Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ringing in the New Year

This year we were about a dozen. Just perfect. Some neighbors, some new friends and their house guests and some old friends. The party ran the usual course with hors d’oeuvres and drinks in the living room in front of the fire, buffet supper, hugging, kissing and toasting at midnight with champagne followed by dessert.

The evening was especially fun because of the bonhomie among the guests. It was a loud party…my personal measure of successful partydom. Among the revelers were several folks from Britian and Ireland. There was much laughter and story telling, political debating (as in “fooking cow“ - I‘ll leave you to guess the candidate and who uttered the honorific), local gossip and speculation and movie reviews. Discussion about buying the local restaurant and running it as a proper local pub. Well, if you can’t dream about new ventures on New Years Eve, when can you?

In a daring - maybe even foolhardy - step, I decided to make Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert - a classic in the UK. Sometimes I even scare myself. I’ve described my absolute addiction to this dish in the Birthday Weekend blog. I think it went over OK…no one threw up on me anyway.

The main course was Osso Buco. I’ve made this particular recipe several times, but this time I had a new approach. Amy gave me The French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas. I was so excited…my favorite blog focuses on cooking all the recipes in the book. You can find it here. In reading through the book, I have learned some new things about braising, which I applied to the recipe. The improvement was dramatic. (You can find the original recipe from Gourmet magazine here.) Braising at a low temperature, using the parchment to cover the meat like a lid and the care in straining the sauce were new techniques and, as I said, the results were savory beyond belief. Below is my re-work of the original recipe. I served it with peas and carrots with shallots, polenta with rosemary, a green salad and homemade French bread.

Serves 6.

I try to get one shank per person plus a couple extra, whatever that might weigh.

3/4 cup brine-cured green olives, rinsed well, pitted and rough chopped
5 pounds 1 to 1 1/2-inch-thick veal shanks (6 to 8 shanks),
each tied securely with kitchen string to keep meat attached to bone
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium-large onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
Red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons drained bottled capers
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups homemade chicken or veal stock
Preheat oven to 300°F. [use Bake setting, not Convection]
Pat veal shanks dry between paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge top and bottom (not side) of each shank in flour, knocking off excess. In a 12-inch heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons oil and butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides and brown tops and bottoms of shanks in batches, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer shanks as browned to a roasting pan - a pan large enough to hold veal in a single layer is best.
Scatter capers over meat. Grate a teaspoon or so of lemon zest over meat.
Wipe out skillet and add remaining tablespoon oil. Heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook onion, stirring, until golden. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and anchovy and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Spread evenly over the meat.
Deglaze fry pan with white wine. Add stock and bring liquids to a boil.
Pour over shanks to almost cover the meat, adding water if necessary. Cover meat fully with a piece of parchment paper. Braise shanks in oven 4 hours, or until meat is tender. Scatter olives over meat for last 30 minutes of cooking. Keep liquid level up by adding hot water if necessary.
Remove meat from roasting pan. Strain liquid using a fine mesh strainer and several layers of cheesecloth. Discard solids. Reserve 1 cup for reheating the meat. De-fat remaining stock and reduce gently by 1/3, skimming well.
Shanks may be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Bring meat to room temp and stock to simmer on stove top before adding to meat. Reheat all in 350 oven for 30 minutes.

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