I used to think the only kind of meat dishes that were possible for a busy day were quickly grilled chops or stir-fries. But elegant roasts such as a rib eye or tenderloin of beef, shoulder or leg of lamb, and pork loins and hams (both fresh and cured) are much easier to cook than a steak--especially if you also need to prepare vegetables and get everything to come out at the same time.
I remember the first roast I fixed as a young bride more than 30 years ago. I invited my best friend's parents and the Van den Bergs, who were like second parents to me. I was terrified. I had never roasted a large piece of meat before. I rubbed it with seasonings and put it in the oven, set the timer and sat back, incredulous that this was all there was to it. It gave me time to set the table, do my hair and be completely relaxed when my guests arrived. It was miraculous.
Certain cuts of meat lend themselves to long, slow cooking, whether as roasts or as stews. These are usually the more flavorful, less tender cuts such as chuck, brisket and eye of round. Ground meat can also take a long cooking, either in Bolognese meat sauce (which cooks unattended all day) or a savory meat loaf, which is cooked, like a roast, according to weight.
Another advantage of cooking a large piece of meat or batch of stew is the bonus of reheatable leftovers, the biggest boon of all to busy cooks.
My friend Alma regularly prepares this brisket, varying it each time, sometimes adding potatoes, carrots or peas along with, or instead of, lima beans. Not only is this brisket tastier and easier to slice the next day, it also keeps nicely for several days.
ALMA'S BRISKET AND LIMAS ONE-POT MEAL
1 1/2 cups dried lima beans
1 (2- to 2 1/2-pound) brisket
3 large onions, chopped
4 cups red or rose wine, beef stock or water
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup brandy or dry Sherry
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 cups peeled and chunked vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peas, optional
Combine beans with water to cover by about 1 inch in large bowl. Soak 4 to 24 hours. Drain and set aside.
Heat large Dutch oven. Place brisket in it, brown meat on 1 side, then turn and brown other side. Add lima beans, onions, wine, garlic, bay leaves, oregano and rosemary. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 2 hours or bake at 300 degrees 2 hours. Brisket can be refrigerated at this point 1 to 2 days. Bring to boil on top of stove before continuing.
Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add brandy, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire and vegetables. Cover and simmer on low heat, or bake at 300 degrees until vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Remove bay leaves. Makes 4 servings.
Meat loaf doesn't take long to put together, though it takes its time in the oven. I must admit I love the smell of meat loaf as much as the taste. It's good freshly made, but it's even better reheated the next day, and the leftovers also make wonderful sandwiches. I double the recipe when I am able to and freeze one of the loaves for another time. This is very good to use for leftover cooked rice.
This meat loaf combines what Paul Prudhomme calls the "trinity" of Cajun cooking: onions, garlic and peppers. The horseradish gives it an extra zing, and you can vary the spiciness with additional hot pepper sauce.
CAJUN COUNTRY MEAT LOAF
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound hot sausage
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 to 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground pepper
2 strips bacon
1/4 cup beef stock
Combine beef, pork, sausage, onion, garlic, carrot, sweet red pepper, rice, eggs, 1/2 cup ketchup, mustard, horseradish, bread crumbs, chili powder, paprika, mustard seeds, cumin, fennel, cayenne, hot pepper sauce and salt and pepper to taste in large bowl. Shape mixture into loaf and place in greased 9x5-inch loaf pan. Top with bacon strips.
Bake at 375 degrees 30 minutes. Combine remaining 1/2 cup ketchup with beef stock and pour over meat. Continue baking 30 to 40 minutes longer. Remove from oven. Let cool in pan 10 minutes before removing and slicing. Meat loaf can be cooled, wrapped and frozen up to 3 months. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
On my first trip to Italy in 1971, I sat in a workingman's cafe in Bologna, trying to relate this Bolognese sauce to the long-cooked spaghetti sauces of my childhood. Unlike them, it was meaty, pale pink in color and, in fact, really had very little of what we think of as sauce. According to Marcella Hazan, who opened my eyes even more to the cooking of this region through her books and classes, Bolognese sauce is not traditionally served on spaghetti at all, but on any one of a number of other pastas.
Purists will applaud the addition of milk--which, as I learned from Hazan, tempers the acidity--but will decry the garlic and sugar, although I believe they round it out further.
This sauce cooks with little attention for a minimum of three hours. It likes even more time and needs a large, heavy pot. This makes two meals for four to six people. I usually serve one batch and freeze one.
If possible, reduce the wine and tomatoes and their juice separately. But if you have little time to watch, add them together after the milk has boiled away completely. The liquid in the sauce should be almost gone, with the meat and fat coating the pasta as a butter sauce would.
BOLOGNESE MEAT SAUCE
3 tablespoons oil
5 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 1/2 cups milk
Freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
1 cup water
3 pounds pasta such as tortellini, rigatoni, conchiglie, fusilli
Freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
Heat oil and 3 tablespoons butter in large pan. Add onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Crumble beef into pan and cook, stirring, until beef starts to look cooked, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add milk. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until milk has evaporated. Season to taste with pepper. Add nutmeg and wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until evaporated. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook over very low heat, uncovered, until liquid is evaporated. (Process can be interrupted now or at any point from here on and partially finished sauce may be refrigerated. To resume, return sauce to boil before lowering heat to simmer and continuing.)
When reduced, stir in water and let simmer again. Repeat process until mixture has cooked total 3 to 4 hours. (Fat will rise to surface and separate; this is necessary to coat pasta.) Season to taste with sugar, salt and pepper. Sauce will keep, refrigerated, 2 to 3 days, or can be frozen up to 3 months.
When ready to serve, toss hot sauce with cooked, drained pasta, remaining 2 tablespoons butter and Parmesan cheese to taste. Makes 8 to 12 servings.