Tag Archives: wine

pinot and pan sauces and cooking for two

One of the biggest adjustments for me with this new cohabitation thing has been figuring out dinnertime. Suffice it to say that the food of my bachelorette days just doesn’t cut it when it comes to feeding a hungry guy (wait, you mean dudes aren’t down with scrambled eggs or a “big salad” and three bites of reheated lunch leftovers for dinner every night?!).  So my new challenge in the kitchen is to come up with meals that are satisfying for the male half  of the household but not too taxing after a day’s work*. That, and planning ahead enough to have certain ingredients on hand so as to minimize after-work errand-running that cuts into my cooking time.

*I should note that said dude does cook for me every now and again and that my being the one to make dinner is more a control freak issue on my end than him “expecting” me to do it!

That said, there’s a part of me that chafes at the thought of the fast-n-easy Rachel Ray-style school of cooking. I’d rather spend all Sunday in the kitchen making a huge pot of stew or something else we can reheat a couple times through the week. I’m fine with making the occasional quickie meal (pasta puttanesca or weeknight omelettes are favorites), but sometimes I want something a little snazzier; plus, someone complains if they feel too protein (ahem, *meat*)-deprived for too many days in a row.

Having splurged recently on some nicer-than-usual wines at Western Market, I decided to try a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while, a braised salmon in Pinot Noir from Molly Stevens’ excellent book All About Braising. Folks, I’ve sung the praises of this book and its recipes many times before, and if you haven’t yet picked it up I would highly recommend it! Although the recipe required some slicing, dicing and infusing, it was really easy and I was able to do the prep work while the side dishes (a Wehani rice and some Puy lentils) cooked. All in all I’d say the meal took a little over an hour, not too much effort considering the fantastic results.

I wasn’t sure if my skillet handle was ovenproof so I decided to do the braise on the stovetop. The salmon came out a tiny bit on the dry side (my fault, not the recipe’s), but paired with the flavorful sauce, it was still very good eats. The red rice and lentils were the perfect earthy accompaniments to the mushroom and bacon-laced wine sauce.

I was inspired a few nights later to pan-sear some venison tenderloin and make a similar pan sauce of shallots, mushrooms and wine. It’s a shame that Marvin wasn’t home to enjoy it with me; he was in NYC for his first gallery show (nice, right?) so I had the tenderloin all to myself. I would’ve waited to make the dish for us both, but due to a freezer debacle (cough*dontbuykenmore*cough) I was trying to use things up before they spoiled. I salted the meat, seared it in clarified butter to medium, then let it rest while I cooked shallots in the butter and deglazed it with red wine. The mushrooms were cooked in a separate pan while the meat was cooking, and added at the end. I ate it with the lentils and rice left over from the salmon dinner and it was nothing short of spectacular. Next year I’m begging my dad for more tenderloin! Also, I want to try one of these venison tenderloin recipes from Hank Shaw’s blog when I have the time/ inclination to get slightly fancier.

I just want to leave you with this: If you’re cooking meat in a skillet and not making a pan sauce, it’s like leaving money on the table. Any crusty bits that remain contain so much flavor and it only takes minutes to create a sauce that will have you scraping your plate. I also like to make pan sauce from chicken drippings that remain after roasting a chicken in a cast iron skillet. Red or white wine can be used, just use whatever you’re drinking. For red meat, cognac or brandy can be used instead of wine; just boil the sauce enough to get rid of any harsh boozy flavor. If you salt your meat, you shouldn’t need to salt your sauce, but taste and see. A couple turns of black pepper is de rigeur as well.

Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir with Bacon & Mushrooms (adapted from All About Braising by Molly Stevens)
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Notes: I scaled the recipe down to serve two, but this version serves four. If making for two, halve the salmon quantity and reduce the other ingredients by about 1/3.

4 wild-caught salmon filets, skin-on, each about 6 oz and about 1 ½ inches thick
4 ounces mushrooms, regular button or a mix
5 slices bacon (about 4 oz), cut into ½-inch strips
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small shallot, chopped
2 cups light, earthy red wine such as Pinot Noir or a cru Beaujolais (not Beaujolais Nouveau) (yes I know that’s bossy but you’ll thank me)
3 sprigs fresh thyme, each about 2-3 inches
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Examine the salmon to see if it contains any pinbones by running your finger down the center. If you feel any small bones, remove them with a tweezer or needle-nose pliers. Season the filets with salt and a little pepper and set aside.

Brush any dirt from the mushrooms (I like to just peel them by gently pulling the outer layer off, just don’t wash them with water). Trim the bottoms of the mushrooms and separate the caps from the stems. Thinly slice the caps and set aside. Dice the stems and reserve separately from the caps.

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Prepare the braising liquid: Select a skillet just large enough to hold the salmon filets in a single layer (12-13 inches diameter). Add half the bacon to the cold skillet and cook over medium heat until it cooks through and renders much of its fat; do not allow to crisp. Increase the heat slightly, adding the leek, carrot, shallot and mushroom stems and sauté until the vegetables are soft and just beginning to brown. Add 1 cup of the wine and the thyme and bring to a rapid simmer until the wine is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup wine and simmer an additional 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, fry the remaining bacon in a medium skillet until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain. Discard most of the bacon grease and add 1 Tbs butter, swirling off the heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat until the mushrooms have thrown off their liquid and become golden.  Remove from pan and set aside. You will reuse this skillet to finish the sauce. so just leave it on the stove, no need to wash it.

When the sauce base has cooked, add the salmon, skin side down. Cover tightly with foil and/or a lid, and place in the oven. After 15 minutes, check the salmon by discreetly slicing into the thickest part of a filet; if you see just a bare hint of dark pink, it’s done (it will continue cooking as it rests).

Remove the salmon to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into the medium skillet, pressing down with a spoon to obtain as much liquid as possible. Bring to a rapid simmer for 2 minutes and reduce to a gentle simmer, whisking in the remaining 1 Tbs butter.Add the reserved bacon and mushrooms and the parsley. Taste for salt and pepper, adding if needed.

Plate the salmon and top it with the sauce; serve immediately.

when life hands you a tough hen…

…make des nouilles «coq au vin»!

It’s always a goal of mine to try to source the most authentic ingredients possible when making food from other countries.  Partly for this reason, I had never attempted one of the most classic of all French dishes, Coq au Vin.  In the U.S., our chickens are sold young and bred for their plumpness and would fall apart in a recipe that called for long, slow stewing.  Coq au Vin is a recipe designed to make the best of a lean, sinewy old rooster rather than a hen barely past pubescence.

So imagine my delight when I saw for sale at the farmers’ market, from one of my favorite farmers, stewing hens for sale!  Ok, so it was a hen, not a rooster, but I figured it was as close as I was going to get.  They were frozen solid and had a layer of frost on them, but I optimistically bought one anyway, along with some cippolini onions and button mushrooms.

Once I thawed the old girl out, I held her up for inspection.  She was the scrawniest bird I had ever seen.  In the schoolyard, she would’ve garnered taunts of “flat as a board” while her double-D supermarket cousins pranced past. Her legs and thighs were similarly spare; I wasn’t going to get much meat out of her.  But I wasn’t overly concerned; I was looking at this as somewhat of an experiment anyway, so I forged ahead.

I followed the recipe’s initial steps, marinating the bird in wine and aromatics for a day and then braising it in the marinade and stock until the liquid had reduced by about half.  Despite the low, slow braise, the chicken appeared tough as shoe leather- what had I done wrong?  I decided to chuck the whole thing in the fridge and resume the next day; perhaps it needed a longer braise to break down the collagen?  Any bird I’ve ever dealt with, when cooked properly, you can move the joint freely between the drumstick and thigh.  This bird’s joints were completely stiff and unyielding.  However, the sauce tasted absolutely phenomenal, so I figured all was not lost.

The next day I decided to take the dish over to Marvin’s and finish it there, but fate would intervene.  As I was loading the car, walking down my wooden porch steps, unable to hold the railing because I needed both hands to carry my insanely heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, I slipped on a wet leaf.  The lid went flying, as did all the lovely sauce.  Somehow I managed to keep the pot itself upright, but my hands were scraped, and the pot handle was broken. And that sauce!  I think I was more upset about it than anything.

That night we ended up getting carry-out, but I wasn’t giving up so easily; I still had the uncooked mushrooms and onions, the meat, and a tiny bit of sauce left.  I began to hatch a plan. I reheated the meat with a couple more cups of wine and stock, some fresh aromatics, and let it simmer for another hour or so.  It wasn’t as spectacular as the original sauce, but it sure wasn’t bad. I added the onions to the sauce, fried the bacon and mushrooms as per the original recipe and added them.  At this point it was more than clear that the meat was inedible, but at least it had rendered some body  and flavor to my sauce.  I boiled up a package of wide egg noodles, and we had a delicious meal of noodles with wine sauce and mushrooms (hence des nouilles «coq au vin»).

I’m still not sure what happened with the meat.  I had a similar experience with a braised rabbit recipe- it had a few similarities (the meat was frozen, the recipe called for marinating in wine ahead of time, and used the same cooking technique) and I also ended up with meat so dry it practically crumbled.  If anyone out there reading this has any insights, please let me know!  Meanwhile, I hope this goes to show that even if a recipe goes awry, many times it can still be salvaged into something delicious and worthwhile.

P. S. I didn’t manage to get any photos for this post (it was 9:30 and after a long day, my hard-working better half needed his supper, stat!), but take my word for it that the mushrooms, onions and bits of bacon looked absolutely gorgeous glazed with the rich reddish-brown wine sauce atop a tangle of noodles, with a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley.  Actually, that description probably does the dish justice better than a photo could have!

book review: “families of the vine” by michael sanders

It’s always a happy occurrence to come across a book that covers overlapping topics of interest to me- in this case, wine and France, and more specifically, malbec (a favorite grape of mine) and southwestern France (where I lived for a year).  I’m not quite sure why Families of the Vine sat on my shelf unread for as long as it did- it came out in 2006- but I’m very glad I finally got to it.  Reading it was a little bittersweet, as I regretted not having visited any of these vineyards when I last was in France, but I now have an itinerary for my next visit!

Over the course of two years, Michael Sanders (author of From Here, You Can’t See Paris, about a French village restaurant and also on my reading list) spent time with three winemaking families in the Lot valley near Cahors, the city which lends its name to the wine’s appellation.  In Families of the Vine, we are introduced to Yves & Martine Jouffreau-Hermann of Clos de Gamot, a vineyard dating from 1610 and whose signature wine is considered the quintessential expression of red Cahors;  Jean-Luc Baldès of Clos Triguedina, the prodigal son who returned to the family vineyard after studying in Bordeaux; and Philippe Bernède of Clos la Coutale, who favors fast cars and producing a more international (read: softer, fruitier) style of red wine.

Le vin de Cahors has, in recent centuries at least, always played second fiddle to its cousins from Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Sanders gives a bit of history explaining that due to geography and political power, Bordeaux gained the upper hand that it still enjoys to this day, in spite of the fact that the “black wine of Cahors” was once preferred by the English over the lighter claret (the Brits’ name for Bordeaux).  Cahors wine, by law a minimum of 70% malbec with merlot and tannat making up the remainder, received appellation status in 1971 thanks to native son Georges Pompidou.

The book takes place in 2002 and 2003, with Sanders writing about the 2003 growing season and the 2002 vinification process, in that order.  The 2003 growing season was unusually hot and dry, causing much stress on the part of the winemakers.  In some cases, hot dry weather can be a boon to the grapes, but in this case it wreaked havoc on them, causing the winemakers to have yields that were  50% or less of their normal harvest.  Coincidentally, I was visiting France at the exact time of the harvest Sanders writes about, and I well remember la canicule– the devastating heat wave in which hundreds of elderly people across France died.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me was reading about vinification, and the struggle between old and new ideas among France’s winemakers.  This is a subject that has been on my mind lately, as some of my more winesavvy friends have been talking about natural wine and what it means.  The crux of the problem is that, although in an ideal world many French winemakers would love to make a more traditional product, the market demands wines that can be consumed just a few years after being bottled.  Many winemakers simply don’t have the resources to cellar the wine for the requisite time, which requires not only the space to do so, but the capital to be able to tie up their money for years on end.  Some, like Bernède, are embracing the more fruit-forward, “Parkerized” styles of wine, which are easier to sell internationally and don’t require as much investment.  Others, like the Jouffreau family and Jean-Luc Baldès, are trying to hang on to the more traditional style of Cahors wine, which typically requires at least 10 years in the bottle to reach its full potential.  Yves Jouffreau-Hermann has even gone to the extreme of planting a difficult hillside vineyard, Clos St-Jean, whose grapes he hopes will yield a truly outstanding wine in years to come.

The main thing I am taking away from this book (apart from a burning desire to return to southwestern France to sample some of the wines of the region) is the importance of supporting producers who are dedicated to making quality wine in the traditional manner, even if it means sacrificing easier profits.  Like any artisanal tradition, when these winemakers are forced to cut corners to survive, we will all suffer for the lack of variety and quality.  I admit that until now, I have never cellared any wines, instead just buying them as I needed them.  But after reading the personal stories of these families and how much work they do for relatively little profit, I think it’s time to start endorsing that by choosing more “challenging” wines; wines that require a bit of commitment.

