Little Lies, Illusions and A Succulent Pot Roast

Pot Roast Plated and Ready

A good friend’s mother told him once that if he didn’t have time to clean his apartment before people were coming over, he could just use lower wattage light bulbs. In the dimness, guests would miss the dirt and dust. Makes sense to me.

Spanx

Little lies, illusions and cover ups surround us every day. I used to work for a shapewear company and our motto was always ‘fake it til you make it’.

I mean do you really think all those celebrities are cellulite-free? No. No they are not.

And the regular people? We’re all frantically double-Spanxing just to keep up. (note: I can’t believe that ‘Spanxing’ just passed my spell check!)

It’s cold out and slow cooker season is officially on. With the slow cooker, comes so many illusions. As prep is generally pretty easy and results are more than always pretty good – it can trick your guests into believing that you are a fabulous cook. They will think that you slaved for hours over the meal. That you reinvented cooking. You may literally change the way they see less expensive giant meats.

Annie’s Choice

I don’t have a slow cooker anymore – too big for small living. And when confronted with a Sophie’s Choice between my Le Creuset large dutch oven and the All-Clad Slow Cooker, I had to let the slow cooker go.

No worries. The dutch oven works just as well if not better.

So, it’s really slow and low cooking season at my place. And, last night I teased my neighbors with the warm wafting aromas of beef and herbs – providing the illusion that I was an amazingly fabulous chef, hostess and meat miracle worker.

Slow and Low Cooking Pot Roast (Serves 6)

Ina Garten-style with a few tweaks (some on purpose, some by accident and some because I had amnesia at Whole Foods)

Honestly, this is all about the prep…

1. Go to Whole Foods or similar and buy a giant, inexpensive piece of meat – 4-5lb boneless beef chuck roast. Ask the butcher to tie it as this will help keep it together during the slow roast. My butcher did this string pattern with just one piece of string!

Giant Meat from Whole Foods – Perfectly Tied

2. Mise en place your veggies:

Veggie Mise En Place to Make Anne Burrell Proud

  • 3 cups of leeks – it’s supposed to be just two but I forgot to buy onions so I increased the leeks
  • 2 cups chopped carrots – about 5 carrots
  • 2 cups chopped celery – about 4 stalks
  • 2/3 of a single onion chopped – because that’s all I had in my fridge
  • NOTE: these are going to be pureed, so don’t kill yourself chopping. Just try for somewhat similar size across all veggies.

3. Smash up 4 garlic cloves – Ina uses 5, but I was hesitant to do so. Would have been fine in the end

4. Mise en place your Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I didn’t do this, and it would have been real smart if I had. Put a teaspoon measure by them

5. Bundle 3 branches of fresh rosemary with 4-5 branches of fresh thyme

Herb Bundle

Muir Glen Tomato Puree

6. Open a 28oz can of tomato puree. The Muir Glen was on sale yesterday at Whole Foods – Yay!

7. Pour 2 cups of good red wine into a measuring cup. Ina uses Burgandy, I had some really good Montepulciano – 2 cups for the roast, 1 glass for me

8. Pour out 1 cup of chicken stock and open up a Knorr’s chicken bouillon cube

‘Cooking’ Cognac

9. Pour out 2 tbsp of either Cognac or Brandy. I had a pretty good cognac on hand – but that’s a story for another time

OK. That was the hardest part.

Pre-Heat oven to 325 degrees

10. Generously salt and pepper the giant meat on all sides and then dredge in flour. Ina uses a lot of salt (1 tbsp) I might use a little less next time.

11. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over med / high heat and sear the meat on all sides. Once seared (about 4 mins on each side) remove the meat and put on a plate

Searing the Giant Meat

12. Turn the heat down to medium – Add 2 more tbsp of olive oil to the pot and stir in all of the vegetables and smashed garlic. Add in 1 tbsp of salt and 1 1/2 tsp of pepper.

Cook over medium heat until tender – about :10 mins

Simmering Veggies Pre-Booze

13. Add the wine and cognac and bring to a boil

14. Once boiling, add in the pureed tomatoes, the chicken stock and the bouillon cube. Ina then adds 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper…I’d skip the salt here as mine turned out pretty salty.

