Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cabernet Braised Short Ribs and Mushroom Risotto

There are some people that tie their memories to the weather, different smells, specific dates, or the time of year. I have been finding that recently I have been tying many of my great memories with friends and family to food. For example, I can't remember a specific christmas by the year, or by how much snow we got, or what my christmas presents were, but jog my memory of what we cooked for 'christmas eve-eve' dinner? Now I remember.

It works the other way too. Lobster crosses my mind? I immediately think about the many July 4th's throughout my childhood when the cousins in my family would draw a track on the driveway with chalk and "race" the lobsters before our parents murdered them (but for good cause) in the giant bubbling stock pot in the kitchen. Granted they usually only moved an inch or so, but it was still fun picking them up and being terrified that they were going to pinch us (even though their claws all had rubber bands on them).

I also think about last winter when some of my favorite people in the world got together at a cabin in northern Wisconsin and had a BYOL party (Bring Your Own Lobster). It unexpectedly took hours to bring the huge stock pots full of water and crab seasoning to boil and didn't end up eating until almost 11 pm, but we kept ourselves busy drinking wine, playing with the very lethargic lobsters, and catching up on lives being lived three states away from each other.

Short ribs and risotto will be one of those meals that is tied to so many great memories for me. It was one of the first 'extravagant' meals I cooked for my boyfriend after we moved to chicago together. It was on the menu last winter when some of my best girlfriends from Purdue finally found a night we could all get together for the first time in months.

It was also the meal I made for eight hungry skiers this past weekend, at what is quickly becoming my favorite tradition: Valentines Day Cabin Weekend. In lieu of the Hallmark world of hearts and candy and forced romantic evenings, my Minnesota friends and I, along with our wonderful significant others, have turned v-day weekend into a weekend full of skiing, laughing, drinking, and eating. Rarely does the v -word even cross our lips, but when it does we aren't just celebrating love in our romantic relationships, we are toasting our friendships as well. The card I received from one of said Minnesota friends sums it up pretty well: "I hope we are still spending valentines day together when we are 80". Until I am 80, when I think of short ribs and risotto, I will be reminded of this very awesome valentines day, the giant red le creuset filled with braised meaty goodness, and the very best friends a girl could ask for.

Cabernet Braised Short Ribs
recipe adapted slightly from
Serves 8 with leftovers

These are great made a day early and chilled overnight. This allows you to to skim some of the hardened fat off the top to produce a less greasy pan sauce, but are just as good made the day of.

8-9 pounds meaty short ribs
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons fresk thyme, minced
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup (about) vegetable or olive oil
2 - 750 ml bottles of Cabernet Sauvingnon
2-4 cups beef stock (this will depend on the size and shape of the pot you use, you will need enough to just about cover the ribs with liquid)
2 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour

The day before cooking the ribs, season the ribs on all sides with the rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and place in a large glass baking dish. Cover and chill overnight.

Let ribs stand at room temp before continuing. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large dutch oven, heat two tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add short ribs to pot in a single layer, turning about every 2 minutes to brown all sides. Place browned ribs in large bowl, and add more oil to pot as needed to brown all the ribs. Once all ribs have been seared, pour off drippings from pot and return to medium heat. Add the wine, scraping up and browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring wine to a simmer, then return the ribs and any accumulated juices to the pot. Add enough beef stock to almost cover the ribs. Bring to a boil, then cover and transfer pot to oven.

If making these the day of consumption, cook for about 3-3.5 hours, until meat is incredibly tender and falling off the bone.

If making the day before, cook for about 2.5 hours, then let cool, cover, and chill overnight. The following day, skim some of the congealed fat off the top and return to 375 degree oven for another hour to and hour and a half, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

When ribs are done, remove meat and bones from pot, place in a tightly covered bowl and keep warm. Skim any fat from the top of the liquid, and bring to simmer over medium high heat on the stovetop. Boil until reduced to about 2 cups, about 20 minutes. Mix together butter and flour in a bowl until well combined, and whisk into simmering braising liquid. Continue whisking over medium-high heat until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

Plate ribs next to, or on top of the risotto, topped with sauce and the mixed herb gremolata.

Meyer Lemon Herb Gremolata
adapted slightly from

Please don't skip this topping. It lends an amazingly bright citrus note to the earthy meatiness of the short ribs.

1/4 cup chopped italian parsley
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel, meyer lemon if it is in season
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely minced rosemary
2 tablespoons finely minced thyme

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Can be made one day in advance, but I would recommend making it the day of so the citrus is at its freshest.

Mushroom Risotto
serves 8 plus plenty of leftovers

12-16 cups canned low sodium chicken broth
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided (one stick)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5-6 shallots, minced
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used a mix of white and baby bellas)
3 cups arborio rice
1 1/3 cup white wine
1 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup italian parsley, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring the broth to a simmer in a large saucepan or small stockpot. Add the dried porcini mushrooms, reduce heat, and keep the broth warm over very low heat while you cook the risotto. The mushrooms will flavor the broth as they steep.

In a large heavy pot, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the rice, and let cook until the rice toasts a bit and becomes slightly translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it has absorbed, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, and add 1 cup of hot broth, stirring rice very frequently until broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time and stirring, until rice is just al dente. This should take about 30-40 minutes, and you may not need all the broth.

While rice is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from broth with slotted spoon, chop, and set aside. Heat two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of live oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and porcini mushrooms and saute until mushrooms are slightly browned, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

When rice reaches the al dente stage, remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/2 stick of butter, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and parsley.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add some roasted carrots for good measure and you have yourself a meal.

