Pot roast for a winter's day

 

For old-fashioned comfort on a cold winter’s night, look no further than Plain Jane pot roast. Like most comfort foods, tradition trumps exotic spices; you’ll find no fancy footwork here. The key to this braising technique is to roast the meat in a relatively small amount of liquid. A heavy-bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid is essential. You have a bit of work up front, but not much coddling. And if you add vegetables to the pot at the end of cooking, you will be rewarded with a one-dish meal.

Paramount to the success of pot roast is the right cut of meat. A chuck roast, which comes from the front part of the animal, is particularly suited to slow braising. The muscle fibers break down slowly during cooking and the marbling of fat between the fibers melts, giving the roast good flavor and a tender texture. Ask the butcher to tie it for you to keep if from falling apart while it cooks. Other leaner cuts of meat such as a bottom round roast or eye round roast may look appealing but they will be stringy enough to disappoint you. The braising pot is important, too. It should be large enough to accommodate the roast, but not so large as to leave the meat swimming in liquid. A six-quart pot or thereabouts is optimal.

Pot roast is even better the next day if you can resist diving in after so many hours of beefy aromas filling your kitchen. When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and allow it to cool for about half an hour. Wrap it snugly in foil and refrigerate it for up to two days.  Refrigerate the sauce and vegetables separately. About an hour before serving, set the oven at 350 degrees. Skim and discard the fat from the sauce and heat it in a saucepan. Slice the meat and place it in a baking dish. Surround the slices with the vegetables and pour the sauce over them. Cover loosely with foil and heat in the oven until hot all the way through, from 20 to 30 minutes. Then sit down to a meal worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.

 

Slow-cooked pot roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions
Serves 6

ROAST

3 1/2 to 4 pounds boneless chuck roast, tied with butcher twine
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste3 tablespoons flour

3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken stock

1. Set the oven at 300 degrees. Have on hand a large ovenproof casserole with a lid. Sprinkle the roast generously all over with salt and pepper.

2. In the casserole over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Brown the roast for 2 to 3 minutes on a side until browned all over (total browning time is 8 to 10 minutes). Resist the urge to turn too soon or often; the meat will release easily from the pot after a couple of minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the thyme, bay leaves, wine, stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Set the meat on top. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 1/2 hours, turning every hour. Remove the pot from the oven and add the vegetables.

VEGETABLES

1 pound (about 18) small waxy potatoes such as yellow or red creamers, halved
6 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
12 small boiling onions, peeled
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (for garnish)

1. Add the potatoes, carrots, and onions to the pot. Cover, and return it to the oven. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the vegetables are tender. (Total cooking time for meat and vegetables is about 4 1/2 hours.)

2. Transfer the roast to a carving board and cover it loosely with foil to keep warm. With a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes, onions, and carrots to a plate. Cover and keep warm.

3. Remove the thyme and bay leaves from the pot and allow the liquid to settle. With a large spoon, skim off and discard the fat that rises to the surface. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper, if you like.

4. Slice the roast, discarding the string as you slice, and transfer the meat to a platter. Surround it with the vegetables and pour some of the sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with parsley and pass extra sauce separately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on January 30, 2016 .

Recipe for shaved Brussels sprouts with mustard dressing

Winter rolls on. Those of us in the Northeast who were up to our necks in snow all season last year are getting a break. However, that doesn’t mean we’re seeing fresh asparagus in the market. In fact, vegetable weariness is already settling in (shut up, you Californians). It’s all root vegetables and cabbages and potatoes all the time.  On top of that, our excesses of the holidays have not slid off our hips like water flowing down a mountain. Some real effort is involved, but it doesn’t have to be dreary.

I’ve been considering winter salads, and frankly, I resist them. I gravitate to warm and cozy soups and stews this time of year. But when I overcome my mental bias against cold food, I discover that crunchy is quite refreshing and exhilarating. And boy, I need some exhilaration. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how I feel about winter, and I regret to report that has not changed since last year. Or the year before that, going back to when I popped out of the womb in June those many years ago. I still want to go into a bear cave and kindly request that you wake me when it’s over. Since that’s not going to happen, I am surrendering to salad, and finding that I like it.

Salads in winter need strong flavors to snap the taste buds to attention, and these thinly sliced Brussels sprouts dressed with plenty of lemon and mustard do the trick. You will need a mandoline type slicer, a food processor with a slicing blade, or a thin, sharp knife and plenty of patience to shave them. Toasted walnuts on top add richness and crunch.

Shaved Brussels sprouts with apples, walnuts, and mustard dressing
Serves 4
1/2 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, or more, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil (you can cut back if you are on a 'nutritional plan"
1 pound large Brussels sprouts, discolored and loose outer leaves removed
1 Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apple, cored and coarsely grated

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, spread the walnuts. Toast for 8 minutes, or until aromatic.

