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Red Wine Braised Short Ribs and Cranberry Cobbler Cocktail

We finally made it back, begrudgingly, to East Lansing and decided to make a meal for the family.  Kate’s brother came back from college, her grandmother came over with her apple pie and we cooked with her mom for the rest of the meal. While we were up at the cottage, we flipped through some of my food magazines for recipes in order to create a list of ingredients for Sunday’s dinner, as well as to give her mom a headstart should we get a late start on the day.  This is exactly what happened, as it’s never easy to leave paradise.

The menu we picked came from Bon Appetit Magazine, and most of the recipes were not followed line by line, but rather our own “interpretations” of them.  One of the great things about cooking is the latitude you have to make the foundation of a recipe your own, as well as to simply adapt a few things to whatever it is you have in your cupboard.  The meat had to go in two different pots and we didn’t strain the sauce, we used white wine vinegar instead of champagne and on and on.

Cooking, at its core, is about sustenance.  No one wakes up and says, “Today I’m only going to eat if it tastes good.” Eating is, and always will be, first and foremost an exercise of necessity. You make a decision to make the ingredients you have on hand taste good.  That’s where the fun of cooking comes in— more salt here, 2 tomatoes instead of 4, etc.  It’s all about making the recipe work for you and your tastes.  To finally put a end to this rant, this food tasted fantastic and was perfect for the meal we set out to have.

I’m not going to print the recipes we used, I’ll just provide links below.  But I also am not going to go into detail about what we changed, as it’s an opportunity to make a family meal your own, with the help of some recipe guard rails.  The one recipe not here is Rose Baker’s apple pie, as she can’t give it to me because she “just knows”.  She gets a firm apple and sugars them based on how they taste, but that’s as much as I got out of her, so stay tuned for that as I keep prying.

Cauliflower Soup with Chive Oil and Rye Crostini

Brussels Sprouts with Walnut Vinaigrette

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

Cranberry Cobbler Cocktail

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Michigan Tart Cherry Spritzer

Sometimes you just don’t want a cocktail.  I’ve found that, since being in arid Colorado, there are many nights when my cocktail choice is influenced heavily by how hot the day was or whether I’m dehydrated at all.  I love bourbon, but when I’m feeling thirsty a bourbon cocktail just won’t do. Last night I just wanted something refreshing and quick.  I put some crushed ice in a glass, poured about an ounce to an ounce-and-a-half of our delicious Leopold Brothers Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur over that, and topped it with sparkling mineral water.  For anyone out there who has been “burned” or disappointed by natural cherry flavors in things, Leopold Bros have it figured out.  Sure, everyone loves cherries and sweet cherries especially.  They’re great to eat.  But for spirits, it has taken some time for distillers and vitners to realize that tart cherries are far more interesting.  This spirit is absolutely worth buying… it’s tart and sweet and smooth and soft and… yum.  Tastes like home!

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Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is all about the squash and root veggies.  It’s also about comfort food and being able to curl up on a couch and eat your favorite soup while watching a good movie.  Butternut squash soup is probably one of the best examples of a fall soup and with a special twist that makes this one of my favorite soups that I know how to make. The key to a good soup is acid, and it’s probably one of the most overlooked pieces of the puzzle for making soups great.  In this soup in particular, I used apple cider vinegar to give it that nice little contrast and bring out that sweetness and earthiness of the squash and partner root veggies.

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Pork Heart Ragu and Wild Grape Tonic

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Pork Heart Ragu and Wild Grape Tonic

A big pet peeve of mine is how wasteful people in this country can be when it comes to making use of a whole animal— many great parts of the animal are simply overlooked or, worse, thrown out.  I purchased a pig a few months ago for my Eat the Pig project and when I talked to the farmer and butcher, I requested the internal organs, head and leaf lard.  The farmer was kind of shocked and ended up offering them all to me (she was taking 16 hogs to be slaughtered) for free.  I jumped at all of it, with the exception of the heads as I only had room for 6, and ran home feeling like I just made out like a bandit. Livers, hearts and heads are some of the best parts of the animal, and when you’re talking cow, even the tail and tongue are fantastic. Both Kate and I were going to be out all day, and I wanted to make something in the slow cooker so that when we came home there was something delicious and easy to eat waiting.  I decided to go with a ragu with pig heart.  I knew I could bust through the prep while the meat was browning in about 35 minutes and still get out of the house by a little after 8 to meet a friend in Boulder.

The friend was Butterpoweredbike [Butter for short], author of Hunger and Thirst for Life, who Kate was going foraging with.  They were heading out to look for generally whatever they could find, but had a specific interest in plums and black walnuts.  They ended up finding both in abundance as well as some ponderosa pine bark, cow parsnips and pineapple weed that may end up as components of future recipes.  However, the surprise ingredient of wild grapes would end up being one of the stars of the night.  Kate juiced the grapes and used the the juice with some Dry Fly Gin, as well as some tonic for a beautiful refreshing fall cocktail.

