February 24, 2010

Braised Beef Short Ribs + Soft Polenta + Swiss Chard

The last time we made this for our friends, they hosted a Polish dinner party in return, complete with Polish music and vodka shots. Not that we necessarily drove them to put on such a lavish affair, but we like to think that this special meal had something to do with it ;)

In fact, it's so special that we were planning to have it as our Valentines Day treat. Only, too much shopping at Lowes and Home Depot that afternoon (aren't we the romantic couple??) delayed everything. And at 8pm after realizing that the meat still needed to braise another 3 whole hours, we decided to celebrate the holiday a day later. Besides, how embarrassingly cliche is the whole Valentines Day dinner thing, anyway?

Anyway, this dish pairs perfectly with a nice, big glass of red wine. I guess anything pairs well with cab (let's be honest), but this combination is truly divine. Braising always does wonders for meat -- but when you take it a step further and remove the meat from all of its wonderful braising juices to roast until the outsides are crisp again, there's no turning back. The meat becomes so soft and tender that it literally falls off the bone at the slightest hint of contact.

Of course, you'll need to serve this with soft polenta to sop up all the gravy (ie, braising juices) that's poured on top of the meat. And don't forget the horseradish cream, which adds a cooling and refreshing contrast to the hearty ribs. And definitely include the roasted pearl onions and sauteed swiss chard -- what we keep telling ourselves makes this a "balanced meal." And lastly and most importantly, if you do end up making this...don't forget to call us ;)

Braised Beef Short Ribs
Recipe adapted from the lovely SmittenKitchen

6 beef short ribs, about 14 to 16 ounces each (ask for 3 bone center-cut)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, and 4 whole sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 dozen small pearl onions
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups port
2 1/2 cups hearty red wine
6 cups beef or veal stock
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch swiss chard

1/2 cup créme fraîche
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the short ribs with 1 tablespoon thyme and the cracked black pepper. Use your hands to coat the meat well. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, to come to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season them generously on all sides with salt.

When you take the ribs out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the pearl onions with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoons salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast them about 15 minutes, until tender. When they have cooled, slip off the skins with your fingers and set aside. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F.

When it’s time to cook the short ribs, heat a large Dutch oven over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in 3 tablespoons olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot and almost smoking. Place the short ribs in the pan, and sear until they are nicely browned on all three meaty sides. Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to sear the meat in batches. When the ribs are nicely browned (will take around 30 min), transfer them to a plate to rest.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme springs, and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to caramelize. Add the balsamic vinegar, port, and red wine. Turn the heat up to high, and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Arrange ribs in the pot, lieing flat, bones standing up, in one layer. Scrape any vegetables that have fallen on the ribs back into the liquid. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for 3 hours.

Take the meat out of the oven. Let the ribs rest 10 minutes in their juices, and then transfer them to a baking sheet.

Turn the oven up to 400 degrees F. Place the short ribs in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to brown.

Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to extract all the juices. If the broth seems thin, reduce it over medium-high heat to thicken slightly. Taste for seasoning.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Tear the Swiss chard into large pieces. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan, and stir in the cooked pearl onions. Add half the Swiss chard, and cook a minute or two, stirring the greens in the oil to help them wilt. Add a splash of water and the second half of the greens. Season with a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until the greens are tender.

Serve with Horseradish Cream:
Combine the créme fraîche and horseradish in a small bowl. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Taste for balance and seasoning.
Continue reading for recipe...

February 18, 2010

World's Best Lasagne (and Casual Carpool)

Before I dive into all the yummy details of this delicious lasagna, I must first tell you about my fabulous new commute to SF. You see -- yesterday, I got to ride in a Mercedes. The day before, a Prius. And last week, a series 5 BMW (although today was a Toyota minivan, bummer). I also don't have to deal with the ridiculous crowds of people on Muni (huge plus, in my book), I get to listen to NPR the whole ride like a true intellectual, and best of all, it's free. How is this possible??

