When the tomato season reaches its peak, one of my favorite getaways, Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, Calif., hosts an heirloom tomato lunch. Renowned Chef Cal Stamenov kicks off the meal with an unusual and fun Bloody Mary bar. He makes his own mix by blending fresh tomatoes along with other spices. If you are a Bloody Mary fan, I highly recommend this over using a packaged mix.
You can find heirloom tomatoes in different colors, shapes and sizes, with amusing names like Giant Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter, Stump of the World, Nebraska Wedding or Mr. Stripey, to name a few. (Don't worry if you can't find quality heirloom tomatoes; juicy red beefsteaks will do as well).
Try this as a conversation starter for an easy weekend brunch. Blend up a pitcher of the Bloody Mary mix (below) and set out creative toppings, for your guests to personalize their drinks. I like to serve this alongside bagels, cream cheese and smoked fish. Your non-alcohol-drinking guests will enjoy virgin Bloody Marys as much as the vodka-spiked ones. (For virgin drinks, add more mixer). Present the mixer in a glass pitcher and the condiments in small bowls with spoons or forks. The possibilities are truly endless!
Bloody Mary Mix
Yields approximately 7 cups, which serves 6 to 8.
6 large heirloom tomatoes (or beefsteak tomatoes), about 3 pounds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
6 dashes Tabasco, or to taste
2 tablespoons horseradish cream
3/4 cup olive juice
3 tablespoons A.1. steak sauce, optional
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a pitcher. Taste for seasoning. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Bloody Marys Bernardus Style
Bloody Mary Assembly (yields 1 Bloody Mary)
3/4 to 1 cup Bloody Mary Mix (see above)
1 1/2 ounces vodka
1 lime wedge
1 lemon wedge
1. In a cocktail shaker, combine ice, vodka and Bloody Mary mix. Squeeze juice from lemon and lime. Shake. Pour over ice. Garnish. Alternately, pour mixer in glass over ice cubes, add the vodka, lemon and lime juice and stir well. Serve immediately.
Select a variety of toppings from here. Let your guests add them to their drink. Make sure to have stirrers or spoons to mix the toppings into the drink.
--Pickled vegetables (green beans, radishes, asparagus, carrots )
--Chopped basil and cilantro
--Shelled crab claws or cooked shrimp
--Thyme and rosemary sprigs
--Roasted garlic cloves
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including most recently "Seriously Simple Parties" (Chronicle Books, 2012), and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)