parties

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

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I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

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Cheese and Chartucherie Board

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No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

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Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

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I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

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Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

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As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

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Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

ACC Parties: A Masters Party

Marry a golfer and you marry golf they say.  Well “they” are right.  From about March to November I can count on Patrick golfing at least once a weekend, every weekend, and sometimes twice.  I am not planning on taking up this incredibly frustrating and expensive sport, I will leave that to the husband.  However, I am not opposed to wearing preppy golf clothes, vacationing at lovely golf resorts and throwing a golf themed party when called for.  The Masters is actually the one golf tournament that I used to watch even before I met Patrick, simply because Augusta is that beautiful.  Even before HD the greens just always seemed so green and the rows of azalea bushes in bloom made you want to don a funny hat and some white pants and start wacking around a little ball.  I decided the best way to celebrate this annual event was with a party, so the golf lovers could watch the Saturday rounds, and those of us less invested would have yummy food and drinks to keep us entertained.  I may have gone a little theme overboard but that’s part of the fun.  Here are some great menu and decoration ideas to get you ready for the 2017 Masters.  You know I love a party favor and personalized tees were a no brainer for this one.  I got them at Oriental Trading and then put them in cello bags with Masters green ribbon.  Super easy to do and actually functional (if you golf).

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Every party needs a bar and a signature cocktail.  The signature cocktail here was really easy – a John Daly.  This refreshing mix of lemonade, iced tea and vodka is a twist on the original Arnold Palmer and named for another, lets say more notorius golfer.  I split the difference on making my own iced tea and adding Trader Joe’s lemonade.  Just make sure to make a BIG pitcher and add fresh lemon slices, easy on the vodka.  This is an all day drinking affair so slow and steady wins the race.  We also had a selection of beer and wine over in the bar corner as well as in the other rooms.  For the bar set up I decided to riff on the famous Amen Corner of the Augusta National Golf Club.  Amen Corner is a nickname for the 11th, 12th and 13th holes and has something to do with the first time Arnold Palmer won his first Masters (ask a golf expert please – my expertise is parties).  Anyway since our fireplace is a perfect bar set up and in a corner – viola!  Some letters from Paper Source and we have Amen Corner.

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Since Augusta is in Georgia I went with a Southern theme for the food.  Pulled pork sliders are delicious and easy to keep warm in a slow cooker so people can help themselves through out the day.  I made my own but you can also make life easier by ordering from your local BBQ place.  You also need a classic slaw that acts as a veggie side and works so well inside those sliders.  Make sure to have a spoon handy for people to serve the pulled pork and a big bowl of buns.

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To keep the table themed and fun I used a grass table runner you can find on Etsy and glass jars full of golf balls.  The Masters always serves Pimento Cheese sandwiches so I made them using Southern Living’s recipe and then added cute little flags I made out of toothpicks and yellow paper.  Round things out with chips and mini corn muffins and people will have enough food to hang out all day.

DSC03333Last but not least you are going to need something sweet so I made Peaches and Cream Oatmeal cookies (georgia peaches get it??) and had a friend bring her delicious brownies.  Golfers and non golfers alike had a blast – I hope you enjoy this year’s Masters in style.  DSC03335

St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town to celebrate.  DC watch out!  Last year I pulled together this fun little dinner party to celebrate.  Hopefully the menu and pictures inspire you for this Friday. Sláinte!

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Decorating the table is easy for this one – anything green or gold works!  I used my favorite gold flatware and gold and black votive candles.  I just so happen to have several mini beer mugs (don’t you??) that I used to hold a sprinkling of baby’s breath down the middle of the table.  Paired with green linens and a rattan charger for contrast it was a super easy table to pull together.  For additional green, Bells of Ireland and Babys breath in a large vase at the end of the table.

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Black Velvet

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Guinness is essential for a St. Patrick’s day feast, but for those of you who are not a big fan or who want to class it up a bit may I suggest the Black Velvet.  Half Guiness, half Champagne (or in this case Cava) you use the back of the spoon to pour the two which creates this amazing layered effect.  Also the cava brightens up the Guinness making for a lovely drink.

