Years ago Julia Child and Robert Mondavi started a group called American Institute of Wine & Food and I happen to be a member of the local chapter here in the nation's capitol.
Mostly what the group does is organize dinners to meet the chefs and sample the food a local restaurants. I rarely go to those events, but I am particularly enthusiastic about one such outing at the Charlie Palmer's steak house where we spend a good part of the afternoon cooking with Chef Bryan Voltaggio, then sit for a late, multi-course lunch with several different bottles of wine served by the resident sommelier.
This year we covered the following:
* Preparing turkey two different ways, deep-frying and roasting, and the differences between heritage turkey and the ordinary supermarket bird.
* Brining a turkey with Bourbon.
* Frenching, assembling and cooking a crown roast of veal.
* Corn bread stuffing with home-made sausage and sage.
* Chestnut soup
* Making marshmallows for roasted sweet potatoes
* Creme brulees flavored with fresh vanilla and mint, and burned with ground candy canes.
That right there was worth the price of admission. You might even say that learning two different professional methods for Frenching a rack of veal was worth the price of admission.
But, in addition, we had a chance to banter with the chef a little over his preference for dumping large quantities of butter, cream and eggs into his cornbread stuffing (I mentioned heart-healthy alternatives and was roundly booed by everyone assembled).
We learned that the chef puts roasted chicken wings into his chestnut soup, which are then ground up with the vegetables and strained to make an incredibly rich concoction.
I discovered that Chef Voltaggio prefers to use metric weights and Celsius temperature reading when cooking with sugar because they are more accurate.
And I was pleased to pass along to my wife the ideas for mint in the creme brulee and burning with ground candy canes. She loves making creme brulees.
Then, after helping with some of the cooking, we sat down to eat everything. Did I mention that I was pretty much useless for the rest of the day?
This cooking lesson/orgy happened to fall on a day when I am normally making client meals and it also happened that Chef Voltaggio had braised red cabbage on the menu. That got my attention, since I was planning to make the very same dish for my client.
What I normally do is simply saute some red onion, then add a chopped head of cabbage, salt and some red wine vinegar to cook in a heavy pot. Significantly, at Charlie Palmer's they cook their cabbage with red wine and port in addition to the vinegar. And they throw in a sachet of cinnamon and star anise.
Well, that makes all the difference. So I wanted to pass along my amended recipe for braised red cabbage.
To wit: First, divide a medium head of red cabbage into quarters and trim away the core around the stem. Cut the cabbage into thin strips (they do this on a deli-style meat slicer at Charlie Palmer's, I do it by hand with a knife). Reserve the cabbage. Thinly slice one or two shallots.
Place the shallots along with 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 cup port wine in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce by one-third. Add the cabbage to the pot and season with about 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Stir in one tart apple (such as Granny Smith), grated. Add a sachet containing one stick cinnamon and one star anise. Cover the pot, lower the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the cabbage is extremely tender and flavorful.
The salt will draw the liquid out of the cabbage, adding to the cooking broth. But if at any point the pot looks like it might be getting dry, add some more wine.
Result: the most tender and flavorful red cabbage you have ever tasted. Serve it alongside a crown roast of veal, if you happen to have one. If not, a deep-fried Kentucky Bourbon turkey will do.