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Christmastime cocktail hour? Try these five great recipes

5 Recipes
A tray laden with mugs of eggnog.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

It’s just a few more nights before Christmas. Have a drink and some nibbles to welcome the holiday.

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Whether you are hosting a Christmas Eve tree-trimming party, welcoming carolers or just having a quiet evening at home, we suggest seasonal cocktails and a few appetizers to go with.

Eggnog is a classic go-to beverage at this time of year and making your own is makes it more fun to drink, especially when you mix things up a bit. Heavenly Eggnog (plus variations) finesses the key ingredients to their fullest potential for a smooth, rich result. Egg whites are beaten into stiff peaks. The yolks are whisked together with warm spices and spirits — usually brandy — and gently heated until thickened. Cream is whipped until it, too, forms stiff peaks. Once the components are chilled, they get folded together and refrigerated until ready to serve. Stick with this classic preparation or try one of the many variations listed with the recipe — or create one of your own.

Ponche Villa is also a popular holiday-season beverage, especially in Southern California. Tejocote, guava and sugar are the key ingredients, but tamarind, hibiscus flowers and piloncillo (dark brown sugar) are also typical, and almost any available fruit, like apples or oranges, can be added to the pot. Some mixologists spike the drink with rum or tequila; this recipe calls for mezcal.

With the liquor flowing, it is a good idea to have some food nearby. Honeyed Sesame Walnuts are sweet, spicy and salty and have a good crunch. Strategically place small bowls of them so that each member of your gathering has easy access to one of their own.

Panzanella with Sherry Vinaigrette is essentially a bread salad on a stick. Each bite has a different character: The tomatoes are sweet and juicy, the mozzarella cheese is chewy with a hint of tang, the basil is spicy and fragrant, and the croutons have a satisfying crunch. Skewers of salad are the perfect size for munching from one hand with a drink in the other.

A little heartier, Vegan Picadillo Empanadas are little hand pies full of texture and Mexican flavors. In place of beef, the filling is made with ground nuts sauteed with onions and a Mexican spice blend and then simmered with tomatoes, raisins and green olives.

Panzanella with sherry vinaigrette

This is a riff on a panzanella bread salad and a caprese appetizer — a French bread crouton, plump ciliegine, cherry tomato and basil leaf drizzled with with sherry vinaigrette.
Time30 minutes
YieldsMakes 12 skewers

Vegan Picadillo Empanadas

Finely chopped pecans take the place of beef in these picadillo empanadas seasoned with spices, raisins and olives.
Time1 hour
YieldsMakes about 12

Heavenly eggnog (plus variations)

The cognac and ground star anise added to the usual ingredients — eggs, sugar, seasonings, heavy cream, milk and spirits — give this eggnog a whole new, almost exotic, identity.
Time20 minutes
YieldsServes 12

Ponche Villa

The three basic ingredients for ponche are tejocote (whole or quartered), guava and sugar cane, but tamarind, hibiscus flowers and piloncillo (dark brown sugar) are also typical.
Time1 hour 15 minutes
YieldsMakes 25 cocktails

Honeyed Sesame Walnuts

These crackly caramelized walnuts are baked in the oven to make this an easy appetizer.
Time1 hour 15 minutes, largely unattended
YieldsMakes about 7 cups