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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 Archive.org 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.

                  2. I love to make risotto - it was one of the first "complicated" dishes I tackled to impress my (heavily vegetarian) college friends with my East Coast Italian ways - I consider myself good at it and make it often playing around with ingredients and cheeses -

                    one cold winter day not long ago I set out to find some special cheeses for a risotto and chose two very expensive semi hard Italian cheeses - one buttery and mellow and one earthy and laced with truffles - tasting a sliver at the cheese counter it was heavenly - taste of the earth like a good scotch -

                    I spent time building a beautiful vegetarian stock and slowly added my cheeses to form a creamy lovely risotto

                    on serving I took one bite and swallowed with a lump I my throat - the truffles in the cheese hat totally overtaken the dish giving a way too intense flavor - what wash delicious in a small slice at room temp was another beast in volume incorporated into risotto - had I used only a small but of the cheese it would have been great but it was just too much for a main dish - I could not eat it - my DP thought it was ok but BLEK It did fry up into a tasty arancini as leftovers with the frying and stuffing helping to mute the fungi

                    poor proportions - not tasting as I went and not really understanding my ingredients

                    the risotto disaster paled in comparison to my vegetable African curry horror story

                    during a leaner time with budget issues at hand I decided to make a big crock of curried vegetables - I was fascinated by the various tubers at the ethnic market - cassava, yams etc and decided to make a stew of them - I started out with some sort of recipe but quickly veered off and got creative - I don't even remember what was in the final pot some amalgam of curry powder, turmeric, tomato sauce and mixed tubers and vegetables - I imagined a sort of Aloo Gobi with a kick but the result was nothing short of disgusting - the tomatoes were sharp the turmeric was odd and the textures of the tubers were mealy and gross - a truly vile dish - after a few efforts to fix it (perhaps by adding dairy?) t had to accept defeat and trash can the whole thing ruining my meal plan for the week.

                    1. I once made an absolutely horrific lima bean and gingersnap casserole from one of the Silver Palate cookbooks. (Remember those? Lots of trendy overpriced 80s ingredients and probably very little testing of the recipes!)

                      No, I am not kidding.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Isolda

                        Wow. There's really not much more to say.

                            1. re: Isolda

                              My worst was also Silver Palate - a chicken dish made with raspberry vinaigrette. I was only 14 or so and my parents tried to be polite, but it was truly terrible.

                              1. re: Isolda

                                Here's the recipe! http://www.ivillage.com/forums/node/1...

                                Ingredients are: lima beans, sour cream, brown sugar, grainy mustard, Worcestershire sauce, gingersnaps, butter.

                                1. re: drongo

                                  Wow, that is stomach turning just to read.

                                  1. re: drongo

                                    I second JTPhilly's comment. I thought my shrimp casserole had a bad ingredient list, but wow.

                                    I think I'm really happy never having bought the Silver Palate cookbook.

                                    1. re: drongo

                                      Oh. My. God. I can't even imagine anything more revolting.

                                  2. Oh, god. It has to to be turkey burgers. I started cooking later in life, around age 30. Mostly relied on going out or easy prep stuff.
                                    But when I got a nice grill, I was determined to crank out tasty but healthy burgers. And I would work those spices into that meat so frickin thoroughly that they were like little round cement bricks. But I just assumed it was healthy and kept it up.
                                    Thankfully, I know better now, haha!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: alliegator

                                      I still can't cook turkey burgers correctly. I love the "I just assumed it was healthy" ;-p

                                      1. re: pinehurst

                                        To make healthy turkey burgers, you have to grind up a bunch of bacon and mix it in.....oh, wait. No longer healthy!

                                        1. re: pinehurst

                                          The funny thing is, that's what I thought. I'm chewing, and chewing, and trying to choke this crud down, and thinking "Mmmm, healthy, yummers" ;D

                                          1. re: pinehurst

                                            The only way I've had success with "healthy" turkey burgers is to sautee then chop up a bunch of mushrooms, and mix those into the turkey.

                                        2. This isn't so much a case of being an overall beginner - but rather being a beginner in a specific cuisine and shopping in a dubious environment for ingredients not locally popular.

                                          I was living in Jerusalem and desperate for something more closely approaching pad thai than could be found locally. A dish I have never made before then and didn't really know what the ingredients are supposed to look like. In Jerusalem there's one solidly okay eastern ingredients market. So I found a recipe (I believe from Chow) that had some good reviews and didn't involve buying too many ingredients. One of these ingredients was "dried shrimp".

                                          Now I don't have a huge pan-Asian cooking repertoire, so dried shrimp wasn't something I'd ever cooked with before. In this ok, but limited, market there was one product listed as "dried shrimp". Fair enough! That must be it!

                                          Sigh. Those dried shrimp had the texture of dried apricots. The overall flavor of the dish was ok, but the amount of money I spent on all those ingredients to end up with this very bizarre texture of these chewy dried shrimp that were throughout the dish. Those were leftovers that went entirely untouched.

