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Epic Culinary Blunders

Today I braised a whole brisket for a Hanukah party I'm throwing tomorrow. I browned some onions while I seared the meat, then make a braising liquid by adding a teaspoon of paprika, garlic, stock, and wine to the onions.

I poured the liquid over the meat and covered the pan with foil. I stuck it into the over and set the time. That's when I spied some errant onion bits on my wooded spoon. I look a nibble, and to my surprise, it was really spicy! I look down at the counter, to find, where the paprika bottle ought to have been, a bottle of cayenne pepper!!

"#*&@," I said to myself, "Double #*&@!"

After a bought of despair and light-headedness, I decided that my only option—given that I was not about to go out and buy more onions and then spend another 45 minutes browning them all over again—was to strain the braising liquid and add new stock and wine.

This I did, and what's just come out of the over 4 hours later seems to be a bit feisty. Not something my Eastern European ancestors would have enjoyed, but hopefully my guests tomorrow will find it tasty. If only I could think of a clever name to make it seem like I'd done this on purpose...

Needless to say, the cayenne has been relegated to a less accessible cabinet.

Anyway, what spectacular culinary blunders have you committed?

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  1. Many years ago, I was baking a lemon chess pie, and peeked into the oven to see how it was doing. It looked rather odd to me, so I waved my roommate over (who had made such pie in the past) and asked her if "this is what it's supposed to look like?"

    She nodded rather vigorously, and beat a hasty retreat back to her room.

    Later, when I took the pie out of the oven and then sliced it, I discovered that graham cracker crust (which I had made in place of the pastry crust in the recipe because I had had a volume of graham crackers in my cupboard) does not work with lemon chess pie. In the heat of the oven, the crust had floated up through the filling and was sitting on top of the pie!

    "You said this is what it's supposed to look like!" I accused my roommate.

    "I didn't want to discourage you!" she replied.

    Anyway, we dubbed it "lemon chess upside down pie."

    1 Reply
    1. re: sidwich

      I was having a few people over to dinner and was tossing salad to serve with eggplant risotto when one of the guests arrived. So I was looking at her and not at the bowls when I poured salad dressing into the risotto -- whoops. I managed to scoop most of it out but the risotto was definitely... tangier... than it was supposed to have been.

    2. My daughter baked a beautiful rhubarb pie to take to a company picnic. Everyone commented on how delicious it looked. Luckily, her husband was the first to take a piece and much to his surprise, she had made it with cubed ham instead of rhubarb. She was in a hurry and grabbed a bag from the freezer that looked like rhubarb, but just happened to be ham. Her husband quickly disappeared with the pie before anyone else could get a taste.

      4 Replies
        1. re: King of Northern Blvd

          Hilarious! Oh,but don't tell my Hub, or I'll be forced to make Ham Pie forevermore!

          Still - have have a bunch of rhubarb in the freezer...make a bean and rhubarb soup?

          My worst was the result of an April Fool's Day prank by the husband and son. Not only did they change out the sugar in the sugar bowl for salt, they swapped the canister stock as well. Hub (ex-Hub, I might add) subsequently invited Boss to dinner. My coffee service was, shall we say, savory.I'm for locked cabinet doors when one has merry pranksters around.

          1. re: King of Northern Blvd

            Don't you DARE mention this to the people discussing Bacon Brittle over on Home Cooking, else we'll all be raving about a whole new treat come next year and it'll be all your fault ;-)

          2. re: ncs821

            I always thought the IQF rhubarb looked a lot like ham chunks.....

          3. Oh you crazy chow hound misfits. I feel better already.

            Less than 24 hours till I serve the spicy brisket!

            1 Reply
            1. re: mhoffman

              one year my aunt made brisket for our holiday festivities... We're all jewish, she's not. Our traditional family recipe is essentially lipton's onion soup mix and a bottle of chili sauce. My aunt decided to try it with Thai Garlic Chili sauce. Let's just say, it wasn't quite what the family expected.

            2. Several years ago, I hosted a formal New Years Eve dinner party for 4 couples, all close friends. Everything was planned and decorated to a T, complete with white linens, the good china/silver, floral arrangements, the whole shebang. The last thing I had to do as the guests were arriving was to toast the walnuts for the salad. I accidentally set the oven to "broil" instead of "bake", and as my guests and I were making champagne toasts and nibbling on caviar, the smoke alarm went off and huge clouds of black smoke started coming out of the oven (which is what happens when walnuts catch on fire.) We managed to put the fire out and get every possible door and window open to vent out the smoke. Once the smoke cleared, there was a lovely layer of soot over everything in the house, not to mention my guests' formal attire. We ended up cleaning as much as we could, continuing with dinner (sans walnuts), laughing like crazy, and getting REALLY drunk. Thank god for good friends.

              9 Replies
              1. re: adroit_minx

                What a perfectly wonderful tale--about even more wonderful friends!

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I had no idea walnuts were combustable.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    If I wasn't using a gas broiler, things might have gone differently... but due to the super high oil content in walnuts and the amount I was toasting (almost 3 cups, planning to use the rest in other recipes), it went flammable as soon as the flame ignited the walnut oil and POOF! The large amount of walnuts also made for the large amount of smoke and soot. Like SamF said, thank goodness for friends, who actually appreciate this kind of thing more and more as time goes by.

                    1. re: adroit_minx

                      I always say "you ain't cooking if the smoke alarm isn't going off."

                      1. re: missclaudy

                        Yes, the "cooking by ear" theory, I know it well. :)

                        1. re: adroit_minx

                          I hate to tell you this, AM but dinner parties are not much fun unless something goes wrong. It's just much more fun that way.
                          Of course, it kinda sucks if you're the one who is throwing the party.


                          1. re: Davwud

                            I totally agree, DT, some crazy screw-up always results in the most memorable and fun dinner party. There was one less-funny time when a projectile champagne cork nailed a guest in the eye, but he was OK after bonding with a bag of frozen peas for a few minutes.

                2. re: adroit_minx

                  Oh I love this story! I always have a problem with smoke clouds from my oven during dinner parties.. ;)

                  This past summer my parents held a party for some 20+ friends and I offered to cook for them. I threw 30 mini-hamburger patties into the oven and foolishly forgot to cover them in tinfoil. They had already been seared on the BBQ earlier and were just in the oven to finish cooking through.

                  Well, all those lovely meat oils went flying about in the oven and when I opened the door to retrieve them a gigantic cloud of smoke came out; all I could do was slam it shut and RUN over to the fire alarm in a desperate attempt to waft the smoke away from it.

                  It turned out fine other than a really sore arm, a stinky kitchen, disconnected fire alarm and sympathetic dinner guests ;) Burgers were actually great!

                  1. re: NovoCuisine

                    Since this topic is "epic" blunders, I shared the one that surpassed all others... The sad fact is that I can recall at least a half dozen times when I forgot about dinner rolls either finishing or warming in the oven as I received guests and poured drinks, only to remember when the smoke alarm went off. At one dinner, after a series of these incidents, one of my dinner guests arrived with a fresh baguette and said "your sauces are so good that I can't stand not being able to mop them up with bread..." And of course a wink after that. (So yeah, I hear ya' about the smoke alarms.) ;)

                3. MH, You may want to pick up a copy of "Don't Try This At Home". Each chapter recalls a major chef's culinary blunder. (Like ruining 900lbs of lobster for a banquet.) It's a great read and very reassuring to home cooks.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Walters

                    That book had me falling on the floor laughing at the same time I was gasping in horror. Loved it!

                  2. Thanks for all the stories, everyone. I just sliced the badboy. The meat seems nearly unaffected, though the gravy, which I skimmed and blended smooth, is a bit on the picante side. It's a strange sort of back-end burn; you don't even notice till you've already swallowed. I think things may have worked out overall.

                    1. I wanted to make a double batch of bran muffins, so I measured out the cereal and poured milk over it to soak. It looked like an awful lot so I checked the recipe and instead of doubling the cereal amount, I had QUAD-rupled it! I couldn't go back, and decided to just forge ahead, so I measured everything out into the largest bowl I own. Now here is the stickler....I only had TWO 6-count muffin tins, so I was scooping and making muffins for what seemed like hours.

                      The worse part of all was that they weren't really that good. I ended up chucking a bunch of them into the yard for the squirrels and deer, and even they didn't eat them! I watched one squirrel pick one up, bite it and toss it aside. I should have been offended...I mean, if a rodent doesn't eat your food what would you think??


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: cooknKate

                        that he's a foodie, not a chowhound. the other squirrels hadn't created enough buzz about the new muffin place yet ;)

                          1. re: mark

                            oh my god....that's TOO funny!! Thanks for the better perspective!

                        1. When making pastry for pies we'd use up the leftover dough to make cinnamon pinwheels. I was making pot pies one day,& made the usual cinnamon pinwheels with the leftover crust...totally forgeting that I had spiced that batch of dough with Tony's creole seasoning to give it a little kick! That was a nasty surprize!

