Back in 1993 I moved to Atlanta, a good 12 hour drive from Indiana and my family. Luckily, I wasn’t there long before I made many friends, many of them in the same position I was in with the holidays coming up and no family to spend it with. It was then that I decided that I would throw an annual Thanksgiving potluck get together. The premise was simple. I would cook a turkey, the dressing, and the gravy, and everyone else was to bring their favorite dish from their Thanksgivings at home.

The first year I did this we had a modest amount of people drop by. I think it was in the 12-15 person range but it quickly grew and by the time I left Atlanta I as hosting 30-40 people who would drop in throughout the day, with the main meal seating anywhere from 15 to 25 of my friends. Not only were friends with family far away attending, but friends with family right in Atlanta opted to skip the family drama and spend the holiday with us.

This was the start of my Bloody Mary holiday tradition. As the size of the group grew so did my cooking chores. I was still only doing the turkey, dressing and gravy, but now with so many people I was cooking 2 birds and numerous pans of dressing. Since all I had was a standard home oven I had to start pretty early in the morning to get everything cooked in time. I needed a way to help me pass the time and since I was, and am, a big fan of Bloody Marys, I figured they’d be the perfect diversion. I was right, they were the perfect diversion to the long hours of watching over the turkey as my friends slept in, fighting their hangovers from the pre-holiday festivities of the night before. And since I was usually suffering right along beside them, the drinks made a great “hair of the dog” cure to my self imposed ills.

Now, some of you might question the intelligence of consuming large quantities of alcohol while working around large pans of hot food and very sharp knives. While I don’t necessarily recommend this to everyone (I am a professional I will remind you) I can say I made it through all those holiday meals without any major scars. Nowadays though, I limit myself to just a few early morning Bloody Marys while preparing our Thanksgiving feast, and maybe just a few more if someone else is doing the cooking.

So I offer up my version of the Perfect Bloody Mary. I say “my version” because, for Bloody Mary aficionados, a Bloody Mary is a very personalized thing. Luckily this is my blog so I get to give you my favorite version. Feel free to offer up yours in the comments section.

Pete’s Perfect Bloody Mary

3 oz. Vodka (either plain or pepper infused-or create your own infused vodka)
6 oz. Tomato Juice
1/2 tsp. Horseradish
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. Dill Pickle liquid
2-6 dashes Hot Sauce (depending on the heat level you like, I usually go for 4-6)
2 wedges Lemon, cut into 1/8ths
Black Pepper
Celery Salt
1 each Celery rib, 1 1/2 – 2 inches taller than the glass

Fill a large glass with ice. Pour in the vodka. Add the horseradish, Worcestershire, pickle liquid, hot sauce, juice from one of the lemon wedges, and a couple of shakes of black pepper. Top with tomato juice. Pour entire contents between a cocktail shaker and glass a few times to mix, leaving drink the in the cocktail shaker. Use the remaining lemon to moisten the rim of glass. Pour some celery salt into a dish just large enough to accommodate the rim of the glass then crust the rim with the celery salt. garnish glass with lemon wedge and add the celery stick. Pour contents back into the glass and enjoy.

A few words about garnishes. Just about anything goes when garnishing a Bloody Mary; celery, pickle spears, olives, pickled Brussels sprouts, pickled mushrooms, poached shrimp (nice in a Cajun Bloody Mary or in one using Clamato juice), lemons, limes, etc. In Wisconsin they even like to garnish them with beef sticks. Just avoid the temptation to turn your cocktail into a salad bar. 1 or 2 garnishes is sufficient. I hate getting a Bloody Mary that is so heavily garnished I have to eat my way through to be able to get a drink!