Cooking with gas


Ilustration by Peggy Pope.

Andreae Prozesky blames the electric oven.

Last week, a wonderful thing happened here at the Food Nerd Laboratory. We—the people and the kitchen—moved. No longer content with our adorably diminutive and exceedingly cramped gingerbread cottage, the Food Nerd family up and relocated to a big house with lots of room, a garden for growing veggies, and a lovely big kitchen with windows on three sides and a cherry tree just outside. It’s a magical place, and I love it, except for one small hitch.

No longer am I cooking with gas.

The last Laboratory location was blessed with a workhorse of a propane stove. The thing was probably thirty years old, and seasoned with grime from who knows how many tenants. The oven door didn’t shut right, and the oven flame was dangerously slow to start, but, dammit, we were cooking with gas. Real professional-like. It was wonderful.

Do you ever look through home décor magazines? The ones that tell you all about renovations and maximizing your house’s potential and all that stuff? Well, all those kitchens in all those magazines have gas stoves. Likewise for restaurant kitchens. It’s not just because blue flame looks badass and sexy, no no no. A gas stove makes cooking way easier. Most electric stoves, especially the common coil-element ones, take ages to heat up and ages to cool down again. They are slow to adjust. They reject any attempt at precision.

The oven parts are okay, unless you put a nice, butter-laden, fatty chicken in there at 425F like you normally would, and the grease spits and gets all over the element and your smoke alarm goes off and wakes up the baby, and then your husband comes home and you can barely see him through the haze of chicken-smoke. Not that I would know. Actually, I would, and I’m not ashamed to admit it: since we moved into the new place, I have ruined every single bit of food I’ve tried to make. The only reason I haven’t ruined the tea is because we had to buy an electric kettle, so slow to boil was a pot of water on the stove (no, I wasn’t watching it).

I super-crisped the outside of the chicken, but the inside remained dangerously pink. I burned the turnip greens, which are among my chief delights come spring time. I made rubbery eggs and crunchy rice. I overbaked the rhubarb crisp, and I undercooked the strange mélange of tinned goods I threw in a casserole dish and called “dinner” on our first day here.

It’s been a very sad state of affairs.

I know there’s bound to be an adjustment period when something changes in the kitchen. An upgrade, a reno, a new appliance, a loved one putting all your dishes back in the wrong places after having insisted (despite your objections) on washing them. Anything that interferes with the way you’re used to doing things, with your—as the office-people say—workflow, is going to cause a little culinary pain. But you get used to it. You adjust your reach, you remember that the counter is shorter or longer than it once was, you read the owners’ manual, you find your hand mixer after all.

You return to your ninja-like state of effortless dinner-makery, at least when it comes to your regular go-to recipes. You don’t burn the hell out of the roast chicken, for heaven’s sake.

It did, after all, take me some time to get used to the immediacy of the old gas stove, the insistence, the fiddliness of getting the flame just right. The fact that the lower right flame crapped out if you tried to set it on low, releasing a stream of suffocating and combustible propane into the air.

But once I figured it out, I remembered why I had loved the gas stove at my father’s house, and the one in my first Montreal apartment. You want it to cook? It’ll cook. Right now. No questions asked. No standing around. You’re done cooking? Turn the flame off, and, whaddaya know, no more heat. The gas does what you want it to, and it doesn’t kick its toes in the sand and reply to your attempts at heat-regulation with a five-year-old’s drawn-out, “alriiiiiiight, I’m coming… in a minute…” As though you were asking your stove to wash the windows or clean the cat litter or something.

I mean, come on. You’re a household appliance: do your job.

I suppose that, with time, I could likewise get used to an electric stove again. I could adapt my cooking style to suit the slow-to-heat, slow-to-cool, quick-to-smoke nature of the stove I’ve got now.

Or I could forgo stoves altogether, get myself a toaster oven and a hot plate and relive the culinary scene of my Yellowknife shack-dwelling days. I could buy a microwave oven and figure out what they do (I’ve only ever used them to heat up coffee; can you actually cook in them?). I could get a rice cooker and a deep-fryer and a slow-cooker and a Panini press and a popcorn maker and a George Foreman grill, and be perfectly well-equipped for any and all alimentary eventualities.

But in a little while we’ll have saved up enough to have a gas line put in, and we’ll buy ourselves a proper stove and I’ll be the foodster I was a week ago.

Until then, I foresee a stretch of cold snacks and leftovers.

Saving For a Better Stove Survival Plan

Salads. Lots of salads.
• Hummus. Lots of hummus.
• Crackers with cheese and chutney, with sliced apple and a handful of walnut halves on the side (best lunch ever).
• Barbecued everything, including pizza, vegetables, and fruit (grilled pineapple and peaches are both exceptional).
• Chocolate.
• Cereal.
• Granola with yogurt and diced pears.
• Waffle iron as daily-use appliance.
• Snacks from the farmers’ market, doled out slowly over the week. Believe it or not, cold leftover curry is remarkably restorative as a breakfast food.
• Um… more chocolate?

Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for cold snacks and leftovers to dreae@thescope.ca

Illustration by Peggy Pope.