(Feature pic courtesy of Essex Inn on the Adirondack Coast)
'Tis the season for a bit of indulgence. It is like we get a pass for the preview game on Thanksgiving, but the real game kicks into high gear as the end of the year gets closer. Indulging in that rich decadent dessert, that second helping of dressing with gravy, or that third cookie is unlikely to be met with raised eyebrow; even from Aunt Julie who probably weighs about 98 pounds soaking wet, never imbibes, works out at the gym 5 days a week, and, we swear, subsists on kale and broccoli. We gather with friends and family, to feast, celebrate and share. Those who entertain are anxious to provide a special treat for guests’ taste buds; something with a bit of extravagance and luxury. It is all part of our holiday gift to the people we care about.
More often than not, the gathering begins around the punch bowl, or a makeshift bar of sorts — at least it does in my family. So, when I heard the Essex Inn was hosting a holiday mixology class, I included that on my already jammed list of things to do. I wanted some new and exciting ideas to share with family and friends.
You could not ask for a more picturesque holiday setting than the Essex Inn. It is located right on the Main Street in the charming community of Essex, an historic ship building port directly on the shores Lake Champlain. This beautifully renovated, two-hundred-year-old inn sparkles with a refined rustic charm year round, but this time of year the holiday lights, decorations, and trimmings are bonus accessories. Our mixology instructor was Lori Kudelski, employed as head bartender at the Lake Placid Lodge. This was a special guest appearance arranged to share her creativity and talent. Lori has plenty of recognition and awards to her credit, including having been deemed “creator of one of the top 50 drinks of the century” by Bride Magazine.
I joined about a dozen others in the tavern room of the inn to sample some of her ingenious holiday creations and see how they were made. We each had a little station from which to work and sample, set up around Adirondack-style pub tables. General Manager, Tom Lambert welcomed us and added to the holiday ambience by lighting a fire in the room’s massive fireplace.
Let me share a few of the drinks we learned at our class. We began with a refreshing light beverage called The Essex. Into the bottom of a champagne flute went a bit of pureed cranberry sauce. Lori suggested saving what may be left over from a holiday meal and pureeing it finely. On top of that was added gin. The drink was finished with a sparkling wine; recommended was Prosecco. What really dressed this beverage up in holiday fashion - and added a delightful aroma when sipping - was the garnish; a long sprig of rosemary plunged into a cranberry. The cranberry anchored the rosemary sprig at its bottom - like the stand on a Christmas tree - and it graced this glass perfectly.
From there we learned to make a Harvest Moon. This tasty treat was a hit with everyone. It included pureed apple butter. (Lori makes her own by cooking down chunked locally grown fresh apples with skins on, sugar, and a bit of water. The final step before it’s ready for a beverage ingredient is to run it through a sieve.) To the strained apple butter, juice from a fresh lemon, cinnamon simple syrup, apple cider, and tequila were added. She advised us that you can make your own cinnamon simple syrup easily by adding some cinnamon sticks to the sugar and water simple syrup concoction and letting it steep for a week or so. She also suggested that slivers of fresh apple would be a great garnish.
Egg Nog, Of Course
To some holiday egg nog is a must have. We all watched as Lori vigorously beat eggs into a large chilled copper bowl. Into this went cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg, sugar, heavy cream ,and some bourbon, though she explained Myers rum is her usual preference. You really can use either she told us. It’s just a matter of taste preference. She made this entire huge bowl of eggnog so fast and it looked so simple! In addition, the end result was 100 times better than that pre-packaged stuff you find in the dairy cooler at the market.
I’m skipping over some to share two final two drinks we made that I found amazing. The Leftover made use of leftover sweet potato puree! I certainly never would have considered adding that to a cocktail before now. To this was an addition of some of the cinnamon simple syrup, heavy cream, Cointreau, and vanilla vodka. The garnish treatment appeared a bit painstaking, but certainly was delightful to watch come together. Lori snipped a tiny tip off a pastry bag filled with meringue and applied small “dots” to about half of the martini glass filled with The Leftover cocktail. Then, using what I would have to call a “culinary blow torch,” she heated the meringue dots until they had that colorful singe and the air smelled sweet. The result was an artistic creation resembling the sweet potato casserole served at holiday dinners. The orangey flavor of the Cointreau complimented the color of the cocktail too. This definitely was an impressive creation all the way around.
Hot Chocolate Martini
We finished with a Hot Chocolate Martini which had to be my favorite. I definitely plan to offer these to guests over the course of the next few weeks and I'm sure I'll enjoy a few myself. Our little beverage stations had been set up so that we each could make our own. Into a cocktail shaker went ice, cayenne chocolate sauce (made with cocoa, sugar, water, and some finely ground cayenne pepper) vodka and heavy cream. We all shook our shakers as instructed; until our fingers felt like they were suffering frostbite, and then strained our creations into a martini glass. This would have been a great martini even without the cayenne, but that after-bite from the heat of the cayenne won me over. Wow! Just what you like around the holidays, an unexpected surprise!
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