Weird Crap I Cook: The Mercato Centrale Manwich

To start, I’d like to compare this poorly trafficked and regularly unpleasant to read food blog to one of the greatest bands of all time; Pink Floyd.  Not every attempt to create a new dish is going to be a masterpiece like The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon, there is going to be an occasional Ummagumma.  Actually, I’m not comfortable with that comparison, I’ve never cooked anything that was as god awful as that ear-ulcer of an album.  Kicking off the post with a statement then disagreeing with it, comin’ in hot!

Anyhoo, as documented in our Italy trip recap from August 2010, they make a pretty amazing tripe sandwich at the food carts by the Mercato Centrale in Florence.  Cow stomach braised until tender in a broth with lots of garlic, hot chilis and tomatoes, then served with cooked greens on an Italian roll.

I forgot how massive that sandwich was. I have hands that closely resemble an albino E.T., yet they were dwarfed by that huge organ sammie

You could tell you were eating offal, but the flavor from the braising was amazing and there were none of the funky flavors that occasionally come with stomach or intestines.  Like a hot dog in NYC or a cheesesteak in Philly, it’s the type of famous street food you have to try when in another city.

Speaking of Philly, George’s Sandwich Shop on the edge of the Philadelphia Italian Market is a famous joint that serves up what they call a traditional Italian tripe sandwich.  To put their own spin on it, they offer it mixed with braised tongue, peppers, and onions.  Obviously, I had to try it.

Visually I'm not giving this sandwich a fair shake since this is after making the mile and a half walk home from the market wrapped in foil and viciously swung about by my wildly swinging arms. On the other hand, it still might look better than it tasted

Look, there is no way that place would still be in business if my sandwich was representative of how things taste usually.  This sandwich was the opposite of the Florence version in that the stomach was chewy and there was no doubt you were eating part of the digestive tract.  To be honest, it tasted a little poopy.  Even the tongue, tomatoes, peppers and onions, which are all pretty strong in flavor, couldn’t overpower it.  Only made it through a few bites on that one.

What stuck with me after sampling George’s take on tripe was how completely illogical it seemed.  It just didn’t seem like that difficult of an item to get right.  I knew I would have to make it someday.

But what does that have to do with a Manwich?  DB superfriend Lenny Leonard was visiting Boston a couple weeks ago and requested that I take my best shot at a different take on a Manwich.  My Pink Floyd, “lets make a concept album that features an 8 minute ‘song’ with nothing but animal noises and human grunts”-decision was trying to merge the Manwich challenge with the George’s re-creation.  Oh well, lets start with the tongue.

Here's the exact order I placed with David at Snow Farm in Vermont via email, "a few pounds of the beef tongue and all of the lamb/goats tongues. I'd also take a couple pounds of the goat and lamb hearts". It's like Christmas in March for my readers!

The general plan was to boil the tongue for a few hours until it was tender and could be peeled, then boiling the stomach separately, and combining them together in a Manwich-like sauce to braise.

For those unfamiliar with tongue, that outer skin is why it needs to be peeled. Thick rubbery stuff. This and the rest of my meat order from Snow Farm was left on the roof of a car in a driveway in suburban Lexington, MA for me to pick up. Pretty awesome way to procure some meat

I despised Manwiches growing up and have never come around on them at all.  I remember the taste being way too sweet with the artificial ketchup-like sauce and way too sloppy.  So that’s what I was working with from a perspective of the flavors I was going to attempt to match.

The tongue headed into a pot of boiling salted water after cutting in half to ensure it would fit.  After about 3 hours, some of the fat had cooked out into the liquid and the meat looked fully cooked.

I should admit that I started cooking this the night before, prior to learning how long it would need to boil. Had to stop halfway through and finish the next morning. Janet makes me extremely tired but I never know my limits until I'm falling asleep standing up with a giant tongue boiling on the stove. But I won't bore you with that since you've likely heard that exact sentence from hundreds of other dads

The tongue had been fully cooked for a couple hours, but the extra time is needed so that the outer layer is easy to peel off.

