thirsty thursday: the mint julep

Ladies, it’s time to unpack those floppy hats and gents….let’s brush off those bowties, shall we?

…it’s Derby Season, y’all!

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I thought that, with the Kentucky Derby just a few weeks away, what better cocktail to whip up than the oh-so-classic mint julep. A favorite among the Southern states, the true origin of this simply spectacular drink may never be known. While its first appearance dates back as far back as the 1780s {prescribed for a stomach ailment, no less!} it made its first bar visit right before the turn of the 18th century, at the Willard Bar in Washington, D.C.

However, most people…and myself included…have always associated this delightfully bitey cocktail with the Kentucky Derby. In fact, it has been affiliated and highly promoted with Churchill Downs since 1938{!}. That show of longevity and loyalty, my dears, is how you know this drink is G O O D . Served in gold cups with straws and a sprig of mint, it is said that almost 120,000 cocktails are served. People know what they like, and what they like is a good, stiff bourbon.

So let’s tip it on back classy style today, eh my dears? After all, with spring comes derbies, and where there are derbies – there are drinks.

…ending on that note, it’s time for me to go find my floppiest of hats. Cheers, y’all!

~~~

Mint Julep

{serves 1}

Ingredients:

3 ounces good bourbon whisky {we have been using a Virginia-made bourbon, John J. Bowman}

4 to 6 sprigs of fresh mint

granulated sugar, to taste

cubed ice

 

To Make:

Put mint, sugar, and a small amount of bourbon whisky into the bottom of a mixing glass. Gently muddle the mint and sugar, then let stand for a bit to allow the muddled leaves to release their flavor and aroma.

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Strain and pour into a julep cup {or similar vessel}, rotating during the pour to coat all sides of the cup. Fill with ice, then add the rest of the bourbon whisky. Garnish with a lightly slapped small mint sprig.

 

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mediterranean kale & sausage soup

Creamy white beans, boldly flavored sausage and bright vibrant kale – have I captured your attention yet, dears?

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I kept promising myself that as the days became warmer and the sun stayed out longer, I would try to wean myself of my winter soup addiction {does anyone remember the “promise” I made from an earlier post about chicken pho? AHEM}. I guess that there is just one habit I will never kick, and that is my love for soup.

We have truly had the weirdest of winter and spring this year. With weeks ranging in temperatures from below freezing to 70+ degrees, it makes it almost impossible to successfully meal plan! I kid you not – days ago I was in shorts and a tank top walking the pup, then not 24 hours later am I bundled in my favorite college hoodie and Uggs, curled up on the couch in front of the fireplace.

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Enter this soup. It was one of those cold, dreary days that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be winter or spring, so after getting home from work I began rummaging around in my pantry. I had bookmarked this particular recipe some time ago {I love it so much because it’s reminiscent of a soup my mom used to make} and I thought that this would be the prime opportunity to prepare it.

Essentially a one-pot wonder {you can easily brown the sausage in the soup pot, thus allowing the brown bits to further enhance the soup broth} it comes together in a matter of minutes. Prepping the vegetables while the sausage cooks saves you time even further – you really can’t mess this soup up! And fear not, if you’re short an ingredient or two it is easy to adapt – throw in some fresh baby spinach {or even frozen!..just make sure it’s drained} instead of kale; shredded chicken is a fine replacement for the sausage if you don’t have any on hand, or just omit for a vegetarian option {assuming you use a vegetable and not chicken-based sauce}. I also love the addition of the briny cheese rind- if you keep these on hand in your freezer, it is a MUST in this soup!

I would not be upset if you choose to double this recipe for easy weeknight dinners; in fact, I would encourage it! It freezes beautifully, and you can always add in additional greens when reheating for dinner. A little extra sausage is never a bad thing, either. I will freely admit that I’ve had this straight out of the bowl from the refrigerator; it is just as delicious cold as it is warm. Enjoy, my dears!

~~~

Mediterranean Kale & Sausage Soup

{recipe adapted from Fine Cooking}

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausage, sliced (about 3 links)*
2 Tbs. olive oil
One-half small yellow onion, cut into small dice
1 medium carrot, cut into small dice
1 rib celery, cut into small dice
5 large cloves garlic, minced (about 2 Tbs.)
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups lower-salt chicken broth
1 lb. 3 oz. can cannellini or white kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked dried beans
1 lb. kale, rinsed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces (8 cups firmly packed)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (optional)

*I added in a few pieces of parmesan rind during the cooking process – I always trim these off when I open a new block of cheese and toss them right into a freezer bag into the freezer. They add a wonderful depth of flavor to broth!

