Secret Kitchen menu, 15th Jan 2011

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Calvados cocktails
Beaufort cheese puffs

Polish barszcz with wild mushroom packets
and Zubrówka

Chez Panisse braised beef short ribs with polenta,
horseradish salsa verde, red cabbage and winter leaves

Pears poached in Sauternes
with almond lace cookies

Homemade elderberry-anise and bay leaf liqueurs
About the menu

Inspiration for this winter menu came from several directions. 

The beetroot soup with mushroom packets - essentially tortellini - is a Polish dish, traditionally eaten on Christmas eve.  We had it several times while travelling in Poland and loved the sweet-sour flavour and beautifully clear ruby appearance.  Vodka is the only sensible pairing with this dish, and we served Polish Zubrówka which is flavoured with bison grass (so-called because the wild bison in Poland love to eat it).  Zubrówka is also great in an apple pie.

The braised short ribs with polenta was one of my favourite dishes at Chez Panisse.  Seasoning, roasting and braising the ribs (a process which happens over a 20 hour period) and making the polenta (slowly, slowly, for about four hours) were occasionally my jobs in the kitchen.  Butchers here in the UK don't seem to cut short ribs the same way as they do in California, so my order involved several long discussions and a couple of diagrams.  In the end they were perfect - melt-in-the-mouth tender and full of flavour.

My friend Alys inspired me to poach pears in white dessert wine after I was served delicious pears from her own tree done in similar fashion. The almond lace cookie recipe also comes from Chez Panisse. 

The elderberry-anise liqueur was an experiment following the Basque tradition of making liqueurs with anise-flavoured spirit (typically using sloes), and the bay leaf liqueur was a particularly successful copy of one we had at the end of a fabulous lunch in a trattoria in Puglia.  You have to try it to believe how delicious it is.

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