We had some friends over last Saturday for a "fancy dinner party with a toddler" - which, as the quotes imply, is a complete oxymoron - nothing remains fancy when there is a toddler in the equation. However it turned out that the toddler was not the one we needed to worry about!
Troublesome guests aside, the food itself was - if I may say so myself - outstanding. We started out with an absolute TO DIE FOR pairing of wine and cheese. Nettle meadow farms triple creme Kunik, and an evervesent slightly tangy and crisp Italian white called Ca' de Noci. The latter I'll take no credit for - it was a recommendation from the amazing guys at my local wine store. But man do they know their stuff - this wine was great and you should get your hands on some, and some Kunik - or your local version of a goat-milk pungent and ripe triple creme. Bacchus himself could not have thought up a better combination. Try it!
The main course was grass-fed beef short ribs braised for four hours with coffee, chili and red wine, served over a bright purée of carrot and rutabaga. I got both recipes from the great compilation of recipes put together by Amanda Hesser from the NYTimes archives, The Essential NYTimes Cookbook.These two recipes were huge hits, especially the ribs. I highly recommend using grass fed beef if you can find it (I got mine at whole foods and it is worth the extra price). I used 10 large ribs and had to use a 10-quart Dutch oven and 1.5 times the liquid. If you are doing 4-6 large you should be okay with a 6-quart and the liquid specified in the recipe.
I served the ribs with a Spanish 100% Tempranillo. I had been tempted to buy a zin or a Bordeaux but the wine guys said the spice would kill the body. And the Tempranillo worked splendidly - so I think they were right on!
Short Ribs with Coffee and Chili
I used 2 pasilla chilies and 1/4 teaspoon dried chipotle powder instead of the whole chili and 1.5 times the amount of liquid and the ribs were just mildly - very pleasantly - spicy
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 large or 8 small beef short ribs
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 dried pasilla chile (also known as chili negro), stemmed, seeded and minced
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
Pinch of sugar
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup dry red wine (I used a nice cotes du rhone, a Zinfandel works well too, don't use it unless you'd drink it!)
Drizzle oil into a large Dutch oven and, working in batches, brown the ribs well on all sides over medium heat. Take your time and season the ribs with salt and pepper while you cook. Remove them from the pot.
Turn the heat to low. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, sugar and chilies to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 15 minutes.
Turn the heat to high and add the wine and coffee. Boil until reduced by about half. Return ribs to the pot and cook covered on low on the stovetop, or in a 300 degree oven, until the meat is very very tender and falls easily off all bones - about 2 or 3 hours - longer if the bones are bigger. Allow plenty of time for braising! Serve atop creamy polenta, and/or golden winter purée (recipe below.)
Golden winter purée
A lot of recipes tell you to peel carrots when you don't really have to - here you really do need to.
Also I used a food mill and was very pleased with the end consistency.
The original recipe says this serves 10, but if you use it like I do, as a substitute for a starch, it only serves 4-6.
1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 lb rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large firm but ripe pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Bring 4 quarts of salted water to boil in a a large heavy pot. Add the vegetables and pear and summer until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork, about 25 minutes. Drain.
Purée the vegetables and pear in a food processor (or pass through a food mill twice.) Put the mixture back in the cooking pot and stir in the butter in small pieces, then stir in the cream, ginger and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper.