Thursday, March 6, 2014

Italian Pot Roast

The mission: cook dinner only with what you have on hand.  No special trips to the grocery store.  Only what is in your pantry, fridge or freezer.  Sound doable?
Now I’m one of those people that plans ahead before I go to the grocery store.  I know what I am cooking for dinner for the most part.  But I do end up with days with nothing planned, and I have to shake the freezer to see what falls out.  “Shaking the freezer” is big in my family.  Growing up, I can remember asking my mom what was for dinner.  She would say, “go shake the freezer and see what falls out.”  Usually we couldn’t even tell what it was until it defrosted....
So my challenge today was to cook dinner with nothing planned, only what I had on hand.  I found a chuck roast in the back of the freezer, a can of crushed tomatoes, some red wine, a box of rigatoni and some chive cream cheese.  No problem....Italian Pot Roast!  I figured I could throw the chuck roast in the slow cooker with the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, garlic, onion powder, dried basil, dried oregano, and a couple of bay leaves.  At the end, I knew I could melt in the cream cheese for a creamy and rich sauce.  The beef would get shredded and returned to the sauce, and the whole thing would be served with the rigatoni.
I knew it sounded good, but oh man, I had no idea how amazing it would be.  The beef was tender and moist, and the sauce was decadent perfection.  I’ll walk you through how I made it.
I started by browning my chuck roast in a little bit of olive oil.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you have to brown meat before you put in into a slow cooker.  Meat can get mushy and really unappetizing if you skip this step.
And keep in mind, this recipe would be fantastic with pork or chicken.  You’ll have to shake your freezer to see what falls out.
Once the meat is browned, I nestle it in the bottom of my slow cooker and then I top with with all of the ingredients I mentioned above, crushed tomatoes (or marinara sauce-use what you’ve got!), tomato paste for a deep rich flavor, red wine, garlic, onion powder, dried basil, dried oregano and a couple of bay leaves.
I have a pretty well stocked spice cabinet, but if you don’t...you probably have Italian seasoning on hand.  That will work too.  I also usually have tomato paste in my pantry, or some in the freezer.  Next time you make a recipe that calls for a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, save the rest in the freezer.  It freezes beautifully.
I let this cook all day, and after about eight hours, you will have the most tender, falling apart beef.  I shred the beef with two forks and then return it to the pot.  I also stir in the cream cheese which will quickly melt into the sauce.  

Like I said, I served this over rigatoni, but it would be fantastic over rice, potatoes or even on a sandwich.  Again, it depends on what you have in your pantry.
Next time you can’t figure out what to cook, or you think you don’t have anything on hand...shake your freezer, or fridge, or pantry!  Get creative.  You might end up with a winner!

Italian Pot Roast

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Meat, such as a rump roast, chuck roast, pork loin (3-4 pounds), 4 large pork chops, or 4 large chicken breasts

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes, or 1 24 ounce jar spaghetti sauce

1/3 cup tomato paste

1 cup red wine

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons crushed oregano (dried)

2 teaspoons crushed basil leaves (dried)

2 bay leaves

4 ounces chive cream cheese

Preheat large pot.  Add 3 tablespoons oil.  Brown meat on all sides over medium heat, about 4-5 minutes per side.  If using chicken, skip this step.

Add remaining ingredients, except for cream cheese, to slow cooker.  Add browned meat.  Set slow cooker to cook for 8 hours on low.

After 8 hours, remove meat to rest for 10 minutes.   Remove bay leaves and discard.  Skim fat off the sauce and add cream cheese.  Stir until melted.

Shred meat and return to slow cooker to heat through.

Serve over pasta, rice or potatoes.

Serves about 4-6