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:

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.


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.


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.


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).

Ropa Vieja

I have some great news to share — my brother-in-law is engaged!!  RJ’s younger brother popped the question in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge after a twilight helicopter ride over Manhattan.  A far cry from the low-key proposal I remember not so long ago, but equally momentous.

In general, it can be very hard to passively observe your siblings in their relationship cycles, watching good ones and not-so-good ones get away, knowing that you have no say whatsoever in the girl they pick as “the one” (a.k.a. “the one” you have to live with at every holiday and family vacation for the rest of your life!).  Yet both RJ and I squealed when we heard the news, as Erica is just who we would have picked for Brian if anyone cared about our opinion.  She is kind and sweet and beautiful and, as RJ says, she’s great for Brian.  More importantly, when she comes to visit she almost always brings cake with her from all the fabulous NYC bakeries I dream about…

Brian and Erica are Engaged!

So today I’m featuring a recipe for a dish that I know Erica would love, since she introduced it to me (the first of many family recipe exchanges I’m sure!).  The last time she was at our house, she and I got into a big love-fest conversation about the slow cooker.  She and Brian live and work in the Big Bad City, and often don’t have time to cook a dinner when they get home (though their kitchen, I must say, is the biggest one I’ve ever seen in New York).  To avoid takeout all the time (this is what my brother does) she often does fun dinners in the slow cooker.  I have about 6 different slow cooker cookbooks in my house, but really only rotate through a couple recipes – pulled pork, beef stew, pork stew, and chili.  I know it is far more versatile, but the old standbys are really good!

Erica told me about one that she really likes, Ropa Vieja, and I was intrigued.  She said it was Cuban in origin and was a different flavor than the standard beef-and-wine stew.  It also had lots of peppers in it, since her husband-to-be loves them (let it not be said that RJ’s limited appetite is his the fault of his upbringing – his mom and brother both love vegetables!).  Literally two weeks later this recipe pops up in The Boston Globe Magazine.  I might have missed it if I had not been at my parents’ house, flipping through their Sunday paper.  I guess it was a sign that Erica – and this Ropa Vieja! – were destined to be in my life forever…

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja, from The Boston Globe Magazine, Feb. 15, 2009
(Serves 6)

Traditionally, the beef is braised in a separate step, which I have eliminated. Flank steaks are rarely as large as 3 pounds; more likely you’ll find two 1½-pound steaks. Serve with yellow rice, lime wedges, and hot sauce.

Browned Round Steak2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds flank steak [I used round steak, which worked fine but wasn’t quite as stringy]
Salt and black pepper
2 large onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons flour
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup dry sherry
1 cup homemade or packaged low-sodium chicken broth
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 bay leaves
2 medium red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch strips
1 cup green olives, pitted and sliced
1½ cups frozen peas, thawed
6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Beef n' onionsHeat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle meat with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper, add 1 steak to pot, and cook without moving until deeply browned on bottom, about 4 1/2 minutes. Turn and cook without moving until second side is deeply browned, about 4 1/2 minutes. Transfer meat to a plate. Add 1/2 tablespoon of oil to the pot and repeat with remaining steak (reducing heat if drippings begin to burn); transfer to plate.

Reduce heat to medium, add remaining tablespoon of oil, allow it to heat for a moment, then add onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to coat and cook until onions just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add flour, stir to mix, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add sherry and chicken broth, increase heat to high, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown film on bottom of pot until it is all dissolved, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, bay leaves, and browned meat with accumulated juices, push it down into liquid, bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 1/2 hours. [Though this recipe uses a dutch oven on the stove top, there’s no reason you couldn’t put the meat and liquids in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours on low.] Remove steaks and when cool enough to handle, cut in half across the grain. Use 2 forks to break down meat into thin shreds and return to pot.

Shredded beef

Add bell peppers to the pot, submerge them in liquid, cover, increase heat to medium, and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves, add olives, peas, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper, stir to mix, and cook until peas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons of parsley, taste stew, and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, if necessary. Serve at once, sprinkling with remaining parsley.

