Pot Roast

Pot Roast

There is a great scene in Wedding Crashers where a middle-aged, pajama-clad Will Ferrell yells to his mom (who is in the kitchen) from his seat in front of the TV, “MA!  The meatloaf! We want it NOW!”  Whenever I make the retro dishes that RJ loves so much — Meatloaf, Beef Stroganoff, Mac n’ Cheese, Pot Roast, I always think of that scene.  Something about being that faceless mother figure with a boy who only eats meat and noodles.  Strange, I know.  Anyhoo… this pot roast is full of retro goodness, complete with slow cooker appliance and a can of Campbell’s soup.  I may be more than a little hypocritical, given this previous post and my known distaste for processed food products, but for some reason I just really wanted to try this recipe.  And it came out really well.  I feel shame…

I have a couple versions of pot roast in my arsenal, but this one is great for the slow cooker.  The tender meat and the beefy-tomato sauce basically epitomize comfort food, especially when draped over fresh linguini pasta (from Dave’s).  Even my recalcitrant husband ate up all of his carrots since, as he said, they were the perfect size.  Finally, the swirl of balsamic vinegar added right before serving added just the right amount of acidic zip to wake up the palate.  I highly recommend this recipe for two reasons: dinner #1 and dinner #2 (aka Leftovers).  Dinner #2 involves stirring shredded leftover pot roast into a homemade tomato sauce with red wine and lots of garlic.  A healthy dose of parmesan cheese and a side of garlic bread are all that’s needed to round out the meal (for RJ anyway — I would recommend some salad or greens as well!).  Here’s a look at that ragú on cheese ravioli:

shredded-beef-leftovers
Easy Pot Roast with Rich Tomato Gravy
, adapted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes
(Serves 6-8)

3-4 lbs. beef pot roast (cross rib, rump, or chuck roast)
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
2 Tbs. flour
1 can (10 oz.) condensed tomato soup
1/2 c. condensed beef broth (undiluted)
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. packed brown sugar (optional)
2 Tbs. balsamic or red wine vinegar (optional)

Pat roast dry with paper towel. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add roast and cook, turning, until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer beef to slow cooker insert.

pot-roast-browned

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, celery, and carrots to pan and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened. Add garlic, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper and cook, stirring for one minutes. Sprinkle mixture with flour and stir. Add tomato soup and beef broth and stir to combine, cooking until thickened. Stir in Worcestershire sauce.

pot-roast-sauce

Pour sauce mixture over roast, cover and cook on Low setting for 10 to 12 hours or on High setting for 5 to 6 hours. Remove roast from slow cooker and place on serving platter. Stir in brown sugar and vinegar, if using, to pan juices. Pour sauce over roast or serve in a separate sauceboat.

pot-roast-donepot-roast-gravy

If you want to plan ahead you can cook the vegetables and sauce the night before, and store it in the refrigerator.  The next morning, brown roast (this step may also be skipped if you are really pressed for time, though the browning really adds flavor), put the meat in the slow cooker, then pour the sauce over the beef.

Another option would be to cook the whole recipe the day before you’re serving and store the sauce and meat together in the fridge.  The next night, slice the roast and place slices in a casserole dish, covered with the sauce.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until warmed through (or simmer on the stovetop until piping hot).

October 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

Profiteroles

Profiteroles

You will know that school is going well and that I have retained my sanity when posts appear here on From My Table.  As you can tell, it was touch and go there for a while, since my last post was put up here almost a month ago.  But today I finished writing my first paper (and it was a doozy!) and I finally have time to catch up here.  To set your minds at ease, it isn’t that I haven’t been eating or cooking.  I have just found that I can either post on the blog or cook and photograph, but not both.  I have stored up quite a few meals in my camera, but my typing time (and sterling wit) has been expended elsewhere for the past month — namely, at school.

