Those Less-Than-Perfect Moments in the Kitchen

11 Jan

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the kitchen has had those moments: the ones that, in hindsight, were entirely preventable if you’d just taken the time to think before you acted. (Mom told you so!) These episodes could be anything from the mundane to extraordinary. Maybe you forgot to check to see if you had all your ingredients before you started or maybe you leaned over your gas stove a little too far and found yourself quite literally hot under the collar.

My top three “What was I thinking?!” moments are, in order:

3. Many moons ago when all I made was spaghetti and sauce out of the jar, I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. I got out my spaghetti, put it on the counter, then went to answer my ringing, cordless phone. It turned out to be an old high school friend to whom I had not spoken in quite some time. I put the lid on the pot, left the kitchen and went to my room…where I remained for the duration of the call, a good hour or more. As I hung up, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d forgotten something, something important. I then registered a faint burning smell. “What could that be?” I asked myself. “Oh, SH*T!” I swore as I leapt from my chair, threw the door open and tore into the kitchen. I ripped the lid off the pot to find it entirely empty and incredibly hot but surprisingly unscathed.  The only damage done was to the sticker that I’d forgotten to remove from the lid. I had that pot for many years after the Great Evaporation Incident  and every time I looked at the lid, I was reminded of the importance of staying focused on the job at hand.

2. Not terribly long ago, I decided I was going to make my Asian pasta recipe. (Two pasta-related SNAFUs? Maybe I should look into this trend a little further.)  This requires you to use two burners: one to quickly sauté the vegetables and another to boil the water for the pasta. While all this is happening, you mix up the peanut butter-based sauce and have it ready to go when you incorporate the hot ingredients. I have made this particular recipe a zillion times and could probably do it with my eyes closed. Or so I thought anyway. We have a series of blue plastic mixing bowls that have always served us well. Everything from soup to salad to baking mixes to chips have gone into these bowls. I always use the smallest one to make this sauce as it’s the perfect size: just big enough for me to be able to whisk the sauce so that it’s completely smooth.

Anyway, my pasta was done so I turned off the burner, removed the pot, drained the pasta and then combined the veggies and pasta on the front burner. I reached for my sauce, used the spatula to get it out, and then put the plastic bowl down on the burner I’d been using to boil the water. No more than 20 seconds later, I realized my mistake and removed the bowl. It didn’t look like it had any major damage, which was a relief (I once melted the bottom of a measuring cup, so it was hardly unheard of).  What insane synapses fired next will forever be a mystery to me. I then touched the bottom of the bowl to see if it was hot.

It was.

I spun, tossed the bowl into the sink and doused my finger under a steady stream of cold water. I stared at my finger in sheer amazement. Of course the bowl was going to be hot. It was plastic. It sat on a burner for a reasonable length of time.  Not my most bright and shining moment. In my head, I thanked my mother-in-law for recommending we keep the Ozonol in the kitchen as I dabbed it on my throbbing finger.

On the bright side, the meal was delicious.

1. This one happened just last week and inspired this blog post.

My mom bought J a fantastic new wok to replace the cheap-o one we’d been using.  I hadn’t used it yet but came across a recipe for stir-fried beef that specifically required a wok and for the heat to be turned up to the maximum level. I’ve always been a bit afraid of getting pan really, really hot but it’s the best way to get a good sear on the meat.

I’d planned to serve the meat and accompanying vegetables on a bed of rice noodles. I got my water going and simultaneously got the oil in the wok literally smoking hot. In went the beef where it was left to develop a crust for a couple of minutes. Next, I tossed the rice noodles into the now-boiling water.

Now, I know enough to not use a metal spoon or spatula on my wok, so I had my trusty wooden spoon on hand when I thought, “Hmm. I should I should stir those noodles.” So I stuck my wooden spoon (oh, I think I’m so clever to have thought of this) into the pasta water, swirled the noodles around and then thought, “Oh, time to flip the beef over!”

In case any of you have forgotten your high school chemistry, water + searing hot oil = hundreds of teeny oil splashes on your person. Had I just stopped and thought about it for a fraction of a second, I’m fairly confident that it would have occurred to me that I was about to make one of the dumber, more painful mistakes I could make and would thus have avoided it.

To my chemistry teacher, Ms. Epstein, if by chance you happen to be reading this, you taught me better than that. I swear.

So those are my top three “WTF was I thinking??!” moments in the kitchen. I’d love to hear yours!


4 Responses to “Those Less-Than-Perfect Moments in the Kitchen”

  1. Josh January 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    I had one a few years ago (I’ve had others since, I promise, but this is the more entertaining).

    I was making my mothers Goulash recipe, for the second time. The first turned out so well so I thought I’d have even more people over and make two giant batches with even better ingredients. This time being more familiar with the process I thought it would turn out great. My mother told me “Get a carton of stock. Don’t ever use cubes.” I couldn’t find these “cartons” at the grocery store but I did find some bottles. I had two pots going. One medium sized and one large. I went to pour the bottle of stock into the large pot, and as I added it I noted how dark and viscous it was for beef stock. I checked the label and saw that I had bought concentrated liquid beef stock. Basically cubes in liquid form. I probably added about 40 cups worth of beef stock had I diluted it with water like I was supposed to. So yeah, large pot of Goulash: Ruined.

    • foodNURD January 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      Ugh! Gotta love the mistakes when company’s over!

  2. chrissyhsn January 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    One day, I spontaneously forgot how to make basmati rice. I’ve always just followed the instructions on the package, and it’s come out great, but I’d done it enough (I thought) that it had become second nature.

    Except, apparently not.

    I managed to reverse the rice to water ratio, which resulted in the water being absorbed far too quickly, and then the rice scorching to the bottom of the pot and ultimately burning, causing the smoke alarm to go off. THAT was a fun clean-up job.

  3. svanegmondond January 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Turkey 2011 story.

    We got a heritage turkey from a vendor at the Brickworks market, and had it butterflied. We mixed butter and curry paste, stuffed it under the skin, and brought it to my sister’s house, where dinner was going to happen. Highly recommended, btw. The turkey is done in 1/3rd of the time and usually comes out better.

    … she doesn’t own a roasting pan.


    So, some improvising happens, and we put a bunch of squarish pans (a mix of metal and glass), stick them on the shelf beneath the turkey, and in it goes. Within ten minutes the butter has all melted, and rather than pooling in the roasting pan where it recooks the turkey, it drips onto the pans sitting way underneath the turkey,

    So the pans gradually sizzle the butter into crispy black powder, which begins to smoke. Setting off the smoke alarm. This draws our attention, and we open the oven to discover what’s going on. Oh, I know what will put the smoke out: water! This produces a giant spattering of misty oil in the oven, which lights with a nice FOOF and then our oven is a fireplace, with our turkey over the flame.

    Solution: close the door, wait.

    Long term solution: keep the pans filled with water, beer, wine, etc. to prevent smoking.

    Result: perfect turkey, smoky gravy made from the pan.

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