Monday, December 22, 2008

Comfort Me With Braised Meat

Conceptions of comfort food vary tremendously from person to person dependent on one’s personality, taste, upbringing, and cultural identity. Foods that comfort are warm and simple, consisting of few ingredients that recall past memories steeped in love and happiness. Macaroni and cheese, potato gratin, and Caesar salad are dishes that connote comfort and warmth in my mind and also effectively make my mouth water. Polenta is another comfort food that I eat often in winter months either as porridge or baked into crisp little squares. Polenta is very versatile and can easily be paired with virtually anything from game and fowl to fish and vegetables. It has recently been bitter cold in the city and I wanted to cook something warm and of course comforting for a lazy Friday dinner during a snowstorm. Polenta and braised meat came to mind during my brainstorming, something heady and deeply flavored with red wine and beef stock cooked for hours. I did precisely that with a piece of stew meat, beef chuck I believe, cooked with a mirepoix (the classic French triad of onions, celery, and carrots), half a bottle of Cabernet, and two cups of beef stock. Polenta is incredibly easy to make, just follow the directions on the box and experiment with your favorite accouterments. I like to add a bit of olive oil or butter to mine and sometimes I throw it in the oven to crisp it up. For my comfort food supper I cut the baked Polenta into squares, topped them with meat, and finished the plate with a drizzle of the reduced cooking liquid monté with butter. This was definitely a comforting meal that made me feel warm and fuzzy all over, a great feeling to have when it is almost 20 degrees outside. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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