Braised Beef Short Ribs

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I am finally going to acknowledge that winter is here!

I have been overly optimistic in thinking that maybe it will not be a cold winter, and maybe it will go by quickly. I even bought a light weight winter coat thinking I would be the stylish one on the subway filled with a sea of down coats and Canada Goose jackets. Well, last night I bit the bullet and bought a warmer coat.

Today I am walking around in my new toasty down filled jacket with a big smile on my face. There are giant snowflakes fluttering in the evening sky and I am smiling. The wind chill factor is well below freezing, but I am still smiling.

Since I am admitting that it is winter, I might as well feature a hearty winter recipe. These braised short ribs take a while to slowly cook but they are well worth the wait. The meat is so tender it falls off of the bones and the flavours are rich and satisfying.

I found the recipe on the FoodNetwork.ca website which was created by Chuck Hughes, a great Canadian chef from Montreal. It has a little different style from most braised short rib recipes with the addition of cocoa and cinnamon. The result is darker and richer in flavour so I served the ribs with a full-bodied red Valpolicella wine from the Verona region of Italy.

It was a match made in heaven!

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Braised Beef Short Ribs

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 – 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 large carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped in 2 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp. canola oil
6 beef short ribs (about 3 inches long)
1 cup flour
1 750 mL bottles full-bodied red wine
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
Handful peppercorns
A generous pinch coarse salt
Black pepper, freshly ground

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Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (177 C)
Prepare all vegetables and place in large bowl. Add herbs and spices, set aside.
Cut ribs between the bones, and trim all excess outer fat.
Season ribs well with coarse salt. Dredge in flour till well coated.
In a large Dutch oven or wide soup pot, pour in oil to coat bottom of pan. On high heat, sear the ribs so they are browned well on all sides (about 3 min per side). Set aside.

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In same pan, transfer all vegetables from the bowl, and stir to caramelize and pick up all the brown bits.
Add meat back into pot. Pour wine over. Ensure all is covered and if not, top up with water.
Sprinkle on cocoa powder and brown sugar, bring to a boil, cover with a lid or foil, and place in oven till meat is fork tender. (About 3 hours)
Remove ribs to a platter and strain out the solids to use for something else.
Boil the cooking liquid in a wide shallow pan till it is reduced by half. It will be richer, more flavourful and thicker. Add a nub of butter at the end for sheen and flavour.

Recipe adapted from Foodnetwork.ca-Chuck Hughes

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Skating on the World’s Longest Skating Rink

Photograph by J.S.Swider

Photograph by J.S.Swider

I checked off another box on my bucket last week. I had always wanted to skate the Rideau Canal in our country’s capital city of Ottawa.

With the plan to do this we drove to Ottawa for a long weekend getaway. I had only been to Ottawa in warmer weather so I had never seen the canal frozen and open for skaters. The canal rink is 7.8 km long and is the longest skating rink in the world. Local residents use the canal as a way to commute to work to work on skates while carrying their boots in backpacks.

The canal rink is very well maintained. Every 0.2 km along the route there are signs to tell you where you are and how far you have travelled. Also, every few kilometres there are change huts, washrooms and food concessions where you can buy a hot chocolate or other hot drinks.

The traditional snack along the way are Beaver Tails. Since beavers were declared our national animal in 1975 some clever person decided to make a pastry in the shape of a long flat beaver tail. You can try them with a variety of toppings from sugar and cinnamon to maple and hazelnut. Even though Beaver Tails have become a classic Canadian treat I had never tasted one until this year. I tried one after skating and quickly fell in love. The pastry had a long, thin fried doughnut-like texture that had been topped with cinnamon and sugar. It tasted amazing!

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On our first evening in Ottawa we skated part of the canal to get used to the ice. Afterward we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Maxwell’s Bistro on Elgin St.

The next day we rose early and set out to skate the canal from end to end. I had never skated such a long distance before but the sun was shining, the day was beautiful and I was determined to make it to the end. I was very tired in the last kilometre and had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but I made it to the end, then we walked all the way back. That afternoon we rested and then ventured out to another local bistro called The Buzz to enjoy a delightful dinner of Steak Frites, Creme Brule and Red wine. I slept like a baby that night.

