Cool Weather Cooking

When the weather turns cool, I like to spend an afternoon in the kitchen.  And with my big range–yes, we know it is bright blue, we think of it as ‘French blue–that puts out a lot of heat when the oven is on, today seemed like the perfect time to use it.  I started with apple cakes that I’ll heat up tomorrow night and serve with ice cream for dessert.  For the main course–I’ll serve it tomorrow but it’s best made a day ahead–I made short ribs with dark beer that braised in the oven for 3 hours. (Click here to read the recipe.)  And then, with all that empty space in there I tackled the great vegetables I got at TJs today.  Quartered gold potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt, wedges of fennel treated the same way, and then a bunch of carrots cooked until brown to add to the short ribs when I heat them up tomorrow.  Last to get roasted were some brussel sprouts pulled directly off the stalk from one I bought at TJs.  More on my favorite ways to cook those lovely baby cabbages this week.  For now, I’m settling into the kitchen with a glass of wine and just enjoy the aroma of beef and beer.

ELECTION DAY MEATBALLS

As I wait for the polls to start closing, I’ve whipped up a batch of meatballs that will be served with tomato sauce on penne (rather than spaghetti which would be hard to deal with sitting in front of the TV.)  It’s my standard recipe with beef, fresh bread crumbs, eggs, Romano, parsley, basil, garlic, s&p.  Two thirds will also get chopped raw onion, while the rest will be without for a diner who doesn’t like onions.  Tomato sauce is really simple, just whole tomatoes, garlic cooked until golden in olive oil and a splash of white wine.  Letting that cool now, will put it through the food mill later to create a smooth sauce.  I usually fry the meatballs, but with two pounds of meat I’m going to try baking at high temp and see how it goes.  Will report back later.  I’m looking forward to a great evening.

FRESH TOMATO PASTA. YES, AGAIN.

Back in August I posted a recipe for Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and More, but I didn’t have any pictures of it.  So I’m correcting that with today’s post.  Yes, we had that same dish again and to be honest I hope we continue to have it at least once a week for the indefinite future.  Of course that all depends on whether TJs continues to carry the heirloom cherry tomatoes that are the heart of the dish–and the one exception I am happy to make when it comes to buying tomatoes out of season.  They’re not what I’d choose for a salad, but in this recipe they bring both a freshness and depth that totally makes the dish.

This is one of my husband’s creations and as you can see he gets the ingredients–(from left to right) tomatoes, proscuitto, oil-cured olives, parsley, garlic–all prepped before before he even pulls out the saute pan.  Try this dish when you have a chance, I’m pretty sure you will love it.

Eggplant Galore

There are lots of interesting eggplants at the Farmers’ Market.  Along with the standard big purple, their are the tiny Japanese ones, some interesting white ones and then these, purple and white and basically round.  I used a couple of them for a dish I get a craving for once in awhile–Hoisin Eggplant.  It starts with slicing the eggplant and brushing with some peanut oil.  If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll cook them on the grill outside, otherwise they get broiled until brown and soft.  Meanwhile, I mix together hoisin sauce, toasted sesame oil, chopped ginger/scallions/garlic (though you can skip these three for a simpler dish) and a good splash of soy sauce.  That gets spooned onto each slice and then they’re left to sit for an hour…if you can wait.  Nice all alone, they’re also great with a bowl of rice and a little extra sauce.

Savory Sandies

 

One of my favorite cookies is a pecan shortbread called “Sandies.”  Buttery and sweet with lots of ground pecans insides, they’re usually covered in confectioner’s sugar–which makes them messy to eat since they’re also crumbly.  Well, yesterday was my monthly Mah Jong game day so on Wednesday I decided to make a munchy that played with the idea of Sandies but made them savory.  Think of it as a gussied up Cheezit.  In a food processor, I put 2 oz of butter, 6 oz. of broken up cheese (I used a mix of Parmigiano, Cheddar, Gruyere and a little Gorgonzola but this is a great recipe for those bits and pieces in the drawer.), a big handful of pecans, about 2/3 cup of flour, 1/3 tsp salt and some cayenne.  If it doesn’t come together add milk/cream by the tablespoon.  Then roll into log, let chill at least an hour (overnight is great) and cut into coins.  Bake on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (they will only spread a little) in a 375 oven until golden — about 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt and let cool.  Crispy, cheesy, salty–what could be bad about that?

RAINY DAY COOKING.

I absolutely love rain.  A torrential summer shower filled with thunder and lightening, especially if you can be sitting somewhere under a tin roof, is exhilarating.  A steady rain that gives the autumn garden a well-needed soaking is always appreciated.  But my true favorite is a cool weekend with at least a drizzle where you have nowhere to go and nothing to do, so I can hang around in leggings and a sweater, perusing cookbooks for inspiration.  Of course, supplies will be needed, but I’m lucky to have a husband who likes to head out to the store in almost any weather (heavy snow, no so much, but we’ve left that behind) so that’s not an obstacle.

