Gourmet Veggie Mama

Cherries for Cocktails and More!

Oh, you guys. I have so many interesting things all photographed and in recipe-notes form… but I am suffering from the worst case of writer’s block. And I know the best cure for writer’s block is to just effing write.

Something. Anything.

So, I might as well write about the coolest thing I’ve gotten to do in awhile. I got to take a preserving class and make cocktail cherries and cherry pit syrup with Stephanie McClenny of Confituras at Whole Foods fabulous new store at the Domain. How cool is that?

confituras class

I’ve been a huge fan of Confituras since moving the Austin and learning about Stephanie’s sublime products. Frankly, I kinda have a crush on her — she’s my canning idol. Her recipes are just mouth-watering, and they’re all made in small batches and locally sourced. My all-time favorite is her Rio Red Grapefruit Vanilla Bean Jam.

And here it is, cherry season.


I do love cherries. We all know, further, that I love a good cocktail, so these two recipes go hand-in hand. Plus, one uses the pits from the other — you can’t go wrong! Make them both at once and reap the rewards for weeks to come.

The cocktail cherries are made with port, and are infinitely more delicious than any florescent red maraschino cherry you might find on a typical store’s shelves. They’re prefect for garnishing a cocktail or even a homemade soda (perhaps even one you’ve made with that cherry syrup).

cocktail cherries

Speaking of which… the cherry pit syrup is brilliant, too. It gets a deep, vanilla, okay flavor from the pits, and it makes a great mixer with soda or prosecco (a combination I tried out a the class, taking advantage of the mimosa and sangria bar generously provided by Whole Foods). The other night, I shook some up with whiskey and added a splash of soda — a great, easy cocktail. You can also pour it over pancakes or waffles, or even ice cream. Enjoy!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cocktail Cherries
  • 1½ cup ruby port
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1¼ pound Bing cherries, pitted
  1. Place port, sugar, and lemon juice in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  2. Add cherries and continue to simmer on medium heat for about 1 minute.
  3. Ladle cherries into a clean quart glass jar, pouring port mixture over.
  4. Allow to cool until room temperature, then and refrigerate for at a few days before serving. Keeps for up to a year refrigerated. Enjoy!
Makes 1 quart

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cherry Pit Syrup
  • 1 pound Bing cherries
  • Leftover cherry pits
  • ½ cup water
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (or to taste)
  • ½ cup sugar
  1. Place cherries through peppercorns in medium sauce and bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until cherries begin to lose their color. Remove from heat and strain liquid.
  3. Add sugar and bring to a boil once again, lower heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by about ⅓ and appears syrup-like.
  4. Add almond extract to taste. Allow to cool slightly then decant into a bottle and chill. Keeps for several months refrigerated.
Makes 2 cups.

Note: Whole Foods invited me to participate in the preserving class free of charge, but I was not otherwise compensated for this write-up, and my opinions are my own.


Iced Vodoo Chocolate Almond Mocha

When we lived in Sunnyvale, my favorite local coffee shop, Barefoot Coffee Roasters, had a sublime drink called the Voodoo, made with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate and coconut. I’ve craved it ever since, so naturally it was the inspiration for the recipe I’m about to share. But, it is eleventy billion degrees outside, so this is an iced version.

We all know that cold brew coffee is the way to go, especially for tasty iced coffee at home — but did you know that CoolBrew was doing cold brew before cold brew was cool?* This New Orleans company has been brewing their coffee using the cold-dripped process since 1989. Yep, they’re the original.

*Okay, cold brew was always cool, technically.

cool brew

When they offered me a sample, I enthusiastically said yes, and I received a big box of goodies to experiment with — which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. The recipe I am about to share is the first of a few I’ll be tossing out over the summer months — and perhaps beyond — to keep you nice and cool.

But first — here’s a cool trick to make sure you don’t water down your iced coffee. Use coffee ice cubes!

coffee ice cubes

It couldn’t be simpler. I just used some of my Original Cool Brew to make a batch of coffee, and then froze it in an ice cube tray to use in coffee-based beverages. How’s that for a stroke of brilliance? Of course, I can’t take full credit for the idea — Dolce Vita, a local espresso bar here in Austin, offers an “upgrade” of coffee ice cubes in any of their iced beverages for a small fee.

coffee 3

As for the Iced Voodoo — you guys. You are going to have to taste this to believe it. I slung together** my Iced Voodoo Chocolate Almond Mocha based on that Barefoot Roasters drink I crave, and I have to say — it’s not the same. I’m not a copycat artist. But when you take inspiration and use the tools you’ve got, sometimes something beautiful happens.


** I was gonna say “crafted” but, meh. That’s kinda pretentious, at least when you’re talking about my aimless kitchen experimentations. Artist I am not, but I do like to experiment, and I know what tastes good!

Beautiful it is. And delicious. And ever-so-simple to sling together.

Iced Vodoo Chocolate Almond Mocha
Recipe type: Drinks
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • 1 oz CoolBrew Chocolate Almond coffee concentrate (or other flavor of your choice)
  • 8 oz cold water
  • 2 Tbsp coconut milk (vanilla or regular)
  • 1 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tbsp chocolate syrup
  1. Measure the coffee concentrate and stir into the cold water.
  2. Add the sweetened condensed milk, chocolate syrup and coconut milk and stir vigorously or shake to combine. Pour into a glass over ice (using coffee ice cubes if you desire).

Note: I received samples of CoolBrew coffee in exchange for this review, but I was not otherwise compensated, and my opinions are my own.

Dirty Martini (Gin, Please!)

Back in the day, when I worked long hours and sometimes went out for drinks with colleagues (sometimes before heading back to the office, natch), my go-to drink was a dirty martini. It was a rather trendy drink at the time, and I heard someone order one and decided to try it. I think the real appeal for me was that you could get one with blue cheese-stuffed olives! Of course, being a relative young ‘un, I ordered my dirty martinis with vodka. Because, well, that’s what you do. At least it was usually Tito’s or Grey Goose (only because Tito’s used to be hard to come by in NorCal).

Long story short, the hubby has been traveling for business a lot lately, and I’m often in need of a good, stiff drink after the kiddos are safely tucked into bed. I decided I wanted a dirty martini on one of those evenings, and I wondered if people made them with gin. A quick Google search later, I was entranced by this article on the dos and don’ts of the dirty martini. To the point: “Purists” (ha!) make dirty martinis with gin, not vodka, because vodka is rather tasteless (by design), so drinking a vodka dirty martini is basically just like drinking olive juice. Huh.

dirty martini

Clearly I had to test this theory. So, I broke out my trusty bottle of gin, cracked open a jar of local olives* and got to shaking. If I had been feeling extra-ambitious that evening, I probably would have stuffed the olives, once pitted, with blue cheese, but — again — hubby out of town, two kids finally in bed, exhaustion.

*Yes! Texas is one of the few places in the U.S. where you can successfully grow olives. We’ve just planted a couple of olive trees in our yard, but it will be years before we reap the rewards. Still, they’re pretty.

I must say, I am a convert. The flavors of the gin mingled quite well with the briny olive juice, and my first gin dirty martini made the perfect drink to sip while winding down after a hard day.

Hubby is gone again this week, so this just may be on my agenda for tonight. We’ll see once the kids are in bed.

Gin Dirty Martini
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • 3 oz gin
  • ¾ oz olive juice**
  • 2 olives (blue cheese-stuffed if desired)
  1. Pour the gin and olive juice into a shaker filled with ice. Shake briskly until very cold, and then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with speared olives.
** Be sure to use relatively fresh olives! Something that has been sitting in your fridge for months is not going to make for a very appetizing drink.

Summer Farro Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Feta

Things have been crazy around here. All in the past two weeks, I got a new part-time consulting gig, hired a part-time nanny and launched myself back into the working world. Oh, and Amelia got two teeth. So that’s been fun!

The point is, we have all been feeling the changes. So, instead of sitting down for leftovers or something frozen for lunch yet again, I took my first “real” weekend seriously and slowed it down a bit. I made a delightfully simple summer farro salad using tomatoes and cucumbers from our garden.

tomato cucumber farro salad

We all enjoyed it — even Nora, once she settled down enough to sit down and actually try it. And she’s professing to like both tomatoes and cucumbers these days — music to my ears, and a darn good reason to have your own garden, if you ask me! She’s much more into food she gets to help harvest.

This salad is so easy to make, and it really showcases the flavor of the tomatoes and cucumbers — so use the freshest ones you can get! If you don’t grow your own, get thee to the farmer’s market.

Summer Farro Salad with Tomato, Cucumber and Feta
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6-8
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups farro, uncooked
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • ½ large cucumber, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta or goat cheese to finish
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until fragrant, about a minute.
  2. Add the farro and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the farro is softened but still retains a bite, about 10 minutes.
  3. Drain out any leftover stock and transfer the farro to a large bowl to cool to room temperature. Add the tomatoes, cucumber and red wine vinegar and toss to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper (along with more vinegar if needed). Serve topped with crumbled feta or goat cheese.


Taste of North Austin 2014

Another Monday is over. So, naturally, it’s time to think about next weekend! I already know what my family will be doing on Saturday. Austinites — if you need something fabulous, fun and foodie- (and family-) friendly to do, I’ve got just the ticket.


Taste of North Austin is coming to the Domain this Saturday, June 21, from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be free entertainment, including live music and fun stuff for the kiddos, but if you want to taste the goods — you do, don’t you? — a wristband is required. It’s $20 for 10 tastes, and $10 more for VIP access.

Participating restaurants include local favorites Cru Wine Bar, How Do You Roll?, The League, Punch Bowl Social, Schlotzsky’s, Tiff’s Treats,* Tony C’s, Top Golf Austin, Urban – An American Grill, Zed’s Restaurant and many more.

* Man, does that ever remind me of college. Warm cookies delivered right to your dorm room — what could possibly be better?

With that plus live music, children’s entertainment including face painting, caricature drawings and balloon twisting, as well as prize giveaways, there’s a little something for everyone. VIP access includes entry into the VIP tent with shaded, soft seating, two drink tickets (for beer/wine) and a goody bag. Wristbands can be purchased at Guest Services at The Domain.

What: The Domain’s 7th Annual Taste of North Austin

When: Saturday, June 21, 2014

Time: 11 am to 4 pm

Where: The Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, Suite 210, Austin

To find more details and updates about the event, follow along on the Facebook event page or The Domain’s website.

* Note: This is a sponsored post. I received compensation from Taste of North Austin for this write-up.

Sweet Potato!

Amelia is 6 months old today! How did that happen? We celebrated, naturally, with sweet potato.

sweet potato

And so we delve, once more, into the world of baby food. As I did with Nora, I plan to make all of Amelia’s baby food myself. It’s not that hard. Really. Can you scrub sweet potatoes and bake them until they’re soft? Peel off the skin with your hands? Do you have a food processor or a blender? Then you can make sweet potato puree yourself and not have to worry about what other ick might be in the food you’re feeding to your baby.

The best part, though, is that it’s super-easy to freeze baby food in cubes — using an ice cube tray or one of these trays specifically made for the purpose — and all you have to do is pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. Presto — instant homemade baby food.

If you’re interested in learning more about homemade baby food, check out the Gourmet Baby tab up there ^^ for lots of tips, tricks and recipes. I’ll also be blogging every now and then about the food I make for Amelia, to the extent I make anything new and interesting.

So, stay tuned! Of course, I’ll still be writing about grown-up food and drink, too. Just, you know, in case you were worried.

P.S. If you’re on Instagram, please follow me! I’m new there, but I love it already.

Negroni Week + A Slightly Less Bitter Pill

If you like cocktails, you probably know that this week (June 2-8) is Negroni Week. If you didn’t know, well, I’m telling you. Get thee to a local bar! Over 1,300 bars around the country are participating, including 19 bars here in Austin, and each will donate $1 for each Negroni sold to a charity of the bar’s choice. I’m not going to pretend they let me out of the house for this kind of thing night now,* so I’ll just link to Matt McGinnis’s excellent round-up of the Austin bars participating and what they have going on this week (along with some Negroni-inspired cocktail recipes) over at What Are You Drinking?

* New mommy = close to zero social life. I drink at home.

As for me, well, I have never been the world’s biggest Negroni fan. I find them to be very bitter. I will readily admit, however, that I don’t always take proper care of my sweet vermouth (meaning storing it in the fridge and using it quickly), so that may be a part of my issue. I promise I’ll try to do better.

But, bitter is big right now. So, if you’re like me, maybe you’d rather tame the bitter with a little sweet to see if you can acquire a taste for it. For a Negroni, I accomplish this by adding a splash of Grand Marnier.

