Kitchen calamity

August 28, 2009

garbagedispsalWell, it doesn’t happen very often, but it did last night. I cooked a Truly Revolting meal for my beau and myself.

It was supposed to be a lovely rich dahl and a dish of potatoes and peas in a yoghurt sauce, but let’s just be frank and call it vomit-coloured slop (and thanks to the yoghurt, there was even a whiff of the sick bowl about it too). I haven’t posted a photograph of it here, but believe me that’s for your own good.

Nor will I slander the recipe-writers because obviously I did something hideously wrong, but they are both well-known & respected. I can’t figure out what I did, unless it was just the combination of dishes that made it so disgusting.

Suffice it to say if anyone has a recipe for dahl that does not end up as powdery, tasteless slop (there’s only so much salt and lemon juice you can add before you get past the point of no return, and it seemed to make no difference), can you share, please? I have eaten delicious dahl many times, so what the hell went wrong with mine?

And ‘yoghurt sauce’. This dish proved that sometimes you really need a photograph accompanying  a recipe (I checked back later, and the book had one of those photo pages with a spread of different dishes. But they craftily did not include a picture of this dish). To me, ‘yoghurt sauce’  conjured up images of lovely thick clustery, creamy spicy goodness. But in fact, if one followed the recipe the result was a watery pale yellow (the V-word again) soup in which the peas were drained to a lovely grey colour and the potatoes just gave up the ghost entirely and slumped there, defeated and drowning. I ended up reducing the hell out of it just to rid it of the nuclear-waste-affected pondwater effect, which process sapped even more colour and any remaining life from the solids.

By the time this meal reached the table we had a bowl of rice (fine), a bowl of yellow soupy starchy tasteless slop (dahl) and a bowl of the pale starchy mess, which by now was a sort of grey and lumpy glue, but at the same time tasteless (except for the faint topnote of bile) and somehow textureless. Quite a feat, I think you’ll agree. We also, thank god, had the cumquat chutney – but again, it’s rather tart and sweet, so more than a tablespoon of that was always going to make the eyes water. Nothing could save us on this occasion.

I was so horrified I could barely eat a mouthful, and sat squirming in my chair while Senor doggedly chewed on, in a prim and dignified fashion, telling me to stop behaving like a three year old as I rolled my eyes and gagged and made faces. He got quite cross when I refused to eat my plate’s worth, and told me I was being ridiculous, and then to prove a point served himself a bit more grey slop. He is a brave and noble man.

I suddenly remembered what it was like  being a child and having to eat food that made you physically gag, and felt a stab of surprised sympathy for all the kids at my table over the years who have had the same response to some (perfectly good, I might add) dish I’ve served. Poor little beggars. Next time one of them convulses and makes vomit noises I shall take their plate away and give them ice cream.

Ugh. Bad food. I guess one good thing is to realise how shocking it is when it happens, which shows how generally well we eat.

There is, of course, a bucketload of dahl left, which Senor claims he will eat for lunch. But we shall see. Even the greatest nobility has its limits. To my mind, this is one occasion on which food waste is not only acceptable but the only humane course of action.

What about you? I doubt any of you have had any disasters recently, but any comforting anecdotes of calamities from the past that you’d like to share?


  1. It’s not that I’m enjoying this, because it’s so disappointing when something is a horrible, inedible pile of cack, but I laughed a lot more heartily than you ate reading this one, Charlotte.

    I guess my favourite stuff up remains the banana cake debacle. I left out the baking powder. This had the most extraordinary affect on the taste and consistency of the “cake,” although it didn’t affect the aroma at all, so as it was baking, I thought I might have gotten away with my serious omission. I wanted to get away with it, you see, because it was a cake I was making for my mother-in-law-to-be, a fantastic cook and withering critic. Like your dahl, my “cake” was more like glue, a set glue, brown and smelling vaguely of banana. Katie, bless her, doggedly forced her way through an entire slice murmuring, “Mmmm, Di, this is… this is… delicious!” while Llew and I just collapsed into convulsive laughter until we cried. When Katie asked for a second slice, it absolutely brought the house down. Baking powder. Not negotiable. Lesson learned.

  2. Effect. Trauma induced typos.

  3. I do remember my first attempt at rabbit, back in the 80s. Lots of tomatoes, olives, garlic, etc. Shame the rabbit was older than me. Dry, oh so dry. Tough and stringy, too. And the aroma wasn’t exactly alluring, either.
    One bite and I knew I was tasting disaster. But I had to wait. I looked a my partner at the time, Christine. She sensed something was wrong, took a tiny bite-ette, grimaced, looked at me and said “Local Lebbo or the pizza place?”. We went to the pizza place. It was delicious.

