boozy brunch

I LOVE brunch. It's my favorite meal of the week! One day I dream of owning a brunch restaurant. I often think of all of the awesome things that would be on my menu. A girl can dream, right?

My favorite brunch beverage is a bellini. There's nothing better than a champagne flute filled with bubbly and a kiss of peach nectar, mmmm. I had my first bellini in Venice at Harry's bar (where bellini's are said to have originated). It was one of Hemingway's favorite places to sit and write - or so I'm told. Regardless, I was introduced to the bellini and I was forever changed.

When I think of a boozy brunch the first two drinks that come to mind are mimosas and bloody marys. I love an excuse to pop open a little bubbly, and brunch is the perfect excuse! Bloody marys on the other hand aren't my favorite. Yes, I said it, I'm not a fan. To me it tastes like cold spiced tomato soup with vodka, yuck! That being said, I know that it's a favorite among many and making a good bloody mary is a desired skill. I was thinking about how to put a fun twist on brunch when suddenly it hit me... jello shots, BLOODY MARY JELLO SHOTS! No? Sound weird? SO!

To me it sounded like fun and I don't even like bloody marys. I decided to take my wacky idea and run with it. I've seen people make jello shots in orange peels so why not make a breakfast version and do bloody mary jello shots in celery sticks?! Maybe I'm crazy but I think it's fun. I know my sorority sisters would love them, too!

I showed up to brunch at my cousins with these little bite sized shots and my whole family thought I was nuts. The only way to describe them is by saying trippy. I love when a dish can take you to a place you've never been before. Sort of like the first time I had jalapeno chocolate ice cream. It was cold and spicy and it totally confused and excited my taste buds. These jello shots are crunchy but jelly and a little spicy and cold... it's a unique experience!

They're very unique and fun. They take a little time to make but they're worth it for the wow factor. Try them and let me know if you think jello shots belong at the brunch table. They're sure to be the center of conversation among your brunchees.

Bloody Mary Jello Shots

5 celery sticks
1 c. tomato juice
1 packet knox gelatin
¼ t. lemon juice
¼ t. garlic powder
¼ t. onion powder
¼ t. pepper
¼ t. salt
squirt of worcestershire sauce
squirt of tabasco sauce
¾ c. vodka

Mix all ingredients except the vodka, gelatin, and celery stalks in a pot over medium heat. When liquid is warmed, add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Pull mixture off the heat and let cool for 1 minute. Add vodka and then pour into celery stalks.

I put my celery stalks in a casserole dish so that the liquid wouldn't pour out. See the image below for reference. Some of the mixture will spill out but it's ok... you'll have plenty! I let my mixture sit for 3 minutes before I poured it into the celery stalks.
Place in fridge to set for at least 4 hours. Cut into bite sized pieces and enjoy! WARNING: do not attempt to swallow whole! These jello shots are meant to be chewed.
improv style:
you can use clamato juice or veggie juice instead of tomato. you can add your favorite bloody mary spices... jalapeno or pepperoni sticks would be an interesting twist. you can also make these in different vessels other than celery sticks, like inside of a jalapeno, pepperoncini or cherry tomato. you can also make them in regular cups if you don't have the celery sticks or the patience to make them. if you have a favorite spice style for your bloody mary's, use that instead. This is very flexible aside from the gelatin to liquid ratio... keep that the same. ginger would be a great spice to add in the mix.


lunchtime snoozfest

I try to be good and bring my lunch to work every day. Not only does it keep me healthy but it helps me save a TON of money every month. Ironically, I didn't bring my lunch today. The problem with packing a lunch most days is 1. I don't have a lot of time in the morning and 2. sandwiches, while easy, get boring day after day. My new mission is to come up with some tasty and easy lunches for work.

This recipe is my first solve for the boring sandwich blues. I love this pasta salad, it's easy and quick to make. It fits perfectly into a small tupperware container and I can get it ready the night before aka more time for me to sleep in the mornings! This recipe is packed with flavor and the whole grains fill me up!

Lime Cilantro Pasta Salad


for the dressing:
¼ c. red wine vinegar
¼ c. lime juice + zest
2 T. honey
1 small shallot minced
½ c. cilantro leaves packed
1 clove garlic
salt + pepper

for the salad:
1 c. whole wheat orzo pasta
2 chicken breasts (cooked and thinly sliced)
2 c. chicken broth
2 c. water
1 c. cherry tomatoes halved
cilantro leaves for garnish

yields 2 hearty servings

In a food processor, combine all the dressing ingredients and pulse until garlic, shallots, and cilantro leaves are pulverized (basically until you have your dressing at a consistency you like).

Meanwhile, heat chicken stock and water in a saucepan for the orzo. Cook orzo until al dente, drain pasta. Add lime cilantro dressing to the warm pasta. It will absorb more flavor this way. Combine chicken slices, tomatoes and cilantro leaves with the pasta. It's that easy! If you like, you can double the dressing recipe and marinade your chicken in it to add even more flavor.

improv style:
for the dressing you can substitute honey for agave nectar or a pinch of sugar instead. Also, you can make this with basil instead of cilantro and add mini mozzarella balls and tomatoes for an italian spin on the dish (think caprese salad)! the recipe isn't set in stone so substitute the herbs and veggies for ingredients you have on hand. don't have orzo? use a different pasta or even a quinoa or cous cous and make it gluten free! you can add some pine nuts or almonds for a bit of crunch too.


luck o' the italian?

