Red Wine, a Pot and TIme: Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs

It's truly amazing what time and low heat can do to hunks of meat on a bone. Not only do they tenderize, but in a slow-cooker they even caramelize fats and flesh, and intensify flavor. For the cook, beyond the initial browning much of the work is out of her hands. She's free to enjoy her day, or her guests as the case may be.

We had these for dinner on Christmas Day, a day I prefer not to cook or to cook as little as possible. We started with a breakfast of beet-pickled eggs, guava-glazed ham and breads — all prepared or purchased well in advance — for a late breakfast. A lazy day by a roaring fire followed, and an early dinner by the same fire rounded out the day. *yawn* and there was still time for a nap!

With the mushrooms cooked the day before, and the baby corn and green beans cleaned and ready to toss in a stir-fry while the rice is cooking, there was little to do or fuss about once the ribs were in the slow-cooker at 5:45am. Thirty minutes before we sat for dinner, the rice was washed and the cooker turned on (the sous chef's job); the mushrooms were re-warmed; the wok was pre-heated and veggies tossed in; the third glass of bubbly was poured for the cook; and before you know it, dinner was served. We took a vote (it was 2-0) and decided we wanted plain white rice with this, but mashed or roast potatoes, or buttered egg noodles are more traditional accompaniments.

Save your knives, you won't need them — these ribs emerge fork-tender and oh-so-succulent in their own juices. And rich, very rich. A little goes a long way.

Serves 4 persons

For the Mushrooms:
2-3 lbs of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
(pictured here are 1 lb. cremini, 8 oz. white button, and 8 oz. oyster mushrooms sauteed together
and 1 lb king oyster mushrooms sliced lengthwise and simply browned in unsalted butter)
4 oz/ unsalted butter, sliced into small pats
2 TBL dry sherry
sea salt
black pepper (optional)

You can prepare the mushrooms in advance and keep refrigerated until 30 minutes before the ribs are cooked, then re-heat in the microwave. Or begin mushrooms half an hour before the ribs are ready.

Heatt wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced mushrooms to dry pan, and allow mushrooms to brown and exude their liquid, about 5-6 minutes. Add pats of butter and sherry to skillet and allow to coat mushrooms. Season lightly. Refrigerate until needed or proceed with recipe.

For the Braise:
5 1/2 lbs (2.5kg) beef short ribs
sea salt and black pepper
4-6 TBL olive oil, 2 TBLs at a time
2 medium onions, sliced in 1/4 inch strips
3-4 bay leaves
1 TBL black peppercorns
cloves from 1 head of garlic, peeled and halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 finger of ginger, peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups (474ml) Cabernet or other dry red wine
1 cup (240ml) low-salt beef broth

Trim ribs of fat and excess silverskin. Pat dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and ground pepper.

Drizzle first 2 TBL of oil on bottom of slow cooker. Add onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, carrots, parsnips and ginger. Cover, set heat setting to LOW.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium high heat, then add 2 TBL of oil. Place ribs — meat side down — in skillet, about 2-3 ribs at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Allow to brown well, about 5-7 minutes without fussing with them. When the ribs release easily from the pan, they are sufficiently browned and ready to turn. Turn each rib to brown another meaty side, and again leave for 3-4 minutes to brown new side. Repeat with third meaty side. As each rib finishes browning, remove from skillet and add to slow cooker, bone side down.

When all of the first batch of ribs is browned, add 1 cup of wine to the skillet, and using a wooden spoon, gently loosen the browned bits from skillet. Add the deglazing liquid to the slow cooker.

To brown each remaining batch of ribs, quickly rinse the skillet under cool water (no soap), dry and return skillet to medium high heat. Add another 2 TBL oil and repeat browning of ribs.

If 3 batches are required to brown all the ribs, use the beef broth to de-glaze the third batch. Otherwise, add beef broth to the slow cooker after the second batch.

Set timer for 4 hours. Come back in 4 hours and turn ribs over. Set timer again for 3 hours, and check again when timer rings. Meat should be fork tender and ready to slip off the bone; if not ready, allow to cook 40 minutes to 1 hour longer. (We prefer to keep the meat on the bone, but you can remove the bone now for easier eating — try to keep the meat from each rib in one piece.)

Also, if you intend to serve this with mashed potatoes or noodles and would like to keep the jus to serve over the potatoes, just strain the liquid and correct the seasoning — skip the reduction completely. If the strained jus is a bit salty for your taste, add 1tsp of balsamic or sherry vinegar to the jus and heat it to a simmer. Taste again to see if the balance is more to your liking (small quantities of vinegar help to reduce saltiness, and using mild ones such as balsamic or sherry tend not leave a vinegar flavor).