Pork Heart Ragu

  • 4 Pork Hearts
  • 2 Cans San Marzano Tomatoes Seeded and Crushed
  • 3 Sprigs Rosemary
  • 5 Cloves Garlic Minced
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 4 Carrots Diced
  • 4 Celery Stalks Diced
  • 2 Onions Diced
  • 1 Cup Red Wine (Chianti or similar Italian red)
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  1. Place olive oil in a hot pan and brown the pork heart till they have good color.  When done, remove pork heart and place into slow cooker
  2. Add in carrots, celery and onion into pan and saute for approximately 4 – 5 minutes.  You may need to add another Tbsp of oil depending on how dry the pan is.
  3. After 5 minutes, add in the garlic and stir until garlic is fragrant but not burned
  4. Pour in wine and deglaze pan to ensure all good bits are off the bottom and captured in the liquid.  Remove from heat
  5. Pour tomatoes into slow cooker, and then add in the vegetable and wine mixture, bay leaves and rosemary.
  6. Set timer for 8 hours on high and enjoy the smells.
  7. After timer has gone off, remove pork heart and either chop finely or grind through meat grinder.  Add into a large stock pot.
  8. Remove rosemary twigs and bay leaves from slow cooker mixture
  9. Use a stick blender or food processor to blend the remaining mixture.  When done add into stock pot with the ground heart and stir well
  10. Bring to a simmer for 20 – 30 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste

Wild Grape Tonic

  • 1 3/4 oz of Grape Juice (2 bunches of grapes.  White concord grapes are closest grocery store grapes)
  • 1 3/4 oz of Dry Fly Gin
  • 1 oz Tonic

Combine all ingredients in a glass over ice and stir.  The grape is a perfect fall accompaniment to this very refreshing drink.  Kate does it again …

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    Fall Vegetable Flat Bread and Cassis Lime Tonic

    In the fall, root vegetables and squash are plentiful and especially early in the fall, squash are sweet and delicious.  Tonight’s meal was a bit of a kitchen sink meal, cleaning out the fridge for this week’s market run.  We had some remaining dough from Pizza night, some goat cheese and a few different veggies we could use as a topping. I got the grill started again, but this time managed the heat better and kept it a more reasonable 450 – 500 degrees, as opposed to the red hot grill I had earlier in the week.  In addition, I also threw in some cherry wood to add some smokiness to the bread, and got back to making the bread itself.

    As I mentioned, it was a bit of a kitchen sink kind of night, so as you construct this flat bread, experiment and add items in however you want.  The goal is to use logical pairings and be able to taste the layers of fall after you take it off the grill.

    It was hot earlier that day, we had run around and taken care of some errands so we were definitely thirsty, which had a direct impact on our drink choice.  We decided to keep it easy and refreshing with a Cassis Lime Tonic.  The Mathilde Cassis is fantastic, syrupy, earthy and that nice blend of pepper and sweet that you’d expect from good cassis.  We also used the Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka and some generic tonic.  All in all, it was a fantastic drink.  Simple, yet refreshing and some layers of flavor.  Kate for the win again…

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    Pasta, Bacon and Eggs with The Bitter Apple

    Last night we had the pleasure of visiting farmers we met through the Boulder Farmers Market at their farm nearby.  They don’t have a website, but they raise lamb and goat, all pastured for the most part (goat not so much).  We ended up staying for almost 2.5 – 3 hours.  While we were there we saw their produce operation which encompassed grapes and veggies, as well as the livestock program.  But I digress… In short, this got us home around 8pm which means we had to whip something quick to not be eating at 9:30 at night.  I decided to head to an old favorite of mine which is full of flavor but quick and easy.  Pasta with bacon and eggs— the goal is to create a nice sauce with the help of some reserved water from cooking, as well as the sunny-side-up egg on top.  Combined in the dish with some bacon, you get a nice rich sauce and a salty punch from the bacon.

    Kate took on the cocktail duties and decided to use some Spicebox Canadian Whiskey and some of the great Calvados apple brandy, in keeping with the fall theme, to create what we called “The Bitter Apple”.

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    Almond Mascarpone French Toast and Negroniesque

    When we were kids, there was nothing better than Breakfast for Dinner.  Strangely enough, not much has changed as adults, as whenever you think about having breakfast at night, well, 1. you rush back to being a kid and 2. You still get excited. We decided this weekend that at some point I was going to make what Kate calls, “The Famous French Toast”, however, this is just my french toast.  I did add a bit to it for the purposes of making it more savory, but on a whole, there isn’t a whole lot different about how I made this tonight and how I usually make it for breakfast.  We did however, cook up some Guanciale from Woodlands Pork for a side, and as usual, it was amazing.  Pinot, the butcher’s assistant, made an appearance as well during the slicing.

    Today though, unexpectedly, was a horribly stressful day at work.  I knew by 11am I was going to need a pretty stiff cocktail to go along with whatever dinner I made.  Kate was up to the challenge and was already on making what I’ll call a “Negroniesque”.  The drink was pure alcohol, but also pure love.  It hit the spot, paired so well with the “dinner” and used one of my favorite ingredients, Antica Formula Vermouth.

