My latest culinary failures

Once upon a time, I committed to only sharing recipes with you guys that I absolutely love.

No mediocrity allowed! This means that a good amount of my ideas for posts end up getting tossed into the virtual trash. I call them ‘the eliminated contestants,’ and today I’d like to take you through a tour of those recent culinary outtakes. I’ll have you know that I’m quite the optimist when it comes to trying a new recipe, so almost every single one of these recipe failures has a complete set of step by step photos, sitting forlornly on the hard drive.

I’m feeling quite introspective this morning, so I do have to ask myself, why do I feel moved to blab about my failures right before teaching a cooking class?

Huh. You know, that’s a good question. I’ll bring it up with my psychoanalyst a few years down the road, and I’m sure that subject will help pad his billable hours quite nicely.

But let’s begin!

1) Parmesan Chicken. The photo above reflects the effort, but the spectacular results I was hoping for didn’t quite crystallize. I have a feeling Parmesan from a can actually might work better than the thicker strands of freshly grated Parmesan that I used.

2) I was very excited about this Thai Red Curry, and almost certain it would be a winner. However, the end result had a funky flavor that I have yet to trace. Like maybe I accidentally dumped in a pair of socks after wearing them 5 days straight.

I will never be emotionally OK again . . . until I redeem myself by making red curry and making sure it rocks my mouth.

I want that o-oold time Rock n’ Roll . . . the kind of curry that soothes the soul . . . blablablablablablabla days of old . . . 

Alas for the fresh pineapple that I tossed into the mire!

Poor little guy.

And now that I think about it, I am missing a pair of socks that I really loved . . . nah, that can’t have happened . . . right?

3) A glossy page out of Martha Stewart Living promised me pillowy, fresh ravioli, so I did what any normal human being would do and quickly dropped a shocking amount of money on a pound of fresh crabmeat.

Things were looking good as I mixed the crabmeat with some ricotta, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Things were looking even better as I assembled these adorable little crab packages, sealed them with an egg wash, and cut them into cute little circles.

All the prep work and photos probably took me an hour, which is much longer than I expected to be in the kitchen. However, for a delicious result, I was willing to invest that time. I sang a little song of joy.

. . . old time Rock ‘n’ Roll . . . the ra-vi-o-li that sooooothes the soul . . .

And then, the ravioli hit the pot.

And they got freaky-weird.

Floppy-like. What are you doing, you horrible looking alien being? And then they hit the lemon buttery sauce, and became greasy to boot.

I tried to make them look pretty on a plate and get a good shot of them before I realized how bad they really were.

It was one of those meals that I just had to throw away. Sorry Martha. However, I did throw it away into our blue Martha Stewart Collection trash can, so doesn’t that connect things nicely?

4) Let’s go to our next candidate:

This pasta dish promised to be awesome. It’s one of my few Tasty Kitchen letdowns so far. I still can’t believe it, since this is how it all began:

With bacon.

But wrong it did go, despite my disbelief. Bacon doesn’t fix everything. It was a paramount lesson.

5) Another recipe that bacon couldn’t salvage was this mac and cheese, made with American cheese singles. I’d be embarassed to share how high my hopes were, since my search for the perfect stovetop mac and cheese has been going on for years and years.

Put some bacon on top . . . and still not great.

Though quite photogenic, don’t you think?

6) While we’re on the mac and cheese train, this recipe was almost awesome . . . but not quite. I was excited because it had a different method of making the sauce, by reducing a pot of heavy cream.

The first bite or two were great . . . and then I don’t remember what happened. But I remember realizing I couldn’t get behind this 100%.

You know what’s crazy? Revisiting these pictures is actually making me want to give it another shot.

Food photography is a powerful influence over me. Even when I’ve been burned once, it draws me back for more pain.

8) Another mac and cheese disappointment happened when my friend Alton Brown told me to use evaporated milk. Great idea, Alton! I encouraged him.

Okay, so he’s not my friend. And though the texture was great, the flavor was simply not cheesy. Alton is great, but I can’t support his mac and cheese campaign. Sorry dude.

Believe it or not, I didn’t photograph this attempt–I’ve apparently become a Doubting Thomas when it comes to mac and cheese. No offense meant to you, Thomas–I can’t wait to get to know you in heaven.

