thirsty thursday: infused vodka

I love finding inspiration and ideas for food and drink in the most unimaginable places. It’s funny how the mind works sometimes, isn’t it?

The other day, the hubs and I were out for a Sunday afternoon walk, revisiting memories and just talking about what sort of things we have coming up over the next few months {here’s a hint: WE.ARE.BUSY!}. So it was so funny, to me at least, that the thought of doing some sort of infused liquor should pop into my mind – but hey, this girl isn’t complaining! So we quickly switched topics as to what we should use, and what flavors we should incorporate.

After toying around with the idea a bit {we nixed bourbon, solely for the fact that I’ve seen it done countless times}, we settled on vodka. Not only is it the perfect vehicle with its clean bite and clarity, but we have a bit of surplus from summer shenanigans ; ) Our mint plant is practically bursting with fresh leaves on a daily basis, and with a pint of farm fresh strawberries in the fridge, we had come up with a plan.

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The process couldn’t be more simple.

Wash and dry your ingredients, prepare as necessary, measure the vodka.

Combine.

Strain after 24 hours.

…done! It’s as simple as that. And, like the tequila we infused earlier this summer, it will keep for quite some time.

I’m dreaming of this in all sorts of ways – mixed with club soda for a fun afternoon pick-me-up, mixed with some crisp white wine and soda water for a “jazzed up” spritzer, and of course…fun shooters! And for those in need of something quick, simply mix it with some freshly squeezed juice {watermelon, anyone?!} and you’re all set.

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Strawberry & Mint Infused Vodka 

Use this infusion to jazz up any of your favorite vodka drinks – from a fresh fruit Martini to a “kicked up” white wine spritzer, you can’t go wrong with this flavor combination!

Ingredients:

1 cup vodka {we used Smirnoff}

4 large strawberries – washed, hulled, and quartered

1 heaping cup fresh mint leaves, washed and dried thoroughly

To Prepare:

Into the bottom of a wide-mouth container with tightly fitting lid {we used a Mason jar}, pack in the mint first, then add the strawberries on top. Pour in the vodka and seal the rim tightly. Store in a cool, dark place for 24 hours.

Once the 24 hours has elapsed, strain off the strawberries and mint {you can definitely save these in a container in the fridge for a few days, but do note that they are STRONG!}. Pour the remaining vodka back into the jar. Infused liquor will keep several weeks, at room temperature.

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Cheers!

 

thirsty thursday: marinated cherries

Every spectacular drink deserves a spectacular garnish. There’s nothing more unfortunate than a handcrafted cocktail, only to be taken down a notch by a lackluster topper – be it a soggy piece of fruit, wilted herbs or, not tasty but just as ghastly, a paper umbrella {these are only OK if you’re sitting beach side in a festive, tropical resort…and that’s still iffy}.

So today, we’re taking the garnish game up a notch. We’re making marinated cherries, sure to enliven any cocktail you’ve ever imagined.

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After many times of unsuccessfully perusing the grocery store and specialty food stores here in our area, the hubs and I got tired of not finding anything that met our needs. Sure, you could plop a maraschino cherry into a drink that calls for it, but why settle when you can do better? Those cherries are meant for desserts; syrupy sweet and not bringing much to the drink itself. So we got to work, scouring recipes for ideas to make our own cocktail cherries at home.

And boy, did we hit the mark on this one! Never before have I had a cocktail cherry like this; we’ve been to some pretty swanky bourbon bars, and nothing tops these ones. It doesn’t hurt that cherries are in season, either! We used gorgeous, dark Rainier cherries for this recipe, but any one of your preference will do. The fruit soaks up the marinade beautifully – each cherry has sensational notes of bright orange, oaky bourbon and subtle vanilla.

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You’ll find yourself pining for the cherries to be done {darn that 3-day wait period!} as soon as you seal them up. They’re that good, I promise. From an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan, a fancy Martini, or just with neat bourbon, you’ll be happy you have these on hand.

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Bourbon Marinated Cherries {recipe adapted from Tasting Table}

Maraschino cherries have met their match; dare I say, they’ve been far surpassed! These marinated cherries are the epitome of awesome – oaky bourbon notes, sweet hints of orange and a taste that will blow your mind. Get creative when you make these, as they’re equally wonderful in a drink as they are on top of a grown-up ice cream sundae. 

