Cacao Mulled Wine

How do you cope with cold weather? Do you embrace it, avoid it or find carefully crafted ways to enjoy it (ie. with lots of layers and warm beverages)? I’m in the last category. I appreciate the magic of winter but need to be surrounded by multiple sources of warmth to get through it with a positive attitude. Mulled wine is one of those beverages that truly elevates the winter experience. Imagine standing in the midst of a Christmas market like Chicago’s own Christkindlmarket, surrounded by twinkling lights and enjoying a steaming mug of spiced wine as fluffy flakes of snow settle softly around you. It’s hard not to admit that winter has some charm when you find yourself in such a lovely situation.

Typical spices for mulled wine include ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and nutmeg. While I love the flavor and aroma of this combination, I wanted to try a different direction. What comes to mind as a natural pairing to red wine? Chocolate and cheese would be the most notable but cheese is probably not what you want actually in your wine (if you find a way to do it, more power to you). I settled on the concept of chocolate and thus decided to infuse my wine with cacao nibs, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom and Cara Cara orange.

I looked for a rich red wine with chocolate tasting notes as the base to complement the cacao nibs. The Chilean Cabernet Sauvingon by Root: 1 was the perfect price point (I recommend not spending more than $10 on a bottle if you’ll be infusing it or adding juices) and the ideal flavor profile - black currant, mocha and chocolate.

Though I used cacao as my main flavor, I decided to add the Ceylon cinnamon and cardamom as they both pair beautifully with chocolate. I added both the peel and juice of a ripe Cara Cara orange to get both the bright essential oils of the skin and sweet tartness of the orange itself. Cara Cara oranges are my personal favorite as they’re sweeter and more flavorful than the typical navel variety.

Finally, I sweetened the wine with a German honey liqueur for both an extra kick and a smooth, richer sweet flavor. If you can’t get your hands on a honey liqueur, consider adding honey and brandy as a substitute. I prefer to make my mulled wine slightly more tart than sweet but feel free to play with the ratios to your liking.

The resulting mulled wine is warming and refreshingly bright with a delightful lingering flavor of spiced chocolate on the finish. It’s the perfect drink to share with friends or family anytime in the winter but especially over the holiday season.

Cacao Mulled Wine

  • 1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon (Root: 1 or another variety with chocolate notes)

  • 4 oz honey liqueur

  • Juice and peel of 1 Cara Cara orange

  • 2 tbsp cacao nibs

  • 0.5 tsp cardamom seeds

  • 2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

Add all ingredients to a pot and put on the stove on low heat. Bring to a light simmer and keep at that temperature for 45 minutes - 1 hour, stirring and tasting occasionally. Strain and serve immediately when ready. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange twist and enjoy with loved ones and good cheer.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the beautiful vintage glasses and tray.































Valcohol Nog

I have to be honest with you - I didn't try egg nog for the first time until this winter. What changed? I made it at home with careful attention to bacteria safety as well as fat and sugar content. The result was incredibly worth the hours of research and I'm incredibly excited to share the recipe with you all.

Let's talk eggs (bonus points if you say that word with a Wisconsin accent). When it comes to incorporating them in cocktails, people either love them, are still unsure of their flavor or avoid them like the plague. I have to admit that I was once part of the last group. It took a large amount of curiosity for me to finally give egg whites a try and I will never go back. They add such a wonderful texture and contribute a smooth, creamy flavor without adding excess fat or dairy. Plus, egg whites are a great source of protein, beneficial to jump-starting your metabolism before eating a meal.

Though the risk of salmonella is low, I've preferred to play it safe by using pasteurized egg whites. I typically buy them in cartons, making sure it's not an egg substitute and there are no suspicious additives. As an extra safety measure, I only use them raw for about a week after opening, and then incorporate the remainder into baked goods. 

Unfortunately, egg yolks do not come in cartons (that I'm aware of) and pasteurized whole eggs can be very hard to find (I may or may not have checked 5 different grocery stores). Adapting to this constraint, I chose to cook the egg nog, age it for a few days with KOVAL Oat Whiskey and then shake the aged mix with a pasteurized egg white before serving. You could also use bourbon but the oat whiskey is really ideal for this application - it's rich, creamy and incredibly smooth.

I kept my recipe dairy-free with a mixture of Califia Farms almond/coconut creamer and almond milk that I simmered with orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and dark maple syrup. I also added vanilla extract and fresh grated nutmeg during the aging process. The result is blissfully decadent in taste yet not in content and simply perfect for the holiday season. I also highly recommend it as an excellent DIY gift!

Valcohol Nog

Step 1:

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup almond/coconut creamer
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 2 strips orange peel
  • 0.5 cup dark maple syrup
  • 3 fresh egg yolks

Heat all ingredients other than egg yolks on low/medium heat in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally and warm for about 15 minutes or until milk mixture just reaches a boil, then set aside. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with an electric mixer. Add warm spiced milk mixture to egg yolks very slowly, while continuing to beat with the electric mixer. Once the egg yolks and spiced milk are combined, transfer the liquid back to the small saucepan and heat for about 3 more minutes or until the mixture reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to stir continuously during this process. Remove from heat, strain out the spices and orange peel and allow to cool.

Step 2:

  • 1 cup oat whiskey
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla
  • 0.5 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

Once egg yolk and spiced milk mixture has cooled, transfer to a large glass jar or bottle and add vanilla, whiskey and nutmeg. Give the jar/bottle a good shake and put it in the fridge for 1-2 days for the flavors to mix and intensify (I would recommend consuming within 7 days).

Step 3:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 orange twist

When you're ready to serve, add 4 ounces of the aged egg nog mixture and 1 egg white to a shaker. Dry shake for about 10 seconds to form a nice foam, popping the shaker occasionally if pressure builds up. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a stemmed glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick and orange twist. Enjoy while opening a pile of presents around the nondenominational holiday tree.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely glasses and tray.

