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Failure

When Orzo Goes Wrong

by Nick

 

This is very important: Not everything I cook turns out great. Sometimes I light things on fire, sometimes I struggle making eggs, and sometimes I make the worst sandwich in the history of sandwiches.

I don’t like to post on every failed recipe that I make because you probably don’t come to this site to find failed recipes, although you might come to this site to watch me flounder…

I generally like to post successful recipes that you could actually use and enjoy.

But sometimes I think it’s important to give you a glimpse into my kitchen when things go wrong for me. Quite frankly, I fail a lot at cooking. It doesn’t even bother me anymore. I just do my best to make a meal out of the failure and then move on to the next day.

If you are going to tackle cooking as a hobby, it’s pretty inevitable that you will fail at some dish. Just know that you are in good company!

A Good Start

I really thought the recipe I was working with was pretty fail proof. It had some delicious ingredients and I planned to make one heck of a good orzo salad from it. If you want the original recipe (which I don’t recommend actually following for reasons I’ll discuss), you can check it out here.

The recipe had some of my favorite ingredients: pancetta, shallots, peas, and dill all mixed in with orzo pasta. It seemed like it would be a fantastic dinner or lunch salad.

What could go wrong?!

What Went Wrong

There were a few things that I found wrong with this recipe. Now, I’m enough of an experienced cook at this point that I probably should’ve realized all of these mistakes before starting and adjusted the recipe, but I just followed it blindly.

Turning Crispy Things Soggy

There are some ingredients that just need to be crispy to really make a recipe work. Pancetta is one of those things. The goal should almost always be to brown it, crisp it, and keep it crisp.

This recipe started by crisping the pancetta in a pan with the shallot, but then it adds in a cup of chicken stock for some unknown reason. Cooking the chicken stock down with the pancetta just left me with these limp little pieces of pancetta.

The way to do it right would’ve been to remove the pancetta after it was browned and add it back in at the end of the recipe.

Overcooked Veg

I hate it when vegetables are overcooked. This mess up was solidly on me. The original recipe used normal peas, but I wanted to substitute snap peas. The problem is that snap peas are perfect after just 1-2 minutes of blanching or steaming. They don’t need to cook for 5 minutes in chicken broth.

That’s what I did and I turned a great summer vegetable into mush.

Over Doing The Dill

Ok. This one is on the recipe, but I should’ve noticed it. The recipe calls for 5 tablespoons of fresh dill (one of which is just for garnish).

That’s a lot of dill.

I stupidly just tossed in a quarter cup of dill rather than adding some and tasting it, breaking the rule that you can always add more.

As soon as I added it all to the pot I thought to myself, “That was a horrible idea.”

The final dish really only tasted like dill. You couldn’t make out any other flavor really.

The Moment of Realization

If you’ve ever failed at a recipe, you know that there is always a moment when you realize that things just aren’t going well.

For me, this was my moment:

go wrong

The step that killed me.

A big pot of what used to be crispy pancetta that is now water-logged, snap peas that are quickly turning to mush, and crazy amounts of dill.

Dealing with Failure

There’s really only one thing you can do when you fail at a dish: Laugh it off.

Don’t try to justify it or come up with ways that it might be good. If it sucks, it sucks. Move on!

In this case, Betsy and I ate some of it, mutually agreed that it was horrible, and then made nachos.

The important thing to remember is that every cook that has ever lived has made bad dishes. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cook, that you suck at cooking, or that cooking is hard.

Once you cook more, and fail a lot, you’ll become really good at shrugging off failures and you’ll become even better at fixing them.

I have full confidence that this salad would be delicious if I A) Browned pancetta and removed it B) Blanched peas and added them at the end C) Cut way down on the dill.

So, the next time you have a recipe failure, don’t beat yourself up over it.

If you do have a recent recipe fail, feel free to share it in the comments!

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19 comments on “When Orzo Goes Wrong

  1. Healthy caramel slice – a colleague asked if I could make a healthy caramel slice and having succeeded with healthy chocolate mousse and healthy cream I got a bit big headed. I ended up with a tofu, date jelly thing, and not caramel. I quite liked it but it’s not fooling anyone as caramel!

  2. Great Post! When I create a Dinner “Failure”, I get so upset. I’m glad to hear that my reaction is Normal, and that I should Just get “Over” it.

    Yea, totally agree 1/4 cup of dill is massive – and it is my favorite herb!
    It seems they were going for a warm orzo salad – but cold may have been better
    For a cold salad (I would have): cooked everything separate like you said and made a dressing (my thought – a lemon or vinegar type with parmesan) or making your own flavored oil and using some of that in the dressing.
    for a warm salad: I would have still cooked everything separate and reserved it for the end. I also would have boiled the orzo in chicken stock with herbs of choice (Thyme perhaps) and lemon zest strips – Also, omit the 1 cup of chicken stock they added. A flavored oil base to toss everything in would of worked better (imo). Add garlic, red pepper flakes, zest etc and cook it out – then toss everything in (including alittle dill) and toss a little parmesan inside. What do u think of my ideas? Curious. . .

