Food Styling Tips

Holiday Cocktails

A Winter’s Tale

 Cool Mule - Photo by Michael Marquand

Cool Mule - Photo by Michael Marquand

With the winter holiday season nipping at our heels, I went on an inspiration hunt for fresh and friendly creative cognac concoction ideas. Cognac is my favorite cold weather spirit, whether neat or mixed. It’s warm earthy notes and fragrant nose warm the cockles of my heart. Transforming traditional drinks into Winter Holiday Cognac Cocktails became a pre-winter week labor of love.

My first conquest was the classic 1940’s Moscow Mule made with vodka, ice cubes, freshly squeezed lime juice and spicy sparkly ginger beer. My twist on the old favorite replaces the vodka with cognac, adds seasonal Clementine or Mandarin juice and some gorgeous garnishes.

 The fragrantly sweet Clementine citrus compliments the cognac, while the ginger beer augments its spicy undertones. Candied ginger skewered with golden fruit (or kumquat) adds a tasteful touch to this modern Cool Mule.

Cool Cognac Mule

Makes One Drink

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Cognac

  • 4 ounces Ginger Beer

  • 1 ounce of freshly squeezed Clementine juice

  • ½ an ounce of freshly squeezed Lime juice

Garnish

  • Candied Ginger- Can be readily purchased or easily homemade

  • Golden Fruit, kumquat or Clementine wedge

  • Sugared Cranberries- Recipe included

  • Simple bamboo skewer

Directions

  1. Combine cognac, Clementine and lime juices.

  2. Pour over ice, top with the ginger beer and stir.

  3. Serve garnished with skewered candied ginger and Golden Fruit, or if not that is available, whole kumquat or Clementine wedge.

Candied Ginger Slices smaller res.jpg

Candied Ginger Slices

To Make the Candied Ginger - ~ 2 hours to make or can be readily purchased

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of granulated sugar

  • 1 cup of water

  • ½ cup of sliced freshly peeled ginger root

Directions

  1. To make the candied ginger, bring the sugar and water to a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the sliced and boil until the ginger is tender, about 15 minutes.

  2. Remove the ginger syrup from heat. With a fork or tweezers, pull out the ginger slices and cool on a wire rack sitting on top of a parchment paper lined plate or tray to catch any drips.

  3. Reserve the ginger syrup in a sealed jar for many other spectacular uses. It will crystallize and can be revived by a small amount of hot water.

  4. Let the wet candied ginger slices dry until they are just tacky but do not stick to your fingers, about 30 minutes to an hour.

  5. Toss them in superfine sugar and let them dry in a single layer on a clean piece of parchment paper for about hour or so.

 Sugared Fresh Cranberries

Sugared Fresh Cranberries

To Make the Sugared Cranberries - ~ 2.5 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 cups of sugar divided

  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries

Directions

  1. Dissolve ½ cup of Granulated Cane sugar into ½ cup of water by bringing it to a boil for about 3 minutes.

  2. Stir in the cranberries.

  3. With a slotted spoon, lift the coated cranberries out of the syrup and drain on a wire rack resting on a parchment paper lined ½ sheet pan.

  4. Let cool and dry for about an hour.

  5. Place the remaining 1½ cups of sugar in a small bowl.

  6. Prepare a clean sheet of parchment paper on a pan to receive the candied cranberries.

  7. Roll the cooled coated cranberries, a few at a time, into the sugar bowl.

  8. Let the sugared cranberries set for another hour to be ready to handle as garnish

 Brandied Apple Jack Rose - Photo by Michael Marquand

Brandied Apple Jack Rose - Photo by Michael Marquand

The Name of the Jack Rose

The cheery red color of the classic Jack Rose lends itself to this holiday rendition. Grenadine, AKA - pomegranate syrup, is the ingredient that gives the rose color to the cocktail’s surname. Seasonal pomegranates permeate winter produce markets making their seeds the perfect holiday garnish. Their jewel-like beauty shine radiantly delicious.

