Visiting Vienna Christmas Markets

If you have ever been tempted to visit Christmas markets in Europe, I hope this post will convince you to finally book the trip. We spent time in Vienna last December and the experience left me speechless. After a year to gather my thoughts, I’m sharing the highlights with what to drink and eat when visiting Vienna Christmas Markets.

Visiting the Vienna Christmas Markets | Fake Food Free

I haven’t fully decided how I feel about the term bucket list. I’m not a huge fan, but that might just be because it is so popular and overused. At the same time, I lack an appropriate name for my list of places to see in this world.

Must-go, must-see, travel list? They all feel rather boring. Especially with the places that I have on my list. I feel like the name needs to match the magnitude of the experiences.

So while I’m searching for a name, I’m slowly progressing through my list (whatever it is called).

A big, and I mean huge, destination for me, became a reality last December. We’ve been to Vienna a few times now and it remains one of my favorite places in the world, but I’ve always wanted to go in December to see the Christmas markets.


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Ginger and Black Peppercorn Hot Tea Recipe

This hot tea combines ginger and black peppercorns for a slightly spicy drink that will warm you up. A recipe I learned from friends while living in Brazil, it is a non-alcoholic twist on the Quentão we used to drink there during the winter.  

Ginger and Black Peppercorn Hot Tea Recipe | Fake Food Free

During one of the Julys we spent in Brazil, I helped a friend host a party for her English students and she made this tea. I know what you are thinking — hot tea in July? But remember, U.S. summer = Brazil winter, and where we were in the south, it did get pretty fall-like.

It is a non-alcoholic version of the warm wine drink, Quentão, that is enjoyed during Festas Juninas celebrations. This drink, often described as a mulled wine, was made in large volumes with very, um, affordable wine and often cachaça so it’s surprising that I liked it, but the spicy flavor of the fresh ginger won me over. 


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Frozen White Russian Cocktails

Turn your White Russian cocktail into a spiked frozen treat with this recipe!

Frozen White Russian Cocktail | Fake Food Free

I like to keep my desserts and my cocktails separate. I’m rarely tempted by the spiked dessert shakes or fancy frozen drinks that show up on restaurant menus.

But that is when I’m dining out. This? This is when I’m at home. No way am I passing up a frosty combination of spirits and ice cream at home. It’s a lot more fun to be creative with frozen cocktails in your own kitchen than to pay someone else to do it for you. At least that is how I feel about it.

I love both Black and White Russians, which is no surprise considering that I am a huge coffee fan. So with some coffee ice cream in the freezer and a few warm days lingering from summer, I thought a frozen cocktail would be a welcome addition to a rather long week.

Frozen White Russian Cocktail | Fake Food Free… 

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Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos


Las Vegas |
Las Vegas — you either love it or hate it. After about 11 years of traveling there, I’ve given up on arguing with anyone in the hate it category. I just enjoy the fact that we love it. We take it in small doses. I only want to be there a couple nights at a time, but I still want to be there.

Knowing that I’m not anything close to a high roller, everyone always asks — what do you do?

First, we walk.

As touristy as it is, I love the Bellagio fountains and the botanical garden. I like to see what gorgeous flower arrangements the Aria and Palazzo have on display. We’ve seen the majority of the Cirque de Soleil shows on the strip. This time we went downtown to the new Smith Center to see The Book of Mormon. We’ve also taken a drive around the area on the trips that we’ve rented a car. Then we each sit down at our favorite machines — an animated bonus slot for me — and spend barely $20 in a night while drinking a few (free) cocktails.


It’s always a nice break from my day to day reality. Yes, you have to deal with lots of tourists, but you get to do it while carrying around a beer to help ease the frustration.


This trip we booked Spirit airlines for the first time. We took the extra charges for overhead baggage as a challenge and each packed a shoulder bag for the weekend that fit snugly under the seat.


That meant no camera, but it turns out that we had some really great food and food experiences this visit. So I committed to taking the best iPhone photos I could manage to ensure I could share the highlights of our food and drink adventures.


The good thing about coming from the Bay Area is that we arrive by 7:30 am, so after checking in, we went straight to breakfast. Like most tourists, we’ve visited Serendipity 3 for the frozen hot chocolate. This time we learned that you can have a very pleasant, calm and delicious breakfast there before 9:30 am.


The menu said that the Fried Eggs Benedict was two poached eggs that had been rolled in cornmeal and fried (I know!) on top of biscuits and Canadian bacon with hollandaise AND sausage gravy. It sounds so heavy, right? But you are probably thinking of a loaded diner version, like I was, and not this.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos |
 Yeah, I had to order it and I am so glad I did. The flavors were beautifully balanced and now I have a new project – fried poached eggs.


Oh and I love their coffee, too. They add cinnamon and nutmeg!


We’re big on dropping in the ABC store or a drugstore for an inexpensive beer and we were pleased to find some craft options this trip. Namely, Oskar Blues that we just visited in Colorado a few weeks ago.


Earl of Sandwich in Planet Hollywood is our go-to place for cheap eats and they are open 24 hours. As a result, I had my favorite sandwich for breakfast on our second morning — the Holiday Turkey. Yes, everything is on there that you are thinking — turkey, cranberry, stuffing and gravy. But like my meal at Serendipity 3, it’s well done. Just a little of everything so it’s not too filling or a big mess. Okay, it looks like a big mess, but it’s so good!


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
We swung in Grand Lux Cafe in the Palazzo for a light lunch. This is usually a safe bet for good food and their portions are massive so we always split something. We went for the Asian Nachos and they were so much better than I was expecting! Fried wontons with chicken in a peanut sauce. I already have the wheels turning in my head for a version with homemade wontons.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
We have yet to have a bad meal or bad service at Mon AmiGabi in Paris. Both are always excellent, which keeps us coming back when we want a high quality, mid-priced meal (for the Strip). I’m not a huge fan that they like to serve grain-fed beef as I prefer grass-fed, but the food is always delicious. One of my long time favorites is this warm brie with honey, black pepper, roasted garlic cloves and hazelnuts.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
Now on to one of our most fun and memorable meals in Vegas. I always go on about how great blogging is for introducing me to outstanding people, and it’s happened again with Tracey of Salty Sweet Life. We met online and ended up taking Todd Porter and Diane Cu’s photography course in Orange County in May where we met in person.


She and her husband live in Las Vegas so we met up with them for drinks, dinner and dessert. They took us to the The Lady Sylvia for drinks and while I didn’t snap any photos, trust me, this is one cool bar. It has a relaxing lounge-slash-library feel and we both had delicious beer cocktails. I had the The Dapper Don with Hendricks Gin and Ballast Point IPA.

Dinner was at Lotus of Siam. This is one place off the Strip that we had actually been to before. It was five years ago and before I had such a strong interest in Thai food and before we’d traveled to Thailand. That was long before I’d heard about the Northern Thai menu from both Tracey and by watching the Vegas episode of Parts Unknown.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
We ordered a selection of Northern Thai treats and every bite was delicious. My favorite was the Sai Oua (pork sausage) — nice and spicy and packed with the flavor of Kaffir Lime.


When our hosts told us they were going to take us to a new place for dessert, I thought okay, cool, we’ll grab frozen yogurt or something.


Um, not quite. Wow, were we in for an experience.


We headed to Sweets Raku. A dessert bar with the creations of Japanese dessert artist, Mio Ogasawara. We were greeted with the option of a prix fixe menu or ordering ala carte, all printed on an edible menu of rice paper and a candy ring. We were later given a raspberry sauce for dipping the menu.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
Needless to say, we did the prix fixe. The first course was pre-set, a refreshing pineapple sorbet with white wine jelly.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
For the second course, Tracey and I chose the Carib. A coconut panna cotta that included so much good stuff that I won’t be able to remember it all. Here’s what I do recall — cantaloupe sorbet, kiwi and a brûléed banana slice. A white chocolate disk was set on top of the glass and just before serving a warm mango sauce was poured through it to melt it. Outstanding.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos
My husband had the Stella (strawberry tiramisu), a mix of fresh strawberries and cream over cake. We also had a great seat for the action to watch its intricate construction before serving.


