Sunday, January 29, 2012

Boneless Short Ribs with Tomato and Fennel

This recipe was selected from The Complete Meat Cookbook for multiple reasons. Boneless short ribs were on sale, it's a reason to try fennel, there is a quick recipe for a ragout using the leftovers, and it's certain to be great with mashed potatoes. Any reason to eat potatoes is a good one.

Boneless Short Ribs with Tomato and Fennel
adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook, but also found here, here,'s endless
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil
3 ½ lb English-style beef short rib, boneless
4 c sliced onions
3/4 c chopped celery
3 tbsp chopped garlic
1/2 c red wine, such as port
2 14.5-oz cans Italian-style tomatoes
1 3/4 c beef stock
1 c chopped leafy fresh fennel tops
1 dash salt
1 dash black pepper

Combine all the herb rub ingredients. Rub over all sides of the short ribs.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Add the short ribs in batches and brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes.

Remove the meat and set aside.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan (if there's a surplus; I had none). Add the onions, celery, and garlic. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally.
The brown of these onions is from the brown bits at the bottom coming up -- the onions themselves weren't browning.

Pour in the wine and stir well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and add the tomatoes, stock, and fennel.

Add the short ribs to the pan, cover, and bake for 1-1/2 to 23 hours, or until the meat is quite tender.
Short ribs added, checked after an hour-and-a-half, and two hours, then

checked after two-and-a-half and three hours.

If the sauce seems too liquid, remove the meat with a slotted spoon and cover loosely to keep it warm.

I removed the beef only to skim fat, which was not really necessary.

Skim the fat from the sauce and reduce it at a brisk boil over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it just begins to turn syrupy. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve the ribs and about a third of the sauce, saving the rest for ragout.
Or dump it all together again and dish.

The sauce is extraordinary. Who knew fennel with it's distinct and prominent aroma would lend such a subtly tasty quality to a tomato-based sauce? Oh that was a dumb question -- Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly did. What genius! This recipe is a keeper, one to be done again here without a doubt. I'll admit though that as good as it is, it doesn't beat out the beef stew with zinfandel. I wonder how much of this has to do with wine quantity? Which reminds me, port will keep in the refrigerator at least three weeks.

As for the beef, while it did become tender after 25-50% more cooking time, it didn't have the buttery-soft tenderness expected. It should've cooked even longer. Regardless, I am convinced grades of beef play a key role in the outcome of a dish. I'm certain Bruce and Denis had/would've used Choice cuts of beef and thus their time to tenderness was within the 1.5-2 hour range specified in the recipe. Rather than scratching my head and wondering what was wrong with the recipe or how I failed to execute it correctly, I knew it was the quality of my starting beef.

Does this mean I'll only buy Choice or better meats in the future? Eh, not strictly. I'll opt for the higher quality beef when reasonable and time is of the essence, but more importantly I'll know not to panic if my beef isn't tender when the recipe tells me it should be. Without a household of irate people banging their silverware on the table at a specific time, I have the luxury of longer cooking times when necessary without too much chagrin. Additionally, being conscious of the benefits of intramuscular fat will cause me to be selective of  the most marbled cuts from whatever choices I have, Select, Choice, or Prime.

  • beef short ribs: $15.04
  • onions: $0.72
  • celery: $0.34
  • garlic: $0.25
  • red wine: $1.20
  • canned Italian-style tomatoes: $1.76
  • beef stock: $0.32
  • fresh fennel tops: $1.47
TOTAL: $21.10 or $2.64 for each of eight servings.


Sure, I've seen fennel in the store plenty of times. It's that stuff that looks like a giant dill plant with all of those feathery frondish leaves.

When rinsed and wet, those leaves make me think of seaweed.

Fennel dries quickly, so you can get on with preparing it for your recipe.

Don't ask me why I chopped off the fennel top tops. They weren't brown or weird in any way. I guess I like to square things up.

Chopped fennel tops from one bulb will give you

about one cup, which is exactly what I need for the next recipe.

And let me tell you, the fennel when cut is very aromatic and smells fantastic.

I don't go out of my way to buy organic, preferring to buy local if possible. And I'm not strict about that -- today's local could mean food from within the country versus another. This fennel is both organic and produced in CA.

If you're interested, here's a few words from Deborah Madison and her take on buying organic.

Looking fennel up in my Larousse Gastronomique, I find:
An aromatic umbelliferous plant of Mediterranean origin, which is now widely cultivated. It is a hardy perennial which grows to 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft) high. The feathery leaves and seeds have a slight aniseed flavour and are used in a variety of recipes. The leaves are also used as a garnish.
Fennel available in the produce section of Ralph's for $1.47/0.49 lb.

