Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Bought a Cow

We bought a cow. More specifically, together with three other couples, we bought a whole cow from Evan's parents' friends who raise grass fed beef. Dividing up the cow in quarters, we each got 150 pounds of beef at about $3 per pound. This is a great deal, since grass feed beef typically ranges from $7-8 per pound for ground meat up to $20 something a pound for steak. (I'm not sure if this is a typical price for a cow share, but it happens to be the deal we got.)

Logistically, we cannot all fit our entire shares in our small New York City freezers, so luckily Evan's parents have a freezer large enough to store the rest. For now, our freezer is filled with roasts and short ribs. After the weather warms up, we will switch our focus to the steaks. I'm very excited about the opportunity to cook and eat our way through various kinds of cuts and experiment with different cooking methods.

So far, we've only made a few dishes with the beef, including these short ribs. Short ribs need to be braised over a long time, which makes them a perfect contender for the slow cooker. With all of these polar vortexes, coming home to the smell of hearty beef cooking away in a crock pot has been pretty much perfect. I also think that slow cooked beef and root vegetables is my absolute favorite combination to serve over warm polenta.

The other great thing is that we're going to have a circle of stock for months. Every time we make a roast, we use the bones leftover to make stock, which we can then use to cook the next beef dish, making it all the more flavorful, and so on.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs and Vegetables over Polenta
Short Ribs and Root Vegetables
3 lb short ribs
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vineger
ground pepper
crushed red pepper

2 cups beef stock
2 cups water
1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
1 tsp salt

Brown the ribs in a cast iron pan for about five minutes on each side, just until browned. Place the ribs in a slow cooker. Top with chopped vegetables. Throw in the spices and then pour in the stock, wine and vinegar and try to stir it all together. Add water if needed until liquid reaches just to the top of the vegetables. Cook on high for one hour and then turn to low and cook for another seven hours. The meat is done when it is easily falling off the bone.

About 45 minutes before serving, prepare the polenta. Bring a pot of water to boil. Whisk in the polenta and stir for a couple minutes so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. Turn heat to low and cover. Stir every ten minutes, and cook for 30-40 minutes until it reaches your desired thickness.

When the ribs are done, you have two choices:
The lazy choice is to just ladle food straight from the slow cooker to your plate - plating a rib or two and vegetables and their cooking liquid over a bowl of polenta.

Or you could do what I did, which is to remove the bones and the considerable fat from the short ribs before serving. I used a strainer-ladle to remove the vegetables and meat from the crock pot. I set aside the vegetables in a container in the oven to stay warm. Then I picked through the short ribs to separate out the bones and fat, and to shred the meat into small pieces as you would with pulled pork. Then I combined the shredded meat with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, I poured the cooking liquid into a pot and cooked at medium heat uncovered for about 15 minutes until it was reduced to about a quarter of its original volume. This part is again optional, but it means the liquid to pour over the dish will be more flavorful.

Serve with the rest of the bottle of wine.

To make beef stock afterward
Throw the bones, fat and meat scraps either back into the slow cooker, or into a large pot. Add the vegetable peels from earlier. Pour in any cooking liquid leftover from making the ribs, and enough water to cover the bones and vegetable scraps complete, about 8 cups of water. Cook on low for either 3 hours, if using a pot, or 8 hours if using a slow cooker. Refrigerate. The next day, remove any fat from the top and freeze in 2 or 4 cup increments.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What's with all the waiting in wedding planning?

Another thing people don't tell you about wedding planning is all the waiting. Maybe it's because of getting engaged shortly before Thanksgiving, which was followed by the holidays and meant people were too busy or on vacation, but there has been a lot more waiting on vendors than I'd like. Waiting for caterers to get back to me. Waiting two months to bring my vintage dress options to a tailor. Waiting a month to find out an invitation designer cost more than I hoped. And so on. People ask me how the planning is going, and my response has often been that it's not going anywhere.

For example, it took us a few weeks longer to decide our wedding date than it should have because I wanted to actually hear back on the affordability of the caterers available on that date.

The word I would describe for reaching out to caterers is annoying. They all get back to you at different rates. Some responded right away by ignoring what I asked for and just sending me their standard package. Some responded in what I would consider a normal and considerate fashion. Some were able to give me a general ballpark over the phone when I described what I wanted, and some said they needed two weeks to work it out. Some would call and say they were too busy because of the holidays and we'd have to talk again in another week, when the same thing would happen. Also, having a conversation that should take place over a phone but is instead spaced out one question at a time by one email a week is not an effective way to communicate. I feel obliged to perform and respond so quickly at work and in my fast-paced life that it's hard for me to relate to this. I don't understand how many of these caterers actually book gigs.

One thing I learned about myself in 2013 is that I do not like waiting. I want to come up with a plan and then take action. When given too much time to wait, I just start running in circles. What if the caterer recommended to me is out of my price range? Let me keep looking and reaching out to more caterers - which ended up being a waste of time when I found out a month later that said caterer was extremely affordable. What if the vintage dresses don't work out? Let me look at all the wedding dresses on the internet and try all the dresses in stores on. And so on.

We hired our photographer the same night we met with her after looking at only a few photography websites. Bam. I was so relieved to actually be able to check something off the list without putting way too much thought and time into it like with everything else.

So, I guess the moral is that November and December are bad times to actually start planning weddings. But has anyone else come across these issues regardless of the time of year? Or maybe the moral is that I'm supposed to learn patience, but the waiting is frustrating when one is trying to plan a wedding in seven months.