Italian Sunday

Update (1/22/11): This short rib ragu won Food52‘s contest for Your Best Short Ribs, and will be included in their next cookbook, out later this year!

Maybe it’s the tomato tooth I was born with instead of a sweet tooth, maybe it’s the towering heels I rock when my old bones let me, or maybe it’s only that Marcello Mastroianni was perfection on two legs, but I’ve always wanted to be Italian, just a little bit.


Exhibit A: Photographic evidence of alleged perfection, minus corroborating proof of two legs.

It isn’t that I don’t love a good bowl of shrimp & grits or that I don’t get a nostalgic glow from a breakfast of couche-couche and cane syrup, but polenta has been my go-to corn base of late. And after a long work week, what could be a more welcome sight or more soul-satisfying over cheesy, buttery polenta than a ragu of braised short ribs, I ask you?

It’s a dish that’s nearly impossible to mess up, which I think we all can appreciate in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. With so much else on the mind, it’s nice to throw something into the oven for a few hours and get on with other things. Of course, the initial prep work takes some time — chopping the vegetables, trimming and searing the beef, getting all of the elements in balance before the extended stay in the oven — but your time and patience will be well-rewarded by the outcome.

If you can manage not to devour it right away, let the ribs sit overnight in the refrigerator. This serves two purposes: as we all know, this type of dish is always better on the second day, and you’ll be able to remove some of the ungodly amount of fat the ribs throw off so much easier than if you only skimmed the surface while it was still hot. Of course, chilling the ragu overnight doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little quality control while it’s still hot, just to put your mind at ease that you have, in fact, made something that will be worth the wait.

Too bad I didn't make more.

But woman cannot live by polenta and short ribs alone. As a nod to the tables of so many of my fellow North Jerseyans, I made a Sunday gravy recently. It’s not something I tackle more than once a year because of the sheer effort and number of calories involved, but man, this makes for a pleasant food coma. I make no claims to authenticity, but I’m not sure too many others can either; it’s one of those dishes that seems to have as many variations as people who make it. The recipes may disagree on specifics, but all are unified in the insistence on Meat And Lots Of It. Me? I only used a paltry four types — pepperoni (not too much of it), sweet Italian sausage, pork butt and beef & pork meatballs. I browned everything but the pepperoni, then simmered it all for hours in tomatoes swimming with garlic until we were going mad (in the best possible way) from the smell.

not perfected yet

My gluten-free adaptation of this polenta cake didn’t quite pass muster, but with a little creme fraiche, it was still a nice way to end the meal. I’ll keep working on it and report back when I’ve found success.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Italian Sunday”

From the Market: Week 5

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Right off the bat, I’ll admit that yes, I cheated a little here. Asparagus hasn’t been seen at the Ringwood Farmers’ Market for the past two weeks, but 1) I had a craving and 2) didn’t it make for a pretty — if slightly pornographic — shot?

Because I operate under the assumption that pretty much everything is better when topped with a fried or poached egg (especially the super-fresh ones we get from Nina), I went with a variation on a shaved asparagus salad from the pages of Food & Wine for Sunday’s lunch:

The ricotta salata I substituted for the Parmesan was creamy and subtle, but I think I’ll try the recipe as written next time for even more of a punch.

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Because I eat yogurt with fruit every weekday for breakfast, I like to change things up a little on weekends, so we had gluten-free pancakes before hitting the market Saturday morning. I’m still playing around with flour combinations for breads and pie crust, but this pancake recipe was perfect as written. (By the way, I have no plans to turn this into a blog about dietary restrictions, but if you’re looking into a gluten-free diet, I highly recommend the Gluten-Free Girl blog. It’s an amazing resource.)

But back to the pancakes. I cooked them in only about 1/2 teaspoon of butter each, but they were so rich-tasting and slightly sweet on their own that they only needed a dollop of the raspberry jam I picked up recently from B&B Jams to put them over the top.

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I didn’t really load up on fresh vegetables this weekend because I went overboard last week and still had quite a bit hanging around in my vegetable drawers. I’ve been on a leftover kick all week long, but only yesterday did I finally get around to using up the last bit of the smoked beef tongue (courtesy of Snoep Winkel Farm) I made last weekend. Of course, on that first day, we had it in tacos as we always do, but during the week it made appearances sliced on crackers with Dijon mustard or just nibbled out of hand straight from the cutting board.

But my plan for Saturday’s lunch included my latest favorite way to use leftover bits of meat and vegetables: Vietnamese bun, a refreshing salad served with cold rice noodles, and the perfect thing on a hot summer day.

This was made entirely with odds and ends from the refrigerator: Tatsoi, cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, radishes, green onions, basil and cilantro, all tossed with a sweet-sour-salty-spicy dressing, funky with fish sauce and garlic. And hit with a lot of Sriracha, naturally. I’ve found that if you get the sauce right (I used the one from this Vietnamese Chicken Salad), the rest of the salad just falls into place.

