Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Well Worth the Wait

Grapefruit Curd  Tart

I’ve been saving this post for a while now.  For about a month, a little more even.  Since the weekend before Thanksgiving actually.  We had two dinner parties that week – a Friday night soup and sandwich supper, and on Sunday night, this special feast for my Grandma and Grandpa Anderson.  While they’d had an open invitation since the start of this project, it wasn’t until early November (all of us suddenly under the gun, as the official SC dinner parties quickly wound down to a lingering few), that my grandma and I finally sat down, coordinated our busy schedules, and picked the one single date during the following two months that worked out for all of us.  (Hectic as my schedule is these days - with not only these weekly dinner parties, but a rapidly growing number of catering and private cheffing jobs too (!) – it pales in comparison to the unbelievably busy lives of my way-too-energetic grandparents!)  So we pin-pointed the one and only night that worked, and marked it in our date books with permanent marker.  And a few weeks later, Grandma and Grandpa made an all-too-quick overnight trip from Toledo.  And I, in honor of our extra-special guests, prepared what I do believe has been the best dinner party of the entire year. 

Clusters of Fresh Grapes
Sautéed Veal Sweetbreads with Pancetta, Wild Mushrooms & Cream over Grilled Bread
Simple Green Salad
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Brandy, Prunes & Green Olives
Polenta with Parmesan
Roasted Carrots
Grapefruit Curd Tart

In fact, I’ve heard through the family grapevine, that the next morning on their drive back home, Grandpa remarked to Grandma that this was the best meal he’s ever eaten.  What a thing to hear!  And from your grandpa of all people!  I couldn’t have been more proud.  But you know what, considering the combination of both incredible food and wonderful company, I just might have to say the same thing myself. 

Why then, you may wonder, have I waited so long to share this meal with you?  Well, I’ve just been so crazily busy in the kitchen these days, I’ve hardly had a chance to get near my computer!  And this menu was so down-right amazing, I thought it would be a perfect penultimate dinner party post.  Plus, it was really kinda nice to have a dinner party-free and blog-free Christmas.  (Look at me, taking a break just a week before this project ends!)

But now, I’ll get back to business, and share with you this fabulous meal!

Grapes, Grapes & More Grapes

I felt a bit silly including grapes on the menu above, but they were just so gorgeous and perfect and utterly delicious, a truly essential addition to this meal, that I just had to mention them.  Not only a perfect beginning bite as I finished cooking the sweetbreads, a necessarily last-minute task, but also a perfectly light, fresh and simple counterpoint to the very rich and decadent meal lying ahead.  It’s amazing how often I rely on a beautiful bunch of  grapes, to fill in the missing link for a dinner party.  They’re one of my favorite and easiest tricks! 

Ready, Set, Sweetbreads

Sweetbreads (i.e. the thymus gland of a calf) are my grandpa’s number one favorite food.  And I’ve got to say, that shows darn good taste on his part!  A bit of a rare treat, if you’ve haven’t had the chance yet to try them yourself, all I can say is, you don’t yet know what you’re missing.  Rich and tender and impossibly creamy, no mere written description can do justice to the magnificent deliciousness of sweetbreads.  You’ll just have to take my word for it, until you get the chance to try them yourself. 

Luxurious to begin with, I took the rich decadence even further,  sautéing the sweetbreads with peppery pancetta and a lovely collection of rare wild mushrooms, then draping them in a velvety cream sauce.  Finished with a bright squeeze of lemon juice and a smattering of fresh parsley, this luscious mixture was then spooned over thick slices of tenderly toasted, olive oil-brushed bread.  Man oh man, this was tremendously good.  I really am at a loss for words!

Wild Mushrooms

And then, a simple, simple salad.  I hate to use this pretentious sounding phrase, but this bright, crunchy cluster of greens was totally a palate cleanser.  Between rich sweetbreads and even richer short ribs, something fresh and light and simple was needed.  This quick and tasty salad was just the perfect thing to re-set our taste buds.

Simple Green Salads

And now, the short ribs.  I just knew that no other main course could impress my grandparents more than this incredible cut of meat.  I’ve gone on and on before about the impressive attributes of short ribs, so I’ll spare you my passionate musings today, but rest assured, I could write a book about how much I love them! 

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Brandy, Prunes & Green Olives

Not all that different from my last short rib recipe, I kept the cooking technique basically the same, and just substituted in a few new ingredients – sweet, plump dried prunes and briny petals of green Spanish olives.  All cloaked in a dark, full sauce of deeply caramelized onions, rich beef stock and a good swig of brandy.  I served this gorgeous braise atop a creamy bed of parmesan polenta, and with a side of oven-roasted baby carrots, just like last time (because I loved the combination so much).  Utterly enamored with this entire dish, I’ve served it twice since at catered dinner parties, both times to rave reviews. 

Prunes & Olives

And finally, dessert.  And as with the prelude of  juicy grapes, and the fresh intermezzo of a salad, I thought it best that the final movement of this rich, undeniably indulgent meal be as bright and refreshing as possible.  And so, I looked to my favorite citrus, ruby red grapefruit.

I adapted this tart from a recipe in Bon Appétit, which actually called for blood oranges instead.  As luck would have it, the fruit market was out of blood oranges.  And it was lucky, for it was only then, standing in front of an empty blood orange barrel, that I even thought of using grapefruit.  With greater tartness, and a beautiful juicy sweetness, I knew right away that grapefruit would be an even better choice of citrus with which to end this meal. 

Peeling the Grapefruit

And keeping in pattern with the rest of this feast, this tart was absolutely sensational.  The crust for one was utter perfection – crisp and tender and buttery.  And the grapefruit curd filling was entirely amazing -  sharp in flavor and smooth in texture, bright and sweet and perfectly balanced.  And then on top, beautiful rings of sliced grapefruit segments.  Undeniably sophisticated, and incredibly delicious, this is one of my new favorite desserts. 

Grapefruit Curd Tart

Sautéed Sweetbreads with Pancetta, Mushrooms & Cream Over Grilled Bread
Serves  4
Perhaps a bit intimidating,  I can’t recommend sweetbreads enough – both for eating and for cooking!  Just go for it!
Sauteed Sweetbreads with Pancetta, Wild Mushrooms and Cream Over Grilled Bread
1 pound veal sweetbreads (you may have to special order these from a high quality meat
about 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbl butter
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on the bread
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 oz pancetta, finely diced
12 oz wild mushrooms (chanterelle, enoki, trumpet, etc.), trimmed, cleaned & thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and minced
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tbl fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 loaf French bread, sliced on the diagonal into 8 1-inch slices
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sweetbread Set-Up
To prepare the sweetbreads:  If frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator.  Gently remove the ‘pipes’ (tube-like bands running between the sweetbread clusters) and tough membranes covering the sweetbreads.  Soak the sweetbreads in cool water for 1 hour, draining and changing the water every 15 minutes.  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer, then add the sweetbreads and gently simmer for 20 minutes.  Drain then transfer the sweetbreads to an ice bath to cool, for 5 minutes.  Drain the sweetbreads and pat dry with paper towels.  Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.  Slice on the bias into 4 serving-size portions.  Keep refrigerated in an air-tight container until needed. 
To assemble the dish: Preheat an oven broiler and arrange a rack about 10-inches beneath.  Brush both sides of each bread slice with extra-virgin olive oil, then place on a foil-lined sheet tray.  Set aside until needed.
Pat dry the sweetbreads with paper towels, then season generously on all sides with salt and pepper.  Dredge into the flour, then pat the sweetbreads to remove any excess flour. 
Add the butter and 1 Tbl olive oil in a large sauté.  Melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the flour-coated sweetbreads to the pan.  Sauté, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes total.  The remove the sweetbreads to a plate, and reserve until needed.
Keep the pan over medium-high heat and add the shallots.  Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add the diced pancetta to the pan and cook until lightly crispy, about 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the shallot-pancetta mixture to a plate and reserve until needed. 
Increase the heat to high, wait a half minute, then add the sliced mushrooms.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute mores. 
Return the shallot-pancetta mixture to the pan, then add the cream.  Stir to combine, then add the sweetbreads to the pan, nestling them in the sauce.  Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the sauce thickens, enough to just coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes.  Add the parsley and lemon juice and stir to combine.  Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper. 
Sweetbreads in Pancetta-Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce
While the sweetbread and sauce cook, you can toast the bread.  Place under the broiler and toast, turning once, until both sides are golden brown, about 4 minutes total.  Be careful not to over-toast the bread – You still want it tender inside. 
Arrange two slices of toasted bread on each of four serving plates.  Place 1 portion of sweetbreads atop each plate, then spoon the mushroom cream sauce over the sweetbreads and bread, evenly dividing it between the 4 plates. Serve immediately. 
Simple Green Salad
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
    Simple Green Salad
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Brandy, Prunes & Green Olives
Serves  4
Braised Beef Short Ribs with Brandy, Prunes & Green Olives; Parmesan Polenta; Roasted Carrots
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
4 large beef short ribs (about 2 pounds total)
2 Tbl plus 1 Tbl butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf 
1 1/2 cups Brandy
4 cups beef broth (I like this type store-bought beef broth)
about 16 large Spanish green olives (with pits)
about 16 dried prunes (pitted)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a large, wide-bottomed pot over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil, reduce the heat to medium-high, and heat for 1 minute longer.  Meanwhile, pat the short ribs dry with paper towels.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Add the short ribs to the pot in a single layer and sauté, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the ribs to a plate and reserve.  Wipe out the inside of the pot with paper towels, then return to medium-high heat. 

