honey and beer braised short ribs


2016 brought a flood of vitality, in all of its chaos and glory. there was the feverish experience of working at a small nonprofit, the anguish of november 2016 and the ensuing dread and disbelief. and yet through it all, there persisted the constant hum and bustle of life.

perhaps part of this new perception comes from living in a real city for the first time. to have neighbors across a narrow streets whose windows are so close, i can hear their music and see them read, to be surrounded by the constant reminder that the world is full of others living their lives, the way that their – and i suppose, my – private life is in part put on display, is jarring yet exhilarating.

now a good fourth of the way into 2017, it feels right to return to fort juniper with this recipe, one of my favorites to make in cooler weather. spring has seemed tantalizingly close for months, and yet the weather predicts that this friday will be 48ºF. these braised short ribs make for a leisurely late afternoon project on the weekends. i’ve made it wheat ale, with pilsner, and even with stout. i’ve used butternut and honeynut squash before and have added shallots on occasion. each time, it turns out comfortingly delicious.

makes 4-6 servings

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 lb bone-in beef short ribs, cut into 3-in pieces (or 2 lb boneless beef short ribs, cut into 3-in pieces)
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large head garlic
3 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 sprigs thyme
2 large sprigs parsley + 2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 cup honey
1 (12-oz) bottle wheat ale (or beer of your choice)

darra goldstein. fire + ice: classic nordic cooking. new york: ten speed press, 2015.

1 preheat oven to 300ºF. heat oil in 6-qt braising pan over medium heat. rub short ribs with salt and pepper. working in batches, place in short ribs in pan and sear until brown, about 2 minutes on each side. with tongs, transfer the short ribs to a plate and pour off all the fat from the pan.
2 remove outer papery skin from head of garlic and cut ~1/2 in off top to reveal the cloves.
3 return short ribs to pan and nestle hear of garlic among them, cut side up. strew onions and carrots among the meat, and stick the thyme and parsley sprigs in any nooks. (sometimes, I tie the thyme and parsley together so that I can easily remove them before serving.)
4 whisk together honey and beer in a bowl and pour mixture over meat and vegetables (it won’t cover them). cover the pan tightly with lid and bake for 2 hours.
5 raise oven temperature to 400ºF and continue to bake meat until it is very tender and liquid has turned slightly syrupy, about 45-55 minutes more.
6 skim off as much fat as you can. you can serve the ribs right out of the pan or transfer to a deep serving bowl. garnish with minced parsley and serve hot. (to reheat, place stew in oven at 300ºF for about an hour.)

garlic potato purée

mash potato 2

in the modern age, “looks good enough to eat” takes on significant meaning – emphasis on the word “looks”.

the first cookbook I ever used was the dean and deluca cookbook, a paperback publication void of any pictures. as evidenced by its stained pages and creased binding, my family loved that cookbook. in it is the recipe for our usual holiday mashed potatoes, which we have used for the past decade.

presently, it is unheard of for a cookbook to have no pictures, and people rely heavily on how food looks as an indicator of how it tastes, especially when choosing recipes online. I admit to totally judging food by its appearance, but am also amused by the lengths to which some photographers go to make a dish look more attractive. there’s the small stuff – spritz salad with oil to give it that sheen, arrange the accoutrements ever-so-artistically atop a soup, twirl the pasta enticingly around a perfectly polished fork. then there’s the ridiculous – I recently tried a coq au vin recipe whose photograph promised a rich burgundy shade of stew. either those people dumped in a tablespoon or two of utterly unnecessary red food coloring or someone got a little overzealous adjusting the colors on photoshop. the dish itself tasted amazing, but came out rather brown (which, in retrospect, is the absolutely correct color for a wine-flavored chicken stew).

as I planned out the thanksgiving menu this year, I abandoned the traditional mashed potato recipe, seduced by the glossy pages of thomas keller’s ad hoc at home and the promise of consuming a premier chef’s (side) dish without having to sell an organ. as I plated the garlic potato purée (better known by its plebeian moniker, “mashed potatoes,”) and preparing to photograph them, one of my cousins asked what I was doing. “I’m creating more surfaces for shadows, to take a better photo,” I replied, while gently pressing creases into the swirls of mashed potato with a wooden spoon. (yes, it looked just as ridiculous as it sounds.) in my opinion, keller’s recipe is superior to dean and deluca’s – faster, involving less human labor, and with a more complex flavor profile thanks to the chives. but dean and deluca’s has this awesome punch of roasted garlic flavor – something that is impossible to capture in a photograph.

at dinner, the mashed potatoes were well-received. but then again, so was the stuffing, butt-ugly burnt edges be damned.

mash potato
makes 6 servings

1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup canola oil
4 lb large yukon gold potatoes
kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp minced chives

thomas keller. ad hoc at home. new york: artisan books, 2009.

1 cut off and discard root ends of garlic cloves. place cloves in a small saucepan and add enough oil to cover them by 1 inch.
2 set saucepan over low heat. cook the garlic gently; very small bubbles will come up through the oil, but should not break the surface. cook garlic for ~40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cloves are completely tender. remove the saucepan from heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.
3 meanwhile, place potatoes in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of cold water. season water with 1/4 cup salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
4 adjust heat as necessary to maintain very gentle simmer and cook for ~20 minutes, until tender enough to purée. drain potatoes in a colander and let them steam until cool enough to peel.
5 heat the cream over low heat in a heavy saucepan; keep warm.
6 in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add one-quarter of the potatoes, top with 1 pieces of butter and one-quarter of the garlic, and purée. repeat with remaining potatoes, butter, and garlic in 3 batches.
7 warm potatoes in saucepan over medium heat. as they heat, whip the cream into potatoes. season to taste with salt and pepper and fold in chives. transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining chives, and top with a dollop of butter.

banana cream pie

banana cream pie 3

thanksgiving has always been one of my family’s favorite holidays.

