The kids over at Three Olives Vodka asked me to remind you that the only cure for too much cheap champagne on New Year's Eve is a healthy, vitamin-rich bloody mary on New Year's Day. If you're so riddled with the jimjams that the noise of a spoon hitting a glass makes you shudder, Three-O Tomato vodka can help you on your way back to a happy, productive life: It's already infused with tomato, pepper, horseradish, and spices. All you need add is lemon and tomato juice, both of which are blessedly silent. I'd pass on the celery stick, though.
My mother never liked to cook, and would much rather have been doing something more pleasurable, like ironing, at which she excelled. I'm sure I was the only kid on the block who started the day wearing underwear still warm from the iron. I'm not casting any aspersions, mind you. Edna worked a full-time job, and cooking was just an added burden, not a pleasure. I'm sure she heaved a great sigh of relief when I was old enough to toast my own damn frozen waffles.
What she did like was pleasing my father. And what he liked, inexplicably, was Spam. He liked it plain, he liked it fried (these days, in Florida, he likes it "lite"). How or when this led to square meatballs, I can only guess, but by the time I was ten , the only meatballs I ate at home were squares of fried Spam, served in Spatini spaghetti sauce. I knew that there were round meatballs out there, big and messy and spicy, but it would be a few years yet before I would be picking at leftovers after school in the kitchens of the Guidarellis and the Ricciardis.
Still...it wasn't all that bad. Could it be updated? Should it be updated? One recent afternoon, looking over the slice of Polish meatloaf I had just bought from the Ukrainian butcher, I decided that it could. Spam comes from SPiced + hAM, which is what Polish meatloaf is, anyway. In homage to my Marine Park roots, I chose to used a jarred sauce from Michael's of Brooklyn, a restaurant located a few blocks from the ancestral home.
Cut the meatloaf into cubes, heated some butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and tossed in the meat. Brown them on all sides, about 10 minutes total (yeah, like anyone is actually going to do this), remove them from the pan and set aside.
More fat, if needed, to fry chopped onions, garlic, shallot until soft and aromatic. Add a large jar of good-quality sauce (Rao's is another favorite of mine), and a very healthy slosh of red wine. Add some oregano, red-pepper flakes, whatever tickles your fancy--this ain't a classic recipe. Simmer until thick.
Add the square meatballs (I think it's fair to call them that at this point) to the sauce and let simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. Toss in some chopped parsley and parm. I ladled it over Italian bread,topped with more parm and parsley, but its spiritual home is spaghetti, overcooked for extra authenticity.
Sigmund Pretzel Shop, which I talked about not too long ago, has made it onto my list of happy places; a happy place being defined as a store/restaurant/bar that you know you will leave feeling better than when you walked in. The garlic-parsley pretzel tastes--and-smells--like the sensational spawn of a pretzel and a garlic knot. No excess oil, lots of garlic. I passed on the dip, as the only condiment I could envision with it was marinara.
Another happy place? Yes, Luke's Lobster. Again. I'll keep this brief, for those of you who have heard enough about the crustaceans of East 7th Street for the present. The Maine Man (my husband, not Luke) and I were being a little spitty and hissy about various nothings, when he suggested that we hoof it over to Luke's and have a couple of crab rolls. We opted for shrimp rolls instead, as they were on sale to commemorate the start of Maine shrimp season. I felt we might have been taking a chance, as I hadn't had perfectly sweet, diminutive Maine shrimp in any satisfactory guise since eating a shrimp parfait somewhere in Falmouth Foreside (I once made an unfortunate slip and called it Falmouth Foreplay) in the 1980s.
It was our favorite roll thus far, an exemplar of how little one needs to do to Maine seafood except let its flavors sing out. Parfaits notwithstanding, of course.
A meeting of the denim-and-down convention, otherwise known as my tourist-riddled neighborhood. Some of them were eating slices while waiting; I can only guess they joined the line because there was a line.
I love stores that surprise me, and Dual Specialty Store almost always manages to do that. Quite a feat, since I've been shopping there for twenty years. In the summer, there are swoonily fragrant Indian mangoes piled in boxes outside, and mango lassi served inside. It's the only place I've ever seen fresh turmeric, too. Someday I'll even learn what to do with it.
Dual's narrow aisles are lined with everything from chutney to ayurvedic remedies. Spices have a long, fragrant wall of their own. (Insert your own bad Spice Aisles pun here.) Opposite the spices are an ever-changing array of spicy snacks. I picked up a bag of masala banana chips, which made a just-tingly-enough (and dirt cheap) cocktail snack. Speaking of cocktails, Dual features the famous Fee Brothers Bitters, made in Rochester, NY, which I'd been searching for everywhere. Never thought to look on the Dual shelf marked "British Foods," but they carry the whole line, from peach to rhubarb (!) to cherry. I can't imagine a cocktail that those cherry bitters wouldn't perk up.
Life can't all be snacks and cocktails, more's the pity, so I picked up a package of curry leaves, which work in an array of foods well beyond the Indian kitchen. They smell distinctly of the spice blend, with an added toasted nuttiness that goes wonderfully well with winter squash. This is a tough recipe, so follow closely. Preheat oven to 375.Cut the top off a winter squash (or cut squash in half, depending on the variety). Scoop out seeds. Add a chunk of butter to the cavity. Salt. Pepper. Toss in a couple of curry leaves. When the squash starts to soften, stab the cavity flesh in several places with a knife or fork, so that the spicy melted butter soaks into the flesh. Continue cooking until soft and scoopable. Serve.
Stop by Dual sometime. It's the best kind of neighborhood grocery, where you always find something you didn't know you needed!
91 First Avenue, bet. 5th and 6th Sts.
Promised awhile back that I would return to Luke's Lobster to sample the crab roll. I should perhaps first explain where I stand on this critical issue: While I'd rather have a lobster on my plate than a mess of crabs, I'd almost always prefer to have crabmeat in my bun. If it's Maine crab, that is. All crustaceaholics know the adage, "The colder the water, the sweeter the meat." Why then, are Maryland's crabs held in much higher esteem than crabs from the chilly waters of Maine? I can only assume that Maryland's proximity to DC lends it access to the Congressional Seafood Roll Committee.
If you are in doubt, stroll over to Luke's and sample a Maine crab roll. The crabmeat will be sweet, with a touch of the ocean. It's topped with a nicely suitable spice blend that reminds me a bit of Old Bay. The other good thing about crab rolls? Universally cheaper than lobster rolls. At Luke's, they run five bucks from the small, nine for the large.
Yes, I love turkey sandwiches with stuffing and cranberry sauce and yummy turkey curry a la Bridget Jones, but it gets a little too turkeycentric after a while. That is when I'll turn to one of my favorite ways to make a leftover protein (or leftover almost anything, come to that) part of a larger picture: fried rice.
I'm sure the complicated recipes I've seen in demanding cookbooks and overwrought food magazines are more subtle, and more authentic, but I cannot be bothered with cook this, remove from pan. Wipe out pan, add something else. Set aside. The point of leftovers is that they should be easy to prepare and pique the turkey-bored eater. Fried rice is the answer to both. (It also reminds me of a time when my family--and every other family in the neighborhood--ordered "Chinks." We knew no better.)
The only advance planning you need do is to cook rice, let cool, and refrigerate for a couple of hours. (Freshly made rice is too clumpy for this dish.) It's even better if you chill it the night before, but not better enough to stress over. I once bought a container of take-out rice, spread it out on a plate, and shoved it in the freezer to rest for half an hour. Worked fine.
I'm not going to give amounts here; this is all about what you have to hand. In fact, you will probably notice that the version in the pictures is made with ham, not turkey.
Assemble your vegetables: I had frozen peas, frozen bell pepper strips (which I had never heard of until I read about them in a Bittman column), scallions, onion. You will be adding chopped turkey--dark meat, I hope? Also prepped and ready to go: coarsely grated ginger, minced garlic, neutral oil, a beaten egg, soy sauce, cilantro, and one more ingredient that I will reveal at the very end. Pour some oil into the pan over medium-high heat, let it get well heated, add veg. Stir around a bit until they are thawed and a bit limpish, two or three minutes. Add the turkey. Push everything to one side, add a bit more oil, and toss in the ginger and garlic. As you can see, you needn't be obsessively neat about this. Stir the two until they are aromatic, about thirty seconds. Add the rice to the entire pan, stirring until it is coated with oil (add yet more if necessary) and nicely hot. Turn off the heat, and make a little hollow in the middle of the rice. Pour in the beaten egg. Stir madly to distribute. Add soy. Doesn't look right, does it? A bit pallid, perhaps? Even beige? The first time I made fried rice, I added so much soy to render it the "right" color that it was inedibly salty. Now, I do what some Chinese restaurants do: I add a little bit of Gravy Master. (Nearly typed Gravy Train there, not a good idea.) Toss until color is even, add cilantro, if you'd like, and serve. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all, some fried rice!
While Bruce and I are pretty omnivorous, we each have our own strong preferences. He loves curry, dosa, and all things Indian; I gravitate toward anything Italian, particularly the red-sauce Italian of my Brooklyn youth. Thus, we have pasta once a week, and curry every moon or so, which I think is more than fair. Only occasionally do I get a chance to cook for myself alone, but I rarely take it. Bread, cheese, and fruit on a paper plate is my usual fare. However, this week it was a little too chilly in the apartment to think about a cold meal. I wanted Italian, but I didn't feel like pasta. Ordering a whole pizza for myself was out, as I might eat it. All of it. I poked around in the closet and found a tube of prepared polenta. Bingo. Set the oven to 350, then cut three half inches slices of polenta, heated a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan, and tossed them in. Five or six minutes on each side over medium-high heat, until they were golden on the outside and tender within. I used a paper towel to blot up any excess butter, so that I wouldn't get splattered when I added the sauce. I wasn't about to thaw a quart of homemade sauce, so I doused them with a good jarred brand. (I'm partial to Michael's of Brooklyn, partly because I used to walk by the restaurant on my way home from St. Brendan's High School.) Topped them with shreds of mozzarella, dollops of ricotta, and a shower of parm. Into the oven for ten minutes. Dust with more parm. (Is there ever enough? No.) They were tender, crunchy, gooey, and oozy. Perfect. Let cool slightly. Open a bottle of wine, grab a glass, and race to the couch in time for the finale of America's Next Top Model.
Pass me the wine, would you? I've still got an hour to kill before Top Chef.
Finally got to Sigmund's Pretzel Shop today, about two weeks later than planned, what with illness and the lack of appetite that dogged me for at least a week after I was officially better. And a food blogger without an appetite is like a hipster without bacon: dazed and somewhat pathetic. Having grown up in Brooklyn, I'm quite familiar with a certain kind of soft pretzel: It was doughy, salty, soggy, and, on humid days, sported a viscous coating of melted salt. Oh, and they were stone cold. We couldn't get enough of them: Filling and cheap, they were ideally suited to teenaged appetites. Sigmund's pretzels are another story. They remind you that pretzels are, after all, bread. I got a plain salted, as I didn't want the distraction--at least this time-- of jalapeno cheddar or gruyere. versions. These babies are pretzels at their best. Light, yet not insubstantial, they are redolent of yeasty bread, the chew offering just enough resistance, the crust (for want of a better word) a chestnut brown with a toasty flavor. If there is such a thing as an elegant pretzel, this is it. The pretzels are $3.00 each, and come with your choice of dip. I got a zesty honey mustard, a flavor for which my weakness is well known. I'm looking forward to trying the caraway pretzel, perhaps with a horseradish dip. Soon.
29 Avenue A, between 2nd and 3rd Streets.
Sorry for the lack of posts, but all I would have been capable of over the last week or so was a long discourse on toast, tea, and juice. Not all that interesting. Feeling much better now, helped along by a concoction from the Maine Mixologist, called the Bermuda Triangle. One shot of Bermuda rum on the rocks, fill glass with ginger beer. Add eight drops Old Outerbridge Original Bermuda Sherry Peppers. Definitely good for what ails you. Or ailed me, at least.
This did not go as expected. And, except for portioning problems (sorry, hon), I really can't take any blame for it.
