Sit down to a pot-roast dinner

Get the whole family to the table with this one-dish delight

Food

October 07, 2007|By Sandra Pinckney

When I was growing up, dinnertime was the most important time of the day. Table manners were strictly enforced.

No hats, no T-shirts, no elbows on the table and absolutely no television. My father sat at one end of the table, my mother at the other.

My two brothers, sister and I sat in between. In the early years, dinner conversations revolved around school and friends.

As we got older, we talked about world events and politics.

At the table, we were learning how to present our ideas, how to defend them and how to do so in a respectful manner. We were learning the art of conversation.

Unfortunately, family mealtime has nearly become a thing of the past. Dealing with jobs, busy school schedules, after-school activities and homework, many parents have little time to plan wholesome meals or to serve the entire family all at the same time.

But recent studies show that spending time around the dinner table helps families bond, and that children who regularly eat with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, use illegal drugs, get suspended from school and get into fights.

Keeping meals simple is the key to planning dinner on busy nights.

Hearty soups, casseroles and stews are not only easy to make but warm body and soul on chilly autumn nights. That's why I am such a fan of pot roast. It is the ultimate one-dish meal, with succulent meat and flavorful vegetables all in one pot.

Braising is the technique used to cook pot roast. It is browning and then slowly cooking meat in a covered container with a small amount of liquid.

The best cut of meat for pot roast is chuck roast. Just make sure it is at least 2 1/2 inches thick.

Choose root vegetables - carrots, parsnips and turnips - and add small potatoes, and this one-dish wonder is complete.

Cooks also can use a pressure cooker. First, brown the meat, add liquid, seal and lock the cooker and cook over high heat to pressurize. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 45 minutes, adding vegetables the last 15 minutes of cooking time.

Whichever method you choose, this is a meal the whole family can sit down together and enjoy together. All you have to do is set a pretty table, turn the TV off and let the conversation begin.

Sandra Pinckney is a former Baltimore TV journalist. Send comments about this column to unisun@baltsun.com.

Pot Roast

Serves 6

1 boneless beef chuck roast (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 cup robust dry red wine (shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot)

1 cup beef or chicken stock (preferably homemade)

3 large, leafy sage sprigs (3 to 4 inches each)

2-3 leafy flat-leaf parsley sprigs (6 to 8 inches each)

1/2 pound small parsnips, peeled

1/2 pound small turnips, peeled

1/2 pound small white or red potatoes, peeled

2 large carrots, peeled

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other braising pot over medium heat. Add the beef and brown it on all sides, turning it with tongs. This will take about 18 minutes.

Remove the beef and set it on a platter that will collect any juices. Remove any charred bits from the pot with a paper towel. Leave the rest of the bits - they provide great flavor. Return the pot to medium-high heat, and add the onion, celery and garlic.

Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until they just start to brown. Pour in the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits.

Bring to a boil, reducing the wine by half (about 3-4 minutes). Add the beef or chicken stock, and return to a boil.

Place meat and any juices back into pot of boiling liquid. Remove from heat. Add sprigs of sage and parsley. Cover tightly. Place in lower third of the oven. The liquid should be at a simmer. If it is cooking too fast, lower the oven temperature.

After an hour and a half, turn the roast over and add the parsnips, turnips, potatoes and carrots. Cook another hour and a half.

Skim the fat from the gravy (the leftover liquid) in the pot. Cook for a few minutes more if it needs thickening. (It will be like a thick juice.)

Serve the pot roast family style on a platter, with the meat surrounded by the vegetables.

Notes:

Dutch ovens or ceramic pots are good choices for cooking the roast. The pot must be heavy on the bottom and sides to hold the heat in during the long cooking process. A tight-fitting top is a must. Choose a pot that holds the food snugly. If it is too big, the liquid will evaporate too quickly.

Keep the vegetables a uniform size - 1 1/2 inches is a good size. They will cook evenly and make a better appearance.

Fresh herbs have amazing fragrance and flavor. Use much less of the dried variety, or you will overpower the dish.

Per serving: 684 calories, 33 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 183 milligrams cholesterol, 22 grams carbohydrate, 71 grams protein, 324 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber

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