Pete’s Burgers: The Coq au Vin (feat. Pheasant)

Last summer I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow and had dinner with one of Wayfair’s business partners, Good Ideas.  The Good Ideas guys know how to do a tradeshow dinner (amongst other things like innovative composters and chicken coops) and we enjoyed a couple hours of wine and massive amounts of Italian food.  During the course of the dinner I discovered Greg, the owner, has a sprawling ranch in South Dakota where he avidly hunts along with the Cary, Mike, and various other folks from the company.  I in turn babbled about my love of game meat and my complete lack of the necessary intestinal fortitude to hunt.  We found a yin and yang relationship there, and Greg agreed to send me a bunch of pheasants next time he went hunting as long as I came up with a good recipe for them.

Now, my teeth were stained purple and we’d all been on our feet for 12 hours, so I wasn’t exactly sure whether our agreement would come to fruition.  Then, a few months later, I got an email that I would be receiving a big box of birds in a few days.  Well then.

Here's a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don't tell your wife that it's coming and let her open it while you're at work.  Hilarity ensues.No, no, no.  Actually, I was in the dog house after that one

Here’s a good trick to play on your wife: make friends with some hunters and have them send you a box of dead animals during the holiday season.  Don’t tell your wife that it’s coming and let her open it while you’re at work.  Hilarity ensues.
No no, don’t do that actually.  I was in the doghouse after that one

A box of three gallon-sized bags with multiple frozen pheasants in each.  The pheasants were fully cleaned and skinned aside from one feather-covered wing that they like to keep on for identification purposes.  Definitely added to the slightly macabre scene and the general rage of my wife, though.  Since it was mid-December and we were planning to be out of town the next few weekends, I moved all three bags to the chest freezer in the basement.

In the following weeks, there weren’t many days that went by that I didn’t think about what the hell I was going to do with these things.  I originally wanted to make sausage but with how lean the meat was, I would need to probably go with a 1:2 ratio of pheasant to pork fat to make an enjoyable sausage.  So, it sat and I sat, and the weeks passed without me making a move.

Nemo got me housebound and antsy, so I thawed out a package and went with my original idea: fully prepared pheasant coq au vin, removed from the bones, ground, and formed into a patty.  Had no idea how it would work out, but what else is new.  Let’s start with some mirepoix.

I don't know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic

I don’t know why I need to show a photo every time, but I do.  This is carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in case you were previously unaware

I chopped everything shown on the cutting board and placed in a bowl to wait their turn, then pulled the birds out of the bag and laid them on the cutting board.

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had not concept of how big these things were since all I could see was feathers

My guess as to how many birds were in each bag ranged from 1 to 7.  I had no concept of how big these things were since all I could see were the feathers.  Turns out the answer is 2.  These both looked identical, the one on the right is just wing side down

The birds smelled clean and poultry-like, but not like the occasionally farty smell of thawed grocery store sweatshop chicken.  I was immediately struck by how much the body looked like rabbit, particularly the thighs.  The wing was an odd sight, but it was easy to remove which left me to try and figure out how to break the pheasants down.

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process

Wings removed.  The bird on the bottom looked like the dogs got after it a bit during the retrieval process.  Either that or someone left loose change and their car keys in the shotgun barrel by accident

Since I was planning to braise bone-in, I wanted to break each bird down into two breast and two thigh portions.  I started by cutting perpendicular to the backbone and separating the thighs from the breast portion.  For the thighs, one cut through the center of the backbone was all I needed, but since the chest had to be cut on both sides, the breast bone was a little trickier.  The bones were thin and east to cut through with a little pressure, but I still felt like a I was mauling these things.    Eventually each bird ended up like this.

Very little trim away, mostly just the featery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let's move on

Very little to trim away, mostly just the feathery butt portion and the neck which I elected not to use after seeing the worm-like throat.  Let’s move on

It was around this time that I recognized the small tears in the flesh were likely due to the birdshot that brought the pheasant down.  I inspected each piece thoroughly but didn’t find any shot during the breaking down process aside from one small piece.  Made me a little wary about my teeth surviving the consumption of the finished product.

