Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pot Roast, and its progeny

Oh - this is a delinquent post. It's maybe a month old - actually, a bit more. Mea culpa. So sorry. Hopefully the entry in which I describe the events and craziness of the past few weeks won't take me so long to post. In the meantime: Congratulations to the dear friends having babies. Hugs and kisses to the dear friends who sent me lovely Christmas cards that I still haven't replied to. Thank you's and smiles of gratitudes to all who have been sending J. and I household goodies and warm clothes - especially to J's parents, who gifted me the lovely long johns that keep me warm every day and the Yak Trax that keep me standing up-right when I'm walking outside; and especially to my mother, who gifted me a ticket for my little brother to fly up and help me deal with the last - and the heaviest -- of my stuff in my old Anchorage apartment, as well as a ticket from Anchorage to here, to be our first guest, to celebrate Christmas with us, and to help J. carry that last and heaviest of stuff home from the post-office!


We had a brief warm spell. A tropical spell, actually. The temperature was up to the 30's and everyone in town was up and about, enjoying the chance to stroll about in a mere sweatshirt. But then it started to rain. And the rain, alas, churned up the snow and built ponds across the frozen lakes. And with each day of rain, the puddles and rain-ponds grew and expanded. Eventually, the temperature dipped back down again. Yesterday, for example, it was 7 below. And eventually, all those puddles and rain-ponds froze into slippery sheets of ice with alternating angles and peaks.

So, it's cold and its treachorous. Which makes it the perfect climate for comfort foods like pot-roast with a very important secondary attribute: a good pot roast will provide enough leftovers to alleviate the need to run to the grocery store.

I don't know the exact number of times I flipped past this recipe for Pot Roast. But I know it was more than several, and closer to numerous. And I know that all my reasons for so flippantly dismissing it turned out to be wrong. It is flavourful. It is not too plain. Once I had dismissed what I am now self-diagnosing as a low-grade craving for complication, I allowed myself to embark on a culinary project that reminded me of the hearty satisfaction that emanates from a cast-iron dutch oven filled with humble simplicity. Once the initial culinary project was completed, I then I embarked on a series of them, each intended to further explore that cozy art of leftovers!

Day 1: Pot Roast and Garlic Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
(a/k/a "Schultz Sunday Supper Pot Roast" in The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook)

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a dutchoven over medium heat.

2. Season a 3 pound chunk of chuck roast with salt and pepper. When the oil is heated, place the roast in the pot and brown it on both sides (approximately 5 minutes on each side).

3. Add to the pot 1 onion (thinly slided) and 1 cup of boiling water.

4. Cover with a tight lid and let it simmer gently in a 325 degree oven for at least 2.5 hours.

5. Let the meat set before you slice it.

6. You can make gravy with the juices, but I preferred to serve the jus and onions without embellishment.

7. Around an hour before you want to eat, start roasting your potatoes. I like to parboil my potatoes and refridgerate them so that you can pull them into rustic hunks with your fingers (instead of chopping them uniformly with a knife). The pre-step of parboilling is my trick for achieving those roasted chunks of potatoes with crispy, almost carmelized, outsides and soft interiors that I used to order as my dinner at the little take-out, La Spada, near Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. Not everyone does this. But the basic recipe is fairly standard: toss potatoes (raw or parboiled, baker or reds) with olive oil, finely diced garlic, chopped fresh rosemary and salt and pepper; put on a roasting pan and place in the oven at approximately 350 degrees, and bake until done.

This truly is delicious. The onions and the water form the perfect broth. And the onions bake down into a sweet deliciousness that makes one want to eat them by themselves with a fork. Actually, I guess it bakes down into the perfect onion soup - needing only a bit of a toast and cheese topping to achieve that famous french onion soup entree.

Day 2: Grilled Beef Salad Sandwiches

When I hear "beef salad," I think of seared filet on a bed of arugala, sometimes with a hint of lemongrass. But this seems like the best name for a beef sandwich spread. Basically, I mixed together: chopped up leftover roast, very finely diced onions, diced celery, a little mayonnaise, a little Worcestire Sauce, a little tarragon, salt and pepper. Then, with just the most minimum of Special Reserve Tillamook Cheddar to keep the contents cohesive and with just the most minimum amount of Tillamook butter to give the bread slices that lovely crunch, we proceeded with making an embellished version of grilled cheese sandwiches: the grilled beef salad sandwich. Next time, we'll make sure to have some rye or pumpernickel bread! But it was delicious!

Day 3: Roasted Onions with a Braised Onion Risotto

I remember eating baked onions as I grew up, but I don't remember why I forgot about them once I had grown up enough to be solely responsible for my own meals. Jamie Oliver helped me to remember them, though he perhaps adds a few more steps than the hearty culinary traditions of the Willamette Valley (in those hearty, pre-Pinot Noir days). He boils them for 20 minutes, lets them cool, then scoops out the middle and stuffs them with a filling. Sounds good to me.

I boiled the onions. I let them cool. Then I scooped out the middle, chopped the scooped-out pieces into a fine dice, and used this (together with the risotto-standards of garlic, etc.) as the basis for the risotto. I think everyone has their own way of making a risotto, so I won't delve into the science of it. But I will add that I flavoured my risotto with the syruppy onions that had braised with the pot roast and, when the risotto was done, I tossed in some of the chopped beef, fresh parsley, and parmigiano. I filled the hollowed-out onions with the "french onion risotto", topped them with a sprinkle of cheese, and set them to bake until hot and bubbly.

Delicious. Fun. And, oh!, how lovely a hot stove is when it is so cold outside that there is frost on the INSIDE of your dilapidating hovel on stils heated to the luxurious temperature of 70 degrees!


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