Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There

Most of the time recipes go as planned, your food looks great, and everything tastes delicious. But every now and again something goes wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong and all you can do, besides toss the mess into the trash, is laugh at yourself, learn from it, and move on. I have had my fair share of moments where a recipe went completely awry and I was left with a meal or a dessert that nobody wanted to eat. Or alternatively, that tasted fine but looked less than appetizing. It happens, even to the best of cooks! But hey, we wouldn’t grow as cooks (or people!!) if we didn’t fail and have to get back up again. So here are a few of my less than shining moments in the kitchen.

Metal Tomatoes

After college my husband and I moved to Florida and into our first apartment. Through his work we had made a few friends and one year when we couldn’t make it home to NY for Easter we decided to invite some of these friends over to our place for Easter dinner. I am Italian and Easter in my family is always lasagna, meatballs, sausage, and a baked spiral ham. So naturally I wanted to keep with tradition and serve the same meal to our new friends. Now, I knew how to make sauce and pull together lasagna and meatballs however, what I did NOT know at that time was the importance of using the right tools in the kitchen. Aluminum pots = NOT the right tools to make tomato sauce.

Before we moved my mom had given me a set of her old Farberware aluminum pots and pans. They were great for many things, not so much though when cooking tomatoes. Aluminum is a reactive metal and as such, will interact with the tomatoes and impart a distinct metallic taste into the sauce. Needless to say, I had an apartment full of people coming over who I had never cooked for before this gathering and I had a HUGE pot of sauce on the stove that tasted like metal. In a panic, I started adding sugar and extra spices to the sauce to try and counteract the metallic taste. It helped somewhat but I still noticed the “off” flavor in the sauce. At that point, I had to just cross my fingers and hope that once the pasta and cheese were in the mix the metallic flavor would be masked. In the end, everything turned out fine despite the sauce and thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I learned a very valuable lesson that day about using the right tools for the job. Both cast iron and aluminum are NOT the right tools when making tomato sauce. Safe to say, I never made that mistake again.

Chicken Flip

A while back I decided to roast a whole chicken for the first time. I bought a nice little Purdue that had the pop up timer built in and I thought, easy peasy, there will be no messing this up. Ummmmmm. Yea. I messed it up! Let’s just say that the cooking time came and went as I was repeatedly sticking my head in the oven trying to find this stupid little pop up timer to let me know the chicken was done cooking. I could’t find it anywhere and was convinced that somehow they forgot to put the pop up timer in the bird. Since the chicken had been roasting for what seemed like forever I decided to finally just pull it out and take my chances. I put the chicken on the counter to rest while thinking to myself, “this chicken looks kind of odd“. The breast looked pretty flat, sort of bony, and wholly unappetizing. I figured I just got a weird looking bird (with no pop up timer!!) so I just brushed it off and didn’t give it another thought.

But then it came time to carve up the meat and to my surprise, there wasn’t really any breast meat. It felt hard, looked pretty gross, and seemingly had nothing I could get my knife through. My husband walks over, asks what the deal is with the funny looking bird and together we realize, OMG!!!!!…………………..I cooked the damn chicken UPSIDE DOWN!!!!! I wasn’t looking at the breast after all, I was trying to carve up his back! All I could do at this point was to flip over the poor chicken and laugh at my sheer stupidity. Once we flipped it over low and behold!!!………………there was the pop up timer that I was convinced didn’t exist along with all of the breast meat that I thought was missing! Having cooked upside down the whole time, the breast now looked a little less than appetizing but thankfully, in the end it was fine to eat and it was cooked pretty well too!! After that little debacle I learned which side is which and I’m proud to say that I’ve never cooked a chicken (or a turkey!!) upside down ever again!

Salt Lick Cookies

I have a great recipe for Fudgy Brownie Cookies that I’ve made countless times and every single time they’ve turned out perfect! I even made batches and batches of them one year to give out in cookie tins as Christmas gifts and everyone loved them. So one day I had my parents over for dinner and decided to throw these cookies together for dessert later that night. It’s a quick and easy recipe that I was very familiar with so I thought I could pop into the kitchen and bang them out pretty fast. My thinking was on point, my reality though, that was a different story! I was being interrupted about 1,458 times a minute by my then toddler son, Grayden. Trying to follow a recipe while at the same time attending to him is pretty much a recipe for disaster!

