Elderflower Berry Vodka Punch

I'm not sure what it's like where you live, but in New York City, the 4th of July is usually HOT. The sun shines brightly and summer heat hugs you all heavy and damp.

Personally, I love it. I'll take thick, hot summer over icy winter any day of the year. But I admit it can make it difficult to want to move around or really do much of anything productive.

I had the heat in mind when working on this colorful patriotic punch recipe. It's the third in my ongoing collaboration with Smirnoff this summer, and (shhh...!) it's my favorite so far.

In my head I was picturing a crystal clear and sparkly punch studded with cupfuls of fresh red and blue berries. It's lightly sweet, perhaps even leaning towards tart, with just a hint of something special from the elderflower syrup.

This red, white, and blue Elderflower Berry Vodka Punch is cool and refreshing, and perfect for sipping in tall, berry-filled glasses while sharing with friends under the hot July sun.

The only added sweetness in this punch comes from elderflower syrup, which you can buy online or at well-stocked grocery stores. If you can't find it, you can substitute another floral syrup like lavender or rose, or just stick with a plain simple syrup.

Elderflower pairs beautifully with berry flavors, so I chose Smirnoff Raspberry as this spirit for this punch.

It adds the perfect touch of summer sweetness! Combined with some fresh lemon juice and lemon seltzer, it's a bright and bubbly drink that will be a hit with your 4th of July guests.

A few tips for serving this punch for a crowd:

1. Prepare the base of the drink in advance by combining the lemon juice, Smirnoff Raspberry, and elderflower syrup in a large pitcher, and chilling until it's time to serve.

2. Slice up the strawberries and wash the blueberries, but don't add until the last minute.

3. Just before your guests arrive, add chilled seltzer to the prepared drink base, and stir in the berries.

4. Serve  with bowls of additional chilled berries so guests can fill their glasses. They can sip their drinks, then eat the muddled berries which will absorb a bit of the vodka and elderflower flavor--so much lovelier than sangria!

For more fun summer cocktail recipes and ideas, follow Smirnoff on Instagram and Facebook, and check out their fun party boards on Pinterest!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Smirnoff for IZEA. All opinions and recipes are, of course, 100% my own. Please remember to always drink responsibly!


Elderflower Berry Vodka Punch
Serves 12

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups Smirnoff Raspberry
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup elderflower syrup (or other floral beverage syrup)
1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced + 1/2 pound for serving
1 pint blueberries, rinsed + and additional pint for serving
6-8 cups chilled lemon seltzer

Directions
Whisk together the vodka, lemon juice, and elderflower syrup in a large pitcher. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until serving.

Just before serving, add the berries, topped off with 6-8 cups of the seltzer (depending on the size of your pitcher). Stir and serve cold with additional berries on the side.
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Penne with Zucchini and Yogurt Cream Sauce

After a long weekend away, we came back home to an empty fridge and (on my part) not much motivation to cook. Summer weekends tend to do that--a couple days of waking up with the sun on the beach and going from one restaurant or cafe to another zaps me of all desire to operate in a normal routine.

Can't life be like vacation always? (Or at least all summer?)

On days like this, my go-to is pasta, and this easy dish of Penne with Zucchini and Yogurt Cream Sauce can be made with the kind of ingredients you might be likely to have hanging around in your pantry or fridge: yogurt, spices, and some kind of vegetable (zucchini in this case, but honestly anything you have would work--roasted butternut squash, broccoli, frozen peas or corn, bell peppers, etc.).

The base of the sauce is yogurt, which is stirred into the hot pasta, creating a light, but creamy, sauce with just a tiny bit of tang.

It's a simple, but satisfying dish that's perfect for those days when you need to keep things easy.

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Penne with Zucchini and Yogurt Cream Sauce
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 pound penne pasta
Olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 large zucchini, diced
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 1/2 cups thick Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions
Prepare pasta according to box directions.

While pasta cooks, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onions. Saute 1 minute, then add the zucchini and garlic, and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until slightly tender.

