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How to Throw a Holiday Cocktail Hour with Friends

How to Throw a Holiday Cocktail Hour with Friends

Words OXO

OXO friend Rebekah Peppler’s new book, Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way, is filled with low fuss drink recipes and simple snack ideas.

We asked Rebekah to share her tips for hosting a holiday cocktail hour so you can focus more on what it should be: fun.

Pick Your Bottles: Half the battle of any (relaxed) gathering is in the planning ahead. Choose your recipes (might I suggest Vin Chaud Rouge or Byrrh Orange—recipe follows—from Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way) and pick up the bottles in advance. That way there’s no chance of harried runs to the liquor store. While you’re at it, apéritif hour is never without a small bite or three so choose your recipes along with your bottles, single out any ingredients that might be harder to find, and grab those early as well. I’ve included a suggested, easily makeahead bite below.

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Stock Your Bar: You’d think this would be part of the above tip, but stocking your bar is more than simply making sure you have the bottles you need. It means thinking everything that goes into and is used to make your recipes. Shaker? Check. Bottle opener, jigger, bar towel? Check, check, check. Corral it all in one place and don’t worry about digging something out of the knife drawer last-minute in low light (not at all from personal experience). While you’re at it make sure you have plenty of fresh ice, too.

Grownup or Not! Glassware: By which I mean, it doesn’t matter if it’s matching (mine certainly isn’t) just that it’s clean, at the ready, and beautiful. Alternatively, if you’re hosting a large group/don’t have enough, toss the grownup aesthetic to the side and go all red solo cups, all night. Bonus: no dishes. The same thing goes for plates. If you’re serving snacks, choose your serving plates in advance and set them alongside your clean glasses. Decide if you need napkins or plates for guests to eat said snacks off of. Get those too.

Choose Your Guests: Early in my gathering days I was very much “the more, the merrier!” Now I’ve realized the art of curating a guest list. Choose the number you’re looking to host. A rough guide is eight to 10 for something more intimate, 15 for a party, and 20+ if you have way more space than I do in my home.

Music: It hides any pesky gaps in conversation and is a perfect opportunity to introduce your guests to King Princess. Make a playlist in advance (or ask an attendee who has their finger on the pulse to make for you). Put it on a few minutes before guests arrive starting with a song you love. I like to start the night low key and switch to Rihanna once darkness falls.

Prep Food in Advance: If you’re making snacks, choose things you can prep in advance and don’t need last-minute attention (think olives, platters of charcuterie and Pissaladières, recipe follows).

Batch or Fill Their Darn Drinks: A lot of people suggest a DIY bar so your guest can help themselves but if you’ve been to my home, you know the way I show love by filling your glass myself. The beauty in hosting/being hosted is that the care dynamic is clear: you take care of guests in your home, they get to drop the act/lose the anxiety of caring for someone else (in this very specific way) for a few hours. Here’s the trick: choose drinks that are simple, easy, and with short ingredient lists. If you’re not into being a bartender all night make a punch that allows for self-service but doesn’t require any measuring on their part. Bottles of wine are also always lovely a self-service choice.

Time It: Le heure de l’apéritif is meant to end the workday, usher in the evening, and end before dinnertime. For a holiday party you may want to extend it to an all night affair so make that decision in advance and plan accordingly. Ending before dinner? Light ABV cocktails and snacks that spark an appetite only. Moving through the evening past dinnertime? Add more robust bites and don’t be afraid to pull out a few bottles of hard alcohol a few hours in.

Hydrate: Just because you’re hosting cocktail hour doesn’t mean your friends want only cocktails. Set up some bottles of bubbles (sparkling water variety), a plate of citrus slices, and perhaps a few tonics or ginger ales that those who don’t want or aren’t imbibing don’t feel left out of the party. Drink the leftovers before you go to bed.

Byrrh Orange

Serves 1: Byrrh is pronounced “beer” or “bee-air” and makes for plenty of fun miscommunications distinguishing between the rich, mildly sweet fortified red wine and its brewed homophone. But similarity of sound is where the likeness stops. The spiced apéritif— based on the red wines of Roussillon—toes the line between fruitiness and bitterness. Its backbone is similar to a port, with plenty of dark dried-fruit flavors (raisins, figs, and prunes) along with a lingering orange aroma. The combination of vermouth, orange liqueur, and orange bitters with the Byrrh lifts its citrus undertones and allows the liqueur to shine.

Ingredients

1½ ounces dry vermouth

¾ ounce Byrrh

½ ounce orange liqueur (such as Dry Curaçao or Grand Marnier)

2 dashes orange bitters

Orange peel

Instructions

  1. In a mixing glass or shaker filled with ice, combine the dry vermouth, Byrrh, orange liqueur, and orange bitters.
  2. Use a cocktail stirrer to stir for 15 seconds, until the cocktail is very cold.
  3. Strain into an ice-filled lowball glass. Add the orange peel.

Pissaladières

Serves 6-8: Julia Child used to make this classic Provençal tart with store-bought puff pastry, and I do not make a habit of disagreeing with The Queen. Buy the all-butter variety, and while you’re waiting the 20 to 25 minutes for it to bake, I recommend spending that time watching Julia videos on YouTube.

Ingredients

13 oil-packed anchovies

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (14-ounce) package of frozen all-butter puff pastry, thawed

1/3 cup (about 18) pitted oil-cured black olives (such as Moroccan)

Instructions

  1. Finely chop three of the anchovy fillets.
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven set over medium- low heat, add the oil and the chopped anchovies. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the anchovies are dissolved 
in the oil, 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, thyme, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 30 minutes.
  4. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes more.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Let cool completely.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Unfold the puff pastry onto the prepared baking sheet. Use a fork to prick the pastry all over (this will help prevent it from puffing too much during baking) and spread the onions in an even layer over the puff pastry.
  8. Top with the remaining 10 whole anchovies.
  9. Scatter the olives evenly over the top and bake the pastry until the edges and bottom are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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