The recipe called for 1/4 tsp of baking soda to be added. Because I was reading the recipe while at the same time dealing with Grayden, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the measurements that were called for. Instead of adding a 1/4 tsp of baking soda, I added 1/4 CUP of it. Baking soda, in case you weren’t aware, is VERY salty. Drop a 1/4 cup of it in your cookie dough and I promise you’ll gag, which is EXACTLY what I did when I tasted my dough a few minutes after mixing. There was simply NO way to salvage the cookie dough so in the trash it went and I had to start all over again. Lesson learned for sure, pay CLOSE attention to your recipes and measurements or you’ll end up with one big kitchen disaster on your hands and there is nothing worse than having to toss food! Oh!………….and avoid cooking with a toddler in the kitchen if you can help it!!

Zombie Pasta

Fairly recently I made a dish called “Drunken Spaghetti” which sounded pretty yummy when I read the recipe and it looked decent in the picture too. It was basically pasta that was cooked in both water AND red wine, the idea being that the pasta would absorb the wine as it cooked and impart a nice flavor to the finished dish. Once the pasta was ready you tossed it with chopped nuts, herbs, olive oil and cheese. All good things however, pasta that’s boiled in wine doesn’t look very nice or as richly colored as you might hope. Instead, it was kind gray. Gray pasta. Mmmmmm…………..sounds delish, right??

Overall, the flavor was actually somewhat interesting and the meal itself wasn’t terrible but it really didn’t look “pretty” or even appetizing for that matter. (I didn’t even attempt to get a picture of it!) My parents were over for dinner that night and my husband was working late so we ate before him and everyone kinda sorta liked the meal even though we were all put off by the overall appearance. So when my husband came home and I served him he looked at me like, “WTF is this???”.  I insisted it tasted good and to just try it. He kinda sorta liked the meal too but REALLY struggled with the color of the pasta and the overall look of the dish as we all did. He ate most of it but then gave up towards the end and said he couldn’t really take another bite. He subsequently named the dish “Zombie Pasta” since it was kind of gray, kind of reddish, and overall kind of unappetizing looking. He also told me to never, EVER make it again. So the lesson here is pasta doesn’t really look pretty after boiling in wine AND the photo editing programs they use in cookbooks is simply amazing because they somehow made “Zombie Pasta” look good and inspired me to actually try it!

As you can see, kitchen fails happen to even the best of us! So the next time you burn a cookie, forget an ingredient, or plate something that is zombie colored just know you’re in good company. We’ve ALL been there and done that! The best thing to do is to just chalk up your fail as a learning experience and then get back in the kitchen and do better the next time.

If at first you don’t succeed, just try, try again!

Garlic Oil Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

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This is my go to dinner when I need something quick and easy. It’s absolutely delicious, very versatile, and even my kids love it! The key to this dish is in the garlic preparation, you don’t want to just chop up raw garlic and toss it in or ((GASP)) use something like garlic powder. I always use fresh garlic and I cook it until is softens which allows it to take on a nice, mellow flavor that really enhances the flavor of the meal.

For every pound of pasta I use a full head of garlic however, if you like a more subtle or even stronger garlic flavor feel free to use less or more depending on your taste. You can also switch out the sausage for thinly sliced chicken or even mini meatballs.  Don’t like broccoli? Use spinach, zucchini, kale, or whatever produce you prefer.  I happen to love penne pasta but you can make this recipe with angel hair, spaghetti, rigatoni or any other pasta that suits you. You can really experiment and make this dish your own.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta, any
  • 1 lb sausage links (I like sweet sausage with fennel)
  • 1 head of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 – 3/4 extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bag of broccoli florets (I like the Bird’s Eye Steam Bags)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente.

In the meantime, smash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife, give them a rough chop and add them to a small saucepan. Cover the garlic with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and turn the stove to medium high heat. Once the oil starts to bubble bring the heat down to low and let the garlic cook until slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the garlic infuse into the warmed oil.

