Cookbooks. Does anyone use them in this day and age? When the internet has multiple versions of what you are hoping to make with just a few keystrokes, do cookbooks still serve a purpose?
Mine do. They are as precious to me as scrapbooks.
There’s the 1980 St. John’s Lutheran Church Centennial Cookbook, the source of most of my culinary education. Of course all recipes had titles, but the valuable information came from the name of the person who submitted the recipe. If you were ever at a church function you might hear someone asking “who made this?”. The member of honor was identified and their name was followed by “It’s in the cookbook.”
There’s the red 3-ring binder style Betty Crocker’s Cookbook that my Grandma Opal gave me for Christmas in 1985. I know this because that sweet woman took the time to write a message in it and date it. This is my baseline cookbook. When I want the straight-talk, no-nonsense, first-round recipe for something, this is where I go.
There are a lot more and they all carry memories with them. I bought one that is all corn recipes when I briefly toured the Corn Palace in South Dakota. Another one of all apple recipes was a souvenir of when my husband and I travelled through the apple orchards of North Carolina. Chocolate, eggs, Italian, Cuban, and Christmas focussed books stand side-by-side in my library.
Do you know how to identify the most beloved and useful cookbooks? They are the ones with visible sticky-tabs, pages falling out, loose recipes from magazine pages stuck inside, and the inevitable splatter of ingredients on pages. In this picture are 5 spiral-bound “A Taste of the Country” cookbooks that were a Christmas gift to me from my mother-in-law many years ago. It was a gesture that overwhelmed me as I would have been thrilled with just one of them. She had these cookbooks and I would sit and copy recipe after recipe when we would visit. If I would ask her for the recipe of something she had made for us, she would almost always say “It’s from those cookbooks!” I’m not sure you can see it in the picture but there are sticky-tabs, askterisks by favorite recipes in the index and one of the books has lost its binding coil completely. Yes, there are a few splatters on the pages. Despite my neat-freak nature, it happens.
If you were to look very closely at the open page in the picture, you would see that there is an asterisk next to “Hot Italian Roast Beef Sandwiches”. I have made this so many times over the years, including once for an anniversary celebration for my mother-in-law and father-in-law. The leftovers are awesome, especially if you turn them into an Italian beef soup. It can be made in the oven as directed, simmered on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. The first two methods really improve the flavor and texture of the meat but the slow cooker provides all of its conveniences and a very tasty result.
Italian Roast Beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-5 pound sirloin tip or boneless chuck beef roast
2 teaspoons salt (preferably Kosher or coarse grain salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper (preferably coarse grain)
1 bay leaf
28-30 ounces petite diced tomatoes
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon dried thyme or several sprigs of fresh thyme
1-3 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Semi-hard rolls, ciabatta rolls, hoagies, sourdough bread, or focaccia bread
Preheat oven to 350°. In a dutch oven, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle all sides of roast with salt and pepper. Place roast in the dutch oven and brown on all sides. Add all other ingredients except rolls/bread.
Cover and braise in the oven for 3-4 hours. Remove from oven and transfer meat from broth and allow to rest 10-15 minutes. If using fresh thyme sprigs, remove stems from broth and discard (the leaves should have fallen off the stem during the cooking process). Trim off any fat and thinly slice or shred. When ready to serve, gently reheat meat in broth and serve on rolls.
To make a panini-style sandwich, cut ciabatta or focaccia bread in half lengthwise, add a layer of beef, a layer of cheese (provolone and/or mozzarella are good choices), and maybe some pepperoncini peppers, and press in a panini-maker. Serve with a side of the tomato broth.
Stovetop Directions: Instead of braising in the oven, just cover and continue cooking the roast on the stovetop after browning, reducing the temperature to keep a gently simmer for 3-4 hours. Check the amount of liquid surrounding the roast every 30 minutes or so and add water, if needed, to keep moisture surrounding the meat.
Slow Cooker Directions: If you can, take the time to brown the roast as directed above before transferring to a slow cooker and adding remaining ingredients. The browning process add so much flavor and seals in the juices of the meat. If you are in a hurry, just put all the ingredients in the slow cooker, set to the lowest setting and allow to cook for 8 hours, or until meat falls apart easily.
This recipe was submitted to the “A Taste of the Country” cookbook collection by a woman named Betty Claycomb of Pennsylvania. I try to give credit when possible to the “owners” of recipes. So here’s to you, Betty, and my family thanks you for sharing your recipes.
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