If it Can’t take the Heat, Do Not Put It in the Oven

This story took place before the current Covid food supply issues and is more about being stupid in the kitchen. Pay attention to what you are doing to avoid idiotic issues like the one documented here.

I’d been thinking about a dinner menu for three or four people. It would be three or four courses: bread and dip, appetizer, main course and of course a desert. In my recipe search, I came upon focaccia and one recipe in particular seemed appropriate. It was called Ridiculously Easy Focaccia and the name fit well.

The basic recipe called for flour, yeast, salt, and water plus 24 hours when olive oil enters the frame. It can be dressed up with various herbs and spices. I checked the pantry for unexpired yeast and finding a three pack of red pouches was quickly on my way.

The first batch of two, nine inch round, heavily dimpled loaves came out of the oven crispy and brown the next day. Over the course of the next week, I made three more batches including one loaf taken to share with some friends at an impromptu dinner invitation. This bread showed real promise as long as the required time frame was observed. The first batch was dressed simply with course sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. After that, I added some fresh Thai basil but skimped a bit too much on the fragrant herb. Next dried thyme and garlic powder followed by the addition of chopped oil cured black olives. I think I found a winner.

By this time, I was out of both flour and yeast. I also wanted to try bread flour for the added rise and a more toothsome chew that the extra protein in the flour would hopefully produce. A trip to the local Smart and Final was called for. It was a Tuesday about mid day and I was surprised that there were a good number of empty shelves at various points. They must have been either waiting for various suppliers to deliver or were short of stocking staff. They were out of full fat cottage cheese in the typical 16 ounce tub, both Skippy and store brand crunchy peanut butter in a two pound jar, as well as unbleached Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Bread Flour, or store brand unbleached flour in five pound volume.

Storage is an issue in my kitchen so I rarely stock more than five pounds of flour, the store is only three blocks away. I settled on Bleached Gold Medal AP and King Arthur Bread Flour at more than twice the usual price. Also on my shopping list was a can of crushed tomatoes so I could attempt a try at pizza sauce for a try at pan focaccia pie. In the cart went both whole milk Mozzarella and a wedge of 10 month aged Parmesan.

Before I went to the store, I had washed a couple of unused two quart Cambro polypropylene containers and lids for the extra flour I was bringing home. They had to be both clean and totally dry for proper flour storage. Once home, I unloaded the groceries and started on the pizza sauce for the one piece of focaccia from the previous day’s bake. First the shallots were chopped fine and into the pan with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I don’t think I have ever seen an extra virgin to my knowledge) followed by chili flakes and some crushed garlic. Next came the can of crushed tomatoes and various dried herbs.

The sauce simmered along happily for the next half hour or so while I had a cup of tea and watched something or other on Netflix. Not having eaten a meal that day, hunger was getting stronger so I checked the sauce and took some fresh Shiitake mushrooms from the fridge and after slicing thickly, tossed them in a pan in more of the previously mentioned EVOO to lightly cook. I don’t know if I’m in the .018% of the population that gets a rash from fresh Shiitakes but they will be cooked. Next, a wedge of focaccia is cut and dressed with some of my fresh sauce, a layer of mushrooms, grated Mozz and tossed into a pie pan then the oven. After a few minutes, the cheese started to melt so I added the shaved Parm. A few more minutes and I had a lovely slice of focaccia pizza to assuage my hunger.

Hours later, I checked the drain board to see the condition of the Cambros and finding then still a bit damp, tossed them into the slightly warm oven to get bone dry. First mistake.

Still having one wedge of yesterday’s bread in a ziplock bag and hunger growing again, I brought out of the fridge the last of a batch of salsa negra and the end of some roasted pork shoulder. I chopped the fat into little cubes and into a pan to render. Not even a thought of checking the oven for wayward items was of course mistake #2. Strike 3, oven on to 400°.

I chopped the meat and tossed it into the pan to brown. After splitting the bread, I spread the salsa onto both halves while I awaited the crispy brown meaty bits to be covered with just enough grated mozzarella to hold it all together.

Back to the stove to check on the meat, I waited impatiently for the proper crisping to finish. Giving the slivers of meat enough time to take full advantage of the Maillard reaction is always the key. Ignore the urge to stir too soon and wonderful flavors will be your reward.

Standing over the stove and smelling the wonderful aromas of the quickly browning meat, I started to smell something not right. The meat was not yet done and pulling it off of the fire to take a closer look told me that it was a different problem. Wispy smoke was coming from a vent leading from the oven and I recognized the smell of burning Polypropylene. Opening the oven to a billow of acrid vapor, I found my Cambros already flat on the rack and dripping to the oven floor. I turned off the oven and turned on the fan in an impotent gesture.

Grabbing a potholder, I opened the sliding door and pulling out the dripping oven rack, took it outside to cool in the early evening air. Strike two, always check your oven for foreign bodies before turning on the gas.

I spent several hours the next day cleaning plastic from my oven, I had the next batch of bread to yet bake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *