EVENT: Dish for Dion
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
PARTY SIZE: Six
TYPE: Homey Weeknight Dinner Party
MENU: Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs, Semi-Sweet Potato Mash with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Bacon
Some weeks back, before the first time I was able to step out of the house in a light bomber jacket and flats, I had my friend Dion over for some rustic red-wine braised short ribs that saved us from the March gloom and sent us into an almost instant food coma. Though some of this effect can be attributed to my mother’s semi-sweet potato mash–a Thanksgiving staple and forever tied to tryptophan in my memories–the real weeknight plight was the two or three bottles of amazing (yet cheap) red wine that Dion brought to the table and were quickly consumed to the last drop.
The nice part about hosting these days is that my friends know the drill, and, sensing the breaking point of my budget, almost always bring the wine without me having to ask. I’m saved from doubling (if not tripling) the cost of my meal, and I usually have a few bottles (in this case a Chilean Cabernet) lying around thereafter to use in my food or crack open as a cooking-for-one complement. Unfortunately, it also means that I am not making good on my New Year’s resolution to learn more about the wines I (no longer really) buy.
Perhaps the reason why it’s taken me weeks and weeks to write this post is that I was hoping to finally break open the wine encyclopedia sitting on my coffee table and somehow inhale all 600 pages of it, or at least enough to sound like I know what I’m talking about. Since that didn’t happen, I asked Dion, who’s got a food and wine blog of his own, to recommend some good bottles of red for under 15 dollars for the next time I find myself gracing someone else’s dinner party.
Though the meat may not be braised in it, these bottles are versatile enough to accompany a variety of dishes, making them the perfect partner in crime when you have no idea what the host is preparing and balanced enough to accompany lighter dishes as the April showers commence.
From my kitchen, where the wine I buy is used to reduce, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
$9, Trader Joes
Since it’s considered an Italian table wine, Chianti is extremely versatile and has evolved to be paired with the full span of Tuscan table offerings. Warning: not the best crowd-pleaser when consumed alone because of its tartness, but it has an excellent balance when paired with the acidic red sauces of the majority of Italian cuisine.
Altos Las Hormigas Malbec
La Boca Malbec
The strong tannins in most Malbecs will pair great with heavier meats. As a general rule- fat in food cuts tannin in wine. That’s why you always drink those tannic heavy reds at steak houses- to help cut the bacon and blue cheese-smothered meat. Malbecs from Mendoza are a great bet– reasonably priced and still showing a lot of the old world attributes of a well-structured French Malbec. Bang for your buck!
Dry Creek Valley, California
Well, though not necessarily under $20, this Zinfandel is an amazing bottle from this region, which uses a lot of berries and plums in their flavor profile, but also maintains a hint of oak to combine well with heavier dishes from the grill. Because of the subtle sweetness of the fruit, the Cali Zinfandels are great with plain old American food, since our tastes lean towards the sugar (think BBQ, i.e. sweet and sour sauces). Even if you don’t know what’s for dinner, this particular bottle is a classy, safe bet. The heavy fruit nose will complement fresh foods and appetizers, and the oak and mild tannin can hold up to your cooked options.
Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages
Beaujolais is a classic Thanksgiving wine. So in terms of the menu below, enough said. The restaurant I worked at in college claimed to push it with everything because, well, it goes with everything. It’s what they recommend to pair with a Thanksgiving dinner because of the hodge-podge of flavors, from cinnamon to cranberry to mushroom. Beaujolais comes from the Southern region of Burgundy and is mae from a thin-skinned grape. It’s light and well balanced, with medium to light tannins. When buying, try to stick with the cru wines versus nouveau wines, as it- means it is from one of the 10 villages certified to produce quality wines. There’s nothing wrong with nouveau though- just make sure to drink it right off the bat or it will go bad!
Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs
Makes 6 servings
3 pounds boneless beef short ribs
4 slices bacon (or 1/3 pound pancetta), roughly chopped
3 medium yellow onions, diced
3 carrots, chopped ½ inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 bottle red wine (I used a spicy, full-bodied Malbec-Cabernet blend from Chile)
2 -3 cups beef broth
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a high flame. Brown the short ribs in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Set meat aside. In the excess oil, fry the bacon until dark and crispy. Add the onions and carrots, scraping up any pan drippings from the beef. Sauté until the onions are translucent and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute or so. Add the stock, wine, rosemary sprigs, and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then reincorporate the short ribs, making sure to submerge them in one layer at the bottom of the pot.
Cover the pot and place in the oven. Let braise for two and a half hours.
TIP: make this the night before and refrigerate overnight.
To reheat: about an hour before service, return the pot to the stove over a medium flame. Once the dish has reheated (about 15 minutes) and the liquids begin to bubble, turn down to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot, being careful not to let it fall apart in its tender state, and reserve on the side under foil. Spoon off any excess oil and fat from the surface of the sauce. Turn the heat back up to high and let the sauce aggressively simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Once the liquids have reduced a fair amount and the flavors become more balanced and intense, add the meat back in and keep warm over a low flame until serving.
Semi-Sweet Potato Mash with Spiced Caramelized Onions
Makes 8 servings
2 ½ lbs Yukon potatoes, halved
3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled
4 – 5 (depending on how prone you are to nibbling) large sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
Sauté the onions over a medium flame, stirring very infrequently. Once they soften and begin to brown on each side, return the flame to low and allow to slowly caramelize. During this time, it is important to make sure the onions are spread as evenly as possible across the pan. Every few minutes, scrape the bottom and redistribute the onions so each gains the maximum amount of surface area. The intention is to slowly crisp the onions by enticing the remaining liquids to sweat out, and for the onions to sweeten by condensing in their own juices. If you stir too often, the onions will turn to mush. This process takes about 40 minutes.
When the onions are dark brown, but not burnt, add the paprika, cumin, and season with salt and cayenne to taste. Set aside.
In the meantime, heat a large pot of water to boil. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them in similar sized chunks to the regular potatoes so they take the same amount of time to cook. Boil the potatoes and drain. Let the regular potatoes sit until cool enough to touch. The skins should come off fairly easily by hand.
When it comes to the mashing, use whatever technique your small kitchen affords you. I find that the best texture is achieved by using a food mill (or mouli, as my mother calls it), or a ricer. Alexis, our holiday party goddess du jour, swore by her hand mixer. I’ve been forced to use a hand masher in the past for a more coarse result, and my mini-prep food processor for a finer, more glutinous puree. More to come on these tools and more in a future post.
Once you’ve mashed your potato mixture, season to taste, adding the chili powder and a dash of cayenne to give it some heat.
TIP: the dish can be made up until this point and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days before serving. To reheat, set the oven to 250 degrees and place the casserole dish inside 30 minutes or so before the meal.
Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Bacon
Makes 6 servings
3 lb Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and any tarnished outer leaves removed
4 large slices bacon, chopped
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp rosemary
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After the Brussels sprouts are trimmed and cleaned, combine them with salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and the rosemary on a baking sheet. With clean hands, toss to coat.
Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, making sure to toss, stir, and rotate every 10-15 minutes to make sure they brown evenly. When the sprouts are dark brown and crispy on all sides, remove from oven and set aside.
In the meantime, in a large non-stick sauté pan, heat 1 tsp of olive oil an fry the bacon in batches until dark brown and crispy. Transfer to a dish with a paper towel and drain.
Ten minutes before serving, add the crispy bacon to the Brussels sprouts and toss to combine on the baking sheet. Drizzle the sprouts mixture with one large spoonful of the rendered bacon fat from the pan—be delicate in your drizzling, this needs only to be a slight accent to marry the flavors of the crispy bacon to the crispy Brussels sprouts. Return to a 300 degree oven for ten minutes until piping hot and ready to serve.