Every home cook has stories of things gone terribly wrong. Cakes that resemble pancakes. Chicken so rubbery you could play catch with it. Vegetables cooked beyond recognition.
I am no different, and, wow, do I have some recent doozies to tell you about, including one mishap you can see for yourself on TV this weekend. Yes, I flubbed a batch of cookies on camera for the holiday episode of the locally produced cooking show Eat Cheap, Drink Rich. I like to think I recovered, though you can be the judge of that.
You'll see me smiling, but my stomach was churning. Did I forget the flour in the base of the toffee squares? Could I blame it on an oven that wasn't my own? Whatever the reason, I knew when I peered through the oven door, TV camera in my face and mike clipped on my apron, that I was in trouble.
The base should have been cakelike. Instead, it was bubbling and popping like hot lava. But I persevered. After all, I was invited on the show as the expert cookie baker. Plus, my on-show cooking partner and I had two more cookie recipes to conquer in about an hour.
My recovery plan: Swirl on the chocolate and chopped nuts, then stick the whole thing in the refrigerator, which, if the gods were on my side, would firm up the mess. I slipped over to the fridge several times when the cameras were trained elsewhere to check the progress.
Plan B worked, even though the results were more like brickle pieces than cookie bars. The crisis was averted, though my ego was black and blue. I still can't figure out what I did wrong.
When you watch the show, you may also notice my flour-covered apron. I am a messy cook.
Those cookies were among a series of recent kitchen flops and setbacks. Here are two highlights:
Popcorn balls intended for the Halloween Taste section turned out like lead balloons and ultimately went into the garbage. I had five recipes to try, each one slightly different. One called for the syrup to be boiled to the "hard crack" stage, about 300 degrees. After the syrup reached that scalding temperature, I poured it over the popped popcorn. "Work fast," the instructions said. Uh, right, and risk burning your paws, which I did.
Another popcorn ball was to be laced with peanuts and candy corn. Even Hulk-like strength couldn't get the bits to stick to the pieces. When the balls hardened, I feared a cracked tooth.
Not one recipe — I admitted defeat after four — turned out. How so many recipes could go so wrong was a mystery. At 10:30 p.m., with the kitchen floor covered in goo and popcorn shrapnel, I considered returning to the city hall beat.
A friend dubbed the impossible treats the Popcorn Balls of Doom. Funny, until I realized I needed to come up with another story for Taste in just a few hours.
Then there was Thanksgiving. After a month of writing about turkey and stuffing for the section, I yearned to make something different.
This would be the year we would try turducken, chicken stuffed inside duck stuffed inside turkey. I imagined the delicious side dishes that would go with the mythical meat. I ordered a boneless version, laced with stuffing, at the new Fresh Market in St. Petersburg.
Or so I thought. When I went to pick up the beastly trinity on Tuesday night, about 40 hours before dinner, I stared in horror at my receipt. Did I really check bone-in leg of lamb by accident? Really? (Another reminder that I need new glasses.)
After a long conversation with one of the butchers, I had marked the box for turducken at $6.99 a pound, completely satisfied I could handle the preparation. Only I missed the spot by two lines and ordered lamb for the same price.
On the way home, lamb mocking me from my reusable shopping bag, I considered the alternatives. One thing would be served up for sure — a big dose of ribbing from the wolverines.
Maybe I could get a jump-start on the Easter food section. Maybe we could go out. Maybe I should buy a turkey and go traditional. Perhaps we would get a last-minute invitation. Yes, no, no and not likely.
Instead, I embraced the long tradition of weird Thanksgiving meals with the food editor. (One year, we ended up at Cracker Barrel, a secret that the wolverines have been sworn to keep, though now I've spilled the beans.)
When life gives you lamb, go Greek. And that's what I did. Homemade tzatziki with toasted pita, orzo with cinnamon-tomato sauce and slabs of feta, Tarpon Springs-style Greek salad and roasted lamb with a parsley-mint-lemon-garlic crust, recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay. I considered baklava for dessert, but settled for pumpkin pie. Some traditions are too difficult to break.
Honestly, it was one of the best meals I've ever made, though the eye-rolling did continue through dessert.
Even people who cook a lot make mistakes, and clearly I am in that group. Musicians hit bad notes. Multimillion-dollar baseball players strike out. Bank tellers miscount. Not everything that comes out of your kitchen, or mine, will taste good. Blame the recipe, blame the humidity, heck, you can even blame me. Heaven knows the wolverines do.
Don't let one failure, or two or three, stop you from trying new dishes or cooking at all. I certainly don't.
Not even when the mistakes are captured on camera and broadcast for all to see.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.