Polpettone

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How’s about a little tweak for Valentine’s Day?  Polpettone, which sounds very glamorous indeed, is Italian for meatloaf and I have to say, in the light of the crazy blizzard around here, you may want to consider losing your plans to sally forth to some overcrowded, overpriced  restaurant and instead, wire up this baby for tonight.

Now I do know that this photograph is not, well, perhaps my best or most inspiring.  If it’s any kind of recommendation, however,  please know that the polpettone was very picturesque, just moments before this when it came out of the oven.  Before I could so much as grab my camera, the hungry maniacs around here had torn into it and this is all that I could salvage for a photograph.  In fact, it was such a hit, I was grateful even to have snagged this rather pathetic shot. That funny gooey thing poking out from the middle is the salami/smoked mozzarella with which it’s stuffed.  I know. Completely over-the-top.  But “what th’?” as Mark Trail would say.  It’s only Valentine’s Day once a year, so why not give him something to make those statins worth it.

Now, I have to say that my normal meatloaf, which I recounted here in November 2010 is pretty darn good.  In fact, I continue to get reader response about it all of the time,  and people have literally stopped me in the street to opine on how great it is.  It’s easy as can be, delicious and, while not fancy, for some reason the only thing Felix ever wants to be his welcome home dinner when he arrives back from college.  High praise indeed I would say, because there’s no telling what fancy-schmancy stuff that kid could  be looking for on those rare occasions when his old ’83 diesel wends its way back from Williamsburg.

Now the original recipe for polpettone comes from my friend, Silvestro Silvestori, at the Awaiting Table cooking school  in Lecce in Puglia, Italy.  We made it when I was there in November and it was superb.  That being said, I’ve added and subtracted some things from Silvestro’s recipe to make it, well, my own.  I guess it’s more Italian-American now, and I do hope Silvestro won’t take offence as I’m headed back there in September and perhaps we’ll even make it then. 

In any case, I made this using a batch of my own meatloaf, the recipe for which you can find in the index on the right of my blog, or very easily by googling: “ClareFare meatloaf” , when it will pop up instantaneously.  

Should you decide to make it, I promise it will look prettier when it emerges from the oven.  No matter how it looks, however, please be prepared, for your Valentine to  take his first bite. He may swoon, but when he picks himself up off the floor, he will definitely proclaim you to the very best Valentine in the world.  

But really, there’s no need to send me flowers.  Just have a very happy Valentine’s Day, with lots of love from ClareFare.

Clare’s Polpettone

Serves 6

I batch of my meatloaf mix to be found on ClareFare from November 16, 2010

3/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami

3/4 pound smoked mozzarella, chopped into 1-inch dice

 

Prepare the meatloaf as directed in the previous post. Place half of the meat mixture in the baking pan.  Pat into a loaf-like shape and make a trough in the middle.  Line the trough with 1/2 of the Genoa salami, cover with the smoked mozzarella, and then top with the rest of the Genoa salami making it into a sort of smoked mozzarella filled envelope.  Pat the remaining meat mixture over the top and seal in the filling, retaining the loaf-like shape.

Bake as directed in the previous posting.

–Adapted from a recipe by Silvestro Silvestori at http://www.Awaitingtable.com 

 

 

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Boeuf Bourguignon

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Whisper down the lane.  At least that’s what we used to call it in England.  You know, that childhood game where you whisper a phrase to your friend who whispers it to the next person in line, and, at the end of the queue, the last person shouts out what they heard and it bears no resemblance to the initial phrase?

For some reason, I always found it endlessly amusing at slumber parties,  which is perhaps why this recipe is both amusing to me and perfectly appropriate for today.

A hearty pot of Boeuf Bourguignon will be accompanying me shortly to a “girl’s weekend” with some dear pals at a dairy farm in the wilds of central Virginia.  There we’ll be fireside chatting, knitting, reading and, if I’m not mistaken, laughing up a storm.  Perhaps storm may turn out to be the operative word, in fact, though “bunk activities” as they used to call it at summer camp, might be just what the doctor ordered as far as giving us all a great break from this beastly winter.

One thing we’ll be feasting upon will be this Boeuf Bourguigon, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t turn out to be a hit. The recipe I used,  and that I provide  here,  is marvelous and perhaps one of my most beloved.  I used to slave my way through Julia Child’ s Boeuf Bourguignon upon occasion , but an occasion it always had to be.  It was a production indeed which meant the sapid stew could never be in the rotation of daily and delicious, but always only for a special dinner party or other ritzy hoop-de-do.

