Graduation Champagne Sangria

High school graduation is around the corner for us, and it seemed like a good idea to plan a way to soften the blow for Sir Wes.  His daughter will be walking the stage to receive her diploma and officially into the real world!  An exciting time for all, but also one that will smack Wes in the face with where did the time go!


Take a sip Wes!

Champagne Sangria


  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves plus mint sprigs for garnish
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup cranberries, strawberries, blueberries or your choice of fruit
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 1 chilled 750-ml. bottle Champagne or sparking wine



Mint Simple Syrup:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and mint over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the berries of your choice (we don’t want to “kill” the berries with heat, but also want to get the flavor in there too) and remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool for 20 minutes. Pull out the mint leaves before using.

Pour the mint simple syrup into a large pitcher.  Stir in the wine and the brandy and chill the sangria, covered, for 1 hour.  Pour the sangria into tall glasses filled with ice cubes and garnish each drink with mint sprig.


His little girl is growing up!  As much as we know she will soar, ….his little girl is growing up.  Be proud Sir Wes!!


Watermelon Rosemary Champagne Brunch Cocktail

#BrunchWeek is under way- Bloggers from across the country kicked it off yesterday morning and followed with a #Tweetchat in the afternoon.  There was enough buzz on twitter that we saw #BrunchWeek trending right below #CincoDeMayo, pretty cool!  There were some huge prizes given away yesterday as well- luckily there are even more left!  Click on the link at the bottom of the page, the Rafflecopter, for a chance to win.  The #BrunchWeek sponsors have outdone themselves! 8655385121_01eb457200 The signs of summer are coming, and I couldn’t resist garden inspired cocktail.  I am not a gin fan, but because of my husbands devotion to it, we always seem to have it on the shelf.  The good part is that the refreshing watermelon really balances the emphasis of the juniper berries in the gin.  DSC_0248 Although gin is not my spirit of choice, I always get excited when I see fresh herbs in sweets and cocktails, I love the earthyness that seeps in.  This recipe comes from Everyday Magazine  Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 4 1 inch pieces watermelon
  • Ice
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • Wine
  • Watermelon wedges


  1. To make the rosemary simple syrup place the water, sugar and rosemary in a small saucepan and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes and cool.  This can be made ahead, and nice to have on hand for those “moments of need”. 
  2. When ready to serve, drop the watermelon into a cocktail shaker, and crush with a muddler or wooden spoon.  Add enough ice to fill the shaker, and then add gin, rosemary syrup and lemon juice; and shake. Strain into 2 champagne flutes. Top with champagne and garnish each with a watermelon wedge.

DSC_0257 This is a perfect Brunch-tail for a Mother’s Day, light, refreshing and not going to put you under the rest of the day. After all whether its breakfast in bed or ladies brunching, there should always be be some saucing… DSC_0269Mother’s Day is getting closer- buy your cards and keep following along with #BrunchWeek for ideas! Thanks to all the fabulous sponsors! They got it going on for sure!! California WalnutsLodge Cast Iron, Vidalia Onions-The Flavors of Summer, Black Gold Farms, the Food and Wine Conference and Sunday Supper, Bob’s Red Mill, Whole Foods Market -Orlando, and Stonyfield Organic For a chance to win one of the great prizes- click on this link and sign up- super easy and legit. a Rafflecopter giveaway


Today there are a ton of brunchalicious posts from across the country- Check them out!

Beverages Pear Hibiscus Brunch Cocktail by Rachel Cooks Strawberry Rose Sangria by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen Mocha Frappuccino by Around My Family Table Pineapple-Basil Tea by The Kitchen Prep


Tomato and Mozzarella Quiche by Love and Confection Cherry Tomato and Chorizo Omelette by Katie’s Cucina Asparagus and Bacon Quiche by Confessions of an Overworked Mom

Meat, Poultry and Fish

Bacon Canapés with Oranges and Maple Yogurt by Cook the Story Chicken Bacon Ranch Panini by Sweet Remedy Pancetta Wrapped Chicken by Jane’s Adventures in Dinner

Breads, Grains, Cereals and Pancake-type Yums

Spinach and Goat Cheese Muffins by Culinary Flavors Overnight Blintz Bake by White Lights on Wednesday Bananas Foster French Toast by by Cravings of a Lunatic