After breaking down the second bird, I had this pile of meat.

Been experimenting with shots by my window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

Been experimenting with fotos by the kitchen window for less awful photography on this blog.  This one came out arty and oddly washed out

With the ingredients all prepped, I heated up a few tablespoons of bacon grease in ‘Lil Blue.  After a good seasoning of salt and pepper, the pheasant went into the hot grease to brown in two waves.

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass given the size of the birds

Bottom right is the breast and tenderloin from my experiment with deboning.  Seemed like a huge pain in the ass and waste of time given the size of the birds

Once the meat had some decent color, I removed it from the pot and dumped in the mirepoix with a lot of dried herbs de provence.  After a few minutes of cooking they started to brown slightly around the edges and were pretty fragrant.

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs

Again with the mirepoix, not sure what this shot proves or informs.  For some reason the last batch of onions Kristi and I purchased delivered an equivalent experience to getting pepper sprayed when chopping

At this point I added a few bay leaves, a bottle of red wine (#3BuckChuckMerlot) and turned up the heat until the liquid started bubbling.  After lowering the heat a little,  I let the wine and veggies simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the liquid a bit.  Then the browned pheasant pieces headed back in.

I was already well aware that this meal was running the risk of being extremely dry

I was already well aware that this meat was running the risk of being “The Turkey in Christmas Vacation”-level dry

After topping off with a little chicken broth to fully cover the meat, the lid went on and the heat went down to low for 60 minutes.  Leaving me with this:

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magic

Amazing how much different it can look in a short time.  Braising is magical and I’m a wizard y’alllll

I pulled the pot off of the heat and let it rest for a few minutes before transferring the meat to a cutting board.  While the meat cooled, I removed the mirepoix from the pot using a slotted spoon and into a bowl lined with cheese cloth.

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person's face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

More artsy window shots.  Even if they feel like they belong on a blog that has a cursive-written alliterative title instead of a fat person’s face photoshopped on a pig, I still like these shots

After a few minutes of cooling, I twisted up the cheesecloth tight while holding it over the bowl and started to press some of the excess liquid out of the vegetables.  Press, tighten the cheesecloth, press some more, tighten, etc.  Eventually, I was content with the amount of excess moisture I’d pressed out.

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  That liquid is what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stew.  I am unpleasant to dine with

That liquid was like a flavor explosion.  It was what I hope for in any stew broth and why I am so often disappointed in stews that I don’t make myself.  I am unpleasant to dine with

The pressed liquid went into the braising pot with the reserved cooking broth and set over low heat to reduce for the next few hours.  Which brings me back to the braised pheasant.

Here's a little thing: do this at home and tell your young child these are chicken McNuggets.  Then  blame Ronald

Here’s an idea: I should do this again in a few years and tell my young children that these are chicken McNuggets.  Then eat all their chicken McNuggets when they refuse to eat them on future visits to McDonalds

With the meat cooled, I went through the relatively annoying process of pulling the meat off of the bones and trying to fish out any small bones and bird shot.  Although there are less gnarly tendon-y pieces than on a bigger bird like chicken or turkey, I couldn’t believe all of the tiny pinbones around and in the thigh meat.  After some lightly burned fingers and frustration, I had this bowl:

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn.  I don't think it's possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

Even the thigh meat was extremely lean and white when torn. I don’t think it’s possible to cook this bird in a short enough period of time to keep it moist

With this stage complete, I moved the meat and vegetables into the freezer for 30 minutes to chill to an easier grinding temperature.  While that cooled, I put together the attachments for our Kitchenaid mixer that makes it into a relatively easy to use meat grinder.

Finally, it was time to grind.  I loaded a handful of the shredded pheasant and pressed mirepoix into the grinder, continuing by alternating handfuls of both.

