Tag Archives: holiday

Happy Holidays from A Capitol Contessa!

I am going to take next week off to relax and hang with family and friends but I wanted to wish all of you a great holiday season.  If you are looking for some festive recipes to celebrate with here are a couple of ideas.  See you in 2017!!!  XOXO, ACC

Lamb Ragu

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Individual Apple Crisps

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Happy Hour

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Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Turkey Pot Pie Turnover

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Mulled Cider

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Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini

Quick and easy snacks are essential this time of the year but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice taste or presentation!  These crostini are beautiful with their snowy white ricotta and shiny pomegranate jewels dusted on top.  If you want to make life even easier go ahead and buy the seeds.  However, seeding a pomegranate is really fun and its much cheaper.  Make sure to use a really good baguette and high quality ricotta, otherwise this will taste flat since it uses so few ingredients.  I bought some local stuff or you can make your own ricotta.  These are great for holidays drinks with friends after work or even a little snack for Santa when he comes down the chimney!

Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  those lovely little holiday jewels, pomegranate seeds
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 baguettes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • XX ounces of ricotta cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • 1 pomegranate or 1 package of pomegranate seeds

Preheat your oven to 340 degrees.  Slice the baguettes on a diagonal into 1/2 inch slices – you should get about 20-25 slices per baguette.  Line them up on baking sheets and then drizzle with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

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Bake until toasty, about 10-15 minutes.  Let cool (these can be made earlier in the day and stored in a container, just make sure they have cooled before putting them into a baggie or they will steam.  In a medium bowl combine the ricotta with salt, pepper and the lemon zest.  Spread about a tablespoon and a half of the ricotta on each crostini.  Seed the pomegranate (instructions here) and sprinkle the seeds over the crostini.  Pull off leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle those on top as well.  These are great served at room temperature and can be left out for several hours.

 

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Ricotta and Pomegranate Crostini

  • Servings: 50 pieces
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 baguettes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • XX ounces of ricotta cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • several sprigs of thyme
  • 1 pomegranate

Preheat your oven to 340 degrees.  Slice the baguettes on a diagonal into 1/2 inch slices – you should get about 20-25 slices per baguette.  Line them up on baking sheets and then drizzle with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

Bake until toasty, about 10-15 minutes.  Let cool (these can be made earlier in the day and stored in a container, just make sure they have cooled before putting them into a baggie or they will steam.  In a medium bowl combine the ricotta with salt, pepper and the lemon zest.  Spread about a tablespoon and a half of the ricotta on each crostini.  Seed the pomegranate and sprinkle the seeds over the crostini.  Pull off leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle those on top as well.  These are great served at room temperature and can be left out for several hours.

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

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I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

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You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

Continuing with the make ahead theme these cheesy rich shells are just what Santa ordered for Christmas Eve dinner.  Make them several days ahead and then just pop them in the oven when people get hungry.  This dish also makes a great gift for a neighbor or friend that has extra family in town and no time to cook!  I give you several sizes that work for this recipe – you can chose to make one mega dish or several smaller ones to share or make throughout the week.  The shells are pretty rich with the bechamel sauce and all the cheese to I would only estimate 3 or 4 shells per person with a nice Caesar salad on the side.  There are a bunch of steps to this (might be the longest directions I have ever written) but since you can do it in advance no one needs to see you sweat.  Also sometimes its nice to bury yourself in the kitchen for a little alone time!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  feed a crowd
Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.

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Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.

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From this…

As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

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..to this!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

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In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.

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Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.

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This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).  Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

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Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

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Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.  Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.  As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.  Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.  This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).

Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Classic Cheesecake

A couple weeks ago Patrick and I were having his boss over for dinner on a Friday night and I was trying to figure out a delicious yet special meal that I could serve after a full day of work.  Make ahead was a given, and since she is from New York it hit me – have cheesecake for dessert!  Somehow in the years we have been together I have never made my cheesecake for Patrick and now I have a feeling it will be requested often.  It is the perfect holiday item – the ingredients are super simple, it’s pretty hands off, it actually needs to be made in advance, lasts for days and is almost universally loved!  It is also a great dessert to bring to a family holiday meal or an office party, as transporting it in a springform pan means that it can’t really get crushed.