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I served these with an Irish cheese board that included Dubliner cheddar, a Irish whiskey washed cows milk cheese, some fig jam, candied walnuts and a Cashel blue cheese from County Tipperary.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

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I make this every year without fail.  It is hands down the best soda bread recipe I have ever tried and even better, it makes two loaves!  The browned butter gives it a nutty rich taste and the rosemary adds a freshness.  If you have never baked bread, this is where to start as it requires no kneading or pans and is practically impossible to mess up.  Make sure to pick up some good Irish butter to serve it with.

Boston Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

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You have to have some green right?  I love beautiful Boston lettuce (some call it bibb but not this Bostonian!) as its so tender and light.  You can serve it whole like I did which makes it look like you plucked it right from a beautiful Irish garden, or cut into wedges for individual servings.  Drizzled with this buttermilk dressing its a great fresh start to the meal.

Patrick’s Irish Stew Pot Pies

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This stew that I posted last St. Patrick’s day is delicious all on its own but my boy looooves pot pies so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the two.  Also a great excuse to use my cute little shamrock cookie cutters!  Make the stew in advance, then just put into individual bowls.  Defrost some puff pastry, you will probably need 2 sheets for 4 pies.  Cut out circles slightly larger than the top of the bowl.

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Brush the edges of the bowl with egg wash and then top with the puff pastry.  You will need to cut slits in the top to let steam escape or you can use a cookie cutter like I did to make a shamrock hole.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes or so until golden.

Guinness Ice Cream Floats

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No real recipe needed here – just scoop your favorite vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and top with as much Guinness as you would like.  Drizzle on some chocolate sauce and you are in business!  All of these dishes are pretty easy so even when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weeknight you can impress your friends.  Happy St. Patricks!

ACC’s Fave Registry Items for Wedding Season

And so it begins – wedding season.  I am so excited that this year 3 different couples we are friends with have gotten engaged, love is in the air!  Of course that also means showers, registries and combining households.  When Patrick and I got engaged people almost immediately asked where we were registered, as if we had stepped off the beach in Puerto Rico and directly into a Target to start the list.  I know a lot of couples, especially those who meet each other later in life when they are more established, say they don’t need anything so they aren’t going to register.  However, the reality is that people are excited for you and the way they know how to show it is to buy you table linens!  If you don’t register then people will freelance and you will end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need.  Registries have some a long way – you can use sites that consolidate several different stores,  register for travel and other unconventional things.  We registered for a bar for our basement and we use it all the time (thanks Auntie Jan!).

My friends have been asking me what they should register for their kitchen so I figured I would pull some tips together for folks looking to make the most out of their registry and for guests who are struggling with what to buy for their friends and family.  Don’t look for a one size fits all list – every registry is personal to the couple so don’t trust any resource that tells you it has “everything you need.”  The first thing you should do is take stock of what you already have as well as what type of lifestyle you have or plant to have.  Are you big entertainers?  Cocktail enthusiasts?  Cooking shortcut specialists?  This will help you narrow down what direction you should go in.  Then follow some of these themes (I have linked to the items that I registered for and love).

UPGRADE!  This is a familiar refrain in my family as I love to upgrade (sometimes by force) people’s stuff.  I am sure you didn’t wait to meet the love of your life to have coffee cups but do you really like them?  Do they all match?  How about your cookware?  Pots and pans are great for this, especially if you are still using the set you won for free in college.  I love All Clad for saucepans and roasting, Le Creuset for dutch ovens and Swiss Diamond for non stick pans.  Knives are also a good upgrade – your cooking will be so much better if you have good quality knives.