Boneless Beef Short Ribs

Boneless beef short ribs were on sale at Ralph's so I made it a point to get my hands on some. When considering Christmas dinner ideas in November and learning the variation in pricing based on USDA grades I began wondering whether the non-choosy beef selections I made previously had an impact on the outcomes of the meals. Going back through the roast posts and image archives, I observed a correlation.

When selecting my rib packages I saw they didn't say anything about what USDA grade they'd been granted. If beef is of a higher grade, the packages are marked with designation of "USDA Choice" or "USDA Prime", prime being the best. Take a look at this roast I picked up in July for the Beef Stew with Mushrooms, Onions and Dark Beer; check out it's label and it's choice sticker. Then take a closer look at this short rib label:

Having been inspected, this beef either hasn't been graded or it didn't have the attributes required such as higher degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) to call it Choice or Prime. Comparing the fat striations through the flesh in the rib meat against the roast photo, there is a clear difference.

I went ahead and trimmed the excess fat from the edges of the beef as my recipe instructed. The exterior fat isn't what makes beef tender anyway.

Here's a couple of key excerpts from The Complete Meat Cookbook I should've paid more attention to when I first pick up the book:
Only about 2 percent of today's beef is of the highest USDA grade, or Prime. Most of this very expensive meat is sold to overseas buyers from Japan, leaving very little for the retail trade. Virtually all fo the remaining Prime beef ends up on restaurant tables. About 45 percent of the carcasses are graded Choice, while 21 percent are stamped with the Select grade.

Since only the top two grades demand a premium price to justify the cost of grading, many packers instruct the inspectors not to bother putting a grade on carcasses that are not Choice or Prime... Much of the beef in America, especially in supermarkets, is sold ungraded but would have been Select if graded.

Select is leaner meat. Select steaks have little marbling and only a few flakes of white, intramuscular fat. Because Select meat is so lean, it can be easily dried out when overcooked by dry-heat methods. It has less flavor and juiciness overall than the higher grades. Tender cuts such as steaks and roasts are best when not cooked beyond medium. Tougher cuts can be braised or stewed and often taste as good as Choice when properly prepared.
Elise over at Simply Recipes has exceptional photos depicting the difference between a choice and prime standing rib roast at the bottom of her Prime Rib Recipe post. (Notice too that the rib roast she was cooking looked like prime beef -- she either has a fantastic butcher or shops at Costco, the only non-meat-specific store I know of that carries prime beef!)

Conscious of grades and suspicious of the turn-out of some of the roasts I've done before, I will make it a point to revisit two in particular as my less than stellar reviews were primarily due to the tough beef:

For now though, I'm going to test my hypothesis with these short ribs.

Boneless beef short ribs, available on sale at Ralph's for $3.99/lb.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Food Plan and Grocery List, 012812

This week I'm going to do another recipe from The Complete Meat Cookbook, Boneless Short Ribs with Tomato and Fennel. Those leftovers are going to become Short Rib Ragout with Pasta. I am hoping to eat the lettuce I bought last week by topping with some vegetables purchased this week.

  • Oceanspray juice: $3.49
  • Oceanspray juice: $3.49
  • Alta Dena milk: $0.99/pint
  • Ralph's Italian-style diced tomatoes: $0.88
  • Ralph's Italian-style diced tomatoes: $0.88
  • Ralph's Italian-style diced tomatoes: $0.88
  • organic anise (aka fennel): $1.47/0.49 lb
  • celery: $1.69/bunch
  • garlic bulb: $0.50
  • orange bell pepper: $0.99
  • potatoes: $3.99/1.5 lb
  • broccoli: $0.45/0.45 lb
  • white corn: $0.69/ear
  • boneless beef short ribs: $3.15
  • boneless beef short ribs: $4.11
  • boneless beef short ribs: $3.59
  • boneless beef short ribs: $4.19
  • Kroger bacon: $4.99/lb
  • La Brea loaf: $3.99
Total: $44.41

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cost of Take-Out Lunch, Week Ending 012712

Monday: BJ's Restaurant and Brewery soup and salad: $10.07
Tuesday: La Salsa, Fire-Roasted Bowl with chicken: $6.90
Wednesday: Jack in the Box salads for two: $12.05
Thursday: working lunch, on the company
Friday: Taco Factory taco salad: on a coworker because I forgot ID and CC's

Total: $29.02
Total for the year: $190.34

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Brown Butter Green Beans and Mushrooms

Even though there was a side dish built into the Thyme-Roasted Chicken recipe, I thought having another side would be nice. I chose this recipe because I have never cooked with shiitake's before and wanted to see how they'd work out, it would give me another try at browning some butter, and I am sticking to my intentions of increasing the number of sides I eat.
click to print

12 oz. green beans
4 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 c minced shallots
2 oz. button mushrooms, sliced (1 cup)
2 oz. shiitake mushrooms (stems removed) or other fresh wild mushrooms, sliced (1 cup)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Cook beans in large saucepan of boiling salted water 5 minutes or until just tender.

