Archive | Appetizers to pair with cocktails

Recipes for appetizers that go with specific cocktails

Retro Tiki on the Balcony: Mai Tai and Ham Balls

Retro Mai tai (upgraded)

Retro Mai tai (upgraded)

In the spirit of “Throwback Thursday” I thought I’d have some fun with retro Tiki food and drink.  Waikiki Ham Balls (with a pineapple glaze!) was a hot appetizer in the 60’s tiki scene, and I’ve accompanied the ham balls with a tropical rum drink sporting an umbrella, of course.  Have to admit, I was leery of the idea of “ham balls”, but surprise, surprise.  They were actually great (I did upgrade them a bit however), and after devouring them I turned to my 60’s styled husband and said, “Why did these ever go out of popularity??”

A (little) Bit on Tiki Culture:

The Men behind Tiki:

Ernest Beaumont-Gantt (who later changed his name to Donn Beach), had spent some time traveling the South Pacific and in 1934 decided to create a bar and restaurant in Hollywood that featured some of the exotic scenes he enjoyed on his travels.  The “Don the Beachcomber” bar was full of Polynesian kitsch, including flaming torches, rattan furniture and flower leis and his drink menu focused on “exotic” rum punches.

Don the Beachcomber is usually given credit for bringing the tropical drink genre to popularity.  Most of his signature drinks included rum, flavored syrups, fresh fruit juices, and the ubiquitous umbrella.  Howard Hughes and many of the hollywood stars hung out at Don the Beachcombers from the 40’s to the 60’s.  It was quite the place to be seen as I understand it.

Another man, Victor Bergeron, so liked Donn’s Polynesian themed ideas and therefore opened his own tiki restaurant (Trader Vics) in Oakland three years later.  Trader Vics was wildly popular in the Bay Area and eventually became a worldwide chain.

The Feud:

Of course the popularity of these two similarly themed restaurants resulted in a feud.  Apparently it was a long drawn-out feud centered around exactly “who” invented the Mai tai.  The Mai tai is considered to be the quintessential tiki cocktail and bragging rights were an important business draw.  I can’t verify which was the true inventor, but I’m going to side with Don the Beachcomber.  You’ve go to give credit to a guy who actually changed his name to fit his passion!

Today’s Tiki:

It wasn’t until I decided to do a tiki drink for Throwback Thursday, that I realized there is a revival of the Tiki culture.  Tiki-themed parties and events have sprung up all across America (but mostly Southern California).  Pinterest is full of ideas for tiki parties and large annual Tiki events take place every year in California, Florida and New York.  There are even a range of online communities for “tikiphiles”, one of the biggest which is Tiki Central message boards.   Who knew?

The Renovated Mai Tai:

The original Mai tai drink recipe has been tweeked throughout the years, resulting in what most think of as a very sweet rum drink with pineapple juice.  I have tweeked it again and removed some of the sweetness and added more lime flavor.

As far as I can tell, this is the “original” recipe:

Prep for Tiki Mai Tai

Prep for Tiki Mai Tai


  • 2 oz. aged rum
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, juiced lime half reserved
  • 1/2 ounce orange curaçao
  • 1/4 ounce rock candy syrup
  • 1/4 ounce orgeat
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 1 mint sprig, for garnish

Upgraded version of the Mai Tai for today’s tastes:

  • 1 oz. Meyers rum (dark rum)
  • 1 oz. light rum (I used Cruzan)
  • 1 oz. coconut water
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 1/2 oz.  ginger lime syrup   (you can use any other simple syrup here)
  • 1 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice (or 2 lime wedges squeezed into shaker)
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 3 drops orange blossom water (or orgeat syrup)
  • stick of sugar cane or lime wedges for garnish


Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously, and strain the entire contents into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with the sugar cane stick (and umbrella) or with pineapple slices or lime wedges.

