Monday, November 21, 2011

SHORT RIBS; or, Heading Into Winter in a Big Hurry, Slowly

Short Ribs; or, Heading Into Winter in a Big Way, Slowly

Are short ribs the answer to the pre-winter blahs? Well, on a deeply economic, sociologic and psychic level perhaps not. But cooking and subsequently consuming a batch of short ribs certainly can be good for what ails you. It can warm your kitchen and your belly and your heart, and it can give you a little of that free time that you need to read or go for a walk while it is in one of its long developmental processes.

This recipe is all about braising and I love to braise. I am a braising fool. I braise beef, lamb, pork and even chicken and duck. I am smitten by the way tough cuts of meat are rendered mouth wateringly tender by a long oven bath in herbs and wine and vegetables.

Short ribs represent to me the pinnacle of braising and braising is all about steps, or processes, if you will. The rewards, that culinary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, is, to me worth the steps. But I tend to like the steps along the way as well. I cook for a living yes, and it helps me to just barely pay my bills, but I also cook because the process makes me feel good. The acts of food preparation beginning with the procurement, through the chopping and searing and all the way up to forking that first bite into my mouth are all part of the reward I get when I cook.

Short ribs are cut from the rib and plate primals and from one end of the chuck so tender all on their own, they ain't. Short ribs are generally cut into either English or "Flanken" cuts which involve the fatty but meaty heavy end of the ribs being cut into 1 1/2-2" sections. There is also a Korean cut of short ribs, but it involves the ribs being cut into long ribbons of meat and bone and isn't what we're talking about here. Short ribs are held together by intercostal muscles and a lot of tendon and what that means to us, the cooks, is that they will need to be cooked for a long time to break down all that connective tissue and render the meat what we know as "fallin' off the bone tender".

Braising is essentially two cooking methods in one; dry and wet heat are both used. First the meat involved is browned in a pan to provide that caramelization both on the meat and in the pan that provides a strong burst of flavor. Secondly the meat is entirely, or partially, covered in a rich liquid and cooked slowly in the oven so as to break down those collagen holding connective tissues and turn them into a deeply flavored gelatinous sauce.

Okay, enough science talk; let's cook. Well, no, first let's shop. I look for short ribs that are cut about an inch and a half and are not too overly fatty (this is sometimes just not possible). If you need to go to the butcher to order them a day in advance, remember, this is all just part of the process. It used to be, perhaps 20 years ago, that short ribs were something the butcher would beg you to take off his hands, but, as with all cuts of meat "rediscovered" by the foodie revolution this is no longer so. I just paid $2.99/# for some short ribs I thought were pretty nicely cut and trimmed, so you might want to use that as a bench mark (or not).

Something to note as well, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, before beginning, is that this is not a recipe for a dish you are going to eat the first day it comes out of the oven, and if I had my way, you would not even eat it on the second day. Short ribs will taste their best after 48 hours of refrigeration have allowed them to "settle in" to their sauce, open up a bit, and absorb the cooking liquid.

Braised Short Ribs ala Chef of the Jungle

3# Beef Short Ribs, cut 1 1/2" (two good pieces per person will suffice)
1 Bottle Red Wine (as good as you feel comfortable cooking with)
1 Onion, cut in medium dice
1 Medium Carrot, cut in 1/2" dice
1 Parsnip, cut in 1/2" dice
1 Turnip, cut in 1/2" dice
6 Cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped fine
3 Bay Leaves
4-6 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
2 Oz. Cooking oil
2 Cups of Chef of the Jungle Roasted Tomatoes (see other posts), or, 1 14 Oz. can of chopped tomato product
1 Qt. (this may be excessive) of Homemade Stock or, broth from a box

The first thing I do is season the short ribs with a good hit of sea salt and black pepper and then I sear them. There are two way to go about this searing process (yes, another process); the first is to sear them on the stove top in a heavy dutch oven or whatever vessel you plan to do your braising in. This works nicely, although I am not a big fan of the splattering grease involved. The second method, and the one I prefer, is to heat the oven to 400 degrees or so and put the short ribs in for about 35-40 minutes or so. You may want to turn them once.

