Straddling seasons: Pot roast and fresh asparagus

by Terry B on April 2, 2008

Cooking for the calendar, this weekend saw some beautifully skinny fresh asparagus, simply prepared. Cooking for the actual weather, though, called for a hearty pot roast. Recipes below.

Before we get to the food, a quick little digression about blogging.When I started Blue Kitchen a year and change ago, I knew it would be a way to indulge my passions for food, photography and writing. I also knew it would make me think more about food and cooking, ultimately making me a better cook. What I didn’t know is what a wonderful international network of warm, sharing friends and fellow bloggers I’d be plugging into.

This kind of welcoming environment isn’t necessarily unique to food blogging, but it seems to be more prevalent here than elsewhere. Interestingly, according to a food blogger who specializes in restaurant reviews, it’s mainly found among bloggers who write about making food, not critiquing it. My friend Ronnie writes two blogs, the wonderfully eclectic Out Of My Head and the advice-filled Work Coach. She also reads a wide range of blogs and says she hasn’t found this kind of community anywhere else.

The latest example of this comes from Lydia over at The Perfect Pantry. She was just given the E for Excellent Award—by four different bloggers, no less. She then took a turn, passing the award along to five other blogs. Including this one. Thanks so much, Lydia! I learn something new every time I read your blog, so it means a lot that you thought of me.

And now my turn. The easiest thing would be to award it to everyone in my blogroll. They’re all wonderful sources of information and great reads to boot. But I’ll try to narrow it down to five. And I’m sticking with food blogs, just because [we food bloggers are a clannish lot]. Just as Lydia was in her choices, I’m every bit as swayed by entertaining writing as I am by good food. Maybe even more so. These bloggers deliver, post after post. Every one of them has made me think—and made me a better cook in the process:

Ann, at A Chicken in Every Granny Cart; Christina, at A Thinking Stomach; Jennifer, at Last Night’s Dinner; Patricia, at Technicolor Kitchen and Toni, at Daily Bread Journal.

Okay, back to the kitchen. Here in Chicago, the calendar says spring [yeah, it says that everywhere north of the Equator, I know]. The thermometer takes a different view, often dipping below freezing. In fact, the tulips you see here were an impulse purchase, something to remind us that it is indeed spring. So when we were planning one of those Sunday dinners we don’t do enough of, I decided to split the difference. For the calendar, I made fresh asparagus, suddenly plentiful and affordable again. And for the chilly weather, I made a satisfying pot roast, complete with chunky vegetables. Let’s start with that.

I’ve been on an oven braising kick lately. Soon the weather will heat up and I won’t want to do the same to the kitchen. But for now, it’s a great way to let tough cuts of meat like chuck roast get all nice and tender without drying out. You’ll find more about the technique here. My other pot roast recipe in the archives is a more exotic take on this humble, hearty meal, made with Biryani Curry Paste and pan roasted on the stovetop. I call it Terry’s Mysterious Pot Roast. You can use the stovetop technique for the more traditional recipe below, but honestly, oven braising will keep it more moist.

Pot Roast with Vegetables
Serves 4

2-1/2 to 3-pound boneless chuck roast [see Kitchen Notes]
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil [or other high smoke point oil]
1 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups broth [see Kitchen Notes]
3 to 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into big chunks
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
water, as needed
4 to 5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into big chunks [I used Yukon Gold]

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Pat chuck roast dry with paper towel, season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a roasting pan [make sure it has a tight-fitting lid—I used our beloved Staub La Cocotte oval roasting pan] over a medium-high flame. Add enough oil to coat bottom and sear roast on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Add wine, broth, carrots, onions, garlic and bay leaves around sides of roast, stirring to evenly distribute. Cover roasting pan and place in oven. Roast for 2 hours, checking after one hour to see if liquid is evaporating. Add water as needed to bring the liquid level partway up the side of the roast without submerging it completely—you want to braise it, not boil it.

At the end of 2 hours, add potatoes. Roast for another 30 to 45 minutes, until potatoes are done. Transfer roast to platter, tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Keep vegetables in roasting pan on stovetop until just before serving—the residual heat in the pan will keep them warm. Slice pot roast crosswise in 1/2-inch slices, transfer vegetables to a separate serving bowl and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Choosing a chuck roast. We’re lucky to have a source for nice, thick boneless roasts—2 to 3 inches think. Some stores sell bone-in roasts that are more like 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. Those will work fine too. The cooking time isn’t affected; this cut of meat needs plenty of cooking time to tenderize it. Whatever size roast you get, know that it will shrink in size during cooking, so err on the generous side; there are worse things than delicious leftover pot roast.

“Broth?” What kind of broth? Any kind. Chicken, beef. I used Superior Touch’s Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base because we had it and like it a lot. Heck, you could even use vegetable broth if you like—but with a big slab of beef, that would just seem silly, wouldn’t it?

And now for the calendar, the asparagus. You can keep your robins and crocus as harbingers of spring. For me, it’s bundles of beautiful, slender asparagus spears standing at attention in trays of ice or water in the produce market. Sure, you can find asparagus in the supermarket sporadically throughout the winter, but the quality varies wildly and the price is invariably exorbitant. Early spring begins the season of readily available, reliably tender, reasonably affordable asparagus. Later in the season, the fat, cigarlike stuff will be all you can find, but for now, I’m in asparagus heaven.

There are plenty of ways to dress up asparagus. Hollandaise sauce recipes abound, for instance, and I’ll admit that a cold spear wrapped in prosciutto is pretty tasty. You can grill it. You can roast it [toss it with a little olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, then roast it on a cookie sheet at 350-400ºF for 15 minutes]. But in the end, my favorite way to eat asparagus is also the simplest way to cook it. It’s so easy, in fact, that I hesitate to call it a recipe. But here goes anyway.

Steamed Asparagus

Fresh asparagus, 6 to 8 spears per serving

Rinse asparagus under cold running water. Trim off the tough ends of each spear. The easiest way to do this is grasp each spear near the base with the fingertips of both hands and bend. The woody end of the spear will naturally snap off. Discard ends. If you’re not going to cook it right away, stand it in a bowl of cold water to help it stay crisp.

Fill a lidded pot or skillet wide enough to accommodate the length of the spears with cold water to a depth of 1/2 inch or so. Bring it to a boil over a medium-high flame. Add asparagus spears, salt generously and cover. Steam the asparagus for 4 or 5 minutes, no longer. You will begin to smell the asparagus when it’s done. Scoop the asparagus from the water, transfer to a serving dish and serve.

See? Simple, simple, simple. And the best way to let its flavor shine through.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 4/2/2008

A museum! At night! With wine! We are so there. If you’re drinking while you’re geeking out, is it still geeky? In any case, it’s still fun, at WTF? Random food for thought.

More than three chords, but plenty raw. Old Time Relijun rocks out, with complexity, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia Scarpin April 2, 2008 at 11:25 am

Terry, I’ll tell you something about the 30ºC (86ºF) afternoons here. In the fall. :)
I love asparagus, love them! Not to mention that tulips are my favorite flowers. And that pot roast would be a good dinner for Joao sometime.
Thank you for the award, my friend. It means a lot to me!

Mary Coleman April 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Great recipe and the perfect choices for an Excellent award. Congrats to you as well! You deserve it.

Kalyn April 2, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I agree that the food blogging community is so fun to be a part of, and those of us who are passionate about making good food have so much fun learning from each other. Congrats on the award too!

Donald April 2, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Congratulations Terry on the award; well done!

As for the pot roast. To me, it is one of my most favorite comfort foods. I like mine with mushroom gravy!

Asparagus is good anyway you have it, IMO. I love it tossed in OO, roasted, and topped with Parmesan shavings.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) April 2, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Even as I’m anxious for Spring, I can’t quite let go of the craving for a good pot roast. Of course I am partial to the end piece, which I see you’ve taken for yourself! We’re a month or so away from local asparagus, and it’s taking every ounce of self-control not to buy the ones I see in the market.

Terry B April 2, 2008 at 7:29 pm

Patricia—Well, we’ve got warm weather on the way, and you’re heading for winter, so enjoy it while you can!

Mary—Thanks! Your current post of grilled flank steak and arugula looks pretty wonderful too.

Kalyn—The lovely Chinese dinner we all had when Blogher came to Chicago is a perfect example of the sense of community.

Donald—Hadn’t thought of Parmesan on roasted asparagus. Okay, that’s next.

Lydia—All I’ve got to say is you’ve got more willpower than I do. Local, market, whatever. I’d be all over fresh asparagus.

the italian dish April 2, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Wow, you just made one of my all time favorite meals. What a classic. It looks absolutely beautiful. I love the photography.

Melinda April 2, 2008 at 9:59 pm

A just award for you Terry!
I (really) love asparagus too. I might just dribble some butter over the asparagus, but your recipe is the one I follow. Simple and delicious!

Melissa Grossman April 2, 2008 at 11:11 pm

This blog is one of my favorites! The way you write about food has persuaded me to try some things that I might have otherwise never considered.

I live in the southeast. Do you want to know how warm it was today? Probably not. But, consider the trade off – we drown in pollen every spring, I kid you not.

At any rate – kudos on the justly deserved award.

Kevin April 3, 2008 at 12:56 am

That roast looks good! I am really looking forward to the fresh local asparagus!

Terry B April 3, 2008 at 1:18 am

ms. dish—Thanks! For a humble cut of meat, pot roast inspires great love, lust even.

Melinda—That’s slightly unfair. I mean, what doesn’t butter improve?

