Friday, December 4, 2009

Holiday Spirits: Cocktails

December is a month that is filled with celebrations: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and most importantly, my birthday! Our December is especially packed this year with a cousin’s wedding and a new birthday added to the month – my niece’s first birthday! With holiday parties likely starting up this weekend, I thought I would help kick off the month’s festivities with some fun cocktails.

I am typically a traditionalist when it comes to cocktails. I like my classic cosmopolitan, lime margarita, and when it comes to adding other ingredients to champagne, I think you shouldn’t mess with a good thing. In the latest round of cooking magazines I’ve received in the mail, several recipes have caught my eye, and I decided I could be adventurous. These cocktails are creative and have a special touch like fresh herbs or frozen fruit.

The Sparkling Cranberry Punch is a recipe I made five years ago for a holiday dinner with our friends in New York. We set a bottle of vodka out next to the punch bowl, so those who were interested could spike their drink. The Cranberry Liqueur has been a family tradition for Christmas Eve or our annual cousin game night. It is pretty strong, but is a lot of fun to make your own flavored vodka. This can make a great gift bottled up. Of the new recipes, my favorite that we tried is the Pomegranate-Rosemary Royale. It is a twist on a traditional kir royle, and the rosemary really makes this a seasonal cocktail.

Pomegranate-Rosemary Royale

(From Cooking Light, November 2009)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
2 cups Champagne or sparkling wine

Combine 1/4 cup water and sugar in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add rosemary; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.

Pour 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice and 1 tablespoon rosemary syrup into 4 Champagne glasses. Top each serving with 1/2 cup Champagne. Garnish with rosemary, if desired. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 drinks.

Sparkling Cranberry Punch

(From Better Crocker’s Entertaining Basics)
1 (12-oz.) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 ½ cups cold water
1 (64-oz.) bottle cranberry juice, chilled
4 (12-oz.) cans ginger ale or Sprite, chilled
For Ice Ring:
Sliced fruit, berries, strips of orange, lemon, or lime peel and mint leaves
Water or fruit juice

Mix the lemonade concentrate and cold water in a pitcher. Stir in the cranberry juice. Pour into a punch bowl.

Just before serving, stir in the ginger ale (or Sprite). Add the ice ring (see below) or ice cubes.

Ice Ring:
Choose a ring mold or bundt cake pan that fits inside your punch bowl. For color, arrange sliced fruit, berries, strips of orange, lemon, or lime peel and mint leaves in mold. Slowly add just enough water or fruit juice to partially cover fruit (too much water will make the fruit float); freeze. When frozen, add enough water or fruit juice to fill mod three-fourths full; freeze overnight or at least 12 hours to make sure ice ring is solid. Unmold ring and place in punch bowl fruit side up.

Makes 24 servings (about ¾ cup each).

French 75
(From Raley’s "Something Extra", Holiday, 2009)
2 oz. lemon juice
1½ oz. gin
2 tsp. powdered sugar
4 oz. champagne or sparkling wine
Maraschino cherry

Shake 2 oz. lemon juice, 1½ oz. gin and 2 tsp. powdered sugar with ice; strain into a tall glass. Top with 4 oz. champagne or sparkling wine and stir. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Makes 1 drink.

Sparkling Mojito

(From Raley’s "Something Extra", Holiday, 2009)
2 oz. rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1 tbsp. powdered sugar
5 mint leaves
2 oz. sparkling wine

Stir 2 oz. rum, 3/4 oz. lime juice and 1 tbsp. powdered sugar together in a cocktail shaker or small pitcher. Muddle 5 mint leaves (by mashing against the side with a long-handled spoon) in the shaker. Strain into a tall glass over ice, top with 2 oz. sparkling wine and stir lightly to mix. Garnish with a sprig of mint, if you like.

Makes 1 drink.

Citrus Basil Sparkler
(From Raley’s "Something Extra", Holiday, 2009)
2 oz. pink lemonade
2 oz. orange juice
1/4 tsp. basil (optional)
3 oz. sparkling wine

Combine 2 oz. pink lemonade, 2 oz. orange juice and 1/4 tsp. basil (optional) in a cocktail shaker or small pitcher. Pour into a tall champagne flute and gently stir in 3 oz. sparkling wine.

Makes 1 drink.

Cranberry Liqueur
(From Cooking Light, December, 2003)
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
3 cups vodka

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and cool completely.

Place cranberries in a food processor; process 2 minutes or until finely chopped. Combine sugar mixture and cranberries in a large bowl; stir in vodka.

Pour the vodka mixture into clean jars; secure with lids. Let stand 3 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every other day.

Strain the cranberry mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl, and discard solids. Carefully pour liqueur into clean bottles or jars.

Presented in small decanters or glass bottles, Cranberry Liqueur makes a memorable gift. Attach a gift tag and include the following: "Cranberry Cosmopolitan: 1/2 cup Cranberry Liqueur, 1/4 cup Cointreau, 2 tablespoons lime juice. Mix with 1 cup crushed ice; strain into martini glass. Makes 2 cocktails."

Yield: 4 1/2 cups (serving size: 1/4 cup)

Note: Liqueur can be stored refrigerated or at room temperature for up to a year.

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