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.

Guerillas in the Midst of Shrimp Tacos

I’m a little bit of a homophone-ophobe. This is a real condition. Seriously. It describes a person who fears words that sound similar but have two entirely different meanings. Like it was so sweet of the hotel to give us this suite. And I loved the kind maid who made the bed. Just typing it makes me shutter.

In the ’70’s there were constant news reports about the Sandinista Guerillas in Nicaragua. In our house, once my father was home, we watched the news. Well, at least the news was on. I can’t say I really was watching it. It was more like background noise I had to endure until prime time programming (Dallas, Taxi, Different Strokes etc) was available. We had one TVone. So, everyone watched the same thing and the bigger people generally got to dictate what that one thing would be.

Anyway, the fighting in Nicaragua had been going on for years, but really heated up in 1979 after the formal unification of the Sandinista guerillas.

This was also around the time that you could find Planet of the Apes television series starring Roddy McDowall reruns on TV.

And, I was pretty young.

So, when the din of the news reported on the guerillas in Nicaragua, I was certain that they meant gorillas.

Yes, to answer the obvious question, the news rolled footage of the guerillas – but it was 1979 and the footage was grainy, not all high def like now. Even when I would watch the reports, I thought the soldiers could totally be gorillas – like the ones on Planet of the Apes.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned about guerillas and then even more time passed before I was able to admit to my mistake. I’ve had homophone-ophobia ever since.

Recently, I was taking my first stab at using tomatillos – which I was a little afraid of. See ‘Tomatillo’ sounds a lot like ‘Tomato’ (though not an exact homophone). But, just as guerillas are completely different than gorillas, – tomatillos not like tomatoes at all. If you’ve never used them and want to google ‘tomatillos’, you’ll be told that tomatillos are more like gooseberries. This information didn’t help to ease my fear as I’ve never used those either.

This is the recipe from FoodNetwork Kitchens that I used for reference and then tweaked. It’s for two pretty decent sized servings.

Shrimp Tacos with an Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa

Marinate 1/2 lb of large, cleaned and deveined raw shrimp in a mix of lemon and lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for about an hour. I do use frozen ones and it’s fine. Just fine.

Put 1/2 of a small chopped onion, 1/2 a chopped and seeded jalapeno and 1/2 clove of garlic mashed in a food processor. I often sub shallot for garlic – but since the garlic is going to be processed, it won’t dominate the sauce. Finely chop.

Add in 2 peeled and rinsed chopped tomatillos, 1/2 an avocado chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt, the juice of 1/2 a lime and pulse the mixture until chopped but still chunky.

You can stir in a little bit of sour cream at this point. The sour cream is a nice juxtaposition to the spiciness of the jalapeno and garlic.

Transfer to a bowl and top with some fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside.

Pre-heat a grill pan to med/high. Spray with cooking spray.

Take the marinated shrimp and, if you want some spice,  toss with 1/2 tsp of chili powder and immediately place on the grill pan. The shrimp will cook quickly – about 2 minutes per side. I like a little char on my shrimp. Why? Because as per Anne Burrell: ‘brown food is good food’.

In a second pan, warm up 4 flour tortillas. Put a pan on medium and drop the tortillas in there for a minute or so per side. You just want them warmed, not toasted. You can use wheat or corn, but I really prefer flour.

Topped each warmed tortilla with a heathy schmear of the avocado/tomatillo salsa and 2-3, depending on size, shrimp. Garnish with some more cilantro (remembering that cilantro seems to be polarizing – you either love it or hate it) and a lime wedge.

The salsa makes this meal. And, helped me to overcome my fear of those tomato-sounding tomatillos.

You don’t hear a lot about the guerillas in Nicaragua anymore…or much about the original Planet of the Apes for that matter. Still, when I think back on my homophonic mistake, I know I can’t be the sole soul who made such an error. I mean, didn’t anyone think that Jane Goodall as played by Sigourney Weaver was In the Midst of Guerillas?