  4. I occasionally overcook meat – because I try to slow-cook a joint, then panic at the last minute and nuke the bejasus out of it. But when I first used my new fancypants oven, I mis-read the instructions, and served my poor jet-lagged Mum a dish of lightly warmed raw lamb shanks. We regrouped with omelette (family standby), and managed to cook the shanks the next day. All the way through.
    In cooking, probably as in life, I tend to rate people on how they recover from disaster, rather than how they stumble into it. So far, however, all I’ve mastered is the art of having spare eggs to hand; oh, and trying not to inform guests of everything that’s wrong with the food in front of them.
    (There was also a notorious incident of my Dad cooking moorhen soup with a bird he’d hung for 10 days…but frankly, I fare a lot better with that particular memory repressed.)

  5. This cheered me up no end.

    My stuff ups are too numerous to mention,though one recipe from an respected Ayervedic cookbook involving buckets of grated parsnip still brings a tear to the eye.

    One nice dal recipe I’m just about to make again is Stephanie Alexander’s North Indian Lentils (orange book,lentils section). Caution: I like salt but I think there is too much in the recipe. While not intended for a slow cooker, it worked well in one. Leftovers freeze well.

  6. A few weeks ago I made a batch of spiced nuts. I’d fried them in some butter and garlic, tossed them in a well-salted mixture of spices, bound with a little beaten egg, so they were stickily well-coated, spread them on a baking sheet, put them in the oven, and burnt the lot. I flirted with the idea that they were just ‘well done’ for about a minute. But, nuh. Relates to frugal post too – annoying to bin about ten $ of lovely almonds, which I could have served as they were, but had instead opted to elaborately fuck up.

    The early years recurring boo boo was either to have pan not hot enough, or meat too cold, or overcrowd pan, and watch with horror as juice bubbled out of meat.

  7. Food disasters? How about the time I misread by a factor of 10 the amount of butter required for toffee? I had to throw the contents AND the pan away, but not till they cooled down, or they would have melted the bin. Or the time I went to tip the baking beans out of a blind baked pastry case and ended up with the whole lot on the carpet, including the pastry?

    My most recent one was putting a pan of broccoli on to steam wirthout any water in it. Egad, does broc smell bad when it’s burning!


  8. Here’s a lovely recipe, courtsey of BBC Good Food. I’ve tried this and it works well.

    Makhani Dhal


    * 225g black lentils
    * 2 onions , finely chopped
    * 2 green chillies , deseeded and sliced
    * 50g butter , plus a small chunk
    * 1 tbsp grated fresh root ginger
    * 3 garlic cloves , thinly sliced
    * 1 tsp ground turmeric
    * ½ tsp hot chilli powder (optional)
    * 2 tsp ground cumin
    * 2 tsp ground coriander
    * 2 bay leaves
    * 2 x 400g cans red kidney beans , rinsed
    * 142ml pot double cream
    * ½ tsp garam masala
    * handful chopped coriander


    1. Boil the lentils in 800ml water for 15 mins until almost tender. Meanwhile, fry the onions and chillies in the 50g butter for about 7 mins until starting to soften. Stir in the ginger, garlic and spices and cook over a low heat for 1 min more.

    2. Pour in 800ml boiling water followed by the cooked lentils and any liquid. Add the bay leaves and beans, then simmer for 20 mins more until thickened. This can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, or frozen for up to 1 month.

    3. To serve, return to the heat if necessary and stir in the cream. Season well. Pour into a bowl, dot with the remaining butter, dust with garam masala and scatter with coriander.

  9. And last night’s disaster -I slung some biscuits in the oven (peanut butter choc-chip, since you ask) for my neighbours’ kids, wandered out to the garden, pulled a few desultory weeds, found a book I’d left open on the daybed, sat down….and 20 minutes later, plumes of black smoke billowed out from the kitchen door. My entire house reeks of charcoaled peanuts. What on EARTH made me think I could read and cook simultaneously? Anyone?

  10. […] hard, because the first time I made them I burnt the buggers, and they were horrid. Senor, who, you may remember, is a food waste fundamentalist and in possession of cast iron guts, decided they were perfectly edible and chowed down on charcoal almonds for about a week. But they […]

  11. […] of you may remember my ill-fated experiment with dhal many mooons ago – an experience that made me gag. Well, thanks to a fantastic vegetarian Indian cookbook I was sent recently, I have not only got […]

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