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Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Blogh, Food | 3 comments



Birthday Dinners

This weekend was my son’s birthday. He turned 15. We don’t get a lot out of him these days other than grunts. A grunt is an extremely serviceable sign to the 15 year old male, and can represent assent or dissent. However, dissent is most often registered with a tirade of some sort, not a mere grunt. Mild disapproval can be expressed by it however. One becomes adept at decoding these grunts through context. It is after all what we have designed ourselves to do, in the godly, and gloomy, self-contemplations of pre-lapsarian time, or non-time as it were. (Although time is said to have come into being with the rest of creation, it is hard to see how it could possibly matter in paradise, without death).

In unhappy families, as well as happy ones, birthdays are celebrated with birthday dinners, usually a menu of favorite foods, selected by the condemned. Ledijnik, as noted elsewhere in this blogh, has a few favorite foods that elicit enthusiastic grunts. So I prepared the usual tomato based stew of sausages, shrimp, monkfish, calamari and clams, which we ate over bucatini, with garlic bread. One day he will be old enough to wash it down with some Sicilian Primitivo. Until then I will have to do it. Since I’ve posted that recipe, I’m going to post what we ate last night, another favorite of Ledijnik’s, and perfect for a slushy December eve, after the pagan tree has gone up and been decked. In terms of the tree: it’s important for me to remember that this tree represents not just the birth of the lord, but his means of execution. Now that that’s out of the way, let me proceed to food! The food is not god’s body but it ought to be. I made a Chinese stew of country style ribs with turnip, mushrooms, tofu and napa cabbage. I have published many variations of this basic recipe, but I write it again because people looking for ways to prepare a certain cut of meat might find it useful, and might not immediately assume that you can use the same basic preparation for a variety of meats.

Country Style Ribs stewed with Mushrooms and Turnips

3lbs country style ribs (find meaty ones mostly, but don’t neglect the fat!)

1 large onion sliced pole to pole

¼ cup slice ginger

2 T chopped garlic

1 T coriander seeds

1 T black peppercorns

3 star anise

1 or 2 pieces dried tangerine peel

1 stick cinnamon

1 t Szechuan peppercorns

¼ cup Shaoxing rice wine

Good pinch of salt

½ large turnip cubed

10 dried shitake mushrooms reconstituted (save soaking liquid)

½ napa cabbage shredded

1 cake of tofu cut into big cubes

1 small leek sliced at a diagonal, like a horse ear

Another ¼ cup Shaoxing rice wine

2-4 T vinegar

1 t sesame oil

Ground pepper

Chopped cilantro

Chopped scallions (about ½ cup)

Fish sauce to taste or light soy sauce

Cover the ribs with cold water and bring to a boil. Discard the water and rinse the ribs. In a soup pot, braising pot, or other thick bottomed pot big enough to hold the ribs and a whole lot of other stuff, heat some vegetable oil (not olive oil!) over high heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic, toss for a minute, reduce heat to0 medium, add spices and stir until fragrant (don’t burn). Add ¼ cup of rice wine and ribs and stir about. Then cover with cold water (cover it by about an inch) and slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 hours. Turn off heat and take the ribs out. Strain the broth. Pull the meat from the bones. Bring broth to a boil and add turnips and mushrooms and the soaking liquid (there should be about a cup of liquid). Cook 15 minutes and add napa cabbage, leaks and tofu. If there isn’t enough broth (there was when I did it) add stock or water. When they are done (it doesn’t take long) add ¼ cup rice wine, a lot of ground pepper, vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce to taste, then the cilantro and scallions. Serve over rice noodles (the pho width), or wheat noodles or rice. You can substitute any root vegetable or other kind of cabbage or green you like. I drank it with some Gewürztraminer from Alsace, but beer would be great, or sherry, or whatever gets you through the night.


  1. Hi Jon! First, sending you my wishes for a most Happy Holiday season…in whatever way you all celebrate it; then, thanks for posting this recipe, and of course your birthday story! Always enjoy reading your posts! All best, jethro

  2. “1 small leek sliced at a diagonal, like a horse ear”

    love it!

  3. Jethro, Holiday wishes to you too! Thank you.

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