Culinary catastrophe

  • Thursday, October 4, 2012

One would think that after 55 years of marriage and the fixing of – conservatively – more than 15,000 dinners, one would be pretty immune to kitchen variety disasters. One would think.
Actually, if I’d stuck to my premarital agreement, all would have been fine. Once I’d tasted Jim Hill’s to-die-for tender steaks, I immediately said “yes” to his proposal and vowed never to cook a steak myself. (I also vowed not to clean fish and to insist on separate checking accounts – all of which have had a lot to do with the longevity of our union.)
Frankly, I was seduced by an enticing steak recipe, accompanied by a color photo. Flank steak to boot. Not your most tender cut. Usually one scores it, marinates it, grills it, cuts it into thin slivers across the grain and it’s good. This new recipe had the word “elegant” in its title, and promised this “fork tender” blend could be served confidently to your most discriminating guests. Ingredients included two kinds of exotic mushrooms, a generous dollop of red wine and shallots. Shallots!! Surely any dish kicked up a notch by garlicky shallots couldn’t go wrong. Oh, couldn’t it?
I guess what convinced me was that it was made in a crock pot, one of my favorite cooking utensils for succulent stews, soups, chowders and the like. Why not something elegant – with shallots? The whole premise of the crockpot is that it cooks long and slow, melds flavors and transfers the most stubborn components into soft morsels. I prepped everything and turned the dial to “low” in late morning. The house was filled with wonderful smells and Jim and I sat down to dinner with a fresh salad, homemade blue cheese dressing, creamy mashed potatoes and great expectations.
The vegetables, including the shallots, were wonderfully flavored and the sauce divine. The meat was so tough we had to sharpen a butcher knife to get through it. Even slicing the relatively small portions into transparent shards, you flat couldn’t masticate that meat. The answer was obvious to me – said experienced home chef: it simply hadn’t cooked long enough! So I fixed toasted cheese sandwiches, boxed everything else up and vowed to start over the next day.
Accordingly, I plugged the crockpot in at breakfast, inhaled identical intriguing aromas, and after cooking another 10 hours, produced the same dreadful meat result. Undaunted, the third day, I drained the sauce, plucked out the now decimated mushrooms and shallots and put the limp, but sinewy threads of meat into my food processor with the idea of grinding it into oblivion, and thus making it a breeze to chew. I would mix it back with the other ingredients and use it as thick gravy over the preserved mashed potatoes.
The meat was so inflexible it stopped up the food processor blade and I had to unwind it one filament at a time with a pickle fork. I chopped it up as best I could with that butcher knife and as a last resort, gave it to our dog Buddy. Endowed with better sense, he stuck a tentative snout into the muddle and just as clearly as if he were Emeril, Ina or Giada, snorted one perfectly descriptive – and deserving – culinary judgment: “Ptooey!”

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