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Zinfandel and Dry Creek Valley are classic companions, like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Romeo and Juliet without the tragedy, Lady and her Tramp. Their long-time relationship is expressed beautifully in our Wine of the Week, Quivira 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($22).

As you would expect, the wine has layer upon layer of berry flavors, with bright raspberries in the high notes and boysenberries and blackberries contributing deeper elements. It's all punctuated by exclamations of sweet spice, including clove, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and a bit of anise.

Tannins are fairly smooth and restrained and although the alcohol, at 14.5 percent, adds a bit of heat and suggestion of sweetness, it's not off the charts like some zinfandels.

The wine is extraordinary with almost anything from the grill or a wood-burning oven, especially barbecued chicken, quail, goat, lamb, beef, pork and even tofu. Tomato-based sauces, earthy mushrooms, black beans, winter squash, farro, barley and corn all connect beautifully with the wine.

For today's recipe, I've paired braised short ribs with slow-cooker polenta. The polenta is ideal on Halloween because you can leave it untended for quite some time and even keep it in the cooker overnight so that it makes a great before-school breakfast in the morning. The combination of the tender meat, rich sauce and creamy polenta accented by the flashes of orange zest in the gremolata make for one </CW>of my favorite pairings ever.

Braised Short Ribs with Slow-Cooker Polenta & Orange Gremolata

Makes 4 to 6 servings

— Creamy Polenta, recipe follows

5 pounds beef short ribs

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 yellow onions, trimmed and cut into ?-inch thick rounds

12 to 18 garlic cloves, peeled

3 cups medium-bodied red wine

3 cups beef stock, preferably homemade

1 small cinnamon stick

3 whole cloves

2 allspice berries

? star anise

3 Italian parsley sprigs

— Zest of 1 orange, in strips

— Zest of 1 orange, grated

? cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

First, make the polenta, starting it at least 5 hours before serving the short ribs.

To make the ribs, set the ribs on a clean work surface and season all over with salt and pepper.

Pour the olive oil into a heavy pot, set over medium heat and sear the ribs on all sides. Transfer the ribs to a plate, add the onions to the pot and saute, turning frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes, until they just begin to soften. Add the garlic, saute 1 minute more, season with salt and return the ribs to the pot.

Pour in the wine, the beef stock and enough water to completely cover the ribs.

Cut a square of cheesecloth, set the cinnamon, cloves, allspice berries, star anise, parsley sprigs and strips of orange zest on the cloth, fold it and tie it with kitchen twine. Tuck into the liquid.

Increase the heat to high and when the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer gently for 1? hours. Uncover the pan, check to be certain the short ribs are still covered and if they aren't add a bit of water. Turn over each rib, cover the pan and cook for another 1? hours or until the meat is fork tender and falls off the bone.

To serve, transfer the ribs to a platter, cover and keep hot. Increase the heat to high and simmer the cooking liquid until it is reduced about 1? cups. Skim off any fat on the surface of the sauce, taste and correct for salt and pepper. Strain the sauce into a bowl or small pitcher.

Working quickly, combine the grated orange zest and parsley and season with a little salt to make the gremolata.

Ladle polenta into soup plates and top with ribs; pour a little sauce over each portion and sprinkle with gremolata. Serve immediately, with the remaining sauce and gremolata alongside.

Creamy Polenta in a Crock Pot or Slow Cooker

Makes 12 to 16 servings

12 cups boiling water

3 cups polenta, such as Bale Grist Mill, Community Grains or Giusto's

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

4 tablespoons butter, preferably organic

4 ounces grated cheese, such as Vella Dry Jack

— Black pepper in a mill

Pour the boiling water into a slow cooker and set the control to high. Pour in the polenta, whisking to encourage the grains to separate. Add the salt and cover with the lid.

Give the polenta a quick stir every 15 minutes or so until it begins to thicken, which will take about an hour. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4 hours, stirring now and then if you think of it. When the polenta is tender and creamy, reset the heat to warm and hold for up to 10 hours, stirring now and then. If at any point the polenta seems too thick, thin it with a little water.

To serve, reset the heat to low, stir in the butter and cheese, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.

E-mail Jordan at michele@ micheleannajordan.com.

You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com

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