Tailgating is one of America’s most enjoyable pastimes. I personally went to a college where tailgating (at the time) was more of a thing than the football games themselves. That said, we saw some over-the-top tailgates, but nothing compares to the fun I had a few weekends ago with Twisted Tea. An inflatable cornhole game the size of a queen mattress (still bummed I didn’t get to jump on it … maybe next time), a tricked-out RV with a rooftop perfect for watching the NASCAR cars whiz by, and a fridge stocked to the brim with Twisted Tea—now, that’s a good way to tailgate.
So, one may ask, what are the tailgate essentials? I’m here to tell you a few things I learned from the tailgate pros with Twisted Tea.
… in this case Twisted Tea!
A wise man once told me that, to host a great party, all you need is cold drinks and music and “people won’t notice the rest of is missing”. While I can only partly agree with that, he has a point. Having plenty of drinks on-hand (and Ubers at the ready) can make any tailgate feel like a true party.
(The Twisted Tea tailgate I attended at Texas Motor Speedway had coolers (plural) full of different flavors of Twisted Tea—traditional, half and half, and raspberry—a little something for everybody. And everyone was happy. Who wouldn’t be content enjoying the refreshing taste of the best selling hard iced tea in The States?)
#PROTIP from Twisted Tea: is to always make sure you keep your Twisted Tea cold for your guests!
Cornhole, ladderball, wizard staff … we seem to be able to make a game of anything these days. Make sure to give your fellow tailgaters a couple options to keep them busy until game (or race) time.
… Everything’s better (and more twisted) in Texas
A tailgate needs grub. Not frilly food—grub. While it’s nice to bring chicken salad on endive leaves … a hot dog will always taste better while pregaming. It’s science. Think ribs, burgers, tacos, brisket … you get it.
A few weekends ago, we were lucky enough to have a tailgate pro at the grill for us at the Twisted RV. Casey Webb, the new host of “Man vs. Food”, treated us to some delicious brisket tacos. He has been working with Twisted Tea to put together some twisted recipes that are perfect for tailgates. While we had brisket tacos, the Twisted Tea website has recipes that you can recreate at your own tailgate this summer – check them out here.
So, now that you heard a few things from my experience with Twisted Tea, what’s your next tailgate going to look like? Show Twisted Tea how you do it by submitting a picture by uploading to Twitter or Facebook for the chance to win your very own #TwistedTailgate. Like, a serious tailgate with the Twisted Tea tricked-out RV. Take a picture and submit it, y’all … just make sure to invite me to your badass tailgate when you win.
Promotion details: twistedtea.com/race-day/twisted-tailgate
I absolutely love to entertain. But, it seems my generation has lost the desire (and, honestly, the aptitude) to do so, and I find myself being one of the only shows in town to roll our the red carpet and don an apron and sparkles to make a fun evening for friends, neighbors and family. And the holiday season is no exception. That said, every year for the past seven, I’ve gotten a motley crew of friends together to share some holiday spirit(s) and entertain ourselves with a slightly outlandish white elephant exchange. (Exchange rules are listed below!)
Every year the party gets a little bigger, but some of the cast of characters remain the same, as do some of my favorite (and my guests’ favorite) recipes. The staples for years have been my bourbon meatballs (I’m asked for the recipe so often that I put it on a letter board this year!), sausage cheeseballs, Neiman Marcus Dip, and my Cool Weather Punch. I also always am sure to keep plenty of cheese on the table for easy snacks. All of these recipes are below!
My main bar (usually set up in my kitchen) always has at least one batched drink—usually my cool weather punch, base liquors (bourbon and rye whiskey, rum, vodka, tequila, scotch, etc.), a bottle of bitters, simple syrup, mixers, and citrus. I also ice down bottles of beer, cider, and splits of sparkling wine and leave them on my porch. Needless to say, no one ever has to look too hard for booze at my parties. I was once told by my badass boss, Flip, “No one cares about much at a party if there’s plenty to drink and great music playing.” … it stuck with me, so I sweat the details a little less now.