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spoungey feeling, but I knew that most of the moisture that would make them unpleasant once through a grinder were gone

The pressed veggies.  Still a little spongy feeling, but I knew that the excess moisture that would make the final ground product watery was gone

I've shown this grinder in action a few times.  Since the meat was cooked, it was relatively easy, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

I’ve shown this grinder in action a few times, but I like sharing my multitasking skills with a camera.  Since the meat was cooked, it looked a little less appetizing, but it was still nice seeing the grinds that had equals parts meat and veggies

With the meat and vegetables fully ground the mixture looked a bit like sand, which had me concerned about how dry it would be.  So, I added some broken homemade mayo.

Quick sidenote: my lovehandles have lovehandles these days, so I’ve been dabbling in a few different types of cooking and/or diets.  Making homemade mayo isn’t healthy, but it’s healthier since it uses better oil and no preservatives.  It’s also extremely frustrating and doesn’t work (correct term: emulsify) 50% of the times I’ve done it.  In those cases, you end up with lots of broken mayo; essentially olive oil, egg yolks, lemon juice, vinegar and some seasonings coexisting unpeacefully in a small space.  Seemed like the perfect item to fatten up and bind my ground meat mixture.

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper. The greenliness of the homemade mayo is the best part

Couple big spoonfuls and a heavy pour of sea salt and black pepper.  The green color of homemade mayo and the sharp olive flavor are the best parts

After a few minutes in the mixer, the ground mixture looked like this:

First big moment of doubt; looked more like lunch line tuna salad than what I was going for

First big moment of doubt.  It looked more like cafeteria tuna salad than what I was going for.  Mmmm, cafeteria tuna salad

The ground mixture went into the fridge for an hour long “gettin to know ya” sesh which I was hoping would bring the flavors together and firm it up a bit.

All the while, the braising liquid simmered.

Love the lines on the side, they are like merit badges for patience

Love the crusty high flood mark-type lines on the inside.  They are like merit badges for culinary patience

Once I felt the ground meat was ready for cooking (read: I was hungry), I heated up a round bottom pot on the stovetop and made a couple tablespoons of roux.  Once the flour had cooked for a few minutes and the roux had a little color, I whisked in the reduced braising liquid to make a poor man’s demi glace.

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn't into it but wanted some of the demi glace

Demi Glace makes everything better and more palatable.  Kristi was not into this meal until she heard a demi glace was involved.  Then she still wasn’t into it but wanted some of the demi glace

With the sauce over low heat, I heated up a little olive oil in a pan and formed the ground pheasant meat into a patty.

Looks extremely high fat, but it clearly wasn't.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren't

Looks like extremely high fat sausage, but it clearly wasn’t.  Had to avoid the rage I usually feel towards things that should be fatty that aren’t

Flip, fry, then smother with sauce.  That’s right, a burger post with no bun.  It was a friggin’ blizzard for cripes sake!  Trains weren’t running!  It felt like end of days outside and there was no chance I was hiking to 7-11 to engage in a knife fight over the last pack of hamburger buns.

Anyhoo, would have been a hell of a burger but,as it was, we had Salisbury steak.

Felt very old school.

Felt very old school, like I should have been giving Kristi a dressing down about not having enough starch in my collars while eating it

To get a key point out of the way, that sauce was absurd.  You could put it on pretty much anything and it would be delicious.  The burger also had great flavor, with the (slightly) gamey poultry and red wine cooked vegetables both clearly coming through in each bite.  Combined with the sauce, the flavors were rich and pretty awesome.

The only reason this wasn’t a complete victory were some texture problems.  The primary issue was that using a the broken homemade mayo threw off the egg to added fat balance a bit.  While the may was likely 3 parts olive oil, 1 part egg yolk, it should have been a half and half ratio to properly bind the burger and keep some density.  As it was, the texture was most similar to a crab cake, which probably would have been less of a big deal in a bun. The secondary issue was that  I missed some small bones and a few little ground pieces of them made it through.  Not a ton of pieces, but enough that you didn’t want to bite down too hard while chewing just in case you had one.

