I got Julia Child's "The French Chef" episodes on DVD as a gift recently. In one of the earliest shows Julia is making French Onion Soup. She forgets she has it under the broiler for a 'quick brown' and as she approaches the oven the smoke is rolling out the door and the top is really black and the croutons and cheese are no doubt inedible. She carries on with just a quick comment that "it may be just a little over browned." Her episode on Tarte Tatin is even more of a disaster when the apples become way too juicy and the dessert falls apart as she turns it out of the pan. I'm sure we've all had these moments and watching this reminded me of several of my own cooking disasters which I thought I would share with you today.
Interestingly, I've had several similar bad outcomes with my 'never fail' signature cream pie recipe. I recall once making it for a friend who always had trouble making good cream pies. He had mine at a dinner party which he raved about. I provided him the recipe and several weeks later he asked if he could come over so I could show him how to make the pie, as the recipe I had provided him failed to work. I watched as he cooked and gave him pointers. The outcome was the same; topping good for ice cream sauce, but not for pie as it failed to thicken. I was amazed by this because whenever I had made it, it always set firmly. So the next day I took to the kitchen myself and concentrated on the technique described in my recipe. The pie set beautifully and I invited him over once again. I presented my pie, with a tall meringue topping, which was picture perfect. It cut cleanly and looked exactly right. We talked about what might be wrong with his technique and then took our reward by sliding a big forkful of silky cream pie into our mouths. He looked at me... I looked at him.. then I spit the pie out on the plate. He did the same. We laughed heartily. While I had the technique down perfectly, I obviously had not paid close attention to the ingredients because the pie tasted as though it had been made from salt and not sugar. To this day I don't know exactly why that is, but it certainly had to be thrown out as it was completely inedible despite its beauty.
The same recipe caused me a similar concern recently when I had reduced the recipe to make a single pie. When I made the meringue topping, however, I failed to remember I was halving the recipe and instead of one-quarter cup of sugar in the meringue I put a half cup as I had been accustomed to doing. The pie was presented at table once again looking like it had come from the pages of Martha Stewart Living. But when I tasted the pie, I knew just what was wrong. Thankfully, while way too sweet, it was not a public embarrassment and most dinner guests thought it was good.
I suppose we've all burned food, which can sometimes be salvaged. I know I have both overcooked and undercooked items that went to the table, but most of the time it hasn't been a 'carry out' disaster. I do recall one dinner with an oven fire and a smoke alarm, and another grease fire on the BBQ grill that was embarrassing, but I was able to rescue the meat before it was horribly charred. I also recall cutting a lovely looking whole roasted chicken at table in front of guests, and upon seeing read juice oozing onto the cutting board, announcing that I would finish the carving in the kitchen where I prompltly placed the whole bird in the microwave to finish the cooking.
If you have entertaining stories to tell about your cooking disasters, please drop me a note here as I'm sure we would all love to commiserate and learn from them. Until then, keep on cooking and as Julia says, never let on that anything went wrong and most of your guests will never know.