I am lucky enough to have a Family Cookbook that was put together by my Mom about 20 years ago. The binding has long since been lost so now the loose pages live in an old, ratty green folder, out of place near my other cookbooks like somebody’s weird uncle. Mom collected all the cherished family recipes, like “Fattig Man” (a pastry made by her Norwegian Uncle Rolf), the Christmas Tamales her family would assemble at the holidays, and her own recipes for things like her amazing Beer-Cheese soup.
She also included these gems -- they make an easy Christmas gift or holiday libations you can make in literally 15 minutes. The only catch with these yummy recipes is: you should make them a month ahead -- or at least let them age for a couple of weeks (like between now and Christmas). If not, they'll still be drinkable. Don't worry.
- 2 oz. decaffeinated coffee (My Mom’s note says to make sure to use decaf, since nobody likes a wide-awake drunk. I use Nescafe or powdered espresso, whichever I happen to have on hand.)
- 1 vanilla bean, cut into fourths
- 4 c. sugar
- 2 c. boiling water
- 1 pt. vodka
- 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract (This is my addition to the original recipe. It deepens the flavor.)
Mix the dry powdered coffee and the sugar in a large glass bowl or pitcher with a whisk, breaking up any larger lumps if any have crystallized in the coffee. Pour the boiling water over and whisk to blend, being careful not to whisk so hard you froth the mixture. Stir in vodka and extract.
Add one piece of vanilla bean to each of 4 sterilized 2-cup mason jars and seal. Let sit as long as you can stand it (or 30 days). You could buy prettier jars to store it in; I’ve bought some from IKEA that have a fancy rubber stopper, or Cost Plus World Market has bottles that are more ornate if you’d rather. This recipe can be halved or doubled and makes about 8 cups.
A glug of this kahlua and a dollop of whipped cream can make your plain old hot chocolate extra-good. My other relatives thoughtfully included recipes in the Family Cookbook in which to use this delightful homemade concoction. We must have had well-oiled parties back in the day.
Unnamed Drink #1
- 1 oz. brandy
- 1 oz. kahlua
1 oz. chocolate mint liqueur
Pour over ice in a brandy snifter. Swirl lightly and enjoy.
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Into each cup put:
- 1/2 shot cream de cocoa
- 1/2 shot kahlua
- 1/2 shot brandy
- 1/2 shot rum
Fill cups with hot coffee and top with whipped cream. My relatives assure me this is best on cold winter nights.
My own favorite way to put homemade kahlua to good use is the simple and classic White Russian. Make a pitcher of these and channel Jeff Bridges. I accidentally made this entire recipe for just my husband and I once. Just to be clear, it is supposed to serve four. Whoops.
- 4-5 shots vodka
- 2-3 shots kahlua
- 3 shots half and half or to taste
Mix in a big pitcher and pour into glasses with ice. Watch The Dude. To make a Black Russian, leave out the half and half.
I have made my own pear liqueur as well. It behaves similarly to a pear brandy in cooking, and is good drizzled over gingerbread. It also livens up some hot apple cider, or you can float poached pears in it for a fancy dessert.
- 2 c. vodka
- 2 c. hot water
- 2 c. sugar
- 4 ripe pears
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken
This is best with very ripe pears, so put them in a paper bag to ripen for a week or so when you buy them. First, make simple syrup by heating the water and sugar together until it dissolves. While that's is heating, slice the pears into a large airtight container. You don’t need to peel or core the pears at this point unless you’d like to. I use a very large mason jar for this step (you can find a one-gallon size reusable jar at Target for about 13-14 dollars.)
Pour the simple syrup over the pears, add the cinnamon stick, and seal. Let this sit at room temperature on the counter or in a dark place for about 2 weeks. Taste. Does it have enough pear flavor? If not, let sit for one more week. Press and strain the solids through a fine-mesh strainer. You might need to strain through twice if it has fine particles remaining; if some are left they will sink as sediment to the bottom of the vessel. Decant into the storage or gifting jars of your choice. I used the IKEA bottles I mentioned with a white stopper. This makes about 6-8 cups depending on the ripeness of the pears and how juicy they are.
Making your own flavored liqueur with other fruit is pretty easy. If you fancy blackberry or raspberry alcohol, macerate some fruit with sugar and add vodka. Or similarly, oranges (coming into season) could be steeped in vodka and the resulting liqueur would be a fantastic glaze for a pound cake. The fun is in the mixing. And, if you use good ingredients, I’ve learned that it doesn't matter as much if you use cheap alcohol.
The last recipe for holiday “cheer” is also an old family one. It’s traditionally made in summer, when these fruits are in season. Somehow I never manage to get it together to do it then. Happily, the results are just as good if you buy ingredients from the store rather than from the farm.
- Cherries, pitted
- Pineapple, peeled and cored and cubed
- Oranges or clementines, peeled and sectioned
- Apples, peeled and cored and cubed
- Pears, cored and cubed
- A vanilla bean, if desired
- Rum, brandy, or Everclear
In a large airtight container layer fruit in any order, with a layer of sugar in between, to fill your container at least halfway. Crush each layer of fruit as you add it and cover with the alcohol of your choice. The magic of this dish is that the alcohol and sugar preserve everything. The other bonus is that if you like a certain fruit add more or if you hate something else, you can leave it out. It’s something you can tailor to what you like.
Let this sit in a dark cool place for a few weeks to a few months. Add fruit whenever you think of it, followed by more sugar and more alcohol. After at least a few weeks, eat the fruit in a garnish for a drink or use the spirits in a truly yummy Old-Fashioned. The fruit is good on top of cake as well. A variation of this recipe has been found in cookbooks since the time of the American Revolution (and probably was eaten before that since the fruit is well-preserved).
Make some of these drinks now, and you truly will have super-easy gifts that will be deliciously different. Tie a bow on a jar of one of these to be the hit of the party and/or give a hostess gift that will actually get used. Enjoy!