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Brandy Fix

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When I first got started in the cocktail game all I knew about brandy was that it usually hung around the necks of St. Bernards in barrels and that people drank it from snifters after dinner. Since then I’ve learned a lot about the liquor.

Did you know the reason it was supposedly strung around the necks of St. Bernards was because of the brandy’s warming properties? The alcohol content of a good brandy ranges between 35 and 80 percent and that much liquor won’t just warm your throat. You’ll feel that tingle all the way down to your toes. So, you can see why it’s considered the liquor of choice when it comes to sore throats and frost bite and why it’s the ideal liquor during these chilly winter months. I mean, why just warm ourselves on the outside with sweaters and roaring fires? Why not warm ourselves on the inside too?

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There are several ways to enjoy the liquor. You could have it in a snifter, add it to some hot water for a brandy version of a hot toddy or stir up a Fix which is really just a cold toddy. Created in the 19th century, the Fix disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. Yes, this little cocktail was only popular for 30-odd years and then it was gone. Over its short life though, the Fix went from simple to complicated with the addition of flavored syrups and liqueurs. While I prefer the simple version, the more complex can be quite delicious. As with most drinks, it all depends on which syrup or liqueur is used.

No matter which rendition you choose, this drink can be imbibed before, with or even after dinner. But however or whenever you decide to enjoy it, the Brandy Fix is the perfect choice for a cold evening  in front of a roaring fire.

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Brandy Fix

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz. water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Stir the water and sugar together in a rocks glass until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the brandy and lemon juice and give a quick stir to combine the flavors.
  3. Add crushed ice and a twist of lemon for garnish and serve.

Green Vegetable Risotto

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Comfort food. It’s one of my favorite things, especially when the days get cold. I mean, there’s just nothing better on a chilly, rainy evening than a hot bowl of stew or a big pot of macaroni and cheese. One of my favorite entreés during these winter months is risotto. It’s rich and creamy and feels like a big warm blanket wrapped around my stomach.

I’ve made all types of risotto, but this one is fresh and full of nutrients thanks in no small part to all the green vegetables. Full of fiber and B1, this risotto is the perfect choice for January since this is the time of year we’re all concerned about eating healthy. But this dish isn’t just healthy, since it’s full of peas, zucchini and asparagus, it’s also a great way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.

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If your children are anything like my boys, they’re anti veg. But neither one could get enough of this dish because of its color. See, the peas and shredded zucchini turn the white rice bright green. So, now they’re eating something cool that looks like slime, which for boys is totally awesome.

While I’m not a big fan of slime, I do love the flavors that come through in this risotto. You have the sweetness from the peas and shredded zucchini but you also have a hint of salt thanks to the vegetable stock and Parmesan cheese. This is definitely one of my new favorite dinners and I can’t wait to make it again and again.

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Green Vegetable Risotto

Ingredients:

  1. In large saucepan bring the stock to a simmer.
  2. Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set aside.
  3. In a food processor combine basil, spinach, garlic, 1/4 cup of oil, vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover, blend until smooth and set aside.
  4. Add asparagus to the simmering stock; cook about 1 minute or until bright green and barely tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to the ice bath. Remove and set aside. Repeat with the peas.
  5. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and remaining salt and cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add 1 cup of stock to the rice and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the stock is absorbed. Repeat the process with the remaining stock until all of the stock is absorbed and the rice is creamy and tender. (This should take about 20 minutes.)
  8. Stir in the zucchini, pesto, cooked asparagus and peas until well combined and the risotto is bright green.
  9. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan. Ladle risotto into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.

Snow Ball Cocktail

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Every Thanksgiving the boys, Hubs and I head up to Northern California to spend the holiday with my family. Since the boys have a week off for vacation, we always take the week to hang out in Marin. But this year, Hubs and I took a night and spent a blissful 24 hours in San Francisco, wining and dining, just the two of us. We stayed at the Mark Hopkins, one of the older hotels in the city.

