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.