Category Archives: Food

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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Every year around this time, my family gets in the holiday spirit with a little cocktail competition – everyone makes a drink and we anonymously vote on the best one. It’s friendly, but don’t be fooled, we take our cocktails pretty seriously. No one is making Jack and Cokes around here…We keep our recipes secret, not even sharing the chosen liquor, until unveiling the line-up the night of the competition:This is a bit extreme, but I’m a bit Type A, so we even had official voting cards last year:Rob Roy: The winning drink! My dad won the competition with this STRONG Scotch cocktail. It’s basically a Manhattan made with Scotch. He played the crowd well, catering to the MacKay’s Scottish heritage!Beergarita: My mom says she under-performed and wishes I’d leave it out from the list…but I’m a tequila lover and still thought this was a fun drink!French 75: The epitome of champagne cocktails! It was created in a New York bar in Paris during World War I and was said to have such a kick that it felt like getting shelled by a French 75mm field gun.Buttery Nipple: This was the first time someone made a SHOT! My sister wasn’t going to enter last year, but on the day of competition, inspiration struck!Clover Club: I took my chances with a gin drink…and secured 2nd place for the 5th time! One of these years…The raspberries make it a bit fruity, but the vermouth and egg white keeps it tart and dry. This cocktail is named after the Clover Club, a gentlemen’s club in Philadelphia founded in the 1880’s, whose membership was made up of the intellectual elite of the time.Clover Club

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz gin (Plymouth recommended)
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz raspberry simple syrup*
  • 1/2 oz egg white (about half the white of 1 egg)

Directions:

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker and shake first without ice for 20 seconds to emulsify the egg white. Then, add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass. (For presentation points, spear some raspberries on a pick to lay across the rim of the glass.)

*To make the raspberry simple syrup: In a saucepan, smash 1 cup of berries into 2 cups sugar with the back of a spoon. Then, add 1 cup water and heat on low until the sugar is dissolved (don’t let it boil). Let the syrup stand for 20 minutes before straining. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool. It will last 2 weeks in the refrigerator. OR muddle 5 raspberries in 1/2 oz of plain simple syrup.

Source: The Craft Cocktail Party

Looking for more inspiration? Cocktails of Christmas’ Passed:

Happy Holidays Everyone! Cheers!

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Almond Butter Chicken Salad

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I’ve got the PSL of fall salads for you right here! It’s completely basic, but the surprise twist of almond butter instead of mayo is so good!  It’s rich and savory, crunchy, a tiny bit sweet, and a little tangy too. Doesn’t that sound exciting to eat?? (*Pumpkin Spice Latte if you were going to google, Mom…)

Chop everything up – the chicken, celery, apples and almonds:IMG_6814Whisk together the dressing in the bowl first, then dump everything else in:It’s that simple! Stick it on a salad or in a sandwich, whatever makes you happy…IMG_6813

Almond Butter Chicken Salad

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken, shredded or cubed
  • 1 cup diced apples (or halved red grapes)
  • 1.5 cups diced celery
  • 1/4 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons almond butter
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a medium to large bowl.

Add all of the chopped salad ingredients to that bowl and toss to combine until everything is coated in dressing.

Serve on a bed of arugula, in lettuce cups, on sandwich bread, or however you’d like to eat it! Save any leftovers in the fridge for several days.

A Weekend in Nashville

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My first trip to the Music City lived up to all the hype! The music is overflowing from every direction, the food so satisfying and the southern hospitality so warm and welcoming. Unfortunately it rained the 2 full days I was there, but that didn’t ruin any of the fun…

Live Music: The amount of talent everywhere is unbelievable…on every stage and at every hour of the day.

After stopping in just about every bar on Broadway, my favorite spots were Tootsie’s, Robert’s Western World, and Layla’s, which seem to be the holy trinity of famous honky tonks, all lined up in a row on the same block. For two solid afternoons, we bounced back and forth between all three, listening to everything from traditional to current country music from bands just like you’d picture: amazing guitar players, expert fiddlers and southernly charming lead singers.Here’s Jake Maurer, who asked us to “Cheers!” between every song to something like “his 87 year old grandma who still doesn’t use glasses…she drinks straight from the bottle!”

Seeing a concert at the Ryman Auditorium our last night was SO worth it and a major highlight of the trip! We experienced a whole other level of musicianship that left you walking away trying to comprehend just how much musical talent is in this city! The Ryman is right downtown and steeped in history, as it was first built as a church in the 1880’s (you sit in the original pews) and then housed the original Grand Ole’ Opry.

A night at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Printer’s Alley proves that country isn’t the only talent in town! This spot is the perfect break from the rowdiness on Broadway that sets in after dark on the weekends. The 8-piece band we danced to brought the funk!

