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Campari Cocktails

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is Christl Denecke, who is a good friend of mine from back in Northern California (who heralds back to my lawyer days). Although she’s not a food blogger, we happen to share a great love for cocktails, so I feel very confident in sharing a couple of her recipes with you. And, if you are in Northern California, please look her up — she has her own estate planning practice (Denecke Planning), and she helped the hubby and I with our wills a couple of years ago. I highly recommend her — not just because she’s a friend, but because she’s a damn good lawyer. Photo credit goes to Steven Ginzburg, Christl’s intrepid assistant (and husband).

Since August is now upon us, I thought I might make some refreshing cocktails to help us get through these steamy evenings.  And the perfect summer cooler is Campari.  This carmine-colored, Italian aperitif has a bitter-orange flavor — a cooling counterpoint to sweeter mixers.

My favorite hot weather drink is Campari and tonic, the exotic cousin of that old standby, the gin and tonic.  Like the bitter-juniper taste of gin, the bitter-orange flavor of Campari provides an excellent counterpoint to the sweet effervescence of tonic water.  It pairs well with a hammock and a good book.

Campari and Tonic

For something a little more elegant, try an Americano – not the caffeinated beverage that perks up many a Monday morning, but an invigorating cocktail with sweet vermouth tempering Campari’s bite.  Add a squeeze of lemon and some sparkling water to create a smooth quaff with a hint of fruit.



Campari and Tonic
  • 1 part Campari
  • 3 parts tonic water
  1. Build over ice in a juice glass.

The Americano
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1½ oz sweet vermouth
  • sparkling water
  1. Build over ice in a highball glass and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Learning to Love Scotch… One Sip at a Time

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is my all-time favorite, for obvious reasons.  Besides being a great husband and father, the hubby (aka Gourmet Omnivore Husband) is now “drinking for two” — what with my diminished boozing capacity. So, I’m letting him take up some of the slack this week. Thanks, honey!

I like scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch.

Not really, at least not yet.

When I was a freshman in high school, I decided it was time to start drinking coffee. I had a good friend who worked at a coffee shop at the time, and when we went together on a theater class trip to an International Thespian Society conference at Abilene Christian University, I decided I would drink as much coffee with her as I could. I don’t recall what I had at the time — almost certainly something in the frappuccino family — but I know that there was no looking back. I drank plenty of coffee from then on.

I recently decided that it was time to drink scotch. My father is an Irish whiskey drinker (sadly, he prefers Bushmills, the Protestant whiskey). I have never been a huge fan. I’ve long preferred that my whisky be made in the New World, starting off as a wee college lad enjoying Crown Royal and moving on to Makers Mark a number of years ago (stay tuned for an update on that front!). However, I’ve always known that to be a true one-percenter, I’d need to develop an appreciation for single-barrel scotch. A perfect opportunity recently appeared when I was invited to an after-work get-together with coworkers. They call this gathering “water of life”, and folks are supposed to bring a bottle of scotch to share around the conference table.

I did not have a bottle the first time because I got the invite late in the day.  Since then, however, I have bought two bottles, and found that, for scotch at least, quality seems to go up significantly with price.  My first bottle was a Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Scotch, and I got it for about $30 at Twin Liquors.  It was a choice of a coworker who thought it was a good, inexpensive bottle.  I enjoyed it but felt like I couldn’t quite handle the heat — scotches seem to blast you in the upper palate like a flame.  My work event is compromised of seasoned scotch drinkers, which means that adding ice would ensure I am never invited again. A few of them add a couple drops of room temperature water to particularly high alcohol selections, but never ice.  So I fought through it, but when I got a bottle of my own, I found myself putting a couple ice cubes in this one.


What I have in my office shelf. #madmen

My second bottle was a success. It was an Alexander Murray Mortlach Distillery Single Malt 16 years, this one coming in at a $40 price point. This one was a pretty big hit at work. It has what I am assured is a “delicious peaty flavor”, and went down much smoother than the Tomatin. It was much more of a lower-palate scotch, and smoother than most of the single malts I’ve had. I did not feel the need to add ice to this one!

Forcing yourself to develop a taste can be treacherous business. I mentioned coffee earlier, but I recently called off my 15-year effort to enjoy a cigar. I smoked cigars occasionally during special events or on the golf course from the time I was about 16, but finally put a stop to it at my brothers wedding last year as I had never had an enjoyable time with them. I think I’ve found at least one scotch I like, but until I can enjoy the sometimes-harsh tastes that are sure to come of single malt whiskys,  I don’t think I can declare victory.

Basil Ginger Cocktails

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is Priscilla Carruthers, AKA The Icebox Queen, who is a personal chef in Austin, Texas who specializes in healthy comfort food. She also writes an inspiring blog of the same name, which draws from her experiences as a chef as well as the local Austin food and wine scene and her “nomadic existence” all over Texas before settling in the capital city. I’m excited to test-drive a virgin spin on the delicious cocktail Priscilla has to offer us… and someday soon, the real thing. Those of us with basil overtaking our gardens this time of year can definitely appreciate this one!

I have the blackest of thumbs. Plants look at me and wilt. Nurseries close the blinds and turn out the lights when I pull into the parking lot. My dogs look at me with disdain when I try again, year after year, season after season, to grow another pot of herbs or a window garden with flowers. Even they can see the foreshadowing of my failure. People gift me with “easy to grow” plants, promising that, “No one can kill mint!,” and warning me to plant it in a pot to fight the spread. They shake their heads when they return to my house, realizing that plants taking over my garden would certainly beat the bare dirt and burnt up oregano that lives there now.

That is, until this time. This time, my mother didn’t just tell me what to do to have a garden, or send me home with a few plants. This time, she came with me to the nursery, and better yet, she came home with me and helped me plant them. And thanks to her, they live. They not only live, they thrive. Thanks to her fairy dusted green thumbs, I have more basil than I know what to do with. It’s starting to flower out there! I didn’t even know basil had flowers.

So this Basil Ginger Cocktail is dedicated to my mother’s verdant thumbs.

Basil Ginger Cocktails

If you don’t have as lush a garden as I do, (she giggles), store-bought basil works just as well, and it only takes a little. If you’d like this to be an adult beverage, I’d highly recommend Dripping Springs Vodka, or Tito’s; otherwise more club soda in place of the vodka would taste just as fine on a hot Austin day.

Basil Ginger Cocktail
Serves: 1
Ginger Syrup:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp ginger syrup, or to taste
  • 1 oz vodka
  • club soda
  • ice
  • 1 lime wedge
For ginger syrup:
  1. Bring water and sugar to a boil together in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add ginger, remove from heat, and let steep for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Once the syrup has the ginger strength you'd like, strain into a small jar or pitcher.
For the drink:
  1. In the bottle of a highball glass, muddle the basil with a splash of the lime juice and ginger syrup. (If you don't have a dedicated muddler, try the other end of a wooden spoon.)
  2. Add the ice, vodka, lime, and syrup. Fill the rest of the glass with club soda.
  3. Give it a swirl and garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy, and bask in a hot Texas summer with fresh herbs.



Minty Drink Roundup

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest poster hails from one of my favorite cocktail blogs — Rufus’ Guide to Food & Spirits. When they offered to do a round-up of minty summer cocktails, I jumped at the chance — just look at these delicious sippers! For so many of us in hot climes, mint grows like weeds in the summertime, so it’s all we can do to keep up. I can’t think of a better way to use it all!

We live in the South, and our mint plants produce almost year round. Come summertime, they would take over the yard if we didn’t keep them in pots. Considering the state of our yard, we might free them from their clay confines one of these days.

We throw mint in tea, garnish soup with it, make loads of tabbouleh when the tomatoes are in, throw it in with sauteed vegetables… you name it. We also drink it in a variety of cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages. We always say nothing punches up a summer punch at the family reunion like some moonshine. Okay, well mint is a close second on that front. Here are some of our favorite minty fresh drinks. Click on the links for recipes!

Lemonade with Mint and Honey

lemonade with mint and honey

Peach Daiquiris with Mint

peach daiquiris with mint

Minty Fresh Limeade

minty fresh limeade

Blackberry Mint Juleps

blackberry mint juleps

Cucumber Shooters

cucumber shooters


Cool Off with White Sangria

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is Lee Stokes Hilton of Spoon and Ink, who is a fellow AFBAer and a former Wall Streeter-turned-writer and kitchen goddess. As a recovering lawyer, I immediately knew I had found a kindred spirit! Read on for an amazing sangria recipe, and be sure to check out her blog too — not only does she share delicious, entertaining-friendly recipes, but she also sprinkles in some personal wisdom here and there.

In the heat of the summer, nothing is quite so refreshing as sangria. But as much as I enjoy the traditional stuff, it can sometimes feel a little heavy for daytime drinking. (We all enjoy a little daytime drinking, don’t we?) So this recipe for white sangria is the perfect solution: cool, crisp, and light.

