Lemon Basil Cakes with Rhubarb Compote

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Rhubarb is one of those vegetables that I’ve never come around to trying, until now. Previously, I knew about rhubarb pies, rhubarb and strawberry compotes for topping ice cream, and rhubarb jam. While these all sound fine, they never piqued my interest because: 1) I’m loyal to chocolate and 2) I’m not usually a fan of cooked fruit. Both are good reasons but lately I’ve been feeling like shaking things up and getting out of my comfort zone. Too much of the same can be boring. So, I went all out and paired the rhubarb compote with a basil and lemon cake which to me just screams spring. One bite and the bright flavors combined with the slight tartness of rhubarb and the buttery cake made for a remarkable new dessert.

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Lemon Basil Financiers

Yield: 16

½ cup plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar; additional for dusting

2 tablespoons honey

5 egg whites

7 fresh basil leaves, chopped fine

Zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons melted butter or non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (convection) and place the oven rack in the middle.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until browned bits begin to form. Continue to simmer, frequently scraping up browned bits at bottom of pan, until fragrant and dark brown but not burnt, 6–7 minutes. Scrape butter and all browned bits into a medium bowl. Let cool for 3–4 minutes.

Place almonds and flour in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl; whisk in 1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp. powdered sugar. Add egg whites; mix until smooth. Fold in honey, basil, and lemon zest.

Fold browned butter into batter. Cover and chill overnight and up to two days.

Coat savarin molds or a donut pan with melted butter or non-stick spray. Fill a disposable pastry bag with batter and pipe into coated molds filling to ¾.

Bake until cakes are just golden brown and cooked through, 18- 20 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pan and place onto a cooling rack.

 

Rhubarb Compote

Adapted From Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters

1 pound rhubarb

Juice of 1 orange plus zest

½ cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rinse and dry rhubarb. Cut off 1” from the bottom and any leaves. Cut lengthwise into 1/3” strips and crosswise into ½” pieces.

Grate the zest from the orange into a non-reactive baking dish and add 3 tablespoons of its juice. Add the rhubarb, sugar, and vanilla and toss everything together to coat the rhubarb.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the rhubarb.

 

Assemble the cakes:

With a small spoon, scoop rhubarb compote into the center well of each cake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with a basil leaf. This dessert should be served warm or at room temperature.

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Meringue Cookies: Pistachio and Vanilla

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Santa Ana winds and dry air is not a news worthy event, except serving as a reminder for me to take my allergy meds. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed at this weather pattern as of late. Surely you must be wondering what on earth this has to do with food. Let’s get to it.

I love meringues, the completely crispy and light as air type. Only thing is, they need a very dry environment as moisture of any kind is the enemy of meringues. The absolute devil. I had to take advantage of this dry day before the weather went back to its normal humidity and make a batch of meringue cookies. They are easy and quick to put together, but do take a long time to dry out in the oven. With a little patience and almost half a day you will be enjoying these lettle gems which are crisp and crunchy through and through, with no trace of wet or sticky insides here. An absolute delight.

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glossy meringue with a stiff peak that holds its shape

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piped and ready for the oven

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Meringue Cookies (Pistachio & Vanilla)

Yield: 60- 70 kisses, approximately 1 ½” wide

¾ cup powdered sugar

½ cup superfine sugar

Pinch fine sea salt

4 egg whites, room temperature*

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Purple gel food color

Small brush with fine tip

¼ teaspoon pistachio extract

Green gel food color

Small brush with fine tip

2 disposable piping bags

* It is best to “age” the whites by leaving them partially covered on the countertop in a cool room overnight. This will let some of the moisture evaporate and help with obtaining a more voluminous meringue.

Prepare the piping bags:

Load two disposable piping bags fitted with large start tips (Ateco #8 or similar). Working with one color at a time, paint stripes using the gel color beginning on the inside of the bag as far down toward the tip as you can reach and up to ¾ of the way up the bag. Make as many stripes as you desire.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust two oven racks to the top and bottom third of the oven.