A fun twist I add each year is having a “make your own” bar of some sort. This year it was a hot chocolate bar that was a HIT. The base hot chocolate I made (if I do say so myself) was incredible. So good, in fact, that I may have to make it a new staple. The recipe is below, but the fun part was outfitting the table with plenty of goodies to add so each person’s drink was different. Giving guests plenty of options for creativity is key, but make sure to have things that just make sense. My favorite of the boozy additions was the Smirnoff Peppermint Twist vodka, which made for the perfect peppermint hot chocolate!!! (I may or may not have moved the rest of the bottle beside the stove … just in case I get a craving.) I also ordered plain coffee cups with sleeves so people could write their names on their cups. (And you also know who doesn’t throw their cup away. 😏)
While I learned how to entertain from the best (my mother threw some of the most amazing events when I was a child and I was always in awe of her ability to make everything from scratch and entertain everyone at the same time), I have found, much to my chagrin, that I can’t do it all. My wonderful mother always makes an item or two for the table, and I sometimes go for items I can pick up to save a little of my sanity. I love getting cupcakes from Trailercakes, cake balls from Savor Pâtisserie, and this year I went with some of the absolutely adorable iced and Linzer cookies from La Madeleine. Store bought doesn’t have to mean throwing in the towel!
While I’m sad paper invitations for informal events have gone by the wayside, I’ve found a decent replacement is Paperless Post. It gives a nice user experience, is relatively inexpensive (check RetailMeNot for coupons to purchase credits), and it allows you to track RSVPs. There are also some damn cute designs to use!
For entertainment, I make sure to have music playing (as mentioned above) and I’ll put a Christmas movie on TV on mute for a little extra texture. I’ve been compiling a Christmas party playlist for years with some slightly unconventional holiday songs. Find it on Spotify and give it a listen.
I hope that my party lives on, though every year it seems to get harder to find a date to make it work. The gift of hospitality is so important, and I hope you’ll join me in trying to keep it alive!
1 pound frozen meatballs (I prefer Trader Joe’s brand)
½ cup ketchup
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon whiskey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients except meatballs in a bowl. Pour over the meatballs in a crock pot. Heat on high for about an hour (then turn to warm) or low for at least three hours.
SAUSAGE CHEESEBALLS 2 cups Bisquick
1 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound hot or medium ground sausage
1/4 cup water
Mix all ingredients together with your hands. Ball up a heaping tablespoon of the mixture and place it on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes at 350º.
COOL WEATHER PUNCH
1 part white rum
1 part ginger ale
1 part apple cider (non-alcoholic)
a heavy dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients, stir. Garnish with a thin slice of apple and cinnamon stick if desired. This recipe can also be served warm.
NEIMAN MARCUS DIP 5 green onions, chopped
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup Greek yogurt
6+ slices of crispy cooked bacon
½ cup slivered almonds
Combine all ingredients and chill for at least two hours. Serve with Ritz crackers.
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
10 cups whole milk
2½ cups heavy cream
12 ounce can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon salt
topping ideas: marshmallows, chocolate shavings, soft peppermint sticks, peppermint snow, sea salt, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, cookie sticks (like Pirouettes), whipped cream (homemade if possible), toffee crumbles
boozy additions: Smirnoff Peppermint Vodka, Disaronno, Irish cream, hazelnut liqueur, coffee liqueur
Either in a crock pot or a large pot, whisk cocoa powder with hot water until mixed. Add in chocolate, milk, heavy cream, evaporated milk, and pinch of salt.
If using a crock pot, cook for 4 hours on high OR low for 6 hours and stir occasionally. Keep on warm to serve.
If using a pot on the stove, heat for about 15 minutes on medium and stir often. Then, keep on simmer and continue to stir occasionally. Makes about 20 servings.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT EXCHANGE
Over the years, we’ve fine tuned the exchange … and we’ve seen gifts anywhere from booze (so much booze) and live lobsters to unicorn Snuggies and phallic paraphernalia.
– All attendees are asked to bring a gift with certain specifications. Some people choose themes like booze or food, but I keep it open. This year the price cap was $35.
– Everyone gets a number. (I usually just count the number of people participating and write them on little bits of paper and allow people to draw out of a bowl.)
– The person with 1 begins and opens a gift. Then, go through the numbers consecutively, and each person has the choice to either open a new gift or steal a gift that is already open.
– Continue until all the gifts have been opened.
– After this is done, the last person who has the chance to steal or open is able to steal ANYONE’S GIFT, whether it’s frozen or not.
– Each gift can be stolen twice. (Meaning, the third person who has in his hands is the final owner.) Anyone whose gift is stolen cannot steal the same gift back immediately; they must wait for their number to come back up.
