For a town that loves to eat, I am pretty sure no one knows how to cook in Philly. At least, that is my impression after discovering how many cooking classes are offered around the city these days. From the Walnut Restaurant School to Cook Philadelphia to the Wine School, there is at least  four cooking classes going on every freaking week.  You can get taught by anyone from a celebrity chef to a bestselling cookbook author.

Along with all these classes, there is the daily pandemonium of the frozen food aisle at Trader Joes. It’s just damn sad, but I am pretty sure the only folks cooking with confidence in this city are working in restaurants. I am not one to complain, since I often get free meals (being an internationally famous food writer offers such privileges), but at least I can cook a few standards when the need arises.  However, I got pulled into the Great Philadelphia Cooking Hysteria this week, and attended a cooking class at my dearest Wine School.

This week’s class was all about the Holiday dinner. The wine was flowing and the portions were surprisingly large. The highlights of the evening was shortribs braised in imperial stout, which reminded me of the most tasty brontosaurus I have ever had. (I kid: the portion was HUGE. I have no way of knowing what a dinosaur  would taste like. Maybe like turtle? )

Also on the menu was “Toasted Italian Chestnuts and Pearl Onion Confit” which was a knock-out. Both dishes were paired with Cannonau, an ancient clone of Grenache from Sardinia and a Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia. Very nicely done.  Let’s hope everyone starts cooking like this. Dinner parties won’t feel like Russian Roulette anymore.


Shortribs braised in Imperial Stout.

Serves 8-10

Short Ribs:

  1. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  2. 5 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into eight to ten 2-by-4-inch pieces
  3. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  4. ½ cup chestnut flour
  5. 4 carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch dice
  6. 3 Spanish onions, chopped into ½-inch dice
  7. 12 garlic cloves
  8. 1 large (24 oz) bottle Imperial Stout
  9. 2 cups basic tomato sauce (for quick results, try my Mario Batali pasta sauces by Gia Russa)
  10. 2 cups Brown Chicken Stock
  11. 1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs and
  12. 1 bunch fresh rosemary sprigs, tied together with kitchen twine


  1. Leaves from 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
  2. Zest of 2 lemons, removed with a vegetable peeler and cut into julienne strips
  3. 4 ounces fresh horseradish, grated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large, heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Season the short ribs aggressively with kosher salt and pepper, and dredge them in the chestnut flour, shaking off the excess. Place them, 5 at a time, in the hot oil and sear until deep brown on all sides, about 15 minutes per batch. Transfer the short ribs to a plate and set aside.

Add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic to the skillet and cook over high heat until browned and softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, and stir in the chestnut beer, tomato sauce, chicken stock, and herb bundle. Scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to dislodge the brown bits, and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the short ribs to the skillet, cover, and place it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours.

Uncover the skillet and continue to cook for 30 minutes, or until the meat is fork-tender. Remove from the oven and use a ladle or a kitchen spoon to skim the fat from the braising liquid.

To make the gremolata, combine the parsley, lemon zest, and horseradish in a small bowl, and toss loosely by hand.

To serve, place the skillet on a cutting board or trivet on the table, and serve the gremolata on the side.


Braised Chestnut and Pearl Onion Confit.

  1. 10 ounces pearl onions (preferably red)
  2. 2 cups roasted, shelled, and skinned chestnuts; see how to roast fresh chestnuts ; (1 pound in shell or 14 ounces bottled whole)
  3. 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  4. 1/2 cup chicken broth
  5. 2 large celery ribs, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  6. 2 large shallots, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
  7. 1 sprig fresh thyme
  8. 3 tablespoons dry white wine
  9. print a shopping list for this recipe


Blanch onions in a large saucepan of boiling water 3 minutes, then drain and transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water. Drain onions and peel.

Cook chestnuts in 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add broth and celery and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes.

While chestnuts are cooking, heat remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté shallots and peeled onions with thyme and salt and pepper to taste, stirring, until onions are tender and golden brown in patches. Add wine and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes.

Gently stir onion mixture into chestnut mixture and season with salt and pepper.


Haricot Vert with Caramelized Onion, Spanish Vinegar, and Murray River Salt.