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I've lost my confidence- I made something terrible!

Most of my cooking is improvisational. Occasionally I use recipes, but mostly I know what works and what doesn't, and just go for it, and rarely measure. And it works somewhere between awesome and pretty damned good. Most of the things I create are based in an amalgam of recipes, experience, etc., so it's not completely out there, and last week's dinner was the same idea.

I was confident that it would be amazing- it was awful. AWFUL. I can't even bring myself to tell what it was, but at least the dog liked it, which is good, because the people (myself included) declared it dog food.

Then yesterday, as I'm throwing together a lasagna, I had an idea for a change- a separate layer with the spinach and herbs in the middle, instead of mixed with the meat sauce. Then I panicked. What if my instincts were as off as the dish-that-can't-be-named? I've never doubted myself so much.

Have you ever made something so colossally bad that it shook your confidence?

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  1. i always like the spinach and herbs mixed in with the ricotta. not the meat. :)

    2 Replies
      1. re: hotoynoodle

        I mix those and browned sausage into the ricotta, along with a lot of shredded mozzarella.

      2. 1. even great cooks have bad days.
        2. we can always learn something from a mistake, so it's never really a complete failure/loss.

        you're being WAY too hard on yourself, and believe me, as my own toughest critic, i know of what i speak. you can't let one setback in a sea of successes discourage you so much! like you, i'm an improvisational cook. i rarely follow recipes, i rely on my palate and my knowledge of ingredients and technique, and the results are usually pretty darned delicious. but every so often i do make a misstep. yes, it's frustrating, and i beat myself up over it temporarily...but i always get back on the horse. sometimes i try to improve on the failed dish to prove a point to myself :) other times i recognize that certain things just weren't meant to be. either way, you have to just get back to doing what you do.

        for the record, i'd really like to know what this spectacular failure was - perhaps we can all help you identify what went wrong and maybe even help you turn it into something enjoyable...?

        in the meantime, if you're really doubting yourself, hold off on the riffing for a few days. prepare some of your tried-and-trues that you know will turn out well, and rebuild your confidence a bit. before long you'll feel comfortable taking some risks again.

        1. Bwahahaha - I've made super, colossal, horrible, unedible mistakes WITH a recipe, so no - do not lose your confidence or your willingness to experiment. Like you said, at least the dog got fed.

          1. Oh, man. I was making cincy chili for friends about a month ago. This is a dish I've made dozens of times, usually with fantastic results. But this last time I put it all together, let it simmer for a bit, tried it, and it was AWFUL. Truly disgusting. I screwed up proportions or something along the way - understandable because I was hammered drunk when I was making it, but still. It's chili and takes a little work to mess it up as badly as I did.

            I just tossed the whole pot and made a more traditional Texas red instead. That came out great, and all was saved.

            But now I'm lined up to make cincy chili again next weekend, and my confidence is clearly shaken. Now I'm questioning the method and recipe I've used for years. Not a good thing.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MonMauler

              Try it sober and report back. ;-)

            2. Just means you're completely normal -- I don't screw up very often, but when I do? It's a hum-dinger.

              It gets filed in the "things we laugh ourselves senseless over lager" file and we call for pizza.

              ETA: That was supposed to be "things we laugh ourselves senseless over LATER" - but I just might have gotten it right the first time!

              1. Every time that I mess something up cooking/baking, it is because I have ignored the little voices in my head - ! ;-/

                2 Replies
                1. re: sandylc

                  even when the little voice in your head is telling you something NOT in agreement with the printed recipe!

                2. It's only food. You have to eat again and statistics are on your side

                  1. "Have you ever made something so colossally bad that it shook your confidence?"

                    ^!^no^!^
                    but I have questioned what I was thinking when putting together an idea for a dish.

                    now that said, I have equally as many misteps as I do triumphs.
                    honestly sometimes what I think is a great idea turns out a failure.
                    but tweek my confidence, that hasn't happened. instead I learn, not to do 'that' again.