The olllld "take a picture of food that grosses out most people in awful lighting to make it even more grey and unappealing" trick. I practically invented that trick

After the peeling. Remarkably easy to do, the skin was almost like leather. No idea why I positioned the pieces next to each other to look like a pair of shoes aside from probably having some subliminal recognition that it looked like a couple shoes

At this point my plan was to cube the tongue and place it into a pot to braise in the Pete’s take on the Manwich sauce for another hour or so.  I didn’t give enough thought to how to cut the tongue though, and ended up slicing it in a way that would make some very big cubes.

Terrible judgement begins about now. Tongue is best when sliced thin since the flavor is far more enjoyable than the texture. Should have cut it thinner to make smaller cubes

With the tongue ready, let’s talk tripe.  I took the stomach pieces out of the package, rinsed with water and salt then stood staring at it while shielding the offensive offal from our guests with my ample stomach.

Not that disturbing to look at, mainly because the grocery store version is boiled and bleached prior to sale. Gets rid of the stomach smell, but kinda gross that you could smell a hint of the bleach. Plus, the texture is almost furry. Please wait 'til you're finished reading to sprint to the grocer to buy yourself some

While the tripe boiled for 30 minutes, I put a few ribs of celery, a bell pepper, 5-6 cloves of garlic, and a couple baby carrots into the food processor.

Either the lighting in our kitchen is getting worse or my increasing mass is eclipsing every last bit of overhead light in these pictures. I'll go with the former, damn you high efficiency bulbs!

After loading up the processor, I heated some olive oil on the stovetop in ‘lil blue.  After blending, I dumped in a chopped medium onion and the processor contents, cooking until they became fragrant (or about 10 minutes).  Then the cubed tongue went in with salt & pepper.

Poorly chopped onions and stirring the pot with a salad utensil. I was really all over the place in the kitchen that night

After a few minutes, I used a beer to deglaze the pot.

Bud Light Platinum has been the deglazing beer of choice ever since I saw the look on my friend Nate's face when having the first one out of the six pack at the super bowl. Took five separate meals over two months to get through one six pack

Add in a can of diced tomatoes, a lengthy pour of maple syrup (for the signature Manwich sickening sweetness), and the chopped boiled tripe.  Now that’s a party!

"I love you Bleu Le CreusUT... I fill you up... let's have a party... let's have a party." Enjoy getting that one out of your head, next week will have a take on the infuriating Zou Bisou Bisou song from Mad Men

The lid went on, and the pot went into the oven at 350F for some braisin’.  I already had an inkling that this wasn’t going to come out well, so the usual slow cooked anticipation wasn’t there.  Mostly just questioning what I was thinking when I decided to combine beer, stomach, and maple syrup.

After an hour or so, I pulled the pot out of the oven and found it to be far more liquidy than I expected.

Lots of green from the bell pepper and celery. Add the color green to the previous list of elements that really have no business being in the same dish together

Since I was looking for a thicker, less-liquidy consistency like a Manwich, the lid came off and the pot went over medium heat on the stovetop to cook down.

Quick sidenote: you may call a Manwich a “Sloppy Joe”, but you would be wrong.  A Sloppy Joe is a glorious New Jersey deli sandwich consisting of rye bread, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw.  That ketchup and ground beef combo you were served in the cafeteria because they couldn’t use the brand name “Manwich” does not deserve the title Sloppy Joe when there is already a king on that throne.  I don’t think you’re getting it, I might need to take some pictures this weekend in NJ and drop some knowledge next week.

After fifteen minutes or so, the stomach and tongue Manwich had cooked down to the thick consistency I was hoping for.

Looks a little like Manwich, no? Either that or something similar to chili or bolognese. I wasn't intimidated by it, but I also wasn't looking forward to digging in

With the meal ready to serve, I had to assess the situation.  Here’s what I had going in my favor: Maiers potato rolls which make anything at least 50% edible, Len and Con who have previously shown a willingness to eat pretty much everything, and Buschy was willing to give it a shot.  However, I was pretty sure that the stomach could have used another hour of cook time, the sauce was too sweet (to my taste), and generally this wasn’t a very appealing meal.  But, we had to at least try it.

Didn't look too bad actually. Except that lettuce, that part looked like sh*t since it was from a week old salad in a bag that was past it's prime when I bought it. Way to dress up your awful offal, Pete!