In August of 2009, I stumbled over a new version of the classic dish in a New York Times article by Julia Moskin, who, excitingly will be appearing at the Woman’s Club here in Richmond, later this month.  Julia Moskin’s recipe was an adaptation of Ginette Mathiot’s  in “Je Sais Cuisiner” (“I know how to Cook”) circa 1932.  This is perhaps–dare I say it–a more authentic take on the famous stew as it gets back to the very roots of what it was meant to be: a wonderful, everyday possible, traditional French housewife’s version.

That’s not to say it isn’t sublime, because indeed it is.  In fact, it’s so good, I’ve been known to serve this version at formal dinners where, believe me, no one seemed to think it wasn’t black tie appropriate.  In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner a deux next week.  Please, don’t let on how easy it was–just revel in the praise that’s going to be heaped upon you, and the romance it’s bound to engender.

So, the whispering continues.  I have very slightly adapted the recipe again from Julia Moskin’s version.  It may be somewhat different than Madame Mathiot’s version, but I think it would be recognizable to any 20th century French housewife nonetheless.

As for this weekend, perhaps I should throw the Scrabble board into my trunk,  just to be on the safe side.    It occurs to me that whisper down the lane might not cut it anymore–outside of the kitchen,  that is.

 

Boeuf Bourguignon

serves 6

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces of shallots, peeled and chopped

1/2 pound of thick-cut center bacon, diced

3 pounds of stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch dice and patted dry

1/2 cup flour

2 cups of beef stock

2 cups of red wine ( I use Pinot Noir if I can’t find a Burgundy)

 1 bouquet garni ( 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh thyme and 6 sprigs of parsley tied together)

Black pepper and salt

1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced

 

Put oil n a heavy pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and bacon and cook, stirring until browned.  Remove them  with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add beef and brown on all sides , working in batches as necessary to avoid crowding.

Return all of the beef to the pan and sprinkle with the flour.  Stir until browned and add the stock.  Stir, scrapping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all of the crunchy bits, and then add the reserved bacon and onions, the wine and bouquet garni.  Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer very gently for two hours.

Add the mushrooms and cook for half an hour more.  Serve immediately, OR even better, refrigerate and reheat the next day when it’s even more delectable.

–Adapted from Julia Moskin in the New York Times, who adapted it from Ginette Mathiot’s” I Know How to Cook”,  Phaidon Press

 

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Polenta with Spicy Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions and Kale

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“Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold” – Lowell George, LIttle Feat

I guess I’m showing my advanced age by quoting lyrics from the 70′s, but really, I can’t get it out of my mind.  And speaking of my youth, I don’t ever remember it being this cold.  I mean it must have been, surely, because however else were we seemingly constantly ice skating round and round the lake at the University of Richmond?  I guess it must have been this cold, I just didn’t feel it so much, bursting with the endless joie de vivre and hot internal furnace of youth.

That being said, let me let you in on a little secret.  I know how to get it back.  No, not ALL of the hot blooded enthusiasms perhaps, but at least the means for a happy, warm glow that will get you scooting through this polar vortex or storm Leon or whatever next week’s version is going to be dubbed.

I think it was my trip to Italy in November.  I’m still cruising around with a happy smile slapped on my face and a ready giddy giggle. Yes, I’m suffering from the cold, just like you are, but I’m somehow managing to channel the glorious sun and the sunny disposition of the Solento.   I think the key is the food.

The other day, while the snow was swirling, I decided to pay heed to the exhortations of the authorities to stay home. It meant I had to  make do with whatever I had on hand to produce dinner.  In poking around, since I really was due a visit to the grocery, I found only a few of my usual goodies. Nonetheless, I whipped this simple feast up in no time and barely had to absent myself from my cozy spot beside the raging fire to do it.

It was scrumptious,(and inadvertently gluten-free for those of you who care about such things) and put me in the perfect place to start plotting details for my trip back to Puglia in September.  If you want to come with me, let me know.  When we’re there, we’ll make our very own sausages–which I didn’t do for this feast–and cook with olive oil from just down the lane, and wander in the garden in the warm Solento sun to pick our herbs.  

