A lesson: Not all second-hand cookbooks from the seventies and eighties are adorably quaint, some are just plain terrible. Like most aspects of pop culture, you get the 'so-bad-it's-good' cookbook, which, if you're into that sort of thing, and I am, is why I continue to hold on to the QEII Cookbook with its Souffle Bowes-Lyon and tales of 24/7 caviar. Some of those cookbooks are genuinely uninspiring and dull though, and there's a reason you see them at every single opshop. One pearl of a book that I picked up for $2 in Waiuku about three years ago is Supercook's Supersavers Cookbook. Its title is dubious, its 1980 photography is dubious and even some of its contents are dubious (carrot and oatmeal soup ahoy) but I've ended up using it almost as much as any Nigella volume.
A recipe that I've made many times from this book is the Greek Pot Roast, which is brisket slowly braised in a cinnamon-spiced, tomato-y liquid and then served over pasta. I'm not sure what makes it wildly Greek, and there's something about the word 'braised' that's always sounded unsexy to me, but the idea of stew and spaghetti together appeals heaps and you could even call it "ragout" or something if you wanted to serve it to fancy people. Or just be straight up and see who your true friends are (if your true friends are all vegetarian then this probably isn't the best litmus test.)
Brisket costs hardly anything, but if you have the option of sourcing good quality meat, where you have an idea that the cow whose life was taken for your dinner had been reared in relative comfort, then so much the better. Brisket can sometimes come to you with more fat than actual meat, so choose carefully.
By the way, I'm aware that today's photos are terrible. Baking is always easier in winter because I can
wait till the next morning to snap it, but dinner has to be photographed on the spot, which means when it's pitch-black outside you're going to get weirdly exposed images like these. Still, at least it matches the book that the recipe came from. I look at some of those 70s and 80s cookbooks with their weird exposure and overdressed sets and wonder how a generation of designers actually stood back and thought "Dammit yes this harshly lit image of a pot roast sitting on a frilly tablecloth with carnations and apples strewn gently about makes me hungry."
Greek Pot Roast
From Supercook's Supersavers Cookbook, find it if you can.
1.4kg brisket, rolled and tied if possible (I always just leave it)
3 medium sized onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
150mls boiling stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste/passata
Note: I obviously don't use that much meat for just me and Tim. I reduce the meat to around 400-500g for us both and use just one or two onions, but keep everything else the same. Also I just crumble in half a good stock cube and 150mls hot water rather than heating up a tiny amount of stock in a pan - same diff.
Heat your oven to 150 C/300 F. Heat a little olive oil in a flameproof casserole and brown the meat on all sides. Set it aside while you gently fry the onions, garlic and spices. If you don't have a flameproof casserole, you could just do this in a frypan and then transfer it to an oven dish. Add the bay leaf, stock and tomato paste. Return the meat to the pan, cover and put it in the oven, leaving for at 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Serve over hot spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.
Or if you don't have Parmesan, you could use, um, frozen peas like I did. Not quite the same, but still a nice contrast. And cheaper. And adds small bursts of vitamin-rich greenness to the incessant meatiness of the brisket. This is delicious and so easy, hence why it has become a regular fixture. The slow, low cooking process breaks down the potentially tough brisket and turns it into something intensely tender and rich-flavoured, which falls apart at the mere sight of a fork looming menacingly towards it. The tomatoey braising liquid doesn't really reduce down or thicken up, but spooned carefully over the meat and pasta it's delicious - deeply flavoured with the cinnamon and bay, all of which absorbs into the tangle of spaghetti below.
I hope all (do I even have any?) Canterbury and South Island readers of this blog are doing okay after the huge earthquake on Friday night, and its follow-up aftershocks. It was a scary time here in Wellington - mind you I'm terrified of earthquakes and always have been - but over pretty quickly and with no damage. Meanwhile, many, many homes and buildings in Christchurch have been completely wrecked. It's incredibly good that not one person was killed, but there's still so much damage to deal with - and it doesn't help my nerves that the news media keep insisting that "the big one" is coming. Which means that every time I blink too hard I get nervous that it's the overture tremors of said "big one". Perspective though - I'm feeling very lucky to be sitting in my warm home with running water and electricity and to know that family and friends down in Christchurch are unharmed.
Title via: Errr...30 Rock's Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. "Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves!" To be fair, I couldn't find a youtube clip of Maury Levy telling Herc he's mishpocheh.
Elaine Stritch, Ladies Who Lunch, from Company. She's incredible, but sometimes when she looks at the camera it feels like I got lemon juice in my eye. Wish I could have that kind of effect on people when I say "does anyone still wear...a hat."
Mueve by Lido Pimienta. Read an interview with her in the new Real Groove magazine, looked her up on youtube and I'm entranced. It's dreamy and sunny and - bonus - all en Espanol! Cross-posted to 100s and 1000s because I like it that much.
Next time: Well the Supercooks book was so fruitful that I've made something else from it - the awesomely, awesomely named Grumble Pie. You don't know how hard it was not to push the poor brisket to the back of the queue AGAIN for this.