Cocktails on the front porch


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In summer, I love to take (unofficial) walking tours of my neighborhood, to admire the vividly colored flowering trees, elegant rose bushes and lush greenery. The natural beauty is enviable, but nothing stirs up my inner green monster quite as much as a well-cared-for front porch. Whether simply adorned with a rocking chair and a potted plant or stylishly decked out for entertaining a crowd, porches seem to promise pleasure and relaxation. My simple stoop cannot compete.

Thanks to Denise Gee's lovely new book, "Porch Parties: Cocktail Recipes and Easy Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining," not only do I now know the difference between a porch, a veranda and a colonnade (a veranda is a fancier name for a fancier porch, and a colonnade has, well, columns), but also I know what I'd like to be drinking on each one.

Most importantly, whether you're planning to sip mint juleps on the veranda or in your living room, Ms. Gee's party tips and recipes help everyone inject a little porch spirit into summer entertaining.

Clearly a consummate entertainer, she understands the importance of setting a scene. From lighting and music to buffet set-up and shopping lists, this book has everything you need to make party planning a breeze.

Cocktail and other drink recipes make up the bulk of the book, along with tons of gorgeous photographs taken by Ms. Gee's husband, Robert M. Peacock. The drinks are divided into three sections -- "Convivial Cocktails," "Punch with Pizzazz" and "Think Frocktails not Mocktails."

A number of Ms. Gee's drinks are inventive variations of classics, such as the prosecco mojito, which substitutes Italian bubbly for club soda. I can't wait until watermelon season so that I can try the watermelon cooler made by blending frozen watermelon, vodka and honey.

Some of the cocktails, which must be individually shaken to order, are best suited for intimate gatherings. It's no surprise that Ms. Gee discovered a number of these drinks at restaurants, where bartenders have the space and skills to mix complex drinks, such as the strawberry martini from Dallas' Sushi Samba or the Blackberry Smash from Dallas' aptly named Porch Restaurant.

For larger parties, pitcher drinks or punches that are simply stirred together are a better bet. Until recently, punches had fallen so far out of fashion that it was practically impossible to buy a punch bowl anywhere but a vintage store. But now, those vintage punch bowls often sell for big bucks and haute mixologists are coming up with delicious modern concoctions.

Sadly, most of the recipes in the punch chapter resemble the too-sweet concoctions that nearly drove the drink to extinction. There are exceptions, such as the very good champagne punch (although I would chill the champagne separately from the punch base and add it only at the last minute to preserve its fizz).

There are plenty of non-punch drinks that are easy to make for a crowd, including pear mimosas, tipsy tea, a pitcher of juleps and beer-based micheladas.

Cocktail recipes rarely mention brands, which offers flexibility about how much to spend, but also it means that drinks may taste different depending on which mixers and liquors you choose. For the Blackberry Smash, I used Reed's ginger beer instead of ginger ale, which gave the drink even more spicy complexity. Those who'd rather not use bottled sour mix or Rose's lime juice can simply substitute fresh lemon juice and simple syrup or fresh lime juice.

Ms. Gee doesn't forget that it's always a good idea to pair a drink with a snack (nor does she forget to remind us all of some basic food safety tips). The last chapter includes recipes for elegant finger foods, often with a Southern flair, such as red-deviled eggs with crispy bacon crumbles and cherry tomatoes with jalapeno-pimiento cheese. Preparations range from quick and easy Greek crostini and fig and walnut brie to more ornate baby crab cakes with lemon-garlic aioli.

The drink section closes with an excellent chapter on nonalcoholic options. There are classics such as the Roy Rogers, twists on classics such as ginger lemonade, and lots of fresh fruit options such as honeydew agua fresca, the strawberry thrill and rosewater-scented mango lassi.

My porch parties may remain indoors, but with so many delicious, cooling options, at least I know I'll be drinking in style all summer long.

Blackberry Smash

PG tested

This drink is perfect for a mixed crowd because it beautifully balances sweet fruit flavors with the almost spicy heat of rye whiskey. I also tested a Michelada and non-alcoholic Mango Lassi; find those recipes online at post-gazette.com/food.

-- China Millman

  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 16 fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 cup rye whiskey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup
  • 1/2 cup ginger ale, plus more for topping off
  • Garnish: skewers of fresh blackberries (optional)

Muddle the mint and blackberries in the cocktail shaker. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup and 1/2 cup ginger ale. Add ice and mix with bar spoon (don't shake -- remember there's ginger ale in there). Pour into wide-mouth or tall cocktail glasses filled with ice. Top off with extra ginger ale to taste. Garnish, if desired.

Serves 2

-- "Porch Parties" by Denise Gee (Chronicle, $16.95).

Michelada

PG tested

  • 2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons salt-free chile powder
  • 1 lime wedge
  • 2 ounces fresh lime juice
  • Hot sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • 4 12-ounce bottles of Mexican beer
  • Lime wedges for added flavor and garnish

Combine the salt and chile powder in a small shallow dish. Moisten the rims of four pilsner glasses or beer mugs with the lime wedge. Dip the rims into the chile salt and set aside.

Add 1/2 ounce lime juice to each glass and fill with ice about halfway. Add a dash or 2 of hot sauce and soy sauce to each glass and top off with the beer. Add more lime wedges as desired.

Serves 4.

-- "Porch Parties: Cocktail Recipes and Easy Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining" by Denise Gee (Chronicle, $16.95).

Mango Lassi

PG tested

This delicious, refreshing drink would be perfect for a brunch party or even as a light summer dessert.

-- China Millman

  • 3 cups diced fresh or frozen mango
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons rose water
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • Garnish: fresh mango wedges (optional)

Process half the mango, orange juice, ice, honey, rose water and yogurt in a blender until well blended, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary.

Pour the mixture into a serving container. Repeat process with remaining ingredients and add to the container. Mix well. Serve immediately in highball glasses; garnish, if desired.

Serves 8.

-- "Porch Parties: Cocktail Recipes and Easy Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining" by Denise Gee (Chronicle, $16.95).


China Millman: 412-263-1198 or cmillman@post-gazette.com . Follow her at twitter.com/chinamillman.


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