Braise Days

October 11, 2007


I wish I could capture the feeling (and scent!) in my house right now. It’s 5:00, the sky is the color of a dove and the mist just solidified into rain. But there’s a warmth pervading the air that has nothing to do with the thermostat. 

I have the first braise of the season in the oven.

Why is it that as the days get grayer, the light inside seem to glow a tad warmer, and anything cooking over a slow, mellow heat in the oven seems to suffuse our very souls with comfort?

Right now, Noe is playing at my feet. She’s enamored with two plastic cups that, when pulled apart, make a whistling sound. I am enamored with the little giggle of wonder she emits each time she does it (and I think we’re at about 50th time right now). My husband will be walking through the door any minute into a house that—thanks to the braise and my daughter, and not necessarily in that order—exudes home tonight and I feel like my heart is smiling. It’s moments like these that I just want to bundle up and carry with me throughout the rest of my life.

And here, my friends, is what’s in the oven . . . the dish that inspired this cozy post. I originally developed it with lamb shanks for the September issue of Cooking Light. But I struck out twice at the market with lamb this week, and Christopher’s been craving beef. So it’s beef short ribs in the doufeu tonight in lieu of lamb. I’m serving it with cubes of sticky-savory roasted sweet potato and I think it’s gonna be gooood.

Before I turn over the recipe, though, I wanted to expand the circle of warmth by “tagging” a few fellow food bloggers and asking them to share their favorite braises.

Amanda (Figs, Olives, Wine) ; Molly (Orangette) ; Nicole (Pinch My Salt) ; Katie (Thyme for Cooking) ; Kalyn (Kalyn’s Kitchen) . . . would you share with us a recipe for your favorite braise? And heck, if you feel like it, tag five more of your favorite food blogs and we’ll see if we can get a “braise tag” going. (And . . . if I’m going about this tag thing the wrong way, please have mercy and send me an e-mail to set me straight)

{ Braised Beef Short Ribs with Orange and Olives }

While this dish takes more than three hours to complete, it can be left unattended much of the time. Nestle the ribs in the pan so they’re surrounded by cooking liquid. The long, slow braising process yields fork-tender, succulent meat.

1 tablespoon olive oil 
8 (12-ounce) beef short ribs
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 ounce)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
4 kalamata olives, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge ribs in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour. Brown ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary not to crowd, and remove to a plate.

Add garlic to pan; sauté for 1 minute. Add orange juice, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in wine; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in beef broth, thyme, and tomato paste; return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add ribs back to pan; cover and bake at 350° for 2 hours. Stir in rind and olives; bake an additional 30 minutes or until beef is very tender. Remove ribs and place on a platter; keep warm.

Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measure. Pour cooking liquid into bag and refrigerate 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain cooking liquid and olives into pan, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Bring cooking liquid to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until reduced to 2 cups (about 20 minutes).

Reduce heat to low, nestle ribs back in pan and warm through.

Serves 6




A Harvest Tank Tasting

October 9, 2007

When I told my husband I was going tank tasting with Erik at 8:30 this morning he chuckled sardonically. “You’d better eat a big breakfast . . . and spit a lot.” What he knew, and what I didn’t, is that tank tasting at the end of harvest means a lot of sipping—as in several dozen sips from several dozen tanks. Panic. I’m a very disciplined pourer-outer when tasting a wine or two or three, but I’ve never been a very lady-like spitter. (In fact, I’m determined to hit Erik up on tips for a spitting primer).


But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. So I caught up with Erik and two of his team—Jimmy and Maureen—amidst the rows of stainless steel tanks. Inside each, freshly pressed wine was bubbling and churning as it ferments the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol. All in all, the process takes about 6–7 days for a red, so there’s a lot of pumping and swapping and moving of wines as more of the harvest comes in and as each tank works its way through the process.

As I joined them, Erik twisted a valve on a tank and crimson liquid shot into a plastic tub. Then he gave each of us a shot (in our own plastic tubs) while Jimmy read the vital stats off a clipboard—varietal, which vineyard it was from, brix level, etc. I swirled and swished and spit through a few tastes and then finally turned to Erik and asked what, exactly, he was looking for.

It turns out that the purpose of tank tasting during fermentation, for the winemaker, is two-fold. First, if the wine has completed fermentation, tasting it helps him decide whether it’s ready to be pumped over to barrels or whether it needs to mellow out for a few more days. Second, it gives the winemaker a sneak preview, in a way, of the palette he’ll have to play with come blending time in terms of flavor, density, tannins and balance.

