What are the biggest cooking mistakes you've ever made?

I'm hunting recipes for the next Genius cookbook (for beginners) and I need your help! I'll be asking a series of questions here on the Hotline as I develop the book, and I'd be very grateful for the community's wisdom, as always.

This week, I want to hear about the biggest cooking mistakes you've made—and by biggest I mean the pesky ones like mixing up the sugar and salt and the actually-dangerous ones that beginners should be aware of (like Merrill setting her kitchen on fire by heating up frying oil in a covered pot, which combusted when she lifted the lid off—please don't do that!).

Here's a bit more on the book: https://food52.com/blog...

And the last 2 questions:
https://food52.com/hotline...?
https://food52.com/hotline...?

Thank you all,
Kristen

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49 Comments

Ann S. October 3, 2019
I love garlic but found out the hard way one can actually use too much garlic! For me, it was roasted broccoli.
 
Louise G. October 2, 2019
I had never used the no-boil lasagna noodles before. I had a pan that was very thin. I was having an Easter luncheon and when the lasagna was allegedly ready, to my horror and disappointment- not only were the noodles still hard but ones on the bottom were burnt. I managed to take away the burnt and crispy noodles and my guests were very kind but....needless to say I do not use that type of lasagna noodle anymore
 
gandalf October 2, 2019
Not draining on paper towels any meats (or large vegetables) that I have cooked in oil. In my early days of cooking for myself, the step of draining meats (or, say, potatoes roasted in the oven with oil) on a paper towel was something that was usually not listed in any recipe that I used; it was something that seemed to be taken for granted. It was only when I kept getting cooked meat sauces that had fat floating to the top, or excessively oily vegetables when roasting in an oven or cooking in a skillet, that I figured out that the oil needed to be drained on paper towels. It was one of those things that I think experienced cooks took for granted, and was implicit in a recipe, but it never occurred to me as a novice cook.

I am reminded of a country cookbook from 1950 that I have, where there are several recipes that have as a direction, "Cook in the usual way." Now, the good ladies whose recipes went into this book knew what constituted "the usual way" of cooking something, and took certain things for granted; but if you didn't have that experience, the instruction was no help at all. The same for me with draining meats/vegetables cooked with oil -- it was something that was understood by experienced cooks, and which I take care to do now; but not back in the day.

In cooking, as in many other things, the devil is in the details.
 
Carol H. September 11, 2019
Trying to get to my now husband's stomach by making up a recipe for banana creme pie by combining a few different recipes (couldn't find one). As he suggested, it could be used for building a brick wall. But he forgave me (I think) and married me anyway. No, I've never tried to make it again.
 
MusicaBean September 5, 2019
Almost set the stove on fire. I have a Viking professional range which uses infrared heat as the heat source for broiling. The oven starts broiling immediately, super hot and super fast. I had purchased Greek lamb kabobs on wooded skewers for a quick dinner. I had the kabobs in the oven for about 3 minutes when I smelled..... something? I didn't think anything of it and when I checked on them about a minute later, the skewers had caught on fire and spread to the fatty grease on the kabobs which were then engulfed in flames reaching up to the top of the stove inside. I was able to pull the pan out and douse it with water. But, lesson learned. Pay attention to what you are broiling, especially if there is a high fat content. I've had other mishaps with fire, but this incident was by far the most egregious.
 
Mallory September 4, 2019
Quadrupling the cayenne in a Berbere Chicken recipe has been probably my biggest cooking fail. I made my own Berbere spice mix and it back fired. I had 6 or so friends over and let's just say it was memorable in an inedibly spicy kind of way!
 
Geoffrey W. September 4, 2019
Well, there have been lots. It is definitely a process! A memorable set of failures was when i attempted to make trifle from scratch for a dinner party. I started the day before and wound up making three entire trifles and in all of them the custard DID NOT SET. It just would not set. I think we had ice cream for dessert. In the post mortem, i called my mother, born in Rollesby, a tiny village in Norfolk, England, and told her the sad tale. "Geoffrey", she said, "custard will break your heart." It turns out that for all of the trifles she made when i was a child, she used Bird's Custard Powder. :)
 
Lilly September 2, 2019
Using boiling water to dissolve yeast to make Thanksgiving rolls!☹️🥊. =🧱‼️
 
