What was your biggest kitchen 'fail'. We all make mistakes and what did you learn from the disaster?

  • Posted by: Sam1148
  • July 25, 2011


Niknud October 9, 2015
Since it came up earlier today in another hotline and since we could all probably use a laugh, I'm dredging up this old hotline and including one of my own - I already told this story on another thread, but it seemed apropos to re-tell it here.

I can tell you a funny story about ordering 3-4 lbs of baby octopus (I was doing a med-style grill mix) and receiving a 4.5 lb baby octopus.....very different. Of course, I didn't discover this until I got home because it was all neatly wrapped in butcher's paper. I got home and tore into the package eagerly. The tentacles just flopped out everywhere (they were really really long!) and the giant head just sat there. Staring at me. I have never been intimidated by my food before. My husband walks in the back door, immediately cries out, "what the #[email protected]!$# is that awful stench?", rounds the corner, sees the octopus and immediately starts musing out loud about his nut-job of a wife finally going round the bend....

Then SKK asked me what I ended up doing with the octopus. And I said, (with a shameful expression on my face): I was too scared. I didn't do anything with it. Actually, I bravely used the kitchen shears to cut off the tentacles thinking I could do a kebob of some sort with it (Ok, I'm having flashbacks...walking away from the computer......coming back more composed) but I was just overwhelmed with the sheer size and sliminess of it. Seriously, the tentacles were drooping to the floor from the kitchen counter like some scene out of Aliens or something. And at some point during this process, my husband comes in holding a washcloth over his face with one hand and a very large gin martini in the other and quietly tells me to stop the madness. He handed me the drink, told me to go sit down and that he'd take care of it for me. Away went the octopus and he came back a little while later with some fresh clams and mussels. The really hilarious part of it was that following Monday he forgot to take the trash to the curb. Nothing like two week old, rotting, festering, stinking 4.5 lbs of octopus to really endear you to the neighbors.....shudder!
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Niknud October 9, 2015
Oh, and what did I learn from this? Clarity. It's important to be really clear when talking with your fish monger. Double check.
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mensaque October 11, 2011
I almost forgot about the time my grandmother was trying to cook some okra,and forgot to put up the glass lid on the stove before turning on the heat...So the lesson was never to leave an 88 year old woman alone with okra,she may get too excited!
susan G. October 10, 2011
My Aunt Mildred was an experienced cook, but she had two tales worth passing on. One day she borrowed a cup of sugar from her neighbor and good friend -- but what she was given, by mistake, was salt! Had to throw out that batch of cookies! and, she used a bar of Kosher dish soap at the sink. One day she washed her teapot, and a sliver of the soap got wedged in the spout of the pot. Next time she served tea, the hot tea poured soap into the cups! Fortunately the evidence was still there, to tell the story. So, if it looks like sugar it might be something else; and ? check the spout before you pour.
luvcookbooks October 10, 2011
once I made a bean soup with cut up hot dogs
my daughter took a spoonful and said "Mommy, everybody makes mistakes. This was a mistake."
lesson: I knew the recipe looked too simple to be good. Trust your instincts.
once i put twice as much sugar in a choc chip cookie dough b/o i measured it out twice (I was in 4th grade, we were on a tight budget and the dough had to be thrown out).
lesson: put away the ingredient as soon as you've measured it into the recipe (this is really a good idea).
boulangere October 9, 2011
Glad to know the hot firemen are an international phenomenon.
mensaque October 9, 2011
Great question!Fun to read about how much trouble one can get on inside this instigating room:the kitchen!
Let's see if I can remember a good one...When I was about ten years old,my mom told me to go into the kitchen and bring our guests some coffee.You must understand that coffee in Brazil is almost a religion,but of course seing a pot already made(about 10 hours earlier,it was disgusting!) I did not hesitated.And worse:I did not pay attention and let it boil!No one could drink that thing,not even to be polite...so my mom sent me back and the boy next door came to the kitchen with me and helped me with a fresh pot.He was a few years older and I had a huge crush on him.What have I learned?As we say in Brazil "If you can do good coffee,you can already get married.",but if your coffee sucks,maybe the cute boy will spend some time with you in the kitchen!
Also from when I was about ten and we still had a maid everyday in the house:Her name is Laudelina,and she's still a great friend of the family but does not work for us anymore.She is an amazing cook,as most maids in Brazil must be cause it's usually part of their jobs to cook.She was making black beans for lunch(it's most people's customary meal in Brazil,along white rice,vegetables and some meat or chicken)and she was using a pressure cooker wich she maintained clean as a mirror,but that day some tiny peel from the beans must have lodged itself into the valve and then:BOOM!The pot exploded,the valve was never found again,the lid was found...at our neighbor's garden,the kitchen ceiling was all black and scorched,the stove was dented and crooked,and smoke was everywhere!(No firemen,SKK.Not even one,boulangere-and yes,they're hot here too!)You may say it was not my kitchen "fail",it was the maid's.Yes,but my fail was that knowing she was outside hand washing some clothes,I was not worried about her.I was worried about my dog-a boxer named Scott who loved me more than life itself,bless his soul...and I loved him very much and did not know if he had been in the kitchen or not at the time of the burst.I came into the kitchen calling for him-not her,and she was all broken-hearted and all.He was fine after all;he had been outside with her who forgave me eventually(I think!).What I learned:You always ask for the maid first!
Oh...and there was the night of the mutant cockroach!My mom is terrified of the terrible little beasts(name one woman who does not hate insects!) and one night one came flying thru the window and got to the kitchen!She was so big it looked like a bat - no kidding!My father wouldn't help,my mom froze,so I had to - from the wisdom of my fifteen years of age at the time - put so much spray into the cabinet that the pots and baking sheets in there that did not make their way out had to go to the garbage due to all the poison used.But the beast was killed,and the village was saved.What have I learned?Nothing.But my father learned that he who does not help kill the cockroach,has to spend money on new pots.
Bevi July 27, 2011
I can remember another collective disaster that happened in the resort kitchen. My dad had prepared all the pie crusts for a lemon chiffon pie - about 2 dozen. As usual one of the servers (there were 7 - three sisters (me being the oldest) and four others) prepared the filling, following my dad's recipe. He kept all the staples in huge shortening cans that once emptied could hold vast amounts of flour, sugar, and salt. Shortly after the the pies were sliced and served, they started to return. Comments ran the gamut from "Blech" to "Ew" to "Disgusting" as,one by one, all the pie servings came back with one bite taken out of each slice. My dad tasted the pie and yelled, "Who is the GD fool who put salt in the pies instead of sugar?"
Needless to say, we all knew the "guilty" party, but that secret will go to our graves.
skittle July 27, 2011
My latest kitchen disaster began before I even baked anything. I had read an article about how important it was to shake soy milk before using it so that the calcium can properly be mixed up. Unfortunately, the night before, I hadn't put the lid on properly and I shook it violently-resulting in a soy shower.
Peter July 27, 2011
Oh! I forgot my earliest and messiest kitchen error.

I was about 8 years old and was at my across-the-street neighbor's house to make a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting with my big sister's best friend. I felt very naughty because I snuck out of the house and my bedtime -- 8pm -- was fast-approaching.

The cake, I assume, came out fine (who can remember?). The disaster was with the frosting.

All was going well as 1 ingredient after another entered the bowl and the hand-held electric egg beater blended and whipped it into a fluffy, white frenzy. To *really* get the frosting as fluffy as possibly, we turned the egg-beater to it's maximum speed. Things looked great. The frosting was done!

And so I lifted out the egg-beater.

While it was still on.

Maximum speed.

Covered with cream cheese frosting.

...let's just say that I was VERY late for bed as getting cream cheese frosting off what must have been 20 linear feet of kitchen cabinets is NOT easy.
Sagegreen July 27, 2011
I have tons, but two most recent: a. I was pureeing fruit in my blender only to find that the base of the blender was not tightened enough...most all leaked all over the counter and so very quickly down to the floor; b. When making ice cream I turned up my KitchenAid to high way too suddenly and had half the contents swirling up and out in all directions within at least a 3 foot diameter.
susan G. July 27, 2011
There's equipment disasters, then there's food disasters. Most awful meal ever, our first wedding anniversary together, I found kidneys and fresh black eyed peas and thought I would be adventurous. With the help of Julia Child and The Joy of Cooking, I prepared a meal which was so bad that we threw it out -- first and only time I made something that bad. To top things off, Robert Kennedy had been killed the night before -- making this a day we've never forgotten.
Peter July 27, 2011
Let's just say that it's NOT a good idea to mistake TABLEspoons for TEAspoons when making homemade sweet potato gnocchi in brown butter and sage. I think I made it through 3 bites before the rest went into the garbage.
greathill July 27, 2011
I have too many to list. Ruining pans on the stove is the worst! especially when I've had it awhile and it is sentimental. I ruined a pan a few months back that was a wedding gift and it will be very pricey to replace it. Probably the most stupid thing I've done is cook a turkey in the oven with the giblet package still inside (in the wax bag). That was so dumb!
mrslarkin July 27, 2011
Fail sounds so...final! My latest "lesson learned":

Rumford baking powder does not work if you are freezing scones ahead to bake later.

I make a boat-load of frozen scones to bake-off fresh in the mornings. I recently ran out of my favorite aluminum-free baking powder, Red Star from Costco. So I got a couple small jars of aluminum-free Rumford. (definitely fresh - I checked.)

I bake a lot, so I freeze the raw scones ahead to bake off when needed. Well, the frozen Rumford scones did not rise - at all - when baked off. I tried defrosting slightly to see if that would re-activate the baking powder. That worked a tiny bit, but when defrosted, the butter is no longer cold and melted out quickly during baking.

I've been meaning to add this info to both of my scone recipes in the food52 archives, but have been busy with stuff the past couple of weeks. So I'm really glad this question came up! Thank you Sam1148.
Bevi July 27, 2011
I made an Argentine dish called Matambre (hunger killer) that tasted awful. The flank steak was tough, the filling fell out, and the seasoning was non-existent. Clearly I never mastered the recipe, or it would have shown up in last week's flank steak contest entries! The worst part is - I served to a dinner guest without ever testing the recipe first. He took a bite and said, "This tastes awful!" Truer words were never spoken.
mcd2 July 26, 2011
moving across the country in 70's at age 20ish with 2 friends. camping the whole way. no money to speak of between the 3 of us. "i'll do the cooking and organize the food", i say. i'd never done camping cooking. read about how to plan etc. bought stew ingredients for the first night on the road and a new cast iron dutch oven. the first night i made the stew. things went pretty well. as the stew cooled however we started seeing wax floating on the surface. the pan had been coated to prevent rust. we ended up throwing out the food and i didn't cook again the whole trip out because that was the only pan i had and I didn't know how to get the wax off it.
lesson: part of the prep may be to try the recipe once before the event especially if it's a whole new area of cooking so that the food is edible when served!
Sam1148 July 26, 2011
One time my partner tried to make a flourless chocolate cake for work.
The Kitchen looked like a CIA experiment from the 60's involving Betty Crocker, Tequlia, LSD and Gorillas.
Sadassa_Ulna July 26, 2011
Let's see, the most recent 'fail' was only a few months ago. Friends were coming over for a casual Indian meal. I thought I'd make "chicken tikka masala" but didn't read through the recipe to know that the first step is the tikka, which are grilled chicken chunks as kabobs. I was running out of time and didn't have any skewers so I thought I'd just try to saute/sear the boneless chicken chunks before adding it to the masala sauce mix. By the time we sat down to eat the chicken had completely disintegrated into a puree kind of sludge. The texture was not fun and visually is was not pretty. But it tasted great and what with the wine, breads, and other dishes we managed to have a nice meal.
LESSON LEARNED: Read through the entire recipe before shopping, to not only understand what you will need to buy but what you will need time to do as well.
beyondcelery July 26, 2011
The first time I ever made a chocolate cake by myself (9 years old or so?), I left out the sugar entirely. It was still edible, but not that great. Lesson learned: you can seriously decrease the amount of sugar in a recipe and not have a complete disaster. Thus began my career of baking by leaving things out. When I was 18 and discovered I couldn't digest gluten, I started baking by leaving out the gluten. Lesson learned: if you don't balance your gluten-free flours correctly, cookies will melt off the cookie sheet and bake onto the oven floor. I cleaned the oven a lot in those days.

Fast forward to last weekend's disaster. I made a tart crust using a new recipe and replaced the butter with coconut oil, measuring the coconut oil by grams (new scale!) instead of by tablespoons. I didn't take into account the differences in weight and ended up nearly tripling the amount of coconut oil in the crust. (Yes, I know better; I was tired.) Lesson learned: watch measurements carefully when making substitutions or you'll have puddles upon puddles of melted coconut oil all over the oven floor. I cleaned the oven again. At least the kitchen smelled fairly nice and coconutty!
pierino July 26, 2011
Some years ago I accepted a "special" holiday cooking job I never should have taken as it was 40 miles away in a kitchen I had never seen. I started my prep at 5:30 a.m. and loaded up my car. Nevertheless I was still late. When I arrived I discovered that the range had electric burners and all the counter tops were decorated with stuff like mechanical nodding Santas. I asked if we could clear that crap off and the answer was no. I asked where the hostess kept her pans and she answered, "I don't have any, I don't cook." So there was some running around borrowing from neighbors. And one course never got made. After that I refused any job more than 2 miles from my own kitchen.
On another gig I was preparing tortellini in brodo and three of the principle guests arrived drunk and two hours late. I had turned off the heat under the broth while we were waiting and I forgot to turn it back on. The soup came out room temperature at best. At least the roast lamb was cooked properly.
Don't get me started on what my brother did one Thanksgiving.
SKK July 26, 2011
@HAND - a canner after my heart! What kind of wine was it?
Helen's A. July 26, 2011
Note to self: when canning with an old friend, wait until you are finished before you open the 2 bottles of wine. You WILL add a cup of salt to the green tomato relish instead of sugar. Your friend's mother will not allow you to ever cook together ever again, even though you were both well over 30 at the time...
boulangere July 26, 2011
Just a few days ago, the daughter and I were making spaghetti carbonara in our sweet little studio apartment in Paris. Sheesh! We didn't even have to burn it to set off all sorts of smoke alarms - in the apartment, in the hall, in the upstairs hall. French firemen are every bit as, yes I'm going to say this, hot as our variety.
TheVealWhisperer July 25, 2011
Replaced the parmesan in a parmesan crisps recipe with generic jarred pecorino cheese. Pretty sure I almost killed myself and my girlfriend at the time with what I can only imagine was near toxic sodium content. If you dumped a cup of salt into packaged ramen noodles, it wouldn't come close to eclipsing how salty this was. Couldn't taste anything else for days.

the P. July 25, 2011
shaped and topped homemade pizza dough on a GLASS cutting board. it, of course, stuck, and the entire mess had to be scraped into the trash. this was back in my novice years. i learned (a) do not ever use a glass surface for preparing anything, ever and (b) always have $20 on hand for ordering in the pizza.
SKK July 25, 2011
Sorry, left out what I learned. Unwatched pots boil and then burn, double check decks - looking at the bottom - always own a generator.
SKK July 25, 2011
One of the great things about being my age is there are so many mistakes to tell stories about.

Oh where to start - after slicing and sending 25 pounds of apples through my vita-mix, putting it in a huge pot with sugar and spices to cook down - burned the apples, ruined the pot.