I had gotten the oysters shucked, because it's a high-risk enterprise unless you know what you're doing. I don't. Hindsight prompts me to say that I should've risked a finger or two. The shucking fisherman put the oysters, which were now resting on their half-shells, into two styrofoam containers, the kind that you might get take-out chicken wings in, which would work perfectly for lunch in the park or to take back to the office. I wasn't doing either of those things; I was shopping, then taking the F train home. The last time I had oysters shucked, they were sans shell, and snuggled into a plastic soup container. Unless you have a personal attendant and a car with great suspension, I strongly recommend that option if you are traveling more than a block or two. The oysters got creamed. In an act of outrageous self-mutilation, the shells, which bounced around in their container exactly like chicken wings, cut the oysters to shreds. The mollusk gloop was clinging to the sides of the containers, the tops of shells, and itself. It was not pretty, not at all.
I scooped the contents of each container onto a paper plate, not noticing that one held ten oysters, the other six. Not my problem. I could barely distinguish one injured bit of oyster from another.
No worries, though. Once they're hit with sherry and butter and cream, who'll know the difference? Into the double boiler they went: 8 oysters (or so I thought); tablespoon butter; dash celery salt; teaspoon Worcestershire sauce; 2 tablespoons sherry; 1/4 cup oyster liquor, except I don't have any oyster liquor because the little bastards must have sweated it off during their exertions in the styrofoam sauna, so I used 1/4 cup salty water and, no, I didn't have any clam juice handy, thanks. Cook for about a minute, until the oysters start to curl. The state they were in, they could have had a perm for all I know.
Add one cup half-and-half. Here is where the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant Seafood Cookbook let me down with a crash: "Add half-and-half and continue stirring briskly, just to a boil. Do not boil."
The first thing wrong with this is that if you continue stirring briskly, it is going to take a long, long time to reach a boil. The second is that there is .00003 of a nanosecond between coming to a boil and boiling. Reader, I curdled it.
The finishing pat of butter and dusting of paprika did nothing to disguise that the lovely soup I had hoped to serve bore more than a passing resemblance to small-curd cottage cheese. Bruce seemed not to notice, but was quick to point out that he got only six oysters, instead of the promised eight, which meant I had ten. Which I had already eaten..
I'll make sure he gets two extra from my bowl when we have oyster stew again, something I'll be sure to remember the next time we pull up a stool at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Hey, I don't hold a grudge.
Headed up to Union Square this afternoon to shop at the farmers market's newest stallholder,Westport Aquaculture, a 150-year-old family business operating out of Connecticut that set up shop at the market only a week ago. The charming duo of fisherman had brought in a haul of clams, lobster, and oysters, the last of which are available to eat on the spot with a splash of cocktail sauce. Good as that sounded, I needed more than a few oysters for the oyster stew a la Grand Central that I'm making this evening. I've never made it; I'll let you know how it goes.
I'm not sure I altogether approve of lobster rolls being available beyond New England (see rant here) but if they are going to take up residence in Manhattan, I'm glad that there are some lobster rolls like those at Luke's Lobster: Priced like Maine, made like Maine. The kind you can walk with, and eat two of for lunch. I kinda knew, from the moment I saw the blackboard listing where today's lobster was from, that this was going to be good. It was wicked good. Chunks of claw and knuckle meat, lightly dressed, in a perfectly grilled trad bun. No fork needed. Bruce, the man from Maine, wanted to know what happened to the tail and body meat, not to mention the roe and tomalley. I expect that they'll turn up in the bisques and stews that are said to be coming soon.
As you can see, the rolls are very lightly dressed, which shows off the lobster nicely. I would nonetheless have liked more mayonnaise (available upon request), but that may just be my own mayo lust speaking: I knew for sure that the man from Maine was a keeper when I saw the quart jar of Hellman's in his fridge.
I'm looking forward to going back for a crab roll. As anyone who knows crabs knows: Maryland's got the rep; Maine's got the crab.
(Luke's Lobster is at 93 East 7th St., bet 1st & A. Limited seating, but a great many lobster joints in Maine don't have any seating at all. Lobster rolls are $14; small ones $8.)
The black twig, which can only be described as a cult favorite apple, has made its annual late October appearance at the Locust Grove Fruit Farm stand at the Union Square Farmers Market. Hard and tart yet sweet, this 1868 heritage apple (some say it is from Arkansas, as one of its parents is said to be Arkansas Black; others claim it for Tennessee) is great out of hand, in pies, and in sauces. It's pretty good sauteeds in bacon fat, too, but what isn't?
Twigs have a brief season--last year I missed them altogether due to a three-week flu. This year, I'm making no mistakes and stocking up early. Unless my big mistake was letting the Twig out of the bag.
Met friends last night at the King Cole bar at the St. Regis, which is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of the bloody mary, perhaps invented there in 1934 by bartender Fernand Petiot. As with everything from the Caesar salad to the margarita, it is doubtful that a sure-fire history of these American classics will ever be uncovered. No matter. We were there to celebrate by hoisting a red snapper, a bloody mary prototype that doesn't contain horseradish. I would think that whoever first stirred horseradish into tomato juice has at least some claim to the title of bloody mary creator!
While the King Cole might have been the birthplace of the bloody mary, there is no doubt at all that, during this celebration at least, they serve the widest variety: twenty-one, although not every variety is available every night. Many are based on recipes supplied by establishments around the city, including Blue Smoke, Prune, Back Forty, and WD50, as this celebration also benefits City Meals on Wheels. Five of them are only available on twenty-four hours' notice. This is, after all, the St. Regis, which certainly doesn't like being rushed; a state of affairs I found rather irksome while waiting the better part of a quarter hour for my second drink.
My first was the Blue Smoke, which was irresistably described as containing magic dust. It was smokey, spicy, and quite lovely, but it was my second drink that brought on the magic, and made me forget about my original intentions . It was a bloody martini, which shared even less kinship with the blood mary than the red snapper. I checked the menu for ingredients, which I hurriedly scribbled on a napkin. A good thing I did, as the online version of the menu is sketchy in parts.
Ingredients include basil and cherry tomato (garnish), fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, Tabasco, and Belvedere Cytrus. Sound simple enough, but it combines enough sweetness and heat to keep your palate interested after the first, or even second, round, which is as far as I was willing to go at $18 a pop. Once I nail the proportions, I figure that, even with Cytrus at $42 per bottle, I can make a pitcher of bloody marties for under twenty bucks.
No picture of the cocktail, I'm afraid. I tried, but when the automatic flash (which I was sure was off) fired right into the face of the patron at the next table, I felt as embarrassed as I would had I farted in a cathedral. Speaking of farting, take a good look at the famed Maxwell Parrish mural. Get it?
A couple of weeks ago, on a wintry day, my thoughts turned, as they so often do, to lamb. Something stewish, for sure, but nothing was calling to me. I was standing in front of the meat counter, contemplating the stewing lamb, when shanks caught my eye. I'd never made them before, which made the prospect enticing. After grilling the counterman on serving size, I settled on two for two. Mercifully, this exchange was early in the day, as my blithe ignorance might otherwise have had me serving dinner just in time for Craig Ferguson's opening monologue.
I learned soon after I got home and hit the cookbooks that there is no such thing as a recipe for two lamb shanks. The smallest grouping I ran across was four, so some mathematical improvisation would be required. Not a great strength in this kitchen.
Purchased: two lamb shanks, 28 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, red wine
On hand: olive oil, chicken stock, garlic, shallot, onion, spices
Season shanks. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a large, heavy pot. Over medium-high heat, brown the shanks on all sides. Remove from pot. While shanks are browning, chop a large onion, a large shallot, and a couple of cloves of garlic. Add a tiny bit of cinnamon, and maybe a teaspoon of Aleppo pepper. Maybe a pinch of cumin. It's yours now, not mine.
This is point at which I ran off the rails: Each and every recipe I consulted called for mingy, stingy amounts of liquid. I like my sauce with sauce, with extra sauce on the side. So, instead of half a can of tomatoes for four shanks, I used a whole can for two, plus a brimming cupful of wine, and a half-cup of chicken stock., brought it to a simmer, then returned the shanks along with any juices on the plate, to the pot. Lowering the heat, I clamped on the lid, and strolled off, returning only to give the shanks a turn every half hour or so, for the next hour and a half. The timing is by no means exact; the shanks are done when the meat is fork-tender, and almost dripping from the bone. I degreased the sauce a bit by layering some paper towels on top, and letting them soak up the excess for less than a minute. There was a lot of sauce. Even with generous pools on our plates, there was enough for another meal, albeit without shanks. The extra went into the freezer, where it lay in wait, haunting my dreams for some days to come.