It’s been a migraine-y day for me, so I have nothing more to offer at the moment, but I’m hoping to get around to an apricot & goat’s milk frozen yogurt sometime this week. Hope you have a great one!

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “From the Market: Week 5”

Better late than never

I’m a week behind, so let’s hear it for Halloween pictures! We should celebrate with leftover candy (assuming it’s lasted this long).

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Rufus begged to wear his Halloween costume to the last farmers’ market of the season. How could we refuse? All I cared about was getting a few veggies and a nice chuck roast for beef bourguignon. As you can see, we both left happy.

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I combined the classic recipe from Julia Child with a couple of Anthony Bourdain’s modifications and tweaked a bit more based on ingredients we had at hand. To say this was the best beef stew I’ve had would be an understatement; I’m sure it was the overdose of demi-glace that did it, but that doesn’t demystify things at all.

recipe and more Ru pics after the jump

Continue reading “Better late than never”

Redo weekend

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Sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit old favorites. I’ve been really blah with overtones of meh lately about pretty much everything including preparing meals. Like Milli Vanilli, I’ll blame it on the rain, but that doesn’t make the prospect of cooking any more exciting. So what’s a girl to do when her hair is permanently frizzy, she hasn’t seen the sun in days and can’t be bothered to update her cooking blog? Declare a Redo Weekend!

The day started with an update to the cornmeal blueberry pancakes I first tried last summer. With so many gorgeous berries at the market right now, it seemed a shame to limit the pancakes to blueberries, so I halved the batch and did a strawberry version as well. Couldn’t decide which I liked more, so I just alternated them on the plate and doused the stack with maple syrup.

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Cut to two hours later.

After waking from my sugar coma, I got to work on another old favorite: tongue tacos and refried beans. Mmmmm-hmmmm. I’d picked up a three-pound behemoth at the Snoep Winkle Farm booth a week earlier and it had been weighing heavily on my mind. I tweaked the old recipe pretty heavily, doubling the beer in the braising liquid and adding hefty amounts of toasted cumin and coriander seeds.

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After braising, I set the tongue aside to cool. Then came the peeling, which didn’t skeeve me out nearly as much this time around.

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It still wasn’t pleasant, mind you, but my toes didn’t curl at all. PROGRESS!

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While my hands were still covered in tongue juices (am I not the most enchanting creature ever?), I shredded the meat before cooking it down a second time with onions, additional spices and even more beer.

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The tongue tasted heavily of beef as you’d expect, but turned silky and tender in a way no other cut can. We had the tacos with and without salsa because, again, it was too hard to decide which way was better.

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No picture of the refried beans because I’m just not that good of a photographer, but they were creamy and delicious. I used borlotti beans (an odd choice, I’ll admit) from Rancho Gordo cooked in the usual way — onions, garlic, cumin, beer, beef broth, salt & pepper — until they were soft, then fried them with some bacon fat and onion, mashing them down as they simmered. It might be too soon for another Redo Weekend, but I’m really tempted to do this again for the 4th.

Inspiration has been peeking around the corners for me this week, so I hope to have something new for you soon. But in the meantime, enjoy the weekend and try a redo if you need to.

Food, glorious food

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The Ringwood Farmers’ Market has opened for the season, and I rejoice. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to restrain myself and only had to make two trips back to the car during shopping on opening weekend. It’s so wonderful to have gorgeous produce at my disposal again; it was an obscenely long winter.

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I’ve been cooking (mostly grilling) quite a bit, just not posting here. Over Memorial Day, we were housebound with our boy (who is doing very well these days — for the lot of updates, visit Gil at VM), so cooking outdoors was a way to alleviate boredom and still feel like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. From the bottom of the image: grilled porterhouse steak with red chimichurri sauce (which is possibly the most delicious thing I’ve put in my mouth in a long time), grilled sardines, and fiddlehead ferns and asparagus sautéed in a white wine and Dijon sauce. I loved the way the strong flavors all collided with each other, but don’t think I’ll be doing the sardines again. I don’t recall them being so very bony when I’ve had them in the past; was it just that the fishmonger didn’t clean them well enough or is it always the case?

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Porterhouse is a LOT of meat, so we had tacos with our very generous leftovers. Nothing fancy, just leftover steak and fish, romaine lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and more of that divine chimichurri. (Recipe will follow, just as soon as Gourmet gets around to posting it online.)

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’tis the season for morel mushrooms. Here, we had asparagus, shallots and morels sautéed in butter and hit with a touch of half and half. Most exciting about this omelette, though, is the fact that I tried Julia Child’s method of basically manhandling the eggs and it really worked for me!

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And because no Memorial Day weekend would be complete without a load of berries, we had raspberry, blueberry and rhubarb cobbler for dessert.