My favorite dishes are braised meats, complicated pasta sauces and variations on minestrone.  What they all require is lots of chopping, slicing and dicing which gives me the chance to bring out my huge cutting board and get everything ready at once.  Along side the board is a big stainless steel bowl that holds all the bits that will end up being tossed out–meat wrappers, carrot peels, vegetables trimmings.

I see it will be coolish for the next few days so I’m planning a big pot of minestrone, flavored with the Parmigiano Reggiano rind stock that I made last week.  More on that this week

TOO MUCH BUTTERNUT SQUASH

If I had to pick the best color for food, I think it would be this sunny golden orange–the exact color of the inside of a butternut squash.  (It would also be a great color for a sweater, a scarf, a kitchen.) I really like butternut squash when it is made into ravioli–and here’s where the “too much” comes in.  They have a great price on them at TJs right now, and since they’re selling them by the each, not weight, I went for the biggest one.  I cut it in half, removed the seeds and then baked it, giving me lots of luscious meat.  And therein lies the rub.

Once you mix the squash with a container of ricotta, some Parmigiano, sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper, you have a hell of a lot of filling–and each ravioli only holds a spoonful.  Now if I’d had good sense, I would have made them all at once and frozen them. (Though the ones I did make and cook were phenomenally good with a Gorgonzola cream sauce and a sprinkle of pistachios.) But no, I took some of the extra and incorporated it into zucchini muffins–which came out as heavy as hockey pucks but I keep telling myself they’re healthy.

But there was still more left, so yesterday I made another batch of ravioli, now waiting in the freezer. But there was still filling left, so I partially cooked 8 big pasta shells, stuffed them with THE LAST of the filling and froze those too.  My plan is to arrange them tightly in a single layer in a baking dish and then cover with cream and bake.  We shall see.

THE SHORT RIBS WERE AMAZING.

I really felt like cooking yesterday and it was cool enough to have the oven on all afternoon so I decided to braise the short ribs in the oven. (I usually do them on top of the stove but have to stir frequently to keep the bottom from burning–the oven solves that.) There were a lot of items to get prepped so I pulled out my big cutting board and laid out the ingredients:

Top right are the ingredients for the mirepoix. In the center, sage, thyme and rosemary sprigs from the garden.  The 3 big onions will get caramelized, and the big carrots will get prepped and added later.  The meat, about 2 pounds of grass-fed shortribs, will need to be cleaned of the silverskin you can see on the one top left.

And here are all the ingredients after they have been prepped. I love this part of a complicated recipe.  I like peeling, slicing, chopping–I find it soothing.  (Not in the picture is a big stainless steel bowl–$2 at Job Lots–that acts as what the chef Anne Burrell calls her “thank you for coming” bowl.  Everything for the trash gets stashed there until the work is done.)  I used 6 cloves of the garlic, tied the herbs into a bundle for easy removal later, and you can see the meat top left no longer has silverskin (they all had it and it took a couple minutes with a sharp knife to trim it off because that will only get tough and it’s not something you want to serve.)

With all this work done, the rest was easy–just time consuming.  First, the meat was salt and peppered and then browned heavily in bacon fat. (I forgot to show the 3 strips of bacon I diced and fried, leaving the fat in the pan and adding them back in later.)  Then the sliced onions were fried, adding water to keep them from burning, until they were golden.  Last, the diced onion, celery, carrot were lightly browned, and then the chopped garlic was added.  Added a large bottle of dark beer, stirred everything up and added the meat.  Baked in 350 oven for 2 hours covered–that aroma filling the house on a grey rainy day was a great bonus–added the carrots and turned it down to 300 for two hours more (last half hour with lid off) and it was done. One tsp cornstarch mixed with a quarter cup of water was added once it was out of the oven, giving the sauce a great smoothness and body.  Served on mashed potatoes, it was fork-tender, deep, dark and rich–heavenly.

IT’S A COOL AND RAINY DAY SO I’M MAKING SHORT RIBS

Woke up to a dark sky and a forecast of rain.  Although the clouds and sun are doing a tango, I’m pretending it’s a cool fall day–and it just started raining so now it’s a cool, rainy day, WHOOPEE–a great time to make something rich and hearty that needs to simmer on the stove all afternoon.  We’ll enjoy it while watching the VP debate.  Two guys duking it out seems to be the appropriate venue for braised beef short ribs.  And these are real beauties.  Grass-fed from Uruguay (got them at Jimbo’s) they have a strong, deep flavor that gets even better when well browned and then braised with caramelized onions and a mirepoix of celery, carrots, more onions and a good amount of garlic.  The liquid will be a big bottle of beer–Mission St. Dark Brown Ale.

I also had a nice talk about food with two women working at Trader Joe’s and hope they have a chance to stop by and say hi here at the blog.  I’m going to shoot the process of making these short ribs and it’ll go up tomorrow.  See you all then.

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