    Antica was introduced to me by a local New Yorker, while at WD-50.  He was a regular and when he entered they went down to get “his” vermouth.  As we talked about manhattans and what makes a great one, he bought me a glass of this vermouth.  Now, unless you’re extremely into cocktails, my guess is your idea of drinking vermouth straight is about as appealing as putting your finger in a door.  As I obliged this awesome old school east coaster, I was shocked to see how great this was.  It was sweet, toasty, a little syrupy and even a bit floral.  In short, it was amazing.  When I introduced this to Kate, she pretty much followed the same exact script I did, even down to the awesome old school east coaster [read: me].  Anyhow, buy some, make a manhattan or better yet, make the Negroniesque and enjoy one of the best vermouths on the planet and save money on Campari.

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    Ginger Carrot Cocktail and Frittata

    Right now one of the best foods of the season has to be carrots, especially out here in Colorado where the minerality of the soil has great effects on the taste and sweetness of them.  As I came home, Kate had already conceived our next concoction and was ready with the juicer to start using some of those beautiful carrots. With the carrots juiced, we used some Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, along with a bit of the recently made clove simple syrup, to add a bit of earthiness.  Topped with some ginger ale, we had a beautiful fall cocktail with a great blend of sweetness and heat from the ginger liqueur.

    This cocktail was beautiful with the meal for the night.  Kate whipped up a beautiful frittata using some leftover gratin we had from the other night.  The frittata was made entirely on the stove top as the oven was being used for some Salame fermenting, and the results were definitely acceptable.  Topped that with some of the cracklins, salt and pepper and we had a beautiful fall meal outside.

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    Wild Apple Margarita

    while back Kate and I went foraging with a friend for a variety of different items— near the house there is an old road where you can grab wild apples.  While most of the apples represented a more tart Cripps Pink [aka Pink Lady®], we came across these small, almost crabapple-size gems that were incredibly tart and sweet and would make an excellent baking apple… but a sweet-and-sour mix alternative came to mind too.  I believe my first words were “This would be great in a Margarita”. So we juiced the apples and sure enough, this was a perfect match for a margarita and was absolutely as good as I’ve ever had.  When shared with friends they agreed, and everyone was sad when our supply ran out. We paired this with a quick little cheese plate and sat outside on a beautiful night.

    Now, what does one do if you don’t have access to wild apples? I would use an unripe granny smith or any kind that is very tart and sweet, and put them through a juicer.  Make sure there is little to no pulp to keep it nice and smooth.

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    Pizza Bianca with Elder Tonic

    Pizza is by far one of my favorite things to make and we usually make it in the oven, but tonight we decided to make it on the grill to try and get that great wood oven flavor and crust.  The pizza is one similar to what I’ve made before, think bianca-style [white, sans tomato sauce], but this time I added a bit of arugula and tomato to the top to change it up.  While it’s in season, roasted sweet corn on the top instead of arugula and tomato is just amazing. This pizza uses mascarpone instead of ricotta as is usually used in bianca, as well as mozzarella as expected, however the mascarpone adds a lovely layer of sweetness and a nice runny layer of cheese goodness.  To really take the flavor over the top… once it was baked and beautiful, we sprinkled freshly-made pork cracklins over it.  Because who isn’t rendering lard on a Friday night?

    The Elder Tonic is a nice switch on the normal gin tonic by adding in some elderflower liqueur to give it a nice floral note on top of the juniper notes that we all love about gin.  Thatcher‘s elderflower is a shining example of the organic liqueurs they make, and are a nice little nod to Kate’s home state of Michigan.

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    Skirt Steak with The Apple Gin

    Apples and beef are pretty much what autumn is all about, and after a long week and day of work, a long-winded meal was not going to really fly for the evening.  This is when tasty ingredients and simple salt and pepper seasoning come into play.  I reached for a skirt steak from Natural Homestead Beef and the salt and pepper with a little sprinkling of walnut oil and threw it on the grill.  I put that alongside some arugula with some dressing, as well as some sweet corn from Munson Farms and all was good and delicious. To match that we made a quick little gin drink with some items from the bar that we’re calling The Apple Gin.

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    Passion Fruit Margarita

    After a week of cooking and a long day at work we found ourselves with a number of leftovers— high quality leftovers in the beautiful slow cooked ham with cider, cloves, apples and spring onions.  While the food was perfectly fall, we decided to treat ourselves to a little tropical excursion with a Passion Fruit Margarita made with all fresh ingredients and something kinda yummy. While we were eating leftovers as our main course, we did manage to incorporate some new foods as we whipped out some homemade crackers we got at the last food swap, some fresh cheese and home-cured bresaola.  You can learn more about my meat curing over at Eat the Pig if you’d like …

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    Slow Cooked Ham with Whiskey Sours

    Slow Cooked Ham

    Today we made a delicious slow cooked ham in the crockpot braised for approximately 8 hours. The ham was cooked with apples, onions, rosemary, honey and a mixture of chicken broth and cider as a braising liquid. The finished product was absolutely delicious being fall off the bone tender, a nice blend of salty and sweet.

    The final product was shredded and served over rice with the onions and apples as accompaniments, and covered with a couple of ladles of broth over top of it. It was topped with some alder smoked salt to finish it off. All in all one hell of a meal.

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