My Top Ten Culinary Flops (So Far)

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You know what I’m talking about. We plan like crazy for a nice meal, then something is either forgotten, burned, dropped, broken, or grossly undercooked, and usually at the last minute when you have no time to plan for an alternative. Believe me, I’ve done my fair share! Good thing I’m not a professional chef.

So in honor of my 40th birthday (today), I thought I would have a good laugh while looking back on my worst culinary flops. I’m sure that I have many more flops coming in the years ahead, but here is my top ten list to date. Enjoy, and feel free to share yours!

10. My early attempts at pie crust. It was a horribly painful experience. I couldn’t roll it into a circle, it was too dry, and it was falling apart as I tried to move it into the pan. And when it baked it was tough as nails. I kept trying, but many tears were shed and I swore off making my own pie crust for several years. I trudged the aisles of local grocery stores buying frozen crust. Yuck. Especially when we are talking about frozen crusts that have been shipped to far away, overseas locations. After much cooking therapy, I started making pie crust again a few years ago. And I no longer look upon it with the same dread. Lesson learned: Making pie crust is good therapy in itself, as long as you have an open mind and leave the Type A personality at the door.

9. My first attempt at my mother’s Stroganoff, a family institution. Slimy stroganoff is not exactly bon appetit. Lesson learned: Some recipes must be followed exactly.

8. The pound cake. Doubled pound cake ingredients, then got distracted by kid (while pregnant with second kid) and forgot to put mixture into two cake pans. It did not have enough room to rise. The cake overflowed into the bottom of the oven where it burned to a crisp, setting off the smoke alarm and filling the house with an acrid smell that hung around for days. Lesson learned: Pregnancy is a great excuse for being forgetful!

7. Got distracted by kids while baking Sugar-Topped Coffee Cake. Accidentally used the wrong kind of flour while prepping and then became entangled in diaper changing and missed the timer signaling end of baking time. Coffee cake is not supposed to be tough and chewy and have a charred flavor. Lesson learned: Don’t try to bake with little boys underfoot pushing their trucks around the kitchen.

6. The sugar free pumpkin pie. Once again, I was pregnant and this time not feeling so well. But family was arriving the next day for Christmas, and I needed to get this pie done. In my fog of all day morning sickness, I forgot to add the sugar and baked the pie without any sweetener whatsoever. It was a very savory pumpkin pie that we ate with lots and lots of whipped cream. Lesson learned: See #8.

5. Zucchini bread. I was on a quest for a healthy zucchini bread. My mother’s recipe, while absolutely delicious, is a traditional recipe with lots of sugar and oil. Not exactly good for the waistline, and my boys don’t need a sugar rush to give them extra energy. (But wait! It has zucchini, so it’s healthy, right???) So I searched long and hard and found what I thought sounded like a good, whole wheat recipe with lots of good stuff in it. And it looked beautiful as it was baking. It rose up tall and smelled so nice. It was a big loaf. Once it cooled I cut a piece…it wasn’t too bad. Not my mom’s, but not too bad. I could smear a little apple sauce on a slice and the boys would eat it. So I wrapped it up and stuck it in the frig and cut off small pieces for a few days. Then I started getting to the middle, and the foulest odor you can imagine came out. The middle had never quite finished cooking, the loaf was so big, and it had started to rot. Lesson learned: Stick with the family recipe if it’s really that good, and use a bamboo skewer to test a loaf of sweet bread for doneness. A toothpick might be too short for a tall loaf.

4. While experimenting with a homemade oatmeal recipe for my son, I blew up a bowl of oatmeal in the microwave. Lessons learned: Need to stir after two minutes to prevent eruptions, and also need to cut slits in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape. Oatmeal is very sticky and completely coats the inside of a microwave.