To reduce and glaze:
2-3 TBL balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper, if necessary

Remove ribs to a platter. Strain remaining liquid into a wide sauce pan, and discard solids. Return ribs to slow cooker set on WARM, or keep warm in oven while you finish the glaze. Place saucepan on the stove over medium high heat and bring to a boil. When sauce is reduced by half, add vinegar and continue reducing until the sauce takes on a shine and just starts to become syrupy, then immediately remove from heat. Sauce will continue to thicken in the pan. Taste and correct seasoning.

To plate, place 1/4 mushrooms on individual plate. Top with 2-3 short ribs, and drizzle wine glaze over meat and mushrooms. Serve with your favorite vegetables, and mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. Or rice.


Tequila & Calamansi Marinated Flank Steak

(Click on logo to learn more about the Buy Local campaign on the CTAHR site)

Among the many local produce and products that surprised us when we moved to Hawaii, local grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef was one of the best. With all the concern about the chemicals and pharmaceuticals that are pumped into commercially produced meats in the U.S., it is such a relief to find high quality beef raised right here in the Islands.

Truth to tell, we were introduced first to Big Island beef on a visit there. We had heard that beef was raised on Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii, but we didn’t see it on market shelves. The only retail source seemed to be the Saturday Farmers’ Market near Diamond Head — and we had only been there once (it’s a long haul from where we live). Anyway, on our second visit to the Big Island, we chanced upon a loco moco (rice topped with beef patty and egg, smothered in brown gravy...mmmm) that was made with Big Island grass-fed beef patties. OMG! The difference in flavor between beef we had known and grass-fed beef is the difference between fresh tuna and canned tuna — seriously, it is that much of a difference!

We actually hand-carried several pounds of steaks and ground beef back to Oahu from that trip! Now that we were converted, we started looking more intently for grass-fed beef on Oahu, too. Happily we finally found a retail source closer to home — Tamura’s Market in Wahiawa carries Oahu’s
North Shore Cattle Company grass-fed beef. A closer inspection of the frozen meat section of other retailers uncovered Big Island-produced Kulana Foods (couldn’t find a URL for them) grass-fed beef at the Kokua Market co-op near the University.

Why local beef? If the incredible flavor is not enough to win you over, consider the health benefits as well. Hawaii’s local beef is leaner per pound, so less fat ends up on your plate and hips. And the cattle are not given hormones or antibiotics — both of which are absorbed and stored in the body.

Lastly, Oahu-produced North Shore beef is not treated with carbon monoxide (aka “tasteless smoke”) — a color preservative used to keep meats and fish artificially “red” and “fresh-looking.” Carbon monoxide is intended to make meats look fresh and safe to eat long after some of the most harmful bacteria making the news today may be present, including Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E-coli 0157:H7. It’s one of the reasons the use of carbon monoxide for meats and seafood is banned in the European Union, Japan, Canada and Singapore (read full article here).

We received confirmation from North Shore Cattle Co. that they do not use carbon monoxide, and from what I remember of the Big Island beef, it does not look like it is treated either (if someone knows for sure, please comment or email us). So let’s support local island producers who provide such high-quality additve-free meats. How can you tell whether carbon monoxide is used? The treated meat or fish (sadly, carbon monoxide is used a lot in ahi too) is bright mauve-red or cherry-red. Still unsure? Ask the butcher!

OK, enough of the blah, blah, blah...
where’s the beef?!

We recently grilled a Tequila and Calamansi Marinated Flank Steak made with North Shore beef and it was out of this world. The first thing I noticed about the flank steak when I took it out of the package is that it was so beautifully trimmed — very little to no “silverskin” (that thin membrane that surrounds the tissue in flank steak that will cause it to shrink and curl on itself when cooked). Also, flank is a notoriously “un-tender” piece of beef that requires either long marination and/or cutting across the grain to break it down to palatable chewiness, and so we did both. But when the meat was sliced after grilling, we marveled at how easily the meat cut compared to other flanks — it was smooth and tender. In fact, at the table we ended up cutting our beef with a fork instead a knife!

Whether or not you can find grass-fed beef, this marinade will put some sizzle into your next grill. Calamansi is a lime native to southeast Asia with a very distinct and addictive flavor that marries especially well with beef (learn more). In this marinade, calamansi and tequila not only infuse the steak with loads of rich flavor, they help tenderize it too. We are sending this, too, to Sig at Live to Eat, our host for the “Grill It!” Monthly Mingle begun by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey. Although we didn’t serve them together this time, this steak would pair well with our other entry for the “Grill It!” event, the Guam-style Grilled Eggplant Salad with Coconut Milk.

