25 Recipes #5: Pot Roast

Another week, another delicious thing simmering away in the kitchen.  This time it was pot roast, a long slow braise making the most of an inexpensive piece of meat.

Pot Roast Before

Pot roast is one of those 50s housewife kind of meals that I imagine my mom ate growing up.  My grandma was – and still is – a total 50s housewife, complete with red lipstick and meat-and-potatoes meals on the table when her doctor husband came home from the office.  I can easily imagine pot roast, carrots, and potatoes on the table with a green salad and pie for dessert.  I don’t remember ever having pot roast growing up – my dad’s not a meat-and-potatoes guy – but I’ve had a taste for it since we shared a portion at Knight’s a few months ago.

Pot Roast Plated

Nothing fancy here: the meat and veg get a quick brown, then a slow cook in the oven for a few mouth-watering hours, until you almost can’t stand it and have to take a peek.  It’s fortunate that I did, as while the recipe called for three hours in the oven, our roast was D-O-N-E at 1:45.  While the meat rested, I reduced the hell out of the pan juices, and about 15 minutes later – and an hour ahead of schedule – we sat down to a fantastic meal.

Recipe:
Perfect Pot Roast from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, who recommends 3 hours for 3#, 4 hours for 4-5#.  I would STRONGLY recommend checking your roast with a meat thermometer at the halfway point, as our 3# roast was well beyond the temps for well-done after 1:45.  Nothing that a little gravy couldn’t fix, but it would have been INEDIBLE if we’d let it go another hour.

25 Recipes #4: Ragù alla bolognese

Sunday night’s bolognese was wildly easier and wildly more delicious than I anticipated. Ragù alla bolognese was on my 25 Recipes list in part because I keep hearing about pots of bolognese simmering away at Shana’s house – and part because while I can make a solid marinara, I really should branch out a bit in my tomato-based sauces.

Here’s the first thing I learned: there are two basic ragùs: bolognese and napoletana.  Both start with a soffrito and derive most of their flavors from the meat, but as is the way with regional cooking, the recipes diverge wildly from there, resulting in sauces that are defined by their differences rather than their essential natures.  An authentic bolognese has only a minimal amount of tomatoes, while napoletana is rich with velvety tomatoes, a byproduct of the longer growing season in Naples.  The meat is more finely chopped in a bolognese, while the soffrito of a napoletana contains more onions and herbs.

Three Meats Four Dice

Both sauces are characterized by a long, slow preparation, making them perfect for a lazy Sunday – or for a snowy night when plans have been canceled and you can wait another hour for dinner while a pot simmers away, filling the house with amazing aromas.  The longer the simmer, the better, but I started prep at 5:30, and by 7:30, we were fiending for a taste.

Meat and SoffritoSimmer Down

Ready to goFusilli Bolognese

And oh my gosh, was it worth the wait.  Shane literally groaned upon taking his first bite – always a good sign.  The sauce tucked itself into the grooves of the fusilli – Meijer’s upscale store-brand, made using the traditional bronze die process that results in a substantially better texture. We halved the recipe and would’ve eaten the entire thing, had good sense and an awareness of the caloric punch of beef AND pork AND veal AND heavy cream not prevailed.  Besides, if it was this amazing for dinner, just imagine how good the leftovers will be for lunch?

Recipe: Pasta Bolognese from Food and Wine

First (homemade) steak in 10+ years

So, it turns out that I like steak. No one is more surprised than me, especially given that I went 13 years with no beef. In the last month, I’ve had or shared four steaks, plus steak on assorted salads. That’s a lot of steak, you guys!

Tonight marked my first attempt at making a real steak in at least 10 years. I’ve been back to eating beef for a year, but I’m still pretty intimidated by cooking it, which which made tonight’s steak success even more surprising. It was perfectly grilled, you guys, tender and moist, topped with a spicy horseradish chimichurri.

Cool steak u guys

Recipe: Grilled Sirloin with Horseradish Chimichurri from Fitness

A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.

1030 Beef Barley Soup

Despite my previous enthusiasm, I’ve decided that I’m done with this recipe.  It’s just – boring. And it makes WAY TOO MUCH. And those two things are a bad combination in my book.  Let me back up.