2. In a bowl large enough to hold the salad, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the oil.

3. Using a mandoline or other slicer, thinly slice the Brussels sprouts by gripping the stem ends with your fingers and cutting them until the sprouts are too short to safely slice. (To use the slicing blade of a food processor, trim and discard the stems first.) Transfer to the bowl of dressing.

4. Add the apples to the bowl. Toss to coat the salad with the dressing. Taste, and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

5. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts.

p.s. rumor has it that Trader Joe's sells bags of shaved sprouts, making this an almost no-effort proposition



Posted on January 16, 2016 .

Ease into austerity season with these salmon cakes

It’s the second week of January, and who isn't  contemplating the “d-word” to make up for holiday excesses at the table? While a slab of fish on a plate with a salad might restore balance, that sort of meal will be about as much fun as landing in a snowstorm after a beach vacation in Hawaii. That’s where these salmon cakes come in: healthy, with a chance of comfort. They are the same size as a burger, and if you want to ease into austerity season, you could enjoy them on a bun.

Paired with mashed potatoes to stretch ingredients, fish cakes have a long history in New England, especially during lent in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s time for a change though; potatoes have been on the collective menu since Thanksgiving. These cakes rely on eggs and panko breadcrumbs to hold them together. Flaky, light, and delicate, panko crumbs are made from bread, but are crunchier and coarser than fine, white breadcrumbs.

To make the cakes, start by spiking the salmon with some smoky paprika, and then undercook it slightly in the oven. Once it’s cooled and flaked, mix it with finely chopped vegetables for color and taste, and add zesty mayonnaise, mustard, capers, and lemon for even more flavor. Eggs and panko bring it all together. Shaping these require a little patience. Press them gently but firmly into balls and then shape them into flat burger-like disks. Handle them lightly as you coat them with the crumbs, and use a spatula to transfer them to the skillet. After browning on one side on top of the stove, leave them in the pan and transfer it to the oven (without turning) to slowly broil in the middle of the oven away from direct intense heat. Broiler heat varies greatly from one oven to another, so keep an eye on them as they cook. You end up with a crunchy golden crust and a center that is hot but not overcooked. You also forgo the mess and fuss of stovetop frying, not to mention the copious amounts of oil required in that method. You’ll feel good starting the year off by eating well without sacrificing one iota of flavor.

This recipe is designed to lessen the frustration and excess amount of oil of frying them. The cakes are a bit fragile until cooked, so browning them on the bottom on top of the stove and then slipping them into the oven under the broiler, solves two problems. If you're so inclined, use olive oil spray in step 5 of the recipe.

Salmon cakes
Makes 4 good size "burgers"

Oil (for the baking dish)
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 1/4 pounds boneless salmon filet with skin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 tablespoons olive oil (or 3 tablespoons oil plus olive oil spray)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (low fat is okay)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoon capers, coarsely chopped if large
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 whole egg, lightly beaten
1 egg white

1. Have on hand a lightly oiled baking dish, a large skillet with an ovenproof handle, and a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and sprinkle it with 1/2 cup of the panko.

2. In the baking dish, place the salmon. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the smoked paprika. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until slightly rare in the center. Cool in the pan.

3. In the skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the celery, pepper, and scallions. Cook for 5 minutes, or until soft. Transfer to a large bowl. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.

4. With two forks, flake the salmon in the baking dish, discarding the skin and bones. Transfer it to the bowl of vegetables. Stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, capers, lemon rind, lemon juice, parsley, salt, pepper and eggs. Stir in 1/2 cup of the panko.

5. Divide the mixture into 4 portions. With your hands, firmly press each portion into a ball. Flatten and press the balls into 4-inch patties. Set them on top of the panko on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the remaining panko, and gently coat the patties with crumbs, pressing lightly on them to hold their shape. With a pastry brush, dab the tops of the patties with 2 tablespoons of the oil (or spray with olive oil spray.)

6. Set an oven rack in the middle position and turn on the broiler.

7.  In the skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining oil. With a spatula, carefully transfer the cakes to the skillet and cook without moving for 2 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Slip the pan into the oven and broil for from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your broiler, or until golden on top. Remove the skillet from the oven and serve. 

This recipe was published in The Boston Globe on January 6, 2016.















Posted on January 8, 2016 .

That's some spicy meatball: Turkey meatball recipe

Recipe and photo recently published in the Boston Globe, photo and text by SPV (moi)

Recipe and photo recently published in the Boston Globe, photo and text by SPV (moi)

Well, I do exaggerate. These turkey meatballs are not particularly spicy, but they do fit into a holiday eating plan--a more or less healthy option squeezed between festive meals.