Drain the pasta and return to pot (remove from heat). Add the cooked zucchini and onions, along with the yogurt, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano. Stir well to coat, then add the grated cheese and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Garnish with red chile flakes, if desired.

Serve immediately.

How to Make a Layered 4th of July Cocktail

How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
We're just a few days away from the 4th of July, so I thought I'd teach you an important cocktail trick that you can use to impress your guests at your fourth of July parties: how to make a layered cocktail!

One of the most fun things about Independence Day parties is that you can go full out with the kitschy red white and blue party decor and menu (and outfits!). Red, white and blue cocktails are especially fun to serve.

The trick to making them successfully is to rely on a little grade school science. You might remember those 6th or 7th grade experiments that involved liquid density--layering things like oil, syrup, colored water, and dish soap in beakers to show how some liquids rise, while others fall.

And that's really what this is all about! To demonstrate this, I'm using a delicious recipe for a perfect 4th of July cocktail called "The Firecracker" from the bartenders at the Princess Royale hotel in Ocean City Maryland.

How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
This recipe calls for some easy to find ingredients like cranberry juice cocktail, raspberry vodka, blue curacao (an orange-flavored liqueur), and club soda or seltzer. You'll also need ice, a large dinner spoon, and a cherry or red berry to use as a garnish.

Start out by gathering and measuring your ingredients. You want to have it all ready to go, because each step needs to be done right after another. I suggest measuring out each ingredient into small bottles or measuring cups for easy pouring.

Step 1. 
How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Start with the red layer--the sweet fruit juice, which is the densest of the three. Make sure you're using a juice that's sweetened with real sugar or corn syrup--anything unsweetened or with artificial sugar won't work since it's the sugar that gives the juice density. (We're just having fun here--not looking to save on carbs!)

Step 2. 
How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Once the red layer is in, add the ice all the way to the top of the glass. You want to add the ice second, so you don't end up with juice-covered ice.

Step 3.
How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Place a spoon with the bowl upside down against the edge of the glass. Slowly pour the blue curacao over the back of the spoon so that it drips gently in. This spreads out the density of the liquid as it pours so that it can float over the red liquid instead of breaking into it.

(Think of the difference between floating in a pool vs. diving in. You want the booze to float, not dive.)

Step 4.
How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Rinse the spoon or use a different clean one (so you don't dye the clear layer with the curacao), and repeat the gentle pour over the spoon with the vodka and club soda until it hits the top.

Step 5. 
How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Add a cherry or other fun garnish, and gently dip a straw in. (If you jam the straw in too quickly, it'll mess up the layers.)

And that's it!

You're ready to enjoy your red white & blue cocktail. Note that if you follow these steps you can totally customize the recipe to your liking by substituting your favorite flavor of red juice or vodka.

Thanks to Princess Royale for sharing their fun cocktail recipe! If you're in the area or planning a visit to Ocean City, you should pop in and have their awesome bartenders pour the drink for you!

Happy 4th of July!


How to Make a Layered Red White and Blue 4th of July Cocktail
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by the Princess Royale hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. I was compensated to write this, but the concept, tips and all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting companies that allow me to write fun content like this for you!



Firecracker Cocktail Recipe
Makes 1 cocktail (multiply as necessary). Courtesy of the Princess Royale hotel, Ocean City Maryland

Ingredients
2oz sweetened cranberry juice cocktail (do not use unsweetened or artificially sweetened cranberry juice)
1oz blue curacao liqueur
1 1/2 oz raspberry-flavored vodka
2 oz club soda (or flavored seltzer like lemon or orange)
maraschino cherry or other red berry, for garnish

Directions
Pour the cranberry juice into a highball or other tall cocktail glass, then fill to the top with ice.

Place a spoon with the bowl facing down against the side of the glass, and slowly pour in the blue curacao over the back of the spoon. Rinse the spoon (or use a new one) and repeat with the vodka and the club soda.

Garnish with a cherry and serve immediately.

Rainbow Veggie Dippers

I'm obsessed with summer colors. There are few things more inspiring to me than the rainbow of fruits and vegetables that fill the market shelves and produce stands this time of year.

If a vegetable is sold in a color that it's not typically sold in (read: purple potatoes, multi-colored carrots, orange tomatoes)--I will probably buy it.
These Rainbow Veggie Dippers are a super quick little appetizer idea for your next summer party. Takes minutes to put together, but for some reason people go wild for them.

It's really just dip and crudites, but the trick is all in the presentation.

Your favorite dip or dressing (I'm using blue cheese dressing here, but ranch or Caesar would work, too) is piped into the bottom of a shot glass. You can use a spoon, but a piping bag keeps it neat and prevents it from streaking down the side of the glass.

(I tried it several ways. Trust me on this.)

Then all you have to do is layer in a rainbow of veggies in different colors. I used rainbow carrots, bell peppers, zucchini and roasted purple sweet potatoes for mine. Use whatever you have or love!

Cucumbers, celery, radishes--anything that can be cut into a long-ish spear will work.

It's a fun and easy way for people to snack on veggies at cocktail parties. No need to worry about double-dipping!

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Rainbow Veggie Dippers
Makes 12 appetizers

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups creamy dressing (such as blue cheese, ranch or caeser salad dressing)
2 pounds of assorted vegetables cut into 3" sticks (suggestions: bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, zucchini, roasted sweet potatoes, blanched asparagus, etc.)

For assembly: 12 tall double-shot glasses, piping bag

Directions
Place dressing into a piping bag, and pipe about 1 1/2 tablespoons into the base of each shot glass (use more or less depending on the size of your glass). Layer in the veggie sticks.  Serve immediately, or cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill until serving (up to 4 hours).


Strawberry Lemon Vodka Punch #Pride4Everybody

June marks the start of the real summer season. A time for coming together with friends and family to celebrate occasions and—more importantly!—each other. June is also Pride month, the weeks set aside each year for honoring and supporting the LGBT community.

This summer, I’ve teamed up with Smirnoff to share some bright and creative punch recipes to serve at all your summer festivities. This classic fave has long been the perfect way to serve up cocktails for a thirsty crowd, keeping everybody (including the host!) happy.

Pride parties are some of the most colorful ones around, and it’s the perfect occasion to have a little fun with your menu. Big bright salads, fruity garnishes, and rainbows of colorful vegetables make it easy to create a festive, but sophisticated spread.

One of my favorite ideas are these little Rainbow Veggie Dippers, which bring together different shades of carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, squash and peppers into an an edible pride flag (no food coloring necessary!).

And when it comes to cocktails, it doesn’t get any easier!

The fresh colorful fruit and gorgeous herbs already have so much flavor that you basically just have to add in your favorite Smirnoff and you’re ready to enjoy!

For this Strawberry Lemon Vodka Punch, I’m keeping it simple and letting the true colors and flavor of gorgeous summer strawberries and bright tart lemons shine through.

The fun trick here involves pureeing whole lemons along with your strawberries to create the base for your drink. You take the seeds out, but use everything else (yes…even the peel and pith!). Once pureed, it adds a gorgeous hint of floral citrus that is both elegant and unexpected.

It’s just the tiny little trick that takes a simple drink to the next level. Whisked up with a bit more fresh lemon juice and Smirnoff 21, it’s the perfect summer sip for your party.

To keep my drinks cool, I also like freezing fresh whole strawberries in over-sized ice cubes. You just need one or two per glass, and they do triple-duty of garnishing your drink, keeping it cool, and not watering it down.

This month, whether you’re planning your own event, or one to coincide with the many parades and celebrations around the country, take a moment to enjoy a sweet sip, and share a little #Pride4Everybody.

For more fun summer cocktail recipes and ideas, follow Smirnoff on Instagram and Facebook, check out their fun party boards on Pinterest.

This post was written by me as part of an ongoing sponsored collaboration with Smirnoff. All opinions and recipes are, of course, 100% my own. Please remember to always drink responsibly!



Strawberry Lemon Vodka Punch
Serves 12

Ingredients
2 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed with leaves removed
2 large lemons
1 cup granulated sugar (increase to 1 1/2 cups if berries are more tart than sweet.)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
2 1/4 cups Smirnoff 21 vodka
6 cups lemon seltzer

Ice
Fresh mint, for garnish

Directions
Quarter lemons and discard any seeds. Add to food processor (entire wedges, including peel and pith). Add the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, and puree until smooth. (If you have a small blender, do this in batches.)

Place a sieve over your punch bowl, and pour strawberry puree through sieve into bowl, discarding any solids that remain.

Stir in vodka, and chill at least four hours. Just before serving, add seltzer.

Serve punch over ice garnished with fresh mint.

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Chipotle Strawberry Cobbler

When summer rolls around, I basically just lose all control when it comes to grocery shopping.

Lately it's the strawberries that are seducing me, and I've been buying pound and pounds of them, filling up the fridge and using them in all things sweet and savory.

Over the next few months, I've teamed up with one of my favorite brands ever ever--Tabasco--to create a series of recipes featuring their range of sauces. I'm starting up with Tabasco Chipotle--a smokey, sweet, and absolutely wonderful hot sauce that I love to put on basically everything.

Until now, I've only used it in savory recipes, but with a fridge full of these gorgeous berries, I decided to use them in a dessert.

And oh wow, is it good!

I know it might sound a little unusual, but I promise that it's just good. The smoky heat pairs beautifully with the sweet berries and tart lemon. Under a sweet and buttery crust with just a hint of salt, it's a stunning (and ridiculously easy!) dessert that will satisfy all your cravings at once.

This is one of those recipes that comes together so quickly, too. I toss the filling together right in the baking dish, and then make the crust in a food processor (a bowl + pastry cutter or fingertips works, too!). It bakes for just a little over half an hour, and it's ready to go.

Serve it up hot right out of the oven, or let it sit and cool off first.

Either way, a scoop of something creamy on top is a must. I love tangy creme fraiche or sour cream (it's especially good with the tiny bit of spice!), but ice cream or regular whipped cream would be amazing, too.

If you love sweets with a hint of spice, you'll die for this. Trust me on it.


Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Tabasco. Over the next few months, I will be sharing a series of recipes inspired by some of my favorite Tabasco sauces. All recipes and opinions are strictly my own. Thank you for supporting great brands like Tabasco that make it possible for me to create new content for you. 

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Spicy Chipotle Strawberry Cobbler
Serves 8

For the filling
2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
Zest of 1 whole lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons corn starch

For the crust
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9” pie plate.

Toss the strawberries with the sugar, Tabasco Chipotle, lemon zest, vanilla extract and corn starch. Place in the pie plate (I mix it up right in the pie plate).

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, cut in the butter until crumbly. Add the egg and milk, and pulse or mix a few times just until it comes together into a dough.

Spread chunks of the dough over the strawberries.

Place pie plate on a baking sheet (to hold spills—there will definitely be spills!), and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the crust is slightly golden and the berries are bubbling.

Saffron Aioli

I made this homemade saffron aioli for the first time last month while helping out a chef friend with prep for a dinner he was cooking.

"Do you know how to make aioli?" he asked. "Can you do one with saffron?"

"I do!" I said, and gathered the ingredients--an egg, two kinds of oil, a bit of mustard, garlic, lemon, and the saffron.

Aioli is basically just a fancy name for homemade mayonnaise with garlic, and can be used in pretty much the same way. Once you learn how to make it (and it's basically just a bunch of stuff in a blender--that easy!), you can then mix it up however you like--add fresh herbs, roast the garlic, sriracha, spices...so much you can do!

Saffron typically needs to be "bloomed" before you can cook with it. All that means is you need to steep it in a liquid of some kind of bring out the flavor and color--almost like a tea. Most saffron recipes--like my Blackberry Saffron Almond Cake and this Saffron Walnut Bundt Cake--have a bit of liquid that can be warmed up, but the aioli doesn't. I tried making it by warming up some of the oil and adding the saffron.


It worked really well, but when I tested it again (while feeling lazy) I skipped that step, and realized it worked the same way anyway so here is the simplified recipe.