 

 

Winter Spice Sangria

No matter your comfort level with mixology, cocktails aren't made in a vacuum. Rather, cocktails are the embodiment of our performance as a host to our friends and loved ones. It's crucial to be a good listener and to adapt to the preferences of your audience because their satisfaction is your ultimate reward. The key is creating an experience rather than simply a beverage. You know how sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them for you? Cocktails follow the same principle.

One of my biggest goals has been to develop recipes that align with the tastes and preferences of my family. They're open to new things if I make them, but I know that they love red wine and tend to stay away from harder spirits. Therefore, I've looked for ways to ease the alcohol content of some of my favorite recipes and created new recipes built upon lower ABV ingredients.

This sangria recipe is family tested and both mother and father approved!

To me, a well-made sangria is dressed with fruit flavors that complement rather than mask the underlying wine. In other words, it should taste like a wine cocktail rather than fruit soda. For this time of the year, I chose to add fresh squeezed Meyer lemon and orange juice as well as bottled apple cider and tart cranberry juice. I recommend using fresh squeezed juices whenever possible or checking the sugar content on the bottles you purchase so you're not surprised by the sweetness of the final product.

In order to give this sangria a holiday feel, I added flavors reminiscent of mulling spices. The quickest way to do this is grabbing a bottle of Chicago-based Jo Snow's Christmas in a Cup syrup (think brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, molasses and orange). A little bit of this delicious, small batch and all-natural syrup goes a long way and it's equally wonderful in cup of coffee. If you prefer to make you own, I'd recommend using brown sugar or dark maple syrup along with cinnamon sticks, cloves and several strips of orange peel. 

Winter Spice Sangria

  • 1 bottle red wine (I recommend a Cab)
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 6 oz Jo Snow Christmas in a Cup
  • 0.5 cup VSOP brandy
  • 0.5 cup tart cranberry juice
  • 0.5 cup apple cider
  • Club soda, to top
  • Citrus slices, for garnish

Mix all ingredients other than soda and citrus slices in a large pitcher, bottle or jar (at least 1.5 liters). For both flavor and ease, I strongly recommend making the sangria in advance and storing in the fridge for 1-2 days. When you're ready to serve, simply pour into a punch bowl, top with desired amount of club soda and garnish with fresh slices of orange and lemon. Enjoy with family.

Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography and to Gather Vintage Tablescapes for the lovely punch bowl and cups.

Valcohol Holiday Punch

If there's one lesson I learned about mixing for parties, it's to choose 1-2 cocktails and create them in bulk to accommodate your guest count. My cocktail journey started with making drinks for my friends on big events like New Year's Eve, graduation and, you know, the occasional Thursday night in college. I loved focusing on the process and making sure everyone got a beverage that fit their palette, but I found that I had very little time to partake in the festivities myself. Granted, sometimes mixing one drink at a time is a nice escape from a large party - you focus on something you love while people come to you and chitchat when they're ready for another drink. You also get to look after everyone's levels of drunkenness and make sure they're getting water if they need it. It all depends on the event and what role you're looking to play.

Last weekend, Will and I traveled back to Minnesota for the annual O'Connor family Christmas, hosted by his parents. Socializing with his family is always a blast so I knew it would be best to whip up a large batch of Valcohol goodness and then sit back to enjoy the quality company. I had never before used a bowl for serving cocktails in bulk, but Will's mom discovered a beautiful punch bowl and glasses that had belonged to her grandmother, and so commenced operation Valcohol Holiday Punch.

My considerations in creating the Punch recipe were to:

  • Stay away from colors that would stain clothes, carpets and furniture (always a safe bet for a large get-together),
  • Stick with a liquor that is likely to appeal to the most people,
  • Use ingredients that are easy to find in bulk, and
  • Mix with flavors that made me nostalgic for the holiday season.

Given these considerations, I landed on the following general ingredients: vodka, apple, ginger, lemon and thyme.

Nom.

I highly recommend using Trader Joe's when you're looking for juices to mix with as they tend to have interesting flavor combinations and less sugary options than your typical grocery store. Another perk is that TJ's juice is usually way cheaper for the quality. For this cocktail, I chose their Honeycrisp Apple Cider because it actually tastes like apples and mixes wonderfully! TJ's also has great deals on ginger beer - they have Reed's brand available for cheaper than most grocery stores and their private label is just as good. When it comes to vodka, you don't need anything fancy for something this flavorful - just a decent bottle that will mix well. I used Kirkland Signature brand from Costco which would roughly be on par with Absolut. 

Now let's talk ratios. When making a cocktail in bulk, I start with the ratios for a single cocktail, figure out roughly how many cocktails I expect to be consumed (1-2 per drinking adult is a good start) and then do some multiplication (I may or may not use Excel). The key is not to blindly trust your math. Always sample your creation before serving as you never know if it'll taste slightly different when made in bulk versus on the individual scale. Lucky for you, I've already done all the math for this punch and can tell you exactly what and how much to buy. All you need to do is mix it up and be the hero of your next holiday party!

Valcohol Holiday Punch

(Makes roughly 25 cocktail servings)

  • 2 64 oz bottles Trader Joe's Honeycrisp apple cider
  • 4 12 oz bottles ginger beer
  • 6 cups vodka
  • 12 oz lemon juice
  • Fresh thyme (for garnish)

Mix all liquid ingredients (preferably chilled) in a large punch bowl (it may be a good idea to start with half the quantity to see if more will fit in your bowl or if you need to split it up between multiple containers). Prep punch glasses with a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. If you have an ice bucket, set that out for guests to use as they prefer, otherwise, also prep punch glasses with ice. Sit back and enjoy your party!