Las Vegas Eats and Drinks in iPhone Photos


The final course was a cream puff with our choice of cream and fruit sauce. I chose vanilla with black currant. The puff was served with two gelled cube, one of which was passion fruit, my favorite.


As you would expect, it was an unforgettable experience and more proof to support my argument — visit Las Vegas. Stay on the Strip and get off the Strip. There is good stuff to be found just about everywhere.


Spicy Cilantro-Lime Michelada Recipe

Create a cocktail that is full of fresh, spicy flavor with this Michelada recipe!

Spicy Cilantro-Lime Michelada Recipe | Fake Food Free

Our local Mexican restaurant makes the best Micheladas. In fact, I’d never had a Michelada before my husband convinced me to try one during a meal there less than a year ago. The spicy original flavor is delicious, but they make about eight or ten flavored ones, too. The guava version is darn tasty as well.

I had an easy description of the drink in my head, ready to type, but then a little research showed me that explaining it was going to be more difficult than I had anticipated. That’s because I’ve learned there is a bit of controversy about whether you call this drink a Michelada or a Chelada.

In their book, Beer Cocktails, Howard and Ashley Stelzer say that the Michelada is the drink that contains no tomato juice (just lime, beer, salt and Worcestershire or Maggi seasoning). It’s the Chelada that has the added tomato or Clamato juice. But they also say that there are many others that believe it’s the exact opposite.

Last night we watched the Mexico episode of Parts Unknown and wouldn’t you know it, Anthony Bourdain had a Michelada. From what I could tell, it didn’t look like there was tomato juice added.

But our local restaurant has something different to say about it. The menu states that Micheladas became popular in Mexico in the 1940s when people started mixing beer with hot sauce or salsa, and it must include lime and salt to be a true Michelada.

Since my first experience with a Michelada was with tomato juice, that is what I’m going with here.

A few weeks ago, I was sent a sample of Tecate Light and that is really how I decided that this year’s Cinco de Mayo post would be a Michelada. After tasting it, my husband and I both thought it would be perfect mixed in with the tomato juice, lime and spicy seasonings.

Instead of using a prepared tomato juice, I decided to juice fresh tomatoes for a raw juice and add seasonings. I used a centrifugal juicer to make the juice and I fed through a handful of cilantro with the tomatoes. I spiced it up with hot sauce, garlic powder, black pepper and salt and added plenty of lime juice. The one thing I didn’t have was the Maggi seasoning. That is sometimes substituted with Worcestershire sauce, but I didn’t have that either. If you have either on hand, you can add a splash to make it more authentic.

Spicy Cilantro-Lime Michelada Recipe | Fake Food Free

The combination of the raw tomato juice with the cilantro and Tecate Light made this Michelada light and refreshing with a pleasant, lingering burn from the hot sauce. As tomato season gets into full swing, I have a feeling this may become our go-to summer cocktail. Cheers and ¡Salud!

Spicy Cilantro-Lime Michelada Recipe

Servings: 4

5 small tomatoes (I used Romas)
¼ cup packed cilantro leaves
1 ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. hot sauce (I used Cholula)
¾ tsp fine ground sea salt
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2, 12 oz. cans light Mexican beer, cold (I used Tecate light)

To rim the glasses
3 tsp fine ground sea salt
Zest of 1 lime
Large pinch of ground cayenne pepper

Lime wedges

Make the juice by processing the tomatoes and cilantro in a centrifugal juicer. Stir in the lime juice, hot sauce, ¾ teaspoon of sea salt, garlic powder and ground black pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. You can also speed this up by popping it in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

On a plate, stir together the 3 teaspoons of salt, lime zest and cayenne. Rub a wedge of lime over the top edge of each serving glass and rim with the spicy lime salt.

