Okay, so maybe the title is a little dramatic. I personally don’t know of any actual casualties in the kitchen, but I’ve had my fair share of burns, bumps and bloopers. One of my first cooking conundrums I can remember was in my high school French class. We each were to prepare some sort of traditional French dish. Mind you, I was only a high school freshman and my cooking skills ranged from preparing Kraft mac & cheese to heating up Ellio’s pizza in the microwave. I can’t remember the exact name of the dish, but it was some sort of white cake with a whipped topping and berries – not very memorable, and not very good. As I was taking the hot cake pan out of the oven, I burnt my arm on the side of the oven and dropped the cake on the floor, which crumbled into several pieces. Luckily, the cake pieces were still large enough to salvage, and I quickly – so as not to disobey the 5 second rule – picked up the broken cake and glued it back together with the whipped egg whites. This probably says a lot about my character (or lack thereof) that I was willing to serve cake that had fallen on the floor to my fellow classmates, but I’m pretty sure no one wound up touching it anyway, as it looked like a crumbly, bland mess.
My most frustrating and humbling cooking experience was a couple years ago during my week-long “boot camp” at the Culinary Institute of America. The day’s lesson was knife cuts: brunoise, chiffonade, julienne (don’t these all sound like awesome names for a little French child?). My breaking point was segmenting oranges and grapefruits. It was a total, utter mess. I could not, for the life of me, cut between each thin, delicate membrane. Sticky pith stuck under my fingernails, juices running all over my hands, causing my grip on the knife to slip over and over, leading to several little cuts all over my fingers, which then began to sting like hell from the all citrus juices. Our petite yet stern instructor clearly did not approve. I was ready to call it quits and give up on cooking forever. Luckily, I didn’t, and luckily, my hands smelled citrusy fresh for days.
Skip ahead a few years, and minus a few minor cuts, I’ve escaped any major mistakes. Until last week that is. It was Thursday night and I was ready to celebrate the looming weekend with a decadent dinner. Enter bacon and bacon fat. With some brussels sprouts still in my fridge, I knew that frozen bacon in the back of my freezer would be the perfect way to add some indulgence to an otherwise healthy veg. After frying up the bacon, the fatty, salty smell had me just so excited to eat that I hastily dumped the brussels sprouts into the hot bacon fat. NEVER DO THIS!! Hot bacon fat everywhere! On my clothes, stained the white paint on my walls, and burned the skin on my wrist. Ouch! After some icing and a nice glass of wine, the redness and swelling went down significantly, and now I’m left with a little constellation of red marks on my arm. Injury aside, the pasta with brussels sprouts and bacon was absolutely delicious and totally worth the pain.
Pasta with Bacon & Brussels Sprouts
2 slices bacon
1 1/2 cups brussels sprouts, quartered
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup whole wheat penne
1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese (or Parmesan)
1. In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
2. Turn down the heat on the skillet and wait a minute for the hot bacon fat to cool slightly (do not skip this step!). Add brussels sprouts, salt and crushed red pepper to the skillet. Toss to coat in the fat and saute a couple minutes until the sprouts start to brown. Add the chicken broth, cover and cook about 5 minutes until sprouts are just tender.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
4. Remove the lid from the sprouts and add in the cooked pasta. Crumble the cooked bacon over the pasta. Stir gently to combine.