As we moved down the rows, this second purpose became more and more clear (either that or I just wasn’t spitting enough). One Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, for instance, could be deep and concentrated and plummy while another right next to it from Dry Creek might be lighter and more vegetal—two totally different hues for Erik to use in crafting various wines. I was surprised to notice subtle differences even in the early stage wines with higher brix, where the sugar and fruit are still so prominent. Yet there they were.

Weather-wise, it’s been an ideal vintage—an early start followed by a long, dry summer with consistent heat. But an added bonus to the lengthy season has been that Erik and has team were able to stay in close touch with the vineyards as the fruit ripened, so they could pluck the berries from the vines at the perfect moment for each block. Which translates into juice that is at its prime from its very infancy. In the tank.

I can vouch for that . . . I tasted it today.

My Patch of Padron Peppers

October 6, 2007

I haven’t done an entry for Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging for a while, and seeing that I’m at a Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference at CIA Greystone, I thought veggies would be an apropos focus for the end of the week.

Specifically . . . my fabulous patch of Padron Peppers, which have been a bit scant all summer long but are suddenly producing enough to make a delightful little tapa a couple times a week.

Peppers and fett0004

I first came across Padron Peppers at Bar Cesar in Berkeley (in fact, if you check out their web page, you’ll see a photo strikingly similar to mine here). Their Pimientos de Padron were meaty little suckers, seared to blistering in hot olive oil and then dressed with nothing more than a pinch of coarse salt. I was smitten. I was driven to distraction trying to find them . . . at the store, at the farmers’ market. No luck. So I finally resorted to buying seeds (told you I was smitten).

Since then, and it’s been several years now, I’ve coaxed along a decent sized patch of Pimientos de Padron every summer and, as much as I consider myself an adventurous one in the kitchen, I’ve never swerved from preparing them exactly as Bar Cesar does. When you’ve got perfection with your Padron, why bother?

Check out this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging on Cook (Almost) Anything . . . At Least Once . . . Haalo has gorgeous photography, so I’m sure we’re in for a treat!





Congrats Calcaire!

October 2, 2007

I admit it. I never made it to that glass of Pinot Noir I had intended to sip after salmon. I never even made it to the salmon. On Saturday, I found out that Clos du Bois’ Calcaire Chardonnay won the coveted Best in Class sweeps at the Sonoma County Fair, and all weekend long I was dreaming up the perfect dish to pair with the winning wine.

When I talked to Erik, he and his team were all smiles. “We never thought it would happen, especially for a Chardonnay.” In fact, he and his wife had snuck out after winning golds on Calcaire and three other wines (including one of my favorites . . . Tempranillo!)—but before the announcement of the sweeps—to get home to the kids. “I got a call on my cell phone while we were still in the parking lot saying I’d better get my a** back inside to accept the award for Best White Wine!” Woops. I have to say, though, I’m not a bit surprised at the win.

What I know of Calcaire from a recent tasting is that it’s minerally on the nose, with a hint of ripe peach. On the palette it spreads out to several layers of flavors: clove, kumquat, honeydew. It’s silky and rich without being overly buttery, and it has a gloriously crisp, acidic finish that makes it fabulous with food—unusual for a California Chardonnay.

As I’ve mentioned before, you can take a couple of different routes when pairing wine and food, the two most well-trodden being complementing or contrasting. But I made it my mission this weekend to complement not just one of Calcaire’s traits, but as many of them as I could in one dish.

Maybe it was Orangette’s ephemeral gush about last-of-the-season corn. Maybe it’s because they’re the same color as a Chardonnay, but I couldn’t get the little kernels out of my mind. So I ended up making this:


And I’ll tell you what, it was GOOOOOD. The brininess of shrimp hits the slate-like element of the wine, the earthiness of pancetta and mushrooms harmonizes with the deeper spice-notes, and corn plays up the sunnier flavors of Calcaire’s palate while the caramelization keeps it rooted in richness.

