Ragusa Brothers King Cakes 2012, No. 2

After that little teaser, we finally get going into Carnival season with some King Cakes! Get ready for Larry Ragusa’s latest King Cake special … that is, if Marie lets it out of the door.

Uh oh, Marie doesn’t look happy. I suspect we’ll be seeing Vincent soon. And then there’s Angelina … as my friend Peter described her, “the modern day Mona Lisa, with that enigmatic smile.”


Shit Bartenders Mixologists Say

Okay, before anyone gets their drawers in a wad … it’s a perfectly good word, and I’m not going to bowdlerize it with asterisks or substitute something* like “shoot.” If I did your mind would still fill in the actual word; as George Carlin wisely said, “‘Shoot’ is ‘shit’ with two ‘O’s.” Now … let’s move on.

There’s been a meme going around YouTube, Facebook and other segments of the Intarnets lately: videos entitled something like “Shit __________ Say.” Fill in the blank with guys, girls, single girls, black girls, gay guys, vegans, project managers … you name it. I’ve been ignoring most of them, until one came along that I couldn’t ignore. Because maybe 50 of my friends have forwarded this around, and … because it’s hilarious.

Those of you who are bartenders or cocktail geeks, c’mon … I suspect you’ve been caught saying at least one, and probably more, of these things. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you “Shit Bartenders Say.”

(“I’m a mixologist.“)

Er, sorry.


Adding some icing to that cake, mixologist bartender Derek Brown, proprietor of The Passenger in Washington, D.C., ran some “Shit Bartenders Mixologists Say” cocktail specials the other night …

Photo courtesy of Derek Brown. Click to embiggen.

Brilliant. The fourth one nearly made me spray my tasty beverage onto my monitor.

I love how the community is serious about what we do, but don’t take ourselves too seriously. Now, would you care for a drink? Hey, I’m really into amaro …


(* – Why is it that you can say “crap” on TV but you can’t say “shit?” They mean exactly the same thing. Sigh. People are so stupid.)


The Return of Larry Ragusa (and his brother Vincent)

Happy New Year! Happy oh-twelve!*

Okay, I know it’s nineteen days into the new Year and most people are done wishing others a happy new year, but if any of you know anything about me at all it’s that I’m the God Emperor of Procrastination. However, I have in fact resolved to write and post more this year, and in a more timely manner. Let’s get going!

Almost two weeks ago was Twelfth Night, the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the beginning of Carnival season. And you know what Carnival means — revelry, parades, Carnival balls, and … King Cakes! You know the tradition, don’t you? King Cakes are served only during Carnival season, and if you get the little plastic baby inside your piece of cake you’re obliged to throw the next King Cake party. When you think of the finest in New Orleans King Cakes, a few major names come to mind: Manny Randazzo’s, Haydel’s, Gambino’s, and of course … the Ragusa Brothers, Larry and Vincent.

When last we left the Ragusa family — Larry, maker extraordinaire of … er, odd King Cakes, his wife Angelina, his estranged brother Vincent and sister-in-law Marie –there was some serious squabbling going on. You will be thrilled and delighted to know the brothers have reconciled! (Kinda.) Here’s a teaser for 2012′s season of commercials for Larry Ragusa King Cakes Ragusa Brothers King Cakes!

More to come soon … stay tuned. If you missed last year’s run of the commercials for Larry Ragusa King Cakes, catch up — one, two, three, four.)

(* – After overhearing people refer to recent years as “oh-ten” and “oh-twelve,” we cannot help but laugh and immediate appropriate this usage. I suppose “oh-thirteen” isn’t really going to work, so enjoy it while you can.)

Cocktail of the Day: Dubonnet Royal

I have to wonder if Dubonnet Rouge is the red-headed stepchild of aromatized wines these days. It just doesn’t seem to get the attention it once did, and that it deserves now.

I love redheads, by the way.

Dubonnet, if you’re not familiar, is a fortified apéritif wine along similar lines as vermouth, and comes in white and red expressions (rouge and blanc, but not a “dry” version as with vermouth). The vast majority of the time when someone refers to Dubonnet they are referring to Dubonnet Rouge. It’s similar to sweet vermouth, although a fair bit sweeter, with fruitier notes, and it’s very slightly more bitter. Dubonnet Rouge does contain quinine, although I don’t detect a whole lot of it on my palate. The sweetness tends toward a ruby port, although not as richly flavored, and one article compared it to sangria, “with a heavier mouthfeel and a spicier aroma.”

Dubonnet was created in 1846 by a Parisian wine merchant and chemist named Joseph Dubonnet, “as a means to make quinine more palatable for the soldiers battling malaria in North Africa.” Still made in France, but for the American market it’s made in Kentucky by the Heaven Hill distillery. There are those who say the American-made product is inferior to the European one. I’ve never tried it in Europe myself, but my pal Martin Doudoroff (who has an excellent site called Vermouth 101 all about vermouth, quinquinas, americanos and other fortified wines) remarked that “[t]he flavor profile is basically the same as the Kentucky edition and it isn’t dramatically more bitter (maybe a touch—it’s still pretty mild stuff in comparison to, say, Bonal) but it’s also clearly a more carefully wrought product. I guess I’d describe the European product as a little move vital and alive.”

I’m quite fond of Dubonnet Rouge myself, and with the proper adjustments I enjoy swapping it in for sweet vermouth for a nice change of pace. It’s lovely in a Dubonnet Cocktail, half and half with gin (one of the preferred tipples of the late Queen Mother, who in her later eyars was probably tipsy all day long, bless her). We also stumbled across this one in the long out-of-print Café Royal Cocktail Book; it’s also up on CocktailDB.

The original recipe called for orange Curaçao, but given the sweetness of the Dubonnet Wesly decided to go for a slightly drier orange liqueur, the excellent triple sec Combier. Cointreau would also work well.

The original recipe, as with so many recipes of its era, also called for precise proportions yet were vague on exact amounts. It read “2/3 Dubonnet, 1/3 gin, 2 dashes each orange Curaçao and Angostura bitters, dash of absinthe on top.” Given some other instructions gleaned from the preface as well as the typical cocktail size of the time, I’m guessing that he was making 2 to 2-1/2 ounce cocktails. I’ve tried to adjust this slightly for the slightly larger cocktails we tend to drink these days, but by all means make the nice little two-ouncers, especially if you have great little tiny vintage cocktail glasses in your collection. Make those proportions 1 to 1/2, otherwise …

I tweeted this recipe after Wesly made this for us one night, and my friend Maitri, who was at the bar at the wonderful Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston drinking at the time, read it to our pal Chris Frankel, who was behind the stick that night. Chris thought it sounded good and made one for Maitri on the spot. Good gods, I love the Internets.

Photo by Maitri Erwin, used with her kind permission. Drink made by Chris Frankel at Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston


(collected by W. J. Tarling, American Bar, Café Royal, London, 1937)

1-1/2 ounces Dubonnet Rouge
3/4 ounce London dry gin
1 barspoon Combier Liqueur d’Orange
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash absinthe
1 Luxardo cherry

Combine the first four ingredients with ice in a mixing glass and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Top with the dash of absinthe and garnish with the cherry.

Wililam J. Tarling was the head bartender of London’s sadly long-lost Café Royal as well as president of the United Kingdom Bartenders’ Guild, and in 1937 compiled a wonderful book of recipes invented by himself, his fellow Café Royal bartenders as well as other members of the UKBG. He was also a good, charitable fellow, as evidenced by this preface to the edition:

ALL Royalties derived by W. J. Tarling from this book are to be equally divided between the United Kingdom Bartenders’ Guild Sickness Benefit Fund and the Café Royal Sports Club Fund.

The book has been out of print for decades, and was quite hard to find for a long time. As with many of the great old out-of-print cocktail books I own, this one was brought to my attention by the inimitable Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, who once again sent me scrambling across the Internets in search of a near-extinct tome. My search became fruitful when I finally got not one but two hits on ABEbooks.com — one in decent condition and perfectly readable condition, with a weathered and cracked but intact dust jacket even, for $25; the other was a pristine edition, autographed by the author, for $25,000.

After careful consideration I chose the former.

Fortunately Mixellany Books, in conjunction with the UKBG, has produced a facsimile edition, which you really should get:


Two great tastes that taste great together

Those of you who have been following along here for a while will likely remember that Chuck and I are members of an august body known as the Fat Pack. The reasons for the name are likely self-evident, and although there is indeed a story behind the name (and the excursion on which it was assumed), that falls squarely under the heading of What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas. Suffice it to say that, when we all get together, as a general rule, eating is involved. Why, just imagine your surprise! I can feel it from here.

For several years now, one of the Fat Pack’s annual traditions has been Second Thanksgiving. What, well may you ask, is Second Thanksgiving? In response I say, “Consider the hobbits and their dining habits, and all shall be made clear.”  Second Thanksgiving is a day—usually the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend—spent with friends (the family you choose), free of family tension, drama and general angstiness. It is an opportunity to connect and re-connect, to get caught up, and to show off one’s cooking prowess with something especially decadent, most likely incorporating bacon or other variations on the theme of pork…but, bacon. Yes.

In past years I’ve tended to leave the cooking to Chuck, because I don’t really cook, not like he does, and also I’m lazy. But last year he was out of town for the holiday, arriving home basically just in time to hop in the car and head off to Second Thanksgiving. So last year I cooked, or rather baked, or rather followed one (actually it was two) of Paula Deen’s butter-based recipes. As I recall, one of them started with biscuits from a tube, and the other with crescent rolls from a tube. Ah, Paula, how we love thee!

But this year I decided to bake from scratch. Because, while I’m not really a cook, I do like to bake. Cakes and cookies are fun and actually pretty easy, if you can measure and stay organized—this may be why I like mixing cocktails. Pies, on the other hand, are more difficult—pastry crust is just difficult for me, and custard fillings…well, they’re daunting. But my granny taught me to bake cookies, and I knew I could pull off something good if I didn’t mess around. It came to me as if in a dream, and I knew it was the right, perfect idea: Peanut Butter Cookies…with Bacon. It’s a classic with a twist! And the twist is bacon! I basically couldn’t go wrong, unless I burned them.

Interestingly, it never occurred to me to look for an actual recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies with Bacon—I just searched up a cookie recipe that looked a lot like my granny’s, and added bacon to it. So I’m not trying to take credit for originality here, just for the thought and effort. Oh, and the success. The base recipe is from allrecipes.com; all the bacon stuff is mine. Without further ado:

Peanut Butter Cookies with Bacon

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces applewood-smoked bacon

Cook the bacon until crisp. Strain and reserve the bacon fat. Put aside four strips of bacon. Eat two of them, and give the other two to your honey to eat. Crumble the rest of the bacon and set aside.

Cream together the butter, peanut butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and powder and salt. Stir into batter. Fold crumbled bacon into the batter. Refrigerate batter for one hour.

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Roll cookie dough into 1-inch balls and put on baking sheets. (Optional step—grease the baking sheet with some of the reserved bacon fat.) Flatten each ball with a fork, making the classic cross-hatch pattern. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until cookies start to brown. DO NOT OVER-BAKE.

Cool on racks, then enjoy.

I had a lot of fun baking, and it’s been a while, so that was good. My Granny Foster (my mom’s mother) was talking to me in my head from the moment I pulled out the mixing bowl, and pretty much throughout the whole process, and those were nice memories to savor. “Make sure you start with a big enough bowl!” “Be sure to stir all around the outside of the bowl, not just in the middle, and all the way to the bottom, not just the top. Otherwise your dough won’t be right, and the cookies will come out wrong.” “One-inch dough balls are just silly; you want one-and-a-half-inch balls. They’ll take longer to bake, but the cookies will be bigger and better.” (If you do this, the baking time will be closer to 12 minutes.) It was nice to hear her voice again, even if only in my head, and I like to think that she’d be glad to see me baking from scratch.

As it turned out, my experiment was entirely successful: the cookies were a big hit at Second Thanksgiving, and I noticed extras going home in zip-lock bags for later enjoyment. Our friend Larry reportedly “went coo-coo” for them, which is pretty much the best reaction I could possibly have hoped for. It’s worth mentioning that the recipe was annotated with “Servings: 24”. I read this as “Makes two dozen” and thought, “Oh no, two dozen cookies will never be enough—I need to double this.” Which I did, and it was way more than I needed—I still have about 1/3 of the dough in the refrigerator, and I need to either freeze it for later or bake even yet still more cookies…the horror, the horror. I can only imagine that the 24 people being served are supposed to eat three cookies each, or more like four if you’re just silly and make one-inch dough balls. Just something to keep in mind; your mileage, of course, may vary.


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