Monday, January 5, 2015

Champagne Punch for a New Year

For New Year's Eve, we had about twenty friends over for a party that included dinner. Evan wasn't as keen on making dinner, because it's a lot of work (see below), but we do both like to entertain and cook. I want us to have the kind of home that feels open and where we're able to feed the people we love. We haven't had that many gatherings in our current home, and I don't want to look back and regret that going forward. So in order to live according to our intentions, we just have to take the opportunities rather than letting them pass by.

To avoid any last minute rushing for big dinners like this one and Thanksgiving, I make a plan by working out the recipes and then creating a prep timeline for both food and set up. So even though we were preparing nonstop most of the day, I felt relatively zen about it. Granted, part of why it took all day is because preparing for parties in NYC apartments also tends to involve rearranging furniture. I dream about having a home with an already-entertaining-friendly open layout.

I fell on some of my group dinner standbys that can be made cheaply and in crock pots: my two bean quinoa vegetarian chili and shredded barbecue beef (just like pulled pork). I made the beef in the crock pot the night before the party and then the chili during the day. It's good to make the beef ahead, to allow for time to cool, shred, remove the fat and bones, mix with barbecue sauce, and reheat just before serving. I was able to fit 7 lb of chuck roast in my crock pot, which is exactly the kind of occasion for which I included my new, larger crock pot on my wedding registry. I always forget how long it takes to shred several pounds of meat, though. It kind of detracts from what is supposed to be a simple, non-time consuming recipe. My memories suggest that pulled pork is easier to shred. We're still working our way through the cow shares we bought a year ago and accompanying frozen beef avalanche.

For sides, I made mustard-balsamic braised kale and cornbread (this recipe multiplied by 1.5, baked in a 9x12 quarter sheet pan). As a bonus for certain guests, it was easy to make this meal completely gluten free by using all cornmeal and no flour in the cornbread.

We also wanted a special cocktail to celebrate the new year. After poking around several punch recipes, we created the raspberry lemon champagne gin punch below. We swapped raspberry syrup for strawberry syrup and eliminated the muddling step for ease. (We tend to have raspberries in our freezer from summer pickings of wild raspberries at the farm). We taste tested until we settled on a ratio that's not too sweet or too tart, but goes down easy and is a lovely blush color. Luckily, we also received a fancy new carafe from our wedding registry that is large enough to hold this many servings of alcohol.

With the party and my subsequent hangover behind us, we focused the rest of our long weekend on home organizing and hanging up artwork. After having to leave what was a nearly ideal apartment a couple summers ago, we felt kind of down about our current apartment for the first year or so. Its awkward layout has made it a challenge to configure. More recently, we've been trying to appreciate it as home. We didn't do any holiday decorations last year, so putting up a tree and making a wreath this year felt like a step in the right direction. Slowly, but surely we are decluttering, organizing and making it more homey.

Raspberry Lemon Gin Champagne Punch
Makes nearly 12 half-cup servings

8 oz gin (1 cup)
8 oz water (1 cup)
25 oz champagne (1 bottle)
4 oz lemon juice (juice of 4 lemons)
1 1/3 oz raspberry syrup
1 1/3 oz triple sec
1 orange

Peel one lemon into several peels. Juice four lemons. Slice one orange into wheels. Combine ingredients in a large pitcher or punch bowl and stir thoroughly. Add lemon peels and orange wheels for garnish. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. Serve in half cup portions over ice.

To make cocktails for two:
1.5 oz gin
1.5 water
4.5 oz champagne
1 oz lemon juice
1/3 oz raspberry syrup
1/3 oz triple sec

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