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I love three-ingredient cocktails.

Heck, I love two-ingredient cocktails, but they’re a bit rarer. There’s just something magical about the alchemy of putting just two or three things together and sipping the results of the alchemy. Plus, on a practical level … well, I do love me the 9- or 10-ingredient tiki cocktails, but I’m not sure I’d want to be knocking them out all night (says the lazy bastard who lives inside me).

When we were hanging out at The Varnish for the Left Coast Libations book release party a couple months ago, guest bartender Anu Apte of Rob Roy in Seattle made one for us and for book co-author Ted Munat that wasn’t actually in the book, or on the bar menu that evening. Always willing to try something new (and always agreeing with Wesly when he says, “What the world needs now is more rye cocktails”), I said I was game.

“It’s called a ‘TLC,'” Anu said. “I came up with it just for Ted.” *

“Sounds lovely!” said I. “Does the name stand for the usual?”

“Nope, said she. “‘Ted Likes Chartreuse.'”

Marleigh, Wes and me: “Awww!”

She may have come up with it for Ted, but it’s also for all the Teeming Millions of us out there who also like (or love) Chartreuse.

(by Anu Apte, Rob Roy, Seattle)

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse.
1/4 ounce apricot liqueur (Apry or Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot).

Combine with cracked ice, stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with an orange peel.

* – Conversational details which I attempt to recall from a time during which I have been imbibing may not be exactly historically accurate, but it’s more or less the gist of it.


Spiced Pumpkin Pie Marshmallows

Those of you who’ve been reading this babble for years on end (all nine of you!) may remember my having mentioned The Fat Pack in passing here and there. The Fat Pack consists of some close friends who are mostly if not entirely New Orleans fanatics and food fanatics, especially when it comes to pork, and especially when it comes to bacon. “Make mine bacon-wrapped” is our unofficial motto; the Latin version, “Fac meum lardo involvit” (I think) will be one of the mottos on our personal coat of arms, if Wes and I ever get around to designing one. (The other will be “Bibo ergo sum.”)

The Fat Pack has also had a tradition for many years — Second Thanksgiving. This takes place on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, three days after the official holiday. The primary motivation behind it is to 1) see each other on the holiday weekend, 2) have a massively fattening and indulgent meal, usually fraught with bacon, and which includes 3) no family drama. It’s pretty much always a raging success.

Over the years I’ve also really enjoyed getting different circles of our friends together, and this year was one of the best of those meetups, achieving a critical mass of food and good times that I think will undoubtedly carry on into the future. Our friend Robb, who had met very few of the Fat Pack folk before, came along with us to Second Thanksgiving this year and brought along two dishes that flipped everyone’s lids. Of course, they would have loved him anyway, ’cause he’s a great guy, but those two dishes certainly cemented that love. The first dish he unveiled was a gorgeous from-scratch mac ‘n cheese (oricchiette, to be precise) laden with applewood-smoked bacon … delicious, but almost too easy. Okay, we love bacon, and THANK YOU! … but what else ya got?

Well, what else he had was this, and it blew everyone away.

Robb’s been experimenting with homemade marshmallows recently. If you’ve ever done them, you’ll know that they’re actually pretty easy, and about eleventy million times better than what you get out of the plastic bags from the grocery store. Basically it’s just four ingredients — cold water, gelatin, sugar and corn syrup — plus a pinch of salt and some confectioners’ sugar and potato starch for dusting. Easy peasy. But … there’s a lot you can do with that. You can easily add flavorings, fruit purées … just swap out part of the liquid content (i.e., the water) for the liquid or purée you’re adding, and bloom the gelatin on that as you would if it were just water.

The first batch Robb made were strawberry marshmallows, made from strawberry purée (fresh or frozen, and strained). In addition to the powdered sugar/potato starch dusting on the outside, the original recipe called for freeze-dried strawberries — Robb found a relatively new Trader Joe’s product packaged as a snack — pulverized and resulting strawberry powder added to the sugar and cornstarch mixture. What a perfect touch.

For his next batch, he began thinking along the lines of the holidays. What fall and winter flavors do we like, and what do we like for dessert on Thanksgiving? Pumpkin pie comes to mind immediately, so that became Robb’s next experiment, based upon the strawberry marshmallow recipe he’d found.

The results of that experiment — orange-tinted, squooshy, pumpkiny magic.

The had an amazing pumpkin-spice flavor, and were just as light as any other marshmallow. Delicious as they were right out of hand, when Nettie said, “Hey, let’s stick these on forks and toast them over the gas flame” … well, our heads pretty much exploded at that point. These are great marshmallows, but toast them over an open flame and they’re INSANELY great marshmallows.

Robb was kind enough to share the recipe with us. When you make these at home and boggle your family, make sure you give credit where credit is due!

(Unfortunately, everyone nomnomnommed these marshmallows so quickly that by the time anyone thought to take a picture of them, they were gone, alas.)

(Recipe adapted by Robb Briggs)

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2/3 cups canned pumpkin purée
1-1/4 cups water
3 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt, about
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (adjust to taste), plus more for dusting
Powdered sugar and potato starch or rice flour for dusting

Line a 9×13 baking pan with aluminum foil (I prefer a pan with sharp corners, so you don’t get rounded corner marshmallows). If you want thinner marshmallows that you can cut with cookie cutters, use a sheet pan. Coat the foil with vegetable oil or non-stick spray. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the pumpkin puree and 1/2 cup of the water. Sprinkle the gelatin over this mixture to bloom, or soften. (I actually mix the gelatin in, it seems to work better for me.)

In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, remaining 3/4 cup water and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240°F).

With the mixer at full speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl. Be careful as the mixture is very liquid and hot at this point and some may splash out — use a splash guard if you have one. Whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 8-10 minutes. Lower the speed and add the pumpkin pie spice, and let it run for a few seconds, until the spice is fully mixed in. Pour mixture into the foil-lined pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula. Allow the mixture to sit, uncovered at room temp for 10 to 12 hours.

Mix equal parts powdered sugar and potato starch (about 1/3 cup of each), and add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, and sift generously over the rested marshmallow slab. Turn it out onto a cutting board or counter, peel off foil and dust with more sugar/starch mixture. Slice with a thin-bladed oiled knife or oiled cookie cutters or a pizza cutter. Dip all cut edges in sugar/starch mixture and shake off excess. Marshmallows will keep several weeks at room temperature in an air-tight container.

P.S. — Before the year is out, I’ll have made boozy marshmallows. Stay tuned.


Left Coast Libations Cocktail of the Day: 606

After the typical, eye-roll-causing procrastination between the last post and now, we finally resume with a couple more of the cocktail featured on the menu at the Varnish during the Left Coast Libations book release party … two months ago. (Well, good things come to those who wait, I hope.)

This one comes from bartender Neyah White, who’s been behind the stick for many years and made a particular impact on the San Francisco cocktail scene before he decided to take a gig traveling the world, teaching folks about the wonders of Japanese whisky. I finally met Neyah a few months back at a local bartenders’ gathering, where we all knocked back some fine whisky and astonishing Japanese whisky-based cocktails (oh my, that Yamazaki 18 year Old Fashioned … oh my). He’s a great guy, and I hope we get to knock back a few more.

This is one of Neyah’s drinks featured in the book, which was on the menu at the party. It’s closely related to Ada “Coley” Coleman’s classic Hanky Panky cocktail from her stint as head of the bar at the Savoy Hotel in the early 1900s; her original recipe is half gin, half sweet vermouth with 2 dashes of Fernet Branca. A more recent version by Ted Haigh upped the gin, lowered the vermouth and brought the Fernet up to 1/4 ounce. This is an entirely different drink though, even if you think of genever as “Dutch gin” (which I think is really a misnomer). To me genever is more like whisky than gin, with that wonderful maltiness bringing a body and flavor that’s miles removed from actual gins like a London dry.

This is also a hefty dose of Fernet Branca in a cocktail, and that’s one difficult ingredient to work with. It doesn’t like to play with others, and has a tendency to completely take over unless it’s used in very small quantities. We’ve got a whole tablespoon of the stuff here, but it’s properly tempered — the thick maltiness of the genever reins it in, the vermouth smooths it out and they both provide a strong enough counterpoint (especially if you use a powerful vermouth like Carpano Antica). Make sure you don’t use a jonge style genever, which is light and has a minimum amount of maltwine in its base (5% or less). You’ll want an oude style genever, and our favorite these days (and the easiest to find) is Bols Genever. I can’t wait to try this with an oude with a bit of age on it, or with a corenwijn

This drink is a whoop upside the head, but in the nicest possible way.

(by Neyah White)

1-1/2 ounces genever (our favorite is Bols Genever).
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca.

Stir with cracked ice for at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange peel.

The flaming of the orange peel is an optional step; Neyah doesn’t specify this in the book but Chris was making them this way at The Varnish. I do enjoy the flavor of caramelized orange oil, and of course I love the light show. Enjoy it either way.


The physical toll of shaking cocktails

We’ve made so many strides and so much progress in mixology and bartending in the last 10 years, and especially in Los Angeles — previously a cocktail wasteland — in the last three or four.  More and more often we’re seeing properly long, vigorous shakes of egg and citrus cocktails, not that wimpy two-second rock-back-and-forth that was always the bane of the imbiber — as Dr. Philip Boyce once said to Capt. Christopher Pike aboard the starship Enterprise, “Who wants a warm Martini?”

We’re also seeing nice, big ice that chills the drink without overly diluting it — Kold-Draft machines are becoming more common, and some bars produce their own ice.  Apparently there has been a price to pay for this, though.


The New York Times recently published an article featuring several of our local bartenders about the mounting problem of repetetive stress injuries.

Bartender Marcos Tello, shaking the bejesus out of a drink

“When we first started Varnish, we began sustaining a bunch of injuries,” Marcos Tello said. “I had a huge, constant knot in my forearm. Chris Ojeda developed tennis elbow. Matty Eggleston popped a tendon in his hand. We were all sidelined with all these injuries.”

Varnish is not a football team. It is a stylish, speakeasy-style cocktail bar that opened early last year in downtown Los Angeles. And the men Mr. Tello mentions are fellow bartenders, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s. But in these heady days of behind-the-bar showmanship, when theatrical agitations of shakers filled with heavy-duty ice are becoming the norm, the mixologist’s physical lot is not so terribly far removed from an athlete’s.

I’d been hearing about this from several of our bartender friends in town, and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem.  I’m glad it’s being addressed — I don’t want everyone to have to retire by the time they’re 40!  Later in the article Marcos mentions consulting and even hiring physical therapists as consultants, which is a great idea.  If you’re a bartender, how do you cope?  How will we have to adapt our shaking techniques to still knock out great drinks without compromising health?  Do we need to invent a shaking machine?  Or is that just too wimpy?

Let’s be careful out there!