I think that one of the nicest things about having a parent from another country is all the funny turns of phrase or sayings you pick up as you grow up. Things translated directly from another language or phrases that were misheard but adopted nonetheless, which seem quite natural to you at home, but then as you head out into the wide world you discover that pretty much no one else says them. I suppose I could find this embarrassing, but instead it’s somehow incredibly endearing. And, I’m guessing that nearly every family has some idiomatic phrases belonging only to them. My mother has bestowed some particularly lovely sayings, mispronunciations, and the like upon her children.
In Norwegian, instead of saying “speak of the devil,” if you’re talking about someone and they suddenly show up, you say “speak of the sun and it shines!” Which probably has something to do with the national obsession with the weather, but which I also think is a much nicer way of referring to someone. No one wants to walk onto the scene only to be called the devil! My favorite saying, however is “necessity teaches the naked woman how to spin,” which is so much more colorful than “necessity is the mother of invention”…and will also earn you some strange looks if you use it offhandedly in conversation.
In my family, “if the swallows are flying high, it means good weather is coming,” and on a cloudy day we search the sky for a patch of blue “big enough to sew a pair of pants for a troll.” ATMs are “mini banks,” we put pots of potatoes “to bed” to keep them warm, and we pronounce bury in a way that makes others do an auditory double take. Also, my mom once called a hardware store to ask if she could buy some elbow grease because she had been told that’s what she would need to get a stain off of her floor. I think this is kind of fabulous.
We also grew up calling all slow braised beef dishes, like briskets and short ribs, “pull apart meat.” When you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense because that’s just exactly what these types of dishes are, hearty cuts of meat cooked long and slow until they are so tender they’re falling off the bone, and you can quite literally pull them right apart with your fork. Braised meats are really perfect for the wonderfully wintery weather we’ve been having lately. It’s snowing again – hurrah – and the temperatures are about to swan dive below zero, so long stints with the oven on are absolutely called for, and juicy succulent meat with rich savory sauce is so satisfying on a chilly evening. Beef short ribs braised in a wine sauce are one of my ultimate comfort foods. Eating them is the culinary equivalent of being enveloped by a joyous bear hug, or maybe putting on super fuzzy socks that have just been sitting on the radiator to get nice and toasty.
And of course, for unabashed indulgence in the warm folds of nostalgic comfort food, you need to pair your short ribs with an equally cozy side. Mashed potatoes, buttery egg noodles, creamy polenta. My current favorite is a gorgonzola pudding, inspired by a ricotta pudding made by Suzanne Goin, of Lucques Restaurant fame. This pudding captures all the rich creaminess of mashed potatoes but without the starchiness, and gives you an enticing hit of earthy umami from the blue cheese. It’s wonderful with the meat and aromatic sauce. Just add some sauteed greens, a roaring fire, maybe a hot toddy and suddenly you’ll be hoping winter never leaves. (And if you’re Norwegian you will already know that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!”)
Braised Beef short ribs (serves about 6)
- 6 pounds or so, of meaty bone-in short ribs, in 6 pieces
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- 3-4 tablespoons butter
- 2 red onions, diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2 medium-large parsnips, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3-4 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups fruity red wine
- 3 cups chicken stock (unless you have homemade beef stock – if you do you should use that. Don’t use commercial beef stock!)
- The morning of the day you’re cooking the ribs (or the night before), rub them generously with salt and pepper and the Tbs. of thyme. Wrap them up, or put them in a pan and cover them, and refrigerate them all day (or even overnight) until ready to cook. This both tenderizes the meat and helps enhance its flavor.
- Preheat your oven to 325F. In a large Dutch oven heat about 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-high heat, until foaming. Brown the ribs on all sides, working in batches so they aren’t crowded while browning. You want to make sure they get really nicely browned as this creates a lot of the flavor that suffuses the final dish and it also keeps the meat from taking on a boiled texture during the braising. Transfer the browned ribs to a plate and set aside.
- Turn the heat down a bit, add another chunk of butter, and stir in the chopped vegetables (including the onion and garlic,) thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly browned. Add the red wine, scrape all the browned bits from the bottom into the wine, bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. Then stir in the chicken stock and heat to boiling.
- Nestle the short ribs back into the pan, standing them on their sides, and surrounding them with the liquid and vegetables, but not fully covering them. Pour in any of the meat juices that accumulated on the plate as well. Place a moist sheet of parchment directly onto the top of the meat. Put the cover of the Dutch oven on and put it into the oven to braise for 3 hours. (If you don’t have parchment paper, it does work without it just fine.)
- Remove the pot from the oven, uncover (remove and throw away the parchment paper), and transfer the short ribs to a baking sheet. Turn the oven up to 425F and stick the ribs in for 10 minutes (or a little less) until the are lightly browned on the outsides.
- In the meantime, skim the fat off the top of the broth in the Dutch oven. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Bring the juices to a boil, then simmer until thickened slightly. Return the browned ribs to the sauce. (I know a lot of recipes have you strain the vegetables out, but for some reason I really like having the soft vegetables in my sauce, so I leave them.)
- At this point you can cool and refrigerate it until the next day, then gently rewarm it and serve. Or serve it right away, accompanied by the Gorgonzola pudding and your choice of greens. Garnish with a bit of chopped parsley, if you’d like.
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta, drained (the ricotta has to be really well drained, even squeezed out using cheese cloth, otherwise your pudding will develop a watery layer on the bottom – if this happens, though, it doesn’t actually matter because it still tastes really good.)
- 1/2-3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese (use more or less depending on how strong a flavor you like)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup chopped, caramelized onion
- 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat your oven to 350F (you can also use a 325F oven, if you’re baking this at the same time as the ribs, and just increase the baking time). Whisk together all the ingredients except for the black pepper (it will be lumpy).
- Butter a small baking dish (9 inch) and pour the pudding mixture into it. Sprinkle the top with freshly ground black pepper. Cover the baking dish with foil, place it in a larger baking dish and put it into the oven. Add hot water to the larger baking dish until it comes 1/2 or 3/4 of the way up the sides of the dish with the pudding (this is the only way I’ve figured out of making a water bath without me spilling all over as I try to put it into the oven. Maybe you’re more coordinated than me, though.) Bake until the pudding is set, about an hour (longer if you’re using the lower baking temp.). Serve warm.