15. Throw the Thyme/Rosemary bundle in there and then add in the Giant Meat and bring to a boil. Cover and put into the oven.

Sauce Smothered Meat Oven-Ready

16. Bake for 1 hour and then turn heat down to 250 degrees and cook for an additional :90 minutes

17. Remove from the oven and take the roast out and put onto a carving board

18. Carefully ladle some of the veggies and sauce into a blender or Cuisinart and puree. CAUTION: allow to cool a bit before blending or it will blow the lid off of the blender. Just sayin’. Puree in batches until you have enough sauce.

NOTE: I didn’t puree the entire pot of goodness – didn’t need that much.

Veggie Booze and Sauce Puree

Also – Ina puts the puree back on the stove and does some magical adding of flour and butter here, but, really, you don’t need it. The pureed veggies and booze make a lovely sauce all on their own.

19. Slice the roast and serve over egg noodles covered with the sauce and some chopped parsley

In an apartment, aromas seep into hallways from everyone’s home. Some better than others. Slow cooking takes the aroma flow to a new level as the scents of deliciousness flow out of my kitchen for hours.

Last night even the doormen 14 floors below had heard from my neighbors that ‘Annie was cooking something amazing smelling all day’. Ah, but ‘all day’ in this case is really the illusion. For with very little work, you can produce an amazingly succulently, moist pot roast.

But, don’t tell anyone.

Because Smaller Things are Cuter: Petite Lasagna

Little things are cuter! Petite Lasagna

Small things are somehow cuter. Babies are cuter humans. Puppies are cuter dogs. Doll houses, cuter houses, cake pops, you get it….all cuter simply because they are smaller.

If that is true, than why are we so intimidated and fearful of cooking for fewer people. Or, God forbid, cooking for…gulp…one.

There’s a song about a breakup that I first heard in the ’80s when forced to listen to a quasi-muzak station at work and its lyrics have always stayed with me. Though originally written by Burt Bacharach, the kids today may know it because it was also featured on Glee in 2010.

Burt Bacharach Week on Glee

That aside, the lyrics are ridonk:

One less bell to answer / One less egg to fry / One less man to pick up after / I should be happy / But all I do is cry.

Seriously. Those are the lyrics. The singer lost her man and it is so so sad. And, the saddest part is – sigh, wipe tear – that now, every morning she only has to fry ONE egg. One – the loneliest number – the most feared amount of eggs to ever have to fry. Breaks me up every time I hear it.

But then, I think, first of all, what man eats only one egg for breakfast? And, secondly, who cares?!?!? You’ll find someone else to fry an egg for. Until then, enjoy the peace, quiet and fewer plates to clean.

I’m relatively certain that the saddest part of the single egg fryer’s life isn’t having a plethora of unfried eggs in the fridge. I’m actually completely sure of it.

Cooking for fewer people just isn’t sad. Embrace it. Last night I wanted lasagna. I had most of the ingredients already but I didn’t have six people coming to dinner.

Here’s what I did:

Petite Lasagna with Spinach and Chicken (serves 2 – even if 2 is you and your leftovers)

Preheat Oven to 450 degrees

1. Make the spinach mixture:

  • Cheesy Spinach Mixture pre-Chicken

    Heat a saute pan over med heat with 2 tbsp of butter + 2tbsp olive oil

  • Saute 2 cloves of garlic diced and 1/2 shallot diced until fragrant – about 2 mins
  • Add in one 10oz package of defrosted and squeezed dry chopped spinach – stir
  • Add in 2 tbsp of cream or milk – last night I only had 2% and it was fine
  • Add in 1/2 cup of Ricotta Cheese – stir to combine
  • Turn off heat and add 2 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese
  • Add salt and pepper to taste – remember that the parmesan cheese is salty
  • Stir in 2 breasts of cooked chicken meat diced or shredded – I used a rotisserie chicken – face it, you’ll never make chicken as good at home.
  • NOTE: I also didn’t stir the chicken in, because I thought there would be some left over and I didn’t want it all spinach-ified

