When the call went out to Foodbuzzers that it was time for the February 24, 24, 24 event, the idea for our proposal came to mind immediately. Just by looking at the picture above, maybe you can guess what it was. Now don’t get scared. We did more than just whip up drink concoctions by the gallon. No, we did much more. There are great applications for spirits, but of course the ones we are most interested in are cooking and baking. Hence, “A Tipsy Dinner Party” was born.
The world of spirits–liquor, not ghostly apparitions–spans from dark to clear, bitter to sweet, full bodied to light. They are excellent additions to a number of meals. No need to worry about truly being tipsy after a meal peppered with alcohol. Good for us, most if not all the actual alcohol burns off during the cooking process, leaving nothing but flavor. Coming up with a proposal for this meal was easy! It was actually concocting a menu that was a bit more difficult–an offering of foods that would include a wide variety of bottled beverages operating in a complementary fashion. As with all dinner parties, we had to consider our goal, which was to provide an interesting array of dishes that would please the palate and also include a different spirit in each one. But we also had to keep our guests’ tastes in mind. It’s easy to just think off the cuff, but not everything will be a match to the intended diners. We kept the menu selections a secret until their arrival because we were sure they would just not be ready for the extreme delicious factor!
First came the cocktail. Every party needs a signature cocktail. Especially this one. We settled on a little Midori to get things going. Did you know the word midori means green in Japanese? Easy to deduce for sure. Its flavor is actually that of a muskmelon, which originated in India and strains of its cultivation include cantaloupes and honeydews for example. (Another thing we didn’t know.) The cocktail was well received by the folks who favor sweet, fruity drinks. Oh and did we mention strong. The melon balls really soak up the vodka and Midori, so by the time you’re munching on fruit, you’re feeling good! If you don’t have a melon baller, like us, just use an ice cream scooper. You’ll end up with big ‘ol pieces, but who doesn’t like melon?
Minty Melonballs – Serves 18-20
25 ounces citrus vodka
1 bottle melon liqueur (Midori works best)
3 cups orange juice
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup mint leaves, torn
1 medium watermelon
1 small honey dew
1. Slice watermelon and honey dew in half and scoop out large and small rounds of the fruit using a melon baller.
2. In a large punch bowl, combine vodka, melon liqueur, orange juice, lemon juice, melon pieces and mint leaves. Stir well.
3. Leave in punch bowl or pour into pitchers. Serve over ice.
If people are sipping, they also have to have nibbles. Just little somethings to tide them over before the meal. We had three different appetizers to keep them satiated as the rest of the meal was prepared. Wine, wine, wine dominated this round: port, white and red. White and red are pretty familiar friends in our respective kitchens, but we don’t use port too often. It’s usually very sweet, a perfect dessert wine. Also perfect for ‘candied’ nuts. The red wine with blackberries on brie was the lovely suggestion of our dear friend Tracy at Guiltless Pleasure. He makes this often for his own dinner parties, and people just fall out from eating it. It was amazing! And the blackberry wine reduction was out of this world. If you have leftovers, spread it on crackers or toast. You’ll want to slap someone. Our personal favorite from the bunch were the mushrooms. They were meaty and creamy with just a kick of spice at the end. Can’t be beat.
Port Walnuts and Goat Cheese on Endive Leaves – Serves 10-12
3 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup port wine
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
3 heads endive (20-24 leaves)
2/3-3/4 cup goat cheese
1. Melt butter in a shallow pan and toss in nuts. Make sure all nuts are covered with a bit of butter.
2. Add bay leaves, port wine and sugar. Toss to combine.
3. Allow to simmer on low heat until port wine thickens, approximately 6-8 minutes.
4. Scoop nuts onto a parchment paper lined baking tray. Drizzle thickened port over nuts. Place tray in freezer until ready to assemble.
5. Just before serving, dab a bit of goat cheese onto each endive leaf and add a couple of nuts to each one.
Sausage Stuffed Cremini Mushrooms – Serves 13-15
26-30 cremini mushrooms, tops only
3 links Italian turkey sausage, casings removed and crumbled
1/2 cup white wine plus 1/4 cup, separated (We had a bit of Sauvignon Blanc.)
