Tex-Mex fideo

For those who have been paying attention, my recent cooking attempts have been going well. Too well. We were just about due for an honest-to-goodness, exploding-kitchen adventure. An adventure that results in, among other things, a broken pan, a shirt full of vermicelli noodles, a narrowly averted fire, and a completely inedible end result.

Perhaps I should back up a moment.

Tonight was one of those rare nights since Marc left for the summer where I was home alone for dinner. Though I’d contemplated going out, I decided that I should save my money and cook instead. I had a hankering for vermicelli noodles, and I even had a pack of vermicelli noodles, but I had no idea what to do with them other than cook them up and top with peanut sauce. I wanted something better than that, so I found a recipe for tex-mex fideo. It seemed simple enough, and I liked all the ingredients (except the chillies, which I decided to omit), so it was into the kitchen I went.

It started off so well. I got the onions nice and brown, tossed in the garlic and got those nice and brown, and then it was time to put in the vermicelli. Which is when everything went to hell.

Now, the recipe calls for 8 ounces of vermicelli (one package), “broken up.” Further in the recipe it says to “break the vermicelli into short lengths and add them to the skillet as you do.” I have never broken vermicelli noodles before. I’ve only ever boiled a whole package. Clearly, the breaking of vermicelli is one of those endeavours that requires great amounts of skill. I tried twisting them off, breaking them off, and even chopping them with a knife. What resulted was about 3/4 of the vermicelli landing in the pan, and the remainder of the vermicelli landing pretty much everywhere that wasn’t the pan: on the stove, on the counters, under the microwave, under the element, inside my shirt, and ALL over the floor.

Moreover, my pan was now almost completely inaccessible. You know how when you buy some string, and it’s all lovely and orderly in a ball, it takes up pretty much no space? And then your cat or your small child gets to it, unravels it, and suddenly your entire living room is full of string? That’s what the vermicelli did in the pan. It took over the pan. It overflowed the pan. The pan was so full that I couldn’t stir and I couldn’t turn the thing over, so the bits on the bottom were burning and the bits on top were completely untouched.

And while all this was happening, the onions — which HAD been nicely browned when I started with the vermicelli — turned into burnt, black chips. I could tell already that this was going to be problematic.

It didn’t help that this was around the time that the pan’s handle fell off and I nearly started a fire in the kitchen.

So. A few days ago, I noticed that the handle on the pan was a little loose. I saw a screw holding it to the pan, and being the good little handiwoman that I am, I took out my trusty screwdriver and tightened it up. It didn’t seem to actually do anything, and the handle was still wobbly when I was done, but I figured that it was the best I could do. So tonight when I started cooking, I noticed that the handle was quite a bit looser than it had been. It was so loose that at one point when I was madly trying to deal with the vermicelli, it came off in my hand.

Fine, whatever. I can use a towel for tonight and then figure out what happened later. I put the handle down on the counter, and the screw (remember the screw? it’s a song about the screw) fell out. Right onto the plastic bag that the vermicelli came in.

The bag started smoking. I tried to pick the screw up off the plastic bag, only to be painfully reminded that until seconds ago, the screw had been part of the pan. Which was on the stove. My fingers were not happy with this plan.

I tried to just tip the bag so that the screw would fall off, but by this point it had melted into the plastic. Finally, I wound up prying it loose with my wooden spoon and left it on the counter.

Back to the vermicelli. I’d finally gotten it all in the pan with the black charred onion bits. Deciding that the instructions to “stir and cook for 3-4 minutes” was pretty much out the window at this point, I just added the other ingredients. The water steamed happily, but I was expecting that and standing well back. The instructions were to “bring to a boil,” but there wasn’t actually enough liquid to figure out if it was boiling. I added another quarter-cup of water (cringing all the while, mentally preparing myself for the worst), and waited for it all to boil.

When it boiled, I put on the lid and went about cleaning up the kitchen.

Did I mention there were vermicelli noodles EVERYWHERE?

Right, so about ten minutes later, the kitchen was in semi-decent shape. I’d also figured out that apparently the screw had threaded the inside of the pan when I was trying to screw it in, hence the falling-outness. But that was a problem for another time. For now, food.

This is when I realized my other mistake. Go back up three paragraphs, to the one where it starts “when it boiled.” See if you can spot my omission. I’ll wait.

Yes, folks, I forgot to turn it down to a simmer. So the whole time I was cleaning the kitchen, the stove was still on slightly-higher-than-medium, boiling away what liquid there was, sticking the bottom of the noodles firmly to the (teflon) pan…

I took it off the heat. (With two towels, given the lack of handle.) I took off the lid. I decided to try it, just for posterity’s sake. I really shouldn’t have. It tastes like… well, like overcooked vermicelli noodles with bits of carbon and some vaguely-tomato-like aftertaste. And enough kick to make my tongue burn, because apparently I added too much cayenne and red pepper flakes, on top of everything else.

So now the whole thing is going into the garbage, and I’m going out for dinner, where I can get someone who knows how to cook to make my food for me. Clearly, I’ve still gotta work on this whole “cooking” thing.

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