Ingredients:

1 cup bourbon

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 {1″ strip} orange peel

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract {we used my homemade version for an extra bourbon kick!}

1/2 lb. cherries, pitted and stems removed*

*the hubs came up with a great trick to remove the pits! – simply use a nonflexible drinking straw to force the pit out; starting at the top of the fruit, gently push down until the pit is released through the bottom. Super easy, efficient, minimal clean up…and you didn’t have to buy a cherry pitter 

To Prepare:

Combine the bourbon, sugar, orange juice and orange peel in a small saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract.

Combine the bourbon mixture and the cherries in a 15-ounce jar and seal tightly. Allow the contents to cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator. Chill for at least three days before using.

Cherries will keep up to one month.

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Cheers!

thirsty thursday: minty orange gimlet

In case you couldn’t tell, we’ve been on a bit of a fruity cocktail kick lately.

This drink is no exception…

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Does that not look like summer in a glass? There’s something so gorgeous about summertime cocktails – perhaps it’s the bright colors of citrus, or the aroma of fresh mint {from my herb garden, no less!}, that makes them seem extra special. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a good cocktail any time of year, but again, they just seem so fitting for summer. Warm, lazy evenings watching the sun set practically begs for a nightcap; albeit a light and refreshing one.

That’s where this drink comes into play. The hubs has been having fun creating syrups and flavor combinations that pay homage to summer, and this cocktail does just that. The clean flavor of vodka is the perfect backdrop for fresh citrus notes, and when topped off with the fresh mint, it really doesn’t get better.

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This has been on rotation for some time already in our household, and I guarantee you’ll be enjoying it frequently too ; ) I’m thinking it might be fun to shake up the next time or two…perhaps with grapefruit instead? Only time will tell – enjoy!

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Minty Orange Gimlet {recipe adapted from Food52}

Fresh and bright, this summer cocktail is bursting with flavor! From the sweet mint to the zesty orange, this drink only gets better as you enjoy it. Easily adaptable to make in large batches, too; perfect for summer entertaining. 

Ingredients:

1/2 to 1 ounce orange simple syrup*

1-1/2 to 2 ounces vodka

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 navel orange, sliced

ice cubes

club soda, for finishing

mint leaves, for the drink and also for garnish

*to make the orange simple syrup: use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the orange, taking care to maintain large strips. Add in the zest, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup of water to a small saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, tightly covered, for several weeks. 

To Prepare:

In the bottom of a glass, muddle the sliced orange and mint.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the syrup, lime juice, vodka, and ice. Shake well and pour into the glass with muddled orange and mint, and fresh ice. Top with a splash of club soda.

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Cheers!

thirsty thursday: spicy watermelon margaritas

As promised last week, here’s part two!

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spicy. watermelon. margaritas.

I mean, this is what I’ve been waiting for! And I’m going to go ahead and say that you have too…you just might not know it yet.

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I feel like I say this more often than I should, but I mean it 10000000% this time. This is the drink of summer, the drink to put all other summer cocktails to shame. One look at that color, just look! It’s gorgeous. Stunning.

It reminds me of the pink streaks at sunset during summer. I’m in love. Both with summer and this drink. Forever and ever.

Fresh watermelon juice meets hot, spicy tequila – and the result could not be more spectacular. I’ve mentioned that I was never terribly fond of overly spicy things as a child, but it just goes to show you how your palette changes and develops as you get older {even typing the word “older” made me cringe a little bit}. But I sure am glad it does happen! Because making this drink has changed my summer cocktail experience. The hubs and I have been making variations of this for several weeks now, and I am beyond thrilled to share it with you today! Happy summer sipping, y’all!

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Spicy Watermelon Margaritas

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how refreshing this drink is! The perfectly sweet watermelon is nicely complemented by the punchy tequila; a surefire winner for any summer get-together.

Ingredients:

8 ounces watermelon juice*

1 ounce habanero-infused tequila

1 ounce silver tequila {or if you dare, double up on the amount of the habanero-infused tequila!}

simple syrup, to taste {here’s my recipe; simply omit the sliced ginger used}

ice, for the glass

fresh mint springs or basil leaves, for garnish

*To make the watermelon juice: roughly chop about 1/4 of a large {seedless} watermelon. In batches, add the chopped fruit into the bowl of a food processor, and processing until no chunks remain. Using a large bowl lined with cheesecloth, pour the processed watermelon onto it; the solids will separate from the juice, and you’ll be left with gloriously pink and sweet watermelon juice! Make sure to store any remaining in the refrigerator, tightly sealed. 

