wine braised beef

wine braised beef 7

I don’t really consider myself a team player. I’ve never been excited about sharing or compromise (which makes me really fun to live with, as you can imagine). And yet, in the last several months, two good friends have asked me to collaborate with them on big projects.

wine braised beef 1

The first was a dinner party for twenty women. It didn’t need to be fancy or involved, except that we wanted it to be. Through a long series of emails, discussing the merits of lasagna versus baked stuffed chicken versus braised meat, we finally decided on a “deconstructed stew” theme, with glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and beef slow-cooked in a pot of simmering wine and broth. And then just for kicks, we added pesto palmiers, cheese and crackers, mushroom farro soup, orange cream tarts, truffles, and cranberry bliss bars to the menu. Also mulled wine and flavored waters.

wine braised beef 3

Around this time, the call for proposals to present at the BlogHer Food conference was released, and Brady had asked me if I was interested in submitting a proposal with her about free photo post-processing software programs. Of course I was! Brady and I got our proposal accepted, and so we’re traveling to Seattle the second week of June to talk about editing photos, and, most importantly, doing it using free software.

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Surprisingly, to myself at least, both projects have been unqualified successes. The dinner party was great fun, to plan, to prepare, to serve, and to eat, and my friend invited me to host with her again next year, so I couldn’t have been too hard to work with! Brady and I are still in the beginning stages of planning our presentation for the BlogHer Food conference, but just the fact that our proposal was accepted is a positive sign of our ability to work together. Maybe I’m not so bad to team up with after all.

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One year ago: Toasted Almond Scones
Two years ago: Honey Wheat Cookies
Three years ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Four years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Wine-Braised Beef

Serves 4-6

The goal was that the main dish be stew-like without being stew. It was going to be served on plates, so it couldn’t be too saucy, but we wanted meltingly tender chunks of beef. A cheaper cut of meat so we could serve a crowd was definitely a bonus. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s no last-minute work and it can be made in advance and actually improves with being stored overnight.

I’m a big fan of Yellowtail’s wine for recipes like this. It’s cheap but pretty good. I used a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 (3 to 3½-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce pancetta, diced into ⅛-inch cubes
1 yellow onion, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups dry red wine
1½ cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 sprig thyme
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt and pepper, and arrange the pieces, without touching, in the Dutch oven. (You may need to do this in two batches.) Cook the meat, without stirring or flipping, for 2-3 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Turn the chunks of meat and brown a second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. In the same pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until fat starts to render, 3-5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the onions start to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic; cook and stir for about one minute. Pour the wine into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes with their juice, thyme sprig, and reserved meat back to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid simmers, reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer slowly until the meat is tender, about 3 hours.

3. Mix the butter and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Remove the thyme sprig from the pot. Whisk the butter/flour paste into the sauce. Increase the heat to medium to medium-high and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened. Serve, topping each portion with a sprinkling of parsley.

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pasta with tiny meatball sauce

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I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook in a while. This is the type of cookbook that makes me eager to get into the kitchen, particularly because I want to make every recipe in the book. I thought I would start with one of the most involved recipes, one of those “choose your own adventure” recipes that has you page flipping to find all the different components.

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The first is fresh pasta, which I’ve made before, but the recipe in the book differed from my usual with the inclusion of semolina, salt, nutmeg, and, most significantly, oil. Once the pasta was cooked and sauced, I didn’t notice the extra flavorings, but the oil seemed to make rolling easier. I also made a new shape that required less rolling and cooked up pleasantly toothsome.

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The second part is the sauce, which is a slow-cooked meat sauce, but with a twist. Instead of simmering the sauce with ground meat, or with beef meant to be shredded and added back to the sauce, the meat is kept in this sauce through hours of simmering, and then is removed. And not added back in. The meat is not part of the sauce, it’s just there to infuse it with flavor. It’s like you’re making tomato broth.

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The last part, then, is the tiny meatballs. It’s a simple mixture, no bread for tenderizing, just meat, seasoning, and an egg to bind it. The recipe instructs you to form the meatballs “just larger than a chickpea”, but I’m not insane and would prefer to stay that way, so my tiny meatballs were about twice that size, and still plenty tiny for me. Twelve ounces of meat turned into 72 tiny meatballs.

