Monday, January 17, 2011

Warming Winter Wine

Just because the holiday season is over doesn't mean that the season for parties is done, too! St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras are right around the corner, and winter is also the perfect time to host friends over for warm, slow-cooked dinner parties.

Whether the party is big or small, being a good host or hostess means co-mingling with your guests as much as possible. However, I think a lot of people get stuck into playing bartender all night when hosting a large group. If you do your prep right, you can actually have fun at your own party rather than stressing out over details in the background.

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For large parties and larger budgets, I'd suggest stocking up a central "bar" area with the essentials -- a bucket of ice, liters of soda, at least one brown and one clear liquor option, bottles of wine and a cooler full of bottled beer. By providing all these items in one easy-to-find location like on a main counter or a side table, people can serve themselves while you can go off and mingle! Martha provides an awesome printable checklist on her site in case you need some shopping help.

For many of us, though, we might not be able to provide all of those items all at once. I know that if I have too many friends over at once, our well-stocked liquor cabinet can be gone before I know it, and restocking the bar isn't cheap.

One of the easiest things you can do to make your host/hostessing life easier (and your budget not as stressful) is to provide one main beverage to go around for the night. For a Mexican-themed night, you could make margaritas, and for a springtime brunch, make a pitcher of champagne punch. My girlfriends and I usually have wine at our gatherings, so I decided to step it up for our holiday cookie exchange last month with Mulled Wine. It was a HIT, and would be perfect for any gathering you are planning this winter. Even better, you don't have to do anything after you make it other than put out mugs or cups next to it, and point people in that direction. That's if they don't smell their way over to it first, that is! :)

Here's my "recipe" -- if you can even call it that. I literally made everything up, from the measurements to the ingredients, based on a recipe I saw in a holiday magazine. And actually, I am making everything up here again for you, because I didn't even write it all down haha.

Note: I was in a rush that evening and decided to shop for everything at Trader Joe's rather than a larger store, and as a result, had to pick up some different ingredients based on the selection. If you can't find some of these things, amend your recipe however you want. Underneath it all, it's a wine cider; you really can't go wrong!

Katherine's Warming Winter Wine

2 bottles of merlot or any other dark red wine
1 medium-sized bottle of pomegranate juice (about the same amount as one bottle of wine)
1 large jar of pears in their juice
1/4 cup of honey
1 cup of mulling spices (I used half a container of the pre-made TJ one, but you could make your own with a combination of cloves, allspice and cinnamon)
Optional: thinly cut orange and apple slices

Combine wine and juice in a crock pot or dutch oven. Add 2 cups of pear pieces, 1/2 cup of the pear juice and the honey, stirring to combine. Place spices into cheesecloth or into a fine-mesh strainer, and place into mixture. Warm over low to medium heat. Remove the spice mixture and serve warm.