The sandwich was not m’best work (despite Lenny having two).  As mentioned before, the sauce was very sweet from the maple syrup, however I’m not sure it was any sweeter than a traditional manwich.  Could have used more pepper flavor.

The tongue was just not the right cut or texture.  Tongue is at it’s best when sliced thin or roasted until crispy after the boiling; it would have needed many more hours of braising to get to the texture I wanted.  It wasn’t all bad, the flavor was decent and the meat was tender, but odd in the context of the sandwich.  The stomach didn’t add a whole lot of good, mostly just some annoying chewiness and a hint of organ flavor.  Just not a well thought out dish.

To make matters worse I lost track of time when cooking the carnitas (for the ladies) and also made some inferior tortillas (compared to last time) to go with it.  A poor performance by me across the board, punctuated with flu-like symptoms a couple hours later and having to go to bed while there was still a living room full of people in our apartment.  Hostess with the Mostest dudes!

Heading to NJ for some food activities and fantasy baseball.  Will document anything edible.

Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: Kitchen Sink Bolognese

Growing up I wasn’t that big a fan of tomatoes, and strongly disliked red sauce with my pasta.  I preferred my pasta tossed with butter and garlic, then sprinkled with a couple spoonfuls of parmesan cheese.  Correction: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, garlic and cheese.  Look, these love handles weren’t going to build themselves.

I’d always assumed bolognese and meat sauce were the same thing; ground meat and tomato sauce cooked together.  Only recently as I’ve come around to tomato based sauces have I realized how different (and friggin’ genius) a good bolognese can be.  I’ve been blown away by the bolognese at Ten Tables in JP and Stella in the South End; not so much sauce, but rather a sauce-like combination of tender vegetables, meat, and tomatoes.  Almost like an Italian chili served over pasta and, like chili, you can make a delicious one with pretty much whatever meat and vegetables are in your fridge.

Been awhile since I've had a Janet pic on the blog, but she is the bawmb even when she is a little terrified on a swingset. The link to Kristi's blog about Janet is on the right if you want a more regular dose of her

I started out by thawing 3/4 pound of beef chuck and picking up a pound of ground pork at the grocery store.  Once the beef had thawed, a couple chopped carrots, cloves of garlic, ribs of celery, an onion and some olive oil headed into ‘lil blue to saute for a bit.

Between soups, braises, and roasts, we go through a lot of carrots, celery, and onions in the Ryan household. Five years ago, I rarely cooked with those items, took me awhile to appreciate their importance

I was hoping the meat would have a balance of consistent bits of ground pork and the occasional meaty thread of beef.  I tried to slice the beef somewhat thin perpendicular to the grain so that it would break down into bite sized pieces during cooking.  Once the onions started to look a translucent, I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg before adding to the pot.

Having two types of meat was good, three would be even better, and I honestly don't know where we'd start to see diminishing returns. I look forward to figuring that out for myself, assuming I don't burst into flames first from the rapidly increasing friction between my thighs when I walk

After letting the beef and pork brown for a few minutes, I added a half pound of quartered baby bella mushrooms.  Questionable whether they would hold up over the course of a long, slow roasting, but I really like mushrooms and they were in the fridge.

At this point, I felt like I was going to need to accidentally drop one of Janet's diapers in this pot in order to make this anything less than delicious. Decided not to do that

After cooking together for five more minutes, I added a cup of milk.  Never would have thought to do this on my own, but that’s why I always do a little research before diving in.  It was in every reputable recipe I saw.

Weird stuff boiling meat in milk. Went against many of my better instincts despite clearly being the way every bolognese I have ever enjoyed is cooked

While that cooked for 10 minutes to reduce the milk down, I popped open a couple cans of whole tomatoes, drained them, and reserved the liquid.

Trying to figure out the difference between "whole peeled" and "whole plum shaped peeled" canned tomatoes at the store makes you want to punch a grocer. From what I can tell, it's a size and shape thing, which might seem obvious from the name of the can but also seems completely illogical to differentiate. Explain to me why I am wrong about that, my jerk Italian friends

I chopped the tomatoes by hand (could have easily done it in the processor) and made sure to save the extra juices in the process.