 

The first name of the vintage Jack Rose is derived from the once ubiquitous Apple Jack Brandy, which comprised the bulk of the original cocktail recipe. Apple Jack, having lost past popularity, has become harder to find. In my version I use my favorite cognac or brandy, and add fresh apple cider to achieve a delightful spiced apple flavor. Seasonal slices of lemon juice dipped red skinned apple grace my modern Brandied Apple Jack Rose.

 

Brandied Apple Jack Rose

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 ounces of Cognac or Brandy

  • 3 ounce of fresh Apple Cider

  • 1 ounce of Lemon juice

  • ½ ounce of Grenadine

Garnishes

  • Thinly sliced red skinned apples dipped in lemon juice to preserve color

  • Pomegranate seeds

Directions

  1. In a cocktail shaker with ice, add the cocktail ingredients.

  2. Strain into two glasses

  3. Garnish with apple slices and pomegranate seeds-click link for seeding video

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/videos/techniques/how-remove-pomegranate-seeds

Spiced Cranberry Cognac Sour Cocktail

While reading up on the history of the classic Whiskey Sour, one that evokes fond childhood memories of my parents’ cocktail parties, I came across a respected cocktail  author’s thoughts on the subject. “There has been a movement back to the basic blocks when it comes to cocktails. There is something special about the simple cocktails. They are enjoyable and well known from a customer standpoint, and easy to assemble from behind the bar.”* I whole hearted applaud this sentiment and think that holiday specials can be a welcome exception, given the same author’s next observation.

 

“There are some historians that believe the sour category is a scaled down version of the basic punch. It has the elements of ‘one sour, two sweet, three strong, four weak’ that a classic punch has, but in an individual serving size.”* With all of that said, I open for viewing the creative process of my rendition of a holiday Spiced Cranberry Cognac Cocktail - no special gadgets required.

 * https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog-posts/blog/2015/01/27/classic-cocktails-in-history-the-whiskey-sour

 As per the cognac cocktail theme of my holiday beverage mission, I swap in cognac for whiskey and my spiced cranberry-honey simple syrup for traditional cane sugar simple syrup. I check my recipe to see how it stacks up to the basic punch proportion, noting that mine is lacking in the ‘weak element’ quantity, making my recipe a bit stronger, just the way I like it. Exchanging the sweeter seasonal Mandarin for orange juice, employs it as both a weak and a sweet element, allowing for less of the syrupy sweetening agent in my concoction. You can use more if you like. With no further explanation needed, here is the recipe for my Spiced Cranberry Cognac Cocktail.

 Spiced Cranberry Cognac Sour - Photo by Michael Marquand

Spiced Cranberry Cognac Sour - Photo by Michael Marquand

Spiced Cranberry Cognac Sour

inspired by a classic Whiskey Sour, Blender made for frothiness

Serves 2

Spiced Cranberry Honey Syrup Ingredients

  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries

  • 1 cup of water

  • 1 cup of honey

  • 2 cinnamon sticks

  • 2 star anise

Spiced Cranberry Honey Syrup Directions

  1. Make the spiced cranberry honey syrup by boiling the ingredients in the water until the berries burst open and color the water.

  2. With a fine gauge seive, strain the syrup of all fruit seeds and spices.

  3. Chill the remaining liquid to at least room temperature. Keeps well refrigerated

Cocktail Ingredients

  • 6 ounces of cognac

  • 4 ounces of freshly squeezed Tangerine, Clementine or Mandarin juice

  • 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice

  • 1 ounce of Spiced Cranberry Honey Syrup

  • ¼teaspoon of egg white powder (meringue powder) dissolved in 1 ounce of warm water, or one teaspoon of a beaten fresh egg white - Optional to create foaminess

Rim

  • ½  ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice for dipping the rim

  • ¼ cup of crystal demerara sugar in a saucer to bedazzle the rim

Garnishes

  • Cinnamon stick

  • Star anise

  • Plain or sugared clementine slice, wedge, twist or curl

  • Sugared Cranberries

Cocktail Directions

  1. Add all of  the Cranberry Cognac Sour ingredients to the blender. Blend until well mixed and frothy.

  2. Pour into 4 cold, rim ready glasses.

  3. Garnish with a cinnamon stick, star anise and a sugared clementine twist. You can also float a couple of sugared cranberries for extra dazzle.

  4. Serve immediately.

  Honeyed Cardamom Clove Cognac Eggnog -  Photo by Michael Marquand

Honeyed Cardamom Clove Cognac Eggnog - Photo by Michael Marquand

Honeyed Cardamom Clove Cognac Eggnog

Eggnog is one of my all-time favorite winter holiday treats. I admit that eggnog is great with or without any added spirits, but my preference is with a hefty dose of cognac and a fragrant dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. In my newest special spicy version I steep the milk with honey, cloves and cardamom for an exotic twist on a classic recipe. 

 The fun begins with carefully cooking the egg yolks into the mixture without turning them to scrambled eggs. It may seem daunting, but it merely takes a careful eye and a studied attention span for only about 3-5 minutes, stirring over low heat all the while. Once completely cooled, and only then, do you add in the oh-so-rich heavy cream and yummy caramelly cognac. Adding spirits to hot liquid will evaporate the alcohol, though it will not diminish the flavor.

Honeyed Cardamom Clove Cognac Eggnog

Makes 6 - 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of Cognac

  • 2 cups of Whole milk

  • 2 cups of Heavy cream

  • ¼ cup of Honey

  • 8 organic free range Egg yolks

  • 4 Whole Cardamom seed pods

  • 6 Whole Cloves

Garnish

  • Freshly grated Nutmeg

Directions

  1. Combine the milk, honey, cloves, and cardamom in a saucepan. Heat on low for about 5 minutes to infuse the milk with spice flavor. Do not boil.

  2. Strain the cloves and cardamom pods out of the mixture into a wide rimmed pitcher.

  3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks well. Very slowly and gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg yolks.

  4. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, about 3 - 5 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Pour the mixture back into the pitcher. Cover and it let cool completely.

  5. Stir in the cognac and cream and cover tightly. Refrigerate overnight.

  6. Serve chilled with a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg over each glass or cup.

  Orange Cognac Cheesecake Cloud -  Photo by Michael Marquand

Orange Cognac Cheesecake Cloud - Photo by Michael Marquand

Orange Cognac Cheesecake Cloud 

This über rich dessert cocktail is inspired by my love of everything cheesecake. After all, what is not to love about cheesecake, except maybe all of that sugar? I swap in a bit of healthful honey for just a touch of sweetness, replacing gobs of granular cane sugar in classic cheesecake fare. 

 

Having made cheesecake in many manifestations, including blueberry cheesecake ice cream popsicles, I have found that it is essential for me to include graham crackers for those taste-bud textural memories to swirl the dreaminess of my psyche. I incorporated graham cracker crumbs into the honey swirl inner glass garnish and rim, and a graham cracker cookie to dip into the orange cognac cloud and munch. Feel free to serve this cocktail concoction with as many graham cookies as you like! You can even layer crumbs in between the clouds as you fill the glass, if you are a big graham fan. Most importantly, enjoy your play in the clouds.

Orange Cognac Cheesecake Cloud

An Original Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of Whole milk

  • 1 cup of Heavy cream

  • 1 cup of Cognac

  • ½ cup of Triple Sec, Cointreau or any orange liqueur

  • 4 ounce package of regular full fat Cream Cheese – room temperature

  • 4 ounces of regular full fat Sour Cream

  • ¾ cup of Honey – divided

  • 1 teaspoon of quality pure Vanilla extract

  • 3 Graham Crackers

Directions

Prepare the glasses

  1. Crush one of the graham crackers into crumbs for rim garnish. Break the other 2 crackers into quarters for added garnish.

  2. One glass at a time, with a fine tipped small squeeze bottle, swirl thin whirls of honey on the inside of a glass. Immediately toss a teaspoon of graham crumbs into the glass to stick to the honey streaks, shaking out the excess t use in the next glass.

