Monday, June 20, 2011

When Life Gives You Crappy Wine...

After attending the NRDC "Shindig for Sharks" last weekend, I was reminded that perhaps the perfect confluence of fun for me is a charity auction ball because it combines four things I absolutely adore: cocktails, dressing up, shopping and do-gooding. 

Seriously, what is not to love?

Given this predilection, it was not surprising that I found myself in charge (“President” – ha) of the Charity Auction Ball during my second year at Kellogg.

Putting on the Charity Auction Ball (yes, we did have such a clever name for it, didn’t we?) is quite the production. I imagine it is akin to planning a wedding except you care slightly less and you have a few more attendees…in the vicinity of 600 or so. It is one seriously big, fancy, logistically-overwhelming party.

Like any big social event, there’s a budget, venue visits and negotations, auction items to beg for, catering decisions to be made (Thank you Ann and Emilie for dealing with that!) and so very much more.

For us, part of the “very much more” was getting companies to sponsor our adult beverages. This was, by far, the part I had to work the hardest at, and it was absolutely worth the blood, sweat, and tears. We all know tipsy shoppers buy more. And if you don’t know that, you should ask the Anthropologie on Bolyston Street (between where I happy-houred and where I lived) in Boston. They will confirm.

I finally locked up the last sponsor for the liquor part of the beer-wine-booze trinity just days before the event. It was a MAJOR relief. I am happy to report that Charity Auction Ball 2009: “A Black and White Gala” went off without a hitch. Much fun was had by all, and many dollars ($30K+!) were raised to benefit some amazing non-profits.

And after all the big yellow school buses (THE mode of transport for Kellogg MBAs) had left the Chicago History Museum, and all the caterers had packed up, I was left with 21 cases of donated beer, 8 cases of donated wine, and a smattering of donated hard alcohol.

499 bottles of beer on the wall...

It was clearly going to be a party-filled Spring.

The beer was obviously going to be no problem to take down over the course of the three months before graduation. If you’ve been to business school or know someone who has, you know how the future leaders of global commerce can put back beer.  It’s kind of crazy.

Herein lay the problem the real problem: the wine, donated by a very large and generous winemaker, was not exactly top of the line. It was, indeed, the same wine that they give away for free in the United Red Carpet Club at O'Hare. It’s basically undrinkable if you have functioning taste buds. I do love my wine, and even I would not drink this sorry excuse for swill, instead going the scotch route at the ball. Not a good sign.

And there is only one thing to do with undrinkable wine: make sangria.

And so I did.  

I made gallons of it. Truly, gallons. White sangria, red sangria, you name it. Girls night? My place! Sangria!

Sunday Funday? Let’s make it an “Almost Mexican” theme and have that fabulously trashy Veleveeta & Ro*Tel queso out of a slow cooker, some homemade Cuban sandwiches (totally worth the effort to roast the pork, by the way) and Sangria!

It’s fair to say that, 96 bottles of shitty wine later, I have perfected a pretty mean sangria.

And in honor of Summer, here it is:

Kate’s Sangria
Makes one 2-quart pitcher

Ingredients for Sangria, either red or white:
1.5L (2 bottles) of cheap wine. The cheaper, the better. Franzia Burgundy works for red sangria if you are not too embarrassed to leave your local store with a box of Franzia Burgundy in your cart. Try Chablis or cheap Chard for white. It honestly doesn’t matter. Don’t try to class this up with a $9 bottle of wine. $5 or less is honestly preferred.

½ to 1 cup brandy, depending on how drunk you want your guests to be. I normally go cheap for this, too. Paul Masson is totally fine. You’re not sticking it in a snifter, after all.

½ to 1 cup granulated sugar. Superfine is great because it dissolves faster. The amount depends on how sweet your wine is, but I normally use ¾ cup per pitcher of red sangria and ½ cup per pitcher of white.

Stir together in a pitcher the wine, brandy, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. (If you really want to get fancy, you can make a simple syrup with the sugar but in my experience this is time consuming and unnecessary. Just stir.)

Now, add the below fruit, and stir to combine. Make sure all the fruit gets submerged at some point.

For the fruit, you want to do both very tiny dice as well as whole round slices. The reason is that the large slices look pretty in the pitcher and the little bits end up in people’s glasses and there is nothing tastier than some sangria-soaked little fruit bits.

Red sangria: For each pitcher, I use 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 navel orange, and 1 granny smith apple.  Slice half of each fruit into thin slices, and dice the rest of it into ¼ -1/8 inch cubes. No need to seed or peel or anything, just chop it all up (but do remove the stem on the apple!) In fact, the peel adds a lot of flavor so absolutely leave it on! Do not remove it or you will ruin the sangria! (Note: you can slice and dice the fruit a day before serving – keep it in a Ziploc bag – you can put it all in the same bag – in the fridge.)

White sangria: Similarly, use 1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 navel orange, as above but I like to also had 1 cup of fresh or frozen raspberries to the white sangria mix. You can also add a peach, pitted, if they’re in season.

For serving, I prefer to keep the sangria undiluted in a pitcher (served with a big spoon so people can scoop out extra booze-soaked fruit) and serve the mix in wine glasses over ice. You can also provide club soda on the side, in case your friends’ tolerances for alcohol are not on par with my friends’.

Taken in Rae & Jeff's gorgeous kitchen.

Happy Summer!