I spend a lot of time trying to simplify drink-making at home, but it’s not because I’m a lazy host. It’s the opposite extreme: I’m too ambitious when I'm planning a gathering with food and friends. I take on too many long recipes, commit myself to too many dishes, and always, always find myself in a panic at the last minute. If you’re like me, you need the cocktails to come easy.
The first key is to skip the trip to the liquor store and work with what you’ve got at home—or assign a guest to bring a bottle of the booze you need. (This kind of delegating is pretty low-risk: "Find decent enough vodka" requires less skill than "make a good salad" or even "pick something up from a good bakery.") Choosing a drink that doesn’t require a bunch of esoteric liqueurs or aperitif wines helps; the worst kind of liquor store trip is one that involves visiting two or three liquor stores when you can’t find the bottles you need.
So you’ve got vodka, say, on hand—but what are you going to do with it? You're not doomed to a life of Kangaroos (a.k.a. vodka martinis). I just wrote a whole book full of single-spirit drinks, recipes that don’t require bitters or fancy new Spanish vermut or small-batch orgeat. All they need is one bottle and a few easily found fresh or pantry ingredients. There are nine new vodka recipes to start it off, plus five more that work great with vodka as a substitute for their primary spirit, so that should keep you busy.
The second key to simplifying your signature drink, especially as a busy host, is to think large-format: Pick drinks that don’t need to be shaken to order.
This brunchtime wonder, created by Matthew McKinley Campbell of A Mano in San Francisco, is a cousin of the Bloody Mary, but it’s lighter, fresher, and both fruity and savory. Diced ripe pineapple offers a tropical note that’s kept in balance with fragrant cilantro, scallions, and a little adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers. Cherry tomatoes add a delicate tomato element, and there’s a bit of lime for tartness. All the produce just goes in a blender together.
After you’ve whirred your pineapple, tomatoes, cilantro, chipotle, and other ingredients until smooth, you’ll strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer or chinois into a large measuring cup or pitcher. The liquid mix gets combined with your vodka (or reposado tequila, if you prefer) and chilled for up to three hours. Then it's ready to be filled up with ice and served. To get even more out of this recipe, try spooning the solids from the strainer into a bowl and refrigerating them—you'll have a ready-made, fresh pineapple-chipotle salsa to scoop up with chips, no extra effort or cost required.