Being an experienced cook — even of the home variety — doesn’t guarantee perfection. Memories lapse, attention wanders, and before you know it, disaster strikes.
One lesson I learned early is not to cook when I’m angry. Many years ago, my husband and I were experimenting with what was then a new food on the American scene — tofu. I couldn’t tell you today what we were bickering about, but as we argued, we stir-fried the heck out of that poor block of soy. By the time we were finished, so was the tofu — a pulverized mess. And we had to eat it, because there was nothing else.
On another afternoon (also many years ago), we discovered that I’d left that night’s dinner — frozen chicken — on the kitchen counter. All day. This is a huge no-no, because bacteria can grow and contaminate the meat as it thaws at room temperature, which is not cold enough to check the germs. Frozen meats should be defrosted slowly in the fridge, or in the microwave right before cooking.
We should have pitched the chicken, but we were young, healthy and broke, so we cooked and ate it anyway. We survived, but I would strongly advise against doing what we did. Never, never leave food on the kitchen counter to defrost. We were lucky not to get food poisoning.
Which brings me to my third, perhaps most spectacular blunder yet. The first two were made as a less-experienced cook. I’ve got no excuse for this one from Thanksgiving 2014:
Our turkey, a 24-pounder, was still a solid block of ice on Wednesday, despite defrosting in the fridge for four days. We looked for ways to speed things, and found one: put it in cold water in the bathtub. We modified this by putting the turkey in a large cooler in the tub, filling the cooler with cool water, and changing the water hourly. The turkey was pretty much defrosted by evening. Yay!
We hauled the bird out of the cooler, dried its plastic packaging, and parked it on the top shelf of our fridge. “That way, air can circulate under it and continue to defrost it,” we reasoned. And went to bed.
Thanksgiving morning I opened the fridge — and nearly fainted. The turkey had continued to defrost, all right. Its plastic wrapping now revealed the small perforations that all plastic bags get when banged around in supermarket freezers. And the turkey’s potentially salmonella-laden juices had leaked out.
All over the glass shelf. Overflowed down the sides of the fridge. Puddled at the bottom. Pretty much the whole refrigerator was pink with turkey juice, and blue with my profanity. I was furious with myself for not having put the bird in a big pan to finish defrosting.
Luckily, none of the dishes I had already prepared were hit by the pink splashdown. But I still had to wipe out the fridge, sanitize every surface, and clear out the crisper drawers at the bottom where the poison puddles had collected.
After washing all the produce in there — apples, celery, carrots — I was leery of replacing anything in the crisper drawers, afraid I’d accidentally use the foods uncooked. So I peeled, sliced, blanched and froze five pounds of carrots that busy morning. Washed and cooked the celery. Washed all the apples, then peeled and baked them into a crisp.
Then I started cooking my Thanksgiving dinner.
On the plus side, I got several freezer bags of prepared carrots and a nice apple crisp. And a sparkling clean refrigerator — the hard way.
For my Apple Crisp, I modified this recipe from “Jane Brody’s Good Food Book.” I used 4 peeled apples and 1 cup of cranberries instead to total 5 cups of fruit. Here’s hoping you won’t need a kitchen disaster to try this warming dessert.
3 cups cranberries (1 12-ounce package)
2 large apples, unpeeled, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided use
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats (regular or quick)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
In a large bowl, combine the cranberries, apples, sugar, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon flour. Transfer the mixture to a greased 6-cup shallow baking dish.
In the same bowl (no need to wash it), combine the remaining flour, brown sugar, oats, and nuts, if desired. Stir in the melted butter or margarine, and mix the ingredients well (the mixture should be crumbly). Sprinkle the oat mixture over the fruit mixture.
Bake the crisp in a preheated 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until the crisp is lightly browned. Let the crisp stand for 10 minutes before serving it. Makes 8 servings.
(c) copyright Laura Groch 2015