Category Archives: beef

Weather Tree and Pot Roast

A slender tree with maple like leaves, in colors of red, orange, yellow, brown.We all watch time go by.  We just see it differently, with age.

(Recipe below.)

One morning on the drive from home to schools, halfway down the hill on the two lane, the kids all crowded toward the passenger side window, hushed, peering out the glass, then cheered and chattered as we zipped past.

‘What is it’, I asked, scanning them in the rearview.

‘The weather tree!’, the twins announced, gleeful.

‘It’s red and orange, so rain’s are coming,’ they advised me.

That was the first time I’d heard of  it.  I’d never even noticed the tree before, and it took them another ride to point it out clearly to me.

On one stretch where the road straightened, off to the right near the edge of the shoulder, it stood, a thin but tall, scraggly liquid amber, with just a few branches, cropped close to the trunk.  It looked like it had taken a lightning strike at some time, and partly recovered.  A bit sad and forlorn, but obviously a survivor.

Over the years since, the weather tree has held a strange attraction for the kids, who for reasons unknown to me to this day, feel a kinship, and security, when they see it change.

‘How’s the weather tree’, I’ll say.  And season after season we’ve watched for it as we roll by, and the children call out it’s turning.  Bare to budding green, full leaf to fall leaf color, then, as it lost them again, back to winter bare.  The weather tree has marked our time in a way television or hallmark never could.

Last week an old family friend called my wife to come by.  She took her to the front room, where she’d lined up brown boxes.  They were filled with her kitchen –  her best special pots, platters, and utensils, from an earlier America, her life.  The time had come, she would no longer be using them, she said.  Collected, well employed,  she wanted them to have a home.  A good home.

We unpacked solid cast iron dutch ovens, heavyweight black covered pots and skillets of simple sturdy design.  I’m not superstitious, but they had a dull metallic glow, that hinted at a life, and asked for respect.

Coming home alone up the hill last night, I saw the weather tree, glaring its defiant red and burnt orange signal, shaken in the wind but not bending, and I decided to put the iron to use, as it was intended.

Now, pot roast actually describes how it was once cooked centuries ago – in a heavy pot over a hearth fire, where it simmered for hours.  An iron pot distributes heat from every side, top and bottom, and with a close-fitting heavy lid, holds moisture well, so the contents – usually a tough cut of meat – cooks slowly over time, and becomes fully tender.  Today’s crock pot is just a wannabe to this original.

The version here is just a straight, simple, savory old fashioned one I knew from my mother.

You’ll need:

Large cast iron or other heavy dutch oven (big enough to hold about 4 pounds of chuck roast)

Ingredients

  • a 3 to 5 pound, well marbled beef chuck cut, blade, or similar.  You want it nice and thick, not steaks.  Fat is your friend, with this dish. The method of cooking works to turn a tough cut tender.
  • salt and pepper;  your favorite spice rub for beef, if you like
  • 3 Tbs cooking oil
  • 3 – 5  garlic cloves, rough chopped – as much as you like
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 – 3 cups red wine, preferably a fruity red like merlot or cab
  • a sprig or 1/2 teaspoon of thyme;  one bay leaf if you like
  • 1 and1/2 packets of dry onion soup mix
  • 4 good sized carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, with some of the inner green leaves from the core
  • OPTIONAL – four large yukon or red potatoes cut in large chunks  (I always prefer to make mashed, because it catches the pan sauce so well, but you can add the potatoes to the pot 30 minutes before serving if you like)

How To Make:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 F / 205 C
  2. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the beef, rub with optional spices if you like.
  3. Add the cooking oil to the iron pot, heat it on the stove top til a drop of water sizzles, but before oil smokes.
  4. Put the meat in and cook it each side about 3 -4 minutes, til each side is browned nicely. This adds color and flavor, but also sears the meat and seals in some moisture.
  5. Add the chopped garlic, thyme and bay leaf.
  6. Turn down the heat, and add the onion soup mix,  wine, onion, carrot, celery and celery leaf.  Add water, if needed, enough to just cover the meat.
  7. Cover and place the iron pot into the oven. Reduce oven temp to 350 F / 175 C, and cook for about three hours.  Ideally, the liquid around the meat will simmer, and not boil.
  8. About an hour in, you’ll smell it.  Be patient. Time is what tenderizes the meat.  It is done when a fork pierces it easily.  Slice it fairly thin across the grain.

I like to serve the roast with spoonfuls of the gravy, over mashed potatoes with a hearty bread, a nice salad, green beans. The red wine gives it a wonderful fruity, rich touch that complements the savory beef and onion.

Comfort food. The kind that’s fortified generations and generations.  And, maybe, also connects us to our past and future.

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Vegetarian Beef Dinner for Christmas

Food controversy came to dad’s home recently, and challenged a manly tradition.

The Holidays are all about family.  And shopping.  Well, shopping and eating. And family.  In any case, for lots of folks the Christmas feast is important,  a time to gather and raise each others spirits when all the stores are closed.

And that makes choosing what to eat a big deal.  Particularly since everybody’s  home, and cooking chores get spread around.  If it’s turkey, my wife – who is the undisputed queen of stuffing – gets the honors, and if its prime rib, then dad’s pretty much out of excuses.  I mean, a man has got to be staggering incompetent not to be able to shove a roast in the oven and check the thermometer.  No, I mean it, to get out of this you have to be really who-emptied-the-Jack Daniels-in-the-eggnog staggering.

Unfortunately, things got ugly this year when we took the menu to the kids for the turkey or beef tie breaker.

‘We’re vegetarian,’ the twins announced, ten and holding hands, and as serious as young girls can be, which is dangerously serious.

‘Now…’,  I started, and my wife steered me off with the look.

‘…that’s great’, I smiled.  And why not?  As long as they eat healthy, what’s wrong with skipping  meat?

‘So, you can’t make meat any more’, they decreed.  ‘It’s not right.’

Looking back into my childrens’ bright eyes from the undisputed, will eat nearly everything pinnacle of the food chain, I weighed my words carefully.

‘We won’t make you eat any,’ I said.

‘It’s animals.  No one should eat animals any more. They have feelings too.’

‘Well, plants can feel’, I offered.  ‘That’s what scientists say,’ I said to my wife’s eye roll. ‘And we eat them.’

‘Plants don’t have faces, dad.  And they can’t be happy or sad.’

‘Well, you say that.  Maybe we just can’t hear them screa- ….’

‘I think that’s great’, their mom said. ‘Why do you want to be vegetarians, girls?’

‘We don’t think people should kill animals and eat them.’

Well, we’re just a few hundred thousand years late for that, I thought.  All fine and good, if people decide not to eat meat, in my opinion.  But, isn’t it really just about being squeamish?  The dawning realization that what we consume was once alive, and that we have to kill something living before we can feed ourselves?

‘Well,’ I said, aiming for philosophical, ‘it’s the circle of life.  Like, ‘Lion King’.  Completely natural.  What do you think Simba ate?’

It was out of my mouth before I realized, from the look on their faces, they may not have previously considered that particular image.  As a matter of fact,  Disney probably scrubbed every scene with cute dead antelope dangling from lion jaws, for that very reason.

‘Who wants ice cream?’ I said, rubbing my hands.

‘Lions don’t have a choice’, my wife said, and stood up and next to the girls. ‘Do you have something against vegetarians?’

‘Not at all,’ I said, feeling defensive. And when I feel defensive, I get glib. ‘Cows are vegetarians, and I like them just fine. For Christmas dinner, for example.’

‘So, you’d go ahead and serve beef?’ my wife the lioness said.  And I stood my ground.

‘Nobody has to eat it who doesn’t want to, that’s fine.  We can all respect each others’ personal choice.  Happy if the girls just want veggies.  But I want to be able to eat prime rib.’

My wife crossed her arms.

‘Girls, your father’s pretty set on this.  And, I guess it should be his right to have that beef he looks forward to.’

‘That’s settled then’, she said to me.

And as she turned to go, I could swear I saw her toss the girls a wink.

If you’re one of the men cooking beef yourself, I’ve put a list of tips and a complete how-to guide for prime rib roast at http://www.dadsinthekitchen.com.

Top 10 Reasons Men Won’t Cook

Dinner is a tad overdone tonightWomen wonder why guys stay away from the stove, and leave them to do all the heavy kitchen lifting.  And after my last post, my wife hinted I should take a look. Why won’t men cook?  Well, what she said was more like, why don’t take your own advice and help out more in the kitchen and put out the garbage while you’re at it.  So, I took the suggestion to head over to the laptop and come up with this list.  Throw in your own ideas.

1.  Taking Directions I can count on one hand the number of men on the planet who like being told what to do, and how to do it.  We put up with it at work or home when we have to.  But the natural tendency when facing a list of steps that need to be followed in some order, is to ignore the directions and try and figure it out on our own, or, skip as many steps as possible.

2.  Learning Curve The average guy believes that cooking is basically magic, and he’s the audience.  Cow parts go in, beef stroganoff comes out.  Bulbs and leaves are transformed into flavors.  Pastry.  I mean, tell me that pastry isn’t magic.  So, when the magician pulls us from the audience and says we need to fill in for the evening performance, that blank look isn’t faked.

3.  Epic Fail Nothing motivates a man less than the opportunity to publicly jump a motorcycle just about half way across the Grand Canyon.  Or spend mealtime trying to explain how dinner was supposed to have turned out. And tasted.

4.  Cleanup Most modern recipes will tell you right up front how long it will take to prepare a dish.  And keep absolutely silent about the time you’ll need to clean up the mess you just made.  The fact is, after all the trouble to make something, you’re only halfway done in the kitchen.  And men love kitchen cleaning the same way we love periodontal cleaning.  Any surprise that Teflon was invented by a guy?

5.  Getting Out of Trouble There’s a certain confidence men have, that we can get out of most trouble we get into.  But when a cooking expedition starts to go bad, it’s a lot like doing the black diamond ski run backwards.  This thing is only headed one direction, stopping is not an option, and you are just along for the ride.  Yeah, let’s do this every night.

6.  Payoffs Somewhere along the line women get that domestic activities, like cooking and caring for kids, go on day after day, in an endless cycle of repetition.  Guys, more tuned to crossing a finish line, catching something, or earning an atta-boy, are disoriented and mystified by having to cook again as a daily reward for doing it yesterday.  It takes years of hard and dedicated monastic training to accept that the doing IS the payoff.

7. King of the Hill Who set up the cupboards and drawers in your kitchen? And decides what goes where?  What would happen if you had a mind to re-arrange things the way you think is best?  If you’re sharing a kitchen, odds are you’re sharing her kitchen. With her.  And while you may have guest privileges, when it comes to what’s on the menu, what’s in the fridge, and what’s healthy or not, chances are you’re still on probation for the number two slot.

8.  Patience Many of the finest tasting foods take time to cook, and get better from all that cooking time.  Waiting while food cooks takes patience.  Knowing this, men have invented TV dinners (Gerry Thomas), the microwave oven (Percy L. Spencer), Hot Pockets (the Merage brothers, Paul and David), and fast food (1921, Walter A. Anderson and cook Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram, White Castle).  Any questions?

9.  Mom Face it, we learned early that food came from her.  For at least a decade and a half we were conditioned to expect she would make food appear whenever we got hungry.  We’re hungry now.  And last time we checked in the mirror, we didn’t look anything like mom.

10.  Just Too Feminine Probably thanks to number 9, it’s impossible to shake the deep-set notion that the kitchen is a female clubhouse, and what we’d look like in a pink apron.  Men who want to cook have to go open a restaurant business, or call themselves Iron Chefs, to compensate.  Doesn’t everybody pause just a moment to wonder why George Foreman hung up the gloves and made a kitchen appliance?

I have to ask myself, writing this, when it comes right down to it, are any of these good reasons? Maybe all the reasons men won’t cook are really just excuses, or fears to overcome.  You’ve probably got your own list, so feel free to share, here or at the forum on my companion, how-to site, Dad’s In the Kitchen!.