The only thing this book sorely lacks is a map showing the region and locations of the vineyards and châteaux, but other than that, it’s a wonderful introduction to anyone unfamiliar with winemaking, and a great resource for anyone interested in Cahors wine or the lives and struggles of the people behind the grapes.

Note: The photographs from this post were borrowed from the internet. Clicking on the photos will take you to the websites where they were found.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Directions:
Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)

remembrance, fidelity, and cake

When it comes to indulgences,  I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course).  In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above.  But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert.  Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.

The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake,  enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary.  This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal.  (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)

This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”.  It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home.  I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted.  Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.

I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance.  Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.

(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy.  It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)

Olive Oil, Citrus & Rosemary Cake (from Regional Foods of Northern Italy by Marlena DeBlasi)
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5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375.  Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle.  Beat the yolks and sugar until pale.  Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.

In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined.  Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling.  DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake.  If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured.  My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).

oxtravaganza

oxtails-platedFor those of you who read my post last week about our Valentine’s day near-disaster, you know that we had originally planned on having oxtails. I’m happy to report that I was able to make them the next day without any problems, although we did still eat late, around 9PM. This really is a dish to make the day before, or to start first thing in the morning!

I wanted to make oxtails for many reasons- because I’d never had them before; because I’d read recipes in 2 of my favorite cookbooks saying how great they were; and, OK, just because it’s a cut of meat with a cool-sounding name!

(I have to pause here and chuckle a bit at a couple friends who asked me, quite innocently, “What are oxtails?” It was as if they couldn’t quite believe it would actually be what it sounded like. I hope the photos give you a vivid understanding!) raw-oxtails

I’m going to be lazy and not post the whole recipe for the oxtails, since it runs a few pages long, and because I think you can probably get a good oxtail recipe several places on the internets. I read two different recipes before settling on one- one was from the Zuni Café Cookbook, and the other from All About Braising. I chose the latter, not for any reason in particular except that it seemed slightly simpler (that, and the fact that I don’t often have an excuse to use a whole bottle of wine in a recipe).

spice-bundleTo start, after trimming as much fat as I possibly could, I marinated the meat in a bottle of wine with a sachet of aromatics in cheesecloth: bay leaves, peppercorns & allspice. The allspice made it smell like mulled wine after it had sat for a day, and I was afraid its flavor was going to be too dominant, but it turned out fine. The instruction to marinate the meat for a day or so caused me to ponder: wouldn’t this cause the wine to oxidize and lose flavor? We used a pretty decent bottle of wine on this recipe since we were “splurging” for Valentine’s day, but I have to wonder if after being open to the air all that time, plus the 4-hour cooking time, would anyone be able to tell the slightest difference between that and something for $4 from Trader Joe’s?

marinating-oxtails

The recipe instructed me to broil the meat before braising, to get it browned. I liked this method; you just have to keep a careful eye because it can quickly go from browned to blackened. Meanwhile, I cooked onions, carrot, celery and garlic with diced pancetta. I have to say, I thought the pancetta was gilding the lily a bit given how much fat was in the oxtails, and I don’t know that I would have missed it had I used olive oil instead. (The Zuni Café recipe actually called for a pig’s foot to add “body” to the braising liquid!! Call me a philistine, and I do love my pork, but I think there’s plenty enough bones and fat in oxtails without having to pork it up.) After the veg was cooked and the bottom of the pan started to get brown, I added some tomato paste and dried porcini mushrooms that had been soaked in warm water, and then a couple tbs brandy to deglaze the pan. The next step was to add the wine, mushroom liquid and some stock in stages and reduce it on the stove. Then the meat went in the pot, nestled tightly so it was nearly covered by the braising liquid, and into a 300-degree oven it went.

