April 25, 2010

A Brief Journey in Short Ribs

Spring is coming on fast, but there are still a few chilly days left that lend themselves to beefy braises and slow stews; just time to get in one more short rib dinner. Or three.

I kept it simple, to start. Rubbed the meat with a little kosher salt and olive oil, browned it well in a Dutch oven, deglazed with a cheap and cheerful Chilean carménère (Éstacion, $12, surprisingly drinkable), added a 400 ml tin of plain diced tomatoes with their juices and a half-cup of chicken stock. For seasoning, a sprig each of rosemary and thyme from the garden, 3 bay leaves, a few cloves of garlic (quartered lengthwise), and a dash of allspice. Once the dish was at a simmer, I put it in the oven, covered, at 300℉ for three hours. The last half-hour of waiting was pure agony, but the wait was worth it. Rich, meltingly tender, and with a deep, wonderful beefy flavour. Baked potato (since the oven was on anyway) and coleslaw rounded out the meal.I made extra, not that we'd have had the room for larger servings. No, the extra was for conversion purposes. I figure that any time I am waiting three hours for something to come out of the oven, I'm making it count. So, I cooked double the amount that we needed, and stored the leftovers in the braising liquid in the fridge.

The added bonus of advance preparation and chilling is that all of the lovely suet comes up to the surface, and an be quite easily lifted off (to feed the birds, or save for some other purpose), leaving a lean gel of braising liquid surrounding the still-on-the-bone meat.

So, what to do with the leftovers? Sandwiches, of course! I warmed up the meat and shredded it with a couple of forks (pulled pork style), and put it on toasted buns with a few pieces of the tomatoes from the braising liquid, topped the whole thing with a layer of edam cheese, and served with a spinach salad for super-fast dinner.

Since there was still a little shredded meat leftover that I couldn't cram onto the buns, and the rest of the braising liquid, I used the liquid as a base for a soup, adding a little extra broth, some carrot coins, corn, lima beans(!), and barley. At the end, the shredded meat went back into the pot to warm up. Embarassingly easy, and very delicious with a big hunk of bread to mop up the last bits.

Bring on spring. I'm feeling fortified.

April 13, 2010

Salad Tweaking (Pasta Salad Primavera)

If you have check out my Reviews blog, Much Ado About Diet, you'll see the test recipe for Dilled Pasta Salad with Spring Vegetables from the newly released Mayo Clinic Diet & Journal. As noted, we like all of the ingredients, and so we enjoyed the salad, but we also identified some issues for this recipe in terms of its end result on the plate, as well as the overall health scorecard. So I decided to give it a little salad makeover.

Right away, we were surprised by the amount of oil in the original dressing recipe. 1/4 cup seemed rather high for the amount of salad to be dressed and, in fact, it delivered an uncomfortably oily result. In the revised recipe below, we cut the amount of fat in half, using only two tablespoons of olive oil. That took care of the excessive greasiness, and still easily provided enough dressing to adequately season the salad.

The second thing we noted was that the use of both asparagus and green bell pepper gave an overall bitter quality to the entire salad, not to mention contributing to a rather monotone appearance. The few cherry tomatoes did break up the green and white pasta-scape, but left me thinking that the whole dish could benefit from more colour, and more natural vegetable sweetness. I switched out the green pepper for orange and red bell peppers, which are much sweeter and do not have that unripe bitter quality of the green.

I also felt that the amount of pasta could really support a much greater quantity of vegetable matter, allowing for larger portions that really only increased the fresh vegetable intake of any serving. More vegetables is generally considered an improvement, health-wise, so I increased all of the feature vegetables: 2 more asparagus stalks, an extra half bell pepper, extra tomatoes (the exact number is going to depend on the size of tomato you choose).

Finally, I thought the amount of fresh herb could use a boost, so I roughly doubled the chopped herbs. In the second iteration, I used tarragon instead of dill, but that was simply because I had it handy, and it plays well with the same vegetables.

I think the final salad was more visually appealing (the change of noodle was strictly due to availability at the time) with lots of colours and a nice balance between the astringent asparagus, the sweet peppers, and the acidity of the tomatoes. The flavours were bright, the pasta tasted seasoned, but not greasy, and this recipe has earned a place in my spring and summer repertoire. It's versatile, vegan, stores well in the fridge for a day or two, and is about perfect for potlucks or picnics.

Pasta Salad Primavera
adapted from The Mayo Clinic Diet & Journal
Serves 4

3 cups uncooked short pasta, such as rotini
10 asparagus stalks
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
2 green onions
10 - 12 cocktail tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
large pinch kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh green herbs of your choice (e.g. tarragon, dill, basil, or parsley)

Trim the asparagus and slice into approximately two-centimeter chunks. Dice the peppers into medium-small dice. FInely slice the green onions. Cut the tomatoes as needed - quarters for strawberry tomatoes, halves for cherry tomatoes, and whole for grape.

Stir the dressing together while the pasta boils.

Drop the pasta into boiling, lightly salted water and cook until just tender. For the last two minutes of cooking time, add the asparagus to the pot of boiling pasta. When finished, drain and plunge the pasta and asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking process and cool it down. Rinse with fresh, cold water until all the pasta is cool to the touch. Drain well, shaking to get rid of any excess water.

In a large serving bowl, combine the chopped raw vegetables and dressing. Add the well-drained pasta and asparagus and toss so that the dressing gets evenly distributed. Serve right away, or chill until needed.

April 11, 2010

I'm Back...and I brought a Bento

I've missed you all.

As you can see, my fascination with Japanese food rages on unabated. I've been taking bento lunches to work (intermittently) over the past six months, and I've developed a taste for them. I have noted, though, that often when I make a Japanese-style dinner, it all gets devoured, and I don't have enough to take for lunch. I have not yet hit that point of obsessive wherein I get up an extra twenty minutes early to make a bento from scratch in the morning.

Clearly, I need to make bigger suppers, or starting eating dessert so that I will eat less of the actual dinner, to save the necessary room.

This bento is pretty self-explanatory: I'm still working on my scotch egg recipe (my dear friend Lisa beat me to making them with quail's eggs, darn it!), which is at least one dish that I'm guaranteed to have enough left for lunch, because those suckers are filling. I sliced up a piece of flourless wheat bread to go with, to provide a little grain-based anchor for the protein.

I frequently take sliced vegetables in my work lunches. I don't usually take the time to make them cute, like the little radishes here, but something about making bento boxes inspires the more twee presentation, somehow. Zucchini half-rounds and peppers round things out, and I've got a little bit of Lighthouse brand salad dressing (bacon & blue cheese) to go with. For the record, while the flavours of blue cheese and bacon go beautifully together, the actual bacon particulate matter was kind of stringy and chewy. I'll stick to regular blue cheese dressing in the future.

The apple is unusual, for me: I love apples, but I don't usually eat a whole one, raw. Uncooked apples give me fairly nasty heartburn, so I tend to either slice one up and share it, or cook them into sauce, pie, crisps or crumbles, or other baked goods. However, Red Delicious seem to have fairly low acidity, so I gave it a try. I find that Delicious apples tend to be a bit mealy-textured, but it was a nice change from the usual berries or kiwi that I tend to have.