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What a springform pan looks like in case you don’t have one

This is a pretty simple version with just a few twists thrown in to amp up the flavor.  I put orange zest and juice in the cheese mixture as I think the citrus helps keep the filling from being one note.  Also I like to add bourbon to the sour cream topping but since it’s not cooked off if you want you can just use vanilla extract.  While this cheesecake takes a little while to make and then you have to chill it, the actual hands on time is so minimal you could easily do it when you get home one night and then serve it the upcoming weekend.  Thursday I will post a stuffed shells recipe that can also be make in advance – pair the two and you can feed a huge crowd this season with zero hassle!

Classic Cheesecake (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  everyone’s favorite made easy
Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.

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Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.)

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Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.

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In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.

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Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

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Classic Cheesecake

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.  Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.  Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.  In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.  Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

Holiday Bark

Every year I try and find new things to gift that are edible.  At some point no one really needs more stuff and food gifts are a great way to tell people you care.  Second only to my spiced nuts, this bark always gets top ratings from my friends and family.  Bark is by far the easiest thing to make and you can mix up what kind based on the person you are giving it to or what is in your pantry.  This method makes bark even easier as it entails almost zero clean up.  Most recipes will have you “temper” the chocolate, which means slowly melting it over a double boiler while adding more chocolate as it melts to keep a steady temperature.  This keeps the chocolate from getting a gritty texture and a grey color (no good!) but is kind of a pain.

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Years ago I saw a tip in Southern Living magazine about just putting the chocolate on a cookie sheet in a low oven.  The heat just barely melts the chocolate so you don’t run the risk of grey bark and it’s already spread out on the sheet so all you have to do is spread it out a bit more and sprinkle on the toppings.  Once the bark is hard you throw away the parchment paper which means only 1 spatula to clean.  Here I give you 2 different variations but use whatever kind of chocolate you like – other good bark toppings are crushed candies like peppermint, chopped dried fruit such as apricot or cranberries, you could even throw on mini marshmallows and graham cracker cookie shards and make smores bark.  The options are limitless so next time you get invited to a last minute holiday party, within an hour you can have the perfect hostess gift.

Holiday Bark (printable version at the end of the post)
Special Equipment:  parchment paper

  • 4 four ounce bars of good chocolate – I used 3 dark chocolate and 1 white chocolate bars
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and line with chocolate pieces.  If you are going to use two chocolates like I did with the dark and white break up the pieces and mix them together so you can swirl them when they are melted.  Otherwise you can just unwrap the bars and lie them next to each other like I did with the 2 other dark chocolate bars.

 

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Bake for 5 minutes – the chocolate should still be holding its shape but when you press it with a spatula its melted inside.  Using a spatula swirl the two chocolates together and spread them out so the layer is even (if you use one kind of chocolate just use the spatula to spread it out and make sure no logos remain).

Sprinkle with toppings evenly (I did one tray of dark and white chocolate with pecans and sea salt and one dark chocolate with pomegranate seeds and sea salt).

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Place in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.  Break up the bark into smaller pieces and serve or gift.  If you use a fresh ingredient like the pomegranate seeds you should serve them right away or store at room temp for no longer than a day.  Any other topping stored in the fridge will last at least a week.

