Grilled Lime Mojitos

Well it's officially summer, which means it's time to throw everything on the grill and never go inside!

(Well, on the weekends, at least!)

Summer is also prime cocktail season, and I'm excited to share this smoky twist on one of my forever faves--Grilled Lime Mojitos!

The Everything Summer Salad (Watermelon, Corn & Cucumber Salad with Avocado Vinaigrette)


I call this my Everything Summer Salad, because it's a mix of some of my favorites of the season. Juicy watermelon, crisp cucumber and radishes, sweet corn, and ripe avocados. Served with diced cilantro and a handful of fresh cheese, it hits all the perfect summer flavor notes.

5 Spanish Wines to Sip & Serve this Summer

If you're anything like me (and like most people!), you tend to buy and order the same wines over and over again. There's nothing wrong with that, but I think summer should be a time of trying new and different things, and in this case? That means new and different wines!

That's why I pulled together this easy summer wine cheat sheet for you. Whether you're looking to mix things up with something new, or just looking for the best wine to mix in your next batch of party sangria, I've got you covered!

I recently had the chance to join a group of winemakers and importers from Spain who introduced me to an incredible variety of wines from Ribera del Duero and Rueda. These two sister regions are located about two hours north of Madrid in the North-Central part of Spain, and are kind of like the Spanish equivalent to California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

But unlike the gorgeous and temperate rolling California hills, the climate in this part of Spain ranges wildly from blazing hot summers to cruel freezing winters. Not great living conditions for humans (or even many animals!), but it does magnificent things to the grapes...and the wines.

Also unlike California wine country, the winemaking tradition here goes back much much further; ancient mosaics depicting wine-loving Bacchus discovered in Ribera del Duero suggest they've been making and enjoying wine in the region for at least a couple thousand years! I guess that means they know what they're doing, right?

Here are the wines you'll want to look out for when scrolling down the wine menu over the next few months:


1. Love Sauvignon Blanc (and eating)? Try Verdejo:
More full-bodied and aromatic than Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo is actually Spain’s most popular white grape--and with good reason! It comes from the region of Rueda in North-Central Spain, and is a lovely smooth, citrusy, and refreshing white to enjoy on hot summer days.

This food-friendly Spanish white pairs beautifully with so many of your summer faves.  It's seriously hard to go wrong with this wine.

From seafood like shrimp or cold briny oysters to grilled chicken or marinated veggies hot off the grill to that bowl of spicy salsa you can’t seem to stay away from (Don't even try. It's impossible.), the bright acidity and sharp fruity notes means it can stand up to and complement a wide variety of cuisines and dishes.

This means you can bring a bottle to your friend's BBQ or dinner party safe in the knowledge that it will probably pair perfectly with whatever they serve.


2. Do you always order Cabernet Sauvignon? Try a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero:
I know some people prefer whites in the summer, but come night time I usually still want a glass of something red. If you're like me, give a Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero a try!

At the dinner, one of the winemakers shared a fun fact about Tempranillo. Apparently 95% of people who love Cabernet, also enjoy Tempranillo. These wines have that same boldness as a cab, but with a bit more balance making them another summer food-friendly pick.

Ribera del Duero wines are categorized by their age from Crianza (1+ year) to Reserva (2+ year) to Gran Reserva (3+ year). Older does not mean better and there's great quality wines at each age, so give them each a try and see what you prefer!

  • Perfect for Summer Dinners. Tempranillo is great with grilled meats like steak and burgers, roasted pork and lamb, and they also play nicely with a simple cheese and charcuterie board (preferably featuring manchego and jamon, of course!).
  • It's vegetarian friendly. Grilled portabellos, stewed eggplant, and rich pasta dishes are all fine matches for this wine!


3. Love Champagne? Try Rueda Espumosa:
Nothing says celebration better than bubbles, but those good-quality bubbles unfortunately often come with a hefty price tag, right? Nope! Rueda Espumosa is a high-quality, yet affordable, Spanish sparkling wine from Rueda.

Rueda Espumosa get their bubbles via the same “method traditionnelle” (or “metodo classico” in Spanish) as Champagne. It involves having the verdejo wine go through a secondary fermentation process inside the bottle, producing an elegant bubbly that is just as lovely on its own as it is paired with your summer meals.



4. Always Order Dessert...and more wine!
Your dessert may be sweet, but that doesn't mean the wine you serve or order with it also has to be! Spanish wines are a great match for so many desserts.