Food

My only regret was not being able to eat more! The food groups I hoped to eat were hot chicken, biscuits, tacos, and BBQ. II only knocked out 2 of the 4 – there just wasn’t enough time!

Hattie B’s is the infamous spot for hot chicken and absolutely worth the wait in line! When in Nashville, you’ve gotta eat hot chicken. Even the locals said this was the place you have to go. You pick white meat, dark meat, or a chicken sandwich and then a heat level from Southern, Mild, and all the way up to “SHUT THE CLUCK UP!”

Biscuit Love started in an air-stream trailer and grew into its own adorable restaurant. The bonuts (biscuit donuts) were unreal, as were the actual biscuits themselves. Do yourself a favor and wait in line for this place too…I ordered the Princess, their sweet and spicy take on hot chicken with a fried egg on a biscuit:

Five Daughter’s Bakery is known for the 100 layer donuts (their take on a cronut) and it’s 100% worth the additional calories you might think you don’t need! This bakery is so cute and the donuts are so memorable!

ACME Feed & Seed is a great place to kick-off your weekend in Nashville. Listen to live music, order a local beer and enjoy a hot chicken grilled cheese sandwich with peppercorn aioli and pickles on it! Sensing a hot chicken theme here?! After you eat on the first or second floor, make your way up to the rooftop for views of the whole city.

Drinks: The bourbon and beer just tastes SO right with country music and southern food!

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is one of several choices close to town to experience the Tennessee Whickey Trail. It’s got a fascinating and unique history, dating back to pre-Prohibition times. The tour was endearing and the tasting delicious.

Pinewood Social Club has excellent cocktails and such a hip vibe! It’s full of people dining, cocktailing, studying, bowling…basically, anything goes! There’s no wrong time or reason to be there. Easily my favorite drink of the weekend.

Neighborhoods

We stay in The Gulch, which bumps right up on the south side of downtown. It’s a trendy, fun area full of lots of action and a little whimsical inspiration:

12south has an adorable main drag to walk around and stop at some of the places you’ve surely heard of in one Nashville recommendation or another, such as Frothy Monkey for a rosemary latte, Five Daughter’s Bakery for donuts, Bartaco, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Edley’s BBQ, and a photo-op to affirm your love for the city:

Nashville, you were SO much fun! I can’t wait to see you again!

Christmas Cocktail Competition 2016

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My family is always up for a little friendly competition, which not surprisingly, has crossed over into our cocktails. The last 4 years, we’ve held an annual cocktail competition around the holidays to see who can come up with the best recipe. I’m sad to say that last year, I took 2nd place for a third time! And each of those times, I’ve lost to my brother! The first year, he beat my cranberry margarita with his basil gimlet:

image[1]The second year, everyone joined the competition. My dad still doesn’t understand how his Bloody Mary with a bacon cheeseburger on top didn’t win?! He offered a drink AND a meal – sorry dad!

Christmas Cocktail CompetitionTwo years ago, my mom jumped from last to first place with her champagne cocktail, The Siren, and an epic Greek Mythology story to tell the “tale” of her drink.

Cocktail Competition

Last year, my brother took home his third win with this Espresso Martini:

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Espresso Martini: He made a homemade espresso simple syrup, to shake up with vodka and Kahlua. It was delicious!

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Pisco Sour: This was the first egg white cocktail to ever enter the competition. Most of us were a little skeptical, but it ended up tasting really refreshing with Pisco, fresh lime, simple syrup and bitters!

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Apple Cider Bourbon: We are a bourbon loving family, so this was right up our alley – bourbon mixed with an apple cider syrup and fresh lemon juice.

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Mid Winter Margarita: I ALWAYS love a fresh margarita and this was a delicious twist! A basic margarita (tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice) mixed with the addition of fresh grapefruit juice…and a chili salt rim – yum!

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Fairy Tale of New York: This was my stab at winning over the judges with a winter-y old fashioned. If you love bourbon, THIS is your holiday cocktail! It’s an original old fashioned, spiced up with a winter warmth syrup made from all the best seasonal flavors – pear, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg…It doesn’t get cozier or stronger than this! It’s very quick to make, once you’ve made the syrup ahead of time. (The recipe comes from a restaurant in Toronto my mom and I loved, The Harbord Room.)

Ingredients for 1 drink:

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 2 tsp winter warmth syrup* (or more for a sweater drink)
  • 6 dashes walnut bitters (you could use orange bitters if that’s what you have)
  • orange peel

Directions:

Pour bourbon, winter warmth syrup, and bitters into a cocktail glass with a large ice cube and stir. Twist orange peel over glass and drop in.

*To make the winter warmth syrup: Mix all of the below ingredients in a pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar disolves. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 15-2o minutes. Pour into a glass jar for storing, straining out all of the extra stuff. Make this ahead of time so that it has time to cool (in the fridge/freezer if necessary).

