Originally written for another blog in November, 2019. Copied here to preserve work.
Ever had a recipe that didn’t quite turn out like you planned? Hehe, I have.
Recipe Failures are a favorite topic in our house.
As a young broker, I learned to cook out of necessity. Couldn’t afford swanky dinners on my credit card for clients. Besides, our parents’ generation invited people home for dinner….. kind of thought that’s the way it was supposed to be. My clients were mostly men, owners of companies, at least a generation older than me. With a “couple” invitation to dinner, kind wives took pity on me, and taught me a great deal. I was a willing student, and although unplanned, the “come to my house for dinner” bonding time often cemented my relationship with the wives.
There were so many mistakes in the beginning years.
Like the time I bought the most beautiful beef fillets I could afford, had them specially cut by the butcher, but I didn’t know how to grill….. had a penthouse but no grill. I put them in the oven at 350 degrees, and thought they would be “done” in 11 minutes….. just like Dad did when I was a kid. That one was a beauty.
Or the time I bought specialty steaks from a high priced Miami Steakhouse and took them to a Manhattan client as my “guest” contribution for the weekend. The steaks were like rubber…. sold me a crappy lot. We ended up eating potatoes for dinner.
Or the time I decided to make croissants from scratch. Did you know there are 162 layers of butter in a croissant? Bakeries have a machine, called a laminator, to process the dough. It looked so easy to do by hand on a Saturday morning cooking show….. took me all day long. I’ll never make croissants again.
How about the Rum Cake I made to take to a boyfriend’s family for Christmas? It was on the cover of Southern Living Annual Cookbook. The recipe required 12 eggs and an entire afternoon. No one ate a single slice. It even smelled bad.
Or the time I was over zealous to create a spectacular dessert for Christmas Eve dinner, as opposed to a normal dessert, cuz I was trying to impress my boss. I started a complicated pumpkin cheesecake at 8:00pm the night before. Finally got it into the oven at 1:00am, should have been finished at 2:00am…… but then the instructions told me to leave it in the oven, temp off, for another 2 hours, and “don’t open the oven”. I waited and waited, eventually setting an alarm for 4:00am. Yet, because I was up all night with dessert, I nodded off during dinner…. great impression, eh?
There were a few monumental errors. My step-mother was an incredible cook. As a teenager, we watched PBS on Saturday morning. Dad was a frustrated Bob Vila. Often, my step-mother would copy something from one of the cooking shows for dinner. I watched her do it for years, so how hard could it be? Thus, when I was newly married, I was watching one of the cooking shows and thought I could make bagels at home. Why not? Well, first of all they were ugly – the color of oyster white paint. Beyond that, they were hard… all the way through. In fact, they were so hard, we decided to feed them to the birds….. and the birds ignored them. The dough was so heavy the birds couldn’t carry off the scraps… little wings fluttering so fast…. nothing. The guys teased me for weeks, “We don’t need a fence to keep the deer out, we’ll just use Miss Daughn’s Bagels…. better than chain link.” Yeah, that bad.
Or the time I was convinced to create a more “natural” home and start making my own bread. Oh yes, I was determined. I bought books on the subject. Over a $100 of specialty flour and new pans…… and the bread rose to the thickness of cardboard and I ended up with a bread boat.
New husband suggested I call his mother for advice. I scoured the kitchen sparkling clean and begrudgingly called her. Everything was prepared for her ‘lesson’ as if she was a visiting surgeon. She didn’t measure anything. Stuck her elbow under a hot water tap to check temperature. She put a little sugar in the yeast to feed it and so it would foam. “What do you mean, FOAM?”, I said. “Oh dear”, she replied with the contempt dripping from her fangs, “You have to let the yeast foam, otherwise the bread won’t rise.”
How come my recipes didn’t tell me about the “FOAM THING”? She was in my kitchen less than 15 minutes, said she would be back “after lunch, it will be done rising”. The sun was shining through the glass door as she waved goodbye, and the sun bathed her like a “bread goddess”. I sat and stared at the bowl for over an hour, flabbergasted. So many things I did not know.
The Diet Light Cookbook was funny….. looking back. I was a pretty good cook by that point, but thought we should start eating healthier. Over a couple of weeks, I made many dishes, all from the cookbook….. everything tasted the same. I came home late, almost dust, and husband was burning sticks in the backyard. He told me to grab a glass of wine and come join him. As I approached, I realized he was ripping pages from the cookbook and burning them. I protested a little, “We could both lose 10lbs and you should drop blood pressure.” He took a long swig of his beer and said, “I’d rather die happy”.
There was no bigger failure than the “Great Potato Soup Escapade”. Hours and hours of effort, over 20lbs of potatoes, but it turned to starch. My husband dumped it out back, behind our old chicken coop. The following spring, it was still there. He had to bury it. Nothing grew there for years.
In summary, to our friends and family, please excuse us while we try to be creative this Christmas. If our project turns out looking like the magazine photo, terrific. If it doesn’t, that’s okay.
The point of the failure becomes – don’t ever stop trying.
Take a chance, try some new skill or ethnic food.
Even the failures become a terrific story.
If worse comes to worse, we can always eat Chinese Christmas Turkey.
And all was right with the world………