It's no secret that liquor is a simple solution to holiday gift-giving. You don't see a lot of people lining up Dec. 26 to return bottles of 12-year-old Scotch. And what better way to embrace the spirit of giving than by giving a spirit?
But let's face it, sticking a ribbon on a generic bottle of booze can come across as a bit uninspired. Here, then, are a few suggestions to avoid a case of the blahs by choosing spirits that are good in the glass, but also do double duty in the kitchen, adding zest to seasonal dishes.
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Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum: A blend of 20 different rums that's aged in oak barrels, Appleton Estate Reserve can be sipped on the rocks or in classic cocktails like the mai tai. Stove-side it's good stirred into chocolate fondue with the spiced vanilla, nuts and candied orange flavors of the rum melting into the rich chocolate. An Appleton recipe calls for heating 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons plain or vanilla yogurt and a half cup of heavy whipping cream until hot but not boiling, then stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of rum and pouring the whole thing over 7 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate. Into a heated fondue pot it goes, and let the dipping commence.
Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon: There are two ways to serve turkey -- too dry or too raw. Wild Turkey bourbon, on the other hand, is ready at the twist of a cap, absolutely no basting required. Aged six-to-eight years, the drink can be served straight or as a mixer in cocktails like the newly fashionable Old Fashioned.
On the culinary side, try boosting the brown-sugar-plus-butter treatment for baked acorn squash halves by spooning a tablespoon of bourbon into the cavities, along with a dusting of cinnamon. It also is delicious stirred into buttered and mashed sweet potatoes. A little brown sugar in there is nice, too.
Oro Azul Tequila Reposado: Double distilled and made from 100 percent blue agave, this tequila comes in a pyramid-shaped blue bottle. "Reposado" means "rested," and indicates the spirit has been aged in oak barrels for at least two months, but less than a year. (Oro Azul reposado is rested for six months.) A Christmas margarita might hit the spot. Or why not stir a few tablespoons into your special secret homemade queso dip? (Is that a Velveeta box and a can of Rotel tomatoes in the kitchen? We'll never tell.)
Square One Organic Vodka: The company has a luscious recipe for pear noel, (a play on "Pere Noel," the French Santa Claus) on its website that involves pureed pears, vodka, tawny port, sweet red vermouth, brown sugar, honey and whipped cream. Yum. You also can check the old adage that the (80) proof is in the pudding by subbing vodka for the traditional brandy when setting your Christmas pudding alight. British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson recommends warmed vodka for a purer and longer flame. (And if you're looking for a recipe, her nonconformist Christmas pudding in her book, "Feast," may just change your mind about the much-maligned seasonal staple.)
Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur: Taking a gingerly approach to the coming festivities? This French import may help. Add to Champagne or sparkling wine for a ginger royale, or make a French ginger snap (liqueur plus citrus vodka, triple sec and fresh lemon juice). For those days when you've had all the holiday you can handle, consider adding a dash to a soothing cup of hot tea.
Luxardo Espresso Italian Coffee Liqueur: Sometimes, you're just not in the mood for a long winter's nap. Infused with coffees from Central America and Kenya, this liqueur can be served on the rocks or with cream as an after-dinner drink. It plays well with others, featuring in cocktails like the black Russian and Irish coffee. You also can add it to tiramisu and other desserts, or simply warm and pour over ice cream.