Holiday Punch

My family likes to get into its cups at holiday time. Some of them have deeper cups than others. A few of them stay in them all year round. For those soggy few, the holidays can be a dangerous time, and their troubles become everybody's troubles. Thanksgiving dinner this year was an unmitigated disaster. The cooks labored mightily and produced a triumphant cornucopia of good things to eat -- not that anybody noticed much. The meal was an afterthought; the main course was politics, served rotten with a side of conspiracy. Aunt Maria left the table in tears. Uncle George, buzzing and angry, chipped two of Patrick's grandmother's china dessert plates while clearing. Aunt Marla tiptoed out the side door and threw up in the bushes toward evening's end. And all night long, Great-Grandma Moira begged Patrick to cut off George's liquor. "What can I do?" shot back Patrick. "Uncle George is a grown man, and it's not like he's driving anywhere tonight."I hated to do it, but I decided to make Christmas and New Year's dinners dry this year. I would not have them hijacked with alcohol. I would serve iced tea, water, and soda. And to help distract from the absence of booze, I would serve a jazzy nonalcoholic punch.

I first spoke with Djuana Bryant (619-697-7430, [email protected]). Bryant works for the Pampered Chef, a purveyor of "quality kitchen tools, cookware, and stoneware." She shared her favorite Pampered Chef punch recipe with me: Wild Raspberry Summer Sipper. "Even though it has a summer name, it's great for the holidays as well. It has cranberry juice in it, and 'tis the season -- we use cranberries in cranberry sauce and apple-cranberry desserts. Cranberry has a tang; it helps to cut the sweet. This punch has a beautiful cranberry color. And the way it's prepared -- soda poured over sherbet -- gives it a neat fizz, a frosty look for this time of year."

The recipe is simple: mix three cups of chilled cranraspberry juice with two cups of raspberry sherbet. Place one scoop of raspberry sherbet in each 10-ounce glass. Add one-half cup of chilled juice-sherbet mixture, then add lemon-lime soda until the foam reaches the top of the glass, about one-half cup. Serve immediately.

Patrick suggested I try some caterers. "I bet they have to cater alcohol-free events all the time," he guessed. So I called Andrew Haddock at The French Gourmet Restaurant and Full-Service Catering (800-929-1984). He gave me several suggestions for the punch bowl. "One of our most popular punches is a cranberry-lemonade punch. Make lemonade from frozen concentrate, only use Sprite instead of water. Then add enough cranberry juice cocktail to turn it pink -- not red. Maybe two cans of concentrate, two-and-a-half liters of Sprite, and one 64-ounce cranberry juice cocktail. Play with the lemonade -- some people like it tart, some sweet. Make sure everything is cold. Then add frozen cranberries and orange slices -- the cranberries act like ice to keep it chilled."

Haddock also helped me with the "Classic Orange -- it tastes like an orange Creamsicle. For that, I would do two liters of Sprite to half a can of orange juice concentrate, then add between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of vanilla extract, and maybe a little sugar. Mix it in a punch bowl, and then add big scoops of orange sherbet or vanilla ice cream to the bowl. The scoops help keep it cold."

Haddock finished with a tropical fruit punch. "Mix a can of orange juice and a can of pineapple juice with (if you can find it) mango puree or puree of tropical fruits. Once again, Sprite is the base. Or you could use ginger ale, because it's got a little spice to it. One to two liters. These recipes are suggestions -- taste as you go. If you like more pineapple, add more pineapple. And it's nice to do an ice ring with a punch. I use a cake pan. I put in a little bit of water and freeze it. Then I add pineapple, orange slices, and maraschino cherries. Put more water on top and freeze it. Then take it out, add mint or basil leaves, add more water, and freeze it. You get different layers of flavor in the punch as the ice slowly melts. It should be frozen for a couple of days before you use it, so that it's really rock hard."

Carrie Duff of Spectacular Catering & Events (619-229-1864) suggested a nonalcoholic punch with a different kind of kick to it. "Some holiday parties are starting later and going later this year, so they're putting Red Bull in the punch. Get a frozen strawberry punch from the grocery store. Add fresh lemonade like Naked Juice, then two cans of Red Bull, and mix. Fill your punch bowl with ice, and pour the punch over it."

Kimberly Malinowski of Bekkers Catering (619-287-9027) offered something hot to drink. "We do a warm apple cider. Buy apple cider, mix it with orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, then heat it until it's hot to the touch and serve it in an urn."

Finally, I got this riff from California Cuisine chef Todd Atcheson (619-543-0790): "I think sparkling is the key. You need some effervescence. Try a mock champagne, or some sparkling cider. To make it festive and interesting, put in pomegranate seeds. They'll bleed, and give the punch a rose color. And they'll change the flavor a wee bit. And you'll have a popcorn type of crunch; I think that would be fun. To keep the festive holiday colors going, you could make ice cubes with basil leaves inside them. It would be cool with pomegranate and basil." Cool enough. Now all I have to do is find a way to keep Uncle George from spiking it.

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