Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slow cooker pot roast with chunky vegetable braise

Taking a camping trip the first week of September was a strange thing. When I left it was summer, but I emerged from the woods to find that the world is now in full-blown fall mode. I'm actually pretty excited to switch gears for fall foods. Today, Fox News Magazine did a story which included my recipe for avocado ice cream, and you can't get more summery than avocado + ice cream. With that as my last vestige of summer foods, I'm ready for hearty greens, squashes, chili, stews, soups, warm spices, and of course everything pumpkin!

On our camping vacation, we road tripped through northern California as well as Oregon. Our camp sites ranged from amateurish car camping to remote sites to which we needed to bring our own water. Here's a short video clip of the latter:



Prior to that, we spent a night at Crater Lake and had dinner at the restaurant there. I ordered pot roast as it was basically the only thing on the menu that wasn't pizza, sandwich, or pasta. As I was eating it, I asked myself out loud about three times, "Why do I never make this??". It's so simple and tasty, plus it's an easy one-pot meal with veggies. I decided to make it at home, of course using my crock pot. I kept experiencing temptation to gussy it up somehow but I restrained myself and stuck with a simple, classic dish.

Some points about this recipe, in bulleted form:
  • You want to use a cheap, fatty cut for this, as it's a LOT more forgiving in terms of keeping the meat juicy and tender. I used a grass-fed chuck roast.
  • I never sear the roast before slow cooking it. It smokes up the kitchen and dirties an extra pan, which to me defeats the simplicity and convenience of a crock pot. I just made sure that no veggies sat on top of the roast, so it naturally formed a nice crust as it cooked.
  • I intentionally did not give amounts for the seasonings, as I think that measuring, mixing, and rubbing spices is often the most annoying part of a recipe. Sometimes I need that precision, but for this, shaking everything onto the meat worked great.
  • I add NO LIQUID! Since it's covered in the crock pot, no moisture evaporates, so even without added liquid I got plenty of gravy. Adding broth or similar would have created a soup.
  • Keep the veggies in large chunks, since it cooks for a while and small pieces would virtually dissolve. Feel free to add whatever root vegetables you like. In addition to carrot, celery, and onion, I added a rutabaga cut into 8 wedges (for me) and purple potatoes (for the husband; they taste like white potatoes but are packed with antioxidants!). Parsnips, celery root, kohlrabi, golden beets, and sweet potato are all good choices, and thick green beans stand up nicely to crock potting as well.

SLOW COOKER POT ROAST WITH CHUNKY VEGETABLE BRAISE
Serves about 6

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 chuck roast or other cheap fatty cut, anywhere from 2-5 lbs
  • 1 head of celery
  • 1 bunch of carrots (about a pound)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bulb garlic (optional, if you want roasted garlic with your pot roast. But why wouldn't you??)
  • Root vegetables of choice, cut into large chunks (optional, more info in recipe description)
  • Salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Sweet paprika
  • Dried marjoram (feel free to substitute your favorite dried herb, such as basil, thyme, oregano, or rubbed sage)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Prep your veggies: separate the celery into stalks, chop off and discard the leaves and white bottoms, then cut the stalks crosswise into two or three pieces. Peel or scrub the carrots and halve them crosswise or leave them whole if they are small. Peel the onion and slice it into thick rings. Slice the top off the garlic. Prep any other veggies accordingly.
  2. Arrange the onion slices down the center of your crock pot with the other veggies in bunches toward the sides. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Season the roast generously on both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and dried herbs. Lay it in the crock pot on top of the onion and other veggies.
  4. Cook for 7-8 hours on low.
  5. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Slice it, preferably using an electric knife to prevent the slices from shredding. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Use a turkey baster or ladle to scoop out the meat juices. I transferred it to a degreasing pitcher, though if you leave it in the refrigerator the fat will congeal on top and can easily be removed. Pour a bit of the reserved juices over the meat slices to keep them moist. Serve now, or reheat later!
  6. I always just serve it with the juices from the slow cooker. However, if you want a thicker gravy, just combine a tablespoon of arrowroot or tapioca flour with 2 tablespoons of warm water. Bring the pan juices (grease skimmed off) to a boil on the stove, stir in the arrowroot or tapioca slurry, and boil for about a minute until thickened.

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