Punch up celebration with old favorite

Champagne gets all the attention on New Year's Eve, but punch is making a comeback this year as the drink to serve party guests, says David Alan, the cocktail expert and blogger behind TipsyTexan.com. "What's cool about punch is that you've got something already prepared to give guests, which frees you up to be with them instead of mixing drinks," he says. Not only can you make punch ahead of time, punch can also be cheaper than buying bottles of wine or enough spirits to make a variety of drinks.

Punch, which predates the cocktail, was originally made with rum or brandy mixed with citrus juice, tea or spices and was a communal drink at taverns, Alan says. "Instead of ordering a drink at a bar, you walked in and had whatever they were drinking." And forget the overly sweet church potluck punch. Skip the sherbet and its cooling properties, Alan says, and instead use an old Jell-O mold or silicon Bundt pan to freeze a block of ice. A big piece of ice is better than smaller pieces because it will melt more slowly.

Starting in February, Alan and Boxcar Bar cocktail consultant Lara Nixon are teaching a 12-week course that will cover topics including cocktail horticulture, history, spirits and even molecular mixology. You can take the whole course ($350, $250 for U.S. Bartenders' Guild members) or individual classes ($35 per class, $25 for members). To sign up, go to www.tipsytexan.com.

- Addie Broyles

Championship Punch

3 or 4 tangerines, Meyer lemons, oranges or lemons

1/2 cup demerara sugar (or white sugar)

6 oz. strong green tea, warm

24 oz. (about one 750 ml. bottle) Flor de Caña 4-year Aged Rum (or other aged rum, such as Mount Gay or Texas-made Railean )

6 oz. fresh squeezed tangerine juice

6 oz. fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice

6-8 dashes Angostura bitters

1 oz. St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram (available at the Austin Wine Merchant and fine liquor stores)

Over a punch bowl or glass pitcher, remove the zests of several tangerines, Meyer lemons, oranges or lemons. Be careful to remove only the outer zest and not the white pith, which is bitter. Leave the zests in the bowl and add sugar and warm green tea. Stir to dissolve sugar and allow to steep a few minutes.

Add rum, fruit juices, bitters and allspice dram. Strain mixture into a punch bowl. Add a large block of ice, which you can make by freezing water in a Jell-O mold, Bundt pan or half of a paper milk carton.

Makes about a dozen 4-oz. servings.

- David Alan, TipsyTexan.com

Have a little nutrition with your chips

Chips don't have a good reputation when it comes to nutrition, but an Austin-based entrepreneur has created a new high-fiber, gluten-free chip made out of beans. Beanitos, which hit H-E-B and Central Market stores in Texas this week and Sprouts Farmers' Markets and Whole Foods in early 2010, have 5 grams of fiber per ounce and come in two varieties, black bean and pinto bean with flaxseed ($3.99 per bag). CEO Doug Foreman, who created the Guiltless Gourmet line in Austin in 1989, says there are more flavors in the works and that because these chips are made with nutrient- and fiber-rich ingredients, they fill you up faster than regular chips. www.beanitos.com.

- A.B.

Water oven brings french technique home

Even though sous-vide cooking was developed in France in the 1970s, the technique, in which food sealed in an airtight bag is cooked in a controlled water bath, has just recently been embraced by American chefs.

Now, home cooks can experiment with sous-vide cooking with Sous-Vide Supreme, a countertop water oven that's currently available only online.

At more than $400, it's not cheap, but Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller enthusiasts can now create all those impeccably tender and creative dishes in their own kitchens.

Order at www.sousvidesupreme.com.

- A.B.

FOOD BRIEFS

• The Austin Farmers' Market, after setting up every Saturday for the past seven years in the street adjacent to Republic Square Park, will be making a permanent move into the park Saturday. Vendors at the largest certified growers' market in the state now will be selling local produce, meats, food and products under the oak trees at one of Austin's oldest parks. On Jan. 9, the market will host a "Market in the Park" re-launch to celebrate the move.

• Do you make a mean chili? Jo's Hot Coffee and Good Food on South Congress Avenue is hosting the fourth annual Chili Cold Blood Chili Cook-off on Jan. 9, and you have until Jan. 7 to register your cook-off team. In addition to the chili competition, there will be live music and a two-stepping contest, and all the proceeds go to Caritas of Austin. Registration form available at www.joscoffee.com.

- A.B.

OPENINGS, CLOSINGS AND COMING SOON

• Open: Royal Fig Catering, with catering by chef Dan Stacy and event planning by Kristen Stacy, in former West Lake Hills home of Whisk at 4238 Bee Cave Road. 814-9743, www.royalfig.com.

• Open: East Side King , an eclectic Asian food trailer run by three chefs who also cook at Uchi, in the back lot of the Liberty Bar, 16181/2 E. Sixth St. Open 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Tuesdays, then Thursdays through Saturdays.

- Mike Sutter