9) This Chicken Stroganoff has potential, man. But it needs more ‘oomph.’ I’ll be playing with it and hopefully presenting a wonderful result to you guys down the road, because it’s close! Though you wouldn’t believe it from this picture of a kind of greasy looking mushroom. Oh well.

10) Last fall my friend Carrie and I had an apple butter making fest.

Neither one of us had any idea what we were doing.

We made more mistakes than I care to talk about, and were uncertain what to do with the apple peels once the apple wedges had cooked down and mushified.

We tried pressing the apple mush through a strainer:

That didn’t work out so well, so we transferred it to the blender and whizzed everything. Then we cooked it in the slow cooker, however we accidentally left the cover on. Hence, the consistency of the apple butter ended up more like applesauce. So I guess you could call it an apple sauce success, but an apple butter failure.

On the positive side, we got our first experience with canning. Our journey in sterilizing jars brought us from being incompetent canners to being only semi-incompetent canners by the end! It was great. 

So let’s recap the lessons learned:

1) Experimentation is fun, and even if it goes wrong, you usually learn something. For me, it was: stay away from ravioli. And maybe I should go into the lucrative crab business. And I love my Martha Stewart trash can. Wow, I really learned a lot, didn’t I?

2) Bacon doesn’t fix everything, but you can always pick out the bacon pieces and eat those before you throw away the rest of the dish.

3) Bacon fixes everything. I’m choosing to live in denial of the evidence presented above.

4) Stovetop mac and cheese is an art. Don’t be fooled by the whole ‘it’s a kid’s food’ thang. It’s a difficult beast to master, and if any of you guys can provide me with a winning recipe for it, I will seriously cry from gratitude. I will encase my salty tears and send them to you in a vial as proof.

So please do share–do you have the mac and cheese recipe I’m looking for? And how to you deal with your kitchen failures? Laugh and move on? Cry over spilt milk? Order a pizza? Tell me everything.

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40 Responses to My latest culinary failures

  1. Circe says:

    I fail a lot in the kitchen, but I think it’s kind of funny, then I order a pizza or chicken dinner, so everyone wins

  2. Wendi says:

    Oh dear, that mac and cheese with the reduced cream sauce looks very familiar. I hope MSMac didn’t let you down like that. I’ve had great success making it. Although what I’ve learned is that you can’t reheat it. So plan your portions accordingly.

    I’ve also made AB’s stove top with condensed milk. I can’t say I remember much about it though. Perhaps I’ll have to cycle through the many mac and cheese recipes in my folders.

    Bacon doesn’t fix everything?????

    • Jenna says:

      Wendi, maybe I need to give it another try. What I remember (it’s been a few months) is that the first few bites were great, and then it got clumpy quickly. If I recall correctly. Hmmm, maybe this calls for a take #2, because I definitely remember thinking ‘this might be it’ . . .

      • Wendi says:

        The last time I made MSMac was Thanksgiving and we lingered pretty leisurely over dinner. It does cool rather quickly, unlike oven mac, but we still powered through to the very last bite without complaint.

  3. Re: the ravioli…I’ve never been able to make a good batch with those wonton skin wrappers–they always turn out watery and weird. You need firmer dough, I think. But I refuse to make my own dough, so I guess I’ll stick with the purchased kind. :)

  4. Martha’s recipes almost always fail. She does not have a strong army of recipe writers, and I really doubt that they test them after they’re written. Horrible. Maybe the ones that come out of the magazine are better, but don’t just do a search on her site and pull something random off of it. Dizastah. ;) One of PDub’s recipes set off my fire alarm this weekend. She cooks in that huge cavernous kitchen, so I’m sure she’s never noticing that the high stove temps she calls for gets the excess pan oil really smoking.

    • Jenna says:

      It’s too bad about Martha. Looks like she needs to hire you instead. =) And I’ve only been disappointed by 1 P-Dub recipe (the chicken with bacon and cheddar–I forget what it’s called) out of the 20 or so I’ve made. Love that woman!

  5. Aimee S says:

    I had to chuckle reading this. I just posted about my failure in making a cake roll this week. Although the flavor was good…it looks horrendous!

    As for mac n cheese, I too love the boxed variety. I did post about a mac n cheese sloppy joe (yes a combo) dish that I made this week. yum. But the flavor of the sloppy joe meat helps the noodles with flavor. Not sure how it would taste without the meat (although my daughter eats it that way, sans meat).

