Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Wreck of the Hesperus: The Aftermath of a Holiday Cooking Battle Against a Sea of Kitchen Woes

I write this post to avoid the inevitable.

Yes, I'd look for any excuse to postpone the terrible thing that must be done... the post-holiday kitchen clean-up of culinary carnage of such epic proportions it makes the burning of Rome look like giddy kids making smores at a barbecue.

I have no one to fault but myself. I created the menus and I, and only I, arrogantly disregarded the limitations of my galley kitchen when I set out to sea with my billows frothing like yeast and the snow fall hissing in the brine. Sadly, I thought I could conquer the tempest.

Like the proud but ill-fated skipper of the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea, I surveyed the 'scape before me (although my 'scape was in the form of a poorly equipped rental kitchen rather than an angry, gale-ridden sea) and then laughed when the wise old sous chef within me said, "I pray thee, put into yonder port, for I fear a hurricane." or words to that effect.
The good new is I didn't have a little daughter in the wreckage with me whose eyes were as blue as fairy flax, cheeks like dawn of day and a bosom white as hawthorn buds, that ope in month of May.
That would have been a bummer!

Instead, I had my sweet and long-suffering hubby next to me; valiantly trying to buck me up while my brow was wet with honest sweat (sorry, that's another poem) & I cursed the day I ever decided to cancel our vacation plans to tough it out and cook a Christmas feast with a circa 1995 GE Electric Spectra Range provided to us by our "no penny ever goes without pinching" landlords in our new short-term rental.

The truth be told, the meals themselves were a resounding success. With changes to cooking temperatures, cooking times and other small adjustments, I managed to execute my vision even if the meals took longer to make and were served a little later than originally intended. So, no, unlike the poor Hesperus, I didn't end up in splinters on the reef of Norman's Woe; the kitchen justs looks like it did. Now I have to clean-up the wreckage, woe is me!

Here are 10 helpful hints for apartment dwellers who like me find their culinary dreams nearly thwarted by old electric ranges and the kitchens they occupy:
  1. Unlike their gas cousins, electric burners have a very slow reaction time; therefore, before cooking anything at a medium-high temperature for a sear make sure you have first turned on two burners: one at med-high and one at med or med-low. This way if your pan is too hot or smoky you can immediately lower the temperature of the pan by moving it to the lower temperature burner without interrupting the cooking. If you try to lower the temperature by turning down the heat on the burner, your food will burn by the time the electric burner reacts and lowers the heat.
  2. Make sure you have plenty of thick kitchen towels or heat-proof trivets to place hot pans and casserole dishes on. Melamine or other synthetic counters, the finish of choice for kitchens of many corporate rentals, cannot take the heat of a hot pot placed on their surfaces and with a small cooking range & oven you will find the need to move hot things off the range or out of the oven to make room for putting the finishing touches on your dishes.
  3. Preheat the oven.
  4. Preheat the oven.
  5. Preheat the oven.
  6. Equally important to the preheating, invest in an oven thermometer. It is the most accurate way to gauge the oven temperature and knowing the actual cooking temperature is vital when planning and executing the timing and preparation of meals. The thermostats of these older electric ovens are unreliable (I learned that the hard way) & nothing throws off a dinner party more than an entree that doesn't cook in the time you alloted because the oven never reached the proper temperature. A 350 degree setting on the oven knob may only heat up the oven to 300 degrees. An enormous difference in heat, method of cooking and eventual roasting time. $20.00 should buy you a decent oven thermometer and save you and your guests the angst of a roast that served 1 hour after the first course. Just be sure to hang the oven thermometer over the center of wherever you are placing the roasting pan.
  7. A meat thermometer is also a good purchase as it will give you a good indication of a roast's doneness especially if you are new to cooking. WARNING: It is not the same as an oven thermometer. You need both.
  8. Patience, cool-headedness and flexibility. My Breville cordless immersion blender was new and never charged. OOPS! My creamy caramelized onion & cauliflower puree that was to be the foil for a dollop of luxurious ossetra caviar was now a delicious but rustic soup that had to be abandoned for this particular meal but I still wanted to serve the caviar only I had no blinis, no toast points, no crackers. DISASTER, right? Wrong, I served it as a quenelle on the Dungeness crab & avocado salad with a tiny dab of creme fraiche, instead, and it was fabulous even better than my original concept plus I could always have the soup for lunch the next day by which time the new cordless blender (my old one with the cord is in storage) will have been charged.
  9. Keep an extra bottle of dishwasher detergent, dishwashing liquid & a variety of sponges, paper towels and dish towels. You'll be doing a lot of cleaning as you go to keep room on the counters as you cook. Keep the dishwasher going while you cook for the prep dishes, too. Even with all these precautions and a helpful hubby, you'll have a kitchen that looks like the pictures above after you're done.
  10. Order Takeout! Or better yet, go on that fabulous vacation you planned but were too depressed to travel to; no dishes, plenty of sunshine and you'd be away from that god-awful rental!
Oh well, at least I have a pretty view to look at when I'm done with my onerous task.

Click on the title of the post if you want to refresh your memory of Longfellow's incredibly depressing poem, "The Wreck of the Hesperus".

You'll see how pretty you're sitting in comparison to that clueless skipper & his unfortunate daughter. By the way, no offense Hank, but hawthorn buds??? What was Longfellow talking about? Other than being white, I have no idea what they are, do you? Not that I know what fairy flax is either. Hammering Hank must have indulged in a few very interesting varieties of muscle relaxants, don'tcha think?

Happy New Year!!!

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