Compared to other holidays, Memorial Day food is simple.
By ANNE BROCKOFF
The grills a given, as are salads, thanks to the greens flooding farmers markets. Maybe even strawberry shortcake, assuming its sunny enough these next few days to ripen things up at Wohletz Farm Freshs u-pick strawberry patch near Lawrence.
But cocktails cocktails in party proportions still trip me up. Most drink recipes are calibrated for a single serving, which is less than helpful when you have thirsty guests. When friends ask for Manhattans at our house, I usually cede the bar to my husband and hide in the kitchen until the ice runs out.
Its not that I dont know what to do. Ive watched plenty of bartenders prep vast quantities of cocktails well before service, a process called batching. Fruit can be juiced, spirits mixed, syrups simmered, glasses prepared and garnishes readied, all in advance.
There are even books that tell you how. One of my favorites is Raising the Bar by Nick Mautone with Marah Stets, except that most of its recipes only serve four. Sips & Apps by Kathy Casey does better on that front, with punch and pitcher recipes that are good for at least a dozen guests.
But the book that makes me actually want to throw a party is Cocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman. Newman admits up front that shes as leery of breaking out the cocktail shaker for guests as I am. She, however, did something about it.
Newman (who also wrote the excellent Spice & Ice and is spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine) talked to pros from across the country and distilled their collective wisdom into an insightful and well-crafted book.
Some of their tips? Jim Meehan of PDT in New York scales back on absinthe and other strongly flavored spirits because they can be overpowering when mixed large-scale. Kevin Diedrich of Jaspers Corner Tap in San Francisco tastes often while mixing. And Kansas Citys own Ryan Maybee, co-owner of The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and Manifesto, measures everything with his favorite Oxo measuring cups.
Theres also advice on ice, juicing citrus, garnishes and making the most of mise en place (a French term for readying your ingredients). Its all worth remembering, as are the drinks themselves.
Newmans book includes punches like The Guild Meeting (black tea, vanilla sugar, freshly squeezed orange and lemon juices, rye whiskey, ginger liqueur and Drambuie) and pitcher drinks such as the Rosemary Refresher (tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juices and rosemary simple syrup).
Have a really big party planned this weekend? Mix up a batch of Eureka Tiki Punch with honey, water, aged amber rum, fresh lemon juice, Yellow Chartreuse, Angostura bitters and ginger ale, and youll have 40 very happy guests.
The classics are what caught my eye, however. Its hard to make more than a single Aviation or Blood and Sand at a time, because increasing quantities is more of an art than a math problem.
Newmans figured it out, though. She makes bringing drinks like the Manhattan into large-scale life look so easy, I might just reclaim the bar the next time guests arrive.
Madison Avenue Manhattans
Heres Kara Newmans stress-free approach to serving Manhattans to party guests. For a local spin, try mixing them with Reunion Rye, which is made by Lenexas Dark Horse Distillery.
Makes 8 servings
16 ounces (2 cups) rye whiskey
8 ounces (1 cup) sweet vermouth, such as Carpano Antica
4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
8 brandied cherries, for garnish (recipe follows)
In a pitcher that holds at least 4 cups, combine the whiskey, vermouth, water and bitters and stir well. Using a funnel, decant into a 1-liter liquor bottle or two 750 ml liquor bottles. Cap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until chilled. To serve, set out a bowl or wine bucket filled with ice. Shake the bottle to ensure the cocktail is well mixed, then set it in the ice so it stays chilled. Pour into coupe glasses and garnish each drink with a cherry, if desired.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
4 ounces (1/2 cup) brandy, bourbon, aged rum or other spirits, plus more as needed
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer, then stir in the cherries and almond extract. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens to a light syrupy consistency, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the brandy and let cool to room temperature. Transfer the cherries and liquid to a 1-quart glass jar or other glass container with a lid. Add more brandy if needed to cover the cherries. Covered and stored in the refrigerator, the cherries will keep for about two weeks.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Stars Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .