Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Nearly Killed Myself Cooking

For the famous and my very first attempt at making a Thanksgiving Day Meal, I had planned to tackle:

Turkey with mojo criollo

Black Beans and Rice

Candied Yams

Flan/Crème Caramel

There is something about preparing food that brings out the Dainty Domestic Diva in me. This Diva sports a '50s-style pearl necklace with an immaculate crisp, lacy white apron. It becomes pleasurable to know that with my own two hands and culinary expertise, I am capable of articulately feeding the people I love.

But don't worry: I certainly am not barefoot and pregnant while doing so! Besides, when I cook, I dress comfortably and bring out the overall slob that I truly am. My reality is quite different from my imagination...

Anyway, on Turkey Day, I woke up around 9 a.m., skipped breakfast and set off my cooking strategy. The game plan featured trouncing first the black beans in a pressure cooker while simultaneously baking mini-flans in the oven. Once the flans were finished, I would let them cool for hours and immediately progress to a smackdown of turkey roasting and annihilate those candied yams! I would leave boiling the rice and apéritif preparation for last.

Black Beans and Crème Caramel (take one)

The night before, I left the black beans soaking in water in a pressure cooker to soften them and quicken the cooking speed for the following day.

But I didn't use any ordinary pressure cooker. I used SEB.

This is my buddy, SEB. She is a pressure cooker and current BFF.

SEB was going to help me make the black beans I so craved around this time of year. Without SEB, boiling black beans would only be an impossible task that would take precious hours of my time and still result in beans with a rather crunchy texture; I know this from experience. That is why I am infinitely thankful that SEB gave me a much needed hand.

I have seen my mother use a pressure cooker countless times back in Miami and now it was my turn to experience handling black beans on my own! Prior to using SEB, I remembered my mother's sage wisdom in which I needed to fill the device halfway with water, heat it up and then wait for the little dial on top to start twirling rapidly and emit a FWHEEEEEEEEEE sound. I also needed to let SEB make the high-pitched noise for maybe 15 to 20 minutes.

I did as I was told. I filled SEB with water and organized the ingredients for the dish. It was then that I noticed that I was missing something crucial to the recipe: LAUREL LEAVES.

I thought I had some stored somewhere in my cabinet. I shifted the contents of canned peas and carrots and searched at the very back of the furniture. Nothing. I perhaps had discarded the bag of laurel leaves and hadn't recalled doing so...

Not wanting to jeopardize the recipe by excluding a key ingredient, I rushed to the phone and called Isabelle, my landlord's wife, to see if I could bum some leaves from her sure-to-be-better-stocked-than-mine kitchen. Well, not only did Isabelle have laurel leaves but also some fresh oregano from her garden! I also remembered that I was in need of some vanilla extract and sugar.

I evenutally tossed in the other ingredients with the black beans and then covered SEB with her metal top and screwed the topmost dial to firmly lock it in place. SEB sat patiently on the heated burner and I waited for the dial to go FWHEEEEEEEEEEE.

After 20 minutes, I noticed that SEB still hadn't made any noise.

In the meantime, I then searched for the little glass pots I normally use to make individual crème caramel. I couldn't find them. I found it very odd that they were suddenly gone because I could have sworn that I had stored them in the kitchen.

Something inside me said that I should once again ask Isabelle to see if, by any chance, she had had them. Then another part of me, the lazy, idiotic prideful side, said "nah, just use a different glass container."

I chose a receptacle that had sides that were at least half an inch thick. I filled it with four tablespoonfuls of sugar and added four teaspoons of water to create the caramel layer. I then needed to heat the sugar on top of the stove, so I placed the container on the burner.

Ha, ha, ha. That was a mistake.

A very BIG mistake. Little did I know that I had created a shrapnel ticking time bomb that would teach me a lesson on the thermodynamics of what happens to glass when it comes into direct contact with heat.

I tore open the windows to liberate the accrid haze and had the instinct of shutting off the burner. I stared at my disaster, helplessly gazing at the sugary syrup as it bubbled and boiled lugubriously in plain sight.

This is the aftermath:

My combustive glass container fiasco shattered how I viewed my cooking abilities. The Dainty Domestic Diva? More like Clumsy Two Legged Fire Hazard.

My perception of my surroundings also altered. My SEB was no longer a jolly, trusty kitchen aide if not a threatening murderer with a penchant for blood-thirsty vengeance.

I needed to check the beans. I gingerly unscrewed the black knob on SEB's top and...

