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!

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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}.

 

peanut butter & chocolate banana bread

Let me introduce my new best {bread} friend.

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Nothing is more beautiful, or heartwarming, on a dreary morning than a slice of warm banana bread. To me, at least, that is the ideal. Curled up on my couch under a cozy blanket, cup of coffee in one hand and book in the other. That is just perfection.

This bread ranks high atop my list for breakfast comfort foods. As mentioned, I’ve always had a love of banana bread…for as far back as I can remember, my sisters and I would get so excited when our mom would pull out the tattered blue cookbook from our private school to make the always sought after banana bread. As amazing as it was on its own, it would be sent over the top {for me, at least} when she would add in a handful or two of walnuts or pecans, and maybe…just maybe…we’d totally win and get the chocolate chips in there too.

This is somewhat of a more “adult” twist on the classic banana bread. I stumbled across this recipe a few weeks back, making sure to bookmark it because it {obviously} looked delicious and I needed an excuse to make banana bread. We loaded up on bananas during our weekly grocery trip and I let them sit out nice and long to ensure that I got the most flavor out of them; we all know that the more spotty and brown the banana is, the better the final loaf of bread, no?

One of the reasons that I enjoy this bread so much is because the flavors all balance each other out so well. This is definitely less sweet than the banana bread of years past – hence why I lean towards calling it more of an “adult” version. We let the natural sweetness of the overly ripe bananas take center stage, and only add in a scant amount of brown sugar, leaving out white sugar completely.

Rich cocoa powder adds a complex, warm note to the bread. It also lets it take on a gorgeous, espresso color – you won’t see this with your regular banana bread! I also think that on the next go around I may add in a dash or two of espresso powder, just to take the flavor overboard. That is a winning combination in my book; coffee + chocolate = LOVE. And because I’m crazy, I swapped out the chocolate chips in the original recipe for peanut butter. Because….come on…you know that peanut butter, banana, and chocolate is a match made in heaven.

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~~~

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Bread

{recipe, adapted slightly, from Smitten Kitchen}

Ingredients:

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas

1/2 C unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup  brown sugar {light or dark brown will work just fine!}

1 large egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp table salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon {optional; I skip it}

1 C  all-purpose flour

1/2 C Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 to 1 C. natural, smooth or chunky, peanut butter – adjust to how “peanut buttery” you want your bread to taste {I find it helpful to have it warmed slightly, just so it’s easier to work with}

To Make:

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients {I couldn’t find my sifter, so I just made sure to incorporate very well}. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Fold in the quantity and type of peanut butter you’d like to use.

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Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free.

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Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. I keep mine wrapped in foil. If it lasts longer than that, which is highly doubtful, transfer to the refrigerator.

roasted chicken with buttermilk smashed potatoes & dijon gravy

If roasting chicken is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

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I mean, how can anyone say no to a piece of perfectly roasted chicken, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy?

Is anyone raising their hand??…I didn’t think so. 

One snowy day back in January, the hubs and I were lucky enough to be granted a snow day. Well, more like half a snow day….when the roads get bad around here, people tend to head home. Untreated roads and not living in the “north” can make for an…interesting…commute home. But I digress – wow, I tend to ramble sometimes!

We had both been craving a hearty roast for dinner, but a somewhat bare refrigerator and sore lack of a whole chicken left something to be desired. I began rummaging around, thinking to myself “How can I make this work?”. I knew what I wanted to achieve – a healthy, balanced dinner but still so comforting, no one would miss the lack of butter, cream, and the like. Sometimes, a little health kick is what you need, no?

Eyeing up the pantry and fridge, the light bulb started to form. I had been successful in the past with making gravy and other sauces with only a minimal amount of butter and using mostly stock, so I knew that would work. To enrichen the flavor, I thought to myself, how about some mustard? A smooth, tangy dijon would heighten the profile of a pretty basic gravy, and then to freshen it up I would add in some herbs. “Rosemary!” I thought to myself….thus, component #1 was born.

The chicken I knew I wanted to keep simple, to really let the gravy and potatoes shine. I always find myself loving chicken the most when it’s roasted with just the basics. Fresh cracked pepper, kosher salt, and good extra virgin olive oil always do it just right for me. That was a no brainer.

The last component – the potatoes – I knew I wanted to keep it slightly on the healthier side. While I have a soft spot for mashed potatoes whipped with copious amounts of butter, cream and tangy Parmesan, I found myself gravitating towards the buttermilk I had leftover in my fridge. Knowing that this would be a great mix in with the potatoes, and along with lots of fresh garlic, I had formulated the rest of my plan.

…and thus, my roast chicken dinner was born. I’ve made this multiple times since that snowy day in January, and let me tell you, this will continue to be on rotation in our household. It’s quite easy, healthful, and full of flavor. It’s also a perk that the leftovers make a killer sandwich the next day.

Enjoy!

~~~

Roasted Chicken with Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes & Dijon Gravy {original recipe}

{serves 2, with leftovers}

For the chicken:

1-1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper, to taste

extra virgin olive oil

For the buttermilk smashed potatoes:

4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried well {I like to leave the skins on in my mashed potatoes, as this is where the majority of the nutrients are found…not to mention, they’re full of flavor!}

1 to 1-1/2 C. low fat buttermilk

4 cloves garlic, finely grated or minced

salt and pepper, to taste

For the dijon gravy:

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, diced

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2-3 C. organic, low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 tsp. rosemary

2-3 tsp. dijon

extra virgin olive oil

so you aren’t waiting on the potatoes to boil, let’s first get a large pot of water going on the stove. We want a good, rolling boil!

Cook the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and drizzle with a hefty dose of olive oil. Add on the chicken and, with clean hands, sprinkle with  a generous amount of salt and pepper. Be sure to rub both sides, coating well! Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until juices run clear. Set aside, and cover tightly with foil to keep warm.

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While the chicken is cooking, prepare the potatoes to add into the boiling water.

Prepare the potatoes: Dice the potatoes into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes, making sure to ensure consistent cuts {tip: the smaller a dice you cut your potatoes into, the quicker they will cook!}. Add into the pot of boiling water, and cook until fork tender; this should take anywhere from 15-25 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Once ready, drain of all cooking liquid and return to the stovetop, turning the heat down to low or even off {you can always adjust the heat as needed to keep them warm}. Add in the minced garlic, lots of fresh cracked salt and pepper to your liking, and lastly the buttermilk. I find it helpful to start on the lower amount of liquid, adding in as necessary so they don’t become gummy. Mash with a large wooden spoon or potato masher, making sure to leave lots of good bumps and lumps! Cover and keep warm until the gravy is prepared.

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Prepare the gravy: In a medium saute pan, drizzle in a few good turns of olive oil. Add in the onion, and saute for 5-10 minutes or until translucent. Add in the garlic, salt and fresh cracked pepper, rosemary, and cook together until the flavors all merry, 3-5 minutes. Add in the butter and, once melted, sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly to negate any lumps {you want your gravy to be nice and smooth}. Cook for 2-3 minutes, allowing the raw flavor of the flour to cook out. Slowly stream in the chicken stock, whisking briskly. Bring the gravy to a boil, and once thickened {it should coat the back of a spoon and leave a trail}, stir in the dijon mustard.

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I like to serve this dish in a large, rimmed pasta bowl….a heaping mound of hot smashed potatoes, with a perfectly cooked chicken breast nestled in, and all swimming in a pool of flavorful gravy.

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It’s truly like having your food give you a hug. Life doesn’t get much better, no?

thirsty thursday: let’s talk beer & bacon!

I thought it would be fun to mix up this week’s “thirsty thursday” post with a recap of a recent festival that I was lucky enough to attend with the hubs and a group of good friends – the first annual Beer & Bacon Festivalheld down in Cary, North Carolina.

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We are no strangers to beer festivals. In fact, it’s one of the main events we try to attend on a regular basis; it’s a great way to get our friends together (after all, we are all spread apart up and down the East Coast) and, of course, sample lots of great craft beers, cocktails, and delicious foods! This was the first “bacon” themed festival we have attended – some of the other ones we typically frequent include the World Beer Festival (held in Durham, NC), the Beer & Bourbon Festival (also held in Cary), the LivingSocial Beer Festival (held in DC), and Blacksburg BrewDo (held in Blacksburg, VA).

To say that these types of festivals are fun would do them an injustice. Aside from the great beers and food, you also get to sample a wide variety of specialty food items that are local to the area. At the Beer & Bacon Festival last week, I was lucky enough to be exposed to more varieties of bacon than I had ever seen in one area in my entire life! They brought in over 2 TONS of bacon to serve throughout the day, all in different flavors – can you even believe that!?

I wanted to share with you dears some of my favorites {both food and booze} from the day’s festivities! In no particular order, let’s run down the food, shall we?

-Sweet Onion Pancake with Bacon Jam & Smoked Maple Syrup

-Puppy Poppers {these were a type of hush puppy, with jalapenos and bacon folded  into the sweet batter}

-Bacon & Pimiento Mac & Cheese

-Collard & Pork Belly Sandwich {this was served on cornbread – oh so good!}

And for the booze {because, after all, isn’t that what ‘thirsty thursday’ is all about?}

-fox barrel blackberry pear cider

-foothills hoppyum

-angry orchard crisp

-lagunitas IPA

-white street brewing co hoptimist IPA

-heavy seas loose cannon

If you are ever, ever presented with the opportunity to attend a festival like this, I can surely promise you that you won’t be disappointed. Not only is it a great way to spend a Saturday, but I’ve had the wheels turning for fun recipes and cocktails that will be sure to follow :)

Stay thirsty, my dears – and cheers!