– Encourage everyone at the beginning to nice. Some people think that their gifts are clever and other may think they’re stupid, so encourage people to be kind.
Everyone loves a good coffee table book, but how many of those books are actually useful? We found one that’ll look just as good displayed on your table as it is essential for your bar cart.
Cocktails with Benefits, 40 Naughty but Nourishing Drinks by Nicole Herft is cocktail recipe book with four main categories: Fruitylicious, Drink Your Greens, Totally Tropical, and Smokey, Spicy, Sour, Sexy.
Herft uses only natural ingredients in her recipes, giving you a healthier way to consume your “naughty” cocktails. She leaves out the refined sugar and makes use of natural sugars like fruits and vegetables. That said, the drinks lead to less hangovers thanks to the natural ingredients.
I went ahead and tested out a recipe from the Fruitylicious category, the Iced Mixed Berry Sangria.
Iced Mixed Berry Sangria
2 cups fresh mixed berries (1 cup extra for the pitcher)
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 (750ml) bottle Rosé Rioja
Equipment needed: Small saucepan, Sieve, Cocktail stirrer, Serving pitcher, and 4 glasses
Place the mixed berries, 3/4 cup water, and agave nectar into a small saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a sieve. Press the berries with the back of a spoon to make sure you get all their juices. Leave the mixture to cool.
Half-fill your pitcher with ice cubes. Slice the extra strawberries and halve the blackberries and add these, and the other mixed berries to the pitcher with the berry syrup and then the Rosé Rioja. Stir well and serve.
Cocktails with Benefit:, 40 Naughty but Nourishing Drinks Author: Nicole Herft
Price: $14.95 online or in store
Let’s start here … Mardi Gras isn’t just a big party. There’s a lot more to the holiday than strong drinks and a good great reason to party on a Tuesday. Let’s start with some basics …
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French
It’s celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday as a last hurrah before Lent begins (this year, that’s February 9)
The first Mardi Gras celebration can be traced back to medieval Europe to the House of the Bourbons (I won’t go into all of the history, but if you want to read it all … check it out here.)
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold–purple for justice, gold for power, green for faith.
I have an unexplained love for Mardi Gras. (I think it comes from my dad receiving a King Cake each year from a friend in New Orleans. Since my dad had a job that took him to New Orleans during the week for a few years, I apparently attended parades before I could walk.) Each year, I try to bring the spirit of the Big Easy to Dallas in a small way for some friends. Here’s how I do it …
DRINKS … you can’t miss hurricanes, the quintessential Mardi Gras drink originally created by Pat O’Brien’s in NOLA. This year I borrowed a recipe from a NOLA-born chef, John Russ of Lüke San Antonio that he demonstrated at his seminar at the SACC this year. For my group of heavy-hitters, I made the recipe x10. I also like to add a little pineapple juice and just a bit of cherry juice or grenadine to add a red hue. They’re quite strong, so make sure to warn your guests and provide something to dilute it a bit like soda or Sprite. I also use an orange slice and cherry for garnish.
Katrina’s Folly (Recipe from Chef John Russ of Lüke San Antonio)
2 oz Bacardi light
1 oz 151 Bacardi
2 oz Kraken spiced dark rum
2 oz orange juice
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz passion fruit juice
Combine and stir. Serve chilled, preferably in a tall glass or red Solo cup.
Since a party cannot exist on a single drink alone, I laid out a bevy of usual suspects so people could make their own concoctions if desired. To really get the party going, I also offered shots of Pinnacle King Cake Vodka (the best of the king cake vodkas I’ve tried–which is a lot … dedication, y’all) and Abita Beer (brewed an hour from New Orleans in Covington, Louisiana). The kind cake vodka is surprisingly easy to drink and it has a nice sweetness without being overpowering. The party shared many a round of shots to toast the night. I chose two Abita brews–their most popular Purple Haze and their seasonal Mardi Gras Bock.
Sustenance at these parties is key. This year I offered homemade jambalaya, Zapp’s Potato Chips, hushpuppies, a King Cake, iced sugar cookies from Pokey O’s, and Cafe Du Monde beignets. Each has some significance …
Venison and Chicken Jambalaya – because … yum. I’ve adapted the recipe so it can be made ahead of time and cooked in a crock pot. (Send me an email if you’d like the recipe!)