                                          1. The other day my dad splurged and bought us some awfully expensive live crabs. 3 crabs for $10.99/lb for a total of $80+. Yikes! Since he spent so much, I decided to make something special with the crabs and I did. The only problem, I over salted. I reaaaally over salted. I also double check to make sure I didn't mistaken the sugar for salt. Not sure what happened but what did happen was a ruined dish. I felt bad. We still tried to salvage it by eating as much as we could before passing out from dehydration. Lesson learned: it's always best to under salt than over salt. And when it comes to seafood, crabs in particular, sometimes no salt is best.

                                            1. My first attempt at coq au vin about 30 years ago. Young, newly married trying to make a fancy meal to impress my husband. I didn't know that "cooking" wine should never actually be used for cooking (or anything else). It was awful. We threw it out and ordered pizza.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Springhaze2

                                                "Cooking" wine - now there's a substance that ought to be controlled. What a waste of shelf space.

                                                1. re: mcsheridan

                                                  It shouldn't be used for uncooked consumption either :P

                                                  One of my first cooking (using the term "cooking" loosely) fails was dipping sauce for potstickers. I wanted to be helpful, and as I had watched my dad make it (and it looked easy enough), I figured I could mix together a few ingredients. I meticulously chopped garlic and green onions, then added soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, rice wine and a little sugar. The look on my dad's face when he tasted it was priceless...turns out the clear liquid he used was rice vinegar, not rice wine.

                                                  1. re: roolala

                                                    Wow! That must have had some kick.

                                              2. So many epic failures ....... The memories linger and continue to haunt even though these happened long ago.

                                                Halibut poached in Scotch Whiskey (because I thought it was about the same color as the vermouth called for)

                                                Cherry pie made from unpitted cherries - like eating gravel

                                                Cooking bacon in a blazing hot CI skillet with 1 stick of butter -- met some nice firefighters that day!

                                                Making duck a l'orange with ducks shot over The Great Salt Lake, UT. Not only were they full of buckshot (?) but they tasted like I imagine really bad seagull would taste

                                                My first angelfood cake was as flat as a frisbee since no one had told me that egg whites beaten in a plastic bowl will never rise properly (and I thought the rising would magically happen in the oven)

                                                Substituiting habanero chiles for orange bell peppers in a chicken dish "since they're the same color"

                                                I'm hanging my head in shame. The past forty years have been pretty clear but when I fail, I am a complete washout.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Sherri

                                                  Some of those are pretty awesome- definitely made me laugh. Thanks for sharing!

                                                  1. re: Sherri

                                                    Epic, memorable, and well-told. Kudos for sharing these with us.

                                                    1. re: Sherri

                                                      The peppers weren't labeled. Turned out to be habanero. Couldn't breath while cooking the fajitas. Cat had to run and hide and we had to open all the windows. Mouth was on fire trying to eat them.

                                                    2. Last year, i put the chicken cutlets on the pan 'Indian recipe', and I got a call on my cell phone from my boss, the call lasted 10 minutes maybe, when I returned to the kitchen i found the fire raging in the pan, and this was the worst in a class my whole life.

                                                      1. One of my earliest ones was a shrimp curry (1970s style with all the little bowls of chopped apples, almonds, etc.) where I halved the recipe but forgot to halve the curry powder. My dad was kind enough to eat it.

                                                        The next, when I was still a teen, was actually from a Julia Child book for garlic soup. It had a whole head of garlic in it. The house stunk for weeks and it was inedible. Every few years I look back at the recipe to see if I can figure out what went wrong. I still haven't been able to. My dad didn't eat that one.

                                                        The last was more recent. It was from an online African recipe site. It's a stew with beef, vegetables and dried smoked fish. The first time I made it I didn't know you were supposed to soak the fish overnight. It was too salty to eat although one of my sons kind of liked it. So a few years later at his urging I made it again. This time I was smart and soaked the heck out of the fish, changing the water several times. Alas, still too salty and very, very fishy.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: AmyH

                                                          I'm speaking from total ignorance here, but I cannot imagine any circumstance under which meat and a smoked fish ought to cohabit in the same pot. The only remotely close exception being lamb and anchovy, which, while I've heard of it as a wonderful thing, have yet to try.

                                                          1. re: mcsheridan

                                                            And now I know they shouldn't. But in case you or anyone else wants to try it, here's the recipe:
                                                            http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Cookbook/... SAUCE

                                                            PALAVER SAUCE
                                                            Beef and Spinach (Liberia)Yield: 8 portions
                                                            Palaver Sauce is actually not a sauce at all but a stew. In Ghana it is made with a combination of meats, fish, and greens with tomato paste and is called Palaver Sauce or Kontonmire Stew. The name itself has interesting origins; "Palaver" (or Palava in Ghana) means a long-winded debate or quarrel. It seems that the first Palava Sauces were made with greens which had long ropey stems. As a large group of people stood arround the stew the first to ladle out his portion would invariably slap his neighbor with one of the long stems, provoking a quarrel, and much talk and discussion would follow. The greens are now finely cut, but the name remains.

