Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's Iron Chef Week!

Man, if ever there was a week to be glad that I'm not dependent on takeout, this would be it! My bank is now something other than Washington Mutual, my car is parked (Atlanta has no gasoline that I know of), and I'm seeing the wisdom of a vegetable garden, which we don't have.

Since I didn't go to our wonderful DeKalb Farmer's Market - it's 8 miles away and I have no idea when Atlanta is getting gas again - I'm making do with whatever's in the freezer. Should be interesting!

So in these times of uncertainty, cooking is a good thing. Obviously, it's much less expensive than eating out. Secondly, there's a certain core, nurturing comfort in walking into my nice clean kitchen and watching a homemade soup simmer. Economic changes take a long time to take effect; raw ingredients can be transformed into a dinner in 20 minutes.

Anyway - pot roast! You'll need a heavy, spacious cooking pot with a good lid. If you don't have a lid use aluminum foil. Remember, if you find an amazing deal on a large pot roast and you have a small household, get it and cut it into smaller pieces before freezing. Just wrap the raw meat tightly in Saran wrap to prevent freezer burn, put the plastic-wrapped meat into a heavy Ziploc, and slap a label on there.

You will need at least one cutting board, one sharp knife, and a plastic bag or metal bowl to collect the fat you trim off the roast. Also, you'll want tongs or a heavy wooden spoon to turn the roast.

One quick word about knives... it is absolutely imperative to have a good, sharp knife if you're going to do any cooking at all. It sounds counterintuitive to say that a sharp knife is much, much safer than a dull one, but it's true.

With a dull knife you try to muscle your way through the raw potato, the potato rolls, and you have all that downward pressure on a rolling potato and no control over the knife. That's how people end up with nasty cuts - they instinctively grab the moving food with the non-knife hand and the uncontrolled knife ends up on the hand and not the food. EEEWWW. With a sharp knife you don't have to use that much pressure, and it slices cleanly. So besides being safer it's actually much, much easier and faster. I honestly would not cook as much if I had to do it with a dull knife - it's just too laborious.

Savory Pot Roast
1 2.5 to 3-pound boneless beef chuck pot roast
2 garlic cloves
2 TBSP cooking oil
2 TBSP horseradish (optional), 2 TBSP Worcestershire (optional), splash of red wine (optional)
1 14-ounce can of beef broth
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
2 medium potatoes or 8 whole tiny new potatoes
8 small carrots (or parsnips, or a little of both)
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (totally optional)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1. Scrub and cut up all vegetables on a cutting board. If you're using tiny new potatoes, just leave them whole - no need for cutting. Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press, and leave the smooshed garlic on a separate part of the cutting board. Peel the carrots if you wish, but as long as they're well scrubbed you don't have to; and their fiber content will increase with the peels on, anyway. Same with the potatoes.

2. Set your cooking pot on the stove and pour in 2 TBSP vegetable oil. It's just easier to do this now when your hands are still clean.

3. In a measuring cup or small bowl, add the beef broth, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, and dried basil. Stir to combine. [Note - if you're using a roast larger than 3 pounds, add at least 1/4 cup more of water, broth, or wine to make sure there is enough cooking liquid. You may need to add more than that.]

4. In a small dish set out 1/4 cup flour. Season it with 2 dashes each salt and pepper.

5. If you're only using one cutting board then move your vegetables into a bowl and put your pot roast on the cutting board. If you're using two, put your pot roast on the other cutting board.

Using a sharp knife trim the visible fat from the pot roast. Throw the fat away.

6. For a more mild pot roast, simply roll the roast in the flour for a light dusting. For a more flavorful pot roast with a little bite, brush the pot roast with horseradish, then roll in the flour. [Thanks to College Roomie for the tip!]

7. Wash your hands, then heat your large saucepan or soup pot to medium-high heat.

8. When you throw a small drop of water into the pan and it spits, the oil is hot. Add the pot roast to the hot oil. DO NOT drop it in from the top of the pan - the hot oil will splash up and possibly burn you and definitely make a mess. Instead, lower the pot roast into the pan.

9. What we're doing here is getting a good sear on the beef. This will dramatically improve the color and get us to that rich, appetizing brown. After 3 minutes or so, turn the roast and let it cook for another 3-ish minutes. Do your best to get some sear on all sides of the roast.

10. Pour the broth/sauce/Worcestershire/basil mixture over the roast. Add the garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to #2 or #1 (or somewhere between) on an elecric stovetop. Cover with the lid or aluminum foil, and allow it to cook slowly for one hour.

11. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, celery (if using), and parsnips (if using) to the meat. Return to boiling.

12. Reduce the heat again, and cover with the lid or foil. Simmer, covered, for 45 - 60 minutes. If you put a fork in the roast and it easily slides through and even starts to fall apart a little, it's done.

I like a heavier gravy, and this has more pan juices.
No problem. Once finished, use tongs/slotted spoon to lift out the roast and veggies onto a clean platter. If the remaining juices measure less than 1 1/2 cups, add water or broth to equal 1 1/2 cups. Return the liquid to the pot. Stir together 1/2 cup cold water and 1/4 cup flour. Stir into juices. Cook over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

It sounds like there's a lot of leeway with the spices. What can I add? What shouldn't I add?
The first time I make a recipe I make it as it's written. Then, if it's worth making again, I can add or subtract according to what I thought of the recipe the first time.

Possible add-ins:
1 teaspoon oregano
1 Tablespoon barbecue sauce
1/4 cup sliced sweet potato
2 Tablespoons bourbon
1/2 tsp lemon-pepper

Don't add:
Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or cloves
Indian spices (garam masala, coriander)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what about using a crock pot to do this? high or low, how long. Remember, I'm a kitchen idiot, but I need to keep my husband. Cake usually works, but I need some other material.