Strawberry Balsamic Sangria

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Strawberry balsamic sangria is the answer to your sweltering summer sorrows. Summer is here in New York City, and it brought sangria weather with it this year. This is my second summer in NYC and it is even more scorching and sweat-inducing unlike the last. For some reason it seems hotter in Manhattan than it does in my hometown of Miami. Maybe it is the towering totems to big business, the hustle and bustle of the hoi polloi, or the stagnant air ripe with piles of rotting garbage that wafts on street corners and makes you yearn for the fresh air of the country side. You take your pick- New York is just hot and stinky in the summer.

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Fear not though- with summer heat comes nature’s sweets. Some of the best fruit grows in the summer season. I am lucky to live close to the Union Square Farmer’s Market where all of the best local fruit is available direct from the farm. Straight-from-the-farm strawberries are unlike those in the super market. They are brighter, softer, sweeter, fresher, and their seeds are somehow sparse and less noticeable. Strawberries are one of my summer favorites and they are perfect for sangria- summer’s signature cocktail.

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Sangria is the best summer drink for several reasons:

  1. Sangria can be made in advance for summer parties and barbecue
  2. Summer is berry season…I’m talking blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and black berries galore( oh and did I mentioned peaches, apricots, cherries, melons, plums, figs, and GUAVA!?!?)
  3. It is oh-so cold, sweet, versatile, ,refreshing and EASY

I could keep going on about the merits of sangria, but I’ll let you be the judge. Enjoy the summer heat with some sangria in hand and your feet in the sand because remember…winter is coming.

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Strawberry Balsamic Sangria

  • 3 cups sliced ripe strawberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 bottle Pinot Grigio, Soave, Riesling, or Gewurztraminer
  • ¼ cup port or brandy
  • ¼ cup aged Balsamic vinegar (sweeter than regular balsamic)
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Mint or basil to garnish
  • 1 bottle sparkling rose or prosecco (I chose dry)
  • ½ cup orange soda (optional)

Wash the strawberries well, remove stems, and slice. Let the strawberries macerate with sugar and aged balsamic vinegar for an hour. This brings out all the natural strawberry juice and sweetens more naturally. Pour in the bottle of wine and port (or brandy). Allow all of the ingredients to combine together in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

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 When ready to serve the strawberry balsamic sangria fill the rest of the pitcher up with sparkling rose or prosecco and stir. I added ½ a cup of orange soda and it really tasted great making me think grand marnier would be a great substitution for port or brandy.  Another option is to prep individual glasses on trays to pass out to guests and then top off with the prosecco or sparkling rose right before serving for parties and entertaining. You can prep this the morning of any gathering or party, and I think you could technically do this a day in advance but I don’t like when the fruit is too soft.

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Garnish the strawberry balsamic sangria with a lime wheel, strawberry, fresh mint, or basil- whatever you have on hand and enjoy!

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Mom’s Baked Brie with Guava

Baked Brie with Guava from StellarAsh.com

If you open my mom’s fridge you will usually find puff pastry, a wheel of brie, and guava marmalade ready to go at a moment’s notice- I’m also betting that if you open the pantry you will find a box of Carr’s water crackers too. This is my mom’s recipe for baked brie with guava- a foolproof solution for unannounced guests, impromptu gatherings, and any occasion- special or otherwise. Baked brie with guava will always impress your guests, is crazy easy to make, requires basically no dishes (which I loathe), and makes you feel like you have it together (somewhat at least) when you find yourself entertaining guests either planned or spontaneously.

Baked Brie with Guavamake-the-simple-syrup-to-brush-on-the-baked-guava-brieBaked Brie with Guava from StellarAsh.comBaked brie with guava from StellarAsh.com

Obviously in order for me to help you look cool you have to have the basic elements on hand pretty regularly- puff pastry and brie. Help me help you! You can exchange the guava for any marmalade of your liking- strawberry, apricot, peachjalapeno pepper, red onion jam– the list goes on. As you know I have a serious love for all things guava so this is always my numero uno selection for baked brie, but go ahead and choose anything you prefer. I brushed my baked brie with guava with a rosemary simple syrup right when it came out of the oven. The rosemary simple syrup gave the baked brie with guava a nice earthy and herbal small that went well aromatically with the sweet guava and rich brie.

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Feast on with family and friends, breathe a little when your guests arrive (or show up), and know that this easy and classic recipe for baked brie with guava will always make you look good and will always taste good too! Bon appetit!