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Holiday Bark

  • Servings: enough for 4-6 gifts
  • Print

Special Equipment:  parchment paper

  • 4 four ounce bars of good chocolate – I used 3 dark chocolate and 1 white chocolate bars
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and line with chocolate pieces.  If you are going to use two chocolates like I did with the dark and white break up the pieces and mix them together so you can swirl them when they are melted.  Otherwise you can just unwrap the bars and lie them next to each other like I did with the 2 other dark chocolate bars.  Bake for 5 minutes – the chocolate should still be holding its shape but when you press it with a spatula its melted inside.  Using a spatula swirl the two chocolates together and spread them out so the layer is even (if you use one kind of chocolate just use the spatula to spread it out and make sure no logos remain).  Sprinkle with toppings evenly (I did one tray of dark and white chocolate with pecans and sea salt and one dark chocolate with pomegranate seeds and sea salt).  Place in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour.  Break up the bark into smaller pieces and serve or gift. If you use a fresh ingredient like the pomegranate seeds you should serve them right away or store at room temp for no longer than a day.  Any other topping stored in the fridge will last at least a week.

Candy Cane Vodka

Every year our holiday party gets bigger and bigger.  I would like to think it’s because Patrick and I are so super popular but I think the reality is word has gotten out about our favors – little airplane size bottles of home infused liquor.  I had seen a bunch of cute ideas on Pinterest about giving out mini bottles of booze as favors but they were all the kind you find

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2014’s Homemade Fireball

behind the checkout at your local package store.  Not only prohibitively expensive but also not as fun as making your own!  Last year it was fireball, this year, candy cane vodka.  Other infused liquors can take up to months to get right but this is super easy, as the candy canes do all the work for you.  Crushed up they melt into the vodka within an hour and ta da!   It’s a pretty subtle flavor – something that tasted like liquid candy cane sounded too much to me like cough syrup, but if you want to amp up the flavor just add more candy canes.  It wasn’t that easy to find fillable “nip” bottles but after much research I found the best quality and price here.  You may remember these mini bottles from my very first post ever when I gave out habanero infused tequila at my blog launch party.  They are super easy to fill – made a bit easier if you have a small funnel.  I use the one that came with Patrick’s flask and it works like a charm but I think with a steady hand you could do it unaided.  I ordered really cute labels this year from Tiny Prints but if you want to save money just print out your own labels like I did last year or tie with a festive bow.  My friends hoard these things – I caught my friend Amy packing some bottles for a long international flight months after the party!  This recipe is for a huge amount (here is where Costco vodka can be your friend) assuming that you are going to make your own bottles but really it’s just a method – crush up a mini candy cane and throw it into your drink and you will get the same flavor.  Cheers!

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Candy Cane Vodka (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:   stocking stuffers or favors
Special Equipment:  mini bottles like these and a mini funnel (optional)

  • 1.75 liter bottle of vodka
  • 30 mini candy canes or approximately 15 regular size candy canes

Crush the candy canes in a plastic bag with the bottom of a pot or another heavy object.  They don’t need to be pulverized, just broken into small pieces.  I poured half of the vodka into a pitcher and kept half in the bottle so there was room for the candy canes but if you have a large enough pitcher for both, combine them together in one.  If not divide up the crushed candy canes between the two vessels and allow to sit for an hour, stirring once or twice.  Once all the candy canes have dissolved you can store at room temperature indefinitely.  Decant into small bottles – a 1.75 liter bottle will fill approximately 40 nip bottles.

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Candy Cane Vodka

  • Servings: 40
  • Print

Special Equipment:  mini bottles like these and a mini funnel (optional)

  • 1.75 liter bottle of vodka
  • 30 mini candy canes or approximately 15 regular size candy canes

Crush the candy canes in a plastic bag with the bottom of a pot or another heavy object.  They don’t need to be pulverized, just broken into small pieces.  I poured half of the vodka into a pitcher and kept half in the bottle so there was room for the candy canes but if you have a large enough pitcher for both combine them together in one.  If not divide up the crushed candy canes between the two vessels and allow to sit for an hour, stirring once or twice.  Once all the candy canes have dissolved you can store at room temperature indefinitely.  Decant into small bottles – a 1.75 liter bottle will fill approximately 40 nip bottles.

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