3. Jambalaya and Pecan Pancakes with Butter Pecan Syrup. We love those dishes, and I planned to make both while my aunt and uncle were visiting from out of town. I called my aunt early in the week and asked about food preferences, allergies, etc. She said they eat just about anything. So the day that they were supposed to arrive, my husband asked if I had called them about the menu. I said that I had, but he insisted that I call again. Good thing! My uncle answered the phone and he told me that he’s allergic to shrimp! Not a big deal, he said, he just swells up a bit. Oy. So I went about planning two separate pots for jambalaya. Make it all together, then move some into a separate pot before I add the shrimp to the main pot. Should be ok, just keep the shrimp far away from his pot and don’t mix up the ladles. Everything went fine, they loved the jambalaya. Breakfast the next morning. Got up early to make pancakes, one of our favorite recipes with pecans and butter pecan syrup. Pancakes were nearly done when my aunt and uncle came downstairs and saw the bag of pecans. Turns out he can’t eat pecans either! Guess I don’t know my uncle very well. Lesson learned: Always check with ALL the guests when planning a menu.

2. The melted bowl and flaming towel. Was making pizza with my husband. The dough had been rising inside the slightly warm oven, and we cranked the oven up to 425° F, the rising dough totally forgotten. By the time we pulled the bowl out of the oven, the sides of the plastic bowl had melted and the towel that had covered it was burning. Mmmmmm, nothing like the smell of burnt plastic. Lesson learned: Never rise dough in the oven. There’s probably a lesson about using plastic bowls as well, but they really are useful as long as you keep them away from heat.

And the #1 culinary flop (so far)…

1. The dropped birthday cake. I was making Carrot Cake for my husband’s 41st birthday. Time to remove the cake from the pans. The first layer came out fine, but the second one stuck a bit. I ran a plastic knife around the outside edge to help release it, but it still wouldn’t come out. My mom said that she knew a little trick, so I let her take a stab at it. She took the pan firmly in both hands, cake facing up, and held it about waist high. Then with a snap of her wrists she gave the pan a good firm shake. The technique obviously works, because the cake literally popped out of the pan and landed on the floor! The stunned looks on our faces was something to behold. I was shocked and immediately started trying to figure out plan B, but I was in a bind because it was late and I didn’t have time to start over and I didn’t have enough ingredients. My mother couldn’t stop apologizing while I bent down to pick up the pieces. Unbelievably, the cake was relatively intact. It had broken into three large pieces with some crumbs laying around it. I picked up the big pieces, blew on them to make sure they were clean, and then stuck them together as best I could. Then we frosted it and used the frosting like mortar to hold the pieces together. My wonderful husband wasn’t the wiser, at least not until we told him on his 42nd birthday.

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  1. says

    I can certainly sympathize, especially with the entry about pizza dough. I’ve taken to just sticking mine in the microwave- its practically perfect as a proofing box.

  2. says

    We’ve done that, and we also sit our dough on top of the stove and turn on the overhead light, and it works like a charm. I do wish that I had photos of some of these disasters, although nothing could really capture the foul odor of that rotting zucchini bread!

  3. Kathy says

    You are so brave to list those mistakes and I will totally trust any recipe you post because of it. Just when you think you know everything about cooking, something comes along and makes you humble again.

  4. says

    Oh, I’ve never thought I knew everything about cooking! Truthfully I feel like a perpetual novice in the kitchen, but that’s ok. I like to experiment and learn new things, and cooking is definitely a fun outlet for that. Mistakes are bound to happen, and I’ve decided to laugh about them, although the laugh usually comes later. :)

  5. Beverly Greve says

    Met your parents today at the metrolina flea market in Charlotte and they told me about your website. I am trying to find some good recipes. I especially would love to figure out how to make soups. I always seem to manage to make them flop and everyone else says that they are easy. I can only make a seafood gumbo and a crab & corn bisque. I would really love to make a vegetable and a chicken and noodle.

  6. Amy says

    After my daughters 2nd birthday party I put the leftover cake in a tupperware container and stuck it in the oven to get it out of the way. Later that evening I went to make her dinner and I turned the oven on for fish sticks. I forgot all about the cake and then I started to smell this terrible smell suddenly knew what had happen the tupperware container had melted and the left over cake was runined! that was the best chocolate b-day cake I had ever tasted it had almond extract in it and it was so moist. Oh well I guess We were not suppose to eat any more of it.