Sift together the powdered sugar, superfine sugar and salt in a medium size bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the egg whites and cream of tartar. With the whip attachment, begin beating the whites on medium setting until they become foamy (like bubble bath). Slowly add the powdered sugar mixture and increase the speed to high. Continue whipping until the whites become very glossy and stiff peaks form. Test the meringue by removing the whip and inverting it so that the meringue tip points upward. It should hold a peak. If not, continue whipping until stiff.

Separate the meringue into two medium size bowls and add ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract into one bowl of meringue and ¼ teaspoon pistachio extract into the other bowl. Mix gently with a rubber spatula to incorporate the extract. Place into prepared piping bags and begin piping, leaving a finger width between each kiss.

Bake for 3-4 hours until meringue is crisp and not sticky. I test them by feel as well as gently lifting up from the parchment. If they lift without too much coaxing and the bottoms release fairly easily, they are almost ready. At this point, turn the oven off and close the door. Let meringues cool in the oven for an additional hour. Remove from the oven, let come to room temperature and immediately enjoy or store in an airtight container.

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Chorizo and Manchego Cheese Braid

Today’s post is written by K and baked by both of us. Enjoy!

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How do you prepare for Sunday, 2PM?

For a while now, Sunday afternoon has had its own tradition for us. It is a tradition that we adopted while traveling. Sometime around 2 to 3 in the afternoon, when there is absolutely nothing on TV, and it’s too warm to do some shopping, we’re too tired from the cleaning and errands, it’s time to sit on the front porch with a glass of Vermouth and a snack. But what will that snack be? S had mentioned she wanted to bake off a loaf for the weekend and in anticipation of our Sunday Vermouth, we figured we’d do a loaf that was inspired by the Spanish tradition of, Vermouth on Sundays.

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Chorizo and Manchego Cheese Braid

Yield: 1 braid

For the Sponge:

1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

½ teaspoon honey

½ cup milk, scalded

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

½ cup cold water

 

For the Dough:

1 ½ teaspoons salt

¾ cup all- purpose flour

¼ cup bread flour + ½ cup additional (if needed)

All of the sponge

 

For the Topping:

1 ½ oz butter, softened

3 oz manchego cheese, grated

2 oz Spanish chorizo, cubed very small (brunoise)

2 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped

 

Make the Sponge

Proof the yeast in warm water until dissolved and creamy. Dissolve the honey in the scalded milk after it has cooled a bit. Transfer yeast mixture to a large bowl and add flour, milk, and water. Mix with a rubber spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise for 2 hours in a warm spot.

 

Make the Topping:

Combine the butter, manchego cheese, chorizo, and oregano in a small mixing bowl and stir to combine. Set aside at room temperature.

Make the Dough

In a medium bowl, mix the salt with ¾ cup all-purpose flour and ¼ cup bread flour. Add by handfuls to the risen sponge and mix with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead until dough comes together in a soft and satiny ball. If the dough is too wet, add the reserved ½ cup bread flour a little at a time until the ball is smooth and desired texture is achieved.

When the dough is satiny, form it into a ball and place into a large container covered with plastic wrap until it doubles in size, approximately 1- 1 ½ hours.

Set the oven to convection and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place a pizza stone on the oven rack and an empty oven safe pan on the bottom of the oven.

Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Gently roll out into a log about 12- 14 inches long. Place the pieces onto parchment paper and braid the pieces, tucking the ends under slightly to seal together. Gently fill in between the braids with the chorizo butter mixture. You will have about ¼ mixture left, set aside. Cover the stuffed braid loosely with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.

After the braid has risen, refill the braids with the extra filling since some of the filling may have come loose after the rise.

Place the braid on the stone in the oven and add water to the oven safe pan. It will steam so be careful. Bake for 25- 30 minutes until golden brown.

Remove from oven a place on a rack to cool.

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Jamaica Rolled Tacos

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This post from last week was leading up to something… something exciting to possibly nobody but me. Anyhow, since we’re all here, lets try something new. On our last trip to Mexico City, I was blown away by a platter of simple tacos made with jamaica flowers. We make jamaica every summer or when the weather is hot and I never thought to put the flowers to use. I’m not sure how the restaurant made them, but in my experimentation, the spent flowers worked best. In my eyes, this dish is a win-win and zero waste. Think about it, you get two for the price of one- a refreshing drink plus a meal.