White Sangria

I love serving this to a brunch or a ladies’ lunch. It adds just the right touch of sophistication. And we recently served up gallons of it at a neighborhood cocktail party, where it was a huge hit. If you’re serving a large crowd, it’s sometimes easier to make batches of the wine and fruit – which you can do a day ahead – then add ¼ cup (2 ounces) of sparkling water directly to each glass. That way, the carbonation doesn’t disappear before you serve it.

As for the wine to use, I prefer either a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio, both of which have nice fruity notes that go well with the pears, kiwis, and grapes.

White Sangria
Serves: 6
  • 1 bottle dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp superfine sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Calvados
  • 3 Tbsp Cointreau or other orange-based liqueur (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or my new favorite, Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur)
  • 2 kiwis, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 large pear, preferably green D’Anjou or Bartlett, sliced thin
  • 1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
  • 12 oz sparkling water (not club soda)
  • sprigs of mint for garnish
  1. In a large glass pitcher, combine the wine, sugar, Calvados and Cointreau. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add the fruit, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator (covered) 4-5 hours or overnight.
  3. To serve, stir well, then add the sparkling water and pour over ice in either a tall highball or Collins glass or a globe wine glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Mood Enhancer

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is a friend of mine, as well as a fellow mama and lover of spirits. (Do those two go hand in hand? Maybe. Or perhaps it is purely coincidental.) She may be a lover of wine first, but this lady knows her way around a bottle of gin, too, so I was excited when she agreed to do a guest post for me. Please welcome Alissa Leenher of SAHMmelier, and read on for a summer gin cooler perfect for sipping on the porch. Check out her site, too — it is one of my favorite reads, with everything from wine reviews to musings on motherhood. Cheers!

After the nicest spring that I can remember in my 18 years in Austin, summer is here. We actually made it to June without hitting the century mark (which is a little surprising), but now it’s time to lighten the wardrobe — and the cocktails.

One of my favorite summer sippers is as easy as throwing on your favorite sundress. Made with a locally distilled spirit and Elderflower liqueur, this cocktail is the perfect antidote to the Texas heat.

Mood Enhancer - photo by Alissa Leenher

I originally fell for this gin from Bone Spirits in Smithville, Texas when making the grapefruit martini Lauren shared a few months ago. I think we are on our third bottle since I discovered it. It’s clean, herbaceous, with notes of citrus and juniper. I love it, and I love supporting local distilleries.

Mood Enhancer - photo by Alissa Leenher

5.0 from 1 reviews
Mood Enhancer
Serves: 1-2
  • 2 oz Moody June Dry Gin
  • 1 oz Thatcher’s Elderflower Liqueur (or St. Germaine)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 3-5 thyme sprigs
  • Seltzer Water
  1. Combine gin, liqueur, 3 sprigs of thyme, and lemon juice with ice in a shaker.
  2. Shake well and pour over ice. Top off with seltzer to taste.
  3. Garnish with lemon slice and thyme sprig.


Chipotle Watermelon Margaritas

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest promised a creative margarita, and boy does she deliver! My mouth is watering just thinking about the spicy-sweet goodness of these babies. Please welcome Emily Teachout of A Time to Kale, and read on for a margarita recipe I just can’t wait to try out. Hop on over and check out her site, too — it has tons of great healthy recipes and restaurant reviews for your perusing pleasure. Emily is also a regular contributor for Endless Simmer, and you can follow her on Twitter (@emilyteachout). Cheers!

No fruit screams “summertime!” like watermelon. To me, it’s the highlight of every picnic, barbecue, and cookout — sweet, refreshing, and such a cheerful color! I’ve loved it ever since childhood, but as an adult, watermelon holds yet another perk: it’s so easy to combine with booze!

Chipotle Watermelon Margarita

Watermelon’s texture is perfect for a frozen drink, and of course the ultimate frozen drink is the margarita… basically they were meant to be together. You really don’t need more than watermelon, tequila, limes, and maybe a bit of extra sweetener to make a good marg, but I like to make things a bit more interesting by adding a kick. I’ve had really interesting spicy cocktails in the past, but sometimes people can take it overboard by adding too much habanero, jalapeno, etc. You want a good balance of fruity and spicy, not an overwhelming tongue-searer.

That’s why I went with chipotle instead of one of the aforementioned peppers – it’s slightly smoky and sweet and works well with the watermelon and lime. It still packs a good amount of punch, so don’t get overzealous. I recommend starting with two teaspoons for the whole batch, then adding more bit by bit if you’re craving more of a punch.