                                                            In a 1-gallon pot:

                                                            Simmer: 2 lbs. STEW BEEF cut in 1/2-inch cubes (or use half beef and half chicken) in
                                                            2 quarts WATER and 1 Tbs. SALT until meat is half cooked.
                                                            Add: 4 cups COLLARD GREENS, chopped finely
                                                            2 cups SPINACH, chopped finely.
                                                            Simmer gently until meat and greens are cooked (about 15 minutes).

                                                            Add 1 Ib. BONED SMOKED FISH.

                                                            Cook for five minutes. All water should be absorbed.

                                                            Add: 1 cup ONIONS, chopped finely and sauteed lightly in
                                                            1/2 cup VEGETABLE or PEANUT OIL with 1 or 2 small HOT PEPPERS (or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper).
                                                            Correct the Seasonings

                                                            Simmer five minutes longer.

                                                            Serve with white rice.

                                                            Edited to add: sorry this is actually the one I made:

                                                            1. re: mcsheridan

                                                              Not exactly smoked, but cured/dried fish in Chinese cooking (salted fish) is SO good with chicken in a claypot with tofu or in salted fish and chicken fried rice :)

                                                              1. re: roolala

                                                                How many days do you have to soak it?

                                                          2. I made 2 apple pies from scratch for my girlfriend's family Thanksgiving dinner, 1976. My first attempt at pastry. They looked so pretty, but would have required a jackhammer to excavate down to the apple layer. They were tougher than a tortoise shell. The family had cannolis as a backup, practically anticipating my failure.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                              That reminds me of an epic dinner fail some years ago.
                                                              I took a duck braised in sauerkraut (Frugal Gourmet recipe) to the home of a friend who lived an hour away and was about to move to the west coast. It was soupy though I had cooked it according to directions, and then some. Arriving at my destination, we cooked it some more. It never got caramelized, nor did the skin crisp.
                                                              We waited till our hunger got the best of us, then ate it.
                                                              While there, my friend boiled potatoes, asking me to finish making mashed while she did something else. My mother had left me with a huge canister of instant potato flakes so that's where my head was. I smashed the cooked potatoes and without measuring, poured in the amount of milk I'd have used for instant. Voila: potato soup! We had to keep cooking potatoes and adding them till we got the mash solid enough. I think we went through 5#. It was just the two of us. She was leaving so I had to take home all the leftover spuds. Dessert - a cobbler - was my friend's independent mistake. Before serving it, she mentioned that she thought she might have put in too much flour since she was distracted by a phone call while making it. It had a lovely browned dome - and one that withstood both the chef's knife and serrated knife. Several increasingly-forceful strikes with a cleaver finally breached the inedible shell. We ate only the apple filling of what we now refer to as the Chernobyl Cobbler.

                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                What a great story! The "Chernobyl Cobbler". :D

                                                            2. When I was in high school I got it into my head to make pork medallions in mustard sauce. I don't know why. I must have seen it on TV. It went terribly wrong -- a big gloopy mess that tasted horrible. Trying to fix it with soy sauce was probably not the best idea.

                                                              That same week, I was helping my little sister make a Statue of Liberty costume for school, and I was doing the headpiece out of paper mache'. At dinner she had the nerve to say "maybe you shouldn't have put any paper mache' in the pork". Everyone burst out laughing.

                                                              My family still makes fun of me about it, and any time I cook, someone has to say something like "As long as it's not Paper Mache' Pork."

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: ninrn

                                                                That's a cool story. Paper Mache pork :-D

                                                                1. re: ninrn

                                                                  Nothing like family to push your buttons for years after the fact. :)

                                                                2. Sorta semi "fails"??

                                                                  Dad like watching PBS cooking shows and had several cookbooks... frugal gourmet.

                                                                  One time decided we'd have beef Wellington for Sunday dinner. I was mayb 19 or so and very comfortable in kitchen. Made pastry crust and the "beast" look wonderful going into oven to roast. Looked FABULOUS when it came out. Problem was... ya couldn't CUT THRU CRUST... like CONCRETE!! Luckily that BIG $$$ hunka tenderloin was PERFECTLY pink all the way thru... WHEW!!

                                                                  ANother time Dad wanted wonton soup. Broth was great... wontons... ya needed serious TEETH to chew??

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                                                    We've all heard of pheasant under glass, now we know there's beef under concrete. :D
                                                                    Thanks for sharing; seems that more than one Chowhound is guilty of crimes against pastry. ;p

                                                                  2. One of the worst things I ever made was New England Clam Chowder, when I was 13. It ended up so gloopy and thick, that I didn't know what to do with it. My parents suggested pasta and toss it over top. My Mom and I took one bite and decided to call for pizza. My Dad, on the other hand, ate two helpings of it! What a good father!


                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: grieftrip

                                                                      Pizza: the ultimate Plan B (when it's not already busy being Plan A.)