In case you’re wondering how these rolled tacos taste, let me tell you that they are meaty in texture but also tangy from the natural flavor of the flowers. Truly unique, something you simply must try. They are best served with guacamole and cheese, nothing acidic beacuse of the tartness of the flowers.

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Jamaica Rolled Tacos:

yield: 16 rolled tacos

5 oz spent hibiscus flowers

16 tortillas

vegetable oil for frying

Use the spent hibiscus flowers from this recipe. After straining the flowers from the liquid, place into a separate container. Pick through and remove any seeds and tough inner parts of the flower. You want only the softer petals. Discard the rest.

If your tortillas are not freshly made, warm them so that they are pliable. Place a small amount of flowers on the tortilla and roll tight. Secure with toothpicks at each end. Continue until all tortillas are filled.

In a frying pan, heat the oil to approximately 365 degrees Fahrenheit and fry the rolled tacos a few at a time depending on how many your frying pan can accommodate without overcrowding. Fry until tacos are golden brown. Place them on a cooling rack and remove toothpicks as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Serve with guacamole, queso fresco, and radishes. Enjoy!

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Hibiscus Water

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One night at dinner a long time ago, we were dining with company at a nice Mexican restaurant. As I was browsing the wine selection, out of nowhere comes, “What’s Jamaica?” Um, sorry, what? Isn’t it an island in the caribbean and what does that have to do with right now? Strange, but whatever. Then again, “It says Jamaica right here on the menu– what’s that?” As I glance down to where my diner guest was pointing, listed right below “horchata” was jamaica and not the island. Of course, I busted up laughing. It was the funiest thing at the time. After explaining that jamaica was a sweetened drink made of dried hibiscus flowers and water all was resolved. To this day, when I think of the drink jamaica, it reminds me of that hilarious night at dinner.

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Jamaica is one of my favorite drinks to order with a plate of tacos, especially on a hot day. It is tangy, sweet, and super refreshing. On our last trip to Tijuana, I bought a bag full of jamaica flowers and have been slowly working my way through it since a little goes a long way. I make my hibiscus water super concentrated and water it down as needed along with adding simple syrup to taste.

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Jamaica (hibiscus water):

Yield: 2 pitchers

5 oz dried hibiscus flowers

10 cups cold water

Simple Syrup:

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Place the dried hibiscus flowers in a colander and rinse with cold water. Place into a vessel large enough to accommodate the flowers and 10 cups water. Cover with plastic wrap and place outside in the sun. Let sit for 4 hours or more. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or over cheesecloth into a pitcher. Place in the refrigerator to chill completely.

Make the simple syrup:

Comaine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil (do not stir or agitate the mixture). Reduce heat and let simmer for 1 minute. Let cool completely.

When simple syrup and hibiscuc water are compeltely cooled down, it’s time to combine and get to drinking. Place a few ice cubes in your glass of choice. Fill the glass with 2/3 concentrated hibiscus water and top off with cold water (sparkling water makes it extra special, but not required) and a few tablespoons of simple syrup to taste.

*I keep the concentrated hibiscus water in a pitcher and dilute as I go along. Alternatively, you could split the concentrate into two pitchers and dilute and sweeten both batches at one time so the drink is ready to pour and enjoy without additional preparation. Both ways work equally well.

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Chocolate Swirl Babka

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Bread has always been an intimidating baking experience for me and one that I happily avoided. If I’m being honest here, anything that involved yeast and rising time terrified me. One bad experience and I was scarred for life- almost. Lately, I’ve been more curious about yeasted dough and am ready to start practicing again. It’s high time I got over this irrational fear. Afterall, it’s just bread. This chocolate swirl babka recipe caught my eye and seemed doable, even for me. Luckily, I had K’s help and guidance along the way and we prepared this one together. I have to say, it was a great success and I’m looking forward to more bread baking in my future.

