Pinnacle of Civilization: The Bloody Mary

This afternoon I was trying to think of what single thing best represented the zenith of so-called “western civilization,” a term I employ rhetorically with apologies to my Chinese and Middle-Eastern friends whose ancestors were busily cranking out one early scientific discovery after another while western barbarians were still squatting in the dust and filth, puzzling over bird entrails when they weren’t stabbing and clubbing each other over acorns and cold rabbit meat.

I considered the grand accomplishments–splitting the atom, traversing space and diving to the bottom of the sea.  Amazing stuff, but perhaps too complex–space travel still Sputnik_670beckons back to the world war 2 era Nazi rockets and that embarrassment of embarrassments, Sputnik.  I entertained life-changing breakthroughs like immunizations and vaccines, central heating, Mark Chagall.  Central heat was a big one, and so too indoor plumbing–but none of these things, with the possible exception of Chagall, are what I was The-Equestrian-by-Marc-Chagall-abstract-oil-painting-reproductions-apply-for-bedroom-handpainted-high-grade-Landscapelooking for.  I wanted something…you know…important.

I worked it down to two things: the runner up was the guy who invented hot showers.  That was truly visionary.  Warm baths, of course, were a wonderful but inevitable step forward from the time man harnessed fire, and I love a good steamy bath–and better still a soak in a hot tub (shout out to the person who invented added bubbles and invented the Jacuzzi–you deserve your own post).  It took a real visionary to come up with the idea of spraying that hot water on our heads, on our slumped shoulders, on our knotted, exhausted backs. So that’s number two.

And the number one, pinnacle achievement of western society, the creative endeavor that marks the ingenuity, inventiveness, and distinctively decadent essence of what it means to–well–civilized?

Ladies and Gentles, I give you THE BLOODY MARY.

Bloody_Maria.xlargerSkeptical? Allow me to elaborate: it is at one indulgent and nutritive, combining alcohol and the dual life-extending elixirs, tomato juice and hot sauce along with vitamin C from tomato and lemon juice, fiber from celery, and even the powerfully anti-oxidant properties of freshly ground pepper.  And did I mention it has vodka?

That brings us to the second point: it is subversive. Vodka has been perfected by Russians, but is employed in various decadent western concoctions, albeit usually for the unique and exaggerated reputation for being unobtrusive.  “You can’t smell vodka” and “you can’t really taste vodka” are recurrent mantras, and incorrect–it smells, and if you’re spending your money wisely it tastes–but it is stealthy.  Like the commies.  (you had to know I’d bring this around).  It takes a real American to take the Russian national passtime–“would-ka”–and turn it into decadent and occasionally effete drinks.  Inversely, there is something about Vodka insinuating itself into breakfast, the very core of our society, that must be more than mildly disconcerting to the insanely patriotic crowd

Not that Vodka is by nature effete. Or Russians.  And certainly not Bloodies.  Even with the celery, a Bloody Mary is about as masculine as you can get this side of rye whiskey–and rye whiskey isn’t going to pass muster with your mother in law at Sunday Brunch.  Indeed, the Bloody Mary is the crowning achievement for Vodka, which has been sullied over the years by it’s employment in all those frou frou drinks, not to mention (with apologies to The Dude) the abominations know to the world as “white russians.’  Because: blech.

Ironically (given my recent posting history), creation of the Bloody Mary is generally attributed to a Frenchman, Ferdand Petiot, who claimed in 1921 to have invented the ambrosia-like concoction in a joint called Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, a watering hole popular with Ernest Hemingway and other American expatriates in post World War 1 France–where is clearly made an impression.  Petiot would later immigrate to the USA, where he became a quasi-legendary New York City bartender–and his clientele would follow.  A more thorough history is summarized on the official wikipedia Bloody Mary page, and I won’t trouble you with it here, except to point out that the dates in the wiki don’t quite add up, but the general story is correct.  In essence, Petiot was not the first guy to dump Vodka into tomato juice, but he’s one who added to and refined it.

1033249144001_1778616318001_hhh-bloodymary2There are countless variations of the drink–if you go in for that sort of thing.  Personally, I’m a man of absolutes: I like to find what works for me and stick with it.  I find that the more you fiddle with a Bloody, the more you undermine the very nature of it’s essence.  With that in mind, I call attention to the infamous–and, I believe, definitive–Bloody Mary, as described by Ernest Hemingway in a letter to his friend Bernard Peyton in 1947.  It is 3_hemingwaysimple, authoritative, and untrammeled by trends or the instinctive, desperate attempts of johnny come latelys to associate themselves with the glory of this beverage by “distinguishing” their interpretation from countless others.

Hemingway Bloody Mary Recipe
To a large pitcher (anything smaller is “worthless”) add:
1 chunk of ice (the biggest that will fit)
1 pint of vodka
1 pint chilled tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 jigger fresh lime juice
Pinch celery salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch black pepper
Several drops of Tabasco”

“Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”

  • Hemingway’s recipe will kick your ass–at 50/50 it is strong, even for me.
  • The Bloody Mary is a drink that is neither pretentious or suitable for hipster-style sentimentalism for Vodka you drank mixed with Hawaiian Punch and canned Pineapple at the drive-in movie theater back when you were a cheese-eating high school boy.  Very cheap Vodka will ruin your drink–no $6 bottles of Nikolai here, please–with it’s caustic, chemical fire, but the subtlties of expensive Vodka will be lost to the spices in the drink.  Look to spend around $20– Tito’s and Luksusowa are recommended.  Note: Neither is Russian.  Tito’s is distilled in Austin, TX and Luksusowa is Polish.
  • Lemon juice will do in a pinch, and some find it preferable.
  • The drink can easily be adapted to make individual servings…I start with two shots of skull_cocktail_shakervodka from the freezer, about 8 ounces of cold tomato juice, appropriately smaller pinches of spice (the easiest thing to do is mix a teaspoon each of celery salt, cayenne, and black pepper and then add a hearty pink of that mix), along with “a dash and a splash” of Tabasco and Worcestershire respectively.  Next, cut a thick slice of lime, then halve it to make two wedges.  Squeeze the juice from one half into a drink shaker, add all the other ingredients except the ice, and shake gently (not stir) to mix.  Pour over large ice cubes crammed into a 14- or 16oz tumbler and add the over lime wedge to the lip of the glass, where is can be squeezed onto the top of the drink then thrown in on top.
  • Avoid shaking the drink with the ice in the shaker and, even more importantly, never ever make this drink with crushed ice, which melts too quickly and alters the proportions of the drink to its detriment.
  • Always sip the Bloody Mary–some bars will give you a straw, but regard that as a test of character and avoid it at all costs.
  • Finally, some folks salt the rim of the glass as one would a Margarita–while tasty, I find it excessive.
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I Dare You To Make A Pizza Night–Sauce

The Make a Pizza Night Post will appear Sunday around 7pm–at which point this sentence will turn into a link

I’m serious, man.   Make a pizza tonight.

Picture stolen from some chick on tumblr


Sauce.  You can get some damn fine sauce at the store, but part of the joy of pizza is the path you take to get there, so I offer this.

Get a 28oz can of the best damn tomatoes you can buy.  San Marzano tomatoes.  Or, if you’re like us, get some frozen tomatoes from the deep freeze or a jar of self-canned tomatoes from the pantry shelf–if using the latter, a small can of good quality tomato past speeds the process.  In a pinch, you can use puree, but that’s cheating.  Of course, we’ll be cheating ourselves tonight on one of our pies–I’ve got a jar of locally made sauce from Labriolla’s Italian Deli & Grocery–and cheating is perfectly acceptable.  Abandon any recipe that calls for adding sugar.

While your crust is rising….

28oz tomatoes, fresh or canned, or puree
tomato paste if you want
olive oil
1 head of garlic
salt, pepper,
parsley, basil, oregano as desired
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium low heat in a large skillet, being careful not to scorch or burn the oil (you’ll smell it if you do, in which case just wash out the pan and start again being more careful and using less heat.)

Roughly mince about 4 cloves of garlic (or more if you’re feeling it, or less if you’re–well, there’s no need for insults) and toss it into the olive oil.  Cook it just long enough that the garlic releases its scent–I don’t know how else to explain it, because I’m not a trained cook, but sauteed garlic reaches a point where it releases a puff of sweet, garlicky goodness–pay attention and you’ll notice for yourself.  That scent means that it is perfectly done, and another 30 seconds will ruin it.  Get it off the heat, or get your tomatoes in there.

Put your tomatoes into the skillet and stir to mix in the olive oil and garlic.  Add an optional half cup of a hearty, clean wine–whatever you’ve got handy or open.  Then settle in, and stir every few minutes, until the sauce is reduced.  It will turn darker as you cook–that’s the sugars in the tomatoes changing.  I have an old Italian sauce recipe that calls for cooking all day until it turns brownish, the sugars partially carmelized, but we don’t need that for a nice, wholesome tomato sauce.  If the sauce does get too thick, simply add water a teaspoon at a time until you get a good consistency.  When you’re nearly done, add a tablespoon each of fresh finely chopped parsley, basil, and two teaspoons of oregano, a pinch of black pepper, and a scant teaspoon of salt–and cook it for about 5 more minutes–you’ll get a much better, fresher taste from your herbs this way than if you cooked them all along with the sauce. If you’re using dried oregano, leave it out of the sauce and just sprinkle it very lightly over the cooked pizza when you’re done.  Some people cook onions or peppers in their sauce–don’t.  Better to dice them and add them as a topping.


Football = Stromboli

So, the Steelers start the season against the longtime rival Cleveland Browns.  We’re all worked up in a lather of optimistic expectation, with an undercurrent of wariness than comes in a “rebuilding” year.  Only one thing is certain: a man’s gotta eat.  And what does a man gotta eat?


Since we had company for the game today, I made a bunch of ’em.  A delight of stromboli.  That’s what multiple stromboli are called, the same way we have a “murder of crows,” a “prickle of porcupines,” and a “shrewdness of lemurs.”  A lot of people don’t know this, but I do, because I’m wise.  And well read.  And, thanks to my “delight” of stromboli, I’m also well fed.

If you want to make some stromboli for yourself, I’ll tell you how.  You’ll need:

Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, water, and a bunch of stuff for filling–pretty much anything you’d put on a pizza that isn’t too watery is fair game.  Things like tomatoes and pineapple aren’t that great, because they can make the dough soppy.  Likewise fresh buffalo mozzarella–on a pizza there is plenty of exposure for that moisture to steam off. We use provolone and bagged, shredded mozzarella.

Put some hot water in a bowl to start–this is to warm the bowl, nothing else.  After a few minutes reserve a cup of the water and dump the rest–you want the water around 100 degrees F, like a baby bottle–it should feel just warm against your skin.  If the water is above 114 there’s a good chance you’ll cook your yeast, better to have it too cool–all that happens is your dough will rise slightly more slowly.  Put a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of sugar in the warm water, stir it a little, then add 2.5 teaspoons of yeast.
stromboli 001

Let it sit at least five minutes until the yeast gets a little foamy–I could have let mine go a little longer, but I hadn’t eaten breakfast and kick off was looming.  I was in a hurry.
stromboli 003

Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a larger bowl, then dump in the yeast-water, mix a little, and add a cup of flour.  Put a teaspoon of salt on top of the flour, then start mixing.  When you’ve got a nice sticky ball, turn the dough out on a floured surface and begin kneading.  Keep adding flour incrementally, about 1/4 cup at a time, while you knead, until the dough is “silky.”
stromboli 004

At this point, you’re wondering what the hell I mean by “silky,” as I was when I started teaching myself to bake.  The best answer I can come up with is that it’s no longer sticky but not dry.  It’s smooth, like a woman’s skin. Trust that you’ll know.  As the dough gets closer to how you want it, reduce the increments–the kneading is what makes or breaks your masterpiece, and it’s the last place you want to skimp on effort.
stromboli 008
Once it’s done, put it back in the large bowl, drizzle some olive oil over it, and swirl the bowl around to evenly coat the dough.  Then cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit about 90-120 minutes, until it’s doubled in size.  (Why the damp towel?  Because it seals out most of air and prevents the dough from drying out and getting a hard “skin”.
stromboli 009

While the dough is rising, crack a beer and prep your toppings.  We used green peppers and onions from the garden, cleaned and diced, then stir fried about 5 minutes on medium high in a tablespoon of olive oil–just enough to steam off some of the water and partially cook the vegetables.  Stir constantly–when the onions start to turn translucent you’re done.
stromboli 011

Preheat your oven to 450 F.