For now, I have to be content to do that in my heart and in my mind’s eye.  I’m happy to report, however, that eating this really helped propel me there. My body may be sitting beside the fire this winter, but you can find my spirit wandering around in the boot of Italy.

 

Polenta with Spicy Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions and Kale

serves 6

 

2 cups Polenta ( I use Bob’s Red Mill and follow the directions on the package)

I pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot–your choice, chopped into large chunks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 red pepper, cored and sliced into long strips

2 sweet onions, peeled and cut in half and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 28 ounce can of San Marzano certified tomatoes

1- 5 ounce package of baby Kale

2 teaspoons dried oregano

salt and pepper

grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

 

Make the polenta according to the directions on the package.  While it’s cooking, start to saute the sausages on medium low heat until the fat starts to render stirring constantly.  Once the fat starts to render you may turn it up slightly but stir occasionally and do keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Put the olive oil in a separate large skillet and saute the peppers and onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When they are soft and translucent add the garlic and cook for one minute, not allowing the garlic to burn.  Add the tomatoes and kale and oregano and allow to simmer until the kale has just wilted.  By now your sausages should be cooked.  Add the pepper, onion and tomato mixture to the sausages and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow to cook together for the flavors to meld about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper as and serve immediately over the hot polenta, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to sprinkle on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spinach Salad

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You know that hideous feeling where you’ve let something go so long, you’re too mortified to know how to address it?  Well, that’s me, somehow finding the gumption to write this.

I’ve just had lunch with a beloved friend, in which we discussed this very quandary.  Well, actually, not this very quandary, but yet another thing that I’ve let get hideously awry.  Anyway, I’ll attack the other thing in a minute after I’ve gotten this post taken care of, but I thought her solution was ingenious and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before: just tell the truth.

So here goes, I apologize for not having written in so long–since October in fact.  The thing is, I’ve been extremely well, happy and perhaps, um, a bit distracted.  I’ve been on a couple of stupendous trips–to Italy to cooking school, away for a fabulous Thanksgiving with friends, had lovely holidays both here and away,  and a lovely, frivolous time hanging about with Felix over his long break from school.  I’ve even been cooking like mad too–things Italian, things French, things southern and things I’ve been making up on the spot.  I’ve made everything from cookies to foie gras and everything in between.  I’ve eaten tons of cool things that I didn’t cook too, everywhere from Venice and Rome and Puglia, to New York and D.C. and right here in Richmond.  Good old familiar things with great old friends, and new, intriguing things with people I’ve just had the good fortune to meet.  It’s been a blast.

Sadly, what I haven’t done is keep up with my photography, nor this blog.

As regards the photography, I don’t feel too bad about it, because I did live in the precious minute of each incredible bite, and each lovely meal with those around me.  No I didn’t reach for my camera, but stayed fully in the the moment .  Oh my goodness, that mushroom risotto in Venice where the waiter brought the pan out into the very glamorous dining room, just to make sure I got every little bit.  And cooking by candlelight in the kitchen at the castle…well, that’s something else that lives in my heart, and leaps into my mind every evening as I reach for my trusty colander, as I glance at an almond, as I taste that grassy green olive oil at the very back of my throat.  Well, I could go on and on.

And since that’s the very purpose of ClareFare, I intend to do just that in the upcoming months.

In the meantime, my inspirational lunch occurred over a very sad and disappointing spinach salad.  Now I dearly love a good spinach salad and really, for some reason, it seems to me that this is just the time of year to be eating them: the spinach is good, mushrooms are crisp and cool, and what’s not discernibly better with good chunks of bacon, slathered with bacon dressing?    They’re kind of retro, (or at least I think they are because I seem to remember my mother and all of her friends having a mania for them) which is sort of comforting for the new year,  and they’re incredibly easy (especially now that we can get those boxes of pre-washed  baby spinach everywhere).  For some reason, I guess because it leaves me with that funny squeaky raw spinach feeling on my teeth, I even feel like they’re good for me.

Whether or not they’re really good for one, it appears that I fortuitously took a photograph of one I made before I fell off the blogging wagon.   Wouldn’t you know it, I just stumbled upon the photo all ready to go,  when I opened the file with the vague thought that it might be time to blog again.   I guess spinach salad is proving to be good for me after all, or maybe it’s just telling the truth.

 

Easy Spinach Salad

serves 2

 

2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced

5 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and dried with  any tough stems removed

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

4 slices thick center-back bacon, cut into 1-inch dice

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

 

Put spinach, sliced eggs and mushrooms in a large salad bowl.

Fry bacon until crumbly.  Remove it from the pan and allow it to briefly drain on a paper towel, leaving the bacon fat in the skillet.  With the pan on medium, add the vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper to the fat in the skillet and heat through, whisking to combine.

Sprinkle the bacon onto the salad, and, once the dressing is heated through, pour it on top of the salad and toss so that the spinach gently wilts a bit.

Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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Flat Iron Steak with Beurre Compose

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“The times, they are a-changin”,  Bob Dylan’s epic album of that name came out in January 1964 which (if my  notoriously bad math is correct) means that  just shy of 50 years ago, things were moving along at the same pace as the world seems to be at this very moment.   My crazy old world is changing by leaps and bounds everywhere I look, and I bet yours may be doing the same thing.

Earlier this year, for example, the names of cuts of beef and pork, 350 of them in fact, were officially changed for the first time in 40 years, leaving me, for one, completely intrigued and confused.

 

Even here in RVA, I have the distinct feeling that something’s in the air; that change is afoot; that things are starting to get a lot more interesting very quickly.  Within the last 24 hours, three notable authors have blown into town for three separate appearances: Anne Lamott, Erik Larson and tonight, Orhan Pamuk. My literary leaning soul is in ecstasy with the dawning realization of just what a bookish city I am lucky enough to inhabit.

What do these seemingly disparate things have in common? Well, in short, it means that I have a new compulsion to find speedy things to get on the dinner table.  And not just any old thing, at that.  I’m looking for quick things that have a certain elegance, can be made likedy-split  when I get home from a stirring literary talk, and that lend themselves to a long drawn out dinner conversation, debating the relative merits of this Nobel prize laureate verses that reknowned author.  In short, just the sort of meaty conversation I adore.

Where as usually, I’m only too happy to hang around making dinner on a Friday night, taking my sweet time whilst listening to jazz, talking to the cats, and nurturing my secret crush on David Brooks on the News Hour, now I want to be out and about, stirring myself up with listening to my fabulous literary heroes.

So, while half the time I have no earthly idea what I’m buying in the grocery store, I’ve taken to randomly buying weird things with weird names and giving them a whirl, which is where this quick dinner came in. When I first tried it I was thrilled with the speed with which it came together, and the sophisticated, elegant meal that I accidently produced.  Jeff in fact, dubbed it a huge success, even worthy of a dinner party.

So tonight, I’m planning on standing up my old beau David Brooks for my potential new one–Orhan. When I get home, I do believe I’ll throw on some jazz and cook up a little flat iron steak.  Yes indeed, a typical Friday night around the old homestead. But my, how the times they are a-changin.

 

 Flat Iron Steak with Beurre Compose’

serves 4

 

1 pound flat iron steak

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large shallot, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

1/4 cup fresh chives, minced

 

Generously salt and pepper the flat iron steak and allow it to come to room temperature. In the meantime, combine the butter, shallot, parsley and chives and mix well.  Cover and set aside.

Heat a cast iron pan to high and add the olive oil.  Cook the steak for about 4 minutes a side until nicely seared  on the outside but medium rare.

Remove the steak from the pan, cover with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 5 minutes.  Cut into 1/2-inch slices and serve with a dollop of the composed butter on top.

 

 

 

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Smoked Duck Breast Salad

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Well, it’s no news to me that I’m the luckiest woman in the world, and I never, ever forget to be grateful.

Chief amongst my lengthy list of things for which to be grateful, has to be the joyous, loving relationships I have, and have had, with so many friends from all over the world and from all sorts of disparate times of my life.

Last weekend was a very special get together with a couple of my dearest friends from college.  David flew in from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Richard came all the way from Kabul, Afghanistan in order to send off our beloved friend, Dean, in a  way befitting his important place in the crazy quilt of our shared lives.

As they say: we laughed, we cried, we reminisced and told raucous tales from our shared past with Dean, starting in Charlottesville and meandering through almost four decades and locales too exotic and varied to make much headway in recounting here.

