Barely is the Thanksgiving bird divested of its flesh, and the last sliver of pumpkin pie consumed when ideas for holiday entertaining begin to percolate.
Many of us are gearing up to host our annual Christmas drinks party. Others may be considering more intimate supper or soiree. Whatever the circumstance, the holiday season is the perfect time to run with some classic food and drink pairings.
To help with your festive gatherings here are a few good, old-fashioned partnerships (some with a bit of a twist) guaranteed to put the punch in the party. These festive beverages provide pleasure anytime, but none better than in mid-winter on a festive occasion with family and friends.
Go nuts with a martini or Manhattan. Nuts match ideally to alcohol. Instead of popping the top on a can of mixed nuts (and to avoid coping with peanut allergies), sauté a good amount of walnut halves in a butter/Worcestershire/Sirachi sauce mixture until toasty. Drain nuts on paper towels. In a Zip-loc baggie toss together one teaspoon each of onion and garlic powders, and a lashing of peppers, black and cayenne. Shake the nuts about in the mixture. Place small bowls filled with the spicy nuts about the room.
Try eggs and beer. To go with beer, what else but pickled eggs and a shaker of salt. Boil eggs just six minutes (to avoid rubbery ellipses and that unsightly black ring). Pop eggs into a mason jar filled with hot vinegar. Add slices of red onion. Let eggs and vinegar get acquainted for two days before serving. Pour beer into British pint glasses. For a bit of style, try to ferret out a vintage-style iron egg-holder and clunky glass saltshaker.
For another option, try flaky cheese straws direct from the oven warm the cockles on a frosty night. www.epicurious.com offers an excellent recipe for this perfect cocktail nibble. Gussy up the straws with garlic and/or herbs.
White wine and oysters. Never filling, always elegant is a platter of raw oysters set on a bed of ice. The tendency is to gravitate toward crisp Chablis, Sancerre or Blanc de Blanc champagne or dark beer) for those the briny mollusks. Another classic match, and with a far lighter price tag is Muscadet from France’s Loire region. Also known as Melon de Bourgogne, (and not to be confused with the sweetish Muscat), be careful to avoid lackluster Muscadet. A good bottle is bone-dry, with bracing acidity and touch of citrus—and best drunk young. The vineyards’ proximity to the Atlantic Ocean the Muscadet gives a good muscadet a mineral and saline kick, ideal for quaffing with a kusshis or kumamoto oysters.
Red wine with sausage and lentils. Over the New Year, Northern Italians celebrate with Cotechino, a coarse-grained spiced sausage dished up with lentils. Valpolicella “Ripasso” from the Veneto, or a Piemontese Barbera possess both possess enough fine tannins and acid to measure up to the plump sausage’s fat and the earthiness of the lentils.
Wine and cheese. We all pay homage to the sublime sweet-and-salt marriage of Port and English Stilton. But that same wonderful zip-and-zap on the tongue can be had with a quality Oloroso and a wedge of Cabrales, that heavenly and deeply-veined blue cheese from Spain. Round out the duo with a fistful of globe grapes or a single luscious green fig.
Chocolate and Banyuls. Chocolate lovers should go in search of Banyuls, Port’s cousin, and made in the south of France. Fashioned in the same way as port, but showing less and sweetness, this fortified wine partners well with bitter chocolate. A thimble full of Banyuls accompanied by chocolate madeleine, or square of top-notch dark chocolate bids a gracious adieu to the holiday meal.
Mulled wine. Red wine imbued with pumpkin-pie-like spices and served piping hot warms the fingers and toes and rosies chilly cheeks as Northern Europeans stroll Christmas Markets. For Brits, mulled wine is often the welcoming quaff at a Christmas drinks party. German Gluhwein, Swedish glog or English mulled wine are pretty much the same thing.
Dead easy to make, the best mulled wine starts with a spiced syrup and a couple of bottles of decent, if not pricey, red wine. The following is an adaptation of Jamie Oliver’s Mulled Wine recipe:
- Into a good-size saucepan, squeeze the juice from two mandarin oranges. Add one cup sugar and the orange peel and the peel of one lemon. (Avoid the pith).
- Over medium heat, add 6 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and 10 to 12 gratings of whole nutmeg. (Note: bay leaves, cardamom and/or vanilla pods or star anise may also be added to mulled wine.) Stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.
- Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine and then bring to a boil. Keep on rolling boil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until you’ve got a beautiful thick syrup.
- Turn heat down to low and add the remaining wine. Gently heat the wine for 5-10 minutes until very hot.
- Ladle into mugs, or punch glasses and serve. Leave on the stove over really low heat for wonderful Christmasy aromas that will waft from the kitchen throughout your home.
Wishing you health and happiness during the holidays and in the coming year.
— Julie Pegg, RFT Wine Expert