The recipe I used suggested a 4-hour braise, but after 3 1/2 hours we were getting pretty hungry so I pulled the meat out to check it. It looked plenty tender, so I removed the meat from the braise with tongs and let it cool a bit. I’m glad I decided to take it off the bone before serving, because it was so incredibly fatty that we would have ended up eating big chunks of fat had I not separated the meat and thrown a lot of the fat away. Despite my best efforts, a good deal of fat still made it back into the dish because it was so marbled in with the meat. I probably skimmed about 1 1/2 cups of liquid fat from the braising liquid as well. I knew this wasn’t going to be diet food, but I had no idea it would be THAT fatty. I am pretty inexperienced with beef though!

cooked-oxtails-in-pot2

The meat and braising liquid (more of a compote at this stage) formed a thick, chunky ragu that we served over polenta. Chopped fresh parsley was an absolute must- I don’t know about you, but I need to taste a little something fresh and green on my palate when eating a rich meat dish. I didn’t completely shred the meat; I tried to leave it in bigger chunks, but once it was separated from the bone it pretty much fell apart. I hadn’t intended it to be a “sauce” necessarily, but then I had never made it before so didn’t know quite what to expect. I added a small amount of tomato juice and diced tomatoes (from a can) to loosen the sauce a bit and add a bright acidic note to counterbalance the richness. I think if I made it again, I would add a can of tomatoes to the braise instead of just tomato paste. That was what the Zuni recipe called for. But I think in the recipe I used, the wine was supposed to be the star ingredient; perhaps more tomato would have thrown off the balance.

oxtails-close1

We definitely enjoyed this dish immensely, and I’m glad I got to try my hand at something new, but I’m not sure if it will become part of my repertoire. For one thing, the cost of the dish was just about as much as a fancy dinner for two in a restaurant! In addition to the $13 bottle of wine we dumped in there, the cheapest oxtails we found were at the Honeybee Market for $3.50/lb, and it called for 5 lbs. I would guesstimate that we ended up with less than a pound of actual meat at the end of the cooking process. I do kind of want to try Judy Rodgers’ recipe at some point for comparison’s sake though- she salts the meat a day ahead rather than marinating it, and her recipe calls for less wine (1 3/4 cup) and more tomatoes. I also wouldn’t mind trying an oxtail recipe from a different part of the world- my cousin mentioned she’d had a Chinese-style oxtail dish with star anise and it intrigued me!

incredible edible portland (day 2: 11/14/08: Crema, Cup & Saucer, Portland Wine Merchants)

Crema treats

Crema treats

Crema Bakery & Café, Portland

Crema Bakery & Café, Portland

My second day in Portland was just as filled with deliciousness as the first, if not more so.  We started out the day with coffee and savory pastries at Crema, a coffee shop/bakery near Kathy’s house.  Their black coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had, and I had a difficult time choosing between all the wonderful-looking offerings.  I ended up with a manchego-mushroom biscuit that was somewhat like a scone; Kathy had some kind of flaky turnover filled with eggs & veggies.  Apparently on the weekends, the line goes out the door, and for good reason.  We were there on a Friday morning and   it was pretty full but we got a table.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera battery charged when we were there, but I popped back in later that day to snap a couple pics of their delectable-looking baked goods.

SE Hawthorne St, Portland

SE Hawthorne St, Portland

After we were sufficiently caffeinated, we decided to do some shopping in SE Portland, on SE Hawthorne St.  The neighborhood is a mix of trendy independent boutiques, a couple (inter)national shops like American Apparel, and lots of reasonably-priced restaurants.  We decided to re-fuel

the Cup & Saucer Café, Portland

the Cup & Saucer Café, Portland

at the Cup & Saucer, a cute little diner-style place serving mostly soups and sandwiches.  The food wasn’t anything “amazing”, just your standard stuff, but our BLT and Turkey Chili hit the spot after a morning of walking around, and between the staff and the customers, it was a good place to sit and people-watch. 

portland-wine-merchants-cropNext on the agenda was Portland Wine Merchants, a little wine shop tucked on a side street just off Hawthorne and run by an old neighbor of Kathy’s.  Although there were definitely some pricey options in the shop, the focus seemeed to be on great wines in the $10-to-$20 range.  The owner was really helpful and the store had such a nice ambience that I wanted to linger there even after we had made our selections (a Pinot Noir for Kathy, and a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio for me, to go with the potstickers we were planning on making for dinner). 

Decisions, decisions!

Portland Wine Merchants: Decisions, decisions!

Even more wine at Portland Wine Merchants

Even more wine at Portland Wine Merchants

Kathy picking out produce at Zupan's

Kathy picking out produce at Zupan's

Our last stop for the day was at Zupan’s Market, an upscale grocery store, for ingredients for that night’s dinner. We picked up seafood and pork for our potstickers, and kale for a side dish. At that point it was getting late in the afternoon so we headed home to get organized for our evening of cooking. Very soon (I promise!) I will be posting Kathy’s mom’s potsticker recipe as well as my recipe for “Chinese-style” kale…