Monday, September 27, 2010

Port and Cider Vinegar-Braised Short Ribs

Tastes better in a well-worn Le Creuset
Last night it got down to 65 degrees, and outside, it was pure heaven. This rare evening chill was simply begging for something hot and bubbling on the stove, and I suddenly realized that it's been many months since I broke out my prized Le Creuset dutch oven, so with a topped off glass of wine in hand, I set out to simmer the night away.

I've always been a braiser. I simply love having something, anything, going on the stove for a long period of time. It gives me that granny-in-the-kitchen feel, like the way I remember spending many Sunday's after church. Whether it was a big pot of my mom's porcupine meatballs in tomato sauce or a cast-iron oven filled with dad's homemade beef stew or just a steaming skillet of country-fried beef steak 'n brown gravy, I spent many an afternoon impatiently peeking into a pot of something so deliciously braised, it just had to surrender its toughness and give in to falling off the bone.

By definition, braising is the process by which meat or vegetables are browned in fat and then finished in a liquid for a long period time until the meat/veggies become nice and tender with their fibers nicely broken down. I've braised oxtails, lamb shanks, venison, pork butts, ribs, you-name-it, and I've found this method of cooking to be one of the more foolproof ways to create a satisfying, comfort-laden meal that actually improves over time.

In fact, I often do my braising the day before and then reheat the contents of my dish on the stove just before serving. Something magical seems to happen to slow-cooked meat as it rests peacefully in the fridge overnight. The following day, an inherent herbaceousness is revealed that becomes just a little more pronounced with the marriage of wine, stock and mirepoix. Add on another day or two of fridge time and that pot of braised meat morphs into a shredded filler for a sliced-open baguette along with a sprinkling of blue cheese and a pile of sauteed onions.

When it comes to braising liquids for your meat, just about anything simmered in a combination of wine, herbs and stock tends to work, yet there are beaucoup recipes out there incorporating everything from coconut milk and star anise to coffee and orange zest. I admit, I am a bit of a purest when it comes to the meat braising process, since that classic combination of heavily reduced wine, lightly salted stock and fresh, hearty herbs lights my fire every, single time.

So, when I set out to create a slight variation on this holy trinity of braising liquid, I decided to go the savory/sweet route and incorporate ruby red port and honey alongside a splash of cider vinegar. To be honest, I wasn't sure how the cider vinegar would ultimately play out in the dish, especially simmering in tandem with three cups of wine, but to my dining pleasure and that of my husband's, the dish was nothing short of spectacular, and as expected by day three, was perfectly swoon-worthy smashed in between two pieces of crusty bread.

Port and Cider Vinegar-Braised Short Ribs

Nothing says Fall has arrived like a bubbling pot of beef ribs accented with ruby port, wine and zesty cider vinegar. Make this one pot wonder a day ahead and reheat it in order to maximize the dish's unique combination of flavors.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 pound beef short ribs, cut into large chunks
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
6 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup port
1/8 cup honey
4 cups low-sodium beef broth (or homemade beef stock)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

Season short ribs with salt and freshly ground pepper. Preheat a large cast-iron pot to medium-high, and add butter and olive oil.  In batches, brown the ribs pieces well on all sides and then remove. Add carrots, onion and celery and saute until translucent. Add garlic and saute for another two minutes.  Return ribs to the pot.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Add cider vinegar, red and white wine, port and honey. Bring all up to a boil and cook a couple of minutes, taking time to scrape the bits and pieces off the bottom of the pan. Next, add the beef broth, rosemary, sage and thyme and boil uncovered for another 5 minutes. Reduce heat, cover your pan and place it in the oven. Cook ribs for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until they are tender and fall off the bone.

Remove ribs to a large sheet pan and return pot to the stove top. Boil the remaining liquid uncovered for roughly ten minutes until it begins to thicken a bit. Return ribs to the pot and skim off any fat.

Serve ribs and sauce alongside a classic risotto Milanese, polenta or roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

©2010 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission Pin It Now!

Monday, September 20, 2010


Photo Tim Morris
...because for some sick twisted reason, I am obsessed with products like this. Perhaps it's the fact that, not only does this diminutive plastic package contain bits and pieces of deep-fried fatback, but it boasts the coup de grace of convenience store munchies, "with skin attached", as if plain, fried fat just isn't enough.

Roadside pit stops get even better when one can dive into this bag of coronary heart disease for only .99 cents. So, if you ever find yourself high-tailing it up Interstate 95 through the Roanoke Rapids area of North Carolina (where this fine photo was snapped by my dear husband) be sure to stop in the local BP station and grab a bag of Carolina Country Snacks, whose tagline proudly reads, "Old Time Fatback, like Mama used to pan fry!" and get cracklin'.

