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The "Bad Food" Joust!

Okay, mamachef threw down the gauntlet over bad food in another thread, and that popped this idea into my fuzzy little head...

What is the worst thought-out food you've ever had, either that you made yourself or that you had in a restaurant or that a friend has made for you...???

I'll kick things off with TWO...!

#1 When my kids were junior high-ish, we would go to Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor in El Paso. Swenson's was originally a California single ice cream parlor that grew to be a chain and even reached Texas! We began going there years before when we still lived in California and the kids were just starting school because they have a GIANT sundae called an "Earthquake" that has eight different flavors of ice cream and eight different flavors of toppings, and when my two kids got good grades, they were allowed to invite one friend each and each kid got to choose two flavors of ice cream and two toppings. You also have to know that each Swenson's shop makes their own ice cream on the premises and is allowed to create original flavors if they like. Well, this one year they were offering Dill Pickle Ice Cream as a tribute to expectant mothers! Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! They did give out a few sample spoonfuls, but when I asked some time later, the SCOOP that one of my passel of four kids ordered in the Earthquake was the ONLY scoop they sold out of the entire five gallons of dill pickle flavored ice cream that they made! It tasted TERRIBLE! Maybe because they used real dill pickle juice from their kitchen to make it?

#2 Many years ago a recently divorced male friend invited us to his new condo for dinner. It was back when we lived off the earth, mostly for free, eating abalone four times a week from the friend's and my husband's scuba dives. So he invited us for dinner and picked up a crock pot and a bunch of "interesting sounding ingredients" and started them cooking that morning before he went to work. It was sort of a stew that might have been good if only he had not added large whole un-trimmed entire stalk ASPARAGUS! The damned asparagus turned to rope and overwhelmed the flavors of everything else in the dish and was totally unchewable. It was sort of like eating a bowl of ramen that was made out of wool ramen. Somehow my husband and I managed to eat most of it, but it was difficult, and we smiled and thanked him. I didn't want to discourage him over his very first ever cooking effort! That, plus it was his sailboat they scuba dove from! Don't bite the hand that feeds you! But remember.... Do NOT use WHOLE stalks of asparagus in a crock pot recipe! EVER!!!

So what's your worst Bad Food Tale? Come on. You can tell me. I won't tell anybody else! '-)

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  1. I'm in!! Aside from the, ahem, aforementioned fast-food tacos, I have this sublime story:
    As a young married, we were friendly with another couple. Shari was not particulary inclined towards balancing her menus, especially at the beginning of her cooking career. One meal in particular stands out:
    Fettucine Alfredo
    Macaroni and cheese ("for the starch.")
    Mashed and gravy ("for a vegetable.")

    3 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      lol! love the thought process behind it

      1. re: mamachef

        This should be done like a KFC bowl and served in one dish!

        1. re: mamachef

          Sounds like she was going for color...hmm, let's eat from the neutral palette tonight...beige ought to taste pretty good.

        2. Swensons! Now there's a name from the past - that chain even made it to Montreal in the late 80s and yes, they had dill pickle ice cream for a very short while. Friends of mine did eat the Earthquake until about the time he got stopped coming out on suspicion of being a p*dophile (note - if you're over 6 feet, try not to date girls who are several inches south of 5 feet with heels on unless they're carrying ID).

          The worst thought-out meal I've made was the seafood crêpes right about the time of the Swensen's incident. Not my particular idea but the then-GF wanted to invite friends for a sit-down dinner and though this would be sophisticated dish to serve. So, rather than get the requisite flour, butter and eggs she decided to save me some time and gave me a box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. It was ugly.

          1. I love my in-laws, some of them have a really hard-core sweet tooth. We were something like 26 of us on a houseboat at Lake Powell one year. The fishing was freakish good, due to the fact that there was a cyclic food shortage and the striped bass were starving. If you could lower your foot down 60 feet a striper would bite on it. So the fishermen ended up catching a ton of stripers, and cooked them up for the group one morning- warm freshwater fish tastes like mud, I haven't had an experience that makes me think otherwise. And these big-ass stipers were as muddy tasting as the Wabash river catfish that my uncle used to force upon us. Then the morning after the muddy fish breakfast, either my MIL or her daughter made breakfast, it was a five-gallon bucket of Krusteez blueberry pancake mix, and they made overly-sweet semi-blueberry tasting pancakes to a fare-thee-well, of course with fake maple syrup, which goes just swell on a damn houseboat- you can't get rid of the sticky spots or the gross fake-syrup smell.
            From muddy freshwater fish to pancakes sweet enough to embarrass a cake- cripes. To this day I dread depending on a large part of that family for a meal. Fortunately, they're a really entertaining group otherwise.