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I loved the tiny meatballs. I can see myself making them again sometime, even though I do not love forming tiny meatballs. I’ve also started to add a dribble of olive oil into my pasta dough, although I skip the semolina, nutmeg, and salt for simplicity’s sake.

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While I enjoyed everything about the sauce – the flavor, the plateful of tomatoey meat we ate as an appetizer, the fun of braising – I’ll make it differently in the future. The original recipe calls for three types of meat, and it’s impractical for most home cooks to buy small portions of a variety of meats. Instead, I’ll just stick to our favorite – lamb – and I’ll use a bony cut like blade chops, because I suspect the bone will add even more flavor to the sauce than the meat did.

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Obviously making a slow-braised sauce, homemade pasta, and forming 72 tiny meatballs is not an insignificant amount of effort. But it was the most fun I’ve had in the kitchen in months, with the added bonus that I learned some new tricks. I can’t wait to choose another recipe from my favorite new cookbook and do it again.

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One year ago: Curry Coconut Chickpea Soup
Two years ago: Baked Ziti
Three years ago: Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
Four years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Ragù all’Abruzzese and Palottine, aka Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce (completely rewritten but hardly changed from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 8

I went ahead and bought three different types of meat for this, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Pick your favorite and buy just that one cut.

I don’t usually cook with veal, so I used 8 ounces ground beef plus 4 ounces ground pork plus ⅛ teaspoon gelatin, dissolved in the egg, in the meatballs instead.

Ragù:
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces boneless beef chuck roast, cut into four equal pieces
6 ounces boneless pork shoulder, cut into three equal pieces
6 ounces boneless lamb shoulder cut into three equal pieces
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely diced

Pasta:
4 cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon table salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Meatballs:
12 ounces ground veal
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for cooking

1. For the ragù: If you have a food mill, press the tomatoes through the disk with the smallest holes, discarding the solids. If you don’t have a food mill, puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

2. Generously season the meat with salt and black pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the meat and cook, without moving, until deeply browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Rotate the meat and brown on the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate.

3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens but does not brown, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the meat back to the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce is thickened. Remove the meat before using the sauce; reserve for another use (or just eat it right then, because it’s delicious).

4. For the pasta: Place the flours, salt, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add the eggs and oil; process until the mixture clumps together in large crumbs. Form a small portion of dough into a ball; if it’s too dry to stick together, add up to 2 tablespoons more oil; if it’s sticky, add up to ½ cup more flour. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside for 30 minutes to rest.

5. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough and pass it through a pasta roller on the widest setting. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, and roll it through the widest setting again. Repeat the rolling and folding 3-4 more times, until the dough is smooth. Flour the dough (with semolina flour if you have it) as much as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinnest setting and roll the dough through twice, then repeat on the third-thinnest setting. Thin the dough to the fourth-narrowest setting on your pasta roller. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough. Pass each strip of dough through the thin cutters on the pasta roller to form long noodles that are approximately square in cross section.

6. For the meatballs: Use your hands to evenly combine the veal, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Form the mixture into balls about ½-inch in diameter.

7. In a 12-inch skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, and cook until well browned a couple sides, about 4 minutes, turning about once a minute with a spatula. Transfer to the pot with the ragù; keep warm.

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt and the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

9. Return the drained pasta to the pot; toss with about two-thirds of the sauce and meatballs, adding some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick. Transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl (or individual bowls) and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes to pass.

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thai grilled-beef salad

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My habit is that on weekdays, I eat vegetarian and am healthy, and on weekends, I eat meat and am not healthy. I save alcohol and lately even dessert for weekends. It all evens out in the end so that I’m relatively fit and trim, but I’m starting to wonder – would it be so bad to eat meat and be healthy, all at the same time?

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Steak doesn’t have to mean huge T-bones and potatoes. It can mean slivers of beef mixed with herbs and served with cucumbers. This flank steak is seasoned with salt and (white) pepper, grilled and sliced, then dressed with a mixture of lime juice and fish sauce. Toasted white rice powder deepens the flavors while fresh herbs lighten them.

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I wonder how many other great meat-topped salads are out there that I’ve been overlooking. Although even if there aren’t any others worth trying, I’d be perfectly happy making this one over and over again. Eating healthy on weekends doesn’t feel like a sacrifice when it tastes so good – and besides, I still get to have a glass of wine on the side.

