Kitchen Mishaps (for Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop)

Writing Prompt:  7 Kitchen Tips Based on Mistakes You’ve Made in the Past

Up until I had children, I never really cared about the kitchen, or what I was supposed to do in it.  My good friend from university, Andrea, would tell you that the only thing she ever got when she came over to eat lunch (during school), whether in first year or in fourth year, was rice…from the microwave.  I didn’t even take the time to boil it on the stove or add anything to season it.  In fact, I ate rice for pretty much the entire four years at school.  It was easy and fast to make, it was filling, and it was inexpensive.  That was my staple.  Since “settling down” with a husband and children, I have become a little more adventurous when it comes to meals.  Sure, I still love my rice, and my kids do as well (they are certainly my kids), but my menu is a little more varied.  And, with the years of time in the kitchen, trying to make things my children will actually eat (which changes daily), I’ve made mistakes along the way.  Prompted by Mama Kat, here are 7 tips based on mistakes I’ve made in the kitchen.

1) Margarine does NOT taste like butter.  Although we always use margarine, and I think I can’t taste the difference, I learned that margarine does not taste like butter when baking, particularly when making icing or frosting for cupcakes.  This lesson was learned when I was baking cupcakes for my son’s class, and realized I had no butter stored in the fridge.  “Oh, margarine will work just fine,” was my attitude, not being a seasoned baker.  Nope.  The frosting tasted terrible.  I had to use a whole lot of cocoa – turning the frosting into chocolate instead of vanilla – and a lot more vanilla extract to make it taste okay.  I’m glad each kid only got one cupcake because any more than that and someone would’ve caught on!

2) A butcher’s block is not like a hotpad.  Several times last year I had potatoes boiling on the stove and actually forgot about them.  Not good.  One day I thought I could salvage a few and so I put the pot of potatoes down on our butcher’s block, which takes up almost half of our island, and started going through the potatoes.  There’s still a perfectly round black burn spot on it in case I wanted to forget about THAT debacle.

3) A “knock-off” (AKA “cheap version”) Ziplock bag does NOT work as an effective substitute for an icing bag.  I have actually used Ziplocks in place of icing bags and they’ve worked, so I was disappointed and left in a bad spot when I used the cheap versions of Ziplocks in place of icing bags one day when I found myself out of everything else.  Instead of getting my 2 year old ready and carting her off to the grocery store, I thought I’d make due with what I had.  I ended up with icing squishing out in all directions, a huge mess in the kitchen, and not enough icing to finish the job.

4)  No matter how delicious the pizza looks when it’s just out of the oven, with the cheese perfectly golden and melted, taking a bite right away is NOT a good idea.  Despite learning this I continue to do it time and time again, burning my mouth and regretting it immediately after.  And trying to rush it and cut the pizza as soon as it’s out of the oven, so that the kids will stop begging and get their dinner, will result in a mess of a pizza.  It’s best to just tune out their “I’m hungry, can we eat yet?” pleas for a few more minutes rather than destroy the perfect distribution of cheese and other toppings on the pizza.

5)  Always taste your food while you’re making it.  I never thought about this until watching Gordon Ramsay drilling it into his “Hell’s Kitchen” competitors, but it makes total sense.  Figuring out that your meal is a disaster early on means you have more time to salvage it and try to turn it into something edible.  And if your cookie dough tastes bad, your cookies will taste bad too.  If your dough isn’t delightful, throwing in some cocoa or icing sugar can save the day.

6)  Never trust cooking times.  In the house we lived in before this one, our oven was hotter than you-know-where.  Everything I put in there came out burned (and of course it was the oven to blame, not me!).  Now I put the timer on for 5 minutes less the suggested time, because once it’s burnt, it’s DONE.

7)  Those can openers that remove the entire lid are dangerous.  Or, at least, they’re dangerous for me.  The only time I’ve ever had to have stitches was after opening a can of black olives with one of those openers.  My boyfriend (husband now) and I were making nachos for dinner.  I opened the olives, and shortly after I cut myself (I’m pretty klutzy).  It’s really all a blur.  You can still see the marks from the stitches on my thumb, about 12 years later.

I admit it, I’m not a pro when it comes to the goings-on in the kitchen, but we’re all well-fed and happy…and I haven’t started a fire…yet…

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