*I also added a few links of turkey sausage; a leaner option, the best of both worlds 

To Make:

Preheat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, and drizzle with olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add in the sliced Italian sausage {and turkey sausage if you’re using that as well}. Saute until cooked through, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess fat. Set aside.

In a large stockpot, drizzle in a generous amount of olive oil. Bring up to temperature, and add the onion. Cook stirring frequently, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about two minutes. Add in the celery and carrot and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften and brown, about 2 more minutes. Be sure to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan – that’s flavor right there! Stir in the garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about one minute more. Add in the stock and cheese rind and bring to a boil over high heat.

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When the broth reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium and stir in half the beans. Mash the other half with a fork {this helps to release the starch, a natural thickening agent} and fold into the soup.  Add in the kale and fold into the hot soup base, continuing to stir it in and the kale begins to wilt, about 10 to 15 minutes {I like my kale to stay slightly bitey, so I tend to err on the lower cooking time}. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty French bread for dipping.

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crockpot bolognese sauce

I’ve always felt that the crockpot is a severely underutilized kitchen tool.

Now, now, don’t get me wrong – I know there are plenty of people out there who swear up and down with this culinary piece of cookware heaven (myself included) , but I feel certain in the fact that many people don’t appreciate all the great things this versatile tool can do. Sure, it’s great for soup and stews…but how many people can say that they use it for other times of year, to make jams and jellies with fresh summer produce, applesauce in the fall, and roasts in the winter? let me know if you do below, and how you like to use it! 

It’s high time that I bring this appliance out into the blog and let it shine. Today, my dears, we’re talking sauce. Bolognese sauce, to be exact.

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Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that beauty, the base for our sauce. Wow.

This is by and far one of my husband’s favorite recipes. Thick and rich, gloriously dense and meaty, flavors cooked to perfection – how can you go wrong? Truth be told, you really and truly can’t. It’s chock full of flavors, herbs and spices, the perfect dish to soothe any soul.

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However, and I’m being painfully honest, it’s one sauce that I don’t find myself drawn to making often. The reason?…you ask, scratching your heads and wondering why….

It’s quite simple, actually. Bolognese sauce is painfully long and attention-grabbing to make. While I wish, more often than I care to share, that I could spend all my days in the kitchen, quietly stirring pots of simmering goodness, making bread and cranking out pies and cakes, it’s just not in the cards for me right now. That’s what my weekends are for, and I am extremely thankful I have the opportunity to do just that {the husband doesn’t complain, either!}. But there are just some days when you need the benefits and warm hug of a dish that has been slowly simmered all day, had love poured into it, and that is where we bring in the crockpot.