            1 Reply
            1. re: EWSflash

              LOL, EWSflash. And sometimes, that's the only saving grace. I've literally sat at bad family meals grinning and hosing and smiling and jiving, thinking, "well, at least it's a fun group." And moving food around on my plate to make it look like I was actually eating.

            2. Once my mom made Hamburger pie--which was from the Bisquick box. It had layers of meat, but she decided it should have every layer a burger has.. so cooked into it was also a layer of lettuce and a layer of cheese and a layer of pickles and a layer of ketchup and a layer of onions and a layer of mustard.. and then more biquick on top.

              2 Replies
              1. re: GraceW

                Haha! I'm guilty of making the exact same thing for my college buddies!! Only I just added pickles. Of course, we were all used to dining hall grub, so hamburger pie tasted like filet mignon to us back then! I made it again a few months ago in an attempt to get my son to eat ground beef. Awful - no wonder the poor kid didn't eat it - never again!

                1. re: Sra. Swanky

                  I am now a vegetarian.. so I think it is wise to be careful what meats you serve him.. it might turn him off from meat forever...

              2. Two words: Pork Sashimi

                1. I'd have to go back to my camper and camp counselor days for the truly bad food stories.

                  Tuna in a bucket after a long hike in the mountains with (by then) stale white bread for a hungry brood of 50 is NOT the ideal lunch plan. Hot bug juice and sticky bags of marshmallows .... need I say more! Which is why so many of us got off the camp bus sick to our stomachs in the early 60's.

                  but...simpler times make for good memories even today.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    Ah camping. I'm torn between the father who putthe foil wrapped potatoes in coals ofte fire in the morning to eat at night (darkest burned baked potatoes ever with only a tiny bit of un-blackened spud in each one) or foil dinner burgers with a ground beef patty topped with a packet of veggie soup mix on top cooked to hockey puck status. Sadly these were the same meal and so we snuck over to another troops fire and ate bread dough on a stick and octopus hotdogs.

                    1. re: melpy

                      octopus hot dogs... now that i would like to try!

                      1. re: mattstolz

                        Not as fancy as it sounds. All you do is take a regular hotdog and cut into it vertically about 2/3 of the way up to form "arms". Put it on a stick and hold over the heat; as it cooks the "arms" will curl up and look like an octopus. Not gourmet, but tasty around a campfire.

                        1. re: CanadaGirl

                          Very true. I would prefer grilled over a fire actual octopus to the hotdog gimmick. But it was fun for kids.

                          1. re: CanadaGirl

                            Would love to see a bun for this creation

                    2. not actually a bad food, but something that made me realize how it must feel from the other side when PRESENTING a bad food to someone else:

                      Last time I ate at IHOP (almost two years ago now) i ordered the granola pancakes, and when they came to the table, i asked if i could have some peanut butter to go on top of them. the waitress, apparently, had never heard of anything like this (and if you havent, go make some pancakes now, and try it), because she looked at me like i had three heads.

                      somehow, there was NO peanut butter in the entire resto (which i found hard to believe) so when she (hesistantly) offered nutella instead, you can only imagine how astonished she was when i reacted like this was the best idea i'd ever heard.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mattstolz

                        I'M the one who's astonished. IHOP stocks Nutella? Who knew?

                        1. re: mamachef

                          they have a nutella crepe i believe.

                          the fact that its stocked and peanut butter is NOT is what astonished me though haha

                      2. A few years back, someone openned a "high-end" restaurant in my small town. The buzz was building for months......There was much talk about his gourmet chef.

                        The owner had zero restaurant experience so we were managing our expectations. I begged Mr. CB to wait for at least several weeks until we made our first visit as I was seeing the owner shopping (for the restaurant) at the grocery store. He and our best friend overruled me and we visited within the first two weeks.

                        I ordered the $40 shrimp scampi entree.

                        What was placed in front of me was a plate of white rice topped with frozen mixed veggies (some still frozen) the store-brand type that comes in a bulk bag, the cubed carrots, limas, corn, and peas, which were topped with warmed-up salad shrimp from a can. No seasons on any of the three components, not that seasons would have helped.

                        I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. It was like someone was playing a practical joke on me. The guys had steaks that were ok.

