Sunday, December 27, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Pomegrante and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail

There are usually a few people at every party who chose not to drink alcohol at all. There are also your responsible drinkers, people who will have one or two alcoholic beverages then switch over to something non-alcoholic. For these reasons it's always nice to have a well thought out drink menu that includes a mocktail or two. Just a little something to let the "non-drinkers" or "responsible drinkers" feel special. Now I will be the first to say that I don't fall into either of the above categories.  I always prefer a cocktail over a mocktail, especially at a party.

So there I am at my party, cocktail in hand as I pour my very responsible friend a glass of this Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail. I watch nervously as she takes a sip, scolding myself for not taking the time to taste it before the party, and am so relieved when she squeals in delight saying "This is the best mocktail ever." I thank her and feel convinced she is just being polite. There is no way it is THAT good, I think to myself.

As the evening goes on, my friend revisits the pitcher full of this mocktail several times, each time complimenting the drink. Ladies, who by now have grown curious, decide to taste the mocktail. I watch, mostly in shock, as people put their cocktail aside and pour themselves a mocktail. That's it, I decide, pouring a taste for myself. And...

I'll be darned if the ladies weren't right. This mocktail is total perfection! It's not only pretty as can be, but it succeeds in having that perfect balance of sweet and tart, and the sparkling water gives it that bubbly effervescence that makes it light and refreshing. Garnished with lime slices, mint, and/or pomegranate seeds, this is such a special drink for the holidays, or really any occasion. It was certainly the hit of my holiday party and I guarantee it would be a hit at your party as well!

Not having a party anytime soon? No worries. Make a pitcher to enjoy at home!

Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail
Serves 8

1 cup ice
1-1/2 cups simple syrup, chilled *recipe follows
1-1/4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice, chilled
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice,chilled
1 (25.3 fluid ounces) bottle sparkling water, chilled
2 limes, thinly sliced
Optional garnish: 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds or fresh mint

For The Simple Syrup: Combine 1 cup water 1 cup sugar in a saucepan, over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and allow the syrup to cool. (Yields 1-1/2 cups)

For the Bellini: Place the ice in a pitcher. Add the simple syrup, pomegrante juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well. Slowly pour in the sparkling water. Add garnishes, if using, and serve!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Cozy and Delicious Vanilla Hot Cocoa

It's always nice to serve a hot drink at your Christmas party, even if the weather is unseasonably warm. A hot drink always helps to make things feel a bit festive. So turn on the fireplace and grab a mug.  We are going to give it our all to make it feel like Christmas!

Whether you're wearing your flip flops, or your boots, you are sure to love this delicious Vanilla Hot Cocoa.  The addition of cinnamon and vanilla are subtle, yet help to bring out the rich chocolate flavor of the cocoa.  Whether you top your cocoa with marshmallows, chocolate shavings, or whipped cream this is sure to make you feel cozy, relaxed, and ready to celebrate the season!

Vanilla Hot Cocoa
Adapted from The Food You Crave
by Ellie Krieger
Makes 1 cup 

1 cup nonfat milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon shaved dark chocolate, optional*

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and cinnamon stick over medium-low heat until scalding hot (little bubbles will start forming around the edge of the pan), about 4 minutes. While the milk is warming, put the cocoa and sugar in a mug. Add the water to the mug and stir until it has the consistency of a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk, add the cocoa mixture and vanilla to the milk, and whisk until slightly frothy.  Pour into the mug, top with chocolate shavings (if desired), and enjoy!

Theme: Cinnamon & Sugar

Sunday, December 13, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Giada's Festive and Fun Bellini Bar

It's been my experience that you need three things to throw a good party: a well thought out guest list, good music, and at least one good drink. With that in mind, I hosted a Christmas Paint Party Friday night. I invited eight ladies from the neighborhood. Some introductions had to be made, but since all the ladies had several things in common, it was a good mix. The music was a no brainer. Christmas parties need Christmas music. Now for the biggie. The drink. Christmas time is a special time so I wanted something bubbly and festive. Giada's Bellini Bar fit the bill perfectly.

