Classic Pesto

Pesto is a type of sauce that originated in Italy, and is customarily made with fresh basil. Pesto alla Genovese, as it is called in Italy, is the name used to refer to this traditional version of the sauce that originated in Genoa. This sauce was traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, with the ingredients crushed in a circular motion. Pesto can be used with olive oil as a dipping sauce for bread (like at Macaroni Grille), a sauce for pasta, a spread for sandwiches, an alternative pizza sauce, on bruschetta, and on and on the list could go.

20130923-115042.jpgThere are only five ingredients: basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil. It’s important to use good quality basil, as that is the base and prominent flavor of the sauce. Avoid using brown or slimy leaves and choose the crispest and heartiest leaves. I’m very lucky to have an aunt who grows amazing basil! When Harper and I went to spend the day with her so I could learn how to can, she gave me a whole milk jug full of basil to take home. Oh happy day!

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I have been using this recipe for years. I found it in a cookbook titled “Italy” that I picked up off a clearance rack at Barnes and Noble like 10 years ago. (In case you don’t already know this about me, I collect cookbooks.) I wanted it for it’s beautiful spine and cover (to look pretty on a shelf) but this book was a wealth of knowledge about authentic Italian food and cooking. It’s pages are covered in tomato juice and olive oil from all its use.

With a food processor, this recipe comes together in under 5 minutes. If you do it by hand, using the classic mortar and pestle, it takes just a little longer, depending on your brute strength. As far as storage goes, pesto needs to be stored with a layer of olive oil on top to keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. You can store it in an air tight container in the fridge for a week, or up to 6 months in the freezer. When I make pesto, I usually double the recipe. It stores well and I use it for a lot of different recipes.

Classic Pesto

Prep Time: 5 minutes (10 if you’re not using a food processor)

Cook Time: N/A

Yields: 3/4 cup

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
4 Tbsp grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for storing)

Step 1: Add the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and cheese to the bowl of a food processor.

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Step 2: Pulse until a paste forms, scraping down the sides as necessary.

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Step 3: Drizzle in the olive oil while the food processor is running to incorporate.

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Step 4: Store pesto in an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on the top for 1 week in the frig or 6 months in the freezer.

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Chewy Monster Bars

Baking for my family (or anyone for that matter) is one of my favorite things to do. About this time of year, I go on a baking spree! I don’t know what it is about the fall that makes me want to break out the sugar and sprinkles! This past weekend I made Pumpkin Bread… so yummy… and now, only two days later, I’m ready to bake again! Have you ever had those Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip granola bars? They are a favorite in my house; we usually buy the gigantic box at the Sam’s Club. These Chewy Monster Bars are kind of a mix between one of those and a Monster Cookie. It’s square and chewy, with oatmeal and karo syrup like a granola bar, but chocked full of goodies like a Monster Cookie. A few years ago at a Bridal Shower, the sister of the bride made some homemade chewy granola bars. They were de-licious! So I got her recipe and i’ve made them several times since. One day, I was really in the mood for those bars but didn’t have the two kinds of seeds the recipe called for. So I went on an expedition in my pantry, pulling out anything that could go in a granola bar… coconut, chocolate chips, M&M’s, pecans, peanut butter, oats, and walnuts. And thought, “Yep… This should just about replace a couple seeds.” Ha! And the Chewy Monster Bar was born. These bars are so simple to make and are done in under 30 minutes (bake time included!), which makes them perfect for a last minute dessert or contribution to a tailgate party or bake sale. You can also change the ingredients based on your tastes (or food allergies, as the case may be). I usually have one right after pulling them out of the oven, but they hold together better as true “bars” after cooling completely and then being cut. All you need for these bars is a large mixing bowl, a hand mixer, a spatula, and a 9×13 pan. Grease the pan and preheat the oven to 350.

In your bowl, blend together the brown sugar, Karo syrup, butter, vanilla, and peanut butter.

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You don’t have to beat it to death, just get it fairly smooth.20130923-115341.jpg

Now, dump everything else in

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and stir with a spatula.

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I provided measurements, but you can change up which add-ins you want to add in, as well as the amounts. You want to keep the total volume of add-ins about the same, but you could add more chocolate or less nuts, extra coconut and less candy, whatever your little heart desires. Spread into greased 9×13 pan and press! 20130923-115408.jpg

You want to really pack this stuff so the bars will actually stay together. See how tightly packed this is?

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If its too loose while it bakes, it turns out more like granola. Bake 15-20 minutes or until brown around the edges.

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Let cool and cut into bars.

20130927-102753.jpg   Other options for mix-ins: white chocolate chips and chunks, Reese’s pieces, raisins, craisins, macadamia nuts, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds… Basically anything you like in a cookie or granola bar is fair game.

Chewy Monster Bars

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Makes: 16-32 bars (depending how you cut them)

Ingredients:

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup Karo syrup
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/3 cup M&M’s
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and set aside.

Step 2: In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, peanut butter, Karo syrup, butter, and vanilla.

Step 3: Add all remaining ingredients and stir to evenly distribute everything.

Step 4: Press mixture into prepared pan and bake 15-20 minutes or until the edges are brown and toasty.

Step 5: Cool completely and cut into bars.

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

Wanting to branch out from typical red sauce pizza?  Try using barbeque sauce instead!  Barbeque chicken pizza is a true American twist on an Italian invention, and it can be found on most pizzeria menus across the country.  One of the most well-known versions of this pizza comes from California Pizza Kitchen – supposedly the original inventor of the BBQ chicken pizza.  This recipe, while not a true copycat, was inspired by California Pizza Kitchen’s BBQ Chicken Pizza.

BBQ Chicken Pizza Slices

My recipe uses smoked gouda cheese and cilantro, like California Pizza Kitchen, but I leave off the onions.  If you’re an onion lover, feel free to throw on some red onion, but I prefer this pizza without it.  For my version, I add bacon.  Not only does bacon make everything better, it pairs especially well with barbeque.  Give my spin on this American classic a try, and you won’t be disappointed!

Barbeque Chicken Pizza

Prep Time: 15 minutes (not including making the crust or marinating time)

Cook Time: 5-7 minutes for Brick-Oven Style, 15-20 for traditional baking

Serves: 2

Ingredients

No-Knead Pizza Dough or 1/2 recipe Thick Crust Pizza Dough
Barbeque Sauce
4 oz. Chicken Breast, diced
3-4 oz. Fresh Mozzarella
1/2 c. grated Smoked Gouda Cheese
2 slices Bacon
handful chopped Fresh Cilantro
Olive Oil, optional

1.  Combine the diced chicken with some barbeque sauce and allow to it marinate for at least an hour.  My favorite sauce for this pizza is Jack Daniel’s Spicy Original.  It has a good amount of smokiness and heat with a perfect hint of sweetness.

Marinate Chicken

2.  Heat a skillet over medium heat and cook your bacon until crispy (I always trim some of the fat off my bacon before cooking, but that’s just a personal preference) then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Add your chicken to the pan and cook then set aside.  Once the bacon has cooled, coarsely chop it.

Tip: Cooking the chicken in the rendered bacon fat gives it more flavor.  If you don’t want to do that, you can pour the fat out of the pan and cook in olive oil instead.  You need some sort of fat/oil in the pan to keep the bbq sauce-covered chicken pieces from sticking as they cook.

3.  Shape your pizza dough and top with barbeque sauce.  Tear the fresh mozzarella into clumps and distribute over the pizza.  Then spread the chicken and bacon over the pizza.

Top with Chicken and Bacon

4.  Finally, top with your shredded smoked gouda.

Note: The smoked gouda cheese really does help make the pizza.  However, if you’re looking for a substitute cheese that is less expensive or you may already have on hand, regular gouda, cheddar, or smoked cheddar would also work well.

5.  Cook under the broiler using our Brick-Oven method or bake at 425° for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

6.  Once the pizza is out of the oven, top with cilantro.  Allow to cool a few minutes, slice, and serve.

Tip: To make the crust extra-tasty, brush it with a little olive oil as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Add Cilantro

Now isn’t your mouth watering just looking at this golden, bubbly pizza full of smoky, cheesy, bacon-y flavor… YUM!

If you like this recipe, check our other non-red sauce pizza recipes:

Four Cheese White Pizza
Pesto Pizza
Leek Pizza with Creamy Onion Sauce

Walnut-Crusted Halibut

Juneau has many shortcomings when it comes to food and groceries.  We don’t have many good restaurants.  There are limited grocery choices, meat is very expensive, and good fresh produce is hard to come by.

