Knowing that Andy and I are unemployed and living at home with my parents, some friends asked if we’d like to housesit for a week. It was win-win. They would have their house and cats looked after by friends and we would have a house to ourselves. They also have some pretty sweet stuff. Wii, Sonos Radio, Netflix, a jacuzzi tub, one hell of a comfy king sized bed and (most importantly) a well-stocked kitchen to (temporarily) call my own.
Once we’d dropped them at the airport, my mind set to work. When we got home, I immediately took to the kitchen. With my ingredients perfectly prepped and my recipe printed and set on the counter, I was ready to go. But what ensued was a train wreck of epic proportions. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I’m still recovering.
It started out like any other normal cooking experience. I browned the meat, we added onions, garlic, spices. Good, good…the house is smelling delicious. We added all 4 cups of liquid and 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes and let it simmer. Then came time for salt and cracked black pepper. I picked up the pepper grinder, giving it generous twists and shakes, perhaps too aggressively. The whole bottom of the grinder fell out, scattering a cup of peppercorns all over the stove, the floor and into my stew. Great.
All cooking came to a halt as the rescue and recovery mission got underway. Andy swept and vacuumed while I got (what I thought was) the majority of the peppercorns out of the pot. But unlike powdery or flaky spices which could have been skimmed off the top, a whole squad of peppercorns dive bombed into the stew and disappeared. Crisis semi-dealt with, dinner preparations continued.
As I was about to put the pot in the oven, I thought, “Is this pot even oven proof?” The lid handle was spongy. I thought maybe not. I checked online. No, this particular brand was not oven proof past 350 degrees and I was cooking at 450. I found a Pyrex dish (lasagna size) and poured in all the ingredients—which filled the pan to the brim. So much liquid! Without another option, I shrugged, tightly covered it with foil and put it in the oven to cook for an hour. “Let’s go downstairs and play their Wii!” Andy said.
We were having fun when I thought I smelled a little smoke. I dashed upstairs. Nothing serious. A little stew had dripped out of the dish and onto the oven floor creating some smoke. I left it. When I came back fifteen minutes later, there was a smokey haze in the kitchen and living room. The smoke alarm hadn’t yet triggered, so I opened some windows and doors. No big deal. In the Anderson’s kitchen a smoke alarm is pretty much a daily occurrence. We deal with this petty nuisance with drill-like, military precision. Sharon runs to open doors and windows, I get the pillows off the couch and start fanning the smoke detectors, while Mom deals with the food in the kitchen.
But when the smoke alarm went off here, it was war. Their alarm was not a simple, “beep beep beep.” It was beeps and an automated voice (loud enough to raise the dead) shouting “Fire! Fire! Fire! Please leave immediately!” over and over and over again. We did a preliminary search of the house and couldn’t see where to turn it off. We had no choice but to call our friends on vacation to find out how to turn their smoke alarm off. I was relieved when she answered, but relief turned to despair when she said, “I don’t know how to turn it off. It’s never happened to me.” NEVER HAD A SMOKE ALARM GO OFF? I couldn’t believe it.
After 20 minutes, we finally managed to squelch the alarm. Weary of it all, I transferred everything over to the slow cooker she had sitting on a shelf and said “To hell with this meal!” In the end, we did enjoy a delicious meal (even if we were picking out peppercorns like fish bones) but the lingering taste all night was of trauma.
I can’t wait to have my own kitchen again.
Bob M says
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is a big pain! Need to sign them up for Ree’s give-a-ways :)? Or tell them about: Tramontina 6.5 Quart Cast Iron
At $40, this oven, crafted from enameled cast iron, is hard to beat.
Been there, done that.
Bob, the biggest kicker of it all is Maggy knew my birthday present, a giant Le Crueset, was sitting in the basement, wrapped and waiting for me to open upon our return!
Luckily, my husband knew how to turn off the alarm. I felt awful that this happened while we were away. The one time the alarm did this to me, it was because of a power failure. I ended up ripping the fuses out of the alarm box, it was that awful.
Mags, I think you should have used the slow cooker from the start. If it takes 4 hours in the oven on a low heat, that’s how long it will take in the slow cooker on high heat. Remember that for next time 🙂
When I’m on book tour, I make a living cooking in strange kitchens. It’s not easy, but it’s such good practice. You get to test drive other people’s stuff and figure out what you like before you buy. You also discover you can cook in just about anything. In fact by unscrewing the lid and pot handles off just the kind of pot you described, I’ve done my high-heat cooking.
You know what I always say. You don’t learn anything by doing it right. You only learn from mistakes, so count this experience as one more notch in your culinary belt.
You also know my other belief. You aren’t really cooking until you set off the smoke alarm! 🙂
Bob M says
Amber, the rest of the story! As Paul Harvey would have said:)!
Sounds like a nightmare, Maggy! When you have your own kitchen the smoke alarm will just be background music where you roll your eyes and wave a dish towel!!!
Mike V @ DadCooksDinner says
I agree with Pam – you aren’t really cooking until you set off the smoke alarm. I have one tied into my whole house system that’s right outside my kitchen, and the slightest bit of smoke sets it off. I tried replacing it with different models that were easier to shut off, but I couldn’t find one that had a “trust me, this really isn’t a fire” switch – they would all kick back on again after a few minutes. I have to pull it out by the roots – or at least that’s what all the wires left dangling look like when I’m done.
I like cooking with someone in their kitchen, and I like cooking leisurely in someone else’s kitchen. (You should see the one where I sometimes babysit! Six-burner stove, industrial dishwasher, and a fridge-freezer four people could live in.)
The key word though is leisure. The minute something starts burning or you realize you didn’t open the tomatoes and now the garlic is browning WAY too fast, and where is the can opener, damn it?! That’s the minute where I want to be in my own kitchen.
But it is nice to test drive someone else’s knives or to pick up cool ideas. Because aren’t we all fantasizing about building our own perfect kitchens…no matter how little money or time or whatever we have?
So Mags, thanks for sharing your traumatic story. Next time I go to cook at someone’s house, the first thing I am going to do is ask: “How do you turn off your smoke detector?”
Marillyn Fagan Damelio says
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Maggie: I am sitting in the Phoenix airport anxious to get back to snow after working two weeks in a windowless room… knowing it was sunny outside!!
Your story made me laugh out loud as I pictured the scene. Thank you for sharing and brightening my day!