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One year ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers
Two years ago: Seafood Lasagna
Three years ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

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Thai Grilled-Beef Salad (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice
3 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon sugar
1½ pound flank steak, trimmed
Salt and white pepper, coarsely ground
4 shallots, sliced thin
1½ cups fresh mint leaves, torn
1½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 Thai chile, stemmed and sliced thin into rounds
1 seedless English cucumber, sliced ¼ inch thick on bias

1. Heat the paprika and cayenne in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl. Return the now-empty skillet to medium-high heat, add the rice, and toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a second small bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Grind the rice with a spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder).

2. Whisk the lime juice, fish sauce, water, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon toasted paprika mixture in a large bowl and set aside.

3. For a Charcoal Grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour the coals evenly over half of the grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off the other burner(s).

4. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Season the steak with salt and white pepper. Place the steak over the hot part of the grill and cook until it’s beginning to char and beads of moisture appear on the outer edges of the meat, 5 to 6 minutes. Flip the steak and continue to cook on the second side until charred and the center registers 125 degrees, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes (or allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour).

5. Slice the meat, against the grain and on the bias, into ¼-inch-thick slices. Transfer the sliced steak to the bowl with the fish sauce mixture. Add the shallots, mint, cilantro, chile, and half of the rice powder; toss to combine. Transfer to a platter lined with cucumber slices. Serve, passing the remaining rice powder and toasted paprika mixture separately.

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fig-glazed burgers with onion jam

We’ve gotten into a loose routine with our weekend meals. Friday is usually some sort of pizza, unless we get takeout sushi; Saturday with its meat-carb-vegetable makeup is the only day of the week I bother with side dishes; and Sunday is something sandwich-like. I’m not going to say that sandwich night is my favorite, but there’s something undeniably happy-making (or maybe that’s the Sunday champagne habit) about carbs and their fillings, whether its tacos, gyros, burgers, or whatever else.

We’re pretty attached to our backyard these days, so Sunday sandwiches are usually cooked on the grill. Not that I’m bored of green chile cheeseburgers (or that I won’t put green chile on a fig-glazed burger), but there are so many great burger ideas out there, it would be a shame to stick to one favorite. This is just the first on a long list of great options.

It’s odd that I chose the sweet plus meat burger off of that list, since it isn’t a combination I often crave. Or it wasn’t. It might be now. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also mixed with vinegary onion jam and melty cheese. Our Sunday dinner sandwich habit might turn into a Sunday fig-glazed burgers habit.

One year ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula (oddly similar flavors)
Two years ago: Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata
Three years ago: Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw (This is no longer my favorite classic coleslaw. I’ll post the new recipe soon.)

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Fig-Glazed Burgers with Red Onion Jam (adapted from Southern Living via Pink Parsley)

Makes 4 burgers

I like my burgers a little smaller, so I made six out of this amount of meat mixture instead of four.

Red onion jam:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced thin
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¾ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Cheeseburgers:
1½ pounds ground chuck
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons fig preserves
4 (½-oz) Muenster cheese slices
4 hamburger buns, split and toasted

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when you tilt the pan. Add the onions and salt; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, until the onions are just golden around the edges. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the sugar, vinegar, and thyme; cover and cook 10 minutes, until the onion is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.

2. Gently mix the beef, oregano, salt, mustard, garlic powder, and black pepper. Divide the mixture into four portions and shape each one into a ½-inch thick patty. Form a divot in the center of each patty.

3. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Using a paper towel, grease the grates with vegetable oil. Grill the patties for 5 minutes; flip, and continue grilling another 5 minutes. Brush each patty with fig preserves and top with a slice of cheese. Grill an additional 2 minutes, or until the beef is cooked and the cheese is melted. Serve on buns with onion jam.

baked reuben dip

You don’t have to make this the way I made this. Making things more difficult than necessary is the way I do things, but I understand that I am a weirdo. Feel free to buy corned beef at the deli instead of brining and boiling your own brisket. I’m sure you can also pick up some perfectly respectable rye bread. I draw the line at using Thousand Island salad dressing instead of mixing up a few ingredients for the traditional Russian dressing (which is similar, but not identical, to Thousand Island).

I make mayonnaise-based baked dips exactly once a year, for the Super Bowl. Because I love them, but they are, after all, a bowl of fat that you spread on carbs.  This was our third-quarter snack, and even after a quarter of chips and dips and another of vegetables with dip, we scarfed down a considerable amount of this dip.

