Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Trifecta of Slow Cooker Dinners

I may be a diehard New Yorker, but I have a soft spot for the South. I've probably seen Gone with the Wind a few dozen times. Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite authors. And, I've never met a plate of fried chicken I didn't like. It isn't surprising, then, that one of my favorite magazines is Southern Living.

I recently bought one of their special collection magazine cookbooks:  Slow Cooker Suppers. There are many dishes waiting to be made, but what caught my eye was the Merlot pot roast which is then repurposed as Shepherd's pot roast pies and, finally, as beef and orzo soup. I love the idea of a master recipe that can be repurposed easily. Most recipes for 2 servings are rather pedestrian, yet I don't enjoy eating the same meal 3 nights in a row. The little bit of effort expended for the master recipe was time well spent as all 3 dinners were encore worthy.

I'm going to post the master recipe here and will follow up in the next 2 days with the leftover meals. I've made a few small changes based on my experience with this preparation that will streamline it and improve it.

Merlot Pot Roast

1 (3.5 - 4.5 lb) boneless chuck roast
4 tbs olive oil, divided
2 tbs smoked paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Kosher salt
4 carrots, minced*
1 cup celery (3-4 stalks), minced*
1 medium onion, minced*
4 garlic cloves, minced*
2 cups Merlot (or your favorite red wine)
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained

A mince is finer than a chop. Minced vegetables are added to flavor the sauce, not to be a principal ingredient in a dish. I suggest judicious use of the food processor to save time. Just be sure not to pulverize the veggies.

Coat the roast with 1 tbs olive oil. Combine paprika, salt, pepper, and rub mixture all over roast. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the roast and cook 5-7 minutes over medium heat, turning it to brown on all sides. Place the roast in the slow cooker.

Heat remaining 3 tbs olive oil in Dutch oven. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from Dutch oven with slotted spoon and place on top of roast.

Wrap the sprigs of oregano and rosemary in cheesecloth and tie. I added this step because they will cook apart and will be impossible to remove from your sauce.

Add wine and your wrapped sprigs of herbs to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes to reduce the wine by half. Be sure to stir the bottom of the pot to loosen browned bits from bottom of the pan. Stir in tomatoes; pour mixture over roast.

Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or until tender.

Remove roast to a cutting board and discard the herb sack. Pour the juices into a 2 quart bowl. Let stand 10 minutes, then skim fat from top. Slice 1/3 roast. Pour juices and vegetables over the roast when you serve it. Serve with creamy polenta or mashed potatoes. If I didn't watch my weight, I'd have had a loaf of buttered Italian bread to soak up the incredible sauce.

Shred the remainder of the roast. You will need 2 cups of the beef to make the pot pies and 2 cups to make the soup. If there is more left over, it makes great sandwiches, particularly with some BBQ sauce. Be sure to save the leftover gravy with vegetables for the soup.
The preparation for this master recipe takes between 30 and 40 minutes, but is well worth it. The house smelled incredible while the beef cooked and the beef literally fell apart. The sauce is so flavorful, I wish there were another use for all that will be left over (you will use some for the soup). I served the pot roast with creamy polenta and glazed carrots. It was sublime!

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