Back to ‘lil blue: with the milk reduced almost completely I poured in a little over a cup of the finest Charles Shaw in my home.

Kinda spoofy that a sauce that is generally associated with tomatoes still doesn't have any in it but looks entirely edible. We'll get there

After another 10 minutes of reducing, the chopped tomatoes headed into the pot with a little of the reserved liquid and lots of salt and pepper.

And this looks a lot worse to me. I just despise poorly incorporated cooked tomatoes. I once had a shellfish risotto in Florida that was delicious aside from the chef's decision to throw in some raw halved grape tomatoes late in the cooking process. If he hasn't been attacked by a customer yet, I'd be happy to head back down there (four years later) and give him the old fork in the eye

Lid went on, and the pot headed into a 300F oven for 6-8 hours.  Unlike other slow roasted meats, this one will give your apartment nothing but good smells.  If anything, it was borderline insanity inducing due to how delicious it smelled and how long it took to be ready.

After six hours of few activities aside from watching football and playing with Janet, it was finally time to take ‘lil blue out of the oven and peek under the lid.  Don’t worry, after a few rounds of losing my eyelashes overzealously putting my face over a lid as I remove it, I’ve learned my lesson.

Very similar to how Momere's baked beans look when the lid first comes off after 6 hours. Just slow roasted goodness, and I love the look of the bubbling holes

Gave this a good stir and sent it back into the oven uncovered for another half hour to cook off the excess liquid.  Gave me a chance to boil water and cook a pound of pasta shells to an al dente texture.  Let’s check out the finished botobogese.

That's lookin' like one mighty fine pasta sauce

I started out by reserving some of the bolognese to the side then stirring the pasta into the remaining sauce.  When I looked up from doing this Kristi, Conor, and Trish were all giving me the nod that said, “why don’t you just go ahead and stir in all of the sauce”.  So I did, and they were right.

To explain the earlier misspelling, when I was in Shanghai with Wharton folks a poorly translated room service menu featured "Speghatti Botobogese". Aside from sending a friend into a maniacal laughing fit, "botobogese" has become the general way I refer to my bolognese in conversation, much to the confusion of others

Before putting the pot back into the oven for another 10 minutes to finish the pasta, I didn’t need approving nods to reinforce my decision to throw a couple handfuls of cheese on.  Which left us with this:

Melted cheese on top of rich meat sauce and pasta? Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves

The strongest flavors in the sauce came from the meats which had cooked to the perfect tenderness.  The carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes had a uniform texture in the sauce with the mushrooms showing up in the occasional bite.  The flavors weren’t overly Italian since there weren’t any herbs or spices aside from the nutmeg, salt and pepper, but the slow cooked garlic and tomatoes made up for that.  It was really freaking good, and held up over the multiple days it took to finish that enormous pile of pasta bake.

This was either day 2 or 3, but it was still delicious. Especially with a good sized sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Hey, these lovehandles... eh, nevermind. I wore that one out pretty quickly

I’ve already made this a second time with ground turkey and beef chuck and it was awesome once again.  Next step is to make a pizza with just the botobogese and cheese, since that would be pretty much mindblowing.

I think I’ve over extended myself with this weekend’s food project, but we’ll see how it goes.  Couldn’t be more of a stretch than the extended Leggett family trusting me with cooking them 30 pounds of turkey over Thanksgiving.  I rewarded them by forgetting to remove the giblet bag.

Shin Steak Osso Bucco

I love osso bucco and generally order it whenever I see it on a menu.  Actually, let’s say a reputable restaurant menu.  I learned that lesson a few years ago at a subpar Italian restaurant that clearly didn’t understand the importance of slow cooking the veal shanks leaving me with fat and chewiness.

Despite my love of the dish and braised meats in general, I’ve never cooked osso bucco myself.  This is likely due to my love of using cheap cuts and not being willing to spend the cash to purchase veal shanks.  When I noticed something labeled “shin steaks” at Stop and Shop, I recognized an opportunity.

I didn’t need to go to the butcher’s window to get an explanation on this; I figured it was basically an osso bucco cut from a full sized cow.  And, hey, the price is right for this cheap DB bastid!

According to Wikipedia (I was going to pretend I knew this before a crisis of conscience), osso bucco means “bone with a hole”.  While a shin steak from a full-sized cow qualifies as osso bucco, it still isn’t the traditional veal variety.  It’s basically a cross section slice of a beef shank.  So, lets call this version of the dish Awso Bucco (copyright Conor Russel inc, 2011) moving forward.

I started out by trimming the fat and outer connective tissue from the shin steaks then tying them up with kitchen twine to prevent them from falling apart.

That one on the far left was a total rip off at $2.86 due to the large bone. I’m not the Monopoly man over here!

The shin steaks were seasoned heavily with salt and pepper then went into Big Yellow with a little olive oil to brown for a bit.

To continue with the Monopoly references, the shin steak on the far left was like Baltic Ave.  You knew it would be fun and better than expected, but you’d be pissed if it was your only option

While the steaks browned, I threw an onion, a couple ribs of celery, a few peeled carrots, and 4 cloves of garlic in the food processor and gave them a good choppin’.

Saw this in one of the recipes I referenced. It made complete sense to me instead of chopping the vegetables small by hand.  You could see how much it would break down and make for a nice texture after braising

After about 7 or 8 minutes, I flipped the steaks and started browning the other side.

I was going to pretend the kitchen twine wasn’t noticeably missing from this picture but figured someone would point it out.  The steaks were too thin and I am horrible at tying knots, so the string had to go

After a few more minutes I pulled the shin steaks from the pot and dumped the contents of the food processor in to cook for a bit.

This type of heavily food processor-ed vegetables never looks right, but previous attempts include the delicious mushroom paste I made for venison tacos and my traditional ginger, garlic and onion base for fried rice

Since the food processor basically makes a garlic/onion/carrot/celery juice with pulp, the vegetables don’t really brown or caramelize, they just cook.  Not sure how to expound on that eloquently, but there are no visual signs that things are cooking once you put them in the pot.  After a few minutes you just shrug your shoulders and add some tomatoes.

Went with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste. Deprived you of a self-taken pour shot here, but I think you’ll survive

Then a bottle of white wine once the tomatoes have cooked with the vegetables for five minutes.

Now that’s a pour shot!  Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, ‘course

Once the braising liquid reduced a bit over high heat, I threw in a couple bay leaves and strategically placed the shin steaks back in the pot.

By strategically placed, I just mean that I made sure they weren’t pressed against each other. I was the middle school chaperone to this Awso Bucco dance

Lid went on and Big Yellow headed into the oven for three hours at 300F, checking occasionally to make sure that too much liquid hadn’t cooked off.  After the full three hours, you should have something that looks like this:

Looked good, but wanted to reduce that liquid a little bit

Since there was a little excess liquid, I took the lid off and cooked uncovered for another 30 minutes.  Which was a perfect cue to start the mushroom and corn risotto I chose to pair with the Awso instead of polenta.

I like polenta when it’s crispy fried in cake form, but I wouldn’t do that well so I decided to go with risotto for bringing in the sweet corn flavor

After 30 minutes uncovered, the liquid had mostly cooked off, and we had a decent looking pot of braised loveliness.

Kristi was game for eating this, but I was already looking at the marrow in her portion knowing she wouldn’t touch it

Very simple meal to plate; pile of risotto, then the Awso and a big spoonful of the sauce from the pot over everything.

That is a perfect plate of 20-degree-day dinner. Best enjoyed with a giant glass of red wine and a fireplace

The sauce was rich and tasted strongly of white wine in very a good way.  There’s just something phenomenal about slow cooked sauce with tomatoes, mirepoix, and white wine.  The Awso was the perfect texture; not quite fall-apart stew meat, but insanely tender and delicious.  The sweet risotto was a solid counterpoint to the richness of the Awso, though the corn got a little sticky in the cooking process.

With all of my marrow talkin’, you didn’t think I’d actually forget to mention it?

Big bone, big chunk of marrow. See! That MBA education made me more smarter! Correction: more smarters

The marrow was good, had all the best flavors from the sauce and a melt in your mouth texture.  Wish I had made some bread to smear it on.

Next week we’ll be talking pies.

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).