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slow cooked comfort

November 28th, 2011 | Comments Off

Long slow cooking processes make some of the most intensely satisfying meals, especially on a chilly day. Something simmering on the stovetop, or in a crockpot or oven has a soothing effect against a cold wind knocking the windows, lashing bare branches about.

One of my most favorite meals as a kid was our regular pot roast night. We had one at least once a week, as a thick cut of chuck roast, along with a whole slew of potatoes and carrots, made an easy meal that every one of my siblings and I devoured. It’s pretty hard to mess up too; a slow cooking time is all you really need, along with something to make the meat taste wonderful. The quickest way I found to give the meat ultimate taste is to braise it slowly in a bottle of deep red wine.

The meat becomes meltingly tender, so tender that the slightest pressure from a fork breaks it easily into chunks of rich, beefy flavor. Get yourself an inexpensive bottle of good, dark red wine for this dish; I’d use any type of bargain Cabernet Sauvignon, a decent Pinot Noir, good hearty Malbec or Carmenere or a lush Portugese red table wine. Any dark red Spanish wines will complement this as well. You want good earthy flavor for beef; the fruit-forward red wines don’t make for the best pairing here.

I like to saute several onions until they are deeply caramelized and dark brown. This will develop a great deal of flavor for the base of your dish. Use an oven-safe pan to do this, then when you are all done with the browning, you can cover it and put it right in the oven. After you sear the onions (and some garlic) scrape them in to a bowl, then sear the meat to a rich brown on both sides. Remove that to a plate, add the entire bottle of red wine and scrape up the fond on the bottom of the pan. Put the meat and the caramelized onions back in the pan, sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper on it, then cover it and place it in a low oven, 300°-325° to just let the oven slowly work it’s magic on the mixture. Check it after two hours or so; if a fork slips right through it with little resistance, and the meat falls apart easily, it’s done. If not, replace the cover and continue cooking to those results.

And I really don’t need to suggest what you eat this amazing dish with, do I? {{hint: it’s a tuberous vegetable that rhymes with tomatoes}}

It’s been a long time since I’ve had this dish, several years, in fact. I probably wouldn’t make it now, unless it was specially requested by Griffin. This was a favorite for him too. That boy and his beef are a complimentary pair.

{{Just TWO more days of NaBloPoMo 2011!!}}

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

Wine poached prune plums

September 26th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

Stone fruits are fickle little things. They can be at once a juicy sweet perfection, and yet also a rock hard, gritty and sour disappointment. They taunt us endlessly with their possibilities, rarely consistent and yet so tempting.

The tiny purple Italian prune plum has the means to bridge this gap between hope and despair in the mere fact that it simply begs to be cooked in order to reach full enjoyment. The flesh when raw is acceptable; it’s fairly sweet with a decent amount of juice, but given just a brief turn in a warm skillet and it becomes something sublime and intoxicating. Poach it with some deep red wine and the experience soars.

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These days I’m needing all I can get to fill the yawning gap inside me, brought about by Harmon’s cancer diagnosis. The turn to Fall is often one choked with melancholy for me; the loss of summer’s warmth and the mountains of fresh produce, the chill in the air and shutting down the flower beds. Our September has been more glorious than imaginable. We’ve been graced with warm and languid days followed by cool crisp nights that begged for open windows and a light blanket. In our semi-rural neighborhood of open fields and ponds, the geese have gathered in massive droves and flown their missions overhead by the hundreds with noisy and eye-catching appeal. The field mice are much more active, giving our intrepid hunter an endless supply of ‘gifts’ to try and bring to us. Baskets of winter squash are appearing in the Farmers Markets. There are shocks of color through the trees as the thick greens of summer give way to Autumn’s richly burnished palate. But I feel like I am in a state of flux. We just have no idea how the last course of Harmon’s life will go, and for me, I just want to be here with him soaking up what remains of our time together. I feel like Autumn will pass by my windows while I snuggle my old friend and begin to consider life without him. It’s slightly ironic, and painfully so that in this transition of seasons outside, within the walls of our life we are transitioning as well from life to death, a golden leaf withering in front of our eyes into the silence of eternal winter.

So the need for something to soothe is evident. I don’t want much these days, wishing for little effort in exchange for nutritional gain. There were delicious and knobby Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins that spoke of Fall, tinged with cinnamon and warmth. I found an extremely deep sense of comfort in a simple hard-boiled egg and warmed cooked potato sprinkled with a dusting of sea salt. A package of tiny gnocchi dumplings became  crispy and soothing after a sear in brown butter and topped with tender sage leaves, and in the midst of the past few days, where my tears have been so close to the surface that most anything can bring them springing to life, a few of these poached plums have been a perfect foil to fill the pit in my stomach that threatens to engulf me. I sneak them from the bowl in the fridge, where they sat silently as their original use for a delicious cake fell to the wayside while sorrow took over. After a few days, and some stealth tactics of enjoyment, I did manage to cook up a quaint and tiny little coffee cake, richly hued in these dark purple slabs, crunchy with almonds.

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This is a coffee cake unlike any coffee cake that I’ve known before. Thin, somewhat crisp, not too sweet and thoughtfully simple, is a lesson in cake’s alter ego, that which doesn’t comprise itself of towering airy layers sporting thick rolls of buttercream. It can shed that cloying nature, throw off the layer-icing-layer makeup and just be fabulous without fuss. You don’t even need rich and succulent wine soaked prune plums to make it; any ol’ plum will do, or perhaps a good firm pear or a gently caramelized apple.

Wine Poached Prune Plums
by Kate

Wash, split and pit any quantity of prune plums- I used a full container from the grocer; it probably had about 1-1/2# in it. In a deep skillet, combine 2 T. chunky fruit jam of choice (I used Thomson’s Sweet Cherry Preserves), 2 T. red wine (I used a syrah) and 2 T. of water. Heat gently to melt jam, stirring to combine everything. When warm and a few bubbles have been seen around the edges, add as many of the halved plums as you can, cut side down. Cook gently, without stirring, for about 5 minutes. Turn plums over. Cook about 2-3 more minutes and remove to a bowl. Add remaining plums and cook, adding to bowl when done. Pour any juices over the plums and gently turn to coat the fruit. Allow to sit as long as you can. The more time, the deeper the flavor. Chill in fridge.

Prune Plum Coffee Cake

3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (I had whole; I broke them up first)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
6 T. butter
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and almonds and process until almonds are ground. Add flour, baking soda and salt and pulse twice to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add in egg and yolk and extract and pulse until combined. Spread batter in pan and top with poached plums, pressing them into the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake is firm. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or more, then release the spring.

KATE’S NOTES:

This cake could be better, I’m sure of it. While always wary of using a food processor to make a batter, thinking that the spinning blades tend towards overkill more than gently combining, I would be interested in doing this in a different method. The cake, while good, was a bit dense. The batter quantity is small, and 40 minutes in the oven resulted in browned and crisp edges. I love that on a cake, but many don’t. It was, with it’s almond base and simple design, an amazing flavor. It might come out slightly better if baked in a loaf pan too. At any rate, there is much to experiment with this recipe.