  7. Emily says

    I’ve done the oatmeal one too many times before! You just forget about it, and then come back to oatmeal all over your microwave. Thanks for the plastic bowl in the oven tip, though!

  8. Suzanne :: Adventures in Daily Living :: says

    This is a great idea for a post. I don’t think I can keep the list down to ten though . . .

  9. says

    Emily, the oatmeal mess is such a disaster and takes forever to clean, doesn’t it?

    Suzanne, thanks! This is just the Top Ten, though I should probably update the list some time soon! :-)

  10. says

    i’ve done the oatmeal thing — and had my own share of cooking mishaps! my first attempt at oatmeal lace cookies where they wouldn’t come off the pan was one, my hideously burned meringue when i tried to use my broiler on lemon meringue pie was definitely another!

  11. says

    Loved this post…we all do that stuff one time or another! I have exploded oatmeal, and just last week I was playing with a gf blueberry bundt cake recipe. The outside was gorgeous, nicely brown, and looked lovely. The inside…totally raw. We got a good giggle.

    cheryls last blog post..Menu Plan Monday, August 18th

  12. says

    OMG! These are priceless! You have me rolling on the floor here! Anyone who has ever spent any time in a kitchen will immediately understand and empathize.

    You’ve given me a great idea for a blog post of my own! Thanks!

  13. Barbara says

    Tears are running down my face… I can’t see to type I’m laughing so hard!!! Thank you – a wonderful release for a stressful month. It’s not just the flops that we’ve all done, it’s your brilliant writing.

  14. Susan says

    I enjoyed reading your ‘flops’. My worst? I had just purchased my first microwave. Being young and enthusiastic, I bought a beef roast to prepare in the microwave. I envisioned a moist, tender, yankee pot roast. I started out nuking it for 30 minutes, not yet tender, kept adding 10 minutes at a time. After a couple of hours of this, the roast was as hard as a rock. First lesson? Microwaves do NOT tenderize roasts!

  15. says

    Oh my goodness — you have just brought a wonderful end to a not-quite-so-wonderful day! LOL! I especially love the cake story because I had very painstakingly made a soccer field cake for my son (per his specifications) and just as we were all singing Happy Birthday to him, I was carrying the cake, flaming candles and all, and slipped and fell, and I could see all the horrified looks on my family members’ faces as they watched helplessly as I fell… yet I was determined that cake was going to survive (which it did) — I twisted my ankle but I managed to plop that cake on the table on my way down. All the kids at the party thought that was quite the party trick!

    So I can just imagine all of you, standing there, looking at your husband’s cake on the floor…. then hastily “gluing” it together with the icing!

    Thanks for sharing these stories!

  16. Dee says

    Thanks for sharing! Its nice to know I am not the only who has messed up in the kitchen. Let me share one with you… It was my first attempt at making homemade soup. I knew I wanted to make a chicken soup with rice and veggies like zucchini and carrots. Keep in mind I was only 17 at the time and like a typical teen, I thought I knew everything. I didnt want my mom’s help in the kitchen. I had seen her do this a million times. I was doing good (so I thought)up to when I added the rice. I added too much. It turned to mush. But thats not the worst. Apparently, I didnt know how to tell the difference between cucumbers and zucchini. Yuck! I successfully made a mushy mess. I am now 39 years old and I just made soup for the first time since the “incident” last year. Sure, my lesson was learned, but my courage to try and make soup again had to build back up…lol.

    • says

      Thank you so much for sharing your soup story, it made me laugh! We all do these things at some point, that’s why it’s fun to share. :-)


  1. […] Meyers (of Andrea’s Recipes) has posted My Top Ten Culinary Flops (So Far), which is essential reading if you’re feeling sorry for yourself or your cooking. Sample: 6. […]

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