If there are 52 Sundays in a year’s time, and Mimi cooked roast beef a lot on Sundays, then we probably had roast beef Sunday dinners maybe 40 out of 52 Sundays. The way Mimi cooked roast beef, you never got tired of it, so it was no problem to eat it almost every Sunday.
A roast beef Sunday dinner menu:
- roast beef and gravy
- Mahatma white rice
- green beans (sometimes with new potatoes)
- brown-n-serve rolls (sadly, this is “not scratch”)
- Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake for dessert
Now this particular menu lineup was not necessarily set in stone, but pretty much if you had roast beef, you’d have the rest of it. For instance, for some reason Mimi didn’t usually have butterbeans with the roast. Butterbeans were more the type of vegetable that we had with fried chicken or fried pork chops…that’s just how it was.
The gravy varied from a thin pan juice (my favorite) to gravy thickened with flour and water…also very good; it just depended on Mimi’s cooking mood that day.
White rice—was basmati even INVENTED back then??? A rhetorical question, if you will.
The fresh green beans were always delicious, and even though there was a starch hanging around in the form of white rice, a few potatoes added to the starch offering via the green beans were okay.
The squash were of the yellow crookneck variety, of course…just your ordinary delicious from-the-southern-garden squash. Mimi would scrub them a little to get the garden dirt off, slice them into medium-size chunks, slice up some Vidalia onion and green bell pepper in small pieces, put squash, onion, and bell pepper in a pot of salted water (just enough to cover), bring to a boil, and then simmer until just soft.
Then drain, put into a LIGHTLY buttered Pyrex dish, dot some butter chunks (remember…Land O’Lakes unsalted butter) over the top, and “cook” in a 350 degree oven maybe 20 minutes. Since the squash was already cooked, of course, this 350 action was just to get things heated through good.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE…this post is supposed to be about how to cook a roast beef!! I got so full of looove about the squash that I got sidetracked!! But let’s quickly finish the menu first.
Brown-n-serve rolls. Not scratch, but you just didn’t serve biscuits, hoecake, or cornbread with roast beef. Sometimes Mimi would get inspired and make some what she called “angel biscuits” which were a delicious quick yeast bread, but, more often than not, it was good old brown-n-serve rolls.
Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad. This is where my younger sister and I pleasantly have a difference of opinion. Younger sister says…if we had strawberry shortcake for dessert we never had Waldorf salad. Well, I just don’t know if I agree with that or not. Must ask older sister and see what she says.
Strawberry shortcake. Sometimes we called it that, sometimes we said when we were done eating (that’s some strong vernacular talk there) “go get the pound cake and strawberries and whipped cream out for dessert”.
So, let’s see…before the roast beef cooking lesson, let’s recap what recipes need to be discussed in later posts:
- white rice (really very easy—just have to watch the sticking)
- green beans and new potatoes
- squash (see the above “how-to” when got sidetracked)
- brown-n-serve rolls (go to store, buy, read directions)
- angel biscuits (now we’re talking)
- Waldorf salad
- congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake
ROAST BEEF COOKING DIRECTIONS, FINALLY
Mimi always bought a rump roast (and I always just hated having to hear that word or even say it and when I got older and knew that touching raw meat was just part of life and if I went to the grocery store I might have to ask the meat guy do you have any rump roasts if I didn’t see any in the meat counter and that would remind everybody within hearing distance of “rumps” like your “hiney” and it could just potentially be so embarrassing or awkward…I did LOTS of over-thinking in my earlier years).
And I swear on a stack of Bibles that it’s not the word “rump” that made me switch to buying a sirloin tip roast for my roast beef cookings; a sirloin tip just seems tenderer to me somehow.
So, you can get a rump roast, a sirloin tip roast, maybe even a chuck roast (ummm…maybe not—remember this is not a pot roast we’re cooking here)—one that costs about $15, which at this writing amounts to 3-4 pounds of beef.
Sometimes I rinse it, sometimes not, just depends on the mood of the moment…but just be sure if there’s a string around the roast to take it off. Pat the roast a little dry if you rinsed it.
You will pepper, but NOT SALT, the roast rather vigorously—a switch from Mimi’s roast would be using coarsely ground black pepper, not the fine fly-speck kind of black pepper she used. Pepper rather lackadaisically, but vigorously, on all sides (primarily the top and bottom, with a little casual shake on the sides).
Have a cast iron dutch oven getting good and hot on the stove eye. You want the cast iron hot enough so that when the beef hits the iron it will start searing.
Sear it on one side ‘til you’ve got almost a little char action going on. You don’t want the heat to be low enough and the time spent searing in the dutch oven short enough that the meat is just unappetizingly middling-tan looking. When the one side is seared sufficiently, turn over and sear the other side, then kind of fool around with searing the sides in a desultory fashion.
Have the oven ready at 325- 350 degrees.
Put the lid on the dutch oven, stick it in the oven on a middle or lower-middle rack. No water necessary AT THIS POINT.
I like to cook a roast this size somewhere between 3 and 4 hours. The meat wrapper often states “cook 20 minutes to the pound” but I-Gad!! that wouldn’t be but an hour to an hour and a half. Horrifying!! The thing won’t be done right is the only way to say it!! But then again, I am frequently accused by my older sister of cooking meat until it’s Son of Hockey Puck, to which I say “I’m sorry”…which in this family means no you’re NOT sorry one bit. I repeat to my sisters…”I’m sorry, but I just like to make sure the meat is well-done”.
It would be good to state at this point that I freely admit I’m not the greatest meat cook and have certainly overcooked meat before…we’ll never die of trichinosis in this household…but this roast is PERFECT when cooked 3-4 hours.
So, the roast is in the oven, and some of you may be wondering “well, is it going to STICK without any LIQUID??”
Answer—no, not in the beginning. The beef will start to exude its own juices for a while, but you’ll need to start checking it maybe after 45 minutes or so to see if you need to throw a little water in (the pan juices will start to get thick and syrupy and start gumming up and reducing way too much). You will add water several times during the cooking of the roast—maybe three times. Amount of water?? Maybe ½ cup at a time—or a little more. No need to turn the roast over but you can if you want to.
So, the clock is ticking…you put the roast in around 2:00 and it’s getting to be 5:00 now (this would be a weekday supper roast, not a Sunday dinner roast—more on that later***). You may be thinking “surely it’s done by now”.
Well, stick a fork in it and see if it seems tender.
Oftentimes you might feel like…well, the fork’s telling me just a little more time in the oven. So basically there’s a good chance you’re going to cook it almost 4 hours.
When the roast is done (extremely tender), take it out of oven and let the dutch oven sit on a cold stove eye to kind of rest after all its hard work. You can read cooking articles about how the meat continues to cook, let it rest in its juices, something about the grain, etc etc, but basically just know that 1) it’s just about too hot to eat straight out of the oven and 2) after cooling a little bit, the flavor is not as “hot wet meat” if that makes any sense. My father, a beyond-wonderful man, preferred to eat his fried chicken cold, because he said when hot it was like eating hot wet chicken. Perfectly understandable, so treat the roast beef cooling time similarly to the fried chicken.
So now you’re left with the gravy quandary. Lord Jesus!! Gravy can be tricky!! Hmmm—could I be trying to STALL here and perform a DELAY TACTIC of sorts, since sometimes MY gravy comes out rather hit or miss??
Possibly. First, take the roast out of the dutch oven.
Look at the pan juices, think positive, and ask yourself “do I need to add just a little water, not so much that it turns watery, but just enough to stretch out those juices?”. That would be your pan juice gravy. All that’s needed then is to heat up the juices just a little to account for the water you’ve added, if any.
For a thicker gravy, you’ll want to start a stove eye to heating up, place the dutch oven on it, put just a little sprinkle of plain flour (White Lily) in the juices, and start stirring on medium to medium-high heat. Add a little more water, then add a little more flour, stirring all the while. Repeat ‘til you think there’s enough. Some people use cornstarch to thicken the gravy, but Mimi always used flour and never had any problem.
Sometimes in a fit of desperation if things aren’t going right (i.e. gravy is lumpy with flour lumps), it’s a good idea to stir up the flour in a little cold water BEFORE you add flour/water to the gravy. Why it works sometimes to just throw some flour in and sometimes it doesn’t work is a mystery. Probably the safe thing to do is to use the flour/water mix first, then add to juices.
Mimi could stretch gravy with flour and water ‘til you thought you had made a pot roast instead of the seared roast there was so much gravy; she just had the knack. And her gravy never misbehaved (got lumpy), no matter which way she added the flour. So irritating that it always worked for her and sometimes doesn’t for me. Another one of those cooking mysteries that can lead one to butt their head against the wall.
Either of these gravies is just MADE for putting on white rice. Gravy is optional on the roast beef…it just depends on if you prefer the purity of the meat sans gravy.
And that’s the end of the roast beef recipe.
*** When Mimi cooked roast for Sunday dinner (dinner being the meal after the 11:00 church service, which ended a little after 12:00), she would put the roast on in the morning before Sunday School, have the beans and potatoes cooked and turned off before leaving the house, cook the rice and the squash after church, and the salads and dessert were made the day before. The roast would therefore be cooking all during church time. The house never caught fire.
HATE POINT: it’s hard to find anything to hate here, except maybe the brown-n-serve rolls
LOVE POINT: families enjoying traditions like a roast beef Sunday dinner so that years later, after death separates us, the memories still comfort, and the adult children and grandchildren realize how blessed they were to have parents and grandparents like Mimi and Papa
Mrs. Hate looooves biscuits. You can’t say it any plainer than that.
How do I love thee, O Biscuit?
Let me count the ways:
- biscuits with butter
- biscuits with blackberry jelly
- biscuits with crabapple jelly
- biscuits with fig preserves
- biscuits with honey
- biscuits with Flowing Gold syrup
- biscuits with pan sausage
- biscuits with country ham
- biscuits leftover, halved, buttered, and put under broiler the next day
And then, of course, you’ve got throwing in some stale biscuits when making your dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas AND, every now and then, playing around with turning them into a sort of biscuit pudding.
Picture a small country town in South Georgia circa 1962. There’s a farm—not too big, not too little—with a maid (who now would be referred to as a housekeeper)—not too skinny, not too fat (and this description is important for reasons discussed later)—wearing a white uniform. There will never be a better biscuit maker than Matt, point said.
Mrs. Hate remembers Matt as representing security, stability, love, kindness—all attributes we all need to possess, and our possession begins by having them demonstrated to us by others. Matt was a part of the nascency of these attributes in Mrs. Hate; her talent in biscuit-making was perfection, but her kindness and love superseded even biscuits. Love and kindness are eternal, the eating of a biscuit temporal. But the memories of those biscuits and the loving hands that made them…goodness gracious, what memories…
Now, as all good cooks have the talent of making things looks easy (in other words, things you THINK are so simple, but in reality there’s a knack to it so that sometimes you end up banging your head against the wall and say “why can’t I just COOK this and make it turn out right? there’s ONLY THREE LITTLE INGREDIENTS!!! Mrs. Hate’s getting worked up a little here in case you couldn’t tell), Matt didn’t disappoint in making biscuit-making look easy.
So what are the three little ingredients for Matt’s biscuits that can make strong women cry—and then headbutt the wall??
White Lily self-rising flour
buttermilk (whole please, not fat-free)
alas…no image of Land O’Lakes whole buttermilk could be found,
so just imagine your local grocery store’s buttermilk pictured here
**sidebar** of course, it’s much more traditional to use plain (all-purpose) White Lily flour and add your baking powder and salt, but MY MAMA said it was okay to use self-rising flour, and MY MAMA was as Old South scratch cooking as there could be. R.I.P. Mimi—we still talk about you, dream about you, wonder about you, analyze you.
So, back to the biscuits.
Now Matt could make biscuits without measuring…of course!! (headbutt time on the coolness and savoir faire of no measuring)
She would pour the flour into a what we called dough bowl, which was an old (again, of course!! wasn’t EVERYTHING old in Mrs. Hate’s childhood??) wooden bowl with dimpled gouges here and there. The gouges sure didn’t come from biscuit making, because all of that’s “by hand”, but probably just came from handling and slamming the bowl around when throwing it in the cabinet. (“Throwing” is showing up more and more in these little stories—one would think there was a lot of VIOLENCE and PASSION and SOUTHERN GOTHIC-NESS going on in the household, but no, it was just a busy little place.)
So, back to the biscuits for the second time.
**second sidebar** the buttermilk should be cold (don’t get it out beforehand to come to room temperature like you would generally do with cake-making), and IMPORTANT NOTE: always keep the Crisco in the refrigerator…you want it to be cold for biscuit making, and refrigeration also keeps it from going a little rancid.
Spoon in some Crisco (shortening) and get those little fingertips working. You want to just riffff the Crisco into the flour with a delicate touch of thumb rolling the Crisco over the fingertips, primarily the index and middle fingers, with a little ring finger action for extra riffff. Little finger not really necessary. Think on that statement.
You will have MAGICALLY known how much Crisco was necessary. If your magic levels are low on biscuit-making day, let’s say a couple of big spoonfuls (a little over 1/4 cup) of Crisco—the size of spoon you dish up vegetables with—and the flour (backtracking here) should be maybe 2 cups would do’ya.
And, if you’re a voracious, insatiable, manic, lunatic-crazy cookbook reader, surely you will have read all through the years about “work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are pea-sized lumps, but they don’t have to all be exactly the same size, you need some variation for flakiness blahblahblah”. All that is true. Plus (and often you will read this) you don’t want to overwork the dough; toughness results. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but toughness should not be in the heart of a biscuit.