So congrats to Erik and the team at Clos du Bois . . . and to everyone—enjoy!Mushroom-shrimp-corn-fett-l

{ Shrimp and Mushroom Fettuccine with Caramelized Shallots and Corn }

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined and halved lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, minced
4 cups wild mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob and reserved
10 ounces dried fettuccine
1/2 cup dry white wine (preferably a Chardonnay)
3 tablespoons cream
a tiny dash of nutmeg
2 tablespoons chives, minced
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat and saute shrimp until just opaque. Lightly dust with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Add olive oil to pan, raise heat to medium-high and add pancetta, mushrooms and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until pancetta is crisp and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10–12 minutes. Add to shrimp.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in pan and add shallots and corn. Saute until shallots are well-bronzed and corn is tender and browned in places—about 10–12 minutes—while cooking the pasta to al dente. Add wine to pan and deglaze, cooking until liquid is almost evaporated.

Reduce heat to low and add cream and nutmeg to pan. Add shrimp and mushrooms and toss to coat. Transfer fettuccine back to pasta pot over low heat, pour the sauce over the top and toss to coat again, adding in the chives. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve in warmed pasta bowls.

Serves 4

{ PS . . . I’ve been wanting to participate in Presto Pasta Night at Once Upon a Feast for a while now, so here’s my chance! Stop by and check out the roundup. }

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My dad just sent me this link and I found it fascinating. Scientists recently mapped the Pinot Noir grape (the first fruit to be mapped), and it turned out to be more complex than the human genome (30,000 genes versus 20–25,000 in humans). Hmmmm . . . think it can edit my novel for me?

If you were drinking a glass of wine RIGHT NOW, what would it be? My friend Agent Red White (woops) from The Wine Spies sparked this train of thought. When I was describing Swirling Notions to him—a place where we ponder the thoughts that swirl around after the cork is popped . . . what’s on the table, what’s happening in our lives, where we’ve been and how we balance it all—he said he loved the idea and that now he just had to pick a wine to sip while checking it out. When he asked me what I’d choose, I went blank. I have to admit, I’ve never been good about picking wine . . . or favorite books or movies or songs . . . on the spot (you’ll see those are all blank on my profiles . . . I’m still working on it). I just kind of freeze. He, of course, was totally suave and knew exactly what wine he’d be sipping (an Amarone).

So now I pose the question to you: since Swirling Notions is about enjoying conversations over a virtual glass (or bottle) of wine, what wine would you be (or are you) drinking right now as you read?

I’ll answer first. I’m drinking water right now, since I’m writing this and I always find that my typo ratio increases exponentially with each sip of alcohol. But later, when I come back to browse your blogs and read what you’ve all written here, I hope to be drinking a CdB 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast (I reviewed it here on Cork’d the first time I tasted it a few days ago, if you want to take a look) . . . if there’s any left after dinner. Noe and I are about to go to the farmer’s market and I plan to hit my fish man up for salmon. We’ve been all about halibut (and halibut cheeks) all summer long, but now with autumn I’m craving something a bit heartier. I’m thinking some type of sweet/savory preparation . . . maybe something with figs and shallots . . .

Anyway, I digress. So . . . what’s in YOUR glass right now?


A “Tempranillo” Autumn

September 25, 2007

Normally, here in Sonoma, it doesn’t really feel like fall until October or November. That’s when the leaves begin to turn and wood smoke tickles your nose. But this year is different.

Last week, when the calendar marked the official start to autumn, the clouds hung low and dark and the air smelled wet. And when the sun burned through the next morning, exposing a sky brittle-cold and blue, I noticed its lackadaisical angle, like it was leaning back on its elbows and taking on a more mellow mood.

Summer tempranillo0002

Fitting, then, that in the midst of this shift we should enjoy a simple meal of late-summer fare from the garden with a bottle of Tempranillo—a grape whose name derives from the Spanish word temprano, which means “early.” I couldn’t bring myself to make a braise; not just yet. So we sliced up a couple of eggplant and an almost-oversized zucchini and slathered them with olive oil before setting them on the grill next to a couple of sausages.

Then we popped the cork. A Clos du Bois 2004 Reserve Tempranillo from Alexander Valley, of which only 1000 cases were produced. Tempranillo is a popular grape in Spain, but still a find here in the US. It can be finessed into a thing of wonder by both viticulturist and winemaker, and this one was (Clos du Bois’ Tempranillo vines are some of Keith’s babies). We swirled and there were blueberries, lingonberries and marmalade on the nose. We sipped and it was surprisingly balanced, with more acid and tannin than I expected. The flavor was full and leathery, with black cherry and tarragon on the palate and a lingering fruit finish.

With candles lit, simple summer sustenance kissed by the last of the season’s fire on our plates, it was a perfect pairing.

And now? I’m ready for autumn . . . bring it on.