This should serve 4-5 people

(Marinate one day before grilling)
1-1.25 lb (455-570g) flank steak
3-5 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
1 oz. (30 ml or 2 TBL.) tequila
1/4 cup (60ml) fresh calamansi juice
1 tsp. soy sauce, preferably Kikkoman
1/2 tsp. sea salt (omit if using Aloha shoyu)
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Remove silverskin from flank steak, if necessary.

Cut small slits across the grain on one side of steak. Insert slivers of garlic in each slit. Lay steak in glass or other non-metallic pan, or use a large recloseable plastic bag.

Combine remaining ingredients, and pour over steak. Refrigerate ovenight.

The next day, prepare your grill for direct heat cooking.

Remove steak from fridge while grill is pre-heating. Take steak out of marinade and pat dry. Just before steak goes on the grill, sprinkle with sea salt, preferably alaea sea salt (red clay salt).

Grill over high heat to desired doneness. Allow steak to rest for 5 minutes before cutting. Slice across the grain to serve. We served this with Salsa Rice and sauteed peppers and red onions.

You can see the marinated and cooked garlic slivers
still embedded in the steak slices (we arm wrestle for these pieces!)

Other Island Fresh explored produce on this site: Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Eggplant, Corn, and Choi Sum

See also
Calamansi Margarita


Table-top Cooking: Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki: Tabletop cooking at its finest

As promised, the second part of the Table-top Cooking series features the ever-popular Sukiyaki. Like teppan-yaki style grilling (BBQ pork and bun post), there's no reason this entertaining communal style of dining has to be regulated to exotic evenings out at a Japanese restaurant. With the small investment of a single burner butane stove ($15-30, depending on your neighborhood), a few butane cartridges ($1-3 a piece), and some basic cookware, you can create this meal any time at home. A suitable pan for sukiyaki is one that is relatively low-brimmed and wide, with no long handles -- in this photo, we are using a paella-style pan.

Sukiyaki (SKI-yah-ki) is simply a braised meat and vegetable "stew" featuring thin-sliced beef, tofu, negi (Japanese leeks), enoki and shiitake mushrooms, spinach or shingiku (chrysanthemum leaves), and shirataki (yam noodles. a form of konnyaku). Traditionally, sukiyaki was a winter meal cooked over a charcoal brazier built in to a table. The brazier served both to warm the room and the diners, as well as to cook the meal. Usually one person is in charge of keeping the pot full and evenly cooked, and the other diners select cooked pieces from the bubbling pot to put first into an individual serving bowl. Often each diner has a second smaller bowl with a beaten raw egg in it
- the hot pieces of meat and vegetables are dipped into the beaten egg before being eaten with rice. The beaten egg serves 2 purposes, first to cool the hot food coming directly from the fire; second, to envelop each bite in a silken robe of deliciousness that (for me) is the signature of sukiyaki. The egg, however, is completely optional and, of course, should not be consumed by anyone with a compromised immune system, very young children, or pregnant persons. Use only the freshest eggs available, carefully washing each egg in a solution of 2 TBL. white vinegar in 1 quart/liter of water.

Sukiyaki is more a method than a recipe, like the Way to Cook. Besides cleaning and prepping all the ingredients, the only thing requiring a recipe is the braising sauce in which all the ingredients are cooked. Because the ingredients may be a little strange to most people, a brief description and tips for prepping each are included below. If some ingredients are not available to you, suggestions for substitutions are included.

Rinsed and drained shirataki
SHIRATAKI: A form of konnyaku, shaped as "noodles"; konnyaku is a gelatin-like product made from the root of the "devil's tongue plant," a relative of the sweet potato. Konnyaku and shirataki have been gaining ground in Western kitchens as health and diet food because they have virtually no calories, and are flavorless on their own so will absorb the flavors of whatever medium they are cooked in. Konnyaku (and shirataki) is also recognized for its ability to rid the body of toxins -- in Japan, it is known as "the broom of the body" as it contains a dietary fiber that is indigestible yet gentle to the stomach and intestines, sweeping away undigested food and other sediment on its journey through the system. Both shirataki and konnyaku come in white and brown varieties; since it is flavorless, choice is a matter of your aesthetic, but the white form is more often used. Shirataki has a definite gelatinous quality imagine if you could cut jello into strips and pick them up with chopsticks and some people balk at this texture. Think of them as noodles, though, and they may be less objectionable. Remove from package and rinse well under running water and drain. Cut into roughly 3" lengths.
Substitutions: really, only konnyaku, which is in block form, is a substitute; you can slice it lengthwise into a noodle-like shape, or try the decorative style used in another Japanese classic, Oden or Kombu (
directions here). Konnyaku and shirataki are always kept in the chilled section of your market -- on Oahu, virtually every grocery store carries it. Because of its new-found popularity, you may be able to find konnyaku, if not shirataki, in a health food store if you don't have a well-stocked Oriental market nearby.

