I have the worry wart gene.  As long as I can remember, there has been one thing or another that I felt was worthy of worrying about.

One of those things was my house catching on fire.  Don’t even ask me when or why this started, but as a little tike it was a sensitive subject for me.  I was an expert on fire hazards, had perfect stop-drop-and-roll form, freaked out whenever I heard the roar of a fire truck, was scarred when Bert and Ernie’s Sesame Street apartment caught on fire, and paid great attention when my parents ever mentioned a “family emergency plan”.  My grandma in Kansas City even took me to a fire station to meet the firemen and sit in the fire engine so help me conquer my fear.  And, the apartment building across from my college apartment being completely engulfed in flames in less than five minutes sent my worry-wartism into overdrive.

Certain that my house could combust at any moment, I always kept a mental list of the most precious possessions I could easily nab while exiting the house.

Over the years, this preoccupation has calmed (I’m still not a fan of lighting matches…I’m weird), but I still have that mental list of belongings I would grab in case of an emergency.  As of today, that list includes my dog, my camera and it’s lenses, my laptop, and (if I grow a third arm) my Dutch oven.

Okay, maybe I could get another Dutch oven, but I really really love mine.

I don’t remember adding this hefty pot to my wedding registry, but thank goodness I did because one day a very heavy package appeared on my door step.  Thus began my love affair with the Dutch oven.

Together, we have made countless pots of soup, stews, chili, salty pasta water, chicken stock, and have transformed many-a-pound of dried beans into a week’s worth of meals.

The Dutch oven is also great for roasting chicken….

making the best bread ever…

and, for telling short ribs who’s boss.

If I could, I would eat braised short ribs every day.  Given enough time and some good ingredients, short ribs become succulent, tender, and pack a huge flavor punch.  Plus, anything you can pile over mashed potatoes makes me giddy.

Dutch oven + short ribs + a fire-free kitchen = a pretty darn good day.

Braised Short Ribs and Vegetables

Serves 4

From Gourmet October 2006

Note:  Seriously, hurry up and make this before the last of the cold weather is gone…or just make it anyway because it’s totally worth it.   If you don’t have a Dutch oven, a 3-5 quart heavy pot will do.  The reason I can’t eat short ribs every day is because they are a bit pricy, this isn’t the most dietetic of dishes, and it takes a long time to make.  BUT, it’s worth it for a special occasion.

For short ribs:

4 (8-ounce) pieces bone-in beef short ribs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 medium carrots, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, puréed in a blender with juice

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

4 cups brown veal stock or high quality beef stock

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For vegetables:

20 pearl onions (5 ounces)

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

2 cups chicken stock

4 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces

3 thick bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces

8 medium fresh white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered lengthwise

Braise short ribs:
Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 250°F.

Pat beef dry. Heat oil in a wide (12 inches in diameter) 3- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef on all sides, turning with tongs, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add chopped carrots, onion, and garlic to oil in pot and cook over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup puréed tomatoes (reserve remainder for another use) and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add wine and boil, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes.

Add veal or beef stock, thyme, bay leaf, vinegars, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to sauce, and bring to a simmer. Skim fat from surface, then add beef along with any juices accumulated on plate and cover pot with a tight-fitting lid. Transfer to oven and braise until beef is very tender, 4 to 5 hours.

Cook vegetables while beef braises:
Blanch pearl onions in a wide 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan of boiling water 1 minute, then drain in a sieve. When just cool enough to handle, peel onions with a paring knife, trimming root end just enough to leave onions intact.

Heat butter in dried saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook onions, stirring occasionally, until brown spots appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar, then add chicken stock and carrots and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Uncover and boil, if necessary, until liquid glazes vegetables.

While vegetables are simmering, cook bacon in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and bacon is browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to vegetables in saucepan.

Assemble dish:
Transfer a short rib to each of 4 soup plates and keep warm in oven. Pour sauce through a medium-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids, then skim fat from sauce. Boil sauce, if necessary, until thickened and reduced to about 3 cups. Season with salt and pepper. Add about 2 cups sauce to vegetables (reserve remaining sauce for another use), then spoon mixture around short ribs (serve over mashed potatoes if desired).