Cinnamon Raisin Bread by Katie’s Cucina Mrs. Lund’s Fresh Plum Cake by The Vintage Cook Chocolate Chip Banana Bundt Cake by Take A Bite Out Of Boca Strawberry Scones by Kokocooks Strawberry Mascarpone Tart by Kelly Bakes

Fruits and Veggies

Honey-Watermelon Soup by Culinary Adventures with Camilla

Grilled Fruit Tailgate Sangria (aka- Steelers Sangria or Crimson Tide Sangria)

I can smell the pigskin in the air…Football season is approaching swiftly and we are ready!   Tailgate food may possibly be my favorite cuisine.   In an effort to keep it light and not ruin a week of dieting, I’ll be mixing up some light sangria.  And to keep in theme of tailgate grilling, I will throw the fruit on the hot grill too!

Tailgate Sangria

I loved grilling the fruit for sangria, it really brought out the earthy flavors of the wine and cinnamon.   The char on the fruit pushed the drink into fall with its smokiness.  It also softens the booziness of the liquor, making it very drinkable…. Beware 🙂

  • 2 Granny Smith Apples, sliced in eighths
  • 1 Navel Orange, sliced in eighths
  • 2 Limes, sliced in eighths
  • 2 bottles red wine
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup diet cranberry juice
  • ½ cup cherry brandy
  • ½ cup orange curacao
  • ¾ cup simple syrup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 36 ounces diet ginger ale, 3 cans

Over a hot grill, arrange the wedges on the racks and cook until fruit is just beginning to char, about 3-4 minutes per side. 

In a large gallon pitcher, combine the wine, juices, liquors, simple syrup and cinnamon stick.  Add the sliced fruit and chill overnight, (or at least a couple hours). 

When ready to serve, add the diet ginger ale to the sangria and pour over ice.

Makes about 1 gallon

Grilled Fruit Sangria

When I am at the grocery and see deep sales on red wine that I am unfamiliar with; I grab it up knowing that it will be perfect for sangria, if nothing else.   Some wine connoisseurs may disagree, but I see no reason to spend a lot of money on sangria. 

Red Wine is soaking up the grill flavor!

Grilled fruit would work great with white sangria as well; charred stone fruit with white wine would draw out the oak flavors of the white wine.   I am not a big chardonnay fan, so this would be a perfect answer to the bottles sitting on my shelf collecting dust. 

Any fruit will work if it is in season!

Cheers to football season, may the best teams win! Here we go Steelers and Roll Tide!

Black Velvet Apricots meets Ginger Simple Syrup

Summer fever has officially taken over in this house, school is out, humidity is high, plants are blooming, and pool days are here.   My favorite weekend outing is going to the water parks and taking a spin on the Lazy River.  We can spend hours just floating in an inner tube getting lost in day dreams.  Nothing like it. And as afternoons slip away it leads us to evening meals on the fly.

Gingered Black Velvet Apricots over Angel Food Cake

This weekend after a quick, big salad for dinner, it left us wanting dessert.  I picked up some stone fruit at the market earlier, including a few plump, juicy Black Velvet Apricots, which would go perfectly with the Angel Food Cake we had earlier this week.  And to spice it up I used the ginger that Sir Wes had pulled up last week from our ginger plant to make a simple syrup.  When we hijacked the plant from his mom’s yard last summer, I knew that we would make good use out of it. 

This à la minute dessert was so easy, and would work well with any fresh fruit you have in the fridge.  Just toss about 3 tablespoons per cup of fruit and pour over you favorite cake, sponge, angel food cake, or even by itself.

Ginger Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 inches of ginger root, rough chopped

In a small saute pan add sugar, water and ginger.  Bring to a slow simmer over a moderate heat, allowing the ginger to cook into the syrup.  Allow to simmer for 2 minutes and then remove from heat.  Allow to steep for 15 minutes before straining the ginger out.  Refrigerate until cool. 

Makes about 1 /4 up and can be kept in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Sweet Apricots with a Kick of Ginger

And as a bonus…this simple syrup works great in summer cocktails.


Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

I received an email last week for the yearly renewal of my domain name, WOW; Vanilla Lemonade is a year old.  And what a year its been!

