Monday, March 29, 2010

weekend update

This past weekend, we started the massive undertaking of tackling the backyard.... which was AWESOME!  And couldn't have been done without the help of my mom & my handy beau.

 The Hill of Doom: you can't see it very well, but this hill is covered in leaves, weed-trees, vines, and ground cover.

Things accomplished: raked & bagged the top level/tier of the yard, replaced the scalloped edgers around a crape myrtle with field-stones, cemented the legs for the to-be-built marble bench in the front, transplanted salvageable plants from The Hill of Doom, sprayed The Hill of Doom with brush & poison killer, removed 2 bushes, widened the vegetable & herb garden, and started taking down the red privacy fence. 

I can't wait for next spring when this line of daffodils comes up bigger & badder than ever!

Unfortunately, most of the things, (like raking and spraying killer,) aren't exactly visual improvements... in the picture above you can see the line of daffodils I transplanted (AND I still have a few more clumps to move!)  It was recommended to me that after transplanting the flowering plants, to cut them down so that only 3" remained.  This is to alleviate stress on the plant, as supporting blooms & buds & full growth would be tough on a just-transplanted bulb.  Now, for the (one) before & after!


I don't remember the exact state of this garden when I moved in... I know there was a dog house where the hibernating hydrangea is and there was another boxwood bush.  But, otherwise, who knows!  Dark memories are easily blocked from my memory!

Last year, I planted a few peppers and a couple tomato plants in this garden, and had an ok crop.  But, things were cramped and never received enough sunlight.  So, my vision is to remove the back two bushes and the red fence.  Then, move the rock line towards the slate pathway/patio, to widen the garden.


And, there's my photogenic dog.  Smiling for the camera. 

But the garden!  Already looking MUCH bigger & just aching for some plants!  We had to stop tearing down the fence because we had nowhere to take it.  The rest will (hopefully) be removed when I can borrow my mom's pick-up for runs to the recycling center.  And my mind is racing with what kinds of peppers, herbs, tomatoes and other veggies (zucchini!) I can plant! 

Friday, March 26, 2010


Apparently, Little Caesar's still exists?  I think on the West coast?  Maybe Midwest, too?  Weird.... it's been dead a LOOONNNGGG time here on the East side.  And yet, I still think of their commercials.  Yay advertising.

This is the BEST pizza you will ever make at home.*  BEST!  EVER!  Trust me, I would not lead you astray. least, not in terms of food. 

We had seen a technique for pizza cooking on The Atlantic involving a cast-iron skillet, and I must say, I won't be making pizza ANY other way.  Ever.  Except, maybe on the grill.  Because, well, it's the grill. 

Anyways, here's the lowdown:
1) Heat cast-iron for 8 minutes on the stove over high heat.  Set oven to High Broil.
2) Slide assembled pizza onto skillet & pop into oven.
3) After 45-60seconds, turn skillet 180degrees & cook another 45-60seconds.
4) Remove. Slice. Devour.

AND THAT'S IT!  Seriously, in 10 minutes you can have a fantastic pizza ready and in your greedy, little hands.  It's taking every ounce of restraint I have not to make this again tonight.

AND IT GETS A CHAR ON THE BOTTOM!  Just like real pizza!!!

As for the actual assembling of the pizza:
1) The Sauce - canned whole tomatoes pulsed in food processor.  Salt.  Sugar.  Oregano.  (Apparently, canned are preferable to fresh?  Unless you are doing slices instead of a sauce... don't ask me why.  Someone with MUCH more time on his hands figured this out)
2) The Cheese - mozzarella, sliced thinly.   You'll want to lay the slices on/between paper towels for a while beforehand to soak up any excess moisture (this excess moisture will boil away, leaving you with ricotta-esque mozzarella.)
3) The Dough - we just used Giant's ready-to-use whole wheat pizza dough (found by the deli counter, usually in the same island as the fancy cheeses.)  Cut the ball in half- PERFECT for 2 skillet-sized pizzas.  Pull or roll the pizza in anyway you can to the desired shape/size.   
4) The Toppings - don't go too crazy & overload, or else it won't cook through.  Our first (un-pictured**) pizza was a margherita (sauce, mozz., basil.)  Our second one had sliced pancetta and sauteed mushrooms in addition to the sauce, cheese & basil.  

TIP: Don't assemble until you are almost ready to put on the skillet.  You don't want to leave the sauce setting on the dough, which would result in a soggy pie.
TIP: The logistics of getting fully-assembled-pizza from your working surface to the skillet intact are interesting.  We ended up using a very flat, no-lipped*** plate as a pseudo-pizza paddle.   So, after flouring both the plate and the bottom of the dough very well, we put the dough on the plate and assembled.  Gently shake the plate to loosen the dough (it should slide around on the plate.)  Then, when it's Go! time, one shakes/slides the pizza off the plate while the other uses a spatula to guide the front end.
TIP: The Giant grocery stores around here usually carry regular & whole wheat pizza dough, but Safeway doesn't.  Trader Joe's also carries their own dough, and may have some more flavors to choose from, (like garlic & herb!)  However, if a favorite local pizza joint has a crust you love?  Call & see if they sell dough balls.  One of life's little-known-facts is that many pizza shops will sell you their dough for a cheap price.  Take advantage of this!  I've always had luck with this, though I've never asked a pizza chain. 

But seriously, what are you waiting for???!?!

*This is akin to the Neapolitan-style pizza, (though I'm not claiming I can MAKE Neapolitan pizza.)  If you don't like Neapolitan pizza, then I don't like you.  There.  I said it. 
**Un-pictured because I didn't have my camera and we gobbled up the first one in 2.5 seconds.  It was so good, I decided to use my phone to take photos of the second one.  Sorry for the quality.
***I don't take no lip from my plates!  Lest they get the smackdown!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

indian invasion

Motivation-schmotivation, Crashley.  How's THIS for "lazy ass"?!? 

A long, long time ago, I hosted two college girlfriends for lunch.  The Menu?  Fennel-Scented Potato & Spinach Samosas, Mint-Cumin Raita, Chana Masala, and Orange-Curry Pots de Creme.  Served with na'an, courtesy of Whole Foods, brown basmati rice, and sparkling cranberry cider.  Why sparkling cider?  Because secretly everyone loves sparkling cider and grape juice!  Don't you try to deny it!  ...and because one of my honored guests was baking her own little bun in the oven, which was cause to celebrate!  Mimosas will have to wait.

My goal was to have as little stress & hassle on Sunday morning before my girlfriend's came.  The chana can be made ahead of time, and then re-heated on the stove.  This recipe came together so fast!  The most time-consuming aspect is chopping and prep-work.  Definitely an easy meal, and one who's ingredients are almost all "pantry staples!"  It's a win-win!!  

The samosa filling was done earlier, too.  But, due to the fragile nature of the phyllo dough, I didn't want to risk any tearing or sogginess.  

I had to wilt in the spinach in 2 batches, as the pan was simply not big enough!  Also, please join me in embracing the skin-on technique for potatoes.  Not only does it hold tons of nutrients, but it also adds great color and texture.  That and... um... who wants to waste time peeling potatoes?  Which means one more thing to clean when all is said an done and... just eat the skins!

Assembly was fairly easy: about 1-2tbsp of filling goes at the bottom, and you fold it up as a triangle.  Kinda like how you see people folding a flag?  You know... NJROTC and stuff?  Just like that.

In the past, I have used an empanada dough recipe for these (laziness: it's the theme of this post.)  Both came out wonderfully, though these are definitely better.  Though I want to try other filling recipes, I was reluctant to depart from an old favorite.... maybe next time?

I also made a raita, or yogurt-based dipping sauce.  This had cumin, mint, grated cucumber, salt & pepper with a Greek yogurt base.  And prob alil' cayenne.  Just for fun.