I was born in the united states to foreign-born parents and raised speaking only english. but as soon as they saw my almond eyes and stubbornly straight black hair, everyone from my teachers to my classmates to the well-meaning grocery cashier would ask, “where are you from? but where are you really from?” though I had never identified as any nationality other than american, the people around me were all-too-ready to remind me that I did not look like them, that I was not one of them.

however, thanksgiving was a chance for us asian-americans to feel just as american as everyone else. we too could partake in the tradition – have our relatives over, eat buttery mashed potatoes and golden turkey. thanksgiving, after all, began as a celebration of the day when native americans welcomed starved, disoriented immigrants onto their soil, and the holiday became for us a sort of safe space, where we could speak in an amalgamation of chinese and english and still be perfectly understood.

some years, our thanksgiving table has had a chinese-style turkey as its centerpiece and chinatown cakes as dessert. other years, we’ve gone full-on traditional, serving up pumpkin and pecan pies, cornbread, and brined roast turkey. for the past few iterations, a new favorite dessert has crept into the mix: a banana cream pie. an all-american dessert atypical for thanksgiving, but perfect for our family gatherings. it’s a refreshing combination of airy whipped frosting, the natural sweetness of bananas, decadent french pastry cream, and a tender flaky crust – a western dessert with asian sensibility. 

looking back on the first thanksgiving, the pilgrims too took unfamiliar new world ingredients and crafted a western meal, roasting a never-before-seen bird and preparing novel vegetables alongside their native american neighbors. I imagine the native americans and the european settlers that would later become americans, two different languages, two different cultures, yet able to create a meal together. and despite all that has changed in the intervening centuries, I think – I hope – that the damage is not irrevocable and the melange of ethnicities in america lessens fear of the unknown, that almond eyes or skin tone or religion do not preclude full claim to the identification of “american”.

banana cream pie 1
makes one 10-inch pie

flaky tart dough
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup (156g) water, very cold
3 cups, 2 tbsp (455g) all-purpose flour
1 cup, 5 tbsp (300g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1-inch pieces
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
pastry cream
2 cups (454g) whole milk
beans scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup, 1 tbsp (115g) sugar
2 large eggs
2-3 tbsp (55g) unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla paste
final touches
2 cup (227g) heavy cream, very cold
2 tbsp sugar
4 ripe bananas sliced horizontally into 1/4-inch rounds
3oz (85g) bittersweet chocolate bar (for curls)

elisabeth m. prueitt and chad robertson. tartine. san francisco: chronicle books, 2006.

flaky tart dough|1 in a small bowl, add salt to water and stir to dissolve. keep very cold until ready to use.
2 place flour in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. mix on low speed until mixture forms large crumbs and pea-sized chunks of butter are visible. add saltwater mixture and at low speed until dough begins to come together but is not completely smooth.
3 on lightly floured work surface, divide dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into 1-inch thick disk. wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours minimum.
4 on lightly floured surface, roll out disk of dough 1/8-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. lift and rotate dough every few rolls, and work quickly before dough becomes warm and sticky. carefully transfer to pie dish/tart pan, pressing gently into the bottom and sides. trim the dough so there is 1/2-inch overhang and fold under.
5 chill shell for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or freeze for up to 2 weeks).
6 preheat oven to 375ºF.
7 line pastry shells with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. bake ~25 minutes until shell is light brown, remove weights and paper, and bake ~5 minutes, until golden brown.
8 let cool completely on wire rack before filling.
9 in a small saucepan, bring water to a simmer. in a heatproof bowl, melt chocolate until smooth. remove from heat.
10 spread chocolate evenly over bottom of pie shell. refrigerate for 10 minutes to set chocolate.
pastry cream|1 set up all ingredients beforehand and have a bowl ready for cooling pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting on the rim.
2 pour milk into heavy saucepan. add salt and sugar. on medium-high heat, bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure milk solids don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
3 in a mixing bowl, beat together eggs and cornstarch until smooth.
4 slowly ladle ~1/3 hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. pour egg-milk mixture back into hot milk in saucepan and continue whisking over medium heat for ~2 minutes, until custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream. stir in vanilla extract. remove from heat and immediately pour through sieve into bowl. let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5 cut butter into 1-tbsp pieces. whisk butter into pastry cream 1 tbsp at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next one.
6 cover cream with plastic wrap, pressing wrap directly on top of cream. refrigerate until cooled. (pastry cream can be stored, well-covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
final touches|1 pour heavy cream into bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment. whip until thickened, add sugar, and continue to whip until cream holds medium-firm peaks.
2 fold ~1/2 cup whipped cream into cold pastry cream. gently fold banana slices into the pastry cream, then transfer pastry cream to pie shell.
3 using a spatula, spread whipped cream on top. to make chocolate flakes, use a chef’s knife to shave chocolate bar at a diagonal. scatter curls over the top of the pie.
4 chill pie until pastry cream is set, ~3 hours. serve pie cool. (pie will keep in fridge for 4 days.)