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…

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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.

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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!

 

Thou Shalt “Eat Local!”

I’m a big proponent of buying and eating seasonal, local food. It just tastes better, and when it comes to cooking and eating, in my book flavor trumps all else. I also like to support local communities, businesses and economies. Helping my neighbor is immediate and tangible, and it ultimately benefits me, too, when it comes to my quality of life. But what qualifies as local?

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Colorado veggies waiting to be roasted

In my not-so-distant previous career, I worked closely with Colorado Proud and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), promoting and encouraging consumers to buy Colorado food and ag products whenever possible. We were asked A LOT and had lots of discussions about what “local” is and means. Even before my stint with the CDA, I liked to support business based in the state in which I was living; I sought out food and other products when I was shopping; and I travelled and visited communities closer to home. When it comes to defining “local,” I’ve always considered it to be whatever state I happen to be in at the time.

Since venturing out on new career adventures, exploring food among other things, I’ve joined the international organization Slow Food. I love Slow Food’s message of slowing down when it comes to cooking, eating and mealtime. And as I mentioned above, I’m an advocate of seasonal, local food. To further its cause, Slow Food is challenging its members and eaters around the globe to eat local from October 16 through November 5. I’m in! Sort of. Wait, slow down. As I was reading the elements of the “challenge,” I noticed that one of the options was to pledge to “buy no imported food or products made over 200 miles away.”

Colorado is approximately 380 miles across and 280 miles north to south. According to the Slow Food Eat Local Challenge, I’ve just been cut off from foods grown and raised on Colorado’s Western Slope, one of the state’s largest and most important agricultural regions. Most of Colorado’s fruit and wine grapes are grown on the Western Slope. I’ve just savored the last of the season’s Palisade Peaches with a Late Season Peach Thyme Sorbet. And now, apples and pears are in season and ripe for the picking. Sure, Colorado’s Front Range and Eastern Plains have lots of bounty, but my favorite Colorado apples and pears come from Hotchkiss, more than 200 miles from my home. Even in the grocery stores that carry Colorado apples, those apples are from…you guessed it, the Western Slope.

I hosted another pop-up dinner demo recently, and in my quest to buy all local produce, I discovered the mid-week farmers market had shut down for the season. Boo hoo! Now, I could have driven dozens of miles in and around Denver looking for local endive, or I could go right across the street to my local grocery store and buy what I needed. And that’s what I did. I still looked at labels, seeking out Colorado products. If Colorado wasn’t available, I looked for stuff from the region and neighboring states. If that wasn’t available, I looked for food grown, raised or processed in the good ol’ U.S.A. As a last resort, I turned to our neighbors to the south.

And this is where seasonal comes in. I planned and prepared a menu with food I knew was in season. I served two dishes with figs (figs don’t grow in Colorado, but they do in California and they’re in season, so they’re abundant at the grocery store). I roasted cold-weather vegetables like cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. And I had a leek that I did buy at the farmers market several days prior. I didn’t have to turn to imported products because I was buying what was in season. While my menu wasn’t completely Colorado-grown, it was all in season and grown regionally. That works for me.

So back to “local.” Much like everything else in our world, the United States’ food system isn’t perfect. But it is the most abundant, safest, affordable system in the entire world. Less than two percent of our population grows and raises all the food the rest of us in the 98 percent consumes. As good and romantic as it sounds to only buy and eat products from within 200 miles of where you live, it’s completely unreasonable and unattainable for most of the population.

I respect organizations like Slow Food and the cause they’re pursuing. It’s admirable, and deep down, I’m on board, because it fits with my values and ideals. But if we want to make real change when it comes to our food system, we need to get people back in the kitchen, cooking and eating better, and we need to have a better definition of “local.” I think we should start with a better understanding of where our food comes from in the first place, who grows it, how it’s processed, how it’s prepared and the people preparing it. There is a disconnect between the people who grow food and the people who eat it and the gap is only getting wider.

So in my personal quest to reinvent myself and my career, I’m encouraging people to get back in the kitchen, to eat fresh and seasonal food, to shop in the outer aisles of the grocery store, and to celebrate the home cook, not just the celebrity chefs and food advocates with abundant staff and resources to tell us that the ideal is to eat food grown within an arbitrary radius of our homes.

That definition of local? To me, it’s anything from my current home state of Colorado. Every time I go to the grocery store, I make my own pledge to buy Colorado first. I encourage everyone who lives and works in Colorado to do the same.

Oh, I have so much more I’d like to write and say on this topic. It sort of gets me fired up. But, alas, I don’t want to lose focus. Instead, here is my seasonal menu from my latest pop-up dinner demo. As the harvest winds down and the weather gets colder, I’m working on more seasonal menus to share and get YOU back in the kitchen. Stay tuned!

Endive with apples, figs, walnuts, goat cheese and honey balsamic reduction

 Simple fall salad with sherry shallot vinaigrette, roasted figs and blue cheese

 Risotto with roasted purple cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, leeks and rotisserie chicken

 Late-season peach thyme sorbet with shortbread cookies