Friday, August 7, 2009

Day 141 - Pot Roast and Chocolate-Rum Swiss Roll

This meal was the reinstatement of what used to be an annual memorial for my Aunt Betty, my father's sister, who died on August 6, 1996. The last scheduled dinner in honor of Betty was to have taken place on September 11, 2001, but obviously that didn't happen.

This year, my parents, Betty's best friend and neighbor Marilyn, and I celebrated Betty on the very anniversary of her death, with an entree inspired by her. The photo above is of (L to R) me, Betty, and my brother Mark on Mother's Day, 1996.

Pot Roast (p. 186)

When I invited my parents to come into the city for this dinner, I asked them "What food do you associate with Betty?" And they both, separately, answered "Pot roast." (Actually, my father said "brisket," but I think he might have meant "pot roast.") Evidently, this was Betty's signature dish. (Unless you talk to Marilyn, who remembers Betty cooking Cuban food, which also makes sense because her ex-husband was from Cuba.)

Lo and behold, Martha had a pot roast recipe just waiting for me, so that was a no-brainer. And even better, she describes a way to do it over two days. And thank goodness for that, because if I had had to cook this whole meal in one day, I would have plotzed.

Part one is browning the meat. Easy. Part two is sweating the aromatics. (I've got the lingo down!) Then, you add some flour (huh?) and vinegar (double huh??). I've never seen this before, and I'm not sure why you'd be thickening the liquid at this point, but who am I to question these things? Then the meat goes back in to braise for 2.5 to 3 hours at a simmer.

Amazingly, I had to move my pot three times to achieve a simmer. I was cooking in my Martha Stewart-for-Macy's 5.5 qt Dutch Oven, a beautiful enameled cast iron pot, which it seems conducts heat REALLY well. I had brought the aromatics to a boil over my largest burner and then when I put in the meat, I turned the level down to 3 expecting a simmer. But the next time I checked, it was positively boiling rapidly. So I turned it to 1. Still a rapil boil. Then I moved it to a smaller burner set on 1. More boiling. Then to an even smaller burner set on 1. A half hour later, that pot was still boiling!! I had to put this huge pot on my teensiest burner to keep the bubbling to a minimum! I wonder if cooking it at a higher temperature for that hour or so diminished the qualilty of the meat in some way. There were no obvious signs.... FYI, if you're making this, don't be discouraged that there's seemingly so little liquid in the pot. It works anyway.

Once the meat was tender (mine took 3 hours, fyi), I let it cool in the pot, and then put the whole thing in the fridge. That was Day One.

Day Two, i.e. just before serving, you take out the meat, slice it (she says it's easiest to slice when it's cold, and it's true, it was a breeze), and reheat the braising liquid. Then, strain the liquid and put it back in the pot with the garnish vegetables.

For garnish veggies, I chose new potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and turnips. If I had it to do over again, I would substitute parsnips for turnips. I think I'm done with turnips. Too bitter. Incidentally, when I was buying these vegetables, it seemed like there would never be enough. In fact, it was plenty. Although, let me remind you, I served this dish to four people, and Martha says it serves 8. There were some leftovers, but not a ton....

Once the vegetables are tender, you put the meat back in the pot to reheat. Once the meat is heated through, you take everything out of the pot, leaving the liquid behind, cover the meat and veggies to keep them warm, and then make the sauce. Since I didn't want to take the time to reduce it, I added some Wondra flour to thicken it. There was very little character to the sauce, but a bit of salt and a splash of vinegar brought the flavors out. I was surprised how pale it was, roughly the same color as turkey gravy, i.e. beige. I was expecting something darker brown.

I don't know what a good pot roast tastes like, but my father does and he claims that mine was very successful. If anything, I would say that it was a bit underseasoned. Perhaps I could have added more salt and pepper at the very beginning, before the browning. (I was concerned that I might have oversalted it at that point, but I definitely hadn't.) The meat was very tender, and the vegetables were well cooked. And I'm guessing that's the description of a good pot roast.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Chocolate-Rum Swiss Roll (p. 467)

Here is Martha's chocolate take on the Jelly Roll/génoise. I encountered all the same issues and frustrations with this that I had while making the Jelly Roll, and I was able to head some off at the pass, which was satisfying.

For instance, I did not get concerned when it took forever to fold the flour and butter into the eggs. I remembered that it took a while.

I also recalled that even though I had left some unfilled space around the perimeter as instructed, the filling still oozed out the sides as I rolled it up. To remedy that, I rolled this cake VERY loosely. Of course, by doing that, I sacrificed the perfect, tight spiral visual, but the cake didn't overflow and was jam-packed with delicious cream filling.

I was very sparing with the brushing on of the rum syrup, as I didn't want to end up with soggy cake. I now know I could have used more without messing up the texture, but I played it safe, and consequently you couldn't taste the rum at all. (Which is actually a good thing, because no one in my family even likes rum flavor.)

The cake itself has that weird sponge-like texture, more air than flavor. I didn't think there was much of a chocolate taste. Most of the chocolatey-ness came from the cocoa dusted on top.

I think the main attractions of this dessert are the whipped cream and the distinctiveness of the rolled shape. Nice, but probably not going to get a revival on this stage.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

For the record, I served three other recipes with this dinner, which I'll mention with mini-reviews:

Watermelon, Feta, and Basil Salad

Since I was making this wintry pot roast as our entree, I wanted some kind of nod to summer in our starter. My workout buddy Ken raved about this ingredient combo, so I found Martha's recipe take on it online. My thoughts: interesting, original, unusual. I neither loved it nor hated it. It's a unique flavor blend, not completely harmonious, but not offensive either. I served it on arugula, which I think worked well. And I used goat feta, which is actually a little milder than your average feta. Maybe I did the flavor combo a disservice by not using a stronger flavored cheese....

Gougères are cream puffs' savory cousins, aka those little, puffy cheese rolls that you get in churrascaria restaurants. I was expecting something doughier and heavier, but these were positively airy and popover-y. Delicious, with just a hint of cheese. And so easy to make!! It's a lot of dazzle without a lot of bother. This will be a major repeat attraction.

Coffee Ice Cream

I wanted to have another dessert in case the chocolate roll was a bust, and I knew this would pair well with it, as I had made this for my birthday dinner. This recipe is FABULOUS! The ice cream is so delicious, so unbelievably coffee-flavored. Now that I've learned to let the custard get nice and thick while it's cooking on the stove, my ice creams are turning out so much better in the texture department. This is a total winner - failsafe - run, don't walk, for the ingredients and make it today!

Until we eat again....

From L to R, Betty's BFF Marilyn, my mother Nancy, my father Harold, with the Pot Roast below.

Marilyn with the Swiss Roll. (FYI, Marilyn is an amazing attorney, specializing in everything from pre-nup to real estate purchases to divorce to real estate sales (i.e. a relationship from soup to nuts), she's fab and you can email her here.

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