Introduction: Cooking Food - Making a Yankee Pot Roast (it's Easier Than You Might Think)

Over the last year, I have learned that a great many of the minor complaints from which I'd been suffering for some time, which I had been writing off as inevitable consequences of aging, were rather direct consequences of the fundamentally unhealthy diet I'd been eating for most of my life. Fortunately, I'd figured this out, and have managed to reverse things in time. Had I not, I'd have been fully diabetic in a very few years.

As a consequence, I've become something of an advocate for eating actual food, instead of the endless rows of processed food-like products that fill our grocery stores (not to mention vending machines and fast-food outlets.)

In my case, because of the significant degree of insulin resistance that I had developed, I've been strictly limiting my non-fiber carbohydrate intake. I do not at all believe that everyone needs to restrict carbs to the degree that I had. Not everyone has a metabolism in as bad a shape as was mine.

But I strongly believe that everyone would be a lot better off if they ate actual food. You know, the stuff you find at the grocery store that doesn't come in a box with a bar-code.

It''s turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be, back when I was living on take-out pizza.

So, in this I'ble, I'll demonstrate how I make a Yankee Pot Roast, starting with a couple of hunks of meat, a few spices, and some of those odd-looking things you can find in the produce section - vegetables.

Step 1: Ingredients

The ingredients for a pot roast are simple - a big hunk of meat, a bunch of root vegetables, and some spices.

Generally, the meat is beef of a cut that is high in collagen, which would be tough and stringy unless cooked for a very long time. Oddly enough, these are exactly the cuts of meat that have the most flavor. So while you could cook a pot roast with a nice cut of sirloin, it'd not only be a waste of money, it'd have less flavor.

I usually use chuck roast. And since I'm cooking for the freezer and have a good-sized, six-quart slow-cooker, I usually use two three-pound roasts.

The traditional vegetables for a pot roast are potatoes and parsnips, along with carrots and onions. I'm eating low-carb, and both potatoes and parsnips are high-carb vegetables, so I use turnips, rutabagas (aka swedes, or swedish turnups), and celeriac (aka celery root) in their place. Turnips and celeriac are moderate in carbs, rurabagas less so, but still less than potatoes.

The traditional spices are rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves. And you'll want to add some beef stock. If you're as out-of-touch with actual cooking as I used to be, you might wonder why we'd want to add beef stock to a beef dish, when we'd be getting plenty of beef flavoring from the meat as it cooked. The answer is simple - beef stock isn't made from beef, it's made from bones. And it carries nutrients and flavors that simply aren't in the meat.

Step 2: Peeling

Peeling vegetables isn't very exciting, but it's easy, and doesn't take long.

I do it in a colendar in the sink, for easy cleanup.

Rutabagas just peel. Carrots, the same. With turnips, I cut off the stalk, and then peel.

Celeriac has an odd shape which is hard to work with, and a very uneven rind which takes forever to peel with a peeler. With it, I cut off the stalk to make a side which is stable on the cutting board, then cut it into wedges. The wedges I then hold on the cutting board and cut off the rind with a knife.

All of these get cut into one-inch pieces, and placed in a large bowl.

Step 3: Chopping Onions

I know a lot of people have trouble chopping onions. I know I used to. But I've figured out a technique that works well enough for me.

I start by cutting each in half. Then on each half I make a series of radial cuts, straight out from the center, leaving the center connected.

Then I cut each half in half again, so that I can place each quarter flat on the cutting board. Then I cut it into slices. The result is a bunch of onion wedges, rather than small diced pieces, which is what I want for a pot roast.

The onions go into the bowl with the other veggies, then the covered bowl goes into the refrigerator.

By the timestamps on the photos, this process took me a total of 29 minutes - which included the time to set up and to take the photographs.  If I'd not been photographing every step, it'd not have taken more than 10-15 minutes.

It went into the fridge because cooking a pot roast takes eight hours or so in a slow cooker, and I prefer having it finish up when I get home from work in the evening, rather than when I get up in the morning.

Step 4: Starting the Cook

In the morning, I start the whole thing cooking.

Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with vegetables.

Add the spices: I used one teaspoon of thyme, two teaspoons of rosemary, and four bay leaves.

Then add the meat, and pack the space around with more vegetables.

You want the lid to close completely, without gaps, but it need do so only just. I always end up with a bit more vegetables than will fit. When everything is packed in, pour the beef broth over everything.

Then turn the slow cooker to "low", and let it cook for 8-10 hours.

Elapsed time between the first and last pictures: 9 minutes

Step 5: Finishing the Cook

When I was a kid, and my mother made pot roasts, she'd just serve out of the pot. Me, I'm not feeding a family of six, so most of any pot roast I cook goes into the freezer. Especially when I make a double, like this.

So I spoon vegetables into a bowl, until I can pick up the roast without spilling veggies all over the counter, and then move the roast to a plate.  What's left in the pot after you're done is a really great stock that can be used as au jus, or turned into a great gravy with just a bit of thickener. (Corn starch is most common, but if you're low carb you might prefer xantham gum.) But one way or another, don't throw the stock away. A large portion of the vitamins and minerals that were in the meat and in the vegetables end up dissolved in the water and in the fat that make up this stock. You really don't want to throw it away.

With the roasts out on a plate, it's easy to cut it into pieces for single-serving freezer containers. Except that if you cooked it right, it sorta falls apart when pulled, and doesn't actually need to be cut. And then to spoon the vegetables in as well.

And, of course, to spoon one serving into a bowl to be eaten tonight. I like to get one non-microwaved meal out of every batch.

Time to package everything up: 31 minutes.

Total time: 29 minutes to prep the vegetables, plus 9 minutes to load the pot, plus 31 minutes to get everything broken down into individual freezer containers - one hour, nine minutes.  And that's with stopping to set up the camera shots. Absent that, it'd have been 20-30 minutes, total.

And for that, I ended up with nine substantial, filling, and healthy meals.