Braised in a simple tomato sauce, these meatballs offer a big bowl of winter comfort along with a welcome break from rich holiday food. We think of  spaghetti and meatballs as an Italian dish, but on an Italian table you would rarely find meatballs subjected to long simmering in tomato sauce and served over a mountain of spaghetti. Italian polpette (meatballs) are made with anything from beef to fish and often are served as a separate course, in soup or with tomato sauce. These meatballs make a satisfying meal simply served in a bowl with only a dusting of Parmesan.

Start with dark meat turkey, which has more flavor than white meat. If possible, buy it freshly ground from the meat counter in your market, since pre-packaged ground turkey is often compressed. Bread soaked in milk adds both moisture and tender texture, preventing the meat from becoming compact and tough while onions, parsley, Parmesan, and lemon rind add flavor. A beaten egg binds the mixture and adds even more richness and flavor. Mix it all together lightly with your hands to keep the meat from compacting for light and tender meatballs.

To defy the usual notion of meatball making as a laborious project, try this: Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop (number 40) or a spoon to scoop the meat into twenty even nuggets and place them assembly-line style on a baking sheet. Wet your hands and gently roll them into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place them in an oiled skillet and broil them for a few minutes to brown them. Set them aside and use the same skillet to make a quick sauce. Slip the meatballs back into the sauce and finally, finish them in the oven until cooked through.

Serve them in shallows bowls with some sauce and a little grated Parmesan. You and your waistline won’t miss the pasta.

Turkey meatballs
Serves 4

1 slice bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 pinches pepper
1 pound ground dark meat turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with juice, crushed in a bowl
Grated Parmesan, for serving

1. Have on hand a baking sheet and a large skillet with an ovenproof handle.

2. In a large bowl, stir the bread pieces and milk together. Let stand for 5 minutes. With a fork, mash to a pulp. Add the egg, Parmesan, onion, parsley, lemon rind, salt, and pepper. Stir until well mixed. Add the ground turkey. Mix lightly with your hands until combined. With a medium cookie scoop (number 40) or a spoon, divide the meat into 20 portions and set on the cookie sheet. Wet your hands, and without squeezing, shape into 20 (1 1/4-inch) meatballs.

3. Turn on the broiler. In the skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Take the pan off the heat and place the meatballs in it. Set the pan under the broiler and broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until brown. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meatballs to a plate. Set the oven temperature at 350 degrees.

4. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook for 20 seconds, or until it sizzles. Add the tomatoes, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Add the meatballs to the pan and return the sauce to a simmer.

5. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are no longer pink inside. Serve in shallow bowls with sauce and grated Parmesan.



Posted on December 14, 2015 .

Add something different to your Thanksgiving table: spicy butternut squash recipe

We’re down for the count, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ll be brief.

My previous post was about Paris, filled with images of a city that is deeply close to my heart for reasons I cannot explain. On my first trip, I felt as if I had lived there for many, many years. It may be easy to feel that way while on vacation, but the feeling haunted me with each visit. Without getting too political on a site which I hope offers respite from the world of troubles, I just want to say that this year, I think we are collectively so very grateful to be safe today, to have a roof over our heads, to have good food, to share love and friendship with others, and to think of those less fortunate. It is my wish for you and everyone. Yes, let us all count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

A few notes about the recipe:

Pre-peeled butternut squash has become commonplace in most markets, but you’d be surprised to find that the skin is quite delicate and peeling is not necessary. A whole, unpeeled squash will also be much fresher than one that has been peeled already, but no guilt if you go that route. I’m just saying: you don’t have to.

Pomegranate seeds are also a common market staple right now, and it’s fun (again, fresher) to seed them yourself. You will only need half a pomegranate for this recipe, but you can use the extra seeds in salads, or stir them into yogurt. See the recipe for an easy way to extract the seeds (and possibly take out a few frustrations in the process.)
 

Spicy roasted butternut squash with yogurt and pomegranate
Serves 4 (recipe can be multiplied)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon maras pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large (2 pounds) unpeeled butternut squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
Seeds from 1/2 pomegranate (about 1/2 cup)
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Set the oven at 475 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, stir the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, maras pepper, salt, and pepper until combined. Stir in the ginger and oil. Add the squash to the bowl. With your hands, toss to coat it with the spices.

3. On the baking sheet, spread the squash in one layer. Bake for 20 minutes, or until it is tender and browned at the edges. Transfer to a shallow serving dish.

4. Meanwhile, cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl with the seed side facing down. Use the back of a wooden spoon to firmly strike the skin several times all around to knock the seeds into the bowl.

5. In a bowl, stir the milk into the yogurt. Add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to make a thick sauce.

6. Drizzle the yogurt over the squash. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and cilantro. 


Posted on November 20, 2015 .