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup bread crumbs
6 sprigs thyme plus 2 tablespoons, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1. Swirl a bit of olive oil in a pan and add garlic, sausage and whole thyme sprigs. Pour in 1/2 cup of wine. Cook down until sausage has browned, approximately 5-7 minutes.
2. As sausage cooks, combine cream cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, oregano, and remaining thyme. Set aside.
3. When sausage is done, discard thyme stems. Transfer to a bowl and let mixture cool, approximately 10-15 minutes.
4. Once sausage has cooled a bit, fold it into cream cheese mixture. Stir well. Dollop into tops of mushrooms and arrange in a baking dish.
5. Mixed melted butter with remaining wine and pour around mushrooms. Shimmy the baking dish to spread wine and butter around. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until mushrooms begin to brown. (Prepare these ahead of time, and right before company arrives, pour in melted butter and wine and pop into the oven.)
Warm Brie with Blackberry Wine Sauce – Serves 8-10
1/2 pound brie, with rind
1/2 cup mixed nuts (pecans, walnuts, pine nuts), crushed
1/8 cup heavy cream
1/2 pint blackberries
1 1/2 cup red wine (Merlot was on deck!)
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
1. In a wide sauce pan, mix berries with wine and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir well and simmer on low until sauce thickens, approximately 15-20 minutes. As berries begin to break down, smush them a bit and gradually add a bit more sugar if preferred.
2. Once berries have cooked down, allow to cool. Once cooled, pour into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour berry mixture through a sieve and place in a separate container.
3. Brush cream on sides of brie and press into crushed nuts. Sides should be completely covered.
4. In a baking dish, warm brie in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until soft, approximately 5 minutes.*
5. Top with blackberry sauce and serve with crackers. Sprinkle with extra nuts if desired.
*Wait until you plan to serve cheese before heating it.
The salad course was an interesting one indeed. Unlike every other recipe, the liquor in this one was not cooked out. That being said, we wanted something that could be molded and carry bolder ingredients. Vodka was the clear choice. Out of everything on the list, this was the one that stood out in an interesting way because you could truly taste the vodka. We went with a citrus vodka, though a plain vodka may have been better. The salty pancetta and manchego cheese teamed up well with the peppery greens.
Mixed Greens with Pancetta, Manchego and Citrus Vodka Dressing (Adapted from Group Recipes) – Serves 8-10
1 bag Trader Joe’s Herb salad mix
2/3 cup cubed pancetta
1/3 pound manchego cheese, shaved
Juice of 3 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup citrus vodka
2 teaspoons sugar
1. Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, sugar and vodka. Salt to taste. Set aside.
2. Line a cookie sheet with foil and spread pancetta out in a flat layer. Bake in a preheated oven until crispy.
3. Just before serving, toss entire bag of salad with 1/2 cup of dressing. Top with pancetta and manchego.
On to the main course! We apologize in advance for not having individual photos of each dish during the main course. At some point, preparing food and arranging plates overshadowed photography. By the time we realized we didn’t have photos of the steaks and asparagus on the grill or the mashed potatoes and rice, it was too late. Hopefully the ensemble photo will do!
It was truly fun to pull this course together. Everything really worked well together. Grand Marnier, whisky and white wine were the key players. The Grand Marnier was outstanding with a mix of apricots and sweet shrimp. The flavors of the marinade melded well, and it’s obvious that the versatility of the sauce would make it perfect for chicken and pork. The steaks were definitely a big surprise. Originally, the sauce was overwhelmingly spicy and too smokey. The heat hit the back of our throats just a bit too much, so we had to calm it down with a lot more brown sugar…and whisky. On the meat, it was a completely different story. We didn’t have to season the steaks at all. The marinade did the trick.
The accompaniments to this meal were envisioned as sides that would not compete with the head liners. The mashed potatoes were simple with just a slight oniony-celery hint, the rice was crunchy and just a bit sweet from pine nuts and cranberries and the asparagus was light and lemony. We whipped up a bit of dill and rosemary butter for toasted baguettes and the asparagus, though now that we think about it, the dill butter would’ve been perfect to plop into the mashed potatoes! There’s always an next time…Everyone loved each of these dishes, with the potatoes, rice and dill butter taking top honors.
Apricot Grand Marnier Shrimp (Adapted from Recipe Land) – Serves 8-10
35-40 cocktail shrimp, tail on
3/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 cups apricot preserves
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
10-14 bamboo skewers, soaked
1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer approximately 10-15 minutes. All ingredients should be well incorporated.
2. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Transfer to lidded container and refrigerate until completely cool.
3. When marinade has chilled, pour about 1 cup into a smaller container and set aside. Place all shrimp into original bowl of marinade and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. When ready to grill, thread 3-4 shrimp on bamboo skewers. Place on a hot grill for 1-2 minutes per side.
5. Drizzle cooked shrimp skewers with reserved marinade and serve.
Smokey BBQ Steaks (Adapted from Bobby Flay)- Serves 12
6 large prime rib steaks
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups whisky, plus 3 tablespoons (Crown Royal did the job nicely.)
42 ounces canned plum tomatoes, with juice
4 cups water
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 cup dark brown sugar
5 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup dijon mustard
3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
4 ounces chipotle pepper puree
1. In a very deep pot, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic and onions and cook until soft, approximately 5 minutes.
2. Pour in bourbon, tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil and simmer approximately 10 minutes.
3. Add remaining ingredients for sauce except extra whisky, and allow to simmer for another 20-25 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and allow to cool, approximately 45-60 minutes.
5. Blend in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add remaining whisky and mix well. Salt to taste.
6. In a large, flat baking dish or tupperware, lay clean, dry steaks on the bottom of the dish. Ladle sauce over each steak. Lift steaks and allow sauce to fill in space underneath and between each one. Make sure steaks are completely covered with sauce. (There should still be a large around of sauce left.)
7. Place in fridge and let marinate at least 2 hours prior to cooking.
8. Preheat grill on high. When ready to cook, pour about 1/3 of remaining sauce in a small bowl. Place steaks on grill and cook about 4-5 minutes on one side. Brush with sauce in small bowl and flip. Cook on other side 7-10 minutes, continuing to baste with sauce.
9. Allow steaks to rest several minutes before cutting in half. If desired, use leftover unused bbq sauce to drizzle over meat.
Parmesan Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac – 10-12 servings
7-8 large red potatoes, halved
1 celeriac (aka celery root), peeled and halved
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3-2/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup parmesan, shaved
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1. In a very large pot, boil potatoes and celeriac in salted water until soft, approximately 30-40 minutes.
2. Dump out water and return potatoes and celeriac to pot. With a potato masher, break up into manageable pieces.
3. Add garlic, butter and 1/3 cup cream and begin mixing until incorporated. Add more cream until potatoes reach desired consistency. Salt to taste.
4. Just before serving, mix in parmesan and parsley.
Grilled Asparagus – 8-10 servings
30-40 asparagus spears
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over asparagus spears. Toss well. Let sit 10-15 minutes.
2. On a preheated grill, cook asparagus until fork tender, approximately 6-8 minutes.
3. If necessary, drizzle with a bit more olive oil before serving. Salt to taste.
Brown Basmati Rice with Cranberries and Pine Nuts – Serves 10-12
3 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed
1 1/2 cup white wine (Sauvignon Blanc again.)
2 cups chicken broth
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup parsley, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1. Drop butter into a large pot and add rice as butter melts. Stir to mix well.
2. Add chicken broth and wine. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook until water has absorbed, approximately 30-40 minutes.
3. Toss with cranberries, pine nuts and parsley once done. Salt to taste.
Rosemary and Dill Butters
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dill, minced
3 tablespoons rosemary, minced
1. Blend butter, cream, sugar and salt in a medium sized bowl. Spoon out half of the butter and place in another small bowl.
2. Add dill to one bowl and rosemary to the other.
3. Mix respectively bowls well until each one’s ingredients are fully incorporated. Shape each into a ball or log and refrigerate until needed.