Searing the Short Ribs

Melt 2 Tbl butter in the pot, then add the chopped onions.  Season with a good sprinkling of salt and pepper, then sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 15 minutes.  Add the chopped carrot and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until well browned also, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, 1 minute longer.  Add the tomato paste sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the rosemary sprig, bay leaf and Brandy.  Bring to a boil, and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce by about half, then add the beef broth.
Return the short ribs and any of their accumulated juices to the pot, arranging them in a single layer.  Bring to a simmer, then cover.  Braise at the barest of simmers until the ribs are very tender and the meat has pulled away from the bone, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

While the short ribs simmer, slice the green olive from their pits:  Slicing from top to bottom, right along the pits, slice the flesh into three oval-shaped petals.  Discard the pits and reserve the olive petals until ready to use. 

Transfer the ribs with tongs to a clean plate. Strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, and discard the solids.  Spoon as much fat as possible from the top of the liquid.  Discard the fat.  Transfer the braising liquid to a smaller pot and place, uncovered, over medium-high heat.  Keep at a strong simmer until the sauce is reduced to about 2 cups and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes (but that is just a rough estimate – this time can vary greatly).  Reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer, add the prunes and sliced olives, cover with a lid, and gently simmer for about 15 minutes longer.  Then remove the lid, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir until melted.  Taste the sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper. 

When ready to serve, transfer the short ribs to the pot, and spoon the sauce over the ribs.  Cover and re-heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until hot.  Serve hot, dividing the short ribs, olive, prunes and sauce evenly between 4 plates.

The short ribs and sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.  Reheat over low heat in a covered pot before serving. 

Polenta with Parmesan
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
Roasted Carrots
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
Roasted Carrots
Grapefruit Tart
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine, January 2002, on
Serves 10
 Grapefruit Tart
For the grapefruit curd & garnish:
about 4 large red grapefruits
1 Tbl finely grated grapefruit zest (make sure to collect before slicing the grapefruits!)
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice (collected while slicing the grapefruit segments)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 to 3 lemons)
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 stick butter, sliced into 8 pieces, room temperature
a few drops of red food coloring
3/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
For the tart shell:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbl sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, sliced into 1/4-inch cubes, cold
3 Tbl heavy cream, cold
1 Tbl Grand Marnier (optional – otherwise, sub in 1 Tbl more cream)
1 large egg yolk
First, zest the grapefruit, reserving 1 tablespoon to use later.  Then, with a sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom ends of each grapefruit.  Rest the fruit on a cutting board, and slice from top to bottom down the sides, removing the skin and the white pith that lies beneath.  Continue to slice away the skin, around the entire fruit.  Cut away any pith you may have missed.   Hold the peeled fruit over a bowl. Slice towards the core, as close as possible to the white membrane separating the segments. Make the same slice on the opposite side of the same segment.  When the two cuts meet at the bottom, the citrus segment with slide out, and fall into the bowl.  Repeat with the remaining segments.  When done with the entire fruit, squeeze the juice into the bowl.  Repeat with the remaining grapefruits.  Then strain the juice into a separate container.  Reserve 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup of the grapefruit juice and  all of the grapefruit segments, refrigerated in separate air-tight containers, until ready to use. 
In a medium-sized, metal mixing bowl, whisk to combine the grapefruit zest, 1/3 cup grapefruit juice, lemon juice, sugar, eggs and egg yolks.  Set the bowl over a saucepot filled with about 1-inch of gently simmering water.  Add the butter, then whisk constantly until the sauce thickens and a thermometer inserted into the sauce registers 175°F, about 12 minutes.  Be sure not to let the sauce boil, or go about the 175°F.  Remove the bowl from above the water, then add a few drops of red food coloring, 1 drop at a time and stirring well between drops, to achieve a rosy shade of pinkish-orange.  Be very careful – It’s a fine line between grapefruit pink and Pepto Bismol pink!  Cool the sauce for about a half hour at room temperature, stirring occasionally.  Cover with plastic, then chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 2 hours. 
While the sauce cools, make the pastry shell:  Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  (You can also use a hand-held electric mixer.)  Blend on medium speed until combined.  Then add the butter and blend on medium until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 1 to 2 minutes or so.  Add the cream, Grand Marnier and egg yolk, then blend on medium speed until the dough begins to clump together, about 1 minute or so.  Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, then roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, forming a 13-inch round circle.  Transfer the dough to a 10-inch diameter tart pan with a removable bottom.  Fold the overhand in to form double-thick sides, then press onto the pan sides.  Using a fork, pierce all over the bottom of the crust.  Freeze for 30 minutes. 
Pre-heat the oven to 350 F and arrange a rack in the middle position.  Bake until the crust is lightly golden, about 30 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. 
Pie Crust
It helps to reinforce the grapefruit sauce a bit with gelatin:  Place the remaining 1/4 cup grapefruit juice in a small sauce pot.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the juice and allow it to stand for 10 minutes.  Then place the pot over medium-low heat and melt the gelatin mixture, stirring constantly.  Add the gelatin mixture to the grapefruit sauce and whisk to combine. 
Pour the grapefruit sauce into the cooled crust, then place in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed, up to 1 day.
Grapefruit Curd in a Tart Shell
Arrange the sliced grapefruit segments in concentric rings around the tart, staring with an outer layer and working your way in.  I was able to get in two rows, but if you use smaller grapefruits, you may be able to fit three.  Once you’ve topped the tart with the grapefruit slices, serve within 4 hours. 


  1. I think you meant to write short "ribs" under your pic of the shortribs. I was looking around for shortbread thinking, hmm, i wonder where the shortbread goes!!! What a fabulous treat, Kate, to host your grandparents. Truly a lifetime memory in the making.

    Happy new year to you and Ben!!

  2. Happy new year, Brooke! And thanks for the heads up :). Between short ribs and sweet breads and recently-baked short bread, that was an accident waiting to happen. So thanks! And I'm always grateful for edits from my readers, so always feel free!

    Miss you guys! Hope 2011 is off to a great start for the both of you!

  3. I LOVE your blog! I've been looking for a cooking blog for a long, long time and this yours is amazing! I subscribed.

    I have a makeup blog... so you might not be as interested in mine :P