Wine, Cake Balls and Redemption

I have a splitting headache, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I decided to call wine and a couple of cake balls my dinner.

It all started when I decided to do a little baking for my neighbors. I had big plans to bake last year, but my knee surgery messed with the program and I ended up giving people store-bought peanut brittle instead.

Peanut brittle. I’ve never even had peanut brittle, and yet there I was, wishing people a merry Christmas and bestowing it upon them as though I thought the stuff was terrific.

I remember being so pinched for time the day before surgery that I cruised over to the grocery store and vowed to put a bow on the first thing I saw that could even remotely be considered gift-y. The brittle was dead ahead, and so it would have to do for my neighbors. I snagged a couple of boxes for them, even though I’d been given a massive plate of cookies by one, and a batch of homemade fudge by another. The peanut brittle seemed almost like a slap in the face in comparison, but at least I was able to check the neighbors off my list before I spent a month as a couch potato in a Vicodin coma.

That was a really, really good month.

To make up for last year’s peanut brittle, I made cake balls last night. Naturally, I needed to make sure that the balls were up to my standards, and I held four back to do a little quality control. Two became this evening’s dinner.

Tonight’s activities have consisted of hours of food prep (mirepoix, anyone?), thanks to my brilliant idea of making thyme and black pepper-rubbed short ribs braised in red wine for Christmas eve dinner. And yes, I’m aware it’s not Christmas eve just yet, but there’s an oven situation here in the casa: when it comes to holidays, it’s always a challenge to choreograph what goes in, when, for how long and at what temperature, so I called in the do-ahead gods and got some time-consuming (3+ hours) braising done ahead of time so that tomorrow’s side dishes aren’t left out in the cold.

Fortunately, braised short ribs seem to quite enjoy themselves the longer they’re prepared, so I’ve pretty much just given them a 24-hour spa therapy session. Three hours of braising tonight, followed by resting, followed by a nap in the fridge, followed by a brief re-braising session just before showtime tomorrow evening.

“A hearty red wine” is what the recipe called for and, wouldn’t you know it, I just happened to have an open bottle here already. But wait, surely I must check to make sure it was suitable for braising and hadn’t gone bad in the last two days, so I had a glass — and also just enough for what the recipe called for, too. Score!

But then I realized I’d doubled the recipe. Woops. More wine was needed.

Another bottle was lurking on my counter, and it seemed like it would also do the job quite nicely. And while it clearly doesn’t matter that much when everything is reducing in a pot on the stove, I wanted to see just how close (or not) of a match the two wines were. So I had another glass. And I kinda wish I hadn’t. But for the record, they were a pretty solid pairing.

That said, the house smells divine; I just might start gnawing on a doorjamb or something before too long. The day-ahead-braising effort has clearly paid off, assuming I don’t mess something up between now and tomorrow. Only an hour longer to go, then my little short ribs get to call it a night. I, however, will resume my cleaning duties and tidy up so that I can sleep in a little tomorrow. As for what I’m thankful for, that’s easy: a season that allows me to make poor (but fun) meal choices in the name of holiday preparations, and the opportunity to host Christmas eve dinner so that I can promptly make up for my bad judgement. ‘Tis the season for redemption.

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