Friday, March 07, 2014

Food on Friday: The Cooking Grinch Strikes Again

For awhile now, we've bought a quarter cow from a local rancher, i.e., one-fourth of one of his cattle. I'm not up on cow terminology--is it a steer? a cow? I have no idea. But we get a quarter of it. Not exactly a quarter--it's not like we choose the left back quadrant or something, but he sends the ... um... whatever-you-call-it off to a small, local processing center, and they divvy it up fairly equitably so that we get some steaks, some ground beef, and some roasts. Then I go pick it up. Sometime I will tell you more about going to the processing place to pick up our meat, but that's way off topic for today, which eventually will be a recipe for sugar cookies. Ha.

So anyway. Last year we didn't get one because PellMel the vegetarian was here and we already had a backlog. We always go through the steaks (yum!) and the ground beef, but roasts? I am just not a roast person. We probably have two years of roasts stashed down in our freezer. So this winter I decided I was going to do better. Once a month I've been hauling out a roast and figuring out something to do with it.

So this morning, there I am chopping a chuck roast into large chunks for beef stew and wondering about things they say in cookbooks. After dredging the meat in seasoned flour, you're supposed to brown the meat "on all sides." I'm assuming that means more than just top and bottom, because if that's all it meant, wouldn't they say to brown the meat on both sides?

So there I am trying to prop these pieces of meat up on their sides. The last time I did this I actually stood there and held them up on their sides with a pair of tongs while they browned. Hell with that, I thought this time, and just did top, bottom, and then sort of lined them up in a row so they held each other up on two of the sides, then decided I was done with it. They're now browned on two-thirds of their sides and they're tucked into the crock pot with sliced onions, red wine, and various seasonings. I'm out of carrots, but I can't imagine it will make a material difference in the outcome if I throw some carrots in there later this afternoon after I've been to the grocery store. If it will, don't tell me.

I know from experience that Dean and MadMax will love this, and I will eat a half serving and remember why I am not a big fan of roasts. I could never be a vegetarian (steak! bacon! cheeseburgers!) but I could go the rest of my life without having pot roast or beef stew and I would never notice.

Here is another silly thing I read in a cookbook. I actually got the cookbook out so I could type it word for word (this is from Desperation Dinners, which in spite of its un-appealing title is one of my all-time most used cookbooks): "When you have no idea what to cook, fry an onion. I do this a lot, and without fail, family members sniff their way into the kitchen clamoring to know what's for dinner."

Whaaaaat? How in the world does that make sense? You've now got a fried onion, no dinner, and people in the kitchen demanding to know what you're going to feed them. That is, hands down, the dumbest line I've ever read in a cookbook--even though I love that cookbook.

But the real reason I broke down to type another Food on Friday post (which I'm scheduling for while we're out of town) is because after years of searching, I finally found a sugar cookie recipe that works. MadMax adores sugar cookies--they are almost the only cookie he will eat (although he has on occasion shown an unreasonable fondness for Chips Ahoy Chunky White Fudge). I've tried probably eight different sugar cookie recipes in the last few years and never found one that was worth the trouble, since the sugar cookie mix that comes in the red pouch from Betty Crocker is actually pretty good.

But he was jonesing for sugar cookies last night and I didn't have the mix, so I pulled out one of my oldest cookbooks, one I bought not long after we got married, found a recipe for sugar cookies in the index, and voila (which in our house is almost always pronounced voy-la), the best homemade sugar cookies I've ever produced. These are the big, soft kind, not the thin crisp ones. So here you go, the recipe as written and then the way I modified it.

(attributed to Nancy Cheek in the 1982 edition of Chapel Hill Favorites)
3 C sifted flour
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t soda
1 C margarine
1 C sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla

Cream margarine and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla, add dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Chill at least two hours. Roll dough out, cut with cookie cutters, and bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 10-12 minutes at 325.

Which is both a bit appalling (does anybody use margarine anymore?), not to my taste (I've never been a fan of nutmeg, which I know makes me an unsophisticated slob, but there it is), and too much work. So here's what I did last night, which turned out pretty damn fabulously if I do say so myself.

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole-grain spelt flour (or barley flour, or just use 3 cups regular flour)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C butter (1 stick), softened slightly
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C unsweetened applesauce (you could probably use 1/2 C applesauce and skip the shortening, but I haven't tried that)
scant cup of sugar (probably about 7/8 of a cup)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

Cream butter, shortening, applesauce, and sugar for 3-4 minutes. Add the egg, salt, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients half a cup at  time. Drop the cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets, using about a quarter-cup per cookie. Flatten them into thick disks three-ish inches in diameter. Bake for 14 minutes at 325 or until just barely starting to brown. Do not overbake.

What's the dumbest line you've ever read in a cookbook?


  1. Chuck Roast works great in Mary's Oven Barbecued Brisket recipe. Just shred it with a pair of forks while it is still warm for great barbecue sandwiches. Also round steak. Eye of round roast needs to cook a REALLLLLLLLY long time and never really does get tender.

    1. Seriously? I am definitely trying that next month. I read somewhere that the only way to serve round steak is to slice it really thin like fajitas

  2. Also, the Barefoot Contessa has a recipe for Beef Bourgoignon that I use on pot roast cuts, treating it like a pot roast but using the spices and vegetables (and wine) from the recipe.The French have a much better approach to pot roast than Americans.