Last week I had the great good fortune to take a lovely trip to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan to visit dear old friends. There on the shore of Lake Michigan, I witnessed several "Michigan sparklers"--days so bright and sunny that the entire lake seemed to be a sea of diamonds. Also, there, I had the joy of donning my first sweater in many months; the wonder of primo star-gazing and pondering the meaning of the universe while reclining in a golf cart on the 9th hole late at night with beloved pal Sarah and a rambunctious English bulldog, and the sweet surprise of endless local cherries--both drenched in dark chocolate and without.
Also there, I had the fun of creating a special dinner for my hosts whom, it turned out, inspired by the cool temperatures, were nurturing a hankering for some really good short ribs. Well, today, it's just about cool enough even here to serve them up, so, on the off chance that the temperatures play along, here is a stupendous recipe to inspire your first fall feast this weekend.
Really easy and luxurious, you need only a little time in your back pocket for the alchemy of the braising in the oven to occur. I first made these in college, spurred on by the wonderful gift of The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, which, I see from the inscription, I received in 1979. These aren't Craig's exact short ribs, but my adaptation with a few nips and tucks. In any case, make some chive mashed potatoes and some Brussels sprouts as an accompaniment and you'll be off to the races.
Upon returning home, I snagged myself a really great new fire screen for the living room, for which I'd been hunting for several years. I'm not sure that tonight is the night to give it its' first workout, but the short ribs will definitely be making an appearance. Even without the cozy fire burning brightly, I think somehow, our dinner of short ribs will fit the bill as an RVA sparkler. Here's hoping, no matter where you are, that you have a sparkler too!
4 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, chopped finely
4 pounds short ribs of beef
3 tablespoons of bacon drippings (olive oil may be substituted)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees for a very low and slow braising.
Combine the flour, salt, pepper and rosemary. Dredge the ribs with the seasoned flour.
In a large, lidded dutch oven in which they will ultimately go into the oven, heat the bacon drippings to medium and brown the ribs well on all sides. Remove them from the heat and set them aside. Saute the onions in the fat, stirring until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape the brown floury bits off the bottom of the pan and to incorporate them into the sauce. Add the stock and the tomato paste and heat through will stirring. When the sauce is just starting to boil, return the short ribs and any juices they've left on the plate to the pot, clamp the lid on, and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 - 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.
If desired, skim off the excess fat and thicken the juices by stirring in a little of the seasoned flour mixed with cold water. Simmer for five minutes and serve with the meat, along with chive mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
--Adapted from "The New York Times Cook Book" by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row)