  3. Repeat until all of the glasses are prepped and in the freezer.

  4. Put the honeyed glasses upside down on waxed paper in the freezer to harden the honey.

Build the Beverages

  1. With an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sour cream in a medium size bowl until very creamy smooth and lump free to make the cheesecake base.

  2. Beat ¼ cup of honey into the cheesecake base until it is homogenous.

  3. Beat in the whole milk, cognac, orange liqueur and vanilla extract to make the base into a cocktail consistency.

  4. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.

  5. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese cocktail mixture and chill until ready to serve.

  6. Optional: Dip the rim of each glass into remaining graham cracker crumbs for extra texture and flavor.  

  7. Pour the chilled cognac cheesecake cloud cocktail into the prepared frozen glasses.

  8. Garnish with graham cracker quarters and serve immediately.

A Festive Fall Fare

Chicken Liver Paté with Caramelized Apples & Onions

 Happy Hour with Style

Happy Hour with Style

If you think you don’t like chicken livers then you probably have not had them prepared well. When buying chicken livers, be sure to go for the freshest, firm, boldly colored lobes. I prefer local free-range farmed chickens from a reputable purveyor. Over cooking chicken livers turns them bitter, chalky, dry and rubbery, spoiling their naturally juicy sweet flavor. I use a blend of plu gras butter or Ghee, mixed with olive oil for the apple onion sauté and the liver sear. The oil/butter mix must be hot enough to make a brown sear while leaving the inside pink. Adding bit of freshly ground nutmeg and finely ground white pepper to the apples and onions while they sauté, adds an earthy aroma and depth of flavor to the mélange. After all of the ingredients are cooked to perfection, I add a generous dash of cognac to the processor to accompany the seared livers with the caramelized spiced apples and onions, using all of the buttery oil from the pan.

Plu gras literally means more fat. European butter has more fat than American butter. It is far better for baking and cooking than the American butter, which has considerably more water content. Ghee can be purchased or made by reducing butter as directed by experts.

 

For my recipe:

Paté Ingredients

  • I pint of fresh plump chicken livers, trimmed of any stringy white bits

  • 1 cup of Vidalia onions, shallots or whatever onions you have on hand - chopped

  • 1 half of a Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, or Honey Crisp apple – chopped

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon of plu gras butter or Ghee

  • ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg

  • ¼ teaspoon of finely ground white pepper

  • 2 ounces cognac of French brandy

  • Salt to taste

2 Tablespoon of plu gras butter or Ghee for sealing the paté – melted

Paté Directions

  1. Trim the liver pieces of any white stringy bits. Cut the lobes into evenly sized pieces for even cooking.

  2. In a large skillet on medium low heat, slowly sauté the onions and apples with the oil and butter and a pinch of salt. About 15 minutes.

  3. Remove the apples and onions with a slotted spoon, leaving behind as much of the oil and butter as possible. Add them to the food processor bowl.

  4. Turn the heat up to medium high heat to sear the livers.

  5. Add the pan contents of livers and fat, along with the cognac, to the apple onion mix in the processor.

  6. Pulse the ingredients, scraping down the bowl occasionally.

  7. Finish processing the mixture until puréed.

  8. Taste the mixture for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or nutmeg if needed. Give the mix another whirr if you have adjusted the seasoning.

  9. In a small saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter for sealing the paté.

  10. Pour half of the melted butter into the bottom of a 32 ounce loaf pan, or split it up into smaller containers.

  11. Spoon the paté over the butter. Level the paté.

  12. Evenly cover the paté with the other half of the melted butter, sealing it to preserve the color and flavor.

Food Styling Tip: When I approached this shoot I was showcasing my newest paté recipe. Because of the caramelized apple inclusion in this version, I decided on the fruit and bread crisps to underline and augment the visual flavors. The presentation is my vision of how I would serve it to honored and beloved guests. The table cloth and dish choices were an instinctive decision based on the predominant colors of the fruit and flavors. The bread texture and color seemed to work naturally with the scheme of the whole. The bottle of honey and Mandarine orange are accent touches for balance and interest.

Apple and leaf smaller.jpg