Fill each glass half full with ice. Pour 3 ounces of tomato juice into each glass. Top with 4 to 6 ounces of cold beer. Add a lime wedge and serve.

Spicy Cilantro-Lime Michelada Recipe | Fake Food Free
Disclosure: The Tecate Light used in this recipe was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so. 

12 Favorite Kentucky Derby Recipes

12 Favorite Kentucky Derby Recipes | Fake Food Free

You don’t have to live in Kentucky long to catch the Derby bug. We were there for about ten years, but I was hooked after our very first Derby celebration.

Did I mention that I’ve never actually been to the Kentucky Derby?

Everyone seems shocked when I tell them this. It’s a bit of a long story, but you basically have two choices – the infield with loads of intoxicated folks having a good time where you can’t even get a clear view of the race (or so I’ve been told), or tickets for the Grandstand side which, if you can even get your hands on some, are a bit expensive. Add to that, all the people I know who have gone (on the Grandstand side) and had a less than stellar time to see the big, but very short, race.

Compare that to hanging out at the local race track, Keeneland, in Lexington and watching the race on the big screen or having your own party at home. No traffic, no hot sun, you can still wear a hat if you want and there are plenty of bourbon-based beverages and good food.

What can I say? The latter won out for us every year.

Over those ten Kentucky Derbies, and within the past year, I’ve made a few favorite recipes that are perfect for celebrating the big day. Most with bourbon, some with mint and others with Kentucky classics in mind. There will be more to come in the future, but these should give you plenty of ideas for your own Derby celebration whether you need breakfast, brunch, drinks or dessert.

(Click on the recipe name to go to the recipe.)

Cornmeal Waffles with Bananas Foster Sauce from Jonathan’s Bluegrass Table

Bourbon Sweet Potato Waffles with Maple Cinnamon Butter

Mint Julep Scones

Bourbon Banana Scones with Walnuts

Wild Ginger Mint Julep

Kentucky Bourbon-Vanilla Soaked Cherries

Kentucky Bourbon Dogs

Pimento Cheese Dinner Rolls

Maple Bourbon Budino with Spiced Pecans from Bakeless Sweets

Mint Julep Blondies

Bourbon Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies with Coconut Oil

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and Pretzel Caramels

Pink & Black Rosemary Vodka Martini with Owl’s Brew

Welcome to the first cocktail week on Fake Food Free. This week I’m recapping some of the excellent cocktail mixers I discovered at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January. This is post three of three. Check out post one and two for more great drink ideas!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m attracted to cool packaging, especially bottles. This usually leads me to all kinds of good stuff for the kitchen – olive oils, sea salts, and this time, cocktail mixers!

I heard about Owl’s Brew before I attended the food show in January so I was on the lookout. What is different about Owl’s Brew is that it’s all about tea. There are three different blends, two made with black tea and one with English breakfast tea. The teas are brewed with whole spices, fruit peels, fruits and herbs, and slightly sweetened with agave. The idea is to use two parts of Owl’s Brew to one part of your favorite spirits and plenty of suggestions are provided on the bottle.

Cocktails using tea are something new to me and Owl’s Brew served as the perfect introduction. I’ve steered away from mixers in the past, but with less sugar and all the natural ingredients in this, I can see keeping a bottle around for good. You can also get all three flavors in a sampler pack. Gift giving for cocktail and tea lovers is totally taken care of!

So how about those flavors. I mentioned there are three:
Coco-Lada – Black tea with chai spices, pineapple and coconut
Pink & Black – Black tea with strawberries, lemon peel and hibiscus
The Classic – English breakfast tea with lemon peel

I had a sample of Pink & Black to work with. I tried it with a lager at the show and it was delicious as a beer cocktail. This time around I wanted to concentrate on the strawberry flavor that comes through in the brew. I love rosemary and strawberry so a vodka martini seemed like a good idea.

And a good idea, it was. This drink is nice and simple with both the rosemary and the flavor of the Pink & Black tea mixer coming through. It’s also a beautiful deep pink color. Perfect for spring!


Pink & Black Rosemary Vodka Martini with Owl’s Brew

Makes: 1 drink

2.5 oz. vodka
1.5 oz. Pink & Black Owl’s Brew
2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary

Place the vodka in a cocktail shaker and add the leaves of one of the sprigs of rosemary. Mull the leaves with the vodka to extract the oils.

Pour in the Owl’s Brew. Add ice. Cover and shake until cold.

Strain the martini into a glass. Garnish with a rosemary sprig and serve.

Disclosure: This product was provided for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so.

Hibiscus Limón Grapefruit Margarita and Wild Ginger Mint Julep with Mixer Elixir

Welcome to the first cocktail week on Fake Food Free. This week I’m recapping some of the excellent cocktail mixers I discovered at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January. This is post two of three. Check out post one for more great drink ideas!

The first place I stopped while at the food show was the new products pavilion. I love this area because it is full of passionate small companies who are excited about their products and they hope that you will be, too.  

Nicely displayed in a corner booth, Mixer Elixir was a product that immediately caught my attention. I loved the trendy jars and logo design, and I think it’s been pretty well established that I like cocktails.

These drink mixers are from the San Diego-based company Praline Patisserie, created by pastry chef, Cruz Caudillo. They use few ingredients like fresh herbs, fruits and pure cane sugar to create a syrup that can be used to flavor seltzer water, teas, and of course, cocktails.

I had two varieties to try – Hibiscus Limón and Wild Ginger. Each has cocktail suggestions on the bottle.

For the Hibiscus Limón, a margarita with orange juice was suggested. But because I can’t think of hibiscus without thinking about Jamaica, and I also associate grapefruits with Jamaica, I added my own twist with grapefruit juice. Yes, I know we’re talking tequila and not rum (which I also associate with Jamaica), but trust me, a margarita is a winner with this one. The Hibiscus Limón is rich, sweet and tangy. It would make a unique soda mixed with seltzer or club soda as well.

The Wild Ginger has a wonderful spicy flavor and bourbon was the first thing that came to my mind. So I spiced up one of my favorite drinks, the Mint Julep. I may make all my Mint Juleps like this from now on. The kick from the ginger isn’t lost in sweetness like it can often be with sodas. I might even venture to use this Elixir as a flavoring in desserts.

In addition to keeping one around for myself, Mixer Elixir is going on my gift-ideas list. I like that both non-alcoholic and cocktail options are offered on each bottle making them perfect for just about everyone.

Hibiscus Limón Grapefruit Margarita

Makes: 1 drink

3 oz. red grapefruit juice
2 oz. gold tequila
2 oz. Mixer Elixir Hibiscus Limón
.5 oz. lime juice
Salt for rim of glass (I used this grapefruit sea salt)
Lime slices for garnish

Place the grapefruit juice, tequila, Mixer Elixir and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, cover and shake until cold.

Fill a salt-rimmed glass with ice. Strain the margarita into the glass. Garnish with a lime slice and serve.

Wild Ginger Mint Julep

Makes: 1 drink

2 oz. Kentucky bourbon
2 oz. Mixer Elixir Wild Ginger
2 sprigs fresh mint
Crushed Ice

Place the bourbon in a cocktail shaker with one sprig of the mint. Mull the mint with the bourbon to extract the oils. Add the Mixer Elixir and stir.

Pack a mint julep glass full with crushed ice. Strain the cocktail into the glass, over the ice. Garnish with the second mint sprig and serve.

Disclosure: This product was provided to me for review purposes. I was not required to write about it and received no compensation for doing so.

Cocktail Week: Lemongrass Mint Vanilla Cooler and Ginger Lemon Bourbon and Brandy with Ayala’s Herbal Water®

Welcome to the first cocktail week on Fake Food Free. This week I’m recapping some of the excellent cocktail mixers I discovered at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January. This is post one of three.

