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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, the Oxtail Soup is in the Freezer

We don't see our older son, Frank, as often as we'd like. He's started a new job and moved across town to West Hollywood so it isn't easy to coordinate our busy schedules. We miss our time together, especially the chance to have a meal and catch up. As a parent, one of my pleasures is cooking for the boys. Since Frank can't always come to us, we've worked out a way that the food can get to him.

When my mom moved back to California from Costa Rica, she didn't enjoy cooking any longer. Her apartment had a full kitchen but she pretty much survived on microwaved food. When she came to our house, we'd make her home-cooked meals but that wasn't often enough, only once every several months. In time we came up with a plan. Whenever we'd visit her, we'd fill her freezer with food I'd prepared so she'd have home-cooked meals whenever she wanted. Frank gets the benefit of that well-rehearsed system. As often as possible I try to do the same for him.

When he was growing up one of his favorite dishes was oxtail soup. Since his birthday is tomorrow, I thought that would be a nice addition to his freezer.

Oxtail Soup

Foods freeze well when a liquid coats the surface. Meat rubbed with olive oil survives freezing without any damage. Soups and stews do well because the food bits are submerged in liquid. The oxtail meat is succulent, but it takes several hours of braising to coax out all of its considerable flavor.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 4 hours + overnight in the refrigerator

Ingredients

2 pounds oxtails (washed)
4 carrots (washed, ends trimmed, peeled, cut into 1" rounds)
8 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 medium yellow onions (peeled, ends trimmed, roughly chopped)
1 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
30 whole peppercorns
2 cups mushrooms (washed, sliced) portabella, shiitake, or brown
2 medium tomatoes (washed)
3 ounces tomato paste (preferably an Italian brand like Cento)
1/4 pound green beans (ends trimmed, cut into 2" lengths)
1 small bunch spinach (ends trimmed, washed thoroughly, roughly chopped)
2 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, cut into 2" lengths or kernels removed from the cob)
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or piece of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove, let cool, pull off the skin, and roughly chop. In a large dutch oven brown the oxtails with olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, remove from the pan, pour off the excess fat and lightly brown 2 carrots, 1 chopped onion, 4 garlic cloves, the Italian parsley, 20 whole peppercorns, and 1 cup of the mushroom slices. Return the oxtails to the pan along with the chopped roasted tomatoes and 8 cups of water. Cover and simmer for 3 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.

Remove the oxtails from the liquid, let cool, remove the meat and discard the bones. Strain out the cooked vegetables and discard. Return the meat to the liquid and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning skim off and discard the fat. Lightly brown the remaining vegetables with olive oil and the 10 whole peppercorns. Add the meat and soup, stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt. Serve with a fresh baguette, a plate of plain pasta or a mashed potato, and a salad.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Flowers, Flowers Everywhere

When I shop at farmers' markets I'm focused on the task at hand. I'm on the hunt for the freshest and finest produce in the market. I'm thinking about what I'm going to cook that night. I have my list. If I bump into a friend I'll talk for a minute or two, but mostly when I'm at the market I'm there to 'take care of business'.

For my wife, Michelle, the market is a very different experience. The visuals of the market are almost as important to her as what we buy to eat. While I'm comparing the price and quality of heirloom tomatoes, Michelle looks at the flowers. She knows well that the farmers' market is the best source of affordable freshly cut flowers.

On Sunday we have our routine: we walk counter-clockwise around the Palisades market so she can look at the wild roses, the day-glo dahlias, the bright yellow sunflowers, and when they're in season the delicate sweet peas and fragrant lilacs.

This past Sunday Michelle was out of town. Because I missed her, I took the time to look at the flowers. They really are as colorful and vital as she says. Next Sunday she'll be home and we can take our counter-clockwise tour of the market as always. I expect that I'll take a break from my shopping to enjoy the flowers with her.