Never a dull moment in our Spanish kitchens, though this year we’ve had several smoky ones.
Many of our past struggles have been trials-by-oven. When the stove top has been an issue, the question was of burners that didn’t work at all. The burners in our Cabanyal flat go on (and stay on) like a house on fire. We have a glass cooking surface, with knobs that can be adjusted from 1 to 9, but that seems to be an illusion of control. At 9 there’s a constant bright red glow, accompanied by prodigious heat; at 5 you have the same. When turning the knob to 1 you’d expect both the red and the heat to fade, but they don’t, or at least not reliably, and definitely not soon. We’ve concluded that the stove can’t really be used for things that require moderate or low heat, unless you’re willing to get creative.
I have tried turning the burner off and on, off and on, stirring all the while; I have tried lifting one handle of the pot up so the bottom of the pot gets a (crooked) breather. We might call this teeter-totter cookery. I have tried lifting the whole thing off the heat for brief stretches.
As so often happens, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone–I had not thought what a marvel it has been thus far in my life to have a convenient and reliable method of controlling the level of heat I use to cook. I feel a much greater kinship with my pioneer foremothers, out on the dusty trail, trying to feed their families with what could be cooked over a campfire.
One solution to our problem is to think of this time as “a season of boiling.” Let’s see, that gives me pasta, certain soups, potatoes, maybe boiled eggs (except that even when “boiling” eggs you need a low simmer for much of the time). Though boiling isn’t a technique I use much, I’m willing to consider it as an option. I considered an article called “Twelve foods that are best boiled,” but they lost me at spinach. That just can’t be right.
I tried to improvise a double boiler, but with scalding water burbling up and over onto the stove top, you can see how well that worked.
In the meantime, I’ve been exploring instances where “out of the frying pan and into the oven” will confer an advantage. I decided on an oven-baked rice pudding recipe, reasoning that the low baking temperature and almost two hours of baking time would make it doable. I planned to use only the bottom heating element. But for the first half hour, why not just use both?
Here’s why not: because a baking casserole of slightly sweetened milk will create a nice big milk bubble, which swells and burns tar-black, collapsing and clinging onto the edge of the dish as if it were a fiend attempting to clamber out of the fiery depths of hell.
The half-hour mark was when I discovered this unwelcome why-not. I pulled the dish out, carefully peeled away what I could of the burnt bubble, got out another baking dish (at least this kitchen is well stocked with ovenware), and ladled the mixture in, fishing out burnt bits. I turned the top element off, and hoped for the best. The final result, after all the drama, was delicious. We’ll try it (with necessary modifications) again.
In honor of “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” here’s Joni Mitchell:
If you’ve got any recipes that involve super high stove-top heat (and no special cooking equipment), send them my way. We could use the help!
[Images: El Guapo, uk pinterest]