Recipe for Ham Balls with a Pineapple Glaze:

Retro Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

Retro Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

Ingredients for Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 lb. ham, chopped into cubes
  • 3/4 lb. ground pork
  • 1/3 cup onion, minced
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Ingredients for Glaze:

  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup lime jelly
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp corn starch mixed with 2 Tbsp cold water


  • Ham Balls Prep

    Ham Balls Prep

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • Process ham and ground pork in a food processor over low speed until coarsely ground (do not puree).  Place meat mixture in large bowl with the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix well with hands or sturdy spoon to combine.  Use hands to form meatballs approximately 2-inches in diameter.
  • Arrange meatballs in baking dish and place in the oven without glaze for 20 minutes.
  • While the meatballs are cooking make the glaze by mixing all of the glaze ingredients except the corn starch in a small pot over a medium-high burner.  Bring to a boil.  Whisk in the corn starch/water solution and simmer at a low boil 1-2 minutes.
  • Meatball mixture in food processor

    Meatball mixture in food processor

    Pour the glaze over the meatballs, coating them well.  Continue to cook at 350, basting with the glaze every 20 minutes.  Meatballs should be done after 1 hour total cooking time.  If you want to test internal temperature it should read around 165 degrees.

  • This recipe would be easy to adapt to a crock pot for party appetizers.
  • If you want to get really retro, serve each meatball inside of a pineapple ring.


Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze




Bastille Day Raspberry Chambord Trifle

Raspberry Chambord Trifle

Raspberry Chambord Trifle

Whether or not you subscribe to the legend of Marie-Antoinette inciting riots contributing to the French Revolution by pompously declaring “Let them eat cake” when told the French citizens were starving, it is certainly a memorable quote that has resonated with much of the world at some time or another.

That infamous statement is reported to have contributed to her beheading by guillotine, for reasons of Treason, at the Bastille in 1793. Always interested in the food and drink surrounding celebrations, I put together a simple recipe for Bastille Day, which I’m sure both Marie-Antoinette and the peasants would find delicious.  It’s a very easy but tasteful Raspberry Chambord Trifle that brings in a little Italian influence with a touch of Limoncello.  Champagne, of course, is the drink to pair with the trifles for the July 14th celebration of Bastille Day.

A (very) Little History of Bastille Day:

When Parisian revolutionaries and rebellious troops stormed the royal fortress of Bastille it signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade of political turmoil and terror in which King Louis XVI was overthrown and tens of thousands of people, including the king and his wife Marie Antoinette, were executed.

In 1789, there were severe food shortages in France, and popular resentment against the rule of King Louis XVI was turning to fury as the citizens were starving while the monarchy luxuriated in comfort and excess.  The capture of the Bastille on July 14th symbolized the end of the ancien regime and provided the French revolutionary cause with an irresistible momentum.

Joined by four-fifths of the French army, the revolutionaries seized control of Paris and then the French countryside, forcing King Louis XVI to accept a constitutional government. In 1792, the monarchy was abolished and Louis and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, were sent to the guillotine for treason in 1793.

For the peasant class, the Bastille stood as a symbol of the hypocrisy and corruption of the aristocratic government – controlled mostly by nobility and clergy. The French recognize Bastille Day as the end of the monarchy and beginning of the modern republic.

Today, Parisians celebrate this national holiday with a grand military parade up the Champs Elysées, colorful arts festivals, and raucous parties marking the holiday. Here on the farm we intend to uncork a bottle of sparkling wine, serve up some Raspberry Chambord Trifles, and celebrate. Vive la France!

