Magnificent Chuck Roast

As I have written before, we had lots of pot roasts when I was a kid.  Mom usually used beef chuck for her pot roasts and almost always called them chuck roasts. Though I did not understand then why she cooked so many chuck roasts for supper, the explanation is obvious to me today.  Beef chuck was tough but cheap.  Cooking it with beer over a low fire for an afternoon resulted in a tender roast that was wonderful with vegetables from our garden.  

The fact that you could cook the vegetables with the meat during the last hour of roasting might have also been a factor, since that meant fewer pans to wash.  When I was growing up, only the finest restaurants had dishwashers, and they were usually high school students like my cousin Teeny who started off as a dishwasher at the Turk’s Inn a mile from our home north of Hayward.  Housewives washed their own dishes, at least until their children were old enough to take over the job.

I started washing dishes several years after I had begun helping Mom cook.  She could watch her six-year-old son sifting flour, salt and various other things into a bowl or stirring milk and eggs into the flour mixture without making a mess and know that I was following instructions.  Quality control of a six- or seven-year-old dishwasher is more challenging.  It requires visual inspection of the glasses, plates and silverware, particularly the forks, to make certain that no food remains between the tines.  Mothers training children for a career at the kitchen sink also learned to pay extra attention for traces of egg yolk on the breakfast plates or dried oatmeal in the cereal bowls.

Mom may have served chuck roasts to reduce the number of pots she had to wash, but I’m pretty sure that the main reason was the low price of the meat.  In 1955, for instance, grocers were selling chuck roast for about twenty cents a pound.  That would be under two dollars a pound in today’s dollars.  Alas, chuck roast, like oxtails, has become a gourmet cut of beef, with prices often near seven dollars a pound.  It is a flavorful cut of meat, however, so it’s worth taking the time to scan the flyers.  I have found it occasionally priced under four dollars a pound.

Once you have the meat, making this roast is a snap.

INGREDIENTS:

3 to 4 lb. beef chuck roast

1 beef bouillon cube

1 bay leaf

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup dry red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot

1/2 cup water

1/2 medium onion (2 1/2 – 3 inches)

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1 large or 2 medium parsnips

8 to 10 crimini mushrooms

4 to 5 medium carrots

3 to 4 medium potatoes

1 1/2 T cornstarch dissolved in a quarter cup of cold water

PROCEDURE:

Trim excess fat from the meat.  Put the trimmings in a skillet with a tight-fitting lid and render the fat scraps until you have coated the bottom and sides of skillet with the rendered fat.  Discard the trimmings.  Turn the heat up and brown the roast on all sides in the hot pan.  Drain any excess fat after the meat is browned.

Turn down the heat, sprinkle the salt and grind the pepper over the meat.  Add the wine and water along with the bay leaf, cloves and bouillon cube.  Cover and simmer for about one and a half or two hours until the meat is nearly tender.  Check once or twice to make certain that the liquid does not boil away.  Add a small amount of wine or water if necessary.

Peel and cut the onion into thick slices and place them on top of the meat.  Peel and chop the shallot into a quarter-inch dice.  Peel and quarter the potatoes and clean and cut the carrots into two-inch pieces.  Peel and cut the parsnip into half-inch pieces.  Clean and slice the mushrooms.  Arrange the shallots, potatoes, carrots and parsnips around the meat in the skillet and salt them lightly.  Cook these vegetables for fifteen minutes then add the mushrooms and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender.  Remove the meat and vegetables and keep them warm.

To make the gravy add water or a combination of water and wine to make about one and one-half cups of liquid.  Dissolve the cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water, stir it into the pan and cook until the gravy is clear.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Slice the meat and pass it with the vegetables and gravy.  Serve with glasses of the wine used to cook the roast accompanied by a green salad and fresh bread.

VARIATIONS:  Use red port wine and about a quarter teaspoon of basil instead of the burgundy and bay leaf.  Or substitute beer for the burgundy.  If you want a little more zip, add a couple of dashes of cayenne or hot sauce.

NOTES:  

As natives of northern Wisconsin, my mother and father preferred beer to wine.  When Mom bought a bottle of wine, it was a sweet red wine like Mogen David.  When she cooked a chuck roast, she sometimes added some beer to the cooking liquid. 

If you don’t have shallots available, use a larger onion and a clove of minced garlic.  You can substitute ordinary white button mushrooms for crimini or “baby bella” mushrooms.  You don’t need to peel thin-skinned new potatoes.  Just wash them thoroughly.

