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Spanish-Style Braised Short Ribs are Long on Flavor

Friday, October 24th, 2014

There are two things I will always try at a restaurant if they are on the menu: short ribs and duck. While neither one is all that difficult to cook, there are a few key factors that I look for in the dishes. For short ribs, they should tender, flavorful, but not so cooked that they completely fall apart on the plate.

The same holds true for duck legs, be it duck confit or slow roasted duck thighs. If they are serving duck breast, it should be medium rare. Even though most people think of duck as fatty and rich, the breast meat itself is fairly lean and, as a result, like beef tenderloin, can become dry and chewy if overcooked.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends invited me over for dinner to try out a new short rib recipe and never passing on the opportunity to try short ribs, I accepted.

His new recipe was Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs, which to my surprise, were braised in white wine, instead of red wine and contained almost no tomato. Staying true to traditional Spanish flavors, notes of cinnamon, paprika and almonds were present in the final dish. And yes, they did pass the short rib test: tender, flavorful and not overcooked. In fact, they were so good that I had to make them for myself the following weekend.

Braised Catalan-Style Short Ribs

3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and pepper
2 plum tomatoes, grated, using only the inner pulp
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1 sprig fresh thyme

Picada:

1/4 cup whole blanched almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons minced
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
fresh parsley, chopped
8-oz oyster mushrooms

Season the short ribs with salt & pepper and sear them in a heavy cast iron pot in olive oil. Get a little caramelization on them and then set them aside.

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For the flavor base, we start with sofrito, which is a generic term for a cooking base in Spanish-influenced cuisine. For this dish, I started with olive oil, some of the beef fat, onions and the plum tomatoes.

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Once the onions were translucent, I added the smoked paprika and cinnamon and toasted them for a minute or two until they became fragrant. Next, deglaze with the white wine, making sure to get all the brown bits of goodness off the bottom and sides of the pot (aka fond). Add in sugar, water, thyme, bay leaf and the seared short ribs.

Cook on medium-low heat for 4-6 hours. The short ribs should eventually be tender enough to pull apart with a fork, but not so cooked that they start to turn to mush.

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While the short ribs are cooking, I sautéed the mushrooms in a little olive oil and finished with the sherry vinegar. The Picada is a thickening paste used in Spanish cuisine. Lightly toast the almonds and bread and combine with the garlic in a blender, or mortar and pestle if you want to be really authentic. Blend all the ingredients together then add in chopped parsley and olive oil.

During the last 10 minutes of the short ribs cooking time, add in the mushrooms and Picada to thicken the sauce and add the finishing flavor profile. Serve with roasted potatoes and a nice glass of Spanish Priorat.

Note: the short ribs are much better the second day, after they’ve had time to cool in the broth.

Want to learn more about the beauty of braising? Our Back to Braising class covers all you need to know about this slow and low cooking technique perfect for fall and winter. 

West Coast is Best Coast

Friday, September 12th, 2014

At least that is what all of my friends from San Francisco and Seattle like to chant every time we go out. And while I don’t know if I completely agree, the craft beer scene in San Diego gives some validation to the saying. With over 70 microbreweries in the San Diego and surrounding areas, craft beer is the norm, not the exception. While some have nationwide distribution, others are literally still in the “garage” stage with very loose tasting room hours. There is so much enthusiasm in the beer scene that a lot of the bars we went to didn’t even serve Bud Light or Miller Lite, or if they did, it wasn’t posted anywhere.

Our first stop, mainly because it was a few blocks from the hotel and we were thirsty, was the Mission Brewery downtown. Now this is not your glamorous bells and whistles tasting room, this is an old brick and stick warehouse in an industrial part of town that has the tanks on one side and the taps on the other. Great beer, cheap tasting pours and the fact that the kitchen “opens” when the food trucks show up, usually around 3pm, make this an awesome stop. Since you walk through the warehouse doors to get in, it just adds to the character.

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Another great stop is Ballast Point’s Tasting Room where ¼ and ½ pour options allow you to mix and match your way through their selections. If you’re more on the adventurous side of beer drinking, try their Indra Kunindra, a dark stout with flavors of curry, coconut and lime leaves with enough spice to keep the palate excited. Ballast Point also makes a Blackberry Sour that is really refreshing when it is warm outside, or unseasonably warm as San Diego was. It has this distinctive sour-ness and acidity that is would be a great pairing with vinaigrette based salads or braised duck.

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We also ended up at Karl Strauss’ a few times, because let’s be realistic, how can you go wrong with Jalapeno Cheez-whiz sauce and beer basted pretzels. Their Happy Hour specials made this a frequent afternoon stop after being in the sun all day and with numerous locations, we were never more than 10 minutes away.

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The one thing I noticed where ever we were was how much care was also put into the food. Even at the local beach bar, there were no jalapeno poppers or mozzarella sticks on any menu, but fresh tuna tacos, braised short rib sliders and Mexican shrimp and grits instead.

So head out to California for some warm weather and cold beer and see for yourself if West Coast is best coast!

Stock Your Freezer with Seasonal Berries

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

If you ever have the chance to rummage around my kitchen, you’ll find lots of cooking supplies, dried rice and grains, fresh herbs, veggies and some sort of protein, usually ground beef, whole chicken or the occasional pound of scallops we get from Dirk’s Seafood. But you won’t find much in the freezer. There’s no pizza for late night cravings or half-gallons of Rocky Road in there. But that is about to change.

Lots of foods are really good for you when frozen. Corn, green beans and berries all have a very short window of being perfectly ripe and aren’t very good when under ripe. These items are picked ripe, in the field, and frozen at peak freshness in a process called IQF (individually quick frozen). This is flash frozen food that still has individual kernels or pieces and isn’t one big block. The nice thing about IQF food is it is easy to measure and use in recipes, maintaining an even ratio for fresh produce and maintains almost all of the nutritional value of their fresh counterparts.

Over the weekend we stopped by Corey Lake Orchards on our way back from Michigan and grabbed a 10-pound case of blueberries and some other seasonal goodies. To some people, that might seem like an excessive amount of blueberries. You might even say there is no way you can eat all of those before they rot. And, you’d be right.

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Bring in IQF. We took all the blueberries, gave them a gentle bath and laid them out on towels to dry completely. After sorting through and picking out all the stems and squished berries, we laid them on parchment lined sheet trays and placed them in the freezer overnight. Then next morning, we took all our perfectly frozen blueberries and put them into 1 gallon freezer bags, being careful not to overfill them, so they will lay flat. We ended up with 5 bags of blueberries, which might not be enough, so another trip to the orchard is already in the works.

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When you are ready to use the berries, try adding them to smoothies in the morning or as a natural ice cube for patio refreshments.

Hawaiian Wedding Part 3: Local Favorites

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

One of the best things about Kauai, Hawaii is the cultural mix. There are American, Asian, Pacific Islander and South American influences all over the island, especially in the food. One of the hidden gems I found when I traveled there to cater a friend’s wedding was the Feral Pig. It is a restaurant located in a shopping complex about five minutes from the airport, but was recommended to us by numerous locals and has a wonderful local inspired menu.

Quick digression: due to the number of wild or feral pigs on the island, year round hunting of them is allowed as a form of population control. As a result, almost every restaurant, food truck and food stand has some form of pork on the menu. I recommend trying them all.

burgerNow back to the menu, or better yet, what isn’t on the menu. They have a burger called the Feral Burger, that is on request only, but you have to try it. It is a local beef/wild boar hamburger patty, grilled, topped with kalua pork, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, “special” aioli and seared pork belly, served with house made pickles.  Finish with a Lipitor™ and you are good to go.

juice bar

When it gets really hot out, sometimes the best thing to eat is a drink. Over in Hanalei Bay, sitting in the middle of a parking lot, is Aloha Juice Bar. No website, no branding, just the most refreshing smoothies for a hot afternoon meal. Try the Celery, Lime and Apple Juice Smoothie after a long day on the beach.

beer companyWhen the smoothies aren’t cutting it anymore, grab some local beer, brewed right on the island.  If there are 40 of you, grab some local kegs, brewed right on the island. Guess which route we took? A few barrels of Lihue Lager and Black Limousine from Kauai Beer Company on the south shore rounded out our local assortment of food and drink. Great beer, great price!

If the art scene is more your style, check out Hanapepe on Friday nights. The whole town becomes one big art fair, with artists, food trucks and musicians lining the streets. I found my favorite souvenir here, a reclaimed cloth rice sack from the 50’s that had been made into an apron. This is also home to the Aloha Spice Company. They have all sorts of seasonings and Hawaiian salts to give your food that island taste.

After the rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception and taking time to soak in the local sights and culture, that’s all I’ve got for Kauai, Hawaii. If someone ever asks if you want to cater, or just attend, a wedding there, say YES!

Hawaiian Wedding: Part Two

Friday, June 20th, 2014

The rehearsal dinner for my friend’s wedding in Hawaii went smoothly. Next up, pulling off the cocktail reception and wedding dinner.

piragiFor the cocktail reception, we decided on Crab Cakes, Ahi Tuna Tartar and Blue Cheese Crostini along with those little pillows of bacon-y happiness, Latvian Piragi!

There is something to be said for truly fresh seafood.  The richness and flavor of the Ahi Tuna only needed a little soy sauce, sambal and fresh scallion to accentuate the flavor. We served it on a fried wonton crisp and topped it with some seaweed salad from the Dolphin Fish Market. Delish! The leftovers made a great midnight snack.

The same principle of simplicity holds true for Crab Cakes; I’ve never been overly fond of heavy breading and drowning flavors on seafood. I like to use just enough bread crumbs to hold the crab cakes together, but not to so much that they become heavy. This keeps them light and refreshing; remember you should be able to taste the seafood. I opted to top them with just a dab of lemon aioli and julienned chive to keep the flavors as light as possible.

Since everyone attending this wedding celebration has been eating for two days straight, we opted for a lighter main course; a twist on a Tuna Nicoise paired with Tuscan Beef Tenderloin.  Again, featuring lots of fresh veggies and healthy proteins. Instead of grilling tuna steaks, I cut sashimi blocks out of the tuna loin and grilled them off.  This gave me a more uniform product to work with when it came to plating. For the beef, already knowing how good it would be grilled, we kept it simple, opting just to use Sarah’s Tuscan Sea Salt. I seasoned the beef about an hour before cooking, gently wrapped it in plastic and let sit at room temperature until it was time to grill. Aiming for a medium/medium rare, the beef only took about 15-20 minutes on the grill.

Once the beef and tuna were done, all we had to do was plate up 40 dinners. Taking from the classic Tuna Nicoise, I tossed boiled red potatoes, green beans, Bibb lettuce, cherry tomatoes in anchovy vinaigrette and topped with slices of beef and tuna. Now that everyone is fed, it is time for some fun.

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Hiking the Kalalau Trail

After four days of intense eating and drinking, it was time to work off some of calories by hiking the Kalalau Trail. Starting at the trail head off of Ha’ena Beach, it is a 2 mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach and another, slightly more difficult, 1.5 mile hike to the Hanakapi’ai Falls. If you do chose to make the trip up the falls, take a quick dip in the all-natural plunge pool at the bottom.  The water temperature is a brisk 50-ish degrees, but is great for sore muscles after the first half of the hike.

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After the hike, at the end of the trail, there is usually a guy selling fresh young coconuts. He’ll clean them and chop the top, so you can enjoy the refreshing coconut milk after your hike. I advise holding onto the coconut and refilling with various adult beverages.

You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up!

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If something less physical is more your style of outdoor activity, I highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of the island. Since only 10% of Kauai is reachable by road, you will miss a great deal of the natural beauty if you stay on the beaten path, but a helicopter tour is the perfect way to see the other 90% and not have to work too hard. Flying out of the airport in Lihue, we flew over the old plantation fields on the South Shore, up the Na’Pali coast, over the North Shore beaches and back down the East Coast of Kauai. Our pilot, being ex-military and deciding to show off a little, would skim the tops of the mountains and then drop into the valleys and do a 360, all while playing the Hawaii 5-0 theme song. Definite good times.

Fun Fact

During the rainy season, after a storm, there can be as many as 500 mini waterfalls in some of the valleys.

Well that’s all my notes for now; stay tuned for next month’s blog as we dive into some local Hawaiian gems. Mahalo!

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David Indriksons is a Lead Class Assistant at The Chopping Block with a background that goes from small scale bistros to large scale catering and everything in between. In addition to a great love of food, he is a self-admitted travel junkie that enjoys hanging out with locals around the world and trying new cuisine. Outside of TCB, he enjoys skating, snowboarding, and playing with his dog, Caesar.