Mozart. Music. Flowers & poetry.

It’s Sunday morning, we’ve just gained an hour, and it’s pouring down rain. It’s perfect. The next Dinner at Eight is creeping up and I’ve been testing recipes like it’s nobody’s business (or definitely like it’s my business). I’m very pleased with the creamy chestnut soup, though I haven’t settled on its garnish. The only problem with the soup is that I gave all my friends samples of it and completely forgot to take some to Jill so she can assess an appropriate paIring. So I’ll be making that again today.

Maggie is infusing the vodka with kabocha and acorn squash for her cocktail and Esi just dropped off her first go at the pumpkin bread pudding with bourbon-vanilla sauce. And I have made two, overly massive, rounds of the short-rib stew with mushroom and parsley dumplings. The second one pretty much nailed it. 

Save for the anxiety dream in which I told the guests the wrong date resulting in no one showing up, I think everything is on course.

It seems things are going well in my universe. Things are stable. Work is picking up, I finally caught up on Sons of Anarchy and sleep, and an old, college friend, Frampy, stopped through town for a visit. That was nice. Mostly.

But let’s get back to the stew. And the dumplings. You see, I had never made dumplings before this whole project. I didn’t really know exactly what to expect. The recipe I used is from The Colony Club Cookbook: one of the dozen old school cookbooks I brought back from my recent trip to Richmond. The recipes in this – and many of the cookbooks from this place and time – are very archaic and very, very simple. They are made for people who were already familiar with the techniques and ingredients that they require and also with how the end result should look, feel, smell, and taste. They are short and sweet.

But for someone like me, who is accustomed to Sunday Suppers at Lucques, with recipes that are pages long, these old school cookbooks are so simple that they become complex.

For instance, with this stew (recipe originally from Gloria Brahany), after searing off the short ribs in their flour mixture, I am supposed to combine four cups tomatoes, some garlic and a little Worcestershire, simmer for and hour and a half and pour over ribs. Fresh tomatoes? Canned tomatoes? This is my stock?  No red wine? No chicken or beef stock? The rest of the directions instruct me to add sliced carrot, onion, potato, and simmer for forty-five minutes. Well, that’s hardly enough time to get the veggies all soft and smushy. Where’s the bay leaf? Where’s the thyme? Hell, where’s the salt and pepper?

Apparently the good folks using this cookbook needed only some bare bones, a skeleton off of which they could riff. And it’s true, a basic beef stew is not rocket science. But what’s the point of a cookbook then, right?

So first off the lack of anything except tomato that would create liquid bemused me.  But the tomatoes quickly became a viable stock, if a bit too sweet. And too tomato-y. Also, Maggie thought that we should do mushroom and parsley dumplings rather than just parsley dumplings. Without thinking I followed the recipe for parsley dumplings and did not compensate for the amount of moisture the mushrooms would add. The dumplings fell apart if you merely looked at them too hard.

Okay. Round two. This time I began with marinating the short ribs in red wine, salt and pepper overnight. I then used about half the tomatoes but added two cups of home made chicken stock and a quarter cup of the marinade wine. I doubled the garlic, added a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh sage, a little thyme and a generous amount of salt and pepper. For the dumplings I compensated for the moisture by adding a great deal more flour, less milk and a drop more salt. I also made the dumplings considerably smaller as they poof up twice their original size once they steam up. They still looked weird to me, but after I did some research online, they looked exactly the way they were supposed to. 

Another example of how stripped down the instructions in the cookbook are. There is no description of how things are supposed to turn out.

The fact that I used Lindy Grundy’s meat the second go ‘round also made a world of difference. I would have used theirs the first time but they were closed on the day I needed to get started. Of course, their meat will be used for the stew at the dinner party.

So, in the time it’s taken me to write this, the sun has come out and the sky is clear and bright blue. I’ve still got that extra hour. It’s perfect.

But we are full-on in the throes of Fall and Winter is three weeks away. The holidays are not far off. It’s time for stew.

Short Rib Stew with Mushroom & Parsley Dumplings
(Recipe from Gloria Brahany)

Serves 6

Cut 2 pounds beef short ribs into serving pieces. Marinate in red wine overnight.

Combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 Tablespoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper; dredge ribs in mixture and brown on all sides in 2 Tablespoons hot fat.

Combine ribs with 2 1/2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes, 2 cups chicken or beef stock, 1/4 cup marinade wine, 4 cloves of chopped garlic & 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. 

Add 4 sliced carrots, 2 medium onions, chopped, 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped, 1 bay leaf, a sprig of fresh sage and a teaspoon of thyme. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 2 more hours.

Skim off the fat and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Mushroom & Parsley Dumplings

Sift together 1 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 3 Tablespoons chopped mushrooms. Combine 1/4 cup milk and 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, and add to dry ingredients. Stir just until flour is dampened. 

Form small, large-marble sized balls atop bubbling stew. Cover tightly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat (do not lift cover!) and simmer for 15 minutes longer.

One year ago today: SugarFISH
Two years ago today: Scallops with Wild Mushroom Risotto & Rosé Fonduta

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