Pot Roast

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Last night we entertained several friends and decided to keep things simple. It was going to be a busy day for me and the forecast was for a chilly night. So I turned to my slow cooker to free me from the kitchen. I thought a pot roast would be perfect. For a recipe, I turned to Martha Stewart’s collection of one-pot recipes, one of which called for beef chuck roast that didn’t need to be browned before braising. Even better–more free time. The recipe along with a video is also available here online.

I particularly like this recipe because, without any herbs and a minimum of seasoning, it really lets the flavor of meat shine. My only changes to the recipe were the addition of a bay leaf, a few more carrots and potatoes as well as a slightly larger roast than called for. I also opted for 8 hours on low rather than 5 on high since I think it makes for a more tender roast.

I served the meat with egg noodles tossed with chopped flat leaf parsley and olive oil.

Our guests must have enjoyed this dish as much as we do as there were no leftovers whatsoever.

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Ingredients

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste (I recommend the Italian imported paste in a tube.)
1.5 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved
3 large carrots, quartered and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 beef roast (3 pounds), preferably chuck, trimmed of excess fat and well tied
4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste

Directions

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, stir together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons broth until smooth.(I prefer to make this slurry in a small dish and then add it to the cooker.) Add remaining broth, tomato paste, potatoes, carrots, onion, bay leaf, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper and toss.

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Season roast with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and rub with garlic.

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Place on top of vegetables. Cover and cook on high until roast is fork-tender, 5 hours (or 8 hours on low).

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Transfer roast to a cutting board; thinly slice against the grain. Place vegetables in a serving dish; skim fat from pan juices, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Serve roast and vegetables drizzled with juices.

Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone, Syrah

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata

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Sometimes what I choose to prepare for dinner is determined by finding something in the fridge that needs to be used up. Such was the case yesterday when I found a week-old container of mirepoix (diced onions, carrots, and celery). I considered several options, including a bean soup and pasta sauce, but then I thought why not something braised, cooked low and slow. After checking a few cookbooks for recipes, I finally settled upon one I found in Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker: “Lamb Shanks with White Bean and Gremolata.” My only concern was being able to find the lamb shanks early on Sunday morning. Fortunately, I was able to grab the last four shanks available at my local market.

They were from Icelandic lamb, which I discovered is a seasonal special that ’s available at Whole Foods from late September to October. They met the recipe’s size requirements (small, about 1 pound each) and were surprisingly lean. This was my first encounter with this variety of lamb and I’m happy to report that it was rich in flavor and not as gamey as some other varieties, which I believe contributed to the success of the dish. There was a prefect balance of flavors among the meat, the vegetables, beans, braising liquid, and the bright gremolata (a mix of minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley.)

I think the next time I prepare this dish, I’ll brown the shanks before slow cooking them to develop their flavor a little more. However, even without this step, the lamb was delicious.

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata from The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium rib of celery, chopped (My mirepoix contained a little more of each of these ingredients.)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 3-inch fresh rosemary sprig
4 small lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup meat broth or canned beef broth (I opted for the canned broth.)
1 cup dry red wine (I used a red-blend from California.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I use the imported concentrated paste.)
4 cups cooked white beans or canned beans, drained (I used a can of Goya “Small White Beans.” When using canned beans, I always rinse them under cold water.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaf parsley is best.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Scatter the vegetables, chopped garlic, and rosemary in a slow cooker. (I lightly salted the vegetables.)

The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary
The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary

Trim the shanks, pat them dry with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

The lambs shanks, before seasoning
The lambs shanks, before seasoning

Arrange the shanks in a single layer on top of the vegetables.

Combine the broth, wine, and tomato paste with a whisk in a bowl. Pour the mixture over the lamb and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the lamb is very tender and coming away from the bone.

The shanks atop the braising liquid.
The shanks atop the braising liquid.

Remove the shanks from the cooker and place on a serving platter. Cover and keep warm.

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Skim the fat off the the surface of the liquid in the cooker. Turn the heat to high. Stir in the beans and cook until thoroughly heated through.

Meanwhile chop the parsley and garlic, and combine with the grated lemon zest.

The gremolata components
The gremolata components

Stir half of the mix into the beans.

The beans mixed with the gremolata
The beans mixed with the gremolata

To serve, pour the beans over the lamb and sprinkle with the remaining gremolata. Serve hot.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto, or a cru Beaujolais

Beef in Barolo

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As summer draws near to its end, I’m anticipating the richer dishes of fall and winter.: the hearty stews, the rich braises, the luxurious roasts—all make it easy for me to bid farewell to summer and its light cuisine. So maybe it was serendipity that led me into my local Whole Foods on Saturday to find chuck roast discounted 25%. How could I resist?

We had a full schedule on Sunday, so I turned to my trusty slow cooker to cook the roast and to Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker for a recipe. (This author’s slow-cooker books (Italian, French, and Mediterranean) are a great resource for this appliance, offering fool-proof, authentic recipes.) I turned to the book’s “Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb” section and, once again, was pleasantly surprised to discover that its first recipe was for the cut of meat I had purchased: “Beef in Barolo.”

As my savings at Whole Foods could not justify the expense of a Barolo for cooking, I thought I could more than get by with a younger version of this wine made from the same grape, Nebbiolo. And one more time luck led me to a local merchant where I found a bottle of Langhe from a reputable producer at a very good price.

Here’s a link to the recipe online. If you like your carrots and celery in the braise to have some chew, you may opt, as I did, to slice them on the thick side. However, any way you choose to slice your vegetables, this recipe yields an aromatic and deliciously succulent roast that holds its shape even after six hours of cooking.

The roast before slicing
The roast before slicing

Wine Pairing: Langhe, Cabernet Sauvignon

Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine and Mustard

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“Simply the best short ribs we’ve ever had” was all we could say after finishing these succulent and flavorful braised ribs. Although not typical summer fare, the short ribs looked irresistible when I saw them at the market and I thought we both could use a little comfort food.

For me, braising is the best way to cook this cut of meat, and the most convenient method is slow cooking. And for slow cooking, I usually turn to one of Michele Scicolone’s slow-cooker cookbooks. For last night’s supper, I selected her recipe “Beef Short Ribs with Mustard and Red Wine” from The Mediterranean Slow Cooker.

After browning the trimmed bone-in ribs well on all sides in olive oil, I removed them from the pot and discarded all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. I placed the ribs in the slow cooker and seasoned them generously with salt and pepper.

In the remaining fat, I quickly sautéed some chopped shallots and finely minced garlic followed by a generous amount of concentrated tomato paste. I decided to toast the paste for about a minute, which I believe gave the dish a deeper tomato flavor.

I deglazed the pan with some Côtes du Rhone along with several tablespoons of whole grain mustard. After bringing the contents of the pan to a simmer, I poured them over the ribs, tossed in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and cooked the ribs on low for 8 hours. The recipe does call for skimming the fat from the sauce after removing the ribs from the pot. But, as you may have noticed in the first photo, I did a cursory job of this as we were so hungry.

Just after cooking
Just after cooking

I must admit that browning the ribs can make an oily mess on the stove, but it makes a big difference in the finished dish. The whole grain mustard adds a luscious complexity to the sauce.

A Google search will yield other versions of this dish by chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Scicolone’s recipe, however, delivers both a richness and a purity of flavor with a minimum of work.

Does this say how good they were?
Does this say how good they were?

I must admit that waiting for the ribs, as their aroma permeated the apartment, was torture, but the wait was worth it. Next time, I’ll just be sure to schedule my slow cooking for when I’m not at home for most of the day.

Wine Pairing: Côtes du Rhone, Zinfandel

Pork Ribs with Smoked Paprika Sauce

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For our Memorial Day get together, I was faced with having to make a main course to follow hot-dog appetizers. Somehow ribs came to mind; however, I didn’t think my Italian version of them braised in tomato sauce was a good option. I wanted something closer to barbecue, but I really don’t like most barbecue sauces.

Great Local Grown Ribs
Great Local Grown Ribs

Looking through my cookbooks, I found the answer in The Mediterranean Slow Cookerby Michele Scicolone: Pork Ribs with Smoked Paprika Sauce. In my opinion, these smokey, saucy ribs, cooked slowly on low for 6 to 8 hours in a sauce with sherry vinegar, onions, garlic and a generous touch of Spanish smoked paprika can stand up to any southern counterpart. (I would not attempt to substitute Hungarian paprika for the Spanish variety called for by the recipe.)

Rather than serving the ribs with the suggested chickpeas, I opted for that all American favorite, corn on the cob to keep with the holiday spirit.

Wine Pairing: Dry Lambrusco, Rijoa, Zinfandel