There are two things you are hoping to accomplish by doing this. The first is that you want to render away some of the fat that coats the outside of your ribs. There can be a lot of fat. The second (and to me, more important) thing you're trying to accomplish is to get the ribs to brown and stick to the pan. That stuff that sticks to the pan (the French call this the "fond") is the source of a tremendous amount of flavor.

And now we are going to deglaze; ready? You will need red wine. When your ribs have gotten a nice brown color and they are sticking to the bottom of the pan, remove it from the oven, move the ribs to a plate, pour off the fat and put the pan on a lit burner. When the pan begins to sizzle and pop pour in about a cup of red wine and start scraping. Reduce and scrape for about 30 seconds or so until you have gotten all the good bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour your "fond" off into a cup or bowl.

Wipe the cooking pan clean (relatively speaking) with a towel and heat the cooking oil up in the pan. When it is hot, add all the vegetables (with the exception of the tomatoes) and let them saute. Go ahead and stir them around a little, but you want them to stick to the pan a bit; vegetables have flavor, too, you know. When the vegetables are starting to brown add the second half of the red wine and stir up whatever has stuck to the cooking pan. Let the wine reduce by half and add the tomatoes, your prized "fond" from the meat deglazing, and the herbs. Stir to mix, then return the short ribs to the pan, nestling them down into the vegetables. Add 2-3 cups of the stock, or enough to nearly cover, but not quite cover, the ribs.

Return the whole pot, uncovered, to the oven and adjust the heat to 35o. And now, get out of here. Got take a walk, read, make love, do something that will take your mind off the masterpiece that is beginning to form in your oven. In an hour come back and take a look. The tops of the ribs should be browning, so turn them over to get more of that brown flavor into the sauce and return the pan to the oven for another hour and a half. If the liquid has reduced to the point where over an inch of the ribs are showing, add a bit more stock. And remember, relax, this is a process, I told you that.

After two and a half hours, take the pan from the oven, put it on a cooling rack or a trivet and let it come to room temperature. When it has cooled down sufficiently, cover it and put it in the refrigerator and just walk away. The next day, when you take a look, all the fat will have hardened into a reddish (this is from the tomatoes) layer over the top of the pan and you will be able to remove it and dispose of it quite easily with your fingers, or, if you're just that way, a spoon.

Now at this point you can reheat the short ribs (very very slowly, please) and serve them and their amazingly rich sauce over buttered noodles (Chef of the Jungle's favorite), risotto, polenta, or any of the mashed root vegetables, solo or mixed (I am particularly fond of celery root and yukon golds). It will be wonderful, ethereal, comforting and just the very thing for a chilly evening. BUT, and I tell you this in all sincerity and seriousness, if you can wait another day, it will be SO much better. Really, trust me on this. It's all about the process.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Enchiladas Verde

This week I followed up the roast chicken from my previous blog by picking the carcass and turning he leftovers into Enchiladas Verde. Verde is, of course, Spanish for green and the green for the enchiladas refers to the sauce and the sauce comes from tomatillos. Tomatillos, oddly, are not at all related to tomatoes, but are, rather, in the gooseberry family as their little husks may indicate. And, as luck and seasonality will have it, this is harvest time, at least in this area, for tomatillos.

The tomatillo has a bright, slightly acidic flavor and is a wonderful foil for the richness of the melted cheese, sour cream, avocado and all the things that make enchiladas a wonderful and perfect winter meal. And while I made these particular enchiladas with chicken as the main part of the filling, I absolutely LOVE this sauce with Dungeness crab enchiladas, a seasonal treat in my family for years.

My friend Lynda Lee Wieland, who used to pick me up hitchhiking in Costa Rica while she was VERY pregnant has been kind enough to ask for this recipe. So, Lynda, here we go.


