The Food Column: Have 911 ready -- it's time to prepare holiday dinners

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Holiday season is prime time for kitchen mishaps.

We're cooking for more people than usual. We're trotting out complicated recipes that we make only once a year. And even non-cooks are often forced into the kitchen.

One Thanksgiving, I shattered a Pyrex dish while trying to make gravy in it on the stovetop, an event I chronicled in a 2004 story (read it here:

Dumb? Yes. But my kind friend who was present for the incident tried to make me feel less mortified by telling me about how she had once cut her hand deeply enough to require an ER visit on Thanksgiving. At least my stupidity didn't send anybody to the hospital.

I have twice clogged garbage disposals on holidays -- one Thanksgiving at my own house (my brother saved the day with a well-placed bang on the pipe) and one Christmas at my sister-in-law's house (requiring a landlord visit, to my embarrassment) because of the unusually large volume of potato and onion peelings needed to feed a houseful of guests.

And it never fails: Something sets off the smoke alarm.

We used to tease my mom mercilessly for tripping the smoke alarm in our house when she cooked. She really couldn't avoid it, either, given that the alarm was located in the stairway leading upstairs from the kitchen -- the first place any smoke would travel.

In a prime example of poetic justice, I have since set off my own smoke alarm numerous times as a result of my own cooking blunders. This was always particularly exciting when we lived in a Bloomfield apartment. Would I frighten the neighbors? Get cited by the cops for inducing a panic throughout the building, all because my oven-baked fajita veggies got a little overheated?

One Christmas in our first little rental house, I tried to make a chocolate chip pie for the neighbors who were supposed to be eating dinner at our place. The pie overflowed the pan, dripped all over the oven bottom, smoked to high heaven and filled the house with a hazy fog of gray stinkum -- and, needless to say, the smoke alarm hooted a long time over that episode. (We ate at the neighbors' house. Dessert was ice cream.)

So I was interested to read recently about a new smoke/fire alarm that can distinguish dumb cooking blunders from true emergencies. IoPhic alarms use microprocessor technology to determine whether they're sensing everyday cooking smoke, shower steam or a real fire, and the company purports that these alarms sound off only when it's a real fire. Thus, folks aren't tempted to disconnect their smoke alarms (

Of course, if I truly get the poetic justice I deserve, my kid will start telling me that the true emergency is my cooking.


Pre-Thanksgiving lunch: Celebrate next week with your family, but celebrate today with your Downtown co-workers. Delicacies include turkey with stuffing, whipped sweet potatoes with chipotle peppers and maple syrup, mashed potatoes, and caramelized chestnuts with Brussels sprouts. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (or when the food runs out) at City Gourmet Group, Koppers Building, 436 7th Ave., Downtown. 412-471-1222.

Chef demos

Pastries and coffee: Maureen Joyce of Bella Christie and Lil' Z's Sweet Boutique in Aspinwall demonstrates four pastry recipes (see one of them below) with complementing coffees. Mugs, coffee, Italian-themed gift baskets and Keurig machines will be raffled off. Noon and 4 p.m. tomorrow at Giant Eagle Market District, Robinson.

Read about additional events at

Duffins (Donut Muffins)

PG tested

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the topping
  • Melted butter
  • Equal parts cinnamon and sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-muffin tin with a bit of oil in each cup.

In a large bowl, beat together 3/4 cup sugar and the egg until light and fluffy. Pour in vegetable oil, milk, vanilla and almond extracts. Mix to combine.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Pour into the egg mixture and stir well.

Divide batter evenly into the muffin cups, filling about half full.

Bake for 15 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

While muffins are baking, melt some butter in a small bowl. Pour sugar and cinnamon into another small bowl and mix well.

Once the muffins are done, roll them lightly in the melted butter and then in the cinnamon sugar, coating all parts of the "duffin."

-- Maureen Joyce

recipes - foodcolumn

Rebecca Sodergren: (and on Twitter @pgfoodevents).


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