We had a lovely quiet Christmas holiday with my parents this year. Freyja, our persnickety puppy, was just in heaven to have company, and made fast friends with my mom. We also had a 3D/4D ultrasound done on the 22nd so my parents could have their first look at our little gourmet in the making. In the absence of more interesting things to eat, he seemed to spend the entire session nibbling on his hands and feet and umbilical cord; unfortunately, that doesn’t allow the best photo opportunities, but I decided to share one here anyway.
For our meals, braising turned out to be the watchword. I made braised wild monkfish from a Mario Batali recipe on Christmas Eve. My mom isn’t a big fan of fish, but since monkfish is sometimes considered to be “the poor man’s lobster,” I thought that perhaps she wouldn’t object too much. I adapted the recipe slightly and served it over quinoa. Everyone actually did seem to like it—except me. I found the texture difficult to eat, and the flavor not worth the trouble. The one thing I did find really amusing about it was the fact that right after we finished eating, we watched an episode of Planet Earth that we’d never seen before about the “Ocean Deep,” and it featured a live monkfish doing its thing. Not a pretty character, so it’s a good thing we weren’t watching while we ate. 🙂
Christmas dinner was braised beef short ribs. I wanted to do osso buco, but Whole Foods was fresh out of veal shanks for the job, so we made a last-minute change of plans. I usually like to make lots of extra short ribs because they reheat so well, but we were barely able to purchase enough for the four of us. Does everyone really cook standing rib roasts for Christmas? They had an awfully large selection of those.
I used my standard short rib recipe, adapted from Suzanne Goin. We got it going in a low oven, and on my birdwatching dad’s suggestion, drove out to Ankeny Wildlife Refuge in what ended up being a mix of rain and SNOW. It didn’t stick, of course, but it still counts as a white Christmas for Oregon in my book! We mostly ended up sitting in the car with binoculars because of the cold and wet and wind, but saw a surprising number of species: Northern pintails, canvasbacks, cormorants, ruddy ducks, Canada geese and mallards, great egrets and a great blue heron, tundra swans, a kestrel, two hovering harriers that caused quite a ruckus among the ducks, and even a bald eagle.
Getting back to the ribs, I served them with mashed potatoes and the cream-braised Brussels sprouts from All About Braising. You can find a version of this recipe at Orangette here. I only had about 3/4 C of cream left and quite possibly more than a pound of sprouts, so I supplemented the braising liquid with some chicken stock, and it did just fine. More than fine, actually, since everyone raved about them. I had noted with surprise my father’s reluctance when I started sorting through the sprouts at Fred Meyer; my mom said they were one of his favorite vegetables, so I thought they were a gimme. Afterwards—while eating the last few sprouts straight from the saute pan as we washed dishes—he explained that he had been worried because Brussels sprouts are so easy to cook into tasteless mush. I’d say the key is to choose nice tight sprouts of the same size, which allows for even cooking. The smaller ones cook faster and are less bitter. Needless to say, this recipe will be going in my permanent rotation.
Update 3/5/10: The cream-braised brussels sprouts are also delicious tossed with pasta for a simple meal.