Comfort Food with a “Wow” Factor


When the bottles of wine outnumber your guests, expect to do a lot of cleaning up after the party or to have more leftover wine than you know what to do with. Luckily in my case, it was the latter.  My friends and I had a wine tasting and we needed to have enough of a selection to compare and contrast the wines. We settled on six bottles of red with two bottles of sparkling wine to enjoy before the tasting.

I am in no way a wine connoisseur. I know what I like and why I like it. That is about it. We kept the tasting simple by choosing different varietals of reds, and since none of us were wine experts everyone felt comfortable speaking his or her mind without any judgement. At a minimum, it made for some funny discussions.

At the end of the night, we had varying amounts of wine left over in five of the bottles. We polished off the Carménère from Terra Andina—the hands down favorite for the evening. In exchange for providing the hors d’ oeuvres, I had previously called dibs on the remaining wine.  Once everyone left, I greedily rounded up the bottles as I fantasized about succulent braised short ribs.

Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine is a comforting dish to curl up with at home for the night after. You can roll out of bed around 1pm, pull this together and have it cook for the rest of the day until you are ready for dinner. These short ribs are traditionally slow cooked in the oven, but after using the oven twice I switched to a slow cooker so that I would not be stuck in the house for the rest of the day. One time I cooked it in the oven late at night and had to stay up past 2am on a weekday waiting for the ribs to finish. Images of the beef bourguignon scene from “Julie and Julia” were swimming through my head to keep me awake.

My favorite part about this dish is that it also has a “wow” factor for special occasions. Every guest I serve it to is impressed with the taste and tenderness of the short ribs. I buy long cuts of ribs for presentation, and it is always a challenge to keep the pieces intact when I pull them out to serve. They really do just fall off the bone! It is perfect for entertaining because the ribs taste better three days after its cooked. That means you can prepare it over the weekend and host a fabulous three-course meal with salad, potatoes and ice cream mid-week. Toss some walnuts and gorgonzola into the salad, spruce up roasted or mashed potatoes with parsley and chives, and top vanilla ice cream with caramelized apples, and I guarantee jaws will drop. No one has to know that it only took you an hour to prep the night of the dinner.

Whether it is an elegant dinner party or just you channel surfing on the couch, this dish will give you the warm fuzzies of home. Its heartiness can be attributed to the bay leaves in the dish. Bay leaves are sweetly aromatic with a woody and mildly bitter taste. Make sure to only use 2 – 3 leaves because it also has a note of eucalyptus. Too many bay leaves will make your ribs taste like halls menthol without the vapor action.

Bay leaves can stand up to long cooking such as in braised dishes, stews, stock and broths. It goes well with meats and is perfectly paired with parsley and thyme. This dish uses all three of these herbs, which are the traditional contents of a bouquet garni. When I need to save time, I do not bother with tying the herbs together. Instead I chop up the fresh parsley, crush dried thyme by rubbing it between my fingers and toss in the bay leaves.

Even though it is hard to discern the taste of the bay leaves in a dish, it adds a hearty home-style cooking component just as adding a few tablespoons of white wine to a dish creates a complexity that you cannot quite put your finger on. So the next time you nurse a hangover by making a stew or soup, toss in a few bay leaves and make extra for your next dinner party.

Short Ribs Braised in Red Wine

3 bottles red wine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and crushed black peppercorns
Flour, for dredging
8 large shallots, peeled, trimmed, split, rinsed and dried
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 ribs of celery, peeled, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 medium-sized leek (white and light-green parts), coarsely chopped, washed and dried
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart beef broth

Pour the wine into a large saucepan set over medium heat. When the wine is hot, carefully set it aflame. Let the flames die out, add the sugar and increase the heat so that the wine boils. Allow it to boil until it cooks down by half. Remove from the heat.

Warm the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Season the ribs all over with salt and pepper. Dust half of the ribs with about 1 tablespoon flour. Then, when the oil is hot, slip the ribs into the pot and sear 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until well-browned.

Transfer the ribs to a plate. Repeat with remaining ribs. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pot, lower the heat under the pot to medium and toss in the vegetables and herbs. Brown the vegetables lightly, 5 to 7 minutes, then stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Transfer the ribs and vegetables to a slow cooker. Add the wine, ribs and broth and cook on high for 4 hours. (Alternatively, place in a 350°F oven and braise in an ovenproof pot for 2 1/2 hours or until the ribs are very tender.)

Carefully transfer the meat to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Boil the pan liquid until it has reduced by 1/3. Season with salt and pepper.

Adapted from the Café Boulud Cookbook
by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan

Hazel’s notes:
I am particularly fond of the All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker sold at Williams-Sonoma. The non-stick cast-aluminum insert can be used on the stove top to brown ingredients, saving me from washing an extra pot.
If you braise the ribs in the oven, I highly recommend the Le Creuset dutch oven. Made of enameled cast-iron, it retains and distributes heat well.
When you are not making this to use up extra red wine use red Zinfandel, which adds a complex sweetness to the dish.
The ribs are served with a parsley chive mashed potato in the photo above.
In a pinch, you can replace the leeks with yellow onions.

I use the leftover sauce (approximately 2 cups) from this dish to make a quick mushroom stroganoff:

Mushroom Stroganoff

2 cups sauce from the braised short ribs recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
1 package egg noodles

Cook the egg noodles according to the package instructions and set aside.

Warm the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until it is translucent and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms until it softens and starts to shrink in size, 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the cognac and cook for 1 – 2 min to evaporate the alcohol.

Whisk the milk and sour cream into the mushroom mixture. Combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of cold water then add it to the pan. Continue to cook the sauce until it thickens, 1 min. Turn off the heat and finish with one tablespoon of butter to give it a silky finish.

Serve with the egg noodles.

Hazel Sy
October 2010

15 Responses to “Comfort Food with a “Wow” Factor”

  1. Hope

    I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this dish, lovingly prepared by my dear sister Hazel. This is THE BEST braised short ribs dish. Not to mention the mushroom stroganoff made from leftover sauce……yum! To those who shy away from red meat, you may just convert after one whiff.

  2. Jeanna

    And then when you think it can’t get any better, you set it on fire.
    And GREAT photo btw.

    • tastypursuits

      Jeanna, yes that’s the fun part. Too bad guests don’t get to see the flames. Which reminds me of another note:

      Lower the heat to a simmer when you set the wine on fire and turn off your exhaust fan. The first time I made this, I left the wine at a rolling boil with the exhaust fan on high. At first I oohed and aahed as I snapped photos with my camera…until I realized that the flames became 12 – 18 inches high and started to melt/burn the kitchen cabinets.

      By the way, nice photo of the chocolate covered bacon! Funny enough, just an hour ago I picked up some pig candy (chocolate covered crispy maple bacon) from Roni-Sue chocolate at the Essex Street Market. Yum. Sweet and salty (think chocolate covered pretzels) with a nice crunch that reminded me of peanut brittle.

  3. Rich

    Okay, the ribs sound fantastic, and I will try my hand at them, but what’s this about the slow cooker? You can take the inside out and use it as sort of a dutch oven? What sort of awesome genius invented that??

    Also, wine and fire … I was always under the impression that the cooking alcohol had to be a pretty high proof to set aflame. Does the alcohol just rise to the top when it gets hot, so you’re then able to set fire to it?

  4. tastypursuits

    The cast-aluminum insert is amazing! I barely used a slow cooker since there was extra cleaning up to do, but now I use this one all the time. However, a regular slow cooker with a ceramic insert will do just fine for this recipe. The meat just needs to be browned in a separate pan.

    You’re right. Since we are setting the wine by itself aflame this works. Just as we “boil out” the alcohol in dishes, boiling the wine brings the alcohol to the top of the pot…and voila! Pyrotechnics in the kitchen.

  5. Abby Smyers

    Hazel – This recipe looks amazing and I love slow cooked ribs. The pictures are amazing! I can almost taste the food through the screen. Thanks for sharing!

    • tastypursuits

      I agree the slow-cooker flavors sometimes fall flat. But in this case, the end result is the same as I have also made it with a dutch oven. As an added bonus, I can actually go on with my life with my dinner is simmering away at home!

      Love your photos Amelia!

  6. Sydney

    OH MY GOSH. Those short ribs look absolutely delicious. My mouth is watering. I just found your blog from the foodista network and I’m glad I did. New follower!


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