                                                                    2. Thanksgiving, about 1957, I decided to guarantee a rich brown color in my turkey gravy by using a judicious mix of food colorings. The gravy came out bright blue.

                                                                      1. Chile rellenos,gross. Also enchiladas made with flour tortillas. I imagined it would work. It would be OK if you didn't have teeth. And my stir fry. Greasy and chalky. Yuck. So I stay away from making these dishes. I leave it to the pros.

                                                                        1. There are some contenders. Probably the worst as it was inedible was the double baked brownies with melted plastic wrap I finished after preheating my mom's oven with out removing the things she stored in there. I am still thankful her favorite tupperware for cookie storage wasn't in there, 20 years later.

                                                                          Runners up include the chocolate chip cookies with powdered sugar for flour (it was serviceable as a very sweet ice cream topping) and the 2x the recommend amount horseradish mashed potatoes. The first 2 bites were fine, then not so much. A pork tenderloin with a peanut butter sauce also comes to mind, and not in a good way. Fun thread!

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: autumm

                                                                            Yep I've learned the hard way to check if there's anything in the oven. I don't remember exactly what I've ruined (several things) but I do remember wondering several times, "Hmm...what's that smell? OH CRAP!!"

                                                                            1. re: autumm

                                                                              I left Chinese leftovers in the oven because at the time it was winter and mice were everywhere. Apparently we never had a second serving so I forgot about them. Turned on the oven the next day and couldn't figure out what the awful smell was...burning plastic everywhere.

                                                                              My mom keeps all her casseroles and sheet pans in the oven and I always forget to check before turning on the oven. Granted she has 3 ovens and doesn't usually use the one with all the pans. You quickly run out room to safely set hot pans...

                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                A bachelor friend of mine told me that he never cooks so he keeps his wine bottles in the oven. Well, one time his girlfriend came over to dinner and preheated the oven without looking in it first! Luckily he caught her quickly before any damage could be done.

                                                                            2. I made a sweetbreads dish with red wine once. big mistake. I don't know if I did something wrong, or if that's the way the sweetbreads were supposed to come out - when I closed my eyes, it wasn't so bad, but I couldn't eat it once I looked at it - the sweetbreads were a nasty, unpalatable shade of purple.

                                                                              1. Ritz crackers and american cheese microwaved.. for 20 minutes rather than 20 seconds. Luckily it didn't deter me from continuing to prepare snacks and eventually full meals. I was very young at the time but it's important because the experience taught me you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                1. re: carrytheone

                                                                                  OMG! You too? I've been doing these for 30 years, learned from a friend of my brother's while attending Lafayette College. He called them "gloppies." His were a Triscuit with a slice of sharp cheese and a ring of pickled jalapeno. And, yes, 20 seconds will do it.

                                                                                  1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                                    20 minutes will do it too, just too much flavor for even a fire detector!

                                                                                  2. re: carrytheone

                                                                                    When microwaves first came out, a woman caring for me and my sister decided to cook a hotdog in ours. She figured 10 minutes ought to be about right. It came out as a carbonized black tube that crumbled to dust when touched.

                                                                                    1. re: AmyH

                                                                                      This made me laugh out loud. I remember when we first got a microwave. My parents tried to boil an egg in a cup of water.....the explosion almost shook the house.

                                                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                        I know the experience. I was boiling a half dozen eggs for deviled eggs and I signed on to CH in another room and forgot all about them. The water boiled off and the eggs started exploding in quick succession. My kitchen sounded like the shootout at the OK corral, and left quite a mess to clean up. Exploding eggs are like little hand grenades.

                                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                                          Well....speaking of kitchen explosions, I've posted this before but it is worthy of getting a new viewership.

                                                                                          Childhood Christmas dinners always featured brandied peaches. The morning of Christmas 1960, we had opened presents and had the 23-pound turkey starting in the oven. Mom and dad were in the kitchen having a mild disagreement on the brandy to be added to the peaches. I don't recall whose recommendation won but, while playing with our toys, the alcohol in the peaches reached flash point and blew off the oven door. The poor dog virtually levitated from her nap as we ran to the kitchen finding the lower door in pieces and the insulation all over the floor. Fortunately the turkey remained safe in the upper oven but brandy on peaches was carefully regulated from that day forward.

                                                                                          1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                                            Man, if that happened today, someone would call child protective services!

                                                                                            My GF's dad turned up the heat on a gas oven and set a turkey on fire circa 1991. I came back from the market and the kitchen was full of smoke. Turned out to be one of the best damn turkeys ever.

                                                                                            1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                              CPS? Because of the booze, the explosion or the levitating dog. Please explain.

                                                                                              1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                                                Oh, I was just being silly. You can't even spank a kid anymore (FYI, I NEVER spank my young kids). I took a baby/kid class and it was populated by a lot of people that were court ordered. You'd be surprised at how little it takes to get CPS involved. An explosion and a levitating dog would be a shoo-in case!

                                                                                                (but not complaining about CPS in general for real abuse. Those people are underpaid heroes).

                                                                                          2. re: Veggo

                                                                                            Chowhound is to blame for a few of my scorched pots, too.

                                                                                        2. re: AmyH

                                                                                          When I was maybe 6 years old, we got a new part time nanny. She came from Mexico, as did our primary nanny, and didn't speak a word of English. She'd never used a microwave before as it turned out, but didn't tell anyone. So mom left instructions to microwave the my newborn sister's formula, and a few cans of Spaghettios (with meatballs) on the counter for us to have for lunch.

                                                                                          First disaster came with the warming of the baby formula. I remember standing next to the microwave watching the new (very pretty and young) nanny as she did some dishes. She set the microwave for who knows how long... I just remember the loudest explosion coming from that general direction. The bottle and its contents, as well as the glass plate on the floor of the microwave had blown into hundreds of little bits.

                                                                                          The nanny got our lunch started. 2 cans of Spaghettios in a large pot on the stove with several more cans-worth of water added. She had never seen non-condensed canned food. My brothers and I were too embarrassed to stop her, as we were raised to be gracious about the food we were served. She ladled the Spaghettios into bowls and set them in front of us. We all ate the watered down tomato broth with floating meatballs without saying a word.

                                                                                        3. re: carrytheone

                                                                                          Not really a cooking fail, but this seems a good a place as any for this microwave use PSA -

                                                                                          I needed a second timer and used the microwave timer, which I had never used before. Unfortunately, i had actually just turned on the microwave and didn't notice. From the next room (sort of an open kitchen) I heard a bit of a crackling sound. As it turns out, if you start a microwave on empty, the interior will melt and the unit will more or less implode.

                                                                                          1. re: pamelak52

                                                                                            I use my mike as a plate warmer. You can't let that go on too long or the plate will shatter into what seems like a bazillion chards.

                                                                                        4. Stuffed jumbo pasta shells, using a recipe a great cook and close friend gave me - one of her own family's favorite meals and something she makes/takes as a dish for others. Salt-city. Even with a good amount of spinach in the recipe, between the salt in the cheeses and the overly-salty commercial tomato marinara sauce they were inedible for us. I've made them again since, using just a blended can of no-salt tomatoes. That worked.

                                                                                          Pancakes - more failures than I can count - overdone, underdone, crumpled, broken in half. I now just make waffles.

                                                                                          1. 1. some recipe that was a seafood stew type of thing that called for way too much wine for it to cook out. gag!

                                                                                            2. a new year's day party where each subsequent batch of cornbread got more and more bitter. i think i was screwing up the baking powder and baking soda.

                                                                                            3. recent BIG fail: chilean sea bass filet was slightly "off" date, and it was a total waste of ingredients, energy, time. i vowed NEVER to buy fish that i was not going to cook (for certain) that evening.

                                                                                            1. Definitely NOT the worst, but the most disappointing: I bought some great quality chicken breasts, and rolled them stuffed with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and fresh basil from my garden, along with some herbs and spices. Drizzled with olive oil and baked.

                                                                                              Tasted like.... Nothing. No taste. Still not sure what went wrong there.

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                  Oh there was salt. Also freshly ground black pepper and oregano. It was just blah.

                                                                                                2. re: NonnieMuss

                                                                                                  IMO, fresh mozzarella should never be cooked. I don't even like it on pizza. It loses its wonderful texture and mild creaminess and just turns to bland rubber in a pool of whey.

                                                                                                3. Repeat post for me, but it's still the worst...
                                                                                                  Mark Bittman's Curried Tofu with Soy Sauce.

                                                                                                  1. A long while ago, I made a cake for a bake sale. It was my first attempt at a layer cake instead of a sheet cake. I didn't trim to make flat the tops of the rounds of cake. as the bake sale progressed my cake started leaning farther and farther, until the top layer fell right off the cake.


                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: planojim

                                                                                                      Certainly not the worst thing in this thread, but there's nothing like slooooowly watching your layer cake take a tumble. You are just helpless as it goes down.

                                                                                                      Reminds me: I'm the resident baker amongst friends, and am always asked to bake birthday or special occasion cakes. Several years ago, a friend was accepted to a prestigious grad school program and we were throwing him a surprise going away party.

                                                                                                      I was asked to bake a 3 layer yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. No prob, except I had a million things going on that day. Instead of doing it the night before, I rushed home and baked the layers, tried to cool them quickly on a wire rack, and mixed up my frosting in the meantime. My kitchen was hot as hell.

                                                                                                      A glance at the clock told me to put the thing together RIGHT NOW, as I still had to get dressed and sit in L.A. traffic to get to the party. So I quickly frost the thing and stick it in the fridge in a cake carrier (one of those big plastic things) while I got dressed. I propped the cake carrier up on the floor of my car, in back, secured with blankets around it, and made the 45 minute drive in stop-and-go traffic.

