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Tips for creating great parties in your balcony cocktail garden

Watermelon Limoncello Mojitos for Ferragosto

Watermelon-Limoncello Mojito

Watermelon-Limoncello Mojito

Ferragosto is an Italian national holiday where the Italians escape the dog days of August and take a rest from the labor of the harvest season.  It is a family holiday rivaled only by Christmas, and many Italians head for the beach for a week of relaxation, friends and good food.  With respect to food and drink, it appears that watermelon often plays a starring role.  At HeathGlen Farm, we thought a pitcher of  watermelon Limoncello mojitos for Ferragosto was an appropriate crowd-pleaser, and oh-so-easy to make ahead of time.

A (little) History of Ferragosto:

The Italian festival called Ferragosto is celebrated on 15th August which dates back originally to the Romans.  Ferragosto was later incorporated into the Catholic faith, and then tweaked even later by Fascism and today is a relevant part of  popular Italian culture.

The ancient Roman Ferragosto was linked to the Consualia, effectively incorporating August festivities in Italy which celebrated the harvest to provide a suitable period of rest, necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.

The Catholic Church then added a celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven), to the Ferragosto holiday.

Ferragosto’s Connection to Fascism

Somewhere around the second half of the 1920s, the Fascist leisure organizations set up the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto” where the train fares were discounted enough that it gave less well-off social classes an opportunity to travel.  It was during these “people’s trips” that the majority of Italian families had, for the first time, the chance to reach seaside and mountain resorts, as well as see art in Italian cities.  The discounted offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 of August, and consisted of  two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50 to 100 kilometers or the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 kilometers.

Ferragosto Today

Today, Ferragosto is still honored, primarily as a feast day and a holiday to escape the heat.  Most Italians take at least a short holiday, if not the whole month of August, and head to the beach or the mountains for family time and parties.  Food and drink is, of course central to the festivities, with huge meals, even in the hottest temperatures, central to the festivities.

My research did not uncover any particular dish that was traditionally associated with Ferragosto.  All of the available photography however, included watermelon, so that is what I went with for our Ferragosto celebration.  Apparently restaurants in Southern California celebrate the holiday with a full Porcetta roast.  Sounds like a plan for next year’s celebration.

Pitcher Watermelon Limoncello Mojitos Recipe:

Prep for Watermelon Limoncello Mojitos

Prep for Watermelon Limoncello Mojitos

Ingredients:

  • 1 6-8 lb. watermelon, to get 3 cups strained juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup ginger lime syrup, or simple syrup of your choice
  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • melon balls and fresh mint for garnish

Preparation:

  1.  Cut the watermelon into large slices, saving the end piece to make melon balls.  Lay the slices flat on the cutting board and cut off the rind.  Using the melon baller, scoop out enough melon balls to allow two as a garnish per each drink you will serve.  Cut up the remaining melon slices into large chunks that will fit into the blender or food processor.
  2. Pack a 1/3 measuring cup with fresh mint and add the mint and enough melon chunks to fill the blender.  Blend into a puree (it does not take long).
  3. Strain the watermelon-mint mixture into a bowl or large measuring cup until you have 3 cups.  Keep blending more melon chunks and mint and straining until you have 3 cups.  You can puree the entire melon and reserve some out for mocktails for the non-drinkers also.
  4. Add to a pitcher:  3 cups of the melon-mint mixture, the rum, ginger lime syrup, and Limoncello.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
  5. Remove melon mixture from refrigerator and stir in the fresh lime juice.  Pour mixture into a tall glass of ice and garnish with melon balls and a mint leaf.

 

 

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

Preparation:

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

Directions:

  • 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.

Cheers!

Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

Ham Balls with Pineapple Glaze

 

 

 

Tips for making the Perfect Sangria for a Balcony Party

Testing Cherry Sangria and White Sangria

Testing Cherry Sangria and White Sangria

City dwellers may be strapped for outdoor space, but if you have access to a balcony you can create one of those wonderful movie scenes where suggestive conversations take place leaning over the balcony rail with a cocktail in hand.  Or not.  You can also just relax with friends without the subtle, suggestive innuendos.  Sangria is the perfect pitcher to have ready for your balcony get-togethers.  I’ve included a recipe for a white (blanco) sangria as well as a cherry sangria with red wine. There are dozens of great sangria recipes.  These two are my favorites.

Eight Tips for Making Great Sangrias

  • Soak the fruit for a whole day in Rum, Triple Sec, Brandy or some other spirit. It makes a difference to really get the fruit infused into the wine. If you are in a rush you can microwave the fruit and liquor for 30 seconds but it’s a shabby second to letting it slowly infuse.
  • Many recipes include a variety of fruits (like peaches or strawberries).  The classic Spanish sangria only includes citrus and if you want to be true to the form, stick with citrus.
  • Fill the glass with ice first and then use a pitcher that has a strainer on the spout. If you use a regular pitcher you’ll keep filling everyone’s glass with large chunks of fruit or ice.
  • Slice the fruit or cut into large wedges.  Don’t chop or mince the fruit.  It doesn’t look attractive in the pitcher, and it won’t infuse into the wine in the same way.
  • Use inexpensive wines.  The fruit and sugar will mask any of the subtle flavors an expensive wine.
  • If the sangria is too sweet, add some more wine (a dry wine like merlot or cabernet).  You can also add some lemon juice.
  • If the sangria is too sour, add a can of orange soda pop or lemon-lime soda
  • If the sangria is too “winey”, add some flavorings.  Examples might include:  cinnamon sticks, fruit flavored rum, ginger ale, tawny port, orange liqueur (like triple sec), or fruit syrups.

Recipe for White Sangria (Blanco)

Sangria ingredients

Sangria ingredients (strawberries optional)

Ingredients:

  • 2 (750 ml) bottles dry white wine (i.e., Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1/2 cup orange liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
  • 1/4 cup brandy (or amber rum)
  • 1/2 cup flavored syrup (I used Vanilla Mint syrup from HeathGlen, aka Moroccan Mint)
  • 2 oranges, thinly sliced
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups of something carbonated or sparkling (i.e., lemon-lime soda, sparkling water, sparkling wine like Prosecco)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients, except for the fresh mint and the lemon-lime soda, in a large container.  Cover and chill 4 hours. Stir in lemon-lime soft drink and mint just before serving. Serve over ice, if desired.

Recipe for Red Sangria with Bing Cherry Jam:

Ingredients:

  • 2 bottles red wine with cherry undertones (I used Mirassou Sunset Red @ $8.99 each)
  • 1/2 cup orange liqueur (triple sec)
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup flavored syrup (I used Smoked Cherry)
  • 1/2 cup Bing Cherry jam or syrup
  • 2 oranges, thinly sliced
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • fresh mint to garnish

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except mint in a large container.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24.

Pre-party Sangria Toast

Pre-party Sangria Toast

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

Directions:

  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!!

 

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