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Small Appliances – The first thing that went on my registry was a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  I had always wanted one, and really could have just bought it for myself, but it always seemed a little extravagant since I already had a hand mixer.  My Aunt Carol got it for me and I use it every single week.  If you don’t have one I cannot recommend it more – it is a counter hog but its such a workhorse and you can buy attachments that make pasta, ice cream, and on and on so you don’t have to buy other appliances.  Other great items are a really nice coffee maker, wine fridge, or food processor.  (This is also a good place to upgrade – how long have you had that toaster??)

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Shop Local – Registering at a small local business not only helps support your community but really gives you the personal touch you lose in the big box stores.  We registered at Hill’s Kitchen, a store you will find me referring to a ton on the blog.  For people who like to actually shop in a brick and mortar store this gives them that option and usually local businesses have unique items you won’t find anywhere else so your registry doesn’t feel as generic.  Leah, the store’s owner, spent a ton of time with us helping us pick out items that were absolutely perfect.  Even better, now when Patrick needs to buy me a present he knows he can head to Hills Kitchen and Leah will know exactly what I like and already have!  I am sure if you ask around in your own town many of your favorite stores are registering people as well.

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Go with the classics – I know a lot of people in my generation think they don’t need fancy china to entertain.  You absolutely don’t need it but once I started thinking about it I really liked the idea of having the same pieces for years and years with all the holidays and family memories attached.  Make sure to pick a pattern that is timeless, we went with Golden Grosgrain by Vera Wang for Wedgewood.  I love the very subtle gold details and how fine the pieces are.  Best of all they go right into the dishwsher, which was a must for me.  I also don’t wait until a holiday to use my china, I pull it out for week night dinners or casual brunches.  Nice heavy flatware is also a good idea – I have 6 place settings for everyday by Laguiole but registered for 12 settings at Crate and Barrel.  Once you start to have larger family meals you will be glad not to mix and match.  Just like with the china, make sure its a classic pattern that isn’t so trendy you will be bored with it in a couple of years.

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Entertaining Pieces – I entertain all the time so glassware, table linens and serving dishes were really important.  Think carefully about how you entertain – if you do lots of dinner parties then tablecloths and linen napkins are a good idea.  Stemless wine glasses work for just about any kind of drink and are easy to store.  Are you the one who always hosts for the big game?  Get a big beverage bucket and a dish for chips and dip.  We actually have two beverage dispensers – they are great for punches for parties or even just water for backyard BBQs.  If you are big into cocktails this spherical ice maker is Patrick’s favorite toy and these shakers are the best.

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Hopefully for couples looking to start their registry this gives you some ideas.  For guests I usually recommend sticking to what the couple wants (thats why they created the registry right?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative.  I really love to get one thing off of someone’s registry and then building a gift around it.  If someone asked for a cocktail shaker get them the one they want along with a bottle of St. Germain, a good cocktail book and some cute glasses to match.  Here is wishing you and your friends and family a lifetime of love and happiness!

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ACC Parties: A Classy Cocktail Affair

Happy Valentines day!  This post is a perfect fit for today – romance and cocktails.  This party plan is for a classy cocktail party which I threw to celebrate the engagement of our dear friends, Erikka and Michael.  They are such an amazing couple so I wanted to go the extra mile to make this one memorable which meant dressing up, gold everywhere and thoughtful touches.  One tough issue to tackle as a hostess is either guests who you aren’t super familiar with or guests that don’t know each other all that well.  That was the case here, with family and friends coming in from all over so I wanted to keep the mood light while still making it feel special.  My solution – a make it yourself cocktail bar.  The centerpiece of this party certainly gave me some sleepless nights leading up to the date (are people going to think I am a jerk asking them to make their own drinks???) but it was a hit!  It really encouraged mingling and being engaged in the party and also freed up myself and Patrick to make sure everyone was felt taken care of with food etc.

