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Mixing the Xmas cocktail

IT is the season to be jolly — and your guests soon will be if you hand them one of our delicious, glamorous, Christmassy cocktails. We’ve got tips on basic equipment and techniques, plus ingredients to stock up on — in fact, all you need to start mixing f

estive drinks like a pro. Basic equipment

Of course you can probably get by without this basic bar equipment, but if you want to create the right atmosphere and give your guests that little bit of showmanship when you’re mixing your drinks, then invest in a few of the following basics:

* A measure (or jigger as it’s known by professional bartenders) is the most essential piece of equipment. The best one to get is a dual-measure which measures both 25ml and 50ml (single and double measures).

* A shaker is a must if you want to feign professionalism with the all-important wrist action, and there really isn’t anything else in the kitchen that will do a suitable job, unless you’re willing to mess about with a jam jar and a colander. There are lots of different styles, but don’t spend a fortune. Just a stainless steel one with an in-built strainer and twist-off lid is fine.

* A bartender’s friend (also known as a waiter’s friend) is a handy gadget that removes corks and bottle caps, cuts the foil from wine bottle tops and generally helps you look the part.

* A pestle and mortar which you might have in your kitchen already, is handy for crushing herbs, fresh fruit, lemons and limes, and so on.

* Citrus squeezer — just one of the old-style glass ones is fine.

Basic techniques

Follow the measurements exactly.

The most important rule when mixing the cocktails is to follow the measurements exactly, using half or full measures (25ml/50ml). This will ensure you get the balance of flavours right and the drink won’t taste too strongly of alcohol or have an overpowering taste of any one particular ingredient. There are a few other handy techniques that can help when it comes to putting all the ingredients together too.

Building is the simplest process whereby the cocktail ingredients are simply added to the glass with ice and given a quick stir before serving.

Blending: some cocktails are blended in a blender with a little crushed ice before being poured into the glass.

Shaking is the method most people associate with cocktail making. The ingredients are added to the shaker with some ice. Hold onto the lid, shake vigorously for about ten seconds then pour the cocktail through the strainer into the appropriate glass.

Stirring: certain cocktails, such as Martinis and Manhattans, just need to be stirred carefully (usually over ice) to combine the ingredients before serving.

Layering: finally, you might use a bit of fancy layering, pouring ingredients over the back of a spoon, which allows them to remain separate in the glass and be tasted individually.

Hangover help

Dehydration is responsible for most of the nastier effects of a hangover. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it speeds the loss of water from the body — causing parched-mouth thirst, headaches and that feeling of continual dizziness. Nausea, vomiting and indigestion are caused by alcohol irritating the stomach lining.

Look after your body and it will look after you — so avoid dehydration, protect the stomach lining and take it easy as far as the amount of alcohol you drink is concerned.

Before you go out, eat a good meal. On this occasion only, a fatty one is beneficial as fat is digested slowly and will protect the stomach from the irritating effects of alcohol. A glass of milk also protects the stomach and slows the absorption of alcohol.

While you’re out, alternating water or non-fizzy soft drinks with alcoholic ones limits the amount of alcohol you consume. Avoid fizzy drinks as they increase the amount of alcohol getting into the bloodstream.

Walking home in the fresh air after a night out can help to reduce the effects of a hangover. If you can’t manage this, take a taxi or get a lift from someone who’s sober — never drive.

Before you go to bed, drink at least a pint of water and some orange juice — vitamin C speeds up the metabolism of alcohol by the liver. Eat some toast, too — a lack of sugar is responsible for that wobbly, trembling feeling and it will help to settle your stomach. A sports drink is a convenient alternative.

Curing a hangover

Everyone has their own hangover cures; some work, others don’t. It’s best to plan ahead and have a few things close to hand. If you’re feeling queasy, antacid liquid or tablets will settle your stomach, as will a cup of ginger tea. Ibuprofen or paracetamol will relieve your headache. Anti-sickness tablets may come in handy.

Once again, water, vitamin C (fruit juice or tablets) and toast are the best things to consume. Eggs are also good as they’re packed with cysteine, which is said to mop up the destructive chemicals that build up in the liver when it’s metabolising alcohol. This probably explains why a hearty English breakfast does the job — if you can face it.

The effects of a hangover last about 24 hours, so be patient. You’ll soon feel better and ready, inevitably, to do it all again. — bbc.co.uk/food

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