I'm a total weenie.
Fraidy cat. Wimp. All of the above. Sometimes my fears are logical, but mostly they're ridiculous.
It started when I was a kid. I was afraid of The Original Pancake House, roller coasters, and sleepovers at Jillian Voglino's house. Through the years, my fears morphed, but they were always there: vacation Bible school at The Chapel, sleep-away camp, flying, getting murdered by Hannibal Lecter when I'm alone at night. I could go on, but I think you get the drift.
In addition to all the things previously mentioned, I'm afraid of large cuts of meat. I think it's because I'm not as familiar with the big stuff. On most nights, I cook for two...chicken breasts, salmon fillets, pork tenderloin. So I'm more comfortable there. But a giant roast? Yikes.
Someone once told me that it's important to face your fears, and that doing the very thing you're afraid of helps conquer them. This has proven true in my life. After many visits, I love The Original Pancake House. (49er Flapjacks, anyone?) And I no longer imagine Hannibal eating my innards with fava beans and a nice Chianti every time I close my eyes. Over the years I have successfully roasted turkey, glazed ham, and even slow-cooked pot roast. But every time I get started, I gaze at the meat with trepidation. (It's much scarier than sleep-away camp.)
In my quest to conquer fear, I made another pot roast this week, and I really took it up a notch: I made it in the oven. In my neurotic brain, that seemed much scarier than the slow cooker. After the husband and I inhaled it for dinner, I decided something profound: cooking a bacon-scented roast to fork-tender perfection in the oven makes facing your fears absolutely worth it.
Oven Baked Pot Roast with Bacon
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen
4 slices bacon
2 1/2 pound boneless rump roast (or whatever roast is on sale)
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and divided--dice 2 carrots and cut the rest into 1" chunks
1 rib celery, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups chicken broth
About 1 cup water
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
Mashed potatoes for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Meanwhile, heat a large Dutch oven over medium high. Cook bacon until it's just barely crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Once it's cooled, crumble the bacon.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon grease from the pan and return to medium-high heat. Season the roast generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown roast in the bacon grease until all sides are browned, about 8-10 minutes total. (You'll know it's ready to turn the roast when it's easy to flip. If it's sticking to the pot, it's not ready. Give it another minute to cook then try again.) If the browned bits on the bottom of the pan start to burn, turn the heat down to medium. When the roast is browned, remove to a plate and set aside.
Add diced carrot (set aside the carrots cut into 1" chunks until later), celery, and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in thyme, garlic, and sugar for 30 seconds.
Return meat to pan. Pour in chicken broth and enough water so the liquid reaches about halfway up the side of the roast. (For me, this was about 1 cup of water.) Bring liquid to a boil. Cover, turn off the stove, and put the covered pot in the oven.
Allow the roast to cook for 3 hours, turning the meat over a few times while it cooks. Add the remaining carrots and parsnips to the pot, making sure they're submerged in liquid. Re-cover the pot, and cook for an additional 45 minutes, until meat and vegetables are tender.
Remove meat to a cutting board and tent with foil. Remove vegetables to the serving dish. Skim any fat from the liquid remaining in the pot. (If you have one, you can use a fat separator to remove the fat and then return the liquid to the pot.) Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Save a bit of the bacon for garnish, and stir the rest of the reserved bacon into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice the roast, drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle with remaining bacon. Serve with the vegetables and, if desired, mashed potatoes.