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I would be lying if I told you that this particular crockpot dish is a simple one. As many of you all know, a vast majority of said recipes require little to no prep work…chop and dice you veggies, brown your meat {if you feel so inclined}, then pour it all in, set the timer, and forget about it until your cooking time has elapsed. With this one, we have a bit of browning, a bit of sauteeing, and a bit of stirring to take on. I find that this is the perfect thing to do the evening before you want to have it for dinner, when there are still dinner dishes piled in the sink {because who wants to do dishes more than once on any evening?} and you still have your cooking groove – because yes, that is a thing. A bit of work the night before makes for a smooth transition to crockpot heaven in the morning. A simple plug in of the appliance, placing in the ingredients, and folding in the tomatoes – DONE! All that’s left do you once it’s almost time for dinner is to prepare the noodles, and pour a glass of a bold and spicy red wine. I can’t be the only one who loves a good red with this type of sauce, eh?

~~~

Crockpot Bolognese Sauce

{adapted from Kelsey Nixon via the Cooking Channel}

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

6 ounces tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon each rosemary, basil and oregano

1 cup dry red wine

2/3 cup milk {I used 1% because it’s what I had on hand}

Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground sirloin

Several cheese rinds {I always keep these in the freezer – this time, I had one each of  Romano and Parmesan}

Pasta, for serving

To prepare:

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, thyme and nutmeg, and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened and started to brown, about 2 minutes. Deglaze with the wine, pulling up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

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In the same pan, drizzle in a few more tablespoons olive oil. Add in the pork and sirloin, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until browned through, then remove any drippings from the pan.

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Carefully transfer the vegetable mixture and meat mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in the milk and tomatoes. Toss in the cheese rinds.

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Cover and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or on low 8 to 10 hours. Serve with your pasta of choice and, of course, a hearty glass of red wine!

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This, like many of my earlier recipes, is a great one to make a large batch of and freeze for later use. While great reheated and served atop pizza, it’s fun to get a little creative with this sauce! – try ladling it atop pizza, stirred in with a saute of veggies, or even on top of mashed potatoes. It is truly a multipurpose sauce. 

thirsty thursday: springtime spritzer

Even with all this crazy weather we’ve been experiencing as of late {as I sit here typing this, we have been watching sleet and the occasional flurry fall from the sky}, my mind is refusing to accept it. Mentally, I’m somewhere else – perhaps you are joining me – sipping a zippy spring cocktail, the sun shining down on my face and warming me from head to toe. I refuse to accept this gloomy April weather! We’re halfway to May, and there is just no reason to put up with cloudy, gray skies…cold winds…and big flat snowflakes. I’ve been enjoying wine spritzers for some time now. It’s probably one of the easiest drinks to whip up in a pinch. After all, you need only two{!) ingredients – wine of your choice and club soda. I don’t know about you all, but club soda is one thing we always, always keep on hand around here. Not only does it make for a refreshing drink {served over ice with a twist of citrus} but it is also known to jazz up many a cocktail – we’re talking spiked sodas, among other things. But today…today, we’re taking a stroll down spritzer lane.

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I have no qualms in admitting to you, dear readers, that we typically keep a box of white wine in our refrigerator. This is not the type that many of you may, or may not, remember from your college days – that “oh so classy” white box of sugary goodness, known for being passed around a large group of your friends. In fact, since I have graduated {class of ’09!} the stereotypical box of wine has come a long long long way. Aside from the fact that you get more voluminous bang for your boozy buck, a good box of wine will keep for quite some time in the refrigerator. I love to keep it on hand, not only for drinks {obviously} but it is a great addition into your basic saute of onions and garlic, stirred into seafood sauces, and using to wilt greens. But let’s perhaps save that conversation for another time, shall we? As I was discussing earlier, I’ve been enjoying a crisp, refreshing white wine spritzer over the past few days. Currently, we have a box of ‘Bota Box’ chardonnay staying chilled in our refrigerator with a bottle of club soda resting beside it. Depending on my mood, I’ll either have the hubs serve it straight up with just those two ingredients, or he will jazz it up slightly…I’m laying the groundwork for you all, based on the routes we like to take more often than not, but feel free to make this particular cocktail your own! After all, when you’re imbibing in a beverage, you want to make sure that its flavor and composition are right up your alley. Mix and match however you like; please do share your favorite combinations and concoctions with us so that we can see how creative this drink can be!

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Cheers! ~~~ Springtime Spritzer {serves 1} Basic Ingredients: 2 parts white wine 1 part club soda lime wedge for garnish, optional *make sure these are properly chilled! To Prepare: Fill a white wine or highball glass with ice {we’ve been a huge fan of these ice cubes mold for cocktails lately}. Pour in the white wine, and then top with the club soda. Garnish with a wedge of lime, squeezed over the cocktail or simply floated on top. This is one cocktail that is easily customizable! Some of my favorite “mash ups” for this drink include using a fruit wine with club soda, or a slightly sweeter white wine with flavored club soda {La Croix waters are a great base for this drink, as they provide a slight hint of flavor without taking away from the flavor of the wine}. A splash or two of flavored brandy is a great mix in as well; triple sec, grand marnier, schnapps, etc. also make for a great flavor boost!

kale pesto

Kale is, easily, one of my favorite greens. Aside from its gorgeous green color, it’s chock full of nutrients!

One cup of chopped kale has:

-33 calories (!)

-9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and 684% of vitamin K {wowzers!}

-it is a good source of copper, potassium, iron manganese, and phosphorus

-rich in the anti-oxidants {carotenoids and flavonids} associated with fighting cancer

-rich in lutein {great for eye health}

-its high fiber content helps to bind bile acids, helps lower blood cholesterol

-reduces the risk of heart disease

…..makes you want to run out and buy some right now, right?

 Aside from being a nutritional powerhouse, kale is also easily adaptable into many of your run-of-the-mill recipes. Chopped and eaten raw in salads, sauteed and served as a side dish, run through your juicer for the delicious “green juice”, wilted and served atop salads, let’s not forget the hugely popular kale chips – the list goes on and on.

I’ll take a leap and say that this particular pesto is one of my favorite ways to jazz kale up. Don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional pesto packed with fresh basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, but this is such a fun twist on it! I made it one evening for a quick pasta dinner not too long ago, because…right now…as we all know, fresh herbs are hard to come about before the bounty of spring/summer starts hitting the market {I just can’t bring myself to buy basil when I grow it in groves during the summer!}.

So….enter kale – the hearty leaf is the perfect substitute! Aside from the benefits listed above, I also set out to slightly lighten the pesto sauce. I’ve found in the past that replacing some of the extra virgin olive oil with a splash of two of stock does nothing to the flavor, but rather, adds another depth and richness to the dish. It also lets you go back in for an extra big scoop without the guilt, amiright?

I love to serve this as an appetizer, with crusty bread or whole wheat crackers. It’s also great for smearing on sandwiches {think a grilled cheese topped with a fried egg!}, or just tossed with warm pasta and olive oil. Whichever path you choose, you will be sure to enjoy the bright and fresh flavors of this pesto!

