Nothing ruins dinner plans faster than forgetting to take whatever you were going to cook out of the freezer. Or maybe that's just me. My back up in this situation is usually eggs or PB&J's, but I am always disappointed with this option because—while my kids don't care—I'm never satisfied when dinner isn't what I planned it to be. Then I spend the whole evening grouchy and/or digging in the cupboards for something, anything to snack on.
Today, in a rare moment of clarity, I had my act together and defrosted not one, but two items: 3 lbs of ox tails and a package of chicken legs. Since today is cold and drizzly, I'm cooking up both, making two dinners at the same time. Boy does the house smell delish. (Photos to come as soon as everything is cooked.)
I have tried and tried and tried to love slow cooker cooking, but I gotta say: I give up. I am never 100% thrilled with anything I've made, and since I'm generally not a fan of stringy chicken stews or off-tasting potato soups or anything to do with making beef in a crock pot, I finally gave the thing away. (Please tell me I am not alone.)
Instead, what I prefer is slow-braising things in a heavy pot in my oven. I'd rather have my meat braise in a sturdy pot in the oven for 3 or 4 hours rather than slow cook for 8 or 10. That's exactly what I did with the ox tails. I put them into the oven then went to the gym and ran errands. I know not everyone feels comfortable leaving the house with the oven on...that's your call.
ITALIAN-STYLE BRAISED OX TAILS
Literally a 5 minute prep and 4 hours of practically hands-off cooking.
Dump the following into a heavy cast-iron (I use Martha Stewart's cast-iron chili pot sold at Macy's) or enameled cast-iron (Le Creuset, Staub, IKEA, Martha, etc.) pot:
- 1/3 bottle of red wine
- 4 cups of homemade basic marinara—tomato/garlic/olive oil (or your favorite jarred brand)
- 1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- a sprig of Italian parsley
- 3 lbs of ox tails
- salt to taste
- a drizzle of fruity olive oil
Place lid on pot. Cook for 3 hours at 325º then reduce heat to 300º for the final 1 hour. After 3 hours the ox tails will be saucy, after 4 hours the gelatin released from the ox tails will begin to thicken the sauce. Let it go a further hour if you want the meat falling off the bone. Season with plenty of pepper once it's removed from the oven. Remove bay leaf and parsley (and skim fat) before serving.
I like to serve this in big bowls over soft-cooked polenta, but it's also delicious over crispy pan-friend polenta or wide pasta noodles like pappardelle or fettucine. Sprinkle with grated pecorino romano.
For the chicken legs:
I grew up eating this. Serve this with steamed rice and a green vegetable. Best of all, this entire dinner serves 4 and costs about $5.
Place all of the following into a pot, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for about an hour until chicken is tender. Remove dates before serving (they are for flavoring not eating). Refrigerates and freezes well.
- 1 package of chicken legs (about 6)
- 1 cup of light soy sauce (meaning low sodium)
- 1 cup of water
- 4 whole chili peppers
- a handful of jujubes (aka Chinese dried dates, avail at Asian markets), optional
- a 1 in piece of ginger, peeled
- 1 brick of Chinese brown sugar (or a 1/4-1/2 cup of regular dark brown sugar)