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Food Memories of Fall

October 20, 2010

Food memory can be as powerful as any smell memory; flavors, scents and textures all combining to conjure up images of the food past. When that powerful combination provokes the senses, we are flooded with where we were, who we were with and the emotions present at that last taste. For example, whenever I first bite into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I am flooded with images of my mother that fade into images of me sneaking bites of my sandwich at my high school locker before lunch time. These images are accompanied by the feeling of being home and being comfortable and familiar. Some foods make me think of summer and sunshine while other make me reminisce of cozy, cold evenings cuddled up with a good book.

Sometimes certain cravings will even evoke these memories. I caught myself last week thinking of the perfect forkful of food; a tender bite of rich short rib partnered with creamy, belly-warming polenta. When cold weather crept over the island of Nantucket last fall, I enjoyed this dish weekly at the restaurant I worked at. Thinking of this bite brings up images of a restaurant I love dearly; dining over a crisp white table cloth, soft candle glow and an aromatic glass of pinot noir, being careful to save Jules a bite because I knew it was her favorite too. Along with those images though, the feelings and emotions I felt that summer wash over me: a sense of pride over my work and my first sense of really being on me own as well as a feeling of change coming. I can almost feel the ocean winds and smell the familiar smell of the Club Car kitchen. Somehow, thinking of that single bite of food has the overwhelming ability to recall an entire segment of my life.

In Boston, we are now starting to pull out our wool sweaters and button our coats a little tighter. Memories of the heat wave are slowly fading while the trees on my street slip into their fall wardrobe as well. The scent of fall is smoky and earthy and the air as crisp as a bite into a fall apple. It has becomes time to turn the oven on and fill my kitchen with its own smells. I had this same sudden realization that summer was over last year on Nantucket as well; when the sea winds picked up and the streets emptied out, I knew change was coming both seasonally and in my own life. This weather brings cravings of warm, rich food, like my favorite short ribs at the club car. So with memories of Nantucket and those amazing short ribs from the club car in mind, I based my fall supper club menu on trying to recreate not only one of my favorite dishes, but also to stir up memories of falls past.

Braised Beef Short Ribs
Recipe adapted from Sippity Sup

4 lb individually cut short ribs, bone in
kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
3 slices of good bacon (I chose one flavored lightly with maple)
2 leeks, white and light green parts washed and roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 bottle of red wine you would enjoy drinking
3 cups chicken stock
3 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1/2 tbs of brown sugar
1 dash of soy sauce
1 Tbs tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

The night before you plan on serving your short ribs, pull the ribs out of the refrigerator and season them heavily with salt and pepper. Let these sit at room temperature while you chop your veg. It’s important to let these sit at room temperature for two reasons: 1. If the meat is too cold when you go to brown it, it will drop the temperature of the oil and you wont get a good sear and 2. It’s important to give the salt and pepper time to actually season and soak into the meat – if you season your meat and immediately drop it into the pan, most of it will just come off. Clean your carrots and celery and chop into chunky pieces. Chop the onion and garlic. Cut your leaks into rings and drop them into a big bowl of water. Leeks grow upward through sandy soil that gets trapped within each layer. Drain the water (look at all the grit that came out!) rinse your leaks and lay out on a paper towel to dry.

Preheat your oven to 275 and heat your olive oil in a Dutch oven at medium temp. While the oil heats, dredge your short ribs through flour, shaking off the excess. In batches of about three at a time, brown each side of your short ribs. This is done in batches, again, to keep the oil at a high temperature. Be sure to brown even the small sides till each has a nice, deep brown crust. Once you have browned all of the short ribs, throw your bacon into the leftover oil/cooking juices left behind in your Dutch oven. Once the bacon is cooked, add all of your vegetables and let them brown, stirring frequently. Once your veg have developed some flavor and color, deglaze the pot with half of the bottle of wine. Scrape the sides and bottom of the pot aggressively to get all of that cooked on flavor. Put your ribs back into the Dutch oven, add the rest of the wine and the chicken stock along with your fresh herbs.

Once everything comes to a boil, cover your Dutch oven and move it to the oven where it will cook/braise for three hours. Leave your oven door shut and pretty much forget about it. After three hours, take it out of the oven and let it come to room temperature. Refrigerate over night.
The next day, take off the thick layer of fat that has hardened over the ribs. Slowly reheat the whole thing over a medium heat. Once this has started to bubble, very carefully remove the ribs and put them in a separate baking dish. Remove the bones from the ribs: they should be so tender you can do this with your fingers. Bring the remaining liquid to a boil and let it reduce (I had a lot left). Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer into a smaller pot, separating the liquid from the solids. I added some of the cooked veg back in. Sprinkle in half of the sugar and stir in the tomato past. Be sure to taste it here, you can add more sugar if you want it sweeter or a dash of soy sauce. Also taste to see if pepper is needed. Let this reduce and thicken again over a low/medium heat. Once it has reached your desired thickness, pour it over the short ribs in the baking dish and pop it in the oven at 325 until heated through. Be sure to baste these and check often. Serve over creamy polenta with some sort of bitter greens, I used broccoli rabe, to cut the richness of the ribs and polenta.

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