Making Spirits Bright

Photography by Dan Austin

Crostini Aux Champignons Et Au Fromage

Crostini Aux Champignons Et Au Fromage
2 shallots, diced 1 clove garlic, minced 8 ounces baby Bella mushrooms 3 ounces fontina cheese, freshly shredded 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan 1/2 of a French baguette Extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper

Drizzle a pan with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place it over medium heat. Add the shallots, and sauté until softened and translucent. Meanwhile, gently rinse and dry the mushrooms. Cut into a small dice and set aside.  Add the minced garlic to the pan and stir, cooking until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until they are softened. Stir in the shredded fontina cheese until melted. Sprinkle the mixture with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Cut the French bread lengthwise and place on a lined baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle the bread with a little olive oil and place in the oven on the middle rack. Broil for 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn the bread. (Alternatively, you can slice the French bread into thin rounds, drizzle with olive oil, and toast the same way.) Remove the bread from the oven and spread the mushroom mixture evenly onto each piece. Sprinkle with the grated parmesan and broil for 1-2 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve up warm for a light and tasty appetizer! 

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Festive cocktails for your next holiday gathering

   It took me a long time to understand the conflicting feelings that I have around the holidays. Part of me wishes they could stretch on forever, filling my days with Thanksgiving turkeys and blinking Christmas lights. But each year when November rolls around, another part of me feels the pang of sadness from memories past.

   When I was a kid, my family had all sorts of traditions. Relatives would gather together at our house for Thanksgiving lunch, and my dad always made a ridiculous amount of deviled eggs. On Christmas Eve, we would bake cookies for Santa and put carrots out on the driveway for his reindeer. And I will forever remember jumping up and down at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning, waiting for my mom to tell us that it was time to come down to open gifts. We had a big family: five kids in total, but my parents worked really hard and always made it incredibly magical.

   Then suddenly, I was an adult. I married my soulmate and moved halfway across the country to El Paso, Texas. Anthony was serving in the Army, and we were two baby-faced 18-year-olds who had never been away from home. Everything was new, and it didn’t take long before we yearned for our family traditions.

   Little did we know, God was already planting people in our lives to help fill the void. In a place like El Paso, there is a beautiful mix of cultures. We met people from all over the world, and many of Anthony’s NCOs were from Puerto Rico. All of them were older than us, and some even had kids that were teenagers. But they immediately welcomed us into their homes like family, inviting us to every party and holiday gathering they had.

We would play dominoes and watch football while the young kids ran around. There was a constant chatter of Spanglish and sarcasm as they yelled at each other from across the room. They would prepare fragrant meals in these giant pans and send us home with leftovers. And one thing they did really well was drink.

   The holidays were loud and crazy, and I couldn’t understand half of what was going on, but it was home. It was the warmth and the love that we had been missing, and those relationships became like family. It didn’t matter that we all came from different places and were in far different stages in life. We were all missing someone, and gathering together to share traditions became my new favorite ritual.

   Each one of these recipes is inspired by someone who has made me feel loved like they did. Those who make me wish I could go back in time and relive the memories. I hope that this holiday season, you see the changes in your life as an opportunity to welcome new traditions and pass on traditions of your own.

Cinnamon Apple Mule

 

Cinnamon Apple Mule

2 ounces of Crown Royal Apple 1/4 of a large lime 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 3 ounces ginger beer 1 ounce Perrier Cinnamon sugar and cinnamon  sticks for serving

Whisk together the whiskey, the juice from 1/4 of a lime, and the ground cinnamon. Rub the rim of the glass with the squeezed lime, and dip in cinnamon sugar. Pour the whiskey mixture in the glass and fill with ice. Top with the ginger beer and Perrier, and give it a stir to mix the alcohol throughout. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and sip slowly for all those holiday feelings.

Coquito

Coquito
1 can full-fat coconut milk 1 can sweetened condensed milk 1 can evaporated milk 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract 750 ml white rum

Whisk together the coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, spices, and vanilla in a pitcher. Add the rum, and whisk again. Chill in the refrigerator, and serve over ice. Drink responsibly; this sweet and creamy drink can sneak up on you!

White Cranberry Mimosa

White Cranberry Mimosa
1/2 cup heavy cream 1 cup cranberry juice blend *(see notes) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 bottle of champagne Whipped cream, straws, and cinnamon sticks for serving

Whisk together the heavy cream, cranberry juice, and spices. Fill each champagne glass halfway with bubbly. Fill to the rim with the juice mixture. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Stick in a straw and a cinnamon stick for garnish.

*Do not use cranberry juice cocktail for this recipe, which includes added sugar. For the best flavor, find a blend that is primarily cranberry juice, and is not from concentrate.

Sweet Potato Souffle Bites

Sweet Potato Souffle Bites

FOR THE POTATOES

1 long and thin sweet potato 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

FOR THE PECANS

1/2 cup pecans, chopped 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon brown sugar

FOR THE MARSHMALLOW

1 large egg white 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Melt the butter in a large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the sweet potato, and slice it into pieces that are slightly thicker than 1/4 inch. Toss the sweet potato slices in the melted butter. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and toss again, until all the slices are lightly coated. Bake in the oven on a lower rack for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, place a cooling rack over some paper towels. Once the sweet potatoes are done cooking, remove them from the baking sheet and place them on the cooling rack.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the lightly candied pecans. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and set aside. Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the pecans, and then mix in the brown sugar. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the pecans are lightly toasted and the sugar has started to caramelize. Once done, spread them out on the lined baking sheet to cool.

Place a glass bowl over a small pot to make a double boiler. Fill the pot with a few inches of water; it should come right below the bowl but not touch it. Whisk together the egg white, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the glass bowl. Place it on the pot and set on high heat to bring the water to a boil. Beat the mixture with a hand mixer for 5-7 minutes, until stiff peaks have formed. Carefully remove the bowl from the heat and beat in the vanilla, for about 1 minute.

Place a little pile of candied pecans on each sweet potato slice. If needed, place the slices on a lined baking sheet and keep in the oven at 200°F to keep warm. Fill a small zip-top bag with the marshmallow crème. Cut the corner of the bag to make a small hole. Pipe the marshmallow crème on top of the pecans. Using a small hand torch, brulee the marshmallow crème until golden brown. Alternatively, broil the bites in the oven until the marshmallow crème is lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Serve warm.