...discovered that they had the consistency of plastic pellets.

What do I when I'm in trouble? I call for help.

Black Beans and Crème Caramel (take 2)

Help came in the form of Isabelle. As it turns out, she did have the little glass pots for the crème caramel. I wanted to kick myself in the head when I discovered that because I could have saved myself an extra moment of exploding shards and eventually scraping off burnt sugar. I also pointed out to her that, after perhaps 30 minutes, SEB still had not made any noise.

Her verdict? "You probably didn't screw it on completely."

Isabelle worked her magic and SEB suddenly got the message to sing:

She also suggested that in order to remove the crystallized bits of burnt sugar, I should apply a towel soaked with hot water. I did that.

Amazingly enough, the rest of my cooking quite went smoothly. Once SEB got on a roll with the beans, she engulfed my kitchen with aromas that struck me of my mother's.

I broke the nostalgia and proceeded to make the mini-flans.

Turkey and Candied Yams

I cooked that bird for nearly 3 hours. It was a bit dry but it was nonetheless quite tasty. And the candied yams (using sweet potatoes) were not too bad.

Overall, I was quite satisfied with my work, particularly the black beans.

Lesson learned: I will be better prepared for the next time I engage with concocting a complex recipe.

And as a finishing touch to my Thanksgiving meal, it began to snow outside. It snowed. On Thanksgiving day! It was clear that France wished me well for this fine evening.

(As an added touch of irony, I wrote this post while sitting at my kitchen table. It has considerably snowed in Dijon since last night, and the kitchen just so happens to be the warmest room in the apartment!)

Barb the French Bean


  1. I'm glad everything ended up turning out well. It looks yummy. My mom's pressure cooker blew up once when I was little. It was scary and I'm still a little bit frightened when she decides to can anything, even though it hasn't happened since.

  2. I had a nicely written comment that would not post, so now I am trying in Internet Explorer... I don't understand what has changed and why I can't seem to post to some of the blogs that I follow...???

  3. Jay: yes, we all have to be a bit cautious in the kitchen. I was honestly expecting SEB to blow up on me but no, it was the glass container. --.--"

    Stephanie: Huh?

    That is very bizarre and the same thing happens to be on certain blogs, too! o_O"

    Still, I'm sure your comment was lovely and I can only imagine what you might have written!

    -Barb the French Bean

  4. I can't top that story. you have officially been more accident prone in the kitchen then myself... and I've given myself food poising in the past.

  5. I'm glad it all turned out well and that you're still alive!

  6. see, it's stories like this that keep me out of the kitchen. if things like this can happen to other people, they W I L L happen to me.

  7. Haha. I've had my own kitchen fiascos... So I usually have someone else make food. x) Funny post, I enjoyed it. The food looks delicious!

  8. Wow, Stu. That comment coming from accident-prone you sure means a lot...o_O"

    Fizzee: Me, too! I was really lucky the glass did not explode in my face.

    Jess: Still, you should sometimes take risks to try out new things! :-D

    Sotepop: Good strategy. Mom used to make my food, but she's a whole continent away right now. And thank you!


  9. Wow, what a story! I want to do Thanksgiving myself for the first time next year, and I wonder what kind of crazy kitchen fiasco I may experience! :)

  10. all's well that ends well, isnt then... I guess it was a good Thanksgiving day for you after all....thanks for visiting my blog...:)

  11. Your cooking mishaps sound a lot like mine... no wonder I don't cook very often! Glad it all worked out though. :)

  12. Love this story. I probably shouldn't mention that way back when my daughter was 14 she cooked a full course turkey dinner with homemade pies. I was working as a nurse. Nah, I didn't think I shouldn't mention it.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog.

  13. Hmm, glass everwhere -- sounds very familiar to our kitchen. Have yet to explode any though ;) Thanks for stopping by my blog also!

  14. Haha. Adorable blog. It was fun to read and I can't wait to read more!

  15. Holy cow! You nearly missed getting annihilated by your Thanksgiving dinner! LOL

    I haven't used a pressure cooker in years. They say the new ones out now are supposed to be practically foolproof--but they haven't met me. :-o

    Burned sugar/caramel are the absolute worst to clean up.

    Fabulous post, as always. :)

  16. I've had my SEB for 35 years, and absolutely love it!! It was the best wedding present ever!

  17. Sports betting system makes +$3,624 profit last week...

    Z-Code System winning bets and forecasts for NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL!!!


Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb