Sunday, November 2, 2008

Beef Pot Roast in Beer

braised beef sliced

::: Constables Larder has moved to http://constableslarder.com :::

Yesterday I decided to do another braise, and since so many of my creations lately have been tomato-based, I decided to riff off of the spice rub from a recent recipe from Sass & Veracity, her Beef Chuck with Vegetables in Red Wine. I used a dark beer and had a few other alterations, but the direction definitely came from Kelly.

But first I wanted to touch on an interesting discussion
that Kelly kicked off a few days later that was focused on food photography/blogging and revolving around "food photo snobbery". You should read her blog and the comments it elicited, but to pull a few lines, Kelly wrote: "The problems begin when a judgment is made about the quality of the dish by looking at the photo alone. If this is all about photos, then why post a recipe." She also noted to me "If one is taking the time to think about content and "readers" are only scanning the pretty photos, then blogging becomes as impersonal as a pretty cookbook can be."

I can't resist going big picture for a second. This notion of quality is a recurring one in this era of online creation. When blogging first gained traction, there were (and are) debates over writing quality. YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life -- wherever there is "user generated content" -- all spur discussions of good versus ugly.

I love this video by Ze Frank (Internet artist/philosopher for lack of a better description), where he's riffing on "ugly" MySpace pages, and how the lowered cost of creation tools is opening up design to everyone, which is a very cool thing. (Ze is a trip of non-stop ideas -- I once shared a taxi with him on the way to a conference and thought my head would explode, but in a good way).

When it comes to food blogs, I appreciate authors who put effort into their pictures (and I count Kelly as one of those). Food photography is damned hard. I'm fighting with it constantly, especially since I do not use fancy equipment of any kind. I like a blog post that shares not just via words and measurements, but through images as well. I've probably driven half of you away by this point with all this text and just one picture so far! But I sally on! My personal preference leans towards more natural photos, just as my food preferences lean towards "peasant food" rather than foams and haute cuisine.

Photography is an art form, and as such quality is a subjective thing. Everyone should have confidence in their own subjective tastes, and ignore self-appointed critics. Look to improve, but not to be something you are not! Robert Henri, an influential early-20th-century American painter (he led the Ash Can School / Group of 8), nailed it when he said of art: "The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified." (I should note that the Group of 8 got hammered by the art establishment of the time, so it's no surprise that Henri was saying "stuff your pedigree!")

Now, speaking of un-fancy photos, on to the pot roast, I mean braise, I mean whatever the heck it is! This one spent part of the time in the oven, and then was booted to the top of the stove to make room for Lisl's loaf of bread. If it is both a braise and a pot roast, that make it a broast?

And for the record, I find that it is very hard to take pretty photos of braises once plated. I tried for this meal and they were so damn boring, I left them off.

Beef Pot Roast in Beer

2 lb beef chuck roast
2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp brown sugar
6 slices smoked bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
base of a bunch of celery stalks
1 dark beer (I used a stout)
1 cup of water
2 large onions, loosely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 large carrots, peeled
Handful of medium red potatoes, peeled

Preheat oven to 350F. In a mortar, grind up your mustard seeds and black pepper, then mix in the other spices (salt, paprika, oregano, brown sugar). Rub the mix all over your roast.
braised beef rub

In a dutch oven on the stove top, cook the bacon until almost crispy, then remove. Sear the roast on both sides and remove, and deglaze the pot with the beer and water.

Add the roast back in, and sprinkle the bacon and onions around. I also chopped the "foot" off of some stalks of celery to add flavor, and tossed in an extra celery stalk, 4 cloves of garlic, and a couple bay leaves.
braised beef start

Let this cook for 20-30 minutes at 350F, then lower to 290F. At the hour mark, flip the roast. Let this cook for another 2 to 3 hours, flipping the roast once more, then basting it every 40 to 60 minutes or so. Keep an eye that the liquid doesn't get too low, and add some stock or water if it does (with the heat set this low, I did not have to add more). Add the carrots and potatoes with about 1 1/2 hours left and turn them about halfway through.

braised beef done

As noted, my pot was booted from the oven but I kept it warm at the lowest setting on our gas stovetop. I removed the roast, carved it across the grain (top picture), and served on a bed of egg noodles with the potatoes and carrots, generously spooning the fabulous liquid from the pot on top.