As Dean would have loved, feasting and toasting were all a very significant part of the proceedings and I cooked my way around the globe for our dinner on Friday night, and gathered a group of long-time Dean lovers together–including his beloved Godson Felix–for an epic Mamma Zu feast on Saturday night.

All too soon, after a Sunday morning of Chelsea football and bagels and smoked salmon, David, Richard and Felix were headed back to their respective spots in the world, leaving Jeff and me alone to mull over the weekend that had actually surpassed my extravagant dreams for a proper way to say goodbye to Dean.

When it came time to make dinner, I realized a special treat was waiting for us, somehow left behind in our mad rush to consume the most over-the-top,  very-best-of-everything all weekend as Dean would have wanted, and would have expected us to do.  

David had brought an incredible smoked duck breast all the way from Ann Arbor.  And not just any old smoked duck breast.  This came from Durham’s Tracklements–a smokehouse that lives in the annals of the world’s very best.  

We had already consumed the smoked salmon that he’d brought with the bagels, and that was, to quote Marian Burros in The New York Times, “The best of the best in 20 years of tasting.  Unanimous…no comparison.” I therefore knew that whatever I did with the duck breast, it would need to be something to enhance it, but not to steal its elegant thunder.

Soon enough I’d whipped together this post-feast feast which was the perfect way to wrap up one of the most special weekends of my whole life.  Using some of Sarah’s incredible gift of the dried cherries I’d hand-carried from Traverse City, Michigan, some toasted hazelnuts and a smooth, subtle vinaigrette I made using some wonderful sherry vinegar I’d been “saving for best,” I compiled this simple yet stupendous salad for Jeff and me as the final chapter of our weekend of extremes.

What can I say? Even with many of the people I love being separated from me through time and space, I can’t help but feel them close, yes, and even sitting at my elbow, as I tuck into a splendid meal, or raise a  glittering glass of something especially delicious.  So this is for you, my departed friends.  I am ever grateful to have you forever in my heart.

 

Smoked Duck Breast Salad

serves two

 

1 large superbly  smoked duck breast, (preferably from Durham’s Tracklements),  sliced

Mixed salad greens

1/2 cup hazelnuts,  toasted on top of the stove in a dry pan with the skins rubbed off in a dishtowel

1/2 cup  superb dried cherries

 

Sherry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

salt and pepper to taste

 

in a large salad bowl, combine greens, hazelnuts, and cherries and toss well to combine.  Make vinaigrette by combining ingredients in a small bowl and whisking well to combine.  Drizzle dressing over the greens, not dousing them with the vinaigrette, but just moistening them.  Toss well and place the salad on two plates and place sliced duck breast artfully on top.

Serve immediately with a glass of something especially delicious, and toast your lovely life and your precious loved ones. Be grateful.

 

 

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Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal Cookies

 

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As it says at the top of this page, “Saving the world, one cookie at a time”.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and sometimes I can’t think of a thing in the world I can do to make anything better,  save for making a batch of cookies.

When I came home from Michigan a couple of weeks ago, my luggage was bursting with cherries.  As I desperately tried to get my suitcase shut, I must admit to thinking that this must have been how the guy in Midnight Express must have felt.  Fortunately, cherries aren’t considered to be contraband, so, loaded up with friend Sarah’s incredible gift of pounds and pounds of the best the Upper Peninsula has to offer, I made my way home.  Both dried and covered in dark, rich chocolate, I’ve been gently nibbling away at my incredible cache and enjoying every bite.

A couple of hours ago, after I made the mistake of listening to the news on the radio, I opened my trusty baking cupboard to look for some life-affirming inspiration.  The first things that came to hand were the dried cherries, a big bag of roasted pistachios and that familiar cannister with the friendly Quaker man looking incredibly reassuring. I mean, really look at that guy.  Is it just me, or does gazing upon his twinkly eyes, curly white hair and sturdy black hat make you feel more relaxed? Well, I decided to spend a little time with him, and plonked him down on the countertop tasked with sending me stolid, comforting vibes.

So, while they’re still warm from the oven, here’s the recipe I’ve just created to get me through today.  Maybe you can make some too.   And while yours may not sport cherries hand-carried from Michigan, I promise they’ll be incredibly delicious and just might help you get through any shutdown–governmental or spiritual–that you may be dealing with.

That Quaker man just made me feel a whole lot better, and who’s to say a batch of these babies won’t change the world just a little bit?  Come on, what have you got to lose?