Jennifer D. August 23, 2019
When I was in college working on my bachelors degree in Hospitality, and cooking for a big event dinner for over 100 guests we were using a school kitchen. There were large bins of dry goods that were not marked. I was cooking a roux for a large batch of clam chowder and mistook powdered sugar for flour, I kept adding, adding, adding, and it just seemed to disappear, then it hit me! I looked closer at the 'floury' substance in the bin, thought, "gee, that is very bright white flour...." , then immediately knew what I'd done, and had no choice but to laugh at my error. To this day I have used it as a lesson to remember not to rush, and always do your MIS! (mis en place, preparations of ingredients and equipment before beginning)
 
BonnieC. August 23, 2019
Committing that old bugaboo that shows up all the time on tv sitcoms - not removing the packet of giblets from the inside of a duck &/or chicken.
 
BonnieC. August 23, 2019
Making pizza dough from scratch (which I do quite often) & forgetting to add the yeast.
 
Happygoin August 23, 2019
Last winter I was making a few meals for my best friend’s daughter who was a new mother. One of the things I was making was Brussels Sprout Hash.

I was slicing the sprouts in my food processor and needed something to push them down the feeding chute with.

Stupidly decided to grab the plastic bottle of multi-colored sprinkles I’d used on top of the Anise Cookies the previous day. It was right there!!

It’s perfectly obvious what happened. I sliced off the bottom of the bottle and ended up with very festive sliced Brussels Sprouts.

As soon as I stopped saying bad words, I started laughing and took a picture of the unsalvageable mess.
 
KEITH T. August 22, 2019
I was making my spaghetti sauce and read pepper as my next ingredient, but look at the measurement for the previous ingredient. So, instead of 1 tsp. of ground pepper, I added 4 tsp. of it. At first it did not taste any differently, but as it cooked, it got spicier and spicier. I saved it in the end by adding more balsamic, a tiny bit more brown sugar, and lots of red wine.

Another mishap I had, I was making dinner for my husbands birthday. I had prepped pork tenderloins earlier in the day and put them in the baking dish into the fridge. I thought this would save time. When I took them out of the fridge and put them into the oven, my glassware began to crackle, then a BIG POP! Luckily, my neighbor was home to let me borrow her oven and I ran to the store for more tenderloin. Now, no matter if it says that it is safe to place it from fridge to oven, I let the glassware come to room temp before placing it in the oven.
 
Misfitwife August 22, 2019
Back in my early years of making soups I decided to make chicken stock out of a very dried out roasted chicken carcass. As you can guess, it tasted more like dirty dishwater than soup! I also decided to double a rice pudding recipe when it was my first attempt at the dish to begin with. All was going along just fine until I didn't realize that if you dumped a bowl of cold whisked eggs into a bubbling pot of rice and milk you just ended up with a big inedible pot of yuck! Thankfully, my cooking skills have greatly improved over the years...but I still occasionally have a fail!
 
Lois O. August 22, 2019
Once upon a time, we were very new owners of our first microwave. I read that microwaving a lemon would help to get more juice out of it, but let's just say I was still on the learning curve of how fast and powerful microwaves were (and somehow it didn't occur to me to poke a hole in the lemon first)...and it went BOOM! But at least it was a nice-smelling mess, and it left the microwave smelling good after the cleanup :)
 
Tricia August 22, 2019
Ok, this is probably a new one for you. When I was a teenager my Mom had a turkey and ham in baking dishes wrapped tightly with aluminum foil. A big Easter dinner was planned following church. My only task was to put the turkey in the oven. Well, I was running late, dashed out the front door to my car and realized . . . Oh no! I almost forgot the turkey! I went back inside, grabbed a roasting pan and in went the dinner. Since this was a request for cooking mistakes, you have probably guessed that I accidentally put the ALREADY COOKED HAM back into the oven. When we arrived home after church we were greeted by a house full of smoke, a very charred ham and an uncooked turkey sitting on the counter is it’s baking dish hiding in foil! It took many years for my Mom to get over that mistake of mine, and it didn’t help that my Aunt laughed her head off and asked for “Twice-Baked Ham” every holiday for years to come. Lesson learned: always double check what you are putting in the oven when it is wrapped in foil!
 
brenda August 22, 2019
I love Nordic Ware and forget every single time that if the pan is dark-colored it cooks faster than if the pan is light-colored. Hence.... overcooked little cakelets.

