Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Lately I've been having culinary Epic Fails, one after the other. I used to be a pretty good cook. Hell, in my own opinion (and even those of some of my hungrier friends) I was a fucking genius cook: an unsung MFK Fisher, an unheralded Anthony Bourdain, a secret Larousse. I think I may have to hang all those laurels up or send them to Goodwill or something because apparently, I can no longer cook.
Part of the problem is that I'm trying desperately to economize on groceries, which is never a winning strategy when you're aiming gourmet. I have to economize, because although nobody seems to want to admit it and media stories on actual, happening inflation are thin on the ground, well, food prices have totally skyrocketed in the last year. I mean I'm spending more now to feed two people and two dogs than I was 11 months ago to feed five people and two dogs and we're not eating better stuff. In fact, we're eating expired meat, which is an Epic Fail that brings us nicely to our next paragraph.
I economize by doing three things: going to more than one grocery store (Aldi, Sav-Mor and Ingles, to be specific, and they all suck in different ways - Aldi, because they mostly just have weird shit and you never know what they will and won't have; Sav-Mor, because it's the most depressing damn grocery store on the planet, populated only by the desperately poor and reeking heavily of despair; and Ingles, because, oh well, fuck, it's Ingles.) ; buying in bulk as much as possible; and going to any store at all as little as possible. These strategies, by the way, don't really work at all except to make me even crazier than I normally am. For this reason, I've pretty much given up Sav-Mor. They pump Eau De Doom in there through the loudspeakers and it was making me think that the only way I could go back was with a 12 gauge and a lengthy, morbid note.
Anyway, what it boils down to is that I've been buying meat too infrequently and this is part of the whole Epic Fail thing. It started with the stew beef I bought for dinner a couple weeks ago - a dinner which, for various reasons, like the fact that stew takes actual time, which I don't often have, didn't happen. So I froze it in time and then I thawed it out for dinner last Friday night, which should have been fine, except that my stew tasted like dirt.
"Try this," I said to young M, "It tastes like dirt."
"Like straight up dirt?" he said cautiously, "I don't like dirt."
"Just tell me if I'm going crazy," I said, "I swear I didn't dump a cup of potting soil in there or anything but I'm damned if it doesn't taste like dirt."
He tasted it. "Well," he said, "It doesn't taste THAT much like dirt. It just kind of tastes like beef stew. Bad beef stew."
And it was, and there was a lot of it too, and it's sitting in my refrigerator waiting until it either gets fed to dogs or goes so bad that I can actually toss it. Which, to be fair, may not have been the meat. It may have been the $4 Aldi red wine, or the 75 cent Sav Mor beef broth. Then, last night, came a new Epic Fail: the fancy meat sauce straight out of Cooks Magazine, using 85% lean ground beef.
85% lean ground beef whose sell by date was last Friday, actually. However, I read somewhere once that meat is still good for a week past its sell by date and, hell, I'm not chicken or particularly worried about things going bad. I'm tough! My children are tough! We sneer at rotten meat! We eat bark and twigs! Or, well, maybe not bark and twigs. Fast food, though, which is sort of the same thing, only fried. Unfortunately, the beef smelled pretty damn iffy when I unwrapped it and yet, given toughness and poverty and a reluctance to leave the house, I forged ahead. I will hereby cut to the chase: yeah, it was disgusting even though I followed the recipe more or less exactly; still, we ate it; thus, we suffered accordingly. Although there is something to this toughness of stomach thing - it wasn't all that bad - just an endless evening of queasy misery. I gave it to the dogs this morning and they didn't seem to mind it.
But do you think I learned anything? Hell no. Right now, I'm doing the same thing with some pork chops whose sell by date was Saturday. Only there were six in the package and I smelled them all and tossed two of them directly into the trash. The other four, I think, are okay. The real danger here is that I'm making a pork chop casserole without cream of mushroom soup, which I think is illegal. Yet again, however, I'm damned if I'm throwing out more meat or going to buy cream of mushroom soup and so I am forging on ahead, blithely ignoring the many culinary dangers. Elderly pork + a variety of stuff I threw together + hash browns + grated cheese on the Denny's theory that it goes with everything is not, I am afraid, going to add up to a delicious repast. No, what I think I might have here is Epic Fail. I'll let you know. If I'm still alive.