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May 7, 2014 12:37 PM

What's the Worst Dish You Ever Made?

Inspired by a novice cook who's just joined us on the HC board, I thought back to when I was first struggling to teach myself to cook.

No matter how long we've been cooking, we were all beginners once, perhaps even totally clueless in the kitchen, and had at least one epic failure in our early efforts. While mine doesn't exactly "haunt" me, it's a fair bet that I will never forget this one awful, awful dinner. I'm going to share mine, and invite you to tell your tale as well.

Early 70s, just learning to cook for new husband, I hadn't yet learned how to evaluate a recipe properly. Saw this gorgeous, full-page color picture (set in a cobalt-blue casserole dish, yet) of a Shrimp Casserole Harpin in the Good Housekeeping cookbook I was reliant on at that stage. First moral, never judge a recipe by its picture.

Now, I would know better. Then, this combination of ingredients did not set off any alarm bells: Shrimp, lemon juice, cooked rice, butter, S&P, minced green pepper and onion, canned tomato soup (undiluted), mace, cayenne, heavy cream, dry sherry (1/2 c. Yet!) and slivered almonds. Worse, nothing alarmed me about par-cooking the shrimp for 2 minutes, then baking them in casserole for an additional 55(!) minutes.

The bad joke? The note on the recipe: "...excellent dinner party fare." It was the first time I wrote a note in a cookbook (not the last, certainly), drawing a big diagonal line across it, to boot!
Don't ask me what I did with the casserole; thankfully, like many bad memories, it has faded away 40 years later. :)

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  1. Even in my teens I always made good chili on the stove using canned beans and tomatoes then I got frisky one night, almost 40 years ago too. I made chili in a borrowed crock pot using real pinto beans (old and hard) and fresh peppers (off putting hot) for company for dinner in my new (cockroach infested) apartment. I got rather drunk that night.

    1. Tortillas. They're supposed to be easy, how hard could it be? The bf and I decided we'd make tortillas together and made all sorts of mouth watering accompaniments for our tortilla feast.

      I still don't know exactly how I screwed up flour and water so bad but I really did. Soft fluffy chewy buttery fresh hot tortillas? More like thick rubbery disks of glue so bad even my furry garbage can of a cat wouldn't touch them. Confidant that the other person was the problem, we took turns making batches of disgusting tortillas. We ordered pizza.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PinkLynx

        This is so hilarious. My husband and I have taken turns making terrible stuff before also!

      2. Something with chicken and sherry in a Crockpot. I can't remember the details, but it was B-A-D. The chicken basically disintegrated. I think DH and I each ate one bite and threw the rest in the garbage. I have been VERY careful about slow cooker recipes ever since!

        8 Replies
        1. re: biondanonima

          Ah, similarly, I once attempted a seafood casserole with a sherry cream sauce. Hor.rif.ic. It was a neighbor's recipe and I'd like to think the proportions were off, but it may just as likely have been me. Never again. I'm sherry-shy now.

          But the epic failure also taught me never to trust recipes---even if people say "Oh, it's foolproof"---without doing a test-run first. I almost ruined New Year's with that debacle. Fortunately, I had stuff in the freezer to sub last minute.

          1. re: biondanonima

            We must have tried the same disaster. I made it for a girlfriend around 1978 and was mortified by the glop touted as a "gourmet offering from your crock pot" (what a crock.)

            I can answer for pre-amateur cook, Cindy, and her BF who joined me and my then GF for dinner in 1974 at my NY apartment when in grad school . Cindy brought a lovely potato salad with peas, chopped pimento and olives, egg and garnished with fresh parsley. A truly beauteous pic for any food publication. However, the first few bites revealed that Cindy had no idea that the potatoes needed to be cooked first.

            1. re: Chefpaulo

              OMG - I'm choking with laughter here. That's a real-life corollary to the oldest cooking joke I ever heard: old radio show, The Bickersons; John is complaining to wife Blanche about the badly cooked bird - what did you stuff it with? Blanche answers - I didn't stuff it with anything, it wasn't hollow.

              Note: this is from a time way before those nice little wrapped giblet packs. Ugh.

              1. re: mcsheridan

                I'm glad you survived the Cindy saga. On a more somber note, a social worker friend of mine told me of multiple incidents in low-income areas of dubious literacy where people would buy a small turkey for Thanksgiving, put the plastic sealed bird in the oven for an hour and expect a Martha Stewart dinner to emerge.

                1. re: mcsheridan

                  Here's a link on to the 54 episodes of the Bickersons radio shows. They are in the public domain. You can listen online or download the MP3's for free. I don't know which episode is the bad cooking show you refer to:

                  The Bickersons (54 episodes)

                  1. re: Antilope

                    Thanks for the link; I haven't listened to these in a while. Bad cooking is a recurrent theme in these shows, but the disaster in question is in archived episode #2 - time stamp 5:55 in. It's the second part of John & Blanche's "happy anniversary".

                2. re: Chefpaulo

                  I think with slow cookers, the more ingredients you put in, the more likely you are going to end up with disaster. I do whole chicken in the slow cooker pretty frequently, but I know it's limitations (no one in my family likes poultry skin, so we don't worry about crispy skin) and don't add much to it. A cut onion in the cavity and a spice mix rubbed on, and that's about it.

              2. When I was growing up in the 70's here in the south, around our house "garlic" was powder in a spice jar. I was teaching myself to cook something besides the southern fare that I'd grown up eating....I don't remember the recipe...but it called for a clove of garlic. I didn't know what a clove was, so I put in the whole head. Boy was it hard peeling all the inside parts of that "clove"! To this day, I do love garlic. I have been to the Gilroy garlic festival many times with a fellow garlic lover...40-cloves Chicken, yum! But that entire head of garlic was a bit much for the palate of my unsuspecting family!

                1. Worst by accident was the baked apples with cumin instead of cinnamon. On purpose, following a recipe, was the rack of spare-ribs I did on a gas grill in the days before I ever heard of low & slow. They looked absolutely beautiful but were so dry they were crispy. Too hot and too long....a fatal combination.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: grampart

                    Same time frame as my first story, I put short ribs on the charcoal grill. Took forever to cook, and the Worst chewing event of my young life. Put me off short ribs for a long time until I found out how they really should be cooked.