04 March 2013

Eats: flops

Believe it or not, I actually try more recipes than you see here on the blog. Not that many more – after all, I try to cook something new each week, and when I meal plan, there’s not that much room for new recipes if I want to still cook our old favorites, use whatever I bought on sale, and eat up the leftovers. But I do, occasionally, cook things you don’t see here. Usually, you don’t see photos because when I make the new dish, it’s late and I’m tired and don’t feel like battling bad lighting to shoot a new recipe.

But other times... other times. There are some really bummer other times that I get excited about a recipe, take notes as I’m preparing it, artfully pose the spoon in the mixing bowl, shoot photos in perfect lighting along the way, and have it a terrible end result. Sometimes overwhelmingly “meh”, sometimes totally inedible.

It happens. Typically when you see a recipe here, it’s the first time I’ve made it (because this isn’t a real cooking blog, it’s more of a teaching-myself-to-do-stuff-while-you-all-watch blog, cooking included). So it’s probably not surprising that I sometimes invest a lot of energy into a new recipe that turns into a complete and total failure.

The problem is (if everything I’ve said already doesn’t seem like enough of a problem)... the photos of my failures are still cluttering up my life. At least, my life within my blog fodder folder. Every so often I think “I should retry that” but... nope. Nope! I’m done with them. Life is too short to fix bad recipes. So here, today, I’m sorting through and clearing out those photos and, in the process, telling you what not to waste time making.

One of the earliest flops, dating back to August 2011, was spinach artichoke pasta from this source. Beth was excited about it, I was into it, artichokes were artfully chopped.

And the end result even photographed fairly well, considering my burgeoning blog photography skills:

But the end result was so... blah. So offensively boring. Is that a thing? It was a thing with this pasta. I even tried adding extra red pepper for that “kick” she promised, but it just ended up tasting like spicy spinach.

I don’t even think we finished the leftovers before I threw it out. Basically I wasted a whole can of perfectly good artichokes on that dish. So disappointed.

Another failed recipe from Beth’s site was her dragon noodles. This time I can’t totally blame her, because I did stray from the original recipe (based on her suggestion). Her version of dragon noodles used true lo mein noodles, whereas I... cheaped out.

Yes. Those are ramen noodles. But wouldn’t it have been great to create a dish that could be both delicious and cheap? I figured it was worth the risk. Besides, I’d be dressing them up with a new sauce and adding chicken and veggies. Totally promising, right?

Ehhh, nope. The noodles were too gelatinous even with the special sauce (I honestly thought all the gooey-ness of ramen came from the salty seasoning packet; I didn’t realize until then that it came from the noodles). I also wasn’t in love with the sauce enough to try it on real lo mein noodles. It wasn’t spicy enough at first, and when I tried to spice it up, it just tasted like sriracha and not much else. Again I say: ehhh.

Okay, that’s enough picking on Beth, because 99% of the time her recipes work for me like a charm – seriously, just scroll through my Eats archive and you’ll see how many of her recipes I’ve tried and adored (and I will be forever indebted to her for introducing me to miracle mac & cheese). So let me turn to a different noodley failure: enchilada pasta, first found here.

In theory, enchilada pasta should be awesome. It combined two of our favorite dishes into one, and it was totally easy to make. Sound familiar? The surprisingly delicious taco pasta was along those lines, and it was a standby in our house last fall. Enchilada pasta sounded like a twist on a favorite dish that itself was a twist on two favorite dishes. Inception-esque potential for awesomeness!

And yet there were exactly zero levels of awesomeness to this dish. I admit that I didn’t take notes as I made this, but I do think I mostly stuck to the recipe directions. Beef, chiles, corn, enchilada sauce, sour cream, and LOTS of cheese. Should have been a hit!

But it was dry. It was bland. It was boring and not so great and yet contained most of the same ingredients as the taco pasta. I do not understand how that happened, but there you have it. I made myself take most of the leftovers to work for lunch; the remainder lingered in the fridge for a week before I gave up and threw them out. Bah.

Though I followed the recipe in that case, I’m often a victim of my own creativity. And I am constantly inspired by Shawnda’s pizza recipes, especially this taco pizza recipe (there I go again, enamored with the mashup recipes). It looked really simple and made me wonder about the possibility of a cheeseburger pizza. I’ve got ground beef and cheese and tomatoes, I think onions can go in the beef and ketchup can serve as the base, I can do this!

Nope. I can’t.

It had... too much meat? Too much onion? Too strange of a flavor profile? I don’t know. It wasn’t good. Sometimes mashup recipes work really well, sometimes they clearly do not. (And no blaming Shawnda for misguiding inspiration, none at all. Her blog has helped me make lots of other delicious pizzas, not to mention this cake!)

But at least that one was edible. This last one is the mother of kitchen failures. It started innocently enough, when I found the recipe for stuffed chicken wrapped in puff pastry here. I tried it way back when at the old house, and since I tried it, the photos have sat in my blog fodder folder within their own folder entitled, literally, “chicken puff pastry disaster”.

Oh my gosh, it seemed so promising. Cream cheese and bacon and garlic stuffed into chicken breasts stuffed into a flaky pastry.

But, yeah... about that flaky pastry. Somehow I got it in my head that, instead of puff pastry (pricey, vaguely intimidating), I could substitute with crescent rolls (cheap, familiar, southern). Hmm. I mean, I guess they are both buttery and crispy? In retrospect, this was the start of the downfall.

So. I took the time to mix up that filling, I cut a slit in the halved chicken breasts, I wrapped them up in two crescent rolls-worth of dough, and I stuck them in the oven. Now, I don’t know the difference between baking times for crescent rolls and puff pastry. What I do know is when the rolls were nice and crispy on the outside...

... the chicken was raw on the inside. Super raw. BRIGHT PINK raw. Oh my gosh, it was awful. I ended up baking them twice as long as the source said, which meant the rolls were brown and dry on the outside, and the insides were still salmonella’s favorite shade of pink. That oddly-angled photograph is the closet thing I have to an after shot, because after a few rounds of microwaving (YES MICROWAVING) to try to salvage this dish, I was so frustrated and angry that I threw it all out and spitefully ate a bowl of cereal instead.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that when I finally got around to trying puff pastry again, all my ingredients were pre-cooked. Hmm.

So now you know the dirty secrets from the kitchen at Casa P. For the most part, I only share with you those recipes that I enjoyed, or at worst, would enjoy more with a few identifiable tweaks. And now that I’ve shared my failures with you, maybe we can all enjoy our successes a little bit more!