Served the shanks over polenta, with sauteed zucchini on the side. Sprinkle with incredibly poorly chopped parsley.
It's a stretch for this site, but his nickname was Soupy and many, many pies were involved in the making of his show. Ostensibly for kids, his sly humor drew many adult fans as well. My mother and I both laughed at Soupy...but rarely at the same time. Pachalafaka*, Soupy!
*A Muppet performance of a Soupy Sales song.
According to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (via Food Navigator-USA), white wine goes well with fish because it makes fish taste less fishy. I would have thought that keeping it--the fish, not the wine-- on ice would take care of that.
The other night, after a mere couple of ciders, I got home a bit later than planned. It was 7:15, and I really wanted a proper dinner on the table before eight. Otherwise, we'd wind up staying up too late, perhaps watch the Yankees, then go to bed feeling suicidal because the bastards won again.
Purchased that evening, previous to imbibing cider: can whole-berry cranberry sauce, six bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, cat food
On hand: spices , shallots, seasoning pepper (also known as aji or dulce), red wine, stock, noodles, cream, milk, butter, parsley
First step (3 minutes, tops, if you know where everything is): Heat. Seems obvious, but how often have you chopped onions or garlic, toted them to the stove, and been given a gloomy stare by an ice-cold pan? Or maybe it just happens to me. So, put a pasta pot onto boil, heat some neutral oil and butter (a tablespoon each) in a largish saute pan over somewhat high heat, and set the oven to 350 degrees. Start the steamer to simmering. No steamer? I couldn't find mine, so I put a small pot on the stove to boil.
Second step (12 minutes): While things are warming up, chop a large shallot along with a seasoning pepper, if you've got one. If not, a little finely chopped bell pepper and an infinitesimal flick of cayenne will do. Cut up a small bunch of broccoli into stems and florets. Season six chicken thighs.* Chicken into pan, skin side down. Turn occasionally (best to use tongs,** thighs can sputter viciously), until nicely browned, 10 minutes or so. In between turns, get the broccoli into the steamer or pot. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Drain; leave in pot. I was going to serve steamed broccoli, but the florets were started to look a bit jaundiced and sad, so puree it is. Check pasta water, but it's probably not quite at a boil yet.
Third step (7-8 minutes): Remove chicken to a plate for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, lower heat, drain off most of the fat, add shallots and peppers. Cook until softish, 2 or 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup stock (water would do, just, or you could use all red wine) and a hefty slug, perhaps a half cup, of red wine. Get the chicken into the oven in order to finish cooking, in another pan or on a baking sheet. If there are any juices on the plate, add to the stock and wine. Add noodles to boiling water, which I hope you have salted. Reduce the sauce over high heat for about five minutes; add a half can of whole-berry cranberry sauce. Stir in. Reduce until a wooden spoon drawn across the pan leaves a trail.*** Lick spoon. Add salt, pepper, or whatever other spices you might find pleasing.
Fourth step (8 minutes): Break up broccoli. Puree broccoli in a minichop, food processor, or with an immersion blender with about a tablespoon of butter. Add cream, half and half, or milk, until the puree is smooth but thick. Season with salt, white or black pepper, and a tiny flick of nutmeg. Return to pan, keep warm over low heat. Check noodles for doneness; they're not. Chop a handful of parsley. Noodles now done. Drain. Toss with butter and parsley. Chicken should be cooked through. Add to cranberry sauce, turn to coat, over medium low heat.
Fifth step (45 seconds): Plate. Take picture. Check clock: It's 7:48. Congratulate self. Serve. Drink balance of wine.
*You can make this with boneless skinless chicken breasts, if you must. Skip oven step; just return the white, flavorless, yet wonderfully healthy slabs to the sauce after it has been reduced.
**I know it's blurry. Do you think it's easy turning hot chicken with your right hand, and taking a picture of it with your left?