HOLIDAY- Mix it up: How to add a dash of spirit

Sales of spirits and liqueurs soar during the Christmas and New Year period, and most of us have a few bottles lurking at the back of the cupboard from several Christmases ago. Fortunately spirits and liqueurs keep very well and are not only very drinkable either alone or as the basis of delicious cocktails, but they also make versatile ingredients for the creative cook.

Alcohol tenderizes, enriches, and lifts the flavor of marinades, sauces, soups, casseroles, cakes, and desserts, while imparting a subtle yet discernible flavor. Go carefully, adding a little at a time and taste as you go– a little will enhance the flavor– but too much will overpower the food.

Liqueurs are essentially spirit-based drinks and include nut liqueurs such as Frangelico (hazelnut) and Malibu (coconut); fruit liqueurs such as Curacao (orange) or kirsch (cherry); cream liqueurs such as Irish Mist and others such as Kahlua (coffee), Crème de Cacao (chocolate), and the brightly colored and exotic such as sunshine yellow Crème de Banane (banana) and the purple Parfait Amour (violet).

Malt whisky is more expensive than blended whisky and has a more complex flavor. Experiment by using different whiskies in a recipe; as no two malts are the same, you'll find that the taste of the dish is transformed. Stir a couple of spoonfuls into a marinade for meat, game or poultry. Soak dried fruits for a rich fruitcake in malt whisky, then "feed" the cooked cake with whisky.

Add a little cognac or brandy to cooked mushrooms and mushroom soup to enhance the flavor. Add a dash of vodka to a bowl of Vichyssoise. Gin adds an elusive flavor to lamb. Add a few spoonfuls to the pan juices with a few crushed juniper berries when roasting lamb and baste during cooking. 

Toss sliced fresh fruit with a few tablespoons of orange or mint liqueur for an instant dessert. Sprinkle melon wedges or grapefruit halves with golden caster sugar and ground ginger, and then pour a spoonful of ginger liqueur into each wedge or half. Chill well before serving


(You can use whisky instead of the brandy if you prefer.)

1/4 c. olive oil

3.5 tbsp. butter

3 lbs. thick pork fillets

2 onions, sliced

2 peppers, seeds removed and sliced

1 tbsp. sugar

4 tbsp. brandy

2 tbsp. pink peppercorns

1-2/3 c. crème fraiche

Salt to taste

Fresh coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan and sauté the pork fillets for 15 minutes. Cover the pan and cook for a further 15 minutes or so until cooked through. Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm. Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, then add the sliced peppers and sprinkle with the sugar. Continue to cook over a medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Increase the heat and cook until the sugar begins to caramelize. Add the brandy and peppercorns to the pan and stir well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the crème fraiche and season to taste with salt. Reheat the sauce. Arrange the pork fillets on a serving dish and pour over the hot sauce. Garnish with coriander and serve with boiled rice.


3 tbsp. dark rum

4 tbsp. raisins

4 scoops vanilla or rum/raisin ice cream

4 square slices ginger cake

3 egg whites

Soak the raisins in a small bowl with the rum. Cover and let stand for at least 4 hours or overnight. Scoop the ice cream onto a plate and open freeze for at least 30 minutes until firm, and then cover with plastic wrap. Place the cake slices well apart on a baking sheet and scatter a spoonful of the soaked raisins on each slice. Place a scoop of ice cream in the center of each and return to the freezer. Whisk the sugar into the egg whites, a tablespoonful at a time, until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Spoon the meringue over the ice cream and spread to cover completely. Bake for about 5 minutes in a very hot oven, 520 degrees until starting to brown. Serve immediately.


This sumptuous classic French dessert bears no resemblance to a typical chocolate sponge roll filled with butter cream!

4 oz. plain chocolate - at least 60% cocoa solids

4 oz. confectioner's sugar

1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened

2 tbsp. Martell Cognac

2 c. chestnut puree (unsweetened)

To finish: 10 oz. double cream, whipped

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and sift in the confectioner's sugar. Add the butter, cognac, and chestnut purée and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Spoon into a loaf tin lined with non-stick baking parchment and chill for 1 hour. Turn out the "loaf" onto a sheet of non-stick baking parchment and quickly shape the mixture into a log, while it's still cold. Smooth the surface with a knife dipped in hot water and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Spread the cream over the log– use a fork to create a "bark" effect. Chill again until ready to serve. Just before serving, add some festive decorations.


4 oz. plain or milk chocolate, chopped

1/3 c. cake or trifle sponge crumbs

1/3 c. confectioner's sugar, sifted

1/3 c. ground almonds or hazelnuts

2 tbsp. Martell cognac

4 tbsp. double cream

COATING: 2 oz. melted chocolate (white, plain or milk)


2 oz. each cocoa powder, chopped nuts, coconut or chocolate vermicelli

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot, not boiling, water. In a large bowl, mix the crumbs, sugar, ground almonds, and cognac until combined, and then gradually add the melted chocolate, mixing well. Stir in the cream. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour until firm enough to handle. Take teaspoons of the chilled mixture and roll into balls– you should get about 30. Roll the balls in the coating of your choice. These will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


4 oz. mixed dried and crystallized fruits, e.g. raisins, sultanas, candied peel, apricots

2 oz. glacé cherries, chopped

4 tbsp. fruit liqueur, e.g. orange, cherry, etc.

2 c. full fat milk

1 cinnamon stick

3 eggs

1/2 c. sugar

2 c. whipping cream

1 tbsp. toasted almonds, chopped

Soak the fruits and glacé cherries in the liqueur overnight. Pour the milk into a pan and add the cinnamon stick. Heat gently until just about to boil and then remove from the heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and reheat the milk over a low heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar together then pour on the hot milk, whisking all the time. Return the mixture to the pan and heat, stirring, until the custard has thickened, but do not allow to boil or the mixture will curdle. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring from time to time. Whip the cream until thick but not stiff and fold into the custard with the fruits, soaking liquor and almonds. Pour into a pudding basin, then cover and freeze until firm. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before turning the pudding out onto a serving plate. Decorate with a sprig of holly.

Carol Wilson first published these clever ideas in the Great Britain-based Country View magazine.