Oh yeah, don't forget to wash down your rinds with an icy bottle of Cheerwine, which in IMHO, is the single best sugar-laden soda South of the Mason-Dixon line. For those of you who have yet to try this Carolina staple, the best way to describe it is as the bastard love child that resulted from a drunken one-nighter between a can of Cherry Coke and a Dr. Pepper.

Hungry yet? Or better yet, mortified? Pin It Now!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Carolina-Style Steamed Shrimp with Spicy Cocktail Sauce

Perfect with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc overlooking the Pamlico Sound.
Sorry, but Summer ain't over yet, at least not in my book. While I am happy to be done with "most" of the searing hot temps in our part of the woods, I'm not giving up on dining al fresco, not until the first frost. At our house, having dinner on the back deck is where it's at. Whether we're grilling NY Strips with blue cheese wedge salads, slow-cooking barbecued ribs or searing veggie kabobs, you can bet that most of the time, some seriously good culinary action is happening right in our backyard.  

Sometimes we'll do it up steamed crabby style alongside plenty of cheap beer and drawn butter, while other times dinner is simply one, big sausage fest.
Yeah, I got crabs

Boerewors sausage from Grayhaven Winery's South African Food Fest
The important part is that we're outside, savoring the last of what summer has to offer, and what better way to give this season a big, fat send-off than the make a classic Carolina-Style Steamed Shrimp. If you've ever had the chance to visit the North Carolina coast, and if you're even luckier to have tasted your way down 95 South, you may already know that when it comes to steamed Carolina Shrimp, everyone's version is the best, and they're often surprisingly varied.

For example, on the coastal island of Hatteras, most locals prefer their steamed shrimp rather unadulterated, sauteing them shell-on in a dry pan without any seasoning whatsoever. Only after the cooking process do additions such as Old Bay, hot sauce or butter enter the mix. After sampling my fare share of this local delicacy, I can attest to the fact, that when it comes to these uniquely sweet crustaceans, less is most definitely more.

However, if you keep driving south and head to the Wrightsville Beach area of North Carolina, you may find yourself staring into a gargantuan, steamy pot of shell-on shrimp, Kielbasa sausage, potatoes and corn simmering elegantly in a broth accented with lemon, onion, garlic, Old Bay, cayenne pepper and Tabasco with the whole shebang eventually being dumped onto a table spread with newspapers. Life gets even better if the chef happens to throw in a steamed crab or two.

Your shrimp method and/or madness is totally up to you, but what's important, other than working with the freshest crustaceans you can find, is that you enjoy all this deliciousness outdoors in all it's ten napkin glory. 

Below is my take on a classic Carolina-style steamed shrimp in a basic beer and cider vinegar broth (we Southerners love our cider vinegar) but feel free to tweak this one out with a couple of sausages, corn and/or quartered potatoes (just be sure to add the shrimp last, after your taters are tender, so as not to overcook them). In order to prevent overcooking your shrimp in general, take the pot off the heat just as your shrimp begin to curl, and if you're working with a large amount, be sure to give the pot a good stir every now and then, so the shrimp on the bottom eventually make their way off the direct heat.

Finally, don't forget the cocktail sauce (as you can see, I like that spiced up, too) along with plenty of drawn butter and extra lemon wedges. Now, go get your last taste of Summer.

Photo Kendra Bailey Morris

Carolina-Style Peel and Eat Shrimp with Spicy Cocktail Sauce

Capture the last of summer with this easy, made-to-enjoy-outdoors steamed shrimp recipe. Serve your shrimp with grilled corn and a crisp-n-light beer such as Blue Mountain Brewery's Blue Mountain Lager.

Serves 4

1 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup beer (not dark beer)
4 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning, divided (2 tablespoons reserved)
2 bay leaves
1 small onion, quartered
2 celery rib, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 1emon, sliced in half
2 pounds large shrimp, shell-on

Bring all of your ingredients except shrimp to a boil in a shallow saucepan.  Cook for 8-10 minutes.  Next, add your shrimp, cover and cook until your shrimp are just pink (be careful not to overcook them). Remove shrimp to a bowl with a slotted spoon and toss with the reserved 2 tablespoons of Old Bay. Serve shrimp with lemon wedges, hot sauce, spicy cocktail sauce, additional Old Bay Seasoning and plenty of napkins.

Spicy Cocktail Sauce
Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon hot sauce, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill.

