Rachel Ray has a small column in her magazine where readers can write in about their own little – or big – bloopers in the kitchen. Usually their short remarks involve a food mishap – cooking something too long or not long enough, forgetting an ingredient, adding the wrong ingredient, something about how it was served, etc. I’ve done plenty of that along the way, as would anyone who does any amount of cooking or baking. But I tend not to remember those things for too long. Might be that they were just enough to learn something, but not so bad that they get under my skin and fester. There have been, however, a few big events that stick like a nettle (or duct tape?) to memory. One most recently.
This recent incident will stick in a few other minds as well, since our daughter, who was visiting for dinner, took a picture with her cellphone and posted it to her Facebook page (tagging mine as well) before we even sat down to eat. Ahh, the joys of the cyber age. Well, she did have plenty of time to post since a bit of a mess needed to be cleaned up before the meal. Later, conversation over food centered around a couple of Mom’s other mishaps as well.
I decided that a blogpost was due…
THINGS TO NEVER DO IN YOUR KITCHEN
(but might be able to laugh about later on)
1. NEVER pour cold water into a hot glass dish, especially if it’s in the oven.
About a week ago, we had Kristen over for a belated birthday dinner at home (this was after the outing to Applebee’s I wrote about in an earlier post, with the almond cupcake recipe). We had a few more little items in a gift bag we’d planned to give her on her actual birthday but Kris had rescheduled for the following Friday, easier when she didn’t have to get up for work the next day. The menu was a slowcooker faux Mac & Cheese Florentine (from a vegetarian slowcooker book) and acorn squash with a fruity filling. I’ll tell how I prepared the squash; the “mac & cheese” turned out too dry for my taste, although Kris loved it and took plenty home to finish off. The baking of the squash, however, became the “event” of the evening.
I’d cut the two squash in half, gutted them and filled their centers with chopped Granny Smith apples, dried cranberries, raisins, unsweetened applesauce, a little sugar, a dash of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a dab of butter. All four went into a smoky-tinted, glass ovenware dish and into the pre-heated oven at 350 degrees. No problems yet. Not until I opened the oven about 30 minutes later and decided the dish needed a bit more time to cook (until a fork poked easily into the exposed portion of the squash). At that point, however, I realized that I hadn’t added any liquid to the ovenware before putting the dish in to bake. I thought, “Hmmm, I can do this without taking it out of the oven… maybe just a quarter cup.” Yikes! Wrong decision.
Somewhere along the line, I’m sure I knew this to be a Big No-No, but I wanted dinner on the table soon and I didn’t want the bottom of the squash to burn. When the cold water steamed upward, I pulled back a bit from the oven. I’m not sure if I used tap cold water or stuff from the fridge (I usually prefer filtered water but this wasn’t going into the food). Maybe I pulled further back and away planning to do something else, like take it out of the oven after all. Doesn’t matter. There was this incredible POP sound and then smokey-tinted glass chunks and bits all over the oven and on the tiles in front of it. Well, not quite. A few large pieces remained intact, immediately under the four squash.
Bill and Kristen rushed into the kitchen as I edged a bit closer to investigate whether or not the squash was salvageable. Bill pulled me away, warning to stay far from the oven (which I’d turned off) for a few minutes, thinking something else could go wrong. I waited and then, noting that all the glass had miraculously exploded downward — nothing in the squash, decided we could still ingest it. We removed each one to an individual bowl and, while Bill cleaned up the floor, I began microwaving them to “doneness.” (There were jokes about how, if we were wrong about the glass/squash issue, the vegetable would be “nice ‘n’ crunchy.”)
The mess was cleaned up that night. Next day, we turned on the self-cleaning oven (pictures reminded me that we’d gone a bit too long…) and still, after the cleaning, I picked out a few miniscule glass pieces. Doing so, I turned around to look up at my KitchenWitch, purchased in Salem last month during a long-desired visit to that witchy site of atrocities against (mostly) women. The part of me who believes in synchronicities and magic and miracles wondered if she was why I’d pulled away from the oven seconds before that loud pop of bursting ovenware. I like to think, no matter how superstitious it sounds, a little magic in the kitchen doesn’t always have to involve food.
2. NEVER sit on the opened door of your dishwasher; i.e., if you’ve left the dishwasher door open to add more dishes, remember it’s open and don’t back into it!
