Cherry Red Sangria

or a simple and sweet adult beverage for sizzling Summer days

I love being a "hostess" to our friends and family because I love having the opportunity to try out new recipes and share my favorite foods, but I do tend to get a little over zealous sometimes.  So I've found ways to limit how much I make depending on the type of gathering.  For instance - if it is a holiday party, I make desserts in advance and restrict myself to one side dish by asking others to bring sides to pass.  In the warmer months, I have taken to making an "adult beverage" as one of my menu items.  This way I can still feel like I am making something special for the day without heating up the kitchen any more then necessary, and what better Summer-time drink then a fresh and fruity sangria?   Light and refreshing, it is a great compliment to grilling and fresh veggies alike.

I've been practicing my recipe for over a year now, and I have to say - I am definitely pleased with the results!  I've had great feedback on each concoction and this final version has recently received a gold seal of approval on the tasting grounds.  To start, I love the flavor of cherry wine so cherry juice was a must in the base ingredients.  You can play around with the type of red wines for the foundation depending on what type of wine you like.  I like to use one that is lighter and sweeter (either a "chillable" red or a nice "table wine") along with something heavier like a Merlot or Sangiovese for a good medium bodied balance overall.  You may want to go all lighter or all heavier depending on what flavors you lean towards personally.  The recipe is really simple, all it takes is some prep work and time to marinate, it's a great way to add a personal touch to any gathering whether you cook, have it catered, or go potluck style.  Here's how it's done:

Red Wine - 2 bottles

Cherry Juice - 2 cups
Lemon Juice - ⅓ cup
Sugar - 1 cup
Orange - 1 large sweet
Lemon - 1 large
Lime - 2 small
Cherries - 1 cup dark, frozen
Ginger Ale - 4 cups

1. Add red wine to a large pitcher or bowl and stir in sugar until it is fully dissolved.  Stir in the cherry juice and lemon juice to incorporate.

2. Slice the orange, lemon, and limes into rings and add to the wine mixture along with the frozen cherries. Let marinate at least overnight in the refrigerator.

3. Stir well. Drain into another pitcher through a fine mesh strainer to remove pulp.  

4. Stir in the ginger ale and serve chilled.  If desired, you can add some freshly sliced fruit for presentation before serving.

Remember... adults only!  Sorry kids, but homemade pudding pops are decent consolation prize.  Enjoy!


Quick and Simple Broccoli Packets

or have your vegetables and grill them too, easy Summer sides

Rain or shine, Spring has sprung here in our happy little suburb of Detroit.  Farmers' Markets are in full bloom and the vegetable plants are in abundance, now we just have to wait for them to grow... patience is not one of my virtues.  But, lucky for me, some local farmers understand my predicament and use greenhouses to get fresh veggies to eager shoppers earlier then Mother Nature had planned (which it seems this year would have been August with the way these temperatures have been going).  So I gratefully run up to the market every Sunday to get my hands on the farm fresh produce that I crave.  I never would have thought that vegetables would be something I craved, I have been a meat and potatoes kind of girl since childhood, but the Farmers' Markets have changed all that - it just tastes better when it hasn't been spending the past few weeks or months being shuffled around in bulk boxes and sitting in stores.

The problem I generally run into in the warmer weather, should it choose to come this year, is balancing cooking on the grill and prepping side dishes indoors.  I have long been a fan of "potato packets" and we do prepare those on a regular basis on the grill, but I really wanted to get other veggies in on the fun.  So what was the logical conclusion?  Packet them up too!  It works beautifully once you have the timing down, they cook a fair amount faster then the traditional potato variety of packets, and are more sensitive to cooking temperatures as well.  But once you work out the kinks with your grill and timing the main dishes, it is an easy and delicious way to add a bit more variety to cookouts.  And who could resist the preset servings?  The individual packets add a bit of fun for kids and are a great way to ensure that everyone gets their share of the grilled veggie goodness.  And ss long as you don't sop up all that lingering butter, it's a healthy way to add a fresh flavor to your Summer-time grill menu.  Check it out:

1 head of broccoli
Olive oil spray
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp dried minced onion
House seasoning blend, salt and pepper

Hardware: aluminum foil

1. Pull out four 8 inch sections of aluminum foil and lay out in a line.  Spray the center of each with olive oil, this is where you'll be lining up the broccoli.

2. Cut the broccoli into bite sized pieces and set aside.  Cut each tablespoon of butter into quarters and set aside.

3. In each packet, first add 1/8 of the broccoli in a bottom layer.  Top with 1/4 of the butter, distributed evenly across the broccoli, and 1/2 tbsp dried minced onion.  Season lightly with the house or nature's seasoning blend. Next add another 1/8 of the broccoli to each, spray with olive oil, and top with 1/2 tbsp parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp Italian breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.

4. Pull the two long sides together and fold down to seal and form a "tent" over the vegetables.  Roll the short ends in to seal the packet completely.  Crimp all seals by pinching to secure all ingredients inside, make sure there is some sealed in air space above the vegetable (remember the tent effect we created with the long sides, it helps prevent burning to a degree and helps with the steaming effect).

5. Grill over non-direct heat, if you have an upper rack on the grill that works great, for about 5-10 min with the top closed.  Time may be more or less depending on how hot your grill is so you may want to experiment a bit.  Larger packets can cook longer.  Be very careful opening the packets as a lot of steam will come out at first, if serving to kids you'll want to do this part for them (or at least vent it enough to let the steam escape first).

Bonus - these can be made in advance and stored in the fridge until guests arrive.  This can also be done with green beans, zucchini, and of course potatoes (one of my personal favorites).  I have not yet experimented with other veggies but have every intention to this Summer, if you find some other ones that thrive in these packets I'd love to hear about it!  So go fire up your grill and let the fun begin, enjoy!


Chill and Grill Boneless Pork Ribs

or a flavorful Summertime pork infusion

This week let's keep this short and sweet, and a little bit tangy. Spring is in the air and while we are dodging raindrops around here, it is perfect weather to get out the grill. Nothing says Summer is coming like the smell of the grill, unless you live in my area then maybe it's the endless rows of construction barrels too. But let's stick with the happy signs today - the grill. We have been known to break out the grill in the Winter, amidst the snow and ice, but it isn't quite the same as a nice warm evening out back when you can lazily cook dinner in a light Spring breeze (until, of course, your stomach starts growling louder then the aforementioned lovely breeze). It just seems to slow things down and bring a certain amount of relaxation to the evening, and what makes it even better is if the prep is already done in advance - enter the marinade.

This recipe can easily be made the night before or the morning of so that the pork can soak leisurely and absorb all those delicious flavors, it pairs great with a tangy BBQ sauce or you can cook down the marinade recipe further (adding a bit more ketchup or tomato sauce) to thicken it for a similar purpose. It holds its own with flavor without the extra sauce, but some days you just want a bit more so go where your tastes guide you on that part. Here's how it's done:

Boneless Pork Country Style Ribs
¾ cup water
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
⅓ cup ketchup
2 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp minced garlic

1. In a medium saucepan bring the water to a simmer.  Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved.

2. Add the rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, onion, and garlic.  Stir to combine until smooth and bring to a simmer.  Continue to stir occasionally and keep simmering for about 5 min.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

3. In a deep dish pour half of the marinade.  Create a single layer of the pork ribs and pour the remaining marinade over top.  Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight or for 6-8 hours. 

4. Remove from the refrigerator about 15 min before cooking (I usually do it about 5 min before firing up the grill since it takes some time to heat up).  Cook to desired internal temperature, we like ours medium to medium well, and if using BBQ sauce add it during the last few minutes on each side.


Pan Fried Gnocchi with a Sweet Balsamic Reduction

or experiments in decadence, celebrating every day life

Last night I was left to my own devices for dinner.  While I do normally cook dinner at home, I also usually have the tastes of my lovely husband to take into account so I try not to take too big of risks with that particular weekday meal.  But last night, as I mentioned, I was alone.  Just me, our dog Riley, and a poorly stocked kitchen.  That's right, we did not go grocery shopping last weekend, so our stock was getting pretty bare by Thursday night when the last of our meat from our quick trip to the butcher shop had already run out.  Every fiber of my being wanted to just pick something up for dinner from a restaurant, but the thought of fast food was anything but appealing.  Go figure.  So I had to come up with something resourceful and delicious on my own.  Enter - the forgotten ingredients.

