Meat and potatoes, plus some bread, warm the soul

News-DemocratFebruary 3, 2014 

Pull up a chair. Take off your scarf and your hat and coat -- but especially those boots. No tracking melting ice and snow onto a clean kitchen floor.

If the scent of simmering pot roast doesn't make you reach for a fork, maybe the pot of mashed potatoes on the stove will.

And, if you want to overload your sense of smell, you might enjoy the lingering aroma of fresh-baked bread, sliced and snuggled in a basket with a clean towel over the top. Somebody better get the butter out of the fridge.

If this winter has shown us anything, beside how numb our toes can get sitting in a cold car waiting for it to warm up, it's that coming home to a meal of comfort food does help banish the chills. It makes the skies look a bit less gray. It allows us to think about bundling up the next morning to leave the house less daunting.

For many Midwesterners, growing up meant eating meat and potatoes for dinner. Nothing exotic; always dependable. But, not the kind of food that should be taken less seriously because it is simple.

A great pot roast needs a bit of attention because it takes a few hours in the oven to cook. Mashed potatoes are an art, so follow the advice offered here. And batter bread, while not needing kneading, means you have to be willing to set aside your fears of yeast and just do it!

This recipe presents a great opportunity to use imported Italian dried porcini mushrooms, but it can be made with a tub of the inexpensive dried mushrooms (brand name: Kirsch) found near canned mushrooms in the supermarket and still be delicious.

DOUBLE-MUSHROOM POT ROAST

1 ounce dried mushrooms

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)

Salt

4 cloves garlic, chopped

12 ounces fresh wild mushrooms (cremini, baby bella, shiitake), thinly sliced (about 4 cups), divided in half

1/4 cup flour

1 (4- to 5-pound) pot roast

2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse dried mushrooms in cold water to remove any dirt. Place in a heat-proof vessel and pour 11/2 cups of boiling water over them. Soak for 15 minutes, or until they start to soften. Remove mushrooms from liquid, squeezing them to release as much liquid as possible, then chop. Strain liquid through a fine-mesh sieve to catch remaining grit and reserve.

2. Pour a thin layer of oil in the bottom of a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add onions and a big pinch of salt. Cover pan and cook until onions give up most of their moisture, about 10 minutes, then uncover and, stirring occasionally, saute onions until they are golden-brown, about 15 minutes.

Add garlic and saute a few moments longer.

Add dried mushrooms, half of the fresh mushrooms and the mushroom-soaking liquid and bring mixture to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir to mix well.

3. Season roast all over with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan just large enough to hold it. Pour contents of saute pan over meat. Nestle sprigs of thyme around the meat.

Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil or a tight-fitting lid and bake 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degrees and continue cooking until a metal skewer can be easily plunged into the thickest part of the roast, up to 5 hours for a thicker roast. You want the liquid in the pan to simmer as slowly as possible -- just the occasional bubble.

4. Remove cooked roast to a platter or cutting board and let rest until it is only warm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Scrape sauce into a saucepan, add remaining fresh mushrooms and, over medium-high heat, reduce until slightly thickened. Slice the meat across the grain and place in a smaller baking pan (it will have shrunk substantially). Pour reduced sauce over and around the sliced meat. At this point, pan can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

5. To serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover pan with foil or lid, and bake until mushrooms are tender and roast is heated through, about 30 minutes, 40 if it has been refrigerated. Makes 8 servings.

Erica Marcus, Newsday

Use russet or Yukon Gold when making mashed potatoes.

As for how to cook them, chefs disagree on whether to peel and cut potatoes before cooking them.

Potatoes cut into chunks before cooking can absorb too much water and have a soggy texture and washed-out flavor, some experts say. However, when potatoes are cooked whole they sometimes produce inconsistent results.

Choose the method that works best for you, but use care to not overcook cubed potatoes or undercook whole ones.

Drain potatoes well; the drier the better for absorbing milk and butter.

CLASSIC MASHED POTATOES

2 pounds russet potatoes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup half and half, warmed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are just tender and a paring knife can be slipped in and out of potatoes with little resistance, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

Set ricer or food mill over now-empty saucepan. Using a pot holder to hold potatoes and paring knife, peel skins from potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into large chunks and press or mill into saucepan. Stir in butter until incorporated. Gently whisk in half-and-half, add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and season with pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If you don't have a mill or ricer, it is OK to use a masher.

"Cook's Illustrated: The Science of Good Cooking"

Baking bread can be simple, it's just time-consuming when you have to knead it for 20 minutes, and let it rise a couple of times, says Sharon Thompson of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky.

When you make batter bread, you get a delicious-tasting loaf of bread in half the time. Batter yeast breads are easy to mix and rise quickly. They don't have to be shaped because they take on the shape of the pan or bowl in which they are baked. The bread can be baked in cake pans, casserole dishes, pie plates, coffee cans, muffin tins or a cast-iron skillet.

It's important to remember to fill containers half full to allow space for rising.

Because the dough is not kneaded, the bread turns out coarser in shape and texture than bread prepared with kneaded dough. Since it has a higher ratio of liquid to flour and other dry ingredients, beating the batter a few minutes develops the gluten, though not as much as a kneaded bread. The dough rises only once, in the bread pan.

Batter breads generally do not rise as high as kneaded breads, but they provide a wonderful smell of yeast bread throughout the house, and the taste is delightful.

EASY BATTER BREAD

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 envelope RapidRise yeast

3 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, sugar and salt in a large mixer bowl. Heat water, milk and butter until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Butter does not need to melt. Add milk mixture. Beat until well combined with flat or paddle beater. Gradually add remaining 2 1/2 to 3 cups flour, or enough flour to make a stiff batter. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Cover and let rest about 10 minutes.

Stir batter down. Beat vigorously for about 30 seconds. Pour batter into a greased 9- by 5-inch loaf pan and let rise until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Fleischmann's Yeast

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