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Secrets of Holiday Bartending 

Drop the shaker and enjoy your own party

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All this week, somebody, somewhere, is throwing a party. They will plan the menu and music to the letter, but when it comes to the bar ... things fall apart. Short of following a bartending guide to stock up on dozens of ingredients you will likely never use, most people have no idea how to set a bar for holiday entertaining. I'll make it easy for you: Don't.

Chaining yourself to the drink station and bartending your own party means playing host to the whimsy, indifference and indecision of guests. Trust me, the No. 1 answer partygoers give when asked to pick their poison is: "Whatever you have."

An open bar is an option, but letting your guests fend for themselves is a little inattentive.

The secret is limiting choices. This may seem counterintuitive, but think about it — when your dinner guests sit down to your table, do you ask them what they would like to eat? No. You prepare a meal based on what you have access to, what you are good at and what you think your guests will like. So why wouldn't you do this with the hooch at your holiday soiree?

Since Champagne is the universal celebration libation, these recipes should work for your Christmas, New Year's or Festivus party. Keep in mind it's a good idea to try out any recipe ahead of time and to make sure your guests have enough water to go along with their alcohol.

Holiday gatherings are the perfect excuse to offer one of my favorite drinks: punch! It's festive and tasty, and people don't make it for themselves. A holiday punch is the grown-up version of the jungle juice and trash can beverages we used in college to prevent our GPAs from getting too high. Here is a recipe for a slightly sweet, fruity, non-trash-can drink I call the One-Two Punch. I started on the low end so scaling up the recipes for more guests should be fairly simple.

One-Two Punch

Ingredients and method:

1 bottle of Champagne

1 liter club soda

16 ounces orange Juice

16 ounces cranberry juice

1 to 2 cups vodka

1 12-ounce can of frozen limeade concentrate

1 12-ounce can of frozen raspberry lemonade concentrate

Ice as needed

Lemon and orange slices for garnish

Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Combine all the ingredients except for the vodka in a large punch bowl, adding the orange and cranberry juice last so you can modify it for the color and texture you like. Stir until well mixed.

Start with 1 cup of vodka and add more to temper the sweetness (and kick) to your taste.

Float the fruit slices in the bowl and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds — don't worry, they float!

Garnish each glass with a citrus wedge and more pomegranate. Just remind your guests about the seeds!

Pitcher drinks are my next favorite, since I'm a fan of making things ahead. A cocktail you can pull out of the fridge and serve to your guests is a winner in my book, like the simple Mimosa. Easy and quick to make, mimosas are a fizzy lift.

Mimosa Redux

Ingredients and method:

(Per Serving)

1 part Champagne

1 part orange Juice

1 splash Chambord

Splash some Chambord in the bottom of a Champagne flute, then fill it halfway with your preferred champagne.

Add an equal amount of orange juice and then another splash of champagne before stirring.

Garnish the flute with an orange wheel and add a frozen strawberry or two just before serving to keep the drink cool.

Finally, give them something fun. How about a little holiday jiggle? Come on. Gelatin shots have graduated from college and are impressing partygoers with their versatility and cultivated flavor. Seriously.

Champagne Jiggle

Ingredients and method:

2 tablespoons plain, unflavored gelatin (2 packages)

2/3 cup cold water

1 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)

1 cup sparkling wine or champagne or club soda

1/4 cup choice of fruit

Clean and dry six champagne glasses or molds. In a medium glass bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over cold water and let it soften for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the boiling water until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Whisk in the sugar until dissolved and stir in the sparkling wine.

Immediately pour the mixture into a liquid measuring cup with a pour spout. Pour it in a slow stream by raising the measuring cup high enough so that it creates bubbles (8 to 12 inches).

Chill the glasses/molds in the refrigerator until the mixture is a very thick liquid — about 20 to 30 minutes depending upon their size. Check every 5 to 10 minutes: The liquid needs to be thick enough so that the fruit remains suspended without dropping to the bottom or staying on top.

Gently push the fruit into the glasses, being careful not to disturb the bubbles on the top. Chill for another 20 to 30 minutes until the gelatin is fully set. Garnish as you like and enjoy!

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