Christmas Cocktails at the Candle Club
Frozen Martini Bar Redux; Plus "Log Everything!"; Best Ham Ever; A Hot Dog Tree; Vintage Rusty Nails; and a Well-Earned Rest.
There are a few red-letter dates on The Mix calendar each year. (Franksgiving, the annual New York 50 list, etc.) However, there is one event that reigns supreme: Christmas Cocktails. It’s our annual cocktail party where we get to invite friends to join us in celebrating another year together. It’s reminiscent of the cocktail parties our parents had when we were little, minus the clouds of cigarette smoke. Lots of decorations, cocktails, food and friends. We start thinking about it in August and no matter what goes wrong, it’s still a huge night in a tiny apartment, and perfect to us.
Here are some of our favorite things from this year’s do.
Log Everything: Mary Kate’s Regional Food Logs.
If you put regional food inside regional food, what happens? Is it like a turducken? Or is it more theoretical, like the Blur Building, an “edible idea” masking a common object?
At The Mix, we ask hard questions like this and delve deep to find the answers. Last year, I made Pizza Logs, a Buffalo delicacy, for our pre-Christmas dinner and they were a big hit. And for our holiday party, I was inspired to “Scotch everything!” (this is where I encased much more than just eggs in sausage) and wrote about it while Robert was traveling in Spain.
This year, while planning our annual Christmas Cocktails party, Robert wondered what new dish I could make that would surprise and delight partygoers.
The Mix with Robert Simonson is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work and become suddenly suffused with holiday cheer and good will, consider becoming paid subscriber. We thank you in advance!
Since everyone, especially Robert’s son Asher, loves Pizza Logs, I thought, “What would happen if I ‘everythinged’ a Pizza Log?” Since Robert loves the idiosyncratic food traditions of specific areas of the U.S.—I decided to make a regional food out of a regional food.
First, I thought I should make a Chop Cheese Log. I love the Chop Cheese sandwich and I’ve lived here in Brooklyn for so long, it that was a given. Then, of course, there was the Frito Pie, a Texas treat. One of the best-loved party items at a past Christmas Cocktail party was my Frito Pie bar. Then, Robert suggested I use the recipe for Capital-Region Mini-Hot Dogs (these are miniature hot dogs topped with chili sauce, onion and mustard that are popular in Troy and Albany). And finally, in a moment of glee, we settled upon the fifth log, the king of all logs: the Garbage Plate Log, patterned after the catch-all drunk food that is the unofficial dish of Rochester.
Since Pizza Logs are just pizza sauce and mozzarella (and maybe pepperoni) rolled up in an egg roll wrapper, and then fried, it was easy to conceive of “logging” those other things. Here are my recipes.
Chop Cheese Filling:
Ground Beef (1 lb. of 80/20 good ground beef)
American Cheese (4-6 slices). Do not go cheddar on me here.
1 medium onion (diced)
2 Tbsps butter
Dice an onion and fry in butter in a frying pan until translucent. In a separate frying pan, brown a pound of 80/20 hamburger meat. (I leave it in the big “rectangle” it comes in and as it cooks, “chop” it with the spatula.) Salt, pepper and sprinkle the meat with garlic powder as it cooks, then drain the pan if it’s too greasy. Add the buttery cooked onions to the browned beef and combine. Top with 4-6 slices of American cheese. “Chop” this up and set aside to fill to egg roll wrappers.
Chili (canned, restaurant or home made)
Raw onion, diced
Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Captital Region Mini-Hot Dog:
Mini hot dog (cocktail wienies are fine)
Chili Sauce (like Hot Dog Charlie’s)
Raw Onion, diced
Mini hot dog
Hash Brown slice (or French fries or slice of a tater tot)
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
To Fill the egg roll wrappers: place the egg roll wrapper in a diamond shape, dip your finger in a dish of water and run it along all the top edges of the wrapper, then add small amounts of the ingredients a little at a time just below the middle of the diamond (you need more room at the top to roll). This is not a burrito that you want to stuff. You don’t want your wrapper to break. Bring the bottom corner up over the filling, fold the right side into the middle, then the left. It looks like an envelope now. Roll the wrapper towards the top end and make sure the water sealed the edges. (If you have overstuffed the wrapper and the edges don’t meet or the wrapper breaks, place it in another wrapper and roll). Don’t fret, every package of egg roll wrappers I have purchased had a diagram to help you make the rolls.