I had planned on making a batch of these bad boys in the blender, like any good frozen marg, but disaster struck when my blender died on me during the creation of this recipe! I had to go with Plan B: using an immersion blender and serving the drinks over ice. Sigh. Luckily, there’s a silver lining: the frothy watermelon mixture looks gorgeous served over crushed ice. I included both “methods” in the recipe below.

Chipotle Watermelon Margaritas
Serves: 4-6
  • ½ small or “personal” watermelon, cut into small chunks
  • fresh juice of 2 limes
  • 6oz silver tequila
  • 2 tsp chipotle sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)
  • agave nectar (as much as you like!)
With a blender:
  1. Now, if you’re a fancy, highfalutin person with a working blender, you can make these margs the way I had originally intended. Combine the watermelon chunks and lime with about a cup of ice in your blender, then pulse until evenly ground together, but before everything is liquefied.
  2. Add your tequila, chipotle, and a healthy squeeze of agave and pulse together a few more times.
  3. Pour into your drinkin’ glass of choice and garnish with a wedge of lime.
Alternate method:
  1. Or, if you find yourself in the same desolate situation as I did – no working stand-up blender to be found – feel free to dump all ingredients (sans ice) into a big bowl and work on it segment by segment with your immersion blender. Classy, I know.
  2. Once everything is blended to your liking, pour the cocktail mixture over crushed ice and garnish with a wedge of lime.


Any way you blend it, this unique marg will turn out to be a refreshing yet caliente summer drink!



It’s a Race for the Julep!

Note: This is the first of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Although many people’s minds are turning to margaritas with Cinco de Mayo coming up, it’s almost time for another big drinking day — the Kentucky Derby! I do love a good mint julep, so when Veronica Meewes of My Well-Fed Life (and my fellow AFBA member) offered to do a piece on the julep (so very intertwined with the Derby), I thought it was a fabulous idea. Read on for some great local spots (for the Austinites) and a couple of delicious recipes to make your own julep to sip while you watch the derby. Drink.well also happens to be one of my favorite local spots, so I’m pleased as punch to have the secrets behind a couple of their inventive twists on the julep. So, without further ado, may I introduce you to the lovely and talented Veronica Meewes?

Pineapple Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Pineapple Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

I’ve always been captivated by the Kentucky Derby.  An excuse to dress up, wear big hats, bet on horses with tongue-in-cheek names, and drink boozy, refreshing drinks? Umm.. yes, please!  You can bet my dress is already picked out with a hat to match for this weekend’s race.

But I’ve always wondered where the tradition of drinking mint juleps came from.  The combination of bourbon, mint, sugar, and water is so ingrained in Derby culture, it’s nearly impossible to hear the word “julep” and not think of the races!  The word “julep” itself is derived from the Persian word for rose water, but according to Wikipedia, “the origins of the mint julep are clouded and may never be definitely known.”  But the first American julep sightings occurred in the late eighteenth century after Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky brought the beverage into popularity.

Now, in the course of two days each year, around 120,000 juleps are served at Churchill Downs in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.  And did you know they also sell ultra-premium mint juleps for $1,000 each??  Served in gold-plated cups with silver straws, these high rollers’ cocktails are made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice cubes from the Bavarian Alps, and sugar from Australia.  (The proceeds are used to support organizations dedicated to retired horses.)

Thirsty yet?  Here are a couple places hosting Derby parties this Saturday, May 4th in Austin.  Want to host your own?  Scroll down for a several delicious julep variations from the mixologists of drink.well!

Derby Day Polo Benefit @ The Austin Polo Club

Maybe you didn’t even know there was a polo club in Austin?  I sure didn’t!  But this is the third year of this annual event, where you can watch two live polo matches before the Derby begins at 5:40pm.  General admission is $20, while VIP runs $50-75 (how VIP are you??)  Proceeds benefit the Texas Canine and Horse Rescue and the horses of the Longhorn and Aggie polo clubs.

Downtown Derby Day @ The Bonneville

Prize baskets will be given out for best dressed and best hat while bartenders pour juleps in flavors like ginger and blackberry, or a sweet tea collins, if you prefer!  Enjoy a hot brown sandwich while they screen The Run for the Roses before the races start.

Toast the Cure @ The Austin Children’s Museum

Tickets are $30 online and $40 at the door and include open bar, bites from local restaurants, and live music from Waterloo Revival and The Possum Posse.  All proceeds benefit diabetes research.

