So a couple of weeks ago, my 81-year-old dad fell down. He’s fine; he didn’t break anything; we were very lucky. But suddenly the guy who was extremely independent and a regular at every greasy spoon in town was shaky on his feet and not willing to leave the house. He’s getting around okay with a walker, but he’s still really awkward with it. (And I don’t think he wants his favorite waitresses to see him using a walker, but that’s a whole other issue.) The upshot is, my sisters and I and our darling husbands have been taking turns being Dad’s own personal Meals on Wheels, which means that some nights when me and the Evil Genius would make do with a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips, I’m having to produce an actual dinner. And for a Writer Girl, that can be challenging.
But I have a slow cooker, and this ain’t my first dance. And some of the homiest, Sunday-dinner-at-Granny’s-house-iest meals are actually dead easy to pull together, and Cracker Barrel can suck it. Pot roast, for example. If you look it up on the Food Network or an actual foodie blog, you’ll read about bundles of fresh thyme and peeling potatoes and words like “sear” and “braise” and “pan juices.” And those recipes are awesome; I use them when I have the time. But for a Wednesday night supper when I’ve got a gothic romance to write, I do it like this.
1 2-pound chuck roast
1 stick of butter
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons of minced onion or one onion peeled and cut into wedges
Freshly cracked pepper (don’t panic; they sell it in disposable pepper mills at the Wal-Mart these days)
A generous slosh of worcestershire sauce (maybe 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup water
2 cans of beef consommé
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Another 1/2 stick of butter
Another tablespoon of worcestershire sauce
3 cups of cooked rice (or a plastic tub of plain microwave mashed potatoes if you’re a Yankee)
1 can of peas or green beans
Before you leave for work (or as late as on your lunch hour if you’re like I was yesterday and forget before work), put the chuck roast in the slow cooker. No, you do not have to flour and sear it first. Just stick the hunk of meat in the Crock Pot. Break your first stick of butter in half and drop it on top of the roast. Unwrap the bouillon cubes and drop them in, too. Season with pepper. (You do NOT need more salt if you’re using two bouillon cubes, trust me.) Slosh on the worcestershire sauce and the half cup of water. Sprinkle or drop in the onions. Put the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on low, walk away. (If you’re doing this on your lunch hour, turn it on high for half an hour, then turn it down to low.) Leave it for the next 6 hours.
30-45 minutes before you want to eat, start your rice. (If you’re eating Yankee potatoes instead, wait until you finish everything else to nuke them in the microwave.) 30 minutes before supper, turn the slow cooker down to warm and ladle out some of the juice into a measuring cup. If you have one of those groovy cups that skims off the fat, by all means use that; otherwise, skim off as much as you can with a tablespoon. Open your can of peas or green beans, pour them in a pot, heat them over medium-low heat. (For peas, I just pour them in; for green beans, I drain them, replace the liquid with tap water, and season with a tablespoon of the juice from the slow cooker.)
Melt the half stick of butter in a saucepan or small skillet on medium-high heat, whisk in the flour, cook and whisk for about a minute to get rid of the flour taste, add the two cans of consommé and beef juices, whisk as it thickens into gravy. I usually do this a little at a time to get the consistency I want. If it’s too thick, you can add hot water. If it’s too thin, you can add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce.
Put your roast on a platter, chunk it up with a serrated knife. (It will be too tender to actually slice.) Slather the meat and the rice or potatoes with gravy, serve the green veggie on the side. Flip off the Cracker Barrel the next time you drive past because trust me, you make way, way better pot roast.
Serves 4-6 depending on how hungry everybody is and whether or not you have dessert.