~~~

Kale Pesto {original recipe}

Makes about 1 to 1.5 cups

Ingredients:

5 cloves of garlic

1 lb. kale

juice of half a lemon

1/4 C. grated pecorino romano cheese

1/3 C. chicken stock {feel free to use a combination of olive oil and stock, making sure you keep the overall amount of 1/3 consistent with the recipe}

salt & pepper, to taste

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To Make:

Fit your food processor with the standard blade. Add in the kale and garlic, and process well to combine {you want the kale to be very finely processed, and the garlic as well}.

Add in the chicken stock and lemon juice, processing again. Lastly, add in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Give it one last final whirl.

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Pesto will last up to one week, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator. It also freezes extremely well! 

 

chicken pho

Yes, yes, I know – we’re halfway through April, and I have the audacity to post yet another soup recipe.

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But friends, I just couldn’t help myself. You see, there is something about pho {pronounced ‘fuh’} that keeps me coming back, time and time again. I love it. I would go as far to say that I would eat it once a week…because, frankly, I have been doing so for at least the past two months. I never tire of it.

Some of you may be asking yourself - “What is pho?”

Dating back to the early 20th century, pho is a noodle-based soup laced with meat and herbs, a popular street food in Vietnam. Often made to eat for breakfast, it’s typically made with rare-cooked strips of beef. A lesser common version replaces lean white chicken breast for the beef, a swap that I am more than happy with. Other meaty additions you might find in pho include tripe, meatballs, pork, and…innards. To each his own, right?

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What really makes this bowl of awesome stand apart from its more traditional “chicken noodle soup” brothers and sisters is the rich and complex broth. Marrying flavors together – we’re talking charred onions and roasted ginger, star anise and coriander, fennel and cloves – is truly what makes this stand far off and superior from any other soup that I have yet to taste. Slowly cooked and steeped together for hours, the flavor is truly unmatched. Please, I beseech you, please take the time to make the broth from scratch. Even if you just do it one time, you will not regret it {if you’re really planning ahead, make the broth one day and the soup the next – I often find it helpful to batch cook and spread the workload out}.

A savory “toppings bar”, if you’ll humor me, is the crowning glory to the chicken pho. As you finalize your broth and finish cooking off the noodles, you’l want to lay out your fresh herbs, citrus wedges, sauces {both spicy and sweet!}, and your tender pieces of cooked chicken. For me, the perfect bowl is a heaping mound of ramen noodles, a generous handful of the meaty chicken, then almost gluttonous amounts of snap peas, bean sprouts, slivered onion, and two or three large wedges of ripe lime. If I’m feeling particularly edgy, I may even thrown in a squirt or two of that silly red rooster, the infamous Sriracha sauce that we all know and love.

This soup is fully customize-able, so go to town when you build your bowl! Just make sure to enjoy the aromatics when cooking and eating, because it is honestly unlike anything else you’ll ever experience. I promise.

~~~

Chicken Pho

{adapted, minimally, from Smitten Kitchen – previously adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking}

{serves 6}

IngredientsBroth
2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
Three 1/2-inch-thick slices of unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed
4 quarts cold water
3 pounds chicken bones or chicken wings {Iused a mix of chicken legs and chicken breasts, it was what I had on hand}
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 pound dried ramen noodles

*I added in a large bag, probably about 1 lb., of dried shiitake mushrooms*

Additional spices include coriander, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, black cardamoms,and cloves

Garnishes
1 large scallion, thinly sliced
1 pound mung bean sprouts {my grocery store hasn’t stocked these over the winter, so I used sugar snap peas}
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, Thai basil if you can find it
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
Asian chili-garlic sauce {I set out Sriracha}
Hoisin sauce {I set out soy sauce}

Char onions and ginger:

Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the onions and ginger on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. {If you have a gas range, just char them a bit over a flame. It would save a lot of time.}

Cook the chicken:

Fill a large stockpot with the water and bring to a boil. Add the roasted onions and ginger, dried shiitake mushrooms, and the chicken bones or wings, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to moderate and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.

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Remove the chicken and finish the broth: Using tongs, transfer the chicken legs and breasts to a plate and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and refrigerate. Return the skin and bones to the stockpot and simmer for 2 hours longer. Strain the chicken broth into a large soup pot and cook over high heat until reduced to 12 cups, about 15 minutes.

Prepare noodles:

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add in the noodles, then add them to the saucepan and boil over high heat until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Divide the noodles between 6 large bowls and sprinkle with the scallion.

Finish and serve the soup:

Add the reserved chicken to the broth and simmer until heated through. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeños, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and crispy shallots.

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* Note: Phan has you cook the noodles separately in water, so they can be drained and used as needed (this is what I did). I believe he’s concerned about them overcooking in the soup pot. Theoretically, you could of course save time by cooking the noodles in the broth pot while the chicken reheats, however, the noodles are likely to make the broth cloudy, when ideal pho usually has a pristine, clear broth.

 

Do ahead: The broth can be made ahead and refrigerated for two days, a great way to divide up this recipe.

thirsty thursday: whipped whimsy

Aside from the obvious reason that I love a good cocktail, I think one of my favorite reasons for the ‘thirsty thursday’ posts here at Kitchen Konfidential is the fact that I get to spend time as the ‘sous chef’ to my husband, whom I’ve begun calling the cocktail master. You all know by now that he is a lover of mixology, and I think that he is pretty darn good at what he does!

{I like to think his specific attention to detail is due to the fact that he is an engineer, and is quite the perfectionist – we’re a match made in heaven}.

This particular recipe is one that he come up with over the weekend, somewhat on the spot. We were between a winery visit and dinner, and thought the afternoon called for a light cocktail. It was the weekend, after all! We had recently purchased a bottle of Smirnoff ‘Whipped’ Vodka, which by now no one is a stranger to. I hadn’t had it in years and thought it could be a fun addition to our home bar. Of course, I had no particular plans for it, but I could see the hub’s brain working as we set it down at the register.

Anyways – getting back to focus. As I mentioned, this cocktail was born on a whim – hence, the name of this cocktail! I always enjoy watching him behind the bar, but it’s even more fun {for the both of us!} when he gets really creative and mixes up fun concoctions. I do hope that you’ll try this one…it’s perfectly refreshing for a warm spring or summer afternoon, and can be enjoyed as easily on the comfort of your couch as it can be on the porch.

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Cheers!

~~~
Whipped Whimsy {original recipe}

Serves: 1  {15% ABV}

 

Ingredients:

3/4 ounce Triple Sec

3 ounces Smirnoff Whipped Vodka

2 ounces pineapple juice

6 dashes bitters

 

To Make:

Shake all ingredients above over ice vigorously in a cocktail shaker. Pour over ice into a tall hurricane glass, and top with 2 ounces of club soda.

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Garnish with a festive straw and pineapple wedge {optional}.