Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cookin' School ~ PW's Perfect Pot Roast

Jeff gave me The Pioneer Woman Cooks for Christmas. It's a cookbook.

I decided gregariously to cook all the recipes in it.

Yes, just like Julie & Julia. (Except without the ensuing fame and book deal. Or originality.)

I've been browsing Tasty Kitchen for the past couple of months, but I felt that to really learn to cook, I needed some kind of goal or direction.

I announced to Jeff a couple of days after Christmas that I now held that direction in my little hands, thanks to him, and I was going to use it!

He frowned.

He said his only concern was that there were probably a lot of recipes in her cookbook that I didn't like, and if I felt I had to cook those, I would lose interest and give up.

Too true. A wise man did I marry.

Therefore, my project is to cook every recipe in the cookbook that I like, or that I can modify to fit my tastes. In other words, I will not be cooking seafood, beans, or peppers. Yuck.

I asked Jeff what he'd like me to cook first. He flipped through the cookbook and chose Perfect Pot Roast. The very next day, I asked him if he'd like to run to the store for chuck roast.

His eyes lit up all sparkly. "We get to have the pot roast today?" he said hopefully.

I nodded.

He was off to the store in a flash. While he was gone, I cleaned the kitchen and gathered the ingredients we had on hand. Kosher salt, pepper, two onions, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, and olive oil. Jeff was to bring carrots, beef stock, and a small chuck roast.

Pioneer Woman says Dutch ovens are cool. I could have used our stainless steel pot, but I wanted to be all cool and Dutch-oven-y, so I stood on my head in the storage closet and pulled our cast iron Dutch oven out of the camping box. In January. When no one thought getting into the camping box would be necessary. Yep.

Then I began preparing Perfect Pot Roast. PW said to get the pot really hot, so I did, and then I dropped onions, bare-handed, from a very high height, into sizzling hot oil.


Very hot oil shot out in every direction, splattering the stove top, the counter top, my hands, my shirt, the floor, and most painfully, my bare right foot, which now sports a perfectly round, dark pink burnt spot the size of a quarter that is still tingling slightly despite its being slathered in aloe vera.

Jeff jumped up from the breakfast bar, at which he was perched doing magic soldering tricks on his busted laptop, and said two powerful words, very seriously and intensely, in a "help me help you" kind of way.

"Use tongs."

Aha. That made lots of sense. Lesson learned. Burned into my brain, as a matter of fact. And my foot.

But see, this is what I'm talking about when I say I'm not kitchen-savvy. There's a lot of stuff that gets left out of cookbooks, that kitchen-savvy folk don't need to be told. No one ever says, "Don't drop heavy onions into hot oil from a high height with your bare hands."

(Oddly, they think that goes without saying.)

We contained the hot oil crisis and got the onions and carrots browned (slightly blackened, actually, onaccounta the Dutch oven's previous camping experience), and then I seared the meat. Jeff had brought me a 3.9 lb chuck roast, which was the smallest he could find at WinCo, but our Dutch oven is pretty small (like, for camping), and I was pretty concerned that it wouldn't host the roast, the onions and all the carrots. But after deglazing the pot (which I had never heard of before), I only had to remove two or three outer layers from each onion half in order to cram everything in.

My favorite part was adding the fresh rosemary and thyme. I always knew I loved fresh veggies, but I have just discovered a deep and abiding affection for fresh herbs as well. Because of this, I may have used a few too many sprigs of rosemary and thyme (if that's even possible to do), but I figured maybe it would pull the Dutch oven away from campfire smoke mode.

The lid went on without a fight, thankfully, and I shoved the whole business into the oven, somewhat dazed, and awed that I had made it all the way to the oven part.

PW said to serve the roast with her creamy mashed potatoes. For me, that could only happen if I had two ovens. I know some people cook two things in the same oven at the same time, but I am not yet one of those people. Jeff could have done it. But he was not making dinner. I was.

So while the roast hogged my only oven, I meandered over to Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook & Kitchen Reader (my anniversary present), and found a recipe for some mashed potatoes that didn't have to be cooked in the oven.

Lottie Greer's Mashed Potatoes. I'm delighted to say I only used her recipe as a guideline. I made them dirty (because we always make them dirty), I replaced the sour cream with cream cheese (onaccounta our sour cream expired on Dec 20 and was playing host to several dollops of nickel-sized mold), and I replaced the milk with heavy whipping cream. Yum. So instead of being Lottie Greer's mashed potatoes, they were Abba's Sweet and Creamy Mashed Potatoes. That makes me happy.

Finally, potatoes mashed and warm and ready to serve, it was time to take the roast out of the oven. The moment of truth had arrived. Would our pot roast be perfect?

The meat was tender and fell apart easily, and the carrots and onions were saturated with rosemary. Yum. PW said the rosemary and thyme would make the dish, and she was right. I've never tasted better onions. Or carrots. I don't know about perfect, being the culinary novice that I am, but PW said to embrace the pot roast, and embrace it we did. Every last morsel.

Up next: Maple Pecan Scones. Page 68.