Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hungry Like the Wolf

I recently saw an episode of Barefoot Contessa on Food Network in which Ina Garten was preparing pot roast for a dinner party. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I do like Ina Garten's food most of the time. However, I was appalled at the ridiculous ingredients that she used to make her pot roast and, since I just bought a 2.5 lb. eye of round roast, I decided to make it my way and blog about it to demonstrate that you do not need a bouquet garni or red wine to make a pot roast that is good enough for company. In fact, I have made pot roast using this same method for company numerous times and people always love it.

I think that pot roast is probably like meatloaf for most people--everyone has a different way of making it, but the basics are the same. There are certain dishes that do not need to be messed with and changed and pot roast is one of those dishes, as far as I am concerned. It is probably my all time favorite meal and Mother of Ken usually makes it for me when I visit (we call it "roast beast" in my family). Pot roast is one of those dishes that does not require a recipe--I make pot roast like my mother does and like my grandmother taught her and her mother taught her. It is a method that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family and I suspect that the same is true for most people.

Ina Garten's pot roast included ingredients such as a bouquet garni (in her case, a combination of rosemary and thyme), celery and leeks, red wine, and canned tomatoes in puree. That is not pot roast. That is something totally different, much closer to something like beef bourguignon. Here's how a real pot roast is made with simple ingredients that most people already have (I don't know about you, but I don't keep leeks in my vegetable bin). I also know that a certain friend of mine would kill me if I put celery in her pot roast (she considers it a "vile weed").

I use a "roasterette," which is a small roaster that my Grambi gave me when I moved out on my own. I start by heating some olive oil in the bottom of the roaster on medium high heat and then I add large pieces of yellow onion. I cook the onions until they are slightly caramelized and, this time, I added some mushrooms that I needed to use up.

After the onions are cooked, I take them out and put the roast into the pan to sear. I season the roast with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper before I sear it.

To deglaze the pan and add extra flavor to the roast, I pour in some red wine vinegar and water.

After that cooks down a little, I add some beef bouillon cubes to the liquid. Ina uses chicken stock and chicken bouillon cubes--for roast beef?

Then I add the onions (and mushrooms this time) to the cooking liquid:

I put the lid on the roasterette and put it into the oven on 250-300 degrees, depending upon when I am planning to serve the roast.

Here it is about halfway through cooking:

About an hour before I take it out of the oven, I add carrots to the cooking liquid. The carrots are my favorite part of pot roast.

When the roast is finished cooking, I take it out of the pan to rest and then make my gravy. I put the roaster on the stove and heat the liquid until it simmers. Then, I whisk in a mixture of water and flour to thicken the gravy and add some Kitchen Bouquet to deepen the flavor.

Ina Garten served her pot roast with baked potatoes and some kind of yogurt sauce. Please. As Mother of Ken said, "who eats baked potatoes with pot roast?" I love a good baked potato, but not with pot roast. I either put potatoes into the roaster with the carrots and meat or, more commonly, I make mashed potatoes. Again, these are not complicated and I do not use a food mill or a ricer to make them. I usually use Yukon gold potatoes, butter, and milk. That's it. Cook the potatoes, add butter and milk, then mash. People love my mashed potatoes.

Here's my finished plate: a slice of roast beef with gravy, pot roast carrots and onions, and mashed potatoes with butter. I sprinkled black pepper and grey sea salt over everything and dinner was served.

Not only do people appreciate my roast beast, but dogs also love it. Kenna knows when it is roast beast night and she waits patiently for her share of scraps and gravy (and a little carrot this time):

My favorite way to eat roast beast is to eat a little of the meat along with a little carrot and potato--so good together. Kenna's strategy is to lick the gravy off of everything first and then eat the meat.

I mixed up shepherd's pie filling with the rest of the roast beef, carrots, onions, and gravy and added some frozen peas.

Here I have four containers of shepherd's pie filling on the right, a container of dog scraps and gravy on the top left, and my leftover mashed potatoes on the bottom left. This will come in handy when I get back from L. A. and need a home cooked meal in a hurry.

Kenna even gets to lick the last of the gravy out of the roasterette:

I am sure that Kenna wouldn't like Ina Garten's roast as much as she likes mine. My roast was moist and tender, I could taste the meat and the flavor was complimented by the red wine vinegar, carrots, and onions, but it wasn't overpowered by herbs and red wine. The carrots were tender, but not mushy, and the gravy was rich and perfectly seasoned.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bette Davis Eyes: Fallon and Alexis go to L.A., Part I

Next week, I have to travel to Los Angeles to speak at a conference. After my professional duties are over, my good friend Leah will be joining me for a long weekend of sightseeing and star searching. Eschewing traditional travel guides, we will be using the Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #5, California Girls. This book is far superior because it is a personal account of visiting the Los Angeles area in the early 1990s as opposed to a commercially driven, dryly written travel guide.

Can you tell that we were in third grade at the height of the Baby-Sitters Club phenomenon?

Of course, we will not be emulating Claudia's "funky" style or Dawn's "California cool" style while we are there. We are much too sophisticated for that. When
Fallon and Alexis travel to Los Angeles, they travel in style.

