The truth is, folks, that not everything that pops into the what-shall-I-make-now compartment in my brain turns into kitchen gold.
A case in point is last Sunday’s baked alaska-like effort. It was no more than a ginger-nut biscuit base plus frozen berries plus vanilla ice cream plus meringue, but (a) it revealed that my meringue technique needs work and (b) as a whole, it was just awfully sweet (and I mean awful in the tragic sense). It was only salvaged by the addition of lots of plain yoghurt and lots more frozen berries. Ho hum.
In the spectrum of possible kitchen disasters, however, it was by no means the worst and, as Jenni has commented elsewhere, it’s our less-than-successes that can be most instructive. And then, as I read Susan’s post over on Wild Yeast about her dismal daring bakers episode, I got to thinking about what might separate a minor case of bad kitchen luck from an epic, no-holds barred, culinary disaster. And so, I herewith present (with tongue firmly in cheek) a handy guide to identifying the crème de la not-so-crème of make-or-bake failures.
Yeah, but could you eat it? If a fundamental requirement of kitchen effort is to produce something edible, then how did you do?
[5 points] The dish tasted good but was just not at all what you expected (and it always helps to remember that a little re-branding can go a long way in this case).
[10 points] It didn’t taste good, but was still edible with some emergency additions.
[15 points] Only parts of the dish were edible.
[20 points] The entire dish was not actually fit for human consumption.
Did you need to avert your eyes? Ugly food can taste great but the look of a dish does have a significant bearing on whether we want to let the stuff near our mouths.
[5 points] The dish either looked distinctly unappetising or was very far removed from the way it was supposed to look. And not in a good way.
Multi-talented? It’s bad enough when you’ve got a one-dish disaster on your hands but you score extra if you had multiple simultaneous mishaps.
[10 points] More than one under-performing dish in a single meal.
[15 points] The meal as a whole was sufficiently bad that you had to order takeaway instead.
Collateral Damage? Sometimes it’s not just the food that suffers.
[5 points] One or more utensils were harmed in the making of this dish.
[10 points] You caused some expensive damage to a major kitchen applicance.
[15 points] Multiple appliances busted.
[20 points] The fire brigade was called.
Personal Injury? Were there any burns or cuts to accompany the pride that was already wounded.
[5 points] One minor injury to your person.
[10 points] Multiple minor injuries.
[20 points] Serious stuff, requiring medical attention.
Third Parties, Dinner Parties and Others… Remember, if nobody else was present and there was no evidence that couldn’t be disposed of, then, hey, it never happened. Otherwise:
[5 points] There was at least one witness, of the family or close friend variety.
[10 points] Other people were present, as part of an occasion or public event. Having to fess up to a cyber-audience about your failures also counts.
[15 points] Minor physical injuries sustained by others present.
[20 points] Throwing up. By anybody.
That which makes it less of a fail
Adjust your scores downward if any of these apply:
[minus 10 points] The events were the result of circumstances completely beyond your control. That power cut really couldn’t be helped.
[minus 5 points] It wasn’t kitchen gold but comedy gold. Hooray for the possible start of a career in stand-up.
[25 or less] Ok, so your soufflé collapsed – it’s not such a tragedy, is it?
[26-50] Not great, but you’ll live to fight another kitchen day.
[51-75] Oops, maybe you should have stayed in bed.
[76-100] Epic fail, do tell.
After all of that, Sunday’s dessert episode only clocks up a measly 15 points – 10 for being edible after a salvage operation and 5 for having a family witness. I know I can do worse (or better, as the case may be). What about you?
Ooops – I’ve done that before too
I’ve definitely done worse … in the categories of Collateral Damage and Personal Injury alone, I am legend!
That said, I can think of only one EPIC FAIL … and unfortunate potato soup that called for some kind of chile pepper not found in my market. I substituted a can of pickled jalapenos and, oh, what a mistake! Completely and utterly inedible. Pizza was ordered, delivered and consumed after just one sip. This was more than 20 years ago and we still laugh about it. :)
I love this! I give myself 30 points for my Daring Bakers cookies. Thanks for a great rating system — I’ll be referring to it on my next DB caper for sure.
Well, I love your sum up here. Kitchen fails do make us better cooks and you learn about yourself. It took me three trys to make what I considered a decent Baked Alaska…so press on!
Ohhhh dear. My biggest FAIL was that chocolate cloud cake thing of Nigella’s – I baked it for hours and it was still like chocolate soup in the middle- I was gutted because it used 6 eggs too!
I’ve definitely done worse. I’ve had a glass (heat-proof) saucepan explode on the stove top. I’ve broken a glass jar of molasses all over a newly tiled floor. And, I can’t make stir fry to save my life. It’s a soggy, unappealing failure every time.
You should send some our way, so we can be the final judge. Honestly, we’d still eat it. :)
Ruth E: yeah, I think we all have kitchen episodes like that
Diva: I’ve done far worse too, including that classic one of looking at small dried red chillies, thinking “they’re only small” and adding about 20 of them to the pot – I think my head nearly exploded!
Susan: you’re welcome :)
noble pig: absolutely – there’s always something, and occasionally, many things, to be learned from the not-so-perfect kitchen days
English Mum: hate that – it always pains me if something can’t be salvaged and I’ve wasted good ingredients – and could you imagine how doubly gutted you would be if those eggs had been from your new chooks
lisaiscooking: oh dear, I’ll make sure to wear protective clothing if I ever visit :)
Duo Dishes: Aw, gee, it seems to be all gone (the salvage operation was clearly a success!). Er, sorry ’bout that…
I’ve had quite a few epic fails. But that doesn’t deter me from trying to make the dish again.
This guide I am printing out and placing it on my refrigerator as a handy reference =)
Since I don’t usually follow recipes, I’ve had quite a few kitchen disasters over the years. I’m actually thinking of doing a post on top 10 :)
Brilliant! Cooking FAILS made fun. You seemed to mangage to rescue your baked alaska sufficiently. I hope I will be so lucky with my next pastry attempt!
It happens to all of us,…I think that is is good of you to post about it,…no one does!
Hysterical! Does making hummingbird food count as cooking? I forgot sugar and water were boiling on the stove, went upstairs, and when I came down, the house was filled with smoke and I actually burned some of the ceramic coating off of the stove. I think I’d have to categorize that as an Epic Fail.
It takes a real Spud to admit the occasional blunder.
Your kitchen fail helps us mere culinary mortals take hope. Julia Child never let the fails stop her and we can all attest to her talent.
I give your fail a ’25 or less’.
Oh yeah, you could also pour in some booze & call it ‘sweet trifle’ LOL
We all have blunders, I just have posted them, at least the not so great photos, and gotten called on it…but I try and admit it, and move on…egg whites are tricky, and so it heavy whipping cream…whips us sometimes more than we whip it!
This is great! Although I’m sorry for your bout with kitchen fail, I am grateful that it spawned a post with such a helpful and entertaining tool. This seriously needs to be turned into some type of gadget or link food bloggers can place on their sites. :) A great reference to honestly analyze the good, bad and ugly in the kitchen. Love it!
I’ve had two epic fails (and many smaller subpar performances) in my life: the Fried Ice Cream Fiasco of 1994 and a spaghetti carbonara that I thought I’d perfected but screwed up royally when finally serving to people other than indulgent family members. I think they’ve made me a bit gun-shy about being overly ambitious in the kitchen. As a result, important meals such as Thanksgiving are now outsourced to restaurants and Whole Foods!
I’m too wussy to score myself – my ineptitude might be off the charts!
jenn: and that, of course, is precisely the right attitude to have
OysterCulture: I should print it out myself!
Natasha: I’d love to read your top 10 fails – I imagine that there would be lots of lessons to learn from that!
aoife mc: ah, I reckon that your pastry can only get better and better!
Sophie: well, I guess you hear a lot less about the fails – and there are probably very good reasons for that – but sometimes it’s actually useful…
Jenni: of course hummingbird food counts – you might even get extra marks for that!
Sippity Sup: they don’t call me the humble spud for nothing :)
Flash: welcome! I like the idea of the booze addition, I think that would ease the pain of many a failure…
Chef E: yes, sometimes ingredients defeat us but I guess you just have to hope that, on balance, those eggs and cream get beaten more than we do!
Lori: thanks! I’ll have to work on that little widget – though I think I’d have to extend it with some blogger-specific fails, like ‘you’ve spent 2 hours photographing the process and then the end result tastes horrible…’ – that kind of thing
Tangled Noodle: ah, you mustn’t be so hard on yourself – either that, or I’ll have to invent a whole new scale just for you, lol!
LOL Brilliant! I remember the first time I tried almond cream I think, in an aluminum pan. The color it turned out was so horrifying the whole tart went right into the trash. I know I’ve done others, but I seem to have blanked them all out. Several burns on the arms, cut fingers, but no hospital runs, no firemen called. Happily. I actually love that half-baked Alaska.
Hey Jamie, I think we all probably prefer to blank most of those experiences out :) And I love the name half-baked Alaska – kind of sums it up!