Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A New Twist on an Old Classic: The Cocktail Potluck

By Brianne Harrison

Summer entertaining season is in full swing, and many of us are finding ourselves with social calendars filled with backyard barbeques, weddings (and showers), and graduation parties. As nice as it is to be entertained, at some point you’re expected to return the favor, or perhaps you have a special occasion of your own that you’d like to celebrate with friends. Of course, you want your party to be special and to stand out from the crowd, which means you may want to put a new spin on a classic party.

To celebrate our engagement as well as the recent graduation of several of our friends from PhD programs, my fiancé and I decided to try something new and hosted a cocktail potluck. The rules were the same as for a classic potluck, except that instead of bringing plates of food, everyone brought either a pitcher or the ingredients for their favorite drinks.

I cooked up a storm and kept everyone supplied with finger food—hushpuppies, miniature meatballs, chips and salsa, tortillas stuffed with sweet potatoes, Caprese skewers, brownies, cookies, and pecan bars. The guests arrived with an eclectic selection of drinks: classics like sidecars and White Russians, as well as Vampire Punch, Lemon Drops, strawberry-basil mojitos, and a take on sangria that used fresh herbs and tea. We helped get the ball rolling by providing Earl Grey MarTEAnis and Lemon-Lavender Martinis.

One of the key things, unless all the guests are walking home, is keeping the drinking within reasonable limits. We treated this more like a tasting, so we purchased small plastic cups (the size you usually buy to put in bathrooms) and served drinks in them rather than full-size glasses. This gave everyone a chance to try several different drinks without going overboard.

Overall, the experiment was a success. Although the weather wasn’t cooperative, the drinks were delicious, the food was popular, and we had a chance to see just how creative our friends could be. Definitely a party worth having again.

The Earl Grey MarTEAni
We discovered this drink at Roast Bar on a recent trip to London. It’s now a family favorite. This recipe is adapted from Audrey Saunders, beverage director of Bemelmans Bar in New York City

For the Infused Gin:
1 bottle of Tanqueray Gin
¼ cup loose Earl Grey Tea Leaves (available at Wegman’s and many other high-end supermarkets)

Add Earl Grey tea leaves to the bottle of gin. Recap bottle and shake to mix.

Leave for 2 hours to infuse.

Strain tea leaves, retaining the infused liquid.

For the Drink:
1 ½ oz Earl Grey Infused Gin
¾ oz Lemon Juice
¾ to 1 oz simple syrup
Lemon Peel

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Pour into a glass and garnish with lemon peel

Lavender Lemon Martini

For the Infused Vodka:
1 bottle of vodka
¼ cup dried lavender blossoms

Add lavender blossoms to vodka. Shake to mix.

Let steep for 2 hours at room temperature.

Strain lavender blossoms, retaining vodka

Lavender Simple Syrup:
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. dried lavender blossoms

Combine water, sugar, and lavender in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain lavender blossoms.

For the Drink:
1 oz lavender Vodka
¾ oz lemon juice
½ to ¾ oz lavender simple syrup
Lemon Peel

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Pour into a glass and garnish with lemon peel.

Not sure what to serve? Try some of these recipes:

Fried Zucchini Flowers with Fresh Mozzarella
Italian Shrimp Cocktail
Spicy Smoked Salmon Tartare
Tuna Tartare with Crispy Rice Crackers

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