Pumpkin & Spice Infused Vodka

pumpkin sugar pumpkin pumpkin vodka recipe

For Thanksgiving this year, I felt like doing something different.  For me, holiday cooking is not so much about cooking the same dishes year after year. No, the holidays are the time that I try over the top recipes that I would never ordinarily have an excuse to make.  This is the time that I bring out the recipes with obscure spices, with several steps, with long preparation times, like this Pumpkin and Spice infused vodka.

It’s adapted from this recipe on Food52.

I used pumpkin instead of butternut squash because I think it’s more seasonal.

To peel and disembowel the pumpkin, pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on high, then place it on a cutting board and slice it in half down the middle.  Scoop out the guts (reserving the seeds to toast for a yummy snack), then peel and cube the pumpkin.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Syrup

Living in Los Angeles, few things truly invoke the feeling of Autumn.  The palms trees that frame the avenues, swaying ever so violently in the Santa Ana winds, do not burn with orange and gold leaves.  Even at night, temperatures rarely dip below sixty degrees.  So, in addition to strident insistence on wearing sweaters because it is October, guys, the thing that signals the beginning of Fall in the modern era is … the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

When I managed a restaurant at the base of an office building in downtown LA, we would get requests frequently for our version of the beverage, and so I (a former Starbucks barista myself) developed a Pumpkin spice syrup for our bar, that I will happily share with you now, in consideration of the current Pumpkin Spice syrup shortage of 2012

I do something a little differently with my syrup, cutting the amount of sugar in the base mix and adding sweetened condensed milk, but I like the body that the sweetened condensed milk gives to the final product.  The cinnamon/pumpkin/condensed milk combo adds creamy richness and warmth to whatever you add this syrup to– coffee, latte, hot chocolate, a little brandy and creme de cocao shaken over ice…

If you don’t want to use the sweetened condensed milk, then just increase the brown sugar to 1 1/2 cups.

Recipe after the jump

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Better than Popcorn Crunchy Snack Mix

spiced nuts recipe

Y’all, I am obsessed with kale chips. I am not afraid to admit it, and I know I am not alone.  On a whim a couple of weeks ago, I toasted some almonds and seasoned ’em up with a little salt and sugar, mixed them with the kale chips, and called it snack mix.  It was delicious, but I knew it could get better. So I worked on the nut seasoning, and I think I nailed it.

I enjoy these almonds alone, or tossed with kale chips. I’ve plowed through bowls of this Almond-Kale mix while watching the NBA Finals, or a good Rom-Com, it is the crunch of popcorn combined with a sweet, salty, spicy flavor punch, and minus any of the empty calories.

So here it is….

kale almond snack mixrecipe after the jump….

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Restaurant 101: Peeling Heads of Garlic


I wasn’t going to post this until Monday, but now it really is the companion piece to the garlic infused olive oil recipe I posted this morning.  So here you go– and for those of you who aren’t crazy about this much garlic, or think it’s going to be overpowering, the end result when you infuse it oil is more of just a hint of earthiness.   It doesn’t really taste so much like garlic, it is just a whisper, a savory bass note that gives dishes a little warmth.

It’s Love, guys.

Before you can infuse your garlic olive oil, though, you need to peel a boat load of garlic.  Which sounds daunting, but I’m going to show you how to do it in thirty-seven seconds.  I only use the method at home when I need to peel a ton of garlic, as it does leave you with an extra dish to wash.  In a restaurant where you have the luxury of a professional dishwasher, we don’t care so much about dirtying an extra dish.  But that’s a whole other subject.

To peel a boatload of garlic in thirty-seven seconds, you will need:

1 boatload of Garlic (I usually peel 2 heads)

1 large pot with a lid

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Picnic Perfect Wines

stacked chardnnayWhat is a summer picnic without wine? I saw these at the supermarket the other day, and they seem perfect. Four individual cups of wine are sealed and stacked in a plastic sleeve.  Currently, Stacked wine makes Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinto Grigio.  The cups are actually a fancy sort of plastic, not glass, so they would be safe to take to summer concerts in parks or to the beach.  Plus, I bet you could re-use the cups for individually portioned desserts or snacks, too.

Stacked merlot
note the cute zipper down the side. ok, so I am a sucker for packaging….

I paid $14.00 after tax for the Stacked Chardonnay at Gelson’s. I had to sample it,  research, you know.  Each ‘glass’ is a 187 mL portion, which gives you only 2mL less than your standard 750mL traditional bottle of wine.   Flavor-wise, the chard tasted like what I would expect from a $12-$14 bottle.  It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it also won’t interfere overmuch with anything you plan to enjoy with the wine.  The chardonnay was a little buttery, not oaky, and had a nice hint of citrus.  I could easily see this going well with any picnic food, from cheeses and salty cured meats to fruits and veggies.  It would be great with cold fried chicken, too, which is my favorite picnic food….

For the slightly more celebratory picnic-ing occassions, I adore Francis Coppola Winery’s Sofia sparkling wine in the pink cans.  Color me girly, but the packaging of these beauties cannot be beat.  I’ll even pick some up for a ladies’ night in or a tuck them into a wedding day survival kit for a friend.

Sofia Sparkling Wine

Toss in a pitcher of fresh lemonade  and a big bottle of water, and I think you have your picnic beverages covered.

What about you? Tell me in the comments what you drink on a picnic!

More Than You Ever Wished to Know About Lemonade….

black berry ginger lemonade
lemons and ginger and berries, oh my!

Since a lovely Farmer’s Market popped up a block away from my apartment a month ago, I have found myself with an embarrassment of riches in the fresh fruits and veggies department.   Pretty much every day that I am not making Sangria, I whip up a batch of lemonade with some kind of berry in it.  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Raspberry…. sometimes with mint, or ginger, or thyme…. it’s a really versatile recipe that lends itself to endless variations and, when poured into a glass bottle, makes a lovely host gift at a backyard barbecue.

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