31 December 2007

Perfect Pot Roast (It's Beer Wot Does It)

When my mother-in-law visited over the summer she bought a case of Heineken and did not make much headway with the case before she left. I don't really drink a lot of beer and those I do drink are on the opposite end of the beer spectrum from Heinken. What to do with all that beer?

I brought home a couple beer cookery books from the library, but wasn't charmed by the recipes I tried. I saw a pre-pub alert for the Anheuser-Busch Cookbook: Great Food, Great Beer, but who knows when I might see a copy in the flesh. After a few attempts at not-so-tasty recipes, I decided to just ignore the beer.

This worked for a while but, over Christmas, the case of beer was in my way again. Saturday, out of sheer annoyance, I thawed a roast and made Heineken pot roast. It was astoundingly delicious. Sweet and tender. Beefy and rich. Quite possibly one of the best pot roasts I have ever made and I think the mildness of the beer had a lot to do with it. Combined with the meat juices and the vegetables, the beer created a mouth-watering smell which had me desperate to lick the stove long before the roast was ready.

The recipe is quite easy:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Sear all sides of a 2-3 pound beef roast. Put in pan (I used the bottom of my broiler pan). Chunk carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes into 1 inch pieces. Put around beef. Pour in one bottle of Heineken. Sprinkle liberally with McCormick Salt Free Garlic & Herb Seasoning (this consists of garlic, oregano, rosemary, basil, red pepper, orange peel, onion, parsley, paprika, and celery). Cover tightly with foil and bake 3 hours.
Because I only used one bottle of beer, there weren't enough juice at the bottom of the pan to make gravy. Therefore, you might want to use 1 ½ to 2 bottles if you like gravy. We just used horseradish sauce leftover from Christmas's roast, but the meat probably didn't even need that as it was so meltingly tender and flavorful all on its own.

I cannot praise this pot roast highly enough. I think I have found my Perfect Pot Roast. I need use no other recipe ever again.

Or not, anyway, until the Heineken runs out.

16 December 2007

Crunchy, Sweet, and Yumptious Cookies

Since I'm not doing fruitcake (poor planning), I figured I'd write about cookies this year. I baked some last year, too, but they were completely overshadowed by The Fruitcake Experience and were never written up.

I would love to know who decided Christmas is for cookies as it seems it would be much better to slap together one big pie or cake to feed a mess of people rather than fiddling around with many tiny pieces of dough. But then, I've never really been a cookie girl. Much prefer cake or pie. Mmm ... pie.

Christmas Cookie Plate

"Glazed Fruitcake Squares"
From Pillsbury: Best Cookies Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 199). The bars smell strongly of brandy, but does not really taste of it. Used really brandy in the bars and glaze, but the recipe allows for the substitution of orange juice and brandy extract if that's your thing. The bars seemed a little dry the first day, but were much better the next. I used King Arthur Flour's "Favorite Fruit Blend" (apricots, raisins, pineapple, dates, and cranberries) rather than the moister, stickier, green and red fruitcake fruits sold in those little plastic buckets. This was the same fruit blend I used in last year's fruitcake and I've used it in a bunch of fruit breads since then. Good stuff.

"Peppermint Snowballs"
From Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook (Hungry Minds, 1999). They are very light and very minty with just a hint of crunch from the crushed peppermints. My husband loves them and I will definitely be making them again -- although I may modify the instructions somewhat. It is very hard to roll hot fragile cookies in powdered sugar without experiencing significant breakage. Next time, I will put the cookies on a wire rack and sift confectionery sugar over them (the sugar is there to form a sticky layer for the crushed candies to stick to). Recipe makes 48 cookies -- I made 36 with breakage. (Of course, I ate the breakage).

"Chocolate Crinkles"
Also from Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook (Hungry Minds, 1999). I made these for the first time last year and The Husband loved them so much they are now a Christmas necessity. I love how easy they are to make and that the dough needs to be refrigerated for three hours (giving me plenty of time to un-cookie the kitchen, have a cup of tea, and generally not feel my life has been taken over by cookie making). The recipe makes 72 cookies -- I made 70.

"Holiday Eggnog Sugar Cookies"
From a mix by King Arthur Flour and came in my November Baking Club box (December's, which is supposed to be full of cookie goodness, has yet to arrive). They are supposed to be "a rich custard-flavored cookie, with a hint of nutmeg," but taste more like a ginger-y sugar cookie. Not bad, but not eggnog. A bit on the crunchy side, too, and I baked them for the least amount of time listed. Grr. I followed the instructions for hand-shaped cookies and rolled them in leftover green & red sugar. Recipe makes 36 cookies -- I made 41.

10 December 2007

Dillicious Soup

I've definitely been in the mood for soup this autumn and winter looks no better. Over the weekend I made "Vegetable Soup with Bow Ties and Dill" from Good Housekeeping's Favorite Recipes: Vegetarian Meals (Hearst Books, 2006). It's a very simple recipe which yields a surprisingly dilly soup. Very dilly. Dillicious, even!

Very  Dilly Vegetable Soup

For this recipe, I cooked chopped onion in a little oil until soft and golden. Then I added the carrots and celery and cooked until crisp-tender. When the vegetables were ready, I added vegetable broth, lemon peel, and water and simmered it all until the vegetables were tender. Then I stirred in the frozen peas, cooked pasta, dill, ground black pepper, and lemon juice. When everything was hot, I ate it. Yum!

I've been eating cupfuls of this for breakfast with a toasted mini bagel. It's a warming way to start a cold day and it wakes me up quite nicely without the help of caffeine or sugar.

Soup -- the perfect breakfast food!

02 December 2007

Christmas Is a-Comin'

I’ve been reordering or replacing many of the worn-out (or just plain missing) holiday cookbooks at my library in the hopes that we might manage to get some new books on the shelves in time for Christmas and Kwanzaa. I didn’t think about the holiday cookbooks early enough to get new books or replacements in time for Hanukkah (they are here now, however, and are all totally awesome). Really, I need to put my brain on the same seasonal cycle as the department stores (winter in summer, etc) if I’m going to get the holiday books sorted out.

I probably sound as if I am complaining, but I’m not. I love collection development. I love replacing nasty old worn-out copies of cookbooks with spangle-y reprints or shiny new editions and then watching the circulation stats going up. People reading the books I select -- it's the best compliment.

One of the new books we’re getting is Betty Crocker’s Christmas and, while you can expect to see it on the shelves in early January, I can’t wait as I need to buckle down and start planning Christmas dinner ASAP lest it be “emergency spaghetti” all-round. As it this is the first Christmas dinner I have ever hosted, it has to be pretty fantastic.

And it will be.

So, no Betty Crocker’s Christmas before Christmas, but Betty Crocker’s Best Christmas (Hungry Minds, 1999) was available when I went looking for something similar and, wow, am I ever pleased to have found it!

I’ll be making the "Rib Roast with Herb Rub" for Christmas dinner along with "Do-Ahead Mashed Potatoes" and "Red, White and Green Beans." There are also two or three cookie recipes I’m just itching to try and the "Hot Crab Dip" will be excellent for New Year’s Eve if I can’t find my artichoke dip recipe.

Yum! If everything comes out well, I will have to think about buying this book for myself. Let's hope I get some gift cards for Christmas ...