Monday, April 10, 2017

Festival Over and New Entree Created

This Year's Annual Renaissance Festival (aka Winefest Renaissance) is over. This past Saturday was the event, and after all the weeks of prep, everything was well received. So much so that I actually, for the very first time, ran out of two of the four appetizers I was serving. The fact that the wines also ran out at the same time tells me that there were more people, though I have not heard that this was so. The initial crush of people seemed endless for the first two hours. I was so exceedingly happy to have selected 4 really wonderful wines. We poured very small tastings, and though we had the same number of bottles as always, just ran out. At a wine tasting event, that was a sad thing. I guess we will all be better prepared next year. 
Appetizers from Renaissance Festival 2017
Appetizers from Renaissance Festival 2017, clockwise from top left: Brie in Phyllo Cups, Grilled Flank Steak Rolls with Asiago and Arugula, Mini Greek Lamb Sliders, Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham & Cheese Filling.

I served: 
  1. Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales filled with Country Ham and Cheeses, topped with Fig Apricot Compote. The tamales paired perfectly with Terra d'Oro Chenin Blanc Viognier.
  2. Marinated, Grilled Flank Steak, thinly sliced and rolled with Asiago Cheese and a bit of peppery Baby Arugula. The little rolls were served with Charles and Charles Red Blend, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  3. Mini Greek Lamb Sliders with Greek Olive Tapenade. These were served with J. Lohr 'Tower Road' Petite Sirah.
  4. Brie in Phyllo Cups with Cherry Preserve and Pistachio. These were served with Stella Rosa 'Black,' a slightly sweet, slightly sparkling red wine, made mainly with Brachetto grapes. (No recipe involved here! Set a .5ounce bit of Brie in a premade phyllo cup, bake until the brie melts, about 8 minutes, top with a cherry from a jar of preserves and a couple of crushed pistachios.)
On another front, since we were having our dear friends Heidi and Rich visiting over the weekend, obviously I needed to have food for meals prepared for them also. While talking with my daughter in law, Julia, a couple of weeks back, she was talking about a Short Rib Lasagna that she had eaten various times at a restaurant in Chicago. The idea caught my fancy, and I questioned her repeatedly about what it was like, what it looked like, textures, smells, colors, etc. I made a plan, wrote down what I thought I might do, then started to put it into action. Since my husband bought me a pasta making machine for my (upcoming) birthday, I was also going to make the lasagna "noodles."
Short Rib Lasagna with Roasted Garlic and Smoked Fontina Bechamel
Short Rib Lasagna with Roasted Garlic and Smoked Fontina Bechamel

The first thing was making the short ribs. Since we buy a side of beef from my husband's nephew every couple of years, I had short ribs in the freezer. I popped those into the crock pot, adding in things to give good flavor, like some fried bacon pieces, tomato paste, fresh herbs, mushrooms and wine. I let the meat cook all day, then in the evening, I skimmed off fat (and skimmed off fat, and skimmed off fat, and . . .) then took all the meat off bones and discarded them along with even more fat. All that fat is my peeve with short ribs, though the flavor of the meat is certainly great. After I returned the meat to the remaining sauce in the pot, I stored the mixture in the fridge for a couple of days, until I was ready to make the lasagna (and where I was not able to remove even more fat, after being chilled). 

The other new thing with this lasagna was the use of a bechamel sauce (basically, a white "gravy" made with a roux of butter and flour, then milk is added and cooked to thicken). I do not make lasagna but very rarely, and all in all, haven't really gotten one to turn out very well, in my estimation. Such lasagnas have been the type with a tomato-meat sauce and then ricotta and mozzarella as the main cheeses. In this new version I was concocting, the use of bechamel, while not a new concept, was new for me. The use of non-traditional cheeses was also new for me. 
Short Rib Lasagna with Roasted Garlic and Smoked Fontina Bechamel
Short Rib Lasagna 

In the lasagna Julia described, she said the menu stated "Roasted Garlic and Taleggio Bechamel." In our small town, while there are more foods available than one might imagine, I do not have access to Taleggio, nor have I ever tasted it. With no knowledge of the flavor profile, I looked it up and I believe the closest in flavor was Fontina. Well. Guess what? No Fontina cheese here either. Although . . . the local grocery does carry a smoked Fontina! As I thought of the flavor of roasted garlic, I felt that the smokiness of the Fontina would play really nicely, so I got that cheese and also Sartori brand U.S cheese called Mont Amore. It is described as a sort of cross between Parmesan and Cheddar. This sounded really good, so I got some of that also. And some real Parmigiano-Reggiano, of course!