The other night I made a spinach + basil risotto. It was the most gorgeous green color and was really tasty too. In true morgan fashion, I made way too much and had a TON of leftovers. I get that from my mom. My dad always teases her saying "what are you feeding an army?!". So I cooked to feed an army and I wanted to do something different with the leftovers than heating them up in the microwave. That's when it hit me...

I remembered my first day living in Rome. I flew to Italy a week before my study abroad program started and met up with my best friend from high school who happened to be doing a semester there as well. Meg picked me up at the train station in Rome and boy was she surprised to see me with all my luggage in tow. I packed 3 GIANT bags and had a carry on sized suitcase. I don't know what I was thinking because I alone could not carry all these bags. It was quite comical towing 2 bags a few feet, going back, grabbing the other two and so on and so forth. I will never make that mistake again! Thank god Meg was there to help me! Back to the food, there was a point to all this! Before we even got to Meg's apartment, she insisted we stop into this deli and get a little rice ball stuffed with mozzarella. We lugged all my bags into this shop, and got 2 "aranchini", my first taste of italy. It was a tomato based risotto ball stuffed with a mozzarella ball and breaded and deep fried, HELLO! Hot gooey mozzarella, risotto, fried, heaven could not make a more perfect combination!

Remembering that first sweet taste of Italy I decided why not make spinach + basil flavored aranchini? So that's what I did. They were gorgeous and green and perfect as a St. Patty's themed dish. No, the ingredients aren't irish but it's bright green... that counts, right?

Make these aranchini for St. Patricks day this year and you won't even miss the guinness and jameson and cabbage and whatever traditional fare people eat for the Irish holiday. Although, you could definitely serve these with a green beer. In fact, I highly recommend it!

2 c. cooked risotto (see recipe below)
2 eggs
2 T. parmesan cheese
2 c. + 4 T. bread crumbs
5 oz mozzarella diced
4 c. olive oil or vegetable oil

yields 16 - 20 balls

Preheat oven to 225ยบ. In a mixing bowl, combine risotto, eggs, parmesan, and 4 T. bread crumbs. Combine until mixed. On a plate, place remaining 2 c. bread crumbs. I made mine with both panko and regular bread crumbs. Both worked great but I preferred the crunch of the panko. Cut mozzarella slices into small chunks about the size of a quarter. I used the fresh mozzarella mini balls and cut them in half. It was the perfect size! Next take 1 mozzarella chunk and a teaspoon full of the rice mixture and roll together to form a ball. Mine ended up being a little bigger than a golf ball. You need just enough rice to cover your cheese. Then roll in the bread crumbs and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until you're out of rice. Place in the fridge and let chill for 20 min.

Heat oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium - medium high heat depending on your stove. You know the oil is hot and ready when you toss in A drop of water and it pops. You can also test with a SMALL pinch of flour, it will do the same thing. Fry up 3 - 4 aranchini at a time. Pull out and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Place in the oven between batches. Once the frying is all done, let last batch heat in the oven for 5 minutes with the rest of the balls. This will let the oil drain and the cheese get extra gooey.

Serve with marinara sauce or ranch. You can serve them with your favorite dipping sauce but I actually prefer them plain.

improv style:
the risotto is where you can get really playful in this dish. instead of spinach + basil, try a more traditional tomato based rice. You can put your favorite flavors into the rice. The second area you can improvise is the breading. If you can't find panko or don't have any on hand use the traditional bread crumb or even the italian flavored kind. Don't have any bread crumbs? Put 2-3 slices of bread in the food processor and make your own! Add some cayenne or other seasonings to give your bread crumbs a kick of flavor! You can make this gluten free by substituting the bread crumbs with rice flour. They're not quite as crispy on the outside but they're still tasty!

Spinach + Basil Risotto

1 clove garlic
1 shallot
1 c. arborio risotto
1 34 oz box of good quality chicken stock (I like Kitchen Basics)
3 c. spinach leaves slightly packed (one big bag)
2 c. basil leaves loosely packed
¼ c. white wine (I like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay)
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
½ c. parmesan cheese

yields 4 hearty servings

In a food processor, combine the basil and spinach leaves. I pulsed mine until it was very fine but if you like a bit of texture, you can play with the coarseness.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken stock to a mild simmer. Dice shallot and place in a deep medium sized skillet or sauce pan and saute with olive oil for 2 minutes. Peel garlic and give it a whack and place smashed clove (do not chop) in pan with shallots. Add arborio rice and brown for 1-2 minutes. This gives the rice a great flavor and is an important step in the risotto making process!

Next add wine to the pan, give it a good stir. Then slowly, 1-2 ladles full at a time, add the warmed chicken stock to the rice mixture, just enough to cover the top of the rice. Constantly stir the rice and continue to add chicken stock as its absorbed by the rice. You'll start to notice that the rice expands. You want to cook arborio al dente so be sure not to add too much liquid. You can always add more, but you can't take liquid out. Not sure if your rice is done? Take a spoon and try a few grains. You want it to be firm but chewy, not hard and not mushy. When the rice is done, stir in spinach + basil mixture, butter, and ¼ c. parmesan cheese. Stir until it's incorporated.

improv style:
don't have shallots? use onions instead. you can substitute the basil for any herb you love. mint or italian parsley would be great. just don't go overboard on the mint, it's a powerful herb! you can leave the wine out if you don't have any or don't want to open a bottle. i just love the flavor it adds to the dish!