Drain; cool in ice water. Pat dry. (Beans can be prepared 4 hours ahead.)

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in large skillet over medium heat.

Cook and stir shallots 1 minute.

Add mushrooms; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Remove mushroom mixture. (Mushroom mixture can be made 2 hours ahead.)

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium-high heat until butter stops foaming and turns pale brown.

Toss beans and all remaining ingredients with butter 2 to 3 minutes or until vegetables are hot.

Serve with Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Butternut Squash and Green Olives. They went well together.
Oh yeah, this was good. The beans were firm but not crunchy, the mushrooms soft, and the entire dish slightly nutty from the browned butter. It was a impossible to see whether the butter was browning, but as the foaming subsided the butter actually smelled like roasted nuts. The shiitake's cooked a little quicker than the button mushrooms, but I wonder how much of that had to do with how thick they were sliced and how much was due to variation in mushroom texture.
The recipe is convenient because you can work on it parts, between efforts required by the main dish. Overall, the work time is about 20 minutes; the rest is waiting for water to boil and beans to dry. When my chicken dish was done, I let the chicken stand a few minutes before finishing the beans.
I'm chalking this up as a perfect execution of a delicious well-rounded meal.
  • green beans:$1.47
  • butter: $0.14
  • shallots: $0.64
  • button mushrooms: $2.59*
  • shiitake mushrooms: $3.49*
  • *cost for their entirety included though there were some of each leftover
Total: $8.33 or $1.39 for each of six servings. But really I got four servings, making them $2.08 each.

Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Squash and Green Olives

Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Squash and Green Olives served with Brown Butter Green Beans and Mushrooms

Crisp-skinned chicken and butternut squash caught my eye as I was flipping through Cooking Club magazines with thyme in mind. I'd skimmed over it previously as the recipe reminded me of Chicken with Marinated Olives and Tomatoes. For some reason, the hot tomatoes in that recipe made me bypass this one. This time, I read through the ingredients and was immediately on the hook to give it a try.

Thyme-Roasted Chicken with Squash and Green Olives
click to print

1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted, ground*
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1 (43-lb.) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 (1-oz.) pkg. fresh thyme sprigs (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb. butternut squash, chopped (scant 3/4 inch) (about 3 cups)
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 c cracked green olives

Combine all rub ingredients in small bowl.

Place half of the chicken in a large bowl or baking dish; sprinkle with half of the rub. Place second half of chicken pieces in bowl and sprinkle with remaining rub. Toss chicken to coat both sides of each each piece with rub. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 400°F. Oil large rimmed baking sheet. Spread thyme sprigs (branches and all) on baking sheet. Top with chicken; brush or spray with 1 tablespoon of oil.

I used what I had left of my thyme, certainly shy of a full ounce.

Combine salt, pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl; toss squash in oil. Arrange squash in single layer around chicken.

Bake 25 minutes; brush chicken with pan juices or additional oil. Nestle olives in squash around chicken.

Bake 20 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and no longer pink in center and squash is tender.

Remove and discard thyme sprigs; place chicken on platter. Gently toss squash and olives with pan juices; arrange around chicken.

*Toast fennel seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and light brown. Grind in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.

This is a keeper! The chicken was thyme-flavored, tender, and juicy with a crispy skin blanket which caused me to consider eating half the bird in a single sitting. The sweet squash with salty green olives were perfect chicken companions. The only thing I'd consider doing in the future is using an entire 15-oz can of olives and more squash. I had to portion out the squash and olives to make sure I had enough to go with the remaining three servings.

As for the olives, the original recipe calls for cracked green olives. I don't even know what that means. I used medium green olives from a can. Wait, let me look it up in my Larousse Gastronomique:
'Cracked' green olives, called cachado, are pickled in brine seasoned with herbs and spices and are prepared exclusively in the valley of Les Baux in France; they do not keep well and are only available in the Midi.
Keep in mind this book was copyrighted in 1984 so maybe you can find them in specialty stores. Don't feel that you need to break your neck to get some.

The recipe says you'll get six servings out of this, but I don't see how. Bank on four, especially if you use a small chicken.

  • chicken: $5.46
  • thyme: $0.99, swag 
  • squash: $1.19
  • olives: $2.49
Total: $10.13 or $2.53 for each of four servings.