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Today: Amanda shows us how to make a super-easy 2-course dinner classic -- start planning your party now!
My friend Veronica is Italian, and her husband, Stefan, is French, which means it's impossible to have a bad meal in their house. This is one of many reasons we like to visit. A few weeks ago, they invited us for a weeknight dinner party (the gold standard of brave dinner party hosting, in my view; shows you're truly confident and relaxed), and Stefan cooked.
Except that he didn't look sweaty and tattered like I do when I cook. No, no. He wore a pressed dress shirt and joined everyone for cocktails, disappearing just at the very end to check on matters in the kitchen.
When dinner was ready, we were each served a bowl of golden broth with absolutely nothing in it -- the traditional first course of pot-au-feu. And it was intense brothy goodness. Next up came the beef and vegetables that had cooked in and flavored the broth. Having simmered for a long time, they were slouchy and plain looking, belying their deep flavor. Stefan served them with dishes of whole-grain mustard, cornichons, coarse salt, and baguettes. Lots of passing and dressing of plates ensued -- the perfect social dinner party food. And all of it was prepared a day in advance.
Afterward, we had apple tart, and that was it. A simple braise -- broth, meat and vegetables--and a classic dessert. No need for hors d'oeurves or sides. Low-maintenance pot-au-feu won me over.
When I made the pot-au-feu at home, I followed -- well, sort of -- Judy Rodger's recipe in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. She has you salt the short ribs a day in advance, and blanch them before braising, two steps I was tempted to skip. But don't: they're worth it, as the short ribs turn out well-seasoned and exceptionally silky. I messed around with the broth, adding star anise (avert your eyes, Stefan!) and swapping out rutabaga for potatoes (you're welcome!). Rodgers has you blend whole-grain mustard with a little of the cooking broth, some vinegar, and walnut oil, making more of a dressing for the beef and vegetables. The dressing's tang is lovely with the fatty short ribs, but you can also just serve the second course with plain mustard. She calls for cornichons; go with whatever pickles you like. Just don't start adding other condiments -- it's not a circus.
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Serves 4 to 6
4 pounds short ribs
3 quarts chicken or beef stock
2 small yellow onions, peeled and halved
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
A few black peppercorns, barely cracked
1 whole star anise
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large carrots
2 medium leeks, light green and white parts quartered lengthwise
3 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium white turnips, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon broth from pot-au-feu
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 to 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon walnut oil (optional)
Salt and freshly cracked ground pepper
Photos by James Ransom