Blackberry Rose Party Punch

>> Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blackberry Rose Party Punch

We love stirring up big pitchers of punch for summer parties - if you're careful about the mixology, you can sip a punch all afternoon in the sun and just feel a little more loving to all mankind. At Joe's birthday and my graduation party, we served White Summer Sangria. At a lot of neighborhood parties and summer BBQs we've stirred up a concoction that a friend in the Caribbean taught us, an authentic Caribbean Rum Punch.

We were ready for a different party punch for Memorial Day and all the graduation and summer parties ahead. Blackberries are already flooding our grocery stores, and a gorgeous holiday weekend brought out the best in Joe's bartender instincts. I poured out a lot of cups of punch last Saturday night.

Rose wine, lime juice, vodka, berries, and herbs make a bright party drink!

When we downsized from a house to a lakeside apartment after our girls went out on their own, we wondered if we could find a neighborhood tribe as friendly as our wonderful friends in the old neighborhood. We missed Friday night Drinks on the Drive and family bonfires and all our kids playing together in the pools or flashlight tag in the back yards.

While some of our apartment neighbors have come and gone, a few of us get together for weekend Bags games and a few beers in good weather. One of our friends brought a huge supply of fireworks to the 4th of July party two summers ago and we all had a ridiculous amount of fun with fire. This year, we promised them a new punch and Joe totally delivered with this berry and blush wine chiller.

We'll probably keep playing with this punch all summer. I'm thinking blueberries with lavender sprigs, cherries and the tarragon from our pots, and any fresh fruits and herbs we can drop into the drink. Like we always say, use your own favorites or whatever's in season, and make this easy punch recipe your own!


1 bottle of Rose wine (750 ml)
1 cup vodka
1/2 can frozen limeade
1 pint blackberries
2 tbsp fresh marjoram (optional)
Lime slices
3 cups sparkling water


In a pitcher, stir together the wine, vodka, and limeade. Squeeze the berries to release their juice while you drop them into the punch. Put the marjoram in an infuser or tea ball, and drop into the pitcher. Add lime slices and some ice cubes and chill for at least 2 hours.

Before serving, remove the herb infuser and stir in the sparkling water or club soda. Serve over ice.

Makes about 12 cocktails.


Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup with Mint

>> Thursday, May 21, 2015

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup with Mint

Sometimes the heart has its reasons that reason can't explain...and sometimes, so does the stomach. I started craving a fresher version of Viet beef soup in the middle of a heat wave last summer. We don't usually eat hot soup in the summertime, and eating hot foods when it's hot seemed a little weird.

Yet, my craving remained. And heck, it's mighty steamy in Vietnam most of the time, right? They still love their traditional soups and hot noodles, and after I've tasted some of them, I know they're onto something good. Turns out, spicy and heated foods can actually help us cool off by generating more perspiration. If not that, at least it gives us some perspective on what really hot means!

Beef Pho with mint
Toss in the things you like in an Asian bowl of soup

We love any version of Vietnamese Pho (pronounced fuh), and if anyone has a new recommendation between Chicago and Milwaukee, we'll jump in the car and head over there. But the five-spice powder, heavy on anise and cinnamon, seemed all wrong for my summertime craving. We took out those spices and added cool-tasting mint, cilantro, and basil leaves for freshness.

If you're serving a group, just put the vegetables on the table, spoon some broth over the noodles and beef, and let people customize their own Pho bowl.


6 ounces dried rice-stick noodles (rice vermicelli)
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp grated ginger root
1/3 serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
6 cups cups beef broth
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
1/2 pound beef, very thinly sliced across the grain

On the Table
3 heads baby bok choy, quartered
1/4 pound snow peas, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch strips (1 cup)
1 cup sliced green onions
6 ounces fresh bean sprouts
1/3 cup sliced mint leaves
1/3 cup sliced basil leaves
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut into small wedges


Cook noodles according to package directions. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking, then drain. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil on high heat and then add the bok choy quarters and sear. When they begin to become tender, place them on a platter and set aside. Saute the ginger and chile for 3 minutes. Stir in the broth and fish sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add beef and simmer 3 minutes longer.

