by Paul Zablocki and Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz
The final fifteen minutes before your guests are scheduled to arrive are always fraught with trepidation. We curse ourselves with nonstop invective. "Why the @#$% did I agree to throw this @#$%ing party. I'm such a @#$%ing idiot." It's at these moments, when we all turn into whining teenagers, that we must take a deep breath and rise to the occasion. You threw this cocktail party because you are awesome and your friends rock, and you wanted to share with them some cocktail and party-food pairings that will be remembered forever (and not in a bad way). So that you will be touted as the cocktail-party thrower of the century and not the sniveling spaz you seem to be playing at the moment, you must do the following: make a punch. Not the kind you imbibed as a child—those were sweet and sparkling sugar-rush inducers filled with ginger ale and neon sherbet. No, this punch will be filled with high-quality spirits and liqueurs, possibly champagne, fresh seasonal fruit, and flavors that will send you into adulthood negating any old associations with prom punch ever again. Welcome to the grownup table; you can now fold up that kiddy card table and banish it forever.
Punch is a blessing or, more appropriate, a mangala. The word itself, many believe, derives from the Hindi word panch, meaning five, alluding to the five ingredients that purportedly made up historical punch: spirits, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices. But if you ask the average josephine what she thinks of when she thinks of punch in a historical context, she may describe for you a Hogarthian scene of jack-tars, slinging their flagons while singing a shanty tune honoring the drunken sailor, which isn't at all inappropriate. Sailors brought the Hindi punch back with them to England, bedazzled by its bold flavors of spice and citrus, and from the early seventeenth to the mid nineteenth centuries, punch ruled supreme. Punch houses dotted the London landscape, filling the hearts and minds of men with merriment. Sharing a bowl was like taking communion: it brought you closer to God, if you let it.
We want punch to bring you closer to a reasonable frame of mind. With a punch at the ready, all you have to do is point your guests in the direction of the chilling bowl and say, "help yourself to a delicious glass of [fill in the blank] punch." At first they may be surprised that no islands of lime sherbet dot this quaff, but after a sip, you'll hear their contented sighs, and they'll hear yours.
Here are a few punch recipes that will brighten up your party and set your mind at ease.
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled glass.
If making a bowl of punch, multiply all the ingredients by eight or more depending on the size of your party. Refrigerate until chilled. Pour into a bowl with a big chunk of ice in its center. Garnish with lemon and lime. Ladle into punch cups or glasses.
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into chilled glass. Garnish with a half-moon slice of clementine or a whole pericarp of star anise.
If making a bowl of punch, increase the amount of Clementine juice to 3/4 oz. and then multiply all the ingredients by eight or more depending on the size of your party. Refrigerate until chilled. Pour into a bowl with a big chunk of ice in its center. Garnish with Clementine orange wheels and star anise pericarps. Ladle into punch cups or glasses.
* In an airtight container, add 1/3 cup homemade cranberry sauce (follow directions on package of cranberries) for every 2 cups moonshine (you can substitute vodka if moonshine is not available). Let infuse for at least five days and up to two weeks (the longer you wait, the better), shaking the container at least once a day. Strain into another airtight container and label.
Add all the ingredients (except the chunk of ice cubes) into a large shaker or capped bottle. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, making sure the sugar dissolves (if you prefer, you can dissolve the sugar in a little water before adding it to the mix). Place ice chunk or ice block in bowl. Pour punch into bowl. If using a chunk of ice cubes, the ice cubes will start to break apart. When they do, or if you are using a block of ice, stir the punch with the ladle to chill, wait a minute (do not rush, let the ice dissolve a bit), stir again, and serve. Add a blackberry to each cup for a nice sweet-tart surprise at the end of your drink.
Serves 4. You can easily double or triple the recipe.
* Steep a tea bag (with black tea) and a cinnamon stick in 1 cup of boiling water. Remove the tea bag after 3 hours. Remove cinnamon stick after 3 days. If you can't wait 3 days, then make sure you shake it well before using.
For more recipes, and for cocktail-party food pairings, visit us at CocktailBuzz.com.
Photo (c) Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz