Friday, April 20, 2007

Manchild's Famous "Burning Pork Fat Surprise," and Other Toaster Oven Adventures

Below is a March 3, 2004 offering from Tim Greening. Some of our favorite Manchild efforts will run on this blog all week. This is beautiful and puts Manchild solidly in his element -- in the kitchen, fighting an appliance.


String of kitchen mishaps force writer into a new specialty

By Tim Greening
The Times

The label said "no harmful fumes" and "no nasty odors."

Stupid, lying oven cleaner.

The fumes themselves may not have been harmful, but I could have seriously hurt myself fleeing the kitchen, running through the house blinded and choking. And I'd hate to find out what the company considers a "nasty" odor if this didn't make the cut.

Whatever went wrong, it incapacitated my oven temporarily and I've been forced to adapt my baking, broiling and roasting to the toaster oven - a far more versatile appliance than its reputation holds.

But first, it took a series of mishaps to lead me to this point.

It was sometime last fall that I was barbecueing three racks of ribs. Only, I started to lose my fire before the ribs were done and I was out of coals.

"No problem," I thought, "I'll wrap them in foil and finish them off in the oven."

Well, one of them had a leak, and pretty soon the kitchen was thick with the smoke of burning pork fat. I wiped up what I could out of the oven, but there was enough residue inside that any time the oven was cranked up after that, the air was seasoned with that familiar essence of burning pork fat.

How unpleasant is that? Put it this way: Glade will never make a Plug-In scent called "Burning Pork Fat." If Bath and Body Works sells a burning pork fat potpourri, I'm sure it's in the bargain bin.

The truth could no longer be avoided. "The oven must be cleaned, and it must be cleaned right away."

So three months later, I'm browsing the oven cleaner aisle at the grocery store. There are lots to choose from and I know nothing of the sport of oven cleaning. Apparently I did not choose wisely.

So the oven has laid dormant since, as I'm afraid anything I'll cook in it will taste like it was marinated in sarin gas. One of these days, I'm going to have to spring for a real oven cleaner and restore it to good health.

In the meantime, I've learned to make do with the toaster oven. Which, if you think about it, is really just a little oven. It's got temperature controls, same as an oven, and you can do pretty much the same things, only not so much of it.

You may not be able to roast a whole chicken, but you can roast cut-up pieces. I wouldn't say my discovery is groundbreaking - as you can see by my recipes, essentially you cook a starch then smother it in sauce and/or cheese and make a casserole. But it's perfect for someone like me who rarely cooks for more than two people. Here's what I've learned:

Go to the disposable aluminum pie pan aisle at the grocery store. There are pans there that can fit inside your toaster oven, which solves another problem: after you've eaten, that's a dish you won't have to wash.

Then, buy some aluminum foil, for covering the oven rack when cooking something that might drip. At Sam's Club, they sell these boxes of 500 sheets of pre-cut, thin foil like they use in restaurants. They rule. It's like having a box of aluminum Kleenex. When you need one you just yank it out, no cutting or tearing.

Pizza in a toaster oven rules. When it comes to leftover delivery pizza, toasted slices are 10 times better than nuked. As for frozen pizza, just about any single-serving pizza will fit, as will French bread pizzas. Wolfgang Puck's gourmet pizzas do too. I've found if you follow the package directions, it takes a little longer than the instructions say, so you may want to add about 10 or 20 degrees. Tip: When the pizza is cooked, finish it off with a quick toast (meaning, turn the temperature dial to off, then push down the toaster lever, like you are making toast). This quick, hot blast makes the crust crispy and browns the cheese just a bit.

Broiling is actually better in a toaster oven, in my opinion. Since it's so small, the heat is right there above the food, and thanks to the glass door, when you're browning or blackening something, you can observe the process better than you can in a real oven.

Don't plan on making your whole meal in the toaster oven. You can't fit a whole lot in there, so whatever you cook first will get cold while you're making whatever's next.

Sometimes, my toaster oven works in tandem with my George Foreman grill. I love hamburger steaks actually baked in the gravy, but you have to brown the steaks first. So I'll grill them in the Foreman, then put them in a pan with gravy and bake them for another 20 minutes or so. And, say, you want barbecue sauce on your grilled boneless chicken breast; well, the Foreman doesn't do sauce very well. So what you do is grill your chicken solo in the Foreman, then put it in a pan, cover it with sauce and bake in the toaster oven for a bit.

See? Some of you probably never thought of that. In fact, I've grown so fond of my toaster oven that I'll continue to use it most of the time, even after I clean the stinky stuff from my oven.

One of these days.

Tim Greening is not a registered dietician nor a trained chef. He just likes to cook, and eat, and writes about food for The Times. Call him at (318) 459-3260, write to The Times, P.O. Box 30222, Shreveport, LA 71130-0222, or send a fax to (318) 459-3301 or e-mail to


Sorry these recipes aren't very specific as far as measured amounts of ingredients, but those amounts will vary greatly depending on the size of the pan and the toaster oven.

Toaster oven taquito surprise

1 pkg. frozen taquitos (any filling)

1 can enchilada sauce (red or green)

Shredded cheese

Sour cream and chopped green onion tops for garnish

In a pan that will fit in your toaster oven, line up a layer of taquitos, as many as you can fit. Cut one or two up into pieces to fill any empty spots. Cook taquitos according to package directions. Pour enough enchilada sauce over them to cover (may not need the whole can) but not spill out of the pan. Return to toaster oven and bake until sauce is hot, maybe 5 minutes. Cover the whole thing with shredded cheese and bake until cheese melts. Cut into squares like you would lasagna and serve with sour cream and green onion tops.

Knockout chopped steak surprise

2 chopped beef patties or hamburger steaks, about

1/4 lb. each

1 jar prepared gravy, beef or mushroom flavored

1 small jar sliced mushrooms

Brown steaks either in a skillet or a George Foreman-type grill (one at a time if the grill/skillet is too small for both). In the meantime, pour enough gravy into a toaster oven-sized pan, preferably with high walls, to cover the bottom, about 1/2-inch thick. Set grilled steaks in the pan and pour the rest of the gravy over them and top with mushrooms. Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Crispy crown casserole surprise

1 pkg. round, flat potatoes discs or tater tots

1 can chili (preferably sweet, like hot dog chili)

Shredded cheese

In a toaster oven-sized dish, put down a layer of potatoes and cook according to package directions. When crispy, top with chili and bake until chili is hot (5 to 10 minutes). Top with cheese and bake until cheese has melted.