TT: Cooking Disasters!

JANE: We’ve been cheerfully chattering about cooking for several weeks now.  Your mention last week of your friend Ian and his companion stew, Albert, reminded me that we haven’t discussed a very important aspect of cooking…

When It All Goes Bad!

That is those times when Things Go Wrong.  By this, I don’t mean the sort of routine problems every cook has to deal with – a kettle boiling over or something burning – but those mishaps that you remember long after they’re over.

ALAN: There used to be a TV cooking show called Floyd on Food which I enjoyed watching. One day the host, Keith Floyd, cooked some dish or other and the programme closed with him and his guests noshing away on the result. The next programme opened with him saying what a failure the dish had been and how horrible it tasted and weren’t his guests nice and polite to put on such a brave face as they ate it. He explained all the things he’d done wrong, and then he cooked it again, properly this time! I admired his bravery. We’ve all had dishes that failed, but very few of us have failed in front of a worldwide audience of umpteen million people…

JANE: That’s a great story!  Here’s one of mine.

Many years ago, my mom decided we were going to learn to make donuts.  This went very well.  We made cake donuts and fluffy yeast donuts and even filled donuts.  In fact, our excursion into making donuts went so well that, sometime later, my sister Ann and I decided we’d make donuts without Mom’s supervision.

Because we’d liked the filled donuts, we decided on these.  I’m not sure what we did wrong but instead of magically puffing out after being dunked in the hot oil, our jelly donuts sunk to the bottom and lurked there. We fished them out and set them to drain.  Then, because they smelled good, we dusted them with powdered sugar and tried them.

They weren’t bad, so we dubbed them “Strangelings,”because they certainly weren’t donuts. They were small, so we ate quite a few of them.  This then led to a sugar rush of cosmic proportions.  I still remember feeling slightly out-of-body.

Your turn!

ALAN: The choice of ingredients has a lot to do with the success or failure of a dish. After I left university and got my first job I was, to put it mildly, very poor. I chose the food I bought purely on the basis of price. One day the supermarket was selling something called pig melts and the price was so low that they were practically paying me to take it away! I had no idea what a melt was, but the price was right.

I had a melt for tea that evening. Never have I experienced anything quite so foul. My teeth rebounded off the rubbery meat and an indescribable nastiness filled the whole of my head. Pig melts failed both the taste and texture tests, and I threw the whole lot away.

After a lot of research, I finally tracked melts down in (I think) Larousse Gastronomique. A melt is a spleen… I have no idea what function a spleen performs in a body. But whatever it spends its day doing definitely leaves a nasty aftertaste.

JANE: Urrgh…

Not all cooking disasters come from ingredients or cooking techniques.  Sometimes familiarity breeds disaster.

A dish I make regularly is a version of nasi goreng.  The recipe came to me via Kathy, one of my college roommates,  who had it in turn via her best friend from high school whose family was, if I remember correctly, from India.  Over time, I discovered that not only does this version of nasi goreng make a good meal, it both freezes well and travels well.  That means it’s a natural both for making meals in advance, and for bringing to potluck dinners.

One time when I was going to take some to a potluck, I looked at my recipe and worried there wouldn’t be enough, so I decided to double it.  I set it to cook.  The rice absorbed broth and expanded, and I suddenly realized that my Dutch oven (which holds five quarts) wasn’t going to be large enough.

Happily, I have a truly enormous soup kettle that was Jim’s grandmother’s.  I managed to transfer the whole bubbling mass over.  I then added a note to my recipe saying “Do NOT double!  Already doubled.”

Later, after I made nasi goreng for a dinner party at my own home and it was a hit, someone asked if she could copy the recipe.  She started giggling madly when she saw my note.

What other sorts of cooking disasters have you had?

ALAN: Sometimes even when the dish is perfect, the social situation can deteriorate rapidly if you serve it thoughtlessly… I rather enjoy both rabbit meat and venison and, on the grounds that what people don’t know won’t hurt them, I have sometimes served these at dinner parties, usually with great success. But I learned the hard way that when someone asks you what the yummy meat is, it is counterproductive to say “Fluffy bunny” or “Bambi”. The atmosphere grows chill, people aren’t hungry anymore and they sometimes leave early. So these days I’m much more literal.

JANE: As in what?  Saying venison and rabbit?  Or more general “game.”

ALAN: Rabbit and venison, though I have been known to say cervena instead of venison when I’m feeling pompous. I like to be specific.

JANE: My mother never hid what we were eating behind fancy names.  We didn’t eat “escargot,” we ate “snails.”  We didn’t eat “calamari,” we ate squid.  However, despite this, I’ll admit finding it off-putting when my great-uncle proudly declared we’d be eating “Moo-Cow” – the pet calf we’d met and patted earlier that summer.

ALAN: Shades of Alice Through the Looking Glass when the Red Queen refused to let Alice carve the leg of mutton she’d just been introduced to.

You know, our discussion about cooking has reminded me of something that happened to me at a party many years ago. How about I tell you about it next time?

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