Fennel-Scented Spinach and Potato Samosas
Adapted from Epicurious, makes about 30

1/2 pound red potatoes (about 5, each about 2 inches in diameter)
1tbsp fennel seeds
1tbsp ground cumin
1tsp turmeric
1/2tsp garam masala
sprinkle of cayenne (to taste)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
3 jalapeño chilies, chopped fine*
2" piece of gingerroot, peeled and finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1lb fresh spinach
~3/4c frozen peas
ten 17- by 12-inch phyllo sheets, thawed
1 stick butter, melted
egg whites**

For filling:
In a saucepan, bring salted water to a boil and simmer potatoes, about 12 minutes, (should be barely tender.) Drain in a colander and allow to cool.  Cut potatoes into 1/2"*** dice. In a large, heavy skillet, dry-roast fennel seeds, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric over moderate heat, until fragrant and several shades darker, (~2 minutes.)  Stir frequently and be careful not to burn them.  Add oil, onion, chilies, ginger, and garlic and cook until onion is softened, (~5 minutes.)  Add potatoes, peas and spinach and saute over medium-high heat, stirring until spinach is wilted but still bright green & all is combined.  Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. 

Filling may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

To assemble & bake:
Preheat oven to 400F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lay out 1 phyllo sheet on surface (I used the plastic the dough was wrapped in as a placemat, of sorts) with the long side facing you.  Brush lightly with butter, top with another phyllo sheet and brush lightly with butter. Cut phyllo length-wise (or, "hot dog bun-style"****) in half.  Spoon ~1tbsp filling (maybe more, you judge!) near one corner of each strip.  Fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip, maintaining triangle shape.  Put samosa, seam side down, on the baking sheet, with about a 1/2" gap between them.  Make as many more samosas as humanly possible with the remaining phyllo and filling.*****  Brush top with egg whites or butter (optional).

Bake samosas in middle of oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Typing this makes me VERY sad I don't have one of these right now. 

*WEAR GLOVES!  Or else you will burn your eyes when you touch them 3hrs later!!
**I had a ton of egg whites leftover from the dessert, so decided to brush the tops of the samosas with them.  Works!
***1/2"... 3/4" whatever.  I don't judge your potato-cubing preference/laziness.
****Holla for the kindergarten directions!!
*****Samosas may be prepared up to this point 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered with plastic wrap.

Chana Masala
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Serves 6

1tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2tsp fresh ginger, grated or minced
1 jalapeno or other hot green chili pepper, minced
1tbsp ground coriander*
4tsp ground cumin**
1/2tsp ground cayenne pepper
1tsp ground turmeric

2tsp paprika
1tsp garam masala
1 15oz can whole tomatoes w/ juices, chopped small*** 
2/3c water
2 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon (juiced)****

Heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan.  Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, (~5 minutes.)  Turn heat down to med-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, paprika, and garam masala.  Cook for 1-2minutes, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices.  Add water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.

*TOTALLY forgot I had some of this & didn't want to get home to find myself without it soooooo..... I now have 2 things of ground coriander.  Fan-freakin-tastic. 
**Recipe calls for 2tsp cumin powder and 2tsp cumin seeds toasted & ground.  I didn't have cumin seeds so I just went crazy with the powder.
***Or, 2c fresh tomatoes
****Used a whole lemon to swap for the amchoor powder since I didn't have that.  If you do, add 1tbsp with the rest of the spices.  


The Pots de Creme were the same ones that I made for Valentine's Day.  Only THIS time, I actually baked at the correct temperature and allowed to cool.  And holy hell, did that make a difference!  It's like eating straight fudge/ganache!  Wa -hoooo rich!  Still awesome.  For the recipe & reference, see original post

Monday, March 15, 2010

the ol' risotto ball n' chain

With a ton of leftover risotto, one could certainly microwave and have it as a side for days to come...


The leftover risotto was brie & mushroom from Valentine's Day.*  To the risotto, I added a healthy dosing of red pepper flakes, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper before forming them into balls.  You want the seasonings to be on the bolder/heavier side, to really give them a kick.  Most recipes I've seen say to put a cube of soft, melting cheese, (like mozzarella or muenster,) in the middle.  Since I had already added about 35lbs of brie, I was reluctant to add more... not because I have anything against more cheese.  Quite the opposite; you can never have enough cheese!  But, rather, I didn't want to have a heart attack mid-chew.

