Doing without

This cell phone conversation annoys me:

Person 1: Hello?

Person 2: Hi, it’s me, how are you?

Person 1: Fine, but I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now, I’m busy. Can I call you back later?

Person 2 thinks: Then why did you answer the phone?

It represents an epidemic of permanent indecisiveness, the fact that many people (myself included) are no longer capable of making a conscious choice between, say, doing what they’re doing on the computer and talking to the person on the other end of the phone. I’m as guilty as the next person: I always try to do both. It makes me crazy, so I’m trying to be better about deciding where to spend my time and then following up on that decision.

Case in point: Passover. Last week, when I realized Passover was approaching, I decided not to hold or attend a seder. I’m Jewish by religious law and the nose on my face, but I celebrate Passover the way most people celebrate Thanksgiving or Saint Patrick’s Day; for me, it’s about the food and the people and the stories and all that other schmaltzy stuff, not about God. I thought that making dinner would overtake the things I was supposed to remember and be thankful for, and figured I should choose one or the other over doing a bad job at both. So, I admit, doing without Passover this year was actually a conscious attempt to save time, one I’d planned to stick to until the 5 o’clock light came glinting in through the kitchen window late yesterday afternoon.

Then I got a little sad. I remembered the funny, irreverent seder service I’d found online last year and shared with friends who had never seen a seder plate, and started craving the brisket recipe my friend Rachel shared with me once for a piece I wrote on the holiday. I lassoed the dog and nonchalantly headed out on a walk, knowing full well that I’d end up at the grocery store even though we had perfectly serviceable leftovers in the fridge. I’d just pick up a small brisket, some whole-berry cranberry sauce, and Lipton onion soup mix and throw it in the oven. (Didn’t know white trash casserole cooking could collide with Jewish holiday cuisine? Oh, yes.)

By the time I got to the store, visions of matzo balls danced in my head. But the store didn’t have brisket, the cranberry sauce, or any form of any matzo product left.

So I improvised. I grabbed the cheapest cut of meat I could find, in this case a top round roast, and decided to nix the matzo ball soup. I used dried cranberries in place of the sauce, and still made it home in time to put it all in the oven by six, so we could eat around 8.

While we waited for the roast to braise, my husband and I sat at the kitchen counter, nibbling on the awesome pate I’d made a few days earlier (thank you, Jacques). I looked down at the perfect little croutons I’d made, feeling slightly guilty that I hadn’t put the effort into a real seder, or at least found a box of that good onion matzo for the pate.

Then I shrugged, and forgot about it. Because in the kitchen, what’s Passover about, if not just doing what you can with the ingredients and the time you have? (If you’re screaming “sacrilege!,” I agree.)

Recipe for Braised Top Round for Passover
Recipe 93 of 365

This is a version of a brisket my friend Rachel Horwitz’s family makes, only it uses top round instead of brisket, tomato sauce instead of ketchup, real onions instead of powdered, and dried cranberries instead of cranberry sauce. So it’s not really the same at all, but it’s what I was going for. You can also leave out the flour, if you’re avoiding chametz.

TIME: 35 minutes prep, plus 2 hours cooking time
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (2 1/2 pound) top round roast
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups red wine
1 (1-ounce) package Lipton or Kosher-for-Passover Onion Soup Mix
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 pound (8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a heavy, ovenproof pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven) over medium heat on the stovetop. Place the flour on a plate, and season it liberally with salt and pepper. Roll the roast in the flour mixture, coating it on all sides. (Reserve the flour for later use.) When the pot is hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl the pan to coat. Add the roast and brown it for 4 to 5 minutes per side, for about 25 minutes total, or until well browned on all sides, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning. Transfer the meat to a clean plate and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pot, then the onions, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften. Add the remaining flour to the onions, and stir to coat them on all sides. Cook for about a minute, then increase the heat to high and add the wine, scraping any remaining brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. When the mixture begins to simmer and has thickened a bit, remove the pot from the heat. Add the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Slide the meat back into the liquid, spoon some of the liquid over the meat, cover the pot, and cook for one hour. Carefully turn the meat over, replace the cover, and cook another hour, or until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with tongs.

Transfer the meat only to a cutting board, and slice thinly against the grain. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and return the sliced meat to the pan. Serve hot, as is, with bread, or over rice, gnocchi, mashed potatoes, Israeli couscous, or polenta.

5 Comments

Filed under Beef, jewish, recipe

5 responses to “Doing without

  1. Rachel H.

    For the record, my family uses real onions, sauteed, and not the soup mix. Happy Passover Jess! Question about another passover food for you: My meringues always come out a little chewy in the middle. Any idea why? I don’t think it’s just a timing issue.

  2. Ahhhh, sorry! So who can I credit the onion soup mix to? It was in the CCT recipe that printed, and it was my favorite part; now I’ll have to find out where it came from . . .

    On meringues: the humidity in MA could be a problem, for one. In general, though, as long as you’re drying them all the way in a low oven, you shouldn’t have a problem with HARD meringues (those made with about 4 T sugar per egg white). A meringue too low in sugar will always be soft in the center . . . maybe try a batch with a little more?

  3. Rachel H.

    Oh, the soup mix was definitely in the recipe when I sent it to you, we just never use it so I asked my dad why he wrote it that way for me to pass along. He said, “The soup mix got into the recipe as a short cut for those cooks who just can’t deal with cutting up onions and browning them.”

    I followed up by asking who PUT the soup mix in the recipe to start with. Dad said, “I don’t remember, but since I didn’t copy it from anywhere I suppose I might have done it.” So, um, apparently he put it in there just for you, in case your readers were fine handling huge pieces of meat, but didn’t want to deal with an onion…

    I’m pretty sure canned whole-berry cranberry sauce and ketchup make it into the pot though🙂

  4. Rachel's dad

    Hi Jess – The whole berry sauce is just sugar and berries, so if you’re going for the sweet and tart combination you’ve got to get the sugar from somewhere!! I also add fresh cranberries if I have them.

    Ketchup? Well, it’s a unique taste that either you like or not. tomato sauce is a different taste, so chacun a son gout, as the French would say.🙂

    Hope all is well with you.

    Bruce

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