You could serve guests the full spectrum of booze at your holiday party. But all of that mixing, shaking and stirring would leave you no time to overeat, smooch underneath the mistletoe or gossip about your neighbor's collection of sequined holiday sweatshirts.

Instead, we recommend offering a limited menu. Assemble one or two signature drinks, a colorful nonalcoholic option and a cooler of beer, preferably produced by a fine local brewery.

Another tip: rent glasses. Cheap plastic cups are for college keggers. Check the Yellow Pages or online for a nearby party rental store.

We've gathered half a dozen festive recipes. Some can be prepared in advance; others require just a few ingredients. But each is as beautiful as it is flavorful.

Cranberry Gin and Tonic


•2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries

•1 cup granulated sugar

•1/2 cup water

•3 1/3 cups chilled tonic water

•1 1/4 cups gin

•3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice


Bring cranberries, sugar and water to a simmer in a 3- to 3 1/2-quart saucepan. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until berries just begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Drain cranberries in a fine-mesh sieve set over a 1-quart glass measuring cup.

Measure and set aside 2 cups cooked cranberries. Force remaining berries through the sieve into the syrup. Discard solids remaining in sieve, then add reserved 2 cups cranberries to the syrup. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a pitcher; chill until cold, about 2 hours.

Add tonic water, gin and lime juice to syrup, stirring gently to combine. Serve over ice in 8- to 10-ounce glasses.

Servings: 10