Mixed Berry Vodka – How Was It?

A bit over a month ago, I put a batch of Mixed Berry Vodka together to serve friends at the holidaze.

The thing is, I got started late, because, stuff, and so, it has taken until this snowy January Saturday that I’ve been able to decant and sample my mixture.

The result?

Not too, too bad at all, nice flavor, terrific color, and, all in all, a keeper.


To recap.

•1.5 L vodka
•1 bag frozen sweet cherries
•1 bag frozen dark cherries
•1 bag frozen blueberries
•1 vanilla bean

Cut the cherries in half (you want to maximize the amount of cherry surface exposed to the vodka) and place in a large container along with the blueberries and the vanilla bean.

Pour the vodka over all, give it a gentle stir, then cover tightly and stash in a cool, dark place for a month or so.

When done, strain the berries and vanilla bean out and transfer your now deeply red vodka into another suitable container or two.


I don’t think that my mom-in-law will object to my using the carafe that I make her Arnold Palmer’s in when she is visiting got pressed into service for the greater good of berry infused vodka.

All in all, a nice treat.


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Creamed Spinach

With the new year, a lot of folk have made promises to eat a better, more balanced diet, and we are no exception.

Of course, that still doesn’t mean I plan on giving up my Irish butter and whole milk!

Take this recipe, based on Tyler Florence‘s creamed spinach recipe. It does use butter – but only one tablespoon – and it does call for cream, but if you feel that strongly about it, whole milk or half and half will work a treat in its place.


Stay away from those 2% or non-fat “things.” Doubt me? Look at the ingredients on the back and tell me if they don’t look like some science experiment gone wrong.

Anyway, back to the spinach. Tyler’s recipe called for two pounds of baby spinach, but this one bag was the perfect serving for the two of us with no leftovers. Always a plus.

•1 tbsp avocado or olive oil
•1 tbsp unsalted butter
•1 onion, minced
•2 garlic cloves, minced (or more, to taste)
•1 bag fresh baby spinach
•1/2 cup heavy cream
•1/2 tsp nutmeg
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1/2 tsp black pepper
•1/2 tsp Kosher salt

Melt the butter with the avocado or olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.

Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft – about five minutes.

Add the spinach and toss with tongs to mix with the onion, garlic, butter and oil.

Cook, continuing to toss the spinach mixture, until it is wilted and the pot is kinda dry.

Turn the heat to low and stir in the cream and seasonings.

Cook, stirring often, for ten minutes more.

Serve hot.

This batch went perfectly with parsley potatoes and a rack of Pineapple and Pepper Relish Barbecue ribs.

Go ahead, enjoy your spinach.

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Pineapple Pepper Barbecue Sauce

Sweet, but with just the right amount of a kick to it, this sauce is a pretty terrific way to zip up your cocktail meatballs, ribs, chicken, or pulled pork.

Here’s the thing, though…

I started out with my own home made Barbecue Sauce and Pepper Relish to make my version. The recipes are at the links above, and, if you make your own, I think you’ll be pleased; but, feel free to use your fave barbecue sauce and pepper relish from

the store, too. There is nothing at all wrong with going that option!

•24 oz Barbecue Sauce
•8 oz Pepper Relish
•6 oz pineapple juice
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

Stir all of the ingredients together in a medium pot over medium-low heat.

Cook, stirring often, for about 90 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the color a deeper, richer red.

That’s all there is to it!

Great sauce, as I said, for ribs, but do try it out on your next batch of cocktail meatballs or sausages.

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Gyro Dip

Yeh. It’s January 2, so, technically, the holidaze are over…


I still have some celebratin’ to do; and what better way to celebrate with friends and family with a delicious layered dip that tastes a whole heckuva lot like a gyro?

The first time I made this, I bought actual gyro meat and tztatziki from our fave Greek pizza and sammich place.

This time, I did not get the chance to set it up; so went with ground pork and store bought hummus and tzatziki.

Know what?

It was still a hit!

