/ by Stephanie Burnette

Unearth your punchbowl. The magical server that fills cups a plenty is back. If the ladle is long gone, buy an acrylic one for a modern pairing. And enlist any stemless glass into service as a punch cup.

A batched drink has replaced the signature cocktail and with a pretty punch bowl tabletop, guests can serve themselves. Baleigh Wilson, the AC Hotel’s Beverage Director, says a welcome drink affords a host time to spend with friends rather than shake individual cocktails alone in the kitchen.

By its nature, the punch will start out stronger and morph as its ice block slowly melts but, if made well, each stage will be delicious and slurpable. “You want well-balanced flavors, something that is versatile, approachable, citrus and fruit-forward and not too boozy,” Wilson says. She is the creative force behind the cocktails at Juniper; it’s a bar that stocks more than 40 gins and supports a restaurant that can seat 350.

If you’ve visited Juniper, then you’ve felt the warmth of General Manager, Will Ruwer’s hospitality. His enthusiasm extends throughout the spaces of the rooftop menagerie, and Ruwer says that creating an experience is what’s long remembered, whether it’s for a small gathering or a big one. “We all assume our friends can let themselves in, but don’t fall into the busy trap. Be at the front door and welcome guests into your home. The atmosphere, the drink, the food, the aroma, your energy, it all means something.”

He offers a fun tip to add to the dinner party experience: create a collective playlist. “Invite your guests on Spotify or Apple to add some songs before the event and you’ll have everyone’s favorite music. It becomes the party’s playlist.”

Plates paired with punch can be numbered, but intentional. Sliced steak with chimichurri, sautéed shrimp and homemade focaccia with spreads is our suggested menu. The spice trade is closely associated with the history of punch, so chef Fernando Coppola selected savory, well-seasoned dishes and sized the recipes just for our winter dinner party.

Baileigh Wilson and Will Ruwer.

Winter dinner party recipes

Focaccia with walnut fig spread

1 lb “00” Italian pizza flour (or any high protein flour)
1 oz fresh yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of salt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary
Maldon salt
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed

Place fresh yeast it in a bowl and hydrate it with water. Mix in the sugar and 1/3 of the flour. Mix well and let it rest in a warm place until the “starter” starts bubbling.

Using a dough whisk, mix the dry ingredients. Note: make sure the bowl is big enough to contain two pounds of dough. Add the yeast mixture and oil, and whisk until a dough forms. Move the dough to a countertop. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes using folding motions. Dough may be a bit sticky but should look smooth and shiny.

Lightly oil the dough ball and place in the bowl. Cover and let it rest in a warm place for about an hour. Move the dough into an oiled square mold (12”x12”x3”) and using the tip of the fingers shape it to cover all of the surface. Cover again and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Top the dough with the rosemary leaves and the Maldon salt. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and place in a 400F oven. Cook until the top is golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Once ready, remove from the mold immediately and place the focaccia to rest on a wire rack.

Walnut-fig spread
1 cup of walnuts
12 dried Turkish figs
1 cup butter
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of Moscovado sugar

Using a food processor, process the figs until they become a paste. Add the butter, salt and sugar and mix well. Reserve. Using the same food processor, break down the walnuts to nearly a powder and mix into the figs blend.

Focaccia with walnut fig spread.

Sautéed shrimp with sambal sauce

2 lbs shrimp

Sambal sauce

2 Tbsp sambal Olek
2 Tbsp honey
½ cup Tamari or soy sauce
1 pinch of thickener of your choice
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 small garlic clove, whole
1 small piece of ginger, peeled and whole

Mix all the ingredients in a pot and cook over very low heat until the preparation is thick and has formed a glaze. Remove the ginger and the garlic clove and allow it to cool.
Peel and clean the shrimp. Pat dry and salt and pepper them generously. In a hot sauté pan, add vegetable oil and cook the shrimp on both sides. It will take about 5 minutes. Toss the shrimp in the sambal glaze.

Sautéed shrimp with sambal sauce.

Steak with chimichurri

2-3 lbs strip loin
Fresh rosemary, butter and garlic clove
Salt and pepper, to taste

Chimichurri sauce
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1/2 bunch fresh parsley
1/4 cup dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp crushed red pepper, by preference
2-3 garlic cloves
3/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Run the cilantro, parsley and garlic with the vinegar in a blender until smooth. Pour into a bowl and add the dried oregano and crushed pepper. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and mix well with a spoon. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes and then it’s ready to use.

Salt and pepper the steak and cook it in a cast-iron skillet, if available. Start with a very hot pan, slightly sprinkled with oil. Once the steak is in the skillet, lower the temperature to medium.

Cook the steak until an instant-read thermometer reads medium-rare, or to your desired internal temperature. Just before, add one garlic clove, rosemary and one tablespoon of butter and baste the steak. Remove and allow it to rest for three to five minutes before slicing.

Steak with chimichurri.

Mastering the Perfect Punch

One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.

Brits working for the East India Company in the 1600s first reference “punch” as a batched cocktail served in homes. Though the origin of the word is uncertain, most believe the name is a riff from a 500liter cask called a puncheon.

The spice route was analogous with the rise of punch and sailors moved the libation around the world with them. Once Europeans found their way to islands with the means to produce sugar, rum became the basis of punch. For sailors, punch consisted of little more than rum, lime, sugar and a dash of a grated spice, like nutmeg. English society went mad for more composed rum punch, after years of struggling to acquire enough brandy from France.

Today, a savvy bartender can recite the recipe for punch, in the form of the island rhyme: One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.

The jingle is accurate enough; one part citrus juice, two parts sugar, three parts spirit and four parts water make a balanced batched punch.

A punch is something to add to your entertaining arsenal and a splash of something sparkling at the end is a modern take for the “four parts water.” Even club soda can add sparkle to punch or use Prosecco if you’re feeling fancy. A garnish is a hallmark for punch, so pull out your mandolin slicer and get a thin cut so a garnish, such as orange, will float.

Baleigh Wilson says there’s a punch for every month this winter. Each will serve to 6-10 guests. Her background in pastry serves her well in her role as Beverage Director for the new AC downtown. “Winter cocktails often tie back to memories of gingerbread and mint or warm, spiced flavors,” she says. “I like making simple syrups, a cordial or a shrub to add to winter cocktails.”

Wilson suggests fashioning an ice mold, so use any plastic container that will create a large cube. Slide it into your punch bowl slowly. Garnish is added last so it can float on top.

“Sail Away” for December

12oz Martin Miller Gin
10oz grapefruit liquor
6oz Aperol
6oz lemon juice
5oz Demerara sugar
20oz tonic
Frozen grapefruit balloon cube

“Sail Away”

“Lady Peppermint” for January
12 oz Buffalo Trace bourbon
12 oz Godiva chocolate liqueur
12 oz Mountain Peak espresso liqueur
6 oz peppermint syrup

Peppermint syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

“I’m With Cupid” for February
5 cups gin, preferable Glendalough rose
3 cups rose water
1½ cups lemon juice
½ cup agave syrup
Top with prosecco

Our experts say to plan for a guest at a special gathering to have 2.5 drinks an hour, may it be a cocktail, wine, beer or a non-alcoholic beverage, so infused water or a warm cider are nice to have on hand.