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Crockpot Short Rib Bolognese for an Elegant New Year’s Meal

My latest idea for cooking with beef is a sneaky one. I’ve decided to order beef dishes whenever I go out to eat at a restaurant I admire. That way, I get a chance to see what accomplished chefs–many of them from cultures other than my own–are making with beef. There’s more to beef than steak, pot roast and spaghetti sauce after all! On this plan, I’ve tasted arepas, vaca frita, cuban beef sandwiches, and delicious smoked beef (atop an oven-fired pizza).

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Last month, I ordered something I never would have thought to make: a bolognese sauce made with braised short ribs.

Only a few years ago, I would not have thought to look for main dishes with short ribs at all. Ribs were for barbecuing, not for making a fancy main course. Then my sister introduced me to her recipe for Provençal Short Ribs. They take elegant to a new level. Making them is certainly an all-day or all-afternoon activity, but that only adds to the sense of accomplishment.

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I liked making fancy short rib dishes so much I soon attempted Short Ribs with Chocolate and Pancetta. This one’s elegant, too, with a chocolate flavor much like chocolate stout (not like chocolate Christmas candy). The chocolate adds layers of flavor–rich and slightly bitter.

Those recipes prepared me to expect great things when my dish arrived. And I savored every mouthful. It was full of old world flavor–wine, mushrooms, tomatoes, and melt-in-your-mouth beef.

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I had to replicate it a few weeks later. This version uses a crockpot so that chopping vegetables and searing ribs are your main task at the start of the day, and enjoying and preparing the gnocchi are all you need to do at the end. It’s so good it would make a wonderfully fancy new year’s meal.

Short Rib Bolognese for an Elegant New Year's Meal
Author: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 2 pounds short ribs, cut into 1-2 inch cubes (cut off bone if necessary; can add bones to crock pot for extra flavor)
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups diced carrot
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes,
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp, basil
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • ½ cup heavy cream or milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 ounces gnocchi
  • grated parmesan for topping
Instructions
  1. Brown the pancetta in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add to crockpot but keep the grease in the pan.
  2. Cook the ribs in the same pan over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Transfer to crock pot.
  3. Cook the onions and carrots in same pan until tender.
  4. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, mushrooms and tomato paste, cook about a minute. Transfer all to crockpot.
  5. Deglaze the pan with wine, and transfer wine to crockpot along with broth, crushed tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil and oregano. Cook 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
  6. Stir in parmesan and cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve over cooked gnocchi and top with parmesan.

 

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Beef Short Rib Tacos with Avocado Pico de Gallo Salsa

Cooking beef short ribs is new to me.  In the past, I’d mostly cooked ground beef, pot roast, stew meat and, on special occasions, sirloin steak.  These are all safe, simple options that can build a wide range of flavorful dinners.  But sometimes a cook needs a little adventure, and trying out different cuts of meat increases the recipe repertoire.

Last summer, I started cooking beef short ribs, a tender cut of bone-in meat.   I used one of those recipes that can make any home cook feel like a domestic magician.  And so of course that made me want to cook short ribs again!

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It was my sister’s recipe: Provencal Short Ribs.  Cooked at a low temperature along with a flavorful blend of fragrant herbs, luscious wine and vegetables, this dish has earned a place among the “company recipes” that are so helpful to have on hand.

Then, recently, I made beef short ribs with chocolate and pancetta.  It was around Easter, and I was thinking chocolate.  This recipe answered the craving with a rich, slightly bitter, unmistakably cocoa flavor, the dish was so elegant!

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Both of those dishes have all the trimmings of fancy feast-day meals.  But what about the days when you want to cook with beef short ribs, but you’re in the mood for a more familiar meal?  Something the kids will devour?  Something like say, tacos?

Good news!  Beef short ribs are amazing in tacos.  By following a few basic steps, you can make all kinds of beef short rib tacos:

1) If the ribs look a little too big to work with comfortably, you can separate them by cutting between the bones.

2) Trim any fat (it’s okay to leave just a little, though) and season the meat with salt, pepper and herbs or spices.  I used oregano.

3) Sear the meat at a high temperature.  I used the broiler this time, but you can also sear the meat in a heavy pan on the stovetop.

4) Transfer the meat to your crockpot and add a flavorful sauce that will give the meat plenty of liquid to cook in.  Cook for 8-10 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high.

5) Place the meat on a cutting board and let it cool until it’s a comfortable temperature to work with, then remove the bones and pull the meat apart using two forks.

One other advantage of cooking bone-in meat: you can save those bones and use them as the base for a hearty broth.

Now that you have the basics, here’s the taco recipe.

