Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I committed one of the cardinal sins on Saturday.

Lets be honest, I probably committed half the seven on Saturday.  Or more.  I know I ate like a glutton then lay around like a three-toed sloth.  There's two right there.  Pretty sure there was some lusting in there somewhere as well.  Whether over a woman or a juicy cut of meat, there usually is.

But we aren't referring to the whimsy of man's interpretations of heaven and hell here.  I'm talking about sins of the kitchen.  From processed ingredients to under-seasoning, there are plenty of ways to anger the gods of the knife and board.  And I just couldn't refrain from tempting them into smiting me down last weekend.

For as long as I can remember, Saturday night has been "steak night" at my parent's house.  Not only are ginormous, high quality ribeyes acquired from a local meat market, as the name implies, but an open-invitation party always takes place before and after dinner.  There have been as many as a dozen people feasting around that table on any Saturday night, enjoying some bovine protein in any number of different preparations.  Wine flows, and laughter abounds.  Outdoor speakers have been installed just for this weekly occasion, carrying the tunes out to the bonfire pit after the meal.  Friends of the family often end up crashing on various spare beds and couches.  Actual howling at the moon has taken place.

My first misstep four days ago, my initial taunt of the gods of the kitchen?  I changed the menu.  I had a bad need for some venison tenderloin au Poivre.  Brushing off years of tradition without so much as a wink or a Hail Mary, I decided to serve Bambi over Bessie.  Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was just the first of my many transgressions.  Transgressions that would eventually lead to the gods raining down their disapproval.

Next, I invited guests at the last minute.  Ingredients had been purchased, veggies had been prepped, peppercorns had been pestled to pieces, charcoal was very nearly glowing orange to match the fading light of the western horizon.  I thought, "What the hell.  I can stretch it."  More starch!  More veg!  I got this.  Again, not exactly the culinary equivalent of clubbing baby seals, but still, the lords of cast iron would soon set forth the furies of caramelization on their terrible steeds of vengeance.

Lastly and most egregiously, I thought it best to perhaps sample the wine before sitting down to the table.  This is one of the minor sins of cooking with family.  Not normally a harbinger of horrific karmic mojo in a home kitchen, opening the bottle when you have three courses to cook for the clan, is nonetheless, seldom a good idea.

Having gone out of vogue in restaurants sometime around the moment Al Gore created the Internet, Steak au Poivre can still be the prom queen at home.  And despite it's seemingly self-aggrandizing title, at least to the ear of Joe Beergut, Steak (or venison) au Poivre is pretty damn simple to make.  It's a one pan entree.  With the Frenchy name and big showy fireball when you dump in the booze, it's definitely a crowd pleaser in the kitchen.  Throw that rich silky sauce over some gorgeously cooked meat, and you won't get any complaints at the table either.  Vive la France, and pass the Lipitor!  Fellas, if you want to impress your lady friend with minimal mental investment, I can teach you to knock this one out of the park in three beers.

A monkey could do it.  So I poured another glass of red, and got involved in a deep discussion on the merits of the Butt Out Tool

And the gods struck down with furious anger.  I'd thumbed them in the eye one too many times, and had become their cosmic pawn.  In my confidence and pride, I'd squandered my talents and responsibilities.  So they manufactured a hiccup in the fabric of space-time, and at their hands, I committed the single worst sin of the kitchen.  I overcooked the venison.

I knew what I'd done before even turning to look.  You can hear it in the sizzle when the meat has tightened up too far.  That gorgeous cylinder of deer flesh I'd been lusting after for hours, ruined by insolence and inattention.  I was pissed off.  I rested it while I made the sauce and finished up the sides, and sure as the dawn, when I eventually cut into it, there it was, approaching medium well.  Not even medium well, but miles past approaching medium rare where it should have been.  It felt like getting the dreaded cheek turn when you go in for a first kiss.  All anger and disappointment and embarrassment.  It wasn't the first time I'd made that boneheaded move, but it will hopefully be the last.

Dinner was a blast.  All three courses were good, and  nobody bitched about my vulcanized medallions of whitetail.  I'd served the center of the loin, the least overcooked portion, to the people that would notice most.  We love each other, and the company matters more than the food anyway, but I couldn't help taking a moment to ask forgiveness from the gods of the kitchen.  Then we went out back to howl at the moon.

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