In a frying pan, add an inch or two of vegetable oil and heat. Fry the logs until they are golden brown on one side and then flip to repeat on the other side. Drain the logs on a couple of paper towels or a brown bag. Serve. (You can keep them hot in a 225 degree oven until you have enough.)
The big winners at this year’s party were the Chop Cheese, the Garbage Plate and the Frito Pie Logs. Pizza logs and Capital-Region Mini-hot dog logs were good, but not as popular. All the Logs were gone within an hour.
Best Ham in the World
I didn’t take a photo of our main course, but I can tell you that it’s the best ham in the world. My mom made it on Christmas and at the Far Hills Race Meeting in New Jersey every year and we have made it at our holiday party for the past 8 years. I’m not sure I want to share the recipe. But, I can tell you I gave it to someone who came to the party just for the ham, even though they had something really important to do. That’s dedication.
If you’re an Annual Paid Subscriber or a Bar Regular, email me and I’ll give you the recipe.
Frozen Martini Bar:
Last year we wanted to serve a wide array of Martinis to our Christmas guests. So, Robert pre-batched four different kinds of Martinis and I froze the gin bottles in a mold with holiday greens like pine and holly to create a festive icy sleeve—what I called the Martini Froozie.
Then, we sat the bottles in a pile of ice to make the frostiest Martini ever. Add a buffet of olives, cocktail onions, lemon twists, and Gildas to top your chosen cocktail and you’ve got some pretty happy guests at the Frozen Martini Bar.
This year, Robert decided to serve: a 4:1 Hayman’s Gin Martini; the St. John Martini from Fort Defiance in Brooklyn (a 3:1 Plymouth Gin Martini); the Riddler (a Phil Ward creation made of equal parts Hayman’s Gin and Cocchi Americano, with 5 dashes of Ango); and the 50/50 Martini of Hayman’s and Dolin Dry Vermouth. The recipe for the Riddler is at the end of this post.
The only problem with this Martini Bar is that there were not enough Martinis!
Drinking Like the Rat Pack
Hello. Robert here. Well, I thought I had pre-batched enough Martinis. I went through eight bottles of gin, after all! What are you going to do? It was a Martini-loving crowd.
Hopefully, I made up for the depleted Martini bar with a round of vintage Rusty Nails.
Recently, we went to Athens for the Athens Bar Show. As chance would have it, our hotel was a block away from a spice store that had a curious sideline in vintage spirits. (Though I’m sure the owners would not have called their wares “vintage spirits.” They would had said “old booze,” bottles collected from estate sales of people who had died or moved out of town.)
After confirming with a few colleagues who knew their stuff that the bottles were indeed old, I bought a few. (We told British bartender Salvatore Calabrese, who was in Athens also, and he bought their Campari. Calabrese is known for serving vintage Negronis in London.)
Among these were a 1960s bottle of Black & White blended Scotch and a 1960s bottle of Drambuie. (Calabrese alerted us to the Scotch. Thanks Salvatore!) The Drambuie was Mary Kate’s choice; the Scottish liqueur was a favorite of her father’s. I would not have picked it. The liqueur, a blend of Scotch, honey, herbs and spices, has always struck me to too sweet by half. But I’m glad Mary Kate insisted. As you might imagine, the Scotch that Drambuie sourced back then was better than what they use today. Moreover, the honey aspect of the drink also seemed miles better! It was pure nectar.
As for the Black & White, it was a superlative blend of Scotches with layers and character to spare.
Since I suddenly owned some top-flight vintage Scotch and Drambuie, I thought, “Wouldn’t a round of Rat-Pack-era Rusty Nails make a nifty nitecap at the holiday party?” I’m a firm believer that spirits are to be drunk and shared, not hoarded away. I don’t care how rare or how expensive they are. Good liquor is meant to be enjoyed. So, Ring-a-Ding-Ding.
