Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eye of Round is NOT Brisket or A Story of Jewish Guilt

My mother did the grocery shopping for me today. I am very grateful. 

I have been sick this week, and could not have done it myself. In fact, I've been on a liquid only diet, which has mostly involved gatorade and red jello. Despite all this, our family is still responsible for 150 sample sized portions of brisket for our congregation's Jewish Food Festival, coming up this weekend. All in all, this translates to delcious food cooking in my kitchen that I cannot eat, nor really serve to my family, but at least the house will smell good and I'll have the pleasure of not actually letting anybody know exactly how sick I was.

So, we're talking about 5 lbs of brisket minus 5lbs of potential congregational guilt. I figure we'll come out about even in the end. I asked my mother to pick up the cut from the butcher while she was at the store.

Here's the problem: It turns out that my mother has never cooked nor purchased a brisket in her life. She converted to Judaism when she married my dad, so all Jewish cooking was new for her. My dad's family is composed of yekkes, who don't eat traditional Ashkenazic food, i.e. brisket. In my grandparent's house, the holiday red meat delicacy of choice was leg of lamb served with homemade mint sauce, a decidedly non-kosher combination. Add to this that my parents cooked primarily vegetarian throughout my childhood, with mom never even cooking red meat beyond the occasional meatloaf in the winter or hamburger in the summer, and you can begin to understand how somehow, at the age of 57, my mother doesn't know what a cut of brisket looks like.

Also, though a convert, my mother is, for all intents and purposes, a Jewish mother who knows best.

Mom came back from the store with eye of round. It is a beautiful eye of round roast, though it is not brisket. I needed brisket. My charge for the Food Festival is brisket. My mother commented that the brisket cut the butcher showed her needed much too much trimming, as it was much too fatty. She felt her purchase of a perfectly beautiful eye of round would be much more suitable.

While I appreciate her efforts to spare me trimming work, and keep all of us healthy, here is what a perfectly beautiful cut of uncooked brisket looks like:

Note the gorgeous layer of fat. You see my problem.

Part of the brisket cut is a layer of fat that makes it taste moist, flavorful and very fine indeed. It is also flat. Eye of Round, an excellent, round cut comparable in texture to prime rib, is simply not going to work as a substitute for the Food Festival. 

I am very grateful for my mother doing the shopping. Jewish mother guilt, or in this case, compounded Irish guilt converted into Jewish guilt, knows no bounds nor brisket.

This is all turning out to be somewhat of mixed blessing. This weekend, we have friends coming in from out of town, and I have two delicious cuts of meat I can cook for them. I will not be able to eat either, but I will be happy to cooking them so that everyone else can enjoy them. There is a part of me that cannot allow a guest to enter my house without homemade food waiting for them. If this were to happen, I'd actually have to admit to myself exactly how ill I have been. Heaven forbid.

One of our incoming guests gave me the brisket recipe I will be using for the Food Festival. It'll only take a minute or two to put together. Honest. No trouble at all:

HJ's Brisket
5 lbs brisket
1 pkg onion soup mix
1 bottle catalina dressing
1 bag cranberries, fresh or frozen (
see note)

Step 1: In a medium bowl, combine the soup mix, dressing and cranberries. Place half the mixture in the bottom of a large crock pot.

Step 2: Rinse the brisket and pat dry. Place it fat side up in the crock pot. Cover with remainder of the cranberry mixture.

Step 3: Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hrs or until the brisket is fork tender.

Step 4: Remove brisket. Tent with foil and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Turn the heat up on the crock pot. Leaving the pot uncovered, allow the sauce to reduce down while the meat is resting and being sliced. Serve the reduction with the brisket.

Side note: When I can't find fresh or frozen cranberries, I use 2-3 cups of dried cranberries, and add tomato paste and/or a bit of apple cider vinegar to counteract the added sweetness.

Now, on Saturday night, the whole in town crew is getting together to greet the out of town crew at our house. It is much simpler this way. Our kids can go down for bed when they need to without us leaving the shindig, and I can rest when I need to. 

This will be a perfect use for the eye of round. I thought I'd make a menu from Nigella Lawson's show Nigella Bites. It is one of my all time favorite meals when I am able to eat solids. The dishes taste complex and look like they took all day to make, when the menu is really basic techniques being used to bring together bright and hearty flavors. Alternatively, I thought I'd make it for Friday night/Erev Shabbat, but I'm already planning to make challah from scratch, so I don't want to over do it. 

However, I've only been out of bed for 2 days or so. More than 2 hrs on my feet or sitting up, and I start to see spots and then need to spend the rest of the day in bed. Making this menu, no matter how basic the technique just isn't happening.

Anyway, the menu which I will treat myself to once I'm on the mend, begins at 5:30 on this clip, continuing on Part 3 of 3:

All in all, this whole Eye of Round Incident is turning out quite well. Portioning out '150 sample sized portions' of a brisket might not be enjoyable, but if nothing else, my house will smell delicious for days. The Eye of Round cut itself has made me take a nice hard look at how nuts I am driving myself trying to be all things for all people. All I really should be doing right now is taking care of myself, so that I can be all things for all people once again. Good Lord. 

Next time, I'll just bake a cake.

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