Day 5, Eat at Home Challenge: Failing as a Cook

Pretty tomatoes at the farmer’s market. I didn’t buy one.

[First post: Eat at Home Challenge: 10 Days in the Kitchen]

The more you eat at home, the more prone you are at falling on your culinary face. I hate it when I ruin a meal and then have to cook the next night. I sound spoiled when I say that, but I usually feel like eating out the next night. I just want to escape the kitchen.

When I had my first car accident in high school, my dad came home from work and immediately tossed me the keys. He wanted me to get behind the wheel again and not be afraid of driving. I was very nervous about that because I had spun out on a cold December day with the hot, long-haired, guitar playing, German exchange student and my best friend in the car. I only dented the car on a small birch, but I gave my friends a major fright and humiliated myself. I’m grateful to that birch because that tree and its little friends prevented the car from going straight down the embankment into a large pond.

There’s no culinary equivalent to a car accident, aside from burning down your kitchen, I guess. But my dad taught me a life lesson that maybe I haven’t fully internalized yet. It’s important to keep trying even when you are ready to give up.

I mentioned some successes in the kitchen in my previous post including my first decent risotto and then a good “white girl” Pad Thai. Well, I didn’t mention that I screwed up baked drumsticks AND stuffing that same week (two drumsticks were undercooked at the bone and 25% of the stuffing was hard as a rock). How white am I if I can’t make stuffing, right? It’s times like this where I’m grateful for my husband, Mike. He’s willing to eat anything with minimal complaints and then helps me out by excusing it. “Stuffing is supposed to be in the bird where it stays moist — don’t worry about it.” I didn’t have a bird so all was forgiven.

Mike was my culinary victim again when I made a spaghetti sauce from a jar that I couldn’t tell if the contents were good. In my defense, it did come from the farmer’s market and smelled okay when I opened the jar. Using a method my mother employed constantly when I was young, I decided to “jazz it up.” I sauteed and pureed some chard and stirred it into the sauce, turning it a greenish. I had to try it and found it was very spicy. I grabbed the jar to see that one of the ingredients was Thai peppers?! So my husband had to eat that sauce by himself that night (since my son and I can’t handle spicy food) and I had to frantically find something to cover my noodles. Mike commented that it didn’t look very much like spaghetti sauce. Dagger to the heart. When my son asked us to do “Cheers” with our water glasses, I simply stated to my husband, “I hope the food doesn’t make you ill.” I’m happy to report that he did not suffer after the meal was over.

But then tonight I made a tamale pie, which was astoundingly good and simple. I never poured a batter onto another stew/sauce before so I hoped that it wouldn’t be raw after it baked. The meal was a huge hit all around. Wow, redemption! Feels good to be back in the driver’s seat.

How are things going with your Eat at Home Challenge?

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14 thoughts on “Day 5, Eat at Home Challenge: Failing as a Cook

  1. To be fair, you’ve been cooking out of your comfort zone a lot lately with the CSA and stuff. And everyone has those cooking fail moments, especially when trying something different. Every one of my kitchen fails has been a great learning experience, and I usually get it right the next time around. It’s like that old expression: no pain, no gain.

    My grandmother is a great cook, and I think most are, but it seems like it’s because she makes the same dishes over and over. And I love them, but she’s not very adventurous in the kitchen. I was flabbergasted the other day when she told me she had never cooked with fresh herbs.

    Keep on fighting the urge to grab the car keys. I love reading about your kitchen adventures so keep on blogging.

  2. oh, no! Mrs Q, everyone has kitchen failures. Shrug it off. I find that if I’ve had something turn out less than great, the next night I fall back to one of my “instant success” dishes. What is this magical thing? Instant success is something that I’ve made loads of times and have down to an exact science. I have a baked pasta dish that is always good, or homemade chicken tenders that are a huge hit or even good ole steak n eggs. Instant success restores my confidence and lets me move on from my failure with a minimum of fretting over it. Get yourself a couple of “instant success” meals and let the worries go!

  3. “White Girl” Pad Thai! Hilarious! I just had some the other night which is another reason it made me laugh out loud, literally. Go figure… As for your pasta sauce and Mike’s graciousness eating it, I, myself, managed to make a horrific marinara sauce for a home made pizza my boyfriend and I tried to make… he ate it. Lesson to be learned: good men eat anything =) LOL

  4. Hmmm… perhaps you meant to imply that by calling yourself “white” when you couldn’t make stuffing, you meant novice? I appreciate a lot of what you say in this post, but caution against ascribing racial characteristics to a lack of skill in any one area. Same with your Pad Thai. Okay?

    1. My husband is Chinese-American so we talk about race openly at our house. I may have shared one of our “inside” jokes inadvertently — it was not meant to offend.

      1. I think it is hard for others who are not in a “mixed” relationship to understand some of the inside jokes that can be shared in families. I “get” you sense of humor and love it! I have 3 grown bi-racial sons and we have our share of jokes to. I did not take any offense to your comments, and laugh when I hear these kind of jokes happen in other loving households also!!

        1. Yep – my late husband was Filipino and me being a “white girl” was a regular joke between us. My teenage daughter, who is half Filipina, teases me all the time about needing to put on sunscreen to go to the grocery store. 🙂

      2. I am Korean and the rest of my family is white, and I have friends of various races — I completely agree that innocent race humor is much, much common among people who are in diverse environments and is not the least bit offensive.

      3. As a person of mix races..and a very very white, african american/native american/Irish (yeah the Irish skin won)…our household and our friends have our own brand of humor, it most often includes them calling me, or me calling myself a gusak (Yupik for anyone not Yupik)..I have spent most of my life in a mix of cultures and everyone has their jokes, they are funny, and not meant ever to cause pain! I enjoy reading your take on the world, have followed your blog since you were eating those awful school lunches and completely undercover! Don’t give up hope in the kitchen, everyone says I’m a wonderful cook, but my kids can tell everyone, I have failures on a regular basis, if you try something new, it’s not always going to turn out great..but if you don’t ever try, you never know!

  5. Most people fail in the kitchen from time to time. If you try cooking some thing new odds are every so often some thing goes wrong and some times it goes horribly wrong. This even applies to things you cook all the time. It just happens less.

    Some of my favorite cooking memories with my grandmother is when she failed at cooking a new meal or some thing went wrong with one of her cook it all the time meals. She would simply walk over to the phone look at all of us and ask what we wanted on our pizza. Because she was not going to eat what she made and didn’t expect any of us to eat it. My grandmother tried to all ways provide us grandchildren home cooked meals when we were at her home. My mom and aunt both did not cook a lot so we at a lot of frozen meals and take out as kids. My grandmother wanted to make sure her grandchildren knew how to cook. But by ordering pizza when some thing went horribly wrong in the meal. She taught us that issues do happen when cooking and it is all ways a good plan to have a plan B.

  6. Beth =) I was humored by the terminology because when I, a Latina, cook meals outside of latin cuisine, I sometimes may comedically refer to it as “Puerto Rican Style”. This is to imply that my meal is not 100% authentic to the recipe and has been modified to my personal taste preferences, usually by adding difference spices predominantly related to latin foods. In no way was I making light of a racially insensitive comment, nor trying to offend anyone. I hope you understand. =)

  7. Last night I kept my burner on high (oops) and instead of setting the timer I set the clock on the microwave… Luckily dinner didn’t burn! Came close though. I think mistakes help us learn better than making perfect meals all the time!

    Also food safety experts say that stuffing isn’t suppose to be inside the bird as the stuffing and the bird don’t cook at the same rate and the stuffing usually is not quite cooked as hot as it should be… Stuffing can be hard – I typically add a bit more liquid to it and cover it while it bakes, except the last 5 minutes so the top can get hard… Even then sometimes it turns out drier than I like ;).

  8. My recent kitchen fail was cinnamon rolls Sunday morning. I followed the receipe to the T but forgot to adjust for the fact that our oven bakes things faster so they wound up really crunchy on the top. My BF still ate them and said that they were really great in the center. I’ve also burnt chicken, undercooked both chicken and pork. Screwed up instant mashed potatos before as well. I tend to only make things I’m comfortable making because I don’t want to fail. Although I did go out of my comfort zone this past weekend baking cinnamon rolls, brownies and sweet bread from scratch. Needless to say, the sweets were a hit minus the crunchy cinnamon rolls. As for out eat in challenge. We do so well during the week but the weekend comes around and we just decide it’s easier to go out. I would say out of the past 5 days we cokked at home only 2. Sad I know but we are working on it. There was a time when all 5 of those days would’ve been nights we ate out. I enjoy hearing about your kitchen “adventures” a lot so please continue!

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