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Forget drug lords, decapitations, kidnappings, taxicab robberies, shootouts, body parts found in acid. Perhaps the greatest danger I face in Mexico is right here in our very own kitchen. It’s flammable. This is due to a single culprit: the world’s worst oven in the history of fuel-burning mechanisms. I would be safer cooking from a charcoal pit in the middle of our bedroom. Forget that it only has two working burners out of four, naked screws to grab onto instead of a handle, falls open an average of 27 times during a single cooking episode and takes an average of 4 hours to every 10 minutes required to cook in a normal stove. Oh, sure, it cranks out a ton of heat- unfortunately it finds a way to defy me and concentrate that heat in the external environment, toasting up our apartment to a comfortable 85 degrees while doing nothing for the raw carnage inside. (I once broiled a pork roast- broiled, mind you, at around 500 degrees Fahrenheit, for 2 hours and it still came out pink and bloody.)

These things I can handle. What I cannot, is the massive quantity of natural gas it leaks on a daily basis. We’re talking an untapped energy source here, people. Forget drilling in Alaskan reserves! What you’re looking for is right here, in my apartment. We have to apologize to visitors who may mistake this gas leak for one of a more corporal kind. Forget dinner parties- the few oven-baked items I’ve braved with company over have left everyone searching for gas masks. The thing leaks whether on or off. The off-leakage I try to manage by constantly keeping the kitchen window and screen door open to the “fresh air” of Mexico City. Even with this constant ventilation, which has helped quite a bit, I fear leaving my dog in the kitchen lest she end up starting to look like Blinky from the Simpsons. The worst leakage, though, happens once the oven is already on. Baking or broiling becomes a battle of willpower. I feel I should be recruited for Special Ops training after this. You know, when cadets are sent into gas chambers to see if they can rescue people or objects despite hazardous chemical warfare? Opening the oven to check on a roast or potatoes is like trying to recover a precious comrade from the gas chambers. Once, I lit the oven after I had turned it to the on position and nearly blew myself up- a raging fireball that thankfully receded within seconds and only succeeded in singeing my eyebrows and causing a minor myocardial infarction.

Don't let her innocent appearance fool you!

Don't let her innocent appearance fool you!

Sadly, Donna Reed homecoming and dinner time as newlyweds is quite impossible with such a stove. Instead of my husband arriving home in a suit and tie to the wafting aromas of potatoes and meat, shouting,

“Honey, I’m home! Mmmmm…. what is that smell?”

It looks more something like this:

“Honey, I’m….ack!….”* cough*, *asthma attack*, “what IS that…” *crash,* *now lays unconscious on the floor*…

Even our amazing housekeeper (yes, another story for another day) Imelda, who has a life history of coming from utter poverty, having nothing (including an oven), struggling up through the lower class of Mexican society, learning Spanish in exchange for cleaning as a child to build a life for herself and her family, can’t help but declare the injustice of such a stove.

“It’s not right!” she cries to me, “You must demand a new one! No one should have to live in such conditions!”

I fully recognize that this is a gross overstatement of my hardship.  But I can’t help but chuckle that even she knows how crappy this stove is.

But, despite all the drama in the kitchen, I’ve become pretty proficient at making some masterpieces in there. (I should note, baking of any kind would be a foolhardy errand and I will never, I repeat, NEVER attempt to set myself up for such utter failure). With so much free time, cooking has become a real outlet for me to express my creativity. Ok, lets not get too carried away here, I am a recipe girl- nothing is entirely my own creation. But since I didn’t bring any of my cookbooks down here with me, I’ve had a fun time picking out recipes from websites and magazines, giving them a try, and then if they really do it for me, I cut and paste them into a homemade cookbook I’m making myself. It’s been fun. So, I thought it would also be fun to share from time to time a few of these recipes that rocked my world.  It will be part of an “adventures in our flammable kitchen” series, and I’ll be sure to give credit where credit is due. So, first up in my latest of culinary adventures, is this masterpiece:

Greek-style Burgers with Feta Aioli.

This is a super flavorful, healthy burger that I made with baked homemade cottage fries. The Aioli is delicious. I don’t have a barbeque, but it worked great on our stove-top grill. I got this recipe off the Cooking Light website originally, but found a more printable/useable copy on http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=printerFriendly&recipe_id=222815

Enjoy, and let me know if you try it.

Aioli:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

Burgers:
5 (1/2-inch-thick) slices red onion
Cooking spray
1 pound lean ground round
2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, crushed
5 (1 1/2-ounce) sourdough sandwich buns

To prepare aioli, combine first 5 ingredients in a food processor; pulse 1 minute or until smooth. Cover and chill.

Prepare grill or broiler.

To prepare the burgers, place onion slices on a grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray, and cook 2 minutes on each side. Set aside.

Combine the beef and the next 9 ingredients (beef through crushed garlic) in a large bowl. Divide the beef mixture into 5 equal portions, shaping each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Place patties on grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray, and cook for 6 minutes on each side or until burgers are done. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons aioli over top half of each bun. Place patties on bottom halves of buns, and top each with 1 onion slice and top half of bun.

Yield: 5 sandwiches

CALORIES 385 (28% from fat); FAT 12.1g (sat 4.4g,mono 4.4g,poly 1.8g); IRON 5.7mg; CHOLESTEROL 110mg; CALCIUM 225mg; CARBOHYDRATE 38g; SODIUM 712mg; PROTEIN 30.5g; FIBER 4.3g

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