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Our friends Ian and Jess paid us a visit a couple of weekends ago. Luckily for us, Jess is a spectacular baker and thoughtful friend who brought plenty of treats to keep us happy over the weekend. Here you see my new favorite cake — banana chiffon (did you know such a thing was possible?) — topped with Greek yogurt and more of those juicysweet strawberries. (No picture of the rocky road brownies or chocolate biscotti, sorry. But I can vouch for them.)

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I also didn’t take pictures of the kofta kebabs we had for lunch Saturday because I took pictures last time and it’s so not an appetizing-looking dish. No need to put myself (or you) through it again. Of course, this photo of grilled hanger steak, asparagus and oven fries won’t be featured in a retrospective anytime soon, but boy, were they good.

Your obligatory Rufus photo:

sweet dreams

Anything I call this post will sound gross

I don’t think I’m being especially controversial by saying our food preferences are largely culturally-influenced. My dad traveled to China on business quite a bit during his career, and came back with stories of food that often sounded delicious, but also occasionally made my toes curl. Being raised on alligator (usually dry, stringy and flavorless), frog legs (pretty darned good, if a little tough), and boudin (head cheese and rice stuffed into a sausage casing, and slap-yo-mama-good), I’ve had my share of strange looks when talking about meals that aren’t so popular outside of Louisiana. Yet the very same people who introduced me to those foods somehow make the poo-face at tongue, a meat popular at both hole-in-the-wall taquerias and Jewish delis in this part of the country.

Boggles the mind.


OK, maybe not so mind-boggling when I put it that way. Check out the underside.

But the gross-out factor aside, tongue is damned good eating — rich, moist, tender, and so, so flavorful. I realize I tend to wax rhapsodic about certain things, but I fell in love with this cut of meat probably 20 years ago and that’s a long time to go without shouting it from the mountaintop. Those were the years before Food Network, so I was still in my PBS cooking show phase; one of the many programs in the rotation was The Frugal Gourmet. Not my favorite by a long shot, I watched mostly to see how badly Jeff Smith would treat his poor assistant, Craig; I found it fascinating that someone so prickly could’ve been both a minister and a successful TV host. And it was on one of his shows that I was introduced to the wonders of the tongue taco. If you remember his enthusiastic proclamations at all, you’ll understand why I sought it out at the earliest opportunity — at Taqueria Corona in New Orleans. Those tacos never disappointed, and I even managed to turn on a few of my more adventurously-paletted friends to their charms.

But oddly enough, I’ve had trouble finding an equally good version here in New York (in Chelsea, specifically, since I don’t have much time for lunch). Sure, there’s a decent place across 6th Avenue, but the meat is too gamey for my taste. So when I saw tongue for sale at the Snoep Winkel Farm booth at the farmers’ market, I picked some up to try my hand at recreating the experience.

After exhaustively researching the topic, I decided on a simple approach — braising the tongue for four hours on the stove, cooling it overnight in its cooking liquid, then baking it in the oven for another hour the next day. That protracted cooking time is magical, so just step back and get ready for an experience you won’t forget.

To serve, I heated some corn tortillas in a cast iron skillet until they were lightly charred, then topped the tongue with a mixture of onion, cilantro, and lime juice, a sliver of avocado, shredded lettuce, and copious amounts of Cholula hot sauce. We had it for lunch and dinner yesterday, which should tell you how good it was.

And Santa Maria Pinquito beans were the perfect accompaniment, though I didn’t do anything special to them. After an overnight soak, I cooked them for a couple of hours with the usual cast of characters — beer, bay leaf, jalapenos, onions, garlic, and a smoked pork hock. At that point, I added cumin, paprika, chile powder, and salt and let everything simmer for another hour.

So if you’ve never tried tongue and don’t feel comfortable doing so, please give it a shot. For me? Pretty please? You won’t regret it.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Anything I call this post will sound gross”

Disco Stew

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What does a girl do for sustenance when an ice storm is raging outside and her kitchen counters and oven are laden with sweets? She turns to tried-and-true, low maintenance beef stew! And when her husband decides to make her baking duty even more pleasurable by playing ABBA’s Greatest Hits, well … you get the point of the post.

Opting for a simple approach to this stew given my already busy cooking schedule, I kept the ingredient list short — chuck roast, onions, salt and black pepper, chicken stock, baby portobello mushrooms, fresh thyme and sage. And instead of cooking this stew with copious amounts of red wine the way I usually do, I decided to use stout to give the stew an earthier, richer flavor; it paired nicely with the mushrooms and its richness held up to the buttered egg noodles we served them over.

If only I’d made enough for leftovers.

The dish that tastes you back!

I’ve had tongue on the brain for about a month now, itching to try it out in my own kitchen/smoker, but have been deterred by travel or unkind weather every weekend. Can it be mere coincidence that just this very today the NY Times publishes an article singing tongue’s praises and even gives a shout-out to a Mennonite grandmother within?

If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.