When I went to sleep last night, I made sure my last thought was “I need a column idea to write about tomorrow.” I find that if I do that, my subconscious works during the night and I wake up with a brilliant topic.
And my subconscious did not disappoint. My first thought when I stirred was a terrific, sure-fire subject. I couldn’t wait to write about it.
Unfortunately, I then turned over and went back to sleep, and when I woke up a second time, all I could remember about it was that it had something to do with getting a haircut.
Apparently, my subconscious is lots smarter than my everyday brain. My waking mind can’t even begin to imagine how I planned to work that topic into something related, however remotely, to food or a recipe. (Though come to think of it, I do need to make an appointment for a haircut.)
So here I am, back at square one, looking for a topic.
Fortunately for me, this column will be appearing in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s, when folks are too busy entertaining their visiting relatives and out-of-school children (or in jail for assaulting them) to read the newspaper. I could probably just type the words to Auld Lang Syne here, and no one would notice.
But fortunately for the loyal few of you who are actually reading this, I can spare you that, as I just remembered that one of the rules of journalism is that all columnists are required to produce “top 10” lists at this time of year.
I’m sure more-prepared journalists know that this week is coming and compile lists during the year, so that they can pull them out, dash out a column in a few minutes and then get back to their preferred activities this week: yelling at their kids, fighting with their spouse and wishing their in-laws would go home already.
But nobody has ever accused me of being a prepared journalist. To fulfill my newspaperly duty, I’m going to have to create a list from scratch today with whatever brain cells are working while I’m awake.
Let’s see. How about top 10 memorable meals of 2016?
For me, this was a terrific year for both travel and eating. I recall delicate French food in St. Martin; remarkable fried fish in Cuba; the world’s best crab cakes in Ocean City, Maryland, as well as steamed crabs at the local VFW and steamed lobsters on Connie’s screened porch in Ocean View, Delaware; a great Peruvian dinner and several other scrumptious meals in Chicago, plus beer and hot dogs at Wrigley Field; awesome and calorific green chili burgers in Santa Fe; and of course our Thanksgiving feast in LA.
I can easily come up with any number of great meals, because apparently all I did this year was eat. But one of my 2016 New Year’s resolutions was to not be one of those irritating people who report on every meal with a Facebook posting or tweet. I’d hate to break it in the last week of the year by bragging even more than I already have about all the fun I had eating meals you didn’t get to share.
So let’s ditch that idea.
“Top 10 food trends” is an old reliable standby. But I’m on deadline and that would require research, as I haven’t been paying much attention this year (except to celebrate the fact that kale seems to on its way back to the compost heap, where it belongs. Now if we can only get quinoa to join it...)
Or I suppose I could kill two birds with one stone, and take the opportunity to draw up my 2017 resolutions under the guise of a top 10 list. But do you seriously want to read that for the 10th year in a row, I am vowing to lose 10 pounds and clean the shed? I didn’t think so.
Oh wait, I’ve got it! The perfect topic. This should be easy. And I’m sure you can help me and fill in the ones I’m missing.
“Top 10 bad ideas for a column”
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
2. Having nothing to write about
3. Braggy tales of how well I eat
4-9 (Your thoughts here)
And the worst column idea of this or any year:
10. “Top 10 lists”
Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine with Star Anise
With winter officially starting and cold weather setting in, I’ve been craving slow-cooked, hearty comfort foods. Luckily, I happened on a sale of short ribs at Whole Foods last week, and was reminded of this recipe, which I first published in this column nearly nine years ago.
I barely remembered it myself, but followed my own instructions and they worked perfectly. I liked this dish just as much as I did the first time I made it, so I am running the recipe again this week in case you failed to clip it in 2008.
3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs
2 star anise pieces
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. oil
2-3 medium onions, diced (about 3 cups)
3 large carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 3/4 cup)
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 bottle red wine
1/2 cup strong coffee or 6-8 coffee beans (optional)
Break one of the star anise pieces in half and grind the half, along with the salt and peppercorns, in a spice grinder. Rub the spices into all sides of the pieces of meat. Set aside for 15-30 minutes or longer to allow the meat to warm to room temperature and the spices to penetrate. (I use the time to chop the vegetables)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Heat a large, ovenproof Dutch oven or other pot over medium-high heat, and add the oil. Brown the meat pieces on all sides. Don’t crowd the pan — do it in batches if necessary. Remove the browned meat pieces to a plate.
Pour off excess oil from the pot, then add the onions, carrots, celery and leek. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another minute.
Place the meat pieces on top of the vegetables and pour in a bottle of red wine and the coffee or coffee beans. Add in the remaining 1 1/2 pieces of star anise. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for a few minutes.
Cover and move the pot to the oven. Cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 2 1/2 hours. While it is cooking, check it occasionally and add water (or additional wine) if the level of liquid drops.
You can serve the dish right away, or cool it overnight and reheat it the next day, which will give it even more flavor. If you cool it, take the opportunity to remove any congealed fat and pull out the bones. Serve with noodles or mashed potatoes to capture the sauce.