One thing you definitely can not skip, is the combination of oils. I know it might be tempting to use all olive oil, but don't. Mayonnaise or aioli made with all olive oil is bitter and not good. (It's gross, actually.) You need the half and half combination of good spicy extra virgin olive oil and then a plain oil like grapeseed, avocado, or any vegetable oil you choose.

This gorgeous saffron aioli is fantastic with roasted or steamed vegetables (especially asparagus or Brussels sprouts!), crispy potatoes (or fries!), eggs, or in a sandwich.

So many great possibilities. 

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Saffron Aioli Recipe
Yields 1 1/4 cups

Ingredients
1 large egg
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dijon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 large pinch saffron threads (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grapeseed, avocado, or other plain oil


Directions
In a blender or food processor, combine egg, garlic cloves, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and saffron threads. Puree for 1 minute until smooth, then scrape down sides.

With the motor running, slowly pour in both oils in one long thin and consistent stream, continuing to blend for 5 minutes, or until smooth and thick.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired, adding more salt or lemon juice as needed. Transfer to a glass jar or bowl, cover, and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Will keep well one week.



Shrimp Tacos with Watermelon Pico de Gallo


The first few days of summer weather were the inspiration behind these spicy Shrimp Tacos with Watermelon Pico de Gallo.

Quick and easy shrimp tacos are a go-to meal on those glorious long days when all you want to do is lounge around or be outside as much as possible.

Because summer is all about things that are easy.

The shrimp marinate in just a few minutes while you prepare the simple watermelon pico de gallo (helping yourself to several bites of cold sweet watermelon along the way).

And then all you have to do is cook the shrimp and assemble the tacos!


Or, better yet...just serve everything in individual bowls and let your family or guests make their own tacos! Everyone loves DIY tacos!

You're...um..."encouraging creativity and self-sufficiency."

Definitely not being lazy! Nope.

But this watermelon pico de gallo, tho!

Basically this is a super-simple twist on the fresh Mexican salsa made with diced watermelon, onions, fresh cilantro, lime juice, and a sprinkle of chile flakes.

You dice and toss and then let it sit for a couple minutes until all the flavors get friendly with each other.

Honestly, all you're basically doing here is swapping watermelon in for the tomatoes.

It's not rocket science, but they add just a tiny hint of sweetness that works beautifully with the spicy shrimp and make the whole thing seem so clever and trendy.

So trendy.

Note that if you have jalapeño or serrano peppers on hand, you should definitely dice one up and add it to the mix.

I didn't and was feeling lazy creative, so I just went with dried chile flakes. A sprinkle of cayenne works just as well.

You get your spice. You get some flavor. It's all good. It's summer. Don't stress.


It's so flexible and easy to customize. See what you have in your fridge and play around! This is basically my number one cooking rule.

Honestly...this is my number one life, rule. Improvisation is my game.

Note that the shrimp can be seasoned and the salsa can be made a few hours in advance--then just cook the shrimp right before serving. It's perfect for parties or busy weeknight dinners.

The only other thing you need is a chilled glass of wine or an icy tequila cocktail--or two! Rum works, too.

No judgment from me, folks.


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Shrimp Tacos with Watermelon Pico de Gallo
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the shrimp
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the watermelon pico de gallo
3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into small 1/2" cubes
1 large red or white onion, diced
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 fresh limes, juiced
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes OR 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For the sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin

You’ll also need
12 small soft tortillas (corn or wheat)
Additional lime wedges for serving

Directions
In a large bowl, combine the shrimp, olive oil, paprika, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Toss well to combine and set aside while you make the salsa.

Make the salsa: In another bowl, toss together the diced watermelon, onions, cilantro, lime juice, and chile. Sprinkle with kosher salt and toss again. Cover and chill until serving.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, lime juice, and cumin to make the sauce.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté about 5-7 minutes, or until shrimp are fully cooked and slightly charred on the edges.

Assemble tacos by spreading tortilla with a bit of the sauce, layering on the shrimp and spoonfuls of pico de gallo. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

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