                    1. I made something so awful decades ago that we can't even remember anything that was in it, we just refer to it as "green." Seemed like a good idea at the time. Cooking involves experimentation, which means trial and error. No one gets just the former without an occasional episode of the latter. ;-)

                      1. Well...I have made some nasty stuff! A few weeks back I made two big pots of food for work, but left for the weekend before serving. Next time I was in, since my food is generally OK, they were volunteers were complaining that the curry was really burnt & the whole place smelled awful. and asking me WHO made such a bad dish ( I work for a charity, low-cost cafe...). I looked, smiled, and claimed it as my own. And told them to feel free to toss it in the rubbish! Another time I made a perfectly good tray of cinnamon rolls only to be asked by a volunteer (who, I think, ate them cold-yuck!) who made something so revolting. I again smiled, claimed them, and informed her that they were quite popular. With everyone else! She couldnt finish her shift fast enough that night! ;)
                        All that to say: we all have bad days. My curry dish was nasty, but my pasta was good. SometimeS I just can't get it right! Frustrating, yes, even disheartening. But, there's always tomorrow (and cheese. It covers a multitude of kitchen errors :) and, well, sometimes it's just a matter of taste.
                        Really, go for it! Trust those instincts and make a smashing meal! :)

                        1. I just made a horrible lunch. I followed the recipe on a Paxo bread stuffing mix making a chicken in a skillet. First of all it did not look anything like the picture.
                          Well it was a bust, but I just move on to the next recipe and shrug it off.

                          1. I produced plenty of strange and badly prepared dishes through the years, but who else was going to cook for the family? No one. So I just kept going. And Mr. Sueatmo and my kids never gave me a very hard time. (Well, once when I put too much chipolte in the dirty rice.) So, I'd recommend you continue cooking for yourself and your near and dear. If you are a little wary of improvisation, stick with tried and true stuff, and before you know it, you'll be back to your original style. And you have to try stuff and you have to fail some times and have great success at others. Make the safe stuff for a few days. It'll be OK.

                            1. To cook regularly is to make a mistake, and to cook regularly over a long period of time is to make a lot of mistakes, some of them colossal.

                              I'd echo goodhealthgourmet's words. Go back to something you've done a thousand times. The very smell of it cooking will chase all the bad juju right out the back door.

                              1. Several years ago I made a truly horrible dinner. I just wasn't paying attention and looking back I don't know what I was thinking. I couldn't eat it - and it's bad when the cook can't even eat it! We had dinner at Baskin Robbins that night, and the dinner I made went down in infamy. But it's a funny story in our family.

                                You just need to keep your sense of humor about it. These things happen, and it's not the end of the world. :)

                                1. Somebody has to keep trying, we learn from our own and others' mistaskes. Among my colossal blunders: salsa with mango and red onion is great within 5 minutes, shrimp with mango and red onion the day after is an insult to a dog.

                                  1. Leave sugar out of biscotti? Dip them in a confectioners sugar glaze (they last longer than the regular , right recipe)

                                    Too hot (pepper wise) : sour cream or add sugar to mute.

                                    Meat ill seasoned: that is what the neighborhood dogs are for.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: shallots

                                      "Meat ill seasoned: that is what the neighborhood dogs are for."

                                      Ha. We live in the north, and in the winter we have an extra large freezer/refrigerator: OUTSIDE! Sometimes we worry that dogs will find our cooling pot of stock!!

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        We will sometimes put a pot of food out to cool on the deck or in the garage. Frankly, that is the only positive thing about winter in Minnesota. (In my youth we had snowmobiles and I used to x-country ski but no more). (An interesting side note, or maybe not, I remember making a kettle of chili at my parents' Mesa, AZ home once and put it in the toolshed overnight. That was not a good night for the citrus trees).

                                    2. After 22 replies I'm surprised nobody attempted to persuade you to reveal what dish it is that you messed up so badly you fed it to your dog. I'll step up...what was it?

                                      The most recent food disaster I had was parsnip soup. I don't know what went wrong, but it was not great.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: John E.

                                        i did, and i was the second one to reply!

                                      2. It just happened to me last month and the weird thing was that it was with something I've made a million times...matzoh ball soup. Not sure what went wrong but I had 12 people over for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I never did taste the soup as I was cooking it but made it the same way I always did...or so I thought.

                                        I served it to my guests (most of them family) and then sat down at the table with my bowl of soup. I took one taste and I was horrified! It tasted like dishwater! And although the matzoh balls had the right texture, they had no taste whatsoever. Actually, they tasted like sponges.

                                        My only guess is that maybe the phone rang and I was chatting and I forgot to add salt but I don't know if that was it. It has been bothering me since then and I feel like I won't be able to redeem myself until Passover!

                                        1. At least your dog ate it. One year my mom experimented with the turkey stuffing for thanksgiving. Not even the family dog, who had never turned its nose up at people food, refused to eat the stuffing. He took one excited bite and, literally, spit it out.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. thanks everyone for the support and experiences- In my head I know that of course with taking chances there is the risk of failure, but there I was, "improving" on a pretty simple dish "oh, this would be a great addition/technique", and then blech! And no, still not fessing up to this one.

                                            But the lasagna above turned out great, so I'm sure this bump in the road will be soon forgotten, or at least lose it's ability to make me second guess each tweak.