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Beef Short Rib Tacos
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Course
 
Be sure to leave a window open while you make the hot sauce so the peppers' spice will not overwhelm you!
Ingredients
  • HOT SAUCE:
  • 10 serrano chiles, stemmed and cut into ⅛-inch discs
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup thinly sliced onion
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup distilled white vinegar
  • RIBS:
  • 3 lbs. short ribs, trimmed of fat
  • salt, pepper and oregano to taste
  • ¾ cup water
Instructions
  1. HOT SAUCE:
  2. Saute peppers, garlic, onions, salt, oil and sugar over high heat for 3 minutes. Add water and simmer until vegetables are soft and most of the liquid evaporates (20-25 minutes).
  3. Turn off the heat and let this mixture cool to room temperature, then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add vinegar and continue to puree until incorporated.
  4. Cool the sauce in the fridge.
  5. RIBS:
  6. Preheat your oven to broil. Cut the ribs into smaller sections if desired, and season all over with salt, pepper and oregano.
  7. Place a pan on the bottom rack of your oven to catch drips, and cook the ribs on the rack just above the pan. Cook ribs for 8 minutes, and then flip and cook another 8 minutes.
  8. Transfer ribs to crockpot, top with ⅔ cup hot sauce and ¾ cup water and cook 8-10 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high.
  9. Place ribs on a cutting board and let them cool enough to work with. Remove the bones (save them for a hearty stew!) and pull the rib meat apart with forks.
  10. If you want to spice up the meat, stir in as much of the remaining hot sauce as desired.
  11. Serve with warm corn tortillas and Pico de Gallo Salsa.

For the salsa that topped the tacos, I turned to Janell Weaver Gutierrez’s authentic Pico de Gallo Salsa.  Janell grew up at Weaver’s Orchard, one of the locations where you can purchase our beef, and she now lives in Puebla, Mexico with her husband and son. Since she grew up around fresh-picked ingredients and is now learning new recipes from her Mexican mother-in-law, I see good reason  to rely on her salsa-making advice!  Janell suggests mixing mangoes, peaches or avocados into this basic salsa.  Avocados were particularly delicious along with the tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef in these tacos.

Beef Short Ribs with Chocolate and Pancetta

Yes, you read that right.  There’s chocolate in this main dish!  Chocolate and crisp, salty pancetta.  This meal, which takes full advantage of many flavors, is most certainly a feast day meal.

And this might be the right time of the year to bring more beef back onto the menu.  For some of us, meat has sustained us through a tough winter.  For others, and for traditional cultures, maybe there have been a few weeks of cutting back and giving up the things we love most.

After all, did you know that the word “carnival” (the mardi gras kind of carnival that happens before Lent) has been thought to mean “goodbye to meat”?

A popular explanation for the word’s origin is that the “carni” part came from the same root as “carnivore,” and the “val” part comes from “vale,” a Latin farewell (pronounced “voll-ay”).

So, the idea was that the big carnival leading up to Lent was a way of saying goodbye to meat and other enjoyments for 40 days.  However, that isn’t technically how the word carnival came about, and the real explanation has more to do with Roman mythology and Valentine’s Day.  I’d say the popular explanation is much more memorable.  (More on the real explanation here.)

Easter celebrates life–new life–and with that, we again embrace the nourishment that sustains life.

So this rich, savory dish is certainly a fitting meal to grace the table.  Whether it is the Easter meal itself or another festive meal you enjoy during the Easter weekend while your guests are visiting, it is certainly something different, summoning flavors guests may not have not tried before.

As for the chocolate flavor: think chocolate stout, not chocolate Easter bunny.  This dish is not sweet.  Instead, the chocolate complicates the experience, adding depth and richness with its bitter yet unmistakable taste of cocoa.

The first step with this dish is to make a very good broth to surround the beef as it simmers.  To make the rich broth, each step takes place in the same pan so that no trace of flavor is lost.  You mince a blend of onions, shallots and other vegetables and sauté them in the pancetta drippings.  You use wine to deglaze the pan, leaving the delicious browned bits to add their precious flavor to the sauce.

Once you have the broth, you return the pancetta to the pan, add herbs and the ribs and let everything mingle for two hours or more, giving you and your guests the chance to mingle, too, as you welcome them and welcome Easter.

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Beef Short Ribs with Chocolate and Pancetta
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • ⅛ cup diced pancetta
  • 2-3 pounds short ribs (bone-in)
  • ¾ cup minced onions
  • ⅛ cup each: minced shallots, minced celery, minced carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1½ cups beef broth
  • 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1½ tablespoons grated bittersweet baking chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 pound farfalline pasta (or penne, farfalle, etc.), cooked
Instructions
  1. Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Saute until crisp, then scoop the pancetta with a slotted spoon and let it drain on a paper towel.
  2. Leave the pancetta drippings in the pan, and brown the ribs in this pan over medium-high heat. Once you have browned the ribs on all sides, transfer them to a plate.
  3. Add onions, shallots, carrots, celery and garlic to pan and cook until soft. Pour in the wine and boil, uncovered, until half the liquid has boiled off (about 5 minutes). Scrape up any browned bits.
  4. Add broth, pancetta, tomatoes, dried herbs, parsley, bay leaf and ribs. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour, then uncover and simmer 1 more hour, stirring occasionally. At the end of this time, rib meat should be quite tender.
  5. Move the ribs to a plate, fish out the bay leaf and discard, and boil the sauce to thicken for 5-8 minutes.
  6. Turn down the heat, add chocolate cocoa and rosemary and stir, melting the chocolate. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Return ribs to pot and cook on low heat until heated through.
  8. If desired, cut the ribs into segments.
  9. Serve over cooked pasta.