2. Make a Bechamel Sauce

  • Bechamel Sauce Perfectly Coats Back of Spoon

    In a sauce pan over medium heat melt 2.5 tbsp of butter

     

  • Using a whisk, stir in 3 tbsp of flour – cook for about 2 mins
  • Whisk in a combination of 1 cup whole milk (again, I only had 2% and it was fine) + 1 cup of chicken stock
  • BTB (bring to a boil) RTS (reduce to a simmer) and continue to stir until the béchamel sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  • Remove from heat and add 1/4 tsp of Salt and about the same of Pepper. You can add a pinch of nutmeg here as well

3.

Sweet Potatoes, because that’s what I had

Cut 1/2 of a peeled sweet potato into fry size pieces, lightly cover with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for :20 mins – tossing a couple of times during the roasting.

I only had sweet potatoes but roasted squash or zucchini or egg plant or whatever you have and like would be just fine.

TURN OVEN DOWN TO 350 degrees

4. Shred 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. I didn’t feel like getting the cheese grater dirty, so I just cut the cheese…into small cubes

Get out a 9x5x3 loaf pan (see Banana Bread Recipe)

5. Use no-cook noodles. I had some fresh ones in the freezer that I defrosted in the fridge earlier in the day. Place 4 noodles (or enough to create 4 layers of noodles in a 9x5x3 loaf pan) in warm water just for 1 minute to soften

4. Layer the lasagna

Mise En Place for Lasagna

  • Put enough of the béchamel sauce to thinly cover the bottom of the pan
  • Put one layer of lasagna sheet(s) on top
  • Spread on a layer of the spinach, cheese and chicken mixture

Petite Lasagna Layer 1

  • Add a few of the roasted sweet potato fries – or whatever veggies you have and have roasted. There are no rules here. I like the sweet potatoes because they’re pretty.

Add the Sweet Potatoes – Pretty Colors!

  • Sprinkle on some of the mozzarella cheese and pour about 1/4 cup of the béchamel sauce over it
  • Layer on another layer of the lasagna sheet(s)

REPEAT – creating a complete second layer of spinach, chicken, sweet potatoes and cheese…and a little béchamel sauce

5. On top of the second layer, add the final layer of lasagna sheet(s), cover with about 1/3 cup of béchamel sauce, a sprinkle of mozzarella and some grated parmesan

Oven Ready Petite Lasagna

6. Cover with tin foil and bake for :35 minutes

7. Remove the tin foil and bake another :10 minutes

8. Remove from the oven – it will be bubbling – and let stand uncovered for :10 mins before serving

Lasagna out of the oven ready to cool…

If dinner is for you and someone else, great. If it’s just you dining with your leftovers….Go ahead and pour yourself a glass of wine. Sit in front of the TV. Eat and enjoy. See, was that so sad?

NO! No it was not. This lasagna is petite, smaller than most, and thus, cuter and better.

By the way, this morning for breakfast, I had one, absolutely deliciously fried egg.

One Happily Fried Egg

Crepes of Wrath with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach

Chicken Mushroom Spinach Crepes

Crepes dressed and ready for the oven

Crepe Fail

After four days…I’m over the crepes. Don’t get me wrong, I love crepes – they’re buttery, creamy goodness which can hold any combination of deliciousness. They’re easy to make – except for the inevitable crepe fail…They store in the fridge or freezer for a long time. They’re bipolar – can go sweet or savory…

But after this week, I’m over it. And the last of the crepes in my fridge have become the bane of my existence.

My crepes of wrath.

So here’s the last I’ll speak of crepes.

Chicken and Mushroom Crepes (serves 4)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray

Defrost a 10oz package of frozen spinach and squeeze out excess water

1. In a medium saute pan over med/high heat melt 2 tbsp of butter with 2 tbsp of olive oil

2. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and saute until fragrant (about 2 mins)

3. Cube 4 breasts of chicken and add to the garlic, butter, OO mix. Add salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on all sides and then remove from the pan and set aside.