How to Make Raspberry Chambord Trifles

(the recipe is in middle of our stunning reenactment of the Storming of Bastille)

Bastille Day Raspberry Chambord Trifle

Bastille Day Raspberry Chambord Trifle

Recipe for Raspberry Chambord Trifles:

  • 3 Tbsp Raspberry Chambord Jam (or your favorite raspberry jam)
  • 1 Tbsp. Limoncello
  • 3 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ladyfingers, halved crosswise
  • fresh raspberries and mint for garnish


  1. In a stand mixer beat together cream cheese and sugar on medium speed for 1 minute or until creamy.  Rinse and dry the mixer bowl and beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form (about 1 minute).
  2. Fold whipped cream and cream cheese mixture together in small bowl.  Add mixture to a plastic ziplock bag and snip off one of the ends of the bag (alternatively just leave in bowl and use a spoon to dollop the mixture on the trifle)
  3. Microwave raspberry jam and limoncello together for about 20 seconds and stir.
  4. Place 1 of the ladyfinger halves in a shot glass or small tulip glass, drizzle on a spoonful  of the raspberry chambord/limoncello mixture, and dollop on a spoonful of the whipped cream mixture (or squeeze the whipped cream mixture through the end of the ziplock if you want a more elegant look).
  5. Repeat the layering process above and top with a raspberry and a mint leaf.  Cover and chill if not eating right away (chilling will make the ladyfingers less crunchy, but still delicious).

Vive la France!!


Sliders and Beer Cocktails on the Porch

Mini-burgers (aka Sliders)

Mini-burgers (aka Sliders)

Sliders and beer….a combo that works for any casual gathering:  outdoors on the deck, tailgating in the parking lot, or in your living room during Superbowl Sundays.  While classic unadorned sliders and beer are fine on their own, it’s always fun to elevate the simplistic into the sublime, especially when it is easy.  Adding one of the sauces from  “Not Ketchup”  to to the sliders and adding an orange chipotle syrup to the beer gives each of these classics a delightful punch to the tastebuds.

First the sliders:

I was most fortunate to meet Erika Kerekes , the brains and developer of  a new line of sauces from California called Not Ketchup.  We were both attendees at a wonderful conference/camp for food and drink bloggers called “Camp Blogaway”.  After exchanging stories and ideas, Erika sent me back home to MN with a sampler package of her sauces.  I’m a huge fan of Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Las Vegas (and Hubert Keller in general), and thought her sauces would pair beautifully with some mini-burgers inspired by one of his shows on PBS.  They did!

The following recipe used the Cherry Chipotle sauce, but I tried them all on different days (it was a week full of sliders), and they were all awesome.  Here is one of the slider recipes, inspired by Hubert Keller and Erika’s Not Ketchup sauces:

Chow Chow Mini-Burger (aka Chow Chow Slider)


  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 1/2 lb green tomatoes (optional, depending on availability)
  • 1 cup red bell peppers, chopped (I used jarred roasted red peppers)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 Tblsp mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup green onion, sliced
  • 2 lbs. ground chuck, 20 % fat
  • buns (or Kaiser rolls), split
  • 1/4 cup “Not Ketchup” sauce (any flavor works well)
  • salt & pepper


Sliders on the Cuisinart Griddler Delux

Sliders on the Cuisinart Griddler Delux

  1. Combine the cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onion, vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds,turmeric, cayenne and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a heavy saute pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat a grill or a skillet to medium high, wiping down the grate or skillet with  olive oil before heating.  I have a Cuisinart Griddler Delux, which I bought after watching the Hubert Keller PBS series, and I love it for inside grilling. Turn the top and bottom plates both on sear if you have one of these.
  3. In a bowl, use your hands to gently mix together ground beef, green onions, and 1/2 tsp pepper (more to taste).  Do not add salt, as this will cause the meat to start to cure and give it a different texture.
  4. Use a 1/2 cup dry measuring cup to form the mini-burgers.  Pack the measuring cup with the burger mixture and level it off.  Turn the measuring cup over onto a plate and tap the bottom until the burger patty drops out.  Don’t handle the meat too much, as it is better texture and taste if it is light and airy.  Salt the burger patties right before grilling.
  5. Grill the burgers until charred on the outside and cooked inside until no longer pink (160 degrees), turning once.  It takes about 3-5 minutes per side (if desired, add cheese on top of the patties for the last couple of minutes to melt).  Remove the burgers and allow them to rest on a paper towel for a couple of minutes.  While the patties are resting, grill the buns, cut side down, until toasted.
  6. Spread the bottom buns with the dipping sauce or your favorite BBQ sauce.  Place the burger patty on the sauce and top with a generous portion of chow chow mix.  (I also added some sauteed spinach on top of the chow chow but that is optional).
  7. Serve with your favorite beer or drink.

