Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Braise, my people, BRAISE!

I have absolutely wonderful and generous friends. I am fully aware of this fact, and I like to take the opportunity, whenever possible, to voice my gratitude for all of my blessings. One such blessing is my dear friend, Phil, who I met a thousand years ago when I was a new young professor, and he was, I believe, a junior at the college where I started teaching. We have been friends for nigh unto two decades now, and though he has a thousand great qualities, the best thing about Phillip is that he never fails to make me giggle. One of my greatest joys was seeing him marry his longtime partner, Rob, in a commitment ceremony in June of 2008, and I was very honored to give one of the toasts at their reception. They are such a neat couple, and they are so kind and thoughtful to others, plus, they have immaculate taste.

Recently, I was the very lucky recipient of a simply stunning housewarming gift from Phil and Rob, MY VERY FIRST PIECE OF GENUINE LE CREUSET! I have always admired the LC Dutch ovens, and I dreamed of owning one someday, but my boys have helped me jump-start my collection with a 3 1/2-quart buffet casserole/braiser that should prove to be extremely versatile. It's big enough to make pasta sauces and risotto and such, but small enough to double as a skillet. And with the lid on top, it is just perfect for braising.

A piece of heirloom-quality cookware like this deserves to be inaugurated with a truly amazing pot roast, which is surprisingly simple to make, requiring but a handful of ingredients and some patience to create something ridiculously sublime. The secret, of course, is cooking it low and slow for a good long while until the connective fibers melt away, and you're left with meat that yields to the gentle pull of a fork. The long cooking time also lets the flavors develop and concentrate as the roast and veggies cook down. Really, what could be better? 'Tis a truly soul-satisfying meal while our winter is still hanging in there!

Gina's Perfect Pot Roast

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 lb. boneless chuck roast
salt, pepper, and seasoning blend of choice (to taste)
one large onion, sliced into rings
6 or 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup vegetable stock (red wine is delicious, too)
1 or 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound of carrots, peeled and chunked
1 pound of fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved if large

In a heavy-bottomed braiser or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the chuck roast liberally with seasonings (I used salt and pepper and a steak rub, but Italian seasoning would be perfect if using red wine for the liquid), then brown on all sides in the oil.

When fully browned, remove the roast from the pan and set aside momentarily. Add the separated rings of onion and the smashed garlic cloves to the bottom of the pan, the set the roast on top of that. Pour in the vegetable (or beef) stock or red wine, shake in a couple of teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, and cover the pot tightly. (If your pan doesn't have a lid, use heavy duty aluminum foil.)

Place in a 275 degree oven for about three hours, then add the carrots and potatoes and continue cooking for about another half hour. Remove the lid or foil for the last fifteen minutes or so, or until the veggies brown up a bit, and the meat is falling apart (a total of 3 1/2 to 4 hours).

Special Note: Aren't these veggies GORGEOUS?! I was thrilled to discover that one of our local farms, Rehoboth Farmstead, was piloting a winter CSA-type program. Instead of getting an assortment of produce as determined weekly by the farmer, you can place an order online as frequently as you like, and then pick up your stuff at your convenience from a individual cooler on their front porch! For the past month, we have been enjoying fresh jumbo eggs, spinach, salad mix, Napa and Savoy cabbages, carrots, and lots of potatoes--these fingerlings, some small red salt potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the most amazing yellow-fleshed bakers that I've ever eaten! If you live in the greater Plattsburgh area, I recommend checking out this delicious service. It's just so wonderful to get some fresh organic veggies into your winter diet!

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