Tuesday, November 1, 2011

bram stoker's pot roast

Happy Belated Halloween!

So, I was talking with my friend Valerie recently about my fascination with maps. This love affair with cartography began when I was in elementary school: my favorite subject next to English was social studies. Later, as a thirteen-year-old, I kept a journal; in it, there's a notebook page filled with the names of ten U.S. cities, chosen during a couple of summer days I spent poring over an atlas, where I'd decided I might want to live when I grew up. One example: the intriguingly named Snowflake, Arizona. When I got my driver's license, I became an avid railfan, so I have a box full of paper maps in the basement from my days of chasing trains on zigzagging back country roads. (Those days are far from over, actually.)   

In our current technological age, with the advent of Google Maps, I can freely explore new places, revisit old ones, and find all of the railroad tracks I want, anywhere on earth. Google's Street View makes this even better, because not only can I see a bird's-eye satellite view of a location, but I can virtually walk past it and see what it looks like from a Heather's-eye view. I do this a lot more often than I'm guessing the average person does. Over the past few months especially, it hasn't been unusual for D to come home and ask me what I did that day, and for me to answer, "Well, I walked past our old apartment on E. 101st and then I went to that little place in midtown where I used to buy jump rings," or "I was trying to find the restaurant where my parents and I ate one evening in Cañon City, Colorado, back in 1999," or "I spent the afternoon revisiting Paris/Venice/Seattle/Lenoir City."

So, last week when Valerie and I were talking, I told her that a couple of days before, I had been strolling through the real Dracula's hometownSighișoara, Romaniavia Google Street View. I also confided to her that my new mission is to spot a train passing by on Google Street View. The idea hit me after I happened to look "up" on a particular Tuscan freeway at dusk and see a beautiful waxing crescent moon, and I suddenly realized that these pictures were taken at random moments by a camera on a Google Maps car traveling through the region. Surely, these cameras might serendipitously catch other cool things, too?

At first I feared that I am the only weird individual in the world who combs Google Maps looking for out-of-the-ordinary stuff in the pics, but the Internet has this way of making a person feel simultaneously much less and much more isolated for being interested in something quirky. In fact, there's a Brazilian Tumblr page dedicated entirely to posting oddities in Google Street View photos, including, allegedly, a dead body covered in a bag and surrounded by police. (I can't verify this, as I only heard that such a picture existed for a short time before Google Maps quickly replaced it with something more innocuous).

I myself have been collecting particularly beautiful screen shots. I've been in Europe a lot lately:

near Catalonia

French countryside

Strait of Gibraltar

somewhere in the Tyrolean Alps

Anyway, Valerie said, "Wow, you need to find a way to work the maps and the Dracula thing into your cooking blog." I said, "Well... I did make a pot roast recently, and the gravy was kind of gruesome-looking (yet delicious)." 

This is probably a good time to mention that I have an extremely vivid imagination: one reason why I love maps so much. They're no fun unless you have the capacity to theorize what these places might be like in person. How would it be to live in Madagascar? Is the weather always as pretty in Palmas de Gran Canaria as it is in this picture? What's around that next corner, where the Street View is (infuriatingly) interrupted??

My powerful imagination also extends to other, not-so-fun stuff, though. For instance, since I already mentioned it, I think Dracula is one of the most terrifying novels I've ever read, owing largely to the epistolary form it takes. Every time I read those authentic-seeming letters and journal entries (as a fellow letter-writer and diarist myself), the story becomes as real to me as if it's happening for the first time. So, as Jonathan Harker gradually reveals the uncanny horrors that he witnesses and can't quite rationalize, I start to get really effing creeped out. Similarly, many modern zombie movies (for instance, The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later) seem totally plausible to me. I joke about it, but in all seriousness, I have a hard time not believing that a zombie is watching me every evening from the driveway with its dead eyes, biding its time and waiting for the opportune moment to lumber into the house and eat my brains. Whenever I admit this, D. always shakes his head and says, "Babe, you know zombies are impossible, right?"

Undead Undead Undead.
But back to the most important question: Would the Count himself like this pot roast? Well, I am of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I think he would appreciate that it has a thick, richly reduced cabernet sauce that's a lovely, dark reddish brown color, and that it's a big old slab of meat that even manages to stay a little pink in the middle despite its long cooking time. On the other hand, the pan sauce also has some hefty chunks of garlic in it.

Perhaps my pot roast would leave Dracula ambivalent. 

I made this for a "date weekend" with D. It cooked forever on a Friday, while I ran 7 miles, cleaned the house, and did lots of other errands. I had intended to make a proper pot roast, cooked at a constant temperature, but I kept cranking the heat lower and lower to account for the fact that I kept having to run out for stuff and dinner would be very late, and I didn't want it to dry out. This turned out deliciously saucy and super tender. I served this with some baked mac-and-cheese and roasted balsamic Brussels sprouts.


bram stoker's* pot roast
(a.k.a pot roast with chanterelle and red wine sauce)

1 oz. package dried chanterelle mushrooms
8 or 10 stems of fresh thyme, divided (tie it into 2 small bouquets with some thread or kitchen string)
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 2½-lb chuck blade roast
1 cup good cabernet
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 to 5 plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. onion powder
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
kosher sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Take roast out of the refrigerator about an hour before you're ready to cook it. Leave on counter in packaging and let it come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Make a quick mushroom broth: Bring equal parts dry white wine and water to a boil in a small saucepan, along with salt and one bouquet of the thyme. Add mushrooms and boil for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the pot to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are fully reconstituted. Strain broth into a container. Discard thyme bouquet and retain half of the mushrooms. (Save or freeze the other half.)

Heat a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Salt and pepper all sides of the chuck roast. Mix together flour, onion powder, salt, and pepper in a large bowl, and lightly dust all sides of roast. Discard leftover flour. Add canola oil to pot, crank up heat to medium-high, and add roast. Sear well on all sides (raising heat more, if necessary, to get it nice and brown), about 3 to 4 minutes per side, brushing a bit of Dijon mustard on each side as you turn it. Remove roast to a plate.

In the same unwashed pot, reduce heat and immediately add onions, butter, and a bit more oil, as well as bay leaves and a little salt and pepper. Sauté  onions for several minutes, adding a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary to keep them from scorching, and stirring them occasionally. Add garlic cloves and the rest of the thyme. Sauté  briefly.

Add cabernet and mushroom broth and deglaze the pan for a couple of minutes. Add chuck roast and half the chanterelles back to the pan. Turn the roast to coat with liquid, and pile some onions on top of it. Bring everything to a boil on the stovetop, and then immediately cover the pot partially (i.e. leave about a one-inch gap between lid and rim) and put it in the oven. Cook the roast for an hour, making sure the pan juices stay down at to a gentle simmer.

(Every 20 or 30 minutes for entire cooking time, turn the roast, spooning sauce over it and putting some onions back on top to keep it from drying out. If it gets to bubbling too enthusiastically, prop the lid open just a little bit more to let steam escape, so that it doesn’t get too hot. You want it to be just baaarely bubbling, so that the roast cooks low and slow and stays tender.)

Reduce heat to 275 degrees. Cook for another 2 hours. Reduce heat further to 225 degrees and cook for another hour. Remove thyme bouquet and bay leaves before serving.

* This pot roast not officially endorsed by Bram Stoker. :)

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