What Did The Connollys Have For Dinner Last Night?

Because "What's for dinner?" is the most important question most of us answer every day.

At my bro Andrew's suggestion we had pot roast with egg noodles and green beans. Now, like all sane human beings, I adore a good pot roast, and I've done a lot of thinking about my recipe, but here's the funny thing: The dish I'm trying to recreate was one I first had in my elementary school cafeteria. That's right. I'm actually trying to duplicate the efforts of an honest-to-goodness hairnetted Lunch Lady.

The Lunch Lady in question was named Felicia and she worked the kitchen at The Little Red School House in New York. Thinking about it now, the dish I loved so much was actually a beef stew, not a pot roast, but the principles are the same. The stew was sweet and meaty and I remember being really agog over all the peas it contained. I even asked my mother to get the recipe so we could make it at home.

So, now that I'm all (or, mostly) grown up, and am certainly in charge of the kitchen, I've been trying to recreate Felicia's stew in my pot roasting. The first big leap I made was when I stopped being afraid of the peas. For while I was governed by generally accepted stewing practices and put in a few different kinds of veggies: carrots, potatoes, turnips and so forth. But one glorious day I just said "You know what? F this. It's the peas I like, so I'm going to go ahead and make an all-pea pot roast." (Nowadays I use a bag of frozen peas and and a handful of small whole white onions.)

Another breakthrough I made was the use of Coke. I flour and brown the meat, remove it, brown garlic and onions, deglaze the pot with red wine, then I pour in a 16 ounce bottle of Coke, put the meat back in and add enough stock to cover the meat about 2/3rds of the way. The Coke may sound like kind of a strange ingredient, but it's actually a very complex and textured flavor. After you braise everything in the oven for a while, you'd never identify Coke as the source of the sweetness. The last step is simply to bring everything to a boil on the stovetop, slide it into a 320 degree oven for about 2 1/2 or 3 hours, then add your peas about 20 minutes from serving time.