Sunday, November 27, 2011

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

I could get used to not going to work and eating stuffin muffins (leftover stuffing baked in muffin tins) with gravy for breakfast.  Another successful Thanksgiving weekend, the tree is up and decorated, the turkey stock for turkey pot pies and stew has been gently bubbling on the stove all day.  It's the perfect day for stock- cold, windy and rainy...nothing I'd rather be doing than (barely) tending a giant pot of warm liquid, the odor of which currently mixing with the newly-lit Christmas candle, no doubt the TV tuned to the holiday channel.  I guess it really might be the most wonderful time of the year.  It helps that I also have meaty short ribs quietly braising in Cabernet Sauvignon in the oven. 

You want a go-to recipe for braising some meat?  Something delicious to brighten a chilly winter Sunday meal? You want this recipe.  Among other cold weather must haves like this soup and this gratin, these short ribs are on the hot list from Oktoberfest to St. Patty's Day.  They require little attention, just a lazy weekend afternoon with a few bottles of Cabernet.  You'll need a large cast-iron dutch oven with a lid, which is completely different than what my older brother once described to me upon asking what a dutch oven was many years ago.  It was that awkward time between encyclopedias and the interweb, clearly not the information age.  And while I certainly did not think that could be used to assist in cooking, I did learn there was a name for that. 

I like to buy and freeze some beef short ribs when they are on sale (about $4/lb) and just wait for that rainy or snowy day.  Defrost the night before, you could also defrost/marinate in some red wine, that would be extra points...haven't done that yet.

Do not skip the searing step, as that is key to fully develop the dish's flavor.  Some of the newer slow-cookers even have the capability to sear quick and then morph into the typical hot/low heat settings.  Maybe Santa has room left on my list this year? 

Want another winter necessity? Voila.  I like to serve my short ribs with little onions and shrooms, a la Bourguignon. 

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
4-6 servings

5 lb bone in beef short ribs, sbout 4" long
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 TB AP flour
2 TB tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) Cabernet or a hefty Zin
6 large cloves garlic, halved
5 sprigs parlsey
4 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 C low-sodium beef broth
handful mushrooms, sliced
handful cippolini or boiling onions
mashed potatoes, wide noodles, or rice

With your protein at room temperature, fire up the ove to three fifty.  Season the short ribs on all sides liberally with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt.  Working in 2-3 batches as not to overcrowd your pot, oil up the ribs with canola or veggie oil and brown on all sides for 2 minutes over high heat, until a nice crust develops.  Remove the ribs to a plate.

Turn down the heat to medium and add the onion, carrot, and celery, cook for 4-6 minutes, add the garlic for the last couple.  Introduce the paste and flour, stir for two minutes while it thickens and caramelizes to tomato sugars.  Add 1 C wine and scrape up any tasty bits, then add the rest of the wine to the pot.  While you bring this to a boil, prepare an herbal bouquet (use a silicone, rubber band or string) with parsley, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves, add to the pot.  Whatever fresh herbs you have on hand will do.  After reaching a boil, turn down the heat to medium and reduce by about half, 25-30 minutes.

Add the stock and return the ribs, nestling the ribs in so they are covered well.  Put the lid on and park in the center of the oven until the ribs are very tender, about 2.5-3 hrs.  Remove the meat to a plate, strain the sauce into a glass measuring cup, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid.  Let sit for a few until you can spoon off the fat.  Season to taste with S&P, pour over the short ribs accompanied by mashed potatoes, egg noodles, polenta, or rice.  To serve in the style of Bourguignon, par-boil some small onions, then saute in EVOO with some sliced mushrooms.  Plated below boneless with plenty of gravy, parsley, mashed, and a wee glass of Cabernet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Basics- How to Make the Perfect Turkey and Gravy

