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Monday, February 27, 2012

15-Hour Red Wine Brisket

Beef en Filo with Onion-Leek Marmalade and Chive Garnish.
Sometimes, one cooks with almost no time. In a restaurant, for example, the goal is to reduce any given item to about 10 or 15 minutes total of preparation from "hey, we need a ______" to it going out to the diner. This means that some things are partly finished in advance, destined for a sort of reheating (for example, pasta is often cooked just short of al dente, then re-boiled to finish cooking at service.) Other times, you have a couple hours, like cooking a family dinner. Finally, one can periodically cook with all the time in the world—that is the sort of situation that spawned this dish.

This began rather harmlessly as a variant on the Red Wine Braised Short Ribs that I've made before; in this case, I didn't marinate the beef, nor did I include a lot of aromatic herbs with the braising liquid. Instead, I opted for a somewhat simple, rather old-fashioned approach. I simply placed all the ingredients in a large pan, covered it, and braised it in the oven until it was tender.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Polastrello in Padella

There's a truth about being a chef. It's a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless: The minute you get through culinary school, you stop relying so heavily on recipes; this is also the time that you will be given the most cook books.

Nowadays, I tend to use my modern-era cookbooks as a source of inspiration, rather than a direct recipe source. I can flip through a cookbook full of soups, spot an idea that I like, and adapt it to suit my needs, tastes, or supplies on hand. Tomato soup becomes roasted tomato soup becomes tomato-basil bisque becomes tomato, chicken, and rice soup. It's easy to rewrite a recipe if you know what you're doing, and it's easy to write a recipe from scratch.

Yet, there are some books that I will cook from verbatim, whose recipes I will memorize and cook over and over again, because they are so good. La Tavola Italiana, by Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow, is one such book, and their recipe for Polastrello in Padella (Braised Chicken) is simply divine. It's simple, flavorful, and delicious.

Earlier this year, we purchased several chickens from Melo Farms. They were large chickens (between 4 and 5 pounds) and were definitely older—their bones were bigger, and their joints harder to butcher when I was working with them. We roasted one plain, and determined that the meat was just a bit too tough to work well with fast, hot cooking. Moist heat, as I've mentioned before, works well for tough meats, helping to break down the muscle tissues without losing the moisture that makes it palatable.

Polastrello in Padella is a recipe that works equally well with your average supermarket chicken and an old bird like we had.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

Shortly before Serving
For New Year's Eve some of my culinarily-inclined friends and I got together and decided to do something ambitious: 7 courses of dinner, 12 bottles of wine, and (ideally) 10 or so people. Well, the 10 people didn't show up (we ended up with 7) and only 2 people made it to the main course. I myself passed out after the champagne toasts and chicken course (which was only the 3rd course.)

Jenny, the mushroomian
We opened with an amuse-bouche of lentils with a bacon vinaigrette, and our poultry course was roast cornish game hens... these were followed by a salad (which we called "Graecia Capta"—"Captured Greece" in Latin—a hybrid of a caesar and a greek salad,) the main course of a roasted pork loin, chocolates, and fruit and cheese. As far as I know nobody made it to the chocolates before heading home or turning in for the night.

The soup for the night, falling between amuse-bouche and poultry, was a Beef Mushroom Barley soup, which I carefully crafted a couple days before. When I was cooking it, I had in mind my very dear friend Jenny, who likes beef, mushrooms, and heat—thus the addition of a dried hot pepper to the fortification of the soup's broth. She thoroughly approved of the soup (as did the assembled masses.) Therefore, I present to you, a recipe.