Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Hunk of Meat

Back in the glory days of Cousins Day, when Peach was healthy, Kathy was alive, and my mother still had most of her marbles, we were having breakfast one morning.  My mother made pancakes and Kathy was in ecstasy and confessed that she loved pancakes, but that she could not make pancakes.

I wondered what she meant.  I mother mixed Bisquick with milk and eggs, and dropped the batter on a griddle and cooked it.  How hard is that?

But Kathy said that her pancakes were always heavy and that she couldn't get them light, like my mother's to save her soul.

Peach chimed in  and said that the one thing she couldn't make was Jello.  That she had tried all her life but could never get Jello to set. 

Again, she couldn't make Jello?  You add hot water to mix, let it dissolve, add cold water and let it set.  How difficult was that?

While it was beyond my comprehension that my cousins, who were each good cooks, could not make these two simple dishes, I had to admit to myself lately that everyone has a blind spot when it comes to cooking.
I'm a good cook.  I will try anything.  I've cooked multi course Chinese meals. I make bread and pie dough from scratch.  I don't need the Butterball hot line to cook a turkey.  I've made my own ice cream many times.

I'm not afraid to tackle any recipe, maybe not these days when it sometimes just seems like too much work to do something complicated, but given the challenge, I'm willing to give it a go and am not afraid to try.

But there is something I cannot cook.

I cannot cook meat.  

Well, not all meat.  I can roast a leg of lamb or a good beef roast, but I have yet to make a pork dish that I didn't think was a disaster.  I can't cook pork chops or roast without having it turn out dry as a bone.  Even when I cut the cooking time down to half of what it was called for, even if I infuse the meat with lots of flavor from rubs or marinades.  Even if I follow recipes to the letter, my pork comes out dry as a bone.  Flavorful, maybe, but dry as a bone.

I can't cook a steak.  I can cook a medium well done steak, but I like it rare and I can't get it rare.  It's either too overcooked or too chewy.  Even the steaks from Omaha steaks disappoint me because I can't cook them right. I cook at the recommended temperature and let them rest so that the juices absorb back into the meat, yet when I cut into my steak, I've done it just isn't up to what I wanted it to be.

My mother was always a very basic cook.  She wasn't inventive at all.  She had a handful of things that she cooked, but she cooked them better than I ever have.  

I have tried and tried, but can't get a pot roast as tender as she can.  I buy the recommended cut of beef, I sear it all over before cooking, I add all the right ingredients recommended by the chefs on the Food Channel, and I cook it long and slow, yet when I go to cut it, it's stringy and dry, even under the sauce that has flavored it all day.

She also made the very best meat loaf.  Peach always raved about her meat loaf, yet she had no recipe.  She just kind of threw whatever leftovers she had in the fridge together with ground beef.

I've been making meat loaf all of my married life and have never made it as well as my mother did.  You could cut hers into nice neat, well packed slices.  Mine crumbles when you try to slice it.  It tastes just fine, but once again I have failed to achieve what I was aiming for.

I even have a slow cooker which I have used to cook all sorts of things and yes, they taste fine  But they have a "mealy" texture that is not to my liking.

I don't know why I can't cook meat.  I can cook chicken just fine.  I can make macaroni and cheese from scratch without a recipe.  I can strip a turkey carcass and turn it into a delicious soup.  But hand me a steak and I tense up, knowing that I can cook it fine, but that when it gets on the plate and I cut into it, I will be disappointed.

I watched 10 and 11 year olds, barely tall enough to reach the counters, cooking gourmet meals, with knowledge of what they were doing, and then plating them beautifully on Chopped yesterday and I was mortified.

I don't eat much meat these days.  Somehow I just can't eat a whole steak or a whole chop or even a whole slice of meat loaf any more.  The dogs love to sit next to me at dinner because after I've had a bite or two of the meat that has disappointed me, I end up cutting it into pieces and letting them have it.

Walt doesn't seem to be unhappy with my cooking and maybe I'm being overly critical of my efforts.  I can make pancakes to suit me and my Jello always sets properly, but I can't cook a hunk of meat to please me to save my soul.

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