dr bob is a sort of half-hearted vegetarian wannabe, but some red meat still gets his attention on the menu. Steaks are basically off the list since they have little taste appeal for him and his digestive system has forgotten how to digest them anyway, but overcooked beef falling off the bone in some kind of liquid environment (the "gravy" of Italian American cooking) is a treat that cuts through any politically motivated or socially responsible choices of food restrictions. Unfortunately skepticism about red meat has confused dr bob: traditional ribs were thrown by the wayside decades ago, but short ribs are actually something else, a fact that a recent cooking demo at bloomies clarified.
Marc Vetri is not a first name celebrity chef, but somehow he stumbled into a career in the kitchen and came out on top in the philly Italian cuisine scene. Mario has said very flattering things about Marc, and as the younger generation of authentic Italian cuisine notables led by Lidia, Mario's words count. But why take anyone's word for it? We didn't. We tried his small very upscale restaurant for a bob birthday many years ago, and soon after his larger slightly more economical place Osteria opened (another bob birthday, they never seem to stop), we were there to enjoy that too. So when we spotted the announcement of his impending All Clad sponsored food demo at our local King of Prussia bloomies, we marked the calendar (mentally that is, since we are not terribly organized) in anticipation of the event.
There were only about 20 folding chairs set up so it was an intimate gathering of mostly senior citizens, a category we are still safely not mistaken for yet. By chance Marc's proud mom sat down in the last empty chair right next to us, so we had an opportunity to chat a little about her boy (now in his late forties it appeared). Her parent's were in the food business so she tried to steer her Marc clear of that hard life, but since by her own admission, she was not the best of cooks, marc had had to learn something about food prep just to survive at home, and then when he did the marketing/business major at UPenn, he continued cooking on the side to help finance the student life, inadvertently picking up valuable experience from some of the cooks around him. We didn't get the whole story but unlike Mario who only worked a few places, marc did the Italian work experience thing in at least 5 different regions of the old boot, and somehow picked up the true spirit of Italian cooking. Which is available to anyone who wants to patronize his two establishments in philly.
So this is very simple stuff, like the best Italian recipes, a few quality ingredients complementing each other. Celery root is one of those ugly produce items we never realized was not just in the supermarket for decoration. Marc's very simple celery root puree was terrific under the braised short ribs, and some nicely spiced raw julienned celery root contrasted with the warm parts of the dish just right. We got a generous sample, and bought the Good Grips mandoline finally that seemed really useful in this particular food prep, which is the point of the cooking demos. We'd already grabbed up the All Clad braising pan together with two other pans bundled together for a steal in a closeout sale at Williams-Sonoma, still unused, so we were ready to proceed with the replication of the recipes at home.
Quantities are restaurant sized, cut in half or more for home use. marc said this is just a rough game plan, not a rigid recipe. Adjust accordingly.
So we waited for the right moment to do the follow through, and a few weeks later foisted this upon a few unsuspecting friends who came to dinner, including one serious carnivore who we knew would appreciate the big hunks of dead meat. It turns out that celery root is big in Turkey, but somehow these Turkish friends never prepared it for us and ani's parents never encountered this root tuber in their part of the Middle East so we had merely passed the ugly product by in the supermarket the few times we noticed it over the years. But better late than never, we'll be paying attention in the future. We finished the meat off in the oven as marc recommended, leaving it a full 2.5 hours to make sure it flaked apart with a fork. It was a success.
We had looked around for short ribs unsuccessfully in two supermarkets, so when we finally found it in a third relatively cheap, we grabbed 4 roughly 1 pound packages of boneless ribs for 6 adults. Later we discovered the organic higher priced product at Whole Foods, maybe we'll try that route next time. This left us only a few extra pieces at the end of the dinner, so the fourth package was actually the right choice (we debated about this at the purchase time). Ani had only grabbed 2 medium celery roots, so bob went back out for a third. We used two and a half for the puree, which turned out to be enough (we served Armenian rice as well) and reserved a half for the Mandoline we had bought at marc's demo after seeing how nicely it made the little matchstick-like pieces out of the celery root, with a little insistence since the celery root does not cooperate. You have to jam it forcefully across the blade, and give up when the thickness of the remnant approaches about 1/2 inch.
Since Muge was leaning more towards vegetarianism to balance Kivanc's meat mania perhaps, we decided to supplement our Trader Joe's frozen succotash saut�ed in onion and butter with salt and pepper by preparing some white asparagus that had been snatched up at an incredibly low sale price when we got the ribs. And ani decided this would be the perfect time to use the outrageously expensive truffled salt bob had bought at Williams-Sonoma after reading an enthusiastic email from Gourmet editor Ruth Reichel. Ani browned some bread crumbs and added some butter and the asparagus and the truffled salt with some pepper and a bit of fresh chopped parsley. And we served our habitual arugula salad of course.
We made this several times exactly following the recipe, but after tasting this amazing small plated short rib at the current restaurant next to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute of which we are Producer Couple members (after an early screening of the romantic film 500 Days of Summer, we fell off the wagon and went for dinner), we decided to try to add something extra to the routine. We consulted the web and then a hardcover Lidia book in our library with her short rib recipe (beef short ribs braised in wine) and decided to replace one of the cups of stock (we use veggie stock) with dried porcini mushrooms allowed to sit 15 minutes or so in a cup of boiling water (Lidia's approach). We then strained this to reserve the stock and rinsed the porcini and added it in at the veggie and stock addition point of the recipe, with what little squeeze tomato paste we had left in the fridge (again, Lidia). We also increased the amount of carrots and celery. We also did not discard the solid veggies after the 2.5 to 3 hour braising phase, but saved them with the left over mashed potatoes to incorporate into a very tasty shepherd's pie format.
Oh yeah, the celery root thing already had morphed into celery root mashed potatoes. While the mandoline processed celery root makes a nice presentation, it is a lot easier to just inject the celery root into a garlic mashed potato recipe. We found two smaller celery roots and added about 5 or 6 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled them separately till done (the potatoes whole, then skinned after boiling, the celery root skinned and cut into large pieces before boiling), then used a potato ricer to pass them all through the squeezebox so to speak (I never did understand that Who lyric about Mamma's gotta squeezeboxapart from the fact that sex is involved). Then a few tablespoons of butter are mixed into the potato-celery root mash first for some reason ani read on the web (to make it smoother?), and then some salt and white pepper to taste and a few cloves of pressed garlic and some plain nonfat yogurt are mixed in till it has the right consistency, not too stiff. Then we packed it all into a baking dish with some freshly grated parmigiano and tabs of butter on top to warm just before dinner time.
By making plenty of both short ribs and mashed potatoes, we were guaranteed leftovers, and ani had the idea of creating a shepherd's pie from these and the "discarded veggies" that helped flavor the short ribs. The ribs and rib liquids and rib veggies on the bottom, mashed potatoes on top, warmed up in the oven. This was really tasty and will be repeated.
In the meantime Marc created a food empire which he sold off to a local mostly clothing store chain Urban Outfitters aimed at a teen audience, but kept his flagship restaurant Vetri which morphed into a price fix menu at $155 per person when we were ready to splurge for a very important occasion (25th wedding anniversary). We passed on the lower matching wine add-on fee of $90 per person, but considering the special occasion, they comped us a few glasses of free white wine, how nice of them. It was an incredible food experience, one that we look forward to repeating again someday, but not soon—we are just not in that income bracket. Long gone are the days when we were able to escape with a $130 plus tip check by eating antipasti and primi, one dessert, wine by the glass—we are not so big on secondi and ani is a savory person, so bob tries to pick a dessert she can at least try one bite of. George Perrier of Le Bec Fin fame had started out in the same location years earlier, but marc is a pleasant nice guy type with a foundation supporting various well intentioned social projects, while George is a short foul mouthed kitchen bully. Which proves that you can be nice and create fabulous food too.