Wine-tastrophe

Garlic Wine Pork Chops by the Pioneer Woman
Garlic Wine Pork Chops 

I recently met some people at a party, and when they found out I am a food writer, they asked if I am a good cook.

This is always a difficult question. I feel comfortable saying I’m an enthusiastic cook, an adventurous cook, someone who loves to cook.

But sometimes, I get too big for my britches. I feel like a domestic goddess who can do ANYTHING. I browned butter in a dark-coated pot the other day, and I felt like I had completed a magic trick with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back. Do you know what that does for a girl’s ego? I browned butter blind!

The most recurrent manifestation of this egotism is in substitutions. Once I believe I understand the basic mechanics of an ingredient in a recipe, I get crazy with substitutions for said ingredient.

If you follow me on Facebook, then you likely already read about my wine-tastrophe last night. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, well… you should. Click here.

Last night, I learned a lesson about substitutions. I was humbled before a violently spattering cast-iron skillet full of hot wine and oil.

I’ve fallen in love with the recipe by the Pioneer Woman for Pork Chops with Garlic and Wine. These pork chops are hearty, rich, salty, and so delicious. After searing the chops, you make a white wine pan sauce for the chops to swim around in. I make little tweaks to the recipe, using white wine, fewer garlic cloves, etc. And it’s delicious. I’ve used Pinot Grigio, Reisling, and Sauvignon Blanc for this recipe, and all have worked tremendously well.

A couple weeks ago, Amanda and I stocked up on our favorite wine at Trader Joes, a sparkling wine called Vino Verde, which is super cheap and super delicious. In fact, that and one bottle of Prosecco are all the wine we have in the house. So when it came time to line up my ingredients, I poured out a cup and a half of Vino Verde and began heating up the cast-iron.

Here’s the lesson I learned:  never, ever make a white wine pan sauce with sparkling wine. Ever.

Like a crime scene from Dexter, except, you know, it's grease and not blood.
Like a crime scene from Dexter, except, you know, it’s grease.

There are levels of kitchen panic for me. Low level kitchen panic is dropping a glass when I’m barefoot. It’s a small adrenaline rush. But high level panic is about fire, flooding, personal injury. And with it comes Zen-like clarity. That’s what happened last night. I poured some of that bubbly wine into the pan with hot oil, and the mixture went crazy. The spatter went almost to the ceiling, and I went into food safety mode:  I soaked a towel with water, and I grabbed the baking soda. You know it’s bad when I grab the baking soda. And all the while I chanted to myself, Oh God, I’m starting a grease fire. 

We turned off the burner (which, incidentally, is the first thing you should do, rather than the last). I managed not to burst into tears. And we saved the sauce, substituting chicken stock for wine, working quickly in a new skillet. The pork chops were perfect. Our kitchen looked like a culinary crime scene, and the bottoms of my slippers are now coated in a thin film of grease, but dinner went off without a hitch. I drank the rest of the wine that should have gone in the sauce (I earned it).

And I awoke today, humbled before my stove, a little wiser for the experience.

So, ‘fess up:  what’s your worst kitchen catastrophe?


49 thoughts on “Wine-tastrophe

  1. Making a bourbon sauce and lit the pan on fire, panicked, threw a dry cloth on it, caught the cloth on fire, cried, finally extinguished it, then spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and eating Papa John’s.

    Also, vegan cream cheese is NOT a suitable replacement for real cream cheese. I had a craving for those cheese wontons, so I made a filling with the vegan stuff, fried them, and then struggled not to spit out the first bite. Terrifically gross.

    1. Oh wow, an honest-to-goodness fire! I would have resorted to pizza delivery after that as well. And good note on the vegan cream cheese. I will definitely keep that in mind.

  2. Years ago, I had a killer craving for a bologna sandwich. For some reason, my friends kept the meat in the freezer and, for some reason, I have little patience. I was prying the meat apart with a steak knife when I stabbed myself in the palm. Not much blood but there was a slight bit of nerve damage. The sandwich was as good as can be expected.

    No fire, not much blood but a ridiculously stupid story involving deli meat.

      1. The nerve damage was really only an issue when I tried to shovel the driveway. Turned out it was the perfect way to get out of that crappy chore!

  3. I don’t really cook, and when I do, it is very simple stuff. However, one time I was thinking wax paper but grabbed aluminum foil to cover a dish in the microwave ….

    The fireworks were pretty…..

  4. Good God. Hard to narrow it down to one catastrophe, I think. One of the drawbacks to getting older is that you have more time to pile up the mistakes! Glad your home and eyebrows are still intact!

  5. I’m not sure what my worst is, mostly because I have little disasters all the time. I burn myself weekly, mostly broiling things in the oven. I had a fun recent disaster when I tried to do one of those cake in a mug things and it exploded.

  6. My worst? Putting some kind of ceramic dish on the stove that wasn’t heat resistant – it exploded into pieces all over my kitchen. I don’t now how the kids and I avoided being hit by the shrapnel, but I was finding pieces everywhere for days.

      1. This was exactly the story I was going to tell. I took a pyrex baking dish out of the oven. Took the glass lid off and set it on the back burner. Then I accidently turned that burner on instead of the one in the front that I wanted to turn on. I think I might have been planning to thicken a gravy or someting. The way that glass lid exploded was terrifying. People heard it all up and down the street. Thank whatever powers that be, no one was in the kitchen at the time. Our nine-month old had just zoomed through in one of those rolling walkers you used to be able to put kids in and I was walking out behind him when the thing went off. Later, we discovered glass embedded in the tile of the floor. Well, that was the worst ever expereince, for sure.

  7. I’m sorry, but that sounds amusing, because I wouldn’t even attempt that recipe! I am a boil and bake kind of chick. It’s taco night tonight. That’s Wednesday excitement, and my stove doesn’t get too dirty!

  8. While washing a French press, I had my hand in it and it broke. Had to get 3 stitches and now have a lovely scar on my pinky.

    Cooking wise, my husband once made a pork dish and the juices overflowed, smoked and set the smoke alarm off at 2 am. He shall remain nameless.

    1. Aw, that happened to a friend of mine who got a little over-zealous washing a glass. No fun at all. But you know, I now live in an apartment with a super sensitive smoke detector. I haven’t set it off at 2am (yet), but every time I make bacon, it goes off. Do you think it’s trying to deter me from eating so much bacon?

      1. Well if it is, it is very wrong. I mean it’s bacon. Nothing can trump bacon. Silly smoke detector.

  9. I love cooking and writing, and I love this post! Culinary crime scene – nice.

    One time I gifted all of my friends with Pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, and didn’t realize until we sat down to eat ours, that I forgot the sugar.

  10. Last night, I put a pot of water on the stove to boil for pasta…and forgot to put water in the pot. Ruined a nice saucepan. Not my finest moment. Thanks for tip about never using sparkling wine in a sauce. I had no idea!

  11. I suck at cooking. My “cooking” usually involves sticking frozen chicken nuggets into the oven. And I do believe I even managed to burn those at some point.

  12. “culinary crime scene” love that. That’s what my kitchen looks like after my husband cooks. Dang girl, that sounds like a code orange. Glad you saved the sauce though and got to drink the well deserved wine!

  13. Ditto on “culinary crime scene”! A perfect description. I’m not much of a cook (burned popcorn is my worst kitchen fail), but I loved reading about your wine/oil science experiment. Great story, well told.

    1. Thanks! I’m just going to say it though: burned popcorn always feels like such a bummer. Especially because you smell it for 8 hours afterwards. Thanks for the kind words!

  14. Oh my word… what a mess that must have been! I’ve been lucky to have no kitchen disasters like this one, although I’m sure my time will come soon enough. 😉

  15. I’m a big practicer of substitutions, too. I think my biggest catastrophe was not letting bread rise – it ended up hard as a football helmet.

  16. Oh, wow! Never tried that and good thing, too! I enjoy cooking with alcohol. It took me awhile to adjust my technique when I moved and had to switch from an electric stove top to a gas stove top. I was without arm hair for a few years.

  17. oh holy lord. that’s the scariest thing ever when hot, potentially flammable things happen while cooking. i’m feeling all the feelings right now b/c i’ve totally been there.

    now you’ve got me thinking about my own kitchen disasters, and it’s been awhile (but sometimes the life-threatening ones go along with savory more than sweet, and i bake my face off all the time, but my Native American name could easily be Dances with Salads for all the acutal cooking with oil that i do most days). I remember there was a fondue once (first ever attempt, probably 10 years ago) where i actually set…wait for it…the fondue POT on fire. Like the metal. That was interesting. Or around the time tim and i began dating (same time as the Fondue Meltdown) i tried to bake lasagna, thinking it was oh so easy, and wound up with a cold, wet, and slightly raw pasta dish that was thankfully so devoid of flavor that we knew we weren’t missing out. I make kitchen mistakes all the time still, for sure, but i feel like i’ve lessened my risk factors by sticking to muffins. 🙂

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