Thanksgiving Potlucks for Shitty Cooks

It’s Thanksgiving potluck season, and that either means you (like us) will be slaving away in the kitchen to produce sumptuous dishes that sweat with animal fats and glisten with salty gravy, or (like many) you’ll be sweating like a nervous pig on auction day as you try to come up with something to mask the fact that you can’t tell the difference between a skillet and a saucepan.

Thankfully, we’re here to help. And for most of these Thanksgiving shindigs, the important (and difficult) things like turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and potatoes are taken care of by someone who takes inordinate pleasure in showing off their cooking (also, like us). But all those main dishes take time and energy and leave their cooks with depleted resources for taking care of everything else that is necessary for a proper, gut-busting feast. Here are some things you can bring to the table that other people may have overlooked in the mad scramble to finish the gravy, brown the gratin, and carve the bird.

Decent bread. Yea, the pungent, natural levain kind, fired in a commercial oven so its crust is, well, crusty, while its crumb is sumptuously tangy and moist. People can make this at home pretty easily, if they have a dutch oven and an unoccupied stove to put it in, but, this being Thanksgiving, that probably isn’t the case. So, offer to bring a couple loaves. (Olive batard, anyone?)

Hor d’oeuvres. These are easy because you can pay someone else to do them for you. Get some crackers and cheese, or a spread of nuts, some cornichons and pickled onions, berries, or something else to nibble on while you drink something loosening before getting down to eating the main course.

Martinis. Gin and vermouth, stirred with ice, strained and served up with the garnish of your choice. If you’re reading this sentence, you can make a martini. And if you really can’t, bring an aperitif wine.

Fancy vanilla ice cream. To go with the pumpkin pie someone else baked.

Port or sherry. For after dinner sipping. (Still bring the martini and/or aperitif.)

Pumpkin beers, and a pumpkin beers zine. Because who doesn’t want to read about the pumpkin beers you just brought?

This Is a Zine about Pumpkin Beers

Be the first on your block to own a copy of the limited edition, perfect-read-on-your-bus-ride-home-for-Thanksgiving copy of THIS IS A ZINE ABOUT PUMPKIN BEERS. Written, designed, and hand-assembled by The Bitters. $3 postage paid. Get yours through PayPal here.

Choosing Gin: Broker’s vs. New Amsterdam

Broker's v. New Amsterdam

I’ve been comparing certain gins for everyday use. In the past, I was a New Amsterdam partisan, because it is cheap and because it plays well with citrus: it’s what I have used to test out many of the gimlets and fitzgeralds, in all their variations, I make, if only because it seems like a remarkably good deal. And it is, and it doesn’t offend, and, sure, it cheekily cashes in on the Breukelen zeitgeist even though it is distilled in Cali. But, swapping in a more robust gin puts muscles onto your drinks. And you know what? Muscles are good.

Where New Amsterdam is definitely an affordable, smooth spirit that has no major faults—it’s solidly unremarkable in every way—Broker’s is bigger and meaner, with more booze and a harder-edged flavor. In a word, it’s ginnier. Not in a bad way—there are no harsh ethanol notes or off flavors—but comparing a simple recipe varying only the two gins (I made a gimlet with Peychaud’s and sipped the two side by side), Broker’s makes itself present in a drink’s overall impression while New Amsterdam fades to the background.

This isn’t completely surprising: New Amsterdam is 40 percent alcohol, where Broker’s is 47, and Broker’s claims to be made in a pot still (whether this is strictly true or marketing speech for running neutral grain spirits through a pot still on a final distillation to instill botanicals, though, is hard to say).

Given that the difference in price between the two bottles is about three bucks, it’s better to go with Broker’s. Assuming you want to taste the gin in your gin-and-juice.


Awesome Mac and Cheese

Macaroni Crust

Awhile back, I made an excellent platter of mac and cheese, using the methods that Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot outline in their book Ideas in Food. Basically, the “methods” boil down to two very simple things: using evaporated milk instead of a roux for the base of the cheese sauce, and soaking the dried elbows for an hour before cooking them. Variations abound (you could incorporate mushrooms—or, better, lardons or bacon—into the sauce or bread crumb crust), but the base is simple enough that you can pull it off in half an hour, if you have presoaked the pasta. So. There is no excuse for not fattening up for winter.

The can of milk imparts a carmelized richness to the dish with no added effort, and soaking the macaroni for an hour does something to the pasta that makes it that much more toothsome: al dente, sure, but also pleasantly pliant under teeth. And both are extremely easy to incorporate into mac-and-cheese recipes.

But swapping out the milk for the roux makes me wonder what else can be put together in this fashion. I used to make a lot of creamed tuna by combining a roux with garlic, onion, and the contents of a Chicken of the Sea can; maybe a smaller can of condensed milk would work there too. Or, maybe potato gratin could be that much easier.


On “Q”

Seeking to refine his palate for numbing spice, Jake is reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoir about eating in China and writing cookbooks of Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine. Dunlop’s prose is taut and her enthusiasm for Chinese cookery is matched with an infectiously peppy desire to explain its curiosities, so the book’s both enjoyable and illuminating. Really. There are aspects of Chinese eating culture that you might not have know existed.

Like, for instance, the Chinese connoisseurship of food texture: things that we Westerners might think of as disgusting—like pig’s brain, duck intestine, and reconstituted dried sea cucumber—are celebrated by Chinese gourmands in a vocabulary that is striking for its richness. Dunlop presents some of it by way of her own grappling with coming to savor things that, as she relates in an anecdote, horrified her parents.

One of these terms that stuck out to us is the Taiwanese use of the letter “Q” to describe the “bouncy aspect of that sea cucumber texture.” And especially bouncy-rubbery things? You might describe them as “QQ.” Dunlop doesn’t know the etymology of this, as she says, “unusual and inexplicable borrowing from the roman alphabet,” so Jake dug around on the internet. Unsurprisingly Language Log has said something about it. And then there’s this, in Gastronomica.

Appreciating texture in food. The next time we order beef tripe skewers from a food cart in Flushing (which can prove decidedly chewy), we’ll keep it in mind.

Almost Carbonara Sauce

A plate of almost carbonara sauce pasta

We’ve been thinking a lot about carbonara sauce. Basically, because it seems to us one of the sharpest ways to draw out the flavor of a pasta itself, without having to feel like you’re cheating yourself by using only oil and garlic. And, because it’s fairly rare to get a carbonara sauce done in the proper fashion: the egg white coddled by the hot pasta, which has just been drained and mixed with sautéed salty flavor goodness (usually bacon or pancetta, but we have done exquisite vegetarian versions using shiitake mushrooms, even lacinato kale), garlic, and cheese; the raw egg yolk placed delicately atop each bowl of this steaming mess for all the individual diners to break and mix in themselves.

Carbonara done right’s like heaven. Unfortunately, if you or someone near and dear to you isn’t making it, odds are that you gotten some cream sauce approximation that, well, compares to right and proper carbonara in the way that sad, thin, nonfat milk compares to unpasteurized, cream on, cow juice. Which is to say, like water to beer.

Or, something to that effect.

While making carbonara at home is fairly easy, if you’re not squeamish and know how to time it right, it takes practice and scares most people away (“How do I know that I’m not going to get sick from all that raw egg?”). And, you might be squeamish, your timing might suck, and you might have similar questions. But, all those things aside, you might have some leftover pasta that you cooked the other day, and you need to make something with it.

We’re here to help. Well, actually, we’re here to relay the help that we picked up in a book called The Improvisational Chef, which had a recipe for a “deconstructed carbonara.” The title is bit of pretentious, overly educated, former lit student pantomiming, but the technique itself is pure Shinola: a quick and easy way to whip up a “sauce” for pasta, leftover or otherwise.

Basically, you make carbonara without separating the egg white from the yolk. Which means, you cook a sunnyside up, or otherwise runny-yolked, egg, and place it atop a bowl of hot pasta, mixed with whatever salty, fatty, flavor-packed ingredients you want. Since we did this in a rush with what was there, this is was what we used: broccoli, garlic, peppers, and an ample amount of romano cheese.

One rule, and one rule only for this almost carbonara: do not break the yolk in the skillet. You kill an angel (and your satisfaction) every time you do that.

Serve with bad television and black IPAs.

The March Madness

Even with Punxsutawney Phil delivering good news of a short winter, here we are in the better half of March, sick to death of the wind chill, rain, and snow still hitting Brooklyn. Seriously… can winter be over already?

When we can’t run, bike, drink outside, or sloth it in the park, the Bitters like to experiment with what’s in the fridge. The results are… well, they’re not always great, but sometimes we can surprise ourselves.

Now, don’t let the name fool youwe could give two stinks about college basketball. The only madness we feel is a craving for more sun (with perhaps a touch of dipsomania). But when your day is filled with little more than cloudy skies and rain, pull out that cutting board and get to it: it’s sammich time.

The March Madness

  • foccacia (here with black olives and rosemary)
  • baby arugula
  • deli turkey (or Tofurky, should you prefer)
  • pickled red peppers
  • sliced red onion
  • thinly sliced Drunken Goat cheese
  • Brooklyn Brice Co.‘s Hop-Pickle (made with Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA, caramelized onions, and cascade hops)
  • stone ground mustard
  • mayo
  • salt & pepper (to taste)

Once assembled, toast for a few minutes and you’re golden.

Bitter Lemon Drink


Winter in New York can be cruel like hate: icicles gather in Jake’s ’stache and Christopher is reduced to adulterating his bourbon with a hot mix of cider and spices. But all is not frigid, face-slapping cold: elsewhere in the world, in fabled California and monstrous Florida, it is citrus season. Which means, internetz, that it is time to make limoncello. This is fitting enough, because it is supposed to take about six months to mellow the harshness of freshly infused ’cello to that dense, thickly sweet and opaquely yellow roundness that saps the ache out of mid-August heat.

So. You should be making limoncello now. And also other macerated citrus cordials, because it’s as easy, more or less, as grating cheese and making a cup of coffee: remove the flavorful, colorful outer rind of a citrus fruit and steep it in a potent liquor until the alcohol has drawn off the oils. Strain out the fruit skins, combine with simple syrup, watch the mixture louche, then put it in your freezer for a while. Voila.  


Because we’re interested in Science, Truth, Beauty, and the general improvement of the species, we’re undertaking an experiment, of sorts, into different methods of citrus-liqueur making: does it pay to adhere to tradition and peel lemons with a knife, or is it better—faster, easier, and less inclusive of the bitter pith—to use a microplane grater to zest your citrus? How much does aging improve the spirit? What is the ideal ratio of zest to spirit? What do various methods of sweetening add? These are pressing questions, and we are answering them, one at a time, with high-proof vodka and high-carbon steel.


Our first question: knife or zester? When people talk about making limoncello, most—if not all—caution against slicing too much of the pith into your booze. It’s supposed to impart unpleasant bitterness to your ’cellos, so you’re advised to keep it out. (Unpleasantly bitter? Impossible.) But if you’ve ever tried to peel a lemon with a knife, you know it is a major pain in the ass to remove the pith from your zest. Time consuming and impossible to do right.


But with a small grater, you can remove almost all the zest and keep it pulp free. With minimal effort. The increased surface area is supposed to speed along the maceration process, too. So why do people still suggest peeling the old fashioned way? Does it add a level of complexity that zest only ’cello lacks?

To find out, we made small batches of each type: the zest of five lemons in one cup of the devil’s own sweat, one-sixty proof vodka. Let them sit till they are done: you can tell because the zest becomes very brittle, or the peels become crisp, like potato chips. This takes about a week for the grated zest; the knife-skinned batch is still being sapped, two weeks on. In our experience, it takes about three to four.


We will report tasting notes very soon. In the meantime, we’re making a lot of fitzgeralds with all our new, fresh squeezed lemon juice.

The Fitzgerald Variations


Like most, we were stupid in our youth. Our stupidity ranged far enough to include believing that gin was best juiced with the green citrus: limes and only limes in our GnTs, darlings. But recently—spurred purhaps by our exploration of saffron-infused gin (the flaming sunrise color recalls the flame and sunshine: heaven and other handwarm places), or purhaps by the inverse fitzgerald a friend made (we’ll get to that)—we’ve been playing with other colors of the citrus rainbow.

