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My Friend Thinks She's A Good Cook

One of my best friends graciously always brings a dish to get togethers, such as our monthly book club meeting. But every time I've tasted the dish, something's been horribly wrong with it.

Twice, she brought lemon squares...there was no lemon taste. The 2nd time she brought them, there still was no lemon taste, and they were burnt on the bottom.

The next get together, she brought mocha brownies. Sounds good, right? Well, she put finely ground coffee grinds in the recipe, so the brownies had a horribly burnt flavor, yuck!

Then she made a curry rice dish, with very mushy rice & way too much curry.

Even though she's a good friend, I just can't tell her that her cooking leaves much to be desired. I don't want to insult her.

At the book club, each person brings a snack or dessert...

Should I continue to graciously accept and serve what she brings, and just hope others don't think I made it? What would you do? I can't tell her not to bring something, because each person brings something to eat and everything gets served.


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  1. Why would other people think you made it, if everybody brings something?

    Yes, graciously accept and serve what she brings. You never know, some people probably like their lemon squares flavorless (it would explain a lot about some things you can buy at the supermarket.) Do people eat what she brings? If not, she might eventually notice. If they do, then where's the problem? I can't imagine what the point of telling her her food is bad would be.

    1 Reply
    1. re: curiousbaker

      Completely agreed Curious. You have no choice but to put it out. If everyone is bringing something they have no reason to think you made it anyway. However, even if that were not the case, you still would need to put it out. I wouldn't say anything to her at all about her cooking either.

    2. Maybe your next book club book should be a cook book.

      1. I agree with curiousbaker. If you refuse to serve what she brings, it might hurt feelings and be very awkward for both you and her. And who knows, maybe there are those folks who actually like it. If other folks are eating it, no problem.

        If her dish remains untouched... well, I don't know. But I still wouldn't turn it away or ask her not to bring something.

        Maybe sometime you could suggest preparing something together, collaborating on a dish. If she's a good friend, you will enjoy the quality time spent together. Don't make it like you're going to "teach" her how to cook; just cook something together for the sake of cooking something together and if your collaboration produces something really tasty for all to enjoy, all the better.

        1 Reply
        1. re: tachis

          I don't believe there is a tactful way to tell this to your friend if you still want her to remain your friend.

        2. That's a tough one. I have a friend who also thinks she can cook, and she can, but it's just not very good. Yet I eat it and thank her every single time! The reason I do this is that one time I took a chocolate cake to a church potluck supper. There were a lot of desserts there, but a lot of people as well. On the way there I had to brake suddenly and the cake got messed up. I did my best to make it look pretty again, but it looked messy. As desserts dwindled down, I kept waiting for my cake to appear. It didn't. Then I went in the kitchen and hear a woman say that she wasn't even going to bother to put this mess on the table. I marched over, picked it up and left the supper. The next day my family and I enjoyed one of the best cakes I had made - messy looking and all! So, now, I go out of my way to eat the least eaten dish on the buffet. It may be bad, but it's the thought that counts!

          1 Reply
          1. I have many friends who believe they are great cooks. They always want to invite us over for dinner, when they smoke a chicken (like leather) fajitas (steamed chicken, my favorite) or easter dinner with cold store bought ham, soupy green bean casserole(I did not know you could actually mess up making this dish) or potato casserole with velveeta. We try to suggest going out, ordering in or I make sure that I bring something edible as a gracious guest. Or if I am having people to my house and they insist on bringing something I always have a menu planned and make a suggestion on what they should bring, keeping it simple. I don't ever want to hurt anyones feelings but I also don't want to eat anything they bring.

            3 Replies
            1. re: travelchow

              Like you, we always have "no fail" requests that we ask people to bring. Things like olives.

              1. re: Terrieltr

                wow, i would never ask them to bring olives unless i specify what store to buy them at. Some of the cheap stuff out there is simply inedible. Yuck.

                1. re: hala

                  hala, i think *that* would be offputting to a friend. it makes it sort of obvious that they can't do anything right in your eyes.

            2. You have to be gracious about it and serve the slop. If you try to give unsolicited pointers, or don't put out a dish that she brought, I guarantee she will be offended.

              Put it on a nice platter, take one gracious bite and be done with it. Then laugh about it later with your SO/sister/friend/whathaveyou.

              I'd tell you to have her just bring the salad, but I did that once with a friend notorious for foul cooking and the result was not pretty. There was iceberg and cubed ham from a plastic bag involved. So just have her bring the bread next time ;)

              1 Reply
              1. re: missfunkysoul

                I have run into this as well at work. Once when starting a new job, I was told that "Mary" brings all the cakes to work functions and I was in for a huge treat because Mary is a fabulous baker. I think they even paid her for these cakes. Yes, the cakes were beautifully decorated but the taste... ACKKKK. Dry and tasteless. I think my co-workers were confusing style over substance. I agree with the previous post and just have her bring something simple like the bread or maybe a bottle of wine or some tea.

              2. Serve it. Its the love in the dish that counts.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  That's it exactly Sam. Right on as usual. Friend wants to remain a member of the group and to contribute. Can't take that away.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Exactly. And, what would the alternative be anyway? Would you tell her she's a bad cook? What would that serve, other than hurt feelings? She's a friend first.

                  2. why isnt transparency [here is Mary's Marshmellow Surprise] and market forces
                    [however much is left at the end of the day] the answer? if your associate is
                    oblivious to 80% left over, so be it. if it all gets eaten, so be it.

                    i dont think it is difficult to indicate the provenance of the dish without it sounding
                    like a disclaimer.

                    ok tnx.

                    1. the is absolutely only one clear and correct answer to this question. you graciously accept the generous addition to the food at your book group.

                      If youplace lemon squares, mocha brownies and curry rice ahead of friendship, that would be a sad statement.

                      Maybe the next book you all should discuss is "Tuesdays with Morrie". May teach this group a little about compassion.

                      1. Just continue to put her offerings out. If you're concerned that people think you made these things, you might make cards saying what the dish is and who made it. Actually, that's a handy thing in case people want to talk to the person who made something edible. Picawicca did this at a pitch-in this weekend and I thought it was a swell idea.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: jillp

                          Cards are a great idea. One friend always does this since her group is a mix of vegans, lacto-ovos, and omnivores. This way everyone knows what's in the dish and can ask any necessary questions of the cook/baker.

                          1. re: chazzer

                            that's precisely what i was going to suggest. put a card in front of each one that tells your guests the name of the dish, maybe even a short list of the main ingredients, and the name of the person responsible for bringing it.

                            not only will you clarify the "responsibility" issue, it also saves everyone the time & trouble of asking & answering questions about ingredients & preparation if they have allergies, intolerances, or aversions. [i hate having to question anyone about potential gluten ingredients - even if it's just the people at the prepared foods counter at the market. i always feel like i'm being a PITA.]

                            1. re: chazzer

                              Definitely do the thing with the cards. Have either pre-made place cards or 3 x 5 index cards, folded in half, ready on the serving table or in the kitchen and either do the cards as people come in, or ask them to do the card as they put the item on the table. Tell them it's so it makes it easier in case anyone has a question about their dish, whether they want the recipe for themselves or whether they need to check ingredients for a food allergy. That way, if someone does not want to give out their "wonderful" recipe, they are sorta forced into doing the card, since you have made it a health issue.

                          2. Hey, its only once a month, and you have other stuff to eat. Pity her poor husband. I like Sam's comment about love is in there.

                            1. The only time I would ever not place a dish out was if it was going to make people sick literally. Over the years as a chef I've learned there is no accounting for other peoples tastes, somebody will love it.
                              She put in the time and effort and made something - I applaud that.
                              I recently catered a wedding that wanted in place of a cake to have a pie pot luck. As a caterer I was interested to see the variety of pies from 85 different guests.The guests brought 6 homemade pies the rest were storebought and frozen garbage, At least she puts in the effort. I had a hard time putting some of them out.......It all got eaten

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: coastie

                                Ooh, ooh - I've always wanted to do this, but never heard of someone actually doing it. Not necessarily the potluck part, but the pie buffet. Not crazy about cake, but a whole array of pies - that would be great.