Unfortunately, Krystle will be unable to join us as she will be spending the week at the "spa."

We will, of course, provide you gentle readers with a full account of our glamorous trip to Los Angeles, including star sightings and fancy restaurants.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Look to the cookie!

I had an all day meeting to attend on Saturday, and I had a feeling that we would need some sustenance to get through it. I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and a batch of inside out chocolate chip cookies and baked half of each batch to take with me on Saturday. I froze the rest of the dough to bake later.

We also needed something to eat with our coffee in the morning, so I mixed the batter for
Ina Garten's Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins the day before and then baked them on Saturday morning before I left.

People were quite appreciative of the food. One person stopped the meeting because he felt the need to announce that the cookies were "ridiculously good."

Since I'll be doing a lot of traveling in the next few weeks, I also wanted to make some lasagna this weekend so that I would have something in the freezer to eat when I get home. I gathered all of the ingredients together: shredded mozzarella cheese, a mixture of browned beef, pork, and veal, ricotta mixed with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese, the lasagna noodles, my thawed homemade tomato sauce, and grated Parmesan cheese:

I started with a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan and put three lasagna noodles on top of that:

I topped that with the meat mixture and some shredded cheese:

I put the next layer of noodles on top and then spread the ricotta mixture over the noodles:

I continued the layers until I had used everything--I ended up with two meat layers and two ricotta layers. I topped the whole thing with more shredded cheese:

Here's the lasagna just out of the oven:

I let it cool for about ten minutes and then cut a piece for dinner:

Earlier in the day, I baked a cherry pie that was still warm when I cut a slice for dessert:

I had planned to take cookies for my students today, so I took the rest of the cookie dough out of the freezer and baked about four dozen more cookies on Monday evening:

Usually by the fourth week of classes, my students are ready for some homemade cookies. As I started to pass the box of cookies around, the first student asked "how many are we allowed to take?" I had four dozen cookies, 17 students, a few hungry colleagues, and a fairly empty box by the time I headed home.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hot Night in a Cold Town

With extremely cold temperatures for much of the past weekend, I decided to stay warm by doing some baking and cooking. The creek behind my house last weekend--now it is even more frozen:

I started by making an
apple coffee cake. These are the ingredients for the crumble topping--flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

I melted the butter and used a fork to combine all of the ingredients:

This is the finished crumble mixture:

Next, the cake. I used a Granny Smith apple, flour, sugar, baking powder, buttermilk, butter, cinnamon, baking soda, and eggs to make the cake batter:

I put the flour into the bowl of my mixer:

Then the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and some salt:

I mixed the dry ingredients briefly:

Then I added the diced apple:



Melted butter:

All of the batter went into a greased cake pan. You can also make muffins with the batter, but I decided to make a coffee cake.

Crumb topping:

And here's the cake after it baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes:

This was very good. The cake wasn't too sweet, the apples were tart and tender, and the topping was fantastic.

Next, I made tomato sauce to restock the supply that I usually keep in the freezer. I pretty much just make this up as I go along, but I started with one can each of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato puree, white wine, olive oil, finely diced yellow onion (close to two cups), grated carrot (about one cup), red pepper flakes, dried oregano and basil, tomato paste, minced garlic (about two or three tablespoons), a pecorino rind, salt, and pepper.

I saute the onions in olive oil until they are translucent:

Then I add the grated carrot and cook it for about two minutes:

I add the garlic just before I add the liquids so that it only cooks for about a minute or so:

I used about 1/2 c. of white wine to deglaze the pan and I let it reduce by about half:

I added the three cans of tomatoes and about a tablespoon of tomato paste that I had frozen:

I also added one tomato can full of water:

The dried herbs:


Freshly ground black and red pepper:

Last, I add the pecorino rind:

I barely simmered the sauce for about an hour:

Here's what the pecorino rind looked like when I fished it out:

I used my immersion blender to make the sauce smooth:

Finally, I filled my containers with about two cups of sauce each. After the sauce had cooled, I put the lids on and put them into the freezer.

While my sauce was cooking, I started this recipe for
white whole wheat bread.

This is the sponge (yeast, flour, water, and honey) after about 45 minutes:

I put the sponge into the bowl of the mixer and then added warm water and milk:

More flour goes in:

Vital wheat gluten:




Then I added flour 1/2 c. at a time until the dough was the right consistency:

The mixer did most of the work--this is the dough after about ten minutes of kneading by the dough hook:

I put the dough in a greased bowl, covered it in plastic wrap and a towel, and let it rise for about an hour:

Me punching the dough down:

I divided the dough into two bread pans and let them rise for another 45 minutes or so:

Here are my two loaves, just out of the oven and on the cooling rack:

I sliced it later and spread it with some strawberry jam--very good. This bread isn't dense like a lot of whole wheat breads, but I also had to use a few cups of all purpose flour when I ran out of what whole wheat flour, so that might explain some of the tenderness.

Now I have a loaf of bread in the freezer along with about 12 cups of tomato sauce, some of which will go into this weekend's lasagna.