Make this, and make it often. I can only hope that this wonderful meal may be attached to some amazing memories for you as well.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Soups for a Cozy Weekend

Bags are packed, skis are in the car, and the short ribs are seasoned on ice. Cabin weekend, the winter version is here at last! Soon I will be in the car on a 6 hour journey to spend a weekend up in Wisconsin with my best friends and their significant others. We will be making a feast on Saturday night, a cozy Italian winter meal with Cabernet braised short ribs, wild mushroom risotto, and roasted carrots. How good does that sound after a long day of skiing in the cold Wisconsin air?

Yeah I know, I would be jealous if I were you too. But fret not, I leave you with two hearty, soul warming soups to get you through the chilly weekend. I won't wax on yet again on how much I love soup, because I have done that a few times already on this blog, but trust me when I say, these soups will be made again and again in my house, and I hope you find the time to try them for yourselves.

Curried Ginger-Lentil Soup
adapted slightly from Hungry Cravings

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup minced garlic
¼ cup minced ginger
4 carrots, diced
3-4 tablespoons hot curry powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 quarts chicken stock
1 ¼ pounds lentils, picked over
2 limes, juiced
Kosher salt
½ cup minced cilantro

Place olive oil in large heavy pot and heat over medium-high heat until oil is hot. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few minutes, just until softened. Add the carrots and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, and bay leaves, stir to combine, and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Add the water, chicken stock, and lentils, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 40-45 minutes, until lentils are soft, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaves, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Serve with some extra cilantro on top and some sour cream if you are feeling naughty. This makes a LOT of soup, but fear not, it freezes beautifully.

Black Bean Chorizo Soup
recipe by Rick Bayless

3/4 pound (1 1/2 cups) dried black beans, picked over
6 cups water
6 cups chicken stock
6 ounces (about 1 link) Mexican-style chorizo, casing removed and crumbled
1 stalk fennel, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped
4 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place beans in large stock pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour until beans are soft. Drain the beans return them to the pot.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the chorizo, fennel, onion, and chipotle peppers. Cover, leaving the lid open a crack, and simmer for about 2 hours, until all veggies are tender to the point of falling apart.

In batches, transfer soup to food processor or blender and pulse until you have a smooth, thick puree. Return puree to pot over medium-low heat and stir in salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with queso fresco, avocados, crushed tortilla chips, sour cream and basically anything else you fancy.

Hope you have a lovely weekend, and stay warm!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Et tu macarons?

2 days, 6 aged egg whites, and 4 pans of macarons. My first and second attempts at making these delicate, immensely sweet french cookies, were filled with apprehension, excitement, disappointment, pride, betrayal, and a little bit of swearing...okay a lot of swearing.

I have seen the beautiful pictures of these cute little sandwiched cookies all over the blogosphere, and although I had never even tasted one, I knew I had to give them a go. I made these purely for superficial reasons, they are just so pretty, plus I love a challenge.

Any of you who know me knows I am not a big sweets person, but I truly enjoy the process of baking. I love the repetition, and the preciseness of baking. I didn't always feel this way, but have come to think that the tediousness of baking is a great way to hone your skills in the kitchen. The focus and attention to detail that is required in making something like macarons is something that can be applicable to other areas of cooking.

I think of it almost like doing yoga. When holding a pose in yoga, you have to completely clear your mind and focus on the pose itself, because if you are thinking about tomorrow's to-do list, you will fall on your ass. Lose your focus in a macaron-making kitchen, and you will wind up with meringue in your hair, and pistachio powder in your slippers (don't ask me how I know this).

They are known for being fussy, and boy did they live up to their reputation. After the first two attempts, I am only a little closer to making perfect macarons. The first batch was much too liquid-y and did not hold their shape on the pan, nor did the batter stay in my piping bag very long before dripping out all over the floor.

I attributed this to not whipping the eggs whites long enough. I baked them anyway, and lo and behold, they got their feet anyway.

The 'feet' are the little ruffles that form when the macarons are baked, and they are usually a good sign that you did something right. So I had the feet, but unfortunately between the feet and the glossy domed top, they were hollow and missing their light cake-like mid section. That is a sign that I did something wrong. So deceptive, these little creatures. They can look perfect from the outside, but poke the top and the crumble into a thousand little shards of pistachio-flavored betrayal.

My second attempt went much more smoothly and was much less emotional than the first.

The egg whites were whipped into oblivion and the batter in turn, actually held together when it was piped onto the baking sheets.

The two pans went into the oven and they were flipped top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Even as I tried to get even cooking between the two pans, they still came out of the oven completely different. One of the pans was lopsided and hollow, and the other was the closest I came over these two days of macaron-making to actually succeeding.

Since I am FAR from being an expert on macaron making, and haven't really nailed down a reliable process and recipe, I am going to turn you, my dear readers, over to one of my favorite blogs, Tartlette. She is the macaron expert, and her recipes are tried and true. She takes beautiful pictures of these lovely cookies. So until I prefect these little critters, and by god someday I will, I shall defer to her:

Pistachio Macarons with Lemon and Raspberry Buttercream Filling by Tartlette.

I used her pistachio shell recipe to a T, and modified her basic buttercream recipe, adding lemon zest and juice to half, and homemade raspberry jam to the other half. Even though some were hollow, some were gooey, and some were lopsided, they all still tasted wonderfully like pistachio sugary goodness.

This will not be the last time we meet my little macarons, but I may need a little time apart before our next encounter.

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