Ropa Vieja

Pulled Pork to Feed the Soul

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

When I began this blog, I never would have characterized my cooking style or culinary repertoire as “comfort food”. That label usually applies to heavy, dense, sugary or greasy bowls of fattening casseroles and excessive desserts. It also applies to macaroni and cheese (check, check), layer cakes (check, check), and stews (check, check, check).  **Sigh**  I give up.  The truth is, I do take comfort (a lot of it!) in the eating and preparing of foods.  I feel just as satisfied watching my family and friends chow down on my latest creations as I do eating them myself, and when I’m feeling frustrated or crazed, an hour or two in the kitchen will always help me decompress.

Another association I regularly make with “Comfort Food” is southern U.S. cooking and the dreaded Paula Deen – from whence comes my aversion to applying the term to my own food.  That woman irks me somethin’ fierce, y’all.  Sorry.  That was uncalled for (in so many ways).

Yet no one can write off southern cuisine wholesale.  That would mean eliminating one of RJ and my favorite dishes of all time – Pulled Pork sandwiches – and I simply cannot support such a sweeping and drastic gesture.  Yet in the South, even, there is some serious debate about the proper way to make pulled pork.  From what I’m told, the Carolinians like their pork cooked only in vinegar (none of that ketchup-y stuff).  Others like the shredded pork swimming in barbecue sauce.  I compensate for my strong preference for the latter by making a very vinegary coleslaw (no mayo) to go on top of the pork in my sandwich.  I guarantee that a bite of this combo will make you swoon, whether you can stand Paula Deen or not.

Old South Pulled Pork on a Bun, from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson

BBQ ingredients(serves 6-8)

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 c. tomato-based chili sauce (like Heinz)
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. liquid smoke (I always leave this out – up to you)
1 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat, about 3 lbs.
Kaiser or onion buns, halved and warmed

bbq-sauceIn a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, chili powder, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. (at this point you can cover and refrigerate sauce overnight or until ready to use — very helpful if planning this recipe for a weeknight).

Place pork in slow cooker stoneware and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours or on high for 6 hours, until pork is falling apart.

Shredded/Pulled PorkTransfer pork to a cutting board and pull the meat apart in shreds, using two forks. [I will usually try to strain off some of the fat from the sauce at this point – depending on if I did a good job trimming the pork, it can get sorta greasy in there]. Return to sauce and keep warm. When ready to serve, spoon shredded pork and sauce over warm buns. Serve with coleslaw.

Katharine’s Carolina Coleslaw

Cider vinegar
Celery Seeds
Vegetable Oil
Bag of prepared coleslaw or 5 cups of shredded cabbage

Mix vinegar (about a 1/2 cup) with sugar (a scant teaspoon), celery seeds (about a teaspoon) and salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon). Then add about a 1/4 cup of vegetable oil, whisking the whole time. Taste. It should be quite vinegary and a little sweet, and you should be able to taste the celery seeds. Add more oil or other ingredients as necessary until it is to your own preference. Mix dressing with the cabbage slaw (just enough to coat, not soak, the cabbage) and let sit in the fridge for about an hour before serving to let the flavors blend.

Pulled Pork with Coleslaw

A New Stew for the Repertoire


I’m really not sure how I feel about the final picture I took to illustrate the delicious stew I made this weekend. The one above comes from about halfway through the process.  In general, it is hard to photograph an enticing picture of stew, since it is typically so brown and lumpy. Besides, what really makes stew wonderful is not the look of it but the rich and hearty aromas as they fill your house, the feel of the steam rising up from the bowl, and the warmth it generates as you swallow. So…I am saving the “results” picture for the end of the post, when you’ll (hopefully) be sufficiently hooked and convinced into making this stew yourself.

Though not my first stew of the fall, this is my first stew ever made with pork. I was a bit skeptical at first, but all of my willing guinea pigs agreed that this stew tasted like beef but without being as heavy and overly filling. The dumplings were another welcome addition, replacing large chunks of potatoes with a light and fluffy topping. I whole-heartedly recommend this to you for a Sunday dinner or even a weeknight meal, though the marinating step does require a bit more prep time than the usual slow cooker recipe.

This is not my first post extolling the virtues of the slow cooker, either. To recap: slow cookers are excellent because you can do the prep work ahead of time and all of the cooking takes place when you are busy doing other things (like working, running errands, or watching an entire James Bond marathon on the USA Network). The quality of the slow cooker’s results are directly related to the caliber of ingredients you use (i.e. no Campbell’s soup allowed), but a little fresh vegetable chopping or meat browning in the morning can make your evening homecoming heavenly. They are also very forgiving machines – if you have a good one, and fill the stoneware to the recommended capacity, you can really leave them on quite a bit longer than the recipe requires without much negative impact on the dish.

For this specific recipe, here is the schedule I recommend, based on whether you’re cooking for a busy weekday or a leisurely Sunday:

Weekday: The night before you want to serve the stew, prepare the marinade and put in the pork. Chop the onions, carrots and celery and store them together in a plastic bag or a container in your fridge. Refrigerate all overnight. The next morning, brown the meat and cook the veggies (approx. 20-25 minutes overall), put everything in the slow cooker and set it on low for the rest of the day. You could also blend the wet ingredients for the dumplings and store it in a jar in your fridge.

Weekend: Wake up late on Sunday. Eat a danish. Marinate the pork for an hour at room temperature while you chop all the vegetables. When you get around to it, brown the pork and veggies as directed and start the slow cooker on High for 4-5 hours.


Pork Stew with Sage and Onion Dumplings, adapted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson

1 1/2 c. dry red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder cut into 2 inch cubes
(whoops – mine were 1 inch cubes…If I had done 2 inch cubes I might have been out of the kitchen faster…)
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 stalks celery, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tbs. all purpose flour
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups of thawed frozen peas (I omitted the peas due to my husband’s allergy to all things green, but I think it would have brought a bit of brightness to the finished stew)

Raw Dumplings

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
6 green onions, white part only, roughly chopped
6 fresh sage leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried sage

Mix the red wine, thyme, garlic and cracked black pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubed pork shoulder. Pork shoulder, if you haven’t seen it before, is usually packaged in stretchy netting before being shrink-wrapped. It is easy to work with but is quite fatty. I recommend trimming the excess fat off the meat before adding the pork cubes to the marinade. Let pork marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to 12 hours in the fridge.

Browned meat for pork stew

Remove the pork from the marinade and pat the meat dry with paper towels, reserving the wine mixture. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then brown the pork cubes on all sides, working in batches to ensure the meat is not crowded in the pan. Once browned, move the cubes to the slow cooker insert.


In the same pan you used to brown the pork, place the onion, carrots and

celery. Stir to release some of the brown bits of pork on the surface of the pan, then cover and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes or until vegetables have begun to soften. Add the flour and stir to coat. Cook 1 minute, then stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the chicken broth, reserved wine marinade and salt – cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the liquid and veggies over the meat in the slow cooker insert; tuck the bay leaf into the liquid.

Cook stew for 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Just before your time is up, start to make the dumplings. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a blender or food processor, blend the milk, egg, green onions, and sage until very smooth.

When the slow cooker time is up, stir in the green peas if using. Turn the dial to High. Mix the wet ingredients for the dumplings into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir to blend. The batter will be very light and airy. Drop it in large spoonfuls onto the surface of the stew, leaving over an inch between the dumplings so they don’t meld into one big dumpling like mine did (see above)… Cover the slow cooker and cook on high undisturbed (don’t lift the lid!) for another 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dumpling comes out clean. Serve with bread or rolls for dipping and a nice simple salad for a great fall meal.

Without further ado…here’s my final picture. Let me know what you think: does it look appetizing at all? Are you glad I left it to the end? Would you prefer it at the start of the post? Do you want it taken out immediately? Let me know!

Pork stew with dumplings