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Friday, February 25, 2011

Short Ribs with Red Wine and Port - French Fridays with Dorie

I wish I'd gotten on the short ribs bandwagon before it became a bandwagon--like back in the day when you could buy short ribs cheap because nobody wanted them. Now every restaurant worth its salt has some haute version of short ribs on its menu. Like, for instance, short ribs in red wine and port with Asian spice notes, finished with an orange-cilantro gremolata.

If I'd eaten this version at a restaurant, I'd be raving about it. Since I made it myself, modesty forbids raves. But it was quite good.

I liked the idea of broiling the short ribs instead of browning them in the pot. I could do them all at once, with no worries about crowding them so they'd steam rather than brown. I also think they yielded more fat this way (although there was plenty of fat still in them).

About twelve minutes total in the broiler, and they were brown and crispy on both sides.

Lots of vegetables to be cooked, but it looks like it's mostly onions. I was sure I had jar of star anise in my pantry, but apparently not. I substituted a pinch of five-spice powder, which I thought was rather clever of me (star anise is its first ingredient). I knew I had some ginger in my vegetable drawer, but when I looked at it closely, it was too tired and sad to use, so I substituted a pinch of powdered ginger. That was not particularly clever, but it worked to give a hint of ginger flavor. I didn't bother with the cheesecloth for the bouquet garni; I figured that since the broth was going to be strained, it was an unnecessary step. (I was also out of cheesecloth. I think it was hiding out with the star anise).

I love tomato paste in a tube. I used to buy a six-ounce can of tomato paste, use a tablespoon or two, put the rest in the refrigerator, and throw it out after a few weeks. This tube lasts indefinitely and is great for all those recipes that call for just a tablespoon.

I also love recipes that let you pour in whole bottles of wine, although I didn't use the whole bottle because it looked like my pan would overflow if I did. I didn't measure the ruby port, either--just poured in what seemed like enough glugs. This casual attitude about measuring is what caused me to shy away from baking for many years.

Here's the pot of vegetables and cooking liquids just before the meat went back in the pot. This is definitely not a weekday dinner (unless you want to eat at midnight), but it's not difficult, and there are about three hours of cooking time that are largely unattended.

When the short ribs are falling off the bone, you have two options: refrigerate and eat the next day or eat right away. I didn't want to wait another day to eat this great-smelling dish, so I just skimmed a little fat off the top, and we ate hearty.

The next day, when we ate leftovers, however, I saw the advantage of waiting. There was A LOT of hardened fat on the top of the plastic container. A really frightening amount, actually. In its congealed form, it was easy to remove, and the reheated ribs didn't suffer from a lack of flavor without it. In fact, flavor is what this dish is all about. The short ribs are succulent and beefy; the ginger and star anise, along with the port, give a hint of sweetness; and the orange/garlic/parsley gremolata (my husband hates cilantro) adds zest (no pun intended).
With mashed potatoes and plain steamed carrots, this was a wonderful winter meal. Another A+ for Dorie.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mushroom Risotto - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

Probably like most home cooks, I was initially intimidated by the idea of making risotto. It required some kind of special weird rice, I thought, and also required practically round-the-clock stirring. Then I tried it, and realized, like most home cooks have, that it's not that difficult. You can buy the rice at any grocery store, and, although you have to stay close to the stove, you really don't have to stir every second.

I've always used Arborio rice, but I bought some Carnaroli just for fun. But I still had about a cup of arborio left, so I actually used a mixture, and can't compare.

I love the step of cooking the rice and onions together--I have no idea why.

Full disclosure: I bought a package of pre-sliced, mixed mushrooms. I must have been feeling lazy on shopping day, but I wasn't sorry that they were already sliced. Secretly, I think that buying pre-sliced anything is a sign of moral decay. As with most other signs of moral decay, it's tempting to indulge occasionally.

