Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Mom’s Roast

In order to reward ourselves for a job well done (or, done, anyway) painting the house, my brother, my cousin and I planned a full weekend that would revolve around watching the first season of Fringe on blu-ray, and cooking (& eating) a delicious meal of mashed potatoes, peas & corn, and our Mom’s amazing roast beef. Trouble was, I’d never tried to make Mom’s roast before, and it pretty much goes without saying that Buddy had never tried, either. He doesn’t even own a measuring cup, much less a crock pot.

So, I was tasked with 1) retrieving the recipe from Mom, 2) purchasing the ingredients, 3) packing up my entire kitchen and transporting it to Buddy’s house, and 4) spearheading the cooking offensive. Unfortunately, none of those tasks were as easy as they sound.

1) Like any natural cook, Mom didn’t exactly have a recipe to give me. Oh, she knew what ingredients she uses (except for the main one, that is: Mom confessed that despite the fact that she’s been making this roast for over 25 years, she can never remember what type of meat to buy and always has to ask the butcher; that’s my mama) but she had no idea what to tell me with regard to the amounts. In the end, my approximation of the recipe looked like this:

  • the kind of roast that falls apart when you poke it – stringy
  • ¼ c. cup lemon juice, ¾ c. worcestershire sauce, ¼ c. soy sauce, lemon pepper & garlic salt

2) At the grocery store on Saturday morning I wandered bewildered in the meat department before getting up the guts to ask the butcher, and then I realized I had no idea how much meat to ask for. So I whipped out the cell phone and called Mom again. 4-5 pounds, apparently. Ok. So I went up to the counter and, feeling like a total buffoon, asked, “I’m looking for the kind of beef roast that falls apart when you poke it…” Turns out, it’s a chuck roast. They cut a five-pounder especially for me.

3) Saturday morning was truly a flurry of phone calls and text messages. Turns out, Buddy does not own: a potato peeler, a large pot for cooking potatoes, a colander, a mixer, a measuring cup (?!), a cutting board, large sharp knives, or a crock pot. I don’t like to play into gender stereotypes, but at times I do feel that the “Bachelor” archetype fits my brother so well it’s eerie. Anyway, thank goodness for my stockpile of canvas bags – I used nearly all of them packing up the necessary dishes, tools, and spices.

4) The cooking effort turned out to be a little more difficult than predicted. We thought, “It’s a roast, right? Set it and forget it!” But it turns out, if you set it too low, and you try to gauge the done-ness of a five pound roast by looking at only the outermost inch, you’re going to end up with a very raw hunk of meat three hours later. And then your potatoes will be ready and your bellies will be empty, but your roast will need another 1.5 hours in the crock pot – this time on high.

So, yeah, I guess it didn’t turn out quite as well as we’d hoped. We cut it into smaller chunks to make it easier to monitor, but cooking it on high made it a lot tougher than Mom’s roast is supposed to be. I mean, it was still really good, and Jeff (who made a face when I poured the soy sauce in the crock pot) thought it was great, but Buddy and I were a little disappointed.

Lesson learned: 25 years of cooking experience counts for something. Even if you can’t remember the relevant butcher-terminology. Don’t expect to be able to duplicate Mom’s Anything on the first time out. And don’t let a failure stop you from trying again. I hope to get Roast: Round 2 on the calendar with Buddy & Jeff soon, in order to make sure it happens before I leave for New York. Cross your fingers for a happy follow up to this roast post…

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