Probably due in part to the Greek Seasoning from Penzeys – my official spice merchant; and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

•1 tbsp avocado or olive oil
•1 lb ground pork
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•2 tsp Greek seasoning
•1 tsp garlic powder
•1/2 tsp black pepper
•1/4 tsp Kosher salt
•1/8 tsp crushed red pepper

•Tzatziki sauce
•Diced red onion
•Chopped grape tomatoes
•Sliced peperoncini
•Sliced Persian or English cucumber
•Crumbled Feta cheese

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

Note: want to use ground lamb in place of the ground pork? Go for it! My market was out the day I stopped in.

Warm the oil in a large pan over medium high heat, then add the ground pork and seasonings.

Cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until it is cooked through and most pan juices have evaporated.

Drain well and stash in the fridge until needed. I did mine the day before, then warmed it up in the ‘wave just before making the dip.

To make the dip, spread the hummus across the bottom of a large, flat bowl – this glass baking dish worked a treat.

Spread the warmed, then slightly cooled meat over the hummus, then add the tzatziki on top of that.

Next, the veggies.

I was traveling to this gathering, so prepped mine and stashed ’em in a bag along with the Feta to bring along and top the dip at the last minute.

Serve with pita chips or regular crackers, or, what the heck, rice crackers are good here, too, so, enjoy.

This was a total hit, on a par with my cracked pepper chicken pâté.

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Pâté for the New Year!

Some folk maintain that it is good luck to eat beans at the new year.

Not me.

I believe that any year that ends with, and then the next year begins with peppery, smooth as silk chicken pâté has got to have been a mostly good old year and a fairly fortuitous new one coming up.

Even if some crappy stuff happened, this pâté will make it all better


•9 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick + 1 tbsp)
•1 onion, diced
•1 large garlic clove, sliced
•1 shallot, diced
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
•1 lb chicken livers, trimmed (remove any little white bits of tissue from the livers)
•1-1/2 tsp black pepper
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1 tsp salt
•1/4 tsp allspice
•1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
•2 tbsp brandy

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

Melt four tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium heat.

Add the onion, garlic, shallot, and Sherry Peppers Sauce and sauté, stirring often, for five minutes or so, until the onion is beginning to turn translucent.

Stir in the apple and continue to cook for another five minutes.

Remove from the pan and set aside.

Melt another four tablespoons of butter in the pan and add the chicken livers, allspice, salt, and peppers.

Cook, turning the livers often to brown all sides, for five minutes, then add the apple and onion mixture along with the parsley, toss to blend together, and cook for another five minutes or so, until the livers are thoroughly cooked.

Remove from the heat and stir in the two tablespoons of brandy.

Transfer the mixture to a blender with that one remaining tablespoon of butter and pulse, stirring and scraping down the sides of the blender container, until your pâté is as smooth as you like it.

I like mine wicked smooth.

Give the pâté a taste and, if you think it could use it, stir in some more black pepper and/or brandy – I tend to run heavy with black pepper, but you do what you like.

Transfer the pâté to storage jars and stash in the fridge overnight to allow the flavors to develop.

Note: did you know you can also freeze pâté for up to one month?

This recipe makes a fare amount of pâté, so a stashed one crock in the fridge and, since my holidaze gatherings are not yet over, sealed another tightly and tossed it in the freezer for the next time.

I love it when a plan comes together.

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Drunken Grapes

Just in time for the new year – here’s a way to up your alcohol consumption whilst seeming to be healthy (we call it “Drinking Wisconsinbly” around about here)!

You steep grapes in a blend of prosecco and vodka, then roll ’em in sugar and – bonus! – then you get to drink the leftover prosecco and vodka!

I call that a holidaze miracle.

So, let us swozzle some grapes…

•Red and green seedless grapes
•1 bottle prosecco
•1/2 cup vodka
•1/2 cup sugar

Wash the grapes remove from the vine, and place in a large bowl.

Pour the bottle of prosecco over the grapes, then add the vodka and stir to combine.

Cover the bowl and stash in the fridge for at least one hour.

Remove the grapes from the liquid, transfering the liquid to a pticher for later enjoyment.

Place the grapes in a large rimmed pan – a roaster works a treat here – then sprinkle the sugar evenly over all.

Stir to combine, then transfer the grapes to another bowl for serving.

Confession: I have a couple of gatherings coming up in the next week or so, so I have one bowl of grapes ready to go for festivities tomorrow, and then a bag of prepared and sugared grapes stashed in the freezer for next week, because, who could so no to drunken frozen grapes?