My biggest worry with this recipe was that it was not a sandwich, as reubens are one of Dave’s favorite foods. I was fully expecting Dave to consider this “good…but I’d rather just have a reuben.” He said nothing of the sort. Now that’s a good dip – fully worthy of being my one choice this year, and, it goes without saying, of the time I spent obsessively making most of the components from scratch.

One year ago: Honey Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Two years ago: Chicken Artichoke Pesto Calzones
Three years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Baked Reuben Dip
(adapted liberally from allrecipes and epicurious)

Serves 4

See that thick layer of swiss cheese on top? Don’t do that. Let the mixture itself brown, not just the cheese. There’s no need to have a layer of cheese armor on top of the dip.

I used the food processor to shred the cheese, chop the meat, and mix everything. All that mixing probably accounts for the uniform grey-ness of my dip. Another factor is that my home corned beef is more of a muted purple color than storebought version because it doesn’t have the nitrates that keep the meat red.

I just actually read through that allrecipes recipe for the first time, and apparently it doesn’t call for mixing all of the ingredients together anyway, just layering them. That might make this more attractive too. Although sometimes taste trumps looks, and ugly food is okay.

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced parsley
8 ounces sauerkraut, rinsed and squeezed dry
4 ounces corned beef, shredded
6 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise, cream cheese, ketchup, onion, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and parsley until evenly combined. Stir in the sauerkraut, beef, and cheese. Spread the mixture in a 1-quart casserole dish. Bake 20-25 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Serve with rye bread.

beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce

When my sister visits with her young kids, I like to make a dish on the first night that’s particularly kid-friendly. While they aren’t picky eaters, they love pizza and spaghetti and hot dogs as much as any other kid. But if I’m cooking, the food has to be Bridget-friendly too. In other words, it has to be fun to cook.

I’ve wanted to perfect a recipe like this for a long time. I had in mind something that wasn’t just tomato sauce with meat added. I wanted the meat to shine, and I wanted the sauce itself to taste distinctly meaty.

To get the intensity I was hoping for, I pulled out every umami trick I know. Beef, obviously, and all the tomatoes don’t hurt. Dried porcini mushrooms, tomato paste (added with the aromatics and browned slightly), and pancetta added layers of meaty flavor.

This is my favorite type of recipe to make. Ingredients are added incrementally, food gets browned and delicious, and all the while, I get to stir and inhale the aroma, stir and inhale. It gets better after the sauce has simmered for hours, and then it becomes stir and taste, stir and taste. Even better is enjoying the meal with pasta, freshly baked bread, salad, a bottle of red wine, and two rambunctious kids and their parents.

One year ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Two years ago: Chopped Salad
Three years ago: Banana Cream Pie

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Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 (3-4 pounds total) beef short ribs
salt
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup wine (red or white, just something that isn’t too sweet or oaky)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice

1. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt clinging to them. Cover them with ½ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Use a fork to lift the mushrooms from the liquid; mince the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Season the beef ribs with salt. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the beef ribs and cook, for 2-3 minutes per side, until richly browned on all sides. Remove the ribs from the pot. Lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to the plate with the short ribs. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on the edges, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mushrooms, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, beef ribs, pancetta, mushroom soaking liquid (being careful to leave any dirt behind) and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium-low, and simmer for another hour, until the beef is tender.

3. Transfer the ribs to a plate; shred the meat. Meanwhile, if the sauce is too thin, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. Stir the meat back into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and serve over pasta or polenta.

beef in barolo

I seem to be going through a phase. I was trying to choose what recipe to post about next, but everything I have to choose from seems so similar to Bolognese – Italian sauces based either on beef, tomatoes, or both. Maybe it’s because Dave and I are talking about visiting Italy next year, or maybe it’s because Italian beefy and/or tomatoey recipes are so perfect for winter (or what passes for winter in southeastern New Mexico).

Although, if you cook the beef in Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Barolo, can you still call it an Italian recipe? I don’t imagine that I will ever cook with Barolo, and I certainly don’t recommend that you do either. Barolo is expensive. You’ll rarely find it for less than $50 per bottle and certainly never under $20. Don’t dump $40 worth of wine into your stew, please. And have you ever had Yellowtail’s cab? It’s perfectly drinkable, and at $5 per bottle, it’s a far more practical cooking wine.

