Everything Must Go...

Something had to be done about the state of my freezer. It was getting totally out of control in there; nearly every conceivable iota of space had something jammed into it. There was no room for anything new, and with Christmas baking season only two months away, that was a serious problem. I was going to need room for a butter stockpile, as well as Ziploc bags of unbaked cookie dough, ready to be pulled out and baked off when the time came. As a result, it was time to set aside my recent meatless/meat-lite dining agenda, and set about the work of clearing out our overstocked freezer.

The first item to fall into the cross-hairs of my freezer search-and-destroy mission was a roughly five pound bag of very bulky beef short ribs. I had bought them early in the summer, when my grocery store was running a rare sale on beef in which you got five dollars back for every twenty you spent. I stocked up on flank steak, the star ingredient in our beloved beef and snow peas dish, but I also bought enough short ribs to make a beef pot pie recipe that I had spotted in an issue of Martha Stewart Living at my mother's house.

I knew I liked short ribs, and the idea of combining them with beer, garlic, and rosemary with a potato crust was infinitely appealing to me. However, I also knew that I didn't want to spend the better part of a day slaving over the stove and running the oven in the dead of summer, so I stashed the short ribs in the freezer and waited for the inevitable return of cooler weather.

Now that we've reached the chilly days of mid-October and I have plenty of time on my hands to tackle ambitious recipes, there was only one obstacle standing in my way -- with roughly five pounds of meat, I knew that Martha's pot pie recipe was going to make more food than two people needed to eat. So I invited over my friend Jess for dinner and a movie; after all, they say that three's a crowd.

I got off to a bad start with this recipe, as I manged to set off the smoke alarm in my apartment while browning my way through all five pounds of beef in my poorly ventilated kitchen workspace. I had long suspected that this would eventually happen to me, as my apartment regularly fills up with smoke while cooking, but that did not make it any less frustrating to have to scurry around mid-recipe to open windows and turn on fans to silence the piercing sound of the alarm. Thankfully, it was the middle of the day, so nobody else was around to hear it and call 911 on my behalf. 

After I got everything into the oven, however, I could tell that the hassle, and all the labor was going to pay off as a heavenly aroma began to waft through the air. And I was right, the beef emerged incomparably tender, swimming in a rich, unctuous stew perfumed with the heady scents of rosemary, onion, and garlic. The only thing that didn't work for me was the thing that had attracted me to the recipe in the first place -- the unusual potato crust.

To me, the delicately-arranged layers of thinly-sliced potato were not substantial enough to hold up to the hearty filling that lay beneath. I found myself thinking of my favorite mashed potato recipe from Alton Brown, and how well I thought that its savory, garlic-infused flavor would pair beautifully with Martha's stew. It seemed like it ought to be a match made in culinary heaven.

Given the price of beef these days, and our current financial circumstances, I suspect it will be a long while before I get to test my theory. Still, this beef filling has too much potential to give up on it now. I will definitely be giving my modified recipe a shot some day. Besides, if the deliciousness that ensued when I rescued those short ribs from freezer purgatory is any indicator, good things do come to those who wait.

Braised Short Rib and Stout Cottage Pie
adapted from Martha Stewart and Alton Brown

For filling:
5 pounds bone-in short ribs, cut into 2-inch pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons safflower oil
2.5 onions, halved and thinly sliced, divided
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 (12 oz.) bottles stout, preferably Guinness (3 cups)
2 rosemary sprigs

For topping:
1 recipe Alton Brown's Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Make the filling: 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. 
1. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Dredge short ribs in flour, coating all sides. Transfer to a large plate. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, brown short ribs, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a large plate using kitchen tongs.
2. Reduce heat to medium. Add one sliced onion to Dutch oven, and cook until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Return meat to Dutch oven. Add stout and rosemary. Bring to a simmer. Cover, and transfer to oven. Bake for 2 1/2 hours.
3.  Remove Dutch oven from oven, and add remaining onions. Braise until meat is tender and onions are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove bones and shred meat using two forks. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer filling to a 12-inch (8-cup) gratin dish.
4. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees. Spread, or pipe mashed potatoes onto the top of the beef filling. Bake until topping is golden and filling is bubbling, about 1 hour.

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