Not my Book Club, I can guarantee you that!

Happy New Year!

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Caramel Puff Corn – Now With a Hint of Maple!

Tis the season for all things savory and sweet, and I would be remiss if I did not, once again, share this most favorite of gathering sweets – caramel coated puffed corn – now, as the title suggests – with a hint of real Maine maple syrup!

In the years I’ve been making this treat, I’ve also learned a thing or two, which has greatly helped in preparation and clean up.

Number 1: Low and Slow. You can make the caramel just as easily over low heat and

without the chance for burning and bubbling over.

Nice deal , in my book.

Number 2: Good, heavy non-stick sauce and baking pans make clean up a snap, and no nasty burnt sugar bits to deal with.

Also a nice deal.

So, that said, let us make some “Corn Crack” as it is known among my friends, because this stuff is wicked hard to resist.

•1 (8 oz) bag corn puffs (look with the chips)
•1 cup butter (no substitute)
•1 cup brown sugar
•1/2 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup – or corn syrup
•1 tbsp real maple syrup
•1 tsp baking soda

•1 or 2 cups almonds, pecans, or peanuts

Heat your oven to 250º and add the corn puffs and nuts, if adding them to a large, heavy anodized aluminum roasting pan (best results – if you don’t have one, consider making the investment; I got mine almost 20 years ago at Costco and have never looked back.

In a large, heavy, also non-stick sauce pan, melt the butter with the brown sugar, maple syrup, and Lyle’s Golden Syrup over low heat, stirring every now and again, until everything has nicely melted together.

Next – and here is where that low heat treatment really saves the day – stir in the teaspoon of baking soda.

The caramel will lighten and foam up, as you can see here; but the low heat allows you to control the foaming and helps keep it all from boiling up and out of the pot.

Always a good deal, if you ask me.

Allow the caramel to come to a simmer and let bubble for two minutes, stirring often.

Pour the caramel over the corn puffs and nuts (if using) and stir to mix.

Don’t worry if, at first, it all looks kinda splotchy like this. Three sets of baking and stirring will fix you right up!

Pop into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan, give it all a stir – see? The caramel is already more uniformly spread, then pop the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes.

Remove the pan, stir again, and pop back into the oven for one, last, 15 minute bake.

You caramel corn is evenly coated and ready to eat – or – set aside to cool completely and store in two, one gallon, zipper storage bags until needed.

I think that you will find it is needed a heckuva lot! Happy holidaze!

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No Bake, Gluten-Free Cheesecake

Every gathering needs to have a little sumpin’ sumpin’ sweet at the end, most particularly at this time of year; so when we set the date for our holidaze Book Club lunch, I set to thinking about a dessert.

Our friends with gluten issues give me a lot of leeway with the menus, but I still try to keep their digestions in mind so…

Iberian Meatballs worked a treat (and that sauce!). Horseradish and Citrus Salad was also a pretty bit hit.

Then, there was dessert.

I adapted the Cheesecake Cups I first made a couple of years ago, choosing to use some tasty already flavored whipped cream cheeses, and, in place of cookies, Book Club memebers seemed quite pleased with the Swozzled Cherries.

In all, a fun, festive dessert – full of flavor, and rich enough that a small scoop is plenty for most folk.

•8 oz cream cheese, softened
•8 oz salted caramel cream cheese spread*
•7-1/2 oz honey pecan cream cheese spread
•1/4 cup sugar
•2 tbsp Bailey’s Espresso Crème
•1 tbsp spiced rum

*Available at ALDI.

Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and, and mix until well blended.

Transfer to small serving dishes, cover, and stash in the fridge. Or, do as I did and transfer to a covered container, stash in the fridge until needed, then use an ice cream scoop to serve on a dessert plate.

Top with a swozzled cherry or three.

Option: swap out Cointreau or any other favorite liqueur for the Bailey’s.

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Marinated Chuck Steak

I was poking around the meat case at my grocer – as one does – and came across a special on boneless chuck steak.


Two pounds of boneless – sure, kinda fatty (but still tasty – if done right) beef for under five dollars total?

Why yes, I believe I shall try one out.

But… how to prepare it?