Yes, this pot roast is cooked with 2 whole bottles of wine. It’s intensely winey – obviously. In fact, the first night we had this for dinner, I was a little taken aback. The meat is purple and the flavor is so…winey. However, the leftovers the next night were perfectly balanced, so I suspect I didn’t cook it long enough initially, especially considering that the meat wasn’t quite as tender as I like my pot roast.

But that also means that this is one of those meals that is even better when it’s made in advance. It seems to me, then, that this is the perfect meal for guests – it’s convenient and delicious, but the wine makes it fancy. Even if it isn’t fancy wine.

One year ago: English Muffins
Two years ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Brasato al Barolo – Beef Braised in Barolo (adapted from Emeril)

6 servings

Oops, I just saw that the recipe calls for 1½ bottles of wine, not the 1½ liters, or two bottles, that I thought when I made this. So yours might not be quite as winey as mine. And now you have half a bottle to sip on while you wait for the beef to cook!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (3-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ bottles (4½ cups) Barolo, or other dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot and cook, turning every 2-3 minutes, to brown on all sides. Remove from the pan. To the fat in the pan, add the pancetta and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of salt; cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the beef to the pan and add the wine, 2 cups of the stock, rosemary, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover tightly and transfer the pot to oven.

3. Cook, turning the roast every 30 minutes, until fully tender and a meat fork slips in and out of meat very easily (3½-4 hours). Remove the meat from the pan and tent with foil to keep warm.

4. Remove the rosemary, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick, and place the pot over high heat. Cook until the sauce is reduced to a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

5. Thinly slice the beef across the grain into ¼-inch thick slices. Serve the beef ladled with the sauce. Garnish with parsley and serve.

bolognese sauce comparison

(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

Have you ever had a traditional Bolognese sauce? Not just tomato sauce with ground meat mixed in, but one that involves milk and wine and hours of simmering. Just a few ingredients, but when they’re combined just right, the result is a complex, rich blend with incredible depth. Served over a bowl of creamy polenta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a glass of good red wine on the side, there can be no more comforting, warming food.

The first Bolognese I made was Marcella Hazen’s recipe. She is to Italian food what Julia Child is to French food; certainly a trusted source. In her method, a class mirepoix (or, technically, “soffritto” in Italian) of carrots, celery and onions is lightly cooked in butter, then ground meat is added and cooked just until it loses its pink. Stir in milk and let it bubble until only its delicious fat is left in the pot, then pour over some wine and let it simmer away, and only then, finally, after an hour of slow simmering, are the tomatoes (whole, canned) added – and simmered for 3 more hours.

After all that, however, I found Hazan’s recipe to be a little too vegetably. But Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for classic Bolognese is identical except for a smaller amount of vegetables. With only a couple tablespoons each of onions, carrots, and celery, it almost seems like they’re not worth adding, but there isn’t a thing I would change about the recipe.

Bolognese sauce takes a lot of time, yes, but it isn’t a lot of work. It’s my favorite type of recipe, in that it’s undemanding, but if you do happen to be in the kitchen (and I always am) you can stir to your heart’s content. But I suppose the long simmering time intimidates people, because there are a crop of supposedly weeknight friendly Bolognese sauce recipes popping up. In general, I’m not a fan of these types of recipes, because what they save in cooking time they make up for in ingredient prep.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Then I kept seeing another type of Bolognese with great reviews. This one uses only tomato paste as its source of tomato flavor. And if anything can be identified as authentic in a recipe like Bolognese, it’s the tomato paste version, with a heavier meat influence and just a hint of tomatoes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Authenticity aside, I wanted to know which was best. So I baked up three batches – my favorite version from Cooks Illustrated, their weeknight version, and Anne Burrell’s annoying (please don’t yell at me in the recipe, thank you) but well-reviewed tomato paste-based recipe.


(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

The quicker “weeknight-friendly” recipe was, as I expected, the most work, with more ingredients and dishes necessary to mimic the slow-cooked flavor of the other two recipes. However, after all that and a shorter cooking time, its flavor did nicely mimic that of the other, more tomato-rich Cooks Illustrated recipe. I don’t believe Dave could tell the difference. My only complaint was that the meat was slightly tough.

