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.