Oh well, all in all still a pretty successful experiment.  Thanks to Greg, Cary, and Mike for killing stuff and sending it to me.

Another weekend at home.  I have ideas.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: The Reverse Steak Oscar

As usual with these posts, people were coming over, I had too much stuff in my fridge and freezer, so I made something with that stuff.  This time around, I had a pound tub of lump crab meat from Costco that was nearing its expiration, and a bunch of different meat options to pair it with.

Despite the warm weather, I went with short ribs since I had some nice looking ones in the freezer and just received an additional payload of them from Uncle Billy.  When deciding how to incorporate the crab, I looked to my love of any steak with an Oscar topping and figured I would attempt my own spin on it.

First step was to heavily season the short ribs with salt and pepper.

The return of the good camera!  Aside from at least 3 hours of braising, the other keys to awesome short ribs are tons of salt and pepper and searing all sides before braising.  Took a lot of botched short ribs before I figured this out

My largest cast iron pan went over high heat with a little bit of safflower oil until it got very hot, just about the point of smoking.  Then the short ribs went in.

Using tongs to brown all sides is tedious but makes a huge difference.  Also, searing/browning on my stovetop brings out the worst of my OCD.  I end up acting like Phil Hartman in the Anal Retentive Chef sketch, constantly cleaning up the grease splatters around the pan only to have fresh grease immediately take its place

While those sizzled and sprayed me with occasional “f*cksh*t!” and furious arm rub inducing splatters of hot oil, I did initial prep on some carrots, onions, garlic, and celery.  I was trying to make a braising liquid that would be sauce-like, so I used the processor to chop the aromatics down like I would with an osso bucco.

Once it was all well chopped, I dumped it into Lil’ Blue which had been heating up a little olive oil over medium heat on the stovetop.

After going through this process multiple times, I’m not really sure this does anything.  Nothing really browns because there is so much liquid from the processor, and the smell doesn’t really change much.  Yet, if you asked me whether this was necessary I’d likely insist it is and pretend I know what I’m talking about

After a few minutes of the aromatics cooking, I poured in a half bottle of white wine, a 4 ounce can of V-8 and a 4 ounce can of tomato sauce plus a couple bay leaves.  Again, I wasn’t looking for a marinara, just a sauce that would reduce well and taste equally good with shellfish as beef.  Also, both of those items had been in the cupboard for far too long and needed to get used for something.

More liquid than it looked like I would need, but it always cooks down a ton during braising and if you don’t have this much you need to add cups of water during cooking.  Which seems soooo wrong, who wants beef braised in water?

With the braising liquid simmering, I preheated the oven to 325F and finished browning the final side of each short rib.

I wish I could brown stuff this well inside Lil Blue/Big Yellow, but I’ve never successfully done it without scorching the bottom of the pot.  Better to do it in a separate pan and scrape in any of the good (read: fattening) stuff

The short ribs were nicely nestled into Lil Blue and covered with a couple decorative spoonfuls of liquid over the top of each short rib, like fedoras in the douchey Dutch Oven neighborhood.

That piece to the front bugged me then and it bugs me now.  It just wouldn’t fully submerge

The braising process takes a total of 3-4 hours, so I needed to feed my guests in the interim. Because of the abundance of shrimp in my freezer, my first instinct was shrimp cakes.  The idea was just small shrimp, ground up with spices, tossed in breadcrumbs and fried in a pan; just like any other fish “cake” I’ve made.  Lets start with the food processor in mid action.

Same shot as the Grayling potstickers post, just the egg yolks for binding

For the spices I resisted the urge to go the easy route with Asian spices and a soy-based dipping sauce, only because it wouldn’t match well with the wine and tomato flavors of the main course.  Instead, I went with the simplest approach I could think of and just added crushed red pepper, garlic, and salt.

Once fully ground, the contents of the processor went into a glass bowl to let the flavors come together a bit in the fridge.

Mostly this experience made me want to make dumplings again.  That bowl looked like a delicious blank canvas

With the shrimp resting peacefully, I started working on the crab cake that would be replacing the steak as the base of this Reverse Oscar.

I’ve made crab cakes a bunch of time and usually add a bunch of other ingredients like peppers, onions and breadcrumbs in an attempt to stretch out the crab to as many cakes as possible.  On the other hand, the best crab cakes I have ever had were made almost entirely of lump crab meat and had minimal fillers.  So, I ignored the cheapskate inside me, and only added corn, egg, and a little shake of breadcrumbs to absorb the moisture from the egg.

Yes, I will happily put corn in anything, especially seafood items.  Our friend’s collective love of corn once led to an Iron Chef Corn which in turn led to incredible stomach discomfort for all who participated.  Delicious stuff, in moderation

The crab mixture joined the shrimp in the fridge for an hour or so to set up.  While all them flavors came together, Janet crawled around in the living room between Nate, Emyo, and me, occasionally pausing to attempt to eat whatever she found on the ground.  I obviously applaud her interest in trying new foods, but I draw the line when it’s Kristi’s hair or the foil from my burrito.

Once people were substantially hungry and annoyed that I hadn’t started serving food, I heated up a quarter inch of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  The ground shrimp came out by the handful, was formed into patties and dropped into a pile of breadcrumbs, making sure they were completely covered.  Once the oil was hot, the shrimp cakes went in for some fryin’.

The better camera can’t avoid the lighting issues on my stovetop.  And I can’t avoid frying things to make them taste better

After 5-7 minutes on each side, the cakes were fully cooked and ready to eat.  Thankfully, Nate reminded me I hadn’t made a sauce for dipping so I threw together a caper aioli (fancy named tartar sauce) for dipping while the shrimp cakes drained on some paper towels.  Then we ate them.

At this point I was really slacking on the fotos and consistently taking awful ones where my massive head cast a shadow on the food.  My excuse: Kristi was out of town watching Auntie Kate win the NCAA D3 Women’s Lacrosse chip and the quality of imagery suffered from her absence

As Nate said, the shrimp cakes were like fried shrimp without the hassle of pulling the tail out.  I agree, but I also enjoy the texture of ground shrimp, despite the slightly more metallic taste that comes with cooked ground shrimp vs. whole shrimp.  Pretty nice little appetizer though.

After about three and a half hours, the short ribs were ready to come out.

The moment when the braising lid comes off is always incredibly joyous right up until the moment you realize you melted your contacts into your eyeballs by sticking your face over the pot when you opened it

The meat had cooked to a perfect tenderness and separated from the bone easily in one piece when picked up with a pair of tongs.  Once the meat was out of the pot, I removed the bay leaves and put the braising liquid over low-medium heat to reduce it a bit for use as a sauce.

While the oil was still hot, I made some patties from the crab mixture, then tried to gingerly place them in the pan without burning myself or having the cake fall apart entirely.  I learned I had to accept one of those two outcomes, and after making scrambled crab cake with the first one, I decided to take the burns and make some nice looking cakes.

After a longer stretch than the shrimp cakes on each side, I had my crab cakes.

I know, the lighting is awful and looks like I am back in Philly.  I would have sworn cameras had become idiot proof at this point, but I keep finding new ways to disprove that with every picture I take

With all the components cooked, I assembled the Reverse Oscar.  Crab cake first, then a little dollop of the reduced braising liquid, then the short rib, and another dollop on top.  A dense little pile of flavor and deliciousness.

I knew this would be so rich and filling.  I love compact piles of food that are best consumed in giant bites combining every item.  My guess is most of the people who would make a statement like that have to take a deep breath before they tie their shoes and occasionally sweat from chewing gum

I had bites of the short rib and crab cake separately before combining them with every forkful.  The short rib was tender and had tons of good flavor from the braising liquid, though it didn’t hurt that it was smothered in it.  The crab cake was what I look for in a crab cake, big chunks of tasty lump crab meat with minimal other stuff muddling up the works.  The braising liquid went surprisingly well with the crab due to the white wine and the acidity of the tomatoes.

