Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Ultimate of the Ultimate in Ultimatism

it's the holidays. i like the holidays. i don't LOVE them, but i do warm to them quite a bit. i enjoy the cooking, the baking, the doing for others through food and love, but it can be stressful. here in kansas you can see the seasons change, feel the christmas-y vibe because of the snow, ice, etc. but there's just as much christmas-y/holiday joy in los angeles even if it's warm enough to sit on the beach right before dinner. it's in your heart. it's true. corny, perhaps, but true. i feel no closer to the christmas spirit as i did on the west coast and i don't jump into the cooking and baking of the season more here than there. however, because there's just the three of us and christmas usually means, well, a spread for a smaller crew than i'm used to, i am more creative than i was before. and that's made it even more fun. that diving into something with my eyes closed and a different kind of confidence.

we have friends coming over for dinner soon who were supposed to come by last weekend. we got an ice storm -- SOOOO new for me and incredibly creepy (and beautiful, actually. the trees glazed in ice, kinda blows your mind with how amazing it looks) -- and decided to hold off on it for another week or so. i had bought the food for our dinner, however, and i wanted to test it out on my kids before i had it for our friends and found this great recipe called HORSERADISH-BRAISED BRISKET WITH ROOT VEGETABLES from a cookbook called THE ULTIMATE COOKBOOK by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough. The Ultimate Cookbook. what does that mean exactly? is it going to show me things i've never known in ways i've never known? is it the best that i've ever seen? will i become a MAGICIAN in the kitchen? (i'm such an ass, i know.) i'll tell you after i share what i made, how i made it with you. honest. is it ultimate? we'll see...

2 tbs canola oil
1 4-pound first-cut brisket, trimmed of most visible surface fat
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled nd cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
2 tsps dijon mustard
2 tsps stemmed thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 tbs bottled white horseradish
1 tbs potato starch whisked into 1 tbs water in a small bowl, optional

what to do:

1. heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. swirl in the canola oil, then add the brisket. brown on both sides, turning once, about 8 minutes. transfer to a large cutting board; set aside.
2. add the onions, carrots, parsnips and turnip to the pot; cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
3. pour in the wine and bring to a simmer, scrapping up any browned bits on the pot's bottom.
4. pour in the broth; swirl in the mustard until smooth. add the thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. bring to a full simmer. nestle the brisket into the sauce. spread the horseradish on any exposed portion of the meat.
5. cover and place in the oven. bake until the meat is fork-tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours (or even 4 hours, depending).
6. remove the meat an veggies from the pot. the brisket is quite tender by this point, so hold it up with a large spatula to keep it from breaking apart. place on a large cutting board. place the veggies on a serving platter.
7. if you want to thicken the sauce, set the pot over medium heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. whisk in the potato starch mixture; cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
8. slice the brisket against the grain. place it on the serving platter. discard the bay leaves, check the sauce to see if it needs salt, and pour the sauce over the meat and veggies.

here's what we did:
we didn't use parsnips and turnips -- i'm not really a fan of either of those, which, ya know, means i don't have to use them if i don't wanna. we used potatoes instead -- which is something the book suggests as a substitution to the turnip at least. everything else we did was exactly the same as the book says with a little variations, i suppose. it's just how we do it here.

the report? well, the ultimate brisket is my sister-in-law's mom's brisket. no lie. omg. mimi's brisket is excellently yummy to the point that i fear even asking for the recipe. HOWEVER, this was great for a savory, yummy brisket. mim's is sweeter (i do believe it is glazed in brown sugar, thought i can't swear to it). it's terrific. the Ultimate Cookbook's brisket has the heat and tang from the horseradish and dijon, really tender from the cooking, wine and broth and, well, just a great flavor. i added some roasted garlic mashed potatoes to it, some great sauteed greens with bacon, garlic and balsamic vinegar -- really good stuff. nicholas and brandon loved it. they even devoured it in sandwiches when i sent it with them to school for lunch.

it was our first big deal dinner of the holiday season. and it was amazing.

was it the ultimate?
well, it was damn close.

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