                        The owner stopped by our table, looked at my plate and raved about the scampi. He was so clueless, I felt bad about telling him it was probably the worst meal I had in years. I kept my comments limited to my surprise about the canned shrimp and his excuse was they ran out of "the other shrimps"

                        The place limped along for another couple of months with a new chef every couple of weeks.

                        We visited a couple of more times and each visit brought another bizarre dish or wacky server behavior.

                          1. This is a little different slant on what you stated, because the food was actually very good. There was a local place that served dishes for $45, but for an extra $10 you could get an extra plate and share. I decided I wanted to have it myself and I'd take home whatever was left over. I ordered the cajun stuffed catfish with shrimp. The plate comes out it's the size of a serving dish. There were two enormous catfish filets, breaded and stuffed with crab meat and a dozen large shrimp in a decadent, buttery scampi sauce. The food was very good, but to be honest, after starting with a large salad, I wasn't prepared to eat what amounted to about 3 lbs of food. Plus, being it was fish and I had plans to go out afterwards, I didn't want to wrap it. At about a filet and a half and about eight of the shrimp. My date and I laughed at the thought of dessert.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: jhopp217

                              So this isn't about bad food at all then. In fact, just the opposite: large portions of really good food.


                              1. re: thegforceny

                                The food was good, but nobody can eat that much food at a relaxed and comfortable pace, so by the time I was halfway done, the second piece of fish and half the shrimp were cold. Cold fish, unless it's sushi or ceviche, usually equals bad.

                                1. re: jhopp217

                                  im just confused because you said your original intention was to take home the extras, then you ordered a dish that you didnt wanna take with ya if you didnt finish it?

                                  1. re: mattstolz

                                    I didn't think it would be that much food. Usually when you get a catfish filet, it's a decent size, but this was like eating a catcher's mitt. Good, but too much. I wouldn't have minded taking some home, but I wasn't going home. I was also undecided on what to get. There was another dish, that apparently had two 6oz filet mignon, a dozen shrimp and a dozen scallops. I figured I'd get that originally and eat the seafood first, but went for this one. I have actually had the other and finished all but about 1/4 of the filets and all but three of the shrimp.

                                  2. re: jhopp217

                                    K. Still doesn't seem in keeping with the theme of the post, but no big deal.

                              2. Mr Pine and I did one of those boat trips down the Colorado river. Heard for years about marvelous food cooked up in the great outdoors, able to challenge many high-end restaurants. First day's lunch: premade naked bologna sandwiches (I was vegetarian at the time) and bags of stale potato chips. Oh well, the views were amazing and I lost a couple of pounds.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pine time

                                  We keep hearing the same thing about chartered sailboats in the BVIs. Close friends of my parent's learned otherwise. They came back with some funny stories about the food.

                                2. Somewhere in the ether of the internet, there exists a recipe for quick fudge that instead of using the standard base (like Marshmallow Fluff in the northeast), uses something like a huge block (HUGE) of Velveeta. The recipe writer swears that the cheese taste and texture is indiscernible once the fudge is made.

                                  It ain't.

                                  HORRIBLE, awful, AWFUL stuff. I was so sad after I made it. I should have known better. That was years ago and I can still taste it coating my tongue if I think about it. Blurg.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: pinehurst

                                    Oh gawd. This reminds me.......right when the Truffle Invasion hit here in the States, a local candystore started making their own. It almost turned me off truffles forever. The local paper had a contest, "guess the mystery ingredients," which mystery ingredients ended up being Cream of Tomato Soup and........Velveeta. Gah.

                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      reminds me of when paula deen was on Iron Chef America.

                                      1. re: mattstolz

                                        That was.......yeah. That......yeah.

                                        1. re: mattstolz

                                          Shut your face. She was?!?!?!?! Nothing against Paula, but she was?!?!?!

                                          1. re: pinehurst

                                            a brief clip, the secret ingredient was sugar.


                                            (and no, i wasn't able to find the rest of the contest)

                                            1. re: pinehurst

                                              you know it. secret ingredient was sugar, ironically enough. the cheese fudge was studded with little bits of Victoza I believe.

                                      2. I remember the "Earthquake!" I lived in Aptos, CA when I was a teenager, and went out with my swim team more than once to get one of those at the Swenson's in downtown Santa Cruz. The coach would buy your ice cream if you could finish one by yourself. I never could, but several of the boys managed it. Now there aren't enough Lactaid pills on the planet to make me even attempt it!

                                        1. Every single church potluck, almost without fail, there is a casserole so unspeakably gross that I wonder where in the hell they got the recipe. And it's a different casserole every time, probably from a different province in Hell.

                                          I mean, I'm on the web almost every day looking at cooking websites, from the sublime to the profane, and I never come across anything as remotely nasty as some of these dishes. It's really kind of a miracle. For last week's example, who would think of pairing brown jarred turkey gravy, sliced keilbasa, and frozen shoestring potatoes and then not cook them all the way? If you'd told me the shoestring potatoes were actually earthworms, I would have believed you,

                                          And yes, I was polite and smilingly tasted everything. It's the folks, not the food, that matter at these things.

                                          1. I'm not sure it is the worst, but there is someone I know who is so proud of his chili. He uses ground beef (pink slime optional), ketchup, canned corn, lipton onion soup mix, chili seasoning packet - whatever one is on sale, and canned lima beans (not that there is any such thing as a good lima bean.) And yes, it is as bad as it sounds. For some inexplicable reason the LOL's at church (little-old-ladies) seem to love it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              I sure hope the LOLs at my church do not read Chowhound (I kinda doubt they do) because for sure, one of them would make that chili and bring it to the next potluck! Then I'd have to sue you.

                                            2. I'd say one of the contenders would have to be the "spaghetti" with tomato sauce we concocted at the occasion of some school trip -- the spaghetti were cooked to death, in fact turned into a nicely shaped loaf of which pieces/slices could be cut off. I don't remember the sauce, so it can't have helped. Ick.

                                              I'd also add most boiled potatoes I grew up on, whether in kindergarten or office cafeterias -- cooked to death and turned into dried-out, disgusting starchy lumps. Or creamed spinach that was often served along with said starch lumps. It was very reminiscent of a non-food (or rather, "previously food") organic product I shall not mention.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                when done right, few things are better than a good spaghetti pie!

                                                1. re: mattstolz

                                                  this one was utterly revolting >shudder,

                                              2. I have two...

                                                #1: When I was a teen, I decided I'd cook dinner for the family once a week. The first thing I made was some kind of italian casserole (beef, cheese, sauce, etc.). My mom's recipe said 1/4 cup pepper. Well - I took that literally and dumped in 1/4 cup of pepper not realizing that she meant 1/4 cup chopped green pepper!

                                                #2: For the kids as a "treat" (???), I decided to make linguine with chocolate "sauce" for dinner one night. Found a recipe and everything. Not exactly a big hit!

                                                1. Your asparagus tale reminds me of the time my mom cooked asparagus for my ex-step-dad years ago, and forgot to take off the blue rubberband... ugh.

                                                  Mine is a tale similar to mamachef's... The guy who wanted to feed me around the world...
                                                  An ex, sweet as he was, invited me over for dinner cooked by him. Swell. He asked me what I felt like, and I said I was up for anything -- Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, American, whatever. I just don't eat red meat or pork. He was quiet for a moment, and then suddenly said Okay, see ya at 8.
                                                  I hadn't heard this guy talk much about cooking, but I had high hopes (and if it was not great, it was only one meal, and another appetite would be right around the corner...)
                                                  So, I get there, and the smells emanating are utterly confusing... Smells like meat, smells like fish, smells like something unidentifiable. I walk in, and he's got 4 pots on the stove, i kid you not at least 12 mixing bowls going (which he apparently had to borrow extras from his neighbor because he ran out). The unidentified smell turned out to be fish sauce... which the "fish" was marinating in... He was in the process of cooking lamb chops when I came in... and not only feeling bad because I didn't eat them, but also because he was butchering them... There was also fish (in the fish sauce) to be baked in the oven. He had a chicken stir-fry now effectively cooling in a mixing bowl. There was defrosting puff pastry crust on the counter, along with a jar of marinara (no noodles to be seen), ketchup, mayonnaise, hot dog buns, "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter," a box of Betty Crocker cake mix, and probably other things I've since dislodged from my memory... On the stove there was also a "pudding" that he said he was going to serve rolled in puff pastry... He asked me if I wanted to help with the salad. It took all my strength to hold my eyes in my head and my feet still in his place.
                                                  I'm pretty sure I nicely explained that this was going to be waaaay too much food, and why don't we just have the salad and stir-fry tonight, and finish the rest and pack it up in his fridge for leftovers and lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.
                                                  We actually dated for a few months more, and we got to the point that I could tease him a little bit about his overambitious meal -- towards the end when I asked him what he felt like for dinner and he'd list a bunch of cuisines, I'd say great, but remember there's only gonna be one featured tonight. He was a sweet guy, just clearly overambitious and eager to impress.

                                                  The other one was when I was a teenager. We went to a newly divorced family friend's for dinner. There was a large group of people actually. Long story short, the hostess mixed up her "unlabeled" canisters of sugar and salt. When we had dinner, she remarked, "Oh this recipe is much sweeter than I thought it would be." None of the guests said anything. Then, dessert... Cake with a cream filling of some sort... We all took bites, and you could see people groping for their drinks immediately... The hostess was in the kitchen. There was a consensus of mortified eyes around the table. She returned and took a bite, and damn near spit the thing clear across the table! "Ugh this is horrible! It tastes like a salt mine!" (There was no husband to politely pull her aside.) There was a sigh of relief amongst the table as we thought she knew. "This recipe is crap too! I'm so sorry to everyone. I'll have you over again soon and make sure it's better next time."
                                                  Two days later, we received a call from her apologizing, letting us know she had swapped the salt for sugar and vice versa... Um, yeah we knew.

                                                  1. My mother (who grew up in the Soviet Union) likes to tell the story of the first time she tried to make pumpkin pie for my dad. She didn't understand that one "crust" meant a pre-prepared American-pie-crust recipe...and decided it must mean the pumpkin shell. She was utterly confused but he had a good laugh...and now she makes a lovely classic pumpkin pie each year for Thanksgiving. :)

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: frannieface77

                                                      not to say that a pumpkin pie COULDNT be made in a pumpkin shell though!

                                                      1. re: mattstolz

                                                        Hmmmm. I like it. But that's a good food idea, not a bad food idea. : )

                                                        1. re: mattstolz

                                                          Might even be fantastic! I'm thinking of those small pumpkins you can get around Halloween, emptied out and cleaned, half baked with a brown sugar crust inside to sweeten it up, then filled with a pumpkin cream or custard and baked until done. Could be delicious! I can just hear everybody going, 'Awwwww, isn't that cute!" '-)

                                                      2. My fragile male ego forces me to tell this tale on my self.

                                                        18 years old, home from college for Christmas, and working at Kaufmann's department store in mens wear. Getting home at 9:30 my first night, I am informed that Mama's Kitchen is closed. No problem, I am well trained in omelets, salads, and pancakes.

                                                        Next week, Mom joins Dad as he is inspecting a steel plant near Houston. My younger sister and I are on our own. I decide I will cook a real sit down dinner. Without help from Mom. I search the stocks and proceed to fabricate the following. Boiling the noodles, I plate them first, followed by the escargot warmed in garlic butter, Topped with long slices of home pickled hungarian peppers cooked with a ham steak cooked in more butter. My sister has already made her own dinner.

                                                        I did not use jalapenos as I did not want it to be too hot. Should have tasted one of the Hungarians first. My mouth was on fire. Couldn't even taste the escargot. Ate the whole thing as I was starving as only an 18 year old can be.

                                                        The next night I learned the joy of egg noodles, tomato soup, and velveeta cheese. Without the peppers.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                          Great post, IRFL. What.......interesting choices you made, no?
                                                          There really is something to be said for the tongue-salving goodness of egg noodles et al, isn't there?

                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                            I am on the horns of a dilemma. Adding the peppers made this a memorable meal. Without them, it would be as forgettable as the rest of my meals that month.

                                                        2. I have a couple:

                                                          - A friend and I decided to make big batches of several different Christmas cookies to share with others. Our gingerbread recipe called for "molasses, not robust," but at the store there were several types of molasses. Not knowing anything about molasses, we got the Blackstrap variety. The dough was SO bitter when we tasted it, we thought we would sweeten it up with a little honey. Honey didn't help. We eventually tried brown sugar, white sugar, and even powdered sugar, but the dough still tasted terrible. We had to scrap that huge triple batch and start again!

                                                          - A group of friends and I get together each week for a dinner party. One time, we picked out a recipe for tomato tarte tatin, and used gorgeous home-grown heirloom tomatoes. The combination of the sugar and tomatoes tasted like Spaghetti-O's or Chef Boyardee - it was awful! The worst part is we all tried really hard to eat it and like it, probably in part because of the beautiful tomatoes we wasted on it.

                                                          - When my mom was young, she tried making cookies by herself for the first time. Instead of 1/4 teaspoon of salt, she measured 1/4 cup. I hear the resulting cookies did not taste that great...