I tend to get inspired to make various dishes as I am wandering through the grocery stores and markets and pick up "essential" items in what can best be described as rationalized impulse buys.  These ingredients come home and set up residence in my cupboard, since odds are good that instant inspiration has already slipped my mind, and await their fate in a completely different dish.  This is how I ended up with balsamic vinegar.  I intended to make a reduction with some grand meal my head had concocted months ago, but it seemed like a lot of work - so into the cupboard it went.  Then last night it came to mind again while I was pondering what I could experiment with when I had only myself to disappoint, and could easily dispose of the evidence before anyone else came home.  It was the perfect finishing touch to a dish that was yet to be determined  After I took stock mentally of the limited options we had in our pantry I settled on using it with pan fried gnocchi, also a first during this meal, which surprisingly turned out as good on my plate as it sounded in my head.  Gnocchi is a bit sticky when it is freshly cooked so I thought that was the perfect time to toss in some breadcrumbs, and they should stick right?  Well this time logic was on my side, and the experiment turned out beautifully!  It was decadent and delicious, and made me feel like I must be enjoying a meal in celebration of some great success (other then finally using that balsamic).  I only wished I had someone to share it with... so here we are (I even made it look pretty, sort of):

16 oz Gnocchi - store bought or homemade (see optional recipe below)
3/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Olive oil
4 oz Balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Hardware: large pot, small sauce pot, and deep pan

1. Boil a pot of lightly salted water and cook gnocchi 2-3 minutes, until floating (or per package directions).

2. Place about half the breadcrumbs in a deep dish.  As the gnocchi finishes use a slotted spoon to lift and drain the gnocchi, then toss in a single layer in the breadcrumbs.  Make sure the first layer has room to move about and shake the dish to get the gnocchi to roll around and coat in the breadcrumbs.  Continue to drain gnocchi and add to the dish, top with the remaining breadcrumbs and shake to ensure that they coat.  Use a spoon if necessary to stir the breadcrumbs and ensure coverage.  The sticky texture of the cooked gnocchi will help adhere the breadcrumbs without any other help.  Set aside.

3. In the small sauce pot add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.  Turn on medium low heat and simmer for about 8-10 min, stirring regularly, until a syrup consistency forms (lightly coats the back of a spoon).  Then remove from heat.

4. While the balsamic is cooking, heat half of the olive oil in the bottom of the deep pan, it should be just enough to coat.  Use a slotted spoon to remove half the gnocchi from the breadcrumbs, shake lightly to remove excess, and add in a loose single layer in the pan.  Flip once the bottom starts to become golden.  Remove to a metal strainer once evenly browned, season with a bit of kosher salt if desired.  Drain the used oil and repeat the process with the remaining olive oil and gnocchi.

5. Serve gnocchi drizzled with the sweet balsamic reduction and top with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe

Ricotta - 8 oz, lowfat or fat free
Eggs - 2
Parmesan Romano Cheese
Minced garlic, salt, pepper
Flour - 1+ cups
Olive oil

Bring a medium size pot of water to boil

1. Stir Ricotta, eggs, Parmesan Romano, and spices until an even texture exists throughout

2. Gradually mix in flour until a dough-like consistency is formed

3. Roll the dough into 1/2“ to 3/4” balls and press in your hand with a thumb print about halfway down to create an oval shape

4. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches until they float to the top

5. Either continue recipe above for pan fried gnocchi* or remove the gnocchi and place in a strainer until all batches are cooked, lightly sprinkle with olive oil while waiting and then toss with a prepared pasta sauce and serve.

* if using Ricotta Gnocchi for the pan fried style, you'll want to lay them out in a single layer on a pan after breading and place in the refirdgerator to chill for 10-15 min before pan frying.