                          1. I just had a huge blunder today. I started a split pea soup with the usual onion, celery and carrot saute, followed by adding some chicken stock, the peas and so on. In addition to the chicken stock, I added several cups of water along with a tablespoon or two of chicken soup concentrate....skip to an hour later, when I tasted the soup -- OOPS! Tasted like liquefied chicken -- horrible! And I like chicken. Tried to dilute the mess -- no deal. So much for saving money with a big batch of homemade soup...not today!

                            1. So how was the "Brisket Diablo"?

                              1. My former boss took his family to an upscale restaurant (whose name I won't divulge) in Houston for a special occasion. They all ordered the chef's famous pecan balls for dessert. Once they each took a bite, they knew something was wrong. They called the waiter who rushed back to the kitchen with them. One of the cooks had put gravy on the pecan balls instead of chocolate syrup. Yum!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ncs821

                                  I was *THIS* close to doing that to one of my tables at the restaurant where I work. I was helping out the dessert maker with decorating the plate for a cheesecake. Down went semicircles of raspberry and apricot purees, then a circle of creme anglaise. I noticed that the anglaise looked a little different than usual... I took a taste of it, and realized I had grabbed the nearby squeeze bottle of Caesar dressing by mistake. Thank goodness I caught it before the cheesecake went out, I couldn't imagine serving Caesar cheesecake!

                                2. The blunder fortunately wasn't mine, but my Dad once tried to make a Ham Meatloaf that flopped miserably. It was a leftover, smoked ham, that was baked once, and he ground it as I thought, he was going to make Ham Salad out of it. He changed his mind and added an egg, some saltines, and pressed it into a loaf pan.

                                  Something about a smoked product is that you do not want to run it through too many cooking cycles or it gets dry, over salty (+whatever gets added), and overwhelmed with the smoke flavor. The real kicker was to add cheese to the rather obvious failure and watch the dogs scatter.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. During my college days, my chemistry professor informed us that chemistry brushes us in every day life. I was making Beef Bourguignon for the first time. I took 1/4 cup of brandy and OVERheated it in the microwave.

                                    I poured it into the simmering Dutch oven to ignite. KA-BOOM! The whole thing blew up and and fumes which had covered me ignited and I was on FIRE! singed my hair on the arms and head, and had to admit my defeat to my chemistry professor.

                                    1. martha stewart's turkey brining demo this a.m. on t.v.!
                                      major culinary faux pas...

                                      8 Replies
                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                          bryant gumbel was assisting martha on making the brine solution for turkey. while the solution was still hot off the stove, she asked bryant to submerge the turkey into the hot brine ( she seemed very distracted... ) then off camera's view, someone from her staff (i presume) asked her to take the raw turkey out of the brine!...how embarassing on national t.v.
                                          OMG, she's not perfect...

                                          1. re: flipss

                                            I remember on Thanksgiving a few years ago, she was showing how to cook and carve a turkey, and had her brother there to show how to carve (I wondered if she was such a great caterer, she didn't know how?) Anyway she goes "Cook the turkey to 190 degrees"....I turned it off right then.

                                            1. re: flipss

                                              Ugh I brined my first turkey for Xmas and I totally underestimated how much time it would take for the brine to come to room temp. I had to skip a party because my brine hadn't completely cooled by the time my ride had left to go themselves.

                                              My ride reported back that there wasn't much sympathy or understanding when they explained to the host that I just couldn't make it because my brine was still hot.

                                              1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                NovoCuisine, next time, transfer your hot brine to another pot
                                                and submerge the pot on an ice bath to cool faster, it's worked
                                                for me everytime.

                                                1. re: flipss

                                                  Thank you for the tip! I'll definitely be using it; the turkey turned out wonderfully so it looks like I'll have fowl duty from now on.

                                                  1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                    Actually, just use half the water you're gonna use to disolve the salt/sugar/whatever is in it and then top up with ice. It takes the temp down in a hurry. Stir it and it'll go even faster.


                                        2. The classic salt/sugar accident.

                                          I made the family recipe pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving a few years ago. I grabbed a canister of what I thought was sugar, from my mom's counter.

                                          Wasn't I surprised to find out that canister contained salt not sugar.

                                          That was the year of no pumpkin pie...

                                          1. A catered going-away party for a coworker a couple of years ago featured a mesclun salad with chocolate sauce, followed by an angel's food cake with balsamic vinegar. More subtle than you might think, apparently, as I was the only one who noticed.

                                            1. we were at my grandmothers for a party a few years ago, and my grandmother keeps the sugar and salt in identical containers..with the labels on the lid. you can see where this is going, right?
                                              someone switched the lids and grandma made the mashed potatoes with sugar instead of salt, and everyones coffee was tasting a bit more savory that usual lol.

                                              1. Had my mother and late step-father over for dinner many years ago. He spoke Spanish fluently and arroz con pollo was one of his favorites. Thought I would try a paella- when brought to the table my mother informed me that he was highly allergic to shellfish.

                                                1. ALMOST a blunder:

                                                  A few days ago at my girlfriend's parent's house I was running through the Christmas Eve dinner list in my head (I help out and do about 50% of the cooking when I'm there). We both had to leave on Christmas day so this was our "Christmas Dinner". It was about 1:00 am (officially Xmas Eve morning) and we were all winding down. I asked about the turkey that was supposed to go into the oven approximately 12-14 hours from then and I was told nonchalantly that it was in the freezer. "WHAT?!?!" I said with panic in my voice... I jumped to the freezer and pulled out the rock hard beast. 19.84 lbs read the tag - huge considering we only had 5 people eating turkey. I should have asked earlier... days earlier. My g/f's mom told me that she always thaws out big turkeys on the counter and in the event she does it in the fridge it "only takes overnight." I gave a cocked grimace and said, "no it doesn't." I proceeded to fill up the sink with water, and plopped the turkey in an effort to quick-defrost. She then said, "well I'd just leave it out on the counter." Now I'm certainly no cook-food-until-it's-well-done-and-black-as-charcoal, I enjoy some rosy pork as much as the next foodie, but the thought of the bacteria that could thrive in and on the bird while it was sitting on the counter made me thankful I was there to save Grandma from certain death! In the meantime, I showed her the thawing instructions on the packaging that read "18-20 pounds: 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator". I managed to get the bird 99.9% thawed (still a little chilly inside the carcass near the thickest part of the breast) and it went in the oven about 2:30 pm. I checked the temp, it came out at about 6ish, and it was perfect. Thank goodness I was there to rescue Christmas Eve dinner! I'm surprised my girlfriend has survived this long with a cook like that ;-)

                                                  1. I just had a major brainfart moment. While baking bread, I thought it would be great to put a pan of water in the oven to produce humidity.

                                                    Somehow, I wasn't shocked when I poured hot water in my hot pyrex glass pan and it exploded all over the interior of my oven. I'll be cleaning that up for days.

                                                    Not my grandest cooking moment.

                                                    1. Yesterday my sister blundered a Pineapple upside down cake.

                                                      She read the instructions to allow the cake to cool 5 minutes before inverting it, all wrong. She insisted not to monkey with the cake till it was completely cooled down. (Like an hour!)

                                                      Anyone got a hammer and chisel?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: RShea78

                                                        Have you tried putting it over a low heat on your burner? Or blow torching the bottom? If you go with the latter, run a knife around the sides of the cake, invert onto platter/plate and torch gently and all over until it releases.
                                                        Or back into the oven in a water bath...?

                                                      2. I was making cinnamon buns and I had plastic wrap over the dough as it was proofing. I accidentally left the wrap on when I put it in the oven and noticed when they were done that there was a strange webbing over the buns, which was when I remembered that I forgot to take the plastic off.

                                                        1. Since I cook on Christmas day, I accepted an invitation for Christmas eve from a young colleague. He planned for us (12 people) to eat in courses over several hours starting at about 6:00 pm. My buddy is becoming a good home chef, is Brit, sounds like Jamie Oliver...and so is convincing. He was also in charge of the turkey.

                                                          He didn't, however, realize how long a turkey needs in the oven--it only got in at 9:00 pm. The others did our courses: a) plated arugula, pear, red onion, pecorino salad w/ red wine vinigar-honey based dressing, b) tom yam gai prepared by young Thai guest, and c) meat-vegetable skewers done by the German & Austrian guests. Lots of drinks and fun.

                                                          After the last pre-bird course at about mid-night, everyone accepted that the turkey would be due at 3:00 am. After some discussion, I ended up cutting the bird up in basic pieces to then finish it faster. When I made the cut through the breast bone to half the carcass, lo and behold, the plastic bag of innards!

                                                          The cavity hadn't been washed or explored. The stuffing, now pan finished, had a bit of a sour taste in parts. Rice prepared at the last minute helped.

                                                          In the end, a grand time was had by all. And we did have turkey at about 1:00 am. And an embarrased Brit.