But when you put them together in one bite, wowza.  It was tough to tell what you were chewing at any given time but it all tasted so good together.  Very, very rich, to the level that all of us were filled up on those little plates, but well worth the effort.

Not sure what will be up next.  Got some stuff curing in the fridge and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new grill, but none of that will make for a post next week.  Will try not to disappoint.

Weird Crap I Cook: Beef Cheeks

Over the past seven months, I have gone pretty cheek crazy.  It all started with the cheek meat from the hogs head barbacoa, which was incredibly rich, tender, and delicious.  Since returning to Philly, I’ve had my favorite appetizer at Monks, the beer braised veal cheeks, a few times and a great beef cheeks entree at Noble in center city.  But the one thing I haven’t been able to pull off was purchasing and cooking them for myself.

I’ve called Tim’s grass fed beef guy, 10+ butcher shops in Boston and NJ, and researched online.  Nothing.  So, basically, I attend graduate school, consider myself smarter than you, yet never thought to contact any of the 20 butcher shops in the famous Italian Market one mile from my apartment.  When I finally did contact them it was the day before I was leaving Philly for two weeks and only one butcher shop, Los Amigos Meat Market, could help me.

Ever seen a kid get a Power Wheels for Christmas and take it for that first joyous spin around the backyard or living room?  Thats how I looked for the entire two hours that I drove to Tim’s house with 8 lbs of beef cheeks and 3 lbs of pork cheeks.  I think I called seven people, including Kristi, to tell them about what I purchased.  No one actually cared.

Two days later, Tim broke out his brand new Food Saver (Kristi and I give great presents) and we broke the beef cheeks up into four, 2 lb packages for freezing.  Here are mine (we divided evenly):

Food Saver is the best gift for anybody you know who loves to cook. When Tim first got his working he repackaged everything in his freezer, which I thought was weird... until I tested out the one I got for Christmas and repackaged the 10 lbs of venison, 3 lbs of short rib, 2 lbs of duck breast, and 1 lb of ground goat in my freezer. Its really fun

We froze the packages for later use: mine for a new years eve meal in Boston, Tim’s TBD.

After thawing for a couple days, and about 24 hours before they would be served, I pulled the cheeks out for trimming.  To dispel any questions/concerns, the cheeks have no skin attached, they are just the muscle from the jaw area of the cow.  They can look a little gross in their raw form.

Kristi watched me trim these after a wine-heavy dinner party at the Emyonarty's. She was 50% interested in the process, 50% interested in me not losing a finger due to poor motor skills

Underneath all of that hardened fat, silverskin, and connective tissue there are some incredibly nice looking pieces of meat.  You just need to carefully trim for an hour and hope you don’t cut yourself.

I wish I had butchering skills but I don't. Otherwise that jagged surface on the right side wouldn't be there

I have never purchase raw Kobe or Wagyu beef, but from what I’ve seen on TV and in the store, beef cheeks seem to have a similar level of marbled fat.

This picture may gross out half the readers of this blog, but to me it looks delicious

My goal was to braise the meat slow enough that the fat melted away without overcooking the outside of the meat.  In the Le Creuset I sauteed carrots, onion, celery, and garlic on the stovetop before adding a bottle of red wine, a quart of beef stock, 8-10 thyme branches, and two bay leaves.

Went with a merlot. Odd choice, but it was available and I thought the fruityness and sugars would give the meat the touch of sweetness I was hoping for

While the braising liquid reduced a little, I prepped the beef cheeks by adding a little salt to the outside of the meat.