...I have every intention of making a less-cheesy risotto JUST so I can make risotto balls with an ooey-gooey-cheesy center.**  And soon.

*No, I did NOT just make risotto balls a full month after making the risotto.  I may push the boundaries of fiid freshness, but a month would be a touch ridiculous!  These were made the weekend after Valentine's Day.  And I am just now posting them.  Feel free to judge me.
**Apparently, I just told the beau TWICE, in less than 24hrs of this intention.***  Apparently, that's repetitive?
***Sometimes, I forget if I merely think about saying something, or if I actually verbalize it.   

All balls were dipped into wisked-eggs and then into bread crumbs.

I decided that I wanted to baked the balls instead of frying; again, for health reasons.  However, apparently I am the only one with this concern?  There was, maybe, one recipe online for baked risotto balls!*  ...NOT ANYMORE!!!  Anyways, it's not that I didn't want to follow a recipe.  Honest!  There, just, were no recipes to follow!

*No, I did not look past the first page of search results.  Who would DO such a thing??!?

Not too shabby, if I don't say so m'self.  And?  OH MY GOD SO GOOD!  Nice and brown on the outside, and delicious on the inside.  My only change would be to play around with better quality breadcrumbs.


To go with, we had leftover steak and a salad, (I put my steak IN the salad!  That badass.)  I may start making risotto, weekly, just so I can have these balls.  And as for the baked vs. fried methods: definitely sticking with baked-balls at home.  The crust gets nice and browned, but stays light.  I'll leave the frying for when I order them at a restaurants.

Baked Risotto Balls
adapted from my head, which means measurements are to be taken lightly
yields 24 balls, serves 4 as a meal (or two, twice!)*

~2c leftover risotto
~1tsp red pepper flakes
~1/2tsp thyme
~1/2tsp rosemary
~1/4tsp garlic powder
2-3 eggs, beaten
~1 1/2c breadcrumbs
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Add red pepper flakes, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, salt & pepper to leftover risotto and mix.  Taste, and adjust accordingly.  Form risotto into golfball-sized balls and set aside.  In two shallow bowls, beat eggs in one and pour bread crumbs into another.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.**

Dunk balls in egg, then roll in breadcrumbs, then place on parchment.  Balls can be placed close together, maybe an inch apart?  They don't spread, and shouldn't roll, so you cool. 

Bake 10-15minutes until brown and crunchy on outside.  You shouldn't have any trouble getting the insides hot, but might as well taste one.  You know, just to be sure. 

Serve alone or with marinara sauce.

*For dinner, we each had 6, and then gobbled the rest up for lunch the next day.  So, I would say 24 serves 4 as a side for dinner, or 8ish as an appetizer.
**Parchment paper is from the gods.  Thank you, gods.

Friday, March 12, 2010

when I dip, you dip, we dip

So many of life's greatest things start with infusing oil with red pepper flakes.

A few weeks ago, we hosted a game night.  While the beau made an amazing stir-fry, I threw together this Spicy Baked Feta & Roasted Red Pepper Dip to start.

I feel like I have been dicing garlic and shallots forever.  And a day.  Anyone else get frustrated when dicing shallots?  At least onions are one solid bulb.  NOT SO WITH SHALLOTS!  They have two or more parts, and their tiny, and... gah!

So, after the olive oil and red peppers are allowed to get funky, (you want the oil to get nice and orange,) throw in the shallots and garlic.  Cook those until they have softened.  In goes the flour, and let it thicken a bit.

While all this was going on, I was roasting a red pepper.  In the past, I have done this over a flame stove-top.  However, because I don't HAVE a gas stove,* I broiled.  Put the pepper on a baking pan on the top rack in the oven and broil.  To stop the oven from cycling,** I left the door ajar.  This way the heat is constant, which is perfect for roasting!  As you can see above, the objective is to get the pepper good and charred.    Then, pop the pepper into a ziplock bag and seal.  Let the steam work it's magic, (in this case, magic= loosening the skin.)  After 5 minutes, it should be cool enough to handle.  Remove from bag, and peel off skin.  Ta da!