Now the Michelada Beer with Orange Chipotle Syrup:

Beer Michalada with Orange Chipotle Syrup

Beer Michalada with Orange Chipotle Syrup

Sometimes you don’t want to mess with a good beer and just enjoy it in its natural state.  Sometimes you want to kick it up a notch and enjoy your beer with a little spice.  And…sometimes you want to do both!

If you’ve got a hot leisurely day of few responsibilities stretching out in front of you;

  • Make your first beer simple – just pop the top off a good beer (no enhancements);
  • make your next beer of the day a little more exotic by adding 1/2 ounce or so of  Orange Chipotle Spice Syrup (ala Michelada), rimming the glass with chipotle salt;
  • rinse and repeat.

The combination of Sliders and Beer cry out for casual and companionship.  Start the grill, text your friends to come over and enjoy!

Cinco de Mayo: Horchata Cocktails and Chili-Lime Peanuts

Horchata Cocktail with Chili-Lime Peanuts

Horchata Cocktail with Chili-Lime Peanuts

Cinco de Mayo is here and although margaritas are the typical celebratory drinks, a spirited Horchata is my favorite drink for this “Mexican” holiday that we love so much in the US.  There are a number of variations for an “authentic” horchata, depending on whether you favor the Spanish version or one of the many Mexican versions.  Most of the recipes however, are quite sweet.  This Mexican version of the base horchata is made without the sugar, so that you can create individual cocktails, adding your favorite simple syrup to the drink at the sweetness level you prefer.  It is a dreamy, creamy drink that is one of my favorites, and it works wonderfully as a cocktail or as a mocktail.

Most research cites El Salvador as the origin of the Mexican version of Horchata, although the ingredients vary throughout Mexico and Spain.  In some countries the drink is tan and made with milk, some countries substitute moro seeds or jicaro seeds for rice, and Spain prefers tigernuts over almonds.  Ingredients that are common to most recipes however, include sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.  The recipe below includes the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in the form of a simple syrup added to a rice and almond horchata base.  I’ve used rum as the spirit, but brandy would make a nice cocktail also.  This one brings out the m-m-m from me each time I make it.

How to Make the Horchata Base

** Note:  this is easy but make it early as it needs to sit for quite a while before straining


Horchata de Mayo Cocktail

Horchata de Mayo Cocktail

Horchata de Mayo Cocktail:

  • 2 oz rum (or brandy)
  • 1/2 oz vanilla liqueur
  • 1/2 Chai Spice Syrup
  • 4 oz horchata base

Combine all ingredients in a tall glass of ice. Stir and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a hot red pepper

Chili-Lime Spanish Peanut Appetizer:

The perfect foil for a rich, creamy Horchata cocktail is a bowl of light, somewhat spicy, spanish peanuts.  These are a cinch to make and pair well with the drink.  Recipe is from Serious Eats


  • Chili Lime Spanish Peanuts

    Chili Lime Spanish Peanuts

    1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 or 3 large limes)

  • Freshly grated zest of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups shelled unsalted peanuts


Preheat oven to 250ºF. Whisk lime juice, lime zest, chili powder, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper together in large bowl. Add peanuts and stir until evenly coated. Scrape nuts onto large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until nuts are fragrant, dry, and beginning to darken, about 30 minutes

Mint Juleps and Cheese Straws for the Kentucky Derby


Parmesan Cheese Straws - Derby Appetizers

Parmesan Cheese Straws – Derby Appetizers

With the Kentucky Derby only a few days away (May 3rd), it’s time to start thinking hats, horses, and mint juleps.  While elegantly dressed VIPs will watch the 140th famous race from Millionaire’s Row, you can watch the action on television while sipping  mint juleps and snacking on cheese straws with your favorite “elegant” friends (elegant is in the eye of the beholder mind you).  As with any event steeped in tradition, there is debate about how to make the perfect mint julep.  The recipes below will show you the classic, give you a few ideas for some unique twists, and give you a kitchen-tested version of the southern classic cheese straw appetizer.