Dun dun dun...enter casual carpool, a Bay Area phenomenon where strangers pick up other strangers on their way to work. I know, it sounds really random and sketchy. But it's legit -- just read this article.

It works as follows: every time you cross the Bay Bridge to get into the city, you have to pay a $4 toll. For people that commute every day, that really adds up. However, if you have at least 3 people in your car, you're allowed to drive in the coveted carpool lane (which is never congested and goes about 5x faster) and bypass the daily $4 toll. So there are designated "casual carpool spots" scattered around the Bay Area where drivers and pedestrians show up to carpool together. The passengers also benefit -- they get a free and comfortable ride with much more flexibility (don't have to wait a whole 15 minutes if you miss your train) -- so it's a win win situation for all.

Anyway, it's pretty systematic -- there's usually an orderly line of cars/pedestrians at the pickup spots, and the drop off location is always the same (Mission & Fremont). There are also rules to this arrangement:

1) No talking. People are usually reading the newspaper or listening to their headphones like they're on the subway
2) Play NPR. I had this one lady play soft background music once, and the other passenger kept glaring and sighing at her
3) Don't get in the car unless someone else is getting in with you or you feel comfortable/safe

If you didn't already notice, I loooove casual carpool. My commute is literally 30 minutes door-to-door (used to take 45-60 min depending on the bus). And yes...while it can sound a bit SF hippie and "save the planet"-ish, I can assure you that almost all of the participants are yuppie working professionals. What's funny is that I first learned about this at the urging of my parents (!!!) when I was a freshman in college and had to go into the city for my summer internship. Now if that doesn't convince you that this thing's for real, I don't know what will ;)

Anyway, back to this glorious lasagna (which btw, is one of our favorite and most dependable go-to recipes!). I mean, 5 out of 5 stars from 3,711 reviewers on allrecipes?? Yup, definitely a keeper. I think what makes this lasagna so amazing is its sauce, which simmers for almost two hours to really let all the flavors fully develop. And honestly, you can never go wrong with hot Italian sausage and ripe tomatoes. But when fennel is added to it for more depth, garlic for added kick, and basil, onion and sugar for just a hint of sweetness -- the tomato sauce base is completely transformed into this incredibly succulent and flavorful masterpiece.

Next dinner party, we're making this. So get ready :)

World's Best Lasagna
Adapted from All Recipes

1 pound hot Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one third of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving (note: AC and I could not wait).
Continue reading for recipe...

February 05, 2010

New Places

We've been really enjoying our new Rockridge home -- especially the kitchen!

It's so funny because we are only 10 miles away from downtown SF, yet it feels like a totally different world. Like at night, we hear...crickets. After living in a huge high-rise on one of the busier corners in SF, this is waaaay foreign to us. We're used to the constant noise of passing traffic, shrieks from (loud and drunken) people walking by, car alarms going off, or the bass of our neighbor's frequent late night parties. But quietness and the chirping of birds? Though a welcome change, it has taking some getting used to! And our neighbors -- since when do people actually welcome you to the neighborhood? Or even converse with their neighbors?? Anyway, we've already started to explore our new little neighborhood and are delighted to have discovered:

Bakesale Betty - there's always a huge line that wraps around the block, but their fried chicken sandwiches are sooooo worth it.
Manpuku - really cheap and fast Japanese food. We got ramen and sushi; both were YUM.
Zachary's Pizza - I think this is just as good (if not better) than the deep dish pizza that we got in Chicago, but AC doesn't think so. Either way, two thumbs up.
Casserole House - AC was literally beaming the entire night. Nothing gets him in a better mood than good, quality Korean food.
Ohgane - another Korean restaurant (fantastic bbq!) that makes AC happy.

We also want to try nearby A Cote and Pizzaiolo and Oriental BBQ Chicken Town and Wood Tavern and Yuyu ZaZang and -- oh, what was that? We should be cooking?? ...darn :)

Continue reading for recipe...