I had roasted a head of garlic, pressed out all the cloves, then pressed them through a sieve to have a smooth paste. It seemed barely more than a tablespoon of this roasted garlic paste, and thought maybe I should roast a second head of garlic, just in case. Once assembling the lasagna components, while making the bechamel sauce, I added in half the roasted garlic (one tablespoon), stirred well, tasted . . . and couldn't really detect any garlic flavor! So I added in the rest of the roasted garlic paste, whereupon I could actually taste it - but just a bit. I felt I would leave well enough alone on that front. The assembly went easily, the lasagna baked as I had planned, and it was so amazingly good when we all sat down to eat, that despite all the work and advance prep, it is really and truly one I would make again. Even with having to practically wade through fat to do so.

Short Rib Lasagna with Roasted Garlic and Smoked Fontina Bechamel

Makes one 9 x 13-inch casserole

4 - 6 pounds beef short ribs 
1 ounce (28 grams) dried porcini mushrooms
3 strips thick-sliced bacon
1 large onion, chopped
4 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 (6 - 8-inch) stem fresh rosemary, leaves only, minced
½ cup fresh minced basil leaves
¼ cup fresh minced oregano leaves
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1½ teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¾ cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons "double concentrated" tomato paste (from a tube)
¼ cup freshly minced oregano leaves

2 whole heads of garlic
¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
a drizzle of olive oil

Set short ribs in a slow cooker on low. Place the dry porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover and set aside to reconstitute.

Slice the bacon across into ¼-inch bits, then fry them to almost crisp in a skillet. Drain the bacon and add it to the short ribs. Add in the onion, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, basil, oregano and the can of tomato paste. Add salt and pepper.

Remove the mushrooms from the soaking water, keeping the soaking water. Check through the mushrooms discard any very tough pieces. Chop the remainder coarsely and add to the pot. Carefully strain the mushroom liquid (it will often have grit in the bottom. Add ½ cup of the liquid to the pot, along with the wine. Cover the slow cooker and allow to cook slowly all day until the meat is falling from the bones.

Once cooked through, remove the meat and bones to a plate to cool. Skim off fat using paper towels: use one paper towel segment and lightly set it on top of the liquid. It will immediately soak up fat. Lift it out with tongs, to discard. Repeat as needed, until the fat is mostly gone. Once meat is cool enough to handle, remove all the meat and shred (not too finely). Discard fat and bones. Return the meat to the pot. Stir, then add in the extra tomato paste and oregano. Stir well, taste and check for seasoning. Pour into a container to finish cooling, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Up to 3 days ahead, roast the garlic: Set oven to 400 degrees. With a sharp knife, cut off about ¼-inch from across the top of one whole head. Cut a square of foil, set the garlic in the center and bring up all sides to enclose the garlic, creating a pouch. Before closing the pouch, add any little bits of garlic from the top bits, removed from husks and set back on top of the whole head. Sprinkle on the thyme and a drizzle of olive oil, seal the pouch and set in a little ramekin or on a baking sheet. Repeat this same process for the second head of garlic. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly, then press out all the garlic cloves from the husks and into a sieve. Set the sieve over a small bowl and using a spoon, press the garlic through the sieve, making a smooth paste. Scrape the paste into a small, sealed container and refrigerate until needed, or up to 3 days.
MontAmore & Smoked Fontina Cheeses
MontAmore & Smoked Fontina Cheeses


5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 generous cup grated Smoked Fontina cheese
1 generous cup grated Mont Amore cheese
Roasted Garlic paste (made previously)

1 pound fresh lasagna sheets, or no-boil lasagna sheets
1½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

When ready to begin assembly, pour the short rib sauce into a saucepan and slowly bring to about room temperature, just to make baking go more smoothly.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and stir until it is completely incorporated, then slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly until all the roux is combined with the milk. Continue whisking until the mixture comes to boil (10 minutes) and begins to thicken. Add in the salt, white pepper and nutmeg, stirring to combine. Add in the grated cheeses and the roasted garlic paste and stir until the cheeses are melted. Set the pan aside.

LAYERS: noodles, meat sauce, bechamel, Parmesan
Lasagna noodles, layer of the short rib sauce, layer of bechamel sauce, sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch casserole with cooking spray. Ladle in a small amount of the bechamel to barely coat the bottom of the pan, then begin the layers:
  1. Set lasagna noodles evenly in the pan. 
  2. Top with a portion of the re-warmed meat sauce. 
  3. Ladle on a portion of the bechamel and 
  4. top with a sprinkling of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. 
Repeat these four layers until there are no more ingredients, ending with the sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the pan with foil. Bake, covered for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes to brown the top.  Allow the lasagna to set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

The lasagna is amazing just baked, but it is even better the next day, reheated.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.