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 apple, peeled & diced
  • 1/2 pear, peeled & diced
  • 12 walnut halves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 whole nutmeg

Thinking your own friends and family might love to do this?! Maybe it’s time to host your own cocktail competition! Here’s how we’ve settled on voting:

  1. Each person votes using their own scorecard and ranks each drink 1-6 (if 6 drinks are entered). 6 is for the drink you like the most, 5 is for second place, etc. (You can vote for your own drink…)
  2. All points are summed up and the cocktail with the most points wins!

Cheers!!

Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

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This is my favorite soup I’ve made the last few winters and I just made my first batch of the season a few days ago. It’s just as good as I remembered! I love making a big pot of it to have ready for dinner or lunch the next few days.Curried Chicken and Wild Rice SoupI think the curry flavor is a fun twist to a traditional chicken and wild rice soup. There’s just enough curry to add interest, but not completely take over the soup. Plus, it’s much healthier than the usual cream-based version. Instead of dairy, I use coconut milk to add the little bit of creaminess that keeps this soup so comforting.IMG_9068It will come together very quickly once you start cooking, so it’s easier if you get your ingredients chopped and ready to go.Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup IngredientsThis soup is so flavorful and so satisfying, perfect for this time of year! You’ll love it!Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Curried Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves: 6

  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice (about 3 cups cooked)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 white onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium or 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 4-6 cups chicken broth (sometimes I use up to 6 cups if I increase the vegetables or will add more when reheating)
  • 1 (14oz ) can coconut milk, full-fat or light
  • 3-4 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed*
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼-½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • Optional: cilantro for garnish

Start by cooking your wild rice according to directions on the package. Once the rice grains are just about to start popping open, take them off the stove and drain out any extra water. The rice will continue to absorb water in the soup, so I like to try to slightly under-cook it, maybe 5-10 minutes less than the directions call for.

Once you’ve got the rice going, start chopping all of your vegetables and chicken.

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook until the onion is softened for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the vegetables from sticking or burning. Then, add the chicken broth, coconut milk, chicken, and spices. Stir so that everything is combined and continue cooking on medium-high heat until the soup starts to boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 15 minutes (or until the rice is done) so that the flavors blend.

After it’s simmered, turn off the heat and stir in the rice and bell pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro (optional) and serve.

*You could use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken breasts that you previously cooked. Alternatively, you could cut-up uncooked chicken breasts into 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the pot in the beginning to the heated olive oil. Stir and cook the chicken until it’s lightly browned, then add the onion, carrots, etc.

Christmas Cocktail Competition

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Two years ago, when I announced I would be making my Cranberry Margaritas while home for the holidays, my brother decided to also make a cocktail that same night to compete. He claimed he would make a cucumber gimlet that would beat my margarita! With that, a tradition was started. Last year, we held a rematch and everyone wanted to join in! 5 cocktails were officially entered:Christmas Cocktail CompetitionContestants had to make enough of their drink so that everyone could taste it. With this many cocktails, the judging got a bit difficult! To kickoff the competition, each person introduced their cocktail, shared the name of it, how it was made, and any creative backstory that goes along with it.Christmas Cocktail CompetitionMy Dad’s “Mac Attack” had serious wow factor, named after it’s potential to cause a heart attack! This entry was a cocktail and meal in one! We all knew we were in trouble when we saw him over by the stove frying up bacon cheeseburgers to top off his already famous and highly requested Bloody Mary.IMG_469409614 (1)My Mom created a “Twig and Berries” champagne cocktail inspired by the Wisconsin Northwoods. She looked to the great outdoors for a twig of pine to complement the “crushed elderberries and whisper of crushed ice” floating in the champagne.IMG_469409613 (1)The “Kentucky Maid” was whiskey-based, muddled with lime juice, mint, cucumber, and simple syrup. This cocktail brought us back to summer and we all agreed it would be a perfect drink to sip on the dock.IMG_469409609 (1)No. 25” was the strongest drink by far – whiskey based with a hint of absinth. It was a tribute to William McKinley’s favorite cocktail (our 25th president of the United States). McKinley fought in the civil war, commandeered Hawaii, and most importantly, was a BUCKEYE (like Andrew)!IMG_469409611 (1)My “Mistletoe Mule” is a holiday version of my favorite Moscow Mule cocktail. I used my original recipe, but for flavoring and color, I also added 1 Tablespoon of cranberry juice and 5 dashes bitters. Plus, I stuck fresh cranberries on a stir stick for presentation points!Mistletoe MuleBelieve it or not, the “Mac Attack” did not win! We all agree that our voting system didn’t work out too well because how could a Bloody Mary topped with a bacon cheeseburger, shrimp, cherry tomato, lemon wedge, sausage, cheese, asparagus, pickle, mushroom, brussels spout, and celery not take first place?? Also, “No. 25” did not win, even though it was the most requested drink post competition. The “Kentucky Maid” and “Mistletoe Mule” tied for first and then the “Kentucky Maid” won out in a championship round the next night. For the record, I still contest this – it’s a Christmas cocktail competition, after all!!

Are you thinking that your family or group of friends would have fun with this? Maybe it’s time to host your own cocktail competition! How should the winning cocktail be picked? Here is how we plan to vote this year:

  1. Each person votes using their own scorecard and ranks each drink 1-6 (if 6 drinks are entered). 6 is for the drink you like the most, 5 is for second place, etc.
  2. All points are summed up and the cocktail with the most points wins!

The trash talking for our 3rd annual Christmas cocktail competition already started several months ago and will certainly be a topic of conversation this Thanksgiving! We are all keeping our cocktails secret, so the suspense continues for another month.

To my competitors: May the best cocktail win!

**Update: My friend Kelsey hosted her own Christmas Cocktail Competition party and it was a total hit!Christmas Cocktail CompetitionShe had 20 people over, so the “mixologists” that entered the competition were asked to make one drink for presentation in a normal glass and then samples in little Dixie cups for everyone to try. People voted on the chalkboard for their favorite cocktail. For the top three winners, Kelsey had cocktail related prizes such as a little bartender kit and ice molds. How cute is that?!

“Chopped” Dinner Party

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Have you seen the TV show “Chopped” on the Food Network?? It’s absolutely one of my favorite shows to watch! The premise is four chefs compete against each other to create the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert using a basket of mystery ingredients before time runs out. At the start of each round, each chef receives 4 random ingredients that they must use, but they can also supplement with items from the pantry or refrigerator. It’s hysterical and exciting because the ingredients can be completely wild, like creating an appetizer from jumbo shrimp, chunky peanut butter, jalapeños, and sticky rice or a dessert using corn muffins, whiskey, macadamia nuts, and gummy bears – and time is very limited!

Last weekend, we created our very own “Chopped” competition at home. It was a total success! And so much fun! We convinced our two friends, Steve and Howard, to compete as chefs for an entrée round. My friend Abi and I dreamed up the mystery basket ingredients: pork loin, cauliflower, figs, and tortilla chips. We hoped the chips would be a wild card!Mystery Basket Ingredients

We also stocked up the pantry with staples that we thought the chefs might want to use. Here are some suggestions:

  • Grains/starches: rice, pasta, tortillas, quinoa
  • Fruits/Vegetables: carrots, salad greens, celery, lemons/limes, peppers
  • Canned items: diced tomatoes, beans, corn, broth
  • Aromatics/Herbs: onions, garlic, parsley, green onions, cilantro
  • We put the mystery ingredients into brown paper bags to present to the chefs at the same time. It was a suspenseful moment! Given my propensity for the dramatic, I loved making the official introductions and declaring the rules of the game :)

    Chopped Competition

    The chefs had 45 minutes to complete their entrée and plate their meal. It was fun to interview the chefs while cooking, just like Ted Allen does on the show, asking “Chef Steve, how do you feel about the tortilla chips in the basket?” or “Chef Howard, What are you going to do if you win the $10k?” Watching how they handled themselves in the kitchen was so entertaining – at times calm, at times completely focused and sweating!

    The entrees were unbelievable! We were all blown away by how delicious they tasted. Chef Steve (left) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin with a Fig Demi-Glaze and Roasted Cauliflower over a Tortilla Chip Coulis” and Chef Howard (right) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin over a Tortilla Chip, Cauliflower, and Potato Puree with Fig Relish”.

    The judges chose a Chopped Champion by rating each entrée on a scale of 1 to 5 in three categories: presentation, taste, and creativity. Then, we added up the points from all three categories to get a total score. In hindsight, for how beautiful their dishes turned out, I can’t believe I gave them paper plates for plating the photographed meal! LOLChopped CompetitionWant to try this out for yourself at home? The format could be so easily adaptable to fit your own Chopped party.

    • You could do a double date night where each couple brings a bag of mystery entree ingredients for the other couple to cook with.
    • Or, if you have multiple people wanting to compete, you could have two chefs compete in the appetizer round, two chefs compete in an entrée round, and two new chefs compete in the dessert round (being mindful that this scenario will create a LOT of dishes!).
    • This link lists all of the basket combinations seen on the TV show to give you ingredient ideas.
    • Depending on what kitchen equipment you have, you may ask guests to bring extra knives, pans, or whatever you need a second set of.
    • For our party, Abi and I provided the mystery ingredients and pantry items and then asked our guests to bring wine, appetizers, sides, and desserts…and champagne – because Abi and Chef Steve had just gotten engaged in Malibu the weekend before!!!

Engagement Hike

If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s another version of a Chopped party at home.

Let me know if you throw your own Chopped challenge!