I believe that the very worst Christmas gift that I ever received was a pair of black spandex bicycle pants in a size too small. They were given to me by my mother whose desire for my good health and self-improvement overcame her usual tact and generosity. I regretted that I had told her that I planned to institute an exercise regime of bike riding as soon as the weather got warmer. I thanked her icily and later threw the skimpy, synthetic sausage-casings into the trash bin.
The time of year, of course, has got me thinking about gifts — good and bad, past and present. Certainly, as a child, I received my share of flannel pyjamas (snore …) and baby dolls (I was never a baby doll person and I’m too old to have been part of the “Barbie” generation). From the earliest that I can recall, my most-desired presents were books. (Well, what I really wanted was a horse, but I knew, even at the age of six, that that wasn’t going to happen.) For a month before Christmas, I would ponder and muse and write and re-write long lists of volumes which I would present to my parents and relatives. (Not surprisingly, for a long time, long lists of books about horses.) Spoiled and pampered only child that I was, I could always depend upon unwrapping several of the titles under the tree on Christmas morning.
The strangest thing is, however, that this desire for more and more books never left me. Now, living in a small condo’, I am constantly agonizing over that strict, small space precept “one in, one out.” Perhaps because of my job, I now have become obsessed with collecting cook books and they are gradually taking over the shelves that previously were crammed with books on art history and travel guides. There are such a lot of new cookbooks every season, however, that I’ve had become very selective. So I want to share with you the very best new volume that I have found this year.
It’s called “The Flavour Principle” and is written by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol. Waverman and Crosariol are food and wine writers sharing a page in the Globe and Mail and together they make a formidable duo. I have long been a Waverman fan and have collected several of her cookbooks over the years; the blotted, food-stained and well notated pages, with their spattered butter splotches and chocolate finger prints, attest to their constant use. I love the way that Waverman organizes food seasonally and appends brief but succinct descriptions of the hopeful outcome to each recipe. And Crosariol is a really good writer as well as a knowledgeable wine connoisseur. He talks about many types of drinks, wine, of course, but also beer, cocktails, spirits, etc. in a way that is clear, evocative and understandable — although sometimes his wine selections are, alas, beyond my meagre means.
Anyway, this book has been structured around the concept of “flavours” — for example, there are sections headed bitter, smoky, earthy, salty, sweet, etc. and whole multi-course dinners have been constructed with the one predominant flavour used as a sort of leitmotif that runs through the whole menu. Often, within those parameters, the well-travelled pair build menus highlighting foods from foreign countries. For instance, under “Salty”, there is a section devoted to brining, a riff on truck stop treats (fries, lobster rolls, to die for), along with menus for a sushi free Japanese meal and a simple Italian dinner. Lazy planner that I am, I love to have the whole meal laid out for me. I can then either slavishly follow the plan or substitute my own tried-and-true recipes. This is an important cookbook because it actually starts you thinking about how things taste. An interior dialogue ensues and I find that I begin to construct my own food and wine relationships.
“The Flavour Principle” would also serve as a perfect gift for any foodie in your life. It’s beautiful to look at with a wonderfully tactile hard cover and illustrations by Ryan Szulc, a Toronto photographer. Szulc’s still lifes of food and drink are imaginative and so attractive that I’m quite sure that he must be using some sort of magical camera. (Where can I buy that?) There is an introduction that explains the conceptual underpinnings and funny little anecdotes and essays are interspersed among the recipes. There are tips on cooking techniques and lists of ingredients for a global pantry which I will be taking with me the next time that I go downtown to Nations Fresh. Anyway, the clincher to the argument “should I buy this or Nigella, or Martha” has to be, not just that this is a definitively superior cookbook (which it is), but that it’s Canadian and therefore, if nothing else, the seasons actually match the kind of food that’s available. (A factor that often becomes an irritant in British or American cookbooks.)
So here is a recipe from the book just to whet your appetite. And I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and give and receive all of your heart’s desires.
Argentinian Short Ribs
from “The Flavour Principle”, Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. chopped jalapeno pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup red wine
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
4 tbsp. olive oil
6 Argentinian short ribs on the long bone
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup chopped red onions
1 tsp. diced jalapeno pepper
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
2 cups beef stock, homemade or store-bought
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 inch strip of orange peel
1) Combine garlic, oregano, thyme, mustard, paprika, chopped jalapeno, wine, vinegar and 2 tbsp. olive oil in a bowl. Arrange short ribs in a single layer in a large dish. Pour marinade over the ribs. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 12 hours.
2) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
3) Remove ribs from marinade, reserving marinade. Pat ribs dry and season with salt and pepper.
4) Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, brown meat well on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Reserve.
5) Spill out all but 1 tbsp. oil. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and diced jalapeno and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, stock, Worcestershire sauce and reserved marinade. Bring to a boil, scraping up any bits on bottom of pot. Add short ribs and orange peel or place all ingredients in a casserole dish.
6) Cover and bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until ribs are fork-tender. Remove short ribs to a baking sheet.
7) Increase heat to 400 degrees F.
8) Skim any fat from sauce. Place over medium heat and reduce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
9) Roast short ribs for 15 minutes. Return to sauce.
Mmm — what could be better than tender, fatty short ribs with mashed potatoes in snowy weather? You will need this in January!