I was boiling pasta for my son last week, an easy enough task. The water was taking forever to get to a rolling boil, and so while I was waiting, I got started on a cleaning project. The water boiled, I added some olive oil, and then the dry pasta. I tended to it as needed, but my mind was elsewhere. Twice the water boiled over a bit (not uncommon in my kitchen), and twice I lowered the heat. In between the boiling over and the heat being lowered, I stirred the pasta with my plastic spaghetti fork. Each time, I laid the fork next to the pot.
The last time, I must have moved the pot just a tad off the heat, because the spoon somehow made it's way onto the red coils of the stove top. Not that I noticed; not at first anyway. I was just working in the kitchen when I got smacked with a sickening smell. It was so immediate and so strong that it caught me off guard. I thought I might pass out. I followed the scent to the stove, and there I found the plastic fork, melting. There was minimal, almost unnoticeable damage done to the fork, yet the smell was outstanding.
My son yelled, "Uck. Oh God Mom, what is that smell? It's so horrible. Oh Mom."
He was unable to eat. Breathing wasn't even easy. We opened all the windows in the house, despite the fact that it was about 10*F outside. The smell continued. It seemed to be getting stronger. I'd put the fork in cold water immediately and cleaned the stove top off entirely, so how could the smell still be so potent? We couldn't escape it. Finally, we both ended up in my bedroom with the door closed, as it was the least stinky space. Still, we had to open the windows and cover our noses with our sweaters. It took over an hour to rid the house of the smell, and that was with the windows open.
It was then that I knew that I would never have that experience again, at least not in my house. (I am embarrassed to say that I tend to lay my cooking utensils very close to the stove top's heat source, often causing them to burn or melt, thus my cause for concern.) I decided to give away all of my plastic spatulas and spaghetti forks and swap them out for either metal or wood. I always prefer wood over everything else, but haven't ever seen a wooden spatula. That smell was so violent, that I just didn't want anything that could create such air pollution in my kitchen anymore. I've even replaced both my 1-cup and 2-cup plastic measuring cups. (For every type of storage, and lots of bakeware that's glass, visit Pyrex.com)
I remember hearing about the bird that died from inhaling overheated Teflon, and I've since limited my Teflon to one grill pan and one small frying pan, both of which will be replaced when my budget allows. And about ten years ago, after reading about the way that microwaves change the molecular structure of food, I got rid of mine. I am a former smoker, and there were times after I quit that I'd buy cigarettes for friends, and I felt mortified. That's exactly how I feel about buying plastic water bottles (on the occasion that I forget my Sigg). I feel embarrassed.
With each change, my cooking (and cleaning, and overall living) has gotten stronger, and I feel better about the foods that I make. Perhaps that horrible smell from my burning spaghetti fork is harmless, but I figure that if it's going to happen again, I'd rather smell burning wood.
(If I've gotten you in the mood for some spaghetti, try this mac and cheese recipe by Alton Brown.
baked macaroni and cheese
recipe by alton brown
- 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon powdered mustard
- 3 cups milk
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 large egg
- 12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.
Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.
Remember to save leftovers for fried Macaroni and Cheese.