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Friday, November 14, 2014

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Every time I use my crockpot, I can't help but wonder why don't I use this more often?

Is there anything better than doing a little bit of prep work in the morning, throwing it all into the slow cooker and having it ready at dinner time?

This recipe is a bit of a riff on the Maple-Mustard Pork Chops that I've made in the past.  I like the combo of sweet maple syrup and the savoriness of dijon mustard, and I couldn't help but wonder how it would work with a pot roast.

I'm happy to say that it worked out just fine!

Today's Playlist
  • "Come Fly With Me"...Frank Sinatra
  • "American Pie"...Don McLean
  • "That's Amore"...Lou Monte
  • "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay"...Otis Redding
  • "L-O-V-E"...Natalie Cole
  • "All Of Me"...John Stevens

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
  • 3 lb boneless beef chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 1 14-oz can beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper, to taste
For gravy: 1/4 cup cornstarch or flour, 1/4 cup beef broth

Gather your ingredients.  

Despite my best efforts, I always forget something.  The beef broth is missing from this picture.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the roast with salt & pepper on both sides.  Sear the roast on both sides, about 7 minutes per side, until well-browned.

While the beef is browning, prep your onions.  Cut the ends off and peel them.

Slice them in half from top to bottom, and place them (flat side down) on your cutting board.

Slice them into half moons.

When the meat has browned, remove it from the pan--

--and place it into your crockpot.  (I used a 5 1/2 quart crockpot.)

Place the sliced onions into the pot that you just browned the roast in.  Adjust the heat to medium.

Stirring often, cook the onions for about 5-7 minutes, until they are softened and just starting to brown and caramelize.

While the onions are cooking, prepare your cooking liquid for the crockpot.  Put the mustard, maple syrup and almost the whole can of beef broth (you'll want to save about 1/4 cup to deglaze the bottom of the pan when the onions are done cooking)..

Don't forget to keep stirring those onions!  You don't want them to get crispy.

Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to your mustard/maple syrup sauce.

Whisk to combine.

Pour the beef broth that you set aside into the onion pan.  

Stir and scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Do not skip this step.  The bottom of the pan is where all the flavor is!

Pour the onions and the pan liquid over the roast.

Add the mustard/maple syrup mixture.

Put the lid on the crock pot and cook on low for at least 8 hours, until the meat is tender and separates easily when shredded with a fork.

And here we are 8 hours later.

It passes the fork test!

I put the meat and the onions into a shallow dish and covered it with the crockpot lid (or aluminum foil) to stay warm.

And then I went to work on the cooking liquid.  I did my best to get all of the onions out.

Then I let my gravy separator strain out the few onions that remained.

Now some people will tell you to make a gravy with all of the liquid that is left.

But what's left also includes the fat that has rendered during the cooking process.  I just can't.  Let's try to only use the fat-free liquid.

If you look at the liquid in the gravy separator, you can see that there is 3 cups of liquid. There is obviously a thin layer of oily liquid on the top, then there is a cloudy layer about 1/3 of the way down, and the bottom two thirds is the smooth, fat-free stuff.

It's that bottom layer that we want to make the gravy with.  A gravy separator will easily pour the bottom liquid out, or you can try to spoon the top liquids out or use a turkey baster to draw them out.

Or if you're not as squeamish as me, go ahead and use the whole shebang.

To make the gravy:

Put the liquid into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Mix 1/4 cup corn starch (or flour) with 1/4 cup cold (to prevent lumps) beef broth.  Pour about 1/2 of this mixture into the liquid in the saucepan.  It's hard to predict how much you will need, it all depends upon the amount of cooking liquid that you are using, and the fat content of that liquid.  It's best to only use 1/2 of the cornstarch/beef broth mixture, adding more if necessary.

Heat until thickened, whisking constantly.  Add more of the cornstarch/beef broth mixture if you think the gravy needs to be thicker.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

Uncover the dish with the meat & onions.  

Douse it with the gravy!!

Oh, my.

I chopped up some fresh thyme to sprinkle on top.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

White Lasagna (with Chicken, Mushrooms, Spinach and Rosemary)

Last month, I had to pick my daughter up from school because she had a doctor's appointment the next day.  She's an ice cream fiend, so I had some ice cream from her favorite local ice cream shop in our freezer.

It was almost midnight by the time we got home.  She was hungry and I told her that I had some of her favorite ice cream in the freezer.

She opted to have leftover white lasagna instead.

It really is that good!

Today's Playlist
  • "Musica Bella"...Lou Monte
  • "I've Got the World on a String"...Frank Sinatra
  • "Over and Over"...Bobby Day
  • "That's Amore"...Dean Martin
  • "Jailhouse Rock"...Elvis Presley
  • "Twist & Shout"...The Beatles
  • "Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)...The Chords
  • "Little Bitty Pretty One"...Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
  • "Sway"...Michael Buble
  • "One Fine Day"...The Chiffons

White Lasagna
Printable Recipe

Lasagna ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 lbs cooked chicken breast, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb dried lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded fresh mozzarella
  • 3/4 cup shredded parmesan
  • zest from 1 lemon
Bechemel Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 cups milk, heated
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Gather your ingredients.

Do all the prep work--

Slice the mushrooms and the chicken.

I grilled my chicken in advance.  Okay, way in advance.  Okay, you got me, I used 3 leftover grilled chicken breasts.

Use any type of cooked chicken that you like best.

And now, back to our recipe.
Chop the rosemary, dice the onions, zest the lemon.

Put a large (at least 8 quart) pot of salted water on your stove top to boil.

Suddenly I had a couple of helpers.

Unwrapping a ball of mozzarella is a sure-fire way to get their attention!

Shred the mozzarella.


and peel the garlic.

Prep work is done.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or (6 quart) saucepan over medium heat.

And now that I am going to be working at the stove, Clyde needs to adjust his position. 

 Directly underfoot is his favorite position.  He doesn't seem to mind if I step on him as I'm trying to reach the stove, as long as my balancing act causes me to drop a few morsels for him to snack on.

Saute the chopped union until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.

When the onions have softened and are just beginning to brown, crush the garlic directly into the pan.

Stir in the rosemary.

Add the mushrooms.  Stir.

Reduce the heat to medium low and stir occasionally, allowing the mushrooms to soften and release their liquid.  This should take about 5 to 10 minutes.

And it was then that I noticed all the lovely brown goodness on the bottom of the pan.

I know I've mentioned this a gazillion times, but I really, really have a problem leaving all of that flavor behind.

And until someone stages an intervention, I need to cling to my refusal to leave any bits on the bottom of the pan behind.

So before I went any further I added a splash of white wine (hence the steamy photo above) and scraped all of the good stuff off the bottom of the pan.

And then I turned the heat down as low as it could possibly go, and threw in the spinach.

Then I added the chicken.

And gingerly stirred to combine.  The heat from the mushrooms perfectly wilted the spinach.

Turn off the heat and let your chicken/spinach/mushroom mixture sit while you prepare the béchamel.

To prepare the béchamel:  microwave 3 cups of milk on HIGH, one minute at a time, stirring at the end of each minute, until the milk is hot.  The milk should not be boiling, just very hot.  It took me two minutes to heat the milk in my microwave, but depending upon the strength of your microwave, your time could vary.

The reason why you want the milk hot is because you don't want to be pouring cold milk into the hot béchamel.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium/low heat.

Add the flour.

Whisk constantly (about 3 to 5 minutes) until the flour is golden-colored.

As luck would have it, the large pot of water was boiling now.

So I added the lasagna into the boiling water as I was attempting to stir the béchamel.

Start whisking the hot milk, one cup at a time, into the flour/butter.

Stir until it is completely smooth before adding each additional cup.

Here it is after the first cup.

And after the second.

And after the third, at which point I whisked in the rosemary.

And then I ground in some nutmeg and added salt and pepper.

Adjust the heat to medium/high, and bring the béchamel to a boil, whisking constantly.

When it starts to boil, whisk in 1/2 cup of mozzarella.  Turn off the heat when the mozzarella has melted.

Well, the mozzarella doesn't exactly melt into the béchamel and disappear, as you can see in this photo.  It simply changes from shredded to gooey.

By now, your lasagna should be cooked as well.

Drain the lasagna noodles, keep them in the pot that you cooked them in and fill the pot with COLD water.  This will stop the cooking, and also prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.

Here is my lasagna-making station.  Clockwise from bottom left:
the béchamel, shredded mozzarella, shredded parmesan, lasagna noodles (spread on a towel to absorb excess water; I remove a few at a time from the pot onto the towel), the remaining lasagna noodles in their cold-water bath, the chicken/mushroom/spinach mixture, and a 9x13-inch pan.

Now would be the time to preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel in the bottom of the pan.

Lay down three lasagna noodles on top of the béchamel.

Evenly distribute half of the chicken/mushroom/spinach mixture on top of the lasagna noodles.

Drizzle one cup of the béchamel on top of the chicken mixture.

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the shredded mozzarella and 1/4 cup of the shredded parmesan.

Sprinkle with the lemon zest.

Add another layer of mozzarella noodles, in the opposite direction as the first layer, cutting them to size.

Top with the remaining chicken/mushroom/spinach mixture.

Drizzle another cup of béchamel on top of the chicken mixture, spreading to distribute evenly.

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan.

Add another layer of lasagna noodles, in the same direction as the first layer.  I used 4 noodles this time (as opposed to the 3 noodles in the first layer), because I wanted complete coverage on the top layer.

Spread with the remaining béchamel, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and parmesan on top.  

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake in your 400-degree oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the foil, and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Now it's golden around the edges and perfect.  Am I the only one who likes the hardened edges?

Sprinkle with parsley and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting.

You may be tempted to dig in right away, but if you cut it while it's too hot it will fall apart on you.

Not that oozing, cheesy, falling-apart lasagna isn't going to taste good.

It just looks so much better when it's all in one piece!

Enjoy :)