I gave up my beloved diet soda about five years ago (I used to drink 3 cans a day!). It was a big step in cutting artificial sweeteners out of my diet and one of the best decisions I’ve made.

While I can’t even think about drinking a diet soda these days, there is something I still crave often. The carbonation. We make our own club soda all the time, but I’m always on the lookout for flavored carbonated waters without any sweeteners. Especially when we need something for a road trip or when we make cocktails at home.

Let me introduce you to my new favorite find – Ayala’s Herbal Water®. I was thrilled to discover this product at the Fancy Food Show last month. Ayala’s Herbal Water® is water infused with organic herbal extracts. It has no sugar, no sweeteners and no preservatives. It also comes in both still and sparkling varieties.

The flavor combinations are anything but boring, but I thought me simply showing you water in a post might be. So I decided a couple cocktails were in order. The sparkling varieties are perfect for cocktails.
I had four sparkling flavors to try — Lemongrass Mint Vanilla, Cinnamon Orange Peel, Ginger Lemon Peel and Lavender Mint. There were none that I disliked, but my favorite surprised me. It was the Lemongrass Mint Vanilla and typically I’m not a huge mint fan. I really enjoyed how the vanilla flavor came through with this one and the mint was balanced by both that and the lemongrass.

None of the flavors need much to be turned into a great cocktail, especially since the refreshing flavor of the water should come through. I decided to use the Lemongrass Mint Vanilla and the Ginger Lemon Peel. A great choice. (P.S. The Lavender Mint is great with gin and the Cinnamon Orange Peel goes well with dark rum.)

Both of these drinks are perfect for spring, which is already arriving here in California. Proof is in all the gorgeous mint that I picked out of our herb garden. I hope spring makes it your way soon!

Lemongrass Mint Vanilla Cooler

Makes: 1 drink

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. dark rum
3 oz. Lemon Grass Mint Vanilla Ayala’s Herbal Water®
Mint sprig

Add the vodka and rum to a lowball glass and stir. Add the water. Add ice to fill the glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig and serve.

Ginger Lemon Bourbon and Brandy

Makes: 1 drink

1 oz. Kentucky bourbon
.5 oz. brandy
½ tsp honey
3 oz. Ginger Lemon Peel Ayala’s Herbal Water®
Lemon slice for garnish

Add the bourbon, brandy and honey to a small cocktail shaker. Stir well to dissolve the honey.
Pour into a lowball glass. Add the water. Add ice to fill the glass.
Garnish with a lemon slice and serve.

Disclosure: This product was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to post about it and received no compensation for doing so.

8 Best Cocktails for New Year’s Eve

After two weeks of travel to visit New York City, explore the Christmas markets in Vienna and Krakow, and spend time with family in Indiana and Kentucky, I’m back at my computer. 
2013 has been so amazing I can hardly put it into words. I’m sure I’ll miss some things, but here are a few highlights.
Aside from how wonderful it is to now be a California resident, I also live by the water with access to fresh seafood and salty air. Something I’ve always wanted to do.
I ran my first marathon. (And I ran it across this.)
My husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.
I landed my first magazine column. (You can find it at Hobby Farm Home.)
I’ve finally (successfully) transitioned into a full-time freelancer. Writing about food, developing recipes and taking food photos is now my job. 
I got to gaze in awe at Lake Tahoe for my 35thbirthday. 
I was able to show my family around the Bay Area on their first visit to California.
I saw New York City at Christmas time.
I explored the Christmas markets of Vienna and Krakow.
What a year! I have no idea how 2014 is going to top it, but I’m convinced that it will.
A great year deserves a special toast. So here are 8 of my favorite cocktails to help you close out 2013 and ring in the New Year. Some are here on Fake Food Free, and others are from the work I’ve done for the blog the Daily Squeeze. 
(Just click on the drink name to get to the recipe.)

What will you be toasting to on Tuesday night? Any favorite memories from 2013?
Happy New Year!!