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Artist’s Kitchen: You know it’s awful if raccoons turn it down

Axiom No. 1: Even good cooks make bad meals.

Axiom No. 2: Sometimes the bad meal can be salvaged.

Axiom No. 3: When the meal is too contemptible, even for scavenging raccoons or dogs, eat something else.

I don’t believe that I’ve had an outright kitchen disaster happen recently enough to write it down while it was still fresh. Most of my meals are edible, even when I’m totally winging it. And you can always call for help, letting good old “Joy of Cooking” guide you away from the shoals.

But your guide can be at fault even if you get it “right.” My wife once made a blue cheese cheesecake recommended from Bon Appetit magazine that was pretty much an abomination. Not her fault, but why did anyone at the magazine think it was remotely edible?

And then there’s the perfect storm: When the guide suggests something that really may not be that good and you whip up a gale-force disaster by taking wrong recipe readings. Pretty soon, you’re on the rocks and even Hamburger Helper would be a welcome rescue diver.

I thought this recent recipe from Saveur Magazine looked like an interesting departure from a St. Paddy’s Day corned beef. Oh, well, at least we didn’t have company over. Now, I’m not sure that I’d recommend this, anyway, unless you’ve had sauerbraten before (I hadn’t) and know you like it. But please avoid these errors, should you be brave enough to try it.

Use a big enough bowl for your beef, marinade and other ingredients. OK, they didn’t say how big, but I shouldn’t have been so lazy. See where it says 7 cups of water? I ran out of room at about 5, but had already added the full amount of vinegar. Oops. I’m not sure how that affected the beef, but it wasn’t anything I really want to taste again.

See, in preparing the dumplings, where it says to “gently boil?” I boiled, shall we just say, rather vigorously.

End result: the roast was edible, if barely. The “dumplings?” They just dissolved and I tried to turn the resulting mush into soup – throwing good ingredients at bad. I cooled it a bit and set it out in the backyard, figuring that at least some hungry critter could have a bad meal. Come morning, the gelatinous would-be horror movie special effect was untouched, too awful even for our regularly roaming raccoons. How bad is that?

Sauerbraten mit Kartoffel Klösse

Pot Roast with Potato Dumplings. From Saveur Magazine, February 2007. This recipe is an adaptation of one in Luchow’s German Cookbook, by Jan Mitchell (Doubleday, 1952).

1 beef eye of round (5-6 pounds), tied at 2-inch intervals

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/3 cups red wine vinegar

4 whole cloves

4 whole black peppercorns

3 yellow onions, 2 sliced, 1 finely chopped

2 dried bay leaves

1 carrot, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch rounds

1 rib celery, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

7 tablespoons butter

1 1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and grated

2 eggs, lightly beaten

5 crunchy gingersnaps, crushed

Season beef with salt and pepper; put into a bowl. Add vinegar, cloves, peppercorns, sliced onions, bay leaves, carrots, celery and 7 cups water (beef must be submerged). Cover; refrigerate for 4 days.

Remove beef; reserve vegetables and marinade. Pat beef dry. Heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Brown beef, turning 2 to 3 times, 10 to 12 minutes total. Add marinade and vegetables; boil. Simmer over medium-low, covered, until tender, about 3 hours. Heat remaining butter over medium heat. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour and sugar. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Briskly stir butter mixture into beef pot; cook, covered, until beef is very tender, about 1 hour.

To make dumplings bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put 1/2 cup flour into a bowl; set aside. Mix together chopped onions, bread crumbs parsley, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Squeeze out extra liquid from potatoes; add potatoes to bread crumb mixture along with eggs and remaining flour; mix well. Form potato mixture into 10 (2 1/2-inch wide) balls. Roll balls in reserved flour, shaking off any excess and gently boil, stirring only occasionally, until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer dumplings to a large plate and cover with plastic wrap to keep warm.

Remove beef. Stir gingersnaps into gravy; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until thickened, about 14 to 15 minutes. Remove twine from beef; slice thickly. Arrange dumplings around beef on a platter; pour gravy over the top.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.