Juneau’s culinary wealth lies in the sea – there is an abundance of fresh, locally-caught seafood.  Before I moved to Alaska, I didn’t eat seafood because it all tasted fishy to me.  Turns out I’d just never tried good, fresh seafood.  Not only is fresh seafood delicious, it’s a great source of protein and omega-3’s.  Now I cook regularly with big, juicy prawns, rich and flavorful salmon, and meaty halibut.

Walnut-Crusted Halibut

This recipe combines omega-rich halibut with heart-healthy walnuts – and doesn’t it look delicious!  Halibut is a great fish to cook with because it not only tastes great but has a nice meaty texture that holds up well to cooking (unlike other varieties of fish that fall apart).  For this dish, halibut is coated with chopped walnuts and cooked to get a nice, crunchy crust.  Then the halibut is seasoned with a basil-balsamic drizzle to give it a nice punch of flavor.  It’s quick, easy, and mouth-watering!  I always feel fancy when I eat this dish even though it takes so little work to make.

Whenever you’re eating seafood, it’s important to be a responsible consumer.  Make sure you know what you’re eating and where it’s from.  There are a lot of resources out there to help you choose sustainable seafood, but my favorite is Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They have pocket guides that you can print and keep in your wallet, and they have a smartphone app.  Check them out!

Walnut-Crusted Halibut

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

12 oz. Halibut Fillet ~1 in. thick, divided into 2 pieces
1 Egg
1/2 c. Walnuts,  chopped
2 tbsp. Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/8 tsp. Pepper
1/8 tsp. Garlic Powder
Canola Oil
Basil Balsamic Drizzle
1 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1 tsp. finely-chopped Fresh Basil
1 tbsp. Lime Juice
Salt, to taste

1.  Combine walnuts, flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a pan.

Walnut Dredge

2.  Beat the egg and put it in another dish.

3.  Dredge the halibut pieces in the egg then the walnut mixture, pressing down to ensure the pieces are well-coated.

4.  Heat a shallow layer of canola oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, cook the halibut pieces, one at a time.  Cook each piece for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.  The walnut crust should be nice and golden.

Golden Crust

5.  Transfer the halibut pieces to a baking pan and bake at 400° F for 10 minutes.  If you have thicker pieces (more than 1 in.), it may up to 15 minutes to cook through.

6.  While the halibut is cooking, stir together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, lime juice, and a generous pinch of salt to make the basil balsamic drizzle.

Balsamic Drizzle

7.  Plate the halibut immediately out the oven (you don’t want it to get cold!) and drizzle generously with the basil balsamic mixture.  And I do mean generously.  This  drizzle is delicious and full of flavor, so you’re going to want plenty on your fish.  To make it a meal, serve with a green vegetable side.

Walnut-Crusted Halibut

Voilà…  Now you have a dish that tastes great and that you can feel good about eating.  Healthy food can be yummy too!

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

There are many ways to make a pot pie, but the basics remain the same: crust, meat, gravy, and vegetables. I actually have two different recipes that I use depending on when I’m making it. I use Alton Brown’s Chicken Pot Pie Recipe when I have the time to be in the kitchen and really put some love in it. (If you ever have the opportunity to watch his episode “A Bird in the Pie is Worth Two in the Bush,” I would highly recommend it. Talk about an authority on food…) And I have a recipe I developed a couple years ago for a quick and easy pot pie that’s still super delicious. It is especially handy now that I’m a working mom who works 50 minutes from home. Shaving time off meal preparation is something I’m becoming quite good at! This recipe can be made in under 45 minutes and is super delicious!

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My little girl is a huge veggie lover (Yay!) but isn’t super fond of meat. So I am now trying to make dinners at least a couple times a week that “hide” the meat. Which is just completely backwards… Isn’t it the veggies you usually have hide?? Anyways… I use a pound of veggies and a pound of meat, so there are equal parts meat and vegetable. If you prefer a meatier pie, you can certainly add another half pound.

Start by browning your chicken in a large fry or sauté pan with nice edges (you’ll be filling ‘er up). Use a couple tablespoons of olive oil; add the chicken once the oil is hot. After the first flip, sprinkle your chicken with a little of the following: oregano, sage, salt, pepper, parsley, paprika, and onion powder. Just enough to get a little on each piece for a good seasoning. Flip and repeat.

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While you cook your chicken, lightly grease a deep dish pie plate and line it with one of the pie crusts. You want to be sure you let the crusts come up to room temp before rolling them out or they’ll crack – like mine did here. But no worries, just press to seal the cracks with your fingers. You do want to be more careful with the top one though, it’s not as easy to mend.