Happy Birthday Vanilla Lemonade

Over the last 12 months the question I’ve been asked most is, why did I pick the name Vanilla Lemonade?  Well, isn’t it being super cute name enough of a reason?? Ahh- but there is actually a story…

I started at Walt Disney World in February 1998, on the opening team of DAK, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which was an amazing experience.  By the beginning of 1999 I joined DAK CAT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Catering.  I spent about 3 years on this talented team, which not only taught me how to cook pasta for 1000 people, or how to pack and load a truck, but they built the foundation and gave me the passion of the career I still love today.


We were a small team, a total of 5-7 cooks, a couple of chefs, 5 or 6 servers and a few front of house managers.  A perfect number of people for a family to generate.  Because we were such a small team that sometimes had huge events, surpassing even 10,000 guests, we did rely on a lot of extra help.  Extra culinary, servers from other locations, stewards, chefs would work with us frequently to execute our large events in the park.

We did have a few “outside” people come to work on a regular basis, which became extended family.  Howard was a Steward that was with us for over a year, 5-6 days a week.  He was a big guy, a really big guy, perfect for loading grills on trucks, throwing 80 quart mixing bowls in the dish sink and lucky for us, he had spent a lot of time in kitchens, so was also able to assist us out with prep!

Howard was a daily temp worker that had a hard life, battled with temptations, health issues, and the other challenges that a day-to-day life style can offer.  Like I said he was a big guy, rough and tough too, but after a while, we broke him down to a plush; Howard became somewhat of a fan favorite.

It’s down right sweaty hot here in Florida and don’t forget we are outside doing events, setting up tables, pushing trams thru the parks, standing in front of a hot grill for a few hours- you’re certain to be “glowing”.  On any hot day you would find Howard over by the truck handing out glasses of his lemonade to anyone that needed something to cool them down.  Howard’s lemonade was a crowd favorite, all the extra help knew to look for the giant orange thermos.   The lemonade was on our checklist before our truck ever pulled off the dock, and if Howard happened to have the day off, and us without the lemonade someone always had something to say about it.

And then one day Howard didn’t make it for an event.  “No” he didn’t forget, or run out of time, he told us angrily.  Howard explained, that the Chef told him “no more!”  And then we got a lashing from the chef…

Howard’s Recipe
1 Half Gallon Lemonade concentrate
6 Half Gallon Water
15 Vanilla Beans

…..The chef was not happy with his food cost floating Howard’s Lemonade Stand.

Ooh- but that Vanilla Lemonade was delicious …. DEE-licious.

Vanilla Lemonade, is not only a refreshing twist on lemonade, but to me it represents a time when I figured out what my future looked like.  I graduated from college with 2 B.A. Degrees in Art, took the first job I was offered, and spent 10 months filling drinks, scooping mashed potatoes and wondering what I was going to do with myself.  I was then welcomed into a family that would nurture, teach and allow me to grow. My love of cooking, food and catering came from that team, and equally important came the lesson of being able to learn from anybody, no matter who they are or where they came from.  Thank you  Howard, the Rough and Tumble Temp Working Teddy Bear for showing me that everyone has a lesson to teach if you are willing to learn.

Since then I’ve worked on a few different vanilla lemonade recipes.

Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

  • Frozen Lemonade Concentrate, or Favorite Powder Mix
  • Vanilla Bean/Vanilla Extract

The quick and easy method- and sometimes that is just what we need!  Make the lemonade as the container directs, add a vanilla bean split open down the middle for every 2 quarts made, or add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Refridergate and serve over ice.  Perfect for a day at the beach!

Howard’s Vanilla Lemonade

Fresh Vanilla Lemonade

  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups fresh lemon juice (about 15 lemons)

In a heavy saucepan, make your simple syrup by combining 2 cups water, sugar, and the split vanilla bean and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool.  Stir in lemon juice and remaining 2 cups water; refrigerate until serving. 

Garnish with citrus, fresh herbs or cherries.

Makes about 2 quarts

Fresh Vanilla Lemonade

Vacation Vanilla Lemonade

  • 2 oz coconut rum
  • 3 oz vanilla lemonade

…Over ice..Sip and enjoy.

Vacation Vanilla Lemonade

Cheers to learning and loving what you do with your life!

