Good for what ails you
December 7, 2016
It has gotten cold. Finally. Which means it’s my favorite time of year for cooking — long, slow braises and roasts, stews and pots of beans simmered on the back of the stove for hours. Comfort food.
(A side benefit: The pesky houseflies have finally abated for the year, frozen into hibernation. Die, houseflies! Die! Die shivering as the icy wind pummels you! Die!)
(Can you tell I don’t like houseflies?)
If I ever get to feeling like cooking again, I don’t know where to start first. Should it be a pot of chili? White bean and sausage soup? Red beans and rice? Carbonnades a la flamande? Just a good old pot of white beans and hamhock? Choucroute garnie? Decisions, decisions.
Actually, one of those decisions is already made, as I have managed, in the exactly one full meal I have cooked since Thanksgiving, to make pot roast. And where pot roast goes, vegetable beef soup cannot be far behind.
This was an interesting pot roast. I knew that’s what I wanted to cook, because it requires minimal work, so I went rummaging in the freezer. My freezer is outside in the unheated storage room. It was, as noted above, cold (plus rainy and generally icky) that day. I found a package of beef shanks, cut crosswise into two-inch-thick slabs, rather fancifully labeled by the butcher as “osso buco.”
Now, while osso buco is a traditional preparation of veal shanks braised with vegetables, and this was the same cut of a grass-fed steer, I figured I could easily get by with cooking it like pot roast. It is, after all, from the same general geographic territory as the chuck roast, or shoulder roast, which is to say, a tough cut because it’s from the leg and/or shoulder, which is busy working at carrying the steer around the pasture, and it benefits from a long, slow braise or stewing.
I browned the salted and peppered shank slabs, then poured about a cup of red wine into the skillet. Let that cook down a bit, then tossed in a pound of small redskin potatoes and four or five peeled, chunked-up carrots. Put a lid on it, and moved it to the oven for four hours at 300.
There is little that is any easier, and little that is any better.
A side benefit of this particular dish is that I have four bones filled with slow-roasted, succulent bone marrow. Generally, when I cook, say, a shoulder roast from further up the leg that’s cut with a cross-section of femur bone, I just scrape out the marrow and add it to the leftover beef in soup, to add an extra note of richness. But with four of those beauties, I actually have enough marrow to do something with. I went browsing for recipes, and found most preps called for using it in either a sauce or in a beef-and-barley soup, but I found one that calls for adding it to cream cheese, along with garlic and anchovies, and using it as a canape spread. And I’m thinking that sounds pretty fine, and I may try it.
Speaking of browsing for recipes: here’s a fine thing I have learned. Google (God bless ’em!) has a creature called a “custom search engine.” It’s called “Cookin’ with Google,” and you can search for recipes just by entering one or more ingredients in the search field. This is a particularly fine invention for someone like me, whose meals often begin with, “I’ve got xxxx — wonder what I can do with it?”
With all that, I am going to bid you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em adieu for today, and do a little work and finish my laundry and see if I can finish kicking this Christmas Crud out of my system. Stay warm.