The holidays are a time for tradition: whether passed down for generations or started new this year, we have the chance to combine honoring the past with building sentiments for the future. What keeps tradition alive is sharing with friends, and many of my family’s traditions center around food so here are some of my favorites:
Spiced Apple Cider
8 cups Organic Apple Cider*
3 Cinnamon Sticks
2 Oranges studded with cloves
2 Star Anise
*You can use apple juice, but if you do add lemon juice to taste to balance the sugar content
Heat all ingredients in a pot over medium heat and let simmer for 30 minutes before serving. If you want to reduce sediment from the cinnamon, pour into mugs through a fine strainer.
Since I was a small child, I have always looked forward to Spiced Cider season. I think a part of that tradition was being tasked with studding oranges with cloves, which at 5-15 years-old both made me feel like I was contributing and helped keep me out of my mother’s way. I still enjoy the sentimentality of making designs on the oranges. But as my palate has changed a bit and I look for more savory balance in holiday drinks, I have found that the sweet, spiced apple cider is surprisingly best friends with peated whisky. As the weather gets colder, I am loving cuddling up with a mug of cider and a pour of Cask 53.298 Tokaji and tug boats – coal smoke and honey, salt and cinnamon-apple. Pour yourself a mug and have a whisky alongside, or pour it right in: there’s no wrong way to do it!
Sweet & Spicy Roasted Nuts
3 cups mixed nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, etc)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter (melted)
2 tbsp cut rosemary leaves (fresh preferred)
2 tsp crushed red pepper flake
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients in a bowl to evenly coat nuts. Spread mixture on a baking sheet and cook for 20-25 minutes, tossing occasionally to evenly brown. Let cool and serve.
Part of the importance of this recipe is how spectacular it makes the house smell before friends and family even arrive… But if you are doing any entertaining this holiday season, sweet & spicy nuts are a must! This recipe has become a particular tradition for me because of how easy it is, plus it means I have something to snack on while cooking. I particularly enjoy these with a whisky from the Spicy & Dry profile, something that can stand up to some water and I can keep sipping on all afternoon. I recommend Cask 73.113 Sweet, earthy and amazing to balance the sweetness of the nuts – the subtle Oloroso finish on the whisky pairs beautifully with the sweet maple, but also provides a great structure for the salt and spice. Definitely both crowd pleasers, just make sure you have enough for yourself to enjoy as well.
Santa’s Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Maldon Sea Salt for top of cookies
Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter, both sugars, and vanilla extract until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time and then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. If you are like me, pause at this step and enjoy some of the dough. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake approximately 5-6 minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt to the top of each cookie and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Let cool and enjoy with your fireside dram!
I have far outgrown some holiday traditions, but at 35-years-old it seems I will never outgrow leaving chocolate chip cookies out for “Santa.” To be honest this tradition has become much more about eating dough and the smell of baking cookies late on Christmas Eve, so it is doubtful I will pass it up any time soon. But honestly, is there anything better than sitting in a quiet house after everyone is asleep sipping on a fine whisky and eating fresh chocolate chip cookies? Cask 125.76 Like meeting an old friend encapsulates this experience perfectly for me: a 14-year highland dram with notes of honeyed oak and biscuits on a rich and alluring palate. Perhaps the old friend is the familiar hug of soft tannins and restrained citrus, or the warm fresh cookies, or the chance to share a dram with Santa himself; everything about this tradition withstands the test of time (even if not reality…).
*PS. Don’t forget to leave out the carrots for the reindeer.
Please share your whisky pairings this season with me at email@example.com or on Instagram @brennamchugh. Happy holidays to you all and happy cooking!