Classic Pot Roast with Mushrooms, Garlic and Tomatoes…

Using lead suggestions from Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen (both great resources), and a little fine tuning of our own produced one incredible meal.  For this roast I used a boneless English Chuck Cut, a little higher on the arm, a bit more tender and better marble for flavor – a shoulder blade cut would work for this too or regular old fashion Chuck Roast.

1 beef roast, 3 1/2 – 4 lbs

1 large sweet onion, chopped course

1 large carrot, chopped course

1 rib of celery, chopped course, use leaves too chopped finer

5 medium to large garlic cloves, minced

16 ounces of fresh white mushrooms, quarter some, cut some in half, leave a few whole

1 15 ounce can of beef broth

1 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes, don’t drain, put in the juice too

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

2/3 cup of dry red wine of your choice


Use at least a 6 quart Dutch oven, heavy bottom preferred.

Trim off excess fat around the edges – Rinse roast in cold water, pat dry with paper towel, rub in you preferred amount of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Let sit on the counter for about 15 minutes for the roast to warm a bit and allow the salt and pepper to penetrate.

Adjust rack to center, preheat the oven to 300.

Bring heat to medium high to warm pot, THEN add a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil to cover bottom.  When oil begins to shimmer, put in the roast and brown well on all sides.  Remove roast and set aside on a platter.

Reduce the heat a bit, add the carrots, mushrooms, onions and celery to the pot, cook about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic and a pinch or two of sugar, stir for about a minute, then add tomatoes (juice too), beef broth, red wine and thyme scraping the bottom of the pot to get the browned meat ‘bits’ moving around as you go.

Return roast to pot – liquid should at least cover the roast half way, if not add 1/2 cup of water or so.  Bring pot to a heavy simmer, cover with foil and cover tightly with the lid.

Roast for two hours, remove pot and flip roast over, replace foil and lid, roast for two more hours.

Remove roast from oven, put it on a platter, cover with foil to keep warm.

Let pot sit for about five minutes, use a spoon to remove fat as it comes to the top (quick method, I lay a sheet of paper towel over the top of the liquid to absorb the fat, repeat three times should get most of it).

Place the pot on the stove, bring to a medium boil, add the rosemary, reduce liquid by about half stirring occasionally – 7 or 8 minutes.

Cut the roast to serving sizes, place the platter and bowl of the juice and vegetables on the table, spoon the juice over the meat and go for it – boiled red skins, mashed potatoes or perogies  go well this – I’d also suggest warm rolls, a fresh spinach, pecan and cranberry salad, and almond green beans to finish off the complements.

Published in: on January 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Italian Beef…

Presented by special request for @johnpneedham’s Super Bowl Party and the cooking libraries of @ChicagoDiane @dorothyfreidman @LegallyErin @ilkandcookies @FXAlgo @rwohlner @jimbinder @MPH777 @allanschoenberg @wireheadlance

Once again after ‘testing’ many different variations of this recipe – the following is the best method and combination of seasonings I’ve come with – at least as claimed by this household and immediate circles of friends.  This is a simple straight forward recipe without many ingredients – flavor focus is the beef.

I’m pretty sure you’ll find, the rich flavor this preparation provides will rival any restaurant (even in Chicago).


3lb top sirloin roast (second choices: top round or sirloin tip)

5 garlic cloves minced

2 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil

2 teaspoons of dried oregano

1 15oz can beef broth

2c water

1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on your preferred level of zip)

pinch of nutmeg

Rinse the roast with cold water, pat dry with paper towel and set in 9×11 deep baking pan – allow to warm to room temperature.

Pre-heat oven to 450

Mix oregano, pepper flakes, s&p, basil and garlic in a large bowl – also add a few shakes of garlic power if desired (I do).

Don’t worry about using meat thermometers.. just roast the meat at the times at temperatures given (trust me).

Rub in half of the season mixture all over the top of the roast, place in 450 oven for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 250 and roast for another 20 minutes

Pull out the roast, add the can of beef broth, 2 cups of water and the remaining half of the seasoning mixture to the liquid, return pan to the 250 oven and roast for an additional 30 minutes.

Take the roast out of the oven – Now this is important: remove roast from juice at set on a plate and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, turning over once at 15 minutes – this is allows the internal juices to re-distribute to all of the meats fibers.

Allow juice to cool for these 30 minutes, then pour in to a large saucepan, cover.  Wrap roast in plastic, place juice and roast in the ice box overnight or in the freezer for two hours if serving same day.

When it’s time to serve:

Unwrap the roast and slice as thin as possible with a large chefs knife (the larger the knife you use, the less chance of slip and injury) – I use a smaller deli style meat slicer, well worth the investment for any kitchen.

Place the saucepan of juice on the stove, add the pinch of nutmeg, bring to a light boil and reduce by about 20% or so.

Bring juice down to a simmer, throw a few handfuls of beef in the juice for your servings – simmer for two to three minutes ONLY, place beef quickly on rolls, spoon juice over beef and roll to make the bread as ‘wet’ as you want it, and serve.

