Sunday, July 30, 2006

Canada On Our Plate: Home Is Where The Pot Roast Is

This post is for an event called Canada On Our Plate hosted by Chris and Lea at Canada Eats. The idea is to blog about a recipe that is, in your opinion, typically Canadian. I chose Pot Roast. But this is no ordinary pot roast.An odd choice one would think, and perhaps not specifically Canadian, but this has become a favourite of our family, and it is frequently requested for birthdays and holiday meals. I know I'm at home if this pot roast is on the table.

This recipe is called "Old-Fashioned Pot Roast", and my mother clipped the recipe from the Toronto Star newspaper some years back. The recipe is by Bonnie Stern, who is also Canadian, and who is the founder of the Bonnie Stern School of Cooking here in Toronto. The recipe is at the bottom of this post.

First of all, I would like to say that although I have been at numerous family occasions at which this roast was served, I had never before cooked this myself. So, I found myself on the phone to my mother at several points along the cooking process to make sure that I was doing this the same way as she does. Normally I don't worry about this so much, as I tend to experiment with recipes, but for the purposes of this post, I wanted to duplicate my mother's recipe as closely as possible. Not least because I really REALLY like this particular recipe.

The first thing I had to do for this recipe, aside from buying the ingredients, was to get my hands on a Dutch oven. I found an excellent cast iron model at Zeller's for $11. Can't beat that. After conditioning the pot as per the directions, I had at it.

I rubbed the spice and flour mixture on to the roast, and browned it on all sides in the Dutch oven.After removing the roast from the pot, I added the veggies, gradually adding the wine and the tomatoes. I have to tell you that the smell that was eminating from my kitchen and premeating the house, was just unbelievable. This is the aroma that I smell when I walk in the door of my parents' place when I arrive for a family birthday. Perhaps it's this aroma more than even the roast itself that says "home" to me. Here's a picture of the veggies, then the veggies with the wine added, and then with the tomatoes added to that. Mmmmm....After this, everything was pretty straight-forward. The roast went back into the Dutch oven, the lid went on, and the whole thing went in to the 350F oven for about 3 1/2 hours. I checked the roast periodically to ensure that the liquid wasn't evaporating too fast, but I never had to add any extra water or wine.

The roast came out looking like this:I've got two words for ya: Yeah. Baby. This roast was so tender it was falling apart, and I could cut it with a fork. Instead of slicing it as the recipe suggests, I took two forks and just shredded the roast into pieces. I then scooped all of the lovely vegetables from the pot into the food processor, and pulsed until the mixture was fairly smooth. It's almost worth making this recipe just for this sauce as it is obscenely good, and it goes with anything.
Old-Fashioned Pot Roast

1 beef pot roast (4 lbs), trimmed of excess fat, tied
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
3 large onions, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 carrot, sliced
1 head garlic, in cloves, peeled
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
2 C dry red wine (or beef or chicken stock) (I used wine)
28oz (796ml) can Plum Tomatoes with juices
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

* Preheat oven to 350F
* Pat roast dry. In small bowl, combine salt, pepper, cumin and flour. Rub mixture into roast.
* Heat oil in Dutch oven in which roast will fit with about 2 inches to spare around the roast.
* Add roast; cook over medium-high heat, turning until browned on all sides. Remove roast and all but about 1 tbsp of fat from Dutch oven.
* Place onions, carrots and garlic in Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, oregano and bay leaf. Add wine or stock; bring to a boil and cook uncovered about 5 minutes. Add plum tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. Add roast. Spoon vegetables and juices over top. Cover tightly and cook 3 to 4 hours in a 350F oven or until very tender.
* Check roast every half hour and add water or stock if liquid is evaporating too fast. There should always be about 2 cups of liquid in the Dutch oven.
* When roast is very tender when pierced with fork or tip of knife, remove from oven. Transfer roast to platter. If there are more than 2 cups of juices, cook over medium-high heat, uncovered, until reduced to about 2 cups. Remove fat from surface, either by skimming with spoon or, after chilling, by lifting off. Discard bay leaf; strain or puree juices.
* Slice roast; place in casserole dish. Taste juices; add salt and pepper to taste. Pour oven roast. Sprinkle with parsley.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