I hope to go back to Ottawa again soon so I can skate the canal both ways.

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Photograph by J.S. Swider

Photograph by J.S. Swider

After a long day of winter activity I love to enjoy a bowl of hot soup. This Winter Minestrone is from Ina Garten’s new book Foolproof and the recipe is just that.

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Winter Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, ½-inch-diced
1½ cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups (½-inch) diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups (½-inch) diced celery (3 stalks)
2½ cups (½-inch) diced peeled butternut squash
1½ tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
26 ounces canned or boxed chopped tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti (see note)
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
½ cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick, add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons (like tossing a salad). Cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine and pesto. Depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock, add another teaspoon or two of salt to taste.

Serve large shallow bowls of soup. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and serve hot.

NOTE: To cook the pasta, put 1 cup of pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook according to the directions on the package, drain, and set aside.

You can make this soup ahead and reheat it before serving. It will need to be re-seasoned.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof by Ina Garten and also published in Canadian House and Home Magazine

Piquant Vegetable Soup-My Culinary Education Continues

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We had a great snow storm last week. It is not often that Toronto gets dumped on with 28cm of snow. Most of the time we are spared the large snowfalls because we are nestled in a small pocket on the north shore of Lake Ontario. When the areas surrounding the city get snow, we usually do not see any.

Last Friday was an exception bringing us the largest snowfall since 2008. It was really beautiful in many ways. I know people were stuck in traffic or had to shovel their way out, but if you were able to see it there was something else going on.

If you paid close attention you could feel the nostalgia in the air. Those of us who remembered the large snowfalls of our childhood were out in droves tobogganing, skiing, playing and remembering the snow forts that we used to build. It was like we were kids again.

Children were laughing as they caught snowflakes on their tongues and fell to the ground to make snow angels with their arms and legs. What a great day!

Winter can be fun and it can also be beautiful. The view can be breathtaking when you are looking out at freshly fallen snow on a bright sunny day, the sunlight bouncing across the snow and sparkles lighting up the sky.

Most of us try to find interesting ways to pass the time in the winter. I continue to be busy with my culinary education. Every week I pack up after work, change into my chef’s uniform and scurry off to class. We are learning to chop, dice, Julienne and chiffonade our way through the recipes.

I am learning that following a recipe does not make you a cook. Learning the foundational skills will help you to understand why things work together.

Did you know that there are 4 kinds of sauce? They are Brown Sauce, White Sauce, Red Sauce and Butter Sauce. Each of these can be further developed to become a number of different variations. For example a White Sauce can become a Béchamel, a Veal Veloute, a Fish Veloute or a Chicken Veloute. Then each of those variations can become a number of other sauces. A Béchamel is used to make other sauces like Cream, Aurore, Chantilly, Mornay, Nantus and Soubise. Just mastering the art of making sauces can improve your cooking skills, immensely.

This soup recipe that we made in class creates a hearty vegetable soup that is packed with flavour. The lime leaf adds a note of citrus and the red chili flakes add a hint of spice. This one is perfect for a winter day.

Piquant Vegetable Soup

Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

1 tsp. vegetable oil
½ cup yellow onion, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
½ cup celery, diced
2/3 cup cabbage diced
¼ cup chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh baby spinach, washed and chopped, stems removed
2 slices bacon, diced
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, diced with liquid
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fresh parsley chopped
6 ½ cups chicken stock
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp. red chili flakes
2 Kefir lime leaves
White pepper
Salt

Directions:

Dice onions and garlic. Dice all of the rest of the vegetables and set aside in a bowl.

Heat 1 tsp. of the vegetable oil in a large saucepan, add bacon and sweat. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until onions are they are translucent.

Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and continue to sweat until the vegetables are tender.

Add the plum tomatoes, stock and chili flakes. Bring to a boil and skim. Add the beans and the lime leaf. Simmer 20 minutes on medium heat. Add the herbs and chopped spinach. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Recipe adapted from the George Brown College Culinary Arts 1 Syllabus