Snap, Crackle, and Smoke

The road to confident cooking, via charred meat and flaming toasters.

Until I got married, I was never much for cooking. For me, cooking was just a chore one had to go through if one wanted brownies. Besides, the rest of my family was very good at cooking and very willing to do it for me, so I never really needed to.

And then I got my own kitchen. Now, nearly a year after flying my parents’ coop, cooking has become one of my favorite pastimes. I love the process — the chopping and measuring and sautéing and baking and the kitchen gadgets. Ultimately, I love the food, and I love that I’m able to make it myself.

Not that I was immediately good at said food-making. Though I desperately wanted to be good at it, it took me a while to gain my footing in the kitchen.

Some early snafus included:

Crunchy Chili

Brand new cookbook in hand, I set out to make a pot of piping-hot chili one evening. It wasn’t until I had slaved over the sauce for more than an hour that I realized that I didn’t have the right beans. I had asked my well-intentioned husband to pick up some kidney beans for me, unaware that anything other than canned beans even existed. The dinner hour was fast approaching, and I had a sack of dried beans that appeared to require at least a brief eternity of soaking to be considered edible.

Helplessly, I tried to follow the instructions for the “quick rinse” method on the back of the bean bag, but it wasn’t enough to plump the suckers up. I soaked them a little longer, then realized it was getting late and we were starving. Maybe once I added the beans to the sauce, they would finish cooking?

When I returned to check on the chili, it actually looked pretty good. I was so confident in my improvised bean-cooking technique that I served dinner without even tasting it first. My poor Hubby gamely made it through several spoonfuls of the mess before admitting that it was crunchy. Very, very crunchy.

We ate at Wendy’s that night.

Charred Swiss Steak

Some time later, I decided to try my hand at my father’s Swiss steak recipe.

Everything started well, and I managed to tenderize and slice my meat and mix together the sauce with no problems. I left it all in a covered saucepan on the stove and let it simmer for the hour and a half the recipe called for.

It probably took me way longer than it should have to notice the smoky smell coming from my kitchen. Even though I knew better, I had left the burner on high. The whole pan of steak was completely burnt and there was barely any sauce left at all.

Determined not to be wasteful, I spent the next hour scraping black stuff off of each slice of steak and remixing the sauce. I monitored it maniacally, bent on salvaging my dinner, which turned out okay but was a lot harder to chew than usual.

Black Cheese Soup

One of my favorite wedding presents is my shiny red Crock Pot, and I was eager to break it in. I had made some delicious chilis and roasts with it, and I decided to branch out and try something brand new from my book of slow-cooker recipes. I settled on a tasty-looking cheese soup, which I planned to get started in the morning and finish up once I got home from work.

In the dark of the early morning, I quickly scanned the recipe and dumped a can of chicken broth and some butter into the pot before grabbing my coffee and heading out the door.

In the middle of the day, I got a phone call at work from my husband, who had just woken up from sleeping off a night shift.

“Um, honey?” he asked.


“That thing you’re cooking in the Crock Pot?”

“… Yeah?”

“Is it supposed to be black?”

I had misread the recipe. I had set the Crock Pot to cook the broth for about 9 hours, when it really only needed to heat up for 1 or 2 hours before I added in the other ingredients. When I got home, despite Hubby dutifully switching the pot off, it was just a black buttery film.

Flaming Fondue

One of my very favorite kitchen toys is my fondue pot — because, really, who on earth doesn’t like dipping things in cheese?

I am a pro fondue chef and have made many a pot without incident, but this time it was the fire that I got wrong. Beneath my pot is a small metal chamber that I fill with a goopy blue lighter fluid and set ablaze with a lighter.

Without realizing it, I had dribbled some of the goo over the edge of the chamber, and I very nearly had a blazing table, too. Of course this happened directly in front of my dinner guest, who sat back with big eyes while Hubby and I tried to blow on the flames to keep them from spreading further. We’re a little more careful with the fire these days.

(Note from the eds: In the event of a fondue fire at your own home, Crunchable officially recommends using a fire extinguisher or dumping baking soda on the flames. Instead of, y’know, blowing on them.)

Hash Browns à la Toaster

It’s no secret that I am a big lover of all things hash brown, so I considered it a beautiful day when I found a package of frozen ones at the grocery store. The box said that they could be heated with a toaster, and into my cart they went.

It never really occurred to me that the box may have been referring to a toaster oven, which I did not own at the time, and so I popped one into my tiny, cheap, white, pop-up toaster like it was a piece of bread and waited for the potato-y magic.

Instead, I got a toaster grease fire.

After much spastic dancing and blowing and dousing the flames (Note from the eds: Fire extinguisher! Baking soda!), I salvaged and gnawed on the burnt pieces, and my poor toaster took a trip to the trash can.

We own a toaster oven now.

All these minor catastrophes were devastating at the time — but, apron-clad and oven mitted, I climbed back into the saddle and set forth to do better in the kitchen. As the mistakes became more and more infrequent, I became more daring. I tuned in religiously to “Top Chef,” perused the internet for cooking tips, checked out recipe books from my library, tried new things, and cooked, cooked, cooked, until there was almost nothing that I wasn’t able to whip together successfully.

Now, as I take time out from making my perfect — thank you very much — Swiss steak tonight, I know to double check that burner.

If nothing else, I memorized the number for pizza delivery.

Article © 2009 by Molly E. Weeks