My last column about Girl Scout cookies reminded me of this story. I started to tell it when I first began doing this column, but put it aside. I was afraid if I confessed, you would lose faith in my recipes and my ability to cook, and would stop reading.
By now I hope I have established some credibility and you will give me the benefit of the doubt. I’m also hoping that the statute of limitations has run out on any charges.
Because my confession is this: I earned my Girl Scout cooking badge fraudulently. And my mother colluded.
Here’s what happened:
There was pressure from our troop leader to add merit badges to the dorky green sash that was part of our uniform. Leafing through the manual looking for one that would be easier to qualify for than cookie salesman of the year, I happened across the cooking badge. I figured it would be a snap.
I can’t recall what other major task was involved — probably baking brownies (that’s brownies with a lowercase “b” — I’m sure the scouts wouldn’t have encouraged me to stick my kid sister in the oven à la Hansel and Gretel). Whatever it was, I knew how to do it.
The requirement that tripped me up was to demonstrate I could cook eggs three ways.
What could be easier, I thought? I already knew how to scramble and fry them. I just had to hard-boil some and the badge was mine. For some reason, I had never done that before, but how difficult could it be?
Just to be sure, I asked mom for instructions. “Put them in a pan of water and boil them,” she said.
Unfortunately, she failed to mention how long they should cook, and I didn’t ask. I just used my pre-teen logic and figured it should be a good long while—after all, they needed to get hard.
I put six eggs in a pot, covered them with water, turned on the heat and then left, planning to come back in, say, 20 or 30 minutes. Unfortunately, I failed to set a timer. Even more unfortunately, 12-year-old me was easily distracted. I wandered off, picked up a book, and forgot all about the eggs. An hour or so later the carpool came and I left for dance class.
I heard a loud bang as I left, but didn’t think much about it. So I wasn’t actually there when everyone rushed into the kitchen to view my cooking prowess.
Because it turned out I didn’t actually make hard-boiled eggs.
No, I was a cooking genius — I had discovered an entirely new recipe (or weapon). I had created dry-roasted-exploding-onto-the-ceiling-and-ruining-it-forever-while-creating-an-unbearable-sulfur-stench eggs.
When Brillat-Savarin wrote “the invention of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star,” I don’t think this is what he was talking about.
Once the water boiled away and they roasted in a dry pan for about an hour, the explosive force of those eggs was awesome.
Even after hours of strenuous cleaning (which I neatly missed, being at the aforementioned dance class), the ceiling was left with a distinctive patch of damage. It persisted through repeated painting and was still there 35 years later when the house was sold.
It’s a miracle no one was hurt, because basically, I had created an IED. Today, I would probably be arrested by the Department of Homeland Security.
Instead, my home bomb-making won me my cooking badge—along with banishment from the stove for years to come. Mom agreed to sign off if I would stay out of her kitchen pretty much permanently. After that, every time I mentioned wanting to try a recipe, she would point to the ceiling and glower, and I would slink off to my room.
I got the badge, but never sewed it onto the sash. The stain on the ceiling was enough to convince me that I was not yet proficient, no matter what that scrap of fabric declared.
Then again, one thing was clear. From that point, my cooking could only get better — so perhaps it was an auspicious beginning to my culinary career after all.
Italian-Syle Baked Eggs
Perhaps I should have started with something simpler than hard-boiled eggs, like this quick and easy recipe for Italian baked eggs, which offers much less of an opportunity for explosion. Then again, back in the day, this would not have been so simple, because assembling the ingredients would have taken hours, not minutes.
Nowadays, we have fabulous modern conveniences like excellent jarred marinara sauce and bags of already shredded mixed cheeses, making this the quickest and easiest way I know to jazz up breakfast or brunch.
I’m giving the recipe for one serving, but obviously you can scale this to serve any number, even a whole Girl Scout troop.
1/2 cup marinara sauce
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. half and half or milk
2 Tbsp. (or more) mixed shredded cheese
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Pour a half-inch layer of marinara sauce into a 5-inch ovenproof ramekin. Crack the eggs on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the milk over top then sprinkle on the Parmesan and other cheeses. (The package I used was a mixture of mozzarella, cheddar, provolone and Asiago, but feel free to improvise.)
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the egg whites are cooked, the cheese is melted and the sauce is hot and bubbling. Serve immediately.
Betty Teller thinks kitchen successes taste good but kitchen fiascos make better stories. Tell her yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.