One of the best parts of the holiday season is having a reason to enjoy lots of parties. And whether it is just a few family members or a house packed with friends, for many people, a holiday party is not a real party without seasonal beverages. But year after year, party after party, many people reuse the same classic recipes. This year, try putting a new spin on those classic recipes by tweaking them with other traditional holiday flavors and ingredients.
Most iced punches start with a base of soda and fruit juice. With a little bit of creativity, you can make your regular punch a standout. If you like the color and taste of cranberries, try mixing a liter of cranberry juice with a cup of orange juice and a dash of lemon juice. Top with ginger ale, and, if you want an adult version, add pomegranate liqueur and light rum. With the variety of flavored vodkas available these days, punch bases can be tweaked with nearly any flavor you might like, including peppermint, cranberry-apple and even pumpkin pie.
If you want to try something different, try a recipe that is centuries old: wassail, as featured in the carol "Here We Come A-Wassailing." Combine 4 cups each of hot tea, cranberry juice and apple juice with 2 cups orange juice, one cup of sugar and 3/4 cup lemon juice. Heat and steep three 3-inch cinnamon sticks and 12 cloves in the mix. When you serve, feel free to add a finger or two of bourbon.
There is something so comforting about mulled cider and mulled wine. Warming spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, clove, orange zest, allspice, peppercorns, anise and nutmeg can accentuate and transform the natural flavors. Gently warm your cider or red wine, adding sugar and your favorite spices. But remember, as the liquid reduces, flavors will become more concentrated, so only use ciders and wines you like drinking normally. Adults can add apple brandy, orange liqueur or reposado tequila to the cider. Regular brandy can be added to mulled wine.
Or if you would like to sample a holiday tradition from outside America, try making Swedish glog. Steep cardamom, cloves, ginger, orange peel and cinnamon in red wine overnight before heating the wine and adding sugar and aquavit. Aquavit is a vodka-like liquor that gets its flavor from caraway seeds, adding a bit of rye bread flavor to the beverage.
Those same warming spices can also be used to spice up your hot cocoa. Even cayenne and other chilies, along with a dash of salt, can be used to make the chocolate taste richer and deeper. Instead of just marshmallows or whipped cream, try also topping your hot cocoa with chocolate chips, maraschino cherries, candy canes, cinnamon candies or adding vanilla or almond extracts. Don't be afraid to experiment with white or dark chocolate when making hot chocolate. And for those who want a dash of alcohol, whiskey, rum, coffee and chocolate liqueurs, blanco tequila and cherry or cinnamon vodkas make great additions.
*Sparking Wine and Sparking Apple Cider Cocktails
If you are hosting a brunch or lunch party during the holidays, sparkling wine cocktails (or sparkling apple cider for a nonalcoholic version) are just the thing. An easy holiday twist on the mimosa is the poinsettia: sparkling wine plus cranberry juice. Similarly, other juices, nectars or syrups, such as pomegranate or raspberry, can be used. Berries or wedges of fruit can be floated in these cocktails. And for those looking for an extra kick, bitters, orange liqueurs (such as triple sec, Cointreau or Gran Mariner) or grenadine can be used to top a sparkling wine cocktail. Alternatively, these juices can be mixed with vodka to make colorful and tasty holiday martinis.
There is comfort in returning to tried-and-true recipes, especially if it is a family recipe you grew up with. But if you're up for experimenting, there are plenty of holiday flavors that can be easily incorporated into those recipes to make them your own. Citruses, spices and berries can turn those standard recipes into superstars. And these ingredients are very forgiving, so making a mistake is nearly impossible, and you can relax and focus on your party.