Have a Few Friends for Drinks – Recipes Included!

With la rentree, as the French call the “re-entry” period at fall’s beginning, just behind us, it’s also a good time to gather friends you may have missed over the summer. Catch up, re-connect, reach out. I was talking about just this on The Nate Berkus Show yesterday, (Monday, October 3). If you missed it and want to see, the show’s website streams the episodes: www.thenateshow.com

Mason jars
Simple Mason jars wrapped with ribbon and twine make a festive presentation.

A simple drinks party is do-able on almost any budget of time or money, and if you find you have either to spare, you can go from there. Everything doesn’t have to be the Moulin Rouge, if you know what I mean. You can keep it very simple. LIke I always say, people are just happy to be invited and happy not to have done it themselves. Make one or two of the recipes and buy the rest prepared. Ditto the decor or table scape ideas. The grocery stores and farm stands are brimming with beautiful things this time of year, and so are the forests, if you happen to live near one. Here are some tried and true recipes to inspire. Enjoy!


Gingerella (serves 10)
A cocktail combining the crisp autumn flavor of apples and the satisfying tingle of ginger along with the ever-favorites of rum and mint. This can be made 6 hours ahead (any longer and it will start to get bitter).

4 large limes
1 cup fresh lime juice
8 ¼-inch thick slices peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup mint leaves, plus mint sprigs to garnish each glass
1 1/4 cups dark rum, such as Mount Gay
1 cup apple juice
4 cups ginger ale (or sparkling water, or combination sparkling water and ginger ale)
Lots of ice
1 Granny Smith apple

Peel the limes in strips with a vegetable peeler and save the peels; then juice the limes. (hint: if you put them in the microwave for 40 to 60 seconds, they will be very juicy)

With mortar and pestle or in small bowl with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon, crush together the lime peel, ginger, sugar and cup of mint leaves. Transfer this mixture to a large pitcher, and add the lime juice, apple juice, and rum. Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, stir in the ginger ale or ginger beer and 3 or 4 handfuls of ice.

Fill glasses with ice and strain or pour cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a thin slice of apple and mint sprig.

Leaf Peeper (Serves 10)

Refreshing, easy, and good.

1 cup pomegranate juice
½ cup apple juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 quarts (8 cups) sparkling water or club soda
About a 1-inch by 2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
12-15 sprigs of mint, for base and for garnish
Lemon slices for garnish

Combine the juices, ginger and several mint sprigs in a pitcher and chill. To serve, pour about ¼ cup of juice into a glass with ice and top with about ¾ cup of sparkling water or club soda. Garnish with mint and lemon slice. If you want this to lose its virginity, add your spirit of choice, with vodka or gin the best bets.

Hors d’Oeuvres

Paper cones with nuts
Paper cones are simple to make and the perfect shape for serving a handful of nuts. The wooden carry box is filled with acorns, and the paper corns nestle right in.The Nate show producers did a beautiful job on the table.

A big THANK YOU to Chef Stephanie Valentine for unfailingly fabulous suggestions on these recipes–the walnuts and pumpkin soup in particular–and a note from me: This menu could easily transition to a proper dinner. The blue cheese walnuts would be brilliant over a salad with simple vinaigrette dressing. Make the meatballs a little bigger and serve them over buttered Stroganoff noodles. Add a dessert (Apple sorbet with ginger snaps, brown sugar brownies, or vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce) or stick with the caramel apples.

Blue Cheese Rosemary Walnuts (or Pecans)

4 cups walnut halves (or pecans)
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into pea-sized pieces
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place blue cheese, butter, sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium sized bowl.  Rub together lightly with your fingertips until just combined.

Add nuts and coat with the blue cheese mixture.

Place on a parchment lined sheet tray and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Stir at 5-minute intervals. Cool completely before serving.

Roasted Pecans

4 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon salt (preferably sea salt)
Optional: red pepper, red pepper flakes, ginger, honey, cinnamon, chili powder)

Preheat oven to 325.

Spread pecans on baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 mins. Stir occasionally.

Stir butter into pecans, and sprinkle with salt.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes more, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir again. Let cool and store in airtight containers.

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup
This is the pumpkin soup as I served it for lunch a few weeks ago. For an hors d'oeuvres, serve in small cups or shot glasses. And trust me, the garnish is to die. I mean it's a perfectly good recipe, but the garnish takes it somewhere new.

This is one of those recipes you don’t have to follow exactly. If you object to any of the spices—or don’t have them—you can omit. A rich flavorful stock is good, but if I don’t have homemade on hand I use store-bought. If you want to go to the trouble of the garnish, it’s worth it, (okay it’s really worth it) but the soup is perfectly good on its own. To have as an hors d’oeuvres, serve in shot glasses, juice glasses, or demi-tasse cups.

For the soup:

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin, or equivalent fresh pumpkin or butternut or acorn squash, roasted, peeled and chopped into large pieces
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

In large stock pot over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil until softened.

Add spices, garlic, and ginger, and cook about a minute.

Add pumpkin and stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. (Meanwhile, make the garnish)

Blend with immersion blender, food processor or regular blender – in batches if necessary.

Taste and season with salt and pepper.

For the garnish:

½ cup walnuts
½ cup cubed day-old sourdough bread
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon truffle, walnut, or olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche

Heat oven to 325.

Put walnuts and bread in food processor and process slightly – into small chunks, not small crumbs.

In small bowl blend nut mixture with herbs, moisten with a little lemon juice and oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread on ungreased cookie sheet and toast 12 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times to brown evenly.

To serve, put soup in cups or bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche and sprinkle with the nut mixture.

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