Put rice on to cook, left the kitchen and got side-tracked and the rice burned, the smoke set off the fire-alarm and the firemen came. (I shared this one earlier in the year, someone asked a question kind of like this.) Neighbors got involved, dog barked, cat ran away, daughter cried and ruined the pot.

Just moved into a new (to us - old construction) with a wooden deck. Decided to barbecue on the deck for guests. Deck broke through, barbecue and people along with. Deck was ground level, no one was hurt, and no dinner. Barbecue ruined, as well as food. This time no firemen.

Had 20 people for dinner on Thanksgiving - storm came, power out, no lights, 1/2 cooked turkey we threw out - ate a lot of chips, dip and crudites. Bought a generator for Christmas.
The wine was good!

Nora July 25, 2011
I tried to make tortillas, rolling them between layers of wax paper. They were way too sticky. I got so frustrated, I picked up the roll of wax paper and threw it across the kitchen, right into a sinkful of water.

Lesson: to laugh at mistakes instead of throwing things,
drbabs July 25, 2011
I think the worst thing I did was give myself food poisoning. I made a beef stew in a crock pot and I guess I let it cool off too much and didn't refrigerate it in time. Boy, was I sick! Fortunately, I was the only person who ate it. I'm now hyper-careful to the point of paranoia. I don't use a crock pot anymore. (It was old. Was the thermostat off?) And I don't leave anything to cool on the stove. I've thrown a huge pot of chicken stock because I was worried that I left it out too long.
sexyLAMBCHOPx July 25, 2011
I was trying to impress my then boyfriend with a surprise breakfast, which included some crispy bacon. Easy, right? So I took out the bacon from the package and instead of using a sheet pan, broil pan or ANY pan, I simply laid each piece on the oven rack. I set the timer and before it went off smoke started pouring out of the oven, setting off the fire alarm (think ear piecing sounds), and waking him up running hyper-ventialating (smoke got worse.) Imagine a lb. of bacon dripping fat on the stove bottom. Long story short - oven needed to be replaced, fire department notified, and the smell of burnt bacon & smoke lingered for about two weeks. No, I'm not on drugs and college-educated. He married me anyway. : )
susan G. July 25, 2011
Basting something in the oven in a Pyrex dish: exploded!
Making kasha in an enameled cast iron sauce pan, toasted the grain with egg, poured in the required water, finished cooking. Every bite was full of crunchy bits -- I didn't boil the water first as directed, so it shattered the enamel on contact.
Many, many more, but those were early lessons that imprinted deeply.
(Great question, Sam. Is there anyone who never had one?)
borntobeworn July 25, 2011
We had moved across several states and our stuff was packed up by professional movers. They had taped shut bags of flower, sugar, etc. from the pantry. For Thanksgiving that year, I made all of our favorites that required some sugar: sweet potatoes, corn pudding, Ky Derby pie, pumpkin pie. When we sat down to dinner, my 7 yr old & corn pudding lover took a huge bite and immediately spit it out!! The 5 lb. bag on which we could only see the first letter "S" was not a bag of sugar, it was salt from a salt map project from the year before!! We had turkey, ham, and ice cream for dinner :) Thank goodness no relatives or in-laws were there as extra witnesses!
sdebrango July 25, 2011
On Thanksgiving one year I had my daughters new inlaws over I wanted so badly for everything to be perfect. Long story short I roasted the turkey for what I thought was the correct amount of time per pound, my thermometer was broken and everyone sat down to dinner, I started carving the turkey and it was really undercooked, a bloody mess. I had all the sides done and on the table and had to put the turkey back in the oven. It was a disaster!!
Sam1148 July 25, 2011
I usually get "china girl" dried black eyed peas. Which are pretty clean and free of stones.
I got an off brand and didn't 'sort' the dried peas first. Every other spoon full had a rock.

Now, I sort and inspect all my dried beans even if I trust the source.
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