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Baked Brie with Guava 

  • Medium to large brie wheel (defrost overnight in the fridge before use)
  • 2 tablespoons guava marmalade (conchita brand is my favorite)
  • Sheet of frozen puff pastry (or homemade if you’re awesome)
  • One egg
  • 1 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • One sprig fresh rosemary

Serve with:

  • Water crackers
  • Toasts
  • Bread
  • Toasted almonds or walnuts
  • Apples
  • Pears

Preheat the oven to 350F. Use either frozen puff pastry or the pull-apart crescents that come in the pop can (which my mom uses and presses the perforations together). Place the brie in the center of the puff pastry and brush with your marmalade of choice. Do NOT trim the white casing off on the brie. This is totally edible and keeps the brie from melting all over the place. Fold over the edges of the puff pastry to completely cover and seal the brie and guava. If you leave bits peeking through it will melt through or the marmalade can kind of burn. Brush with egg wash before placing in the oven. Bake the brie and guava for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

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While my baked brie with guava was in the oven I made a quick rosemary simple syrup to brush on top. Place the 1/4 cup water and sugar in the microwave with the sprig of fresh rosemary and heat at 30 second intervals stirring after each interval until clear. Brush right when the baked brie with guava comes out of the oven. Let the brie settle for 5-10 minutes before cutting in. You can always par bake the brie if you are taking it to a get together or dinner party. The brie will solidify once it cools down. If you are taking this baked brie with guava to a dinner party just pop it in the oven again at your destination for 10-15 minutes on the warm setting and the brie will become melted inside again.

baked brie with guava from StellarAsh.comBaked Brie with Guava from StellarAsh.com

Serve with freshly sliced fruit, toasted almonds, melba toasts, water crackers, or other simple crackers of your choosing. This recipe is great year-round and will always be a delight.

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Cuban Congrí aka Arroz Moro

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Congrí called by any other name still taste as delicious…moros, congri, arroz moro, moros y cristianos…call them what you will- congrí is still a Cuban soul food staple to be enjoyed at any meal. This recipe is for a lazy person’s congrí. I feel accomplished enough when I cook nowadays, like I deserve a shiny medal for coming home exhausted from work and cooking an honest meal. I recently started working regular hours aka 7 to 6ish, and it is seriously more exhausting than when I was working irregular hospitality hours. I know, I know, everyone is rolling their eyes saying “We know this already Ash, the Monday to Friday hustle is brutal. Welcome to the club sister”. Well, I just got here so take pity on my newbie soul!

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My congrí is cutting corners, aka I am using canned beans. This won’t make your rice as black as traditional Cuban congrí or as dry, but honestly it tastes exactly the same. Making the beans is a mission and tacks on an extra 30 min to an hour (plus more dishes) and that is frankly time I just don’t have right now.

moros

Arroz moro or congrí is my preferred Cuban side dish. I always order “moro y maduros” with any main dish- Churrassco, Palomia, Bistec Empanizado, or Pollo a la plancha are best with congrí. For some reason I wouldn’t have congrí with masa de Puerco, ropa vieja, or vaca frita but that is just me (and I like to think I am an expert ‘orderer’). Congrí is the red beans and rice to Cuban soul food, and makes me feel like there is a little slice of home right here in my kitchen. Short cut or not- this congrí is still damn delicious and has Cuban goodness packed into each bite.

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Cuban Congrí aka Moros aka Moros y Cristianos

  • ½ green bell pepper diced
  • ½ red bell pepper diced
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4-5 garlic cloves finely minced
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cumin (optional)
  • ¼ tsp ground oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 ¾ cups black bean stock
  • Pork chunks (optional)
  • Lime wedge garnish
  • Olive oil

Make the sofrito with the bell peppers, onion, and garlic. Add olive oil to a large pot and add the onion and bell peppers. Cook until translucent; add half the salt and pepper. Add 2-3 of the garlic cloves finely minced reserving some for later. Add the cumin, oregano, and bay leaf. Cook 2-4 more minutes. Drain the black beans and reserve the black bean liquid for later.

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Add the rice stirring well for 2-3 minutes in the pot to incorporate the oil, sofrito, and seasonings (much like a risotto). Add the black bean water, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat. Cover with the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black beans and stir well. Cook for another 5-7 minutes.

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After you have added the black beans, heat two teaspoons of olive oil or butter. Add the remaining garlic and quickly sautee. Set aside. When the moros are done stir in the sautéed garlic. Plate the congrí or arroz moros with a lime wedge on the side. Serve with your favorite Cuban dish like bistec empanizado, bistec palomia, roasted chicken, pollo a la pancha, or just enjoy with fried eggs like we did. Fried eggs are not a normal accompaniment, but I love them. Congrí goes great with platanos maduros or tostones as well.

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