To Prepare:

In a large rocks glass filled with ice, pour in the fresh watermelon juice. Add in the two tequilas, and stir vigorously to combine. Take a small sip, and adjust the taste {AKA the spiciness!} with several dashes of simple syrup to suit your palette. Garnish with fresh mint and/or basil.

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Enjoy!…and do yourself a favor by sitting porch-side in the sun. It’s the best way to enjoy cocktails in the summer, no? : )

plum tarte tatin

Have you seen anything more beautiful?

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Fresh, juicy plums just begging to be transformed into a luscious dessert. Typically, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fruit desserts {hello, apple pie} but with my parents in town…which just happened to be her birthday weekend…I knew I had to do something special.

I’ve seen the oh-s0-wonderful Ina Garten make tatins countless times; I’m a huge fan of her show, and while watching an episode not long ago, this plum tart tatin jumped out from the screen, just begging me to make it. After reading up on the recipe, I was sold – packed with fruit and little else, it was a simple dessert, but a total showstopper.

This particular recipe is practically a one-pot wonder. Aside from making a rich simple syrup, it is a no fuss, low maintenance dessert. Halved plums are packed into a buttered baking dish, then topped with the syrup. A light and fluffy batter is haphazardly dropped on top of the fruit. Once popped into the oven and baked off, you wait with bated breath until the cake has cooled slightly, and you can invert it onto your baking dish. You want the entire dessert to come out in one fell swoop, but fear not! – if a plum or two pops out during the turning out, you simply re-position it back into the cake. It will be out little secret.

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And y’all? The juice that is created from the fruit baking and marrying with the simple syrup….wow. Soak up every last bit of that heavenly liquid. You won’t be sorry.

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Plum Tarte Tatin {recipe adapted from Ina Garten}

Wonderfully simple and totally gorgeous, this cake will impress anyone. Served with a bit of sweetened whipped cream, it’s the perfect springtime dessert. I recommend enjoying it al fresco! 

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. unsalted butter {room temperature} + 3 tbsp. plain nonfat Greek yogurt

additional butter for greasing the dish

6-10 large plums, cut in half and pitted

3/4 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar, for separate uses

1/3 cup water

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

optional: confectioners’ sugar, for serving 

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9″ glass pie dish and arrange the plums in the dish, cut side down.

Combine 3/4 cup of the sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until it turns a warm amber color, about 360 degrees on a candy thermometer. Swirl the pan but don’t stir. Pour evenly over the plums. Set aside.

Cream the 3 tbsp. butter, 3 tbsp. yogurt, and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy {about 5 minutes}. Lower the speed and beat in the eggs one at a time. Add in the 1/3 cup yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix until combined.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add it into the butter mixture. Mix only until combined.

Pour the batter evenly over the plums {you might have to use your spatula to spread it a bit; it’s ok if some of the tops of the plum peak out} and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes.

Invert caked onto a flat plate or serving stand. If a plum sticks, simply ease it out and replace it in the design on the top of the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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strawberry-lime jam

Don’t let the feature image fool you…these sweet strawberries and fresh lime and going to converge together in what might just be my new favorite spread.

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We’re taking {yet another} trip down the road that leads to my bread machine today, y’all. Except today’s recipe is one that has a sweet twist! Spreadable and delectable, and with uses beyond imagine…it’s jam day.

If you would have asked me a few years back, I never would have known how multifaceted a bread machine really is. I know, I know – I probably say this all the time, but it is so true. The uses outweigh the cost more than I thought possible. Hands down, it’s been one of the best investments I’ve made for my kitchen repertoire.

…but I digress. Let’s return to focus, yes? JAM. Wonderful, luscious, colorful and bright; the combination of strawberry and lime might sound more fitting for a cocktail or frozen drink that a spread, but let me tell you. It will change the way you approach breakfast. In the morning, my taste buds crave a punch, something that will knock my socks off and kickstart my day. And the best way to do this, I’ve found, is with flavorful foods! It may sound silly, but I truly believe that bold flavors first thing in the morning really awakens me, both mentally and physically. By creating the perfect balance between the sweet berries and the oh-so-tart-but-oh-so-wonderful lime, it’s a match made in heaven. We grate in some of the lime zest, as well – hello essential oils!

Perfectly suited for smearing on toast/waffles/muffins, this jam can also be transformed with a bit of warming up into an amazing syrup for pancakes. And don’t be shy, get creative! – I have plans for a sweet and savory breakfast sandwich, bursting with tangy goat cheese, a piece of proscuitto, and yes, this jam. Mind blown.

