Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tuscan Sausage Ragu

It's been fifteen days since my hip surgery. I had a prosthesis put in way back in 2000. The prosthesis consisted of three parts: a titanium femur and ball, a titanium cup that screwed into my hip bone and a polymer liner in the cup that held the ball in place, but also allowed the ball to rotate in the cup.

After 15 years, the polymer cup wore out. So on October 16 they did the surgery. I have to say I am incredibly happy with the outcome so far. The first time I was on crutches for 6 weeks and then a cane for another 6 weeks. After this latest surgery, I used a walker for the first two weeks and am now using a cane. First time around it took me 4+ weeks to navigate stairs. This time I was going up and down stairs in just 3 days.

Polymer technology has improved dramatically in 15 years. My surgeon said that the new polymer cup will never need replacing, so I no longer need a place holder for follow-up surgery in the year 2030. I still have to take it easy for awhile...I can't go back to the gym until mid-January. Hip dislocation is the biggest threat right now as they pulled all the muscles aside to get to my hip socket. 

So I have tons of time to work on my cooking...albeit while sitting on a stool. I recently came upon this gem of a recipe by New York Chef Sara Jenkins. She grew up in Tuscany and spent her formative years cooking all over Italy. This is a simple recipe. Well not as simple as browning some hamburger and opening a jar of Newman's Own. But a little bit of work creates a sausage ragu that will instantly whisk you to Florence. Absolutely succulent.

1 pound sweet Italian sausage or bulk sausage
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery stalk, minced
¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, with its juice
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Ground black pepper
1 pound tubular dried pasta such as rigatoni or penne
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish, optional

  1. With the tip of a small, sharp knife, slit open the sausage casings. Crumble the meat into a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven and set over medium-low heat. If the meat is not rendering enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan as it begins to cook, add olive oil one tablespoon at a time until the meat is frying gently, not steaming. Sauté, breaking up any large chunks, until all the meat has turned opaque (do not let it brown), about 5 minutes.
  2. Add onion, carrot, celery and parsley and stir. Drizzle in more oil if the pan seems dry. Cook over very low heat, stirring often, until the vegetables have melted in the fat and are beginning to caramelize, and the meat is toasty brown. This may take as long as 40 minutes, but be patient: it is essential to the final flavors.
  3. Add tomatoes and their juice, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands or with the side of a spoon. Bring to a simmer, then add thyme and rosemary and let simmer, uncovered, until thickened and pan is almost dry, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Mix tomato paste with 1 cup hot water. Add to pan, reduce heat to very low, and continue cooking until the ragù is velvety and dark red, and the top glistens with oil, about 10 minutes more. Remove herb sprigs. Sprinkle black pepper over, stir and taste.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil pasta until just tender. Scoop out 2 cups cooking water, drain pasta and return to pot over low heat. Quickly add a ladleful of ragù, a splash of cooking water, stir well and let cook 1 minute. Taste for doneness. Repeat, adding more cooking water or ragù, or both, until pasta is cooked through and seasoned to your liking.
  6. Pour hot pasta water into a large serving bowl to heat it. Pour out the water and pour in the pasta. Top with remaining ragù, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Pass grated cheese at the table, if desired.

Wine pairing: Chianti Classico

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beef Short Ribs

Steak is my very favorite meal. But braised short ribs comes in a very close second. It is absolutely amazing what four hours, a cheap cut of beef, beef broth and a bottle of red wine can become. Let's spend a moment talking about this particular cut of beef. 

There are two different cuts of short ribs. My favorite, the English cut, is shown above on the left. The other cut, shown on the right, is called flanken. While they both cook up the same, I prefer the English cut because more meat is exposed to the bone (flavor) and the pieces of beef are larger. Do not, under any circumstances, buy boneless short ribs. 

To maximize flavor in the finished dish, you absolutely must take the time to brown the ribs all over. Plan on spending a good 10-15 minutes putting a rich brown crust on your ribs. If you are cooking for a crowd, plan on browning in batches. If you overcrowd the pan your ribs will steam instead of browning....and that's an enormous loss of flavor.

This is a really simple dish to prepare. You have about 15 minutes of prep work and then you pop it in the oven where it will braise for four beautiful hours. This is a Gordon Ramsay recipe and it serves two. I like to serve this with buttered farro:

 3 tablespoons olive oil, for frying
6 thick-cut, meaty beef short ribs
1 large head of garlic, cut in half horizontally
1 heaping tablespoon tomato purée
1 x 750ml bottle dry red wine
4 cups beef stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley, to garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Heat a deep-sided roasting tray or dutch oven on the stove and add  the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the short ribs thoroughly, then fry for 10–15 minutes to brown really well on all sides.
  2. Add the halved garlic head, cut side down, pushing it to the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato purée and heat for a minute or two to cook it out. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up the bits at the bottom. Bring to the boil and cook for 10–15 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half, then add stock to nearly cover the ribs (you’ll need less stock if your roasting tray isn’t very large). Bring to the boil again, basting the ribs with the juices.
  3. Cover the roasting tray or dutch oven with foil and cook in the preheated oven for 4 hours.
  4. When the short ribs are ready, remove from the oven and transfer to a serving dish. For the sauce: Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and pass through a sieve. Spoon off any excess fat from the beef cooking liquid, then strain it through the sieve and mix with the garlic. (If the sauce is too thin, reduce the cooking liquid by heating for 10–15 minutes more after straining.)
  5. Plate the ribs and spoon the sauce over the top. Serve.

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Korean Sizzling Beef

We've been enjoying spectacular fall weather here in Minnesota. Last month we broke a record....the warmest September weather ever. October has been great so far as well...lower 40's in the mornings and late afternoons in the lower 60's. That's great grilling weather!

I'm trying to cram as much grilling into October as I can. Later this month I'm in for revision hip surgery. The polymer cup they put in in October of 2000 has worn out. So I get a brand new cup and then spend the next 3 months on crutches and then a cane. My surgeon said the materials are have greatly improved and this is the last one I'll need. That's the only silver lining I can find in that cloud.

Well, that's not totally true. I won't be able to do stairs for awhile, so I'll be confined to the main level of the house. I got a new, deluxe sofa sleeper for my office and outfitted the room with a new 4K TV and an Xbox One. So I will have a ton of time for prime time video game season. The line up of new games coming out gives me thigh sweats: Halo 5 (Oct 27), Black Ops 3 (Nov 6), Rise of the Tomb Raider (Nov 10), Star Wars Battlefront (Nov 17) and then the greatest game of all, Rainbow Six Siege (Dec 1).

Alright enough of that. Let's get back to grilling. Bulgogi is a classic Korean dish of sliced beef. It's marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and garlic and then quickly seared over a hot grill...just 30 seconds per side. The red pepper flakes give the meat some heat, so I recommend serving this dish with sticky rice. This Marcia Kiesel recipe serves eight.

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
One 2 1/2-pound beef flank steak, cut across the grain into twenty 1/4-inch-thick slices
16 scallions
Vegetable oil, for rubbing

  1. In a large, shallow dish, combine the soy sauce with the sugar, white wine, chopped garlic, toasted sesame oil and crushed red pepper, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the sliced flank steak and coat thoroughly in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate the steak for at least 4 hours or overnight. 
  2. Prepare your grill for cooking over high heat (direct method). Rub the scallions all over with vegetable oil and grill them, turning once, until the scallions are just softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.  
  3. Working in batches, grill the steak over high heat until the slices are richly browned and medium-rare, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer the steak to a serving platter and serve with the grilled scallions and steamed rice. 

Wine pairing: A big, rich tannic Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon.