You know that show, "Masterchef"? The one where Gordon Ramsay and two other dudes put a group of amateur cooks through their paces, looking for America’s best home cook?? Enthusiastic friends of mine have mentioned that I should try out for that show. Never gonna happen. Competition and I don’t get along so well and I’m a big awkward goof in front of the camera. Seriously, it would make you cringe. Besides, they probably wouldn’t even let me on the show now that I’ve just called Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot those “two other dudes.” Just kidding guys! You know you’re my favorite, Joe!
Anyway, I’m an amateur home cook, much like the contestants on that show. I share their passion for food, I’ve got a few culinary skills up my sleeve and I can come up with a tasty recipe or two on the fly. I enjoy watching what the contestants come up with and am constantly impressed by how quickly and creatively they can think on their feet. Not sure I could hack it.
But I’ve been thinking that there’s something missing from the show; something which many home cooks contend with on a day to day basis; something much more challenging than executing expert knife skills or producing the perfect soufflé….
I’m talking about children. Cooking in the presence of children changes the game. I’d be interested in seeing these accomplished home cooks produce such artfully plated, mouth-watering meals while simultaneously bouncing a crying baby on their hip and preventing the older kids from razing the house. Now that would be impressive!
Because, for many of us, that is the reality of being a home cook. We may not have Gordon Ramsay standing over our shoulder making us question our choice of figs with the short ribs or telling us that our sauce is under-seasoned. And most of us are not racing against a big timer mounted on the wall. But we are constantly racing against the clock of a different kind. Children can turn every night into a high-pressure culinary challenge. It’s a challenge hard to replicate in a cooking competition. Perhaps we can ask the contestants to prepare their perfect souffle with wiggling 35-pound weights on both legs, a shrieking bowling ball in one arm, and a tower of antique teacups balanced on their heads?
Props to all home cooks who put meals on the table for your family, night after night … regardless of whether it’s boxed macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs and peas or braised short ribs with creamy brie potatoes and roasted asparagus! It’s a challenge regardless. I know all about it!
But what if I told you that you preparing the braised short ribs would be almost as easy as the box of macaroni and cheese with hot dogs?? Seriously! This dish is really a cinch to put together and so, so satisfying. Adults and kids alike will love these creamy potatoes and fall-off-the-bone tender beef in a slightly sweet sauce.
This is a two-day recipe. You can make perfectly delicious short ribs in less than two days, but there are a few benefits to the two-day process. First, it will enable you to get the bulk of the cooking (and clean-up) completed the day before, making it easy to reheat the next night. Second, it gives the sauce a chance to cool, which will allow the excess fat (which is rendered from the short ribs during cooking) to rise to the top and become solid. This makes it super easy to remove the excess fat from the sauce. The night you plan to serve, you’ll simply scoop off the fat, reheat at a low simmer, adjust the seasoning of your sauce and serve!
(see next page for recipe)
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs
6-8 beef short ribs
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1-1/4 cup dry red wine (substitute 1 1/4 cup beef stock OR 1/2 cup grape juice and 3/4 cup beef stock)
3 cups beef stock (plus more, if desired)
10-12 dried Mission figs, halved
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sprinkle the short ribs with a bit of salt and pepper and the 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a deep dutch oven or a large saucepan (big enough to fit all short ribs in a single layer). Place the short ribs in the pan. Cook for a minute or two on each side to brown. Remove the short ribs from the pan and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the butter and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until tender and golden.
Return the short ribs to the pan. Add the beef stock, wine, and figs. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and place it on the middle oven rack.
Allow it to cook for about 3 to 3-1/2 hours.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. Once cool enough to handle, place the entire pan in the refrigerator overnight.
By the next day, the excess fat will have risen to the surface and become solid. Use a spoon to scoop away the fat. Over low heat, slowly reheat the short ribs and sauce. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as desired. The sauce should have a strong, rich flavor.
(If the flavor is too strong for your preference, you can add a bit more beef stock to mellow the flavor. If the flavor is not strong enough, allow the sauce to simmer uncovered until you’re happy with the flavor. The flavor will intensify as the liquid reduces.)
Optional: If you’re happy with the flavor but would prefer a thicker sauce, stir a few tablespoons of the hot sauce with about 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce. Stir and allow it to gently simmer for a few minutes. The cornstarch will help thicken the sauce.
Serve the short ribs (1-2 per person) over mashed potatoes with a spoonful of sauce.
A note about the wine in this recipe: Due to the long cooking time of this recipe, almost all of the alcohol in the wine will be cooked away. But, a very small percentage may remain. (See this chart.) I prepared this recipe for an adult dinner party, so the very small percentage of remaining alcohol was not a concern for our group, but if you are preparing this dish for your family you may wish to substitute beef stock for the wine or substitute about half of the wine with a no-sugar-added grape juice and the rest with beef stock.
For the Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes: Peel, chop, and boil 6-8 russett potatoes, until fork tender. Strain and thoroughly smash the potatoes to desired consistency. Combine with lots of butter (I used a whole yummy stick.) and milk or cream. While still warm, stir an 8-ounce wedge of brie (rind removed) into the potatoes, until melted. The potatoes can be made a day ahead of time.
For the Roasted Asparagus: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the asparagus and trim off the tough end. (A little trick for determining how much to cut is to hold one asparagus spear by the ends and bend. The point where the asparagus snaps is generally a good place to trim off.) Toss the asparagus in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the spears in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.