Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recipes Are There For A Reason

This week's theme is household disasters! While mine isn't as exciting and dramatic as L.T. Host's glass-exploding-catching-the-kitchen-on-fire adventure, it is by far the WORST food I have ever made. And it was only about a month ago (I'm going to say it was a rookie mistake).

This year at Christmas, I asked for recipe books so I could make delicious soups. My sister-in-law got me a really fancy book from William Sonoma, plus the best ladle they had to offer (it's so shiny!). I was ready to make some kick-ass soup.

One Sunday, I flipped through the book and found "Beef Stew with Orange Zest and Red Wine." I had beef. I had red wine. Heck, I even had fresh oranges. I set to work.

Season the beef with flour, salt and pepper - Done

Cook the beef in olive oil - Done

Remove zest from orange - Done

Saute onions - Done

Stir in garlic, orange zest, thyme (don't have that - skip) and fennel seeds (skip) - Done

Add wine and reduce by half - Uh, how far down is half again?

Stir in broth and canned tomatoes - Hm, no tomatoes. And I don't have chicken broth, only beef. Oh well - black beans are a similar to tomatoes in consistency, right? They've got some juice in the can. I'll just add that. And I'll use beef broth. Beef broth, beef stew - it only makes sense.

Bring to a boil and simmer for 2.5 hours - What? I'm hungry now! I'll simmer it for an hour, what's the difference?

Turn up heat. Waits for it to boil.

Hm, there's not a lot of liquid in here.

Adds more broth. Covers and lets it simmer.


My "stew" slowly turned into a paste. A black, lumpy paste. But hey, I used most of the ingredients. And beef and beans go naturally together. When I couldn't wait anymore, I tasted my creation. And I gagged.

My paste had an overwhelming flavor of orange zest and beans, with chewy beef lumps. I tried another bite just to be sure. I mean, I made this from scratch. I wasn't going to just throw it away. I had Hubs taste it too - he figured it couldn't taste as bad as it looked. Well, it tasted EXACTLY as bad as it looked.

The lesson? FOLLOW THE RECIPE. At least with the main ingredients. In fact, it's probably better to read all of the ingredients before starting. Also, beans and tomatoes are NOT the same.

What cooking disasters have you had lately?


L. T. Host said...


You rock, by the way.

If it makes you feel better, my mom still tells this story from the early days of her marriage to my dad.

She had a recipe for a salmon and pineapple casserole (it was the 70's, casseroles were big). Except she didn't have salmon, so she substituted tuna. She didn't have pineapple, so she used fruit salad, you know, from a can.

My dad went to Wendy's. The dog wouldn't even touch it.

You're not alone. :)

It really goes to show that substitutions aren't a good idea!

Matthew Delman said...

Oh cooking disasters. How I love thee

HHTM maintains that I'm incapable of making white rice. I say I just haven't gotten it down yet.

Unknown said...

I haven't tried to cook anything with beef in it for a long time. I love substituting things in recipies but for ingredients I'm less familiar with . . . yeah my version of that recipe probably would have come out just as bad.

Unknown said...

Also, Mathew, rice is of the devil. I swear one day I'll make some that isn't gooey. Or undercooked. Or both.

Rick Daley said...

I swear by Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen (same publishers). You can get a 2-week trial membership to their online recipes (www.cooksillustrated.com), I have the web access and I get the print magazine. And I'm not affiliated with them in any way, my recommendation is based on me being a happy customer!

You do want to follow the recipe...what's cool is that the Cook's Illustrated articles that accompany the recipes explain why the recipes work, and they try many variations to make sure that their recipes work consistently, so you learn how to cook something a certain way, but also why to cook it that way.

A couple other pointers (I have a passion for cooking, can you tell?):

I would never brown beef in olive oil, which has a very low smoking point and will never get hot enough to properly sear the meat without setting off your smoke alarms (and producing off-flavors). Vegetable, peanut, or canola oil are much better for this kind of high-heat cooking.

Also, it is always best to drain the liquid off the beans, and in many cases it's worth it to rinse them, too.

When stewing meat, remember this mantra: low and slow. That extra hour of cooking will help render the fat and melt away the collagen and connective tissues in the meat, making it fork-tender. This is true for stew meat and other fatty cuts like a chuck roast or a brisket, which has a lot of collagen, but not for extra lean cuts like tenderloin, which would dry out in extended cooking.

And to point out a seeming contradiction...you want to sear the meat over high heat to brown the exterior, which imparts a great flavor, but them you will add your other ingredients and simmer low and slow for several hours.

Give it another try, it's like writing, sometimes the first draft just needs a round of revisions ;-)

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

L.T. - Oh my gosh, that is hilarious. I would have totally done that too (if I liked fish ... and wanted to make a fish-fruit casserole).

Matthew - I usually just use Rice-A-Roni and I haven't screwed that up too bad. Though whenever I try healthy rice it never works out. It's always too firm no matter how long I cook it!

Taryn & Rick - I think it was the beans that ruined the soup. They must have soaked up all the liquid or something. Thanks for the tips, Rick! I'll have to check out Cooks Illustrated. And I have since tried two other soups from the recipe book and they weren't bad :).

K. Marie Criddle said...

Ha! Oh, the old "follow the recipe" advice. You would think we've all made enough tuna/stew/orange/chimichanga poop to learn our lesson by now but...ALAS.

I'll bet you make GREAT stew now, Keri!! :)