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.
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?