Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Beef With Beef

I have a new enemy and its name is beef. Yes, beef. I have a beef with beef (sorry but it was inevitable). Well, not just any beef; I can manage ground beef easily enough (as long as it does not need to be cooked in loaf or ball form), but if it's in its relatively natural form and needs to be roasted, boiled or broiled, I am a hopeless mess.

I believe it's already been established that I cannot make meatloaf. I just can't. I've tried recipes from all my stand-bys--Martha Stewart, America's Test Kitchen, Rachael Ray--to no avail. There is some kind of kink in my brain when it comes to meatloaf. I must have a genetic mutation that prevents me from being able to produce a decent meatloaf. I can't even make meatballs! My last attempt was so terrible The Viking had to rescue dinner altogether! And the meatballs were like little balls of dog food that were burned on the outside. Delectable.

Well, now, it seems my disability has grown to include roasts and steaks. The last, oh, 15 roasts I have prepared have been dismal at best, spectacular disasters at worst. They are either grey, rubbery and tasteless, like eating a used Brillo pad, or bloody to the point of horrifying even a vampire. I cannot get it right.

I follow recipes, I've tried roasting slowly at low temperatures, I've tried the Crockpot, I've even tried the Thermowell. It's gotten so I just avoid the beef aisle and stick to chicken, hamburgers, nachos, tacos and spaghetti with meat sauce.

What is wrong with me? Take last night, for instance. I had bought a roast on sale at the market. It was a good size (about 4 lbs) and was a more expensive cut that had been reduced. I got it home and consulted my trusty cook book and found the best way to cook that particular cut of meat: round tip roast.

Recipe called for tying the roast up with twine. Huzzah, the in-store butcher had already done that for me (good thing, too, cause I have never had a supply of twine in my kitchen)! Then it called for taking the meat out of the fridge and allowing it to sit, loosely wrapped in plastic, for one hour. Oops, problem. It was already 5:30 and I didn't have that kind of time. So, I guess lesson number one is that preparing a cut of beef has to start before rush hour begins?

I rashly decided to skip that step. After all, my mother had never done it and all her roasts had always come out just lovely. I skipped to step number three. I heated the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking, patting the meat dry with paper towels and sprinkling with salt and pepper while I waited. Then I carefully seared the meat on all sides, taking special care not to let the oil get to hot or to just leave the meat sitting unattended in the pan while I loaded the dishwasher or checked my email or something. As I have been known to do in the past. Like, so often that whenever The Viking would walk into the kitchen and it would be full of smoke he would say, "Searing a roast?"

When the searing was finished the meat was a lovely, rich brown all over. No grey meat on the table this time! This is when I reached problem number two: place roast on roasting rack in roasting pan. I have one roasting pan. It's ancient and has no rack. My cooling rack is too big for said roasting pan. So, in the interest of time and money, I merely lined the pan with foil and unceremoniously plopped the meat into it.

Problem #3! Roast at 250 degrees to desired doneness (see pg 392). I looked at page 392. It said to use an instant read thermometer. Dang it all, mine is broken! It just went two weeks ago! And have I gone out in order to get a new one? Of course not. So, for medium well doneness, the cookbook suggested roasting the meat for an hour to and hour-and-a-half. So I put the roast in the oven and set the timer for 90 minutes.

Maybe, if you're a more experienced and clued-in cook than I am, you can guess what happened. I had the potatoes whipped, the carrots steamed and the salad dressed and went to pull the delicious-smelling roast from the oven. I cut into it eagerly only to find a right bloody mess. Literally. I calmly went into the living room and quietly asked The Viking if he could please come help me before I flung myself into traffic. The Viking likes his meat pretty rare and even he looked nauseated at the sight. He cut the ends off the roast, them being the most cooked portions, and put the meat back in the oven, saying, "there's enough there for us all to have a few bites; we'll just have to be happy with potatoes and veg tonight."

I was very disgruntled throughout the meal, but no one else seemed to mind. That, or they were just being nice to me, afraid of provoking me further. When dinner was over, we declared that we were celebrating Valentine's Day by way of loafing on the couch rubbing each other's feet while the children cleaned up the dining room table and kitchen. Which just may be the best Valentine's Day celebration we've ever had, besides the year we celebrated it by getting engaged (16 years ago)!

We had a lovely sack out time. Back-to-back Law and Orders were on (we love trying to guess first who did it) and The Viking produced a few bars of chocolate he'd been saving. But can you guess what happened next? Whatever happened to the forlorn little beef in the oven? Go ahead and cover your eyes, you know what's coming, don't you?

At about 9:30, The Viking suddenly came to his senses. "Uh, Honey, I think that meat might be finished now." Always master of the subtle understatement, that man. I had a quick little dry sob into my hands before dragging my feet into the kitchen. I pulled out a piece of meat so dried out and over-cooked it was halfway to being the most lovely jerky imaginable. I muttered a few, choice, semi-profane (but not quite) words and roughly tossed the pan onto the stove top before plodding back into the living room to have myself a good sulk.

Sigh. So, what on earth am I to do? Is my poor family doomed to a life of white meat only? Is the dried up, shriveled piece of meat in the freezer suitable only for Nutmeg's lunch? I admit the thought of beef stroganoff has popped into my fevered little brain, but I don't know if I'm brave enough to try.

Can anyone talk me off this ledge? What am I doing wrong? It's okay, I can take it. Fire away. It's for my own good.

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