I just got a new slow cooker so I’ve been trying different things with it.  I also bought American Test Kitchen:  Slow Cooker Revolution. This book has some good information about how to use a slow cooker and has some interesting recipes.  I decided to start by making an Italian-Style Pot Roast.  The first thing I learned by reading the Test Kitchen book was that you can’t just dump all the ingredients in a slow cooker and expect the dish to have a lot of flavor.  You need to build flavor by using higher heat on the stove and then putting everything in the slow cooker for the duration.  One change I made to the recipe is that I cooked it the day before and put it overnight in the refrigerator.  I find that with slow cooked meat it always tastes better the next day.  Also, refrigerating it overnight makes it easier to remove a lot of the accumulated fat from the sauce.

First, I got my ingredients together. I put the chopped bacon into a big pan and cooked it over medium heat until it was crisp.  Next, I transferred the bacon to a plate and got rid of all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat.  Then, I added the onions, carrots, garlic, oregano, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms and red pepper flakes to the fat in the skillet and cooked the veggies until they were softened and lightly browned.

I added 1/2 cup of dry red wine to the skillet.  I used a good wine because it was only 1/2 cup and I planned on serving the rest with dinner.  I have heard many times that you should only cook with good wine — I don’t believe it.  Especially, if you have a recipe that requires a whole bottle of wine.  In that case, I often go get a bottle of two buck chuck from Trader Joe’s or something similar and save finer wine for drinking.  This isn’t much of a secret because I ran into a friend at Trader Joe’s last year and admitted that the 6 bottles of two buck chuck in my cart was for cooking.  I am not ashamed and you shouldn’t be either.  I think that the French or Italian peasant women that created recipes that require slow cooking otherwise tough meat in a bottle of wine did not spend a lot of money on that bottle of wine.  They probably made the wine themselves or got it from a neighbor.  Ok, now back to the recipe.

Oh, yes, the slow cooker.  I bet you were wondering when I was going to get to that.  So, here’s my slow cooker.  I put the bacon in my slow cooker along with the slightly brown vegetables and red wine.  Then, I added whole canned tomatoes (that I crushed with my hands), chicken broth, and two bay leaves.  I stirred everything well and then added my two 3 pound chuck roasts that I had tied with kitchen twine.  I just kind of loop the twine around the meat and tie a bunch of knots.  You may not have to do this — many butchers will do this for you.

I set the timer for 11 hours and sat back and enjoyed the Italian aromas filling my kitchen.  This is the part where you can leave the house and get on with your life while the meat is cooking.

After about 9 hours the meat was ready.  It was very tender and easy to pull apart with my fingers.  At this point, you can eat the meat.  However, I think that braised meat taste better the next day.  So, I put the meat and the sauce in a pot and put it in the refrigerator over night.  The next day, I scraped the layer of fat off the top of the pot.  I took out the meat and heated the sauce.  I added some salt, pepper, and fresh parsley to the sauce.

I like polenta with braised meat and it really isn’t that hard to make.  Just bring 4 cups of chicken broth or salted water or a combination of water and stock to a boil in a large pot.  Slowly add 1 cup of polenta.  Lower the heat to a simmer and stir the polenta until it thickens then add some butter and Parmesan cheese.  I served the meat on a bed of polenta and smothered it with a generous amount of sauce.  This takes a long time to cook so you do have to plan ahead; but, it is a very minimal amount of effort to make a meal that is truly enjoyable.

Italian-Style Pot Roast

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen:  Slow Cooker Revolution

Ingredients

8 ounces bacon (about 8 slices), chopped

2 onions, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons of fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

2 tablespoons of tomato paste

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed and minced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves

2 (2 1/2 – 3 pound) boneless beef chuck roasts, tied

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

1.  Cook bacon in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat left in skillet.

2.  Add onions, carrots, garlic, oregano, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms, and red pepper flakes to the fat in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.  Site in wine, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker.

3.  Stir tomatoes, broth, and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Season roasts with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9 to 11 hours on low.

4.  Take meat out of pot.  Pour sauce into another large pot.  Allow sauce and meat to cool to room temperature; then, put meat in pot with sauce and put pot in refrigerator overnight.

5.  The next day, remove the layer of fat that has accumulated on the top.  Take meat out and discard the bay leaves.  Heat pot (with sauce in it) on the stove over medium heat.  Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste; and, add parsley.

6.  Remove twine from the roast and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Serve over polenta and drizzle with sauce.

Polenta

Ingredients

4 cups of chicken broth or water or a mixture of the two

1 cup of polenta

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

Heat the broth or water or broth and water in a large pot over medium-high heat.  When the liquid comes to a boil add the polenta slowly to the pot and stir constantly.  Reduce the heat to low.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and smooth, about 5-10 minutes.  Take the pot off the burner.  Stir in the butter and cheese.

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