As I'm catching up on all of the food blogs I like to read, my husband walks in and says "you're addicted to food." I guess that is true. Isn't everyone? Food is important to our ability to live. Food is an integral part of every culture. Food is what brings us together to share our stories. It is completely fair of him to say that...because while I'm reading the food blogs, I have vegan gluten free banana bars baking in the oven for my yoga community to enjoy later today, and I spent 3 hours cooking last night! I refuse to see my addiction as a negative.
I love cooking and baking for others. It's one gift and talent I have cultivated that allows me to show people just how much I care about them. I enjoy nourishing others through quality food. Good food nourishes every aspect of a human being. And, good food, can be made cheaply.
Last night was New Year's Eve and we faced the dilemma of going out to eat or staying in. My husband has been sick all week so that was one for the "stay in" side of things. The other objection to going out was the amount of money a good dinner costs. Did we really need to spend $60-80 on a nice meal for the two of us? Cooking is fun for me. Why not just go to the grocery store and buy what I need to make a stellar meal at home? This is how I ended up at a local grocery store at 3pm on New Year's Eve - note to self: go before NYE in the future...
I found two recipes in my new cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller, and a dessert recipe from Giada's Kitchen - New Italian Favorites. Both books were recent Christmas gifts so I figured I might as well use them! My NYE 2011 menu consisted of:
Braised oxtail and mushroom tartine
Sauteed broccoli with garlic and red pepper flakes
Espresso chocolate mousse with grapefruit ricotta whipped cream
YUM! Off to the grocery store I went to wade amongst my fellow shoppers for the last - literally the very last - loaf of ciabatta bread and package of oxtails. Who knew oxtails would be a popular item? Oxtails are actually beef tail. Mildly creepy but Thomas Keller promised they would be "...simple and it's really, really good (you could probably put it between slices of Wonder Bread and it would still be delicious)."
I altered each recipe to use what I had available and I also reduced the main dishes to feed 3-4 people instead of 6. I wanted leftovers, but not that many leftovers!
The first important step of making a complex dish is to read through the recipe in it's entirety. Failure to do this can result in complete and total failure. I read through the recipes before I hit the grocery store and I read through them again when I went to prepare everything in order to judge what to prepare first. Even though I did this...I failed to see why I needed to turn the oven on...luckily ovens heat up quickly and the oxtail was still in the oven by a decent time! Because the dessert needs to rest in the refrigerator for 3 hours, I started there. The grocery store did not carry marscapone cheese so I opted for part-skim ricotta. I had skim milk I needed to use up so I opted for that instead of purchasing whole milk. I had incredible red grapefruits so I used them instead of the oranges the recipe called for. The recipe is printed below with my alterations!
Espresso Chocolate Mousse (with Grapefruit Ricotta Cream)
1/2 cup of skim milk
3 T sugar
1 packet of instant coffee powder
1.5 large bars of bittersweet chocolate (buy the good stuff! It makes all the difference)
3 large egg whites
Grapefruit Ricotta Cream
1/4 cup ricotta cheese (part skim)
2 T freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1/2 cup of heavy cream
2 T powdered sugar
In a small saucepan, stir the milk together with the sugar and the coffee powder. Heat until steam comes off of the mixture but not until it boils. Place the chocolate bars (broken up) into a bowl or into the bowl of your mixer. Pour the hot mixture over the chocolate and turn the mixer on or use a hand mixer until the chocolate has melted. Separate 3 egg whites, reserving the yolks for something else another day, and add the whites to the bowl. Blend with a whisk attachment on high for about 3 minutes. Set in 4 small ramekins or dishes, in the refrigerator, for 3-4 hours.
For the cream, beat the ricotta with the grapefruit juice and powdered sugar. Then add the heavy cream. Use the whisk attachment and beat until you get stiff peaks (about 5 minutes). Set aside in the refrigerator until serving time!
While the dessert was setting up, I moved on to the oxtails, as they needed to braise in the oven for 2.5 hours. Recipe below with my many alterations:
Braised Oxtail and Mushroom Tartine
4-5 pieces of oxtail (1 package)
salt and black pepper
4 cups of water
2 cups of sliced mushrooms (I used "baby portobella")
2 T finely minced shallots
1 t dried thyme
1 T butter
1/2 loaf of ciabatta bread
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Season the oxtails with salt and pepper. Using a cast iron pan, brown the oxtails on all sides in a bit of canola oil. Place the oxtails on paper towels to drain excess fat. Add the oxtails back into the pan and fill it with water half way up the oxtails (this was approximately 4 cups of water for me, in a large cast iron pan). Cover and place in the oven for 2.5 - 3 hours. (note - I checked the water level every hour to ensure there was enough liquid, there was).
Remove the oxtails from the oven and flip them each over to the other side. Let rest on top of your stove for 30 minutes. Then, painstakingly pick the meat off of the bones, and toss out all of the fat and cartilage. I tried using a fork and knife. It didn't work. Just get your hands in there, get sticky, and get it done!
Pour the cooking liquid out of the pan into a bowl to reserve. Wash out the pan. Add a bit of canola oil and saute the mushrooms until golden on both sides. Then add the shallots and cook until they are soft. Add the thyme. Add the liquid back into the pan. Add the meat back into the pan. Cook 5-10 minutes until the liquid has reduced (note - I didn't have much liquid and simply cooked it for 5 minutes to reheat!).
Meanwhile, preheat your oven broiler. Cut the half loaf of ciabatta in half. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top and place on a cookie sheet. Broil until golden brown on the top and edges. Remove. Add the cooked meat and mushroom mixture to the top. Slice into 4 pieces and serve!
So while the meat was finishing up, I cooked the vegetable side dish, and I made sure to pick an easy one because I knew I would have to focus on the meat! The original recipe called for broccolini but that stuff is $2.99 for a tiny package and one head of broccoli was $1 and I already had some in my refrigerator.
Sauteed Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper Flakes
1 head of broccoli, cut into large pieces
1 T olive oil
1 T sliced garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook for 2-3 minutes. Plunge the broccoli into cold water (I used my sink, Mr. Keller recommends a bowl). Dump the water out of the pot, add olive oil, and heat it to medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes. Add the broccoli and cook 3-5 minutes. Ta da - you're done!
I probably spent about $20 on the entire meal - all three courses - and about 1 hour of actual work. Some of the items I purchased I didn't use all of (ricotta, shallots, and heavy cream) The rest of the time was waiting on braising and chilling. Everything was amazing. I'll post a picture of the dessert when we make up the other two later this evening!
I hope that everyone had a joyous New Year's Eve and is looking forward to an incredible 2011.