Bill remodeled our kitchen for me in 2009, a much-needed re-design. We’d lived in this house for almost 30 years and it still had the original contractor-crap cabinets. The only times appliances were replaced were when they died. Everything going into the new kitchen was new, except for the dishwasher. I was a bit irked about that. It was 10 years old, after all, so how long was it going to last? My husband, whose workfields before retirement encompassed heating, air conditioning and plumbing, assured me that the thing had plenty of life in it yet and we’d save a little money. It even looked pretty good. Me, I wanted something a little quieter, a big plus with newer models.
Our kitchen was pretty much done, except for some tile work around the counter (including the backsplash, which I designed and painted), by January 2010. I’d posted pictures of the process on my Facebook page. It’s not a huge kitchen but is now as efficient as it can get for its size, at least in my opinion. I was happy.
Kristen commented, “Wow, this is not the kitchen I grew up in.” She proved it earlier this year when she was here for dinner and walked into the kitchen looking for a glass for soda. “I don’t know where you keep anything anymore,” she remarked. I turned away from the sink, where I’d been rinsing a few dishes to put into the dishwasher. “Let me give you a tour,” I joked, as I backed up to start with the cabinets above the coffeemakers and dishwasher.
Yup, you got it: the door was open. Tripped by the back of my lower calves, I wound up sitting on the dishwasher door — but only momentarily. Kris grabbed my hands to help me stand up but, for a few mini-seconds, I thought I saw my new granite countertop lifting away from around the sink. I envisioned ruining my beautiful kitchen. Was I worried about the dishwasher itself? Hell, no. Well, yes – we still don’t have a new dishwasher despite the fact that parts of the old one are damaged. Bill pounded out the warped plastic front, which now looks acceptable. The base covering, however, won’t stay put and so some wires can be seen (not so lovely). And the door to the second-washing-dose of detergent doesn’t spring open at all. Maybe we’ll come up with money for a new appliance early next year. We keep looking for sales, hoping a good one will pop up when cash is available!
3. NEVER put Tupperware (or other plasticware) on the burners of your stove, even if you’re sure you won’t use that burner (especially if your husband has rewired the burners…).
This is an older story but it gets repeated in our family often. When I’m countering the wisecracks, I like to say that I acted well in an emergency. It happened back in the early 1990s. Another one connected with Kristen’s birthday.
Months before, one of the electric burners on our stove (we didn’t have a countertop stove at that time) had given out. Bill wasn’t able to fix it so he decided to re-wire the elements so it would be another burner to produce heat for cooking. That was fine except that the dials on the back of the stove no longer accurately reflected which burner was turning on. I had to stop and think before switching any on, which is not conducive to instinctual kitchen activity.
November came and my brother Bill and wife Deb were coming for dinner and cake for Kris. Bill went to pick up Mom and Kristen (I think her car might’ve been in for repairs). I was alone in the house, planning to throw together a mac & cheese casserole (the real stuff back then, not a vegan version) and to frost the already-baked chocolate cake. As I turned on the front left burner (I thought) to boil water for pasta, the base of the Tupperware cake-tote sat on the back righthand burner with one of the cake layers awaiting frosting. Within no time, there were flames shooting up from beneath the cake. I’d turned on the wrong burner! I have little memory of just how I got that fire out except that I know I turned the burner off, there was a kitchen towel involved and eventually something that went over the whole thing (a metal bowl?) to smother what might still smolder. No kitchen fire extinguisher involved (don’t ask… our son had wanted to “see how it worked”…).
Once the flames were out, I had about 10 seconds to take a relief-breath before residual smoke reached the smoke detector around the corner, in the area between the two bedrooms at the edge of the living room. I had no idea how to turn its ear-splitting signal off (and I’m short so couldn’t reach it even on a chair anyway!), so I went around opening windows. Bill tells me he knew there was something drastically wrong when he pulled into the driveway with Mom and Kristen in the car and saw the windows were wide open. Even if the smoke alarm had quieted by then, he would’ve known I’dnever let the November chill into the house since I’m the person most likely to be bundled up on the couch, reading, turning pages with gloves on my hands!
Before Bill and Deb arrived, I’d already determined the new dinner: pizza and wings from the local pizza joint. Kristen enjoyed a one-layer birthday cake, which I did manage to frost. Another thing I don’t recall: I’m not so sure more than one candle adorned that confection, given my recent flammable experience.
P.S. I had a new (gas) stove within a week.
P.P.S. Make sure your fire extinguisher is full and you know how to use it!
P.P.S.S. It might also be a good idea to learn how to turn off the smoke detector.