Sunday, March 3, 2013

Early autumn

In the northern hemisphere, the change of seasons is always associated with the celestial event which correlates to its appearance – equinoxes for spring and autumn, solstices for winter and summer, sometime around the 20th of the month, four times a year. In Australia, I’ve noticed, the first day of the month in which the celestial event occurs is generally designated as the official change of seasons. This meant, most recently, that March 1 was the First Day of Autumn.

I had been mentally dismissing this as some weird Australian quirk and figuring nonchalantly that I still had another 3 weeks of summer. Then, over the last week of February, we had more cloud than sun, with plenty of rain mixed in, and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees (or 20, in Fahrenheit). We woke up on Friday morning to cold winds, grey skies, and temperatures in the low teens (50sF).

Okay, I’m convinced – March 1 really is the First Day of Autumn in Canberra. Which means it’s time to break out the slow cooker again.

Braised short ribs
I didn’t use a recipe for this, so I’ll just describe what I did do. Braising stuff in the slow cooker allows for leeway on various things, as you’ll see. I started this at about 10:30 am, in preparation for serving dinner at 6:30ish pm.

  1. Turn on the slow cooker to start heating. (I usually turn mine on high to get going and then turn to low after about 30-45 minutes.) Put a medium-sized cast-iron skillet to heat on the stove over low-medium heat, and add 2 Tbsp olive oil to warm up. Add 1 anchovy to oil.
  2. Chop up 2 pieces of good-quality bacon and add to skillet. Peel, quarter and chop 1 red onion and add to bacon.
  3. Cook mixture in skillet, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, until bacon begins to crisp and onion to brown.
  4. Dump contents of skillet in slow cooker. Spread out and lay 5-6 beef short ribs on top.
  5. Put skillet back on burner and fill halfway with about 2 cups red wine. Heat the wine and use it to deglaze the skillet.
  6. Empty the skillet into the slow cooker and check the liquid level. If the short ribs are not at least partially submerged, add some more wine (or stock) until they are. Cover and leave to get cooking.
  7. Decide that this concoction also needs some mushrooms and tomato paste, neither of which you have in stock. Go to the store.
  8. After returning from the store, turn the stove on again and return the skillet to the burner over low-medium heat. While it warms up, clean and quarter about 1 dozen mushrooms. Add to the skillet to cook, along with 1 clove garlic that has been peeled and cracked. Cook mushrooms, stirring regularly, until they have released their liquid and shrunk to about half their original size. Add to the slow cooker.
  9. While you have the slow cooker open, scoop out a ladleful of cooking liquid into a small bowl. Into this stir 2 heaping Tbsp of tomato paste. Add the mixture back into the slow cooker, stirring to disperse through the cooking liquid. Put the cover back on.
  10. Leave alone until about halfway through your estimated cooking time, at which point turn the ribs over. Cover and leave be again.
  11. The longer you leave these, the better they get. I took the lid off for the last hour of cooking time, to allow the cooking liquid to thicken up a little.
  12. I served this with blue cheese polenta and braised kale and carrots. Made enough for 3 adults and 1 child, plus leftovers.


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