White Chocolate and Green Fingers

It seems that most of my cooking successes of late have been the results of happy accidents, projects that went awry, or just changed plans.I had originally intended to make some little chocolate cakes with a melty, chocolate centre comprised of a combination of white chocolate and pistachio paste. This of course requires that I make the chocolates first, then embed them into the cake batter. However, after making the little chocolate morsels, I decided that I really didn't feel like making the little cakes, as I now had a nice pile of tasty pistachio chockies.
The first step to making these chocolates was a trip to the local bulk food store (handily located inside the Grocery Palace) for some supplies. I picked up a good-sized bag of white chocolate wafers, one of dark chocolate wafers, a plastic sheet containing fifteen little chocolate rosette molds, and a big bag of pistachios. I then proceeded to shell the nuts, turning my fingers an attractive shade of bright green. What fun.
The next step was to create the Pistachio Paste (recipe below, picture above) that would be mixed with the melted chocolate. I got the recipe for this from a site called The Accidental Hedonist (recipe here). According to the recipe, this concoction is supposed to end up resembling marzipan. Yeah, right. I think it was a combination of not grinding the nuts finely enough, and adding too much water, but my stuff looked more like a mixture of cheap peanut butter and grainy mustard. It tasted fantastic, just looked a little oogly.I then melted some of the chocolate wafers in the microwave. I found that this was the easiest method, rather than messing around with a bain-marie or a double boiler. The instructions that came with the plastic molds say to melt the chocolate for 30 seconds at a time, mixing after each time. It took on average four to five times to get the chocolate smooth enough to work with. The trick with the chocolate was that I had to be quick on the draw after mixing in the pistachio paste, as the mixture cooled rapidly. I spooned a dollop of the mixture into each little mold, attempting to fill in all of the nooks and crannies (a difficult job, let me tell you), and then smoothed off the tops. The sheet went into the fridge for 15-20 minutes to set.
They came out looking like this. I was so pleased with the result, I ate several in celebration. It was at this point that I decided to bag the whole cake plan and make some more chocolates. I repeated the process with the dark chocolate, with equal success. They tasted similar to a crunchy peanut butter cup, although I must say that these were tastier.

Since I already have the plastic mold, and the chocolate wafers are only about $.75/100g (about 1/4 lb), this seems to me to be a cheap way to enjoy one of my favourite things.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Egg Foo Yum

OK, so maybe it's not strictly Egg Foo Yong, but in my opinion a bean sprout omelette with meat in it is pretty close.Once again, I had a craving but no recipe so I tried to re-create this dish from the memory of my last Chinese food takeaway order. In addition, since I had some nice mozzarella cheese (and for that matter, some tomatoes) left over from the Tomato Mozza salad that I made a few days ago, I incorporated those into my creation as well.

Now normally, Egg Foo Yong contains chicken and shrimp, but I didn't have either of those things on hand so I used a pork cutlet instead. Mmmmmm....pork cutlet....

OK, here's the recipe.

Ian's Egg Foo Yum
Serves 2 people or 1 hungry monkey

1 3oz breaded pork cutlet
2 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
1 handful of bean sprouts
4 eggs
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp ground chipotle pepper (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
4 or 5 (or 6 or 7) thinly sliced chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese

* Fry the pork cutlet in a little oil over medium heat until cooked through and the outside is nice and crispy. Slice thinly and set aside.
* Drain some of the pork grease, reserving some for frying the other stuff.
* Increase heat under frying pan to medium-high, and add the sliced mushrooms and shallot. After a few minutes, add the garlic and the pork. Toss to combine evenly.
* Beat the eggs together in a small bowl with the salt and pepper and chipotle.
* Pour the egg mixture over the veggies and pork and stir once or twice to incorporate.
* After the egg starts to solidify, sprinkle the bean sprouts on top, and press down with spatula. Let cook for another few seconds, then flip the whole thing over. Continue cooking for another minute, or until egg looks set.
* Place mozzarella cheese on half of your creation, then fold the other half over, sandwiching the cheese in the middle. Cook for another few seconds until cheese starts to melt. Remove from heat.
* Serve with sliced tomato and some fresh basil.

I really like the combination of fried egg and bean sprouts. This seemed a better way to achieve that, rather than just throwing some egg and some bean sprouts into a pan and making a bean sprout omelette. It turned out really well, and it tastes as good as it looks.

Normally, I have strict rules about combining eggs with cheese; namely, I never do it. It's something about the texture. However, the mozza really worked well with the eggs, and really, who doesn't like ooey-gooey mozzarella cheese?