Easy (&Boozy) Last Minute Gifts

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I hear those sleigh bells jingling…ring ting tingling, too. The holidays crept up this year when I wasn’t paying attention and now, here we are 5 days out and I’m doing my best to suppress sheer panic. Christmas is a time for family, friends, glitter, twinkly lights, loads of cookies…and blowing budgets. It’s that budget part that gets me all in a tizzy. There is just something about another cashmere sweater, insanely priced imported chocolates, or those witty (but pointless) gifts that fit the recipient so perfectly that would bring a big shameonyou for not purchasing.

Usually at this time of year, I turn to the exotic food section at Wegmans, the gourmet aisles of DiBruno Bros or extra special bottles of the local Wines and Spirits for some inspiration and saving grace. Christmas for us is all about the food and drink (surprised?). From the coffee we drink while opening presents to the bread we clean our dinner plates with, everything is just a bit more decadent than usual.
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And since gifts for me should always be decadent, thoughtful and maybe a little ridiculous, what’s a better way than gifting food? Don’t think I skimped on the booze…not even a little bitnot even at all. Here are some ideas to save your butt and budget over the next few days so you can avoid traffic and standing in line for that giant snowflake sweater …again. Plus you’ll get bonus points for the handmade gifts.

And what mother doesn’t love that?!

A few places that are musts to hit: a liquor store, unless of course you have random bottles of alcohol that you’re able to use, a Home Goods (or something similar) for some fun, funky glassware and kitchen products that are cheapcheap, and the grocery store. Most grocery stores will sell Ball Mason jars—check the bottom shelves in the dry goods section or ask. If not there, check hardware or craft store. You might have been headed there anyway!

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Red Wine Cherries with Black Magic Cake Recipe

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 1 16 oz. Bag of Frozen Dark Sweet Pitted Cherries—fresh ones are nice but pricey and the work of pitting is already done for you (go frozen!)
  • 6-8 oz. of a full-bodied red wine (Zinfandel or Cabernet work well)

Fill the clean Mason jar with as many cherries as you can fit. Top with red wine. Seal jar. I topped mine with a split wine cork for a little homey touch. Since these cherries are fantastic spooned over chocolate cake, I packaged with this amazing Black Magic Chocolate Cake recipe, a container of Sharffen Berger cocoa, some cake pans and a spatula.

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Orange Vodka for Christmas Morning ManMosas

  • 1 Pint Mason Jar
  • 2 Jumbo Navel Oranges
  • 12 – 14 oz. Vodka

Slice one of the oranges into wheels and cut each in half, add to clean Mason jar. With a zest cutter, cut the skin of the second orange completely, add to jar. This should fill the jar pretty well. Top with vodka and seal. Package with pint glass or beer stein and a recipe breakfast ManMosas: the manly alternative to the mimosa with orange vodka, OJ and Blue Moon. *Thanks to Jimmy for teaching me to drink like a man in the morning.*

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Christian Brothers Brandy Soaked Cherries and Rye Manhattan Recipe

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 1 16 oz. bag of Frozen Dark Sweet Pitted Cherries
  • 6-8 oz. Christian Brothers VS Brandy

Fill the clean Mason jar with as many cherries as possible and top with brandy. Seal. These little suckers are fantastic in a Manhattan and can be packaged with a glass if you know your recipients preference of up or on the rocks. I didn’t, so I stuck with the shaker and a simple drink recipe. A little chalk board paint on the lid let me label it in a fun way.

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Star Fruit and Dried Berries for Fantastic Winter Cosmo

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 2 star fruit, slice thinly
  • 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp. raisins
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 4-6 oz. Triple Sec

Add the sliced star fruit, cranberries, raisins and cinnamon sticks to the jar and top with triple sec. Package with a fun shaker, martini glass (or a combo of both!) and a great winter Cosmo recipe that calls for the drunken fruits, white cranberry juice and vodka.

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Warm Up with Winter Ales

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While partying down in my ugly Christmas sweater, I noticed that the beer I was drinking – a Sam Adams Old Fezzywig Ale – was doing a number on my constant chilly state.

Even though the weekend never really got too cold, I came into the bar with little feeling and little blood in my fingers and toes—a result of some fun circulation issues and backlash from a bit of frostbite I suffered in college. This was only beer #1 so the heat had little to do with the flush that graced the faces of those a few deep. This cold beer was warming me up from the inside out.

Seasonal beers of the fall, winter and holidays typically fall into the category of herbed or spiced beers. They have things in them like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, spruce and even hot peppers that pack just the right amount of punch to get blood moving.

How you might ask? I wondered that myself. So I asked my acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine guru, Sharon Sherman of Empirical Point Acupuncture, how these herbs and spices can have an actual effect on our internal body temps. “The Oriental medicine classification of foods by temperature is evaluated in both the thermal nature of the food itself and the way it is prepared. This measure – expressed as hot, warm, neutral, cool and cold – is an energetic temperature that indicates the effect a particular food has on the body when ingested.

“All herbs are different in their thermal properties; mint is cooling, cinnamon is hot, turmeric is warming, licorice is cooling, green tea is cooling, fennel seeds are warming, ginger fresh is warm—but dried powdered ginger is hot.

“In Chinese medicine, alcohol is described as acrid and hot. While it moves the qi and quickens the blood, it also engenders fluids. This means that in moderation the alcohol invigorates circulation and warms the body do to its spicy and moving properties. Alcohol will synergize the heat in the herbs because the alcohol being used as a vehicle is also considered warming.”