Bloodymary Gazpacho

Happy Mother’s day to all the Momma’s, the Grandmothers, the Doggie Momma’s, the Single Dad Moms, the Stepmoms and the Soon to be Mommies out there!    I live about 7 hours away from my Mom, so we wont be spending the day together, but she knows I am thinking about her.  The last time we were together on Mother’s Day was about 8 years ago and we celebrated by going to a fabulous brunch.  I think the meal of brunch belongs to Mother’s Day, and I love it because it is where absolutely anything goes!  

Happy Mother’s Day Queenie!

I’ve mentioned my mother, Queenie, not being the most skillful in the kitchen, but I haven’t given her credit to the Bloodmary’s that flow from her pitchers (my Dad may argue that he makes them, but I know she drinks them…).  In fact, she likes them well enough to have taken Bloodymary’s as her Fantasy Football team name as well as her email address.

Thinking about my mom, and what I thought she might like, and what she could actually make I landed on Bloodymary Gazpachos.  The vegetables in the gardens are hitting their stride, the cucumbers are fully grown, the tomatoes are ready, we have peppers we don’t know what to do with, and corn is hitting the bins….spells out gazpacho to me. 

Mise en place, mostly from the garden!

When you have a Mother’s Day brunch to bring something to why not make it Bloodymary Gazpacho.  Serve it in a rocks glass over ice, or if drinking at brunch doesn’t fit the crowd, just put it in a soup cup and watch the guests relax!

Bloodymary Gazpacho

  • 3/4 cup diced green tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup, peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
  • 2 Tbsp diced red onion
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 Tbsp diced jalapeno
  • 4 Tbsp corn kernels, raw
  • 1/2 lime, zest and juice
  • 10 oz bloodymary mix
  • 8 oz vodka
  • Kosher Salt
  • Granulated Sugar


In a food processor or blender add the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, corn and lime zest and juice.  Give only a few pulses, keeping a “gazpacho consistency”.  Add in your favorite bloodymary mix and preferred vodka and quickly mix.  Adjust flavor with salt and sugar; all bloodymary mixes are different so only add a pinch at a time.  Refridgerate until ready to serve, overnight will allow the flavors to meld.  Pour over ice in a rocks glass or as a soup shooter.  Garnish with your favorite pickled vegetable, a stalk of celery, a stuffed olive,  or a spicy pepper.  This recipe also makes a fantastic shrimp cocktail dip!

Makes 4 cocktails

Summer Garden Vegetables

Cheers to all the Momma’s- may your day be filled with love, memories and celebration!

Happy Mother’s Day Queenie! Love you!

Cocktails and Dinner with #digiNow12 at Disney’s Living Seas

We have been busy at work the last week with 3 different Press Events, a 1000 or so Cheerleaders, and a technical driven event that we look forward to all year.  The digitalNow Conference was held at Walt Disney World this week; which gave us a chance to push our creative minds.  While the group spent most of their time at the Contemporary Resort, they did venture to the Parks for a night.  The Living Seas at Epcot turned into a futuristic, creative, interactive dining room, where Entertainment, Bartenders, and Chefs spent the evening getting the chance to create magic. 

This is the type of event that keep us motivated in Catering and always searching for what is next.  The Front of the House provided such an innovative setup, from the gorgeous glowing highboys to the serpentine roman tables to the fantastic buffet sets. 

The set up was definetly something to tweet about #digiNow12

The Entertainment and Florist jumped right into the theming of the night.

The Bars were amazing- so cool!  The specialty drinks were a hit, not just because of the awesome presentation, but the flavors as well.  I attached the recipes below, these were all developed by our Front of the House team!

Sangria de Patron

  • 2 oz Patron Silver
  • 2 1/2 oz Monin Hibiscus
  • 3/4 oz Lemonade
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice 

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice.  Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.

Black Cherry Cooler

  • 1 1/4 oz Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon
  • 1/2 oz  Triple Sec
  • 2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1 oz Orange Juice
  • 1/2 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.  Top with Black Strap Rum as a floater.

Ginger Snap

  • 1 1/4 oz Skyy Citrus Vodka
  • 1 oz Canton Ginger Liquor
  • 3 oz Lemonade
  • Splash of Ginger Ale

Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Top with Ginger Ale.

The food for the event was equally inventive, we had fresh grown organic produce from The Land at Epcot, Chef Damon and his team were distilling with the RotoVap,  live herbs were growing from their roots on the salad station, and Chef Matt and his pastry team created artisan gelatos and lollipops in the middle of the World View Plaza before the fireworks started.

The dinner was creative, tasty and fresh with a focus on local, sustainable and taste that hit all notes!

Events like this not only surprise and delight our guests, they keep our cast engaged and driven to deliver the most excellent service possible.  These event keep our passion flowing :)!


Preserved Cherries- Small Effort, Huge WOW!

Preserving Cherries

Seems like I couldn’t get away from cherries last weekend we dined at a restaurant with a great fresh cherry cheesecake it had a chocolate almond crust Sir Wes kept saying, LORD this is good!  Then I read a blog over at A Cook Walks Into A Bar, who was making homemade Maraschino cherries!!  What???  Who knew??  Not sure why I never thought about fresh made…. just goes to show you, there is always something new to discover!

And then there were Acerola Cherries at the farmers market the next day- Awesome!  Because we were leaving for a family vacation this week, I was a bit limited on time, could not get to the liquor store for the traditional liquor needed for the maraschinos, next time!!  So I used what I had in the pantry- no need to get caught up in recipes, we just make it work!!

Acerola Cherries

  • 1 pound cherries, seeded (up to you if you want to or not, but I plan to serve them in drinks, and I don’t want to have to worry about seed spitting)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup cherry brandy
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander
  • 1 tablespoon whole black pepper
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Couple slices of orange peel
  • Couple slices of lemon peel
  • 2 stems of oregano (had some in the garden, thyme would be nice too, just to add that earthy flavor)

I put all the ingredients together in a leak proof container and turned end over end to mix everything up.  They will need about two weeks before we dive in to them, and will last 6 months.  Just be sure to stir them up every few days.  This is a GREAT treat for your cocktail parties coming thru the summer and into the fall- ummm, I can see tailgate parties with these fancy schmancy treats….Awesome!  Small effort, Huge WOW!

Preserving Cherries

Ginger and Ghost Pepper Peach Sangria

Summer started today,  although here in Florida, summer feels like it starts much earlier!  What is even more fun about June 21st, is that it is the unofficial start date of sangria season!  The perfect answer to the humid, sweaty days of Florida summers!  My favorite girl, @sweetsbymaggie is here for the week, and we love to enjoy sangria together, it is just what we do 🙂

A friend gave me a bit of homemade ghost pepper honey a few weeks ago, which is the hottest pepper out there blended into honey.  I also had a bit of ginger left in the cooler, so I made a ginger simple syrup to use it up before it spoiled.  I saw a bottle of white wine on the pantry shelf and I knew what direction we were heading. It is so fun to play with sangria flavors, once you have the general idea of how to make a traditional white or red sangria, I highly recommend getting creative with the flavors.  I love muddling herbs in ours, basil and cilantro are great.

Here is the recipe I used, it made about 5 quarts and took me about 20 minutes to do.  We left it overnight and the next day it was nicely blended, all of the flavors had time to hang out together and bond 🙂

Ginger Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chopped ginger

Put all ingredients into a heavy sauce pan and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. and cool.  The flavor will develop as it sits, so don’t be afraid to let it rest before you use it.

Simmer down Ginger!!!!!

Ghost Pepper Honey

  • 1 pinch ghost pepper flakes*
  • 3 teaspoons honey

Mix pepper flakes and honey together well, the longer the honey has to sit the stronger the heat will get.  A perfect item to have in your cabinet.

*You can use any pepper here, dry them slowly in the oven and then put in a coffee grinder to grind, you could even red pepper flakes if you would prefer.

Ginger and Ghost Pepper Peach Sangria

  • 2- 12 oz cans peach nectar
  • 1.5 liter Pinot grigio
  • 1 cup peach schnapps
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 2 peaches, cut in small bites 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 pint blueberries, muddled
  • 3 teaspoons ghost pepper honey
  • 2 cups ginger simple syrup

Sangria Fruit

Mix all ingredients together in pitchers (I used two which allowed room for stirring, and just split everything in half, for each pitcher).  Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.  If you let it sit longer then 12 hours check that the peaches haven’t been “overcooked”, they can become rancid over time.

Ginger and Ghost Pepper Honey Peach Sangria