Once the dough has risen, turn it back out on your floured surface. It will have the best texture if you can stretch it like the guys in a pizza shop, but I always tear the dough or throw it on the floor, so I embrace sin and roll my dough out with a rolling pin.  I can get away with this because I’m not Italian, but I’ve been told that rolling out dough is unforgivable, and I apologize to  all who are offended.
stromboli 012

Pile on the toppings–meat, then vegetables, then cheese–over half the dough.  The cheese melts over the veggies and holds things  together.
stromboli 014
Make sure to leave about .75 inch of dough around the edge clear of toppings.  Once you’re good to go, fold the empty half of dough over the toppings and pinch together.  It works best to tug the lower part over the top–this keeps the meat juices from dripping out and making a horrible burnt fat stench that roils from your oven when you open the door to peek.  Sometimes, I take a pair of forks and perforate the top of the stromboli to let the steam escape. Today I was too lazy.  Finally, use a spritzer or pastry brush to lightly coat the top of the stromboli with olive oil, then add your favorite herbs–oregano, basil, etc.  stromboli 017We have a shaker jar of  dried “Italian seasonings” that we bought for some reason years ago–mostly we use fresh herbs from the garden, but I’ve kept that it around for things like garlic toast and stromboli. The top of your stromboli is also an excellent place to sprinkle some of that mostly flavorless dried Parmesan from the back of the fridge–the stuff in the green cardboard box–baking it brings out a nice, salty, unique taste.

41f6MHDwfJLThrow that bad boy in the oven–on a tray if you must, on a baking stone if you have one–and cook it about 12 minutes.  While you’re baking, warm up some cheap pizza or pasta sauce–I like something smooth, rather than chunky, of good quality but not too distinctive–we don’t want the sauce to distract from the stromboli.  I like to use a local company’s “meatless sauce”–Del Grosso’s.  It’s usually less than $2 and it beats the crap out of corporate stuff like Ragu or Prego.

When it turns heavenly brown, its good to go. Cut it with a pizza cutter or a sharp serrated knife.
stromboli 018
Reserve some for yourself, and throw the rest at hungry teenagers–we had four of these strange creatures at our house today, two that live here and two that are loaners–none dared eat on the furniture.  Epilogue: it was delicious and the Steelers won, though not without flirting with an epic defensive collapse in the second half.  Whew.  Things are good in Mudville for another week.
stromboli 019


Ewing’s Mill Cornmeal Pancakes

Ewing’s Mill was a working, historic water-powered grist mill in our county when I was young.  At some point it closed, and remained so for several years.  Before plans to revive it could be brought to fruition an idiot drove his coal truck into the structure, doing considerable damage, and it again sat idle.  Finally, as final insult, a wealthy texan bought it, tore it down, and hauled the timbers away, leaving very little indication that it ever existed.  The recipe below does not quite match the delicious pancakes of my youth–most commercial cornmeal is not milled to as fine a texture as Ewing’s did, and vegetable shortening has changed over the years to accommodate new fears and understanding saturated fats.  Still, this recipe is better than most.  Real butter and quality maple syrup (not the stuff made from corn syrup) bring this breakfast to life.  Add some cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla for a change of pace.

Ewings Mill Corn Meal Pancakes

1½ C. flour
1 tsp. Salt
2 C. milk
¾ C. corn meal
2 T. sugar
½ C. melted shortening–we like butter flavored Crisco
4 ½ tsp. Baking powder
1 egg

Sift flour, measure and mix with other dry indgredients into a 3 qt. Mixing bowl.  Beat egg, add milk and pour all at once into dry ingredients.  Beat until smooth then add melted shortening.   Let sit about 10 minutes, heat a griddle until a drop of water dances on the surface.  Cook on medium heat until edges begin to dry, then flip.  Ready when golden.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.