Category Archives: Entertaining

Craft Cocktails: BTB Speakeasy

Craft cocktails are the hottest thing in entertaining these days. Beyond the handcrafted bitters touted by beguiling bearded hipsters lays a storied tradition of revival.  In the heart of Old Town Leonardtown, Maryland a nod to some of that history can be found behind an unassuming bookshelf in a charming little coffee shop – welcome to BTB Speakeasy.

BTB SpeakeasyThis quaint little cocktail stop lets you step back in time to an era when the Volstead Act had Americans crafting cocktails in bathtubs and whispering passwords through sound dampening doors.  As you slip past the bookshelf in the bright at cheery coffee shop (grab a one of their cookies to go – so good) the tones, seemingly even the time changes. The room is dark, the tables and chairs a hodgepodge, the bar lit with flickering candlelight.  The feel is decidedly clandestine. 

Bustling behind the bar are some gifted Mixologists – no bathtub gin here. Top shelf spirits come together with handcrafted syrups, bitters and unique techniques developed by co-founder and cocktail genius Brad Brown. Sitting next to a fresco of Al Capone himself, Penny, Brad’s wife and BTB co-owner, regaled me with stories of cocktail history and the inspiration that transformed a coffee shop into an homage nightlife under the eighteenth amendment. 

On a trip to New York Penny found her way into a speakeasy. Impressed by the immersive, fun, cloak-and-dagger feel of it she walked away inspired to bring that to life in Leonardtown. Helped along the way by Brad’s years in the bar/restaurant business and the artistic talents of a close friend who painted period murals for the walls, the duo brought a bygone era back to life. 

The space inside the speakeasy is snug with just a handful of tables that must be reserved in advance. Call ahead to reserve one and get the password of the day. Whisper that to the staff at the coffee shop counter or pickup the old fashion phone on the wall to connect directly to the back. You won’t get in without this information – after all you could be the Fuzz!

Dotted with antique shops, a wonderfully dusty used book and record store, vintage car museum, craft chocolate factory and historical landmarks, the Old Town section Leonardtown, Maryland feels as though it is frozen in time as well.  A stop at BTB Speakeasy (and Coffee Shop) is a great way to cap off a visit to Old Town. 

 

Ever been to a Speakeasy? Tucked behind a false bookcase in a quaint little coffee shop in Leonardtown Maryland is a hoppin’ joint where Capone graces the walls and they make the best smoked Old Fashioned since the days of bathtub gin.

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

BTB Speakeasy’s Smoked Maple Bourbon Old Fashioned
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 1 1/2 ounces Top Shelf Bourbon
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • water
  • Slice of orange and cherry to garnish
  • Maple Wood Plank

Brad’s twist on this classic cocktail is the smoking of that maple wood plank. You can find these at most big box or stores like Lowes. Light the wood and blow it out. Turn your highball glass over on top of it to capture the smoke. Put the sugar in a cocktail shaker, add bitters and bourbon. Muddle until the sugar is crushed. Top with water to your liking and shake. Turn your smoke-filled highball glass over and quickly add ice, pouring the cocktail over the ice. Garnish with cheery and orange. The flavor is incredible!

note: pay special attention to the “House Rules” at BTB Speakeasy. Also, if you wear a fedora you’ll get half off your first cocktail.

Double Chocolate Espresso Brownies

Double Chocolate Espresso BrowniesCould there be anything more celebratory than a deep, rich, chewy chocolate brownie? Um, yeah. If it’s a brownie with double the chocolate and kicked up with some espresso. Nothing brings out the full flavor of really good chocolate like coffee.

This recipe is actually a cheat on my Italian mother-in-laws famous from-scratch brownies. Honestly, who has the time to sift flour, measure dry ingredients, and all that jazz. Okay, maybe I do but if I can get out of the kitchen faster and still look like a baking rock star, all the better.

Want to up your WOW factor? Serve these with some gelato on the side. The hubby loves pistachio but I’m a bit of a purist, make mine espresso or vanilla, thank you. 

 

Double Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Rich, chewy, indulgent brownies with half the effort.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. Boxed Fudge Brownie Mix (your favorite brand)
  2. 2 Large Eggs
  3. 1/4 Cup Espresso Coffee (room temp)
  4. 1/4 Vegetable Oil
  5. 1/4 Olive Oil
  6. 1/2 Cup Dark Chocolate (shaved off bar)
  7. 1/2 Cup Milk Chocolate Chips
Instructions
  1. Brew espresso and allow to cool to room temperature. You can use instant espresso, but brewed has a deeper flavor. Whisk eggs and oil together. Beat into dry brownie mix along with cooled espresso. Fold in chocolate. Place in a glass baking dish 13"x9" that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for 27-30 minutes until toothpick inserted an inch or so from the edge comes out clean. Remove and cool on a wire cooling rack.
Notes
  1. Do not over-work your brownie batter that will result in a cake-like brownie rather than a chewy one.
Adapted from Her Mother-In-Law's Super Complicated Recipe
Adapted from Her Mother-In-Law's Super Complicated Recipe
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/

 

The Language of Food (plus a giveaway)

I think James Beard put it best when he said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” In my travels across the globe there has been but one constant – food is the key to understanding.

