Robin Anish | The Table is Set: Creative cooking after kitchen fire

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It was a perfect summer day back in August that persuaded me to put aside the kitchen chores and retreat to the outdoors to practice "mindfulness" or living "in the moment." An Adirondack chair under the pines suggested comfort and serenity ... the perfect spot to be lulled into a meditative repose.

Truth be told, though, it was my anxious, tail-wagging Bichoun shih tzu, Riley, that really convinced me it was time to go outside! Still, I took advantage of the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the warm summer breeze perfumed with the fragrant floral, pine and woody scents it gathered.

The reality is that I was anything BUT mindful. Head back, staring at the clouds, I began to detect an odor of burning rubber or plastic. I sat up, looked around, assuming a neighbor must be doing some burning. Moments later, there was a crackling and popping sound. "What on earth is that, now?" I thought. The sound of a smoke alarm still had me scratching my head, but the flames in my kitchen window finally got my attention!

Cutting to the chase, I was warming a cast iron pan that had some solidified bacon grease in it in order to liquefy it for disposal. Riley needed to go out and I got completely distracted, forgetting the pan of grease resulting in the fire. The details are not important, but the lesson to be learned is — the best place to practice mindfulness is in the kitchen!

No kitchen means no cooking. What to do? Aha! An electric skillet purchased years ago had been stored, unused, in the cellar. Unlike the old Sunbeam skillets of the 1950s, mine is large and non-stick and I have learned to love it. I grilled sandwiches, made pancakes, pasta, soup, boiled eggs, reheated, roasted, fried, braised, stewed and sauteed.

To this day, I am still without a finished kitchen, but when work is completed, I will not be storing away my electric skillet. If you don't have one, consider getting one. When the weather is hot, you won't have to heat up the kitchen using the stove or oven. The temperature control allows you to keep foods warm and cook to exact specifications.

Microwaves and Crockpots are great, but I have officially put the mother of convenience cooking, the electric skillet, at the top of my list of favorite kitchen appliances!

I love popcorn and I pop it the old-school way on the stove, so, with that, I didn't miss my scorched microwave, but I did miss popcorn and was delighted with the excellent results of popping corn in an electric skillet. Salty, buttery popcorn is my favorite, but here is a recipe for sweet buttered honey popcorn with a spicy kick.

Buttered honey popcorn with a kick

Heat electric skillet to 400 degrees. Add 1/4 cup cooking oil and several kernels of corn. Cover and when the kernels begin to pop, add 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels, cover and listen for the popping to begin. As it pops, give the skillet a gentle shake until popping slows to a pop every second or two. Do not try to pop every kernel or it will burn. Turn off heat and carefully remove the lid to allow steam to escape and keep popcorn crisp. Pour into large bowl. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of honey. Add a pinch of salt, maybe two if you use unsalted butter and a good pinch of cayenne pepper. Pour over popcorn and give it a good mix. If you enjoy sticky fingers, double the honey butter mixture!

Robin Anish is a former caterer who lives in Lenox, where she continues to cater to her enthusiasm for cooking.


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