  • Love sweet & salty combos? Pair salty-sweet desserts like salted caramel, sea salt-topped milk chocolate, or caramel popcorn with a crispy white verdejo.
  • Tempranillo is a great match for desserts made with dark chocolate, cherries, and almonds. If you've never paired a large slice of rich chocolate cake with a glass of bold red, you've been missing out!
  • We already covered that these wines are amazing with grilled foods, and this goes for dessert, too! Try verdejo with and easy summer dessert like grilled peaches, or pair a thick slice of grilled poundcake with tempranillo! 
  • Want to turn wine into your dessert? Try poaching ripe cherries in tempranillo wine, then serving over ice cream or a simple plain cake. Or add a cup of the dry red to your favorite chocolate cake recipe.
  • And you can't go wrong with sticking to the region! A traditional caramel custard (like flan!) or even piping hot churros con chocolate will work nicely with the tempranillo as well!



5. Looking to make a great sangria? These are your new go-to sangria wines:
Sangria often gets a bad wrap due to the restaurants (or party hosts!) that use it as an excuse to disguise and mark-up their cheapest unremarkable wines with some fruit and sugar, often leaving you with a big bill and a nasty headache. But just like with anything else, when you start with great quality ingredients (aka a fabulous #sangriawine!), the final product will be just as good!

  • For Red Sangria, start with a bottle of Ribera del Duero Joven or Crianza. These young and juicy tempranillo wines are light, tart, and a great start to a summer-ready sangria. Combine with fruits like red cherries, ripe plums, and strawberries, to bring out the natural fruity notes in the wine. Tuck in a bay leaf or two and let sit overnight in the fridge. Just before serving, add a can or two of naturally-flavored orange or lemon seltzer and serve over ice. 
  • For White Sangria, get a bottle of crisp and fruity white like Rueda Verdejo. Choose fruits that complement the wine’s citrusy and peachy notes like sliced lemons, ripe peaches, and maybe even just a few cucumber slices. Add herbs like fresh basil or tarragon to bring out the natural fennel notes of the wine. I recommend combining all the ingredients the night before you serve, then letting the natural sugars in the fruit infuse the wine overnight.
And there you have it! 5 fabulous Spanish wines to help you mix things up this summer. Cheers!

This post was sponsored by Ribera y Rueda--the organization representing these two wine regions and their winemakers. They provided me with several wine bottles to try at home and compensated me for sharing these tips with you. As always, all ideas and opinions are entirely my own. Please remember to enjoy these delicious Spanish wines responsibly!

Puerto Rican Camarones Enchilados (Puerto Rican-Style Shrimp Creole)

I always used to take the Puerto Rican food I grew up with for granted. I loved and enjoyed eating the dishes of picadillo, tostones, and arroz con gandules my mom would serve us each night, but I never felt particularly curious about them. These were just the things we ate, and when it came to my own personal interests in food, I craved flavors from elsewhere.

I started cooking as a young teen, but the first dishes I made were always the ones I couldn’t get easily at home. Dishes like lasagna, souvlaki, and traditional American pastries were more exciting to me than what my mom made.

Calamondin Margaritas

This is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. The days are longer, it's starting to warm up, and summer parties are just around the corner!

It's also the time of year when my very talented blogger friend (and fellow Ramos!), Kate, rounds up a group of food and cocktail bloggers from all over the country (possibly even world?) and has us join in for a very fun margarita & tequila-themed week of blog posts!

In previous years, I shared recipes for Fresh Ginger Margaritas and Rosemary & Fresh Watermelon Margaritas.

This year? I'm going super tart (and kinda niche) with fresh Calamondin Margaritas!

If you've never heard of calamondin, get excited!

Also known as calamansi or kalamansi lime, these tiny little tart citrus fruits are a cross between mandarins and kumquats. They look like key limes when young, but as they ripen, the skin becomes bright orange. The skin is thin like a kumquat, but full of super tart and slightly floral juice that you can instantly release with just a gentle squeeze between two fingers.

It's an incredible flavor and if you can get your hands on fresh ones, don't hesitate to try and play around with them! They make wonderful homemade marmalade and pickles, and the juice is excellent for using in marinades.

The trees are actually quite easy to grow in a sunny home (I have a few friends who grow them even here in NYC) and will produce fruit all year long. Some grocery stores occasionally carry fresh fruit (I've found them at Whole Foods and Fresh Direct at different times of year, as well at some street fruit stands.)

If you can't get your hands on the fresh fruit, a lot of Asian (especially Filipino) markets sell frozen juice, which is pretty great, too, and perfect for cocktails.