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Strawberry-Lime Jam

Frozen fruit, at the peak of ripeness, is transformed into a tasty spread perfect for any time of the year! Bright strawberries and crisp citrus come together, creating the perfect flavor marriage sure to please any palette {or piece of toast!}.

Ingredients:

1 lb. frozen strawberries, thawed to room temperature and mashed slightly

juice of one lime, freshly squeezed

1 box {about 2 ounces} of fruit pectin

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

To Prepare:

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific cycle and preferred method of loading the ingredients into the well of the bread machine {the ‘JAM’ cycle on my model lasts about 1 hour and 20 minutes}.

Once the cycle has completed, allow the jam to cool slightly before handling – it will be very hot!

Spoon into one large, or several smaller sized, Mason jars.

Store in the refrigerator; jam will keep for 3 to 4 weeks.

Enjoy!

thirsty thursday: come on, spring!

…the snow is melting! 

…daylight savings time, in all its glory, has made its return.

…multiple days with comfortable temperatures are more & more common.

Y’all, spring is so close! I woke up this morning, threw on my workout gear and headed out the door. While it’s now much darker outside {I mean, I leave at 5:15am…call me crazy, I know} but I swear that it just smelled ::fresh:: outside. Maybe it’s just my senses being hypersensitive and sick of winter, but I can feel it – the dawn of spring is upon us!

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I turned that thought over and over in my head all day, smiling each time I thought about the crisp air, fresh flowers, and green grass. Almost gone are the days of comforting dishes and drinks; let’s clear our bar {& table} to make way for the sweet and savory offerings that this glorious season has to offer! The hubs and I have been compiling a list of fun cocktails and spirits to test run in the next weeks; I wanted to share the list today, in honor of ‘thirsty thursday’ so that you might find inspiration as well! Please share in the comments if you try, or have tried, any of these concoctions – I’d love to hear what you think.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

peanut butter & banana breakfast smoothie

There’s little to be said about smoothies, I think.

When prepared right, you find yourself using only a select few ingredients – wholesome, fresh, and good for you. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve never been one of those who loads up the blender with 100+ different ingredients, hoping to whip up some amazing concoction. Give me a handful of fruit, some yogurt, and maybe a handful of ice and I’m a happy camper. Keep it simple, am I right?

That’s where this smoothie comes into play. The hubs and I LOVE smoothies – so much in fact, that I keep a special stash of Mason jars at close hand. They are a weekday staple for us; I can prepare as many as we need for the week, and just store them in the refrigerator {or freezer, if I’m making them a few days in advance}. After dinner you’ll find him at the sink and me with my blender. It’s a safe and comfortable routine, of which I find comfort and enjoyment.

The recipe I’m sharing today is, hands-down, our favorite combination of flavors. Peanut butter and banana, y’all…I mean, it doesn’t get much simpler than that! But what makes them special is the benefit behind these ingredients. Banana provides not one, but two servings of your daily fruit recommendation. Greek yogurt is a protein workhorse, keeping you going strong even through the mid-morning slump. Peanut butter is full of good fats, stabilizing your energy levels. And depending on what milk you choose, you’re reaping the benefits of calcium and other vitamins {FYI: I loooooove to use plan kefir in mine! – talk about a probiotic punch!}.

This won’t weigh you down; rather, you’ll have an extra spring in your step because you’re starting your day of right….healthfully and naturally!

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Peanut Butter & Banana Breakfast Smoothie

Super simple and easy to assemble in minutes, this breakfast drink is the perfect grab-and-go for busy weekday mornings. Packed with healthy fats and protein-packed Greek yogurt, you’ll be feeling ready for the day in no time!

Ingredients:

1 whole banana, frozen

2 heaping tbsp. peanut butter {here’s my go-t0 homemade version}

1 six-ounce container Greek yogurt {we typically alternate between 0% vanilla or 0% plain}

choice of milk, to use as necessary

To Prepare:

Place all of the ingredients, except for the milk, into a high-powered blender. Blend until the frozen banana has been broken down, about 30 seconds. Remove the lid and scrape down the sides. Add in desired amount of milk until it reaches your desired consistency, and blend until smooth. Pour into a tight-sealing cup and store in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

rise & shine breakfast smoothie

I’m being perfectly honest in saying this, y’all – this is easily my favorite way to start off the workday. A cold smoothie, bursting with fresh fruit flavor provides the perfect wake up and refreshing zing to make your morning just that much better.