Hoooooooooooooooold up.  You were going to buy your Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, and all the fixin's from Dominick's??  Because it's easier than doing it yourself?? Yup, this is what a coworker was telling me, as I thought what about marinating your house in all those smells for hours, if not days? What about the knowledge of your own sanitation and safe food handling?  What about the satisfaction of doing it yourself?   Why pass up the opportunity to purvey your own ingredients?  Why pay someone else for a finished product that is likely more expensive and probably of lesser gastronomic delight than could be obtained through a home-cooked meal?  Another compelling reason? Give some respect to the first meal, as they didn't have Dominick's or Whole Paycheck to rely on.  Do you think they ate turkeys and pumpkin pies at original Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving isn't difficult.  If you really wanna do it right, it will take two days...but I promise most of that time is spent drinking beer!  You can do that, right? Follow these simple steps, and you can easily prepare (homemade!) the heart of the meal- the bird and gravy.  The side dishes and desserts, have family and friends bring that over, they ain't freeloaders.  I recommend you splurge on something nice to drink too, because that's always fun to do that at occasions like this.  Wine with Thanksgiving is absolutely the mostly debated meal when it comes to wine and food pairing.  All those foods and the range of sweet to savory blah blah blah blah blah.  The variety actually makes it is easier to enjoy with your heaping dinner plate.  Drink what you like.  Or Champagne.  It never fails with food.  I picked up my Burgundy for this year from my fav wine store

One week to go, which means you can still buy the frozen guy and let Tom (or Hen) defrost for 3-4 days, depending on the size.  Fresh is good too, if you want to go all out then obtain a heritage turkey from a local butcher or an online place such as D'Artagnan.  It's pricey as hell, money at this point in my life pays for more important things like heat, DSL, and toilet paper.

1. BRINE- this is optional, but well worth it if you decide to.  Why? Moisture retention.  You could even overcook the hell out of it and still end up with juicy turkey meat.  Flavor that moisture, and now you have tasty, juicy turkey meat.  Not cooking the hell out of it helps too.  You'll need a clean 5 gallon bucket and lid from your local Crafty Beaver.  Some people use a clean cooler and then clean it thoroughly afterwards, I'd rather spend the $15 and have a dedicated brining bucket.

Add two gallons of clean water to a large stockpot.  Heat until warm enough to dissolve 1 C of brown sugar and 1 C kosher salt, then let cool.  With the neck and giblets removed, add the turkey and tepid brine to the bucket.  Flavor with- 2 lemons quartered, 1 orange quartered, 2 large onions quartered, a head of garlic, smashed, 2 halved carrots, 1-2 TB of cracked black peppercorns, a few springs of rosemary, thyme, oregano, 2 bay leaves.  If your bird isn't completely covered, add 1/2 C salt and 1/2 C sugar to every extra gallon of water.  Brine for 12-20 hours, flipping halfway through (even if this means setting the alarm on your iPhone to get up in the middle of the night).  Usually it's cold enough in the Midwest to park the bucket outside on the deck, if not you'll have to make room in the fridge to keep below 40F.

2. STOCK- get yourself about 6 large, meaty turkey wings.  Oil em up and season with S&P.  Place in a large roasting pan, 400F until well browned, an hour and a third ought to do it, flipping halfway through.  Remove to a large stockpot.  Place the roasting pan on a couple burners and toss in a few quartered onions, a couple chopped carrots and a stalk of celery in thirds, brown the veg for a few minutes.  It's optional but alcohol helps deglaze the pan and loosen the fond- the tasty browned bits, use a 1/2 C of beer or 1/4 C of dry white wine.  Add 1 C of water as well, scraping your pan with a wooden spatula.  Toss everything in the stockpot, along with a few sprigs of herbs, in cheesecloth or held with a rubber or silicone band.  Add two quarts of water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 2 hours, up to 4.  Skim off some of the foamy bits during the first hour.  Remove the bones and large pieces, strain into a large pot, pressing on the solids to extract all the yummies.  A pair of fine mesh strainers work well, or cheesecloth.  Let sit until the fat rises, then skim that off and save for the roux.  Can be made 3 days ahead.