No meal is complete without dessert. No meal. Remember that. These two sweet treats really knocked socks off. Off and out the window. The first flourless, butterless cake recipe below can be adapted to whatever your tastes may be. Use any kind of nut, take out the cocoa and drop in mashed pumpkin, use strawberry purée in your whipped cream–make it your own. This is probably the easiest cake to play with when it comes to varieties, and the varieties are endless. Our version was a hit. If you’ve forgotten just how good Bailey’s is, please reacquaint yourself immediately!
As for the sweet potato cake, well, it is the creation of Julie at Peanut Butter and Julie for Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown. That meant it was guaranteed to be good, and it did not disappoint. The spiced rum pecans are addictive. You can’t stop eating them. And the cake’s consistency is so different than anything we’ve ever had. The sweet potatoes make it very dense and thick, almost like a pie…but not quite. It’s something you have to taste to understand. Please don’t be scared by the icing. We have to admit that the entire pound of butter had us clutching our pearls, but we’re happy to say that no one’s arteries seized up following one (or two) slices. Don’t you want a piece?
Chocolate Pecan Mint Roll – Serves 8-10
7 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups pecans, very finely chopped (use food processor)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons Bailey’s Mint Chocolate
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon green food coloring
1/2 pint raspberries
1. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar and set aside.
2. In bowl of an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff.
3. Add baking powder, processed nuts and cocoa to egg yolk mixture.
4. Drop about 1/4 of egg whites into larger bowl and fold lightly. Fold in remaining whites carefully.
5. Line a jellyroll sheet pan with parchment paper covering all sides and spray paper with non-stick baking spray (the kind with flour in it). Spread cake batter onto paper, so it covers the entire pan.
6. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
7. Let cake cool completely on sheet.
8. While cake cools, beat cream, powdered sugar, Bailey’s, peppermint extract and green food coloring until fully combined and consistency thickens into whipped cream.
9. Lift parchment paper off of baking sheet and lay on a flat surface. Starting with 1/2 of cream, begin to spread over cake in a uniform fashion. Add more whipped cream if desired, but it is best to not over fill the cake.
10. Starting with shorter end, roll cake slowly into a cylinder. Move to a serving plate. Dust with cocoa and powdered sugar and garnish with raspberries if desired.
Sweet Potato Cake with Spiced Pecan Buttercream (Adapted from Julie Hession) – Serves 12-16
3 cups pecan halves
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 pounds sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, cooled and pureed
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 cups spiced pecans, chopped
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 pound butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup spiced pecans, chopped
1. Place the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and toast them for 7-9 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
2. Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl . Stir in the melted butter. Add pecans to the mixture and stir. Return to baking sheet and place back in oven for 6-8 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and drizzle rum over nuts. Bake another 6-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and lay nuts in freezer until cool. Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
4. For cake, beat eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add oil and beat until well combined. Toss in sweet potatoes, vanilla and rum and continue mixing.
5. While potatoes mix in, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Add to sweet potato mixture.
6. Fold in 1 1/2 cups chopped spiced pecans and mix well.
7. Pour into 2 8-inch cake pans sprayed with baking spray. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Allow cakes to cool completely once done.
8. As cakes cool, beat egg yolks in electric mixer until thick, approximately 5 minutes.
9. Combine sugar and syrup in a small sauce pan on the stove and stir as it comes to a boil. Slowly pour sugar-syrup into egg yolks and beat well. Beat until egg yolks cool to room temperature.
10. Add butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, and continue to beat. Mix well and add vanilla and salt. Fold in chopped pecans.
11. Once cake has completely cooled, split each one horizontally, so there are 4 layers. Place first layer on cake stand and spread a bit of frosting on top. Repeat with all layers. Spread remaining frosting on top and sides.
12. Top with remaining pecans and chill for at least an hour before serving. (Keep cake stored in fridge as well.)
Of all our dinner parties, this one ranks high on the list. We knew this would be a good idea, but having it all come together was the best part. Each and every element of the meal meshed harmoniously, and now we have a better understanding of cooking with liquor with many more recipes to add to the rolodex and many more combinations to try.
Click HERE for printable recipes.