Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Port Wine Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Cheddar Polenta



Before we start, I do want to let you know that this is a lazy Saturday or Sunday kind of dish, because it does require a bit of prep time and it needs to cook for between 3 and 4 hours, from start to finish... but boy, oh boy - is it ever worth it! Oh... and make sure to read the "Spoiler Alert" located at the end of this post!

So... The Hubbers has had the idea of this particular dish floating around in his head for a couple of years. I had something similar at a restaurant called Cask Bar + Kitchen located in Manhattan's Upper East Side, on one of my trips to see a specialist at NYU's Langone Medical Center. He took a bite, then another and then another... until he'd finished at least half of my dinner. He raved about this dish for weeks afterward. Who am I kidding? He's never stopped talking about or thinking about it.

I'd be remiss if I didn't start by saying that he's an awesome cook and an even better baker, (certainly better than I am!) but he's always been the type to want that recipe close at hand and he will follow it as closely as possible. Believe me, he's a very type "A" kinda guy. He'll occasionally fly by the seat of his pants, but only when he has no other choice. Well, he finally got desperate enough and I suppose he was tired of waiting for "the" recipe to just magically appear, so off he went to the grocery store, with a little trepidation and a shopping list.

The result? Wow! I have to say that this was one awesome meal! (and one that I practically inhaled) I'm so glad that just as he was starting, I asked if it would be OK for me to photograph the whole process and put it up on the blog! (and even happier that he agreed!)

I don't have a photo of all of the ingredients in one shot together as I usually try to provide in my posts, but you'll have the full ingredient list, photos of the ingredients as they were prepared and the step by step directions you're all used to. So, never fear! I've got ya covered! (those of you who tell me that you enjoy the step by step, that is) If you'd like to print this recipe out, see the note at the bottom of the post about the "Print Friendly" button.

The braised short rib recipe will be first and then I'll post the recipes for the polenta and for my little contribution to the meal - the roasted Brussels Sprouts! You're gonna love this one folks! I mean, really love it!


Port Braised Short Ribs
(serves 4-6 people)
  • 4 Lbs Beef Short Ribs
  • 4 Lg Carrots, cut in a large dice
  • 4 Lg Parsnips, cut in a large dice
  • 3 Medium Yellow Onions, cut into eighths
  • 1 Lb Crimini Mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 Bottle of Good Ruby Port (750ml bottle)
  • 28oz Chicken Stock (or 1 quart if that's what's available)
  • 28oz Cups Beef Stock (or 1 quart if that's what's available)
  • 4 to 6 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • 4 to 6 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 2 to 3 Bay Leaves (dried is fine if you don't have fresh)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Light Olive or Vegetable Oil for browning meat and veggies
  • 4 or 5 inches of Kitchen Twine for the bouquet garni

1. Season the short ribs liberally with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Remove any excess debris from the mushrooms with a damp paper towel and set those aside as well. 

*Tip: Never wash mushrooms or get them saturated. They are extremely porous and will end up quite soggy in whatever you're cooking. Especially if you're going to saute them as a side with steaks, etc.


3. Place a heavy pot/dutch oven ovver medium high het and add a tablespoon of oil. Once the oil begins to get a bit of a ripple to it, add in your pieces of short rib in small batches and turn them every few minutes, until browned on all sides.


4. Remove the browned pieces of beef to a plate as you go along, until all of them are finished. Set that plate aside while you complete the next few steps.


See all of that lovely golden brown crust on the beef? And notice that it's left behind a brownish coating on the bottom of your pot? (this is called "fond" by all of the fancy professional chefs) These are good things, folks! I mean v-e-r-y good things! Remember... brown bits = flavor!

There should be a bit of oil and beef drippings in the bottom of the pot. You want to leave them there for sauteing the veggies.


Glad I caught the next few shots... For someone who doesn't exactly have a formal culinary background, I'd say that the Hubbs has some pretty awesome knife skills!


5. Cut your carrots and parsnips into a large dice and place them in a bowl while you cut up the onions.


My small dice (or "brunoise" in French) never looks this uniform. LOL


Sorry that I didn't get a shot of the onions being cut. I had to sneak back into the family room to finish watching the last few minutes of a TV show. But, you'll see that he simply cut them into eighths when you scroll just a few pictures down the page.