                                1. re: curiousbaker

                                  We had a pie buffet for our wedding lunch (there was cake but not till late at night).

                                  My friend baked pies with fresh fruit. She also made the cake. Everyone said it was the best dessert they had ever had at a wedding.

                                  One of my favorite picture is of us cutting the wedding pie. mmmm.

                                  1. re: curiousbaker

                                    Pie buffet??? sounds like thanksgiving at my grandmothers! haha. always more pie than anything else. :)

                                  2. re: coastie

                                    At a wedding? Oh, for shame! Although, the bride should have known better than to impose on guests like that. Wedding guests shouldn't get homework with an invitation! A better idea might have been to ask some close friends and relatives to bake a few of their favorites, and buy a few from well known local pie shops.

                                    I believe in simple instructions from a host. Guests should bring themselves, and if they offer to help/bring something the host should know the guest well enough to know what to assign them. And in the end, everything that's brought should be set out and enjoyed as much as possible.

                                    1. re: Pei

                                      I believe in doing what I'm paid to do. ( within reason of course but no ettiqette lessons for the bride to be if you want a job. ) Unless they ask then I'm happy to explain traditions.
                                      these people were hippies - to each his own. Since I wasn't being paid to do cake, cake cutting etc - I was paid to put out a table and have an employee standing at the ready to recieve. I kept my mouth shut.

                                      1. re: coastie

                                        Sorry if that seemed like a jab at you. It defintiely was not. I fully understood that you were the caterer, not the dessert provider in any way. The second paragraph was directed at the OP, not you, and the first paragraph was just a "Hmmm, may not have been best idea" general thought.

                                    2. re: coastie

                                      The last wedding I went to was 3 hours away and involved a 2 nights stay in a hotel. How are guests expected to keep a homemade pie in tact and from going bad on such an excursion. Seems odd to make wedding guests bring a pie to begin with.

                                      1. re: coastie

                                        A friend wanted to do a pie potluck for her wedding. I had all the concerns mentionned.. most particularly, that very few people can or will actually make a pie. But her heart really is in the right place - she loves to bake, thought it would be fun, and doesn't always understand that not everyone has the same idea of fun as her!

                                        1. re: coastie

                                          so sad about "pot lucks" these days! i have noticed this beginning a few years back at church pot lucks. like bringing canned beans. or people just bring enough for their little family. it always makes me think, how rude! they take no pride in their preparation of the food. (i know, i know, some people don't have TIME!. always a useful excuse -- but for so many? so often?)

                                        2. I agree with everyone else. Just serve it and be sweet about it. She obviously wants to help and to share, which are such good impulses that they should be recognized above her bad cooking.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: alysonlaurel

                                            If Anthony Bordain can eat what he eats and remain gracious, an occasional lemon square won't hurt!

                                            1. re: Flour Child

                                              Thanks to all for the opinions & suggestions. You're right, I should just put out the dish my friend brings and not make any deal about it. I guess I just was in a venting mood when I posted the original post.

                                              Thanks again,

                                          2. I agree with everyone here, you just gotta put it out.

                                            One time I catered a party my parents held, and the menu was fully thought out. Guests were not asked to bring any food. One woman showed up with a leftover wedding cake from a wedding she attended the night before. What could I do? I put it out - reluctantly - and the whole thing got snapped up.

                                            Like somebody said above, there's no accounting for taste (or manners).

                                            1. Ya gotta put it out, and completely without comment. People will get used to asking her what she brought, and (as is most likely) avoiding it, or perhaps some of your guests are as undiscriminating as she is and would enjoy her cooking.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: wayne keyser

                                                I can't agree more with the "there's no accounting for taste" comments. Many times I've tried springing "real" or "quality" versions of things friends or family are used to, only to get thanked with "You should have just bought it." This has happened with macaroni not out of a box, mashed potatoes not made from powder, ice cream not out of a carton, and cheese not out of a can. And no, I'm not a bad cook. They're just used to what they're used to.