*Yes, I am lamenting about this AGAIN.  And yes, technically, I have a gas stove... it's just not hooked up!
**To my knowledge, ovens "cycle" like your heat or AC cycles.  This means that it will kick on for a while to get up to temperature, and then rest.  Kicks on again, as needed, to heat itself back up to temperature.  By leaving the door ajar, the oven is constantly working to hit the desired degree.

Doesn't this look appetizing?  Oooooo yeah.  This is when everything but the shredded cheese is combined.

Top with shredded Parmesean (or other hard & sharp cheese), because why bake a dip if it's not going to have a cheesy crust?  WHY?!??!  Anyways, into the oven!

While I definitely enjoyed the dip, I think it fell flat on the "spicy" classification.  And this was after adding a bit more.  To make again, I would try with an extra clove of garlic and a full teaspoon, probably more, of red pepper flakes.... maybe some parm IN the dip instead of just on top?  I dunno. 

None of this mattered, as the guests gobbled it up!

 Spicy Baked Feta & Roasted Red Pepper Dip
adapted from Cookthink

1/4c extra virgin olive oil
3/4tsp red pepper flakes
1 minced shallot
3 minced garlic cloves
1Tbsp flour
1c Greek yogurt
1/2c feta, crumbled (or, you know, more.  whatevs)
2Tbsp milk*
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and diced
Shredded Parmesean, for topping

Turn oven on (High) Broil.

Roast the red pepper under the broiler or over a flame.**  For broiler, leave door ajar and put pepper on a tin-foiled baking pan on the top rack.  Rotate the pepper every 1-2minutes, allowing each side to blacken.   If using a flame, hold near fire and rotate regularly until desired color is reached.  Put the pepper into a ziplock bag, seal, and let rest for ~5minutes.  Remove from bag, peel off skin, seed & dice.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and red pepper flakes over medium heat for about 5 minutes until infused and orange.  Add shallot and garlic and cook another 5 minutes or so, until soft.  Add flour, stir to remove clumps & combine, and remove from heat.

Reduce oven temp to 350F.

Combine the yogurt and feta together with the back of a fork.  Add milk.  Then mix in the olive oil mixture, followed by the diced red bell pepper.  Put in oven-safe dish and sprinkle with Parmesean, (Asiago & Romano would also work.)  Bake for 45 minutes, until browned on top and bubbly around the edges.  Serve with crackers or pita chips.

*The recipe calls for whole milk, which I never keep in my house and don't buy unless absolutely needed.  I either replace with skim, or do mostly skim milk with a splash of heavy cream. 
**Store-bought roasted red peppers would work just as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

mamma mia!

 I made pasta!  From scratch!  For real!!  I have been wanting to tackle homemade pasta for a long time.  A la-la-la-la-long time.  And, pasta-maker be damned, I did it!

...this is not to say I don't want, need, and crave a pasta-maker in my life; just that its empty void will not stop me from getting down to my Italian roots!*

*There is not a single ounce of Italian in me, for the record.

 I failed at making a well big enough for all the eggs.  Don't let this happen to you.  Put flower in a large mixing bowl & make a serious well for the eggs.

Mixing with your fingers is just as fun and messy as you would think.  The ratio I used for pasta dough is 2 eggs:1 cup flour.  And, I am told, a serving size is about 1 egg per person.

Now, I could either let you believe I cooked dinner for four, as you see there are four eggs swimming around in my flour... but no!  I totally made extra.  Why?  Because 1) I love leftovers and I had a feeling I would want more of this, and 2) I felt a 4-person batch would fit the sauce recipe better.

 Weird alien ball of pasta dough.  Very sticky... time to knead!

Ahh, smooth ball of pasta dough!  Much better.  Smoothness means the gluten is... um.... doin' the right thing. There's no time limit for how long you work the dough.  Just keep kneading and rolling and punching, adding flour to your counter as needed, until it's smooth. 

I wish I rolled this out more to make a thinner pasta.  But, as you can see, I was kinda running out of room and got impatient.

Method if you don't have a pasta maker: flour both sides of dough; roll up; cut spirals at your desired width; unravel spirals.  You are somewhat limited as to how thin you can make these noodles by the sharpness of your knife and the temperature of the dough.  If you want to attempt thin noodles, I would try tossing the dough, in a plastic bag, into the fridge for an hour and then cutting. 

By this time, I was plenty excited.... Pasta goes into well-salted, boiling water for 2-5minutes.  Mine took longer (closer to the 5 min mark) because it was thicker, but in general plan to cook homemade pasta for a fraction of the time it takes for stuff from a box. 

The sauce was pecorino romano, pasta water, olive oil, and black pepper.  That's it.  And that, my friends, is all you need!  It's my understanding (read: guess) that the pasta water is added to very hot oil so that they will combine instead of staying separate, as oil and water are want to do.  Also, the recipe calls for "finely ground fresh-cracked black pepper," which is PRECISELY what we did.  I put the beau to work* grinding fresh peppercorns with a mortar & pestle.  I highly recommend this course of action as, 1) the pepper acts as a part of the sauce/a flavor in the sauce instead of just a seasoning, and 2) pre-"ground black pepper"/dust doesn't have the flavor that full peppercorns do.  If you have a hand grinder with a "fine" setting, that would work, too.

*Ok, so maybe the whole "why don't I just grind with a mortar" was his genius idea.  Whatever, my blog, my brilliancy. 

And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles: I followed a recipe!  TWO of them!!  To the "T"!!!  I must say, I am as shocked as you are.

So, dinner was Homemade Pasta with Romano & Black Pepper and Grilled Chicken.  And let me tell you, AH-mazing!  The sauce was absolutely fantastic- the method is great to have in your back pocket to adjust and tweak, depending on what cheese you have on hand.  Definitely, a recipe to have when you have nothing in your fridge, as I consider all these ingredients "pantry staples," or want a quick dinner.  Also?  I love how creamy this was without the use of heavy cream or milk!  Excellent.  And, I can't wait to make more homemade pasta.

The chicken, in case you cared, was fantastic and the perfect compliment to the pasta.  First, I brined the chicken, because it's what I do.  Then, my sous chef* split the chicken breasts, seasoned with some weird, tasty, pre-made spice mix and threw onto the grill pan. 

*JUST KIDDING!   Co-chef! 

Homemade Pasta Dough
serves 4, adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks

4 eggs
2c flour

Form a in the flour and crack in the eggs.  Mix together with your fingers.

Flour a counter/surface and dump pasta ball.  Knead by hand until smooth and pliable (you will need to add more flour to your surface, as necessary.)  Let dough rest.

Roll out dough as thinly as possible/to your preference.  The noodles will plump up quite a bit.  Cut noodles into desired shape.  If you want to make long noodles, like pappardelle or fettucini and don't have a pasta blade, then roll up the dough and cut into spirals.
Cook the noodles in boiling, well-salted water for 2-5 minutes (depending on thickness- test & watch closely.)  Reserve 1 1/2c pasta water for sauce, and drain pasta.

Note: ~1 egg per person per serving.  And 2 eggs for every 1c flour 

Romano & Black Pepper Sauce
serves 4, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
1 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

In same pot as you cooked the pasta,* dry and heat olive oil over high until almost smoking.  Add pasta and 1c of pasta water.  BUT BE CAREFUL!  Water + oil = splattery mess of hotness!!  Add butter, 3oz cheese and pepper.  Mix & taste, adding more water or cheese or pepper as necessary/to taste.**  Serve with more cheese sprinkled on top.

*This recipe works with 1lb dried pasta.
**You can salt, if necessary, though I didn't need it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

stay behind me, short round. step where I step...

I got it into my head that I needed to make short ribs. And, I bought enough to feed a family of four, but there was one small problem... I don't have a family of four. And with the snow that came? No one was coming over for a dinner party. Tough life, these leftovers.

To start, the meat was seasoned with thyme and pepper overnight. Then, sprinkled with salt, they get thoroughly searing the short ribs on as many sides as physically possible. Then, into the crock pot they go!

You see these? The onions, carrots and celery? This is called "mirepoix," which is the base for a TON of French cooking: stocks, soups, stews, sauces, braises, etc. These are also referred to as "aromatics." because they're... er... aromatic.

So, the mirepoix went into the sauté pan with the leftover mean juices and cooked until softened. With the spices, wine & stock, all of this goes into the crock pot, too, and let the braising begin!!

Once ridiculously tender, these are tossed into the oven to brown a little more.

I strained the sauce from the veggies, put back into a saute pan with some mushrooms, tasted and adjusted seasonings, and reduced.

Meanwhile, polenta! Polenta is cornmeal. Cornmeal is polenta. Comes in yellow and white. There may be some difference between the coarseness, but you'll be fine with either. I used "yellow cornmeal" for this recipe. Anyways, polenta couldn't be easier: boil liquids and gradually add polenta, stirring to prevent clumping. Afterwards, you can add any cheese or mix-ins you desire.

Oh, and for the record? This was an AWESOME meal. Totally delicious and impressive. Also? Fairly cheap and easy for an impressive beef dinner.

Short Ribs with Mushrooms
serves 4, very, VERY loosely adapted from Smitten Kitchen*

6 beef short ribs
dried thyme
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 diced onion
2 diced carrots
2 diced celery
~1/2tsp dried bay leaves
~1/2tsp dried rosemary
splash of balsamic vinegar
3-4c red wine
6c beef or veal stock
handful of mushrooms

Season the short ribs with thyme & black pepper, and refrigerate overnight, (or in my case? 3 days.)

Remove ribs from fridge & allow to reach room temperature.  Season with salt.  Heat saute pan** over high and add ~3tbsp olive oil.  You want the pan to be very, very hot to get a good & fast sear.  Brown meat on all sides.  Transfer ribs to crock pot, with bones pointing up.

Turn heat down, and add onion, carrot, celery, more thyme (~ 1-2tsp), rosemary, and bay leaves. Stir to scrape up all the brown bits and cook for 6-8 more minutes until veggies are soft and the onions start to darken.  Add the balsamic vinegar and red wine.  Reduce the liquid by a third - a half over high heat.  Add stock and bring to a boil.

Pour liquid & veggies over the ribs, (should almost cover.)  Turn crock pot to High, and cook for ~3hrs (+/- 30 min.)

Meat is done when it yields easily to a knife.***  Remove ribs, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Then, transfer to a baking dish and roast for 10-15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Meanwhile, throw a package of mushrooms into a saute pan.  Skim off any fat from broth in the crock pot and strain out the veggies, (pressing down on them to squeeze out any extra juices.) Add to the mushrooms and reduce over medium-high heat.  I think I reduced this for about 15 minutes, and was too hungry to wait any longer.

* When I say "adapted," I mean I used this recipe as more of a "how-to" to guide me.  Also?  It's been quite some time since I've made this... measurements are off.  Best to follow Smitten Kitchen's recipe.  She's knows things.
**If you have a dutch oven, you can do this all in one-pot.  Just return the meat back to the broth.
*** This can be made a day ahead of time, if you want to really impress your guests AND socialize!  Stop here.  To serve, remove the solidified fat, bring to a boil, and continue with recipe.  

Asiago Polenta
serves 4, adapted from Cooking Light*

2c fat-free milk
3/4c water
3/4c instant dry polenta
1/2c Asiago cheese, grated
salt & pepper

Bring milk, water, and a pinch each of salt and pepper to a boil. Slowly, add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk.  Reduce heat and cook 2 minutes, stirring.  Add cheese & serve. 

*In a fascinating coincidence, Crash Bandicoot (my partner in culinary crime,) made the full recipe the same weekend.**  This synchronization was unplanned.
**Yes.  It's been THAT long since I've made this.  Who says timeliness is anything to be proud of?

To serve, plop a spoonful of polenta onto plate.  Place 2 short ribs on top of polenta, and spoon mushroom sauce over the meat.  And serve with a side salad, so you get your greens!!