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Worst experimental culinary disasters?

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I know we've ALL had them. I don't typically use recipes when I cook, either because I don't want that kind of constraint, or because I don't like spending money on weird ingredients that won't be completely used up before they go bad. Most of the time, this is a total blessing because I've gotten good at making some tasty and unexpected meals out of whatever I have on hand. Occasionally though, it ends in total, inedible disaster. Here are my most memorable ones:

- I once had an eggplant in my refrigerator that was perilously close to being unusable, so in a last-ditch, minimal effort sort of way, I tried to saute it with cooking oil and some spices. I had a feeling it would be bland and kind of borderline, but I was in college, so I was willing to eat it in the name of saving money. It was so bad, I had to throw it out completely. I love eggplant, but I guess it's just meant to be served with a flavorful sauce or coating.

- I made chicken one night and decided to marinate it in poppyseed dressing first. Sounded like a great idea, but the seeds burned like you can't imagine! Despite my using cooking spray, they burned so quickly and easily that it took me FOREVER to scrub them off the skillet.

- Lastly, I once decided to make meat sauce using ground lamb. I loved lamb, and I loved meat sauce, so it should have been an ideal marriage. But it was SO GROSS. To this day, I have problems eating lamb because the flavor takes me back to that terrible concoction.

So I'm curious as to what others have unsuccessfully tried their hand at. And, on the flip side, I'd be interested to hear about an unusual combination that turned out to be surprisingly good.

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  1. I've had two absolute culinary disasters. One I've written about here before that happened when I wanted to make lobster thermador for our two month (or was it week?) anniversary. I didn't know wine from swine back then, so I asked my supermarket manager for help picking out a "dry" wine,,, He failed to tell me he didn't know any more than I did. He sold me a bottle of Mogen David concord grape wine. You do NOT make lobster thermador with fermented purple syrup! Can you say "UGLY FOOD" that doesn't taste good? blech!

    The other disaster came after returning from Germany, where the chef/owner of an amazing small 400 year old family hotel outside of Wiesbaden shared his recipe for venison slow roasted with cranberries, morels, and apple wine. It was (and still is) the singularly best venison I have ever had in my life!

    Okay. Back in the states, finally settled in Ohio. Took me months to track down morels, then they were dried and expensive. We're talking 1961. Found true German apple wine made from apples. Found everything but venison, and my husband was NOT a hunter. Then I got a flier that my local Kroger was having some sort of celebration and was selling buffalo! American bison! Big woolly beastie with a hump in its back. Well, hey, it may not be venison, but it's not a steer either.

    So I bought a nice big round oblong roast. No Idea what part of the beastie it came from, but it fit the pot well. And I slow roasted it, as per directions, in a 225 degree oven for 24 hours. It came out of the pot and onto the platter with grace. It looked delicious. The morel cranberry sauce was amazing! Everything was wonderful until you put it in your mouth. Had I flown to NYC, gone to the docks and cut a ten inch length of one of those huge big fat ropes they tie ocean liners with, I'm sure it would have been more tender had I cooked it. That buffalo was probably the model for the first buffalo nickel.

    I will say this for my first husband. He was very appreciative of anything I cooked, including that ancient buffalo. I never had a second bite of it, but he insisted he eat it all... Took him a week. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, that roast buffalo was a super highway!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Caroline1

      I had some fresh peas on hand, in the little bag from the supermarket and I tried cooking them with some butter, salt and fresh mint leaves, it tasted very strange! I just couldn't eat it.

      1. re: Caroline1

        I cook a lot of game, and even at that low temp, your buffalo was way over-cooked.

        1. re: pikawicca

          Just followed the chef's recipe for venison. His venison was incredible! Moist, tender, delicious. My buffalo was tough, stringy, and tasted like buffalo chips! Who knew?

          1. re: Caroline1

            I think the chef gave you the wrong cooking time. Perhaps 6-8 hours, but 24 is insane. Any meat would be "tough, stringy" after that much time in the oven, unless you're roasting a whole ox.

      2. The only one coming to mind (not that aren't many, but it is late) involved a 9 year old me talking our babysitter into thinking that making donuts would be a good idea. I was looking at a cookbook (I loved looking at my mothers cookbooks) and found a recipe. We did have to make one slight substitution - regular flour for the Bisquick the Bisquick Cookbook called for..we ended up with confectionery sugar covered hockey pucks and a good sized greasy mess. It took me probably 20 years before I finally realized why our substitute didn't work!

        1. i had a hard avocado, and tried to pan cook it to soften it up.

          yeah.....riiiiiight.

          1. Some years ago I tried to broil a fairly large lobster on a charcoal fired Weber. I knew that the good east coast seafood places broiled their lobsters, although I didn't know many of them steamed first.
            So I put the poor creature over the coals, on the grill, and turned it several times. The results after 12 or 15 minutes were really uneven. The shell stayed mostly green, with just a bit of red. Some of the meat was well done, some almost raw, and not very much cooked perfectly, like the seafood roadhouses.
            I was really disappointed, especially since I had to re-cook much of the meat on the stove.
            I was unaware that the redness results from a reaction to heat in the water, but may not happen when broiled or grilled.
            I've since learned to steam lobsters for 4-5 minutes in a pressure cooker, and it comes out hot, red, and moist.

            4 Replies
            1. re: jayt90

              jayt90, i like that pressure cooker idea! is a pressure cooker too much for, say, snow crab legs?

              1. re: alkapal

                The pressure cooker is ideal for the crab legs in my market (Ontario). The crabs are large legs, steamed and frozen in Alaska or Prince Edward Island. (The Canadian government actually has to bring in Russian workers to process crabs on the east coast!) A short re-heat in the p.c. (2-4 min) is fine, but if you want to retain the length of the legs they will have to go in the oven, probably 10-15 min.

                One problem with a fresh lobster in the p.c. is the tail curling up. My way around that is to split the lobster with a 10" chef's knife, and put the pieces in the p.c. meat side up. Not very pleasant, but it works.

                1. re: jayt90

                  thanks! re curling lobster tail, have you tried the trick of inserting a wooden skewer or two? (like done with shrimp....)

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Considering that, but it is still alive! Better than splitting it in two.

            2. When I first started learning to cook, I took a smoked ham butt and put in the crockpot along with some carrots, celery, onion and potato. So far, so good. At the last minute I decided to add a clove or two of garlic. When I came home, all I could smell was "hammy garlic." Blech! Nothing in that pot was edible :-(

              1 Reply
              1. re: jacquelyncoffey

                My first attempt at lasagna for some reason turned into a pan of lasanga soup. I had way too much liquid in the pan.... I was home from college and made it for my parents... I don't think they ate any. I ate what I could salvage of my pride and the ingredients. Never had that problem again. No clue what I did that day that went wrong.

              2. I was in college, and living outside of the dorms for the first time. I wanted to make some fried rice, and thought that I had to literally fry the rice (like frying chicken).

                I don't think anyone can beat Caroline1's two culinary disasters.

                1. Oh boy...one big mess comes to mind.

                  My father decided to buy a smoker to "experiment" with real barbeque. My culinary skills were limited at the time and my experience with smoking meats / poultry were exactly none. Brining the chicken? Who's heard of that? Using a mixture of wood and natural charcoal? That sounds crazy. Soaking the wood so that it smolders instead of burns? That just doesn't make any sense...

                  I helped feed that fire box with all the mesquite and hickory I could fit. The smoker literally looked like a steam engine billowing grey smoke for hours. To give you an idea of the result, imagine taking a big bite out of the driest chicken you've ever had, but instead of tasting like chicken, it's tastes like, well, a Kingsford briquette. Thankfully, we had plenty of bottled sauce to douse the chicken with, making it almost edible.

                  Ugh, I can still smell the stench.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: gatorfoodie

                    I'm sorry that happened to you, but I can't stop laughing :-)

                    1. re: jacquelyncoffey

                      I just remembered another one. We only used to eat canned/frozen veggies. My sister wanted to make fresh broccoli. She pulls out one of mom's old cookbooks, which of course tells you to "boil for at least 30 minutes in salted water." So we had salty, waterey broccoli mush with dinner. Turned me off of broccoli for years!

                    2. re: gatorfoodie

                      Oh the smoker incident....
                      I also had one.
                      Simple upright smoker in the backyard. Fire below, then water pan, then rack for meat to be cooked. Little door to check in on the fire and add more coals. Lovely.
                      Well the fire just wasn't doing well.
                      So I, in my infinite wisdom sprayed a little lighter fluid into the window onto the coals/wood........
                      nothing.
                      a wisp of smoke
                      hmmmmm.
                      I sprayed in a little more.
                      (okay, before you all kill me, I don't even USE lighter fluid anymore...... I don't even own any)
                      nothing.
                      hmmmmm.
                      As I sat back drinking my delicious frosted alcoholic beverage which may or may not have contributed to my next brilliant idea.... I had a brilliant idea!
                      Well, I'll just stick a match in the window and relight the coals.!
                      Let's see.... the fumes had no where really to go, with the upper path blocked by the water pan..... so they were just sitting and swirling in there waiting for me.
                      The resulting explosion of flame out of the little window of the smoker knocked me back, with 3rd degree burns on my fingers. (had to go to the ER and a plastic surgeon -- the good part, no scars, no surgery, and no lasting effects)
                      Have no idea what happened to whatever the heck it was I was trying to smoke.....

                      1. re: Firegoat

                        that one wins! Hands down, ...er , seared!

                    3. Ohh boy, have I had some really bad ones. Once, while I was in college I tried making Swedish meatballs. I had a very limited spice rack, so I decided to sub clove for allspice and leave out the nutmeg. I also didn't have any ground cloves, only whole, so I ground them by hand... I didn't anticipate the strength of freshly ground cloves, nor did I know it would not be a great substitute for allspice and nutmeg... Holy cow was it bad.
                      Think meaty clove with a hint of clove. Plus, since I ground by hand, there were still occasional huge chunks of clove...my boyfriend spent about 5 minutes spitting out pieces before leaving for McDonalds.
                      My mom had a cooking disaster years and years ago with turkey tetrazzini, and that's been our family's code word for crappy food ever since...

                      1. I recently tried to make icing for a cake using regular granulated sugar. I added a full 1/4 cup of milk to the stick of butter and 2 cups of sugar. As you can imagine, it was a grainy, liquidy mess. I ended up adding close to 3 cups of powdered sugar to the mixture in an attempt to fix it, and it was STILL runny. Completely disgusting and way too sweet...went straight into the garbage because I was too embarrassed to store it. In retrospect, I should have sucked it up, put it in the fridge, and added it to coffee or something.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: fallingup

                          You were on the right track, just didn't have the methodology or ingredients down pat. Both "boiled icing" and "seven minute icing" use granulated sugar. They're like frosting a cake with marshmallows! Quite good. Just don't expect to be able to make frosting roses! '-)

                        2. My Mom once set english muffins on fire in the broiler.

                          I had some as a child when i tried to cook using only the cookbook directions, but I've, um, forgotten them. The 'ile flottant' was not too bad actually.

                          My stepmother's Mom once stuffed a chicken and didn't have any twine to fasten shut the skewers, so she used rubber bands.

                          1. Paella. I used a recipe out of Joyce LaFray's Cuban cookbook that called for just about every variety of shellfish and crustacean not to mention the saffron threads. In short, it was really expensive to make and I was just out of college at the time and didn't have a lot of cash.

                            So . . . all went pretty well until I got to the rice. The recipe called for a fast-cooking variety but somehow I missed that. When I was finished, the seafood was done but the rice was as hard as it had been when it came out of the package. Then, the topper. My dinner guests arrive and share with me that one of them is deathly allergic to shellfish. Off to a local bar for beer and burgers and $100+ plus my cooking confidence down the tubes.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JenBoes

                              When you are a student, or just out and trying things, a good recipe book is so important. My first paella was inspired by Elizabeth David's 'Mediterranean Cooking' and it was a complete success. But my early steak efforts were not so great, as I had no good advice.

                            2. Hmm. My fiancee has set the oven on broil instead of bake. Several times. This year.

                              Moving to another country gives one many, many opportunities for culinary catastrophes.

                              Smietana, smietanka... one is cream, one is sour cream (in Polish). And if you've never been to Europe, they have 5 or 6 different 'grades' of sour cream, ranging from a liquidy 12% to a more 'USA normal' 22% and higher fat content. Sour cream in your coffee is a taste that'll definitely wake you up in the morning.

                              Giving someone instructions on what temperature to set the oven at... completely forgetting that you use farenheit and they use centigrade.

                              'Maka' in Polish means flour. One does tend to forget though that there are different kinds of flour. And I don't just mean bread flour, cake flour... I mean corn flour, whole wheat flour and.... wait for it... potato flour, which is essentially nearly pure starch.

                              No, a chocolate cake in which you've substituted potato starch flour for wheat flour isn't edible. Several of them however would make for good patio paving bricks.

                              I've also inadvertantly learned the Polish words for 'self-rising'. Pie crust made with self-rising flour has...interesting...consequences.

                              They also write dates 'backwards' in Europe. Day/month/year, instead of month/day/year.
                              Forgetting this when examining expiration dates has led to some interesting facial expressions on my part.

                              Then there's the whole "Christmas carp" tradition. Poland being a very Catholic country, on Christmas eve there's no meat served. Traditionally, Christmas eve dinner has 12 different dishes, the main dish being carp. Carp which is bought live and is kept alive, swimming in the bathtub until Christmas eve when it's gutted and cooked.

                              Christmas eve morning is *not* a good time to find out that your bathtub drain stop doesn't seal completely and allowed the tub to slowly, but surely, empty out. Especially if you're the carp, I guess. Dead fish kept at room temperature overnight in a small, enclosed area...well, you get the picture.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ThreeGigs

                                I've posted about this before, but it was such a colossal flop that it bears repeating. It was my first (and only) attempt at making my mom's recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie for my boyfriend. No matter how long I cooked the filling, or how much cornstarch I added, it never thickened.

                                I thought that maybe if I just went ahead and topped it with the egg white and baked it, it would set up. It never did. The meringue was lovely, but if you tilted the pie plate, the meringue did a sort of queasy wave-like roll. I bake a lot, but I've never attempted another lemon meringue pie in the intervening 40 years.

                              2. I was about twelve years old and was learning to help cook for our family by preparing at least part of our dinner ahead of our mother arriving home from work. I decided to make a two layer cake with colored layers. I chose a white cake mix and colored one layer green, the other red. Not understanding how food coloring works, I used a one ounce bottle of red in one layer and one ounce bottle of green in the other. They would have been a great addition to the discuss event at the Olympics that year. No amount of dunking improved their edibility.

                                1. My first created recipe was a disaster. I was 5 or 6 and in charge of treats for family night. I decided that peppermint bread was the way to go for some reason and used frozen roll dough and kneaded in broken peppermint candies. Ohhh nasty.

                                  The first time I tried to recreate my dad's stovetop mac and cheese for my later husband, it broke into a stringy mess. He ate it anyway - no that's courtship.

                                  For my oldest son's 1st b-day with guests I tried to make milk free cheerio cream puffs, which neither puffed, nor did the pastry cream set up. Absolute nastiness, but my son ate it with happiness.

                                  1. I once made a Lentil Nut loaf from Laurel's Kitchen. It should have been tasty. I liked all of the main ingredients (lentils, walnuts, egg). But it was vile, utterly vile! All I can guess at this very late date is that my walnuts were elderly and the cooking pushed them over the edge of rancidity. Ugh.

                                    My other memory is of a friend who got a Larousse Gastronomique as a present. Budding gourmets, we decided to cook out of it. Our Beef Wellington was at least edible, though hardly a culinary triumph. But then we tried a kidney recipe. We gamely followed the directions for cleaning them, but when cooking they filled the tiny studio apartment with the reek of urine! In the end, we couldn't face eating them and went out for pizza.

                                    One last memory, though not my cooking: a college roommate made a beef stew from a fairly simple, Betty Crocker cookbook. She was a great baker, but her mother had done all of the main dishes, so she was a novice here. The recipe called for a clove of garlic. She didn't know what that was (hey, I sympathize, I was in college before I saw real garlic too), so she used some garlic powder and some ground cloves. The results were, um, interesting.

                                    What's really funny, though, is that it was her husband, who worked in restaurants in high school, who first showed me how to handle real garlic. I guess he hadn't shown her yet!