Sunday, March 8, 2009

Test Kitchen: Beef Stew with Chocolate

It's not always fun to keep promises.

And I vowed to my fellow shrikes that if the employment gods were kind enough to keep me employed, I was going to try Sandra Lee's Recipe for Beef Stew with Chocolate.

I had to keep my promise.

The oddest thing about this recipe is not the chocolate. I love me some good mole chicken enchiladas. I can deal with savory chocolate.

During her show, she gave some odd instruction on adding the chocolate and making sure you added it evenly so it didn't clump together. Now, I don't exactly think she actually tests out every recipe - her show would not be the comedy gold it is if she did - but you have to wonder sometimes how she comes up with these odd instructions.

I mean, lady... it's a stew in a slow cooker. How could you mess this up?

I did my best to try to.

But, since Sandy is so fond of a "or whatever you have" thing, I was not going to follow directions correctly.

Starting right away, with the stew meat. I was not going to bother to brown the meat. I did flour it before I added it to the stew, since I knew that was the only thickening agent going INto this recipe.

I was not going to spend $1.69 on a bag of frozen carrots when a bag of fresh carrots is sixty-nine cents. Heck, you can even get a bag of peeled baby carrots for a buck.

And I especially was not going to do that when I had carrots leftover from last week's chicken wings.

Next up was the mushrooms. I didn't pay extra for pre-sliced mushrooms. I don't mind the idea of properly pre-sliced mushrooms, but those things are always hacked and not cut at all evenly. And it took about two seconds to chop the mushrooms.

Tomatoes... since this is a Sandra Lee recipe (and I usuaully wouldn't bother in a recipe that does not involve a seasoning packet) I figured I'd hedge my bets and go for low sodium tomatoes....

Dumped in the can of tomatoes...

I don't keep jarred garlic on hand, but I do have some frozen crushed garlic in the freezer for absolute emergencies, so in went two cubes of frozen garlic. And if you follow the many warnings that are given by Ms. Lee about slow cookers, I should have expected my house to explode, throwing something frozen in there.

Now, on to the leek. This is how much of a leek I would usually use for any other recipe (reserving the green tops for making stock, of course)....

... but I figured I'd follow the "white part only", so I chopped off the THIS IS VERY USABLE AND SHOULDN'T BE WASTED SO I'LL AT LEAST USE THIS WHEN I MAKE STOCK YOU WASTEFUL COOK part of the leek, and was left with this much...

Oh yeah, and unlike on the episode where she did this recipe, I cleaned my leek. Because they can be very, very dirty. And while I appreciate things that grow in dirt, I don't want dirt in my food.

Her recipe suggest Merlot, but I went for a bottle of what I was going to have with dinner (leftover Sunday Gravy) which was Chianti.

Oh, my, that made the mushrooms oddly pink.....

Then I added some stock. I actually went with regular old store-bought chicken stock, since I had some on hand.

On to the seasoning packet.

Did you know that a single freakin' "Meatloaf" seasoning packet is like two bucks?


I waited until stew meat was on sale so I wasn't paying for bucks a pound for the meat for this, I sure as heck didn't want to spend as much on the seasoning packet as the meat.

But, as Aunt Sandy often says, "or whatever you have".

Really? Ok. How about this??

For those out there that do not speak Polish, this is from the Polish food isle at the local produce mart. Apparently the seasoning packet has become a worldwide phenomina, as there is quite a selection of various packets for seasoning and soup and gravy. And I checked, they do still seem to follow the "roughly 20%-30% of your daily sodium intake" trend as American seasoning packets.

But at least this one, for mushroom gravy, was only 99 cents. I can live with spending 99 cents (especially because I'm kinda fascinated and have always wanted to try one).

Yep... that's a seasoning packet alright...

And I just plopped in my chocolate... directions be damned!

Although (disturbingly) the Sandra Lee version doesn't mention stiring everything once it's dumped INto the slow cooker, I did that without thinking. I very well might have had some odd, gloppy, chocolate goop in the center if I didn't, come to think of it.

(Damn, I tried so hard. But I'm not doing this again)

Oh, I did leave out the potatoes. Hey, I already wasted enough money by this point in time, knowing this was likely just going to end up getting thrown out to the feral cats and other animules around here. (I wonder if the cats will like it... they can be picky. They'd probably like it better if it was pork)

Put the lid on the slow cooker, and let it cook...

And cook....

And cook some more..

And when it's done, it will have NOTHING like the thickness that a proper stew should have....

Seriously, it was like soup. And I don't even have the best fitting lid on my crock pot and there is ALWAYS some evaporation.

A taste test...


Ok, the kitchen did smell like wine and chocolate when I took the lid off and gave it a stir.

Was it horrible?

No. It actually wasn't overly salty (although it might have been if I didn't use low-sodium tomatoes) the meat was tender enough. It didn't smell bad while it was cooking, but it also didn't trigger any mouth watering.

Could I taste anything "chocolate"?

Heck no.

Usually, it's used to bring bitterness or compliment some other ingredient (like THIS recipe that I found - thank you Canada - which I found on a web search and is from the World's Tallest Chef, Michael Smith) or spice or something. There was nothing in this recipe to do that. No mole-like complexity. Just some odd, slight bitterness that you wouldn't be able to quite put a finger on if you didn't know it was in there. The kind of thing that makes people assume they don't like an ingredient used, when it can be done nicely.

Not terrible, but far, far, far from spectacular. Not at all something worthy of some 5-star reviews on the Food Network website.

And your own evening will be much, much more enjoyable if you just skip this recipe, and pour yourself a glass of nice wine and have a couple of squares of dark chocolate.


Marilyn said...

You brave, brave woman. So glad that you neatly avoided imploding the universe as well.

CarolynA said...

At least today's weather was drizzling, and appropriate for devoting time to an Aunt Sandy kreation. In fact, I think that photo of the end result looks like some flooded areas.

Do let us know what the feral cats thought of their portion.

GothicGirlTX aka Kelly said...

So brave! So awesome! Thanks for testing that out for us!!!

Hurricane Mikey said...

There's only ONE Sandra Lee recipe that I'm willing to try--the crock pot mushroom risotto. Everything else--meh.

BTW--I just saw Ms. Lee on that 'bake sale' commercial on the Food Network. I haven't watched her show in several months, but it looks like she's had some work done. And not in a good way, either.

MrsVJW said...

As they saying on Television Without Pity goes... even a broken clock is right twice a day. Sometimes she has an idea that is mainly good, but it's never anything you can't find on a zillion other recipe sights on the web.

And that woman really has not learned lessons on what is good lighting for her.