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
This year, Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day land on the same day. (God, help us all.) Since I love big hats and margaritas, I wanted to give each its own parties. So, we Cinco-ed early so I could show you all the shortcuts to get your Cinco party done early to give the evening to the Derby!
Since I get a little crazy sometimes making two or six batched drinks for parties, I decided to let my guests play bartender a little. I batched out a traditional margarita recipe and made fresh purees—blueberry, strawberry, and mango—then put out mason jars so everyone had their own “shaker”. Then, all you need is festive, paper straws and lime wheels for garnish, and tada … the easiest margarita bar ever. (I also put out freshness basil and a muddler for an extra flavor.
1.5 oz Pura Vida Tequila Silver
1 oz Pura Vida Naranja orange liqueur
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz simple syrup
Since Cinco de Mayo celebration seems to be all about tequila, I also gave my guests three expression of Pura Vida Tequila to taste. This tequila is a new favorite of mine. Made in Jalisco (as it must be to be be called tequila), the brand has Texas roots and is incredibly smooth.
The biggest thing to remember is: less prep means less dishes. Since I tend to be a messy cook, I opted to cater our little meal. La Ventana, a Dallas-based taco shop that makes authentic Mexico City tacos and goodies and now has five locations across DFW. I’ve always loved their breakfast tacos, so I started my party at 11am so I could be sure there were breakfast tacos on the table!
Since their breakfast tacos aren’t the only thing they do well, we stocked up on their traditional options like steak, pastor, lengua (beef tongue), and barbacoa. There was a little something for everyone, and since their tacos are made on corn tortillas, even my gluten-free guests could dig in.
The tacos were, of course, amazing, but their signature dessert, churros con cajeta, took the cake. (Pun only kind of weirdly intended.) These things are addictive, and I’m OK with it.
And what’s a party without favors? Last year, I made my own adult pinata, but this year … I found someone to do it for me. This fun website, Nipyata, has themed pinatas for every holiday FILLED WITH BOOZE AND CANDY, and it even comes with a papier-mâché bat, blindfold, and rope. Starting at $69.99, it’s a fun addition to a fiesta, bachelorette party, etc. (Even cooler, you can add custom fortunes and even a hand-written note—think gender reveal, people!)
We had a blast whaling away on it. Give some “adults” a few margaritas and the chance to take out some pent-up aggression on an inanimate object with no repercussions and the goal of unlocking more boozy goodness … it’s on.
The only gin made on the island of Islay, this artisanal expression by the Bruichladdich Distillery presents 31 botanicals—nine classicly found in gin, and 22 of which are hand-foraged locally (and responsibly) on Islay. Since 2011, this “progressive exploration of the botanical heritage of … Islay” prides itself on a forager’s spirit.
The distillation process is equally as unique as the botanicals. They slow simmer in a pot-still at low pressure for 17 hours to release the most flavor from the ingredients. The “slow burn” results in a unique and complex flavor.
One of my contributors, Aaron, and I were lucky enough to be invited to a celebration of this expression. First, we were walked through a quick bartending demonstration where they showed us how to make the Red Lady (this an all recipes are below) by the brand ambassador.
Then we were invited to join the Botanist Gin team for a four course meal—all made with as-local-as-possible ingredients that complimented the flavors in the accompanying Botanist cocktails. Each cocktail was extremely unique and brought out the complexity of the botanicals.
Fruit of Thyme 1.5 oz The Botanist Gin 4 oz Tonic Water 1 slim Ruby Red Grapefruit wedge
Squeeze grapefruit wedge in glass and leave in glass. Add The Botanist Gin, then ice and top with tonic water. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.
Red Lady 2 oz The Botanist Gin 1 oz Cointreau 1 oz Fresh squeezed lemon juice 6 strips julienned red bell peppers 3 drops orange bitters
In a shaker tin, muddle red bell pepper. Add all remaining ingredients, then shake without ice vigorously. Add ice and shake briskly. Double-strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a julienned red bell pepper.
Smoke Show 2 oz The Botanist Gin 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice 1 oz ginger syrup 0.25 oz Mezcal 4 drops orange bitters
Add all ingredients to shaker. Fill shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain to a coupe glass and garnish with pickled ginger.
Gin for All Seasons 1.5 oz The Botanist Gin 0.25 oz Suze 0.25 oz fresh squeezed red grapefruit juice 0.75 oz simple syrup 3 oz soda water 1 pinch sea salt
Add The Botanist Gin, Suze, Fresh Squeezed Red Grapefruit Juice and Simply Syrup to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into an iced highball. Top with soda water.
Regroni 1.5 oz The Botanist Gin 1 oz Aperol 1 oz Cocchi Dry Vermouth
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 20 seconds until chilled. Strain and pour over large ice cube in rocks glass. Garnish with a sweet pepper circle.
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.
Since it’s a bit north, Scotland has shorter days in the winter; and the Winter Solstice, which we saw on December 21, is the shortest day of the year. With so much darkness, I’m sure it makes one want to cozy up next to a fire with a drink that will warm you from the inside. Scandinavians call this feeling “hygge”, which is their concept of coziness.
I’ve been a little of a Scandinavian fanatic this winter because, for some reason, I decided to reimagine my holiday decor. I went from over-the-top “Christmas threw up in here” to minimal with hints of gold and plenty of live garland. (And don’t get me started on live garland. My poor Roomba is exhausted from picking up after it.) What I loved about their holiday decor is that it’s simple and SHOULD feel cold, but it all felt cozy. I wanted to harness that feeling, but it’s hard to do when it’s 70º in the afternoon in December. So, when it finally dipped below 35º this week, I jumped on the chance to cozy up with a traditional Scandinavian warm cocktail to go with my decor.