3. SEASON- fire up the oven or grill to about 450F.  Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well (and carefully in your sink to not spread potential yuckies) and then pat very dry with paper towels, inside and out.  Season well inside and out with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt, then drizzle some canola or vegetable oil all over, make sure you rub it all over real good.  Stuff into the cavity- 1 onion quartered, 1 lemon quartered, a couple pieces of carrot and celery, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Tuck the wings back and under the bird, tie up the legs to close the cavity.  Make a compound butter- seasoned with thyme, sage, rosemary, S&P.  Loosen the skin gently, as not to tear, and stuff the herbed butter between the breast and skin.  

4.  GRILL/ROAST- in a roasting pan with v-rack, for 30 minutes at 425-450F and then turn down to about 350F.  Once the breast becomes golden brown, an hour in or so, cover with aluminum foil and continue to roast until your thermo reads 160(breast) or 175(leg).  Depending on the weight, should be around 2.5-3.5 hrs. Oh yeah, and remove that pop-up thing if present.  Don't poke it too much with the thermo either, as you'll be losing precious juices.  And remember to always read recipes through first beforehand, especially mine.  Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 30-50 minutes before carving.

5.  GRAVY- the reserved fat and any butter as well to make 4 TB, melt in a saute pan and then add 1/4 C of AP flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon for a couple minutes until the roux develops a golden brown, then slowly whisk in your turkey stock, saving a C or so.  Season to taste with S&P as your gravy thickens on medium-low for 10-15 minutes.  I like to add a sprig of thyme as well, removed before pouring into a gravy boat that 10 seconds ago held boiling hot water.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm gravy.

The mis en place- veg and butter, herbs, and a forearm cramp's worth of black pepper and kosher salt.

Any juice from resting and carving should be added to the gravy.  A large carving board with a well helps, thanks Mom! Carve off the legs first, then on one side of the breastbone, cut straight down and then down and out at the bottom of the breast, to carve off in one piece, then in slices.  Separate the drumstick and and thigh, carve off wings too. 

Those carving sets consisting of slicing knife and giant fork are terrible.  Don't ever poke your meat with that fork to enable all those juices, that you worked so easily for, run out on your board.  The foil from tenting, with a towel over that, will give plenty of stability by hand while carving off the hot pieces. 

I love those commercials where the presentation is on a large platter, prettily garnished and whole, placed in the middle of the table.  Cut your own, folks! Hell no that's not being a good host.  A better method would be to place the carved pieces on a large warmed serving plate, covered with al foil at the table.  Practical over pretty always wins out in my book I'm going to write.  An efficient gravy warmer is a blessing as well, to keep the liquid gold piping hot and warm up any slices of turkey breast that may have cooled a little.  I can't wait for all those turkey sandwiches with plenty of Hellman's mayo and freshly ground tellicherry (thanks Megan!) black pepper, and a spoonful of this homemade giardiniera that is just coming into age. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful for my American-made Weber 3-burner gas grill! My first grilled turkey, which was just like a chicken only times two point five.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roasted Garlic

The transformation of raw garlic to roasted garlic is simply amazing.  It's only the addition of heat+time, but it is wonderful...there is a dramatic difference in taste and texture.  Did I mention it's super simple? If you haven't roasted whole heads of garlic in the oven or on a grill before, you are missing out on another world of mellow, yummy garlic- much different than raw cloves.  

Whenever I've got the hotbox fired up for longer than 45 min or so, I like to roast some garlic.  Delicious multitasking.  Sixty-five cents worth of alliums, drizzled with EVOO, seasoned with S&P.  Wrap with a tiny square of aluminum foil.  There's plenty of wiggle room for time and temp, roast until nicely golden brown and caramelized.  If you're around 350F, allow about an hour.  If the heat is up to 400, you should check the garlic about 35 minutes in.  Middle ground is best, about 375 for 45 minutes.  Let cool slightly and then squeeze out the little orbs of tastiness into a bowl.  You'll likely have to pick out a piece or two of papery skin, but most of the cloves will pop out freely.  The pic below shows a couple heads just before the oven. 