    1. I think that’s definitely how to save this dish. I might actually take another stab at it and post the corrected version which I’m sure will work out.

      1/4 cup of dill… just silly.

  3. Possibly my favorite post on the blog in a good while. And there’s been some healthy competition going for that title. Keep it up! <3

  4. Thanks for the great post! I once had a friend who loves to cook tell me she never had a recipe fail. Really? After being part of a cookbook club, I realized that just because the recipe is in a book and/or comes from a renound chef does not mean that the recipe is clear or mistake free.

    I consider my attempts at cooking and baking a success if the meal is edible.

  5. Nick, I love your blog and how it covers everything about cooking — including the fails!

    I recently made corn dogs for a BBQ and I think I used the wrong type of cornmeal — they were dry and crumbly. It was fine while they were hot, but once they cooled down I was embarrassed to see that no one finished their dog. Oops. :)

    1. Ha! Corn dogs are actually a bit tricky. You should get the test kitchen on finding the perfect corn dog batter… ;)

  6. This was a great post! I love seeing that other people can mess things up as spectacularly as I do!

  7. One of my WORST food experiments was a type of Afghan cookie called Khatai. It is supposed to be this light little tea cookie flavored with cardamom. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? I don’t know if it was me or my recipe, but the ones I made were entirely inedible (I am betting on the recipe, though, because the whole time I was thinking it just didn’t seem right). The texture was all wrong (uses a combination of semolina, flour, sugar, corn oil, and cardamon) and they felt like a rock hitting your stomach. They didn’t even taste good, and were too heavy on the cardamom. I have wanted to try again with a different recipe, but was so disheartened by that attempt that I have not. With most of my failures, I can spot the problem and revamp for the next time, but I don’t know quite what went wrong with the Kahtai!

  8. I love this post! I hadn’t seen your other failures before, either. I really appreciate you sharing what happens when things go wrong — it makes me feel better about my failures (the oven-baked cucumber casserole I once made — ouch! who wrote that recipe?!?!). Though, I’m glad you don’t post too often. Your recipes are always foolproof — I think because you test them out so thoroughly and present only the best!

  9. Thanks for an entertaining post during my lunch break. I love your writing style and you blog makes cooking seem approachable for someone who has avoided cooking for the first 39 years of my life :) Keep up the good work!

  10. I screw up all the time. There are a lot of bad recipes out there. That’s actually one of the reasons I like this site so much, you walk through all the steps and I know how the recipe should turn out!

  11. I don’t expect you to post every single fail, but it is nice to see that bloggers are human, and they can screw up just like the rest of us poor schlubs. ;-) I know that sometimes I get really discouraged after a failed recipe (especially when it’s an expensive one that I had to buy nearly all the ingredients for). I’ve actually decided that unless it’s an ingredient that I have on hand or have a substitution for it on hand I’m just going to take a pass on the recipe. Too many of those with weird/interesting ingredients have been major fails in this house. I just wish there was a more comprehensive guide to substitutions on the internet….

  12. I remember when I tried to follow Paula Dean’s recipe for a Mexican Lasagna/Casserole-type deal – it failed miserably. It was mushy and disgusting – and I’ve hated Paula Dean ever since =) Hehe…

  13. Everyone should have a no fail setting – mine is “we are having (insert name of experimental dish) or ordering pizza!”

    Think of it this way – if we don’t have the latitude to experiment with unfamiliar methods/ingredients and sometimes fail our food experience will be pretty dull.

  14. One word: zimtsterne. I did a “12 Days of Christmas” series on my blog last year, and zimtsterne were all over my Google reader in November and December so I thought, “Why not?” What I wanted were the beautiful little almond-flavored star cookies with crunchy white icing…what I ended up with was little round almond sortof-macaroons that were a tiny bit crunchy but mostly sticky. I still have no idea what I did wrong…I think I followed an Epicurious recipe too! For about 30 seconds I was on the verge of volcanic eruption in the kitchen when that dough would. not. roll. out…. then I just laughed at my hands covered in weird almond paste, scooped what I could into roundish blobs, baked them to see what would happen, and vowed to try again next year. The almond/lemon flavor was all right, but I’d had to use so much powdered sugar (one of the “tips” I read in the original recipe, to eliminate dough sticking), they were uncomfortably sweet. One of these days, I WILL produce perfect zimtsterne….and then, macarons! :) Thanks for posting your fails…I always enjoy reading them because they help me feel less self-conscious about writing about my own kitchen fails. :)

  15. Ditch rice Ditch dill…Bring sundried tomatoes in olive oil…add either feta or black olives

  16. I love these posts! Fails happen, but like you said its nothing to harp on. Yesterday my boyfriend and I were craving biscuits for breakfast. We followed a receipe online (I should have checked your blog first!) for “grandmother’s biscuits”. Yeah I don’t know what went wrong, besides forgetting to add salt (oops!). The biscuits did not rise and they were hard as a rock. They looked like cookies, but tasted horrible!! Gees.

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