I also have mastered Italian Buttercream, once you do you never go back to American Buttercream. The first time making it, I poured the hot cooked sugar into the whipped egg whites, I had the bowl on too high of a speed and wound up with hard sugar everwhere. That day it took three attempts to get it right. Lessoned learned!
 
CPMI August 22, 2019
My Mom once mixed up the vinegar with rubbing alcohol when making Harvard beets. She realized the mistake before we actually ate them. How did the mixup happen? The bottles looked identical and she had just bought a new bottle of each.
 
CPMI August 22, 2019
I once used an entire bulb of garlic because I didn’t know it was not a clove. Needless to say the dish was very garlicky.
 
zuzu447 August 21, 2019
I was once cooking a pot of chicken soup. I was distracted, and so, when it was time to strain out the solids, I put a strainer in the sink, but forgot to put a pot under it. I then proceeded to strain most of a pot of chicken soup right down the drain.
 
Deborah August 21, 2019
Trying too hard
 
judy P. August 21, 2019
50 years ago I was making my very Firstbdinner for my new ,very proper Bostonian in-laws in our minuscule military apartment —steak, salad and baked potatoes - foolproof, right ? As the potatoes were finishing in the oven I fired up the drawer type broiler for the steak whereupon the un-poked potatoes exploded all over the oven. When pondering next steps , other than more wine I noticed out of one tear filled eye that our cat was curled up on the dining table in the empty salad bowl. We had donuts for dessert so no one left hungry
 
Gwen August 21, 2019
Two stories - short one is don't forget the salt in yeast bread, never tasted anything so flat in my life. One recipe in my Mom's cookbook has "salt" circled in red because I forgot it twice in a row.
Longer story - pay attention to the details - I was about 7th or 8th grade and was doing the majority of the cooking for the family. One day my Mom left me the recipe for porcupine meatballs so I cooked rice and got the hamburger out of the fridge and collected all the other ingredients and mixed it all together and proceeded to make a dozen meatballs, per the recipe. Only problem was the recipe called for one pound of hamburger and I didn't even look at the weight on the package, which must have been at least 3 pounds, maybe more, I had meatballs the size of baseballs. I'm in my late 50s now and I still take flack from my Mother over those meatballs.
 
Nancy M. August 21, 2019
Once I made a pan of lasagne with homemade pasta to serve the next day. When I put it into the fridge for the night I covered it with aluminum foil. The next afternoon when I took it out of the fridge to heat it I noticed that the tomato sauce had eaten through the foil. I will never do that again!
 
DianeZ August 21, 2019
When we were broke newlyweds, I made a batch of chili from our favorite hometown restaurant. I made a slight mistake ...used 6 tblsps cayenne instead of 6 tsps. It was a large batch, and was a big piece of our food budget. So we ate it. Well, some of it. I’ve not made teaspoon/tablespoon errors again.
 
Jennifer C. August 21, 2019
Before my husband and I were married, we had a pre-Thanksgiving meal with his family. I decided to make a vegetable dish that was a Thanksgiving standard with my family. I misread the measurement for the ground black pepper, I added 4 teaspoons, but the recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon! I remember thinking that was too much, but that 's how I read it so it must have been right. Needless to say, it was horrible, but everyone was polite and attempted to suffer through eating it. I insisted on tossing it! Great impression of future in-laws! I have another similar story for a dinner party with too much vinegar. We needed up ordering takeout. I should have had reading glasses back then!
 
Kathy C. August 21, 2019
Being afraid.
Being afraid to NOT follow the recipe. Afraid to mix unusual ingredients. Afraid to make a mistake.
I'm over this now. And a much much better cook after losing the fear.
 
ellemmdee August 21, 2019
My now-husband and I were newly living together. He couldn’t believe I always made soup from scratch. He was a Progresso guy at the time. I made a truly amazing vegetable soup with potatoes and misread the amount of horseradish recommended (and optional) added at the end. This wasn’t borscht. It ruined the whole batch and he teases me about it twenty two years later. And he loves my cooking and I love his. Read carefully and start small with strong flavored ingredients.
 
[email protected] August 21, 2019
I was making a large batch of chili. The chili was quite thick and I was not stirring it constantly and I scorched the bottom. The entire batch was ruined. I am now very paranoid when making anything thick like Bolognese to make sure I stir it constantly and moderate the heat.
 
cynthia August 21, 2019
I wanted to thicken chicken drippings and some broth stock to make a nice gravy, but I was unsure of how much flour to add. I put in probably about a half cup of flour to maybe 2 cups of the broth. With the resulting thick mess I could have spackled the house with it! I told my mom and after she got through laughing she mention the considerably smaller amount I should have used.
 
mary C. August 21, 2019
I was 12 and my parents were out of town and I needed a cake for a bake sale at school. I found a strawberry box mix and decided to make it all by myself. I tried to get it out of the pans and it just kind of crumbled apart. I was very confused and had no idea what happened. So I took it next door to my neighbors and asked what they thought about it. She took a bite and kind of raised her eyebrow and asked me what was in it that was crunchy since it was a strawberry cake. I had no idea, so I went to get the box and showed it to her. She asked me what I used for the egg whites and I said, "well the shell of course, it was the only thing that was white"!
 
Lynn H. August 21, 2019
I was cooking dinner for my boyfriend for the first time. Everything when swimmingly until I reached the instruction "...simmer for two hours..."; horrified, I looked over at my boyfriend sitting patiently at the dinner table. Luckily, the meal did not suffer significantly from its reduced cooking time - it was only spaghetti Bolognese - and my now husband of 37 years still raves about that first meal. Moral: read the recipe and instructions thoroughly before attempting - especially before an important occasion.
 
pattk1220 August 21, 2019
This was my mother's fiasco that she never lived down: She put eggs on to boil and left the kitchen to take a phone call. This was back in the days of hardwired landlines. One of us kids wnt intonthe kitchen before she returned only to have an egg fall from the ceiling onto his head. She had been gone do long that the water boiled out, and the eggs exploded. Dinner that night was very, very quiet ...
 
Colleen August 21, 2019
My girlfriend was wanted to bake her mom's family southern pound cake recipe, she couldn't find copy, so asked me for mine since we grew up together. Back then in the 80's you hand copied family/friends recipes when you wanted to pass them along. When it was baking she notice the pound cake was overflowing out of the bundt pan. She salvaged what she could and took it to work, but called her mom the next day to review. Apparently I had written TBS instead of TSP for the baking soda and baking powder (which it called for only a tiny bit of both). We still have the picture of the disaster.

The second one, but I have several....I was making a potato type cake for work, to start you boiled potato's, used a ricer, mix with cheese, herbs and a few other things. Potato's seemed kind of lumpy so added some cream mashed again, then mixed more and the added more additions. Baked the dish...and then next day, I served it at work...and I thought this tastes like a brick. Apparently all the mashing, mixing and mixing more made the potato's gluey and hard..and beyond help. I was so embarrased...all the work, but nothing to smile about! Everyone was nice and said it was tasty, but I know they were just being polite!
 
pattk1220 August 21, 2019
As a novice cook, I misread a recipe and used 1 Tbsp of ground black pepper in a meatball recipe instead of 1 tsp. I didn't know enough abour cooking to question myself. Even the dog wouldn't eat theml
 
Dana B. August 21, 2019
Failed to read recipe instructions to the end BEFORE starting. Got to the point where it told me to refrigerate overnight... sigh. I now read the entire recipe, all instructions and ensure I've got all ingredients on hand before I begin :)
 
Gale H. August 21, 2019
Barely 20 years old, a brand new bride and about to cook our first dinner in our new apartment. I wanted to really impress my husband with my cooking so decided to make fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies (cheated and used canned), rolls, and lemon meringue pie for dessert. All from scratch after work. After all, I’d seen my mother do this countless times, right? Well. No one told me about the challenges of making everything finish at the same time. Chicken wouldn’t cook; golden on the outside, raw inside. Turned up the heat. Burned on the outside, barely done inside. Potatoes hard little pebbles that refused to mash. Nothing edible for making gravy. Rolls and pie MIA. I think the canned corn was decent. Eating what I could salvage of dinner at 10pm, exhausted, with pots and pans stacked up to the ceiling. Me—wondering how I was going to pull off this dinner thing day after day! Thank goodness I learned from my mistakes. Cooking improved, marriage went down the tubes!
 
