Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Wrap(Up)

Twas four days before Christmas and all the Beard House could hear
Was the laughter and giggles
Of Table 1's good cheer

About a Top Chef's food we chatted and tasted
Exposing each course's virtues and vices
Little wine was left wasted

When the time finally came to go back out in the cold
A renunion was in the plans
Ere the New Year gets old

I have been to countless James Beard Foundation events, but I have never seen a table bond like this over the course of an evening.  Top Chef winner, Stephanie Izzard's food was certainly quite good, but it had stiff competition from the conversation and companionship at the table.  I think I will just call it a draw.

A big storm the weekend before Christmas blanketed the area in a beautiful coating of snow.  Come Christmas day it was the best of both worlds.  The streets were clear, but the snow was still around adding that Norman Rockwell factor to the day.

I originally had a hard time convincing my mother to come over.  But as Christmas day neared, she was getting excited about the prospect of getting out for a day.  She had a blast playing with her old cat and watching the yule log on TV while I plied her with food.  I left her in her room blissfully full and stocked her fridge with leftovers.

The standing rib roast came about great, done to a nice medium rare.  My rustic desert was maybe a tad too rustic, but these things do happen.  The Duckhorn cab we had with dinner was just perfect.  If not for the price tag, I would drink it every day.  It tasted especially fine after dropping mom off, kicking off my shoes and glowing in the dying light of a Christmas day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Sam T. Cat says "Have a Merry Christmas or they won't take this stupid hat off me."

May your holiday be filled with laughter, love and leftovers!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Comfort and Joy

In our place, you are never more than ten feet away from a cookbook.  It helps that our place is only 1200 square feet, but you get my drift.  Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller, Julia Child, Lidia Bastianich are all within arms reach to dispense their culinary secrets.  Yet, whose cookbook do I grab for first when cooking something new, a widowed homemaker from Saint Louis.  To top that, she self published her first edition.  Well, now there is a ninth edition and some 18 million copies of it have graced kitchens around the globe.  I am referring to Irma Rombauer and "The Joy of Cooking".

Irma published the first edition in 1931 as a way to support her family.  I'm sure she had no inkling that the book would still be relevant over 75 years later.  Its friendly tone and encyclopedic coverage of the culinary world, "Braised bear anyone?", have made it indispensable to the kitchen novice and master alike.

So when E requested mac and cheese for dinner, I knew exactly where to turn.  "The Joy" had to have a recipe.  It most certainly did.  It was the classic recipe with a bit of a twist.  Make a bechamel sauce, make some pasta, melt some cheese in the bechamel, etc.  The twist came in assembling the dish for baking.  Put half the pasta and cheese sauce mixture in your baking dish.  Put some shredded cheese over that layer.  The extra cheese is then topped with the other half of the cheesy pasta goodness.  Cover with browned bread crumbs and bake.  Well, that extra step added different texture and more concentrated cheese flavor to the dish that I really liked.

I purposely only included enough of the recipe to tease you all into breaking open your own copy of "The Joy of Cooking" or to seek it out.  I'm sure you know someone who has a copy.  The book, or maybe it should be referred to as "The Book" has  added a great deal of comfort and joy to my life.  My first paperback edition literally fell apart from years of use, each stained page telling a tale.  Certainly try out the mac and cheese recipe, it will bring you much comfort and will be a joy to make and eat.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Short Ribs Were Nestled All Snug in Their Sauce

Busy, busy weekend here in Sautoir Land.  Was in the Great White North yesterday.  Well, just Connecticut, but it was north of here.  The cold rain and wind today did not make heading outside to visit mom and run errands a pleasant diversion.  I'm typing this while I'm getting ready to go a Holiday Party here in the building.  I think it would be tacky to where slippers, but I am tempted.  While all this is going on, I have my favorite dish bubbling away in the oven, zinfandel braised short ribs.

There is just something about this dish that I, and everyone I served it to, just love.  It may be the fruity but spicy flavor of the zinfandel, the meatiness of the short ribs, or just the plain heaping load of comfort you get from a braised dish.  Best of all, it usually tastes better the next day, so it's a perfect make ahead dinner.

I like to use Rosenblum or Rancho Zabaco zins to make this dish.  They are both really nice wines are great prices.  I picked up a Rosenblum for under $10 today at my normal wine store, so you can probably get it cheaper at Costco or some other bulk retailer.

Anyone angling for a Christmas gift of a Le Creuset dutch oven, this is the perfect way to plant the idea.  "If I had that La Creuest dutch oven, I could make this all the time and it would taste so much better."  I can't guarantee success their, but I can insure that you will not get coal in your stocking if you prepare this.

2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 pounds bone in beef short ribs
2 medium onions
3 medium carrots
2 cloves of garlic
1 750ml bottle of Zinfandel
2 cups of beef, chicken or veal stock
Fresh or dried thyme
2 Fresh or dried bay leaves


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Pour bottle of wine into a sauce pan and reduce by half over high heat
  3. Heat oil in dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid
  4. Season short ribs with salt and pepper.  
  5. Brown short ribs on all sides
  6. Slice onions into 1/4 inch slices
  7. Cut carrots into 1/2 inch slices
  8. Peel and crush garlic cloves
  9. Remove ribs to platter.  Pour out all oil except for about 1 teaspoon
  10. Sweat onions and carrots
  11. When onions have softened add the garlic cloves, cook for about 1 minute
  12. Add back ribs
  13. Add reduced wine to dutch oven
  14. Add stock to ribs are covered
  15. Add thyme and bay leaves.  Several sprigs of thyme if fresh, 1 teaspoon if dried.
  16. Bring to boil
  17. Cover dutch oven and place in oven
  18. Cook until ribs are exceedingly tender, about 2 1/2 hours
  19. Remove ribs
  20. Strain and defat cooking liquid
  21. Boil until sauce reduces and thickens a bit, about 10 minutes
  22. Put ribs back in sauce
  23. Eat, drink and be merry.  Or let ribs sit over night, then eat, drink and be merry.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bocuse D'or Blowout at Bar Boulud

The thrill of victory... the agony of defeat.   We all know those immortal words from ABC's Wide World of Sports.  In the wide world of culinary competition, the US was more akin to the hapless ski jumper falling off the jump than any of the jubilent winners seen in the opening montage.  Many big players in the US culinary world are trying to change that.

For those of you who do not know about the Bocuse D'or, it is very simple to explain:  Culinary Olympics.  Young chefs represent their countries in a high pressure cooking event, judged by a veritable pantheon of culinary gods.  Throw in throngs of rabid, flag waving fans and you get the picture.  Yes, throngs of rabid, flag waving fans,  at a COOKING competition.  I kid you not.

The US has not fared well at this event.  The last time this event was held, the powers that be asked some of the top US chefs to get involved in preparing the US team for competition.  They asked and got none other than Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller to throw their toques into the ring.  You know this is serious when you can get these two to help out.  The US did okay last year, but they are looking ahead to doing much better.  So, they held a fund raising dinner last weekend at Bar Boulud in NYC.  I decided to make the sacrifice and eat a terrific meal for the team.

Saturday was the worst weather day we had in a while.  A constant rain mixed with snow fell the entire day.  While nothing short of a full on blizzard would have stopped us from going, we got dressed up and headed out into the tempest.  We arrived at Bar Boulud in less time than we thought and headed downstairs to the event.  A glass of cold champagne and some warm company soon put the poor weather out of our minds.

It was a much smaller event than I imagined.  Since about 200 people were at the Top Chef Bocuse D'or event, I was expecting about the same.  There were only about 40 people at this event, but they were dedicated.  Two couples came up from Philadelphia for the event.  One couple was even taking the train back that night!  It's about a 90 minute train trip, so those people can only be described as hardcore.

Some really tasty appetizers were making the rounds when the man himself, Chef Daniel Boulud showed up.  He made his way through the crowd, greeting all.  We soon were seated for dinner and Chef Boulud gave a talk on how he was recruited to help out the US team and gave a quick preview of the dinner menu.  "When in doubt, serve foie gras" is how he described the inspiration for the first course.  The dinner was mainly Lyonaise holiday dishes.  The standout was the poached chicken with truffles under its skin.  Yes, it did taste as good as it sounded.

The conversation at the table was almost as good as the food.  With topics ranging from Lady Gaga to law school.  The evening flew by.  Flew by so fast that we missed our ride home and had to have another car sent to pick us up!  At least by this time, the rain and snow had stopped and NYC was resplendent in its Yuletide trimmings.