• Stir It Up: Good cheer for the holidays
     | November 15,2013
    Deborah Whitlow Llewellyn Photo

    The Gingersnap Cocktail adds seasonal flavors to any winter party. The photo and recipe are from “Picture Perfect Parties” by Annette Joseph.

    If hosting a holiday party — whether dinner for six or 60 — brings on an anxiety attack, here’s a word that might help: booze. Not for your nerves, but for your guests.

    Thumb through enough books on entertaining, and you’ll notice that most party menus begin with a cocktail; you could think of it as a jump-starter. It’s a concoction that suits the season and party theme and gets everyone in a convivial mood. It energizes conversation, mingling and nibbling. The perfect party cocktail is a bit out of the ordinary and not too potent.

    When thinking of holiday cocktails, it’s easy to think in cliches: cranberry juice and vodka for Thanksgiving, eggnog and buttered rum for Christmas. Several new books will jump-start your thinking about holiday cocktails. Among them are “Picture Perfect Parties” by Annette Joseph, “Schiller’s Liquor Bar Cocktail Collection” by legendary restaurateur Keith McNally, and “Winter Cocktails” by Maria del Mar Sacasa.

    You want to select the cocktails you serve with as much care as you select your menu. As British “spirits” writer Victoria Moore writes in her engaging 2009 book “How to Drink”: “Drink is an essential part of any meal or snack, just like any other ingredient on the plate. A sip should send you for another forkful of food, and vice versa.” Below are three crowd-pleasing concoctions that will put your guests in a festive mood.

    Note: A few things that go without saying nevertheless need to be said. No guest should feel obliged to drink alcohol, nor should any guest be encouraged or allowed to drink too much. Hosts should offer an array of non-alcoholic beverages and serve plenty of food to discourage overimbibing.

    Gingersnap Cocktail

    Yield: 8 servings

    8 thin slices orange peel (each 1 to 2 inches long and including some white pith)

    Juice of 4 oranges, chilled

    1 cup Cointreau (orange liqueur)

    2 cups Snap (organic, gingersnap-flavored liqueur)

    1 cup ginger ale, chilled

    10 cups ice

    8 fresh rosemary sprigs

    A bit before the party starts, flame the orange peel: Light a match and hold it several inches above a cocktail glass. Hold a strip of peel about an inch from the flame next to the match (not above it), then twist and squeeze the peel to bring the oil to the surface of the rind. (It helps to have another person hold the match.) The peel should flame a bit from the mist of oil. Rub the caramelized peel around the rim of the glass and drop it into the glass. Repeat with remaining peels. Apply ice to singed fingertips.

    Fill a pitcher with the juice and liqueurs. Just before serving, stir in the ginger ale and ice. Serve, garnishing each glass with a rosemary sprig.

    (Recipe from “Picture Perfect Parties” by Annette Joseph; Rizzoli, 2013)

    Cardinal Punch

    Yield: 15 servings

    For the simple syrup:

    2 cups water

    2 cups sugar

    For the punch:

    2¼ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice, chilled

    2 cups brandy

    2 cups light rum

    2 cups champagne or sparkling white wine, chilled

    1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine, chilled

    1 quart club soda, chilled

    Ice (optional)

    Up to one month before serving, make the syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a low boil in a small saucepan. Stir and simmer until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool. Pour into a jar, cover and refrigerate up to one month.

    Pour all of the ingredients, including the chilled syrup, into a punch bowl. Stir and serve.

    (Recipe from “Schiller’s Liquor Bar Cocktail Collection” by Keith McNally; Clarkson Potter, 2013)


    Yield: 6 servings

    1¼ cups sugar

    3 tablespoons grated lemon zest

    2 cups water

    12 sprigs fresh rosemary, roughly chopped, plus 6 small sprigs for garnish

    2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Pinch salt

    1 (750-ml) bottle prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), chilled

    A few days before your party, pulse the sugar and lemon zest in a food processor until the sugar is damp and no strands of the zest remain. Combine the lemon-sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

    Strain syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Discard the solids. Stir the lemon juice and salt into the liquid in the pan. Freeze.

    Just before serving, break up the frozen mixture and pulse in a food processor until slushy. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the frozen mixture into each of 6 champagne flutes. Top with prosecco. Garnish each glass with a sprig of rosemary.

    (Recipe slightly adapted from “Winter Cocktails” by Maria del Mar Sacasa; Quirk Books, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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