Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Not Quite French meal

Tonight I made a rare departure from my vegetarian ways. My husband purchased some beef spare ribs and left them in the fridge for me to prepare for dinner. I know he expected me to just suffocate them in bar-b-que sauce and grill or broil them- and ordinarily I might have done just that. But that was before I saw a movie about French cooking. I even got as far as throwing them in the pan and removing the cap from the bottled sauce. When I thought- I'll just brown them a little first- it will make the meat more tender. So I pulled out my cast iron skillet, glazed it with canola oil and lightly powered the chunks of meat with flour. Why not chop in an onion for flavor, I thought? While chopping the onion, I spied the fresh garlic. Just a few heads won't hurt I thought- it will enhance the bar-b-que flavor. By the time I pulled the mushrooms out of the fridge, I knew that bottled sauce would be history. After the meat was browned, I set it aside and filled the sizzling pan with the chopped onion, garlic, and mushrooms. I doused the whole melange with the last of my cooking sherry, and emptied the 1/2 carton of half and half into the fragrant mix. I quickly ran into the back yard to my potted herb garden and plucked a mix of rosemary, sage, thyme, and parsley and hot asian basil. A quick chop and they were sprinkled over the bubbling sauce and vegetables. When it had simmered and thickened, I added the meat back in and placed the skillet in the oven. While the meat roasted, I made a batch of cornbread and threw it in the oven also. Then I looked around my kitchen thinking, what would Julia Child accompany that with? Potatoes of course! Now the French might cook their potatoes in sherry and cream, but since that concoction was taken, I remembered back to my cooking days (as a sous chef in my 20s). Aha! Roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary. I eyed my 20lb. sack of potatoes thinking how sophisticated this particular recipe is without a bunch of added fat (downfall of the American prepared potato). I peeled about 5 large potatoes, sliced them thinly and put them on to boil until they were just so. I didn't want them to get to soft or turn to mush. When they were just done, I strained them, laid them out in a baking dish (only 1 or 2 layers- they should all feel the kiss of the broiler), and laced them with a gentle swish of extra virgin olive oil, fresh plucked rosemary, salt and pepper, and for extra measure, a thinly sliced red onion sprinkled throughout. Into the oven they went. While the potatoes roasted, along with the spareribs in cream and sherry and the baking cornbread, I thought, wine would be perfect with this meal! I grabbed a twenty from my beloved (who agreed a glass of wine would be nice) and drove around the corner to the nearest wine shop (inaptly named 'the beer cave'). Not to be deterred by the name, I found the proprietor to be quite knowledgeable. When he inquired about the occasion, I said, oh, it's for dinner- and described the delectable feast roasting at home in the oven, he made some very nice suggestions. I love reds, and had thought to fall back on my same old favorites of a winsome Cabernet Sauvignon, or a spirited little Beaujolais. But the proprietor told me of a Argentinian wine made from 'lost grapes' and at $9.99 a bottle, I couldn't pass up a good adventure and a great story. I spent the other $9.99 on a nice looking Robert Mondavi Merlot. Back at home we eagerly opened the Argentinian Alamos Malbec wine first, and though I know I'm supposed to let it breathe first, I couldn't wait. At first whiff, it seemed heavy and vinegary. But the first taste was absolute divinity. The 'beer cave' guy said it was smooth, but the taste was the gustatory equivalent of a baby's bottom (that's smooth for those who haven't been near a baby's bottom lately!). After tasting our wine, dinner was ready! I took the spare ribs out of the pan and sliced them, and placed them back into their bed of sauce. The cornbread was golden and fragrant (okay I know it's not French, but neither am I!). The potatoes were crispy and golden brown with little ringlets of fragrant rosemary and red onion. This dinner was too pretty to simply sling on a plate, so I got out the 'good' dishes and plated it all up with sprigs of fresh verigated oregano to top things off. "Ooh, it looks like a restaurant," my 11 year old said, in awe. She was right. It looked and tasted superb. Not bad for an almost bar-b-que, impromptu not quite French meal, and an Argentinian lost grape wine. As Julia would say, Bon Appetit!

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