hot toddy’s & other spiked warm bevvies

hot toddySpiked warm drinks are a part of most cultures.  As a child I’d see the adults add Anisette to the after-dinner espresso, along with a bit of sugar and a lemon rind twist.  From a kid’s perspective that looked ~ and tasted ~ very unappealing.

Then as I got older and frequented Irish pubs, I was introduced to the Irish Coffee.  Many a young man was seen tossing one back ~ after tossing back many a Guinness.  But being neither a coffee nor whiskey drinker in my 20’s, I wasn’t a fan of the drink.

These days I’d enjoy either of those apertifs, but my preference will always be some form of the Hot Toddy.  A steamy combination of brandy {or bourbon} and spices with a hint of sweetness, this is a beverage I’ll never get sick of.  Speaking of sick, traditionally the hot toddy was used for medicinal purposes.  Apparently the ginger, honey and lemon trio helps to heal the common cold, and they just so happen to be three main ingredients of my favorite toddy recipe.

photo:  seriouseats.comAlthough the recipe calls for bourbon or rum {and let’s not forget about hot buttered rum ~ yum!} I use brandy.  But the proportions here are perfect; on a rainy night curled up with a book or dvd, to me there’s nothing better.  Well, maybe if it was creamy.

Which brings me to the final warm bevvie ~ my Hot Brandy Alexander.

  • Heat about a mugful of milk or half&half on the stove; add a few grates of nutmeg
  • Add about an ounce of either Kalua or Bailey’s
  • Stir in your favorite spices ~ a pinch of cinnamon, allspice, how about pumpkin pie spice mix?
  • When the milk is steaming, take off heat and add a teaspoon or two of dark brown sugar; stir until dissolved
  • Pour a jigger of brandy into a large mug, then add milk mixture

If it isn’t being served at bedtime, a bit of coffee is a nice addition.  Another great variation is, rather than the spices add a teaspoon of loose leaf chai tea into the milk as it’s heating, then strain it into the mug.  Delicious!

homemade vanilla extract & liqueur

homemade vanilla extractVanilla is one of the most popular and beloved flavors in baking.  Warm, sweet and so versatile, I can’t get enough of it.  Not only does it enhance everything from ice cream to cakes to sauces, I love it in coffee and tea as well as an after-dinner beverage.

Pure vanilla extract can be pricey ~ so if you’re like me and use a lot of this elixir, making it from scratch is practical, economical and, I find, a lot of fun.  All it takes is a jar, vanilla bean pods and, for an extract, I like to use dark rum.

  • Cut four or five vanilla bean pods in halves or thirds; small enough so they’ll easily fit in an 8-ounce mason jar
  • Split pods down the center to expose all the beans
  • Place them into the jar and fill it to the top with the rum
  • It’s important that the pods are completely submerged in the liquid to avoid spoilage; double check this and cut pods smaller if needed
  • Place plastic wrap over mouth of the jar then screw on lid securely
  • Shake jar vigorously
  • Label and date; store in a cool dark place and shake daily for at least 6 weeks

That’s it!  The extract will only get stronger {and better} with age, so I just leave the vanilla in the jar and use a dropper or spoon to take out a bit whenever I need it.  After a while, to keep the pods submerged I either snip them into smaller chunks with scissors or just top off the jar with a bit of rum every now and then.  The other option is to eventually remove the pods.

homemade vanilla brandy

A much lighter ~ drinkable ~ version of vanilla extract is vanilla-flavored brandy.  Same process only less concentrated:  I just put a few split pods into a litre of brandy and let it sit for a month or so.  Again, I shake it up daily to keep the extraction process active.  Alcohol is very good at extracting so all it needs is a little help with a jiggle once a day.

This type of brandy infusion can also be made into a liqueur by adding simple sugar syrup or honey; spices such as clove and cinnamon; pear halves, dates and raisins; even orange peel for a Grand-Marnier-style apertif.