For The Sauce
12-15 Ripe Tomatillos
1 Jalapeno Chile
1 White Onion
3 Cloves peeled Garlic
1 Anaheim or Poblano Chile (optional)
1/2 bunch cilantro

Husk the tomatillos, and rough chop the other vegetables. Cover all of them with water (except the cilantro) and bring to a low boil. Cook for about ten minutes or until the tomatillos are tender. Using a slotted spoon transfer the cooked vegetables to a blender, add the cilantro, and pulse (careful, this is hot) until you have a smooth sauce. Save the cooking liquid in case the sauce seems too thick. Pour 1/4 of the sauce into a baking dish or casserole large enough to hold 12 enchiladas

For The Filling

2 Cups Cooked Chicken
1 Large White Onion, cut in strips or half moons
2 Large Anaheim Chiles cut in strips
1 Poblano (Ancho) Chile cut in strips
1 Oz. Canola oil
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Bunch of Cilantro, rough chopped
2 Ripe Avocados, cut in strips
1# + 1/2# Grated Monterey Jack Cheese
4 Oz. Softened Goat Cheese (this is my secret ingredient and is, of course, optional)
12 Corn Tortillas

Preheat your oven to 350.
Heat a skillet with the oil and saute the onions and chile strips until just soft. Add the cooked chicken and toss to mix. Pour in the chicken broth and allow to come to a simmer. Heat the chicken and vegetables just through and add the cilantro.
Heat a second heavy skillet and heat on tortilla on both sides until it softens. Put in two tablespoons of the chicken filling, a sprinkling of grated jack cheese, a little dollop of the goat cheese and two avocado slices. Carefully roll the tortilla around the fillings and place it in the casserole. Do this with the remaining tortillas and filling taking care to make sure you have just enough of everything left at the end. Pour the remainder of the Salsa Verde over the rolled enchiladas and top with the second part of the grated jack cheese.
Bake the enchiladas for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil. Remove the foil and bake for another ten minutes. Serve carefully and with love, topped with sour cream and more avocado.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brussels Sprouts; Somebody Likes 'Em

The other day I stopped in at one of our local farmstand markets and there on a long low table were giant wands of green; full stalks of brussels sprouts in their natural state. And I, of course, had to buy one, a nice full one, nearly three feet long, with sprouts both small and large.

Brussels sprouts are one of those classic things you either love or hate. There is very little middle ground when it comes to them. And the faces people make to express their dislike for these cute little round members of the brassica family are among the classics in the annals of food dislike.

I happen to like brussels sprouts, but it wasn't always so. In my household when I was a child, they were, like most vegetables of the 50's, cooked into a grayish mush that guaranteed that no child alive could or would like them. I am sad to say that in this particular era in food history my mother took similar approaches with zucchini, asparagus and anything else green from the garden. Fortunately her tact changed as he children grew.

Recently I have cooked brussels sprouts two different ways that were well loved in our household and not just because the both involved the contribution of bacon or pancetta, although it never hurts, does it? These are both incredibly simple recipes. The first involves shredding the sprouts as if one were making mini-cole slaw out of mini-cabbages and sauteing them; the second just calls for them to be halved, but then roasted. Try either of them with pork or chicken on a chilly Fall evening.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

2o Brussels Sprouts; halved and then sliced thinly
3 oz. Pancetta; diced fine
1 oz. olive oil
S&P to taste (but I like a lot of black pepper on my brussles sprouts)
Water or chicken stock

Heat a heavy saute pan over the flame and add the olive oil and pancetta. Cook until the pancetta begins to crisp slightly and throws a bit of oil. Add the shredded sprouts and toss with the liquid in the pan until they begin to wilt slightly. Add about two ounces of water of stock to the sprouts and toss again. Cook for a minute or two until the liquid is nearly absorbed and serve.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

20 Brussels Sprouts, halved
2 Thick slices of smoked bacon cut into 1/2" pieces
S&P to taste
Water or chicken stock

Pre-heat the oven to 400 while you are halving the sprouts. Put the cut bacon into an oven proof saute pan and add the sprouts. Cook in the oven until the bacon begins to render, then toss to mix. Return to the oven and cook until the bacon is almost cooked through. Add an ounce or two of water or stock, toss and return to the oven for another three or four minutes.
The sprouts will have lost a bit of color, but are, at this point, ready.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Roast Chicken Redux

The last time I wrote about Roast Chicken and the very act of roasting a chicken, the circumstances were significantly different. I was living in a house at the edge of, or perhaps right in, the jungle on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The weather was tropically gorgeous; and the doors (doors? We had doors?) and windows were all open so that the sounds of the birds and the noises from the early evening habitues of the jungle were a soundtrack for the browning of the bird. I was wearing shorts, perhaps a light, and if so, unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, and I was definitely, very definitely barefoot.

I wrote about the gently meditative quality that roasting a chicken offers to one's existence, even in a nearly equatorial environment. The simple act of seasoning the bird, placing into the hot oven and then drifting away into a book and some jazz was as close to cooking serenely as I could possibly imagine. The rich and comfortingly familiar smells of roasting chicken, coupled with the gentle sounds of a jungle evening were, at that time, the very definition of comfort.

This afternoon, one in which the sun is already so far gone it feels like evening, I am preparing another bird for roasting. But this is Oregon. And more specifically, Fall on the Eastern side of the Willamette Valley; right up against the slopes of the Cascades. The temperature is in the low 40's and the birds have all hit the skies for the south. The colors of the trees, at least the ones that are still in possession of their leaves, are golden, scarlet and rust made all the more striking by being set against the dark green of the firs.

In Costa Rica, I kept the accompaniments simple, not really much in the Roast Chicken canon goes with the tropical weather, and in truth, a good deal of the chicken ended up served over a neighbor's lovely creekside grown watercress. Here, I've got the weather on my side to create the full-on roast chicken experience. I've got a stalk of locally grown brussels sprouts and smoked bacon. I've got fat golden potatoes and pungent heads of garlic from our own gardens. And best of all, I've got a supply of rich chicken stock for the gravy that should so rightfully come from the pan once the chicken has vacated it.

I still have the jazz, oozing and snaking from the speakers, but this time the music wafts up into the smell of the smoke from our wood burning stove (not to mention the early scents from the chicken arising from the oven). The fading light from the jungles has been replaced by a wonderful steam on the windows and rather than easing into a cooling jungle evening, we are cozy and warm here in our wooded house on a cold Fall night. Best of all, I am not alone for this roast chicken, and it is SO much better to have someone with whom to share such a simple but basic realization of pleasure and yes, comfort.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TASTING; Or, How We Sell From the Kitchen

One of the interesting (to me, anyway) and occasionally entertaining things I do in my job as Chef of a catering company, is present tasting meals/plates to prospective clients. Recently I've had the occasion to present two of these meals, which in many ways, demonstrated the differences in the way these mini-events can go.

Over the last several months in my new-ish position, I have written numerous menus representing the different seasons, different price points, different styles and blends of all three. Generally our prospective client will take a look at these menus and make some choices that appeal to them. Or, they will say, "We want a simple menu that is going to appeal to everyone, including Uncle Ralph, Aunt Maxine, and all the scampering children". There are also times that they will have some very strong ideas of their own about what they want for their blessed event. We, being caterers (and wanting their business), will, of course, bend over backwards to accommodate their needs.

Last Friday we did a tasting for the parents of a Salem woman who had just flown in from Chicago (where, incidentally, it was warmer than it was in Salem). We encountered some interesting problems in feeding them their "tastes", in that they were in the middle of a feeding frenzy that had begun over in the Willamette wine country town of Dundee for lunch and was going to carry on into dinner. Our tasting with them fell somewhere in the middle of "full" and "overload".

Additionally I was faced with the interesting task of presenting a tasting of summer foods for what would be a summer wedding in the middle of a late Fall afternoon when it was 38 degrees in downtown Salem. Our guests wanted to taste a grill-smoked salmon in a summery sauce of roasted red peppers and sweet grilled corn; gnocchi (?) in that summer style "Caprese", with heirloom tomatoes, garden fresh basil and mozzarella; and, oh yes, a "Classic Ratatouille" of summer vegetables.