Here’s the good news: I have a killer dessert for you.  Made of chou dough (the same used for gougères), these are simple and scrumptious and versatile to boot.  The ingredients are probably in your fridge and on your counter right now, and they take a mere half hour to make.  Plus (as if you needed further incentive), profiteroles cut an elegant figure and thus can be served at your next dinner party.  If you can wait that long…

Profiteroles, from the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

(Serves 6-8)

1 cup water
5 Tbs. butter
1 c. unbleached white flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. When water and butter boil, add the dry ingredients at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan, like so:

profiterole-dough-ball-stage

Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes. Then, beat the eggs in, one at a time. Each egg will make the mixture gloppy and slimy for a minute, but will turn back into smooth dough after some sustained stirring.

Profit-dough-gloppy

profit-smooth-dough

Lightly oil a baking sheet and/or line sheet with parchment paper. Using the wooden spoon or, if you’re fancy, a pastry bag, form mounds of dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Use about 1/4 cup of dough for each large puff or about 2 1/2 Tbs. for smaller puffs. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees then reduce temperature to 350 (don’t open the oven!) and bake for 20 minutes more for smaller puffs or 25 minutes more for larger puffs.

profit-dough-balls

When the puffs are firm, turn off the oven, remove the puffs, and using a small sharp knife, score a horizontal cut about 2/3 of the way up each puff (this is much easier right out of the oven when the puffs are crispy). Return the puffs to the still-warm oven for about 15 minutes to let the residual heat dry them a bit. Remove and cool completely.

Profiterole

When ready to serve, fill as desired by cutting the top from each puff at its scored mark, mounding the filling inside and replacing the top.

Profiterole-Caramel

My favorite fillings include:
Brigham’s vanilla ice cream with Herrell’s hot fudge sauce and/or dulce de leche (I used Stonewall Kitchen)
Home-made ice cream (coconut? strawberry? mocha chip?)
Apple chunks sauteed in butter, sugar, and cinnamon.
Cannoli filling (sweet ricotta, mmmm…)

October 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm 2 comments

German Potato Salad

german potato salad

One of the many components of putting together RJ’s now-famous birthday pig roast was developing a cohesive group of side dishes to complement the main course.  We were looking for southern-inspired sides — traditional but not boring, simple but with great flavor.  My contribution was a jalapeno cornbread; my mom brought her famous coleslaw; and RJ’s aunt Jane made a delicious slow-cooked sausage appetizer that satisfied the hungry folks drooling over the rotating pig.  One of the stars of the show in my mind, however, was my mother-in-law’s potato salad.

This potato salad has made frequent appearances at large family gatherings since it is easily multiplied and contains no mayonnaise that will cause it to spoil.  Delicious served warm, cool or room temperature, German potato salad is a crowd pleaser to be sure.  The vinegary zing contrasts with and complements the sugar and this foundational pairing of sweet and sour reverberates through the layers of flavor: savory bacon with sharp mustard, creamy egg with pickles or raw onion.  The result is a balanced composition perfect for summer picnics or winter feasts.

While this is not my mother-in-law’s recipe, the results tasted very similar.  Hers has an oil vinaigrette base and less of the optional add-ons.  Play with the recipe to your heart’s content — you won’t be disappointed.

german-potato-salad

German Potato Salad, adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 1990

(serves 8 )

3 lb. large boiling potatoes (about 6), such as Yukon gold
6 slices of lean bacon
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. thinly sliced celery
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 Tbs. Dijon-style mustard
6 Tbs. cider or champagne vinegar
1/2 c. thinly sliced scallion greens
3 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped (optional)
1/3 c. chopped dill pickles (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Drop the whole potatoes into the pot and cook for 18 minutes or just until cooked through (you want them to still be firm but not completely crunchy).  Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook the bacon strips over moderate heat until it is crisp and transfer it to paper towels to drain. Crumble or chop the bacon strips into pieces.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat; to the skillet add the onion and the celery, and cook the mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the sugar, the flour, and the celery seeds, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the mustard, the vinegar, and 1/2 cup water, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, and simmer until it is thickened (this took me about 40 seconds but make take up to 2 minutes). Season the dressing with salt and pepper, pour it over the potatoes, and stir in the scallion greens, eggs, and/or pickles.  This may be served warm, room temp or cold.

german-potato-salad

September 6, 2009 at 2:38 pm 1 comment

Shaved Fennel and Mushroom Salad

Shaved Final Salad

After a wonderful three week vacation, I have returned to Boston to start a whole new adventure — graduate school.  Who knows what this will do to my cooking habit… Will I have so many hours in the house that I can finally make some headway on my Cookbook Challenge?  Or will the piles of books form a barricade between my  study and the kitchen across the hall, severely affecting my ability to prepare any sustenance beyond Red Bull and Power Bars?  Only time will tell.

Does that mean that today I have a spectacular three course meal to share — one that will hold everyone over until next May?  Nope!  We’ve got a heat wave going on in Boston, and I’m not turning on the oven for any reason!  So instead, I am featuring another wonderful summer salad — one that laughs in the face of all the lettuce-obsessed acacia wood bowls out there.  Rather than start with leafy greens and haphazardly add ornamental tomatoes or what have you, this salad rests on a far more flavorful and refreshing foundation.

When I was first introduced to this atypical salad — during a cooking course in Paris — I thought I would hate it.  To me, fennel meant ‘licorice-flavored’ and white mushrooms were meant to be eaten cooked in a pound of butter, if at all.  Yet somehow this combination just works.  Simple, elegant and refreshing.  To jazz it up a bit, though, I would consider adding some chopped hard-boiled egg or a drizzle of premium balsamic vinegar.

Shaved fennel salad 2

Shaved Fennel and Mushroom Salad
(Serves 2-3)

1 bulb fennel, cored then sliced as thinly as possible with a knife or mandoline
4 large white mushrooms, sliced as thinly as possible with a knife or mandoline
Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved with a vegetable peeler, to taste
Juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or more to taste)
Fleur du sel or other good sea salt, to taste
A couple of tablespoons of fruity, rich olive oil

Mix and toss ingredients together. Garnish with a couple of fennel fronds, if desired.

Shaved fennel and mushroom salad

August 25, 2009 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

Suffering? Succotash!

Edamame succotash

After over a month of awful, rainy weather, summer has come on us full-bore.  We are finally seeing the sun, and feeling the heat and humidity that is so familiar to those of us in the Northeast.  Yet after this year’s June, I truly welcome a bit of sweltering.  Especially since I’m able to escape to the cool breezes of the coast for a sail or a dip in the Atlantic as often as I want.  Trust me, I am savoring the dwindling days of my vacation…

When I think about this time last year, I remember how lucky RJ and I were to have had access to plenty of fresh bluefin tuna — the perfect summer entree.  We grilled it, poached it in olive oil, made it into burgers and, of course, ate it raw.  Despite the many blog posts, I have not yet broached the topic of side dishes.  When straight-off-the-boat tuna comes your way, you don’t want your side dish to overpower the subtleties of the fish or contrast unfortunately with your chosen flavor profiles.  Our first tuna of 2009 came to us a couple weeks ago.  I had just arrived home after work, and RJ got ‘the call’ — we had bluefin to collect!  My sweet husband drove an hour north and an hour back to deliver the sweet red meat to our table.  I called my sister and her girlfriend over, and whipped up the following salad.  I have never appreciated summer so thoroughly.

Roasted Corn and Edamame Salad, from Epicurious.com via Self Magazine [Printable Recipe]

2 ears fresh corn, unhusked, or 1 1/4 cups cooked corn kernels (I used defrosted frozen ones)
1/2 c. shelled edamame
1/4 c. chopped red onion
1/4 c. small-diced red bell pepper
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. light mayonnaise
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped or grated ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh corn ears, soak them in cold water about 30 minutes. Heat grill on high. Grill corn in husk, 10 to 15 minutes, turning once. Let cool. Remove husks. Cut corn from cob into a bowl; combine with remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Edamame-final

August 11, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

The Ultimate Feast

Pig Kahuna

Speaking of birthday dinners, as I did in my last post, we just had another birthday around here and boy, was it a biggie!  RJ turned 30 this past weekend, and what did I get my dear husband who eats nothing but meat?  A pig roast!  To be specific, 62 pounds of dressed pork, turning slowly over a low charcoal fire for over 6 hours.