While broth is simmering, steam the snow peas in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly tender. Place all vegetables and herbs on the table.

Place noodles into four bowls and ladle the broth on top. Bring to the tables and let each person add the vegetables they prefer.

Serves 4-5.


Light & Spicy Black Bean Dip

>> Monday, May 18, 2015

Light & Spicy Black Bean Dip
It doesn't get more healthy and guilt-free than this quick black bean dip!

We've whipped up this quick dip for parties and a protein-filled side to tuck into our lunches with fresh vegetables. This one suits everyone - weight watchers, vegans, gluten-free friends, and paleo diet-lovers. If you know someone who's sensitive to spicy foods, use tomatoes with bell peppers instead, and leave some good Mexican hot sauce on the side for others.

If you're like us, May and June are filled with graduation parties, early summer get-togethers with friends, and a big craving for something fresh and light to pack for lunch. This dip freezes well in small containers, so you can make a big batch and whip out a bowl when the mood hits you.


1 31-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained well
10 oz can of chopped tomatoes with chiles or bell peppers, well drained
2/3 cup fat-free sour cream, soy yogurt, or cashew cream
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp chopped green onions, divided

For dippers:
Carrots, peeled jicama straws, cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, celery, snap peas, green onion stalks, bell pepper slices, tortilla chips, pretzel chips (my new love!) and toasted pita wedges.


Blend together all ingredients until as smooth and chunky as you like, reserving 1 tbsp green onions. Serve sprinkled with remaining onions and a platter of things to dip in the bean mixture.

Serves 10-12. 


Pigs in a Blanket Breakfast Bake

>> Monday, May 11, 2015

Pigs in a Blanket Breakfast Casserole

A few weeks ago I was craving pigs in a blanket - perhaps craving isn't the right word. I'm pretty sure sausages in buttermilk pancakes were dancing through my dreams. Hey, there are worse things I could be obsessing about, right?

I told Joe the grand vision I had for a brunch pancake bake: apples, breakfast sausages, pancake batter, syrup. He came up with this recipe for Mother's Day brunch - basically it's an upside-down buttermilk cake with caramelized apples and savory sausage. My gosh, this is so amazingly good that I want this for breakfast every day!

Pancakes, apples, and sausage in one easy breakfast bake!

Next, I'm going to challenge my master chef to make these into on-the-go breakfast muffins. We used a pie pan, so he actually has a bit of buttermilk pancake batter left over for him to experiment with. We're also going to serve this when all our family is in town for First Born's college graduation in June. Are you hungry, family?

P.S. I'm sure this works well with boxed pancake mix as well, if you want to save a minute or two in stirring together the dry ingredients. We've never made from-scratch buttermilk pancakes though, and Joe says he's never going back to something like Bisquick!

sausage and pancake breakfast bake


For the Batter
2  cups flour
1  tsp baking soda
2  tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2  eggs, beaten
2  cups buttermilk
3 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla

For the Casserole
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter 
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 large apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1 package turkey sausage links cut into 1/2" pieces (we really love fully-cooked Bob Evans breakfast sausage)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and oil a 9x13 pan or a large pie pan. If you use the pie pan, you will have some pancake batter left over for later!

Stir together the dry batter ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together the wet ingredients, then beat in the flour mixture until smooth and well combined. Set aside. (Note: you can make this a day or two earlier and keep it in the fridge - whip it well before using.)

Place the brown sugar, butter, and syrup in a small saucepan and heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Let cool.

apples and syrup for Pigs in a Blanket Breakfast Casserole

Arrange the apple slices in the bottom of the pan and pour the syrup over them. If the sausage is not precooked, brown the pieces in a skillet. Sprinkle the sausage pieces over the apples. Pour the pancake batter on top. 

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Tip the pan over onto a platter and cut into squares or wedges as you prefer.

Serves 4-6.

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