On Sunday, I spent the day cooking chili for the Helping Hands Chili Contest. No, I didn’t win, but was pleased with my chili. I told my good friend Christina Parker about my secret ingredient, and she picked my recipe out of the lineup in about two seconds. Even though I didn’t win, I am in no way disappointed in my showing, as every vote cast came in the form of a dollar bill which went straight to Helping Hands and all the good work they do.
Now we have to get into the Wayback Machine to travel across the gulf of a week-and-a-half between now and the night I cooked the roast. Lauren and I began our collaboration on next month’s Chocolate Affair fundraiser for the Janice Mason Art Museum, so we spent some of the time perusing tasty recipes. Though I pledged my assistance, I never was much of a cook of desserts.
Back to roast beef. I selected a nice two-and-a-half pound eye of round cut to cook. Eye of round is a relatively inexpensive cut that is uniform in shape, thus it cooks evenly. The roast started with a good washing. Pour iodized salt on the meat and rub it across the surface while rinsing it in cool water. Roast is good to serve rare because the inside of the meat is rarely contaminated. Just to be safe, I washed the outside. Blot it dry when finished.
Using a knife, I made about a dozen or so, inch-deep incisions across the joint of beef. With handy little pockets ready, I stuffed each slit with a whole, peeled clove of garlic. Though I doubt my mother would approve, I think garlic and beef are two of the best of friends. Now that the meat was laced with garlic, I took a page from my “Uncle Bill’s” playbook and coated the beef with plenty of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Over the holidays, I treated myself to a grinder filled with a variety of mixed peppercorns, and have used it in my cooking for the past month. I think this may have been one of the nicest, and certainly tastiest gifts I have ever given myself. With plenty of salt and pepper rubbed evenly across the roast, I was ready for the next step.
The next step is to sear the roast in a hot skillet. Take the largest skillet available and coat the bottom with plenty of oil. As the skillet needs to be hot, use an oil like canola. Bring the skillet to medium-to-medium high heat and drop the roast in, browning it on all sides. I should warn readers that this is a smoky process, so make sure you have ample ventilation.
With the roast brown, insert a meat thermometer into the top and place the meat into a baking pan. Rather than cooking it on a higher temperature, set the oven to about 200-220 degrees. The roast goes onto whichever rack allows the thermometer room to stand in the roast as it cooks. For the small roast I cooked, it took about two to three hours to cook. We’re not bringing it all the way to rare temperature with the heat on. When the meat reaches 120-125 degrees, shut the oven off and leave the door sealed. It’s a good idea to check the temperature every half hour. Once it reaches the 120-125 degree mark, and the oven goes off, the heat trapped in the oven will slowly bring the meat to the 135-140 degree point of perfect rareness. Slow cooking, I’ve learned from several sources, makes for tender beef. When finished, take it from the oven and carve it thinly.
Roast beef is never complete without a few condiments. I had a bit of prepared horseradish left from a previous roast. Take two tablespoons of the prepared horseradish, a teaspoon of minced garlic, and about a half cup of creamy horseradish sauce and blend it all together. For a little extra kick, I added a teaspoon of Cajun spice.
My second accompaniment for the roast came from mushrooms au jus. The “au jus” means simply, “with juice” from the meat. I sautéed half of a diced white onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until translucent before adding a half-pound of whole, washed white mushrooms. The mushrooms need a little bit of salt to sweat out their juices. I spiced them with a teaspoon of thyme and about a half teaspoon of that mixed pepper. When the mushrooms take on a “cooked” appearance, I added two cups of beef broth.
The broth itself is not the actual juice. When my roast was ready, I removed it to a plate and added a quarter cup of sherry to the roasting pan to stir it well and deglaze it. The wine and roast drippings went into the pot of jus. As the roast was carved, I added more juice straight to the jus, for more fresh roast flavor.
For a side dish, I made mashed sweet potatoes. For three of us, I selected three medium-to-large sweet potatoes and boiled them until tender. Once cooked, I scooped the orange yams right out of their skins and put them into a mixing bowl. Though tender, I softened them with three-quarters of a stick of butter. Seasoning reminded me of a sweet potato pie. Add a quarter cup of light brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a half-teaspoon of nutmeg and the same amount of vanilla extract. Mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher, or do what I do, and use the base of a drinking glass. If the potatoes need more butter, feel free to add a bit more.
With the thin roast beef, I gave my two diners a few cloves of garlic, a dollop of horseradish sauce and a ladle of the jus, with plenty of mushrooms on top. A little brown mustard is never lost on roast beef, either. The yams provided color and sweetness to a beefy and spicy cut of meat. Finally as a proper vegetable, I served some steamed broccoli. We sat down to a hearty meal, though Lauren had to pass on the horseradish. As big of a sushi aficionado as she is, she admitted she passes on the Japanese variation known as wasabi. Hawkins, on the other hand, never seems to get enough of the horseradish. Watching television, which in later weeks has included the animated comedy “Boondocks” and that night, a Christopher Walken movie, with roast, cacciatore or chili contests means a good time has been had by all. Good eating.