Alternatively, you can book a trip to Louisville and pay $40 for an infield ticket (or $6,000-plus for the Millionaire’s Row package).

The Mint Julep

Classic Mint Julep

Classic Mint Julep

This frosty cocktail originated in Virginia, but has become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, and is the traditional drink to be sipped under cover of the flamboyant hats worn by derby fans.

The Mint Julep is a subject of debate. The debate focuses on the mint…when to add the mint, should it be muddled with sugar and water or infused into a simple syrup, or should it only be used as a garnish with the bourbon remaining pure in the drink.   

Where there is agreement on the traditional julep is that it should be served in a well-frosted silver cup and should include plenty of bourbon.  The juleps served at the Derby are now mostly premade concoctions that are really sweet.  The recipe below shows you how to easily make a classic Mint Julep that is fresh and can be sweetened to your own taste.

**Fun Fact:  120,000 Mint Juleps sold at the Kentucky Derby each year

Recipe for Mint Julep:

(Watch video below for how-to preparation)


  • handful of fresh mint (5-8 leaves)
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp water
  • 3 oz. bourbon (I used rye, but Kentucky bourbon is the tradition)
  • crushed (or shaved) ice
  • mint leaves for garnish


Place several mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup and muddle a little to start releasing the oils  (5 leaves is a moderate amount; use more if you like your drink really minty).  Add the sugar and water and muddle a bit more.  Fill julep cup with crushed ice.  Add the bourbon.  Add some more crushed ice to fill the glass and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

**Note:  For a unique variation on the julep, substitute an infused simple syrup for the powdered sugar and water.  I have used several different syrups from our line at HeathGlen for some really nice results.  I’ve tried the julep with  Chai Syrup, Green Tea Moroccan Spice Syrup, and Strawberry Lavender Syrup.

Find these syrups and others at our website:

Recipe for Parmesan Cheese Straw Appetizers:

Cheese Straws - Appetizers for Kentucky Derby

Cheese Straws – Appetizers for Kentucky Derby

These crispy, savory treats are a Southern party favorite and make a perfect foil for the mint julep. Garnish them with a pinch of cayenne or a sprinkle of poppy seeds if you want to take them the next step.  These disappear fast, but then again, the Kentucky Derby is known as the “fastest two minutes in sports”.


  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese (6 oz)
  • 1/4 to 1/12 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine egg and water in small bowl and whisk to combine.  Combine grated parmesan, cayenne and paprika in another bowl, mixing well.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into approximately 16 x 9 inch rectangle.  Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with half the cheese mixture.  Lightly press the cheese into the surface (use hands or rolling pin)
  4. Turn the dough over (carefully) onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with remaining cheese, pressing in lightly.
  5. Trim the edges of your rectangle using a sharp knife or pizza cutter (don’t cut into the parchment paper).  Cut dough into 3/4 inch-wide strips. Pick up a strip and gently stretch and twist. (can be made to this point and frozen.)
  6. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake straws  for 12 minutes, until puffed.  Turn baking sheets, from back to front, reduce oven to 325 degrees and bake 15 to 18 minutes, until lightly brown.
  7. Remove from oven and cool 2 or 3 minutes.  Serve within 1 hour. Can bake in advance and recrisp in oven shortly before serving.


Mint Juleps for Kentucky Derby Party

Mint Juleps for Kentucky Derby Party

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