Thursday, July 14, 2011

five American girls in a Chinese kitchen... and how NOT to cook steak...

Last night, I had a little bit of a cupcake catastrophe.  I had a vision of a delectable cupcake filled with mysterious and wonderful flavors that would wow everyone at work today for our monthly potluck.  But I think I got a little too creative and strayed too far from the rules of baking - instead of deliciousness I got cupcake batter oozing over the edges of the pan, and when the batter hit the bottom of the oven, so much smoke ensued that it's really too bad I didn't have a nice pork shoulder to throw in there.

Jamie tasted one, tried not to smile, gave me a look that said, I hope this won't hurt your feelings and then declared them as "weird".  I simply couldn't bring them to work, since no amount of frosting piled on top of them would hide the fact that they were really, really inedible.  So much for the cupcakes.

After that, I didn't even have the heart to make a new batch using the emergency box cake mix I bought (Gasp!) ...  so my coworkers are getting the Mediterranean Veggie Platter I made for my parents last month.  Can't go wrong with that.

I don't have a recipe to share today since I will have to tweak that cupcake recipe before it's ready.  So today, I'm just sharing a memory of another kitchen catastrophe that I was thinking about last night while smoke was pouring out of the oven.  I think it was my second year living in China (@ 2002), and my girlfriends and I decided one night we wanted steak.  We had a few McDonald's and KFC in our city of Dalian, but aside from those, there were no American restaurant options such as steak houses, unless we went to Beijing.  Beijing has an Outback Steakhouse - a very welcome sight for travelers! 

So if we wanted steak, we had to make it ourselves.  Which none of us had ever done before.  That was the first problem.  We bought some beef - it was probably a tough cut of meat intended for stewing for hours - certainly it wasn't ribeye or sirloin or strip or anything that would make a good steak.  Second problem.

Now picture the kitchen.  A small galley kitchen with a 4-foot high refrigerator, a microwave and a 2-burner portable cook-top hooked up to a propane tank.  Clothesline stretched from one side to the other for drying clothes.  A sink with no hot water (to wash dishes in hot water, we had to fill buckets with hot water from the shower, then pour into the kitchen sink).  And let me also say, I'm afraid of propane tanks.  Especially when it involves lighting a burner with a match.  I went about 2 months eating canned tuna, pre-cooked hot dogs  and fruit until finally I asked one of my students to show me how to use my stove.  And even after watching them light it, I wasn't convinced that it wouldn't blow up my whole apartment.  (Even now, Jamie always lights the grill.)

So there we were - five 20-somethings - trying to decide the best way to cook our steak.  We cut it up into bite-sized pieces first.  Third problem.  I'm sure it wasn't my idea, though.  :)  Then, we thought we should somehow simulate a grill by placing a wire rack (the kind you cool cakes on) over a skillet, and cooking the meat on the wire rack.  But we weren't getting very much heat on the meat that way.  So what did we do?  Well, we poured oil into the skillet, because surely some hot oil next to an open flame and a propane tank would improve the situation.  Fourth, and biggest problem!

We weren't regulating the heat very well, because the oil starting boiling.  And right after that, it caught on fire.  And so did the meat.

Four of us ran screaming out of the kitchen and shut the door - there was a sliding glass door separating the kitchen from the living room - leaving one of the girls, I'm not sure who, trapped inside the kitchen which was quickly filling with smoke.  She started yelling at us to get back in there and help her put out the fire.  Which we eventually did, probably by dumping a whole bag of flour onto it. 

(I would hope that if I ever need to keep a clear head during a real fire, that I wouldn't panic and act like such an idiot.)

I think we still ate the steak.  After all, we'd worked so hard on it!

Love you, girls!

Jessica O, Jessica G, Robin, Megan and Me
80's Night

We're much cooler than Charlie's Angels
Two Curly Girls!

80's Night