Santa wants beer and cookies

Yes, he does. Specifically this Newcastle Brown Ale and Heather’s chocolate crinkle cookies. I would normally wait until closer to the holiday to do a Christmas post, but the next RAF 20 Minutes and Beer event is calling! And guess who is giving this presentation? Yours truly. I’d give you some details but I don’t have them all planned out yet. Hopefully you can swing by to cheer me on listen and have a beer! My presentation title is… Say No To Stock: Be Original & Let Your Idea Grow. I’ll share my take on stock images vs. creative original photography (which do you think I prefer?). Showing you examples of misused and overused stock images, I’ll try to demonstrate why it’s always better to be original and let your idea grow (so you don’t end up on Santa’s naughty list). Should be fun!

Here are the original photo and the poster. Do you think I would have been able to find a stock photo for my silly idea? Don’t forget to make Heather’s Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. The recipe is down below. Now for that Newcastle (Which is the perfect choice, as they have very original advertising. #nobullocks)….Cheers!

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Chocolate Crinkles:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (I use a little less)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Mix oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Chill several hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350. Roll about one teaspoonful of dough at a time into a ball and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Place 2″ apart on greased baking sheet (I use parchment paper). Bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Margaritas Trump Timeliness

Happy Cinco De Mayo! Yes, this post is late, but the post title explains why. When given the choice between finishing off the margaritas with Heather or writing this post, the margaritas won out! Sorry, but I’m sure you understand!

Sunday, I cooked tequila flamed shrimp tostadas for us to celebrate. I followed the Food and Wine recipe, just without the black beans (as I forgot to purchase them) and using yellow corn chips instead of tostadas. I also added a minced jalepeno to the avocado mixture (which is basically a yummy pineapple guacamole). Using chips instead of tostadas is a great way to do an appetizer or a dinner version. The meal was amazing, and I will definitely be making them again soon.

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The recipe called for a silver tequila; Don Julio Blanco to the rescue! Of the silver tequilas I’ve had, it’s by far my favorite. Give it a try!  Since the tequila was open, I felt compelled to make margaritas (see recipe here). They were helpful to lessen the effects of  the heat from the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Happy cinco nueve de Mayo! Cheers!

Mirbeau = Indulgence

This week marks the anniversary of our first date! Last year, we commemorated the occasion with a quick getaway to Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Skaneateles. With the French countryside and the works of Monet as its inspiration, Mirbeau provides gorgeous accommodations and excellent cuisine in a soothing, romantic environment. When making a reservation, be sure to mention whether you would like to stay in a cottage, allowing you to stroll through the lovely gardens on your way to the main building, or in the main building itself. We prefer the cottages, but have stayed in the main building during the winter to avoid walking outside for the spa and dining options.

The lovely grounds of Mirbeau.

The lovely grounds of Mirbeau.

As we entered our cottage, classical music was playing softly. We felt any lingering tension start to slip away as we took in the French country décor, complete with a fireplace. The bathroom was like a gorgeous mini-spa with its oversized soaking tub, large walk-in shower, and Mirbeau’s “Essentials” body and hair products.

After settling in, we took a short walk to Spa Mirbeau. Rather than booking a spa treatment, we opted to simply change into our swimsuits, wrap ourselves in thick, soft white robes, and visit the Aqua Terrace. This remarkable outdoor space boasts a large, naturally-shaped Jacuzzi (complete with waterfall and landscaping), a huge stone fireplace, and a small bar. We ordered a lunch of finger sandwiches and wine from the barman, then perched beside the fire to eat. It was a fabulous meal with which to begin our twenty-four hours of indulgence! The sandwiches were delectable, the wine delicious. We lingered by the fire a bit more, then spent a lovely afternoon relaxing in the water.

It was then time to get ready for dinner. Formal attire isn’t required, but I just love any excuse to dress for dinner! We freshened up, changed, and strolled to the Wine Bar. Although we love the Dining Room at Mirbeau, we’d never dined at the Wine Bar, and thought this was an excellent opportunity to do so. The cozy space has its own large fireplace and comfortable seating. You can use the automatic wine machines to sample a variety of vinos, or simply order off the menu. We tried a couple of wines and several small-plate-style appetizers. Everything was delicious, and the atmosphere was enhanced by chatting with our fellow diners at the Wine Bar – Sean and Dee from Buffalo, locals Peggy and Jimmy, and Bill the car guy. Add in the excellent bartenders, Ed and Tim, and it was a lively, fun evening!

The comfortable bed provided for a very good night’s sleep, which was followed by the complimentary European Continental Breakfast. This was so much more than the typical freebie breakfast, both in variety and quality. We particularly loved the almond pastries, so much so that our server obligingly wrapped some up for us for the ride home!

We made the short drive into the charming town of Skaneateles, walking through its downtown area and checking out shops and galleries. Our original thought was to have lunch in town, but we just couldn’t resist one last meal at Mirbeau. So off we went, back to the Dining Room, for a famous Mirbeau Hamburger. This decadent burger is served on a brioche roll with Portobello mushrooms, balsamic red onions, gruyere and spinach, with bistro fries, béarnaise sauce, and bordelaise sauce on the side. It is well deserving of its accolades.

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Behold…the Mirbeau Hamburger.

The Dining Room.

The Dining Room.

We’d put it off as long as we could; it was time to leave our little sanctuary. With one last longing look at the lovely garden, we tore ourselves away and headed back to reality!

A good excuse for a Scotch!

Hou ar ye? D’ye spaek Scots? Aye, juist a wee bittie. But…it’s a liitle too confusing to understand, so I’ll switch back to good old Americanized English.

