Domesticity, Food

The One Where I Almost Caught the Kitchen on Fire

Today for lunch I made pork chops au poivre using this recipe from Porkchops au poivre is French for pork chops dredged in a crazy amount of peppercorns with a yummy brandy sauce.

I don’t normally make such big meals for lunch, but Doug is picking up some extra hours at the restaurant. Because he works such late hours he doesn’t get to eat again until 9:00, so I wanted to make him a hearty lunch to tide him over.

Just so you know: I’m not a chef at all; when I try to put things together and see if they work, it ends up tasting like crap. I’m also just not flexible enough to cook that way; I get too stressed when I mess stuff up.  But I have learned how to follow a recipe.

Unfortunately sometimes the recipe tells you to do things, but doesn’t tell you how to do it or what could possibly go wrong. This is why I like Amanda Lipscomb’s food blog, because she gives you step-by-step instructions and commentary. (Check it out!)

One of the first times I ever cooked in our new apartment I tried to make sweet potato casserole (why is this only made at Thanksgiving? I make it all winter long). Doug and I both have a new-found love of sweet potatoes, having been deprived of them in our childhood we both “discovered” them in college. So now anything that calls for sweet potatoes is an instant hit in our house. I remember the recipe saying “bake the sweet potatoes” and I thought “HOW?!” “AT WHAT TEMP?” The recipe did not answer these questions.

All I can say is praise God for Google and YouTube. Without them we would be eating take out so much more often. I found out then that I desperately need commentary as a cook. I need someone holding my hand so to speak so I don’t make mistakes. This is why I like Alton Brown and

Alton Brown explains EVERYTHING, which seems to result in either loving or hating him. I love him for that and likewise I love all of the reviews on, because I can figure out what everyone else screwed up and make the necessary changes myself. Or I can read about all of the “tweaking” that someone else did and how it turned out without actually experimenting myself.  You’ve read those reviews. “This recipe was perfect! I just changed a few things: I added garlic, paprika, bread crumbs, mushrooms and a half a pound of grated parmesan cheese. But other than that it is amazing as is!”

Anyways, back to the pork chops–I was super excited about this recipe. I’ve never made anything with brandy in it, but it seemed simple enough. I bought a mortar and pestle and ground up some pepper corns, cooked the pork chops like a champ and then read the directions for the sauce.

I read on this recipe by Alton Brown that when making the sauce, you should burn off the alcohol by lighting the top of the cognac on fire with a long match. My own recipe didn’t say to do this, but it’s Alton Brown and I figured he knew what he was doing.

So channeling my inner food network star, I quickly grabbed a long lighter and lit the top of the liquid on fire. (I say quickly, because this is how I normally stomach risky things…do it fast enough so I can’t talk myself out of it. This technique works well for trying new food, piercings, and those rickety county fair rides that normally look like you might die).

So I lit the liquid on fire. No big deal. Trusty Alton did not prepare me for what was going to happen.

Flames shot up from the top of the pan almost to the hood of the oven for what felt like a really, really long time. It turns out I bought one of the most expensive kinds of cognac so it had a ton of alcohol in it, which meant that the time for it to “cook off” felt like an eternity. The fire made the whole experience seem super legit–I felt like I should be throwing knives, chopping veggies and catching an egg in my hat as I handed everyone their hibachi shrimp.

But other than the hibachi chef daydream, I was really panicking! I suddenly remembered that most of the smoke alarms in our building don’t work, we don’t have a fire extinguisher, and that I could burn the house down.

Meanwhile the flames are licking up and up closer to the hood. I start pulling out seventh grade science knowledge. If I could only get the oxygen away. Yes, how to remove all of the oxygen from the room? Then, hmm, the heat source, it can’t burn without heat–this worked. I took it off the heat and it started to die down.

Then Doug came home. He found me laughing and so startled and scared that I could barely get the rest of lunch on the table. It took me almost a full half hour to get over the shock of it.

I’m still a little shaky to be honest.

That said, try the recipe and light the alcohol on fire. It apparently tastes much better that way. It is amazing and is a great way to use pork chops that are always on manager’s special at Kroger.


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