Pot Roast

Pot Roast

A childhood favorite for many, pot roast was something I’d rarely eaten. Maybe once or twice growing up then again in culinary school during the braising lesson, and finally a few weeks ago at Nookies, a neighborhood restaurant featuring standard breakfast and lunch fare. It was one of the featured specials and seemed like a good idea as I slowly peeled off my hat, gloves and heavy winter jacket, still shivering from the frigid and blustery weather just outside.

Sadly, that pot roast was a disappointment (I’ve got to stick with pancakes there). The beef wasn’t tough but certainly wasn’t as tender as I’d been expecting, and the broth was extremely bland even after I’d added salt, something I rarely do at restaurants. At least the winter vegetables were alright.

I figured with all the talk about pot roast being a comfort food that it had to be better than this – surely I could do better. Now that I’d issued myself a challenge, I set out to do just that. And boy did I.

I did my best to keep the ingredients simple and use mostly what I had on hand – celery, onion, garlic, sweet potato, a few new potatoes, thyme, and a Roma tomato (this was a last minute substitution as I was certain I had canned tomatoes but didn’t), along with chicken broth and red wine. The key was to build flavors by slow cooking and then letting the ingredients sit together overnight, which would make the beef melt-in-your-mouth tender and bursting with flavor.

Despite the long cooking time, this is an easy one-pot meal that is best made in advance. It is rustic in nature so you don’t even have to spend a lot of time precisely chopping the vegetables. There are no excuses with this dish and it shocks me that my standby neighborhood restaurant could get it so wrong.

Here’s the recipe:

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Beans Never Tasted So Good: White Bean Puree

White bean puree with steelhead trout and spinach

I hope you fared better than I did during the holidays. With the 10+ pounds I gained from all sorts of delicious goodies, I’ve decided it’s time to pay better attention to what I’m eating. Not to worry, dear reader, this isn’t going to turn into a healthy/diet/bland food blog, but I did want to share what I made for dinner tonight: seriously creamy, mouth-wateringly-savory white bean puree.

Bacon Sweat vegetables

This is my favorite side dish to eat, and to make. I first prepared it this summer for my family to go with a roast leg of lamb and have tweaked it a few times since. They loved it and so will you.

Add beans and broth Simmer 25 minutes

The trick is layering the flavors. As you’ll remember from last week’s post, I often use one slice of bacon to flavor a large dish. It adds incredible depth of flavor here, plus provides all the fat and sodium. The rest of the ingredients are all vegetables – shallot, carrot, rosemary, cannellini/white kidney beans, and vegetable stock (or chicken if you prefer). The recipe makes about six side dish servings, each containing approximately 130 calories, 2 g total fat, 9 g dietary fiber and 8 g protein (those are the parts of the label I pay attention to at least).

Puree Return to pot and then thin

Another thing I love about the white bean puree is its versatility. It has the consistency of mashed potatoes and goes with just as many main courses – everything from the lamb I served with it that first time to the steelhead trout I made tonight (also very healthy, by the way).

Here’s the recipe: Read more of this >>

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Herbed Focaccia with Seasonal Toppings

Herbed Focaccia with winter toppings

I love making this herbed focaccia to bring to other peoples’ houses. It’s a great pizza-like, carb-heavy snack that transports well. Plus, the basic focaccia dough works with pretty much any type of topping, meaning I can use whatever leftover seasonal products I have on hand.

This time I made it to bring to my friend Eva’s house for her rockin’ New Years Eve party. It was also a shout-out to brand-spanking-new dad Chef Ben, the originator of this recipe (I don’t know if it’s actually his, but he’s the one who gave it to me) – baby Cyrus was born just before Christmas.

Buttercup squash Caramelized onions

This time, the toppings I used were roasted baby potatoes in different colors, buttercup squash, roasted garlic and caramelized onion. Just be sure to used enough salt or you’ll have to resort to doing what I did, which was asking Eva for her salt shaker in the middle of the party as a last-ditch attempt to adjust the seasonings.

Readying garlic for roasting Potatoes

Also note that this isn’t a last-minute recipe – it takes quite a bit of time for the dough to rise, so allow at least four hours if not overnight. Here’s the recipe: Read more of this >>

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Lobster Treat Made New Years Sweet

Lobster dinner

Happy New Year! May 2009 bring healthy, happiness and lots of good food!

I have to give a shout-out to George, the fish guy at my local grocery store. There was a New Years special on whole, live lobsters – $5.99/pound – a steal, especially here in Chicago. I stopped in yesterday afternoon to check out the situation, basically to see if there were going to be any lobsters left today. I didn’t want to buy one yesterday because I knew I wouldn’t be around to eat it, but George was nice enough to offer to set one aside for me if it looked like they were going to run out. Well, they did but I still got a lobster today.

Lobby Lobsterton

It may not sound like much, but bringing home this fresh lobster was a big deal for me. I never do that, ever. Live lobsters can be hard to come by and usually cost upwards of $14/pound. I just couldn’t resist the urge of this sweet New Years treat!

Lobster boiling

I prepared the 1.34 pound lobster simply by cooking it in salted boiling water and dipping the pieces in melted butter with chopped basil. The lobster went very well with an aromatic linguine side dish (garlic sweated in olive oil with peas, truffle oil, and basil). I had hoped for leftovers but ate every last morsel – and I saved the shells for stock.

The sale is rumored to go through the weekend, so hopefully this won’t be my last lobster feast. 2009 is looking good…

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