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I Love My Toaster Oven
September 18, 2017 | Frank Bonanno
It’s the cool of the night and most of the world has gone to bed. I cook for a living, and nights are always cool when the six person 250 square foot office regularly tops 100 degrees. Tonight, my family is sleeping when I creak through the front door, and I reek of brie and bouillabaisse— a deep funkiness mixed with another, deeper, funkiness, so rich that it walks into the house with me and wakes the dog to lick my clogs. Watson loves my clogs.
My backpack is heavy and bottles of wine clamor together when I drop it to the kitchen floor. I am starving. I pull out a bottle, scanning the contents of the refrigerator and cupboards as I pour rose into a Bonne Maman jar. I turn the toaster oven to 350. This is my ritual.
I love my toaster oven. I love that it takes up just the smallest parcel of countertop real estate. I love that it can melt, and broil, and bake, and toast, and I love that the entire kitchen doesn’t heat up when the toaster oven does. It’s reassuring that when it there’s not a damn thing in the house to eat, there’s always something this metal model of efficiency can bring back to life, warm and bubbling and satisfying in just ten minutes’ time. A wilted pizza slice is revived in two toast cycles. Nachos. Burritos. Got a stale bagel? Give it the olive oil treatment, with mozzarella and basil. Just a can of black beans? Salt, pepper, and cotilla, my friend, just wrapped in foil (if you’re lucky there’ll be some salsa and cilantro around).
On my way to the shower, I down the wine, and by the time I return to the kitchen, there’s a meal in the works. This night, there’s fresh bread in the house, from Izzio’s bakery just up the way. The metal band that cinches the wrapper isn’t even broken yet and God a grilled cheese sounds good. Two slices of cheddar and one provolone right on the sour dough and into the toaster oven set to 5. While the cheese melts into the bread, I rinse out my jar and brown some butter in the cast iron skillet. Once that butter is nice and bubbly and sweet, I marry the cheesy toast slices and finish it up in the skillet, one minute, each side. The bread stays nice and fluffy, too, because I don’t have to flatten it into melted submission.* I plate the sandwich, wipe the rim, grab a cloth napkin even, because I’m alone and I worked hard and I deserve this treat, this moment of cheese scented cool.
On the kitchen barstool, I pause to admire my grilled cheese. You with your microwave, you’ll never have this, this moment of porous crispness with perfectly golden toast oozing evenly heated cheese. You have your popcorn, I’ll give you that, but never pizza, or cake, or really perfect bacon, or crispy olive oil poached chicken thighs, or crispy skinned anything, for that matter. You’ll have uneven warmth, and I’m telling you there’s more to be had at the touch of a button.
I can just tell the first bite will still be connected to the rest of the sandwich with a melty bridge of cheese and yes, this is going to be delicious. Even the dog’s interested in my plate now instead of my shoes, wagging his tail at my bare feet, waiting for toasty crumbs. Now there’s a fat glass of milk in the Bonne Maman jar (which is, by the way, a perfect vessel for both milk and wine) and I’ll just enjoy this end of my work day with good old Watson at my feet and the peace and satisfaction of a long night’s work rewarded by a perfect meal for one (and one dog).
*Quesadillas are great with the same technique—par melt in the toaster oven, then finish in a cast iron skillet, smothered with Denver Chili. Never soggy. Never squished.