One of the hardest things for me about cooking for a living is that it’s taken away some of the initial love and joy that cooking as a hobby gave me. I used to think nothing of planning and painstakingly preparing a holiday party for 50 friends and loved ones. I loved every minute of it. Thanksgiving dinner – twelve different dishes with difficult to find ingredients and pastry (the bane of my cooking life). I relished the very idea of this kind of meal. But when I was hired to cook a Kosher Thanksgiving for 16 and then they didn’t want to pay the going rate for a holiday meal (believe me, my fee was small compared to Thanksgiving dinner out at a restaurant), all just to spend my favorite holiday, not in the presence of my family, but in the kitchen of a brownstone with a bunch of strangers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, something inside me died a little bit.
This isn’t to say that cooking an incredible meal for friends doesn’t resuscitate that part of me, it does. A meal of tea smoked duck breasts with Szechwan peppercorns, wild mushroom bread pudding, sautéed Chinese greens, and a dessert of jasmine tea soufflés served with homemade lemongrass ice cream was like attaching jumper cables to my culinary aorta.
Another meal that filled me with love and pride was a charity meal I prepared for a friend of mine a few years ago. Jill is a strong advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and in 2007 started hosting benefit dinners at her home in Seattle to raise money. I was honored to be asked to be her chef for the first benefit and although there were some bumps along the way, including a quick trip to the ER the night before and a mess in the kitchen that made her poor husband very uneasy, it came off with seeming-aplomb.
|Jill and me during our scouting mission at
Pike’s Place Market, Seattle.
JDRF charity dinner for 24:
Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Crème Fraiche
Pan Seared Halibut with Roasted Root Vegetables
Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate Pasta
Chocolate Chili Bread Pudding
Warm Tear Tart with Blue Cheese & Honey
My favorite part of this meal was the short ribs over chocolate pasta. Jill and I were at Pike’s Place Market, trying to get inspiration for the menu and there was an incredible stall with multi-colored piles of fresh pasta. The brightly hued bundles looked more like the spice markets I’d seen in Marrakesh than the anaemic packaged pasta we’re all more familiar with. I’m always intrigued by ingredients that are unexpected, and chocolate and pasta don’t normally mix in my mind’s palate. The salesman tried to convince me that it would make a terrific dessert, but I’m not a fan of chocolate desserts and my taste buds veered off that path. I munched on a sample he handed me. There was a jolt of rich cocoa flavor, but not anything like the cloying sweet chocolate we all know and love. Why not go savory with it?
Short ribs were one of the two dishes assigned to me for the final exam at cooking school (the other was snails in garlic, parsley butter). I had to prepare Daniel Boulud’s famous short ribs braised in red wine with a celery duo. During the exam I spent hours tending to the sauce, praying it wouldn’t be too fatty and the color would be the lovely plummy shade Chef Henri had told us the judges would be looking for. Slightly greasy but good taste was the final verdict as I snatched up my diploma and walked away, but it took me a couple of years to recover from the trauma of the short ribs. Still, they remain one of my favorite dishes to eat and prepare. The only problem is that the Brits have no idea what they are! I spent an age on the phone with a butcher trying to explain what they are and even made the trek to a butcher known for dealing with American clients, in the hope that he would know how to cut the meat for me. Alas, no luck. Up at the shooting lodge, I convinced Chef we should prepare then, but the Yorkshire butcher was confused even after telling him exactly what we needed. He sent a Cote de Boeuf instead. Two days later, when we asked him to send us some bones to roast and make stock with, what appeared? Short ribs. Yes, I’m serious – they are scrap here and dirt cheap – and only their fashionability among the cheffy set in the US, has driven up the price of what is essentially used to make ground beef and god knows what else.
Back to the pasta. For Jill’s special night, I decided to make a heartier, more rustic version of my short ribs in red wine, assuming the richness with the bittersweet chocolate linguini would be divine. And, instead of serving the short ribs whole and with the bone in, I removed the bones and shredded the meat, allowing it to sit in the fridge overnight to soak up even more of the delicious sauce. It’s essentially an Italian style ragu, but it really worked with the chocolate and with a few shavings of parmesan and a grating of 70% chocolate on top, it turned out just right.
So as another Valentine’s Day approaches (and cooking is for me the ultimate gesture of love), I am reminded of this dish made with love and am going to recreate it. I know my husband will devour it and at the same time it will give my creative juices that little jolt they need from time to time. So I’m off to buy the pasta making attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer as I’m going to make my own chocolate linguini, go to the butcher with a diagram of how to cut the beef for me properly, and get to work.
Bittersweet Chocolate Linguini
makes one pound of pasta – enough for 4
1 pound all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sift together the flour and cocoa powder and form a well in the middle. To this add the eggs and oil and gradually incorporate it all and knead for about 10-15 minutes until you have a smooth elasticky dough. Let it rest for another 15 minutes and then roll it out using your pasta maker and cut into whatever width you’d like. Set aside until ready to cook and serve.
Or if you just want to order the pasta (or find out if you can get it at a farmers’ market near you, check out: http://www.pappardellesonline.com/servlet/Detail?no=102
Short Rib Ragu
enough for 4 people
3 pounds of bone-in short ribs
All purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
1 stalk of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
2 cups full-bodied red wine
bunch of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Season the flour generously with salt and pepper and then dredge the ribs in the mixture. Heat a dutch oven and add the oil. Sear the ribs allowing them to get very brown, about 2-3 minutes on each and every side.
In a food processor blend together all of the vegetables and once you are finished browning the meat add the vegetables to the pan and season well with salt and pepper again. Allow then to get to the edge of burning and then stir in the tomato paste, stirring it vigorously for 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to cook down slightly then add the ribs, and any juices collected on the plate they were on, back to the pot. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Use the beef stock to make sure the ribs are covered with liquid, put on the lid and pop in the oven. Cook for 3 hours, topping up with stock as needed. Take off the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.
Allow the meat to cool in the juices some and when cool enough to touch, remove the bones and any obvious fatty bits in the meat. Shred the meat and place it back in the sauce allowing to sit overnight in the fridge if time allows.
When ready to serve, cook the pasta for just 2-3 minutes in salted boiling water. Reheat the short ribs in the sauce in a 375 degree oven until you can smell it (my failsafe test for when something is ready to serve). Spoon the ragu over the pasta, top with parmesan shavings and a bit of grated 70% chocolate.