Peachy Keen: Creating the perfect bellini Jello shot

Bellini Jell-O Shots

My take on the bellini: Sparkling wine & Peach Jello shot

I have a soft spot for Jello shots. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia for college, I’m not sure, there’s just something so fun about them. But while I have fond memories of “shooting” lime Jello mixed with copious amounts of Jose Cuervo, I like to think that as an adult I’ve upgraded to classier versions of alcohol and gelatin.

About 8 years ago, I made a gin and tonic jelly that I had seen in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. I was completely smitten with it — it was a beautiful color, absolutely delicious and (dare I say?) even elegant.

Gin & Tonic Jelly

Gin & Tonic Jelly

Triple Layered Fruity Jell-O shotsA few years after that, I did a “cape cod” jelly made with alternating layers of vodka with cranberry and vodka with lime. It was fabulous.

And last year for my birthday I did triple layer Jello shots, putting in as much booze as possible while still allowing for the mixture to set. Yes, there is a science to this.

So when the girls in my office decided to throw a surprise baby shower for another co-worker, I asked if I could bring Jello shots. I think a few people thought this was a little weird (on several levels I’m sure) but my idea of a good party means there should be alcohol somewhere. If we weren’t going to be drinking wine, we should at least have boozy Jello. (In the end we drank wine too, because it was a Friday and we do what we want.)

I figured vodka would be a bit much for the mother-to-be, but since every pregnant lady I’ve known has still enjoyed a glass or two of bubbly while waiting for her due date, it seemed that sparkling wine would be perfect for the occasion. I pondered a few possible cocktail options (mimosas? Kir royals?) before settling on the classic combination of the Bellini — bubbles mixed with peach puree.

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Homemade Quince Paste: Making cheese plates happy

Homemade quince pasta

While I often tell my husband that the last thing we need is another cookbook, I’ll admit I didn’t put up too much resistance when he offered to buy me a copy of America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I had flipped through it briefly at the Book Larder in Seattle and was immediately smitten.

It’s got recipes for just about everything you can imagine: bacon jam, corn chips, yogurt, beer, fresh chorizo and so much more. Really, it’s almost overwhelming.

But I knew at once what recipe I would try first, seeing as I had five quince staring at me from the kitchen counter. My husband had bought them at the season’s last farmer’s market and we had yet to do anything with them (I could practically sense them judging me). It was time for them to meet their maker become delicious quince paste.

Since I had a weekend plan to cook with my friend DB — we were making candied orange peels and Parisian gnocchi — I figured one more culinary project couldn’t hurt. And the good thing about the recipe, besides the fact that it’s pretty fool proof, is that it’s easy to do while doing other things.

Quince paste is also great for holiday gift giving so if you’re a total procrastinator or have a cheese lover in your life, consider giving them a wedge of this. It’s a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and also will last for up to 3 months in the fridge. Hard to beat that!

Start by cooking the fruit down until tender, puree, strain and cook a second time with sugar. Pour into a pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. To get the exact recipe, order a copy of the cookbook! To see a fairly similar one online, click here! The main difference is that ours doesn’t have any vanilla and we passed the puree through a fine chinois to get rid of any lumps before cooking it with the sugar.

Cooked quince -- cored but unpeeled

Cooked quince — cored but unpeeled

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Gingerbread “Truffles”

Gingerbread "truffles" with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Gingerbread “truffles” with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Even though I have yet to buy a single Christmas gift (eek!), I have already immersed myself in holiday baking projects. With the rate the holiday season is approaching, I had to start early or it’d be January before I knew it!

These little guys were one of the easiest creations I’ve made this season and I pretty much love them. The recipe is very easy to follow and you don’t even have to turn on your oven!

Basically they are bite-sized “truffles” made from oats, pecans, dates, flax seed, molasses and spices. Somehow something so relatively healthy (when compared to the decadence of other holiday treats) still manages to taste like a sweetly chewy gingersnap cookie.

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It’s like a meringue mountain range!

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The Obsession Continues: Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

I have been on cider bender the past few months. Since early October my fridge has contained no less than one half-gallon of fresh apple cider, purchased anywhere from Farmer’s Markets to the grocery store. I’ve drank it straight, mulled with Applejack and used it for various cooking endeavors, like this brined pork roast.

However, the best creation I made are these apple cider caramels from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. They tasted (depending on which friend of mine you asked) like caramel apple pops, apple fritters or candied apples. To me they were just as I imagined,  a perfect combination of the spiced cider flavor — cloves, cinnamon and tart apple — and creamy decadent caramel.

They were also luxuriously soft. While they’d hold their shape in the refrigerator, once popped in your mouth, they would melt almost instantly. They were so good I had to fight my natural instinct to hoard them and instead manged to share them with co-workers, friends and even some of my favorite customers in Seattle.

My friend Ariel loved them so much I think I have to make a batch just for her and her husband to enjoy. I gave her a few to take home and got this hilarious text message later that night: “Holy sheep shit, Batman” is what Eric said after trying a bite of one of your caramels. Now that’s a compliment, people!

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Homemade Nocino: Green walnuts & boozy infusions

Nocchino

Usually when I think about infusing booze with something, it’s fruit. Take last year’s rumtopf experiment for example. But this year my husband convinced me to try something different – a green walnut infusion, known by Italians as nocino.

I’ve had nocino before (from a batch my husband made) and wasn’t too impressed. The flavor was interesting, full of spices and citrus notes, but it was served straight up it and burned like firewater. I like things boozy but I can’t handle things that are that strong. I found out later it was made from Everclear — no wonder!

This time around my husband wanted to make it with vodka instead which was much more appealing to me. He also said he wanted to play around with the finished liqueur, so instead of serving it up we could mix it into ice cream bases or cocktails. Mentioning boozy ice cream is pretty much the way to my heart so it was an easy sell.

A hundred and one green walnuts later, we got to work:

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