Seriously... The man has some killer knife skills.


6. Using the kitchen string/twine, tie your herbs into a little bundle and cut off the excess string. (The pros call this a bouquet garni)


As noted above, he basically just peeled the onions, sliced off the root and stem ends and then cut them into quarters and then again into eighths and separated the slices as he put them in the pot.


7. Place the diced carrots and parsnips into the pan with the onions and season them with a little salt and pepper.


8. Saute the vegetables for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then toss in the bouquet garni. Continue to cook this mixture until the vegetables just begin to turn golden in color. If things seem a bit dry, just add a bit more oil.


Now, you don't have to break the bank on this, but you do want to buy a decent Ruby Port. It really doesn't have to be the most expensive bottle in the store, but it should be something that you'd be happy to drink. I believe this one was about $12 or $13. This holds true for any wine that you cook with.


9. Pour about half of the bottle of Port into the pan and stir it well.


You want to maintain a medium to medium high heat, so that the Port bubbles slightly and reduces by about 1/3.


This is what the mixture will look like when it has reduced enough.


10. Add in 3/4 of the beef stock and turn the heat up slightly, until it reaches a gentle simmer.



11. Once the liquid is simmering, add the meat back into the pot, bring it back up to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, uncovered.


12. Once the 30 minutes is up, add in 3/4 of the chicken stock and continue to cook at a gentle simmer, for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is basically falling off the bone.



13. Cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters, depending on their size and set them aside.


14. Add the mushrooms to the pot during the last 20 minutes of cooking time.



15. At this point, you can carefully remove the bones from the pot, since the meat will have fallen off them. You'll find that this is very easy to do because the bones are large and flat and you can just grab them with a pair of tongs.


16. Set the burner to the lowest setting it has and cover with a lid to keep them warm. The short ribs are done at this point and we can move on to the Polenta.

(OK... if you've come here to learn how to make polenta from "scratch", I'll apologize right now. We spent the day cooking the short ribs and watching shows that we had  DVR'd, so we went with the instant version. Sorry. Maybe I'll do a scratch version some time soon.)


Creamy Cheddar Polenta
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
  • 1/2 Pkg Instant Polenta (8 oz)
  • 1 Cup Aged Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 1/2 Stick Butter (4 Tbls - don't judge, now)
  • 2 Cups Chicken Broth (or Water)
  • 2 Cups Half & Half - you can use cream or milk, but not less than 2%
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Italian Seasoning, to taste (optional)

1. Grate your cheese. This is one of those times that I'll tell you that you must use a brick/block/wedge of real cheddar and not the pre-shredded kind that comes in a bag. Not that there aren't some decent pre-shredded brands available... It's because that type of cheese is coated with a bit of corn (or other) starch, to keep the shreds from sticking together in the bag. That small amount of starch could quickly cause your polenta to become far too thick and lumpy or sticky and nobody wants lumpy, sticky polenta, do they? Nah... I didn't think so.


2. Measure out your 4 cups of liquid. We decided to go 50/50 on the broth and half & half, but you can divide it up whatever way you prefer. Next time we use the instant polenta, I'd do 70% broth and 30% dairy. This batch was a tad too thick for our liking and we had to add about 1/4 cup more broth to it.

As with many grains, the humidity can have an effect on the final outcome as well, so you might need more or less liquid anyway.


Ooops! I guess I was making him a teeny bit nervous, following him around the kitchen and taking all of these photos. LOL


3. Pour your broth and dairy mixture into a 6 qt heavy sauce pot. Season with salt, pepper and your Italian seasoning (if using any). For this amount of polenta, we used about a teaspoon of Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and what amounted to about 1 teaspoon of the Tuscan Seasoning.


This is a local brand called Northeast Corner Herb Farms Tuscan Garlicious Grind and we absolutely love it! We use it in all kinds of dishes, from rice pilaf to seasoning meats before roasting them. But, since this product is local to my area, you can use any brand that you like. However... If you do want to try this particular blend, (and I highly recommend that you do) you can order it on line by clicking HERE.