Words can hardly express how phenomenal the entire experience was. RJ had no idea what I had been planning for the past 3 months, and with some wonderful subterfuge his friends and I managed to get him to his mother’s beach house with narry a clue!  His face as he came in the driveway was priceless — astonishment, pleasure and a bit of embarrassment at the number of people we gathered together for the big day.

Though the span of the afternoon is a story in itself — torrential downpours, epic tournament of cornhole, and finally fireworks on the beach — for the purposes of the food blog I’ll stick to the pig.

The pig arrived at around 2 o’clock, dressed (meaning that her internal organs had been removed).  Dave, of The Pig Kahuna, rinsed her thoroughly with fresh water, and inserted the rotisserie spit into the mouth and out the…uh…well, use your imagination.  A couple extra rods were inserted laterally for stability as well — and the pig doesn’t look happy about it!  The final preparation step was to sew her back together and to tie her legs around the spit.

pig-prep

The “Oinkmaster 8000”, Dave’s glorious roasting contraption, was loaded with charcoal and lit.  We waited until the coals were at a low burn, measured only by feel.  Dave said that if he couldn’t hold his hand over the fire at the level of the pig for 6 seconds, then the coals were too hot.  Soon, dear Arnold (our name for the pig, which soon became Arnoldine when we found out she was a Miss Piggy) was mounted on the rotisserie and began her slow roasting.

pig-fresh-on-spit

For the six hours she turned, the pig was regularly spritzed with white vinegar.  Though Dave has experimented with cider vinegar and even balsamic, he has found that 6 hours of cooking makes cider vinegar bitter and balsamic vinegar black.  After an hour and a half on the spit, Arnoldine began to self-baste, releasing delicious juices that dripped down over her shoulders and legs.

Pig-2-hour

In three hours, her skin started to get golden, and we watched as it bubbled over the heat of the coals.  With more time, the leg joints began to loosen and the skin split in several places — the beginnings of tenderization.  Somewhere around 4 1/2 or 5 hours in, my brother dared my sister to eat one of the eyeballs, and she did.  She advised that the pig needed more time…

Jes

Finally, after six hours, Dave began the final process — the trick to a perfect roast pig.  The motor that had kept Arnoldine on a steady rotation was stopped and the crowds gathered around to watch Dave crisp the skin.  He added more charcoal to the fire and the flames began to rise up a couple inches from the coals.  Making quarter-turns of the spit, he let each side of the pig sit over the fire for a decent interval.  We saw the skin crisping and crackling, with the juices dripping into the fire creating an atmospheric hiss for the dramatic final moments.

Pig Roast

When the pork ready to serve, Dave asked RJ to aid in the dismounting.  They each took one end of the spit in their bare hands (the low heat left the ends of the spit at only 75 degrees or so), and moved a mahogany-toned Arnoldine to the serving table.  Freed of her metal trappings, the pig nearly fell into perfect serving pieces right in front of us.  Dave offered us bites of the tenderloin (smoky from the more direct fire), the shoulder (nearly white and completely juicy), and the belly (from whence the bacon comes…) to compare the various cuts.  We also sampled the pig skin, which crunched like savory candy.  By now, the crowds were getting rowdy, and everybody’s mouths were watering.