I was excited to try my first glögg, which is a kind of mulled wine—warmed wine with spices—and curl up on a 33º night … because that’s what we in Texas call “cold”. Instead of the traditional base alcohol, wine, I opted for whisky and used a recipe from Highland Park Whisky that features its newest expression, Magnus.
The drink did its job. It warmed me up and gave me a just the right amount of alcohol to lull me into a bit of a daze. I’ll just say that I ended up taking an unexpected nap, but it was the best hour I’ve seen (or not seen, as it were) in months.
MARTIN’S GLÖGG (recipe by Highland Park Brand Ambassador, Martin Markvardsen)
1 bottle of Highland Park Magnus
1/4 cup simple syrup
2 lemons, juiced
Warm up the whiskey, then add the simple syrup, lemon, and ginger. Right before boiling, turn down to simmer and add the rest of the spices and ingredients. Allow to simmer for at least 30 minutes on low. Strain and serve warm with an apple slice garnish and a cinnamon stick.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Grey Goose mixology class at Texas de Brazil in my fair city of Fort Worth. It was a night full of great cocktails that was enjoyed alongside other cocktail enthusiast and, lucky for us, a really elegant spirit.
Grey Goose uses fresh, French ingredients and is distilled only once using a continuous column distillation process; this single distillation process ensures the profile of the wheat remains in the vodka. Grey Goose uses wheat from three farming cooperatives in the Picardy region of France. Fun fact: the grade of wheat Grey Goose uses is called “Blé Panifiable Supérieur”, it is the same grade used in high end french bread and pastries.
This class was all about staple summer cocktails. I knew I was in for a treat when the table was set with a plate of fresh fruit and a bottle of Grey Goose. (Susie’s attitude has always been “good + good = really good”. And this qualified) The first cocktail that we mixed was the Le Grand Fizz—one of the easiest cocktails to mix, and so refreshing. I decided to keep this one on-hand for my next pool day.
Next, we made a Caipiroska, which is a twist on a traditional Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha. The best part about this cocktail is that you can use a lime or muddle whatever fruit you like. The name loosely translates to “Little Countryside”. Mix in whatever fruit you have on hand and you are good to go! I loved pineapple in mine, which drove home the summer feel.
Le Grand Fizz 1 1/2 parts Grey Goose vodka
1 part St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
1/2 part fresh squeezed lime
2 parts chilled soda water
3 wedges of fresh lime
Build in an over-sized cabernet wine glass with ice. Add Grey Goose and St. Germain. Squeeze fresh lime and discard. Top with chilled soda water. Stir and garnish with fresh lime wedges.
Caipiroska 2 parts Grey Goose vodka
2 tsp. Demerara Brown Sugar
Fruit of your choice
Quarter the lime and muddle with sugar in the base of a Boston shaker glass. Add Grey Goose vodka, then cubed ice and shake. Empty all contents into a rocks glass without straining.
Who wants to spend a long time mixing a cocktail and delay pool time? (My hand is not up … is yours?) Try out one of these simple, yet delicious, Grey Goose cocktails, and even batch them out if you’re feeling bold … you won’t be disappointed!
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
So the eclipse is coming up on Monday, August 21, and people are really f**king excited about it. Since we won’t be able to see the next one until April 2024, I guess I get the appeal.
Everyone is talking about the super small town directly in the path that will get the best “view” of the eclipse that’s been inundated with entirely too many people, the best eyewear, etc … but I really only care what libation will be in my hand when I “see” it.
That said, I’ve seen a lot of other recipes for cocktails with a dark liquor float on top, but I thought I’d go for the next level of gimmick. I created ice balls with activated charcoal in them to look like the moon, and I mixed up a riff on a traditional gin cocktail, the Bees Knees, that’s gold in color … ya know, like the sun. I chose to use Calamity Gin because it has delightful citrus notes along with light hints of juniper, rose, and cardamom. I also threw in just a bit of Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur to give it some heat. To make it festive, I made ice balls colored with activated charcoal*.
***Before using charcoal in your cocktails, or before ingesting activated charcoal at all, really, you should know the risks. Yes, risks. Charcoal is showing up now in juices and capsules to act as a health aid to do anything from reduce gas, improve digestive health and lower cholesterol to acting as a killer hangover cure. But, what people aren’t telling you is that, while it does all that good s**t, it also can mess with your medications. Since it’s a natural purifier/filter, it can render your medications ineffective. Meaning: DO NOT DRINK THIS IF YOU’VE TAKEN ANY MEDICATION LESS THAN TWO HOURS BEFORE, AND DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR AFTER. That is, unless you’re ok with your birth control failing, ladies.***
CALAMITY OF THE ECLIPSE
2oz Calamity Gin 0.75oz fresh squeezed lemon juice 0.5oz honey syrup 0.5oz Ancho Reyes Liqueur
560mg activated charcoal (usually two capsules, do not use casing)*
The night before, dilute the activated charcoal into 5oz of water. Stir, then funnel into a round ice mold. Freeze overnight. Mix the remaining liquid ingredients together with ice until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass over the charcoal ice ball. Enjoy immediately.
*If you’re not comfortable using activated charcoal, there is black food coloring! Or even purchase a pomegranate juice for a fruity take on this cocktail.
Calamity Gin was nice enough to give me a bottle of gin to play around with to find a fun recipe for the eclipse and sponsor this post.