Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Not only did my angelheart Eric and I manage an afternoon tea and gift exchange with his family, but we also prepared a Christmas dinner for our transient and special guests - one visiting (sassy Sauciere Queen Lily), a couple moving away (stylish and effervescent Ailene and her hubby, espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko), and another embarking on a trip overseas (divine poetess Suzanne). Because it would be a long time before we could all sit around the same table again, my angelheart Eric and I set about creating a rich Christmas meal of intense yet comforting flavors.
Suzanne brought her now famous onion bread, and Ailene and Mirko brought spinach and artichoke dip. This was accompanied with bagna cauda, a recipe from Andrea Froncilla and Jennifer Jeffrey's The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook, which I also made for Weekend Cookbook Challenge #11. For the main, we had osso buco, which was followed by molten chocolate babycakes.
For the main, we decided on one of our Winter mainstays and one of Mirko's favorite meals, osso buco. This Piemontese specialty is traditionally made with veal shanks, but we went with beef shanks that were trimmed and cut perfectly by the wonderful butchers at Wild Oats (they can do no wrong in our eyes). Osso buco is a braised meal, so it is perfectly tender every time and well infused with the trinity (celery, onions, and carrots) and bouquet garni. My favorite part, as is typical of most osso buco lovers, is the bone marrow, which is hearty and succulent, rich with the essence of meat. Atop a bed of the vegetables with which it has braised, osso buco is a robust meal that perfectly matches the convivial setting of a Christmas dinner with the dearest of friends. This recipe is enough to serve eight, but my angelheart Eric and the espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko got two shanks each - after all, it is Christmas.
The dessert, molten chocolate babycakes, comes by way of Nigella Lawson's gift to those lovingly and willingly chained to the kitchen, How To Be A Domestic Goddess. The cakes are always a hit, for they are laden with gorgeous bittersweet chocolate, the darker and richer the better (I try to go for that which is either from Cote d'Ivoire or Switzerland, but I have yet to try Green and Blacks). No one forgets this rich dessert whether it's highlighting a cozy meal for two (as my angelheart Eric and I have done on occasion) or underscoring an evening of merry-wishing.
Bouquet garni, a few sprigs of fresh: parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, and 1 dry bay leaf
8 beef shanks
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
All Purpose flour for dredging
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 small onions, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 small carrots, diced into 1/2 inch cubes (or use a handful of baby carrots)
2 fennels, cut into eighths
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1 pinch saffron, rested in hot water
1) Make two bouquet garnis and secure with kitchen twine.
2) For the beef shanks, pat dry to remove excess moisture, then secure meat to the bone with kitchen twine.
3) Season each shank with salt and pepper.
4) Dredge the shanks in seasoned flour, then shake off the excess.
5) In a dutch oven, heat vegetable oil until smoking before adding the shanks. Brown on all sides, approximately 3 minutes per side, then reserve.
6) In the same pot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season with salt to draw out the moisture from the vegetables and saute until soft and translucent, approximately 8 minutes.
7) Add the tomato paste and saffron with its liquid. Mix well.
8) Return browned shanks to the dutch oven and add the white wine and reduce the liquid by half, about 5 minutes.
9) Add bouqet garnis and 2 cups of chicken stock.
10) Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Check every 15 or so minutes, turning the shanks and adding more chicken stock as necessary, for the cooking liquid should come up 3/4 of the way up the shank.
11) Once cooked, carefully remove the shanks from the pot and serve over the vegetables. Cut off the twine and discard.
12) Remove and discard the bouquet garnis and pour juices and sauce from pot over the shanks.
Molten Chocolate Babycakes
(from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess)
1/4 cup soft unslated butter, plus more for greasing
12 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1) Preheat oven to 400 deg. f. (200 deg. c.), putting in a baking sheet at the same time.
2) Put parchment paper in the base of each ramekin, for it helps ease out the babycakes once baked.
3) Melt the chocolate and let it cool slightly.
4) Cream together the butter and sugar, and slowly beat in the eggs, followed by the vanilla.
5) Add the flour and combine until smooth.
6) Scrape in the cooled chocolate and blend again until a smooth batter is achieved.
7) Divide batter amongst buttered ramekins (Nigella uses 6 custard cups; I use 7 ramekins) that have been fitted with parchment paper.
8) Put ramekins on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes (or for 12 minutes if you have made the batter in advance and pulled it from the fridge).
9) Once baked, turn babycakes onto small plates or shallow bowls and, for contrast, serve with something cold (we served the babycakes with homemade coffee ice cream).
Merry Christmas everyone!
What a delicious and interesting celebratory meal! So different to the usual stodge that us Brits force ourselves to eat year after year, lest we offend tradition and/or grandma...
How did the babycakes work out? I have glanced over this recipe often in Domestic Goddess but never had an occasion to cook it.
Happy new Year to you and yours!
Love Freya xx
p.s. I look forward to taking part in the stew competition!