Still a little funky looking despite the trimming. Some pieces moreso than others

The meat fit in nicely with decent spacing between each piece

Once the cheeks were added to the liquid, the lid went on and the pot headed into a 200 degree oven for the next 13 hours.  During that time I slept for nine hours, had some breakfast, and picked up a few extra supplies at the supermarket.

At noon I removed the pot from the oven, took the lid off and let the pot sit for 4-5 hours so that the fat could be skimmed off easily.  The liquid reduced less than I had expected.

Smelled like beef stew

While the cheeks settled, I started prepping a brisket to be braised.  I used a slightly different approach than the cheeks for prepping the meat and rubbed the brisket with salt, pepper, and light brown sugar.

Nice lookin' piece of meat

I browned the brisket, removed it from the pot, added carrots, onions, celery, and garlic and then removed those once they cooked for a bit.  Deglazed the bottom of the pot with red wine, reduced it by half, added thyme, a bay leaf, and a quart of beef stock.  The brisket was then added back in with the vegetables.

Unlike the cheeks, this prep was extremely easy and quick. Almost no trimming required and only had to cook for a few hours

The lid went on the pot and it headed into the oven for three hours at 300 degrees.  Which gave the new years revelers, including Marshall, Kim and Mooju who drove up for the weekend, a chance to walk down to James Gate in JP for a few pints and a warm fire.

Once we got back, I scrubbed about 6 pounds of yukon gold potatoes and peeled two large sweet potatoes.  All were cut up for easy boiling.

I love skins on mashed potatoes and don't like mashed sweet potatoes, but the combination sounded like a great compliment for the meat. I am a pretty complicated person

The potatoes all went into a pot of boiling water along with some crushed garlic cloves.  While those boiled I got the mushroom mixture that would top the dish started.  They began with chopped shallots carmelizing in olive oil before adding about a half pound of cubed portabellas, a pound of sliced shitake mushrooms, salt and pepper.

Looks like way too much for the pan but they cook down quick

While the mushroom mixture cooked, the cheeks went back into the oven, after skimming the fat, uncovered at 350 degrees.

Once the mushrooms reduced a bit, I added a pour of red wine, some thyme leaves and turned up the heat on the pan.

This is basically how I make my mushroom bruschetta also

Once the potatoes were mashed and the pony keg of Switchback (brought down from Burlington, VT) was tapped, we were ready to start eating.  The final lineup:

The mushrooms. Used to make this mixture with onions and garlic, but switching to shallots cut out a step

The mashed potatoes. The sweet potatoes add a nice color and touch of sweetness

The brisket. It overcooked a little bit but was still very tender and flavorful when sliced

...Aaaannnnd the cheeks. They looked exactly how I wanted them to. I was nervous they would completely fall apart and leave me with stew

Here’s the final plating: a base of the potatoes, a cheek (or a few slices of brisket for those that preferred it), a spoonful of the mushrooms, and a little of the braising liquid over the top.

I know I don't make pretty plates of food, but this serving method worked best for getting a little bit of everything in each bite

Bushy ran out of bowls. Also, I'm not sure why thought a second image was necessary

The cheeks were so tender that the meat fell apart when you touched your fork to it.  Because so much fat had cooked out, the meat had very little density and was light tasting despite being quite rich.  The flavors complimented each other well and I was happy to see people picking at the remaining brisket and cheeks until everything was gone (except the potatoes, made WAY too much of those).  I do wish I had salt/pepper/browned the cheeks in advance but, all in all, pretty dece.

Every time I visit Boston I start thinking about all of the cooking gear we have in storage and the stuff I want to make when I get back.  But, thats just nerd talk, I will thoroughly enjoy my last few months of business college and get back to the more elaborate cooking when the time comes.  Also, Kristi will be 8 months pregnant by that point soooooo its unlikely she’ll be too excited for the duck and lamb sausage or the Jamaican goat skewers I’ve been planning.

Anyhoo, without an awesome kitchen I am back to looking for different bloggin’ ideas.  Next week will be a new one, currently in progress and not that enjoyable (for me).