Beef it Up

Dinner: November 30, 2010

Dinner last night was two days in the making, Craig Claiborne’s “Boeuf Bourguignon I” from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cook Book. Mike did the honors, lovingly prepping slices of bacon and Aquidneck Farm chuck, with bits of carrots, onions, shallots, mushrooms, and garlic, layering them in our Le Creuset, then anointing them with Cognac and rich red Burgundy wine. The whole thing cooked over high heat, then low, then it cooled and sat overnight before Mike brought the pot and its contents back up to temperature while I traveled home from work, also preparing some buttered and parsley-ed egg noodles to serve as a base for the rich stew.

We’ve cooked plenty of versions of this dish, but this was pretty spectacular, the meat coming apart in shreds beneath the tines of our forks, the sauce both light and concentrated. Buy the book, go to page 516, and make this dish, preferably a day before you plan to serve it. You’ll be happy you did.

Worth the Wait

short rib chili

We love a good pot of chili, and our kitchen has turned out dozens of variations over the years. Mike is partial to a meaty, Alton Brown-style version, while I tend to favor a chili with lots of beans and sometimes no meat at all. With the weather turning colder I decided to make chili my next project, and set out on Sunday to come up with a version that would satisfy both of us.

fully loaded

For the meat, I used Aquidneck Farm beef short ribs, boned out, trimmed, and cut into chunks. I made a puree of chiles and spices, added fire-roasted tomatoes and some rich dark beer, and let everything cook low and slow for the better part of the day. I added some crushed tortilla chips for texture and a hint of toasty corn flavor, and a hit of fresh lime juice at the end for brightness and balance. And after my pot of chili had cooked for the better part of the day, I cooled it down and let it sit overnight. We ate it on Monday with a bevy of garnishes, and I have to tell you, it was so worth the wait. You can get my recipe at food52.

Take Comfort

Dinner: November 14, 2010

Things have been quiet in this little corner of the Internet, but there has been plenty of cooking happening in our kitchen. I’ve skewed pretty heavily toward comfort food dinners of late, despite, or perhaps because of, my long workdays and the fact that a stubborn bug I thought I’d conquered has come back with a vengeance. The dishes that appeal to me these days are the culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater, a fleece blanket, a roaring fire sending forth the earthy aroma of woodsmoke, something to force the chill from my bones and warm me to my toes. Braises and stews, creamy starchy sides, our enameled cast iron cookware has gotten a workout.

comfort

I wrote up a spin on Mario Batali’s “cacciatore” ages ago, and with a Pat’s Pastured Poulet Rouge in our fridge, one of many goodies we brought home from Saturday’s Wintertime Farmers’ Market, I decided a do-over was in order. There’s a bit of prep involved at the start, breaking down the bird, browning it in batches, soaking dried mushrooms and sautéing fresh, building layers of flavor in your pot, but once everything is in the oven with its parchment cap in place, you can kick back with a Negroni and enjoy the aromas wafting your way. Served over a creamy parmesan polenta, this is comfort food of the highest order.

You can get my recipe at food52.

At Last

a toast

Well. That was one beautiful day we had yesterday. It was a special day for us personally, as Mike and I looked back at our wedding day three years prior, but we were mostly caught up in the history that was being made. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away.

I had scheduled a few days off this week, both to recharge my batteries and so Mike and I could spend some quality time together, and a big part of that quality time was spent planning and preparing our celebratory dinner. I had received a gift card for Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop from one of my bosses at Christmastime, and last Friday Mike took a trip up to the South End with that card to pick up provisions for our meal. Our original thought was to do a whole roast duck, but when he got to the store, there were none to be had.

confit

They did have confit legs, however, as well as a variety of sausages and other cured meats, so when Mike called to ask if I had any other ideas for our anniversary meal, I suggested cassoulet. After all, we could do much of the work on it ahead of time, which would leave us free to do other things (read: sit glued to MSNBC) while the assembled dish cooked. And it has been far too long since our last cassoulet, so once I suggested it, we were filled with anticipation.

I got things started on Monday, making a big batch of chicken stock and cooking a pound of Rancho Gordo flageolet beans in abundant water, with our last trotter from Bobolink nestled in for good measure. After several hours, the beans and trotter were tender, so I added a bit of salt, let them go for another half hour or so, and let them cool down to store overnight.

On Tuesday, Mike got to work on the meat components, crisping up some bacon, shredding the meat and skin off of the cooked trotter, and searing a thick pork chop from Pat’s Pastured in some of the rendered bacon fat. With the meaty bits set aside, he turned his attention to the cooking liquid and aromatics: one large onion, chopped (one thing that didn’t bring tears to my eyes yesterday) and sauteed in more rendered fat; some chopped garlic, cooked until fragrant; a dab of tomato paste, which he caramelized in a hot spot before stirring into the onion and garlic; a cup of my roasted tomato puree from the freezer; some white vermouth; some of the stock I made on Monday; and finally, a bouquet garni. He added the bony bits from the trotter to the pot and let it all simmer away until it was rich and reduced.

My creation

With beans, meat and flavorful liquid ready to go, we assembled the cassoulet. First, we scattered the crisp bacon and soft bits from the trotter over the bottom of the pan, then we added a layer of beans. The pork chop and confit legs went in next, with more beans spooned all around. We nestled slices of prosciutto sausage in next, finishing with the remaining beans and the cooking liquid, and smooshing everything down so the liquid came up to the top. We let the oven preheat to 350 degrees while I pulsed some stale bits of Seven Stars country bread into fresh breadcrumbs and seasoned them with herbs, which we then scattered over the top of the cassoulet.

crusty

Mike dolloped a bit of duck fat over the top and we set the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for about an hour. We cranked the heat up to 425 for another 20 minutes or so, just to get the top extra brown and crusty, then Mike carefully removed the pot from the oven and let it rest briefly before serving.

