New Year’s Booze 101 & Bourbon Grapefruit Smash

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It’s easy to feel a little food-ed out by this point in December. After weeks of holiday parties and Christmas itself, all the excess starts to feel a little… excessive. While everyone is swearing they’ll never eat again, at least until breakfast, and since one of the biggest drinking nights of the year is this weekend (the biggest drinking of the night is not New Year’s Eve, but the night before Thanksgiving) I thought I’d dedicate a post to holiday drinking instead of holiday eating.

While I spend days obsessing over what to cook for friends for any given occasion, what we’ll be drinking is always an afterthought. Typically a few bottles of wine grabbed at the last minute, or a cocktail made out of whatever happens to be in the house.

Thankfully I have a great resource, and source of cocktail inspiration, at my disposal. My friend Paul Weinstein, who I went to high school with in Pittsburgh, ended up living in the Hamptons, too.  He works for Wölffer Estate in Sagaponack and over the last year has taught me a lot about wine… I have split many bottles with him purely in the interest of learning. Paul shared some great tips for choosing cocktails and wines – and making everyone think you actually know what you’re doing. Hopefully these guidelines will come in handy for your New Year’s Eve party- or any party!

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Party Booze Tips 101 

1. Pop a bottle of champagne or Prosecco when your guests arrive to ease everyone into conversation- the “pop” of the bottle opening really starts the party!

2. Don’t go overboard with festive cocktails. One is enough!  At the end of the day, most people already have drinking preferences and will stick to them.

3. For simplicity’s sake, pick one type of red and one type of white – think Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, or Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Part of being a good host is making sure your guests’ wine glasses are always full – so make it easy on yourself and eliminate the guess work!

4. Remember to chill your whites….and your reds! If you’re starting with cocktails, take the red wines out of the fridge when the guests arrive. By the time you get around to drinking them at dinner, they will be at perfect cellar temperature (around 60 degrees). This is an easy way to take your wine game to the next level and make everyone think you really know your stuff.

5. Local wine shops can be a fantastic resource and can help you find delicious wines and great values no matter your price range.

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Very important Bourbon Grapefruit Smash testing with Paul.

Because one festive cocktail is okay, I thought I’d share one of my favorites- a little concoction I call a Bourbon Grapefruit Smash. It’s a tart, not-too-sweet cocktail with a serious bourbon kick and a refreshing splash of grapefruit juice. The citrus and rosemary make this a perfect wintery cocktail, and fortunately, it’s as easy to make as it is delicious. This recipe only makes two drinks, so if I’m planning on making more, I make a big pitcher of the grapefruit juice, bourbon and Lillet mixture (keeping the proportions the same!) and shake it in smaller batches.

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Bourbon Grapefruit Smash

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 cup Lillet blanc
  • 3 tbs bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, plus more for serving
  • ice, for shaking the drinks

Directions

  1. Combine the grapefruit juice, Lillet, bourbon and 2 sprigs of rosemary. Shake for 30 seconds and pour into coupe glasses, discarding the rosemary. Garnish each drink with a new sprig of rosemary and serve!
  2. Extra notes

Moroccan Lamb Stuffed Squash

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I’m very excited to share this recipe for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s one of my favorite fall and winter dinners EVER. It’s comforting and hearty but still reasonably healthy, and a great way to turn a humble acorn squash into a delicious and really different dinner. This is one gets serious thumbs up from my friends whenever I make it, and that’s a pretty good measure to me.

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The lamb is cooked with traditional Moroccan spices- cinnamon, paprika, and cumin- and studded with fresh mint, pine nuts and dates.  The blend of savory, spicy and sweet flavors, as well as the different temperatures and textures, is what really makes this recipe a winner.

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Acorn squash can be pretty bland and a little stringy, but roasting it at a high temperature and then stuffing it with lamb makes it the least boring vegetable you’ve ever had. Topping each squash with a big dollop of yogurt, pomegranate seeds and mint doesn’t hurt, either.

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This is a great recipe to make for a holiday dinner- there’s something so pretty and festive about these little squashes, and they’re really easy to make. (And, sound the alarm, this recipe is totally gluten-free!) You can even assemble everything ahead of time to keep things simple. Just roast the squash and make the lamb mixture before anyone arrives, and set the stuffed squashes aside until dinner. Then pop them back in the oven about fifteen minutes before you want everyone to sit down. All you need is a simple salad on the side and a big glass of wine, and you’re good to go! Happy holiday cooking!

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Moroccan Lamb Stuffed Squash

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 2hr 30 min
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 4 small acorn squash, about 1 1/4 lbs each
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 large cloves)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 7 pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon for serving
  • 1 (7-oz) container whole-milk Greek yogurt, such as Fage
  • 1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate seeds
  • kosher salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Turn each squash on its side and slice an inch off the stem end, removing and discarding the stem. Using a spoon, scoop of the seeds and flesh. Slice 1/4” off the bottom end of the squashes so that they sit with the stem up without wobbling. Scoop out the seeds and “stringy parts.
  3. Place the 4 squashes on a sheet pan stem side up. Brush with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with ¾ teaspoon salt.  Roast for 40 minutes, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, cinnamon, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Raise the heat to medium, and add the lamb and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Cook for 6-8 minutes, crumbling with the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned. Add the tomato paste, dates, pine nuts and the 3 tablespoons mint, and cook for 2 more minutes. Set aside.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 375. Using a soup spoon, scrape about two tablespoons of flesh from each squash (you should have ½ cup altogether) and add it to the sauté pan with the lamb. Mix to combine.
  6. Spoon the lamb filling into the hollowed out squashes, filling each one to the top.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until heated through. While the squash is cooking, combine the yogurt and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Serve hot with a dollop of seasoned yogurt, the reserved mint, and the pomegranate seeds.