Braising is such a satisfying process; it’s almost like deep frying–you can deep fry anything and it would taste good. You could probably braise anything and it would taste good. Except for maybe liver. Nobody likes liver. Pogi doesn’t even like liver. Then again, Pogi doesn’t like anything that isn’t Tuna or Science Diet. But you can’t just dump something into a braising liquid and walk away. Braising is largely about building flavors, and then allowing those flavors to slowly transform your food into something spectacular.
Braising is a method of moist-heat cooking in which the item being cooked is covered or partially covered and left to simmer over a period of time. Think pot roast. When people think of braised foods, they generally think of tough proteins–pork shoulder or brisket, because heat, moisture, and plenty of time help break down collagen, the tough connective tissue found in meat–but you can braise most foods, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Stick to some of the more tough, fibrous proteins, but don’t be afraid to braise artichokes, root vegetables, or chicken.
Braising require a liquid, and water is an easy and practical choice, but if you want to really punch your food in the mouth with flavor, try using various broths and stocks for depth of flavor. And this is where things really get fun.
I love building flavors when I cook. Braising allows you to build flavorful sauces with any number of ingredients. Vegetables are a great source of flavor, and that’s where we’ll start with this recipe.
Braised Short Ribs with Panko Gremolata and Slow-Roasted Root Vegetables
Braised Short Ribs
4 Short Ribs (Bone in)
1 Large Yellow Onion (quartered)
3 Cloves Garlic (peeled and smashed)
1 Tbspn Salt
1 Tbspn Black Peppercorns
5-6 Dried Portobello or Shiitake Mushrooms
2 Large Celery Stalks (leaves included, roughly chopped)
2 Carrots (peeled, divided)
1 Herbal Sachet (Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaves)
1 Quart Beef Stock (unsalted)
1/2 Quart Water
1 8oz Can Whole Peeled Tomatoes
One of the great things about braising is how simple and quick it can be to prepare. If you’re like me, then you constantly wish you had line chefs to which you could just delegate all the prep duties. Luckily, you’re just going to throw all these ingredients into a pot, so who cares how well you chop the onion or how even each carrot turns out? It doesn’t matter! Just chop’em up and throw’em in. You can prepare this meal the night before, stick it in the fridge, and throw it all together in the slow cooker as you walk out the door for work that morning. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see that I cut all the veggies, prepared the sachet, and sealed it all up in a ziplock over night. I also trimmed the meat and stored that in the fridge as well. Usually I don’t cut the bone out of the short rib–it has so much flavor; I removed the bone this time around so I could more easily trim the fat (sometimes the fat can be cumbersome to remove after cooking due to the tenderness of the meat, so it’s best to remove it beforehand).
Combine all the ingredients into a slow cooker large enough to fit all the ingredients (we have a 6-quart slow cooker, which fits everything comfortably; if you’re using a 4-quart container, you will probably have to scale the recipe back a bit). If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can easily throw this in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients and cook it in an oven (275F for 5-6 hours). Turn your slow cooker to low, cover, and let it go for at least 5-6 hours. I prefer to give it a good 8-10 hours to really let the meat absorb flavors and become fork tender. If you plan on doing this before work like I do, then by the time you get home all you’ll have to do is prepare the veggies and dinner will be ready.
*Generally, when you braise meat, you should sear all the sides before placing it in the braising liquid. This provides a great additional texture, but it isn’t necessary. If you’re doing this in the morning before work, you probably won’t want to fuss with that. I actually braise the short ribs, season them with a little salt and pepper, then sear them quickly after the braising process. For additional texture, I also torch the the corners and center surfaces (if you don’t have a blow torch don’t worry about it, searing the outside is most important).
1/2 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1 Tbspn Lemon Zest
1 Tbspn Finely Minced Garlic
1/4 Tspn Salt
2 Tspn Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbpsn Finely Chopped Parsley
A gremolata is a chopped herb mixture generally used for garnishing a protein. Italians sprinkle this over meat dishes, the most common being a veal milanese or ossobuco. A basic gremolata almost always includes parsley, lemon zest, and garlic, but you can get creative and create your own gremolatas. For this recipe, I start with a base of parsley and bread crumbs and build from there.
In a small bowl combine all the ingredients except for the vinegar. Stir to combine well and then slowly add the vinegar. The crumbs will absord the vinegar quickly, so stir constantly in order to get as much of the crumbs coated with the vinegar as possible.
