My Favorite Food Failures

June 22, 2012

Sometimes (usually some amount of time after the fact), disastrous cooking results can be pretty funny. Fortunately most of my less than stellar results are still edible, but there have been a few that well…weren’t.

Crunchily Al Dente Pasta

This one is a simple mistake – anyone could make it early on in their pasta cooking career. All you have to do is undercook the pasta in the attempt to stop before you get to the mushy point. But I have to say, it had a big effect on me. Eating pasta with a tiny bit of a crunch to it was really, really nasty. Almost to the fingernails on the chalkboard point. As a result, when I take pasta off the stove, once in a while I fear I may have not let it go long enough, and I kind of get the heebie jeebies. Fortunately, that hasn’t occurred again, and I’ve happily eaten nicely Al Dente pasta since then.

Seriously Misshapen, Mysteriously Textured Rye Bread

My dad was a big bread baker when I was a kid, and he taught me how to make bread when I was still in grade school. I wasn’t too bad – I had some decent successes with white bread, rolls, and even made some good crackers. My wheat bread was a little more…dense, but still tasty. But then one day, I ventured into dangerous territory, and attempted to make rye bread. Rye flour is quite robust. It’s a seriously heavy flour. I clearly didn’t make enough adjustments to compensate, and the result was so very far from desirable. You know that scene in E.T where the government has captured him, and he’s dreadfully ill, with sort of a nasty grayish-brown pall to his rather strange looking skin? Well, yeah. That’s what my bread looked like. A hard, heavy, grayish-brown tribute loaf to the sick E.T. And it tasted nasty. Hard Tack would have been an improvement.

The Cranberry Bread That Just Wouldn’t Bake

This mishap involved a quick bread instead of a yeast bread. Way (way) back in first grade, during the holiday season, I copied two recipes from a book our teacher read to us onto a sheet of the light brown paper first graders used to write on back in those days, and proudly brought them home. One was for cranberry cookies, and the other was for cranberry bread. My mom made the cranberry bread for years, with wonderful success. Then after I moved to Colorado, I made it a couple of times and it turned out fairly well, perhaps a bit wetter than it did at lower altitude. But one day, my husband and I set about to make some, and for whatever strange reason, it didn’t seem to be baking in the middle. The recipe called for 50-60 minutes in the oven, but even after 70 minutes, a knife was coming out completely covered with moist batter. So I kept adding 10 more minutes and checking it. Over and over. I plead with it to bake. Alas, to no avail. After literally two hours, we finally gave up and took it out of the oven, letting it cool on a rack. The loaf was probably 2/3 the height it should have been, and when we cut it open, it was still partially unbaked. Sort of a cranberry batter inside a crust. We cut it into slices and let it ‘cure’ in the dry Colorado air. Fortunately, it still tasted awesome! But it was a tad more like cranberry bread pudding than we desired. We still weren’t sure what happened, but my guesses would be we left out the baking soda and baking powder or used too much orange juice, or these were the juiciest cranberries ever.

The Great Pureéd Onion Unpleasantness of 2007

Probably the worst cooking disaster I’ve had was when I tried something new while making a simple curry dish I had made dozens of times before. It was an extremely simple recipe with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, plain yogurt, and spices. To save time (this was before my knife skills class when I learned how to quickly chop an onion. Back in the old days it took me forever!), I decided I would chop the onions in the food processor. In past incarnations I probably didn’t cook the onions quite long enough, so they were a bit more toothy than I liked, so while I was using the processor, I decided to REALLY process them. When I opened the processor, there was a nasty, acrid, biting smell. Instead of abandoning at that point (which would have been the sage thing to do), I decided to keep going. And no matter how much curry powder I added, the overwhelming taste of the dish was the nastiness of the now mutant-tasting onions. It was one of those tastes where no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of it. Eating something else, drinking something, even brushing your teeth didn’t quite get rid of it. So now I shy away from ANY recipe that tells me to put onions in the food processor.

What are some cooking disasters that you’ve experienced? I always think the worse it is, the better the story!

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