Back in the days of braising weather, the routine would be that I did the meat braising before Emily arrived an hour or so before serving time. Then Emily prepped and made the side dish, while I made drinks for us to sip on while cooking. For the evening of lamb shanks 2.0, Emily came over to braise with me which left us about two hours with nothing to do while the lamb simmered away. Together with roommate Alex we decided to grab a few drinks at The Passenger, Alex and my favorite bar of all time and, conveniently enough, the bar that is closest to our apartment. We set the stove top to low, prayed that the apartment wouldn’t blow up while we were away, and made the early evening trek to the Passenger.
I took advantage of the light crowd and the early drinking hour and ordered a Corpse Reviver #2, a tart gin based drink with equal parts cointreau, lillet blanc, lemon juice and a dash of absinthe. After the first round of drinks, the three of us felt a little hungry so we asked for an order of beef jerky with our second round. I love gin and all but my heart belongs to whiskey so I asked for a manhattan made with Jefferson’s Rye. Beef jerky and a manhattan, a pairing after my own heart.
After two rounds, we called it quits and headed back to the apartment to finish making our meal. We were happy to find the apartment just as we left it, except it smelled even more aromatic from the braising lamb shanks. Alex and Emily got to work making stir-fried baby bok choy with shitake mushrooms while I made fried rice to soak up the sauce of the lamb shanks. Soon enough, we were ready to plow into our meals. Our efforts, both sober and not as sober, produced one of the best Sunday dinners of 2012 to date.
In late February, sensing the end of Winter 2011-2012 was near, I decided to give the insanely mild winter a final farewell with a feast only those who cherish a good cold weather can appreciate: meaty shortribs braised in cabernet, served with gorgonzola polenta and mixed herb gremolata and paired with excessive amounts of wine. Yes, this meal will stick to your ribs but at least it will be warm enough outside for you to run it off. With a plan in mind, I e-mailed Alex and Emily to see whether they want to collaborate on the meal. Emily decided to provide the ingredients for the polenta to make at the apartment and Alex offered to help with the short ribs. To make the meal an event, we invited Alex’s friend Frances and fellow runner Pete, both of whom brought wine to pair with the dinner.
The afternoon of the dinner, Alex and I went to Safeway to pick up the ingredients for dinner and ended up buying all of the short ribs in stock for a total of 20 short ribs. Looking back, that was insanely excessive, but at the time, we were in the mood for excess. We also bought two of the cheapest bottles of cabernet sauvignon on the shelves in which the short ribs would braise. To make up for that purchase in bad wine karma, we picked up a bottle of sparkling wine to start off the evening as well. At evening’s end the bottle count for this gluttonous dinner would total five and a half: 2 for cooking, 1 for pre-dinner socializing, and 2.5 to go with dinner. Finally, to finish off the evening on an even more decadent note, I brought out three pints of ice cream (whiskey & pecans, dark milk chocolate, and goat cheese with port figs) from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio that my friend Gabby sent me for my birthday earlier that month. A carton of Whole Foods vanilla was also available as a palette cleanser. Sometimes, I wonder if I am giving myself or my guests heart disease by serving such rich dinners but it’s hard to think about that when facing the comforting trifecta of braised short ribs, polenta, and ice cream.
It’s officially Spring now, but I still can’t get over what a mild winter we had here in D.C. I am not going to lie, I am kind of bitter about the lack of snow and, more importantly, snow days. I never knew how much I enjoyed snow days until they were taken away from me by global warming. Still, I like to think that I was able to make the most of any cold weather that came my way.
Back in February, it was finally chilly enough for Alex and I to get back to the business of braising. Earlier that week, I sent Alex an e-mail suggesting we make a braised lamb recipe she had found and sent me several weeks back. Alex and I both enjoy braised lamb shanks and Alex was particularly intrigued by this recipe which combined lamb shanks with red wine and finished with some chocolate. I’m usually wary of using chocolate in savory foods, but the blog Alex had sent me proclaimed it was the best thing this person had ever eaten so unless this was the most cruel joke in the history of mankind, the combination couldn’t be too bad. The more I thought about it the more I believed I would really really enjoy these lamb shanks so while shopping for ingredients at Safeway, decided to go all in and double the recipe so Alex and I could have some leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day.
While planning away for the baking marathon, I completely forgot that cookies are not dinner. I was not short on time and didn’t see any reason why Emily and I couldn’t both eat a delicious meal before digging into the cookies. With that, I decided to make one of my favorite winter meals, braised short ribs. There are two short rib recipes I love to make but my favorite is an Asian Spiced Short Rib from Jean-Georges Vongerichten and published in Food and Wine Magazine. Although the braising would take some time, the short ribs would not be difficult to make and the braising would be done by the time Emily and I needed the oven for the cookies.
Asian-Spiced Short Ribs (adapted from Food and Wine Magazine)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Six 12-ounce bone-in beef short ribs
Ground fennel, for dusting
1 cup ketchup
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons seeded and minced chipotle chile in adobo
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Preheat oven to 325°. Heat enameled cast iron casserole over medium-high heat.