One great thing that has come out of having to make all these dishes is that it has taken a lot of the "I don't wanna" out of cooking and entertaining. In the past, I'd think: "It would be great to have them over" or "I want to try to cook that" and then I'd convince myself it would be too much work, etc. With this assignment I've given myself, I don't have the luxury of slacking. And because I keep plowing through, now cooking and washing dishes and entertaining and shopping don't feel like such burdens. If you repeat something enough, it becomes second-nature! (I just started applying this to making my bed, too. We'll see if that "takes.")
Tonight's dinner guests are semi-regular Tracy and first-timers Carolyn and Bill. Carolyn and I were understudies together in the original Broadway production of Into the Woods, and although we performed Jack and Jack's Mother together only once onstage, we performed it together constantly in understudy rehearsals for 18+ months. She's a great performer and a really good time, and we've been friends ever since. FYI, her lawyer husband, Bill, is a good time, too.
To start tonight's meal, I thought I'd try yet another squash soup, this time Butternut. This recipe (not from the book) was a disappointment. Unlike the acorn squash, this squash was barely sweet. And there wasn't enough roasted garlic in the mix to make much of an impression. I tried adding a tiny bit of ground ginger for some subtle flavor, but that wasn't enough to register either. I will definitely go back to the Kabocha/Bosc with onion version if I ever do this again.
Meanwhile, you were probably wondering when those fried shallots were going to show up, weren't you!
Fried Shallots (p. 75)
I had these in the refrigerator from the other day, and luckily, I remembered to take them out in time to get them to room temperature.
First of all, I sliced these on my mandoline so I could get some really nice, even, thin slices. And they were really nice, even, thin slices. I heated the oil to 300° as directed, but when I put some slices in, the temperature dropped quickly. I bumped up the heat, but that first batch took some extra time to brown. The second batch had a more consistent temperature, so they browned more quickly and evenly.
What is it with deep frying? There's such a fine line between the amount of flame that will maintain the temperature and the amount of flame that will raise the temperature... I'm still working on it.
These fried shallots had that Durkee's Fried Onions taste, which probably sounds like a dig, but I mean it as a compliment. I could eat them things right out of the can...
On the soup, they definitely provided visual interest, and while still dry, they delivered some crunch. I stirred mine in pretty quickly, thereby losing the crunch factor, though they still were a nice texture and flavor in the soup. I wonder if they'd be even better salted....
Wine-Braised Short Ribs (p. 188)
Finally, I'm making the recipe that makes use of Glace de Viande, those ice cubes of incredibly reduced brown stock. If you added up the cumulative cooking time that went into this dish, between the Glace de Viande and the brown stock and the browning and marinating and cooking of the ribs, it'd total something like 845 hours. Consequently, I had some very high expectations for this dish....
Luckily, Fairway sells short ribs cut to Martha's specs (3-3.5 inches long). I didn't want to have to ask a butcher to cut 5.5 pounds of ribs in half. I'm scared of butchers. Are all butchers surly? All the ones I've encountered are.
The first thing that happens here is the ribs get browned. I did this (and the marinating and braising) in my 5.5 quart dutch oven, which is doable for this recipe, but Martha recommends a 6 quart pot, and she's right - I really could have used that extra half quart. I could only brown 5 ribs at a time, so I had to brown in four batches. Smelly!! And messy and time-consuming. But fine.
Then, you soften some veggies (carrots, garlic, onions, celery) and pour in a bottle of red wine. Then pop the ribs in there, add some herbs (peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme) and stick it all in the fridge for a day. I wasn't happy with the way the ribs were sitting in the pot: too many were above the liquid line. So I took a cue from the turkey brining bag, and I put the whole pots-worth of stuff in a ziplock bag just big enough to accommodate, and I put that bag in the pot. This created a nice snug fit which gave more marinade coverage. It also made it really easy to turn the ribs for even marinating.
Next day, empty the bag. Add the magical glace de viande, as well as 5-8 cups of brown stock. I used brown chicken stock, because that's what I had on hand, and Martha said that's OK. I could only get about 5 cups in there, because my pot was literally overflowing.
Word of advice: bringing this pot to a boil doesn't happen quickly, so leave some time for that step.
Once it's boiling, it goes in the oven for hours, which is nice because then you don't have to think about it for a while.
Eventually, you remove the ribs, strain the liquid, and then reduce it. Martha has this technique where you put the pot off to one side of the burner (depouillage), and it works! i.e. bubbles bubble on one side while "impurities" collect on the other, and it makes for easier skimming, although truth be told, there's not that much to skim off.
I had so much liquid! She estimates it should be 5 cups. I didn't measure, but I'd guess I was maybe closer to 7. I didn't waste any time and I cranked up the heat on that half-off-the-flame liquid-reducing-pot. Still, it was a long road to get down to 1.5 cups (I actually shot for 2 cups, since I was starting with more). Martha says 20-30 minutes for the reducing, but I think I went for 45, or maybe even more.
The last stretch involves pouring this reduced sauce over the ribs and putting them back in the oven to glaze and reheat. (They've been sitting out for a while, so they need a little heat.)
Then, finally, they're done! Hallelujah!
Serving these feels like crossing the finish line of a marathon. You really want them to taste great.
And they do! The meat is outrageously tender, literally falling off the bone. The sauce tastes deep and delicious, but not self-consciously overwrought. Just tasty. It's interesting that the only time salt and pepper shows up here is at the very beginning, used on the ribs before browning. I'm not sure if this is an oversight, but I didn't add any more S+P during the marathon, and it tasted balanced. (And for the record, I was using salt-free brown stock.)
I served this over fresh gnocchi, which was a nice combination, if somewhat heavy. It really tipped the meal into the realm of comfort food, which is where ribs truly belong anyway.
This dish may take 845 hours, but it's worth it.
Until we eat again....
Here's Tracy with the shallot-topped soup.
And here's Bill and Carolyn with the ribs and gnocchi.
Tried a new non-Martha Prosciutto Bread recipe. Awesome...