Dave had a few interesting comments about Burrell’s Bolognese. The sauce is simply a classic mirepoix, beef, wine, tomato paste, and herbs, yet Dave detected flavors of mushrooms and possibly Worchestershire sauce in it – two ingredients high in umami, the fifth basic flavor that is best described by “meaty”. In fact, mushrooms are added to CI’s quick Bolognese to increase the meaty flavor that doesn’t have time to develop through a long simmer. One thing that was obvious to both me and Dave was the unusual texture of Burrell’s sauce; to me, it seemed slightly mealy, but Dave was kinder with “fine-grained”.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

Dave couldn’t choose a favorite, with his usual “different but good” response, but I’m still stuck on my classic, tomato-heavy slow-simmered method. It’s intensely rich and meaty, but it has a bright balance from the tomatoes. Burrell’s meatier sauce was delicious too, and maybe all those tomatoes aren’t quite as traditional, but, frankly, I like tomatoes. And since Bolognese – any version – is one of those dishes that improves by being made in advance and will suffer no ill effects from being frozen, I see no reason to spend extra time cooking a supposedly quicker “weeknight-friendly” version. Besides, I like watching ingredients bubble away, increasing in intensity as they decrease in volume until they settle into something delicious.

left to right: CI Classic, CI Weeknight, Anne Burrell

One year ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Classic Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

If you double this recipe – and considering how well it freezes and reheats, you should – the simmering times will need to be extended.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck
table salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, packed in juice, chopped fine, with juice reserved

1. Heat butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, carrot, and celery and sautè until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add ground meat and ½ teaspoon salt; crumble meat with edge of wooden spoon to break apart into tiny pieces. Cook, continuing to crumble meat, just until it loses its raw color but has not yet browned, about 3 minutes.

2. Add milk and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add wine and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until wine evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Add tomatoes and their juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with an occasional bubble or two at the surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. Adjust seasonings with extra salt to taste and serve. (Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days or frozen for several months. Warm over low heat before serving.)

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Bolognese Sauce (slightly rewritten to remove all of Anne Burrell’s vulgarity)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
Kosher salt
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
Water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle

1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. Heat a large pan over medium heat; add a slick of oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes, until browned.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Add water to the pan until water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3½ to 4 hours. Adjust the seasoning with salt and serve immediately.

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Weeknight Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1¼ cup white wine (Riesling, gewürztraminer, white zinfandel, xx)
½ small carrot, peeled and chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
½ small onion, chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
28 ounces whole tomatoes with juice
1½ tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, pressed through garlic press or minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1¼ pound meatloaf mix or equal amounts 80 percent lean ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork
1½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Cover porcini mushrooms with ½ cup water in small microwave-safe bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, cut a few steam vents with paring knife, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until mushrooms have softened, about 5 minutes. Using fork, lift porcini from liquid and transfer to second small bowl; pour soaking liquid through mesh strainer lined with paper towel. Set porcini and strained liquid aside.

2. Bring wine to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; reduce heat to low and simmer until wine is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 20 minutes. Set reduced wine aside.

3. Meanwhile, pulse carrot in food processor until broken down into rough ¼-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Add onion; pulse until vegetables are broken down to ⅛-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer vegetables to small bowl. Process softened porcini until well ground, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Transfer porcini to bowl with onions and carrots. Process pancetta until pieces are no larger than ¼ inch, 30 to 35 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary; transfer to small bowl. Pulse tomatoes with juice until chopped fine, 6 to 8 one-second pulses.

4. Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; when foaming subsides, add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, onion, and porcini; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground meats, breaking meat into 1- inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Add milk and stir to break meat into ½-inch bits; bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium, and continue to simmer, stirring to break up meat into small pieces, until most liquid has evaporated and meat begins to sizzle, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until combined, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, reserved porcini soaking liquid, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper; bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced and sauce is thickened but still moist, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in reduced wine and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

shredded beef tacos

The first few months when I moved out of my parents’ house and across the country were exciting and lonely and intense. I was lucky that I made some great friends right away. I remember the first time someone invited me over for dinner. I’d asked what he and his wife were serving, and I thought he said pea stew. I went, but I was so relieved when it was actually beef stew.

That meal turned into a weekly dinner tradition that lasted for as long as we all lived near each other. We took turns cooking and rarely made the same thing twice, but there was one favorite meal that was requested more than any other – tacos. My friend’s taco filling and accompaniments were good, but the real treat was the shells – freshly fried, still hot, and, frankly, a little greasy. I had never had home-fried taco shells before, and it was a revelation.

These days, tacos are still one of my favorite meals, but I can’t enjoy them as much without those fried shells. Even better is when they’re stuffed with this shredded beef. It’s marinated in vinegar, lime juice, and spices, then baked for hours until it falls into shreds. I’m thankful for those friends not just for helping me feel comfortable on my own, but for teaching me about the perfection of fried corn tortillas. Nothing else would be good enough accompany this intensely flavorful filling.

One year ago: Sandwich Rolls
Two years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

Shredded Beef Tacos (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter who slightly adapted it from The Border Cookbook)

Jen discusses the cut of beef that is preferred for this recipe. Her recommended eye of chuck was not available, so I chose chuck steak. I have no complaints. Plus I didn’t need to slice it before marinating, which was a nice bonus.

You could always go with the classic cheddar-sour cream-lettuce combination for toppings, but I really love the queso fresco-avocado-salsa direction that Jen recommends.

6 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ tsps chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1½ pounds chuck steak
1 cup vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas
toppings: lettuce, queso fresco, salsa, guacamole, etc.

1. In a gallon-size zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, spices and garlic. Add the meat and squish the bag around to make sure the meat is fully coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump the contents of the bag into a baking dish just large enough to fit the meat in a single layer. Cover the pan with foil; bake until the meat is tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours. Use two forks to pull the meat into shreds. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Slide a tortilla into the oil; use tongs to fold the tortilla in half and hold it partially open. Flip after about 1 minute. Fry for an additional minute, until the tortilla is slightly crisp. Continue with the remaining tortillas, storing the fried tortillas in the warm oven. Serve with shredded meat and desired toppings.

steak sandwiches

This is a perfect example of how I eat very differently on weekends than during the week. First, we rarely eat meat on weekdays, especially beef. I love it, but I save it for days that I splurge. Second, mayonnaise. I love it; I save it for days when I splurge. Third: alcohol. I love it. I save it.

This was originally a Sunday dinner plan, until we opted to spend several hours peeling, seeding, dicing, and storing a year’s worth of Hatch green chile on Sunday night instead. I ended up making it the next night, which made for a Monday night treat, although baking bread, caramelizing onions, mixing sauce, cooking steaks, and building sandwiches after working all day and before preparing an exam to give the next day was not such a treat.

Best saved for a weekend, perhaps, but the combination of richly browned steak, spicy horseradish, sweet onions, and tangy mayonnaise was a welcome indulgence for a Monday night. If only every weeknight could be as decadent.

One year ago: Goat Cheese, Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine
Two years ago: Lavash Crackers

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Steak Sandwiches (adapted from Ina Garten)

I forgot to buy them this time, but sautéed sliced mushrooms are so good on this sandwich too. We also added some of those freshly prepared Hatch green chiles to our sandwiches, which was a great compliment.

I can’t get good arugula at the stores here so I used shredded leaf lettuce (not recommended; spinach would have been better, or leaving the greens off entirely), and I can’t find strip steaks so decided that boneless ribeye would be a good substitute.

The alcohol mentioned above came into play because after removing the cooked steaks from the pan, I poured in some whiskey and scraped up all the browned bits left behind from the steaks. I transferred the reduced liquor to the onion mixture. (And actually, while I don’t drink alcohol on weekdays – because I need those calories for dessert – I have no rules against cooking with it.)

olive oil
2 yellow onions, halved from pole and pole and sliced ¼-inch thick
kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh (or a pinch of dry) thyme leaves
1 (12-ounce) 1-inch thick New York strip boneless beef top loin steak
freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Mustard Mayo, recipe follows
2 sandwich rolls
½ cup baby arugula

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring very frequently, until the onions just start to brown, 4-5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Stir in the thyme in the last few minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat a medium not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper; place it in the skillet. Cook without moving for 6 minutes. Flip and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes (depends on whether you want a rare or medium steak). Remove from the pan, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain.

3. Assemble the sandwiches by layering Mustard Mayo, steak, onions, and arugula onto the sliced rolls.

Mustard Mayo

I used a lot less mayonnaise and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. I also stirred in quite a bit of horseradish.

¾ cup good mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons sour cream
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl.