Monday, July 5, 2010

Classic Pot Roast

I love cookbooks. I am the low-risk type of person who would rather follow a recipe than experiment and have my dinner turn out horribly wrong. I am also a sucker for cookbooks with pictures, which is why I love the Crock Pot Incredibly Easy Recipes book that my brother gave me as a gift.

On May 20, I tried the "Classic Pot Roast" recipe from this book. However, I have a love-hate relationship with roasts done in the crock pot. The meat comes out so tender, but the fat on the roast, that would normally cook off when done in the oven, remains. But, of course I am always willing to try another roast, until I can figure out how to cook it better. So, because this recipe needed to cook for 8-10 hours, I got myself up early to begin before going to school.

Because this recipe began by browning the roast on both sides, I had some hope that perhaps some of the fat would get cooked off. (Apologies for the bad photo--I had needed to charge my camera battery, so all the morning photos from this day were taken on my cell phone camera.) Unfortunately, there was a large chunk of fat that remained, but I thought that I'd just see what happened in the crock pot.

I was smart, however, and I cut up all the vegetables the night before to cut down on prep time. I'm not always that smart and sometimes I have to frantically try to prep the crock pot and chop everything at the same time. But this time, it was easy to assemble the crock pot, adding:

carrots, onions, celery,

a can of diced tomatoes, and spices.

I try not to add too much salt to my cooking, so I chose to use low-sodium canned tomatoes and not to add salt to the recipe, even though it called for salt "to taste." I always figure that it the recipe really needs more salt, I can add it when I'm eating. Thus, the only spices I added were black pepper and dried oregano, before I poured some water over the roast ("enough water to cover bottom of Crock-Pot slow cooker by about 1/2 inch").

This is what the food in the crock pot looked like before I turned it on...

...and this is what it looked like after cooking for 10 hours.

I took first the vegetables out of the crock pot, and set them aside.  I would like to take this time to point out that although the colors of the vegetables at this point look kind of bland, they still look pretty yummy.

Then I took the roast out so it could be cut.  I was fortunate that the meat was so tender that the largest chunk of fat from the roast fell right off when I took it out of the crock pot.  Of course, since the fat came right off, having "browned" that side of the roast originally seemed at this point to be kind of a waste.  If I were to make this roast again, I might cut the bulk of the fat off the meat before beginning.
This is the chunk of fat that came off the crock pot.

Before serving, I had to make some gravy with the cooking liquid, by adding flour and thickening it over medium heat. 
I, however, had very little patience at that point so I was not really willing to really wait for the gravy to thicken.  So, I thickened it a little, before getting ready to serve.

Overall, I think this made a pretty healthy meal, adding salad and a glass of milk (for calcium!).  There might be a few more potatoes in this than the other vegetables, so I think that in order to make it a bit more healthy I would add some more of the carrots and celery and less onion, or maybe some other fresh vegetables that would go well with the roast, like mushrooms or green beans.

I love to compare the food that I cooked with the images from the crock pot cookbook because I'm convinced that not a single dish portrayed in the book was actually cooked in a crock pot.  Here, I would especially point out how the meat was cut in this image.  The roast cooked in the crock pot is so tender that it basically falls apart when you cut it, so you're not going to get nice, uniform slices like this.  Additionally, this image shows a lot of carrot, celery, and tomato which is not really in the actual proportions of those items to the potatoes and onions in the recipe.

Overall there were two complaints that I had about this recipe.  First is the complaint that I have about all roasts done in the crock pot, the fat does not cook off so it remains in the meat and you have to eat around it.  As you can see from the image on the right, there was quite a bit of fat left over at the end of my meal.  The second complaint was with the gravy, which I found just kind of blah.  I think the roast would have been better without it, maybe just adding a bit of extra pepper.

However, the great thing about making a roast in the crock pot is that it takes care of your meals for the week.  The recipe said that it made 6-8 servings and I think I was able to get 5 or 6 more meals out of the roast.  I found that the reheating process made me like the meat a little better.  I would reheat by using a small nonstick frying pan and just throw the meat in and let it cook for a bit, thus cooking off some of the extra fat.  Then I added a bit of the gravy to the pan, to heat it up and cook the meat in it a bit.  The vegetable mix I just heated in the microwave.  By making a salad first, then quickly heating up the main dish, I could put together a healthy dinner in less than 20 minutes, and we all know how valuable time is to a graduate student!

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