I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this previously; if so, do forgive the rambling. Before we got married {almost two years ago!}, our registry gifts began arriving in boatloads. I was quite the happy bride-to-be, unwrapping kitchen gadgets I had only dreamed of. One of the things that I was most excited about was the prospect of a new blender…ours had seen better days, and had been relocated to the back of the closet because it.just.didn’t.work.

So imagine my happiness on the day when I opened a box containing a top of the line unit – ah!!! I had grandiose plans for this gem; everything from chilled soups to gorgeous purees. But alas – fast forward to this year, and I think we had used it maaaaaybe twice. Fail.

So this summer, when I was on our juicing kick {remember this and this?} I decided that we should be on a smoothie on as well! Being so stocked up on fresh fruit, the hubs and I couldn’t go through them fast enough. I told myself that using said blender for smoothies would be a good test run; after all, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you consider being more or less addicted to smoothies a bad thing, then I am in trouble. We have smoothies at least three times a week, more than making up for that sad time when that beautiful, shiny new blender sat cold and lonely in the cabinet. I’m just making up for lost time, no?

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Rise & Shine Breakfast Smoothie {serves one, can easily be doubled or tripled, depending on the size of your blender}

Use this recipe and quantity simply as a guideline for what flavors and binding agents you like! I’ve outlined the ingredients I use most often in mine; the hubs, on the other hand, prefers slightly different combinations. I’ve outlined below what is good to swap for what – this is truly one recipe where you can’t go wrong! 

Ingredients:

1 large banana, about as ripe as you can handle it

5 large strawberries

1/2 to 1 cup plain, low-fat kefir*

*I am a HUGE fan of kefir; loaded with live-active cultures and a great digestive agent, it provides a protein punch for few calories and added sugar. I love the way it blends into a creamy consistency, and adds just the right amount of tang into my morning smoothie. The hubs, on the other hand, is more partial to using a flavored Greek yogurt – you’ll still reap the benefits of protein power, but the live-active cultures will not be as present as the kefir. 

To Prepare:

Place all ingredients in the pitcher of your mixer. Puree until nice and smooth, then enjoy!

If you like {and I do this regularly} – prep your smoothies the night before, and stash in the fridge for an easy breakfast to grab and go! I often put mine in the freezer when I wake up in the morning, because I like having it as thick and cold as I can.

Let’s Discuss: are there any breakfast smoothie combinations you’re fond of? 

thirsty thursday: peach-ginger sangria

Peaches are in season, so naturally, I’m in heaven.

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Maybe it’s because the perfectly ripe flesh reminds me of the colors of a summer sunset, but peaches have always served as a symbol of summer. What is more perfect than that first bite, bursting with flavor and dripping with sweet juice?

I’ll find any excuse to put peaches in just about anything I can think of during this time – whether it is sliced raw in salads, grilled and garnished with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, sliced into my bowl of cereal, whirled up in a smoothie…I think y’all probably get it by now. I’m a peach-a-holic.

So when I stumbled across this perfect summer cocktail a week or so back, I immediately sent it to my husband. He’s just as avid a peach lover as I am, so naturally, we decided to prepare it over the weekend. With a few slight modifications to the original recipe, we’ve created our new go-to summer sangria.

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The sweet peaches are perfectly balanced with the tangy addition of grated ginger, and the fresh lime juice helps counteract the bright Grand Marnier.

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In using a sparkling rose, along with club soda to finish, you are left with a slightly fizzy and perfectly refreshing cocktail. I highly recommend you try this out as soon as you can – you’ll be glad you did!

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Peach-Ginger Sangria {adapted from Love & Lemons}

{makes 1 pitcher}

Ingredients:

1 bottle of sparking semi-sweet rose wine

1 cup Grand Marnier

3 large peaches

grated ginger, about 1/2″

juice of one lime

one cup of club soda {provides a nice effervescence}

ice, for serving

*optional garnishes include mint, basil, peach wedges, slices of lemons and limes

To Prepare:

Muddle one of the peaches with a few splashes of the Grand Marnier in the bottom of a large pitcher.

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Slice the remaining peaches and set aside.

Add remaining ingredients, except for the club soda and peaches, into the pitcher. Stir to combine.

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Add in the sliced peaches and top with ice and club soda. Serve in glasses, along with optional garnishes.

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