Chef Alejandra Schrader

Bloomington, IL,
00:00 AM

A Holiday Recipe for Safe Kitchens from Chef Alejandra Schrader

As far back as I can remember my family has always flocked to the kitchen during the holidays – a beloved and common occurrence in most Latino homes. Over the years this gathering became an annual, multigenerational holiday celebration in our family that still carries on today.

Each year, we came together to prepare tamales – a traditional staple for Hispanic holiday fiestas. It’s a recipe that required everyone to help out, including the children. As a result, my abuela enforced certain rules to avoid the risk of cooking fires. Here are some of the rules and tips I learned from her and apply in my own kitchen with my family.

Alejandra Schrader and her abuela

Maintain a “kid-free zone”

My abuela kept us children away from the heat and open flames of the stove. As a young girl, I was often assigned small, yet safer tasks, like washing banana leaves used to wrap tamales.

Keep flammable items away from your stovetop

Cooking with open flames is a common method of cooking for Hispanic families. Items that can easily catch fire – oven mitts, wooden utensils or food packaging – should be kept at a safe distance. I can still remember the slightly singed dish towels and potholders in my mom’s kitchen. They were a good reminder to remove stovetop clutter.

Take precaution when cooking with oils

Many Latin dishes involve cooking with oils, and my home is no exception. My abuela abided by a few important rules: always keep an eye on what you’re frying, add food gently to your cooking oil and lay a net guard, screen or lid on top of the pan.

Keep your eye on the stove

Another important tip I share with my children today is to never leave a stove unattended and here’s why. A friend of mine, Lori, needed to boil water a few Fridays ago. She put the water to boil and then went to the living room to watch the evening news. 

Skillet on fire

About 10 minutes later she smelled what seemed to be a match burning. She turned back, and the kitchen was filled with thick white smoke. Turns out she had turned on the wrong burner. One that had a plastic container sitting on it and the container was on fire.

Lori didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and the smoke detection system (remember to check your smoke detectors twice a year!) for the front of the house had not gone off. Had she fallen asleep, this situation could have turned out very different.

Always check the oven before you preheat

If you are like me and my friend Marcia’s grandma, you keep unused kitchen items, like pots and pans, in your oven. And sometimes you forget they are in there when you preheat your oven.

Marcia’s grandmother was living by herself in an apartment with limited space compared to her home that she lived in for years. So to make space, she stored pots and pans in her oven.

Alejandra's friend's grandmother cooking in the kitchen.

Over the holidays a couple of years back, she was heating the oven to make a pie but she forgot the items were in the oven. One of the items was a plastic microwave pot with lid.

Well, you can imagine what happened next. Fire in the oven…luckily, Marcia was there and saw it and called 911. Two fire trucks and about 10 firemen later…the small fire was extinguished. There was no damage to the apartment but she learned to never store anything in the oven again!

From my kitchen to yours, please enjoy the holiday season with your families and kept your loved ones safe!