Like yellah: lemons, meyer or sweet or straight up sour, pair extremely well with gin. And everything. The classic fitzgerald is a wonderful way to discover this. And so we offer you these fitzgerald variations, interwebs, so that you may conquer your own stupid, should you need to do so.

A good place to start is with the fitzgerald itself: gin, lemon juice, syrup, and bitters. You can add a twist garnish if you’re feeling a bit decadent—and if you didn’t come upon your lemon juice by stealing the flavorful hide of lemons to make a liter of limoncello.


To make the classic, you’ll need the following:

  • 1.5 oz gin
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • bitters

Combine in a shaker with ice, close, and vigorously rattle. Strain into a chilled glass, with or without ice, as is your preference. We take them up.

Note that for the bitters, you can vary the amount and type to suit your fancy—or to accentuate the character of the spirit that’s forming the base of the drink. We suggest not skimping on the bitters, because they can really make a fitzgerald sing, or zing, or whatever else a refreshing concoction might do. Peychaud’s makes something that looks like pink lemonade and goes down easier. You’ve been warned.

Lavender Daisy

Once you’ve messed with a few iterations of gin and bitters, you can try coming up with new booze permutations. Like scotch. This recipe—which combines two types of bitters—is nice enough I’ve made it thrice.

  • 1.5 oz scotch (blended)
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • ample dashes aromatic bitters
  • lavender bitters to finish

Combine all ingredients, except the lavender bitters, in a shaker with ice. Do as before. When the drink’s in a glass, top with a scant dash of lavender bitters. The peat smoke of the scotch and the lavender, lemon, aromatics all meld very well. If I had a fresh sprig of fresh lavender, it might find itself garnishing my drink.

Yellow Desert Fruit

Mezcal also plays very well with lemon; the smokey notes of the spirit taste like dry desert air. And the almost jalapeño-y flavor of Regan’s orange bitters rounds out the drink, almost making Jake miss California.

  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • ample dashes Regan’s orange bitters

As above. This own would probably look nice garnished with a ruby, succulent, cactus fruit.

Gerald Fitzthomas Scott

What originally got us intrigued with the possibilities of the humble fitzgerald was an “upside-down” one that some friends made for us a couple of weeks ago. They had been in Minneapolis, their midwestern hometown, at a cocktail place, and the bartender had impressed them with this:

  • 1.5 oz Angostura
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .75 oz simple syrup
  • dashes of gin

As above. This isn’t for folks who don’t like tart, herbaceous drinks, as Angostura, even lemoned, sweetened, and ginned, remains bitter tonguestuff.

Red Slobster Clumps


Let’s face it: every now and then you’re stuck in the suburbs, back in the abode of the ’rents or forced to endure the isolation that is your significant other’s place of upbringing. During those trying times, what little comfort do you have outside of home cooking? Cable, for one. High speed internet, if you’re lucky. Booze, of course. But likely you’ll be dragged to one of America’s many chain restaurants: Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Red Robin, Chili’s, Red Lobster. You know the drill.

Fuck all that—sometimes you just have a hankering for some crap. We can understand. Our favorite: Red Lobster’s biscuits. Unlike the endless bullshit bread they sling at you at Olive Garden, the rolls at Red Lobster are the shit. Savory, filling, and complimentary to just about anything you can eat. 

Not a fish eater nor a fan of frozen fish from god-knows-where? Here’s a recipe to fulfill your biscuit craving:

Red Slobster Clumps

2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all this good stuff together and then form into ‘lil balls onto a couple of baking sheets lined with parchment paper (to make your life easier). You’ll wanna bake them at about 375-400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven.

Then, mix this fun stuff together:

1/2 cup melted butter
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried parsley 
1/8 tsp salt
a bit of ground pepper

Once the clumps are out of the oven, take a brush and coat each “biscuit.” If the clumps look a little underdone because of your oven, throw it back in for another 3 minutes and you should be good.