Goya)
  • Club soda, chilledCut peaches into wedges; put in the pitcher with sugar and brandy and let sit for at least an hour. Add Prosecco and peach nectar. Top with club soda just before serving. You can also add other fruit too. Serves 6.

Nonalcoholic version: If you prefer to still have a fun drink for a child’s birthday or brunch without the alcohol, then simply leave out the brandy ingredient and substitute the Prosecco with a nonalcoholic sparkling drink or water that’s peach flavored.

Mimosas
Mimosas are probably one of my favorite drinks – simply because I love bubbles (sparkling wine) and orange juice. Mimosas are classic and have been around forever. In addition to just sparkling wine and orange juice, I like to add in some orange liqueur. Mimosas are great anytime but also for brunch with quiche, souffle or toasted Italian bread with fresh orange marmalade.  

  • One (1) 750 ml bottle of very cold Sparkling wine (I like Grandial Brut because it’s dry yet inexpensive, $10.49)
  • 1 cup of cold orange juice (I prefer Simply Orange or freshly squeezed orange juice)
  • ½ cup of orange liqueur (Mathilde or Cointreau is preferable)

Mix all ingredients in a glass pitcher. Serve immediately into Champagne glasses! Serves 6.

Nonalcoholic version: Just combine a nonalcoholic sparkling wine and orange juice. Voila!

Blueberry Lemon Burst
 The flavors of blueberry and lemons together are like yin and yang. The sweetness of blueberries dovetails well with the tartness of the lemons. Enjoy this on a hot Spring day, whenever we get one!

In a pitcher, mix vodka and lemonade. Let chill in the refrigerator for about an hour. Put 3-4 blueberries (or more depending on your taste) in the bottom of each glass. Then pour the drink over top of the blueberries. Make 3-4 servings. Serve in a Martini glass.

Nonalcoholic version: Mix 8 ounces of blueberry or blueberry/pomegranate juice with just a couple ounces of lemonade. Add fresh blueberries. Or for a different twist reverse the amounts of the blueberry juice and lemonade.

Let me know what you think! Share your comments!

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