Happy Tartan Day! I’ll admit that I didn’t know it existed before yesterday. But when I found out, the first thing I thought was, “What a good excuse to have a Scotch!” (And show off my Fraser plaid scarf, of course.) Heather’s family has a strong Scottish heritage, and for Christmas last year she got me a scarf made of the Fraser Hunting Weathered tartan. Mix that with The Macallan Fine Oak 15 year old Scotch and we have a celebration!

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Your nose is greeted with strong notes of vanilla and butterscotch with subtle dried fruit. The taste is light, dry, and complex. It’s very drinkable with subtle spices mixed with honey, vanilla, and dried fruit. The finish is on the short side, yet delightful. Excellent all around (and the color on the bottle even matches my scarf).

Here’s tae us, guid nicht!

Happy St. Tito’s Day!

Yes, I know there is no St. Tito. Well, at least I don’t think there is. (Is there?) So I guess I also need to officially say Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I thought I’d put an American spin on it this year, blending the totally Americanized McDonald’s Shamrock Shake with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I don’t frequent McDonald’s very often, but if there is a highlight, the Shamrock Shake is it. If any of you managed to get to SXSW in Austin this year, I hope you  got to experience the excellence that is Tito’s vodka. Tito’s has been one of the top finalists at our vodka tasting parties (and always gotten my top vote), holding it’s own against the expensive imports.

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The Shamrock Shake made it home from the drive-thru a few ounces short of full (hey, I did say it was a highlight). I added 3 oz. of Tito’s to the shake, mixed it up and put it back in the freezer. After re-freezing, I ran it through a blender and poured it into two glasses, topping them with fresh whipped cream. A delightful St. Patrick’s Day afternoon treat.

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Wherever you go and whatever you do,
May the luck of the Irish be there with you.

Sláinte!

A Real Saucy Character

My amazing wife Heather and her awesome brother Dave have a new book coming out this Friday! I’m so proud of them! It’s called José Picada, P.I.: Deception Al Dente. You can find it here. In honor of this occasion, I decided to do an interview with one of their main characters, Chef Marco Augustino. What role does Chef Marco play in the book? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out! But, in the meantime, I’m looking forward to trying his pasta.

Rich: So, Chef Marco, I understand you’re no longer with your restaurant, Bistro Italiano. Why did you leave?

Chef Marco: Yeah, we’re not gonna talk about all that.

R: Oh. Okay. Well, there go all my interview questions. We’ll just wing it. So, uh, thanks for making this beautiful plate of pasta I just photographed. It was fabulous!

CM: Yeah, it was. The secret is the sauce.

R: It really is a great tomato sauce! What makes it so special? Do you use a certain type of tomatoes? What herbs do you prefer?

CM: Yeah, we’re not gonna discuss my culinary secrets, kapeesh?

R: Oh. Um, all right. So, in Deception Al Dente, you cross paths with the main character, Josie Cates. What’s Josie’s favorite dish?

CM: I don’t know and I don’t freakin’ care. That girl is a real pain in my—

R: Uh, this is a family-friendly blog, Chef Marco. Let’s just get back to the pasta. What would you pair it with?

CM: Some crusty bread, a nice Chianti, and badda bing! You’re good to go.

R: Okay. Well, that pretty much covers it. I had a lot more planned, but you sort of derailed the entire interview.

CM: Whatever. You got any more Chianti?

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Heather and Dave have a unique writing process, where they e-mail the manuscript back and forth. Whoever has possession can alter anything they see fit. It’s a fun process to watch and listen to as they chat on the phone during their planning sessions. You can follow along with them at Driving Blind and on Facebook. Cheers to a job well done!

Old San Juan, El Batey, and Ron del Barrilito (take me away)!

We discovered Barrilito “three star” rum on our actual honeymoon and were instantly hooked. Enjoying a glass of this smooth aged rum in our living room always takes us right back to Old San Juan…and more specifically to El Batey, the best little dive bar in Puerto Rico (or possibly the world). Conveniently located right across the street from Hotel El Convento (our Puerto Rican home away from home), this place has cheap drinks, an eclectic mix of songs on the juke box, and loads of character (and characters!)

After our tour of the Bacardi factory in 2008, the Cuba Libre (basically a rum and Coke with lime) became a favorite cocktail of ours . Despite our fond recollections of the tour, we really prefer to make ours with Ron del Barrilito (Rum from the little Barrel) “three star.” That seems to be the consensus of many people we’ve talked with in Old San Juan. The picture below shows a Cuba Libre “El Batey style”: a small glass filled almost entirely with “three star” and ice, then topped off with Coke and a lime.

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The Cuba Libre, El Batey style.

I would also recommend just drinking the “three star” from a snifter.  It’s the older of the two Edmundo B. Fernández, Inc. rums, featuring a blend of rums aged between 6 and 10 years. Sipping will let you enjoy the layers of honey, butterscotch, molasses, spice, vanilla, smoke, nuts, and oak. The finish is warm, smoky, sweet and very lengthy.

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Ron del Barrilito “three star.” Note the neck label, the only difference from the two-star, less-aged variety.

That long finish takes us away to El Batey. The most intimidating bar we’ve ever walked into, it is also one of the most friendly and interesting. Each visit has provided great conversation with the patrons and the bartenders, and endless visual appeal. The highlight of our most recent visit was a brief chat with the owner, David Jones. He is obviously a man who knows how to enjoy himself as he was surrounded by friends, drink, and a bag of cigars. I think this photo captured him perfectly as this is how he chose to sit when I asked to photograph him; elusive, gruff, intense and relaxed all at once.

Owner David Jones.

Owner David Jones.

I leave you with a toast to David Jones, especially for choosing to leave the graffiti on the walls for over 40 years! Peruse through these highlights and imagine yourself sipping a Cuba Libre. Cheers!