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Red Wine, a Pot and TIme: Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs

It's truly amazing what time and low heat can do to hunks of meat on a bone. Not only do they tenderize, but in a slow-cooker they even caramelize fats and flesh, and intensify flavor. For the cook, beyond the initial browning much of the work is out of her hands. She's free to enjoy her day, or her guests as the case may be.

We had these for dinner on Christmas Day, a day I prefer not to cook or to cook as little as possible. We started with a breakfast of beet-pickled eggs, guava-glazed ham and breads — all prepared or purchased well in advance — for a late breakfast. A lazy day by a roaring fire followed, and an early dinner by the same fire rounded out the day. *yawn* and there was still time for a nap!

With the mushrooms cooked the day before, and the baby corn and green beans cleaned and ready to toss in a stir-fry while the rice is cooking, there was little to do or fuss about once the ribs were in the slow-cooker at 5:45am. Thirty minutes before we sat for dinner, the rice was washed and the cooker turned on (the sous chef's job); the mushrooms were re-warmed; the wok was pre-heated and veggies tossed in; the third glass of bubbly was poured for the cook; and before you know it, dinner was served. We took a vote (it was 2-0) and decided we wanted plain white rice with this, but mashed or roast potatoes, or buttered egg noodles are more traditional accompaniments.

Save your knives, you won't need them — these ribs emerge fork-tender and oh-so-succulent in their own juices. And rich, very rich. A little goes a long way.

CABERNET-BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH MUSHROOMS
Serves 4 persons

For the Mushrooms:
2-3 lbs of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
(pictured here are 1 lb. cremini, 8 oz. white button, and 8 oz. oyster mushrooms sauteed together
and 1 lb king oyster mushrooms sliced lengthwise and simply browned in unsalted butter)
4 oz/ unsalted butter, sliced into small pats
2 TBL dry sherry
sea salt
black pepper (optional)

You can prepare the mushrooms in advance and keep refrigerated until 30 minutes before the ribs are cooked, then re-heat in the microwave. Or begin mushrooms half an hour before the ribs are ready.

Heatt wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced mushrooms to dry pan, and allow mushrooms to brown and exude their liquid, about 5-6 minutes. Add pats of butter and sherry to skillet and allow to coat mushrooms. Season lightly. Refrigerate until needed or proceed with recipe.

For the Braise:
5 1/2 lbs (2.5kg) beef short ribs
sea salt and black pepper
4-6 TBL olive oil, 2 TBLs at a time
2 medium onions, sliced in 1/4 inch strips
3-4 bay leaves
1 TBL black peppercorns
cloves from 1 head of garlic, peeled and halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 finger of ginger, peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups (474ml) Cabernet or other dry red wine
1 cup (240ml) low-salt beef broth

Trim ribs of fat and excess silverskin. Pat dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and ground pepper.

Drizzle first 2 TBL of oil on bottom of slow cooker. Add onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, carrots, parsnips and ginger. Cover, set heat setting to LOW.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium high heat, then add 2 TBL of oil. Place ribs — meat side down — in skillet, about 2-3 ribs at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Allow to brown well, about 5-7 minutes without fussing with them. When the ribs release easily from the pan, they are sufficiently browned and ready to turn. Turn each rib to brown another meaty side, and again leave for 3-4 minutes to brown new side. Repeat with third meaty side. As each rib finishes browning, remove from skillet and add to slow cooker, bone side down.

When all of the first batch of ribs is browned, add 1 cup of wine to the skillet, and using a wooden spoon, gently loosen the browned bits from skillet. Add the deglazing liquid to the slow cooker.

To brown each remaining batch of ribs, quickly rinse the skillet under cool water (no soap), dry and return skillet to medium high heat. Add another 2 TBL oil and repeat browning of ribs.

If 3 batches are required to brown all the ribs, use the beef broth to de-glaze the third batch. Otherwise, add beef broth to the slow cooker after the second batch.

Set timer for 4 hours. Come back in 4 hours and turn ribs over. Set timer again for 3 hours, and check again when timer rings. Meat should be fork tender and ready to slip off the bone; if not ready, allow to cook 40 minutes to 1 hour longer. (We prefer to keep the meat on the bone, but you can remove the bone now for easier eating — try to keep the meat from each rib in one piece.)

Also, if you intend to serve this with mashed potatoes or noodles and would like to keep the jus to serve over the potatoes, just strain the liquid and correct the seasoning — skip the reduction completely. If the strained jus is a bit salty for your taste, add 1tsp of balsamic or sherry vinegar to the jus and heat it to a simmer. Taste again to see if the balance is more to your liking (small quantities of vinegar help to reduce saltiness, and using mild ones such as balsamic or sherry tend not leave a vinegar flavor).

To reduce and glaze:
2-3 TBL balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper, if necessary

Remove ribs to a platter. Strain remaining liquid into a wide sauce pan, and discard solids. Return ribs to slow cooker set on WARM, or keep warm in oven while you finish the glaze. Place saucepan on the stove over medium high heat and bring to a boil. When sauce is reduced by half, add vinegar and continue reducing until the sauce takes on a shine and just starts to become syrupy, then immediately remove from heat. Sauce will continue to thicken in the pan. Taste and correct seasoning.

To plate, place 1/4 mushrooms on individual plate. Top with 2-3 short ribs, and drizzle wine glaze over meat and mushrooms. Serve with your favorite vegetables, and mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. Or rice.