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Now remove the chicken from the pan to a plate to rest. Add the frozen veggies to the same hot pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

While the veggies are cooking and after the chicken has rested a couple minutes, roughly chop into bite sized cubes, or shred if you prefer.

Now add the flour to the veggies and stir until the flour has dissolved. Dump in the chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened. When you first add it, it will obviously look pretty watery, like chicken broth (imagine that). But as it cooks down, the flour will thicken the broth and you’ll get something that looks like this…

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When you have a thickened sauce, add the heavy cream. Again, it’s not going to look very good a first.

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But as it cooks down, it will thicken and you’ll end up with a nice, thick sauce/gravy. At this point, add the chicken back to the pan and give everything a little stir.

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Now dump your filling into the crust. Warning – this will fill it up!

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Carefully unroll the second crust and lay it on top. Using your fingers, work your way around the edge, folding the excess down towards the pie, and sealing it with the edge of the bottom crust against the sides. So fold over and press to crimp and seal.

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Continue until the entire edge is sealed and crimped.

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Using a sharp paring knife, cut four or five slits in the top of the crust and make a little hole in the middle, to allow steam to escape. Beat the egg and brush it all over the crust. (Note: you do not need all the egg)

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Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling.

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Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

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Variation: If you find yourself without pie crusts, you can obviously make them yourself, or you can use canned biscuits or crescent rolls. Just press them into the bottom and spread out on top. You can also use Bisquick to make a quick biscuit batter, and just drop by the tablespoon full on top of the filling in a baking dish. With biscuits or crescent rolls, you can press each one into a well of a muffin tin and make individual little pies.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

Cook Time: 35 min

Yields: 1 deep dish pie (6-8 servings)

Ingredients:
2 pie crusts
1-1 1/2 pounds chicken
1 lb bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup heavy cream
Salt
Pepper
Oregano
Sage
Parsley
Paprika
Onion powder

1. Add a couple Tbsp olive oil to large sauté pan. When hot, add chicken. After first flip, sprinkle chicken with a little of each of salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, sage, paprika, and onion powder. Cook until completely cooked through. Remove from pan and let rest.

2. Add vegetables to same pan and cook, stirring occasionally until heated through. While cooking veggies, chop or shred chicken into bite-sized pieces.

3. Add 2 Tbsp flour to cooked veggies and stir until flour is completely dissolved.

4. Add the chicken broth and cook until thickened, just a couple minutes.

5. Add the heavy cream and cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, just a couple minutes more.

6. Add the chicken back to the pan and stir to distribute. Pour mixture into pie crust.

7. Top with other crust. Using your fingers, crimp and seal the edges. Cut four or five small slits in the top and make a small hole in the middle to allow steam to escape.

8. Beat egg and brush on top of crust.

9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until crust is brown and filling in bubbling. Let sit for a couple minutes before serving.

Pumpkin Bread

One of my favorite things about fall is all the yummy food – Chili and Taco Soup on cool nights, hot cocoa and apple cider to warm you up at football games or fall festivals, not-so-good-for-you carnival food, and absolutely all things pumpkin. Now, pumpkin pie isn’t my favorite, so if that’s the only thing pumpkin you’ve tried, do not let that deter you from trying this! Pumpkin bread is a great dessert, breakfast, or anytime snack. It is sweet, nutty, and has just the right amount of spice!

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I always make this several times in the fall- for co-workers, for our annual trip to the mountains, for football games, etc. There’s really no occasion that’s not better with bread – especially bread of the pumpkin variety!

You can use canned pumpkin or fresh pumpkin for this recipe. If you use fresh, buying a sugar pie pumpkin will be your best bet. The pumpkins you buy for carving are bred for their size and durability against your kitchen knife (or hacksaw, whichever the case may be). They are not very sweet and usually pretty stringy. You can still use this pumpkin, just know up front that it won’t yield as sweet or flavorful of a bread. The sugar pie pumpkins, or any small, dark pumpkin variety, have a smoother, sweeter flesh that are much more suitable for baking. Even though I am trying to ditch the processed, and usually prefer things fresh, I use canned pumpkin for almost all of my baking – pure pumpkin, not the pie filling. It gives recipes a more pumpkin-y flavor in my opinion.

To make a pumpkin purée from fresh pumpkin, cut it in half and discard the stringy pulp in the middle. (You can save the seeds for roasting later – yummy!) Remove the stem and place face down on a baking sheet. Roast for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until soft and tender. Purée or mash the cooled pumpkin until smooth. A medium size sugar pie pumpkin will yield 1 – 2 cups of purée.

After you’ve prepared your pumpkin purée, either by opening a can or carving and roasting, you’re ready to start gathering the rest of your ingredients. Here’s our cast of characters:

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Start by preheating your oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans (mine are 9×5).

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In a large bowl, combine the oil, pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and water. I always crack each egg into a small bowl before adding it to my mixture. A tip I learned from Mrs. Paula Dean. She says “to make sure the chicken was flying right that day.” When your done it will be kind of watery and drip easily off your wisk. Like this…

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Now all you do is dump all the remaining ingredients, expect the pecans, on top and stir. When everything is fully incorporated, add the pecans and stir just to distribute. Your batter should now be the consistency of a thick cake batter.

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Pour batter into prepared pans. If your have course sugar, you can sprinkle it over the top before baking. Place pans in preheated oven and bake 1 – 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Before….

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And after…

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This bread is actually best if you wrap it in plastic wrap after it cools and let it sit overnight. But this just doesn’t ever happen at my house! My 1 1/2 year old is usually standing the breakfast room saying “Peas! Peas!” (Please) when I open the oven door. She has learned to associate the oven with yummy things. Smart girl!

Variations: You can substitute the pecans for walnuts or pumpkin seeds. You can also either substitute or add chocolate chips or raisins. If you substitute chocolate chips or raisins for nuts, use 2 cups. If you use them with nuts, use about 1 1/2. This recipe can also be used to make muffins, if you would rather. If you want to top your bread (or muffins) with icing, mix about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with a tablespoon or so of a milk and 1-2 tablespoons melted butter. Drizzle on top before serving.

Pumpkin Bread

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 1-1 1/2 hours

Makes: 2 loaves

Ingredients:
1 cup vegetable oil
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin purée
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, and water.

3. To the pumpkin mixture, add flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Stir to combine.

4. Add the nuts and stir to distribute evenly.

5. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let bread cool on a wire rack before serving.

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Peach Tea Cocktail

Fall is rapidly approaching up here in Juneau.  The rain is trying to settle in, the temperatures are dropping, and the days are shortening.  Plus football season has started (Hallelujah!) – a sure sign of fall.  As summer draws to a close, I wanted to share a recipe for you to enjoy while you’re soaking up the late summer sunshine.

Completed Cocktail Pitcher

This cocktail is the perfect warm weather drink.  All the sunshine we got in Juneau this summer put me in a Southern state of mind, so I wanted some spiked sweet tea.  I didn’t want it to be too sweet so I wanted to use fruit to help sweeten the tea.  Peaches are evocative of summer and readily available in the grocery store right now, so I decided to go with peach tea.  I found this recipe which I altered slightly, and it came out delicious!  With just a few minutes work, you can have a tasty cocktail pitcher that’s perfect for cook-outs and parties.

Peach Tea Cocktail

Prep Time: 10 minutes + chill time

Serves: 4

Ingredients

4 c. Water
8 Tea Bags (I use Lipton’s)
1 c. Simple Syrup
1 Lemon
3 Ripe Peaches
1 1/2 c. Peach Vodka

1.  Bring the water to a boil then pour into a heat-proof pitcher.  Add the tea bags and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

2.  If you don’t already have simple syrup on hand, you can make it while the tea is steeping.  Combine equal parts water and sugar (I use 1 c. of each) and heat, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.  Measure out 1 c. for use in this recipe and save the rest in the fridge for other cocktails.

3.  Once the tea has steeped, remove the tea bags and add the simple syrup.  Slice the lemon and add it to the pitcher.  Wash and slice the peaches then add them to the tea.

Note: Ripe peaches should have a little give when you squeeze them and should smell like peaches.  If they’re not ripe when you buy them, put them in a paper bag and leave them on the counter for a few days until they are fragrant.

Steeping Tea

4.  Transfer the pitcher to the fridge to cool.  Once the tea is completely cool – not before or you can cook off the alcohol – stir in the vodka.

Chill until ready to serve.  I recommend making the tea in the morning so the peach flavor has plenty of time to diffuse into the tea.  Serve over ice with some of the fruit as garnish.  Enjoy sipping this refreshing beverage while relaxing on a lazy summer evening.  A word of warning, this drink goes down very easily so be careful.

Cocktail Pitcher