Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear Mama Mary -
I have a guy coming over for dinner. I want to impress him with home cooking, but you know as well as I do that my cooking skills are pretty basic. Mama Mary, what can I cook that's easy but impressive (and cheap, too)?
An Undomestic Daughter

Dear Daughter -
Try a pot roast. It's a meal so old it's retro, and a lot easier than you think.It'll take about 3 hours, but only the first and last15 minutes are actually work.
Buy a 2 lb chuck roast (that's beef, in case you were wondering, it comes from a cow's shoulder), an onion, a few stalks of celery, a couple potatoes, some carrots, a clove of garlic, and cornstarch. If you can afford it, get bay leaves from the Spicehound or Peazey's.  Cut up the veggies first: you can make them bite sized, but big chunks are just fine. Get out a Dutch oven - that's a pot, bigger than a saucepan but smaller than a stockpot, the biggest pan-with-a-lid that came with the cooking set, and heat a splash of oil in it. When the oil is hot, brown the meat on both sides on medium heat. Take it out, cook the onion for a couple of minutes, theow in the garlic next, as soon as it starts to brown, move the onion & garlic to the edges & put the roast back in. Throw the rest of the veggies in, just cover it all with water, and season. A bay leaf is good, but if you don't have one, some pepper & a little salt will suffice. Cover and simmer for 2 hours or more. You will want to open it up and look, but hold off.
To finish it up, uncover, take out the meat and the veggies and bay leaf, if you used one. This leaves the broth, which will become gravy. Taste it. It should taste like really thin beef soup. Boil this down til it's half gone. Taste it again. Boil it down some more if it needs it, or if there's not enough liquid to do that, cheat and add one-half beef bouillon cube per 2 cups of juice.
Is he there yet? Are you ready to eat? If not, cover the meat & veggies, and keep the juices warming but not boiling.
When you're ready to eat, mix one tablespoon of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water. (The best way is to shake it together in a little jar.) Add this slowly to the simmering juices, stirring all the while, and it'll start to thicken as it starts to boil. When it's thickened, throw the meat & veggies back in to heat through, then serve with bread or biscuits to sop up the gravy.
I think this dish is why my husband wanted to marry me, so if you make this right, be forewarned.

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