Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer again, and beef cheeks in a chocolate-wine sauce


Shopped at Hess Farms and managed to score the gorgeous fruits and vegetables seen above (down PA 316 between Stitely and Poe Road--drive on Wayne Avenue past Giant, past the new Sheetz gas station, past the intersection between Wayne and New Franklin Road till you see their sign). 

The zucchini and broccoli were turned into a chop suey with prawns; the strawberries were insanely sweet, far more flavorsome than anything from a supermarket; the shortcake was for cutting into chunks, to be layered with sliced berries and whipped cream (as if! The fruit was gone before the day was done). 

The kale I had plans for, plans involving this. Can you guess where I bought it?
Walmart. I know--can't believe it myself. Took a look at the label, thought about it, bought four (two pounds each) packages. So what if I hadn't the slightest idea how to cook them? That's what the internet's for.

Found this recipe, seemed simple enough. Took only forever to trim the excess fat (got two quarts worth of the pink-white stuff sitting in my freezer, wondering what I can do with em). Browned the cheeks in Big Belly, my trusty Dutch oven; poured four tablespoons (doubling the recipe, as I had twice the meat) not of olive oil but of duck fat (leftover from a previous weekend's cooking session, which I hope to post some time), put them aside. Found two onions, and two celery sticks,  a whole bag of old carrots in the fridge, sprouting tendrils--less-than-fresh produce? Celery slightly limp, leaves wilted? Use em; use em all. It's a braise, not a salad--no one's going to care.

The recipe called for 'chopped fine.' Understood the rationale--the carrots, onions and celery were supposed to break down into a thick sauce for the cheeks--but didn't have the time to do anything 'fine;' did a quick chop and tossed everything in to cook on medium low, ten minutes.

Spooned in a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa (double measures, remember?)--thought about it, thought about it, thought about it; what the heck--spooned in a tablespoon more plus a tablespoon of powdered hot cocoa, caramel-flavored. You only live once.

Poured a cup of burgundy; remembered it was double measures, tried to pour more, ran out. Made up the difference with water (don't think anyone noticed). Recipe asked for a twenty-eight ounce can of chopped tomatoes (fifty-six ounces double measure; all I could muster up was a fourteen ounce can and some of the 'maters above, quick-chopped (glad now I threw in the extra cocoa). 

Boiled on high till reduced to half. Stuck Big Belly in the regular oven at 325 degrees for an hour and a half; pulled it out, stirred and tasted and flipped the meat, stuck it back in the oven for another hour and a half. 

The results is as you see below: meat so soft when pressed with a wooden spoon it yielded, as if it had totally given up any ambitions of being a cheek--arguably the toughest muscle on a cow, being asked to chew grass all day--and decided to be an overripe peach instead--yes, that soft. As if the cheeks after spending three hours in a cocoa-and-wine sauna had raised their hands and said: "We surrender! We offer no resistance whatsoever monsieur; you may do with us as you please." 

Swimming in a sauce (the onions and celery had vanished, only carrots were left) that smelled of chocolate and burgundy, and poured like hot fudge.  

And the flavors--the deepest, earthiest beefiest cow flesh you can imagine, the chocolate accentuating the earthiness, the tart wine  providing (slight) contrast, the carrot (and caramel cocoa) blessing the whole with just a touch of sweetness. 

Almost forgot the kale--had them rough-chopped, then threw together a dressing made of olive oil, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper, and apple cider vinegar. Nice palate cleanser for this homey earthy luxuriant goose-down pillow of a comfort dish. 

And afterwards? Oh, a food coma, easy. Perfect on a Sunday afternoon.

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