Vodka, whether it's France's Grey Goose or Smirnoff, originally Russian, vodka is the chameleon of liquors as far as mixed drinks go. It livens up tomato juice, puts the spike in party punch and makes martinis of every description. Even mild-mannered sweet liqueurs take on strong new properties when propelled by this mutable clear white liquid.
Although originally made with gin, the vodka martini has crashed the scene in many different varieties. Make a classic dry martini with 2 1/2 parts vodka, 1/2 part dry vermouth and a dash of bitters. Shake it or stir it, strain it into a martini glass and add a lemon peel garnish. Make it a dirty martini by adding green olives and a little of the olive juice. Swap out the olives with cocktail onions and you have a Gibson. Although not as commonplace, sweet vermouth is sometimes also used in martinis, using orange bitters as flavoring and orange peel as garnish.
Easy to drink and pretty to look at, cocktails like the Cosmopolitan are ubiquitous brunch libations. The basic Cosmo is 1 1/2 parts citrus-flavored vodka -- raspberry vodka works, too -- with 1/2 part Cointreau, 1/2 part cranberry juice and 1/4 part freshly squeezed lime juice (don't use the bottled stuff). For the Grey Goose Cosmonaut, use 2 parts of its pear vodka, 1 part lime juice, 3/4 part ginger liqueur and a dash of Cardamom bitters. It's meant to be served over an orb of ice with a candy-dusted grape on a cocktail spear, but it works just fine over ice with a slice of fresh pear.
It's called an martini, but the Godiva martini is really just a reason for mixing vodka with chocolate. Mix 2 parts Godiva chocolate liqueur -- white or dark -- with 1 part vodka, 1 part half-and-half and a little chocolate syrup and serve it in a martini glass. Go overboard and rim the edge of the glass with sugar and top the whole thing with shaved chocolate. Similar in taste, the old-school White Russian is simple but deadly. Put some ice in a glass and pour in a couple of shots of vodka, followed by a shot of Kahlua and a shot of heavy cream. Stick a straw in it and let the drinker do the mixing. However, if you throw the whole thing in a blender with more ice, you have a mudslide.
Add two shots of vodka to a tall glass of orange juice, garnish with an orange slice and you've got a screwdriver. Scale it down, add champagne and serve it in a wine glass and you've made a vodka mimosa. Or mix in some cranberry juice and some fresh squeezed lime for a Madras. All these combinations turn up on vacation and brunch menus along with another classic juice and vodka combo: the bloody mary. It's not just about pouring a couple of shots of vodka into tomato juice. Celery salt, pepper, a little horseradish and dash of Worcestershire are just the tip of mary's iceberg. Add a stalk of celery, long dill pickle spear, cocktail pick of green olives or even an asparagus spear. Think of it as a food group with vodka.