                                                                                                      I arrive at the party and rush in with my cake in hand... It was literally in pieces. In a million crumpled little pieces. Stuck to all sides of the cake carrier, unidentifiable as a layer cake. It looked like someone had just shaken the whole thing up.

                                                                                                      My friends thought it was funny and just dug in with forks and spoons, but I was mortified. I wish I'd gotten a picture.

                                                                                                    2. Newly married while also being starving students: I was sure the recipe called for apple cider vinegar sauce over sliced ham. Our mouths involuntarily puckered up trying to eat it (we were too poor to trash it)! (Of course, was supposed to be apple cider). He still teases me about the evils of vinegar sauce.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: pine time

                                                                                                        Teasing's fine - at least you're still together and can laugh about it. Some of the best memories come from the early "we had no money, but we had each other" days.

                                                                                                        How does he feel about vinaigrette now? :)

                                                                                                      2. heh, I still fail all often, and I've been cooking for xty years now. I decided to make mole chicken salad sandwiches.
                                                                                                        They were terrible. (no recipe, I just make stuff up.)

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: joycebre

                                                                                                          Mole from scratch, or a prepared mole? There's a lot of bad prepared moles out there, so one can't blame themself for that.

                                                                                                        2. Some of these stories have me laughing out loud.
                                                                                                          My first disaster involved unseasoned, half raw chicken cutlets in a sauce made with a ½ carafe of Paul Mason Chablis, 2 cans of College Inn chicken broth and a corn starch slurry to thicken the “sauce” up. At the table, my mom named my dish, “boozy chicken”, warned everyone not to eat the raw chicken and went in to the kitchen to order takeout.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: EM23

                                                                                                            What? No pizza? :D

                                                                                                            Thanks for sharing.

                                                                                                          2. One that comes to mind (because I recently flipped past it in the cookbook): some sort of noodle stir-fry dish with tamari. My handwritten note in the margin was simply a quote from DH:

                                                                                                            "Ew. It's not like eating dirt, but... well, yeah, it tastes like dirt."

                                                                                                            1. My Chinese grandmother has this wonderful recipe for cod or other white fish -- microwave until done, drizzle with soy sauce, top with chopped scallions, heat peanut and sesame oil and pour over. Delish.

                                                                                                              Except that when I was in college, I tried making it from memory, which consisted of a vague notion of fish and soy sauce. I decided to marinate a cod fillet in soy sauce overnight, and then fry it. Made my entire house smell like burnt salt -- the housemates were baffled and repelled when they came home -- and the poor fish turned out completely inedible. Ugh.

                                                                                                              1. A recent failed dish was a lemon meringue pie I made for my sister's birthday two years ago. We were celebrating at our vacation log home.
                                                                                                                My husband and I arrived a day before my sister and her family. I had packed what I thought were all the needed ingredients. I proceeded to make the pie. I was tasting the lemon curd and it tasted off, bitter like. I asked my husband to taste it , he said oh no it's fine. I figured my taste buds were off because of a recent cold. The pie comes out of the oven looking beautiful....meringue gorgeous.
                                                                                                                Time to cut into to it for the birthday celebration. Lemon meringue is her absolute favorite. She looked at me after the first bite and said it there is something wrong with it. I told her I thought it was bad. My hubby didn't want to tell me because he didn't want to hurt my feelings. As it turned out, I used baking soda instead of cornstarch.

                                                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: Living4fun

                                                                                                                  Yesssss! I did the same thing, mixing up the baking soda and the cornstarch. I think of myself as a pretty experienced cook but somehow when I was making a simple (ha!) chicken stir-fry for a dinner party I made a quick marinade for the chicken with what I thought was cornstarch (NOT!) and sherry, and man, did it taste terrible with baking soda. I have to laugh when I remember the expression on people's faces.
                                                                                                                  Since then I only buy cornstarch in the plastic ARGO jar.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Goblin

                                                                                                                    That is the thing I have the plastic ARGO jar but I also had the Arm and Hammer baking soda plastic jar. The baking soda was a recent purchase. I can remember thinking oh good it's in a plastic jar just like cornstarch......not good for me! LOL

                                                                                                                    1. re: Living4fun

                                                                                                                      I recently started buying both the Argo Cornstarch and their baking soda specifically for their plastic containers. The good news for me is the baking soda label is a totally different color, and the container is much, much smaller than the one with cornstarch.

                                                                                                                  2. re: Living4fun

                                                                                                                    I did that once while making pavlova, but realized it right after I dumped in the baking soda. I *thought* I got out all the baking soda, but enough stayed in to make the pac all flabby and pathetic. Serves me right for being too cheap to dump the contaminated egg whites and start over.

                                                                                                                    1. re: P_penelope

                                                                                                                      I can't tell you how comforting it is to realize that others have confused these two "kitchen essentials"! I felt so dumb when my guests grimaced unbelievingly at the first bite of the stir fry. (Serves me right for not tasting before serving.)

                                                                                                                  3. I have two:

                                                                                                                    1. When I was a teen, my parents would let me cook dinner periodically. I was making a pasta/cheese type casserole, and my mother's recipe called for 1/4 cup of pepper. I have no idea what I was thinking, but I put in 1/4 cup of black pepper. Should have been 1/4 cup of chopped green pepper!

                                                                                                                    2. We had a family "chocolate day" for fun a few years back (think all-chocolate-all-the-time). For dinner, I decided I'd make linguine with a chocolate/creamy sauce. I actually found a recipe for it. It was HORRIFIC! Nobody will let me forget that disaster. (The next year for "chocolate day", I think I made grilled chocolate/PB sandwiches instead. Those were a hit!)

                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: jbsiegel

                                                                                                                      Disaster #1 is blazingly spectacular. Wowee-wow-wow.

                                                                                                                      1. re: jbsiegel

                                                                                                                        Reminds me of a family friend's story, how he was making 40 clove garlic chicken, but instead of 40 cloves, he used 40 heads of garlic.

                                                                                                                        And they are married for 40 years now. He does not use much garlic either. . .

                                                                                                                      2. When the mother-in-law of a former colleague was faced with a recipe calling for Half and Half, she would use the soda!

                                                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: mtlcowgirl

                                                                                                                          I had to look this up: Is the H&H in question a blend of grapefruit & lemon?

                                                                                                                          1. re: mtlcowgirl

                                                                                                                            Hah! Until I came to the United States, "half and half" to me would have meant a mixture of beers -- which would probably have been worse than the soda!

                                                                                                                            1. re: mtlcowgirl

                                                                                                                              Wait, what? Half and half where I am is cream for your coffee.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Hobbert

                                                                                                                                It appears to be many things, including half iced tea and half lemonade.

                                                                                                                                1. re: mcsheridan

                                                                                                                                  Indeed! One version doesn't require a drinking vessel at all. ;-)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: mcsheridan

                                                                                                                                    Psh that's an Arnold Palmer. Crazy that they're are so many regional differences.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                                    Yes - but the ingredient list makes is a bottle of poison! ;-)

                                                                                                                                2. When I was in college and teaching myself to cook (meal plans were terribly expensive), I read Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, a lot of classics.

                                                                                                                                  After a house party, the next day I decided to make pot au feu using a cheap chicken, leftover dregs from all the white wine bottles, canned stock, some tired carrots in the fridge, and some sprouting turnips. Oh, and I was going to let it all bubble away in my thrift store slow cooker, and have a magical French experience to serve after my housemates and I finished cleaning up the place.

                                                                                                                                  My goodness. Lessons learned:
                                                                                                                                  When cooking, especially when making simple dishes, invest in good ingredients.
                                                                                                                                  When cooking with alcohol, cook OFF the alcohol.

                                                                                                                                  The cheap, acid taste of the wine permeated everything in that pot- nothing was edible! I can actually still recall that precise nasty flavor.

                                                                                                                                  Another winner- the Chinese meal that I cooked for my family around the age of 10, using a cookbook from the dollar store. I think I made egg foo yung and brown gravy with rice. Prime ingredients included La Choy soy sauce and canned bean sprouts, all purchased off a list I had made for my parents. At least the rice (a staple in my house) was fine. :)

                                                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: 4Snisl

                                                                                                                                    Some sensory memories you really do wish you could purge from your brain; sounds like the pot au fail is one of those. Thanks for sharing.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: mcsheridan

                                                                                                                                        College is all about education, no matter where it takes place! I salute you for your fight in the French- Chinese War, rudeboy. :)

                                                                                                                                      2. re: 4Snisl

                                                                                                                                        Reminds me of another - I did a stir fry in college, and it might have been okay, but I decided to add red wine and tarragon at the last minute. That dish is classically forever known as the "French - Chinese War." Totally inedible.

                                                                                                                                        I couldn't afford the meal plan or a dorm, either. Now, I'm glad that I couldn't, because I had to do what you did 4Snisl. Foshizzle.

                                                                                                                                      3. A fairly recent disaster for me was "Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Almonds" -- recipe at Emile Henry's site http://www.emilehenryusa.com/recipe/L...

                                                                                                                                        The recipe calls for boiling the almonds and then sautéing until crispy and crunchy. It also calls for addition of prunes. I idiotically didn't realize that the prunes I added were not pitted. So I ended up with both toasted almonds (nice and crunchy) and prune pits (tooth-shatteringly hard). And almonds and prune pits look very very similar (indeed, both almonds and plums are members of the genus Prunus).

                                                                                                                                        (I'm sure it's not my worst ever though -- I'll have to think back for that...)

                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                        1. re: drongo

                                                                                                                                          <(I'm sure it's not my worst ever though -- I'll have to think back for that...)>

                                                                                                                                          Now you're scaring me... ;)

                                                                                                                                        2. Lobster Newburg.

                                                                                                                                          It was all going so perfectly if not rather time consuming. I prepared it on the stove top, the final step, incorporating the egg yolks. I tossed it into a casserole and put it in a hot oven to hold while having salads. When I pulled it out the sauce had curdled into a scrambled egg mess of horribleness. I think had I completely cooled and chilled the new burg and then reheated it wouldn't have broken down. I haven't tested that theory yet though.

