Thursday, December 24, 2009

Erev Christmas

1. David Lebovitz's vanilla ice cream turned out beautifully. As in, it firmed up slightly in the ice cream maker. (A Cuisinart ICE-20. Am I expecting too much of this machine?) From everything I have read, I was expecting the consistency of soft-serve. Granted, it's been some time since I've had any soft ice cream, but I distinctly remember it holding shape. In any event, it solidified beautifully in the freezer.

2. Thusly encouraged, I threw the lemon ice cream/granita mess into my stand mixer to break up the ice crystals and whip some more air into it. The result? Delicious. Still a little icy, but definitely ice cream.

3. I made a butterscotch sauce to accompany the vanilla (and who are we kidding? Probably the lemon, and anything that stands still long enough for me to drizzle it onto.) Lovely. Brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, heavy cream, a little fleur de sel, brought to the boil, then simmered to thicken, then finished with more butter, some vanilla extract and some blended Scotch.

4. Feeling awfully proud of myself, I started a third batch of ice cream, truffled honey/saffron. I let the custard stay on the heat too long, and it curdled. Garbage. Expensive garbage, at that. Pride goeth before a fall, or something, right?

5. I took a nice (well, angry, actually) break from my kitchen, went to a houseparty, home now for dinner. Not, as it turns out, the traditional Jewish Christmas eve festive meal of Chinese takeout, but leftovers from last night: braised short ribs. Here's how to make them:

**Unfortunately, I don't have any accompanying photos for this one, because last night when I was cooking, I didn't know I would have a weblog today!! I'll do better next time.

Braised Short Ribs: A Recipe in Broad Strokes. (Also, an all-purpose method of braising things)
Serves 4 big appetites

1. Finely dice: 1 large yellow onion, 2 ribs celery, 2 peeled carrots. Sweat these vegetables in 2 tbsp. butter or flavorless cooking oil (canola or some such), about 10 minutes over medium/low heat, or until veggies are translucent, but not browned. Season very well with Kosher salt and ground black pepper. Add 4 cloves chopped garlic, and 2 cups sliced mushrooms (whatever kind, really. I used white mushrooms, but cremini would be fine, shiitake would be lovely and rich, portobello would be meaty and lovely as well.) and cook a further 4-5 minutes, then scrape into a roasting pan, dutch oven or similar.

2. Dredge 6 pieces of "flanken cut" short beef ribs in all-purpose flour. Using the same pan, heat 3 tbsp. cooking oil over medium/high heat, and brown the short ribs in the oil until deep brown all over. Place on top of the vegetables you just set aside. Drain off most of the oil remaining in the pan.

3. Deglaze the pan with about 2 cups of a medium-bodied red wine. I was introduced to the Casal Thaulero 2007 Sangiovese, a medium red wine, dry, cherry notes, a bit of a metallic finish, INCREDIBLY inexpensive ($7), considering how darn drinkable it is. Anyway, keep the heat on under the pan, pour in the wine, and use a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to release all the delicious brown bits stuck from the browning of the meat. Let the wine reduce a little, to concentrate its flavour, and then dump it over the meat and vegetables.

4. Heat up some chicken stock (beef stock would be better, but I had neither the inclination nor the fridge space to make any), about 2 cups, or as much as is needed to have the meat 2/3 submerged in liquid. If you don't have any chicken stock, go on ahead and use beef consomme or bouillon, but keep in mind that the stuff you can buy in the store is wicked salty, and so you'll want to show some restraint in adding salt to the vegetables as you sweat them. Pour this onto the meat.

5. Halve some small red potatoes (8-10 of 'em) and fit them into the spaces around the pieces of meat.

6. Add 1/2 large can (not the industrial large size) diced, canned plum tomatoes.

7. Toss in 2 bay leaves, 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme.

8. Cover and put in an oven preheated to 350F for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, or until the meat is very soft, the braising liquid has reduced into a nice sauce, and the potatoes are fork-tender. Every 45 minutes or so, baste the meat, and taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Leftovers? Shred the remaining meat into the remaining sauce, heat with some extra tomatoes for a rich ragù that is delicious over pasta. Or just reheat and eat as is.

This is some tasty eating, right here.

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