Fall… Braises, Butternut Squash, Slow Food

I love fall.  Not that we have much “fall” in southern California.  There is a tree across the street from my house that changes color though, so it’s sort of like a fall, but actually more hollywood style.  It gets “cold” at night though.  Most nights this time of year the temperature gets down to about 40 or so at our home and there are a lot of nights starting in November that are in the 30s.  People don’t associate 30s with LA.  I like it kind of chilly.  The dogs’ evening walk is more fun.  It’s also the universal signal that it is time for fall food, which is my favorite time of the year.

To me, fall food is slow food.  It is a time for braises and roasts.  Squashes, most notably butternut and pumpkin, find their way on to restaurant menus.  It’s almost as though the cooler weather outside gives us permission to spend a little more time in the kitchen.  Things can take longer.  It’s okay.

Short Ribs are one of my very favorite fall dishes.  I love the gravy and the fall off the bone silkiness of these lovely bones when they are well prepared.  I have a great recipe.  It takes a little time but it’s worth it.  Invite some friends over, open a very nice bottle of full bodied red wine (we had a terrific Cabernet last night), if it’s really cold where you live light a fire.  It’s fall.

Rather than serving these over one of the more ubiquitous sides, like mashed potatoes for instance (which would be amazing but don’t work for my diet), I served these over a light balsamic, white bean, caramelized onion and garlic puree (it has the benefit of actually being good for you).

Braised Short Ribs

  •  5 – 6 lbs Beef Short Ribs.  (I just buy these at the grocery store)
  • 2 – 3 celery stalks
  • 2 – 3 Carrots
  • 1 large spanish (brown) onion
  • 1 8oz jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, rinsed in hot water. (discard the oil)
  • 2 TBs Crushed Garlic or 4 – 5 Garlic Cloves
  • 6oz Tomato Paste
  • 3 – 4 cups full bodied red wine (if necessary for any reason, substitute with 3 cups beef broth, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 3 TBS Worcestershire)
  • 1 rounded tsp dried Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive or Grapeseed Oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Liberally season the short rips with salt and pepper.  Heat a large oven proof pot or dutch oven (I use a Le Creuset for this and it is perfect) to hot over medium high heat.  Add a splash of the oil and brown the short ribs on each side.  Let this take a little time so they develop a rich brown color.  Remove the short ribs from the pot and discard the accumulated fat.

While the short ribs are braising either fine dice (if you like your gravy textured) or puree (if you like your gravy smooth) the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and sun dried tomatoes. When you have removed the short ribs from the dutch oven (and poured off the fat) add some more oil to the oven and immediately add the diced or pureed vegetables, using their liquid to scrape the brown bits (fond) off of the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the heat if the vegetables start to burn, but leave them in the pot, stirring often so they are well browned.

When the vegetables are well browned add the cooking liquid (wine or mixture) and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let liquid reduce by about 1/3.  Add the short ribs back into the pot, arranging them so they form a layer on the bottom of the pan (on edge is fine), if necessary, add a little water or beef broth so the liquid is just below the tops of the meat.  (If the meat is submerged at first don’t worry about this as the liquid will cook off in the oven).  Place the ribs/pot on the center rack of your oven for between 3 and 4 hours, checking frequently to make sure the liquid doesn’t evaporate too much.  Remove the top from the pot about 45 minutes before serving to brown the tops of things …

White Bean, Caramelized Onion and Garlic Puree with Aged Balsamic Vinegar

While the ribs are braising away in the oven make this simple side.  Serve the ribs on top of it with a healthy portion of the sauce.  People will think you are a genius.

  • 2 15oz (normal sized) Cans Any Kind of White Beans
  • 1 Large brown onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic (or 4 cloves – smashed)
  • 1 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbs Good Aged Balsamic Vinegar (not the crappy stuff you get in a regular store)

In a medium saucepan saute’ the onions over medium heat until well browned (adding a pinch of salt will help them brown faster).  Add the garlic and continue to saute’ for another minute or until the garlic starts to brown.  Add the beans and the broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 30 minutes, stirring often.  Puree mixture in a blender or food processor.  Pour into a baking dish or back into the pan and keep warm over very low heat or in a low oven.  Add balsamic just before serving.

Put a few tablespoons of the puree under the short ribs.  Enjoy …

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Fire!

Grilling is a great summer pastime.  What I think is funny is that there are a lot of folks who grill, but who seem to have an aversion to open flame.  Squirt bottles, grills that promise no flare ups, and lots of other gadgets have been created, essentially to keep a grill from being a grill.  Here’s a little secret, the grill’s secret to great flavor, caramelization, is high heat.  In a high heat situation your grill will create fire.  Fire, in and of itself isn’t bad.  Don’t panic.  Just know your foods well (the higher the fat content the better your food will respond to a little flame) and make sure you don’t ever leave the grill for too long.

