Recipes from five experts will help make your party a success
You say you’re hosting a holiday gathering? Of course, other folks in your circle of family and friends have the exact same idea. So how do you make your shindig stand out?
Well, start with a cool Evite, a smorgasbord of delicious food, and—the clincher—some of the best, most creative cocktails—which you mix up. For the latter, we present these five seasonal drinks, provided by chefs and bartenders at some of our local dining and drinking spots. They’re sure to have the whole party toasting your hosting prowess.
—Bill Hoffman, co-owner and executive chef, The House of William & Merry, Hockessin
Interestingly enough, this is the only hot cocktail on our list, and also probably the most labor-intensive. Bill Hoffman microwaves two ounces of Hine cognac with a half-ounce of wild cinnamon gastrique, which he makes in-house, insisting it’s not too difficult to make.
“A gastrique is basically vinegar, sugar and fruit or vegetable —in this case raw cinnamon bark—and can even help with digestion,” Hoffman says. “I use champagne vinegar in my gastrique because it provides a nice tangy flavor profile.”
For the gastrique, Hoffman starts by simmering a half-cup of sugar, two ounces of cinnamon bark and a quarter cup of water until the mixture begins to bubble. He cooks it down, reducing the sauce by about one-third, then adds the champagne vinegar. Once it gets to a syrup consistency (after an hour or two), he strains the liquid.
As for the garnish on the Finnigan, Bill uses muddled ginger in the bottom of the glass, pouring the cognac and gastrique over top, then transfers that mixture to a separate glass, where, waiting on the bottom, is orange confit.
Confit is French for cooking food in oil, grease or sugar water, the latter of which Bill uses with navel oranges. He slices them thin (about ¼-inch), removes the seeds, and places them in simple syrup (a cup of sugar melted into a cup of water on medium heat).
He then places the orange slices in the warm mixture, keeping the heat low, until the pits are translucent. “You can leave them in the liquid and eat them cold and they’ll dissolve in your mouth,” he says. “They serve as a different twist on the standard orange you’d find at the bottom of an Old Fashioned, and they are a nice treat to snack on when you’re done with the drink.”
Egg Nog Brandy Alexander
—Robert Lhulier, chef, University & Whist Club, Wilmington
Since his days working at the legendary Chef’s Table at the former David Finney Inn in Old New Castle, Robert Lhulier has been pleasing guests with his personal take on the Brandy Alexander. Now at the University & Whist Club, Lhulier still relies on this classic during the holiday season.
“I started drinking Brandy Alexanders in my 20s and really fell in love with them around Christmas time,” Lhulier says. “But I wanted to sort of put my own spin on things, and bringing in egg nog seemed appropriate for the time of year.”
Lhulier replaces the fresh cream with a scoop of quality French vanilla ice cream, like Häaagen-Dazs or Breyers, along with three ounces of good store-bought egg nog, like Hy-Point or Wawa Gold. He dumps those ingredients, along two ounces of brandy and one ounce of crème de cacao, into the blender and lets her rip.
“You definitely want to have a good balance of the ingredients, so I usually go with equal parts booze to ice cream to egg nog,” Lhulier says. “Otherwise you might end up with a headache in a glass or a thick milkshake. It’s a great drink that I like to sip on while decorating.”
—Chris Baittinger, chef, Meals for Shields, Wilmington
A classic holiday cocktail that’s popular in Puerto Rico, the Coquito (pronounced co-key-toe) is another egg-nog-like drink that features rum, evaporated and condensed milk, cream of coconut and seasonal spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Chris Baittinger first tasted the drink at a holiday party in the Bronx, where his now-ex-wife’s family gathered and decided to test him. “Her Uncle Emilio made me a strong one to see if I could handle my alcohol,” Baittinger says. “I’ll tell you, it’s a sneaky drink that catches up with you quick.”
Baittinger’s recipe calls for a bit of work, beginning with boiling two or three cinnamon sticks in two cups of water until the water turns yellow. Once strained, add 12 ounces of evaporated milk and 14 ounces of condensed milk, along with four egg yolks, and return to the heat.
Simmering on low, constantly stir the ingredients into a “brown muck” for about 10 minutes, then add 15 ounces of cream of coconut, cooking for three minutes before removing from the stove. Then add four cups of white rum (or bourbon, if you so choose), along with a pinch of nutmeg and salt.
“Let it cool and definitely drink it chilled,” Baittinger says. “It’s like no other egg nog you’ve ever tasted, and if you happen to be a bourbon fan, replace the rum with some Maker’s 43. Those vanilla notes add a lot of good flavor to the drink.”
—Brandy Willever, bartender, Ulysses Gastropub, North Wilmington
A margarita might feel like more of a summertime drink, but not in this particular concoction, a favorite of Brandy Willever. The trick, she says, is infusing a bottle of Jose Cuervo with all the right fall flavors.
“We use apples, pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom for the infusion. That way all those sweet but natural flavors bring life to the drink, and we don’t have to rely on triple sec, sweet-n-sour or lime juice.”
Allow the flavors to infuse for about a week, then combine about four ounces of the tequila with two ounces of orange juice and two ounces of apple cider, shake and serve over ice. The result is reminiscent of applesauce topped with cinnamon.
The Cran Before Thyme
—Ben Muse, general manager, Two Stones Pub, North Wilmington
Whether you buy the gelatinous, canned version or go the fresh, sautéed route, cranberry sauce seems to make an appearance at nearly every holiday meal this time of year.
That being the case, Ben Muse, of Two Stones Pub, likes to take one of his favorite classic cocktails, the gin and tonic, and infuse it with a little sweet and tart for the holiday season.
He takes your average amount of Hendrick’s Gin (about two ounces), adds 1.5 ounces of tonic, a half-ounce of fresh lime juice, then mixes in an ounce of cranberry simple syrup, which you can easily make at home.
For the syrup, Muse starts with roughly four ounces of fresh cranberries, heating them in equal amounts water and sugar, until the cranberries start popping open. He then adds fresh thyme for a slightly savory flavor profile, and lets the ingredients steep for about 15 minutes.
After that, simply strain the elements, put the cranberry simple syrup into a jar and seal it. If you make the syrup around the first week of December, it should last you all month, provided it’s kept cold in the fridge.