Through the miracle of West Coast markets, clever freezing a few months ago and my "find" of a farm stand that had the last of their heirloom tomatoes still hanging around, I was able to put out two plates, one for either parent, of the three items requested. But they would be going to dinner in just over an hour, and had eaten lunch late. They choked down a few bites, decided it would be all right for their daughter's wedding and asked a lot of questions about how the meal would be delivered, whether or not it would be cooked on site and how it would be served. But they did agree on the menu.

My second tasting was two days later with a "plate" time of noon on a rainy Sunday morning. It was chilly once again, and wet as well, but this menu was one that fit perfectly into the season. I would roast filets of local fresh salmon and serve it with a Pommery (grainy) mustard beurre blanc, to be served with local wild rice. There would be a bacon wrapped roast chicken breast served with a wild mushroom cream sauce. And lastly, Pinot Noir braised short-ribs. The second and third entrees would both be served with a celery root-yukon gold puree. This was food after my own heart which worked out perfectly, as this was a menu I had written.

I soaked the wild rice the evening in advance so that it would be ready to cook when I arrived in the morning and decided, since wild rice is a little daunting (not to mention one dimensional) on its own, to serve it half and half with barley. I love the combination of the grass and the grain. I also browned and braised the short-ribs with the wine, onions, lots of garlic, carrots and parsnips the night before. They would be so much better after having rested in their braising liquid overnight.

I had picked up some beautiful and huge chanterelles from a forager in Silverton, the town nearest where I live, and the first thing I did when I arrived Sunday morning was to cut them in thick slices and saute them slowly with a big chunk of butter. I cut a couple of branches of fresh thyme from one of our herb pots and added them to the saute pan; thyme throws in a nice subtle flavor in combination with the chanterelles.

Next I peeled two gnarly knobs of celery root and a couple of yukon gold potatoes. I cut them into 2 inch cubes, put them in salted water and quickly brought them to a boil. It occurred to me that I probably would need a bain marie to hold the puree, the rice/barley mix and the sauces until my tasters arrived, so I boiled water and poured it into a 4" hotel pan. While this was heating I put the pan of short ribs in their sauce into the oven to bring up to heat slowly. They already had that "fallin' off the bone" look to them.

I seared off the chicken breasts and wrapped them with partially cooked bacon strips and I cut the salmon into five ounce filets. By this time the potatoes and celery root had become tender so I mashed them with butter and added some cream and a pinch of salt. I love the flavor of this puree and I equally love how easily it comes together. I scooped the puree into a small stainless insert pan and placed it into the bain marie with a bit of clear wrap over the top to keep it moist.

I started the beurre blanc by reducing a cup of sauvignon blanc along with a splash of apple cider vinegar and a drop or two of sherry vinegar. Normally I would use a vinegar with a bit less character, but since I was going to flavoring the sauce with the Pommery mustard, I wanted it to have enough body to carry the flavors through.

Once the wine had reduced to practically nothing I added a dash of heavy cream and reduced that to the bottom of the pan before adding the chilled butter, a couple of chunks at a time. I stirred in a couple of teaspoons of the mustard, checked the flavor and added the sauce to a container in the bain marie.

Our guests were due to arrive at noon so at 11:45 the chicken and the salmon joined the short ribs in the oven. I got out three of our square white plates (the better to show the colors of the food) and laid them out. The call came down that only the woman guest would be joining us. It turned out that her boyfriend/fiance was working nearly 24 hours a day during the grape harvest and had chosen to sleep in rather than eat. Understandable.

I plated the food, angling the salmon up onto the wild rice/barley mix with a spoonful of the beurre blanc over it; dolloped the puree on two of the plates and then arranged the chicken with it's fat slices of chanterelle and the short ribs and the chunks of vegetable on top of the yellowish puree. Scott, my boss's husband was watching me with his eyes wide open and I said, "Just like food porn" to him as I took pictures of the arranged plates and he could only nod.

I arranged the plates on the table in front of our client and loved her reaction to the way the food looked (and smelled). "My fiance is going to be SO sorry he missed this" were the first words out of her mouth. I did my brief spiel and went back downstairs to clean up. It turned out the second words out of her mouth (after she had taken two bites of the salmon) were, "Where do I sign?" And that's the way it's supposed to work.

Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.