During the holidays, my phone lights up like a Christmas tree with family and friends looking for ideas on cocktails, wines, and bubbles for their celebrations. Here are some recent favorites that will take the edge off the family drama and take the chill away.
Cocktails are a great way to break the ice at large family meals and gatherings. They can also serve as a simple and elegant accompaniment to dessert, to signal the end of the meal and beginning of a Herculean cleanup and dishwashing effort. Since spirits can be expensive, and since it’s a given that many people will have already imbibed, feel free to make small ones. A little taste can go a long way.
A new fave is a LEMON-BASIL MARTINI. Yes, basil! This was born out of the pangs of guilt felt when throwing away bunches of basil because it would spoil. It’s essentially a lemon drop with a generous fistful of fresh basil leaves. Wash well and pat dry, as basil is often grown in gritty, sandy soil. Roll the basil in your palm to bruise the leaves and drop in a martini shaker with a tablespoon of sugar. Juice a whole small lemon in to the shaker and, heck, throw in that rind as well. Muddle it with a wooden spoon, fill to near the top with ice, and add 8 ounces (about 1 cup) of vodka. Shake the living daylights out of it for a good 10 count, then serve in to small cordial glasses. This will make about six pleasantly green petite martinis. This is equally delicious made with gin instead of vodka, but always, you’ll need to adjust to your tastes.
Another terrific holiday drink is a GINGER MARTINI. Rather than use cloyingly syrupy schnapps, I recommend the intriguing Stone’s Original Ginger, a black currant ginger-infused wine from England. Use three parts vodka to one part Stone’s, shake over ice and serve. Garnish with a lime if you like it tart.
Holidays and cooler weather beg for brown spirits. For a whiskey cocktail try the RED SNAPPER. A value-minded bottle like Seagram's 7 is just fine. Fill a lowball (or small juice glass) with ice. Add 2 ounces of whiskey. This drink calls for diSaronno, but it is definitely not cheap! Either ask a friend or family member to pick up a bottle, or buy a few “airplane bottles.” You won’t need much. Add a splash of the diSaronno and top with cranberry juice. If you like, shake or stir to mix, return to the lowball and garnish with an orange wheel. It’s outrageously good.
There are so many wines of wonderful quality and value that go great with turkey, tofurkey, or whatever might be at your holiday table. A standout is the FAIRVIEW PINOTAGE from South Africa. This funky, strange grape is a cousin of Pinot Noir and, by design, is light enough to accompany poultry or fish. A bonus is this less-than-$10 bargain can often be found on Hannaford’s shelves, making one-stop shopping a possibility.