Pouring in the heated broth (I used chicken stock instead of vegetable broth or water). I'm sure there's a scientific reason why the broth has to be heated. I just know that it does. I also know that risotto always takes far more liquid than you think it will, so you might as well heat it up to start with. Not taking my own advice, I ended up having to heat up some water toward the end of cooking time.

And, finally, adding the sauteed mushrooms and plenty of grated Parmesan. I don't always have Parmigiano Reggiano on hand, but I did this time. I had just a little bit left after I grated it; I cut that into thin shards and placed themn on top of the risotto. The bites that had the extra Parmesan were extra good.

Served with green beans with pancetta, from my French Fridays with Dorie assignment. A very nice dinner: at one time, I had all four burners of my stove occupied. This doesn't happen very often. When it does, I fear impending doom, but no doom occurred.

Jim: I'll give this an 8 1/2. But I'd give a 10 to the bites with melting cheese.
Marie: Also an 8 1/2. Good, but it still needed a little oomph. Maybe it was just missing the wine. Maybe it just needed more salt. Garlic? Some herbs?

You can find this recipe here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Green Beans with Pancetta - French Fridays with Dorie

I love green beans. And the idea of cooking them until they're crisp tender, tossing them in a little butter and pancetta, and finishing them off with a drizzle of walnut oil sounded terrific. I thought it was very good, but maybe not quite terrific.

It took me more than two minutes to saute the pancetta "until frizzled and crisp." At the two-minute mark, the pancetta was still pretty limp. It's still not crisp enough for my taste in this picture, taken after about five minutes.

Beans in boiling water.

Beans in ice water. See how nice and green they are after being "shocked" by the cold water. I wish chefs would use a different word, like "refresh." I hate to shock the poor beans.

Back to the skillet, where they're reheated in a little butter, theoretically mixed with some of the pancetta fat that was rendered during the sauteeing process. My pancetta yielded only a few drops of fat. Apparently I bought pancetta Lite. This is the walnut oil I use. I keep it in the refrigerator because it otherwise goes rancid pretty quickly. It's still a good idea to give it a sniff before using it. If it's rancid, it'll only take a sniff to know it.

And there they are, ready to be served with mushroom risotto (or anything else you choose). As I said, I thought these were good, but not terrific. Even with all the good flavors, I thought something was missing. I think I'd saute a shallot with the pancetta next time. Or maybe they just needed another shake of the salt shaker. (I heard a chef say that the biggest mistake home cooks make is not salting enough--I know it's heresy to say this, but I like foods that have been properly salted.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Basque Potato Tortilla - French Fridays with Dorie

I don't usually like to repeat recipes--there are so many new things waiting to be tried--but the potato tortilla is an exception. Some things are best kept simple: potatoes, onions, olive oil, and eggs. That's all it takes to make this classic, and delicious, dish.

The method Dorie uses for this tortilla is a little different than the technique I learned. My tapas instructor said we should slice the potatoes (rather than dice them) and gently poach them in a LOT of olive oil. The disadvantage of this method is that it takes so much olive oil. The advantage is that the potatoes taste like olive oil. I wasn't sure the two tablespoons of oil used to cook the potatoes would be enough, but it worked.

I liked cooking the potatoes with garlic and rosemary. They both left their flavors behind, even though they got dumped before the final result. (It was nice not to have to take out the little green germ--a step that seems annoying to me, but I do it because I'm told to).

After the potatoes, onions, and eggs are mixed together, it takes only about five minutes until everything is almost cooked. If you didn't finish it under the broiler, though, the bottom would be too brown or the top would be too runny. I was hoping I could avoid the broiler step, but it turned out to be necessary.

Anytime you have to turn something over from a skillet to a plate, you hold your breath because things could go wrong. (At least I hold my breath--maybe everybody else keeps breathing). Nothing went wrong.

This is so good. The potatoes were cooked perfectly. I don't like al dente potatoes. The onions were just sweet enough. The eggs are pretty much a binder, but they taste good too.
I like the bonne idees--adding ham, spinach, herbs, or mushrooms--but it's so good just the way it is, I bet I'll never get around to any of the variations.