When it comes to cocktails I'm all about two things--spice and acidity. I like my drinks super tart with a hint of spice, and calamondin juice lends itself well to both those things. Instead of a traditional salt rim, I use my DIY Spicy Citrus Cocktail Salt, which adds the perfect little extra kick to take these over the top!

These calamondin margaritas would be a welcome accompaniment to all kinds of summer meals, from tacos to pork roasts.

Want more cocktail inspiration? Check out all the fun recipes on the Margarita Week page, and follow the hashtag #margaritaweek on Instagram!


Calamondin Margaritas (Calamansi Margaritas)

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 cup reposado tequila
1 cup calamondin juice (freshly squeezed or thawed frozen juice will work)
1/2 cup Cointreau
Ice, kosher salt for garnish (or use my DIY Spicy Citrus Salt)

Directions
Combine the tequila, calamondin juice, and Cointreau in a large pitcher and stir well to combine.

Rub the rim of four high ball glasses with calamondin juice (or use fresh lime), and dip in kosher salt. Fill glasses to the top with ice and divide margarita among the glasses.

Serve immediately.

Spicy Citrus Cocktail Salt

I strongly believe that a solid 25% of what makes a cocktail memorable is the addition of some kind of fun garnish. Whether it's candied bacon in a Bloody Mary, homemade pickled onions in a Gibson, or a spicy citrus salt coating the frosty glass on your margarita, it's those little finishing touches that can take a drink from good to great.

12 Tips for Shopping at the Farmers' Market

I admit that during the chilly months, I'm not very good about visiting the farmers' market. In fact, I pretty much avoid it, opting to order local seasonal produce and dairy at Whole Foods or, better yet, the convenience of Fresh Direct, which delivers it all right to my door on those freezing winter mornings.

But now that warmer days are starting to arrive, I'm getting that itch to head back down to the market where I can pick out the things I want to eat with my hands, and not just my keyboard.  Here are some of my fave tips for making the most of your trip!

1. Arrive as near to opening time as possible in order to get your pick of the best ingredients. Unlike grocery stores, which have huge supplies that are replenished throughout the day, farmer's markets only have limited supplies and the good stuff goes early. (Many things like berries, pastured eggs, baked goods, etc., will also often sell out throughout the day so you could miss out.)

2. But if you're looking for deals, go near the end of the day. The selection won't be as plentiful, but a lot of farmers will discount their produce or throw in a little something extra during the last hour or two of the day.

3. Ask about #2 fruit, which is fruit that may not be as physically pretty, but which is still just as delicious and high and quality as the other ones. These can often be discounted as much as 50% so you can save a bundle.

4. That said, don't haggle or try to bargain with the farmers. They work hard to produce their food and set fair prices based on the supply and conditions, so it's not considered good etiquette to try to bring down the price. Treat prices the same way you would at a regular grocery store.

5. Talk to the farmers. These are the people who actually grew (or raised) the food you're buying and they know it best. Ask them what their favorites are that day, or what the best way to cook something is.  If there is something you don't recognize or are just looking for ideas, ask them as they'll be able to offer you a lot of tips.

6. Bring your own bags! While small plastic bags are sometimes available, it's better and more environmentally responsible to come prepared with a couple big bags or baskets that you can fill up with your goodies. Larger bags are also easier to carry so you can fit more stuff and not have to carry 12 different small baggies in your hands.

7. Bring cash. Most markets only accept cash so come prepared. Go one step further by bringing small bills. (Note that some markets do also accept EBT and food stamps; you can check online to see which ones do and what the process is for using them--some will have you go to a central location in the market to pay with food stamps.)

8. Walk through the entire market at least once before purchasing anything. This will help you get an idea of the prices and selection available since they will vary by provider.

9. Buy vegetables, fruits, and bread first. Then buy the more delicate and perishable items such as eggs, dairy products, or meat just before you leave.

10. Don't make post-farmer's market plans without stopping off at home first. A lot of the things you buy will be delicate or perishable and shouldn't spend a few hours bumping around in your bag while you have a long lunch or run errands. Think of it the same way you do groceries; you wouldn't go to the movies with load of groceries in the car, would you? You also don't want to have to limit yourself from buying dairy or meat just because you planned to meet some girlfriends for brunch later.

11. Invest in a lightweight collapsible shopping cart. It will make it easy to transport your purchases around the market (and then take them home if you live in a city like I do).

12. Save more by buying big. Ask farmers about buying by the case or setting up a regular weekly purchase; they will often set up a special price for you if you commit to buying a larger quantity than normal. It's great if you're into canning, have a large family, or are planning a big event. You can even go in on purchases with other friends and families so that you can split the items and all save.


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