Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Kitchen Catastrophes!

I thought I'd better take a few minutes and post about my kitchen catastrophes of the past Christmas season -- before I forget what they all were. They might bring a chuckle and some encouragement to others, too!

Catastrophe #1 -- The Almond Brittle Adventure.

I have a great recipe for almond brittle, and I make it almost every Christmas. It's an easy microwave recipe -- you combine sugar and corn syrup and microwave for a length of time, then add almonds and microwave some more, then add a couple more items and microwave a bit more, before pouring the brittle onto a pan to cool. Of course, you use a microwave-safe bowl or casserole dish for this recipe. I always use a glass bowl.

So I combined my sugar and corn syrup and stuck the bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes, then ran upstairs to do something else until the timer went. I heard a popping sound or two but didn't think anything of it. The timer went off and I opened the microwave door... to find an amazing sight! The sides of the bowl had separated from the bottom. So what I had was a shallow glass bowl full of molten sugar/corn syrup, and a separate glass ring that had originally been the rest of the bowl. Very interesting! More interesting still was the question of how I was going to safely remove the liquid (more-or-less)-filled "bowl" without spilling anything or seriously hurting myself. I could easily remove the ring part, so I did that and took it immediately to our glass recycling bin. I finally figured out that I could safely remove the "bowl" part, with its rapidly hardening (but still incredibly warm) contents, by pulling it out microwave tray and all. Then I set it in the sink and filled it with water.

What a mess! I eventually did get all of the molten sugar mess out of the "bowl" and got it clean enough to place in the recycle bin. And yes, I did make another batch of the stuff. I used a 3-quart Pyrex casserole this time and watched it like a hawk. It came out just fine, thankfully.

Catastrophe #2 -- The Unexpected Oven Outage

It was the Friday before Christmas. I have a little tradition of baking Christmas cookies with my grandkids, and this was the day we had set to bake and decorate. Two of the kids were still away visiting their other grandparents. But my other 2 granddaughters were coming, along with a friend and her daughter. I had baked quite a few cookies the day before so the kids would have plenty to decorate, but of course they would also want to help bake. I planned to make the spritz cookies flavored with Jello® for that.

Early in the morning, my daughter-in-law called saying that the 5-year-old wasn't feeling well. We decided we'd have to cancel and I went about my day. I had plenty to do!

But one thing I didn't do was bake anything. That night, I turned on the oven. I had bought some tins to package homemade hot chocolate mixes, and wanted to wash and dry them before using. Since the most efficient way to dry a tin is in a warm oven, I turned the oven to 200º , put the tins in the oven and continued washing dishes. After 10 minutes or so I turned back to check on the tins and found that -- surprise, surprise! the temperature still read 100º.

The oven was not heating at all -- in fact, it was not working at all. The igniter had given out. (This particular Kenmore stove seems to eat igniters. I can't even tell you how many of these we've bought -- without a doubt, enough to pay for a new stove!) Fortunately, the last time this happened, my practical husband had prudently ordered two igniters. He quickly fixed the problem and in a few minutes my oven was working again.

I was thankful that the cookie-baking had been canceled! Can you imagine the disappointment of three little girls when the oven would not work to bake their cookies? At that time of day my husband would not have been available to diagnose the oven problem and fix it. It was a good reminder to me of God's perfect timing and how He cares about even the little details in our lives.

Catastrophe #3 -- The Pizza Crust Panic

This happened on Christmas Eve afternoon. My daughter and family had returned from Ohio, so they and our son's family would all be joining us for Christmas Eve supper. I would serve our traditional Christmas Eve Soup, accompanied by cheese pizza along with raw veggies and dip (ranch dressing). I had pizza dough going in the bread machine, so I proceeded with everything else. We planned to eat early, between 4 and 5 p.m.. When the signal sounded on the bread machine, I greased 2 pizza pans and turned the dough out on one. I would then cut it in half and press half into each pan. Did I say dough?

What plopped out onto my pan was not "dough". It was a sticky, stringy, semi-liquid mass which had me wondering if I had left out most of the flour from the recipe. I quickly realized that wasn't the case -- there was lots of unmixed flour resting in the bottom of the bucket. For some reason the dough had not mixed!

Fortunately, since we had planned to eat early, this happened while our local supermarket was still open -- they would close at 6 -- and so my long-suffering husband hurried off to buy some uncooked pizzas so we could start again. He got back in plenty of time to get them cooked before the kids arrived. While he was gone I cleaned up the mess as best I could. By the time everyone got there, all traces of the catastrophe were gone and we had cheese pizza to serve with our soup!

I still don't know what happened with the bread machine, but I'm going to try making calzone dough in it today. If that doesn't mix, I'll have my suspicions confirmed that it's time for a new bread machine!

Catastrophe #4 -- The Turkey Drippings Deluge

This one happened on Christmas morning! We were cooking a turkey breast, along with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy, to take to my parents' home for Christmas dinner. This was one of those turkey breasts that you cook from the frozen state. We had never cooked one of these before; it had been in my parents' freezer for some time and really needed to be used, so we tried it. It smelled wonderful as it cooked and things seemed to be going well with our preparations. We took the turkey out of the oven at the appropriate time so it could "rest" before carving. Not long before we were to leave, I prepared to make the gravy while my husband would carve up the turkey. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he thought the turkey would have enough liquid to use for the gravy, or if I should just use chicken broth. Before I could get the words out, he lifted the turkey in its bag out of the pan and onto the butcher block next to the stove. And proceeded to slit open the bag!

There was the answer to my question... there was liquid and plenty of it -- but it was not usable for my gravy! It cascaded over the butcher block and into the open cabinet beneath it, then ran to the floor and began spreading over a large area. What a mess! We were grabbing things out of the cabinet and moving them to safer ground, but greasy liquid had left its mark on many of them. We spent the next half hour cleaning up the mess. We had to take everything the liquid had touched out of the cabinet, then thoroughly wash and disinfect the shelves and the butcher block. We washed the items off as best we could and then wiped them with disinfecting wipes. The floor actually had to be cleaned before we could proceed with this maneuver, or we would be tracking turkey broth everywhere.

Needless to say, I used chicken broth for the gravy -- and we were late for Christmas dinner!

What did I learn from these catastrophes?

* Not to be over-confident (or despairing); things like this can happen to the most well-seasoned cook.

* To be flexible.

* Not to lose my temper or my sense of humor.

* To be much more thankful for my wonderful husband and his willingness to help.

* I was reminded of how God knows every detail of our lives and is in control of each one. And I'm so thankful there is always something to learn from every catastrophe!

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