As the year hurtles towards another rollover, there’s always so much to do. I guess this is partly because here in the antipodes we don’t just take a Christmas break, but run our whole summer holiday off the end. Deadlines start piling up, an endless parade of end-of-year functions, prizegivings and office shouts get concertinaed into the year’s end and life just gets busier and busier. We call it the silly season, but it’s actually downright mad.
Which is why you need cocktails. Forget about dinner parties – they're far too much work for this time of year. But put on a couple of yummy cocktails and some simple nibbles and right away people know you mean fun. You can have your guests arrive at six and be out by eight, or party on the whole night long.
Sunshine Cocktails Hand your guests a champagne cocktail on arrival and your party will be buzzing in no time. These super-simple orange-flavoured cocktails sing of summer.
Minty Mojitos are dangerously refreshing, and great to make by the jugful (you can watch my video demo here). I usually serve them over crushed ice as they are easier to make in bulk, but if you prefer you can blend them up like a frozen margarita. If you use cachaca instead of rum or vodka you have yourself a stunning caipirinha.
For another refreshing summer cocktail, splash a little homemade Limoncello into a tall glass and top with ice and soda. Or fill a glass with two parts sauvignon blanc to one part soda water, then add a dash of fragrant Lavender Syrup.
Bella’s Pink Fizz is always a winner with the girls – probably because it looks so pretty and festive, with bright pink berries bubbling round at the bottom of a glass of champagne methodoise mixed with berry syrup and cassis!
I first discovered the spicy, mellow warmth of a Ginger Mule at Melbourne’s Chin Chin restaurant. It is my current new fave cocktail, because it looks and tastes wonderfully exotic and yet is super easy to make.
To be a responsible host, make sure you provide some non-alcoholic options too. Offer a big jug of Retro Fruit Punch and fill a big ice bucket with bottles of sparkling water and fruit juice, and you’ll have everyone’s tastes covered.
When it comes to the food side of things, this is not a time for fiddly recipes. Keep it simple with finger food bites you can pretty much assemble straight from the fridge. I like to offer a mix of about four to six different nibbles. Here are a few suggestions:
- At the simplest end of the scale, buy a bag of frozen edamade beans (they’ll keep in the freezer until you need them) and make Salted Edamame. Just drop the whole pods into boiling water for a couple of minutes or microwave them in a bowl with ¼ cup water, then drain and sprinkle with flaky salt
- Baked Sicilian Olives make another easy nibble that gets the taste buds going. I like to bake ordinary brined olives with a flavoursome mix of aromatics – once prepared they can be reheated as desired or served at room temperature.
- Make a big batch of Crostini and smear on a little creamy feta or olive paste and top with a slow-roasted cherry tomato, or just top with fresh tomato slices and basil. The crostini can be made in advance and kept in a sealed container in the fridge until you’re ready to top them.
- For something a little more substantial, make a Pan Bagna using a loaf of french bread, press it well then cut into thin slices to serve.
- Mash up avocados with a few flavourings to make a Chunky Guacamole to serve with corn chips.
- Mix pesto with mayonnaise for a simple dip for fresh vegetable bites
- Tart up a container of store bought hummus by stirring to together in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Serve with croutons or crostini
- Make a big tray of smoked salmon sandwiches. You can prepare them ahead of time and cover them with damp paper towels in the fridge, ready to slice just before serving.
Now put together a good playlist, dim the lights and fire up some candles. Let the cocktail season begin!