Cinco de Derby Brunch @ TenOak

Can’t decide which one to celebrate?  Or maybe only have one day to do it all?  Kill two birds with one stone: julep and bloody mary specials and a Cinco de Mayo menu.

Sunshine Camps Derby Fundraiser @ Star Bar

Tickets are $20 and include one “bet”– additional ones may be purchased for $5.  Dress to impress, as there will be prizes for that too.  All proceeds go to Austin’s Sunshine Camps.

drink.well’s Derby Day Party

If you’re in it for the drinks, this is where you need to be (I’ll be here!)  The award-winning staff will be dressed to the nines and shaking up creative cocktails as usual, such as pineapple and baker’s rack juleps (recipes below), Jabronis (a hybrid julep/Negroni), and Seelbachs, an aperitif named after the Louisville hotel where it was created.

Baker's Rack Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Baker’s Rack Julep ~ photo courtesy of drink.well

Baker's Rack Julep
  • 1 oz Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Apple Brandy
  • ½ oz Cinnamon & Clove Infused Brown Sugar Syrup
  • 7-8 Mint Leaves
  • Nutmeg
  • Black Pepper
  1. Muddle mint with the cinnamon-clove syrup.
  2. Add rye whiskey & apple brandy and crushed ice to the julep cup and swizzle until the cup is frosty. Top with additional crushed ice.
  3. Grated fresh nutmeg & cracked black pepper on top of the cup. Garnish with mint, cinnamon stick and, if you desire, a few slices of fresh apples.

Pineapple Julep
  • 1½ oz Bols Genever
  • ½ oz Raspberry Syrup
  • 2 Barspoons Housemade Pineapple Preserves
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • 1 orange wedge
  • 1 oz Sparkling Wine (we use McPherson Extra Dry)
  1. Muddle the citrus with the preserves and syrup.
  2. Shake with the genever and strain into a julep cup.
  3. Top with a mound of crushed ice and then top with 1 oz of Sparkling Wine.
  4. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, fresh raspberries and mint.

How the @#$ do you use a rolling pin?

Editor’s note: Hey-o! As part of my collaboration with Cooking Planit, the hubby (aka Gourmet Omnivore Husband) has agreed to share his tortilla-making expertise. That’s right — homemade tortillas. Hands off ladies; he’s taken.


Flour tortillas are a mainstay of southwestern cooking. At worst, a flour tortilla will be a capable conveyor of a tasty meal from plate to mouth, but at best, it is a meal in and of itself.

Growing up in Texas, my family would have our share of taco dinners, but — let’s face it — cooking in the ’80s generally meant buying a packet of 20 Mission tortillas. A kid may not know the difference, but as you get older, you will surely find better tortillas out there. I actually really enjoy Taco Cabana’s flour tortillas, for instance, in a pinch. If you are in a Trader Joe’s state, their “Real Handmade” tortillas are really top-notch, and in Texas, H-E-B makes a pretty darn good tortilla in their stores as well.

But, you probably aren’t on a cooking blog to learn where to buy stuff (though it may help). I haven’t been doing nearly as much cooking now that Lauren has dedicated herself full-time to domestic perfection,* but one thing I tackled this year was flour tortillas, and I am glad I did. For one, they are easy, cheap, and extremely delicious. For another – I learned how to use a rolling pin. Yay.

rolling out tortillas

* Ed: I totally did not make him say that. Thanks, honey!

You can get the recipe for homemade tortilla goodness over at Cooking Planit, where it’s part of a delicious meal with spicy black bean soup.

Tex-Mex Tastes

Before you start on your tortillas, though, the most important thing to know is that you can keep these on hand in dough form easily enough (in the fridge for a day or so, or frozen for longer), so I would strongly recommend you always double the recipe.

Homemade tortillas are great as a complement to chili or beans, or as a wrapper for a tasty burrito, as Nora can attest.

nora burrito

If you have leftover dough — which if you doubled the recipe, you do — do yourself a favor and make some sort of tortilla dessert. My favorite is to make a sopapilla doppelgänger using the cast iron skillet. Put about 2 Tbsp butter in there and heat it until it is almost smoking. Make your tortilla but leave it a bit thicker (maybe 6 inches across). Toss it in. It’ll take a bit longer to cook since it is thicker, but have patience. When you flip it, sprinkle it with some cinnamon, sugar or nutmeg (or a combo). After removing from skillet, put some delicious honey on there. Oh yes. It won’t puff up like a sopapilla, but it will surely taste delicious.

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