 

Cherry Pistachio Oatmeal Cookies

makes 4 dozen

 

14 ounces unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups Quaker Old fashioned oats

1 cup dried cherries

1 cup roasted and salted pistachios

 

Preheat oven to 350

Mix butter and sugars.  

Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.

 Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well.

Add the oats, cherries and pistachios. Mix well

Place about a rounded tablespoonful of cookie dough for each cookie onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove to wire rack and cool completely before storing in a tightly sealed cookie jar.

–adapted from the Quaker Oats container, with thanks to the lovely Quaker chap who I so enjoyed spending some quality time with today.

 

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Short Ribs

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Last week I had the great good fortune to take a lovely trip to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan to visit dear old friends. There on the shore of Lake Michigan, I witnessed several “Michigan sparklers”–days so bright and sunny that the entire lake seemed to be a sea of diamonds.  Also, there, I had the joy of donning my first sweater in many months; the wonder of primo star-gazing and pondering the meaning of the universe while reclining in a golf cart on the 9th hole late at night with beloved pal Sarah and a rambunctious English bulldog, and the sweet surprise of endless local cherries–both drenched in dark chocolate and without.

Also there, I had the fun of creating a special dinner for my hosts whom, it turned out, inspired by the cool temperatures, were nurturing a hankering for some really good short ribs.  Well, today, it’s just about cool enough even here to serve them up, so, on the off chance that the temperatures play along, here is a stupendous recipe to inspire your first fall feast  this weekend.

Really easy and luxurious,  you need only a little time in your back pocket for the alchemy of the braising in the oven to occur.  I first made these in college, spurred on by the wonderful gift of The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, which, I see from the inscription, I received  in 1979. These aren’t Craig’s exact short ribs, but my adaptation with a few nips and tucks.  In any case, make some chive mashed potatoes and some Brussels sprouts as an accompaniment and you’ll be off to the races.

Upon returning home, I snagged myself a really great new fire screen for the living room,  for which I’d been hunting for several years.  I’m not sure that tonight is the night to give it its’ first workout, but the short ribs will definitely be making an appearance.  Even without the cozy fire burning brightly, I think somehow, our dinner  of short ribs will fit the bill as an RVA sparkler.  Here’s hoping, no matter where you are, that you have a sparkler too!

 

Short Ribs

serves 4

 

4 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped finely

4 pounds short ribs of beef

3 tablespoons of bacon drippings (olive oil may be substituted)

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees for a very low and slow braising.

Combine the flour, salt, pepper and rosemary.  Dredge the ribs with the seasoned flour.

In a  large, lidded dutch oven in which they will ultimately go into the oven, heat the bacon drippings to medium and brown the ribs well on all sides.  Remove them from the heat and set them aside.  Saute the onions in the fat, stirring until nicely browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape the brown floury bits off the bottom of the pan and to incorporate them into the sauce.  Add the stock and the tomato paste and heat through will stirring.  When the sauce is just starting to boil, return the short ribs and any juices they’ve left on the plate to the pot, clamp the lid on, and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.

If desired, skim off the excess fat and thicken the juices by stirring in a little of the seasoned flour mixed with cold water.  Simmer for five minutes and serve with the meat, along with chive mashed potatoes and  Brussels sprouts.

–Adapted from “The New York Times Cook Book” by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row)

 

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Oven-Poached Figs

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Fast and furious.  That’s the only way to describe the transformation of my lovely storybook morning into something which very nearly could have resembling the film  “Psycho”  had not my better self intervened.

The start of my very busy video shoot day dawned lovely and cool, with even a little mist rolling off the river.  Kitchen shears in hand, I wandered down to the kitchen garden to harvest herbs to incorporate into the tomato sauce  which I was  planning to create as soon as my trusty photographer appeared.

As I bent down to snip the basil, I heard an extremely loud rustle emanating from the top of the fig tree about 4 yards away.  And there he was: my arch-nemesis Groundie, fat and happily munching away on the fruit of my labor.  I don’t know what possessed me, I saw red I guess and, without thinking about what I was doing, I stood up and started running across the extremely short distance that separated us, screaming like a banshee and welding those shears in my fist just like the shadow behind the shower curtain.

