Epic beef fail! Epic pork win!

A few days ago I posted about how I found some sketchy beef stew meat  in the freezer of my new place, so naturally I threw it in the oven. I promised to update you, blog folks, about how that went.

This is painful to admit, but I screwed up in the dumbest way possible: I burned it.

So I put in the beef according to my normal protocol, which is supposed to be at 300 degrees for three hours. Used to ovens being shitty, I set mine at 400 to compensate and it looked close enough to 300 on the thermometer when I peered through the dirty oven glass. Second mistake: not compensating for the fact I usually throw in an additional three pounds of vegetables with the beef.

This was stupid, because three hours later, upon closer inspection my oven was actually at 350 and my beef chunks were dried up charcoal. Scrubbing out my dutch oven sucked.

No harm done, really. Remember, kids, if you’re gonna make a rookie mistake, at least do it with meat you didn’t pay for.

I got my good-cooking juju back in a major way Sunday afternoon, though, when I invited a couple select peers (read: my only friends) over and we made a fucking awesome maple-glazed pork loin with mashed red potatoes for dinner, and pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream for dessert. All from scratch, of course.

This is simple, homey food, elevated so much by adding whiskey. If you ever want to see two grown college graduates fight over the last scoop of whipped cream like children, put a tablespoon of Jim Beam in it.

I’d offer the recipes but I can only direct you to Cook’s Illustrated, and explain a dilemma: I don’t really invent my own recipes much anymore because I just refer to Cook’s Illustrated. You don’t need other cookbooks. Those recipes are tested and explained down to the molecular level.

If you want to be a good cook–of any meat or vegetable you can think of–read them. Watch America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. Buy the magazine at Albertson’s, like I do, or invest in the future and subscribe, like I should. The Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen people work really hard. As I find myself ever more appreciating true quality when I rarely encounter it, I think they deserve to be paid instead of ripped off and copied like the internet allows us to do to everybody.

Anyway…the last time I ate pork was on Christmas Eve at my Grandma’s house, an annual event rife with passive-aggressive comments, polite jokes and one lonesome bottle of Arbor Mist meant to be shared among 10 adults to stave off the alcoholics in the family. My grandma, eighty-four, was probably smart and manipulative enough to run a corporation in her day, but given the times, got married and had ten kids instead. She’s not a great cook, nor are her six daughters. The only good food at Christmas Eve is whatever side dish the big, fat, boisterous foodie daughter-in-law, my mom, brought. We prepared spinach salad with walnuts, cranberries and raspberry-apple balsamic dressing, and a pasta salad with mayo, cheese and green peas. Basic, but wholesome and tasty.

At Grandma’s house, we had the traditional scalloped potatoes, green beans and ham I suspect have been served at 60 years of Christmases. Something that was once pork tenderloin was set out, and I made the mistake of putting a slice on my styrofoam tray. I chewed the thoroughly-cooked slice, not distinguishable in texture and moisture from the plate, and told Gramma dinner was good, because what else do you say? To her credit, she always sends every one of her kids’ families home with peanut-butter-and-caramel-dipped crackers, which are truly delicious.

Anyway, the maple-glazed pork loin I made on Sunday, eaten at a table with friends, on a real plate, with a glass of local porter, did not seem to come from the same universe, let alone the same animal.

In trying to draw a lesson from the weekend’s cooking, the message is staring me in the face: don’t overcook your meat. Pay attention and treat it right.

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