                                                                                                                                          1. I'm really not quite good at making baked goods. Anything. Muffins. Brownies. Cakes. Whatever. Total fail.

                                                                                                                                            1. My children loved my pineapple chicken. They really looked forward to having it when their Daddy (who found it way too sweet) was out of town. When I went to finish the sauce, it hissed and fizzed, and would not thicken. I realized then, that baking soda looks rather similar to cornstarch. The dish was inedible. Two sad little girls ate fish sticks that night.

                                                                                                                                              1. This was only 2 nights ago. It's pollen season here and DH and I were suffering through allergies.

                                                                                                                                                I had planned to make jerk chicken sandwiches with homemade mango chutney. I seared the marinated breasts in my favorite cast iron pan and they were perfectly done, juicy and tasting almost like they were grilled outside. That wasn't the problem...

                                                                                                                                                I'm guessing it was the habaneros in the jarred jerk marinade that filled the entire house with uber irritating fumes even though I had opened all the windows. That, and the simmering chutney- white wine vinegar reducing down. It got me first in the kitchen. Very hard on irritated airways! I could not stop coughing and could barely get a breath.

                                                                                                                                                It spread to my husband's studio and I could hear him coughing and coughing and coughing...

                                                                                                                                                I pulled the neck of my t-shirt over my mouth and nose and managed-barely- to finish cooking. When it was done I found my poor husband on the porch gasping for air.

                                                                                                                                                We let the house detox for an hour and ate dinner. It was good! Toxic but delicious. :)

                                                                                                                                                Then the other members of my husband's band arrived for practice. They practice in our basement, with its own independent air supply from the rest of the house.

                                                                                                                                                Practice ended early that night on account of all the coughing. :)

                                                                                                                                                1. When I was a wee lass, I wanted to make part of dinner by myself. We had boxed flaked mashed potatoes, and I incorrectly assumed that 1/2 meant 1 OR 2(I hadn't learned fractions yet), and since I like salt, 1 figured I'd go on the high side of things. I made instant mashed potatoes with 4x the recommended salt, and far too much milk. My dad was so cheap that he made me eat a full serving to "teach me" to ask questions when I don't understand something.

                                                                                                                                                  1. In college, I was just teaching myself to cook and was doing a good job. I had seen recipes for a whole fish cooked in a kosher salt dome and wanted to try it. So, I bought a whole red snapper (bones, scales, head all intact) and made it. It was absolutely awful and inedible.

                                                                                                                                                    1. Can't forget this one.
                                                                                                                                                      I'd made about 6 pizzas one night and, forgetting this one was still cooking, I turned off the oven and didn't discover my mistake until the next day. Hey, the other 5 were great.

                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                                                                                                                        I love that you took photos.

                                                                                                                                                        I once did that with a few chocolate chip cookies that didn't seem to cook through the middle enough. Turned off the oven, left them in there, and forgot about them til the next morning. They were fried to a crisp.

                                                                                                                                                      2. My first attempt at cooking dry beans from scratch. Put a pound of soaked black beans in a pot, covered with water and turned the stove on high to bring it to a boil. Walked out of the room and totally forgot I had turned the stove on. An hour or so later the smell of burning beans caught my attention. I had to throw out one of my favorite pots that day and it was several years before I ever tried cooking dried beans again.

                                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Springhaze2

                                                                                                                                                          Burning beans cannot compare to the sulfuric stench of exploding eggs left to hard boil 10 minutes after all water had evaporated as I yacked on the phone upstairs. Because it was summer, the windows were open and a big fan was on downstairs so I didn't catch it immediately. But...I smell your pain.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                                                                                                            In college, my boyfriend put eggs on to boil in the basement kitchen and forgot about them. He remembered when the fire alarm went off and the whole dorm was evacuated. The fire department found a lovely mess of exploded eggs, the stench was awful.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                              When I had the egg-splosion I posted above, I collected all the flying shrapnel in the pan and threw it all away, including the pan.

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Chefpaulo

                                                                                                                                                              "I smell your pain" I hear a Bill Clinton voice in there....

                                                                                                                                                          2. Chicken and acorn squash in the crockpot = a horrible, orange sludge.

                                                                                                                                                            Also, I set my homemade croutons on fire when I wanted to speed up the process and figured using the broiler was a good idea. It was, until I forgot the broiler was on and started doing something else. Goodbye, croutons! Goodbye, cookie sheet they were now fused to like little carbon death bombs!

                                                                                                                                                            1. I love pasta carbonara and tried to flavor it with lemon zest and serrano peppers. I have hits and misses but have never had something like this that I literally couldn't eat without gagging. Now, I stick to the classic preparation.