Thanks, Melissa! Thanks very much. I lived in St. Louis for many years, so I know all about pollen. On the other hand, they have luxuriously long springs.

Kevin—I must admit, I didn’t check the pedigree on my asparagus. We just greedily gobbled it up.

claudia (cook eat FRET) April 3, 2008 at 2:00 am

terry – your blog just gets better and better. and the pics are really really good.

wonderful post as usual

excessivemastication April 3, 2008 at 6:56 pm

As much as I love asparagus, at least some of it always tends to go bad on me. Is there any way I can keep asparagus for longer? It’s a week, but generally I’ll eat asparagus like five times within that week. And there’s still more. Hah

Terry B April 3, 2008 at 8:56 pm

Wow, Claudia. Thanks! I’m always impressed by the foods you choose to make and write about—and the interesting places you take them.

exessivemastication—Offhand, I’d suggest maybe eating before you go grocery shopping. That way, you might buy smaller quantities. But here’s what culinary portal chef2chef has to say about storing asparagus:

There are many schools of thought on this one, but here’s what we suggest. Remove the elastic bands immediately, they shorten the life of produce. Trim off the end of the stalks by an inch or so and stand them up in a hotel pan or small pot. Add warm water to the pan to cover the stalks by and inch or two and leave them that way for 30-45 minutes. Drain, add cold water, cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill. This will keep them as fresh as possible for a number of days. If you haven’t used all of it in that period of time, change the water in the pan.

ann April 4, 2008 at 12:47 am

Wow! I am so honored!! Thanks so much for the wonderful honor :-) I think you’re pretty excellent too Terry :-)

excessivemastication April 4, 2008 at 3:52 am

Thanks a bunch for the response–generally, unfortunately, I get the ones in big bundles. Luckily it’s almost farmer’s market season :)

Terry B April 4, 2008 at 4:53 am

Ann—You are so welcome. I just always know I’m going to find great photography and interesting stories when I visit your blog. I’m a sucker for great openings, and you totally won me over with your post that began, “I keep telling myself that the little old lady didn’t mean to do it, but I’m not really sure I believe it.”

excessive—You’re welcome. And honestly, there are worse fates than being forced to eat lots of asparagus!

Christina April 4, 2008 at 5:23 am

You rock, Terry. Here I am, just spending what time I don’t have sitting down at the computer for a second after I’ve checked in for my flight out to New Mexico and the wedding tomorrow, and I see that you mention me for the big E. Oh, thank you! I’m glad I took the second to sit down.

You most definitely deserve the E for Excellence. Your blog is stylish, yummy, well-written, and rich with kitchen and life.

Helmut April 4, 2008 at 8:55 am

The pot roast photo looks so tasty. Like the serving plate! In Germany asparagus season has just begun. Here the preference is for the white sort.

Mike of Mike's Table April 4, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Congrats and I entirely agree about the food blogging community. It was one thing when I was just an occasional reader, but I didn’t fully realize what I was getting into when I started one of my own. Given the experience and the good nature of the community, I’m very glad I did and proud to be in this good company. :-)

The pot roast sounds really tasty and the many asparagus suggestions are all great ones. The photos are also very nicely done–I really like the asparagus shot!

Terry B April 4, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Christina—Congratulations, best wishes and everything else to you and ECG! From the way your already lovely life together keeps bubbling up in your blog, I can tell the two of you are in for a long, happy life together.

Helmut—Very interesting about the white asparagus. To me, it always just looks sort of sickly, so I’ve never messed with it. As quite possibly everyone but me already knew, it’s the same variety as green asparagus, but grown with the stalks buried under a mound of sandy soil. Depriving it of light keeps it from forming chlorophyll—hence no green color. Tastewise, it is slightly milder than the green; that said, where it’s grown—the climate, soil conditions and such—can affect the flavor as much as whether it gets to see the sun or not.

Thanks, Mike. It’s a cool world, isn’t it? And I’m more impressed with your blog with every visit.

Jennifer Hess April 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Terry – congratulations on the well-deserved award, and thank you for your kind words!

Dolce April 7, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Congradulations on your award!!! It’s great when others recognize and appreciate your passion.

Pot roast is one of my favorite dishes. Growing up, it was the one meal my grandmother and I would make together. Thanks for the recipe.

katie April 7, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Pot roast with Asparagus!
That’s exactly the kind of weather we have been having, too. The barbecue is cleaned and ready to go – but still in the garage!
Congrats on the award ;-))

Terry B April 8, 2008 at 4:34 am

Jennifer—Speaking of well deserved, managing a really good food post nearly every day warrants an award of its own. And good luck with your impending move.

Dolce—So nice that you have memories of cooking with your grandmother!

Katie—I know you’re not from France, but you do live there. I think of barbecue grills as being so American, I’m having trouble picturing that. Hope the weather improves for both of us.

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