Recipes are historical notations to the lives we live, a connection to those that came before us. A meal prepared and shared with others ensures that a piece of our story is passed on. On my recent trip to Jamaica as a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board, I had the privilege to share a meal with Robin Lim Lumsden, author of “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining.”

Belcour: Jamican, French and Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining The title itself hints at what an amazing story Robin tells with food. Jamaican of Scottish, Chinese, French and English descent, who also spent time living in Chicago, Robin herself is the proverbial melting pot. Alongside beautifully photographed dishes in the book, you’ll also find family photographs going back generations. Some tell the story of her family’s contribution to the founding of Jamaica’s iconic Red Stripe brewery, others chronicle the journey that brought her to Belcour and it’s own transformation from estate to an organic farm that produces many of the ingredients found in Belcour Preserves.Yogurt and Stewed GuavaOver a dish of fresh yogurt topped stewed guava, I began to develop a bit of a girl-crush on Robin. She has all the swagger of Bourdain, the approachability of Nigella, and subscribes to a Hemingway-esque philosophy that any meal is made better with a tot of scotch – for the cook!

In every dish she made for us there were tales of love, notes of bittersweet memory, a salting of pride and joy, all with healthy sprinkling of laughter. With each bite, Belcour became a part of me. Leaving, even after having only been there for a few hours, was difficult. I know I will go back.

Lilly Pond at Belcour LodgeFor the time being, I visit Belcour by making some of the dishes in her cookbook. My family has a tradition of sharing Sunday brunch, most often at home. Honestly this is mostly so I can only cook once on Sundays! When I got back from Jamaica it seemed only fitting to make a Robin-inspired meal.

Ackee and Saltfish auicheThe book has an entire section dedicated to brunch!

My sister-in-spice, Julie Cohn from “A Little Bite of Life” and I want you to cook up a story or two (okay, all the stories) from Robin’s book. Below you can enter to win a copy of the award-winning, stunning, one-of-a-kind… “Belcour: Jamaican, French & Chinese Family Recipes for Entertaining” And just in time for holiday entertaining season!

Be sure to visit A Little Bite of Life for extra entries AND my twist on Robin’s Crab Cakes with Mango. Yum!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Jamaican Tourism Board for a culinary trip around the island. All opinions are my own, I was not compensated for this post. I purchased the prize(s) myself, because I truly want to share them with you!  

Simple Steps for a Spooky Halloween Feast

Simple, Spooky, Halloween Feast It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Pumpkins for roasting, blood cocktails for toasting and headstones aglow in the yard. You can keep your jingle bells and turkey dinners, give me banshees and the undead any day. Halloween is my thing. The Samhain celebration in our house always starts with a ghoulish feast – no goulash involved. Hosting a ghostly get-together can be scary simple. Here are a few of my go-to tips for creating a Spooky Halloween Feast .   

Tip #1: Hit the Dollar Stores

I love to peruse those pop-up Halloween shops and warehouses, but I rarely buy there. For the most part they’re just totally over priced. Many of the things you’ll find there can be reproduced with thrifty finds from the Dollar Store or even a thrift shop. Save your money for the big scares.

Tip #2: Raid the Good China

That silver service Gran left ya – the one that’s been gathering tarnish (or patina, if you’re fancy) will lend a great vintage-creepy vibe to your tablescape. Using mismatch serving dishes, old candle holders and turning a glass bowl upside down to replace a cloche are free and up the freaky factor. Mix and match some of the cool paper goods you can find at Target with your fancy chargers or good china. These are all easy and CHEAP tricks for creating that scary-chic setting.

Tip #3: A Dish by Any Other Name

 Castelvetrano Olives are a salty Sicilian treat found on many a fancy charcuterie plate. Put them in a brass bowl perched atop a pair of claw hands and their nearly-neon hue makes them instant, “Eye of Newt.” Mashed potatoes and meatloaf, peeled grapes, jelly donuts with dripping raspberry jam, sun-dried tomatoes and cheese baked in puff pastry, pomegranate punch with a splash of lime grenadine, all sound simply delish. Yes? Call them Roasted Brains, Stuffed Intestines, Nosferatu Choux  and Blood Bath Bubbly, and you have devilishly deviant deliciousness.  

Tip #4: Raid the Craft and Supply Stores

Pass by the Halloween displays at the craft store, or only shop them if you have that 40% off coupon, but still go. There are some great finds in the floral, fabric, and jewelery-supply sections. Feathers and Spanish Moss, tulle in All Hallows Eve hues, and baubles like vintage-style keys, cameo charms and crystals of all colors lend a chill to the air of your tablescape. Cheap skulls of all shapes, sizes, and colors carry the theme throughout too.

spooky tablescape on the cheapOn-line science and industrial supply stores are a veritable wonderland of macabre just waiting to happen. Beakers, flasks, and test tubes… OH MY! A Boston Round bottle with a handwritten, “poison label” does great double duty as a prop in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory. I picked up a 12 pack of test tubes for less than five bucks.  Fill them with dipping sauces. and give them grotesque labels and you’ve got a party. 

Here are a couple of simple recipes to take your spine-chillingly Spooky Halloween Feast over the top.

meatloaf brains a tasty halloween meat treat

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Trader Joe’s Season-All
2 tbsp onion (minced)
Your Favorite Mashed Potatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 pastry bags

Prep Time:

Cook Time:
Serves: 6

Directions:
Mix meats with garlic, season-all, onion, egg and bread crumbs. Form into 12 balls about the size of your palm. Roll on a parchment covered surface to get an oblong shape. Press two together firmly, six sets in total. Place on a lined baking sheet in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. In the mean time prepare mashed potatoes. Be sure they are not too loose.

Allow potatoes to cool until cool enough to handle. Fill a pastry bag with potatoes. Pipe onto meatloaf “brains” in a zigzag pattern. Fill second pastry bag with tomato puree. Pipe onto potato layer inside of the grooves, nooks and crannies. 

Note: Barbecue sauce and steak sauce make tasty substitutions for tomato puree. 

Puff Pastry Cheese and Sundried Tomato - Tasty Intestines

Ingredients:
1 package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed, but kept chilled)
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
1 package cream cheese (room temperature)
1 tbsp dried Italian herbs
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3-4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (oil drained and patted off)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon of water)
 

Prep Time: 15

Cook Time: 15
Serves: 6-8

Directions:
In a medium mixing bowl combine cheeses, herbs and seasonings. Dice tomatoes and add to cheese mixture. Set aside.

Roll out sheet of puff pastry on a loured surface till it is a rough circle approximately 10 inches in diameter. It does not need to be a perfect circle, in fact the less perfect the better.
Spread cheese and tomato mixture 1/2 inch in from one side of the pastry dough. Fold over the edge of the dough until it covers most of the cheese mixture. Working from right to left, roll the dough over itself forming a cigar shaped roll. Coil onto a lined baking sheet in roughly the shape of an intestine (yeah, I know it sounds nasty but it tastes good.) Brush the top with egg wash. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve with a sharp knife for hacking into… YUCKY YUMMY!

Cocktail Time: Black Cherry Sloe Gin Fizz

A new twist on a old classic, with no actual gin in it.

A well-crafted cocktail can turn any evening into an event. Sometimes afternoons too. Just putting that out there.  Of late, I’ve been getting creative with mixology. The results of which have been, well… mixed. One of the more successful results (per my official taste-tester – the hubby) came in the form of a Black Cherry Sloe Gin Fizz. Which oddly enough, contains no gin at all.

What?!

As it turns out Sloe Gin is neither “slow” nor Gin. This liqueur is actually flavored with a relative of the plum, the Sloe. It garnered it’s false moniker due to the fact that the Sloe was often soaked in gin, it’s juices infusing into the juniper berry flavors of the gin. These days cheaper spirits are often used, but the name stuck.

Okay, History of Hooch 101 is over. Let’s get to the mixing. For this cocktail I chose to take full advantage of sweet, in-season, scrumptious black cherries found at the local Farmer’s Market. After pitting, they went for a spin in my juicer. 

Hey, juicing… that’s healthy, right?!

A traditional Sloe Gin Fizz uses a simple syrup, I’ve replaced that with the cherry juice. If you’re into very sweet drinks feel free to add it back in (4 jiggers for the yield in this recipe.)

Cheers!

Black Cherry Sloe Gin Fizz
Serves 4
A sweet, summery twist on the classic Sloe Gin Fizz.
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Prep Time
4 min
Total Time
4 min
Prep Time
4 min
Total Time
4 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 Jiggers (1.5 fl oz) Sloe Gin
  2. 4 Jiggers Lemon Flavored Vodka
  3. 4 Jiggers Black Cherry Juice
  4. Soda Water
  5. Ice
  6. Cocktail Shaker with Strainer
Instructions
  1. Fill Cocktail Shaker with ice. Add juice and spirits. Shake well. Strain out into your class of choice. Top with Soda Water. Garnish with a sprig of mint or slice of lemon
Notes
  1. A traditional Sloe Gin Fizz calls for a simple syrup, lemon juice, and gin. This version replaces the syrup with cherry juice, the lemon and gin with lemon-flavored vodka.
Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/