Blueberry Basil Margaritas

This weekend is Labor Day.

Wait, let me rephrase that: THIS WEEKEND IS LABOR DAY?!?!

How did we get here? When did we get here?

Obviously, I know how and when we got here. I’m aware of calendars and lunar cycles and man’s construct of time, but I’m still flabbergasted as to how we got to the unofficial/official end of summer.

The last of barbecues, beaches, and burnt shoulders.

The last of the season’s blueberries and basil.

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Raspberry Lemonade Gin Fizz-ish

It’s Wednesday.

You deserve a cocktail for getting this far into the week.

Or, rather, I deserve a cocktail for starting my week.

Working an altered schedule isn’t all bad, though. It means I get to visit friends in Green Bay. It means not fighting the crowds in the grocery store. It means Seth and I can go to his farmhouse and pick raspberries to our hearts’ content.

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Brandy Slush

Working on a Christmas gift has led me to looking at old family photo albums, mainly from my grandma’s house. It’s the craziest thing – when I look at these photos I remember the moment with all of my senses. The way the dining room chairs felt, the smell of her garage, the taste of freshly made pancakes. I remember it all so vividly.

Brandy Slush via Midwest Nice Blog

For instance, I have a very clear memory of childhood Christmases. Of walking down the stairs, into the basement, around the corner past the tv room and into the pantry. My grandma’s basement pantry was huge! Hidden behind a pink and white curtain, it housed jars and jars of canned vegetables (grown the previous summer), boxes of honey wafers for my aunt, and enough boxes of pasta to feed a small Italian army.

Brandy Slush via Midwest Nice Blog

There was also a large deep freezer on one end of the room. One of those white ones with the door that opened up like a chest, with a chasm great enough that you’d have to dive in looking for things. Free floating, balancing on your stomach, feet up in the air.

Brandy Slush via Midwest Nice Blog

Something that was always easy to find this time of year? A bucket of brandy slush. We had it at every family gathering around the holidays (or, quite possibly, any time of year). I remember my dad wanting another glass and me begging to got and get it. I remember the cool concrete floor under my socks, the scraping of the spoon shaving off bits of slush into his cup, struggling to fill the remaining space with soda. A big bottle always on the low shelf near the entrance of the pantry. Then making my way back upstairs, only after stealing a few sips.

Brandy Slush via Midwest Nice Blog

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Sparkling Cider Sangria (& a Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Up)

Our turkey was delivered via the USPS today. I came home from baking pie at my aunt’s house and there it was – just sitting on the stoop. Ready and waiting. Easy as that.

Sparkling Cider Sangria via Midwest Nice Blog

Is your turkey taken care of? What about sides? Desserts? I’ve got plenty of ideas (and one more post to share) if you need a little something sweet to finish off your meal Thursday.

Everyone loves pie. Try my perfect pie crust with your favorite fillings! Not sure what to put in the pie crust? Maybe some bourbon coated pecans? Or apples? When you have leftovers – turn them into a shake! Or throw some pie crust into ice cream and have yourself a semifreddo.

More of a cake person? This caramel apple cake is a show stopper. Or this sweet potato cake (with toasted marshmallow frosting!!!) that turns a much beloved side into an even better dessert! A bundt cake filled with brandy and pears is just as beautiful and delicious (and a touch easier/quicker) as any layer cake. Does cheesecake count as cake? Does this butternut squash cheesecake count as a vegetable dish? Let’s say it does.

Believe it or not, I have actually made some vegetable recipes before! And I’ll be making my famous bacon braised Brussels sprouts for the festivities like I do every year. And then eating this salad to detox the rest of the weekend.

The cider will be flowing at dinner, after steeping with mulling spices for over 24 hours. If you need a drink to please a crowd, try this easy sangria I made a few weeks ago. It’s to die for!

Sparkling Cider Sangria via Midwest Nice Blog

Sparkling Cider Sangria 

1 bottle dry red wine – I like a nice cabernet

2 bottles sparkling cider

1/4 cup bourbon

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

1/4 cup orange juice

juice of one lemon

1 apple, thinly sliced

1 pear, thinly sliced

1 orange, thinly sliced

3 cinnamon sticks

Pour all liquid into a large pitcher and stir in fruit and cinnamon sticks. Allow to steep in fridge for at least four hours, preferably overnight. Serve chilled with extra fruit and garnish with cinnamon sticks, if desired.

*inspired by Sally’s Baking Addiction

Sparkling Cider Sangria via Midwest Nice Blog

The Lillet Rosé Martini (& a birthday)

Today is a very special day.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

Today is my dear, sweet friend Elise’s birthday.

This woman came into my life five years ago and has done nothing but brighten it and believe in me.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

She is smart, hard working, gentle, and honest. She is strong and sure of herself in a way most people in their 20s are not (hey, yeah, that includes me).

Elise is also generous beyond measure. Last month, I had tickets to a show in Chicago over Labor Day weekend. Elise was headed back East to spend the holiday with her family. She made time to have dinner with me and leave her house key for the weekend so I had somewhere warm (and free) to stay before catching her flight, lugging her suitcase downtown all the way.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

A few more things about Elise: she loves to knit, the show NCIS, the color pink, and delicious food. Her sense of style is impeccable and her family ties are strong. She is a skilled baker in her own right and loves soft pretzels and her dog with equal measure.

She is an original.

As is this drink.

The Lillet Rosé Martini via Midwest Nice Blog

Or, at least, it’s original to the steakhouse where I plied the bartender for the recipe. I’ll be taking her there tonight to celebrate this auspicious day. The day when the world was given the gift of Elise.

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