Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Groundhog Week and Braised Short Ribs

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TimeHop. The app that slays mothers daily. Just when you thought you saw a glimmer of baby face in your toddler, TimeHop shows you how bitty they were just one, two, three years ago!

There is this crazy idea that stay-at-home parents have all this free time. I'm sure by now you've read the Apology To Stay At Home Moms. It is funny, if not wildly exaggerated. I hope. We do time differently. My "break" comes if I successfully get both kids to have some sort of overlapping quiet time or nap, which is rough, when you don't turn on the t.v. during the day. So if that magical moment shines down on me, I check my phone. I go racing through Instagram, Facebook, and TimeHop as fast as I can, lest someone wake up or poop or need water. All at once.

Yesterday, TimeHop informed me, after an hour of yelling at fabric until it willed itself into capes, that on that day last year, I was making capes for Halloween.

Today, I have just been informed that last year I made braised short ribs for dinner.

Guess what I'm making for dinner tonight.

I don't plan meals. I tried, and it was torture. So much goes into a meal, I can't just slap it down on paper on Sunday and go with it on Thursday. What if the weather is not as hot/cold/rainy/dry as predicted? What if the just-in vegetables over there look better than the ones my dish calls for? I need to go into a store and look at the produce, imagine us sitting down, and think about the feeling around the table. Typing that out makes it seem a bit crazy. Either you will completely understand or you won't get it at all. I would thrive in a fresh market society.

Today, I walked into the store. I had just dashed through the sheet rain carrying a squirmy toddler who refused to wear any sort of shoes. I walked around the produce department - fresh, beautiful shiitake mushrooms, earthy russet potatoes, new crop apples. I knew what we'd be eating the rest of the day. Gala apples with cheddar to hold the girls (and me) over for the reward of oh-so-slowly-braised short ribs over mashed potatoes.

The meat, and therefore the name of the dish, is the same as last year, but I've taken a different approach this year. This is worth the time. If you could smell my home right now, you'd be making this for dinner, too.

A word on pan cooking in general:
This dish is one made up of deep, bold flavors that take time to create. Those flavors are developed through every stage of cooking. If you are someone who can not leave a pot or pan alone, meaning you must stir it all the time, get some laundry or Candy Crush or something ready in another room. You must be able to leave these things to cook without stirring for minutes at a time, or you will miss out on a lot of flavor later. Then find a way to break that habit, because most food needs to be allowed to sit and cook for a few minutes at a time. If your food is burning if left undisturbed for a few minutes, your heat is too high.

A word on braising:
Julia Child says you should braise meats at 350°F, generally. I always found that to produce tough meat. Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, believes a quality braise should start at 200°F, raising the temperature to 250°F after two hours. This allows for the collagen of the connective tissues to melt without drying out the muscle fibers. I braised these at 250°F, to save on time without drying the dish out. 

For the low-down on braising, check out Bon Apetit's wonderful article

Braised Beef Short Ribs

This dish takes about an hour of hands on-and-off time, and at least 2.5 hours to cook after that. It feeds 6 hungry people.


4 lbs bone-in short ribs (our butcher was really feeling autumn when he cut these - the ribs in the picture are each about 1lbs)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
4 medium sized shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced into strips (about 45g)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup high-quality chicken stock
1 - 750mL bottle of dry red wine, preferably Cabernet Sauvignon

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Generously salt and pepper the meat. Allow the ribs to come to room temperature. In a dutch oven large enough to hold all of the short ribs without crowding, heat 1 TBS olive oil over medium heat. Once it is hot, lower the heat to medium-low and place the short ribs in the pan bone-side down, working in batches if the pan gets crowded. You want them to brown, not steam. Leave the short ribs to brown for 3-4 minutes undisturbed. Flip the short ribs and repeat for all four sides, until each side has a nice crust. Remove the meat to a plate. Drain all but a tablespoon of drippings from the pan, reserving the rest.

Add the onions and mushrooms into the hot pan. Give them a good stir to coat with drippings, then let them sweat over low heat until translucent, stirring once every 2-3 minutes. If they are burning, lower your heat. To caramelize, they need to be left to sit for a few minutes, undisturbed. Do not be afraid of browning on the pan, either! If you need more grease, add some of the reserved drippings.

After 5 minutes, toss in the carrots and celery. Sautee for another 2 minutes before making a well in the middle of the vegetables. Pour a teaspoon(ish) of grease in the well and let it heat for a few seconds before putting in the garlic. Let the garlic cook for about 45 seconds before stirring it all up again and letting the mirepoix cook for a few more minutes. Scoop the veggies out of the pan.

Pour in a little wine (enough to cover the bottom) and deglaze the pan. Once all the bits are scraped up, pour in the remainder of the wine, the chicken stock, and toss in the rosemary sprig. Bring the liquid to a simmer and let it reduce for 5 minutes. Place the meat and vegetables back into the pot. If the liquid reaches higher than half-way up the meat, remove some from the pot. Keep this liquid, incase your levels get low later, or for gravy. It is worth having extra, flavorful liquid than to add less at the beginning and need to supplement with water or something less delicious later on.

Clap a lid onto the dutch oven and put it in the oven, not to be seen for another 2 hours. Check the liquid level. If it is lower than an inch, add more.

After 2 hours, take the lid off and braise for another 30-45 minutes with the lid off. If you need more time, return the lid, turn off the oven, and let it sit for up to one more hour.

Scoop everything out of the pan. Pour the gravy into a fat separator. Pour the separated jus back into the pan and reduce until the gravy is thick. (You can also add the extra liquid back in now, if you like. If you don't have a fat separator, just skim the fat from the surface.)

I like to serve short ribs two ways. One is over fresh tagliatelle. The second is over mashed potatoes. Add a parsnip or horseradish for an excellent twist on the classic spuds.


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