The First Annual Hot Dog Tree
You may recall from the recent Franksgiving post that we stopped at Superdawg specifically to buy their annual Christmas ornaments. (They had two new ones this year, one of a Superdawg takeaway bag and one of a shake.)
Well, that wasn’t an isolated incident. We’ve been collecting hot dog ornaments for a while now. Because—and here’s the bizarre reality—a lot of hot dog stands are in the habit of putting out Christmas ornaments. Strange, but true.
The first one we ever found was at our beloved Hot Dog Johnny’s in western New Jersey. It was a simple white ball with green lettering. We just had to buy it.
Soon after, I discovered that Walter’s, the hotdog landmark in Mamaroneck, New York, sold a Christmas ornament. This was a much more ornate number, made of glass and depicting Walters pagoda-like home.
After that, I looked for Christmas ornaments at every new hotdog stand we went to. And about a third of the time, they had one. Our debut tree has more than a dozen ornaments on it hailing from hotdog stands in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. There are also a couple glass ornaments that just depict general hot dogs.
For the tree topper, we purchased a plastic gold star and wired to it the plastic representation of “Beefy Frank,” the mascot of a 19th-century, Cincinnati-based meat processor called Kahn’s. It’s actually a promotional mustard dispenser. Old Beefy looks like he’s got that holiday spirit.
(If you are the owner of a hot dog stand that sells a Christmas ornament, and are reading this post, please contact me!)
Odds and Ends…
From Dec. 15 to Dec. 25, the San Francisco cocktail bar Elixir will serve up Tom & Jerrys… Rockwell Place in Brooklyn is celebrating five years in business. To commemorate the event, the bar will offer its first three cocktails at 2018 prices. And believe me, 2018 New York prices ($13) are a lot different from 2023 New York prices!… In another anniversary, 67 Orange Street, the Harlem cocktail bar, will mark 15 years in business this month… Yet another anniversary! On Dec. 9, Congress Bar in Cobble Hill will celebrate a decade in business on Court Street. The party begins at 9 p.m. (Why did so many New York cocktail bars decide to open their doors in December?)… Finally, fellow cocktail writer Amanda Schuster and I will be speaking and signing books at the Larchmont Public Library this Sunday at 3:30-5 p.m. Drinks will be served and books will be sold. If you want a signed book for a gift from either of us, this is your last chance before the holidays.
A Long Winter’s Nap
2023 was a busy year for this newsletter. In the last twelve months, The Mix team has traveled to Athens, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Massachusetts, New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Pennsylvania, Atlantic City and Wildwood and all over New Jersey, Binghamton, the Hamptons, Plattsburgh, and, or course, Wisconsin several times. We’ve gone “In Search Of” North Shore Beefs north of Boston, Michigans hot dogs on Plattsburgh, tavern-style pizza in New Jersey, and good egg sandwiches all across Brooklyn. We’ve sent you Postcards from around the world and been on multiple Toots in multiple cities.
We loved doing all of it! It’s been fun, but it’s also been exhausting. And, so, as The Mix approaches its third year in business (!!!)—and in the name of self-care—we’re going to take our first ever (and we think, well-earned) vacation. From today until the end of the year, The Mix will go on hiatus while we recharge our batteries and dream up posts to get 2024 off to a rip-roaring start.
There may be a brief Field Report here and there, depending on what fun jaunts the holidays hold in store for us. But otherwise, look for us in January with more cocktail recipes, more regional food, more theater, more toots, most curious historical cowpaths, more interviews and lots of odds and ends.
Until then, if you are a paid subscriber and you need us for any food, drink, traveling or entertaining advice or suggestions, email us and we’ll respond, though probably not as quickly as usual. And from the bottom of our hearts, we wish you a healthy and happy holiday season and a peaceful, prosperous new year!!
And, as you do your holiday shopping, please keep subscriptions to The Mix and copies of The Encyclopedia of Cocktails in mind! They make, as the saying goes, Great Gifts.
—Robert and Mary Kate
Phil Ward, 2023, New York City
2 ounces Hayman’s London Dry Gin
2 ounces Cocchi Americano
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir until chilled, about 15 seconds. Express a grapefruit twist over the surface of the drink and discard.