Chorizo-stuffed Poblano Peppers

I remember a time when I thought that a farmers’ market was the local feed mill, railroad shipping point or dairy. My grandfathers were both farmers. Grandpa Hopp milked eight to ten cows, called them all by name and stored the day’s milk in cans immersed in cold well water until the milkman arrived with his truck to pick up the milk and deliver butter and cheese to grandma and grandpa.

Grandpa Rang was older and retired from farming, but grandpa milked a couple of cows and babied the team of horses he loved. Grandma and Grandpa (and we grandkids) drank the milk and Grandma churned the cream into butter. Occasionally she sold some eggs to the feed mill in Hayward where my mother also sold extra eggs. Before I was born, Grandpa Rang raised potatoes, of which he was very proud. He and Grandma still planted a big garden which produced enough potatoes to fill a few bags for storage in the enormous root cellar that could hold enough potatoes to fill a train car.

Growing up near a small city where most families had gardens, I never saw anything like the farmers’ markets one finds today in cities throughout the United States. I saw my first farmers’ market on a September morning in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, where I was a student on a fellowship in Germany. It was not called a Bauernmarkt (farmers market) but simply der Markt (the market). Like our farmers’ markets today, local vendors sold food, flowers and some handicrafts.

After I moved to Münster, which is a much larger city than Bad Reichenhall, I was quickly introduced to a market that was the primary source of fresh food and flowers for many residents in that city of over 180,000 people. You could buy fish, fowl, meats, breads, pastries, cheese and a wide variety of household necessities ranging from hot pads and tablecloths to vases, coffee cups and tableware made by local artisans. Here are two photos that we took at the market when we visited Münster in 2014.

At the Münster market
At the Münster market
Sausages at the Münster market
Sausages at the Münster market

My new student acquaintances taught me how to bargain with salespeople to stretch my limited budget as they did. One technique I still use was to arrive near the end of the market day when vendors were willing to cut prices on their inventories. One of my favorite memories from that year was of a rather stout farm woman in a gray dress who was negotiating with a thin old man in a dark suit. She was selling eggs. As I walked by, he exclaimed to her, “Sie sehen wie Taubeneier aus!” (They look like pigeon eggs!) The two were smiling, so I think it was a familiar routine for both buyer and seller.

I still look for bargains at our local farmers’ markets. Not long ago I found some small poblano peppers. They were about four and a half inches long, so I got four of them for a dollar. I planned to make chile rellanos with them, but they were really too small for that, so decided to stuff them with a mixture of chorizo and rice. The result was a delicious main course for Jerri and me. If you enjoy Mexican dishes, you should try this recipe soon.

INGREDIENTS:

4 small poblano peppers, four to five inches long
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. bulk chorizo sausage
1/2 cup cooked rice
3 T diced onion
5 T taco sauce, divided
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 T cold water

PROCEDURE:

Start by cooking some rice, if necessary. To make about a cup of cooked rice, put a half cup of uncooked rice into a one quart saucepan, add a half teaspoon of salt and a cup of water. Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer covered until most of the water is absorbed, about fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the rice in the covered pan for five minutes before serving.

Peel the peppers while the rice is cooking. It’s not difficult. Preheat the oven broiler to 450º and rinse the peppers. When the broiler is hot, place the peppers on a baking sheet and set them under the broiler for about four minutes. Turn the peppers and broil them for another four minutes. The skin of the peppers should have begun to blister. Put the peppers in a paper bag and let the peppers cool for a few minutes in the closed bag.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.

While the peppers are cooling, make the stuffing. Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet and cook the meat slowly over low heat, breaking it into small pieces. Clean and dice about three tablespoons of onion and shred the cheese while the meat is cooking.

Peel the transparent outer skin from the peppers and cut them lengthwise halfway through. Remove the seeds and pulp from the peppers and butterfly them with the stems on.

When the meat is a uniform gray, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the rice, onion, cheese, cumin and three tablespoons of taco sauce.

Lightly grease a glass baking dish and put the butterflied peppers into the pan. Stuff each pepper with a generous portion of the meat mixture. Top each one with a teaspoon or two of taco sauce and pour a couple tablespoons of water around the peppers. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake the peppers for about fifteen minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the peppers to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with the extra rice, bread and salad for a light dinner.