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Opening its doors in 1926, the Mark Hopkins was top notch from the getgo. But being great wasn’t enough for the owners of the hotel. They wanted something more. So once Prohibition ended, they opened their own beautiful bar and restaurant called, fittingly, the Top of the Mark. With its 360° views, the bar became the spot for WWII servicemen, dignitaries and celebrities, and it had the food and cocktails to go with it. That much history meant Hubs and I just had to take a trip to the 19th floor to enjoy a drink or two.

The menu has changed a lot since the bar’s heyday, but luckily there are several display cases filled with photos and newspaper clippings about what the bar used to be like. There also happened to be an old menu of their special cocktails. Sure, they made things like Manhattans and Martinis, but there were also drinks called a Lady Hopkins and a Cable Car, both of which will appear on this blog in the future. Not only did the menu list several drinks, it also listed prices. I was in awe. The most expensive cocktail on the menu was their Pink Champagne Cocktail that tapped out at a whopping one dollar. Yup, a buck. For champagne! But that drink will come later.

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The drink I found most fitting for this time of year was the Snow Ball. Made with Creme de Cocao, Creme de Menthe and cream, it literally looks like a snowball in a glass. One of the more expensive (90 cents) it sounded like a delicious dessert, something you might enjoy with a simple piece of chocolate. Not so coincidentally chocolate pairs well with this drink thanks to the creme de cocao which makes up half of it. I say half because that’s how I mixed it up. See, while the menu listed several drinks, it didn’t include the recipe. So, I created my own.

It’s pretty tasty. But like I said you don’t need a slice of cake or pie for your final course. The Snow Ball and maybe a small piece of chocolate are all you need to help you get through these cold winter nights.

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Snow Ball Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 oz. Creme de Cocao
  • 1/2 oz. white Creme de Menthe
  • 2 oz. cream

Directions:

  1. Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for a few seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and serve.

Baked Risotto with Sausage

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Now that the holidays are over, we’re all focused on eating healthier, less fattening foods. It’s actually the number one new year’s resolution. Well, the number one new year’s resolution is to lose weight, but that usually involves eating healthier so it all kind of goes together. Unfortunately that means no cakes or cookies or heavy dishes with creamy sauces. Sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? I mean let’s be honest… none of us really look forward to the new year, because it suddenly means we have to start eating healthy. But eating healthy doesn’t mean that you have to give up flavor.

I’ve been a fan of The Chew since it originally aired. While I don’t have as much time to watch it as I used to, whenever I do catch it there are always at least one or two recipes that strike my fancy. A little over a year ago, Fabio Viviani was on the show and he made a baked risotto that I’ve made several times since. It’s simple, uses fresh ingredients, is full of flavor and is perfect for this time of year.

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See, when it’s cold outside, I like eating casseroles, mac & cheese or baked pastas. All things that are heavy, creamy and the definition comfort food. But those just aren’t ideal after a good six weeks of heavy dinners, cookie swaps and sweet desserts. But this risotto is comfort food without being rich or heavy. It’s full of meat, vegetables and rice and sticks to your ribs without making you feel like you need to unbutton your pants. Plus, if you use fresh ingredients, you don’t have to worry one iota about breaking those new year’s resolutions of yours.

I know risotto is usually a time consuming meal to make, but since this version is baked, you don’t need to spend an hour standing over a stove, stirring until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off. Yes, there is some stirring involved, but most of the cooking time takes place in the oven, which means you have more time to relax and set the table or toss together a salad before dinner. The cooking process alone is reason enough to whip up this dish. But the flavors and the fresh ingredients are what keep me coming back winter after winter.

Yup, I love this dish. As soon as the new year starts and the Christmas decorations are put away, I break out my cast iron casserole, make sure I have several cans of diced tomatoes, plenty of rice and whip this recipe up at least once if not a few times over the winter months. Give it a try and I bet you’ll do the same.

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Baked Risotto with Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 9 cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 (28 oz. can) diced tomatoes
  • fresh basil, torn
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 4 oz. salami, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeds removed and diced
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1-1/2 cups red wine (like Merlot)
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Smash six of the garlic cloves with the back of a knife.
  2. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a 3 quart sauce pan. Add the garlic and cook over medium heat until the garlic is a nice golden brown.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook the sauce until thick, about 15 minutes. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil and increase the heat to high. Continue to cook the sauce until the oil turns red. Remove from the heat and add the torn basil. Set sauce aside and let cool. (This sauce can be made several days ahead. Just seal in an airtight container and refrigerate.)
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, oven safe pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and salami and let cook until no longer raw.
  6. While the meat cooks, dice the remaining garlic. Then add the garlic, bell peppers, onion and thyme to the pot and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring continuously, for another 5 minutes.
  7. Add the rice and cook for another minute. Pour in the wine and stock, give a quick stir to combine the flavors and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid and bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
  8. Stir in the Parmesan and serve immediately.

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As you all know one of my favorite holiday cocktails is eggnog. We always have it at Thanksgiving when my mom makes it to start off the holidays, then I make a batch for our annual holiday party and then one last batch for Christmas dinner. It’s always a big hit, but in all these instances one thing holds true – there’s always leftovers. Those leftovers are used in one of three ways: we enjoy a glass, use it as creamer in our coffee or as the custard for french toast.

But after several years of enjoying eggnog french toast, I decided to turn it into a breakfast bread pudding. The benefits of making a bread pudding are you can prepare most of it the night before. That way you’re not standing over a hot stove cooking while everyone else is sitting in the living room conversating. But my favorite thing about this bread pudding is that you get all the flavors of the holidays along with a seriously filling breakfast.

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It’s filling because of all the bread, cream, eggnog and sausage. Yes, I said sausage. Just like a lot of stuffings out there this bread pudding has sausage laced through it as well. But this isn’t just any old breakfast sausage. It’s special sausage. No… it isn’t laced with any special herb… even though that’s legal now. Instead it’s got maple syrup and blueberries in it, two things that scream breakfast to me. I discovered this amazing sausage at Whole Foods and have been buying it for the past few years. If they make it at a Whole Foods near you, you should grab a link or two. It’s delicious in the bread pudding and on its own with eggs or pancakes. While you could use any breakfast sausage you like, the sweetness from the blueberries and maple syrup combined with the savory flavors of the meat bring this bread pudding to a whole new level.

Since the holidays are all about decadence, eggnog and blueberry sausage aren’t the only things in this bread pudding. I upped the ante one more time. I used a chocolate swirl challah. That’s right, chocolate swirl. I discovered this amazing bread (which is great all by itself toasted with butter by the way) thanks to a Food Bloggers Los Angeles meeting. Once I tasted it, I knew it would be great as french toast and even better in this breakfast bread pudding. Like the sausage, if you can’t order the chocolate swirl bread, or don’t like chocolate, you can use a brioche, a plain challah or my personal favorite: a cinnamon swirl challah. No matter which bread you choose, they’re all great and add to the wonderful flavors of this dish, making it a fabulously decadent and filling holiday treat. A treat that I plan on making every Boxing Day for years to come.

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Chocolate & Eggnog Breakfast Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 2 blueberry maple sausages, skins removed and chopped
  • 1 loaf of chocolate swirl bread, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups eggnog
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup maple syrup, divided
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl and let cool. Add the bread to the bowl and toss together.  Transfer the bread mixture to the prepared pan.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, eggnog, salt and 1/2 cup of maple syrup in a medium bowl, then pour over the bread mixture. Cover with foil and chill overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the bread pudding, covered, for 30 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 20 more minutes until the top is brown and the center is set.
  5. While the bread pudding cooks, boil the remaining maple syrup over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in the cream. Serve the bread pudding with the maple cream and enjoy.