Judith P. August 21, 2019
Hah! Decades ago when "whole wheat" baked goods were all the rage, the concept of going organic ("natural") was firming up out there on the horizon but was still kind of novel, and any white foods were branded with the moniker "white death," I made one of my first ventures into baking. 'Thought I'd just substitute additional whole wheat flour in a sticky bun recipe wherever it called for white flour. I could spell yeast, but couldn't grasp its timing--et voila: whole wheat cinnamon doorstoppers. Don't even ask about the whole wheat-crusted cherry pie attempt. Or the fudge. I'm better now. Pretty much. Yes. Yes, I am.
 
Elizabeth August 21, 2019
Years ago I made a potato dish using russet potatoes and I prepared it that morning but did not bake it. I did not know that they turn brown/black if you don't cook them. It was for a dinner party but I served it anyway. I'll never make that mistake again!
 
JoAnne H. August 21, 2019
My dear friend Robin, when the chocolate cake recipe called for two cups of coffee... added two cups of ground maxwell house - you can imagine the gritty, bitter, results....
 
drbabs August 21, 2019
There are so many.....probably the worst was when I poured pasta in boiling water over my hand into a colander. The stupidest was when I left out the baking powder and baking soda in one of my own recipes. The messiest was when my springform pan leaked cake batter all over the bottom of my oven. And this one is my father's: he was sharpening a knife on one of those sharpeners that you run through two blades, and turned to watch something on television and sliced his hand open.
 
Tracy T. August 21, 2019
One Thanksgiving I made the pumpkin pies with no sugar!Lucky for me I had time and ingredients to make more!
 
Teri August 21, 2019
In cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my second or third time for my family I thought it would be a good idea to cook the potatoes and then just let them sit in the hot water until I was ready to mash them. Well, you all know what happened. All I can say is that overcooked potatoes that have been sitting in hot water awhile makes an impressive industrial glue (and will burn out the motor of a stand mixer!)
 
Joan A. August 21, 2019
Thirty-three years ago I invited this cute guy over for a romantic dinner. I found a recipe for microwave calamari. It was bad as it sounds...rubbery & tough. He politely thanked me for trying and suggested perhaps we should go out. We have now been married for 33 years, and I am an accomplished home chef.
 
AMY V. August 21, 2019
I was making dinner for a friend and grabbed a chicken out of the freezer to roast. Unfortunately, it was a stewing chicken. Holy crap, it was like a rubber chicken! It looked like one, tasted like one, and went into the trash like one.
 
Kristen W. August 21, 2019
Well, this isn’t my mistake but my college roommate once roasted a chicken in the oven and left it in there after she thought she had turned the oven off (mistake #1) but had in actuality put it on “broil. The chicken was turned into a cinder block and we still laugh about it to this day.
 
MNinMA August 20, 2019
Recipe called for baking powder to lighten the meatballs. In my haste I added baking soda in the amount called for. It smelled soapy as I hand mixed, with my brain recalling saponification, i.e. the formation of soap when you mix a base with fat. I cooked several in water to taste, sure enough, soapy! We now use this as a gauge for all future cooking, as in "at least this is better than soapy meatballs." For the curious, baking soda is a weak base, and equal amount of baking soda for baking powder is a lot of baking soda! Cooking chemistry at its worst.
 
aargersi August 20, 2019
For awhile I was buying both vanilla and tamari in bulk and storing them in similar jars … let's just say stir fried beef and mushrooms with vanilla is No Bueno.

Also don't try to make flan when you are in the middle of buying / selling your home(s) because you will probably burn the sugar
Answer image
 
rubystone August 21, 2019
Having grown up in a kosher home I was cooking a big piece of pork for the first time.... It was a Marcella Hazan recipe and at one point I thought my braise was boiling pretty hard but forged ahead. What did I know from pork? My (non-Jewish) dinner guests arrived and when I told them we were having pork, the faces of both the cooks lit up and they said "shoulder?" No, I said tenderloin. Needless to say, I learned that a braised tenderloin is just not that tender, especially when your braise turns to a boil. The sauce was great, even if the meat was inedible.
 
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