Wife Hanna recently got us watching the Food Network Star, which is a reality show about 15 competing cooks contending for their own TV series. As a result, we’re now regular viewers of all the Food Network shows: “Chopped,” “Iron Chef,” “Food Truck Race” and, of course, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
All of this cooking got me reflecting on my own culinary skills.
My greatest achievement in the kitchen probably dates back to when I was 5, and my brother Nathan and I invented an original main dish. If a Food Network host was to make this dish on her or his show—and after watching Food Network Star, I know exactly how they would do it—the whimsical monologue would go something like this:
“Today we’re going to be making my childhood favorite, Bologna Casserole. First, you’re going to want to grab a package of bologna out of the cold-cuts drawer in your fridge. Now, any old brand will do, but I’m using my favorite: Oscar Mayer Bologna. Because, let’s face it, we all wish we could be Oscar Meyer.
“Take out a nice thick stack of bologna slices—right out of the package, just like that—and go ahead and just cut around the perimeter with this excessively shiny knife to remove the plastic wrapping.
“Now chop the bologna slices into square-inch pieces. As I’m doing this, I’m reminded of a fantastically heartwarming story from my childhood that I am going to tell you now to fill my whimsical quota. My brother and I, when mom wasn’t around, would make this dish. But we’d be sure to clean everything up so she’d never suspect it. Isn’t that just whimsical?
“OK, now that we’ve gotten our bologna chopped up we’re going to go back to our fridge and pull out three slices of American Ultra-Processed Prepackaged Cheese. Unwrap those and set them aside.
“We’re now going to take our bologna and pile it into a nice serving dish like this. Layer the cheese slices on top and pop it in the microwave to evenly melt the cheese over the bologna. After a solid 30 seconds on high, you’ll have a delicious dish just like this one that my production crew minions have already constructed out of Styrofoam.
“It’s that simple! Now I’m going to take a big bite and chew on it and ooh-and-ah about how delicious it is, while you viewers at home feel uncomfortable with all this dead space in the program.”
That’s essentially the dish Nathan and I came up with. Since then, my culinary skills have been resting incognito, waiting for my next opportunity to strike. And that moment finally arrived last week.
Hanna and I had a few friends over for a movie the other night and, being the charming hostess that she is, Hanna decided we should also have ice cream with homemade waffle cones and old-fashioned popcorn.
The stovetop hand-crank popcorn popper is a wedding gift (Thanks, Mike!) that I’ve been looking forward to using. So while Hanna was busy chatting and making waffle cones, I was unpacking the popcorn equipment.
As directed, I placed the popper—filled with kernels and vegetable oil—on a stovetop burner and turned the burner on.
At least, I thought I did.
The range that our apartment is equipped with is an avocado-colored, double-decker stove from the General Electric Americana line that dates back to the Nixon Administration.
This means that instead of the simplified dials and digital display that I’m accustomed to, the control panel is riddled with a large collection of numbered buttons and knobs that, as a man, I was pretty sure I could figure out.
After a couple of minutes, I started to smell something heating up, but the popcorn popper didn’t seem warm yet. The vigilant chef I am, I was still cranking away and awaiting the first kernel to pop.
It wasn’t until the fourth minute or so when something really smelled like it was burning. The tea kettle—which apparently had a paper warranty booklet inside—was sitting on a back burner, whistling a steady stream of smoke.
Our guests, concerned by the smell, asked if everything was all right. While frantically sweeping the kettle aside with one hand and pushing buttons with the other, I assured them that was just the smell of the popcorn warming up.
I am happy to report, however, that Hanna’s waffle cones turned out very well.
Maybe I’ll never get my own Food Network show, but I will always have bologna.