sunday dinner with the in-laws

This Thursday is the most delicious day of the year – Thanksgiving. We usually go to Jamie’s folks in the morning and eat around noon. Then head to my parents and do it all over again around 4. The hour drive in between from Youngstown to Solon is ideal (for me anyway)  because I can get a good nap in. This year however, we aren’t going to see his family so we had them over today for some pre-Thanksgiving eats.

I made chef Derek Clayton’s braised short ribs via Michael Symon’s cookbook, Live to Cook, as well as Symon’s Brussels sprouts (I used the rest of the fabulous homemade tessa from Heidi Robb) and manchengo mashed potatoes (potatoes, kosher salt, olive oil and manchengo – super easy).

After reading Symon’s cookbook, I learned he’s not a fan of pairing braised short ribs with mashed potatoes. In fact, he calls it tragic. He says that dishes need to have the right balance of flavor and texture. He goes onto explain that a lot of chefs will serve a dish that’s all fat or all soft – with no crunch or crisp (liked the aforementioned pairing). Instead, he suggests serving the ribs with root vegetables and gremolata. Well, until Michael comes over my house for dinner this is how I like to serve my short ribs – with mashed potatoes (open invite if you’re reading – I’ll try your way!). I love this pairing, especially this time of the year. And considering how picky my in-laws are, this is one dish I know I can get away with (though I was pushing the envelope with the Brussels sprouts).

Here’s the recipe directly from Live to Cook:

6 lbs meaty beef short ribs on the bone
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 fresno chile, halved
1/2 c tomato paste
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 salt-packet anchovy fillets, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1 quart chicken stock
2 c dry red wine
1/3 c red wine vinegar

The day before cooking the ribs, season with salt and pepper then refrigerate. The next day, remove the ribs 30 mins before you cook them. Heat oven to 325. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large Dutch oven. Add half short ribs and cook on all sides until brown. Transfer ribs to a plate and repeat w/ remaining ribs and oil. Pour off all but 2 or 3 tbsp of the fat from the pan. Add celery, carrot, onion and chile w/ a large pinch of salt and cook until soft, about 7 mins. Add tomato paste and cook until glossy, about 2 mins. Add thyme, anchovies, bay leaf and garlic and cook for 2 more mins. Add stock, wine and vinegar and bring to a boil. Return ribs to pan, cover, and braise for 1 hour. Lower the temp to 225 and cook for 4 hours. Remove the ribs to a bowl and strain the liquid into the bowl; discard solids and refridge overnight. To serve, skim the fat off the liquid and reheat the ribs in the liquid.

Normally we eat the ribs the day of but after reading his book, I was convinced to wait. I did try one that day then rest the next. Sure enough, they were better on Day 2 (loved how much easier it was to remove the fat by waiting, too). Great depth of flavor, super tender and sorry Iron Chef, absolutely wonderful with the olive oil mashed potatoes.

As for turkey day itself, here are two of the dishes I plan to bring: carrots w/ sage and shallots and roasted garlic and butternut squash cassoulet.

Whenever we have company, I usually start off with a nice selection of cheese and salumi, or Avec dates (my staple appetizer). Sides and appetizers are among my favorite dishes to make. But today I cheated. Since I started working with Heinen’s, I agreed to review some of their prepared dishes over the next few months. First up were the made-to-order hors d’oeuvres. Given that we had company today, I figured this was the ideal opportunity.

heinens 002Since I shop at Heinen’s, I know they offer a lot of prepared foods as part of the deli, but aside from the sushi, I’ve never tried anything (in fact, I usually bypass the deli counter – we don’t eat much lunch meat, etc.). What I didn’t know (until just a few weeks ago), is that they also offer a number of items not in the counter that they will make for you. And if there is something special you’d like that’s not part of their menu, just tell them – chances are they can make it for you if you give them enough time.

We tried the pretzel crusted chicken w/ honey-mustard sauce ($9.99 lb) and salmon and shrimp cakes w/ lemon dill sauce ($21 a dozen). Other holiday apps include: glazed bacon wrapped pineapple, prosciutto-wrapped scallops, chicken satay w/ peanut sauce, mini turkey meatballs w/ cranberry bbq sauce, sesame salmon skewers w/ honey-soy glaze, garlic shrimp skewers w/ prairie fire dipping sauce and crab truffles w/ roasted garlic and lime aioli.

Knowing my in-laws are rather picky, I figured the chicken would be a good choice. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from this starter. Not because I didn’t make it, but because I never have high expectations for chicken. Turns out I was the one that liked it best (maybe not, Jamie is finishing it off now as I type – bypassing my leftover short ribs!). It was good – really good. I’d order that anytime. The combo salmon and shrimp cakes were nice, too, but nothing out of the ordinary and pretty much your typical shrimp cake; it delivered on expectations.

For small gatherings, I’d probably stick to what I like best – making the starters. But when we have large parties, I’d definitely consider turning to Heinen’s for help. Thisheinens 001 summer we had about 40 or so people over one night. I made most of the apps but did cheat and picked up a few selections  from Metropolitan Market (frozen). Next time, I’d definitely skip on the frozen and try Heinen’s instead, especially knowing that if what they are offering at the time doesn’t fit with my menu, I can work with them for something that does.

The ordering process seemed to have a few kinks (or at least on this instance it did). I called the deli to place the order on Friday but the woman asked if I could call back because they were a bit hectic and apparently short staffed. I forgot to call later on and called Saturday morning instead. The women at first didn’t seem to know what I was talking about and encouraged me to come up and get something from the counter instead. When it did click, she said they needed 48 hours (if only they would have taken my order on Friday!). I basically pleaded with her and after she checked with the kitchen, she said they could make it happen for this morning. I will say this though – the order was ready sooner then they shared, they called to let me know and were great during the pick up. So perhaps it was just a fluke. And also, I realized after I got home and perused their brochure, that they actually request 3 days. So props to them for being accommodating.

One last thing I learned during this process. The chef for Heinen’s is Jacki Novotny, a graduate of CIA and a chef for the past 25 years (she’s also the chef behind the Cleveland Clinic’s healthy appetite program). Jacki and her culinary team spend countless hours on each recipe and even sample for customers and staff alike to make it just right. Further – all their dishes are family recipes.

5 Comments

  1. Posted November 22, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    I can certainly understand his point, and I’m in no position to argue with an Iron Chef, but I sometimes serve my braised short ribs with creamy polenta if I’m not feeling up to making a risotto. And I despise Brussel Sprouts, but I did make his recipe (with a few minor changes) and they were awesome.

    That sounds like a really tasty mashed potato recipe, I’m going to have to give that a shot sometime soon.

    Have a great thanksgiving!

  2. Posted November 23, 2009 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    How did you make them? I think I might make them again for my daughter’s 1st bday party dinner but am curious how you improved them. Thanks!

  3. Posted November 23, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I serve braised dishes – lamb shank, short ribs with canellini beans (cooked from good dried ones) pureed with a healthy glug of good olive oil – so creamy good.

  4. Posted November 23, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Rather than quartering and blanching them, I simply ran them down a mandolin and shredded them. Also, since I was short of a few ingredients and couldn’t make it to the store, I went with walnuts over pecans (not as good), a horseradish mustard and a touch of balsamic.

  5. Wendy
    Posted November 27, 2009 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the Avec Dates recipe – I think we have a new T-Day tradition!