Thinly slice the sausage or remove from the casings all together. Heat up a small pan on medium heat and drizzle a little olive oil in. Add the sausage and cook until nicely browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Set aside and reserve the cooking oil.

Remove the garlic from the oil and using kitchen sheers, mince up the softened garlic. Add the garlic back into the oil and then prepare the broccoli. Allow the broccoli to cool for a minute and then chop the stems and discard.

Drain the pasta and add to a large bowl. Tear a handful of basil leaves and toss them in along with the sausage, broccoli, grated cheese, and a pinch of red pepper. Drizzle in some of the oil from the sausage pan along with all of the garlic infused oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss until everything is evenly coated and combined. Adjust your seasonings, sprinkle with shaved Parmesan cheese, and serve hot.

**Note** – I always keep fresh basil on hand in my freezer. Buy a bunch of basil, tear off the leaves, wash, allow them to dry in between paper towels, and then toss them into a Ziploc bag and freeze. Whenever a recipe calls for fresh basil just grab what you need and crumble it right into whatever you’re cooking.

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French Onion Soup Chicken with Pasta

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One of my most favorite foods in the world is French Onion Soup Gratinee. It has such an incredible depth of flavor and there is nothing better on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup dripping with ooey gooey cheese. This meal right here is like French Onion Soup on a plate, it was absolutely divine! I adapted this recipe from one posted by For the Love of Cooking. The recipe calls for cooking the chicken in a separate pan but for the sake of convenience and because I didn’t want to waste any yummy bits I cooked the whole meal in my enameled cast iron dutch oven. Less to clean and more flavor imparted into the dish.

Original Recipe – French Onion Chicken Breast

Next time, red wine is absolutely in order. I usually add Merlot to my own French Onion Soup recipe but sadly, I had none left in the house this evening. I think adding red wine to the sauce would add another nice dimension of flavor to this meal. If you would like to add red wine, throw some in after you add the garlic and thyme to the onions. Adding it at this point will help to deglaze the pan and it’ll give the wine a chance to burn off the alcohol. Then continue with the recipe as instructed.

Because this recipe made a nice amount of sauce I decided to boil some penne pasta to go alongside the chicken. I tossed 1/2 lb of pasta with a 2 tbs of salted butter, a few splashes of the pasta cooking water, and a few healthy spoonfuls of the chicken sauce after cooking. To finish off the pasta I mixed in a nice handful of shredded mozzarella. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect, easy side dish for this meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 large sweet onions, sliced (I used Vidalia)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 2 cups beef broth (or stock if you’d like a richer flavor)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless breasts, cut in half lengthwise
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • garlic powder, to taste
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded OR Gruyere, grated

Instructions

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and a little salt and pepper and cook until they are a deep golden brown, about 25-30 min. Add a bit of beef broth/stock as need to deglaze the pan and keep the onions from burning. You want deep, rich browned onions, not burnt ones so the key here is low and slow.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the garlic, thyme, and flour to the onions and cook another minute, stirring constantly. Add wine here if you’re using it and cook for about 2-3 minutes so that it deglazes the pan, make sure to scrape up all of the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Add in 1 cup of beef broth/stock, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Remove the onions and sauce, reserve in a bowl for later. Add the oil to the dutch oven and heat it up. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and then add to the hot oil. Brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside on a plate.

Add the remaining beef broth/stock and deglaze it, making sure to scrape up the browned bits from the chicken. Whisk in the mustard and vinegar, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the onions and sauce back into the pot and mix well to combine. Add in a few splashes of beef broth/stock if the mixture seems too thick. Add the chicken back into the pot, spoon the sauce over each piece, cover with a lid and bake for about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken.

Remove from oven and sprinkle shredded cheese all over the chicken and broil until melted and browned. Remove the chicken from the pot and plate on dishes. If you made the pasta as a side, toss some of the sauce with the pasta and then plate alongside the chicken. Spoon extra sauce over both and finish it off with a light sprinkle of parsley.

Enjoy.