Cranberry Orange Gin Fizz

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Winter in the Midwest can be both beautiful and fierce. There are days that boast sunshine and snowy hills that beg to be slid down, and ponds smooth as glass that beckon you to skate until you can no longer feel your toes. You haven’t lived until you’ve adventured in a winter wonderland, calm and peaceful where animals slumber and the earth covered in a fresh blanket of snow.

But then there are days when the wind is so fierce it cuts like freshly sharpened knives the moment it touches your skin. Where temperatures drop too far below zero and the best adventures are meant to be had inside, surrounded by laughter and cuddles of those you love most.

On such nights as these, I adore curling up on the couch watching cooking re-runs or playing a game of scrabble with my husband – a night cap in hand.

Even though temperatures outside can chill to the bone, I don’t always gravitate to hot drinks to keep warm. It’s the flavors of this drink that warm the insides combined with memories of every holiday, November to February. The cranberry and citrus are reminiscent of Thanksgiving, the juniper from the gin represents Christmas, and the bold red color perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Sip it with those of whose company you enjoy most! As with all infused liquor, the longer you let the flavors infuse, the better. I recommend a minimum of 5 days, with best results from 10-14 days.

As a side note, this infusion works beautifully in vodka or an aged rum as well. Mix the drinks the same method noted below or shake over ice and drink straight up in martini fashion.

If you’re feeling really fancy, throw a sprig of rosemary as garnish; it provides great aromatics and enhancement to the gin.

Cheers!

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Ingredients:

For the infused gin

  • 1 lb bag of fresh organic cranberries, setting aside a few for garnish
  • The juice from 5 oranges (blood oranges would be lovely as well)
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, medium amber
  • 1 liter Gin (note: use your favorite. I used Plymouth, but I would not advise Hendricks due to the cucumber notes.)

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For the cocktail

  • 2 oz. of the infused gin
  • 2 oz. of sparkling water
  • 1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice (don’t used store bought juice! It’s the sweet + pure juice from the fruit that makes the drink.)
  • Orange slice for garnish

Method:

  1. Reduce the cranberries, freshly squeezed orange juice + maple syrup in a saucepan on medium/medium-low for 10 minutes until the berries have split, stirring occasionally.
  2. Transfer the reduction to a large glass container (I used a large mason jar) and pour the gin over. Gently stir and cover with the lid. Let infuse for 5-14 days, gently swirling occasionally.
  3. Strain the infused gin over a fine sieve and place in a glass vessel of your choosing.
  4. To make the cocktail: fill a low ball with ice. Measure out 2 ounces of the infused gin and pour over ice. Add the 1 oz. freshly squeezed orange juice and top with sparkling water. Garnish with cranberries + an orange slice (rosemary sprig optional) and serve.

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Garlic + Dill Potato Wedges

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Since the onset of my struggles with gluten earlier this year, I have learned to satisfy my cravings for carbs in a variety of ways. Potatoes are definitely one of the vehicles that delivers this carb satisfaction – though I’ve always had an affinity for potatoes. We are Midwesterners, after all!

I recall thoroughly enjoying wedge potatoes from the deli often as a child; the crispy outside + the fluffy insides covered in copious amounts of salt + seasonings…they were the ultimate comfort food. I wanted to recreate them in a healthier version that was gluten free, and did so completely unintentionally the other evening.

The end-result was an evening where my two blonde babes and I sat around the dinner table on a mommy/daughter date night and devoured said potato wedges in a state of giggles and bliss. While the recipe is perfectly satisfying, the memories of that night spent with my girls will be the one I think of every time I make these going forward.

The key to the wedges turning out with the crispy exterior and fluffy inside is the ice bath. When it comes to your seasonings of choice, I recommend using what you love most. For me, it was a combination of garlic, salt, pepper + dill. Happy cooking, friends – from my kitchen to yours.

Yields approximately 24-30 wedges.

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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized organic potatoes, peeled and cut into equal sized wedges.
  • ½ cup organic corn starch
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ cup organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • Salt + Pepper for seasoning
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

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Method:

  1. Soak the peeled + diced potato wedges in an ice water bath for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper + set aside.
  3. Combine the corn starch, garlic salt + pepper in a medium sized bowl and stir. Strain the potatoes and toss them in the seasoned corn starch. (I gently tapped each coated wedge on the side of the bowl to ensure they were not over coated before placing them on the lined baking sheet.)
  4. Bake 20 minutes on the center rack of the oven. Remove and lightly drizzle the wedges with 1 tbsp of the EVOO. Return to the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. In a large sauté pan on your stovetop, heat the remaining EVOO (the ½ cup less 1 tablespoon) over medium high heat. Add the garlic clove and sauté for 1-2 minutes to season the oil. Remove the garlic clove from the oil + discard prior to pan frying the potatoes.
  6. Sauté the wedges in small batches until each side is a light to medium golden brown. Place the batches on a paper towel lined plate + season immediately with salt and pepper.
  7. Transfer to a serving plate or bowl and garnish with chopped dill. Serve immediately.

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Loaded Mashed Potato Pouches

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In my humble opinion, appetizers and the Holiday Season pair together much like wine and cheese. November and December bring family + friends alike together with greater frequency, all of which makes my heart sublimely happy.

Following our Thanksgiving dinner, we had an excess amount of mashed potatoes (thanks to you CostCo + your 15 pound bag of love!) While we usually have no trouble consuming the leftovers, the amount we had was a bit more daunting than usual and I hated to waste them. I also had a fair amount of bacon from hosting Thanksgiving morning breakfast and a variety of cheese + herbs I wanted to utilize. The end result was putting these little pockets of love together for a neighborhood gathering.

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If you’re seeking a low carb, low calorie option — try hitting up Cooking Light, because you aren’t going to find anything of the sorts in these. But my position on food is that it should be real, high quality and meant to not stress over the calories when enjoyed in moderation. I also think eating low fat foods stripped of their nutrients and overly processed in the name of “health” is 1.) an oxymoron and 2.) a huge disservice to both your body and tastebuds. This recipe calls for real butter, whole fat milk, nitrate free bacon and a good quality gruyere. Trust me when I suggest shortcuts would produce a less flavor-packed punch.

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I made two versions of the appetizer to appeal to carnivores and vegetarians alike. Each was delicious, but the bacon delivers a perfect salty crunch if you’re entertaining the first mentioned group. Start to finish, the apps take about 60 minutes unless you use leftover mashed potatoes. Just be sure to warm the potatoes prior to baking them in the filo cups. Substitute to your hearts desire with a cheese or herb that tickles your fancy.

But do enjoy with loved ones and pause to drink in the moment deeply.

There’s beauty in the gathering.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours!

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Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs organic yukon gold potatoes, peeled + diced into 2″ cubes
  • 8 oz organic butter, divided
  • 1 cup organic whole milk
  • 1 wrapped packet (1/2 the box) of frozen filo dough, thawed per directions on the package
  • 1 lb. nitrate free bacon, cooked + chopped
  • 6 oz freshly grated gruyere cheese, or a preferred alternative
  • Freshly diced chives
  • Salt + pepper to taste
  • 2 muffin pans

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 Method:

  1. Cook the bacon + set aside to cool slightly. Chop into small pieces.
  2. Preheat oven to 300.
  3. Cook the peeled + diced potatoes until fork tender, drain and return to the pot.
  4. Add 7 oz of the butter, cubed and 1 cup milk. Mash the potatoes and season with salt + pepper per your preference. Cover and set aside in the pan to remain warm.
  5. Lay out the thawed filo dough and cut into thirds, horizontally. Cut the thirds in half, resulting in 6 square shaped piles. Place a slightly damp towel over the filo dough to prevent from drying.
  6. Select 4-6 filo squares at a time, fanning them out with the centers aligned. Gently press them into each muffin tin. Complete until all 24 tins are lined.
  7. Melt the remaining 1 oz of butter and use a pastry brush to moisten the bottom of each filo filled muffin tin. Gently brush a little butter up the sides and tops as well, but the goal is not to soak or oversaturate the dough.
  8. Take a freezer bag and put the mashed potatoes into the bag, creating a piping bag. Use a scissors and cut a small opening in the bottom corner of the freezer bag and pipe the potatoes into each filo lined tin.
  9. Top with the grated gruyere, followed by the bacon.
  10. Bake 30-40 minutes until the filo cups are gently browned on the tops and the cheese melted.
  11. Let sit 5 minutes, then using a spoon or cake spreader remove each pouch from the muffin tins. Top with chives + serve hot.

 

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Fried Rice

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I have scoured the internet for the quintessential fried rice recipe that brings me back to my childhood years with no luck. While there are a lot of great ones out there, very few hit all my criteria of what it ought to taste like. Memory has a strong attachment to flavors, which is why so many people tend to never stray from favorite recipes passed down from generations.

 Growing up, we were fortunate to have friends that lived nearby and also worked with my mom who’s heritage was Vietnamese. Her recipe for fried rice was, far and away THE BEST recipe I’d ever tasted. Her recipe is the standard by which I judge every other fried rice.

I grew up playing with her kids that were near my age I have fond memories of performing “on stage” in her basement for all of her family, playing dolls and laughing a lot. Those play dates also included so much love via her mom’s kitchen, where the scents of spices and ingredients made with love made you float into the kitchen on an aroma cloud, much like any cartoon scene. My mom would often come home with fried rice and egg rolls made that morning because her friend knew just how much we loved her cooking.

We’ve been asking for this recipe for years, and just recently the blessing of memories washed over us as she shared it with us. We made the simple + unmistakable version of the dish, and what struck me most was its simplicity. Real ingredients and simple technique shared with people whose company you cherish. It was a sweet couple of hours spent with my mom and family reminiscing and reconnecting. I hope you enjoy – the recipe offers a very minor tweak or two, but every ounce of delicious goodness I so vividly remember.
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Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of uncooked Jasmine, long grain rice
  • 1 frozen bag of peas & carrots mixed, thawed
  • 1 lb. protein of choice, cut into 1″ pieces. I used chicken breast, though shrimp or pork are wonderful options as well. Vegetarians — skip the protein altogether!
  • 3 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 large bunch green onions, diced. Use the entire onion, greens included
  • 2.5 tbsp. soy sauce

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Method:
  1. Cook or steam the rice per the package instructions and set aside.
  2. In a small nonstick saute pan, cook the eggs until scrambled and set aside.
  3. Heat the canola oil in a separate large frying pan on the stove top over medium heat. Season the protein with the 2 tsp. of salt and saute until fully cooked.
  4. Add the thawed peas, carrots, and yellow onion to the chicken and saute 3 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat, then add the cooked rice, butter, sugar, black pepper and soy sauce. Stir until combined, noting the rice will still be relatively light in color. The soy sauce should merely act as a season to the rice. (note: bean sprouts would be a lovely addition to this, or any other favorite vegetable you prefer. Just ensure anything you add is similar in size to the peas and carrots.)
  6. Stir in the diced green onions, saving some to garnish atop and serve hot.

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Dill Chicken Salad

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I’m all for recipes that sustain my family throughout the week or quick grab and go options made in advance. Chicken salad is definitely one of those recipes – and this one is an adaptation given to me from a co-worker. It’s incredibly simple and packed with so much flavor. The dressing is a combination of real mayo, sour cream and couple tablespoons of room temp butter which provides it a richness without being heavy. The carrots and onions are roasted with the chicken, giving it incredible flavor and depth – but the celery, green onions and cashews provide the crunch.

Fresh herbs are one of my go to staples to change up every day dishes flavor-wise and dill is one of my favorite options. Use your favorite herb in lieu of the dill if you don’t prefer the flavor – the first time I made this recipe I used chives and it turned out just as delicious. The joy of cooking is the personalization you bring to the dish. Use recipes as your diving board – but make the art of the dive your own.