When I got  about a yard away from the tree, sanity kicked in and it occurred to me that I had absolutely no plan whatsoever for my mano a mano encounter with that 40 pound fur covered fig-and-perennial destructo machine.  Thank goodness, at that precise moment, Groundie hurled himself from the very top of the fig tree onto the ground behind  and high-tailed it down the bank towards the river and his den.

Shaking,, I realized what a close call we’d both had: Groundie delivered from a wanton attack by a crazed woman, and me, completely mauled by an irate ground hog, fighting for his very life.  Truth be told, I wasn’t going to advance a single other step once sanity kicked in, but I was very satisfied at completely scaring the wits out of him.

With my video fast approaching, I grabbed whatever figs I could carry and raced into the house, intent on doing something with them, if only to deny Groundie the satisfaction of resuming his feast while I worked.

 I quickly hurled this delicious poaching liquid together and threw the figs into the oven, just as the doorbell rang.  I’m happy to say that with just a quick dab of lipstick, I was ready to go with the video, and I expect, the audience watching, will be clueless as to the virtual life and death struggle that served as a preamble to the shoot.

Imagine my delight when I served these glistening figs over some vanilla ice cream to Jeff for dessert that night.  His eyes grew large at the  epic tale of their genesis, at least I thought they did, though I couldn’t be sure since all of his attention seemed to be fixated on his bowl.

Oven-Poached Figs

serves 4

 

16 fresh ripe figs

1/4 cup Ruby Port

1/2 cup full-bodied red wine (I used Mathis Grenache)

3 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 sticks of cinnamon

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

3 whole green cardamom, pods, split open

2 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Vanilla ice cream for serving

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Arrange figs, stems facing up on a glass baking dish so they are relatively tightly packed but not touching. Pour the port, wine, honey and orange juice over the figs and then submerge the remaining ingredients in the liquid around the figs.  Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour.

 

Remove the foil and continue to bake for 45 minutes more, basting occasionally with the accumulated juices.  Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.

Transfer the figs to a plate and serve with vanilla ice cream.  (The liquid can be strained through a fine sieve into a bowl and made for a bang-up vinaigrette the next day, by the way.)

–Adapted from “Martha Stewart Living” October 2005

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Country Greek Salad

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If you should stumble into some decent tomatoes, not too watery from all of the rain that’s bombarded our beloved Hanover of late, do yourself a favor and make this!

At least a couple of times during the late summer, I’m known to “accidentally” forget to make dinner, or “inadvertently” become so embroiled in closet cleaning that, surprise, it doesn’t seem to make any sense get it together.  Then, oh so smoothly and nonchalantly, I just say to Jeff, “Hey, why don’t we just run over to Joe’s Inn?”

Mission accomplished!  Once there, in the heart of tomato season, I know I’m going to run into my beloved Country Greek Salad–bursting with everything good: tomatoes, feta, olives,  and cucumber all without the distraction of any lettuce whatsoever.

Well, the other day,  I was scavenging about in the fridge when I realized I had all of the ingredients to make one without even having to trek to Joe’s.  On my windowsill, I had the first really exceptionally good tomatoes I’ve lucked into all summer.  In the fridge I had a big vat of really good, authentically Greek feta, and an english cucumber.  I didn’t have any red onion which, truth be told, isn’t my friend, but I did have some scallions and, while there was a dearth of Kalamata olives, I did have a bevy of dear little nicoise olives.

I mean, how hard could it be?  In no time, I whipped up this little taste treat and, I hate to say it, but I think it was even better than my inspiration at Joe’s Inn.

Never fear, as the days wear on, turning summer into fall, there are always closets to be cleaned,  and projects to overtake me.  And just between you and me,  sometimes there’s just nothing that fits the bill like  a big ole’ plate of Joe’s  spaghetti ala Greek with marinara sauce.

Country Greek Salad

serves 3

For salad:

4 large perfect tomatoes, cored and quartered

1 large english cucumber, peeled and cut into 1 ” dice

1/2 cup nicoise olives

3 scallions, chopped

6 ounces good Greek Feta, chopped into 1 ” chunks

For dressing:

about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)

about a tablespoon red wine vinegar (or to taste)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

salt and freshly ground pepper

Place all salad ingredients in a large salad bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic  and oregano.  Add mustard and stir to emulsify.  Taste and add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings to taste.

Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve immediately with crusty bread for an easy and delicious late summer feast.

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