Zapp’s Potato Chips – they’re made in Gramercy, Louisiana and are “New Orleans kettle-style chips”. I got individual bags from Potbelly along with their Voodoo flavor (nice and spicy) from Tom Thumb.
Hushpuppies – sometimes it’s important to know your limits when hosting a party. I haven’t ever made hushpuppies … so I left it to the experts and had three dozen delivered by Favor from Dodie’s Reef, complete with remoulade sauce. I should have gotten four dozen because they were the first thing to run out!
King Cake – the aforementioned friend in New Orleans sends my dad a cake–for years they have been shipped to us from Manny Randazzo’s and are always the traditional flavor that tastes just like a cinnamon roll … only 15x better. This year, my good friend Meryl’s family also sent me cakes from Caluda’s. Many bakeries in NOLA will ship their cakes, by my favorite has been the maple bacon praline version from Caluda’s (it was a flavor of the week option and isn’t available all the time).
The tradition says that a small, plastic baby is placed in the cake and the person who gets it in his piece is “King for the Day”. (It’s also said that he has to bring the cake to the next year’s party. Like that ever happens.)
Pokey O’s Iced Sugar Cookies – because they’re delicious and festive. (I added the little, plastic babies myself to add a bit more fun.) Call ahead to make sure they have them or to preorder.
Cafe Du Monde Beignets – it has been a goal each year to make beignets for this party and, this year, I finally did it! The mix that you can get in most stores made it quite easy to throw them together and they were freaking delicious.
Other fun touches I like to add are handing out beads (earned or not) and adding a little fun decor. (My plaster deer head is always festive at my parties …) In past years when I’ve lived in apartment complexes, we’d make sure to throw beads from the balcony, but now that I’ve moved we didn’t have anyone to throw them at … but do that, because it’s a blast.
P.S. Upon walking into my living room this morning … I came upon this scene. It must have been a good party.
I love a good holiday gifty for friends, neighbor, etc. … in years past I’ve done bacon chocolate, infused liquor, and regular old Christmas cookies, but this year I went with spice syrup. I’m looking forward to using this in Old Fashioneds at my Christmas Eve family dinner. (I’m always the bartender at family events … no pressure there.)
This syrup has some serious legs. It has the essence of a spiced cider without being too overpowering. (I’m going to avoid the cliche “spice up your cocktail” business here.)
Spice Syrup (recipe from The Fashionable Cocktail)
1 cup water
2 cups brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest (make sure to avoid overzesting)
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until all sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then strain.
Taste the syrup and add additional sugar as desired.
I like to use swing-top bottles for my syrups that can be purchased at SpecialtyBottle.com or Marshall’s/TJ Maxx and add gift tags with recipes like the Spiced Fig & Pear Daiquiris.
Happy Holidays, y’all! Happy gifting.
Shout out to Chris from Midnight Rambler for sous chefing on this recipe!
I got a wild hair about a month ago and decided that this year’s holiday gift would be homemade infusions. I decided to make jalapeño vodka, lavender gin, and (wait for it) apple pie bourbon.
The bourbon was very easy to make. I began with Jack Daniels, a middle-of-the-road liquor without any wild flavors in it. I began with a recipe for small batch infusions and ended with the proportions below.
APPLE PIE BOURBON 1.75L bourbon 3-4 Golden Delicious apples, cut into 1-inch cubes 5 sticks of cinnamon (roughly 3-inch sticks) roughly 1 tsp nutmeg 1 cup simple syrup
Place apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg in an airtight container. Pour bourbon over ingredients, ensuring the ingredients are covered by the bourbon. Seal the container and let sit at room temperature for three days. Shake or stir periodically to agitate the ingredients.
After three days, take a sip to test your infusion (it’ll be a bit bitter). Add more ingredients if necessary, and seal for another day. Test one more time after four days (total). Some infusions may take up to five days.
When you’ve achieved the desired flavor, strain the solid ingredients out of the bourbon using a colander. To remove the small sediment, strain the mixture using a cheesecloth. Add the simple syrup and stir for at least thirty seconds.
Bottle your mixture in an airtight container. I ordered swing-top bottles from specialtybottle.com and painted them using chalkboard paint. For gifts, I added a tag with recipes to use the bourbon. Your apple pie bourbon can be stored for up to two months in the refrigerator.