Sunday, January 27, 2013

roast beef and noodles

On my mother's side of the family the most requested "special meal" was roast beef and noodles.
No one knows if it is an Ohio thing or what, but the recipe came from my great-grandma Craig (mom's dad's mom). My grandma learned it after she married my grandpa, taught it to her daughters who taught it their daughters.
It is labor intensive and the most delicious food on the planet.
Roast beef and noodles is legend in my family: my sister made it the night before she had my first nephew and to this day swears that rolling out the noodles started her labor.
Growing up i watched every time it was made, eventually helping out. But since the meal only happens once or twice a year it took a while for me to finally be ready to try it myself.
The first time i did the whole meal on my own was Father's Day 1998. Yes, there is a scrapbook page about it. Since then i have made it... let's see... carry the 2... zero times.
So imagine my surprise and delight when i was told that we were having roast beef and noodles for Christmas dinner. And that i was cooking it.
You have to start with a nice piece of beef.

I know nothing about roasts.
I feel like we have used bottom rounds or chucks or something in the past, but i could be making that up in my head. Mom and her sister, Aunt CC, discussed the issue for a good, long while and decided that we needed an English roast.
Never even heard of it, but this lovely 9 pounder that the butcher cut for us looks pretty good.
It also looks pretty large.
Traditionally the roast is seared and then cooked in a dutch oven, but this meat was not going to fit into any dutch oven. Mom had foreseen this problem and had a ginormous crockpot in which to cook it.
After freaking out about the crockpot (listen, i only know one way to cook this splendid meal and was already feeling the pressure -self imposed, of course- to get it right so i feel justified in my teeny tiny meltdown about breaking tradition) and coming to peace about it, the next obstacle was how to brown it.
The meat has to be seared in a good amount of shortening to get the right flavor. No pot is big enough to hold, you can't really get a crock pot hot enough to sear, and i was afraid of setting the kitchen -or my skin- on fire with splattering grease if we tried a frying pan.
In the end we went with a frying pan/splatter shield combo that i felt somewhat confident about, though i did make my mommy leave the kitchen when i first introduced the meat to the hot pan just in case. I had to hold the roast in place with forks to brown the four short sides, but it was an unqualified success.

Transferring it across the kitchen to the crockpot was nerve-wracking,
 but i didn't drop it on the floor. Even the super big oval crockpot barely held the roast, but with some maneuvering and shoving i was able to cover it with water and get the lid in place.
Two hours on high, flip the meat and one more hour on low brought to medium rare. I took out the meat, let it rest, sliced it up and put the slices back into the crockpot with some broth on high to speed it to a juicy medium finish.
While the roast was cooking, i turned these three humble ingredients into homemade noodles.
Normally we use three room temperature eggs for a family, but with 10 people coming mom thought it best to use five.
 Basically, you beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork, salt them a little and add flour a little at a time until it is the correct consistency.

that rolling pin belonged to my grandma;
i want it
This is a lot harder than it sounds, so i did a full batch with 3 eggs, another with 2 eggs and then combined them when it was time to roll.

You roll and roll and roll and roll
and roll and roll until you have a thin layer roughly the size and shape of Australia. There is no width measurement that i can give you; again, it is done by feel.
Mixing with just a fork is tiring, but the rolling is the killer. I am not exaggerating when i say that you have to be careful not to sweat on the noodles when you roll.
 Our female ancestors were TOUGH, people; weaker sex, my a**.
Make sure the surface of the the noodles is liberally floured because then it gets cut into strips that are about this big (let's call it anywhere from three-quarters of an inch to one and a quarter inches; this is the final length of your noodles) and the strips get stacked on top of one another in piles of about six.

Personally, i cut the long strips in half (momma doesn't) because now we are at the part that is both hard and tedious: noodle cutting!
With a paring knife slice tiny, little, wee, itty-bitty pieces off of your stacks. This is the final width of the noodles. To get them thin enough i could only have three noodle strips in my pile, but mom was doing piles of four and piles of six (she does have like 50 years of experience on me).

After they are all cut, spread them out on a tea towel to dry.
You can make them the night ahead of time, but i wouldn't do it any sooner than that.
It took about 45 minutes, with both of us cutting at the same time, to finish cutting this five egg batch.
Complete prep time was probably about 2 hours
They may not look like much now, but wowza after they are cooked they are heaven.
All of the broth from the crockpot went into a dutch oven and i added beef broth and water to bring the level up to three-quarters full. At this point, it is much easier if two people are involved. Several handfuls of noodles go into a colander, the majority of the excess flour is shaken off over the sink and then carefully sprinkled into the boiling broth while constantly stirring. There is some debate about at what level of boiling you add the noodles, but i like it to be at a rolling boil.
Cooking the noodles is the next to last thing you do before serving the meal (potato mashing is done while they cook) so my sister had arrived by the time the noodles went in. I looked at her and said, I don't remember; how long do these take to cook? and she replied, Until they are done.
I rolled my eyes and looked to our mother who nodded, shrugged her shoulders and said Thirty minutes give or take; you just cook them till they are done.
And this is why old family recipes never make it into cookbooks.
Traditionally you are supposed to eat them with your meat and over mashed potatoes like gravy.
Yes, a starch on top of a starch; remember this is an old, country recipe from when food had to sustain the level of work people did every day. Personally, i think putting them on mashed potatoes just diminishes their flavor and takes up precious stomach space.
 If i could get away with it, i would eat noodles by themselves out of a bowl.
Or straight out of the pot.
With a ladle.
They are the yummiest food ever.
I love them more than steak.
 More than moni cheese.
More than the color pink.
More than glitter.
It had been at least six years since i had noodles and they were delicious.
In fact, they were so good that mom and i decided on New Year's Eve we had enough meat left to make another, smaller batch.
So, so, so, good.
As we were putting things away and straightening up to go to bed around 2am i joked that she should put the leftover noodles in separate containers because i was gonna eat mine for breakfast and didn't want to take more than my share (which i would because they are like crack to me and i can not resist the noodle). This is what i found in the fridge the next morning.
ahhhhhhh... family...

1 comment:

Rea said...

YUM! This is kinda how I make my noodles, just I don't make them so thin, or cut so small. I guess technically, I make dumplings.

Thank you for sharing!!