Okay, and moving right along…
Get the buttermilk out of the refrigerator (whole, remember—the thought of low-fat buttermilk makes Mrs. Hate hate), shake it up good (so all the yummy fat is distributed), and pour in enough (about 1 cup) to make a slightly sticky dough when stirred with a fork (there’s that magic fork again which, after having tended to the hoecakes, is now tending to the biscuits—that fork earns its keep in this kitchen!!). And some folks even have special forks treasured for biscuit making and other cooking odds and ends…Mrs. Hate has HEARD of this and even seen a PICTURE of this…and the fork just looks like an old broke-down fork with maybe a tine or two missing. Will wonders never cease!!
So, you’ve stirred the dough, it’s sticky (searching for comparable analogy here—is that a somewhat redundant pairing of words?—and failing miserably), and now time to get a little creative like you did with the hoecakes.
Get the dough board out (not bowl), flour it with a handful of flour and swoop it around on the board, throw the dough on the board, dust your hands with flour, and lightly, gently knead for a few turns. So pretty when it’s done right. It goes from a sticky and slighty damp-ish looking mess to an immaculately smooth ball with a dull flour finish, if you do it right…just saying. Just thinking about that smooth dough ball takes Mrs. Hate back back back to that time in her childhood when she and her parents and her sisters and Matt were healthy and energetic and young.
Rolling pin or pat out the dough?? Let’s end up with a rolling pin, with a little flour dusted on it. Put your dough ball on the floured board, pat it with your hands a little to get the thing started, then lightly press/roll with pin.
The dough needs to be in the neighborhood of ⅜” thick. You can go a little more or less thick depending on your vision of a perfect biscuit. Personal preference is perfectly proper here (looove that alliteration…if any reader has seen Brideshead Revisited—the one with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews—the Anthony Blanche character was a m-m-m-master of stuttering alliteration).
Cut the biscuits out. A 2-3” biscuit cutter is recommended. However, in a pinch, one could take an old (Good Lordamercy, were Mrs. Hate’s folks packrats with old stuff or WHAT?!?!?!?) jelly jar, place it on the dough, and use a sharp knife tip to cut around the jar rim. Eureka!!! Biscuits!!!
Place the biscuits—all touching, please, all cozy and nestled next to each other—in a cast iron SKILLET, not a SPIDER (see hoecake post). Or, entirely okay to put the biscuits in old aluminum pie plate or even a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Some people like to spritz the pie plate or Pyrex with a little Pam—hmmmm on that, as Matt sure didn’t use any of that Pam stuff back in 1962. And please be advised here that a biscuit pan is kind of whatever, but cornbread is really only made in an iron skillet. Sometimes at holidays a Pyrex dish is okay for cornbread because the sad truth is it’s going to be crumbled up for dressing anyway, but for eating cornbread on its own, you really, really need an iron skillet to develop the crispy cornbread crust…another post, another day, and another alliteration.
You’re looking at probably a dozen biscuits here, maybe fewer. Just depending.
An oven temperature of 500 degrees sounds mighty high, but it works.
And before oven-time, some people melt some butter in a bowl (confession: microwave) and use fingertips (why bother using a brush?) to slide some butter around on the top of raw biscuit.
Handy Tip: it would behoove you to always have some Land O’Lakes butter on hand, and unsalted is really all you need—most of the time, like 99.9% of the time.
Almost done, you hanging-in-there readers you!!
Take the biscuits out when golden-y brown on top (ten-ish minutes or so).
And as good as they are same-morning/dinner/supper made, they are equally as delicious next morning prepared this way:
Split them, put a little softened butter on cut surface, put on cookie sheet with tin foil on it (or you can get all free-spirited and just put them on whatever…skillet, cookie sheet, old roasting tray, it’s okay), have that oven on BROIL, place in oven with door kind of cracked open and check verrrry frequently—it won’t take long. You just want them lightly toastified with a little crunchy thing going on. Heavenly.
And why was it important to describe Matt as being not too skinny and not too fat??
Matt, that precious angel on Earth, developed stomach cancer. Mrs. Hate’s mother and Matt were very close, and MHM (trying out this acronym here for brevity and typing efficiency) talked so long and so hard to Matt about going to the doctor, but Matt was a Jehovah’s Witness, and there are lots of Witness beliefs about medical procedures, blood transfusions, etcetera. No matter how much Matt loved MHM, she just couldn’t bring herself to go to the doctor.
So the wonderful Matt got cancer-skinny, but with a swollen stomach. In the saddest of ways, she was both too skinny and too fat. However, she was still perfect, of course, because love and kindness exist no matter our physical condition.
HATE POINT: canned biscuits
LOVE POINT: Matt and the memory of her sweet face