A bellini is a mixture of sparkling Prosecco wine and fruit puree, peach being the most common. Giada's Bellini Bar features three flavors: homemade peach, strawberry, and blueberry puree. I wasn't sure how popular a blueberry puree would be so I elected to make peach, strawberry, and cherry purees.  Now for the Prosecco. The fella at the liquor store recommended  Riondo brand. I bought four bottles and immediately put them in the fridge to chill while I made the purees.
This is indeed a gorgeous and festive drink, but it IS NOT a drink you can put together quickly so be sure to allow enough time to make all the components. First you'll need to make a simple syrup and allow it to chill. Then you'll need to let your frozen fruit thaw before you proceed to make all three purees. Between the thawing, chilling, blending, and cleaning you will need at least an hour, if not more.  It will be worth your time! I promise.
To serve the bellini, have your guest choose which puree they'd like, spoon the desired amount in the bottom of each wine glass or champagne flute, pour the Prosecco, and stir. Garnish each glass with fruit, orange slices, etc. Drink and Be Merry! This drink is sure to be a hit at your party as it was at mine!  One bellini will likely loosen up the crowd and create a fun party atmosphere. Enjoy!

 Giada's Bellini Bar
Recipe from Food Network
by Giada DeLaurentiis
Serves 12

2 cups sugar 
1 cup water 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peaches, thawed 
1 teaspoon grated orange peel 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen strawberries, thawed 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen blueberries or blackberries, thawed 
4 to 6 (750-ml) bottles Prosecco or other sparkling wine, 
*For garnish: chilled fresh fruit, such as pomegranate arils,berries, citrus slices, etc.

Note: I replaced the blueberries with a 16 oz. bag of sweet cherries

For The Simple Syrup: Stir the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.

For The Peach Puree:  Puree the peaches and orange peel in a blender with 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer and into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. 

For the Strawberry Puree: In a clean blender puree the strawberries with 1/3 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a clean fine-meshed strainer and into another bowl. Discard the seeds. 

For The Blueberry Puree: Puree the blueberries in a clean blender with 1/3 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a clean fine-meshed strainer and into a third bowl. Discard the seeds and solids. 

To Serve: Pour each of the purees into clear glass bowls or small pitchers. For each serving, pour 2 to 4 tablespoons of the desired fruit puree into a Champagne flute. Slowly pour enough Prosecco into the flute to fill. Gently stir to blend. Garnish with the whole berries, as desired, and serve. 

 Do-Ahead Tip: The fruit purees can each be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Italian Sausage Skewers

Turn on those Christmas carols. It's time to deck the halls, string the lights, and shop till you drop. It's time for Christmas and all that it brings. While this is a joyous season, it is also a busy season. There's decorating, shopping, wrapping, recitals, concerts, parades, and it definitely wouldn't be Christmas without all the Christmas parties. Odds are you are either hosting a Christmas party or attending one and it is crucial to have a few good, and EASY, recipes up our sleeve.

That's where these Italian Sausage Skewers come in. They are TASTY and DELICIOUS. They are also QUICK, EASY, PRETTY, and FESTIVE with their RED AND GREEN color. As if that's not enough they are also HEALTHY and can be MADE AHEAD! Can I go on...they are also on skewers, which everyone loves so they are therefore EASY TO EAT and perfect for serving with cocktails or mocktails.

The only cooking required is cooking a few links of Italian sausage in a skillet. The rest is a matter of assembling. For ease I bought my grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives from the antipasto section of my local supermarket. This way I was able to buy marinated grape tomatoes and marinated olives to amp up the flavor. I was also able buy the exact quantity needed, which is always helpful to reduce waste. While there I also picked up some marinated bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella cheese). You could take this opportunity to see what your local deli has to offer. This is a great, and easy way, to round out your appetizer and offer a few different options.

These sausage skewers are so good! The sausage is savory and flavorful, the tomatoes are juicy, the basil gives it a fresh pop, and the olives provide a briny saltiness that bring it all together.  One or two of these is a very satisfying and hearty little snack. These are great served warm, but are also just as good served room temperature, which is fabulous since you want your party to go on for hours.

Italian Sausage Skewers
Adapted from The Food You Crave
by Ellie Krieger
Makes 24 skewers

8 ounces Italian-style poultry sausage
8 large fresh basil leaves
12 pitted kalamata olives, cut in half
24 grape tomatoes
Twenty-four 6-inch wooden skewers
 Optional: Any greens to garnish the plate

Cook the sausage according to package directions and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds. (I got 8 slices from each sausage link). Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into thirds.  (Of course, size of your basil will matter here. My suggestion is to use however much you like. My store was out of basil so I used mini arugula leaves.)

Work an olive half about one-third of the way down onto a skewer. Then add one strip of basil, folding so it fits nicely on the skewer. Follow with one tomato and a round of sausage. Position everything on the end of the skewer so the skewer can stand up on its sausage end. Repeat with the remaining skewers and ingredients. These skewers may be prepared several hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.

Theme: Nibbles & Noshes