At our house, the holidays start sometime in mid-November and stretch into the early part of January. Roughly bookended by Thanksgiving and the turn of the New Year, there are also birthdays, gatherings of coworkers, traditional holiday get- togethers with friends and family, organizational parties and galas, and more miscellaneous shindigs than you can shake a stick at. With all of that entertaining come two conundrums: expense, and ennui (not to mention expanding waistline, but that is beyond the purview of this column.) The cost of a cocktail party can easily reach three or four digits, depending on your taste and the proclivities of your guests. And who wants to sip the same tired refreshment, party after party, from Halloween to New Year’s Day? Here are some tips for keeping your entertaining budget intact and enlivening the taste buds of your friends and family in the process.
Certain ingredients seem to be inextricably attached to specific holidays, with champagne and New Year’s Eve being the most obviously conjoined. But i think that bubbly should be kept on hand at all times, for all manner of celebration, especially toward the end of the year when impromptu gatherings or unexpected company can catch you off guard. Though it’s perfectly delightful chilled and sipped on its own, champagne and other sparkling wines are almost infinitely versatile in mixed drinks.
Dale Degroff’s Ritz Cocktail is a consummate cocktail for the holidays–cognac, cointreau and champagne are the types of ingredients that we love to luxuriate in around the holidays, and liqueurs like Luxardo Maraschino infuse the cocktail with a mysterious elegance. The Ritz is pretty to look at and beguiling to the palate, a festive way to ring in 2011. However, if your entertaining budget is more flatlined than flush, try the Ritz Punch.
As with many cocktail recipes, there are ways to substitute value-priced ingredients for some of the more luxurious ones so that you can bust a move without busting the bank. Inexpensive cognac or non-French brandy is substituted for more prestigious marks; local spirits like Paula’s Texas Orange can be substituted for international brands; and cava, prosecco or American sparkling wine is an affordable substitute for champagne. One thing to remember when purchasing sparkling wine for a party is that price is not always tied directly to quality. With many of the major labels, much of what you are paying for is advertising and packaging. For the same price as a well-known commercial wine, you could buy a fabulous bottle of unique, artisanal “grower” champagne. Major houses may buy grapes from across the champagne region, but “grower” champagnes are produced by the estate that owns the vineyards that produced the grapes. There are other lesser-known values that your wine store clerk can recommend that may be just as good or better than a famous brand at a fraction of the price.
Eggnog is a quintessential winter concoction that helps many families get through the holidays. The screaming cacophony of kids (and maybe a parent or two) is somehow softened when a stiff mug of eggnog is close at hand. Whereas the store- bought carton variety may be the one you are more familiar with, eggnog is easy enough to make from scratch that it is worth the extra effort. Eggnog can be spiked to your liking with aged rum, brandy, or bourbon or some combination of these. But regardless of how you like to doctor the eggnog, keep in mind that you do not necessarily need to use your rarest spirits here. The egg, cream and spice will provide safe harbor for more reasonably priced selections. However, it is advisable not to use bottom- shelf or “well” spirits in any circumstance.
Tom and Jerry was once a ubiquitous sign of the holidays, although now most people are only familiar with the cartoon that borrowed its name. The drink has been around since the mid-nineteenth century and is in the eggnog family of flavors, though lighter bodied and a little boozier. It is made by first whipping up a batter of eggs, egg whites, and spices and then using a dollop of the batter to garnish a mug of rum, brandy, or whiskey that has been warmed with water or tea. Note: although many modern drinkers may be unfamiliar with eggs in cocktails, bartenders and innkeepers have been mixing concoctions of alcohol and eggs for centuries. Fresh eggs from the farmers market are better than commercially produced eggs from the grocery store. High-proof ingredients such as the spirits used in these recipes have an antimicrobial effect. Eggs may also be sanitized by wiping the shell with a paper towel moistened with vodka.
The most important thing to remember when entertaining this holiday season is that it is supposed to be enjoyable. If you have to worry about refinancing your home to fund your holiday party, you are barking up the wrong yule log. Take it easy, and take a look at all your options. If you don’t want to make something predictable or traditional, try something fun and funky like the Ritz or a creation of your own. Don’t be afraid to improvise with local or seasonal ingredients, such as apples, pears, or grapefruits, instead of something frozen and faraway like cranberries. Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never attempted before, like scratch eggnog. And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask
For help at the liquor store–if you patronize a reputable shop, it will be capable of recommending a product that works for your purpose as well as your purse. if your friends are the type to disown you for buying Grüet instead of Veueve Cicquot, perhaps you need different friends (or a sugar daddy/mama.) Most likely they want to be in your company regardless of your budget, and that is the true spirit of holiday entertaining.
.75 oz cognac
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
.5 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice champagne
In a mixing glass, stir together the cognac, Cointreau, Maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice. Strain into a large cocktail glass and fill with champagne. Garnish with an orange peel.
16 oz brandy
10 oz Paula’s Texas Orange
5 oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
10 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Champagne or sparkling wine
Combine the first four ingredients in a punch bowl and add a bottle of sparkling wine and stir. Chill the bowl with large ice cubes or an ice ring. Recipe makes 20 cocktails; multiply as needed for the size of your group
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 quart whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
4 oz bourbon
4 oz Jamaican dark rum
nutmeg, for grating
In a punch bowl, beat the yolks until they turn almost white, adding 1⁄2 cup of sugar as you beat. Stir in the milk, cream, bourbon, and rum, and grate in half of the nutmeg berry. Just before serving, beat the whites in a large mixing bowl with the remaining 1⁄2 cup sugar until peaks form. Fold the whipped whites into the liquor mixture. Nestle the punch bowl into a larger bowl filled with crushed ice to keep the eggnog cold. To serve, grate a light dusting of fresh nutmeg over each cup.