Friday, December 20, 2013

Cooking at Christmastime

This is the time of year when I'm usually feeling the most creative ("Christmas shibori project" - Dec. 25, 2012) and this year it extends to food. And happily, having alone time with Katie gives me a perfect excuse to try some ambitious cuisine.

Piper suggested this recipe for Beef Brasato with Pappardelle and Mint by Chef Chris Cosentino, which is not really hard to do, but did require a scavenger hunt for fresh ingredients. For a side, I wanted to do the ratatouille from the Pixar movie because Katie and I had talked about it before (she didn't like the mob rat scenes). This one was easy on the ingredients but I needed to buy a mandoline, baking dish and parchment paper. I found a nice mandoline and a lifetime supply of parchment paper on Amazon, and those arrived just in time on Wednesday night.

On Wednesday after work, I had about 90 minutes between leaving the office and the last shuttle to the train station to get my shopping done, so I was on a tight schedule. It didn't help that Yoshi's battery was dead from the cold and infrequent use, so I had to use a jumpstarter every time I got into the car. I drove to Wegmanns, hoping to find everything in one trip, but no such luck. They didn't have boneless beef shank, and the first substitute the butcher recommended - short ribs - had just sold out less than 10 minutes ago, he told me.

To cover the possibility of not having any meat, I got a top round roast just in case. They were also out of eggplant, so I bought the other vegetables and baking dish for the ratatouille and canned tomatoes for both dishes plus the red wine for the marinade, but they didn't have mint or fresh pappardelle among their bewildering large number of pasta choices. Once again, I covered this by buying fresh lasagna layers as a substitute, but this was not looking good and I was out of time.

On the train ride home, I decided I could try the supermarket in Koreatown for the mint, since it's a crucial ingredient in many southeast Asian cuisines. I also found that Eataly, the Italian marketplace part-owned by Chef Mario Batali, was open to 11 pm, so I figured that would be the place to get fresh pappardelle.

In Koreatown, they not only had the mint, but also the Italian eggplant and the beef shank, so that was a project-saving trip! And my first visit to Eataly was a revelation - so many rare and wonderful ingredients! I got the fresh pappardelle, a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a cheese plane to shave it (the last time I tried to cut hard cheese, I broke two knives from their cheap plastic handles and was lucky to escape injury). So at the last minute, I finally had everything I needed for the pasta dish, and I started the marinade Wednesday night.

Using the mandoline was a lot of fun, and I was very careful to not slice off a finger, because I found using the guard to be too tricky. I put the tomato puree down and laid out the layers of vegetables, although certainly not as neatly as Remy did in the movie because my vegetables were all different sizes. I topped with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and covered it with a piece of cut-to-fit parchment to keep the vegetables from scorching.

I actually should have started the brasato first because it needs to braise for more than two hours. Luckily, Katie had to work late, so I had extra time for the screw-up. Everything turned out pretty well, although like any recipe, I certainly learned a lot of ways I would adjust things if I do these dishes again.