'Tis the season for entertaining, and you are very likely dusting off your drinks repertoire as we speak. I don't claim to have any new insight on the best holiday tipples, but I do know what I personally enjoy to toast my friends and family to. For down home affairs, I like to have a pot of mulled wine on the go to warm everyone up after a vigorous snowball fight. However, for slightly more posh affairs, nothing compares to a glass of bubbly, but champagne need not be the only liquid doing the rounds: I go weak at the knees for gin, and its heady juniper notes are definitely a winter-warmer.
A gin and tonic is wonderful at any time of the year, but to bring it into the holiday realm, add a healthy dash of cranberry juice. It's that easy, and it works like a charm. If you prefer your G&T in a tall glass with ice, freeze fresh cranberries and add them to the glass. Of course, those cranberries will be horrid to bite into, so you can always fish out whole berries from a jar of sauce, and freeze those instead. One cocktail done and dusted, and who says you have to save it for the party?
As for the mulled, if you make a base syrup in advance, and keep a few bottles of red wine in the pantry, you're set for any unexpected guests or neighbour who kindly removes the snow from your drive after a snowstorm.
Mulled Wine Base
1L/qt cloudy apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks, 10cm/4" each
2 star anise
6 green cardamom pods
1 orange, zested in strips and juiced
Bring all the ingredients up to a boil in a deep saucepan, then lower the heat to medium low, and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.
When the time is up, remove from the heat, and set aside to cool down to room temperature.
Sieve or pick out all the spices and orange peel.
Keep in a sealed jar in the refrigerator until needed.
When ready to serve, mix 1 to 2 parts syrup to every 2 parts red wine.
Heat over a medium-low until heat until just simmering.
Serve immediately. Alternatively, keep warm over a very low heat.
Any left-over mulled wine can be cooled and saved for later, or better yet, used to poach pears or apples for dessert.
Cheers and bon app'!