So—in moderation of course—herbed and spiced brews are a good way to stay warm this winter season. I know I’ll be adding them to my regimen of finger saving herbal teas and decoctions. And I’ll be honest: they taste a whole hell of lot better than the herbs I’m supposed to drink every morning and night (think 5 ounces of warm cinnamon, sticks, bile and yogi armpit). Some of my favorites include:

Booze for Thought: Dessert Vodkas

It’s completely normal to spend a decent part of a Sunday afternoon in the liquor store, wandering dreamily down the aisles, considering every bottle that catches a glint of sunlight and tosses a come hither look my way…right?

Some would say I’m like a kid in a candy store. They really don’t know how right they are…

The number of whipped cream, marshmallow, caramel, bubblegum and s’mores flavored bottles there are in existence is pretty amazing. Dessert vodkas have been steadily increasing their shelf space since Pinnacle was introduced to the market in 2009. I never paid them much attention especially after seeing quite a few of these sweet spirits crust over on the bar shelves where I used to work — where one bottle lived for over a year—but after seeing the shelves today, I’m wondering why are there so many?

There’s something inherently wrong about infusing liquor with children’s snack flavors. Artificial flavoring (because there is definitely not a piece of cookie dough infusing flavor in those blue bottles), and steering under-agers to drink aside, I worry about any drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol is involved. These types of liquors will almost always be mixed with a concoction of juices or soda and before you know it, heywhahappened?! you’re wasted. The hangover to follow might make you wish for death. There’s just no reason to do that.

More importantly than that is that the experience of the flavors is removed. There’s no texture battle between the layers of sweet pastry and rich frosting. There’s no fruit filling or little bits of wax from birthday candles that burned too long. You don’t get to search out the perfect stick to roast that marshmallow or try to avoid hitting anyone when it bursts into flames and you’re trying to put it out in the most laughable way possible. You didn’t have to stick your thumb in half the contents of Russell Stover’s Holiday Pack to find what you were looking for.

Oh, and remember this scene? It’s exactly why I won’t walk down the liquid dessert path. Thanks for the warning, Willy…

There’s something to be said for simple pleasures. Creating a memory around a set of flavors instead of forgetting everything because of them seems like the better route. Expect to see me cook with some of these puppies — can’t tell me salted caramel won’t make a killer icing — but I’m not sure they’ll ever see my cocktail shaker.

I do love my sweets though but for me Frangelico, Domaine de Canton and Limoncello are just enough…

Bloody Genius, BloodyMary!

Even though I was the kid who rinsed off hot wings (yes, in the sink), I find myself loving spice lately. There’s just something really cleansing about the eye watering, nose running and deep belly fire that’s better than Bikram in August for a good full body rinse.

Spice helps raises metabolism, rids the body of toxins, clears out sinuses, and lowers blood pressure among other things. The fact that we inadvertently take in all kinds of toxins on a daily basis is a good reason to get rid of a few here and there.  Spicy foods like hot peppers actually help to dilate (open up) blood vessels and increase blood flow. Better blood flow = less crap. Less crap, happier body.

After a long, fuzzy weekend of purposeful toxin guzzling, I need as much blood flow as possible.

While the truly perfect solution has always involved chewing (read: cheese omelet with mustard, greasy hash browns and dry wheat toast and about 2 gallons of water), sometimes food is not quite what I’m looking for…and not yet what I’m able to manage. To make sitting upright possible, spicy drinks are the secret. They help to hydrate, satiate and get me firing on all cylinders again. If the burning in my stomach can distract from the burning behind my eyes — even better.

The Bloody Mary is the answer.

I hate to admit that I had my first Bloody Mary about a month ago. I wish I knew about this for most of my 20’s as I suffered through many long days of brain-dead zombie-time. I probably deserved that suffering though. Builds character says my dad.

Life is a learning process.

A lot of seasoned vets will tell you extra horse-radish is the way to go—but after seeing horse-radish nearly kill a woman on “1,000 Ways to Die”, I just can’t take the chance any more. After developing what seems like an immunity to the attempts of Tabasco, I knew shit was about to get real. It was time to play with fire.

I’d love to take credit for this gem—but it was Matt who decided to shove 3 of his home-grown what-do-I-do-with-them-now? jalapeños into a bottle of Absolut at the beginning of the summer. The heat emanating from this bottle is the only reason it’s been living here for more than a few weeks.

If it’s survived this long, it might really know something I don’t know…

If you’ve got a long weekend ahead, run out and grab these ingredients–it’ll save your life come Sunday. Promise.

Bloody Genius, Mary!

  • 3/4 C Tomato Juice
  • 1/4 C Jalapeño Infused Vodka*
  • 1 t horse-radish
  • 1/2 t lemon juice
  • 1/8 t Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/8 t Steak Sauce (A-1)
  • 1/8 t Tabasco Sauce
  • 1/8 t Sriracha sauce
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedge, lime wedge, Hot Pepper Pickled Asparagus** spears to garnish & take the place of celery as a stirrer

*Quick note on infusing vodka: it’s very easy! You don’t need to use a whole bottle if you don’t want that much jalapeño vodka. Slice up peppers and soak. It will get stronger the longer it sits. 24 hrs. will suffice.

**Quicker note on the Hot Pepper Pickled Asparagus: I used a variation on the recipe found on Food In Jars. Even though she has a great recipe for pickled asparagus, I like the “quick pickle” version. And these are ridiculously good.

So you’ll need to prep those two things in advance if possible. Consider it pre-gaming.

Combine all other ingredients over ice, garnish with lemon, lime and asparagus spears and you’re cured!