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 — 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; 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.


Cocktail of the Day: The Heads Up, an “adult soda”

One of the seminars I attended at Tales of the Cocktail this year featured the amazing Dave Arnold, director of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute in New York and co-author of the not-to-be-missed website Cooking Issues. He was joined by the also amazing Tony Conigliaro, the owner, head bartender and chief mad scientist of 69 Colebrooke Row in London, and the stupendously amazing food scientist and author Harold McGee. The worst thing about that seminar is that it was only 90 minutes; I could have spent an entire semester listening to those guys and we’d only be getting started.

Last year Dave discovered an amazing technique for doing infusions. Typically we read of infusing various ingredients into spirits for times ranging from an hour or two (in the case of teas, for instance) to a week or even longer for fruit and spice infusions. This is apparently no longer necessary unless you want to test your patience (which I never do, because I have none, and I want it NOW, Daddy!) — how about thirty seconds to five minutes? Dave wrote an article entitled “Infusion Profusion: Game-Changing Fast ‘n Cheap Technique.” If you’re intrigued by my summary (and if you want to make the cocktail as demonstrated below), you may want to pause and read that article.

You can infuse flavors into liquor (and water based things, too) almost instantly with nothing more than an ISI whipped cream maker. You can use seeds, herbs, spices, fruits, cocoa nibs, etc. Here’s how:

Put room-temperature booze into the cream whipper. Add herbs, seeds, whatever. Close the whipper and charge it with nitrous oxide (N2O –the regular whipped cream chargers). Swirl gently 30 seconds and let stand 30 seconds more. Quickly vent the N2O out of the whipper, open it, and strain out the infusion. Done.


Here is what I think is happening:

When you charge your whipper with nitrous oxide, high pressure forces liquid and nitrous oxide into the pores of your flavorful food (your seeds or herbs or what-have-you.) When you suddenly release the pressure inside the whipper, the nitrous forms bubbles and escapes from the food quickly, bringing flavor and liquid out with it.

This is mindbogglingly useful, Babel Fish be damned. (Okay, a Babel Fish would be pretty cool, but it can’t infuse cacao nibs into Bourbon in two minutes.) “I did a 5-minute knee-slapping song-singing jig around the school when I figured out this technique. It’s really good,” says Dave.

The equipment you’re going to need is minimal, and relatively inexpensive, and the sky’s the limit for your infusion ideas. Try to think of flavors that go well together, rather than just sticking fruit into vodka, for instance. Yes, I’m sure many of us went through our fruit-infused vodka phase; I did, about 12 years ago. You do it, and then you move on. (That said, that apple-infused one I made was pretty good.) How about a beautiful marriage like … sweet white vermouth and watermelon?

Bartender Alex Day, formerly of Death & Co. in New York and currently one of the main partners in cocktail and hospitality consultancy Proprietors LLC in Los Angeles, demonstrates this marriage of flavors done in five minutes rather than two weeks.

This drink is also a perfect example of another technique we’ve been learning about of late, one that stretches back over 100 years to the heyday of the American soda fountain — acid phosphate. Ever been to one of the few remaining true soda fountains, perhaps even in an even rarer drugstore that still has one? Ever wonder what a “chocolate phosphate” or “cherry phosphate” soda was, or what it tasted like, or what the hell phosphate is and what is it doing in my drink? It’s a way to add acidity to a drink, either alcoholic or not, but with a “blank slate” of flavor. In many cocktails you’ll see the sweetness balanced by acidity from citrus juice, typically lemon or lime, and while this works wonderfully in a variety of classic drinks they also have a very strong flavor. What if you want to achieve balance via acidity in your drink without adding citrus flavor, which might throw the flavor balance off? Acid phosphate is your solution.

My friend Darcy O’Neil, bartender extraordinaire, professional chemist by day and author of Fix the Pumps, a wonderful history of the soda fountain, now manufactures a high-quality acid phosphate for use in cocktails. If you’re a cocktail geek — hell, if you’re a soda fountain geek who wants to learn how to make the soda fountain drinks of yore — you need both the book and the phosphate. You might also want to pause again to read Darcy’s article, linked above.

Okay, I grant you … this does involve a bit of prep, but I think you’ll find it immensely rewarding. Alex brings together all these ingredients and techniques in an absolutely gorgeous drink he calls “an adult soda.” It’s a perfect light aperitivo, and something I can relax with and enjoy after work and before dinner. I’m trying to cut down a bit on my daily alcohol consumption — yes, I have a drinking problem, but it’s not what you might think. My drinking problem currently manifests itself in my not being able to get my pants buttoned (and a recent trip to Ross and Macy’s to buy bigger pants and THIS IS NOT GOOD). A lighter yet very flavorful cocktail is exactly what I need. Take it away, Alex …

(by Alex Day, Proprietors LLC)

2-1/2 ounces watermelon-infused blanc vermouth
1/2 ounce Aperol
1 teaspoon acid phosphate
Soda water
Grapefruit slice

iSi or other cream whipper
2 standard N2O cartridges

In a Collins glass, build the first three ingredients, add ice and stir. Top with soda water, stir gently to mix and garnish with your lovely grapefruit slice.

Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambéry is preferred, but you may use Martini & Rossi or any bianco vermouth.

[Yeah, I'm beginning to get my writing mojo back. I just needed something to come up behind me and zap me with a cattle prod, and this drink was it. It looked really great, plus it gave me the opportunity to link to Dave's article on nitrous infusions, Darcy's article on and source for acid phosphate, plus the drink itself. Great links brought together by commentary, the perfect old-school weblog post. Thanks, Alex. Thanks also to Taste Terminal for producing the video.]



It’s a magical day! (Some say. They would be silly.)

For many it’s Veteran’s Day (and here’s to those folks). For others it’s just a big round scary birthday. Oh well, they say 1/20th of a millennium is the new 1/25th of a millennium …

“What are you going to do at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11?” a few people asked.

The answer to that question? Have a wee dram of 23-year-old Black Maple Hill rye whiskey. Why? Well … why not?

All that aside, we should celebrate elevens today! You did have your elevenses today, didn’t you? My elevenses consisted of the aforementioned whiskey, good New Orleans coffee ‘n chicory au lait, and a banana. (Remember, life is good if you eat seven meals a day like a hobbit — “I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.” “Breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper!”)

This one about killed me — Scottish comedians Iain Connell and Robert Florence of “Burnistoun” are presented with an American-made voice-actuated elevator …

And of course … Happy Nigel Tufnel Day!

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…
Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty: I don’t know.
Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.
Marty: Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel: [pause] These go to eleven.

[P.S. -- Yeah, it's been weeks since I posted. I guess I lost my mojo for a bit, and needed to recharge my batteries. I'll be back soon, I promise.]


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