Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pork Pot Roast..and Chaos Theory

I suppose tonight's dinner was a learning experience. You can't get it right every time. Sometimes the simplest oversight will set you back significantly. Such was the debacle that this evening proved to be. It all started out really well....(cue harp sound effect and wavy scene transition)..

I had a lovely wee pork roast from the good farmers at Perth Farms. A relatively lean little roast with just the right amount of fat cap on the top; it had been merrily tied up into a lovely little parcel. Given that it was a Wednesday night, I didn't have the time for a proper roast, so I once again turned to my trusty pressure cooker. First I browned the meat all around, followed by some sweated onions. I deglazed the pan with a goodly amount of ruby port, and it all went into the pressure cooker with an additional cup of water, some whole garlic cloves, some whole juniper berries, a few bay leaves and a few sprigs of fresh time. A crank of pepper and dash of salt, and on went the lid and up went the fire.
A pretty little roast about to be pressurized
I intended to have mashed spuds with this little roast. I envisioned a thick slice of the roast gently resting on a bed of creamy mash with the lovely port and garlic jus poured liberally over. So, potatoes were peeled and set in some boiling, salted water. Everything seemed perfect.


And yet, as the first rule of Chaos theory stipulates, there is sensitivity in the initial conditions of a complex system:  a small and seemingly insignificant change at the outset of a process can produce a vastly different outcome than that which was predicted.


Case in point: my pressure cooker has a valve on it that releases steam during the cooking process. This prevents it from blowing up. This valve is turned to the 'up' position when the cooking is done to release the pressure faster, thus allowing you to safely open the device. Well, tonight I forgot to turn the valve to the 'down' position - the position it should be in whilst cooking, the position that actually creates pressure. So despite the usual hissiness, there was no pressure in my pressure cooker - for forty long minutes. I was essentially hard-boiling the roast and burning off my jus, scorching the garlic into inedible bitterness and creating a dish that seemed eerily familiar to something I might have been served in my childhood. Add to this scenario, a three year old who has skipped her nap, is overtired and starving, and a wife who is feeling under the weather. Oh yeah, I also forgot, I mashed the potatoes up and decided to add buttermilk this time as a 'change'. This was an evening that 'change' would not go over so well.


Anyway, once I started to smell burnt and bitter garlic,  I finally noticed the steam valve position and realized what I had done. I opened up the pressure cooker to find a tough, boiled piece of meat sitting on the blackened and charred remains of what once was ruby port and garlic. Bawling hungry children in the background who could not wait any longer, and me cursing the day I was born. Mash potatoes for dinner? The kids hated them because the buttermilk made them 'taste funny'.  As a policy, I do not cook separate meals for fussy kids - they get what they get. Well tonight, dinner was raw veggies, a glass of milk and a ham sandwich.


When I first became a parent, a hugely exciting prospect for me was to get the kids to love my cooking, you know,  the way Italian and French children talk about their Mama's cooking. They say, "no one can cook like mama". Well, I wanted to be mama - but it simply doesn't appear to work that way. My cooking can be hit and miss with the kids, and granted, my eldest (almost six years old) will pretty much eat whatever I cook, my youngest is a real tough customer. Sometimes it just breaks my heart.  Although, admittedly, tonight was all about  my errors in the kitchen, and was not really about being fussy.

Chalk it up to a hard, but valuable lesson.

As a postscript, I sliced up the tough meat, cleaned out the pressure cooker, and put it all back in with some fresh cooking liquid and new herbs. I set it with the steam valve down, and in the end was able to salvage the lovely bit of meat for the Mrs and I to eat after the kids were in bed.  We didn't mind the buttermilk mash, but next time: regular milk and butter.

No pictures---I just didn't have it in me.

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