Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Rocky New Year and the Ultimate Comfort Food

I've had a rough start to the New Year. Needless to say, a new furnace, water heater, tires, and two birthday cakes (New York Cheesecake and Harry's First Birthday Cake) later, I am need of some serious comfort food! Nothing could be more comforting than "Beef Short Ribs with Bacon and Herb Sauce" served over my "Cheater's Polenta!" Beefy short ribs lovingly braised with bacon, onion, herbs, and a serious dose of Sherry make for a hearty American-style classic that is quite easy to put together. Although mashed potatoes make an appropriate side, I prefer cheesy polenta that takes mere minutes to put together. In addition, you can change the cheese to suit your mood, e.g., Parmesan (which I prefer with these short ribs), cotija, cheddar, etc. Serve with a simple salad, bread, and a bottle of red wine for a fabulous, cozy meal that is equally suitable for lucky company. 

Beef Short Ribs with Bacon and Herb Sauce

Serves 4

4 strips of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (aka., lardons)
3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry sherry
3 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons tomato paste
6 fresh thyme sprigs (I tie them together so it's easier to remove before serving.)
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the bacon in a large dutch oven or flameproof casserole dish and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pot.

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the short ribs in batches and sear on all sides. Remove the ribs and set aside with the bacon. Add the onion and celery to the pot, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are tender, approximately 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and flour to the pot and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the sherry, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return the reserved bacon and ribs to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Using tongs, remove the ribs and cut the meat from the bone and cartilage. Skim any excess fat from the top of the braising liquid. Remove the thyme and bay leaf. Return the ribs to the pot and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve with the sauce spooned over the short ribs.

Recipe adapted from The Book of Steak, by Love Food.

Cheater's Polenta

Serves 4

1 cup white cornmeal (I use Quaker cornmeal for baking and breading.)
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (can substitute other cheese, as desired)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the stock and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan (I use a 2-quart saucepan) and bring to a boil over high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal in a fine stream. Whisk constantly and bring to a simmer. (Don't stop whisking or you could get spattered with bubbling cornmeal! Ouch!) Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cream, and cheese until combined. Season to taste with pepper. Serve immediately!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Oh My Darling, Clementine

The holidays are over and my decorations are put away. Sigh. All I'm left with is a plethora of clementines. Clementines are a variety of mandarin orange, specifically a hybrid of the Mediterranean Citrus xdeliciosa and a sweet orange. They are typically seedless, easy to peel, and in season from mid-November to late-January. French born Brother Clement Rodier is credited with creating the variety by cross-pollination in the garden of an Algerian orphanage in 1902. In Latin, the name Clementine (the female form of Clement) means clemency or merciful. It is also the name of the lost love in the American folk song "Oh My Darling, Clementine," the daughter of a miner in the 1849 California Gold Rush. The song credits her tragic demise to a splinter in her toe that causes her to fall and drown. At the end of the song, Clementine's lover quickly forgets her after kissing her little sister. Poor Clementine.

In desperation to use up my ample supply of clementines, I found this exciting recipe for "Winter Salad with Clementine Dressing and Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts" from While Rachel raves about the vanilla bean candied walnuts, I was not immediately excited about the results on their own. That is, however, until I added them to the salad! Fantastic! My family and I love this salad so much that I have been making it over and over to the point that I had to run out and buy more clementines! In addition, the vanilla bean candied walnuts makes enough for three salads, making them well worth the effort. This bright, citrusy recipe is just what you need to get over the post-holiday doldrums. Thanks Rachel!

Winter Salad with Clementine Dressing and Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts

Serves 4

For the Dressing
1/4 cup clementine juice (about 2 clementines)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Salad
1 head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces (I have been using 1 head of Romaine with great results)
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley (I have been using 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I have been using 1/4 cup)
3 clementines, peeled, segments separated and cut in half (I have been using 2 clementines)
1/2 cup vanilla bean candied walnuts (recipe follows)
Dressing to taste (there may be extra)

For the Dressing
Mix all ingredients together in a jar (shake shake shake!) or a small bowl (whisk whisk whisk!)

For the Salad
Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Add dressing and toss immediately before serving.

Vanilla Bean Candied Walnuts

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups raw walnut halves and/or pieces
The seeds scraped from one whole vanilla bean

Toast walnuts in a dry frying an over medium heat stirring frequently, about 3-5 minutes or until fragrant. Pour onto plate to cool. Also prepare a large rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Cook on medium until sugar melts and starts to turn the color of amber. (Once the sugar starts to melt, I began stirring with a metal tea spoon to help prevent burning.) 
The sugar/vanilla bean mixture is done when it looks like this!
Remove from heat, add walnuts and stir to coat. Work quickly.

Pour the walnuts out onto prepared lined baking sheet and separate walnuts with two forks, working quickly. If you don't get them all separated, it's no biggie, you can cut or crack them apart once they cool.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. If you don't eat them all first.

*Note: If you've never dealt with melting sugar, soaking the pot and any used utensils makes cleanup a breeze!