Every year when the temperatures drop, people turn the heat up on their beverages. Coffees, ciders, toddies, cocoa, and warm teas all become that much more appealing. In the same vein, we seek out festive, sparkling drinks to add light and cheer to the darkest days of the year. The downside is that the smallest people we share our lives with are often left out. Coffee and cocktails just aren’t suitable for the young crowd, but that doesn’t mean they should miss out on the fun. Below are three recipes (and a few instructions) that you can make and share with the children (and abstainers) in your life this winter.
With all of these recipes, the level of child involvement depends mainly on your comfort level and the age of your child(ren). Little hands can sprinkle spices, pour pre-measured ingredients, seed pomegranates, stir, and – if you’re feeling daring – even help chop up apples.
First up: Spiced Apple Cider.
If you choose to make this all the way from scratch, because you find yourself with a very large amount of apples, there are a few things to consider during your prep. You do not need to peel your apples: the peel holds flavor, vitamins, and fiber, and you’re going to strain this before you drink it anyway. You do, however, want to cut out any bruises and discard the core and the seeds.
So you start with 6-8 apples, roughly chopped. You could also just buy a jug of cider and add the the following ingredients: 3-6 orange slices (alternatively, you could chunk up an entire orange or two, depending on the size of the batch you’re making and how citrusy you like your cider,) 1-2 cinnamon sticks (I like to break them in half, purely for aesthetics), a few allspice berries, a few whole cloves, and a few grates of nutmeg. I do not keep powdered nutmeg on hand because it is often stale before it even hits the store shelves. If you use powdered nutmeg, be aware that you may have to use more than you intend in order to get the taste where you like it.
Dump all of this into a pot (or a slow cooker, if you’re making a party-sized batch) and cover with water. Stirring occasionally, bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Using a potato masher, smash down the apples until they have given their all and the concoction becomes the beverage you know and love. Strain through a mesh strainer and/or cheese cloth (a coffee filter will also work), and enjoy!
Next Up: Aztec Hot Cocoa (also known as Mexican Hot Chocolate or Latin Hot Chocolate)
This one is really easy: Make a batch of powdered hot cocoa according to the instructions on the package, and add a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste. You can make it with cow milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or plain ol’ water if you want to keep the richness down. The key is to mix the spices and the cocoa together while they’re all still powdered, and then add just enough liquid to make a syrupy paste before you add the rest of the liquid. This ensures that all of the powders dissolve into the liquid. Serve warm.
Finally: The Pomegranate Spritzer.
I’ve made many variations of this over the years, but the key is to always start with fresh pomegranates and end with a fancy glass. I realize that fresh pomegranates aren’t always easy to come buy, and they’re not an inexpensive berry … and when you get them home just the idea of getting out all of those seeds can be daunting … but I promise you it’s worth it. In fact, it’s so easy that little hands can help remove the arils from the pomegranate, should they be so inclined. (I like Alton Brown’s method.)
So you need pomegranate seeds (enough for garnish, and for snacking), pomegranate juice, and bubbly water. You can add sugar to taste, if you feel it necessary, or a simple syrup, if that strikes your fancy. Just add a few splashes of juice to the bottom of a fancy glass, fill with bubbly water, sprinkle with seeds. Adjust the ratio to your taste, and enjoy!
So there you have it, three beverages that have been turned up a bit for the season. I know that I said “to taste” a lot, and I have recently been reminded that this phrase, “season to taste,” is intimidating. If you find yourself worried that your taste isn’t “right”, remember that cooking isn’t about “right.” It’s about “good.” It’s about “tastiness.” You know what tastes good to you. So start small and experiment. Hey, you could even make an afternoon (or a few afternoons) of it! Bring the kids into the kitchen and have blind cider tastings, or blind pomegranate juice tastings, or set up a cocoa bar with lots of different spices and additions (peppermint and marshmallows in addition to the spices, perhaps). You could even make one batch with powdered spices and one with whole and see if you can tell the difference. Allow your children to explore their own palates, and let them watch you explore yours. And then relax and enjoy your creations.