Cubed Chicken Browning in Garlic, Butter and OO

4. Into the pan add 3 portobello mushrooms sliced and 1 8oz package of sliced shiitake mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to brown on both sides

Mushroom: Portobello and Shiitake saute in garlic

5. Add all of the chopped spinach and stir

Mushrooms and Chopped Spinach

6. Add 1 – 1 1/2 cups of the mornay sauce (mornay sauce with chicken stock recipe). And re-add the Chicken.

Note, if sauce is too thick, you can add more chicken stock…Simmer until heated through.

Savory Crepe Filling

7. Put remaining mornay sauce in a sauce pan to heat.

8. Assemble the Crepes (Savory Crepes Recipe)

  • Schmear a bit of the warmed mornay sauce in the center of a crepe
  • Top with a good amount of the mushroom, chicken, spinach mixture
  • Roll the crepe and place in the baking tray
  • Repeat until all crepes are assembled – 8
  • Cover the crepes with more of the mornay sauce

9. Into the oven until heated through – 20  – 25 minutes

Joey the Doorman

Serve one portion to Joey the doorman – who much appreciated the free dinner…

OK. That’s it. Let us not speak of crepes again for a while. Crepes …out.

Shrimp Crepes Starring My Darlin’ Lemon Thyme

Crepes with Lemony Shrimp, Peas, Corn

Oh my darlin’

Oh my darlin’

Oh my darlin’ lemon thyme

Walked the farmer’s market this past weekend and was lured by the fresh, bright aroma of the herb guy’s lemon thyme. You could smell it from six feet away. It’s absolutely amazing. So amazing that I built an entire meal around layering in lemon flavor. I’ve since learned that while lemon thyme is nothing like regular thyme – there are similarities. As per WHfoods.org: both contain an oil that has been shown to protect and significantly increase the percentage of healthy fats found in cell membranes and other cell structures – specifically in the brain. Even though this information is based on tests with rats, I feel like I’m smarter for eating it.  I’m certainly remembering a lot of song lyrics lately…

1 large lemon thyme bunch,  $2

Better brain cells, priceless

Lemony Thyme at the Farmer's Market

Lured in by this Lemony Thyme

You can’t possibly use this entire bunch of thyme…so:

First use: pull the leaves of 5 or 6 stems and place in small bowl in kitchen to surround yourself with fresh and bright lemon aroma while cooking.

Second: pull the leaves off of all of the stems. Reserve one tbsp…put the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer for later use.

With the tbsp: use to layer lemony flavor into lemony shrimp crepes.

Lemony Shrimp Crepes (serves 4)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

1. In a large skillet over med/high melt 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add 1 small or 1/2 a large chopped shallot and saute until fragrant (about 2 mins)

Saute the shallot

2. Stir in the juice of one lemon and saute for another minute or so

3. Add 20 – 24 shrimps – depending upon size you will want 2 – 4 shrimps per crepe and 2 crepes per person

4. Add the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp of lemon thyme, salt and pepper and stir

Saute Shrimp with Lemon Zest, Lemon Juice, Shallots and Lemon Thyme

5. The shrimps will only take a couple of minutes per side to cook …so be quick here…Add 1/2 cup of dry rose wine. You can add a dry white wine…but since shrimps are pink when cooked, I thought a pink wine would be prettier. Plus the pinot grapes in a rose add a good deal of flavor.

6. Turn the heat up and allow some of the wine to evaporate.

7. Turn heat to low and stir in 1 – 1/2 cups of mornay sauce with peas and corn. (Mornay Sauce Recipe) Put the remaining mornay sauce in a sauce pan over low heat.

Shrimp Crepes in Mornay Sauce with Peas and Corn

Shrimp in Mornay Sauce with Peas and Corn

8. Set up your assembly station:

  • Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray
  • Place 8 Crepes on a cutting board (Savory Crepe Recipe)
  •  Mornay sauce in sauce pan
  • Lemony shrimp mixture
Shrimp Crepes Assembly

Assembly Station

9. Assemble the crepes

  • Schmear a little of the mornay sauce on the crepe
  • layer on 2 – 3 shrimps
  • roll the crepes and place in the baking dish
  • Once all are rolled and in place, cover the crepes with a good amount of the remaining mornay sauce

Shrimp Crepe Assembly Combo – click to see PDF

10. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 mins until completely heated through and serve

Sometimes you base an outfit on the shoes you want to wear. Sometimes a meal is built around the lure of one amazing herb. Bright, fresh lemon thyme is my new favorite herb and my current kitchen obsession. In addition to its incredible aroma and flavor, I’m totally getting smarter. Oh my darlin’ lemon thyme.

There’s Got To Be A Mornay After

Elton John's Daniel

Daniel’s Reptile Eyes are on here…

People mess up song lyrics. That’s just the way it is. I, myself, have confused a lyric or two. Like Elton John’s Daniel – the line ‘I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain’, I misheard as ‘I can see your reptile eyes heading for Spain’….Reptile eyes? Really? Made sense to me at the time. And, I sang it that way for years until I was called out during a heated game of Song Burst.

Other favorite wrong song lyrics I’ve heard are:

  • Prince’s Rasberry Beret became his ‘Strawberry Parade’
  • Billy Idol’s Eyes Without a Face became ‘How’s about a Date?’.

Both good, but maybe my favorite – and it wasn’t my mistake – was a friend who thought Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair‘s line ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ was actually ‘Our Sweet Saviors; Mary and Tom’. Mary and Tom – and what sweet saviors they were.

This record has Scarborough Fair!

Mixing up song lyrics on purpose is also entertaining. And since Sunday I’ve been singing the following songs in my head:

  • Mornay Has Broken
  • It’s a Beautiful Mornay
  • It’s 4 O’Clock In The Mornay
  • And…Sunday Mornay 

Mornay Sauce is a versatile sauce and one that is hard to make just a little of. Luckily it can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.

So when making this sauce ‘There’s Got to Be A Mornay After‘.

A mornay sauce is perfect for a savory crepe dinner. The Legitimate Crepe from yesterday’s post. That crepe recipe makes anywhere from 20 – 30 crepes depending upon how many you flub up and how many you eat during the cooking process. Either way, if you’re doing dinner for 4 with 2 crepes each, there are certainly enough crepes for two dinners. I thought we might want to look at making a Mornay Sauce that could go two ways.

Mornay Sauce, two ways

First! Mise En Place: Butter, Flour, Warm Milk, Salt, Pepper, Shredded Cheese (this is Jarlsberg but a sharp cheddar or gruyere works as well)

Mornay Sauce Mise E Place

Mise En Place for Mornay Sauce

1. In a medium saucepan over med/high heat melt 2 1/2 tbsp of butter

Butter Melting

2. Whisk in 3 tbsp of flour and stir until completely combined – about 1-2 mins

Mornay Sauce

Whisking in the Flour

3. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of warm milk and continue to whisk – the sauce will begin to thicken

Milk added and whisking away

4. BTB (bring to boil) and then RTS (Reduce to Simmer) – then add 1/8 tsp of Pepper and 1/4 tsp of Salt. Continue to whisk until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Sauce will be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon

5. Stir in 3/4 cup of shredded Jarlsberg cheese and continue to whisk until all of the cheese is melted in.

That’s the basic Mornay Sauce…..

Since we are going to make two different crepe dinners….Divide the sauce into two equal parts and keep both over a low heat.

The Mornay: Into one half stir in 1 Cup of frozen peas and 1/2 Cup of frozen corn kernals plus 1 tbsp of fresh Thyme (not your sweet savior, Tom, but Thyme) and the zest of 1/2 a lemon. Let cool and set aside. (Yes, you can use fresh peas or fresh corn).

Mornay Sauce with Peas, Corn and Lemon

The Mornay After: Into the remaining half, stir 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Once combined, let the sauce cool and store in the refrigerator.

Tomorrow: a delicious Lemony Shrimp crepes dinner followed by an earthy Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach crepe dish on Thursday.

I don’t know if Mary and Tom ever made it to Scarborough Fair. But I do know that you can Just call me Angel Of the Mornay.