Dinner:  January 20, 2009

This was a pretty darned wonderful effort from “Team Us,” I have to say, and plenty romantic with candles and a good red wine added to the mix. Who needs leather when you can have pig skin? (And duck. And sausage. And beans.)

Pigging out

pork neck bones

It’s pretty amazing to me that in a few short years I went from a person who was not a fan of pork (well other than bacon, of course), to someone who has it in fairly heavy rotation. Funnier still is the fact that Mike and I are making a real effort to seek out the “lesser” cuts and incorporate those into our cooking. After all, roasts and chops are great, but there’s a whole lot of pig left after those parts are gone, and if we’re going to choose to eat it, doesn’t it do justice to the animal to use as much as possible?

We still keep tabs on many of our favorite purveyors from our New York days, and when I got an email from Bobolink indicating they had some of their delicious whey-fed pork available, we quickly placed an order. Within days a cooler arrived at our door containing ground pork for the freezer, a bone-in shoulder roast for sausage-making, a pig tail, a bag of bones for stock, and a couple pounds of meaty neck bones.

I addressed the neck bones first, browning them heavily in a bit of rendered fatback (from our local favorite, Pat’s Pastured), pulling the pieces out of the pan briefly, then adding some shallots, carrot, garlic, a bay leaf, a whole dried arbol chile, a blob of tomato paste and a healthy glug of red wine, scraping up all of the “crud” from the bottom of the pan.

I put the meat back in, lidded it up and let the pan go over low heat for a couple of hours. When the meat was falling off of the bones, I pulled them out of the pan, let them cool enough to handle, then shredded the meat off and put it back into the pan. That mixture cooked for another couple of hours, at which point I put a pot of salted water on to boil for pasta, and scooped 2/3 of the porky ragu out to cool, divide in half and freeze for future meals.

Dinner:  September 28, 2008

I added a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley to the remaining ragu in the pan, as well as a ladleful of pasta water, and when my orecchiette was nearly al dente, I tossed it with the sauce, adding a bit more pasta water to loosen it up and finish cooking the pasta. I finished each serving with a little more parsley and, of course, some freshly grated cheese. I’m still kind of tickled that such a rich and luxurious sauce came out of $9 worth of meaty pork bones (and that there are two more meals worth in the freezer).

Mike did the heavy lifting for our next porky dinner, breaking down and grinding up the pork shoulder with more of our Pat’s Pastured fatback (most of which he turned into really spectacular breakfast sausage), and, over the course of two days, making an incredibly delicate pork stock with the remaining bones we had purchased.

I turned the ground pork that he didn’t use for sausage into tiny meatballs seasoned with scallion and finely chopped wood ear mushrooms, and served them in some of that delicious stock, along with somen noodles, carrot, scallion and shredded cabbage – not the sort of thing I usually attempt at home, but the result was so good we’ll definitely do it again.

Fresh Start

I can’t believe it’s September already… Labor Day weekend is behind us, the unofficial end of Summer, and it’s back to school and the old routine for many of us. I’ve always loved this time of year, though, looked forward to new Fall clothes, blank pages in fresh new notebooks, the seemingly endless possibilities ahead.

I’m looking at transition and change in the weeks ahead, riding out the last few days of my current job and starting the new one next week, so to prepare for that, and to preserve as much of Summer’s bounty before it’s gone, I cooked. A lot. Pounds of tomatoes were blanched, peeled, ground into sauce, chopped into salsa, pounds of peppers were roasted over hardwood, charred skins removed, the flesh processed into sauce or silky strips marinated. Beans were trimmed, blanched and frozen, berries too – spread on a sheet pan, frozen and bagged. And then there was the meat.

Our last few trips to Whole Foods saw us stocking up on various cuts of grass-fed beef from American Grass Fed, a good chunk of which we planned to grind ourselves. We processed nearly 3 pounds of chuck through the coarse blade, set about a pound of it aside for burgers, then ground a pound of pastured pork loin (from another source). Finally, we combined the beef and pork, running it through the machine a second time with the fine blade. This was our first go at grinding our own meats, and it was totally worth it, both for the difference in texture and the knowledge of what exactly was in there.

yumburgers

But what to do with all of this ground meat? Well, there were the burgers I mentioned above, served patty melt style with plenty of caramelized onions, local baby Swiss and tasty French Rye from Seven Stars.

I made a huge pot of Bolognese as well, 5 cups in all, combining our beef and pork mixture with a pound of Bobolink‘s ground suckled veal and letting it cook for hours over low heat before cooling it and portioning it out for future meals.

I took the remaining meat mixture and browned it in a pan with plenty of Mike’s chile powder, some ground cumin, a dab of tomato paste and a couple of spoonfuls of fresh tomato puree. I had visions of meaty, cheesy enchiladas swirling in my brain, so I cooked the seasoned meat until it was almost dry, not wanting to leave too much moisture and end up with a soggy dish.

For the enchilada sauce, I whizzed up a couple of reconstituted dried guajillo chiles and a bit of their soaking liquid, a peeled charred fresh poblano, ground chipotle, cumin, and a wee splash of fresh tomato puree in the blender, did the usual dip-and-fry, and stuffed the seasoned meat inside of the tortillas. I had a little bit of meat left, so that got mixed with the remaining chile sauce and slathered on top of the enchiladas. A layer of cheese, then 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven, and dinner was served:

Rich, spicy and comforting, these enchiladas might have been some of my best yet. And while my hands, feet and back are pretty unhappy with me today, all of the time I spent in the kitchen over the long weekend was positively restorative. I’m hanging on to as much of Summer as I can, but looking forward to the changes to come.