Use Italian rolls, or a full loaf of Italian bread – I quarter the loaf and slice each piece lengthwise.  The higher gluten content of Italian bread holds the juice better than other breads and won’t break down as quickly – don’t use french bread = disintegration.

Top with sauteed sweet red peppers, banana peppers, blended/chopped giardiniera or anything of your preference…


Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,


Dedicated to my friend Gini, the best of the best in Public Relations: – it’s all about the vegetables…

When you think about the aroma coming from your kitchen during cooking, the fresh flavor(s) and nutritional value as the end result, this soup is hard to beat.

Many of us think of Minestrone as ‘Italian” but it actually means – a lot of stuff in the soup.

Using our our own ‘test kitchen’ along with a review of trials and tribulations from Cooks Country, Cooks Illustrated and Alton Brown (all exceptional research resources) this result is the best to come from this kitchen so far.  And, you can do it two ways – slow cooker (large, at least 7 qts) or simmer til done on the stove.

10 garlic cloves, minced

4 carrots, peeled and chopped course – you want bigger pieces

2 sweet onions, chopped fine

extra virgin olive oil at the ready (always wondered how something can be ‘extra’ virgin..?)

1 cup of dried white beans, great northern work well; if you use navy beans, use 1 1/2 cups

1 28oz can of whole tomatoes – imported Italian work best for flavor

8 cups of chicken broth

3 cups of water

2 ‘loose’ cups of fresh basil, chopped course

2 medium zucchini’s unpeeled, quartered, chopped course (like the carrots, you want near bite size chunks)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes depending on how much snap you want

4 ‘loose’ cups of spinach leaves (I use about 3 handfuls) or one bunch of swiss chard -rinse well and trim the stems off whichever you use

1 cup of any small/mini pasta of your choice

Optional: When I made this last week, I added 4 medium size tomatoes from my garden – bring a sauce pan of water to boil, place the tomatoes in the water and boil until you see the skin split on the tomatoes (a few minutes) – turn off the heat and let steep for 20 minutes or so, peel the skin off and squish the tomatoes with your hand as you add them to the pot or skillet.


Rise the beans in a colander then place in a sauce pan, add water to an inch above the beans, cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes while your preparing the rest:

Heat up a deep skillet to med-high, add a few tablespoons of olive oil then add the carrots and onions – cook, stirring now and then, until onion just begins to turn transparent (about 5 minutes) then add the garlic, stir and let set for 30 seconds only, add the tomatoes (juice too) smashing them with your hand on the way in to the pan –  bring to a boil and cook til liquid is reduced by at least 2/3’s stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes –

Stir in the broth, water, 1/2 cup of the basil (add the rest later when you serve), oregano, pepper flakes, bring to a boil, drain and add the beans – turn off the burner, pour in to the slow cooker, cover and let cook on low until beans are tender, about 7 hours (on high, about 5 hours).

Note: don’t lift the slow cooker lid at all during this cooking phase

The last 30 minutes of cooking (Now you can lift the lid) add the zucchini, swiss chard or spinach, pasta, cover and cook on high until pasta is tender, about 30 minutes.  When ready to serve, stir in the remaining basil, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper (not too much).

To prepare the soup on the stove:

Same steps as above, but start with a six qt pot – after the soup comes to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally (when the beans are tender you’re good to go) – add the zucchini, greens and pasta, cover and simmer for 15 minutes more, this should be enough time for the pasta to become tender – add the rest of the basil, a bit of salt and pepper, oil and serve.

Garlic bread along with topping off your soup bowl with a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago melting in to the broth will guarantee a 5-Star dining experience to match against any restaurant out there.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Bolognese Meat Sauce

This has always been a favorite around here – especially on those days when you just don’t know what to make.  This meal is a clear winner rain, snow or shine… and an absolute winner for rainy Sunday afternoons…

The processes involved have also proven to be a great teaching tool.  One daughter while in grade school had no interest in cooking whatsoever.  However, she could make toast and manage microwave timing to produce a near perfect Hot Pocket.

After watching part of a cooking show one day, she asked me how to reduce liquid and why you would want to – this was during that very brief period of time when “dad knows all and can fix anything.”

Making Bolognese is the prefect teaching drill – btw, she has moved on to learn much more as she manages the affairs, and meals, of her own family now.  And you know, dad has once again become the reference resource of choice – Hmm…

To paraphrase Cooks Illustrated – unlike most Marinara and other tomato based sauces, the purpose of Bolognese is to showcase the flavor of the meat front and center while using complimenting flavors from a complex mix of other ingredients.

Originating from Bologna, Italy in the 11th Century this meal has become a favorite for a lot of people and easy to prepare – but you must stick to the basic processes explained below for the best outcome each time.

Preparing Bolognese is as much about cooking as it is chemistry and managing that most important secret ingredient of any kitchen many are unfamiliar with – Heat.

There are hundreds of recipe variations for Bolognese and I’ve experimented with many, but this baseline recipe has endured as the most requested around here. And by all means, please experiment with your own variations – if you like garlic and oregano, add garlic and oregano, if you don’t, leave ‘em out and so on.

Your goal = a thick, rich meat sauce prepared with a blend of supporting flavors that work best for you and your family.

This recipe serves four, but if there are only two of you – it could easily be gone in one sitting (skip lunch and have an early dinner, it’s worth it).  This is also one of those recipes that doubles just fine – double everything and increase the reducing time for liquids to 30 minutes as well.

You’ll need:

1 pound of ground sirloin (or cut with 1/3 lb ground pork, ground chuck, veal – any of your choice or all – I prefer a full beef flavor and sirloin and/or chuck does a nice job);

One large celery stalk w/leaves, chopped fine

One large carrot, chopped fine

One medium sweet onion, chopped fine

4-5 garlic cloves, peel removed, sliced thin

3-4 tablespoons of fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons of fresh Italian (large leaf) parsley, chopped

5 tablespoons of unsalted ‘real’ butter – churned from ‘real’ cream

1 cup of dry red wine (fortissimo, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet etc – your choice)

1 cup of half and half

1 large 28oz can of peeled whole tomatoes – San Marzano imported Italian plumb tomatoes have the best flavor

1 8oz can of any store brand tomato sauce

1 pound of pasta, your choice – we use linguine, penne, rigatoni, shells – all work great

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

2 pinches of nutmeg


Heat large deep skillet or 2qt pot, melt butter on medium high then dump in carrots, celery, onion and garlic – stir, cook til onion just starts to become transparent, about 5 min;

Add meat, brown until the pink is just gone;

Add the half and half, bring to medium boil, reduce heat a bit and ‘high’  simmer until all white is all evaporated and only milk solids are left (yellowish, looks like oil) about 15 minutes;

Add the wine, same drill – bring to medium boil, reduce heat a bit – ‘high’ simmer until gone, about 15 minutes;

Add tomatoes with juice, smashing them by hand as you put them in the pot – add the tomato sauce, nutmeg, salt and basil;

Now here is the secret to getting it right every time:

Turn heat up, bring to a medium boil, reduce heat, reduce heat, reduce heat – so low, that you only see a few bubbles break on the surface now an then… simmer like this, uncovered, for at least 5 hours – stir occasionally, a few times each hour.

Prepare a pound of pasta of your choice (always add a half a hand full of kosher salt to the pasta boiling water);

Stir the parsley in to the sauce just before you’re ready to serve.. spoon sauce over the pasta and top with a little fresh graded asiago cheese.

Fresh green salad, garlic bread, all the usual let’s have with Italian stuff works well with this meal…

Published in: on August 22, 2010 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Stand on its own Chili…

Huge hat tip to the Neely’s… watched them prepare this on their Food Network show: “Pat’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili” episode and have made it a few times since.

Here is the run down from this “test” kitchen, with a few adjustments I’ve made.

You always have to experiment with a few adjustments, no good meal should ever turn out exactly the same way each time.

This is always a contentious battle around here from the kids, and now the grand kids – First daughter: “this was the best you’ve made this time” 2nd daughter: “no last time was the best he made…” and so it goes… – The boys remain silent, they just want to eat.

7 slices of apple or hickory smoked bacon – thick cut preferred, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

7 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large sweet onion, chopped

1 large red sweet pepper, chopped

1 large orange sweet pepper, chopped

3 tablespoons of chili power

1 tablespoon of cumin

1 or 2 teaspoons of red or cyan pepper depending on how much heat you want – adding/replacing with a tablespoon of chipotie chili powder also an option

4 drops of liquid smoke

2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning or oregano

1 tablespoon of paprika

a few pinches of kosher salt and 4-5 grinds of fresh black pepper

1 lb,  ground chuck

1 lb,  ground pork

10 ounces of beer (take a good swig from a 12 ounce bottle and set the rest aside for the chili)

1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 15 ounce cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, and use the juice too, don’t drain

sliced green onions and shredded cheddar for garnish


Use a at least a six quart heavy pot;

Cook the bacon over med-high heat until nearly crisp, stirring now and then;

Add the garlic, onions, sweet peppers, chili powder, cumin, Italian seasoning, liquid smoke, and salt and pepper – turn down the heat a bit, cook about 4 minutes until you smell the seasonings starting to work, stirring often;

Add 1 lb of ground chuck, turn heat back up to med-high, break up with a wooden spoon and keep stirring until nearly all brown – put in a splash of beer from the bottle on the side to help steam the vegetables and de-glaze the bottom of the pot as you go;

Add the 1 lb of ground pork – same drill, break it up and stir often until all the pink is gone, and toss in another splash of beer – then:

Stir in the beans, what remains in the bottle of beer, crushed and diced tomatoes (with juice), stir well, bring to a light boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours – stirring occasionally.

Place cooler full of ice and beer near the table – unless like many of my kitchen notes exchanging friends you have a dedicated beer and wine fridge; place the pot in the middle of the table on a trivet and ring the bell;

Garnish served bowl with cheddar cheese and green onions  – you won’t need anything else with this meal – it is stout, and stands well on its own.

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment