Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sunday Dinner Series Part III: Where's the Beef?

Blah blah work married life busy blah.  Back to the food in general, and the Sunday Dinner Series in particular!

Unseasonably warm weather aside, it's still winter here in Manitoba.  For me, that means finding the heartiest food possible and tucking in.  Warming from the inside out, if you will.  I can only fathom how the voyageurs survived the cold season all those years ago... though I'm pretty sure pot roast (or something like it) would've come into play.

He Ho!
"Roast beef dinner" is definitely a Honeybee family tradition.  In recent years, however, I've come to realize that while it does involve roasted beef, it doesn't necessarily fit most people's idea of "roast beef".  This is really more a pot roast, with lots and lots of veggies.

I had been perusing my new favourite cooking tome, and found not one, but TWO recipes for "perfect pot roast" (don't ask me how that works... how can they BOTH be perfect?  Meh).  At first, I thought I would follow the recipe exactly, especially since there was never really a recipe for Mom's roast.  But about halfway through, her voice started creeping into my head.  "What, no onion soup mix?  Are you really only going to use a half cup of wine?  What do you mean, no roasted carrots on the side?!"  Telepathic-mom was absolutely right.  What was I doing??  Why mess with what I know I like??  So, I started ignoring the book (Hubs would be proud) and started doing my own thing.  I've done it again since the first "hybrid recipe" attempt, with good results.  If you want to try it out for yourself, have a look here:

Lil's Sunday Pot Roast
Sort of adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV
Show Cookbook... for the first bit, at least.

Serves four, with leftovers
  • 1 boneless beef roast (like a chuck-eye roast), about 3-5 lb*
  • ~2 Tbsp canola oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 small white onion, chopped medium
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped medium
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped medium
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 bottle of red wine (some for cooking, some for drinking... so pick a decent one!)
  • 1/2 package onion soup mix
  • 1 large red onion, peeled, trimmed and cut into large chunks
  • 4-6 red potatoes (depending on size), scrubbed and cut into large chunks
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled
  • 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • Cornstarch (for gravy thickening)
*I didn't realize that I bought a bone-in roast.  So, at about 8 am on a Sunday, I gave myself a crash-course in deboning.  It was messy.  Hence the butcher twine... better now!  My apologies to any vegetarian readers... but in all honesty, having to deal with that aspect of food prep made me consider a plant-based diet myself!
  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
  2. In a Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering.
  3. Prep your roast.  If it's a sort of large ungainly piece of meat, use butcher's twine to tie it up into a nice uniform loaf shape.  Using paper towels, pat it dry.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.
  4. Sear the roast on all sides in the hot pot (I like using my Le Creuset for this, since it can also go in the oven.  Less dishes, yay!)  Once well browned on all sides, remove the roast to a plate.  Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Toss the white onion, celery, and medium-chopped carrot into the roast pot.  Cook until the veggies soften and start to brown.  Add the garlic and sugar; cook and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the thyme.
  6. Pour in a generous amount of red wine to deglaze; be sure to scrape up all the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pot (I honestly just free-pour.  It's probably about a cup to a cup and a half of wine that I use.  FLAVOUR.)
  7. Add the roast (and any juices it's leaked) back to the pot.  Sprinkle the 1/2 package of onion soup mix over it.  Add enough water to the pot to bring the liquid halfway up the roast.
  8. Bring the roast + liquid up to a simmer.  Fit the lid tightly over the roast (I usually put a sheet of foil in there for a good seal).  Put in the oven.
  9. Bake for 2-2 1/2 hours, turning the roast over every 1/2 hour.
  10. At the 2-2 1/2 hour mark, add the veggies (potato, sweet potato, whole garlic cloves, red onion).  If things look a bit dry, add more wine.
  11. Bake for another hour or so, until the veggies and meat are fully tender (poke them with a fork- if the fork slides in and out easily, you're golden).
  12. Take the roast out and let it sit on a carving board, tented under the foil you used earlier, until you're done the gravy.
  13. With a slotted spoon, remove all the veggies from the pot to a serving bowl.  Try to leave behind as much juice as possible.
  14. If there are still a lot of "chunks" in the gravy, take an immersion blender and whiz it up a bit.  On the stovetop, put the pot on medium heat and simmer the gravy down until it thickens and reduces somewhat.  Scoop out some of the hot proto-gravy with a ladle into a mug.  Add a tablespoon or so of cornstarch and whisk well.  Add back to the whole pot of gravy (this is how you can avoid getting lumps).  Repeat until desired consistency of gravy is reached!
  15. Carve your roast.  I'm not going to lie, I can never get nice "slices" like my Dad does.  So we just sort of end up with large tender meat chunks.  Nobody complains.
  16. Serve the roasted veg and beef with the gravy.  A loaf of fresh bread is especially nice here, to spread the roasted whole garlic cloves on like butter.  BUTTER, I tell you.
Starting the sear.
Almost done searing... look at all that brown-bit flavour on the bottom!
The bowl of delicious vegetables, pre-cooking.  Looks so pretty with all those vibrant colours...
Meat chunks!
Roast veg.  Not the prettiest bowl, but oh man, the flavours in here are not to be believed.
Dinner with Hubs (he's wearing his 'Polar bear in a snowstorm' Winnipeg shirt!).  Observe the fresh-baked bread, with roasted garlic clove spread.  It's a whole delicious meal, in one pot!  Make sure you get that red wine on the table, too.
So overall, the pot roast doesn't look like anything special.  It's certainly not haute cuisine.  Presentation's not great.  But let me tell you, this was the ONLY way to finish off a day of skating on the trails at The Forks.  It was also a great dinner to share with Deb, which gave me an excuse to attempt challah for the first time (more on that another day!)

Digging through the archives and continuing to cook (and photograph) up a storm,

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