Post #676 The Turn of the Seasons

October 13, 2019 at 1:11 PM | Posted in Basics, Crock Pot Slow Cooking | Leave a comment

I’ve always thought that between September and November there are two seasons.  The first season is End O’ Summer Beginning O’ Fall, and the second season is Dead Fall.  End O’ Begin O’ is when the warmth is declining but it’s not really super chilly, but it’s chilly enough to wear sweatshirts and sweaters easily.  Colors are changing, and the leaves turn spectacular colors.  Dead Fall is when the chill has definitely set in and we start looking for our winter clothes we put away last year cuz we need ’em.  Conversations turn to oil prices, and new boots, and snow tires.  The hill at the end of the street that was full green and gorgeous just a few weeks ago is now looking like this.

Imagine all those barren trees decked in blazing red and orange and you know what our view was.  Of course, I didn’t get pics of that before the rain took down the colors.  Even the drive to work is pretty spectacular.

Just one of the reasons we worked to get here.

Food takes on a different aspect this time of the year, too.  The drive for fresh fruits and veggies by necessity gives way to those that are preserved and canned and can’t be eaten straight from the ground.  Gourds and roots are the name of the game these days, and the months stretching in front of us are more of the same.

It’s not as dire as it sounds since the grocery stores still have all the fresh veggies we could ever hope for.  But if you want to buy local, it’s rough going.  In summer, when everyone is active and the farmer’s markets are thriving, I tend to think in terms of salads.  When it’s hot, you want to eat something cool and light.  This time of year, my mine shifts and I know it’s going to get cold and snowy, so I think in terms of hot and hearty.  You want things that are rib-sticking and heavy.  You burn more calories when it’s cold out than other times of the year so you want those calories to burn.  In my mind, I got to heavy soups and stews.  But, since work life gets in the way, it’s not always that easy.  This is when the crock pot comes into its own.

So today, even though we’re both home working on our computers and listening to music (and the door is open because it’s an unusually fine fall day and the house needs to get aired out) I did this.  See if you can guess:

If you guessed stew, you’d almost be right!

What I’m making is a pot roast.  My mom did this all the time.  It’s simple; it’s easy; it’s nutritious; it’s delicious.  You can use less expensive cuts of meat and they will come out tasting like they were made for kings.  So I’m going to break this down into its basic component parts and discuss those.

First, the meat.  You can easily see from the picture that this hunk of beef is way more than two people can eat in one meal.  Hell, it’s more than two people can finish off in four meals!  So what I’m going to do is cook the beef separately until it’s done and cut it into three equal-ish pieces.  By the time that’s done, there will be a phenomenal collection of meat juices in the crock pot that I’ll use to finish off the veggies.  The one “mistake” new cooks tend to make when cooking an all-in-one-pot meal is that components cook at different rates.  My mom always had perfectly done meat and veggies that were mush.  So, cook the meat alone until it’s nearly done, then add the veggies.

That’s not to say you don’t cook it with the aromatics.  Aromatics is just a fancy word for herbs and spices or anything else that adds flavor.  Since I know what else I’m going to make with the roast (enchiladas and potato boats) I can add the right aromatics so they enhance the flavor of the meat for everything.  I’m using celery, garlic, onion, and carrot.  Celery has a bright tangy flavor.  Garlic is the flavor of the earth, as far as I’m concerned.  Onion is bitter and sweet and sharp.  Carrot adds sweetness and hearty flavor.  You can add any flavors you like when you cook.  As you try new things, you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t.

So, right now, I’m cooking the meat along with roughly chopped garlic, carrot chunks, onion chunks, celery chunks, and a sprinkle of salt.  Salt makes everything taste good.  In a few hours, I’m going to take out the meat and cut it into the portions a I need.  By then, it will be time to put in more onion, the potatoes, and more celery.  The original celery will be too mushy to use, and the original onions will be gone, having given their life and essence to the broth created by the slow cooking method.  BUT, I’m going to add a couple of more flavor enhancers.

Ever heard of Umami?  It’s the part of the taste receptors that tastes savory and meaty flavors.  But the things that trigger it are kind of funny.  When added to meat, they make meats taste meatier and better.  MSG is one, as is tomato paste and red wine.  So there’s a reason why they always say drink red wine with a steak.  Mushrooms also have umami, and cheese, as well as some fish.  Through centuries of trial and error, cooks have found those things that bring out the meaty flavor that science now tells us we ought to use.  So, once I’ve removed the meat and the aromatics, I’m going to add a tablespoon of tomato paste to the broth (another umame ingredient) and I’d love to add whole mushrooms.  But Partner/Spouse hates the texture of mushrooms so they aren’t going in.  However, I am going to add mushrooms to get the umami factor.  A few years ago ATK gave me the idea.  Take dried mushrooms and put them through a spice or coffee grinder until they are powder.  Then add a spoonful of the mushroom powder.  (NOTE:  IF YOU USE A COFFEE GRINDER MAKE SURE IT HAS NEVER BEEN USED TO GRIND COFFEE.  THE COFFEE FLAVOR IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE AND WILL TAINT EVERYTHING ELSE BEING GROUND IN THAT GRINDER.)  So I’ve got some dried mushrooms and powdered them.  I don’t have any red wine or I’d add that too.  The thing to remember when adding these ingredients is they are heavy flavor enhancers so use small amounts of each until you get the flavor you like.  And the mushroom powder will also thicken the sauce quite a bit since it’s actually dried mushroom and will absorb a lot of liquid.

Once I’ve doctored the sauce, I’ll add the potatoes, onions, celery, and probably a little more garlic to freshen the flavor, and put the meat in on top.  I’ll cook that up until the veggies are done and the meat should be falling-apart tender at this point.

I’d love to tell you how long each stage takes, but it’s a crock pot.  Each one has its own personality and will take as long as it takes.  I don’t expect to be eating until around 6:30 or 7pm.  But, even though it sounds like a lot of work, it’s not really.

So, that’s the plan for today.  What are your plans for dinner today, or the near future?  Let us all know.  We’d like to hear from you.

So, in a few weeks, there’s another holiday – Samhain.  In the pagan calendar, this starts the new year, but we also like the modern twist of Halloween.  I’m a big Great Pumpkin fan.

See?  But Partner/Spouse is a bigger fan of the season.

See?

As always,

 

 

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