Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On A Cold Winter's Day

"'If you are careful,' Garp wrote, 'if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat.... Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.'" - John Irving (The World According to Garp)
What do you do when the thermometer reads Stay Indoors? Well, in our house, you cook. Oh, not just any dish, but something really special to warm the heart as well as the belly. With the temperature outside nose diving through the freezing point, but a fire blazing in the living room and plenty of Scotch and red wine in the cellar, great thinkers assembled to thrash out what to have for dinner. Cookbooks were consulted, opinions lobbied, the Internets scoured. Finally, with a nod to simplicity, pot roast was proffered. Straightforward, hearty, satisfying. Consensus was reached. And to round out the menu? Potatoes (naturally), something savory, a palate cleanser, and pie. Pie: it pops off the lips, and fades into a sigh, doesn't it? Just uttering the word sets one off on flights of fancy...
A Cold Winter's Day Menu:
  1. Pot Roast
  2. Potato Pancakes
  3. Homemade Applesauce
  4. Temple Orange and Walnut Salad
  5. Peach Pie
Tate's Bake ShopWith shopping lists in hand, our team split up to gather all the necessary ingredients and get back to the house as quickly as possible. I was in charge of the beef and sides, my lovely co-chef would pick out the dessert at Tate's Bake Shop. Tate's is an institution. Their cookies are legendary. If you're even remotely close, don't bother with baking dishes, measuring cups, wet & dry ingredients; leave it to Tate's.
I found a beautiful three and a half pound cut of boneless chuck at the butcher. Not too lean, but no one was gonna need triple-bypass surgery afterwards either. The rest of the ingredients were easy: carrots, celery, onions, turnips, yellow peppers, potatoes and apples. Boom, I was done.
Searing the chuck roastOn the stovetop, I seared the seasoned chuck roast in three tablespoons of oil (I confess to using a little bacon fat with some good olive oil) over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. I browned all four sides.
Chopped vegetablesWhile the meat browned, Muffy, my culinary muse, prepped the vegetables. All everything needed was a rough chop, but she went the extra mile by inserting one clove stem into each quartered onion. Believe me, it was gonna make a difference in the finished sauce, so no mocking the muse!
Vegetables added to the Dutch oven and searing beefPot roast half-way through the braising
Halfway through the browning, we tossed the vegetables into the pot with the chuck roast, then finished searing the meat. Once browned, a 1:1 ratio of red wine and beef stock (about 4 cups) went into the Dutch oven. Covered, the pot went into a 300° pre-heated oven where it would remain for the next three hours. Every hour or so, we would check the roast and add more liquid if necessary.
Time passed. Kids watched TV. The grown-ups slipped off to Channing Daughters Winery for a little tasting, while alchemy, magic and the Maillard reaction went on inside the oven.
Grated potatoes draining in a colanderSpoon large mounds of potatoes into hot oil
With about an hour before the curtain rose on dinner, Muffy grated some potatoes, let them drain in a colander, and then tossed them with flour and beaten egg. Generous spoons-full of potato were ladled into about ¼ inch of hot vegetable oil, flattened into 3-inch rounds and left to brown. They were flipped over half way through the browning process.
Flatten potatoes into 3 inch roundsFlip potato pancakes half-way through browning
Macintosh apples were given a medium chop, tossed with cinnamon, allspice and a little honey, and reduced over medium heat in a saucepan.
Finished pot roast with frying potato pancakesPot roast resting after braising
Now perfectly braised, the pot roast came out of the oven to rest for about 15 minutes, and the sauce was enriched with a little more beef stock and thickened with sour cream.
Enriching sauce with beef stockThickening sauce with sour cream
Temple orange & walnut saladMuffy's daughter prepared an eye-popping salad with mixed greens, whole orange sections and walnut halves. She took her very first stab at a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, tarragon, a dollop of Dijon mustard and just a splash of Balsamic. We were witness to the next generation of food star that day.
Pot roast presentationPot roast, potato pancakes and home made applesauce
We ladled vegetables and sauce over the shredded beef, and I went so far as to run the remainder through a metal strainer and into a sauce boat for the table. And just like that, it all came together.
I am always a little let down by the time the family is called to the table. For me, the fun part is over. Sure, I'm as keen on praise and recognition for my efforts as the next guy, but the process is the performance. The rest is just curtain calls. The meticulousness required in the preparation is what intrigues me. Like Garp, if I'm careful and conscientious, I'm almost always assured of the outcome.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

1 comment:

Jeff (UK) said...

Wow, sorry I missed ALL of that one! BTW, Blog O' Food is now on my iGoogle home page, top left.. where it ought to be. Thanks