• Braised Short Ribs

    Braised Short Ribs with horseradish sauce.

    Typical of California this time of year, in one day we went from eighty degrees and sunny to forty-five degrees and rainy, with snow in the higher hills. And while the rain does turn the golden hills back to green, we will still take the warmer weather as long as we can get it. But one of the benefits of colder weather is that we get to make some more “wintry” dishes, and that often means braises and stews. And one of our favorite braises involves beef short ribs.

    Short ribs are a cheap, flavorful and tender (if you cook them right) cut of beef from the rib/plate section of the cow. Short ribs are butchered a few different ways, but for braises the rectangular “English” cut is usually preferred. The longer, thinner “flanken” or “accordion” cuts are more commonly used in Korean-style preparations, which are fantastic, but for another post. The short rib pieces are anywhere from 1-3 inches across and 1-2 inches thick and will usually contain a section of the rib bone. As there is a lot of fat and connective tissue (along with a bone), the short rib has potential for a lot of flavor, but is likely to be tough unless cooked long enough, at moderate temperatures and in a moist environment. Sounds like a braise is in order.

    Braising is a combination cooking method where meat is first browned in dry, high heat and then slowly cooked in a covered pot along with liquid. And if you just said “isn’t that just like a pot roast”, you are correct. The high heat provides tasty, browned flavors and texture, while the moderate temperature, moist cooking breaks down tough cuts of meat and builds a sauce. The addition of aromatics and herbs and flavored liquids like wine and/or stock make for very deep, rich flavors. And while braising takes time and has a few steps, it is an easy cooking method and has the bonus that most braises keep well and are often better the second day. If you cook for a hungry family or a crowd, braises should be in your toolkit. (It is worth noting that braised short ribs are a popular dish with caterers for all the reasons we just noted, delicious, low-cost and easy to prepare ahead of time.)

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  • Sharing (and Sometimes Stealing) Food With Family and Friends

    Wild Flour Bread. Good stuff.Writing, cooking and gardening are often thought of as a mostly solitary pursuits, but we find that the opposite is true. Fresh fruit on the tree, new recipes and a well-earned drink seem to always supply a path to more time with family and friends and easy opportunities to engage with our community. In a time where so many voices express outright fear of food and drink, it is worth noting that few things unify us more than the simple act of breaking bread together. And if that bread happens to be tasty, then so much the better.

    And this week we literally got to break bread and share with many family and friends. Carolyn’s Dad, Bill, was generous enough to bring us bread from Wild Flour Bread in Freestone, California, a few hours north of us. Wild Flour bread is a truly artisan baker that bakes all of their bread on-site in wood-fired brick ovens. They feature a few dozen varieties of bread and pastry each day. They do not sell anywhere but the bakery and when they are out of bread for the day, you are out of luck. Happily, Bill brought us four loaves; olive, super seed, garlic rose and a sweet cardamom bread. The bread was terrific, and the kids loved it (and since they have no “filter” their praise is noteworthy). We enjoyed the cardamom bread toasted with butter at breakfast and made simple, tasty grilled cheeses for the kids with the other loaves.

    Good bread = good grilled cheese sandwiches.

    What makes the bread so special was not just the taste, but that Bill was so willing to go out of his way to share the bread with us. His simple logic was, “it’s really good bread and I thought you might want to write about it”. The same thing happened a few months back when Carolyn’s Aunt and Uncle, Ann & Russel, started trying our cocktails and sent us Bernard DeVoto’s marvelous book “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto“. My sister sends photos of an endless wall of bitters, and our buddy Chad sends us envy-inducing photos of fresh bay scallops. Our friend Scott has a recipe for a new variety of Manhattan and we just have to try it out….

    The Hour. A good case for including the occasional cocktail in your life.

    Later in the week, our friend (and true gourmand) Phelps came by to pick up some beef. This spring, we bought 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from Stemple Creek Ranch and the steer was recently harvested. Phelps bought half of the beef and needed to pick it up (a 1/4 cow is a lot of beef, if you are curious, it fills two large coolers). We got to catch up with Phelps, walk through the garden, share (and show-off) some of our berries and even pluck a few more of the early cherries. We are just a few days away from a full cherry harvest. It was a brief visit, but a good one, and we look forward to cooking with Phelps this summer.

    Ribeye steak from Stemple Creek Ranch.

    And finally, when we aren’t sharing with friends we resort to stealing their produce. Well, not quite stealing, but certainly being “opportunistic”. Recently our friends Roger and Greta rented a house in a nearby town. The house was built by an old Italian family years ago and they literally covered their property with citrus trees. Lemons, limes and oranges, and the trees are huge and very productive. Our friends haven’t really moved in yet, but Carolyn was in the neighborhood and stopped by the house to check it out. It’s late in the year for citrus but there were still limes and lemons on the trees and Carolyn decided to “help herself”. She did get permission after the fact, so the stealing became sharing (ex-post-facto). In any event, we did mix Roger a drink using his lime juice, so we hope they will forgive our transgressions and let us “liberate” more of their citrus in the future. It will certainly give us a good excuse to stop by. Continue reading