Words by Jesse Masterson

Photos by Dan Francis Photography

After I debuted my love of cheese and charcuterie trays in the October issue, I’m happy to be back for the holidays to talk about two of my other favorite things; cocktails and cookies. Whether you’re entertaining for the holidays or just trying to make your weekend a little jollier, you’ll find these recipes to be simple, fun and absolutely delicious.


Pinterest Perfected
These Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday cookies are simple and festive and have become an ongoing tradition in my house. I love pistachios and Christmas, so combining the two is perfect. One year, I actually made 60 dozen. Needless to say, this cookie is a popular request among friends and family. I originally found the recipe on Pinterest, but have since made my own modifications to portions and ingredients. I then modified the recipe even further to make a biscotti version of the cookie recipe. If you’re aghast at seeing that I used a sugar cookie mix, don’t worry. I usually prefer the homemade versions of everything too, but with these particular cookies, I’ve found the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix to be the best. In the pursuit of Pinterest perfection, I tried multiple, homemade recipes for the sugar cookie portion but it just never turned out as well. Plus, this simplifying step will save you some time.

A Holiday Spin on a Classic Cocktail
I’m no mixologist, but I do enjoy concocting a fun cocktail now and then. After working in the restaurant industry for many years, I’ve gotten to observe some great tricks of the trade and it certainly helped expand my horizons in food and drink. I chose the cold drink for its holiday spin on one of my favorite classics, the gin and soda. It’s a clean and simple combination that can easily be spruced up for the seasons. To give this drink a holiday vibe, I made a thyme simple syrup, added a lime wedge and garnished with cranberries and fresh thyme. I find the salty-sweetness of the Cranberry-pistachio cookie pairs perfectly with this drink.

It’s a Hot One!
My other choice is a hot one, literally. It’s inspired by a drink I love from HoDo Lounge named “On a Plane to Mexico”. Their version is a little different, but still has a similar espresso base and a hint of orange. I also serve it in a champagne flute just like HoDo does. To create this, I used mandarin-flavored vodka, simple syrup, skim milk and espresso, then garnished it with a sugar rim and orange zest. Since coffee drinks are made to couple with biscotti, I altered the cookie recipe to create my own version of this coffee shop favorite.

Entertaining + Organizing
Since not every home is set up for easy entertaining, sometimes you need to bring in a little reinforcement. I found this bronzed-gold bar cart with marble top at McNeal & Friends in Downtown Fargo. I love the clean look of it and the fact that it has three tiers to help organize the necessities and display the goodies. I recommend keeping this cart in close-proximity to the dining table so guests have easy access to cocktails and other things that might be in high-demand. You can also include fun little recipe cards for your featured drinks so guests can try their hand at crafting their own.


Get the Recipes:

Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday Cookies

1 pouch (1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box pistachio pudding
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 dry roasted pistachio nuts, Whole
1 cup dried cranberries, whole

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a large bowl, stir flour, cookie mix, and pudding. Stir in melted butter and eggs.
3. Add pistachios and cranberries, mix well.
4. Drop tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet.
5. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire rack.


Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday Biscotti

1 pouch (1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box pistachio pudding
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 dry roasted pistachio nuts, whole
1 cup dried cranberries, whole
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a large bowl, stir flour, cookie mix, and pudding. Stir in melted butter and eggs.
3. Add pistachios and cranberries, mix well.
4. Divide dough in half. On each of two ungreased cookie sheets, shape half of dough into 15’x2′ log.
5. Bake 18-20 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250. Place logs on cutting board. Cut crosswise into 3/4 inch slices. Place slices cut side down onto ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Bake 38-40 minutes, turning once half-way through. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool 10 minutes. With a fine mesh strainer, sprinkle powdered sugar over tops of cookies.


Gin Thyme
2 oz. gin
Soda water
1 splash thyme simple syrup (Find the recipe below)
Serve over ice

Lime wedge
Thyme sprig
Fresh cranberries


Spiked Orange Espresso
1 oz. Absolute Mandrin
2 shots espresso
1/2 oz steamed milk or cream
Splash simple syrup (Find the recipe below)
Sugar rim
Serve hot in champagne flute

Edible Garnish:
Cranberry-Pistachio Holiday biscotti or orange zest


Simple Syrup Made Simple
You can buy a variety of Simple Syrups at the store, but if you make it at home, you can save money and create your own customized concoction. Simple Syrup is very easy to make and can be infused with just about any type of flavor. Once made, you can add it to your coffee, cocktails and even lemonade. If stored in a cool spot in a tightly sealed bottle or mason jar, your syrup can last up to six months.

Make your own Simple Syrup
1. Combine equal parts of sugar and water.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.
3. After the sugar is completely dissolved, stir in your sprig of thyme. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. Allow to cool completely, then transfer to a bottle for storing.


Holiday Tools, Appliances & Accessories:
Nut bowl – Michael Aram, McNeal & Friends
Wine glasses and champagne flutes – Waterford Crystal, HomeGoods
Bar cart and holiday sprigs- McNeal & Friends
Shotglasses – Target
Aero latte frother – Creative Kitchen
Verismo expresso maker – Starbucks
Zyliss fruit zester – Creative Kitchen