©2010 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission Pin It Now!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fresh Butter Beans Sauteed in Butter and Bacon

Fresh butter beans somehow taste better when sauteed in a cast iron skillet
Every summer, I scour the farmer's markets in an effort to hunt down these rare little gems. Whether you shuck your own or buy them bagged and ready, the sweet, starchy flavor of fresh butter beans can't be beat. I consider butter beans a sort of ode to the end of the growing season since they seem to magically appear and disappear in a matter of months. Grab them up while you can because when they're gone, they're gone. 

For the complete story, check out my article in the Richmond Times Dispatch featuring the basics on how to identify and maximize the flavor of these small but mighty beans.

Fresh Butter Beans Sauteed in Butter and Bacon

If you can manage to score end-of-summer fresh butter beans, this decadent recipe makes an excellent accompaniment to grilled pork loin with sauteed apples, a couple of jumbo lump crab cakes or a pile of fresh-fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

Kendra Bailey Morris

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 cups fresh butter beans, shelled and rinsed
½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
Fresh herbs of choice, minced to taste (such as chives, oregano or basil)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a cast-iron skillet, sauté the bacon and butter until crispy. Pour off half the bacon grease and discard. Add butter beans and stock and bring up to a gentle boil. Then cover and cook about 10 to 12 minutes or until the beans are tender. Season with fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Then uncover and cook a couple more minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Pin It Now!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Steakhouse Style Bacon and Blue Cheese Wedge Salad

Photo Kendra Bailey Morris
One of my most memorable wedge salad moments was when the hubby and I were dining at one of our favorite steak joints Flemings Steakhouse. While sampling a bottle of Hall Cab (which is utterly outstanding with big, meaty NY Strip, by the way) we dove into crisp, cold chunks of iceberg lettuce, smoky bacon bits smothered in gobs of creamy blue cheese dressing. Perhaps it was the environment (or that second glass of wine) but for a moment, I felt my eyes glaze over as I muttered something along the lines of, "Dear god, that is good."

Naturally, as happens with many of us home cooks, I had to take a stab at recreating this salad at home, beginning with the dressing. Blue cheese dressing is one of those salad accents that can be out of this world (homemade with chunks of quality blue cheese) or fundamentally dull (commercial made with little to no blue cheese and nearly devoid of flavor altogether). I figured if I stuck to my guns and used only the highest quality ingredients I could find, how could I go wrong?

One of the aspects of blue cheese dressing, I love so much is just that hint of garlic, not too much to overwhelm, but just enough to lend a piquant savoriness. I also discovered that a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce really elevates the flavor of the dressing to something truly swoon-worthy. Maybe it's the fact that Worcestershire lends just a bit of fermentation or incites memories of flaming grilled meat. I honestly have no idea, but what I do know, is that it's an essential addition to any homemade blue cheese dressing.

Then, there's the blue cheese, the star of this show, with its naturally salty, cow's milk goodness. Here, quality should not be overlooked. Avoid the pre-crumbled (tasteless) stuff and get yourself a nice wedge of Maytag, Amish Blue, Danish Blue or Roaring Forties and crumble it by hand.

When it comes to your salad, select only the freshest iceberg (check the base of the lettuce, where it has been picked, for signs of browning when looking for the freshest ones). Good quality, thick-cut bacon is a must, as is plenty of freshly ground pepper over your finished product. In true steakhouse fashion, serve your salad as a first course to your meat-laden dinner with a nice big pour of Cabernet, Merlot or even a spicy Zinfandel to play off the freshly ground pepper. For an excellent steak recipe, check out Giuliano and Lael Hazan's uber-tasty Italian-style grilled rib-eye recipe.

Photos Kendra Bailey Morris

Bacon and Blue Cheese Wedge Salad
Serves 4

One head of iceberg lettuce
Blue cheese dressing (see recipe below)One medium-sized tomato, seeded and diced
4 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1/2 cup blue cheese, for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
One tablespoon minced chives, optional.

Cut lettuce in 8 wedges and plate two wedges on each plate.  Drizzle each wedge with blue cheese. Then sprinkle with tomato, bacon bits and blue cheese.  Season generously with black pepper and garnish with fresh chives.  Serve any additional dressing on the side.

Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
Makes about 4-6 servings

½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup buttermilk*
One heaping tablespoon sour cream
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
1 small clove garlic, minced
Coarse black pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together mayo, buttermilk and sour cream. Add rest of ingredients and mix well, incorporating the blue cheese, but leaving a few chunks as well. Season generously with black pepper, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  Note: this dressing is excellent served with Buffalo wings and celery.

*If dressing is too thick, simply add a little buttermilk until you achieve your desired consistency. Add less buttermilk if you want a chunkier-type dip.
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