Japanese leeks, Negi

NEGI: Japanese leek, has a sharper flavor and firmer texture than the more familiar leek. Rinse whole leek, especially the root ends, then begin slicing on a sharp diagonal up to the light green tips. Fill a large non-reactive container with a solution of 1 TBL. white vinegar for every 1 quart/liter of water used, and place sliced leeks in this solution. Swish around gently, then let sit for about one minute. Swish again, then gently lift out all the leeks and place in a colander. Rinse well with running water and drain well. (Use this method for cleaning regular leeks as well). Substitutions: regular leeks (if neither is available, thinly sliced yellow onions may be used)

Dried shiitake
SHIITAKE: Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, see Braised Mushroom post for how-to prepare. Substitutions: any earthy fresh mushroom might work, shiitake, portobella, cremini, even oyster.

Enoki mushrooms
ENOKI MUSHROOM: Fresh tendril-like enoki are another sponge-like ingredient that readily absorbs the braising sauce. To prepare, rinse gently under running water and pat dry. Substitutions: shimeji mushrooms or leave out all together.

TOFU: Firm or extra-firm plain tofu found in the chilled area of the grocery/health store. To prepare, remove and drain, then wrap tightly in a clean kitchen towel and place in a container with a heavy dish pressing on the tofu (you're trying to extract as mush water as possible from the tofu). Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove toweling, and cut tofu into 1.5" (8cm) blocks. Tofu is a sponge for flavor, and the savory broth and braising liquid in sukiyaki makes bland tofu quite delicious and meaty-tasting.

When cleaned and prepped, assemble these ingredients in a large platter.

Thin sliced beef for sukiyaki
BEEF: Paper-thin slices of very lean beef are traditionally used. In Japan, as in most Asian cultures, meat is used as a flavoring agent rather than a focus of a meal. Therefore, 1/2lb. (250g) is enough for 4 persons. Almost every grocery on Oahu carries sukiyaki-sliced beef (it's actually labelled that way), but I've found the leanest and thinnest slices from Star Market. Elsewhere, Vietnamese and Korean markets have similarly sliced cuts. If you don't have an Asian butcher in the vicinity, ask your butcher to slice a round roast into paper-thin slices (about the thickness of deli-meats). Substitutions: maybe pork or chicken (haven't tried it). Place meat on a separate platter.

Spinach and watercress
GREENS: Spinach and/or Shingiku are the traditional greens used. See
Gai Choy post for cleaning and prepping leafy greens. This photo shows spinach and watercress. Substitutions: any quick-cooking leafy green or combination of greens. Place drained greens in a large bowl.

In Japan, diners begin their meal with a saying that is part exclamation, part blessing, "Itadakimasu!" (EE-tah-dah-kee-mas'). There is no direct English translation, but it is an older expression meaning, "I will receive" and is said to express the diners' thankfulness for the food about to be consumed
gratitude not only for the actual food, but also for the sacrifices and hard work (in the farm, field and kitchen) that produced the meal. I hope this meal will inspire a mood of both celebration and thankfulness at your table too!

(for 4 persons)

Prepare the braising sauce:
1 packet instant dashi no moto (dashi broth)
3 cups hot water
TBL. brown sugar
6 TBL. soy sauce
6 TBL. mirin
3 TBL. sake

In a small sauce pan, dissolve dashi no moto in hot water, then add sugar to blend completely. Add soy, mirin and sake, stir to blend. Set aside to cool while preparing vegetables (see above) and plating meat (see above). When ready to begin, put braising sauce in a pitcher-like container for easy pouring at the table. You can keep refilling the small table-side pitcher as needed from the sauce pan.
Setting the table for sukiyaki

To set the table:
Place butane stove and pan at center of table, closest to the designated cook. Each diner will need a rice bowl, a wide shallow bowl for their individual serving, a smaller cup-like bowl for the beaten egg (if using), and chopsticks. The cook will need to have close at hand:
long chopsticks or tongs
the assembled ingredients
the braising sauce
cooking oil (only at the start of the cooking)
a tall cold drink (this is going to be hot work, tending the pot and watching everyone else eat!)

To begin, pre-heat the pan over a medium fire then add a scant 2
TBL. olive oil and 3-4 slices of beef, and allow to brown very well. It's okay if the meat sticks slightly to the pan, but don't let it burn. Those browned bits are an important flavor base for your sauce. Once the meat has browned, add 1/3 of the negi (leeks), 3-4 more slices of beef, and enough braising sauce to come up about half way up the ingredients in the pan. Now add small handfuls of each of the other ingredients to the pan and keep the braising liquid simmering you'll have to turn the heat up as you add ingredients and sauce, then back down as things get cooked. Try to keep similar ingredients together, both for aesthetic reasons and to help the diners locate what they're hungry for next! When adding more raw meat to the mix, I try to push all the fully cooked ingredients to the other end of the pan, as far away as possible.
Starting sukiyaki

To eat, the cook can either serve each person a portion of all the cooked bits in their individual serving bowls, or the diners can fill their own bowls with what they like. A note about etiquette at the sukiyaki table: diners should not dip their chopsticks into the sauce, or touch food that they do not put into their own bowl (i.e., don't use your chopsticks to move food around in the pan). One way around this is to have a set of serving chopsticks or tongs to allow diners to choose foods from the pan, or allow the chef to use the cooking 'sticks to fill bowls. Of course, when it's just family, who's gonna tell on you, right? : ) From their individual bowls, diners can then dip each mouthful in a beaten egg, and savor.

Aahhh, sukiyaki in the comfort of your own home. "Itadakimasu," indeed!



I"ve received a couple of emails about the use of udon noodles with sukiyaki. We always added cooked udon noodles at the very end of cooking, after most of the diners were sated and the last of the ingredients were fully cooked in the pan. The noodles sit in the braising liquid overnight in the refrigerator and fully absorb all the flavors of the pan by morning. You will have a wonderful breakfast or bento once re-heated fully in a microwave or by returning the pan to the fire. I always understood using udon as a way of not wasting the flavor-laden sauce at the end. I suppose you could include udon earlier in the process as well, and enjoy it as a substitute for, or in addition to, plain rice. Thanks to Debi and to Karl for your questions!


Soutzoukakia (try saying that 10x fast!)

Earlier this week I had ground pork and beef out and was debating whether to go "loaf" or "ball." Italian flavors? Maybe Thai? How about Greek? I was leaning toward a feta/spinach flavor combination which is sort of Greek, so I thought of looking at Laurie's Mediterranean cooking site, Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, for other ways to go. Wouldn't you know it, her latest post was for Soutzoukakia (soo-tsoo-kah-kee-ah), a hand-formed sausage made from ground pork and beef, and simmered in a red wine sauce. I'm pre-disposed to like anything long-simmered in a red wine sauce, so this was a no-brainer. It also allowed me to play with Aleppo pepper again since both the meat "balls" and sauce had this special pepper. After tracking down this spice for 2 years, I finally happened upon it at The Souk spice store at Pike Place Market in Seattle last January. The Plasto recipe that we had last week also called for Aleppo pepper, but it's flavor was not as pronounced as it was this time. It's a very flavorful and mild heat that reminded me of Spanish hot pimenton.

The recipe calls for the meats and spices to be combined, then formed into football-shaped "sausages" and browned before being added to the simmering red wine tomato sauce. It comes together fairly quickly, and the house was redolent with a rich meaty smell that T commented on as soon as he stepped through the door. We served this as recommended, with feta (I still got my cheese fix!) and kalamata olives; but skipped the rice in favor of fresh-garlic bruschetta to sop up the wonderful sauce and to ensure we got our garlic dose for the day. The cumin and pepper really differentiate this from its Italian cousin, as does the surprise addition of red wine vinegar. This is another one for the keeper files. Here is Laurie's Soutzoukakia recipe on her site. I used only half the given quantity for the sausages (11 palm-sized footballs), and shaped the rest as meatballs, fried them, and immediately froze them for future use (maybe with grilled polenta?).

1 loaf of French bread or a baguette
2-3 large cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
olive oil

Halve loaf or baguette lengthwise. Toast or broil until just golden brown. Immediately rub garlic cloves over all cut surfaces of the loaves. Drizzle with olive oil. Great with any dish with a sauce, especially these Soutzoukakia, but also
Crab Cioppino, Crawfish Etouffe, Chicken Barbera, and Stuffed Cabbage.

We only ate half the sausages for dinner so there were these tempting ground meat things swimming in delicious gravy in the fridge the next morning. You know what that means, don't you? Loco-moco, of course! For the yet-to-be-initiated, loco-moco is an Hawaiian breakfast favorite consisting of a bed of rice topped with a meat patty and fried egg, and covered in brown gravy! We christened this version . . . you guessed it
the Soutzou-moco! (You heard it here first, Folks!)