Merry Christmas! The big day is finally here and hopefully you will find a way to spend the day with your loved ones, whether you’re related by blood or just have kindred spirits.
All month I’ve been sharing recipes for potential food gifts, but I strongly doubt anyone is going to run out to the curb on Christmas morning, find the perfect recipe, go to the store for ingredients, cook, let things cool, then package them up for gift giving after the big Christmas meal. And I don’t want you to have to do that! So I’m looking a week ahead at…New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve is not my favorite, but perhaps you have a party to go to and would like to take a hostess gift. Or maybe you don’t want to go to a party and just want a special cocktail with your sweetheart (that’s my plan). So here’s a little something to freshen up your taste buds and/or make your friends smile.
I have three flavored vodka recipes from Martha Stewart. She had some pretty interesting concoctions, like beet and horseradish, but I know how hard it is to find whole horseradish root in the grocery store so I stuck with three varieties with more commonplace ingredients. How about a fennel and lemon vodka? I’ll take some with tonic, please. Or grapefruit and coriander? Add that to my lemonade, thank you. Or coffee bean and hazelnut? I’ll add that to my white Russian.
Next, I thought it would be nice to have some inspired simple syrups, which can be used for both cocktails or even coffees or desserts. How about lavender and thyme syrup? This one came with a recipe for a spiked vodka lemonade, but it could also be nice in tea or without the vodka. What about ginger and black pepper syrup? This can be used to make your own ginger beer, and then add it into a mule or dark and stormy, or it can just be a fun and innocent drink with a little bite.
And then because we’re not out of cookie season yet, I thought I would include a recipe for pecan bourbon balls. Because it’s still the holidays.
Merry Christmas, and enjoy!
Fennel and lemon vodka
2 sprigs fennel fronds
2 thin lemon slices
1 ½ cups vodka
Infuse for 2 days in an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally, then strain and serve. Keeps at room temperature for up to 1 month or frozen for up to 2 months. Mix this licorice-like blend with tonic and a squeeze of lemon or serve on the rocks.
Grapefruit zest and coriander vodka
2 strips grapefruit zest
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 ½ cups vodka
Infuse for 3 days in an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally, then strain and serve. Keeps at room temperature for up to 1 month or frozen for up to 2 months. Add an extra zip of spiced citrus to a Salty Dog or sparkling lemonade.
Coffee bean and hazelnut
4 coffee beans
2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts
1 ½ cups vodka
Infuse for 3 days in an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dark place and shake occasionally, then strain and serve. Keeps at room temperature for up to 1 month or frozen for up to 2 months. Try this coffeehouse-inspired combo with a little simple syrup, a splash of heavy cream, and some ice.
Lavender-thyme simple syrup
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup dried lavender
1 bunch fresh thyme (or 2 tablespoons dried)
Boil sugar and 3⁄4 cup water in a 2-quart saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Add lavender and thyme; let herb syrup cool completely.
To make into a delightful lemonade with vodka: strain the syrup into a pitcher filled with ice. Stir in 4 cups of sparkling lemon soda, 1 cup vodka, and ½ cup lemon juice. Garnish with sliced lemons.
Ginger and black pepper syrup
1 6-inch piece of ginger root
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1⁄2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Peel and thinly slice ginger; transfer to a 2-quart saucepan. Add sugar, water, and peppercorns; boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sugar is dissolved. Chill overnight, then strain into an 8-ounce glass jar.
To make homemade ginger beer: mix one part syrup with three parts soda water and stir. Then this can be used for a wide variety of cocktails.
Pecan bourbon balls
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons honey
3 cups digestive biscuits, finely ground
3 cups pecans, coarsely ground
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6 tablespoons bourbon whiskey
Pour 1/2 cup of the ground pecans in a bowl and set aside.
Mix chocolate chips and honey in a medium sized microwaveable bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave at full power for 1-2 minutes until all the chips are melted and the mixture can be stirred smooth with no lumps remaining. Note: If you prefer, you can melt the chocolate and honey in a saucepan over medium-low heat on the stovetop.
Immediately stir ground digestive biscuits, pecans and whiskey into the melted mixture. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly blended. The mixture will be thick, but loose and grainy. Scoop out mixture with a teaspoon, then gently squeeze into a ball shape with your hands. If the mixture becomes too dry and loose, it can be reheated for 30 seconds in the microwave to make shaping easier.
Roll the balls in the reserved ground pecans, and lay each bourbon ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate; the flavor will develop fully in four days.
For pretty presentation as either a homemade food gift or holiday party favor, place the bourbon balls in colorful card stock cones. These bourbon balls will last up to four weeks if kept refrigerated in a covered container.