Roasted Root Vegetables
2-3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
2-3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
Slow roasting root vegetables is as easy as it gets. Preheat your oven to 350F. Wash and peel your vegetables (if you like the skin on your potatoes, feel free to leave the skins on, but peel the turnips and carrots). It is important to cut your vegetables roughly the same shape and size as the other vegetables, in order to ensure each piece cooks evenly with the rest. The carrots will be tricky, because of their odd shape in comparison to the other vegetables (parsnips as well, which I don’t use here, but would also be delicious to add). Use the larger ends of the carrots and save the smaller ends for something else, because the small ends will likely become overcooked and eventually burn (store in a zip lock back and eat carrots as a healthy snack later in the week; besides, bagged baby carrots are far more expensive then the loose bunch carrots at the store–it’s a win-win situation). Place your chopped vegetables in an oven safe dish, such as a pyrex dish or even a cookie sheet with quarter-inch walls. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Stir the vegetables around to make sure each piece is lightly coated with oil (don’t go overboard with the oil, you don’t need to drown them). Add the sprigs of rosemary and thyme on top and let cook in the oven for at least and hour and a half. If you have plenty of time, cook them at a lower temperature for a longer time period (slow roasting vegetables like this brings out their natural sweetness). Cooke until the vegetables are fork tender. Discard the rosemary and thyme when done (you can crush the thyme over the vegetables if you want the additional seasoning, but I like the natural flavor and sweetness of the vegetables on their own).
Pile a small amount of root vegetables in the center of the plate (if you’re using rectangular plates like I do, then pile them off to one side). Place one short rib directly on top of the vegetables, and place another short rib leaning against the first short rib. Take 1 piece of carrot, potato, and turnip, and place them on the opposite side of the plate if you’re using rectangular plates. If not, skip that step. Ladle a small amount of the braising liquid directly over the short ribs (I prefer to reduce some of the braising liquid with a very light roux to create a slightly thicker sauce that won’t run all over the plate, but some people like the flavor and texture of the braising liquid as is; in the above picture, the bottom-right corner picture shows a pot of the reduced braising liquid that has been reduced, whisked, and thickened). Garnish the meat with the gremolata and serve. If you want to add a little color, feel free to add a sprig of parsley on top of the short ribs.
This is one of my favorite recipes for it’s rich flavor and sheer simplicity.
Enjoy and buon appetito!
I enjoy watching chefs on TV. There’s something about watching other people cook that fascinates me. Anyone can follow a recipe, but it’s the subtle differences in how you work in the kitchen that really makes things interesting. Why do chefs hold a knife the way they do? Or a whisk? Some chefs have multiple towels in the kitchen, each serving a separate and unique function (I try to keep three towels at all times: one for wiping my hands when working with food, one for wiping down counters, and one for drying my hands after washing them). How do we really evaluate the performance of a chef? The food of course. Is it delicious? If yes, then the chef must be good, right?
Bobby Flay once said when he hires a new chef, he has that chef do one thing: cook an omelet. He didn’t say anything about making delicious food. Cook an omelet. Why an omelet? Because it’s so simple. Can you do the simple things? Can you make the simple things taste good? It’s nice to have a fancy meal; it’s nice to make it look fancy. It’s even better when it tastes as good as it looks. Bobby Flay wants to know if you can take something so simple as an omelet and build complex flavors. I can respect that.
The other night Lauren and I had some baked chicken, which I then shredded and combined with a basic chicken broth , rice, and boiled vegetables. Simple, but good. Italian cuisine taught me one thing: keep it simple, then learn to build complex flavors.
I remember sitting around the dinner table in Italy, listening to the Italians go on and on about how Americans don’t know how to cook because we use too many spices. Too many spices! “Too many things on the plate,” they would tell me, “a tomato should taste like a tomato, period.” Italians don’t compromise when it comes to cooking. “Fai cosi, non cosi, ma cosi, punto!”
“Do it like this, not like that, but like this, period.” That’s what Italian grandmothers taught me. They know Bobby Flay is right when he says he wants to see how well you can do the basic things. In Italy, if you can’t make tomato sauce, you don’t eat. I spent five months learning how to make a basic tomato sauce. Five months. Five long months. And you know what I learned? Tomato sauce is pretty complex stuff, unless you know how to do the basics.
Eight years later and I am still applying those basic cooking techniques Nonna taught me in Italy: learn to do the basics, then build complex flavors.
It doesn’t get more basic than meatloaf. It’s meat. It’s in the shape of a loaf. What else do you need to know? Americans have been eating this giant meatball for years. Everyone has a meatloaf recipe. The TV dinners in aisle 9 have a meatloaf recipe. Thanks Hungry Man. I have several myself. I like this one because it’s exactly what I love about taking something so simple as meatloaf and making it special.
Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Brown Gravy
First, don’t make your meatloaf with beef only. Use a mix of pork and/or veal. But do make sure that beef is your primary protein–it should taste beefy. Combining the beef with other ground meats will help keep the overall loaf juicy and tender. No one wants a dry piece of meat. For this recipe, I’m only using ground pork, but if you don’t mind adding a few dollars to your meal expenses, feel free to add a little veal as well.
1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef Chuck (80% lean)
1/2 lb Ground Pork
2 Large egg yolks
1 Tbspn Salt
1 1/2 Tspn Ground Black Pepper
1 Tspn Garlic Powder
1/2 Tspn Dried Thyme
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
1/4 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
1/3 Cup Plain Bread Crumbs
Learning how to make a mirepoix was one of the best things I ever learned how to do in the kitchen. A mirepoix is a mixture of celery, onions, carrots, and sometimes an added aromatic or fresh herb. It is one of the basic flavor building compounds of many great tasting dishes, including one of my absolute favorite dishes: braised short ribs. In this recipe, I use a basic mirepoix, chopped very fine, to incorporate into the meatloaf for a greater depth of flavor.
1 Large Yellow Onion (finely chopped)
3 Celery Stalks with leaves (finely chopped)
2 Medium Carrots (cubed)
2 Large Garlic Cloves (minced)
1 Tbspn Tomato Paste
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Bring a large pot to medium heat and add the olive oil (technically, this is more of a soffritto, since we’re using olive oil, whereas the French mirepoix uses butter). Add the vegetables and reduce to medium low heat. Let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes and then add the garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and stir. Add the tomato paste and stir. If the vegetable clump together too much, reduce the heat to low and add a few tablespoons of water, one at a time, until the mixture stirs easily. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the oven to 325F.
Bring all the raw meatloaf ingredients together in a large mixing bowl except for the panko bread crumbs. When mixing the meat to combine all the ingredients, do not press down with the palms of your hands and then close your fingers as if to make a fist. This will mash the meat and make it tough. Instead, use your hands the same way you would fold in egg whites to a batter. Add half the mirepoix and combine slowly. Then add the remaining mirepoix and combine. Place the meat mixture into a bread baking tin. You might have experience with making meatloaf by forming it into a loaf on a baking sheet with parchment paper–don’t do that with this recipe. The mirepoix adds a lot of moisture to the meat, so it won’t hold its shape very well uncooked. Do not mash to meat into the tin, pat it lightly, and then sprinkle the panko bread crumbs on top. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes.
What is more satisfying than creamy mashed potatoes smothered with gravy? I prefer Golden Yukon potatoes for their creamy texture and golden color, but russet potatoes are always a favorite.
6 Medium Sized Golden Yukons (peeled, cubed)
3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/3 Stick Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Generously salt your water. Wrap the rosemary and thyme in cheesecloth and tie off with kitchen twine. Add potatoes and sachet (cheesecloth with fresh herbs). When potatoes are fork tender, remove sachet and drain potatoes. Do not rinse. Place the potatoes back into the pot and place over very low heat. Add butter and milk, and begin mashing. Add the heavy cream and continue mashing. The low heat will help remove any excess moisture from the potatoes as you combine the other ingredients. Mash until you reach your desired texture.
I start most gravy recipes with a basic roux. A roux is a mixture of flour and fat, usually butter, to thicken a sauce. It is used to thicken some of the French “mother sauces.”
For the roux:
1 Tbspn Flour
2 Tbspn Butter
2-3 Cups Beef Stock
1/8 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Tbspn Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 Tspn Garlic Powder
1/4 Tspn Onion Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste
Over low heat melt the butter and then add flour. With a whisk, combine the flour and butter. You should get a yellow pasty looking mixture (see picture above. Warning: the above picture was used to make a large pot of gravy, so I used much more butter and flour). If you want thick gravy, add a little more flour to your roux. If you like your gravy thin and runny, then 1 tbspn is plenty. Combine the other ingredients and stir. Let simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Salt and pepper to taste.
To plate: Place a generous amount of mashed potatoes in the center of the plate or bowl, ladle gravy over potatoes, place 1 slice of meatloaf directly over the potatoes, add a small ladle of gravy over meatloaf, and garnish with fresh or dried parsley or chives.
Cooking simple never tasted so good.
There’s a list on the Food Network of the 100 Greatest Cooking Tips (of all time!). You read that right… OF ALL TIME.
I reviewed the list and am going to give you the ten best because 100 is a lot to read and do you really have that much time? That’s what I thought. Clearly, I do (but that’s because I read so FAST, duh).
- After working with garlic, rub your hands vigorously on your stainless steel sink for 30 seconds before washing them. It will remove the odor.
- For best results when you’re baking, leave butter and eggs at room temperature overnight.
- Instead of placing a chicken on a roasting rack, cut thick slices of onion, put them in an oiled pan, and then place the chicken on top. The onion will absorb the chicken juices. After roasting, let the chicken rest while you make a sauce with the onions by adding a little stock or water to the pan and cooking it for about 3 minutes on high heat.
- Do not use oil in the water when boiling pasta: it will keep the sauce from sticking to the cooked pasta.
- Rest, rest, rest! Always let your meat rest – especially off a hot grill!
- If you’re cooking cauliflower, add a bit of milk to the water with salt to keep the cauliflower bright white. Shock it in cold water to stop the cooking and then serve.
- When making mashed potatoes, after you drain the potatoes, return them to the hot pan, cover tightly and let steam for 5 minutes. This allows the potatoes to dry out so they’ll mash to a beautiful texture and soak up the butter and cream more easily.
- Cook more often. Don’t study; just cook.
- Cook with other people who want to learn or who know how to cook.
- Always start with a smokin’ hot pan!
We have our header image now. What do you think? I know that guy’s not nearly as hot as Nathan, but I had fun creating him anyway. ~LE
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development told me something. That’s right, they told me. They told me that they’d done a study recently, polling 29 different countries. Of all of those countries, the United States won something. Know what they won?
Congratulations. I hope there’s a cool trophy for that.
Americans came in third place for another category. This one was title something along the lines of: Wolfing My Food Faster Than You. I’m totally a sucker for this category and if I finish my dinner before the others at the table, perhaps I might let you know: “I won.”
The stats are these: Americans spend 30 minutes each day cooking and only an hour and 14 minutes eating. Turks win the Most Dedicated Home Maker trophy, cooking for 74 minutes each day.
On a lighter note, something that the Organisation did not tell me: the United States is the most giving nation, taking home the gold medal for citizens willing to volunteer their time, give money, and assist strangers. Hurry and finish eating so you can get out for that charity run.
How much time do you spend each day cooking? How about sitting down to eat? Where do you eat dinner? At the table? In front of the TV? In your car?
One of my coworkers suggested this today: Raffle off dinner with Lauren and Nathan for $1 a ticket.
Since we have over 100 people just in our IT department, he’s sure that he can sell at least $60 of tickets, then cross his fingers that he and his wife win the raffle. Funny idea.
I wouldn’t mind having CERTAIN people over, and having the groceries paid for. Can I secretly veto if certain people win? There are just some coworkers that you might not want to know where you live. Just sayin’…
I’m leaving town for a few days, leaving Chef Guapo behind to watch the cat. Hold on to your seat until next week and then the two of us will try and post a meal or two for your viewing/reading pleasure.
I started taking pictures of dinner when Nathan and I were dating. I took a picture of the very first dinner that he made me, from some chicken and peppers that he had in the fridge. It was delicious and it looked as good as it tasted. I was going to eat a Snickers bar for dinner otherwise. Apparently, my typical, post-soccer meal wasn’t up to par for my boyfriend so he helped me out.
After we married, I continued taking pictures of the meals he made.
“Why?!” I’m sure Nathan asked me. “Why are you taking pictures?”
Because it looks so nice, duh. And also, one day you will want to look on my phone for dinner ideas. See? I’m so helpful.
Well, my friends, I have decided that it is high time that I put those pictures up on a blog and not just keep them selfishly on my phone. I’d like to try and write up a recipe on how to do it, too, but since Nathan doesn’t cook that way, we’ll see how well I do with that. But let the food blogging begin!