                                                I was reminded of this when my friend told me today that she cooked a Zuni chicken, fingerling potatoes, made gravy, and had homemade honey mousse and a cheese plate for dessert. Her roommate bought Doritos and cheese dip in a glass jar as appetizers. Sigh.

                                                1. re: Pei

                                                  That is atrocious - everyone knows you must eat grocery-store tortilla chips with that cheese from a jar! ;)

                                                  Definitely put the friend's contributions out - I'm sure she would be terribly hurt and insulted if her dish was the only one not served. Besides, some people like baked goods sans flavor... how else do you explain the popularity of Entemann's?

                                              2. We had a deeply reprehensible "Christmas Dinner" at some very nice people's house, and we even put seconds of something limp and green on our plates. It's gracious to accept someone's effort, even if it doesn't meet your standards. That's why we put children's incomprehensible drawings on our refrigerators.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: WCchopper

                                                  My MIL is a terrible cook and one Thanksgiving she said she had a special surprise "just for us". There, sitting in her best serving dish, was canned asparagus from the cut-rate market. In addition to being a canned veggie, it had been boiled -- and then boiled some more. Other than a quick look between my husband and me, we took large servings and thanked MIL for her clever idea.

                                                  Sometimes you've just got to soldier through a meal, be gracious, and then have something to chuckle about on the way home.

                                                  1. re: three of us

                                                    Oh no, canned veggies in general are bad, but canned asparagus I think is the worst!!

                                                    1. re: SweetPea914

                                                      SweetP, I see your canned asparagus and raise you canned rutabaga cubes. Had a friend who like to serve them. Jumpin' Jehosephat, they were eyewateringly awful. We do what we can when confronted with nasty food from dear friends, don't we?

                                                      1. re: SweetPea914

                                                        I used to work with a girl who favored the most interesting lunch - microwaved canned asparagus with American "cheese" slices melted on top.

                                                        (and I agree - asparagus is an atrocious canned vegetable)

                                                        1. re: odkaty

                                                          i like fresh and canned. But i eat it out of the can, standing at the counter. Mmmmm.

                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            this is my guilty pleasure too alkapal :)

                                                      2. re: three of us

                                                        You just have to remember that canned asparagus is not the same vegetable as fresh asparagus. It's a whole other thing, and the flavors have nothing in common. You may like one, the other, or both; you may not. If you use your imagination, you can envision it being considered a delicacy in some other culture. So good on you for serving MIL' s contribution. And next time, try letting your tastebuds out for some fresh air without letting them know what the food in question "should" taste like. (It may still be awful, but you can comfort yourself that at least you tried!)

                                                        1. re: three of us

                                                          OMG! Canned asparagus reminds me of a dinner party to which we were invited by a young couple just learning to cook. It seems that I carry a reputation as being a good cook and hostess. They wanted to impress my husband and I (he worked for DH). They made all the "best" dishes they could think of - the shrimp ring from the grocery store for apps, a precooked roast prime beef from Sam's Club, canned asparagus and a store bought dessert. They served everything with their wedding china and crystal along with fresh flowers, the table was really lovely. What can one do? You gush about how yummy everything tastes, the trouble they went to, how beautiful the table is, etc.

                                                          You have to appreciate the effort that people make, not everyone can be blessed with a stellar palate and cooking talent.

                                                      3. What would I do? I'd say, hey, you hate to cook - so don't waste your time and energy on preparing a dish for the book club -- just bring something purchased instead of homemade. Then make suggestions: butter cookies from the xyz bakery; bread from La Brea bakery for sandwhiches; etc. Or, ask her to bring pretty paper napkins or plates if you need things like that. If pressed about why I concluded that she hates to cook, then I'd just tell her the truth "because you are a lousy cook". I think that anyone is is a lousy cook both hates to cook and knows that they're bad at it. So, why pretend. I think she'd be relieved.