The holiday season means kisses under the mistletoe, candles in the window and toasts by the fireplace.
Jay Larkin, an assistant professor in the school of hotel, culinary arts and tourism at Schenectady County Community College, can help with yuletide drinks. He has five simple recipes that add flavor — and color — to December celebrations.
Here they are:
Coffee gets a boost from brown sugar and Irish whiskey for a warm, smooth holiday drink. While rye whiskey can be used — Larkin prefers the New York brands — some Irish coffee drinkers may insist on an Irish product. That means bottles of Jameson, Bushmills or Tullamore Dew should be in stock.
Brown sugar goes into the bottom of a glass, followed by coffee. The liquid will begin to dissolve the sugar. "Give it a little bit of a stir to make sure you don't have any granules left in there," Larkin said.
The finishing touch is the most important move.
"A lot of people will look at an Irish coffee and believe it should have Bailey's in it," Larkin said, referring to popular cream liquor Bailey's Irish Cream. "While I'm not wholeheartedly opposed to Bailey's with a last name like Larkin, it is not a traditional Irish coffee. The whipped cream is what represents that cream color and makes for a delicious, warming drink."
A simple drink that mixes a cranberry and rosemary simple syrup, the poinsettia comes with a light red color. And substituting a soft drink such as sparkling grape juice lets children make a toast.
Bartenders can make simple syrup with cranberries by following this recipe:
Combine 1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) frozen or fresh cranberries, 1 cup water, and 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer until cranberries are falling apart, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl and let the strainer sit over the bowl until the syrup has cooled to room temperature, about 1 hour. Refrigerate syrup.
While taste is most important in any food or drink, Larkin said, color can be important during the early winter. "I think it lends to the look of the holidays," Larkin said. "While not necessarily vital, I think it adds something when it's color appropriate."
A version of the now-popular Moscow Mule, this drink uses vodka, cranberry-rosemary simple syrup, lime juice, ginger beer and a red and green garnish — whole cranberries and a lime wedge.
Warm upstate cider
This is a drink for everyone, and one with the old-fashioned flavors of apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
Larkin likes simmering this warm drink in a Crock-Pot.
"You could set this up Christmas Eve and have it ready to go Christmas morning," he said. "The entire house is going to have a wonderful aroma to it and you're not waiting a couple minutes for your coffee to brew. It's ladle and go at that point.
"If you want to hep it up a little bit," Larkin added, "you can put a shot of your choice in there — a flavored vanilla vodka would be delicious, any bourbon, scotch or whiskey, a good spiced rum or an aged rum. I'd even put tequila in there."
Larkin's take on a mint julep can use cranberry flavors or pomegranate flavors. People will get their green in the form of mint leaves, a major part of any julep.
Larkin said Irish cream on the rocks is popular during the cold weather seasons; people will drink Irish around Christmas and around St. Patrick's Day.
And while eggnog has always been a cold-weather holiday drink - and one that can become a family project, especially with kids — people seem to like the idea of making eggnog better than drinking the homemade stuff.
Larkin said eggnog is used to flavor other drinks.
"You don't see a lot of people drinking it as a stand-alone anymore," he said, noting that eggnog joins other longtime traditional holiday drinks — such as a flaming rum punch and mulled wine — on the list of drinks that have faded away.
A "flaming rum punch" which may have last been ordered by a cinematic angel at Nick's bar in Pottersville in 1946.
That scene was featured in "It's A Wonderful Life," a traditional Christmas movie that will be shown Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Larkin knows that mulled wine — a spiced, simmered wine — also was considered by Clarence the guardian angel.
"To this day, I think you would get thrown out of the bar," Larkin said. "Just like in the movie."
The following are recipes for Larkin's favorite holiday drinks:
2 ounces of Irish Whiskey or New York rye whiskey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Preheat the glass or mug with hot water. Dump hot water. Fill 3/4 with hot coffee and add brown sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add Irish whiskey or rye whiskey and top with whipped cream.
1 1/2 ounces of cranberry and rosemary simple syrup
Top glass with champagne, Prosecco, or other sparkling wine
Garnish with fresh cranberry, rosemary skewer
Pour simple syrup into champagne flute. Top with sparkling white wine and that will mix the ingredients well. Garnish and serve.
NOTE: An alcohol-free version would utilize sparkling grape juice.
2 ounces of vodka (citrus vodka, if preferred)
1 1/2 ounces cranberry-rosemary simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
Garnish with lime wedge and whole cranberries
Add cubed ice to glass of choice. Add vodka, simple syrup, and lime juice and stir well. Top with ginger beer, garnish and serve.
Warm upstate cider
1 gallon fresh New York apple cider
4 to 5 cinnamon sticks or teaspoons of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons, ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons, ground ginger
Add ingredients to a Crock-Pot and set to low. When ready to serve ladle into mugs and sip.
NOTE: To amp up the cider drink, add a shot of whiskey, vanilla vodka, or spiced rum.
2 ounces New York rye whiskey
1 1/2 ounces cranberry or pomegranate simple syrup
2 to 3 fresh mint leaves
Muddle mint leaves in mixing tin. Add rye whiskey, simple syrup and stir with spoon. Fill glass of choice with ice. Strain items in tin over ice and top with club soda. Garnish with mint leaf and fresh cranberry or pomegranate seeds.
NOTE: Eliminate whiskey for an alcohol-free option.