I did some research, and found a recipe for a soy sauce marinade, then cooking on the grill for eight to ten minutes per side.

Only two wee, tiny problems with that:

One: most soy sauce marinades end up tasting, to me, like only soy sauce.

Two: it is December in northeastern Illinois, and even if I could convince my husband to fire up the grill, the door to the deck is blocked by the Christmas tree.

So… I did some thinking, and came up with a solution that turned out really, really well for us.

Note: I used smoked brown sugar, available at specialty shops and Amazon, but regular brown sugar will work a treat as well.

•12 oz beer
•1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
•2 tbsp lower sodium Tamari
•2 tbsp lemon juice
•1 tbsp brown sugar
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•2 garlic cloves, minced
•1/2 cup diced sweet onion

•2 lb boneless beef chuck steak
•Sliced green olives (optional)

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

First things first; if you have a meat tenderizer, do use it on both sides of the steak – rotating 90º from one side to the other. If you don’t have a meat tenderizer; you can get a decent one for under $20, so why don’t you? Seriously, you’ll be fine without, but I think it a wicked handy tool for cheap… ermmm inexpensive (value-priced?) cuts of meat.

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the marinade ingredients and blend well.

Add the beef; seal bag and turn to coat. Place on a rimmed plate or platter (for to catch any possible drippage, then refrigerate for 8 hours or (always more better) overnight – giving the bag a flip whenever you think to.

About an hour before you plan on cooking the steak, remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

When ready to cook, heat a pan (or your grill) to medium heat, remove the steak from the marinade – discard the marinade, but any onion and garlic bits stuck to the steak? They’re all good!

Place the steak in the hot pan (heated grill) and, if you’re using them, sprinkle the sliced green olives on top.

Cook for eight to ten minutes per side, then remove from the heat, loosely cover with foil, and allow to rest for ten minutes.

Slice your steak across the grain.

Will you look at that?

Perfectly done (for us – if you like your meat more well done, increase cooking time per side) and perfectly tasty and tender marinated chuck steak.

This would be terrific in fajitas or tacos, but it also worked well with potatoes and slaw.


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Holidaze Bonus! Marinated Stuffed Cherry Peppers

These need to rest for a week, so if you’re wanting some cherry pepper goodness for Christmas, you’ll need to make ’em this weekend or early next week.

It’s a good thing they are so easy to make; and as a bonus, after you’ve finished off the cherry peppers, the oil makes a pretty incredible bread dipper and salad oil.

The hardest part of this appetizer might just be finding the whole pickled cherry peppers, but if you have a good Italian deli, they

should be able to set you up.

Of course, there is also always Amazon.

•2 jars cherry peppers
•1/2 lb Provolone cheese, cubed
•1 quart extra virgin olive oil
•1 quart canola oil – NOTE: this is important – don’t try to use all olive oil as it will just turn into a solid block in the fridge
•1 small onion, thinly sliced
•Chopped garlic
•Bay leaf
•Shaved Parmesan cheese
•1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Note: if you’d like, wrap the cheese prosciutto or pepperoni before stuffing the peppers.

Drain the peppers, discarding the liquid.

Add half of the onion and garlic to a large jar and set aside.

Slice open the cherry peppers and discard the seeds (don’t worry if you don’t get all of the seeds).

Stuff each pepper with cheese trimmed to fit the individual pepper, then close the pepper and close with a toothpick inserted through the center.

Note: if you were wanting to add meat(s), wrap each piece of cheese with a thin slice before stuffing the pepper.

Add the stuffed peppers to the onion and garlic in the jar, then add the rosemary and bay leaves.

Add rosemary sprigs, bay leaves, the remaining onion and garlic, then sprinkle with the crushed red pepper.

Blend the oils together, then pour over the peppers to cover.

Note: the reason for blending canola oil into the olive oil, is that if you use all olive oil, it will turn solid in the fridge, making (I think) it more difficult for the marinade to work.

Arrange the top with the shaved Parmesan to cover, pressing the Parmesan down a bit to cover with the oil.

Cover and stash in the fridge for at least one week.

Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before serving with crusty bread and any other sides you are feeling you need.

Though, truly, a small bowl of these babies and sliced crusty bread is pretty much all you will need.

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