December 24, 1997 in Food

Spirit-Less Party Possible

Mary Carroll Los Angeles Times Syndicate

For some people, holidays give permission to relax personal food rules. Tradition takes over as diets go on sabbatical for a few weeks.

Friends of mine who never touch sugar consume quantities of Christmas cookies, fruitcake and marzipan with glee. Who can resist the abundance of treats and sweets?

But many of them draw the line when it comes to alcohol. Still, they wonder each year how to put on the party spirit without traditional spirits.

As a caterer, I have hosted many office parties, weddings and holiday bashes that happily avoided alcoholic drinks. No one seemed to miss them as long as we satisfied the basic need for celebratory beverages.

Requirements included something warming (especially on chilly evenings), something slightly spiced or fruity, and something that could be shared from a communal punch bowl or warming pot.

If time is short on party day, most of these beverages can be assembled ahead of time. In fact, their flavor improves after an overnight in the refrigerator.

They also freeze well. I always like to get a jump on New Year’s bashes by making an extra batch of my favorite hot party beverage. Most keep for four to six weeks in the freezer; simply thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat before your party.

Serve a selection of hot beverages in decorative slow cookers or chafing dishes. Ideal party guests, they can sit for several hours on the buffet table and only get more flavorful.

Hot ‘n’ Spicy Tomato Cocktails

This nonalcoholic version of the popular Bloody Mary tastes even better warm. Lime juice and peel are key to its tropical flavor. Adjust the hot pepper sauce to your taste for spiciness.

8 cups low-salt V-8 juice or other tomato juice

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon grated lime peel

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 lime wedges, for garnish

Combine V-8 juice, hot pepper sauce, lime juice, grated peel, celery seed and black pepper in large nonreactive Dutch oven. Simmer over medium-high heat until warm, 8 to 10 minutes.

Pour into pre-warmed mugs or transfer to slow cooker set on low. Garnish each serving with lime wedge.

Yield: About 8 cups.

Mulled Cider With Pineapple Wedges

Mulled cider, richly spiced with cinnamon, cloves and honey or brown sugar, becomes an unusual party beverage when a fresh pineapple wedge is added to each mug as a stirring stick.

8 cups apple cider

2 cups pineapple juice

2 tablespoons raisins or currants

1 large orange, sliced into rounds

2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces

1 teaspoon whole cloves

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar

1 large fresh pineapple, peeled and cut into 10 wedges

Combine apple cider, pineapple juice, raisins, orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, lemon juice and honey or brown sugar in large nonreactive Dutch oven. Simmer over medium-high heat 15 minutes.

Pour into pre-warmed mugs or transfer to slow cooker set on low. Garnish each serving with pineapple wedge.

Yield: About 10 cups.

Hibiscus Citrus Punch

This punch combines hibiscus herb tea - to give it tang and a deep red color - with fresh and concentrated fruit juices.

4 cups apple cider

4 bags hibiscus tea, such as Red Zinger

1 Red Delicious apple, cored and sliced into rings

1/4 cup orange juice concentrate (undiluted frozen juice)

1/4 cup brown sugar, maple syrup or honey

Combine cider, tea bags, apple, orange juice concentrate and brown sugar in large nonreactive Dutch oven. Simmer over medium-high heat 15 minutes.

Remove tea bags. Strain if desired. Pour into pre-warmed mugs or transfer to slow cooker set on low.

Yield: About 4 cups.

Hot Ginger Lemonade

A favorite cold-season home remedy, this ginger lemonade perks up the whole house with a wonderful spicy aroma.

1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger root, unpeeled


Juice of 4 lemons

1/4 cup maple syrup or to taste

Slice ginger root into coin-sized pieces and place in medium saucepan along with 4 cups water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced to 2 cups. Strain. Discard ginger.

Add lemon juice, 2 cups water and maple syrup and stir well. Cook over low heat 10 minutes or until heated through. Adjust sweetener to taste.

Yield: About 5 cups.

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