I recently asked Switch readers for their favorite holiday recipes, and the best of the bunch were selected for a story featuring cocktail party recipes in the current edition of the magazine. As we were putting the story together, my editor asked me to submit one of my own recipes.
I knew I wanted to do a cocktail recipe, but which one? I love Bloody Marys at this time of year (as anyone who was at our Halloween party probably figured out), but that's not very original. For my dad's big 60th birthday bash last year, I had the bartender mix up Candy Canes (made from peppermint schnapps, creme de cacao and 7-Up) which were a huge hit. But I was never quite happy with them because of the high fructose corn syrup in the 7-Up, so I didn't want to go that route. I'm also a fan of Cape Cods during the holidays, but, again, that seemed pretty boring.
The solution: get out my cocktail shaker and start experimenting. At first I was pretty fixated on using brandy, because of its traditional association with Christmas and because I have a great bottle of Cognac in the bar. I also knew I wanted to do something with cranberries, since I have a stock of fresh Maine cranberries. But all my experiements with the brandy proved too sweet.
That's when I spotted the bottle of gin winking at me from the shelf. Now, normally I'm not a huge gin fan. This can all be blamed on the fact that as kids my cousins and I used to sample the juniper berries each fall, when the dusty blue fruits appeared on the low-lying shrubs in the horse pasture. These taste tests always ended with us spitting the berries out in disgust. Fast forward a few years, and I was completely floored the first time I tasted a gin and tonic and realized that gin tastes exactly like juniper berries (obviously not a shocker to anyone who knows that gin is flavored with juniper berries).
But as a standin for the piney scent of balsam that infuses most of my Christmas memories, I knew gin was what I needed. I mixed it with a combination of sweet, sour, tart and salty tastes and came up with a drink that captures the flavors of the season.
3 oz. unsweetened cranberry juice
1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. creme de cacao
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice (about 1/2 a lime)
2 oz. water
pinch of sea salt
fresh cranberries, sliced
Add cranberry juice, gin, Grand Marnier, creme de cocao, lime juice, water and sea salt to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a margarita or other cocktail glass. Slice cranberries into disks. Float a handful on the surface of the drink. Garnish with a lime wedge.