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Pick a couple of classic cocktails that are relatively easy to make – I went with the  classic martini, manhattans, negroni and vesper.  I printed out the recipes and framed them so even a cocktail neophyte could be their own mixologist.  Then set out everything people will need to make the cocktails – the key here is in the luxe touches.  Instead of setting out giant bottles of vodka and gin I put them out in pretty decanters.  You will also need a selection of liqueurs like vermouth for the martinis.  We also had sparkling wine (my favorite house one of course) for those who didn’t want to do the cocktail thing so I set out casis, framboise and St. Germain as good toppers for the bubbly.  Red and wine wine as well as some beer rounded out the bar.

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Ramekins with all the garnishes needed like stuffed olives, maraschino cherries and citrus twists meant it was super easy for guests to customize their drink.

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Real glasses are a must here, plastic just won’t do.  Shop around to find something that fits your style and budget. I went with these martini glasses from World Market, that were perfect because of the slight bend in the glass they also worked for sparkling wine, almost like a coupe.  I couldn’t help myself and got custom made martini glasses for the happy couple.

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I always like to give out favors and for this party they served a purpose as well.  I found these great mini shakers on a restaurant supply site and got one per guest.  People used them to make their cocktails and then got to take them home to remember all the fun we had.  The shakers set out out on the table added even more metallic glamour.

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If people are knocking back cocktails all night you want to make sure the food is substantial.  I kept with the classic theme and did old school appetizers, just classed up a little.  Pigs in a blanket are always a favorite but made with puff pastry and poppy seeds they have way more flavor than the original.

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Who doesn’t love a cheese puff?  Gougeres are amazing french cheese puffs and best of all they can be made in advance, frozen and then reheated right before the party.  These went FAST.

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The chicken salad veronique cups that I posted a couple of weeks ago were a perfect one bite so people didn’t have to mess around with forks or knives.

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Add a very substantial cheese board, bowls of olives and nuts, and some dips (I made the groom’s favorite with crudite) and people will have plenty to nosh on while they mix and mingle.

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I ordered these beautiful napkins from For Your Party – they are my favorite resource for customized items and they always turn out beautiful.

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Finish off the party with something sweet – I did my Individual Tiramisu because they are a sentimental favorite of the couple.  You could always head to your local bakery and get a selection of cookies, brownies etc to make things even easier.

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It was an incredible night for an incredible couple.  But don’t wait for friends to get engaged to throw this party – this would be a great way to break up the winter doldrums by getting dressed up and shaking some cocktails.  Wishing everyone a very happy Valentines day and congratulations Erikka and Michael!!

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A Warming Dinner Party

Long weekends are perfect for hosting dinner parties – you have multiple nights you can host and plenty of time to cook, set up and recover.  I used this menu recently on a cold night and it was perfect to shake off the winter blues.  Light some candles, stoke the fire and settle in for a nice night with friends.

Chile Oil-Marinated Goat Cheese

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Easy to make and needs to be made in advance is key when thinking about snacks before dinner.  This checks both boxes – I served the goat cheese with a baguette, some crackers and sliced soppresata along with a couple of bottles of bubbly to start the night off right.

Roasted Prime Rib with Thyme Marsala Sauce

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I had never made prime rib before and man is that hunk of meat intimidating!  Especially when you pay good money for something you really want it to turn out well.  First time was a total hit.  This Giada recipe is easy to follow and delivered a perfectly cooked prime rib with a delicious crust and the sweet and savory sauce that went alongside.  Even if you are a prime rib expert this is one recipe worth trying.

Mashed Potatoes

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Had to give my boy mashed potatoes alongside the prime rib.  Use your favorite recipe or if you want to take it up a notch go with my Over the Top Mashed Potatoes.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

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Posted earlier this month, these sprouts are a quick and easy side that can come together as you make the sauce for the prime rib.

Dark Chocolate Terrine

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Another new to me recipe from the real Contessa that is crazy good.  I could drink the orange sauce straight and be happy but the rich frozen mousse-like terrine is to die for.  Definitely don’t forget to sprinkle with sea salt before serving.  So just head to the grocery store tonight and you can easily host this fabulous dinner party for your friends this weekend.

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

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I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

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You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

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