These marinaded lamb chops are perfect for a little fire and a very hot grill. Keep an eye on them or you will quickly have lamb charcoal!

Last night I made a family favorite, Lamb Chops or as we call them, Lamb Lollipops.  We buy the lamb by the rack from Costco.  Two racks feeds my family of four – but we’re lamb piggies.  Their lamb, like all of their meats, is tender and excellent.  I make a simple marinade of Balsamic, Worcestershire, Dijon, Italian Herbs (dried) and olive oil.  I’ll give you the recipe in a second.  Before I put the lamb on the grill I make sure the temperature (from the external gauge) is right around 500 degrees.  When I put the lamb on the grill I know it will flare up.  I want it to.  This makes me happy.  I am Og, the fire eating caveman.  Perhaps its a return to my man roots.  Bones, Meat and Fire!  Yum!

Sorry – digression there.

Brushing a little of the reserved (unused) marinade on the lamb makes a great final touch. Brushing some of the used marinade on the lamb makes you sick. (that’s bad).

I turn the chops about 3 minutes after I put them on the grill and they’ll be done about 3 minutes after that (to medium rare – which any real lamb aficionado will tell you is the only temperature at which lamb should be served.)  Alongside of the lamb, another family favorite is grilled Asparagus.  I just toss this in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then toss it right on the grill.  If you cook the lamb first you can cook the Asparagus while the lamb is resting.  While my inner Og isn’t so sure about the vegetable, my metro 20th century male mind is very proud of myself for making a healthy vegetable side dish.  A little salt and pepper and they’re ready to serve.

Ready in about five minutes, grilled asparagus is a great accompaniment to the lamb.

Lamb marinade:

  • Two heaping tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (cooking grade)
  • 1/3 cup worcestershire (Yay!  I spelled that right on the first try!)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (right out of the jar)
  • 1 tsp dried Italian Herb mix – I prefer Spice Islands blend.
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup non extra virgin olive oil

Set aside about 3/4 cup of the completed marinade to baste on lamb as it finishes cooking.

In a medium sized mixing bowl mix the four first ingredients together.  While whisking, drizzle in olive oil in a slow and steady stream to create an emulsion.  (essentially to combine the olive oil and the other ingredients in a way that they won’t separate.  Watch Alton Brown on the food network if you want to know how this works).

Cut lamb apart along the ribs and lay out on a sheet of foil.  Season liberally with salt and pepper, patting the spices into the lamb.  In a mixing bowl or Pyrex baking dish, marinade the ribs separately for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  (Do not use a gallon sized zip lock as the lamb bones are prone to pierce these and you don’t want marinade and lamb juice all over your fridge.)

Heat your grill to 500 degrees and quickly distributed chops on the grill.  Flame may (hopefully) occur.  (most of this will initially be the olive oil in the marinade, but this will quickly start to melt the fat in the lamb chops).  Keep an eye on the chops.  Yellow fire is good.  Red fire is getting too hot.  Using a pair of long tongs (I prefer OSO Good Grips) turn chops after about 3 minutes, redistributing as necessary since any grill has warmer and cooler sections.  The more heat and flame your lamb is exposed to the more the fat will render and the more flavor you will experience when you eat them.  Yum.

For Asparagus.

Two grocery store bunches of Asparagus is good for a family of four.  I break off one of the stalks to see where it becomes tender. (Consult any of a million cookbooks on the topic).  Then I cut all of the rest of the stocks to that length.  If I’m having company I may use a vegetable peeler to peel the asparagus and I may not.  It depends on how much I like my guests.  Once they’re cut I just put them in a big mixing bowl and toss with some balsamic (cooking grade), olive oil – EV or not doesn’t matter, and salt and pepper.  When the lamb comes off of the grill I toss these on the grill.  Flame may happen.  This is good.  Make sure you put the asparagus on the grill across the grates or it will all fall through.  Don’t laugh.  I’ve seen this happen.  (right in front of me as it were).  Turn the asparagus after about two minutes and then turn again.  Taste one for doneness.  I take them off the grill while they’re still a little underdone.  They’re so hot that they will continue cooking.

Serve and Enjoy.  (leave your club outside).

4HB Beans. With flavor too …

One of the big challenges of the Four Hour Body diet is the beans.  This is a great, easy, recipe that makes these flavorful and compatible with a lot of different kinds of dishes.

One can each of black and white beans makes this look a lot better. (and looks count!)

Ingredients

  • One medium brown onion, diced small
  • One tablespoon minced garlic (or two cloves, minced)
  • One can each, black and white beans, low sodium if available (I use S&W)
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers (about 1/2 jar) diced small plus liquid from 1/2 bottle.
  • Two tablespoons mild (cheap) balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Add the liquid out of the red pepper bottle for a little more flavor.

Preparation

There are two keys to this recipe.  Let the onions saute long enough to begin to brown.  You want that flavor in the dish when it’s ready.  The other is the liquid in the jar of roasted red peppers.  It has a ton of flavor.

Saute onions on medium heat until well carmelized – about ten minutes.  Add a healthy pinch of salt to help them along. (you need to use lower heat so the onions have a chance to give up their liquids before they begin to brown, otherwise they’ll just burn).  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Add the roasted peppers and saute to evaporate some of the liquid in the peppers.  (Do not pour the liquid from the jar yet).

Add the two cans of beans. I use the liquid in the cans.  Some people prefer to rinse them.  If that’s you, knock yourself out.  If you do this add about 3/4 can of water and stir to combine.  Add the liquid reserved from the peppers and the balsamic. Bring to a slow boil stirring frequently (it will stick to the bottom of the pot).  Reduce heat to low and let simmer to cook off some of the liquid.  Once the consistency is right for you put the lid on the pot and reduce heat to simmer.  The longer these cook, the more tender and less “beany” the dish will taste.

Dunbars is a great, ubiquitously available brand.

Favorite Ingredient: Very Good Madeira

You’ve heard of Chicken Marsala.  Think of Madeira as Marsala’s lesser known but much more flavorful cousin.

Blandy's Madeira, on the left, is my absolute favorite. The Madeira on the right has the right markings, but not the great flavor.

Like Vermouth (which I also use a lot of in both red and white (sweet and dry) variants, and Marsala, Madeira is a fortified wine.  There’s a lot to that but basically this is a wine that keeps for a reasonable period of time without changing flavors once it’s opened.  Most Madeiras actually come from Madeira, a small island once used as a waypoint by mariners.  Modern Madeira was actually more or less discovered or invented by Portuguese Sailors who added Rainwater to their wines on longer voyages to make the wines last longer.  For this reason the best Madeiras are called “Rainwater” Madeiras.  (BTW – Some aged Madeiras are actually comparable in price to fine Cognacs).

Don’t buy cheap madeira.  A bottle of decent madeira will set you back about $40.  You use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup most times you use it so it will last you a long time.  The better madeiras have sugars that have had more time to develop in the fermenting process and these sugars will give the wine the “carmel” flavor that can really transform a dish.

Real rainwater Madeiras have a wonderfully rich flavor.

Here’s an easy recipe for Madeira that really shows off what it’s good for.

Sauteed Asparagus with Madeira

  • 1/2 Brown Onion.  julienned.  (Don’t panic.  This just means sliced in thin long strips)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (from a jar is fine)
  • One bunch of Asparagus.  Cut into 1 inch sections. Florets left intact (not cut) Organic or not is up to you but this is a vegetable that benefits from organic agriculture.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest.  (I have a lemon tree.  You might not.  If you don’t don’t worry about this ingredient.)
  • 1/4 cup Rainwater Madeira
  • 1 tbs butter (IMPORTANT – When I say butter I man butter.  Not some butter substitute.  This dish will feed four people as a side.  You’re eating 1/4 tbs butter. Get over it.)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil (not Extra Virgin) for sauteing.

Heat a large saute (“frying”) pan over medium high heat to reasonably hot.  Add two to three tablespoons of the olive oil and let it come up to temperature (it will do so quickly.  Add the onions and stir or toss to coat with the olive oil.  Reduce the heat to medium and let them sweat until they are soft and slightly browned.  (Brown is flavor…) Add garlic and saute until fragrant.  (Don’t burn the garlic).  Increase heat to medium hot and add the asparagus, reserving the florets (tops) for the first three minutes of cooking.  Stir or toss constantly. Add the florets and stir or toss to coat with the other ingredients and wait one more minute. Add madeira.  It should not flame.  (but it might so be careful – you burn yourself it’s your own darn fault).  When Madiera has reduced by 1/2 add lemon zest.  Let cook for another 30″ and add butter stirring to melt into the sauce.  Reduce heat to very low (the lowest setting on your stove), put the lid on and let steam for no longer than 3 more minutes.  Asparagus should be slightly crisp but tender.  Enjoy.. and thank a Portuguese sailor when you see one.