When It Rains, It Pours...

Lest you be misguided by such blog entries by the title of "Domestic Goddess," there are, in fact, plenty of disasters in the kitchen around these parts. Disturbingly, I seem to be having quite a few of them lately, though I do have the good fortune of most of my dishes being edible at least, even when they aren't as tasty as hoped. I have prepared a couple of truly inedible meals in my new kitchen, and I hope that this alarming uptick in their occurrence can be traced to the much-increased volume of cooking I'm undertaking, as well as the new equipment to which I'm trying to get accustomed.

For instance, one Saturday several weeks ago, I attempted to prepare a North African chicken stew, and I completely burnt it to a crisp. My burners run hotter than they did at my old condo, and I'd expected Justin home for dinner at any moment. I laid down on the couch for a quick nap (I wasn't feeling well at the time), fully anticipating that Justin to come home in five to ten minutes and wake me up, upon which we'd have dinner. Justin, however, decided to run several errands after work before he came home, and I slept long enough for all the liquid to evaporate from the pan. I awoke to the smell of burning food, and found a carbonized mess awaiting me, with a few edible chunks of chicken near the top. It was a disaster, and I was livid with myself for the wasted time, effort, and food.

Yesterday, I had another epic fail in the kitchen, though thankfully there was no risk of fire this time. I had selected a recipe for pork chops, glazed in a maple-mustard reduction and cooked in a cast iron skillet. For side dishes, I decided to make Alton Brown's garlic mashed potatoes again (they were that good!), and try my hand at making Brussels sprouts at home for the first time. I've only discovered that I can actually tolerate eating them in the past year or so, so I thought it would be a good idea to see if I could replicate all the deliciousness I've been experiencing at various restaurants around town on my own.

As it turned out, the side dishes were the star of the meal, and even those didn't go smoothly. The potatoes were fine, but after I got everything trimmed, sliced, and measured for the sprouts, I put them in the oven to roast and set a timer when I'd need to stir them. Being busy with the pork chops, it didn't occur to me until much later that it seemed like an awful long time had gone by with no alarm. I opened the oven door to find the sprouts were barely even soft, much less browned. I looked at the display on the oven to discover that the clock wasn't on. All the buttons were non-responsive to my touch. Something had mysteriously gone wrong, and the oven appeared to be completely dead.

Panicked, I went to get a pan to finish the Brussels sprouts on the stove, and suddenly the oven came back on, albeit with the clock about twenty minutes behind. I'm not sure what happened, and now I'm faced with a deeply-rooted fear that I may have to replace my stove/oven in the near future, which will probably be ungodly expensive. At least the Brussels sprouts came out perfectly: tender on the inside with a hint of sweetness from the apples contrasted with salty bacon bits and nicely browned exteriors. Still, the whole episode was very strange...

The pork chops, however, were a total bust. I must have over-reduced the glaze, as it quickly solidified into a sort of maple and rosemary-scented caramel. There was no way to brush it onto the chops at that point, so I did my best to glob a piece on top and hope that it melted over the meat. All this fiddling and fussing with the sticky "glaze" caused me to utterly overcook the meat. It didn't burn on the outside, but it was completely dried out, hard and leathery. You could barely cut it with a steak knife, and the consistency of it in your mouth was somewhat akin to sawdust. I wanted to throw away the leftovers in disgust, but Justin insisted on keeping them and not wasting the food.

The misery didn't even end there -- the maple mixture burned onto my new cast iron skillet, and was practically impossible to remove. I fear I may have to reseason my pan after the valiant attempt Justin made to clean it, which is exactly the kind of kitchen project I'd rather avoid.

At least the meal wasn't a complete waste, but it was still a pretty disheartening experience. I don't think I'll be tackling pork chops again for a while, though I've gained enough confidence to try Brussels sprouts on the menu more often. I've got a few more recipes for them pinned to my Pinterest board, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with them. Hopefully the meals that they accompany will go better than the one we had last night...

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apples
adapted from Back To Her Roots

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and halved
1 large apple, cored and diced
4 slices, thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/4 c. olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375.
1. In a large bowl, combine sprouts, apple and bacon and stir until evenly distributed.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar.
3. Pour olive oil mixture over sprout mixture and toss to coat.
4. Pour out the sprout mixture in one layer onto a greased cookie sheet. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
5. Roast in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking, or until sprouts are tender and brown.

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