It’s been a long time, it seems, since I wanted to cook something special. Last weekend, the stars aligned: my friends Bill and Bobbie were coming out for dinner, I had just finished research on rose veal and had a bunch of grass-fed (non-torture) veal short ribs in the freezer, and you know, I just felt like cooking. Plus, Spring was coming, short rib season was ending and I didn’t want the meat to hang around in the freezer until next winter.
Grabbed the French Laundry Cookbook for the short ribs recipe, but got sidetracked by the Breast of Veal on Polenta Cakes with Root Vegetables. I found some beef short ribs so I figured on a combo, just in case. I’ve had experience with local meat, which always comes frozen and packaged in butcher paper, and sometimes there is less in the package than it first appears. (Let alone the time I unwrapped some beef stew meat to find a frozen liver. Good thing I like chopped liver, but still, you never know).
Anyway, I planned to spend Friday night making the meat so I could cool and skim it the next morning. However, a cranky client who didn’t really understand what first pass software meant (“It isn’t finished yet, that’s the point. You’re supposed to test the part that is finished.”) kept me up until midnight getting his stuff done, so I had to start everything Saturday morning.
All my irritation vanished as soon as I started browning the meat. Something about the sound, the smell, and that feeling of pushing away from shore and being underway. There was going to be a lot of meat and that was perfectly fine. I planned to keep an eye on the beef and veal in case one cooked sooner than the other. I had some homemade veal stock and things were humming. I’d wanted to go a little Indian in spicing, but hadn’t found anything I liked so this was a straight European dish.
Got the meat in the oven to braise and turned to the vegetables. Carrots and parsnips cut oblique, sure. The turnips, however, I tried for a rounded half moon shape, but after I got them cut, they just looked clunky. Off to the supermarket for another turnip. I cut this one, into barrels, my tournee-ing skills being pretty rudimentary. It was yellow, a more pleasing color anyway. Polenta—no problem. Keller called for 2 TBS mascarpone. I used a TBS of low fat yoghurt. So sue me, it gave the requisite creaminess.
Meat done, pressing under a plate and a weight, I took off some of the stock to reheat the meat in and reduced the rest into sauce. I got it down 3/4 and thought I’d get the rest of the way just before serving. Everything else came out fine. I roasted some red peppers for a garlic, black pepper and olive oil app, and an eggplant for eggplant caviar and got a local sopresetta. Bill and Bobbie were bringing dessert, so I didn’t have to worry about it. I made sure we had some grapes (bunches of grapes and warmed almonds, maybe some cheese, on a platter is a great dessert, esp for those who unaccountably feel they need something light after a big meal) and some chocolate for the fiend Bobbie (not for me, of course. It was totally selfless)
Asparagus with pieces of orange in Clementine pressed olive oil, orange water, cider vinegar. Then I remembered that Bill doesn’t seem to eat much asparagus, so I took the nine baby artichokes I’d bought then decided were too much work to prep and trimmed them and cooked them in a kind of Barigoule (olive oil, white wine, garlic and aromatics).
Dinner went swimmingly. I remembered all my garnishes (including the tomato diamonds that were just there because they looked cool because a winter plum tomato is nothing except color and shape). Except, of course, for the sauce, which I didn’t have the courage of my convictions to reduce down as far as it should go. So, it was more of a pan gravy that thickened wonderfully as it cooled a little. It all tasted great and the veal short ribs were the hit—flavorful, toothsome, rich and not too fatty, and pretty damn good, even by my perfection only standards. Plating was not restaurant quality—next time, I wouldn’t hide the polenta rings under the vegs, I’d remove the bones, and arrange the plate a little better. The barrels of turnip looked a little odd, and the sauce was thin (but tasty) so I gave myself an A- and we all ate the evidence.
When I reheated the leftovers last night, I took the sauce and stock and cooked it down to where it should have been. I could get used to this.