There are some upsides to working from home: elastic waistbands, a 10-step commute, extra company for furry roommates, but if you’ve been missing hitting the bar for post-work happy hours, we encourage you to revive the tradition in the comfort of your own abode. When the whistle blows — closing your computer for the day doesn’t quite have the same ring — set out the snacking spread and crack the wine. Below we share some inspiration for the happiest hour of the day.
The Big Game
Why do people love to unwind by watching ferocious competition? Check your local listings or, if you don’t have the energy for suspense, cue up a classic game on the TV (for Pennsylvanians, we recommend the 2018 Super Bowl or game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals) then serve up this sports bar-inspired fare.
Green Nachos: This dish is just like regular nachos, but with a twist. Top your pile of chips and melted cheese with tomatillo salsa, a ridiculous amount of guacamole, pickled jalapenos, and fresh cilantro (to stay on theme). Those toppings will provide acid and freshness, creating a harmonious fiesta of flavor.
Oven Wings: Psssst. We have a secret that the bars across America don’t want you to know: You can make ridiculously good wings at home. Using this method, dry the wings on a rack in the fridge before cooking them in the oven. The resulting flappers will be incredibly moist and tender with fully rendered, crispy skin. Eat them with just salt and pepper, or toss them in a simple Buffalo sauce (butter and Frank’s Red Hot), alongside blue cheese dressing.
Sliders: There’s something thrilling about eating more than one burger, even if they’re cute little sliders. To up your game, choose a PA-made potato roll (Martin’s is classic) and whip up a quick special sauce (tomato, mayo, pickle). If you’re looking for further flavor inspiration, check out our recent burger pairing guide.
PAIRING: All of these dishes are salty and rich, and there’s also plenty of heat at the party. To play off those flavors, choose a wine with acidity (to cut that richness) and a little bit of residual sugar (to tame the spice). We recommend a Riesling, which will keep things light and fresh.
Bring on the Banchan
Most Korean meals start with a spread of small snacks and pickles called banchan. Use that tradition as inspiration for a post-work nosh. Here are a few of our favorite graze-able dishes.
Cucumber Kimchi: Kimchi is usually associated with cabbage, but cucumber kimchi is also traditional. Crisp disks are marinated in some combination of dried chilis, salt, sugar, ginger, and fish sauce. As with any staple recipe, there are thousands of potential variations, but they all boast a combination of spice, funk, and freshness. “Oi Kimchi” is perfect paired with a cold drink.
Ddangkong Jorim (soy-braised peanuts): Oh, that tantalizing synthesis of sweet and salty! What could be better. This banchan features peanuts in a sticky soy glaze, perfect for eating one at a time with chopsticks.
Galbi Ssam (lettuce wraps): Looking for a little handheld freshness? Wrap marinated beef, along with sliced carrots, cucumber, green onion, and Gochujang (another chili sauce such as Sriracha would also work) in hearty romaine leaves. The easy-to-eat bundles will free up an extra hand for your wine glass.
PAIRING: Most Korean meals are eaten with crisp beer and/or soju, a distilled spirit typically made from rice. Take inspiration from those two flavor profiles — carbonated crispness and a slightly sweet funk — and open a bottle of sparkling Vidal Blanc. This festive wine has a great balance of acidity and complex fruit notes, and will perfectly offset the salinity and umami of these dishes.
Does it all have to be so complicated? No, at least not if you have access to a decent grocery store. When it comes to this menu, if you have enough energy to crack a plastic clamshell cover and turn on your oven, then you’re all set.
Cheetos: Sometimes science does it better. We’ve heard it said (confession: it was us) that if you were served a Cheeto at a high-end molecular gastronomy restaurant, you would never shut up about its perfect pucker of cheese and salt. Good thing you don’t have to shell out for a tasting menu to touch the sublime.
Pigs in a Blanket: Here’s where the oven comes in. Buy the frozen version or DIY it with crescent rolls in a can and wee hotdogs, but either way make sure there’s plenty of hot brown mustard.
Cocktail Shrimp: The fact that you can buy a ring of perfectly poached cocktail shrimp from almost any grocery store seafood counter is a serious perk of modernity. These pretty pink prawns will elevate your spread and refresh your appetite with their subtle sweetness.
PAIRING: You’re going to want to choose a versatile wine that can play well with both the meatiness of the dogs and the delicacy of the shrimp. Pinot Noir is an obvious choice with its balance of bright fruitiness and earthy complexity. It’s also possible that Pinot plus Cheeto might just be the high/low pairing of the century.
The Italians do happy hour — or “aperitivo” — right. You will never be served a drink without some sort of munchable goodie. This array takes inspiration from a dreamy evening in the piazza.
Tarali: Crumbly donut-shaped crackers from the very south of Italy (Puglia to be exact), these salty marvels are strangely addictive. Look for a version flavored with black pepper.
Assorted Bruschetta: Make some little bread rounds and top them with your favorite things. We love fresh sausage (cooked on the bread in a hot oven), fig and ricotta, paté, and fresh chopped tomato and olive oil.
Marinated Olives: There is a reason a small bowl of these glorious orbs grace so many happy hour tables. The salinity and richness get your taste buds popping without filling you up.
PAIRING: Teroldego is a red Italian varietal that is gaining a foothold in Pennsylvania. In this case, the snacks act in service of the wine — the saltiness and acidity will underline the vino’s dark fruit notes and peppery background. Watch how the flavors evolve, getting smokier or punchier, depending on what you’re eating.