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I’ve been cooking since I was nine years old. I’d bake cookies back then for our family of eight (at that point; it ultimately numbered 10) so the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package needed to be tripled. That is how I learned to add fractions, actually. Fractions were one of the rare sections of math that I succeeded in during my first go-round with school. (My math “a-ha” occurred during my second venture into college–another story.)
Well, in baking those cookies one had to do a “test” batch–just two cookies in a metal pie pan to check if you’d put in the correct amount of flour. Here’s where my first adventure in Cooking Fails started. I checked the “try cookies” as they were known, and it was obvious that more flour was needed. But, instead of measuring out another third or fourth cup, my brain was doing something else, so my hands picked up the sifter and turned the handle until all the flour had been emptied into the rotating bowl of cookie dough while the MixMaster was doing its best to incorporate it.
But there was no way that the amount of flour that I had just dumped into that bowl was going to be combined with the moist ingredients. There I stood…looking at the ruined cookie dough…I put down the sifter, ran outside, and jumped on my sister’s bicycle, and crying so hard I could barely see, I raced down the edge of the highway to the gravel road that led to…I don’t know where I was headed. I just knew that I had really messed up the cookie dough and I had no idea what to do now. I don’t even remember how my mom helped me turn that mess into an edible product. But, somehow we did…I don’t believe there was ever a cookie left behind for the trash in our home. We managed to eat them, I’m sure. But that is my first memory of my ability to completely dismiss from my brain that I was cooking something, and I needed to pay attention!
I grew up and got married and when we were at the stage of life where all five of our offspring were in school—elementary through high school–I received a lovely gift from my children for Christmas one year: a rice cooker! I just laughed and thanked them all. (Dad had facilitated it.) It was in response to my tendency to start cooking rice–put it in a pan, add the water, turn it on high so the water would boil, then (well at least this was what I was supposed to do) shut off the heat, put on the lid, and let the rice cook. Or maybe I just turned down the heat, put on the lid, set the timer…I forget because I’ve had a rice cooker for 30 years now.
But what happened during rice cooking—a few too many times—was that I’d turn on the heat, and think of something else I’d just quickly go do or get or something…but when the rice and water would boil, I’d be out of the kitchen, the water would get absorbed–evaporated–etc. etc. and we’d end up with burned rice stuck to bottom of the pan by the time my brain would recall that I’d started to cook rice! Eeek! (This is so awful: once I put on the rice and went to another room, and then I remembered that our son was around the block at baseball practice. YES. I rode my bike over to watch for a minute. Suddenly, I remembered the stupid rice! By the time I rushed home, it was actually smoking. But not yet in flames–thank goodness.) I believe that was the Christmas that the rice cooker was gifted to me.
I have several personal cooking rules by now:
#1 When melting cheese on bread under the broiler, I stay with one hand on the handle of that part of my gas cooking range. DO NOT, under any circumstances, leave that position. I have been making absolutely perfect grilled cheese open-face sandwiches for years now. (Blackened cheese is not a culinary delight…)
#2 When heating milk for anything, the microwave is a good choice because it shuts itself off automatically, unlike the gas flame under a saucepan. And, if the milk boils over in just the right way, sometimes that flame can be extinguished…creating an all-new hazard of natural gas leaking…
My Most Important Lesson from Recent Years:
Boiling eggs. I have learned to make the most excellent hard-cooked eggs! The yolks are perfectly yellow, without a hint of grey outline. Here’s the procedure: put the eggs into a pan and cover them with cool tap water. Put them on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Then set the time for 13/14 minutes, put a lid on the pan, shut off the heat. When the timer rings, pour out the hot water, and run cold tap water over the eggs in the pan. Shut off the tap water after about 30 seconds, and put a couple of handfuls of ice cubes into that water, on top of the eggs. Let the eggs cool off completely. Your hard-cooked eggs will be fabulous!
They look so lovely when cut open. We are big fans of egg-salad sandwiches in pita bread, and my recipe for potato salad includes chopped hard-cooked eggs. I keep a supply available in our refrigerator at all times. It’s the perfect breakfast bite on the go: just peel an egg, add salt and pepper, then two or three bites later I’ve ingested an excellent serving of protein to start my day off well.
I did, however, lose count of the number of times that my wandering brain resulted in Not-So-Perfect hard-cooked eggs. Did you know that the shells will actually get brown spots from burning when all the water evaporates from the pan?? The best hard-cooked eggs-failed story happened a couple of years ago. Stupidly–after I put the eggs in the pan with the cold water, and put it on the stove to come to a boil–I broke Rule #1…Do Not Walk Away Until The Water Boils And You Shut Off The Heat. Somehow, I had gone to put away something, somewhere, and so my brain completely dumped the original task I’d started–cooking the eggs.
I sat down at my computer, and was messing with something for a while, when I heard a little POP, and a short time later, another POP. I asked Mr. CowGirl, in his office room (right next to mine) if he was doing something to make that sound. No…But he was curious so he got up and walked into the other rooms to investigate. He started laughing and insisted I come and join him. Yes…the POP was several exploded eggs that been “cooking” without any water (it had evaporated some time ago) and so the eggs just burst open, flinging hard-cooked bits around the kitchen. We found a chunk that made it at least 10 feet from the stove.
It’s been a few years now since the Egg Pop Adventure. And you’ve no doubt heard the adage: With Age, Comes Wisdom. I’m not certain of that, yet. It’s been quite a while since I’ve caused anything in my kitchen to start smoking–unintentionally, that is. But, I’m not going to relax yet. After all, my Culinary Catastrophes have been a life-long adventure. What makes me think I’ve overcome the tendency to lose track of what…Published in