The pork was delectable — succulent and rich when unadorned, and tangy and spicy when doused with Dave’s special barbecue sauce.  Though we had about 65 guests, the pig carried over into lunch for 10 the next day.  As the birthday boy’s wife and party hostess, I was also designated the “keeper of the head”.  Those in the know, Dave said, always go for the pig cheeks — I guess now I’m in the know!  I think I gave my mother-in-law a heart attack, however, when she opened the fridge to find a whole pig’s head staring out at her (with one eye, no less).

pig-head

All I can say is “wow”.  RJ had a wonderful birthday, complete with (an excess of) meat on a stick, and all of our guests enjoyed watching Arnoldine turn and learning from Dave, the Pig Kahuna himself.  The question is, what can top RJ’s 30th birthday when he turns 40?  Perhaps we’ll have to look into a cow…

Pig-finished-on-spit

August 6, 2009 at 9:45 am 10 comments

A New Show in Town

Pizza Romana

I wonder how many people out there are like me: when my birthday comes around (or within 4 months…) my mind immediately turns to restaurants.  Rather than thinking about holes in my summer wardrobe or dropping hints about my need for a new iPod, I go online and search for the location of my birthday dinner.  This year, while I was well underway with making my June 22nd reservation, my husband pre-empted me with a surprise the week before — a dinner and birthday gift rolled up into one.

He took me, and two friends, to Stir — Barbara Lynch’s new venture in the South End.  Not only did we eat a great meal, but we watched it being cooked in front of us by two of Ms. Lynch’s skilled chefs.  The concept is straightforward and brilliant: each class is based on a different cookbook, selected from one of the many stacked on the bookshelves on one wall of the cozy kitchen.  Two talents from the Barbara Lynch Gruppo choose 3 or more recipes from the cookbook to demonstrate and serve to the guests, who number no greater than nine.  My birthday dinner, based on The River Cottage Meat Book, consisted of french fries, charcuterie (cured meats, salami, and pork rillettes), sweetbreads with bacon and fava beans, and crispy pork belly with apple sauce.  It was not to be believed.  Of course, the entire meal is paired with excellent wines by the course, and a copy of the cookbook is yours to keep.  I left Stir that night with a smile from ear to ear and a book called Meat under my arm.

Kale

My mother’s birthday followed closely behind mine, and I borrowed RJ’s wonderful idea.  For Mom, the cookbook du jour was A16: Food + Wine, named for the famed San Francisco restaurant.  Nate Appleman, the chef/owner of A16, was recently named Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and ranked as one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs 2009.  The featured recipes included pizzas (bianco – with green olives, parmesan and chili oil; Romana – with tomatoes, anchovies and oregano; and margherita – with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes); halibut with a preserved meyer lemon, caper and pistachio crust and a side of delicious kale; and chocolate budino, the most heavenly chocolate-on-chocolate tart I’ve ever tasted, topped with olive oil and sea salt.

Halibut

What is so lovely about Stir is that it feels like a dinner party among friends.  They only allow 8-9 people at a time, and the chefs encourage questions and dialogue as they cook their way through the menu.  Of the people around the table at my mom’s birthday dinner, half were repeat attendees (one guy was on his fourth visit) and the rest was my family.  It felt very familiar and casual, despite the decadent food and wine.

There’s also a tactile element I really enjoy – at my first Stir experience they passed around raw pork belly so we could feel the skin before the cooking process made it crunchy like candy, and the other night we handled pizza dough at different stages of rise so we could understand the results of proofing and kneading.

IMG_0024Best of all, however, is the staff.  In June, we met Molly, the executive sous chef at Stir, and Jericha, one of the butchers at the Butcher Shop.  This month, Molly was again regaling us with her fun tales of culinary school but stationed just to my left was none other than Barbara Lynch!   I can’t tell you what a treat it was to watch and learn from this master chef.  She forced the elastic pizza dough into submission, loosed handfuls of kosher salt with abandon, and divulged some of her favorite places to eat in Boston/Cambridge: Oleana, Hungry Mother, and Sel de la Terre (plus Cambridge One and Upper Crust for pizza).  Personally, I must confess that my favorite place to eat in Boston is Stir.  The experience is unique, unpredictable, and fun – it would be perfect for a first date if it weren’t so gosh darn expensive.  While you’re saving up, however, consider buying the book, due out in the fall, to tide you over: STIR: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition.  While I haven’t seen it, I would bet the farm that it is fabulous, and will be appearing soon on the shelves at my house.

Chocolate Budino

July 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm 2 comments

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