Lauren's Special Negroni // Gourmet Veggie Mama

I think it works nicely with the flavors in the classic drink, and it makes the drink more palatable to those of us without a super-human ability to withstand bitterness. Cheers!

Lauren's Special Negroni
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • 1 oz dry gin
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • orange twist
  1. Combine the gin, campari, sweet vermouth and Grand Marnier in a shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously and strain into a rocks glass over ice cubes. Garnish with an orange twist.


Spaghetti alla Siciliana

I’m a sucker for a quick and easy weeknight meal. When I ran across a recipe for Spaghetti alla Siciliana, consisting of pasta tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, parsley and parmesan, I knew I had to try it out. What’s not to love? Plus, pasta is one of the only foods for which my 3-year-old is pretty much universally enthusiastic. That is, as long as it doesn’t have too much “stuff” on it.

Spaghetti alla Siciliana // Gourmet Veggie Mama

I mean, seriously. Can you believe this beautiful plate of pasta took a mere 20 minutes to get on the table? And it was twice as delicious as it looks. This will definitely be making it into our weeknight rotation.

Spaghetti alla Siciliana
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 4 Tbs sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped, divided
  • salt to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, to finish
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, or until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sundried tomatoes and half the parsley and stir for an additional couple of minutes.
  3. When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pan with the sundried tomato mixture. Toss, adding a little of the pasta water if necessary, to combine. Add salt to taste.
  4. Serve topped with the remaining chopped parsley and parmesan to taste.



Black Bean and Avocado Tacos

Scrolling through this page over the last few weeks, you’d be excused for thinking it was just a cocktail blog. I mean, I have my reasons (two little ones, actually), and the sleep deprivation inherent in parenting a small baby does make it much easier (and more enticing) to come up with a cocktail recipe on the fly, after the littles are in bed, than it is to come up with a recipe for a delicious and nutritious meal — something beyond, let’s say, ordering pizza or thawing something from Trader Joe’s.

So, mea culpa. I have been cooking on occasion, and we do not subsist on pizza and frozen food alone around here. Occasionally our meals are even well-balanced and somewhat original. Sure, cooking them tends to be a team effort (see: two kids), but that’s alright. It is what it is for right now, and I’m good with that. Parenting small children is all about ebb and flow, I’m learning. There will be another season soon, not too far off, in which more involved gourmet cooking is possible. Let’s all hang on for that season. For now, I’ve got a recipe for a tasty and healthy weeknight meal you can whip up on the fly with pantry staples.

Black Bean and Avocado Tacos // Gourmet Veggie Mama

How’s that for working with what you’ve got?

One of the things I love about Nora’s preschool is that they really pay attention to feeding a healthy, varied menu to the kids, and somehow they get them to try (and like!) all kinds of things they just won’t at home. Nora came home from school one day recently talking about the black bean tacos they’d had for lunch, and I was intrigued, so I pumped her for details.* She said they had black beans and avocado, and they were really, really good.

* As it turns out, she was actually talking about black bean nachos, but no matter. Tacos are just as good an idea.

Of course, the wheels in my head started turning, since I am ever on the lookout for a quick and easy meal that my picky princess will actually enjoy. I scraped together a few things we already had in the pantry and fridge, ordered a couple of avocados through Greenling (no one actually goes to the grocery store nowadays, do they?), and got cookin’ — well, barely. Honestly, this meal involves little more than grating up some cheese, rinsing and heating canned black beans and warming tortillas. And, let me tell you — it’s good. Even Nora, who has come to surprising me by declaring a new food she doesn’t like every day,** approved.

** Today it was cheese. What?! Who doesn’t like cheese? Especially this child, who until recently was mainly sustained on cheese, yogurt and Cheddar Bunnies (also cheese-related, no?).

So, if you want lazy, tasty, healthy food, this one’s for you. Enjoy!

Black Bean and Avocado Tacos
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (optional)
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 8 flour tortillas***
  • 1-2 avocados (depending on size), peeled and cubed
  • grated cheese, sour cream and salsa for garnish
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and translucent. Stir in the garlic and cumin, and then add the black beans along with a splash of water or veggie broth. Stir until heated through.****
  2. Heat the flour tortillas one by one on a hot, dry griddle, flipping each once to ensure even heating, and transfer to a tortilla warmer (or a plate with another inverted plate on top, as a "lid") to keep warm until you're ready to eat.
  3. Fill each tortilla with a spoonful or two of the bean mixture, soft taco-style. Garnish with cubed avocado, cheese, sour cream and salsa, as desired. Chow down!
*** Get them freshly made, if you're lucky enough to live near someplace that offers that option. Otherwise if you're feeling ambitious, you can make your own using a recipe from my very own hubby.
**** If you are really in a hurry, you can just rinse the black beans, cover them and microwave them until warm with a little sprinkle of cumin and garlic powder. No one has to know.



Mimosas with a Twist, for Mom

Ah, Mother’s Day. For children, it is a time to present the most important lady in your life with a hand-painted mug, handprint ornament, or some other handmade thing that Good Ol’ Dad helped you make (probably at the last minute), and tell her that, despite your attitude most days, you really do appreciate her. For grown-ups like me, with a couple of small children of their own, it’s a time to reflect on how much I really DID appreciate my mom back then, and still do now.

So. Being a mom. It’s not an easy gig. You get spit up on, you have to deal with someone else’s poop on a daily basis (at least for the first couple of years), you get woken up randomly during the night for different reasons throughout your beloved offsprings’ development, you spend a lot of time arguing over matters that completely defy logic with a small but determined opponent,* and you tend to collapse at the end of the day utterly exhausted, but also completely unable to account for anything you really got done.

* Being a corporate lawyer prepared me very well for this part of parenting.

Now that I’m a mom myself, and I have experienced all of those enumerated joys, plus plenty of others that just aren’t springing to mind right now, I really, really appreciate my mom. Really really. And the least I can do is make her a Mother’s Day cocktail.

So, Mom, I’m sorry for every time I threw a fit in public, especially when you had your hands full of groceries and possibly a baby sibling. I’m sorry for every time I told you something on my plate (which you’d probably slaved over and eagerly anticipated my delighted reaction to) was yucky or that I wasn’t hungry or that I just wanted yogurt instead. I’m sorry I took so long to sleep through the night, and once I did, I’m sorry for every time I woke you up in the middle of the night for reasons like “the fan is scaring me” or “I couldn’t find my water.”** I’m sorry for sometimes being a brat who took for granted the loving and comfortable home you provided for me. I wish I had realized at the time how good I had it! I’m sorry for wrecking my car when I was a teenager — even though it wasn’t my fault, I’m sure I could have avoided it if I had been a more experienced driver, and I’m damn lucky I didn’t give you a heart attack. I can only imagine how worried you were when you heard about it. Anyway, I sure do owe you a drink.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 8.36.06 PM

**I don’t know for sure that I did these things, but it seems likely, based on my own beloved daughters and their sleep habits.

When Red Envelope asked me to develop a cocktail recipe inspired by my mom for their Mother’s Day Brunch series, I thought it was a fabulous idea, and I had to put on my thinking cap. My mom is just not your everyday lady. She’s a Texan through and through, a little bit of a hippy, and not too much of a drinker, but she does enjoy a good mimosa. Since Mother’s Day brunch is a thing, I figured mimosas were a perfect starting point. When I saw a few of the last beautiful grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley gracing my grocery store’s produce aisle, I knew it was fate. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received was from my mom — a crate of Rio Red grapefruit at the height of the season (delivered after the New Year) when we lived in California, where those sweet, juicy red beauties were not all that easy to get your hands on. Add a cherry, and we’re in business.

rio red mimosa

So, here’s to you, Mom. Thanks for dealing with me for the past thirty-some-odd years. I really appreciate you now, even if I didn’t fully back then. Really.

Rio Red Mimosa
Recipe type: cocktail
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
  • 5 oz champagne or other sparkling wine***
  • Rio Red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed if possible
  • maraschino cherry, for garnish****
  1. Fill a champagne flute almost to the top with the champagne. Top off with a splash of grapefruit juice.
  2. Drop in a maraschino cherry (because Mom deserves a cherry on top, damnit!) and serve with breakfast in bed.
*** I used prosecco, which is my favorite for mixing. Use a moderately priced sparkling -- don't go too cheap (you don't want to give Mom a wicked hangover now do you??) but don't go ruining a bottle of Dom Perignon with grapefruit juice, either.

**** I prefer Tillen Farms maraschino cherries, which are made with pure cane sugar and no red dye. Get 'em on Amazon -- it's not too late for Prime shipping!



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