The super nice folks at NCHF have a few blends in these high quality "grinders" to choose from and they also offer specially blended dip mixes and a range of culinary quality garlic and herbal braids (that are absolutely gorgeous) that you can hang in your kitchen! Then all you need to do is to snip a bit of the different herbs off and use them in your recipes! (which reminds me, they have a cookbook for sale and a link that you can click to get a few of those delicious recipes right on the site as well!)


4. Cover partially and allow the seasoned broth and milk mixture to come up to just under a boil, over medium heat. You'll want to watch this pretty closely, to make sure it doesn't burn and/or boil over.


5. Once your liquid has come up to a simmer, slowly pour the polenta into the pot, whisking vigorously the entire time to prevent any lumps from forming. This instant polenta thickens up really quickly, so you might even need to turn the heat down to medium low or low, once you have it all in the pot.




6. Add in your cheese and butter a little at a time, while still constantly stirring. Give it a quick taste and if needed, you can add a bit more herbs or salt & pepper and you're ready to roll! *Tip: This cheesy polenta is a fantastic substitute for mashed potatoes or rice, with all types of stews and/or braised dishes.

The Sprouts

By now, I'm sure most of you have roasted some kind of vegetable, but I'll just give you a quick look at how I roasted the sprouts...


*Tip: When I'm making a cooked veggie as a side dish, I often like to add a bit of the same seasonings that I've used in some of the other dishes that I'm serving. I don't use a huge amount, but it's a great way to tie all of the different dishes together, by giving each of them some familiar flavor notes. Your guests might not know just what it is, but they will notice a certain "flow" to the meal that wouldn't be there otherwise.


1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Slice off a thin piece of the root end of each of the sprouts and peel off the darker or slightly damaged leaves. Then cut each one in half lengthwise and put them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Make sure not to cut too much of the base off, because that root is what will help to keep the cut halves from falling apart as they're cooking.


3. Drizzle about 2 or 3 teaspoons of a light olive oil or vegetable oil over the sprouts and season them liberally with salt & pepper. At this point, you can add a touch of your Tuscan or Italian seasoning as well. Gently toss everything together so that each sprout half is coated well with the oil and the seasonings.


4. Pour the sprouts out onto a foil lined baking sheet, (for easy clean-up) making sure to spread them all out in a single layer. Place them in your pre-heated oven and roast them for between 10 to 20 minutes, or until they are just fork tender and a gorgeous dark golden brown around the edges. The reason I gave you such a broad span on the cooking time, is because a lot depends on both the size of the sprouts and your specific oven's temperature calibration. Some ovens are cooler or hotter than others, but if you check on them every few minutes, you'll be fine.



Now, the sprouts in the photo above are what you're looking for. Some of the halves will be slightly darker than others, but that's perfectly normal. In fact, that color means flavor, folks! I can't even begin to tell you the number of people who's minds I've changed about this often maligned vegetable, just by simply roasting them this way. You see, we humans have a tendency to remember the taste of foods by the way they were introduced to them. My mother occasionally cooked Brussels Sprouts when I was growing up and believe me... at that point in my life, I wanted nothing to do with them.

BUT... she didn't cook them like this! Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that my Mom was a bad cook. On the contrary, like all of the other moms that I knew growing up back in the 60's and 70's, she boiled every bit of flavor and texture out of most vegetables and then just put the poor mushy things in a bowl and plopped it on the table. Sometimes, she'd pop a little pat of butter on the top, but that was a good as it got. No added seasonings. Just grey, bland, mushy little mini cabbages (at least in my mind) that stunk up the whole house as they boiled away on the stove. Yuck! But once I started to learn how to cook in a way that would get the most out of the food I was preparing, I fell in love with sprouts and the love affair just keeps growing.

**Spoiler Alert! I'll be posting another recipe for Brussels Sprouts in the not too distant future, that I'm pretty sure will make the most resistant of sprout haters, fall madly in love with them! I'm not kidding! It involves bacon, Dijon mustard and well.... I'll just leave it at that for now. So, if you're not already subscribed, you might just want to sign up now, so that you don't miss out on this recipe! (and many more in the future!) There's a little box right at the bottom of this post, where you can add your email address and subscribe, so go ahead... what have you got to lose?? I've made it as easy as pie for you!


Enjoy!

Mary





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