Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Makings of a Seductive Supper

Last night I had a wonderful evening as a dinner guest at the San Jose home of my friend Jessie. (He's the same one I went to Foreign Cinema with.) I love the idea of dinner parties, but because I live in a studio apartment, I rarely play the host. So it's always nice when I can play the guest instead.

Jessie throws the most seductive parties. I say this because his food is always luxurious and it's accented with perfect ambient lighting at his charming home. But I rarely get to go to Jessie's for dinner because I don't own a car and BART doesn't go all the way to San Jose from the East Bay. Which is why this was a rare treat and I wanted to photograph it. Jessie was a good sport about it.

The focus of his dinner was this slow cooked short rib, which he made using a recipe he read in the New York Times. (By the way, this dinner includes several New York connections, so just a warning to those of you who gets turned off with all the New York references.) The recipe was adapted by "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Gout and involves wine and port. Anything with that much alcohol has got to be good.
The main dish of short ribs is paired with roasted pearl onions. The recipe says to dress the onions in 2 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Jessie roasted them in the oven at 425 degrees until tender. When they cool, he peeled off the skin and was left with the roasted tender pearls.
Another complement to the meat is this horseradish sauce. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup creme fraiche mixed with 1 tablespoon of prepared horseradish. Jessie didn't feel like hunting down creme fraiche (it's not something you can just get at the local grocery store) so he substituted with sour cream. He added some pepper and blended it well. I love horseradish.
Jessie's dinners always start with a nice cheese platter. He had three types of cheese: one hard cheese (manchego), a goat cheese, and this French cheese that was soft as butter.
One of our friends, Roger, who came with his wife, Denise, and two cute kids also contributed to the dinner with this lovely pea soup. Again, Roger got the recipe from The New York Times. Roger often looks to the Times for recipes because he used to work for the paper. Jessie knows Roger when Jessie lived in New York working for Newsday, which is also the same paper I worked for. (If you're keeping count, that's four mentions of New York. :) The soup was made with peas, bay scallops, oysters, watercress, and Pernod. It was so creamy and seductive.
Here's the main course, the braised short ribs that took more than 3 hours to cook in the oven to get that fall-off-the-bone meat. Jessie set the ribs on a bed of polenta and served it with sauteed red Swiss chard. He reduced the sauce and dressed the plate with it. Pure perfection! (See below for recipe.)
For dessert, Jessie ended dinner with these cute cupcakes. He got the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. And yes, Magnolia Bakery is that popular bakery in New York's Greenwich Village. (And this is the last of the New York references, I promise.)

The cupcakes were vanilla with a butter cream frosting. It tasted so light and the frosting was so smooth, it was the perfect ending to a seductive supper. Thanks Jessie!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Sauce
(Reprinted from the New York Times, which adapted it from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Suzanne Gout.)

6 beef short ribs (14 to 16 oz. each)
1 T plus 1 t thyme leaves and 4 whole twigs
1 T pepper
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1 T prepared horseradish
36 pear onions
6 T extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup chopped carrots
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 bay leaves
2 T balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 cup port
2-1/2 cup red wine
4 cups beef or veal stock
4 sprigs flat leaf parsley

Coat the short ribs with 1 tablespoon thyme and the cracked pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Jessie prepped the meat the same afternoon, and it seemed to work just as well.)

Make the horseradish cream sauce (per instructions above) and set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator. After 30 minutes, season them generously with salt.

Cook the pearl onions per instructions above and when done, remove from oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees. Heat remaining olive oil in a large saute pan until almost smoking. Add the ribs and brown on all sides. Transfer to a braising pan, bone-side up, in one layer.

Reduce the heat to medium and add onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Cook until the vegetables begin to caramelize. Add the vinegar, port and red wine; reduce by half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Pour over the ribs almost to cover. Add the parsley. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Braise in the oven for 3 hours, or until meat yields easily to a knife. (Note: Jessie just used aluminum foil without the plastic wrap, so I think that's optional.)

Let the ribs rest for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a baking sheet. Turn up the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the ribs uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes to brown. Strain the broth into a saucepan and skim the fat. If the sauce seems thin, reduce it over medium high heat. Serve the ribs and juices on a bed of sauteed swiss chard and the pearl onions, with mashed potatoes (or polenta) and horseradish cream on the side.

Makes 6 servings.

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