Beef, barley, and leek soup from Smitten Kitchen
Photo by citymama

The weather was brisk today, and I anticipated spending most of the day helping my friend Olivia move into her new house. I knew I wouldn’t want to have to think about dinner when I got home – and that Shane wouldn’t be home until later either. In hopes of avoiding a fast food dinner and also stocking the fridge for a week of solo eating, I took half an hour to prep dinner and get it in the crockpot before leaving for the day.

After a morning of heavy lifting and maneuvering, a fair amount of pizza, and an invigorating moped blast around town, I arrived home not particularly hungry despite the wonderful smells coming out of the crockpot. I turned the temperature down and took a long hot bath. I read for a while. I pulled the short ribs out of the crockpot, coarsely chopped the meat, and added it back into the soup. And then I measured out THREE QUARTS, ONE PINT, AND ONE SMALL BOWL of beef barley soup.

Make that boring beef barley soup. I’m finding that it’s really difficult to accurately season large quantities of liquid destined to be in the crockpot for several hours. I’m not shy with seasoning, but I am concerned about over seasoning when the cooking is going to take place when I’m not around. As a result, this soup was a total snooze. I’m going to pick up some sherry to see if it will improve the flavor profile – but even if it does, we are going to be eating this soup all winter. How boring.

Recipe:
Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen

1026 Old Reliable Pound Stew

After the mixed bag that was our last batch of crock pot stew, I was craving an old standard.  I wanted Grandma’s stew, not some fancy concoction from Bon Appetit.  The sort of thing that you could trust would appear at a tailgate back when I was small and they still had season tickets near the 50 yard line at Kinnick.

Grandma's Tailgate Stew

I didn’t quite make Grandma’s stew today – thus avoiding the 1 1/2 shakes mystery.  What went into the crock pot was closer to “pound stew”, a recipe almost as easy to remember as pound cake: a pound of meat, a pound each of several vegetables, and a bit of gravy to pull it all together.  Shane’s only complaint was that it could use more seasoning, which I’m sure we’ll work out in the long winter ahead of us.

Pound Stew
Adapted from Kay Fesenmeyer’s recipe and from the Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes
1 lb carrots, peeled, and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb potatoes, chopped into 1″ cubes
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 lb boiling onions, or quartered yellow onions
1 lb mushrooms (didn’t use this time but really want to next time)
1 tbsp oil or bacon fat (we used the latter)
1/4 cup flour
1-2 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp corn starch
salt and freshly ground pepper

Dredge the beef cubes in flour, shaking off the excess. In a medium non-stick pan, warm the fat over medium-high heat, then add the beef and brown on all sides, ~5 minutes. Don’t worry about getting it cooked through, as it’s going to be in the crock pot all day.

Add everything but the corn starch to the crock pot, give it a good stir, and turn the heat to low. Go about your business for 8-10 hours. When you get home, whisk the corn starch in a bowl with a small amount of water, then stir into the liquid in the crock pot. At this point you have two options: turn the crock pot up to high, or carefully pour the liquid into a saucepan to reduce. I’d recommend the latter, as it is faster and also easier to whisk, thereby reducing the likelihood of getting a big blob of cornstarch in your bowl. Don’t worry if a few chunks of food end up in the saucepan – a few extra minutes on the heat isn’t going to hurt them. When the liquid has reduced to a gravy-like consistency, add it back to the pot, and serve with crusty bread to the hungry masses. As presented, this should make about 8 generous portions.

1015 Roadhouse Dinner with Mom

Mom picked just about the most beautiful weekend of the year to come visit.  It’s sunny, the days are in the 60s, and the leaves are brilliantly colored.  Tomorrow we’re going to the Iowa game – my birthday present to her – but tonight we stuck closer to home, and indulged in what Laurie Colwin might call “nursery food” and I call just damned good: dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

Zingerman's Roadhouse
Photo by Debs Leigh

For me: Salisbury steak. I don’t know that I’ve ever had Salisbury steak before, but it’s what jumped off the menu at me, despite Mom’s memories of it as a gross school lunch. In this case, it was a thick burger patty topped with a rich mushroom gravy and served with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. I ate every last bite, sopping up the last of the gravy with a slice of buttered bread. I’m sure it went straight to my arteries, and I didn’t care.

Mom had the pulled pork with greens (not green beans, as she expected) and mashed potatoes. The server brought her two extra sauces so that she could try all three, and was happy to bring some extra pork out when her portion turned out to be very fatty. Shane had some amazing scallops – tender, sweet, and perfectly grilled – along with mashed potatoes and spinach.

We left full and happy, and after a quick stop by the Deli, we spent the rest of the evening on the couch with Toy Story 3: a nice end to a nice night!

0524 Burgers on/with Ciabatta

We got back into town just in time for LOST last night, which meant that we didn’t get back in time to do much of anything else.  I’ve already commented on the season finale, which seemed to go extra fast in part because we were trying to get things done during the commercial breaks – unpacking, cleaning up cat messes, planning meals, etc.  We zipped up to Plum tonight after work to pick up a few things, and came home with burgers and a beet salad for dinner.

One of the great mysteries of grilling season is the quantity mismatch between grillables and their bready receptacles.  Four burgers and eight buns. Five sausages and eight buns.  Eight veggie dogs and six buns.  Clearly this is indicative of a shrewd business decision by the burger and bun people, as it always requires buying more than you want.  We only needed TWO buns tonight, though, so we weren’t about to buy eight and instead went home with a large ciabatta roll to split between us.  This worked out better in theory than in practice – but either way, we didn’t end up with superfluous buns lying about.

All in all, dinner tonight made me miss the days of buying a couple of Italian rosemary rolls from Atwater’s at the market in Arlington, grilling up bison burgers from Cibola Farms, and serving them with whatever veg the market had on offer.  The vendors are different now, but I’m looking forward to a summer of much of the same.

Local dinner
photo from last summer, but you get the idea.

0406 Mid-70s and Sunny

There was absolutely no way that we could have SOUP on a night like tonight: clear, sunny, even a big muggy and still the FIRST WEEK OF APRIL.  So after walking home from work and climbing in a window (left my keys on my desk – oops!), I ran to Plum to pick up something to throw on the grill.  We’d planned to grill out on Sunday, but had put the meat in the freezer when our dinner plans changed – very practical of us, but not so useful for last minute menu changes.

Instead, dinner was “signature sliders” from Plum’s very nice butchers, grilled on the grill pan – I was too hungry to wait for Shane to clean the grill – sandwiched between slices of Zingerman’s farm bread.  A bunch of asparagus was steamed until bright green and dotted with butter at the table.  It wasn’t quite as beautiful as this meal from last summer, but it was fast and satisfying, and left both of us excited about many summer dinners to come.

Oh, and can I just tell you how much I love the guys at the meat counter at Plum Market?  I’m not sure if ‘butchers’ is the right term for them, but they know their meat, and they don’t mind answering all of my questions.  They’re also just really funny and friendly guys, and they say hi to me when I walk by, even if I don’t stop to pick anything up from their counter.  This is the kind of relationship I’d like to have with all of the people and places where we get our food.

Also! Tonight I planted the first seeds for our garden.  Expect more information about this in the weeks and months to come.

0313 Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup

Dinner really couldn’t have been easier, which is such an amazing thing to be able to say when the dinner in question is hearty, healthy, and delicious.  The recipe?  Prep your ingredients, put ’em in a pot, and let ’em simmer away for 3 hours.  That 3 hours is the worst part, as within 30 minutes your kitchen will smell amazing, and it will be all you can do to stay away for the remaining 2:30.

0313 Beef Barley Soup

At least that’s what happened with us and this soup, which was just the right thing for a rainy and cold Saturday.  I had good intentions of documenting it as well as Smitten Kitchen did – but then I got hungry and forgot.  A word of caution, though – this makes DRAMATICALLY more than any two people could possibly eat, with 8 cups of soup left after generous dinner portions.  Some will go into our freezer,  some will go home with a friend, and the rest will be lunches for the next week – all of which are good things, though next time I’ll probably just halve the recipe.

Recipe:
Beef, Leek, and Barley Soup from Smitten Kitchen