10 comments:

Ivy said...

You have made a lot of points in your post. We all wish we could have some lovely pictures because we feast with our eyes first and then with our mouth but how easy and practical is it when you have a hungry crowd waiting to eat? The only thing you can do at the time is just take a quick photo for the post and after dinner hope that there is leftover (which is seldom) to take another picture.

Although I am not a fan of beef your recipe sounds great and would like to cook it soon, with or without a picture.

FoodJunkie said...

How right you are! I mean, I love taking pictures and sometimes, after having tried the dish, the picture looks much tastier than the food I had (and cooked)! I love casseroles and have the same problem: they don't photograph well. But who cares? If the food is good, its good.

Stacey Snacks said...

Giff,
I agree with you. I like natural photos, not staged food STYLIST pics.
Yours always look real & down to earth, from a home kitchen, and your recipes look like regular cooks, like myself, could easily make them (and some of them are very complicated).
I am not a big fan of the staged photos, however, you will find me putting a chive flower on the plate one in a while!
I NEED A NEW CAMERA! (and maybe a food studio just for photos! ha!)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Well, I for one appreciated your words the most in this post, although the photos are pretty enticing. You've raised a number of issues that I think of often. My photos have improved, but, at marvel at others. And I have noticed that the prettiest photos get the most attention. By the way, I have got to try pot roast in beer. Both the photos, and the recipe, connected with me!

Giff said...

Ivy: I agree with you about the challenge. When you have hungry mouths who want to eat (and eat with your presence), there is little time to dabble with food styling. I try to think about how I am going to plate and shoot while I cook, and it either works or it doesn't. I'll take a few shots from different angles, and then see what happened later on the computer.

FoodJunkie: agreed!

Stacey: Thank you :) While I like natural shots, I'll admit that I appreciate a little styling, such as a carefully placed kitchen towel, or flower, or rustic wooden spoon, and good lighting and framing. I don't think I do it very well compared to Wrightfood or Smitten or Food Blogga (who is the master at effective use of kitchen towels), nor do I have much in the way of "props", but I enjoy it when I see it done well.

TW: Thanks. I agree that the prettiest photos get the most attention, and if one really cares about building traffic, raising the bar of food photography is pretty essential. It's not surprising - people are moving fast when they discover a new blog and look for quick quality filters (does this look good? can I relate to you? am I inspired?). For professional chefs, fair or not, the quick check is probably what restaurants they worked at.

Chef E said...

Great blog, and looks tasty! I also think some of my pics turn out good (the ones my photographer sister takes for me) and the ones I have done lately are good, bad, ok, good, bad(lots of yellow lighting), but its the blogging and recipes I am reading, not really all the pics, and the titles of the blogs pull you in!

kat said...

I think a decent picture can certainly draw you into a dish or recipe though, if that wasn't the case people wouldn't be interested in Tastespotting or Foodgawker. I just appreciate when someone tried their best to so what they are seeing when they make a dish. I know how hard it is to take those photo, especially if your kitchen isn't lit like a photo studio!
btw fantastic looking beef there!

Jessie said...

First, if there's a heaven, it better be full of meat cooked with beer. That looks absolutely divine.

Second, thanks for all your really thoughtful points on post quality and photography. Not having and fancy equipment or fantastic lighting myself, I struggle with photography constantly. First and foremost, I try to take the clearest pics I can, since eating and cooking are such multi-sensory experiences. And I couldn't agree more about realistic, unstyled photography. :D

Cheers!
+Jessie
a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

kellypea said...

Delicious looking hunk o' meat in that pot! I love a braise. In fact I've gone through the book you so graciously gifted me looking for the first recipe to make. They're all amazing and definitely calling for my complete attention.

I'm over my rant, but the opinions will stay. This is an interesting place, this business of food blogging. I'll never have a professional studio, and if I did, it wouldn't last long because I love hot food, and no waste. That means shooting nightly dinner is bound to produce photos that aren't always great, but that's okay. Yours are fabulous.

Maria said...

Good food looks good no matter what the pic is. I relate most to the blogs I find something personable in. Photos just offer another glimpse. I wouldn't personally base a comment or a re-visit to a blog just on a photo though.
Your broast looks delicious by the way!