Eating My Feelings in the Form of the Perfect Pot Roast

I’m human, so I must eat to survive, and I’m human, so I have feelings that are sometimes uncomfortable, unexplainable or irrational. That combo of humanity means I often “eat” my emotions, whether it’s a celebratory bowl of chocolate mousse or a comforting hunk of tender pot roast. Sometimes the result is pure elation and deliciousness and sometimes the result is just more itchy feelings and extra pounds on my derriere. Oh, the conundrum in which I find myself…

My sweet little dog, perfectly happy to eat the same food day after day after day.

As far as I know, humans are the only species on earth that eat not just to satiate hunger, but we eat when we’re happy, when we’re sad or when we’re just bored. I think it’s a pretty good assumption that our relationship with food is way more complex than that of say, a dog. If you have a dog that you feed the same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even the same treats over and over again, you know what I’m talking about. No matter what I put in my dog’s bowl for meal time, she sits at my feet, staring up at me eagerly, and then goes to town chomping down a combo of kibble and mushy mystery meat, licking up all the juices left in the corners of her bowl. Every. Single. Day. And still she’s happy, satisfied and nourished. If all of us could have the life a dog…

Back to being human. Our food decisions are complex, and if eating was simply about refueling our bodies, we wouldn’t have obesity issues and eating disorders. I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty sure there’s all sorts of synapses, releases and breakdowns, and chemical reactions going on inside our bodies and souls when we eat, triggering biological AND emotional sensations that make us eat even when we’re not hungry. Talk about complexity!

Pot Roast!
One of the most comforting dishes of food

For me, cooking and eating is about creativity…creativity in the pan, on the plate and on the palate. It’s an expression of pure, simple love. And as I wrote in a previous blog, I find solace when I cook. When I’m feeling content and light, a well-composed salad with lots of color looks especially appealing. When I’m feeling sort of blah and unsettled, I love a good braised meat and veggie dish, and when I’m downright uncomfortable, a big ole pot roast feels like a giant hug from the inside out. What better food to fill me up, literally and figuratively, and nourish me at the same time?

Pot roast is just plain comfortable — what, with its marvelously tender texture contrasted with bright orange carrots (if everything is cooked well, of course); and with its warming-cooking-liquid-turned-meaty-broth, it just might be the ultimate comfort food.  One bite of a perfectly cooked pot roast that effortlessly separates with just a fork, and my soul and my belly are reassured. Whether it was angst, distress or unease, it all just melts away with one simple bite. Any discomfort somehow tastes beefy, rich and delicious. I can’t think of a more perfect dish.

Perfect Midwestern Pot Roast

  • 1 3-4 lb. beef chuck roast (either bone-in or boneless is fine)
  • 2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • Lots of salt and pepper
  • 32 oz. of chicken or beef broth
  • 1 large onion cut into quarters
  • 2 stalks of celery cut into two-inch pieces
  • 3 carrots cut into two-inch pieces
  • 1 bunch of fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch of fresh rosemary
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into two pieces
  • 1 lemon cut in half
  • 12 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 small onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 carrots and/or parsnips, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 handfuls of small mixed potatoes
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Bring roast to room temperature and generously salt and pepper it. Heat oil in a large pan, preferably your crock pot pan if it’s heat-safe. Brown the roast on all sides (about five minutes per side). Transfer your pan to your crock pot and add broth through the garlic. Set your crock pot to high and leave for four hours, flipping the roast half way through cooking. Lower the heat to low and cook for another two hours, again flipping the roast half way through cooking.*

Remove the roast from the cooking liquid and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids (the veggies are mush at this point and sort of tasteless). Add the roast and reserved liquid back into your crock pot pan and add the fresh onion, carrots and potatoes. Cook in your crock pot another hour or until the veggies are tender to your liking. Serve roast pieces with cooked onions, carrots, potatoes and a ladle-full of broth.** Garnish with fresh parsley.

*Please note that every crock pot is different, so if you want to cook your roast over night or while you’re at work, set the temperature to low and leave it. It’s really hard to screw this up, so don’t stress if you’re not home to flip it or adjust the temperature.

**I prefer a thin broth-like gravy. If you want a thicker gravy, make a roux of flour and melted butter and whisk it into the cooking liquid once you’ve removed the roast to serve it. Cook for about 10 minutes, and it should incorporate, making the gravy a bit thicker.

Coziness in a pot.

By the way, I have to give a shout out to Snow Creek Ranch, a family ranch in Larkspur, Colorado. Plus, Snow Creek Ranch has roots in Kansas, and I have roots in Kansas, so I love them even more. They’re family owned and operated and raise their cattle humanely, “the old-fashioned way.” The hunk of meat I used in this recipe is a Snow Creek Ranch Larkspur roast. I bought one of their meat packages at the Denver South Pearl Street Farmers Market at end of the season, and I’m so glad I did!


Nothing Says “Slow Down” Quite Like Hearty Bolognese

It’s been a while since I wrote. I’m sorry for that. I have lots of reasons as to why, but I won’t bore you with those right now. Instead, I’m going to share a favorite quote and reminder this holiday season. Oh, and I’m sharing my hearty Bolognese recipe, too, to demonstrate just how great slowing down can be.

Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” In a season that’s supposed to be marked with gratitude, giving, peace, hope and love, but instead is surrounded by messages of excess, hyper-consumerism and busy-ness, Gandhi’s quote is a good reminder for us all to slow down.

I’ll admit, I participate in the holiday frenzy, too. But trying to do everything faster or bigger only leaves me with icky feelings of inadequacy. It’s time to slow down, take in the moment, and make a big pot of meaty sauce that only gets better the longer it simmers. Patience, my friend. Patience.

IMG_0670Hearty Bolognese Over Egg Noodles

  • 1 pound ground beef or veal
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound pancetta or regular bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup Italian red wine, such as Sangiovese or Chianti
  • 3 cups chicken broth (1-2 cups more if you like a thinner sauce)
  • 1/2 can tomato paste
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 cups cooked egg noodles or Pappardalle
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

In a large dutch oven or stock pot, brown the meat over medium-high heat with plenty of salt and pepper. Drain the rendered fat and discard. Put the browned meat in a bowl and set aside. In the same pan, cook the pancetta or bacon until just crisp. Drain the pancetta on paper towels, leaving the rendered fat in the pan. Add the chopped onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan and cook until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of olive oil if the veggies absorb all the pancetta fat before they’re fully cooked.

Add the cooked ground meat and pancetta back to the pan and then pour the wine into the pan, allowing it to deglaze any browned bits off the bottom. Cook for three minutes and then pour in the broth. Add the tomato paste, and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Leave all that meaty goodness to simmer for an hour or longer to let the flavors meld. At this point, feel free to add dried herbs, such as oregano, thyme or rosemary, to boost the flavor even more.

After simmering for an hour or so, add the milk to the sauce and let simmer for 15 minutes more. If the sauce is too thick, add more broth to reach the consistency you prefer. Season to taste. Divide cooked noodles into four bowls and top with a couple ladles full of bolognese. Finish with Parmesan and chopped parsley and more salt and pepper to taste. Then, sit back, relax and take your time filling your belly. Enjoy!