I’m coming up on a milestone birthday (it rhymes with shmenty-five) and I’ve been doing some deep thinking and metaphor-exploring about this decade in a person’s life.
If the college years were a plastic bottle of Vladimir—painful but functional—then I’d say the mid-twenties have improved a little to Absolut. Specifically, though, they’re the last ounce left of a bottle of marshmallow-flavored Absolut in my old freezer. My roommate and I have no idea where it came from, or to what particular gathering it was towed, by whom. Nor do we quite like the flavor. But hey, it’s free, I guess.
Or as my mid-twenties inner monologue goes: How did I get here? What am I doing? And why didn’t anyone tell me I put this business-casual skirt on inside-out?
Metaphorically, I am not quite sure what to do with my Absolut. But when it comes to awkward leftover amounts of actual alcohol, which you, too, may find yourself harboring after a party or other disaster, I do have a solution. Put it in food. Put it in these foods.
You have: Vodka
Make: Pasta sauce
This might not be the only way to use vodka in cooking, but it’s by far the most common. A basic version:
Saute half an onion and a clove of garlic in butter until soft. Add a chopped tomato and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in ½ cup heavy cream and ¼ cup vodka, and serve with penne.
You have: Rum
Make: Bananas Foster
Another go-to choice would be the rum cake, but if you’re like me, you wouldn’t mind setting something on fire once in a while.
Heat ½ stick butter, 1 cup brown sugar, and ½ tsp cinnamon in a pan until melted and bubbling. Add about 4 bananas (cut into coins or lengthwise then crosswise, however you prefer) and cook on medium until they start to turn brown. Take the pan off the heat (because FIRE APPROACHES!) and add ¼ cup rum very carefully. Wait a few seconds for the rum to warm up, then tip the pan slightly over the heat until the mixture approaches the edge of the pan enough to catch fire. If that idea terrifies you, use a long-nosed grill lighter instead. Remove from heat and serve with ice cream.
You have: Bourbon
Make: Pork glaze
Also tastes great mixed into plain vanilla bean ice cream. But I digress.
For the glaze: In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons bourbon, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, and 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Brush with half the glaze before cooking, and half before serving.
You have: Red wine
Swap in red wine, a little or a lot, for any of the liquid in your pot of winter chili. Easy enough!
You have: White wine
Make: Poached fruit
Cover peeled peaches or pears (maybe just one, if you’ve only got a little wine) in white wine in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. If it’s not a particularly sweet wine, add up to a cup of sugar. Poach for about 10 minutes, or until the fruit is soft but not disintegrating. Remove fruit and reduce syrup for another 10 minutes, then drizzle over fruit.
You have: Tequila
Whisk 2 tablespoons tequila with the juice of a lime and ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle on a Southwest-inspired salad with spicy chicken or tortilla strips.
You have: Beer
In a bowl, shred 1 lb sharp cheddar and toss with 1 tablespoon flour. Melt in a saucepan or fondue pot. Gradually stir in up to a cup of beer. Keep warm while you dip bread cubes, pita chunks, meat, potatoes . . . anything that might taste better with some melty beer cheese on it.
Illustration by Claire Jelly.