Libations are a key ingredient in many celebrations, and they're the stars in SouthernCocktails, a new book by Denise Gee with photographs by Robert M. Peacock.
The two collaborated on this lavish volume, as they have in numerous magazine features. Both grew up in Natchez, Miss., which has the largest concentration of pre-Civil War houses in the country and is known for its warm hospitality. The couple didn't know each other then; they met and married in 1992, when both worked for the Tampa Tribune. They now call Dallas home.
"We're not reared to be alcoholics, mind you, but we are taught how to be hospitable and have a good time from the get-go," Gee writes. "There's no doubt that traditional Southern cocktails are in my blood. Afterward, as the famous French epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin so beautifully put it, conversation sparkles."
Here are a couple of recipes from the book to help enliven almost any party, even a party of two.
Served at many daytime occasions such as brunches and weddings, this also can make a great alternative to eggnog. "It should be served very cold," Gee notes.
3 quarts half-and-half
1 750-ml bottle bourbon or brandy
1/4 cup pure Mexican vanilla or vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
Garnish: grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients except nutmeg in a gallon-size container. Cover and freeze until the mixture is slightly frozen.
Use an ice pick to make the mixture slightly slushy. Pour into a punch bowl or chilled pitcher. Add more powdered sugar, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Pour into small cocktail glasses or wine goblets (not over ice). Garnish each drink with an additional pinch of nutmeg.
Serves 16 to 20.
THE BEE'S KNEES
A Tampa friend introduced her to this "honey of a drink," Gee writes. "It's like liquid gold, with honey and lemon - smooth and to the point." Pure honey makes a very sweet drink; Gee uses a smoother honey syrup. "You can also make it with vodka," she writes, "but the juniper berry base in the gin gives it more depth."
4 ounces gin
11/2 ounces honey syrup (recipe at right)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Optional garnish: Lemon curls.
Pour all ingredients except the garnish into a cocktail shaker filled with ice; shake well.
Strain into chilled cocktail or martini glasses. Add the garnish, if desired.
11/2 cups honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil while stirring. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by one-fourth. Set aside until cool. Using a funnel, pour into a clean container and store in the refrigerator for several months.
Makes about 11/2cups.
Source: Southern Cocktails, Chronicle Books, 120 pages, $14.95