Why Beef Stew Makes Me Cry

February 23, 2010

I’m almost afraid to admit this, dear reader, but I cooked another recipe out of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. I’m not sure if was the beautiful, glossy picture of the beef stew that convinced me to spend 8 hours in the kitchen or the fact that I, inexplicably, have a vendetta against myself.

Either way, there I was, apron and all — determined to make the best, most lavish, most drawn-out stew on the entire face of the planet. Will you lose all faith in me if I tell you something?

http://theglutengal.com/2008/08/13/ It did not go well.

Part of the problem was that I set unreasonable expectations. With our big, heavy bowls of stew, I imagined we might sink into deep, comfortable chairs (never mind that we don’t actually own any) and cover up with blankets. Maybe we would sip some handcrafted beer while we ate.

Maybe there would be a rented DVD involved. Or maybe James Taylor would fly in on wings and sing background music for us, I don’t know.

No, friends. None of this happened.

Despite my uncanny ability to stand for hours at a time, Thomas Keller wore me down. Not only did the short ribs have to be braised for several hours in a red wine reduction, but the recipe called for a 5 hour soffritto. The fennel and leeks were to be blanched separately and cooled while the potatoes had to simmered in another pot with a sachet. Even specialty parchment paper had to be cut and folded in a such a way that it could cover the simmering stew in place of a regular pot lid.

I also think there was orange zest involved. Maybe even olives. After 8 hours, I started to mentally black out.

But here’s the real injustice. I had been out there, toiling away for so long, http://preferredmode.com/tag/bike-style/page/42/ I didn’t realize that the oven was preheated to 350 degrees. If you’ve ever braised a tough cut of meat before, you know that fat will never melt at this high temperature. And you know that the meat will come out tough and dry.

Which is precisely what mine did. And is precisely the reason my husband spit his first bite out into a napkin — an action that caused me to react in a slightly childish manner. By which I mean, I cried, sitting on the kitchen floor, broken down and defeated.

“I’m never cooking again!” I promised.

Unable to find comforting words, all my poor, hungry husband could do was take this pretty picture of the stew. Maybe he hoped I could fool you into believing it was acceptable. But that’s just not my style.

Of course, I did cook again. It can be a punishing hobby sometimes but in the end of the day, cooking is who I am. And just for the record, I’m not letting this stew get the best of me. You can bet I’ll be out there again soon — and next time, it’s going to be damn delicious.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

MegT February 23, 2010 at 9:49 am

It is good to know that I am not the only one that has major fails… Next time knock on our door and we will pour you a big glass of wine!


Tina February 23, 2010 at 10:25 am

Place the pot outside your door and I’ll dispose of it for you. :)


Nathan February 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

I love your honesty Courtney (but seriously: you could whoop peoples’ @$$es with your mad skillz)

Keep being awesome.


Courtney February 24, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Nathan, thanks. I hope one day we can share a shrimp cocktail and an actual cocktail.


Nathan February 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm

You’re on.


Barb February 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Don’t stew over it! If the culinary thing doesn’t work out, you can always be a writer…You’re terrific. (Just so you know, I’m placing my bets on the “do-over” as I’m sure you’ve learned from your mistakes.)


Sophiaz February 23, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Felt so much better after your story. I’m still bummed my yellow cake turned out DRY yesterday. I always check long before the timer goes off, as it’s an older gas oven and toothpick was clean. (I like it when a couple small crumbs stick, still moisture left)

I got exhausted reading what all you did. I think it would be safe to say this is what I would call a “Recipe that takes you hostage!” as in, you never know when it’s going to end. I gave up on such ambitious recipes long ago. But nice to know a pro can get overwhelmed and be honest about it. Great photo, by the way. You could’ve faked us out easily. :-D


Sara February 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I’ve had several colossal flops myself, so I think we’re all in good company, apparently. :)

I actually seem to have the most problems with long or slow cooked big stews, soups, and the like. Not sure why, since so many other people, even non-frequent cooks, seem really able to master these types of dishes, but not me. I either get the spices all wrong (way too much or too little) and I’ve had the same issue as you with meat not quite tenderizing up like I expected. I am also notoriously bad about following recipes, so I think my problem is an obvious one. :)

I like Meg’s idea of a glass of wine every time I have an epic fail in the kitchen. Wine makes everything better!


Courtney February 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Barb, Don’t think there’s a more witty response than “don’t stew over it.” You know where I’m goin’ for the fennel and potatoes next time so just save some for me.

Sophia and Sara, I’m betting money your cooking/baking is out of this world. I do appreciate your empathy though, and most especially your stopping by to comment. : )


Ronda Andrsoki February 26, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Just wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blog. I can feel you pain with the stew. Over St. Patty’s Week I make about 30 gallons of Irish Stew and always fear my meat being dry and tough.


Courtney March 2, 2010 at 6:00 am

30 gallons! I can only imagine the fear that would put in my heart. Sounds like your a professional though. I’m planning another short ribs attack this weekend so that I can redeem myself!


Ronda Andrsoki April 9, 2010 at 11:19 am

Good luck on the short ribs Courtney! I ended up with a total of 80 gallons of stew when it was all said and done!


Curt McAdams April 9, 2010 at 9:08 am

I don’t know how I’ve missed your blog before, but it looks incredible.. I’m jealous of your photos, and skillz! :) I’m also glad to see someone else using Ad Hoc At Home! I’ve only done short ribs, and I put a bit of a spin on things, but it’s a fun cookbook.


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