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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Drinking Flowers

Whether it's a Roselle, aqua de Jamaica, Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Bissap,  Arhul Ka phool, or Hibiscus Tea, the sweet tart drink infused with the sun dried magenta colored petals of hibiscus flowers is mystically refreshing. While hibiscus tea (served hot or cold) is common in most tropical climates worldwide, I'm most familiar with the perky chilled Caribbean versions. It's simple to make and even easier to drink. Sure, there are dozens of mass produced pre-processed instant powder products, cute packaged individual teabags, and concentrated extracts available to whip up  batches of hibiscus tea, but taking a few moments to steep the gnarled and strangely beautiful dried flower petals unleashes their pure seductive essence.

After dropping into Selby's Tropical Market to pick up a few pounds of bacalao (salted cod) for a riff on brandade, I was drawn to a small bag of dried hibiscus flowers. I was so taken aback by their absurd exotic oddity that I almost forgot about the salted cod. That's another tale.

Hibiscus Tea.

Using a deep sauce pan, I brought 4 cups water, 3 whole allspice berries, a small peeled knob of ginger, and 1 cup sugar to a boil. When the sugar dissolved, I tumbled 1 cup of dried hibiscus flowers into bubbling water, let it rip for a couple of minutes, removed the pan from the heat, and covered the pan before letting the flowers re-hydrate and steep for 45 minutes.

When the concentrated purple tea cooled, I strained the solids, added 4 cups of water and 1/2  cup fresh lime juice. After pouring the tea into a large glass pitcher, I slid it into the refrigerator to chill.

With hints of spicy ginger and bright lime juice poking through the sassy cranberry-like undertones of the hibiscus, the tea was fantastic simply chilled over ice.

A shot of vodka made it happy.

A heavy handed splash of Veuve Clicquot made it sing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter Ribs

Lazy days and winter short ribs. Braised for hours, the utterly tender rib meat falls from knobby bones and melts into obscene puddles of  succulent beef napped in unctous jus. Meat. Fat. Sauce. Oozing. Dripping. There are few things better than a pot of long braised beef short ribs. Period. After hours of intense aromatic foreplay, rustic short ribs are dirty, messy, and downright sexy. Shredded, pulled, piled, or plopped, there's nothing particular fancy about short ribs. They beg to be devoured, slurped, licked, and manhandled. That's typically how I roll. A raucous romp with juicy bone-in meat. Well, my game changed when I stumbled across a small (very small) package of dainty Marksbury Farm grass-fed boneless short ribs while browsing/grazing at Good Foods Co-op. Looking more like slab bacon than big beefy ribs, I took the ribs on a lighter tumble in the hay.

Slap on the lipstick and strap up the heels.
Dainty short ribs.
Game on.

Braised Short Rib Pinwheels.

After scoring the fat caps of each little rib to encourage the rolling process, I tied each rib with kitchen twine, smooshed  slivered garlic quarters into the center of each roll, seasoned them liberally with salt and pepper,  and browned them in a hot cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When the fat started to render and the flesh crusted over, I transferred the ribs to a side plate before tumbling 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced celery ribs, 1 chopped onion, and 3 whole garlic cloves into the smoldering skillet. Just before the mirepoix caramelized, I added 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and let it brown before deglazing the skillet with 1 750ml bottle of cabernet sauvignon. After letting the wine reduce by half, I added 2 cups of beef stock, 3 bay leaves, and a handful of fresh thyme. When the stock came back to a boil, I slid the rolled ribs, along with the accumulated juices, back into the skillet and topped the skillet with a cartouche (a folded/vented parchment paper lid). After lightly patting the cartouche over the cast iron skillet, I slid the ribs into a preheated 350 degree oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours.

While the short ribs braised, I peeled a large rutabaga and diced it into cubes before carefully dropping them into boiling salted water. When they were fork tender, about 45 minutes, I scooped them into a bowl and showered the steaming pieces with freshly grated meyer lemon zest. I spooned the pieces into a blender, added 3 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter,1 cup warmed heavy cream, 1 cup beef broth, the juice of the zested lemon, salt, and ground white pepper. After blitzing the mix into a smooth puree, I scooped it out of the blender and set it aside.

When the ribs relaxed and tenderized in the braising stock.  I carefully removed the cartouche, snipped off the kitchen twine securing the pinwheels,  slid the ribs onto a  side plate, placed the hot skillet over a medium flame, and reduced the red wine-infused beef stock by 3/4 before adding a couple pats of butter for a little silky kiss.

After warming the pinwheels in the thickened sauce, I nestled them onto the rutabaga puree and tumbled steamed baby golden beets to the side before finishing with shaved Elmwood Stock watermelon radishes, slivered shallots, julienned red pepper, and kale micro greens.

Packing a bold meaty punch, the tender ribs almost collapsed under the insanely reduced sauce. While the meyer lemon-flecked rutabaga puree countered the inherent richness of the meat with earthy sweet acidity, the crisp jeweled radishes provided biting fresh crunch.


The perfect romp.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Winter Citrus

No sooner had I drop-kicked the last of the ham and turkey into the back of the freezer than our annual crate of citrus bombs arrived on the front stoop. Individually wrapped, the grapefruits and oranges were a welcome respite to the relentless weeks of holiday fare.

While most of them get squeezed into perky pulpy mimosas, greyhounds, or salty dogs, I always have great fun gussying up the stragglers.

Broiled Grapefruit.
I grew up on broiled grapefruit. You know, the standard halved grapefruit sprinkled with sugar and scorched under the broiler? Although fantastic and familiar, I took a different route with this years citrus bounty.

I sliced the thick skin off of each end of two pink grapefruits, stood them on end, and trimmed the skin from top to bottom (making sure to remove all the bitter pith). After slicing them into 1/2 " discs, I sprinkled them with sugar and slid them under the broiler. As they started to char and caramelize, I pulled the slices from the oven and stacked them into individual bowls. While they were still warm, I drizzled them with local honey and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

To give the jeweled grapefruit slices a savory bent, I finished with coarsely chopped pistachio nuts, flaked sea salt, and fresh young parsley shoots from my garden. Juicy. Tart. Sweet. Salty.

A refreshing take on an old school standard.



Hello oranges!
Bye bye bourbon balls.
See you next year chocolate bark.

Gluten free Orange Almond Cake.
Honestly, I didn't intend to go all gluten free. It just happened. An accidental win. Aside from a wee bit of advanced planning, it came together like a piece of cake. Because I'm not much of a baker, the simple ingredients made it very forgiving and almost fool proof.

Orange prep.
I filled a stock pot with cold water, plopped two large navel oranges into the pot, and cranked the heat to high.  When the water came to a boil, I reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let the oranges steep at gentle ripple for 2 hours before scooping them out to cool. After slicing the oranges in half, I tumbled them into a food processor (skin, pith,  pulp, and flesh) and blitzed the hell out of them before sliding the pure orange puree into the refrigerator to chill.

Using a hand-held mixer, I blended 3 whole eggs with 1 cup of sugar. When the mix formed pale sugary ribbons, I added 3 cups almond meal/flour (ground almonds), 1 teaspoon of gluten free baking powder, a pinch of salt, and the reserved orange puree.

After buttering the bottom and sides of a spring form pan, I scooped the batter into the pan, leveled the top, tapped it a few times to settle the batter, and slid it into a 350 degree preheated oven to bake for 1 hour, give or take a few minutes. When the top was golden brown and the center cleared the tooth pick check, I pulled the cake from the oven, released it from the spring form pan, and settled it onto a wire rack.

While the cake cooled, I made a simple syrup by simmering 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice and 3 tablespoons sugar. When the orange simple syrup reduced to a glaze, I poked several holes into the cake with a skewer and spooned the glaze over the top before finishing with delicate strips of fresh orange zest.

Flecked with bits of peel and pulp, the cake was surprisingly light and incredibly moist. Without being cloyingly sweet, it packed intense orange flavor grounded by the subtle nuttiness of almonds.


Winter citrus.
Bombs away.