mardi, septembre 13, 2005

Fodder for Ridicule

Rightly or wrongly, I consider myself a better than average cook. I grew up helping my mom in the kitchen, who taught me most everything I know. She had recipes from all over the world, and almost every kitchen utensil known to man, not to mention a kick-ass gourmet kitchen. We made rum and chestnut cream tortes, feijoada, crepes suzette, roasted goose, pecan pie so good she had people begging her to ship them via mail, butternut squash soup, fondue, zingy Lebanese tabouli, and all kinds of dishes ranging all the way from shark to sushi. Her penchant for trying new things had its funny side effects, namely the most extensive vinegar collection in the Western Hemisphere. Once, my sister and I counted 16 different kinds.

So as you can see, I am no stranger to cooking. I actually really enjoy it when I am cooking for an occasion. I find it less rewarding when it's just for me, but budgetary concerns have forced me to confront the limitations of my miniature Parisian kitchen (which is more aptly described as a corner of a room). Despite its small size and odd usage of space, it has relatively large cabinets, and two whole ceramic ranges! (insert ironic tone here.) I recently acquired a little toaster oven, a hand-me-down from a friend whose parents moved back to Mexico, and it sits on my counter, taking up precious room. I was skeptical when I saw it - it looked good for little more than heating up croissants and blinis - but I discovered to my delight that my small Pyrex dish fits inside. So recently, I concocted a nice little dish of chicken, tomatoes, olive oil and feta, put the glass cover on, and baked it for 30 minutes. It came out tender and flavorful. I was more than pleased with myself and my little oven-that-could.

I have a good friend who lives in a 16m2 studio (~160 sq ft) and makes a mean quiche lorraine. She beats the eggs, heavy cream, lardons, emmenthal and herbes de provence in a bowl, and puts it in an oval dish fitted with a pre-made pâte feuilleté crust. She pops it in her (slightly larger) toaster oven, and 30 minutes later, we all have a tasty treat to stave off drunkeness a little longer.

Encouraged by the Greek chicken success, and my friend's repeatedly perfectly turned out quiches, I decided to make one in my Pyrex dish last night. I had gone shopping at the corner store on Saturday when I realized I had almost nothing to eat and thirty minutes before the store closed. It's not open on Sunday, and I hate grocery shopping on Monday night after work because it's full of stressed out scowling people, and the shelves are half empty. So I rushed through the store on Saturday night, and the shelves were almost bare. There was no chicken or beef to be had, only lonely looking turkey and pork cuts. So over the announcement that everyone should immediately proceed to the checkout counter because the store was closing, I quickly bought the ingredients for the quiche. I hesistated over whether my friend's is so good because she picks a particular kind of lardon over another. Salted or smoked? I went for salted, partly out of loyalty to my Southern heritage (ya'all ever had country ham? Dang, it's salty!) but mostly because smoked stuff scares me. I'm always afraid it will remind me of that smoke in a bottle stuff. Bleah. I grabbed what I thought was pâte feuilleté, salted lardons, emmenthal, eggs and heavy cream and obediently proceeded to the checkout.

Last night, I happily mixed the ingredients, lined the Pyrex pan with the pre-made crust, and popped it in the oven. I checked on it a few times, and it didn't seem to be cooking very fast. The shelf of the oven was at a height that made the top of the crust almost touch the heating bars, so I should not have been at all surprised when I smelled burning later. I took it out, but was heartened that the top of the quiche was a nice brown color and it seemed to be cooked throughout. I set it out to cool. When I went to see if it was cool enough to eat, I began to pick off the burnt parts of the crust, and that's when I felt it. That telltale heaviness of uncooked ingredients. I looked closer. The crust on the insides and bottom were almost raw. Okay, so my Pyrex pan is small, but it's not really shallow, and the inherited toaster oven is no convection masterpiece. Then I see the wrapping of the pre-made crust sticking out from the trash : pâte brisé. Oops. That's more for tarts and pies. No wonder.

Determined to salvage it, I picked off the burnt crust, put on a saute pan to heat, and scooped the whole darn thing out - intact - into it. I covered it, and let it cook. When I once again smelled the crust burning, this time directly on the bottom, I took the spatula and peeled back the crust. I scooped up the inside onto my plate in two parts and threw the burnt pâte brisé away.

My concoction, though not a quiche lorraine, turned out to be a very thick, rectangular shaped, yummy baked omelette.

But still, fucking up a quiche is fodder for ridicule. So be nice until I figure this kitchen corner out.

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