Sunday, January 02, 2011

Kitchen Krazies

The night before I left for New Jersey, I made garlic soup. I'd made the same exact recipe several times; it's a good soup for sick people or when you feel like you might be coming down with something. Just before it was time to sit down and eat, I tasted the soup. It was nearly perfect. But it was just a tad flat. The flavors were holding back, so I added a little salt to bring them out. It wasn't quite enough. I shook the shaker of Trader Joe's sea salt, but nothing would come out. It was like the salt was stuck or something. So I shook the shaker vigorously, and then more vigorously, and then with great enthusiasm, and then...

The top of the salt shaker flew into the soup, followed by a rush of salt. All of the salt in the shaker went into 4 cups of soup.

Some of it formed a mushy, pale gray mountain, and I was able to scoop that out with a spoon. I added 6 cups of water to the soup, hoping it would balance out the flavor. I added a potato. Nothing could save the soup. Maybe we could freeze it and add a few tablespoons to stock or other soup, but we were not eating garlic soup that night.

At this point, it was almost 10:00. Not too many places were open. Neither of us wanted fast food. I still wanted soup, but I would have settled for anything edible, inexpensive, and somewhat healthy - at the very least, made of real food from ingredients that normal people can buy in a supermarket.

Also, I had been drinking wine while the soup cooked. When I ruined the soup, I drank more wine. I slurred reassurances that it would be okay, that Random Order was open till 11 and they supposably have great soup, and then we can eat pie! However, no one answered the phone, so I called Mash Tun. I tried to keep my voice steady and unslurring as I asked how late the kitchen was open.

"12:45 AM," replied someone, I think the very same bartender who would serve us later that night.

"Oh!!! Thank you! Thank you so much! Thatssswondrrrful!"

"You're welcome."

"We are coming! We'll be there soon! We are definitely! coming to eat soon because I RUINED DINNER."

And so we did. We even got soup. Additionally, I planned to buy a bottle of Aardvark hot sauce to bring to my dad the next day, but Whole Foods had been completely sold out. Mash Tun sells bottles of Aardvark. It was fate.

What I am leaving out of this story is that while I was preparing the ill-fated soup, my boyfriend was re-processing jars of satsuma marmalade that failed to seal when we canned them the night before. He was trying to do this without a jar grabber, using normal tongs instead. But normal tongs are not made to grip canning rings and lift heavy jars, so they kept slipping back into the canner and splashing hot water on us. One jar lid even slipped off and spilled marmalade into the canning water. It was a can-tastrophe.

Still, we have many jars of Satsuma Rose and Satsuma Vanilla Bourbon marmalade to show for it. So much that some people doubt we will be able to use it in the next two years.

Furthermore, not all of the marmalade set properly, as evidenced by the fridge batch we set aside. We may have just made and canned dozens of jars of satsuma sauce. So, for the past two weeks, I have been dreaming of ways to use satsuma sauce.

Last night, I went to Michaels and IKEA (more on that later) and bought a dining table, some shelves, a small table for the TV, and many other useful unassembled items. I made dinner for the kind person who was going to help me put everything together. The table came together fairly quickly, in time for us to eat satsuma-glazed pork loin chops while seated around it, rather than on the floor or at my desk. In fact, the table was done long before the satsuma-covered dinner, and this was due to Kitchen Krazy Number Two.

I don't cook meat very much. In college, I learned how to cook a few things and stuck to them, as I was afraid of both giving people food poisoning AND serving people overcooked, dry meat. But roasting chickens this fall has made me ambitious and less afraid. The results of Google searches convinced me that I needed a meat thermometer and to cook the pork until it reached 145, or 150, or 160, or 145 at which point I should let it sit on top of the stove until it reaches 160.

I made up the recipe as I went, somewhat. I used half of a quart-sized jar of marmalade, mixed with a big glop of dijon mustard and a few enthusiastic shakes of the Tabasco bottle to make the glaze. I cooked the pork chops in a pan with olive oil, shallots, and smashed garlic cloves for a few minutes, before putting the meat on a roasting rack in a long Pyrex casserole dish and adding the glaze ingredients to the de-porked skillet to cook with the garlicky, porky oil. About halfway through the the oven time, I dumped the glaze onto the pork.

The meat thermometer was borrowed, not mine, so I'd never used that specific one before. When I stuck it in the thin pieces of pork, it slid all the way through to the other side of the pork, taking the temperature of the empty air under the roasting rack. I tried again, this time at an angle, and this seemed to hold the thermometer in place. I took the temperature of three different pieces of pork, and got readings of 80 degrees, 120 degrees, and 140 degrees.

After the table had been put together and the potato side dish was finished, after a can of Simpler Times had been consumed by both of us, after the table had been set and we were ready to eat, the meat thermometer persisted in telling me, "120 degrees." Sensing my frustration, the owner of the meat thermometer approached the stove and the pan of pork chops.

"Let me try," he said.

"Okay." I handed him the meat thermometer. I watched as her removed a piece of blue plastic from below the temperature dial, like unsheathing a sword, and stuck the metal stick effortlessly into the thickest piece of pork chop. The temperature dial shot up to 180 degrees. I had been using the thermometer with its cover still on.

"Ohhhhhhhh," I said, embarrassed. "I didn't know that thing came off!"

He was perplexed; I had to show him exactly what I'd been doing.

"No wonder the temperature was wrong!"

"Did I melt the plastic?" I was very concerned.

"No, it's fine." He laughed and laughed.

"I hope the meat isn't dry! It is probably way overcooked!"

The meat was fine. Later, when packing up to go home, he retrieved the meat thermometer from the kitchen counter. He paused to inspect it. I saw him whacking it against an upside down pan lid.

"What are you doing?" I inquired.

Answering my question, a small cylinder of smushed pork shot out of the end of the meat thermometer cover and bounced onto the pan lid.

"Eeeeeewwwwww," I said.

"Well, now you know how to use a meat thermometer."

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