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Chocolate Swirl Babka

from Sift by King Arthur

Yield: 1 loaf

Dough

1 cup (8 oz) water
¼ cup (2 oz) milk

2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter + additional 2 tablespoons, melted for brushing on top)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 ½ cups (14 ¾ oz) unbleached all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast

 

Filling

1/3 cup (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa

¼ cup (3/4 oz) finely chopped almonds

2/3 cup (5 oz) granulated sugar

 

Crumb Topping

2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter, melted

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup (1 ½ oz) powdered sugar

¼ cup (1 oz) unbleached all- purpose flour

 

For the Dough:

Place all of the dough ingredients (except the additional 2 tablespoons melted butter) into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for approximately 5-7 minutes until a soft, smooth ball forms. Add additional flour or water as needed. Cover and allow dough to rise for 1 hour.

For the Filling and Topping:

Combine the cocoa, nuts, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, use a fork to combine the crumb topping ingredients; it should be moist. Set aside.

To Shape:

After the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly greased work surface and roll it into an 8” x 16” rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture over the dough leaving a ½” border on all sides. Starting with the shorter side, roll the dough into a log, jelly roll style. Pinch the seam and ends together.

Transfer the log to a greased 9” x 5” loaf pan, laying it seam side down. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until it’s 1” above the rim of the pan, 40- 60 minutes. Half an hour into the rise time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly brush the loaf with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle the crumb topping evenly on top. Bake for 40- 60 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the babka from the pan and let finish cooling on the rack before serving.

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Ceviche: Yellowtail and Nopales

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We made a quick trip over the border the other day to check out an art exhibit and then went for some ceviche. Fresh, cold seafood was the perfect lunch to have on a hot day in Tijuana. Aside from making it at home, ceviche was something we ate a lot of in Peru and were really missing all of the exceptional seafood, especially their delicious ceviches. Luckily, we were able to get a taste of both Mexican and Peruvian-style ceviche this past weekend. Clearly, it made an impression on us inspiring our own blend of both styles combining aji chile from Peru and nopales used in some indigenous Mexican dishes. Together, they are a nice pairing with crunch and texture from the noples and just a hint of spice from the aji.

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Ceviche: Yellowtail and Nopales

Yield: Serves 2 as an appetizer

¼ pound fresh yellowtail fish, sliced thin

1 teaspoon aji paste

1 small clove garlic

½ oz white or yellow onion

Juice of 1 ½ meyer lemons

Salt to taste

5 sprigs cilantro (chop the leaves, discard stems)

1 small cactus lobe, cleaned

1 shishito pepper, sliced thin, seeds removed

¼ small red onion, sliced very thin

Prepare the Cactus:

Wash and dry the cactus lobe. With a pairing knife, cut off the prickly needles in one swift motion against the growth. Here’s a good video that shows the process: https://youtu.be/tSWNv2Q3ju4

After cleaning the cactus, slice into ½” cubes, place into a colander and rinse with cold water. Let drain. Place a grill pan on the grill and cook cactus until they soften, making sure to turn and move them around. This can also be done indoors on a comal or a dry skillet. When they are a bit charred and soften, remove from heat and let cool down. This can be done a day in advance. Store in the refrigerator until ready to assemble ceviche.

Combine the aji paste, garlic, yellow onion, lemon juice and salt in container. Puree until smooth with an immersion blender or in a regular blender. Transfer to a clean bowl. Add the fish, cactus, chopped cilantro, and red onion and gently mix to combine. Place on a platter and garnish with shishito peppers and red onion. Enjoy immediately.

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Locro

We are in for a treat. Today’s post comes to you from K in which he shares how loco for locro he was. After some tweaking, we have nailed down a recipe that works for us. It’s hearty, comforting, and delicious.

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Two times. That was the number of times I had to visit Quito in one year. Quito is the capital of Ecuador and is mostly known as the jump off point for folks on their way to the Galapagos to see the Piqueros de Patas Azules or as we all know them here, the Blue Footed Booby. I enjoyed going to Quito, it was a wierd and dull place. I probably could’ve done a bit more exploring but with non stop work for which I was there to do, most of my exploring took place during dinner time and on a few friday nights.