    Anyways, thanks for the morning laugh! I love your blog!

  6. Been there. Done that. lol – I think it is a sign of a great cook that you still have mistakes in the kitchen. You gotta try and not everything is going to work out. I should tell you about my short-cut sesame chicken bomb one day! :)

  7. Eric says:

    At least you never posted a recipe for Late Night Bacon.

  8. foongfest says:

    I love this post. It hits so close to home and I couldn’t help but smile reading it.

    My last epic failure was making gnocchi. It had the consistency of spackling paste. I tend to try to fix the failures but it that still fails, it tends to help dousing it with sriracha, ketcup or some kind of sauce or condiment to make it palatable. Unfortunately with the gnocchi, it made my stomach so heavy it felt like I just ate lead.

    • Katie says:

      UGH gnocchi was my worst kitchen disaster too!!! I had to basically pan-fry it to keep it together (boiling was just blowing it to bits), and the result was heavy and greasy. So sad :(

  9. You are too funny! You make me laugh so much. I recently found a mac an cheese recipe that I like. It’s easy to make because you don’t have to cook anything on the stove top but boil the mac. I got it off the Internet somewhere, but I don’t remember where. I changed it a little because I like spicy foods.

    Instead of a white sauce with cheese, it calls for milk and one egg. Simply layer the cooked macaroni on the bottom of the baking dish, then the grated cheese, and here’s where I deviate by adding minced onion, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and then to the milk and egg I add dry mustard. Then pour the egg and milk over the top. I also sprinkle more grated cheese as the last layer so that it will brown a bit. If you want the measurements, I’ll be glad to pass them on to you. This is basic, so maybe you have already tried it. It was called Easy Southern Mac and Cheese. Bake at 350 F. for 30 minutes or so…

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks Carol!! I’ve never tried this recipe–my husband is constantly calling for baked mac and cheese and I’m crying out “no, stove top! I want stove top!” I think I should capitulate and make the poor man what he’s asking for. I have a couple recipes for the baked variety in the line up, and I’d love to put yours in there if you have time to send measurements.

  10. Jen says:

    I’m a fan of culinary failures! And it’s a comfort to know that they happen to other people too.

  11. Christy says:

    Here is a ravioli that has never failed me. And it’s really delicious!

  12. Erin says:

    Oh, please PLEASE do a follow-up to this post if you discover the perfect mac-n-cheese, baked or stove-top. I have yet to find the one that is creamy and cheesy enough! I just recently tried a Rachael Ray variety that was a real stinker. (It had bacon, chicken, and GRUYERE! How on earth could that have tanked??? It somehow managed to be both bland and dry…blah…)

    Stouffer’s frozen mac-n-cheese is the closest I’ve found to just right, at least since we left Mississippi. Hmmm….maybe I can track down the recipe for the cafeteria mac-n-cheese we used to have when I taught down there. Now THAT was some good stuff! Probably was made with velveeta, ha ha :)

  13. Alex says:

    I have a good stove top mac n cheese recipe, it was my grandmothers. I will share it with you when next we meet.

  14. This Italian Family says:

    I absolutely love this post! It always makes me feel better about mishaps when I’m reminded that I’m not the only one. Thanks for sharing! :)

  15. Jenna, I hope this comes off as me laughing WITH and not AT you, but this is a riot! It’s always comforting to find out that fellow food bloggers aren’t perfect culinary genuises in the kitchen, and you are brave to put your pictures and misfortunes on display! I have had more than my fair share of failures, too. We all have them. Better luck next time! But, hey, thanks for the laugh. ;)

    • Jenna says:

      I’m glad my little disasters (okay, and big disasters, heh heh) could provide you with a laugh! That’s really the only thing to do when they happen–laugh it off and try again tomorrow. =) You have such a beautiful blog–I can’t wait to see more of your food photography. =)

  16. Megan says:

    I love this post! You are not alone – I think we all have our little failures in the kitchen. We all love experimenting so much, that’s all the fun! Mmm, bacon as redemption…that is something I will have to try. :) Good luck next time & thanks for sharing!

  17. It’s funny, all of your disasters look so good, but it’s great to know you will only share the recipes if they taste good too! I think it’s funny, whenever I say something like “don’t do this because this will happen” when blogging a recipe invariably it’s because I made the mistake already. Kind of a “do as I say, not as I do” type thing…

  18. leashieloo says:

    I must admit that a lot of your failures look pretty delicious ;) I’ll take your word for them they didn’t taste so great, the photos are deceptive!

  19. jen says:

    Last time I did mac & cheese, I started with a Panera knock-off recipe I googled and just didn’t do the baking part…it was really quite good…I can’t find the starting recipe, though, so that’s not much help! I bet you’ll come up with a winner :)

  20. Veronica says:

    At least your failures are at least pretty to look at! I’m embarrassed to post my failures because you can tell by looking at them how bad they are. LOL! Good luck finding the perfect mac and cheese! I got this stovetop mac recipe from a friend who loved it and since it originally comes from Cook’s Illustrated, I’m thinking it’s worth a shot (even if it does use evap milk):

    Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese
    8 oz whole grain pasta (I used Barilla plus Rotini)
    8 oz evaporated milk
    6 oz freshly grated cheese (I used 2 oz smoked cheddar, and 4 oz colby-jack)
    1 T butter
    1 egg
    1 tsp dry mustard powder (I used Colman’s)
    hot sauce, to taste (I used a couple shakes of Frank’s Red Hot)
    salt & pepper, to taste

    Boil the pasta according to package directions, cutting short the cooking time by one minute. Drain well and return to pan.

    Add butter and stir around till melted.

    In a measuring cup, beat egg, milk, hot sauce, mustard powder, salt & pepper until very well combined. Pour into pasta and cook on medium-low heat until just starting to thicken, 3-5 minutes.

    Remove from heat and stir in cheese in four installments making sure the first is completely melted before adding the next.


  21. Tess says:

    I was just going to include the recipe for stovetop mac ‘n cheese from Cook’s Illustrated, but Veronica saved me the time. We have been using this recipe for many years now and using evaporated milk is just fine! I vary the cheese depending upon who is eating. If it is just for my husband and me, I use the more flavorful cheeses, and never just one. I also top it off with homemade bread crumbs/croutons. It really is a good (and very quick) recipe that I found originally in CI’s The Best Recipe.

  22. Weighting For 50 says:

    Love this post!! The photos sure make your “failures” look like complete “successes”. I wish my kitchen duds looked that good.

  23. Mads says:

    This whole post is adorable.

    I have the same problem with believing that I can only post greatness. Although, I have posted failures in hopes that readers can send me in the right direction.
    As a result, I have perfected mac n’ cheese and pizza. Yay me!
    However, I have failed at:
    -fried rice
    -chicken noodle soup
    -bison steak
    -southwestern quinoa
    -hummus pasta
    And those are only in the past 2 months.
    Failing has taught me A LOT though.

    Can’t wait to see the other humdingers you have ;)

  24. Rox says:

    Jenna! This post is so reassuring. I thought these things only happened to me! I’ve had dishes go wrong too. Coincidentally one of them were Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Passover Cookies. Its wasn’t Martha’s fault, it was my own because I got some yolk into the egg whites that needed to be whipped so I overcompensated with cream of tartar- not good.

    Pancakes have always been an issue for me too, but I tried and tried until I finally got it right. This will happen for you with the mac n cheese! Just keep trying!

  25. claire says:

    oh girl… been there done that!

    i have had sooo many flops recently..It is absurd!

    p.s. The ravioli does look good though!

  26. Kelsey says:

    Oh Jenna, despite your few culinary disasters everything you

    • Kelsey says:

      Oops I posted too soon. :) every good cook has a few mishaps – thanks for sharing. I’ve had my fair share this year starting with the baking pan that doesn’t fit in our oven and my first attempt at broccoli rabe. At least they are memorable! I’ve got a good stovetopac and cheese with a white sauce recipe. I requested it often.

  27. Sarah says:

    hilarious! i have failed at more recipes than i care to count, but it’s fun in the process :) most recent failure: baked veggie pasta. ugh. i could hardly stand it and my poor husband tried to eat the leftovers…tried being the key word. the other day, he came home and was like, sorry sweetie… i had to buy thai for lunch today because i heated up the pasta and it just smelled rank… lol

    • Jenna says:

      Been there, done that. Sometimes a dish will come out kind of gross, but for some reason I save the leftovers anyway in the hopes that we’ll be good citizens and we won’t waste food. However, I usually can’t bring myself to go back to it, so we end up throwing it away a week later anyway. Alas!

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