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Plan a festive gathering without the alcohol

Cool off with a Non-Alcoholic Apricot Raspberry Shrub.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Cool off with a Non-Alcoholic Apricot Raspberry Shrub.

Teetotaling party guests are a lot like vegetarians, especially if the host is neither.

They end up being a bit of an afterthought in the party-planning process. The vegetarians must forage for nibbles from the crudite platter and hope that the white bean dip isn't made with chicken stock. Likewise the nondrinker, who sips uninspired soda or maybe fizzy water garnished with a tired wedge of lemon. Not so festive.

With so many interesting juices and flavored waters on the market, planning a "mocktail" party can be a delicious endeavor.

Enter a drink with a curious name: the shrub. In the temperance eras of the 18th and 19th centuries, the shrub was stripped of its alcohol, with vinegar standing in to provide the punch and pucker.

Today, matched with seasonal fresh fruit, nonalcoholic shrubs can be party ice breakers. Added bonus: No lampshades in sight.

The sourness of the vinegar shoots a zing to the taste buds, bringing tart freshness to drinks. For party nibbles, consider a cheese board with lots of nuts, and deep, dark chocolate cupcakes as the dessert. Fruit, cheese and chocolate are natural companions.

The party plan

Consider this party for a pretheater or orchestra concert gathering where you don't want to send people to a performing arts setting a little too loose. Decorum is in order at those places. Light snacks are also welcome accompaniments.

As for the drinks, notice the word "fresh" in the phrase "fresh fruit vinegar." That melange is the basis for your beverages and it should be made the day of your party, preferably within about 5 hours of serving. These are what I would call show-off drinks and it's likely people won't have more than two because they are sweet and filling.

Have other drinks on hand to quench thirst, such as bubbly waters that can be dressed up with fresh berries.

Serve them in tall Tom Collins glasses with lots of small ice cubes.

Some shrubs are sweetened with simple syrup made by simmering equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. As the mixture begins to bubble, the sugar will dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool. Simple syrup will keep in the refrigerator for two months.

In place of simple syrup, you can use agave syrup, which is sold in natural food stores and sometimes liquor and grocery stores.

The drinks

We've selected Apricot Raspberry Shrub and Sangria Shrub for their warm-weather appeal and because one features distinctively summer fruits and the other classic citrus.

The Apricot Raspberry Shrub will be more expensive than the citrus-spiked Sangria, but for a small gathering it's a novel and refreshing drink. For the former, use frozen raspberries and buy a small container of fresh raspberries for garnishing. You will be mashing the berries for the drink and then discarding the solids, so frozen is fine.

Tastewise, you won't miss the wine and brandy from the vinegar-powered Sangria Shrub. You'll be adding sugar so make sure the grape juice is unsweetened — and purple.

The bubbles are provided by seltzer, which to my mind is vile on its own but comes to life with the added fruit mixture.

The food

A selection of cheeses scattered with nuts can be served with plain crackers. Heavily flavored crackers will obscure the flavors of the cheeses.

Serve three to five cheeses, with a variety of textures and strengths. For variety, consider one soft-ripened cheese like Brie or Camembert; a hard cheese such as cheddar or Gouda; and a blue cheese. Blue cheeses, especially Stilton or Maytag, go especially nice with sweet drinks. (Sometimes they are even served with a drizzle of honey.)

If you know that you'll have a room of guests who love blue cheese, you could even do a theme tray with all blue cheeses. (Invite me to that party, please.)

Scatter the tray with roasted nuts and small clumps of seedless red grapes. Don't overdo the fruit, since that's the basis for the drinks.

Make sure you have a serving utensil for each kind of cheese so that the flavors don't mingle.

For a sweet offering, bake Dark Chocolate Cupcakes. Use the best chocolate you can afford for both baking and the chocolate chip garnish. Strong espresso in the cupcake batter deepens the flavor without imparting a strong flavor.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.

>>MODERATE

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

½ cup granulated white sugar

cup whole milk

cup strong brewed coffee or espresso

½ cup (or 1 stick) unsalted butter

For the frosting:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate baking bar, broken or chopped into 1-inch pieces (for the frosting)

¾ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 cupcake molds or muffin tins with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray. To make the cupcakes, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk in the milk, coffee and melted butter. Whisk in the dry ingredients. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake molds, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Using a small spatula or knife, remove the cupcakes from the pan. Continue to cool on a wire rack to room temperature.

To make the frosting, melt the chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl, over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Heat the cream until hot. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate. Transfer to a bowl and cool to just warm. Whisk in the butter until smooth. Let sit until it reaches a spreading consistency, about 1 hour. Spread the frosting on top of the cupcakes. Sprinkle them with chocolate chips.

Makes 12.

Source: Ghirardelli

>>EASY

Non-Alcoholic Sangria Shrub

2 oranges

2 limes

8 tablespoons sugar

2 cup unsweetened purple grape juice

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 liters cold seltzer

In a large pitcher, squeeze the juice of 1 orange and 1 lime together. Cut the remaining orange and lime in half-moon slices and add to pitcher. Add sugar and muddle the mixture together with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the grape juice and red wine vinegar. Stir together.

This can be made advance and refrigerated.

Just before serving, add cold seltzer to pitcher. (You'll actually need slightly less than the 2 full liters.) Serve in glasses with ice.

Makes 8 drinks.

Source: Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss (Storey Publishing, 2011)

>>MODERATE

Non-Alcoholic Apricot Raspberry Shrub

You can make the puree up to one day ahead, but it's best if you prepare it within a few hours of serving.

For the apricot-raspberry puree:

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

2 cups apricot nectar

½ cup agave syrup or simple syrup (see note)

½ cup raspberry or white wine vinegar

For assembling:

3 cups seltzer

To make the puree, mash the berries in a medium bowl with the back of a fork. Mix in the apricot nectar a little bit at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Pour the mixture into a strainer set over a small bowl. Gently lift and stir the mixture to help the liquid pass through, without forcing any solids through the strainer. Discard the solids. Stir the agave syrup and vinegar into the strained puree.

To make the drink, pour ¼ of the puree into a tall glass. Add ¼ of the seltzer and then fill with small cubes of ice. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 drinks.

Note: Simple syrup is made by simmering equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. As the mixture begins to bubble, the sugar will dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool. Simple syrup will keep in the refrigerator for two months.

Source: Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss (Storey Publishing, 2011)

Plan a festive gathering without the alcohol 06/02/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2014 5:39pm]

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