What made the biggest impression on me was that every restaurant, cafe, home and probably gas station served a bowl of locro which is basically a stew. And in Quito, the most common Locro is made with potato and I could not get enough of it; that was however, till I’d absolutely had enough and I couldn’t stand it. It seemed like Locro was on every menu in every hole in the wall and after I’d paid the exit fee at the airport to leave the country I was happy that I wouldnt be eating Locro any time soon.

And I was right, its been probably eight years or so since those trips and in that time I’ve grown to miss Locro. I’d try to to explain to S how flavorful the worlds most boring stew was and I finally just had to break down and show her. Locro is simple, potatoes, onions, cumin, water, soft fresh cheese, a hit of milk and some small cubes of avocado and there it is. An Ecuadorian classic.

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Locro

Yield: 8 servings

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon achiote paste

1 large onion, medium dice

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons aji paste

3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks (6 pieces per potato are ideal)

6 cups water

1 cup milk

Garnish:

chopped cilantro

queso fresco

green onion, sliced thin

In a large stockpot (8 quart), over medium heat, melt the butter and add achiote paste. Stir to combine, breaking up the achiote paste to smooth out. Add onion, garlic, cumin, salt and cook until onion becomes translucent. Add aji paste, stir to combine. Add potatoes, mix well and add water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20- 25 minutes until potatoes are just tender enough to mash. As soon as potatoes begin to soften, gently mash some of the potatoes with a potato masher, leaving some larger chunks and some mashed smaller. The goal here is to get about 1/3 of the potatoes mashed semi-fine, 1/3 small chunks, and the final 1/3 left in larger pieces. Stir in the milk and let simmer for 5 minutes before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro, queso fresco, and green onion.

*Usually, avocado is used to garnish the soup and in instead of chopped cilantro, its culantro which is not readily available unless you grow your own. Cilantro is the closest substitute we could find.

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Roasted Chayote Salad with Green Chile Dressing

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Chayote is one of those vegetables that was mostly relegated to soups in our house. I enjoyed their mild flavor and they were a nice addition to a vegetable soup, but that’s as far as it went. Then, one day we were watching PBS and Rick Bayless’ show was on where he made this salad. I was sold- so simple, yet a flavorful new- to- me way to enjoy this vegetable. Since then, I have made this roasted chayote salad twice, one on the grill which gave the chayote a nice, smoky flavor, and once roasted in the oven. My favorite was the grilled version, but the most accessible way is to use the oven.

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Roasted Chayote Salad with Green Chile Dressing

4 large chayotes, pitted and cut into ¾” pieces

2 tabl;espoons olive oil

Salt and black pepper

3 tablespoons green chile adobo

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus finely grated zest (just a little)

4 oz queso fresco, crumbled

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (convection setting works great for this) and adjust the rack to middle position.

In a large bowl, toss the chayote with olive oil, salt and pepper until coated. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and toss with the green chile adobo, lime juice and zest. Place in a serving dish and garnish with queso fresco and cilantro leaves.

 

Green Chile Dressing

½ head of garlic, skin on with cloves separated

4-5 fresh serrano chiles, stems removed

1 bunch cilantro, thick stems removed, roughly chopped

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, thick stems removed, roughly chopped

1 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

On a comal or in a large dry skillet, roast the garlic and chiles until soft and browned, about 10- 15 minutes.

As soon as garlic is cool enough to handle, remove skins and place all ingredients in a blender. Process until almost smooth. Transfer to a pint sized jar and store covered in the refrigerator.

*This will last several months in the refrigerator if it is covered with a layer of olive oil.

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Blood Orange Sparkling Wine Cocktail

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It’s our anniversary and we’ve been celebrating all weekend long. There’s a lot to toast to and even more to celebrate. These are happy times deserving of a special cocktail. Since it’s citrus season and blood oranges are abundant, why not? Gin is our spirit of choice and we had a smooth, subtle aromatic one on hand that paired well with the blood orange juice. Topped off with a sweeter sparkling wine, this cocktail it was fit for a celebration. Cheers!

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Blood Orange Sparkling Wine Cocktail

Yield: 2 servings

2 oz fresh squeezed blood orange juice

1 oz gin

1 oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio)

sparkling wine

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, except sparkling wine. Cover and shake until cold. Pour into two champagne coupes or other drinking vessel. Top with sparkling wine.

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