I love using mason jars to store this salad in the fridge. That way when early morning rush hour occurs in our home during the week, I can grab one to go on my way out the door to work. I hope you enjoy this recipe – thanks for stopping by!

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Ingredients:

  • 4-5  boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups diced carrots
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced cashews
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced
  • 5 stalks of celery sticks, diced
  • 3 tbsp. fresh dill
  • 1 cup real mayo (I used Hampton Creek’s Vegan Mayo )
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp room temp organic butter
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • garlic salt + pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place chicken breasts on a sheet pan and season with garlic salt + pepper. Add the diced onions and carrots atop the chicken, cover pan with tinfoil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Mix together the mayo, sour cream, butter, dill and lemon juice – stir until combined. Add the diced green onions, cashews and celery.
  4. Shred the chicken on the pan with two forks (the chicken will absorb back some of the juices from the cooking process, which is so much goodness.)
  5. Add the shredded chicken and cooked carrots/onions into the bowl with the dressing. Stir until combined and season if necessary.
  6. Chill. Devour. Enjoy!

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Spicy Maple Glazed Rumaki

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I love how social media connects people. It’s a gathering space where people from all different walks of life can connect and share; come together. This is very much akin to my philosophy on meeting at the dinner table – we gather not only to feed our bodies, but also our minds, relationships and foster emotional connections that nurture our emotional well being.

Social media is my cyber dinner table. I’ve met some incredibly talented, kind and interesting individuals that have both challenged and inspired me – both related and unrelated to food.

I love collaborating, and when Nicole over at Uniquely Women asked to do so, I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity. Head over to her site and check her out, you won’t be disappointed!

While you’re there, check out the recipe I created for this Spicy Maple Glazed Rumaki. It’s a great little unique and quirky appetizer. You can find the recipe link below. Cheers, friends – and continue the gatherings that feed both your bodies and souls.

Spicy Maple Glazed Rumaki

-Julia

Cheesy Skillet Onion + Bacon Dip

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As back to school creeps closer and pre-season football games are in full swing, I find the comforts of heavier appetizers to munch in lieu of dinner more appealing. This one will become a new staple on weekends and holiday gatherings in our kitchen. It’s creamy and loaded with flavor from a variety of cheeses, onions and bacon.

BACON. I could just stop writing here, because let’s be honest…bacon is a love language in and of itself. Unless you’re a vegetarian, I suppose. In which case – remove the bacon from the recipe. I promise, it will still be great.

This recipe is really simple and packed with some of my family’s favorite things. One of which was a semi recent discovery of a shallot + chive flavored Boursin cheese. Caramelized onions and bacon round out the flavors perfectly, and the options for dippers are endless. I used toasted baguettes, gluten free crackers, carrots and sugar snap peas. Slice some chicken breast on the side, or top this on a cooked meat of choice to make dinner more exciting.

However you eat it, invite over some friends or huddle over the skillet with your loved ones. The food comes first, the memories that follow are the blessings. Thanks for stopping by & enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in half then thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 bunch green onions diced (reserving some for garnish)
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, cooked + diced (I used some leftover from brunch the day prior. Use the whole pound if you choose!)
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1.5 cups Italian blend shredded cheese
  • 2 – 5oz. packages of Shallot + Chive Boursin cheese
  • 1 cup organic Mayonnaise (I used the Hampton Creek Just Mayo brand)
  • 3 tbsp. EVOO

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Method:

  1. Cook the bacon and let cool. Then heat oven to 350.
  2. Pour the EVOO in the a 10″ skillet + use a rubber brush to evenly distribute across the base and sides of the skillet. I love my Lodge Cast Iron and it’s available at Target!
  3. Sauté both the sliced yellow and green onions over medium low heat until caramelized, approximately 10 minutes.
  4. Once caramelized, add all cheeses and mayo to the skillet and stir until combined.
  5. Bake the dip 15 minutes until the top is golden brown.
  6. While dip is cooking, dice the bacon into small pieces.
  7. Remove the skillet dip from the oven + top with the bacon pieces + remaining green onions. Serve with your favorite dipping items + enjoy!

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