Endless possibilities for this condiment- mashed potatoes would be fantastic.  Mixed into a risotto is a great idea.  Soups and stews would get a little punch of savory goodness.  Like anchovies, a bit of roasted garlic adds a lovely depth to homemade salad dressings.  Maybe you want to enjoy it the simplest way- spread a few cloves on a toasted baguette with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, buon appetito.

How are those Thanksgiving menu plans coming? Are you sticking to classic, time-honored recipes?  Trying anything new this year?  We're doing the usual, which is to keep the traditions and sprinkle in a try-out or two for a couple sides.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pan Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

You and I both know we should be doing it more.  You can't ignore the health benefits, and it's usually really good.  As much as you try to, it's just difficult to eat the recommended amount of salmon per week.  Low in the bad stuff and high in the good stuff, the majority of people should be consuming at least 2 to 3 three ounce servings per week.  Sure, you can find the desired omega-3 fatty acids in other foods too such as nuts, and you could always supplement with vitamins, but those options aren't as tasty as this. 

Which type of salmon and from where are you usually buying?  If no other choice, the grocery store farm-raised version with color added will do, but will certainly not taste as good as it could.  Those fish are usually the highest in polychlorinated biphenyls, mercury, and other heavy metals and toxins.  MSG, tasty.  PCB's, not so much.  To ensure the absolute highest quality, I advise that you catch and clean your own.  If that is not possible, then a trip to your fishmonger is in order.  Here you will find wild salmon, the meat of which tastes like the animal actually lived, as if it really swam and chased its prey and avoided death being eaten by a larger fish.  How can you tell if your fish is fresh and was recently doing those things? The eyes should be clear, not cloudy, and the gills should be bright red, indicating there was some recent absorption of oxygen.  My fish guy (literally) is currently closed while remodeling, luckily I live in a city with more than one. 

I'm not sure if it's genetic or what, but some individuals can't stand the taste of cilantro.  To them, I have heard, it tastes like soap.  I've eaten a lot of bar soap in my youth, because my mouth at times was 'dirty'.  I disagreed with that form of punishment and I think cilantro tastes much better than soap.
If you would like to grill or broil your salmon fillets for this recipe, please do so.  

Pan Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto
4 servings

1/2 C shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 TB lime juice
1/2 medium garlic clove, minced
1/2 C (packed) cilantro leaves
1/4 C EVOO
4 six oz wild salmon fillets
4 wedges from 1 lime

In a small skillet, toast the seeds over medium-low heat for a couple minutes until fragrant (a few might sauter, which is french for jump and the root verb for saute) and toasty, remove from the hot skillet to a small bowl to cool.

To the bowl of your food processor, add the cilantro, garlic, all but 2 ts of the pumpkin seeds and the lime juice.  Season with about a half ts of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  With the motor running, slowly add the oil until the pesto forms, don't forget to stop and wipe down the bowl with a spatula.  Once well-mixed, taste and season with additional S&P if necessary. You may add less or more oil to reach your desired consistency.

With your catch of the day at room temp, fire up a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the flesh side of the fish with S&P.  Once the pan is very hot, add a few TB olive oil to the pan and then the salmon filets, flesh side down.  If you have a splatter cover or fan, employ now or clean up later.  Sear for about 3-4 minutes, then carefully flip and cook skin side down for another 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon and to your liking.  I prefer mine almost firm throughout, so I denatured the protein for 4 min per side.   

Plate the salmon, top with a healthy spoonful of cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto, sprinkle a pinch of seeds on the plate and serve with a lime wedge.  What else should you serve this with? A starch such as long-grain wild rice, a green salad, and an unoaked California Chardonnay or a light red would also be delicious.