Just yesterday, I was watching an episode of The Great British bake Off, where the cast members from a Netflix show called Derry Girls were competing. It was all fine and dandy until one contestant sheepishly confessed to have confused a teaspoon with a tablespoon when adding baking powder to a cake. The expression on one of the judges’ face was priceless and that got me thinking about all the cooking/baking fails that have happened in my kitchen.
The first incident that I remember dates back to my mid-late teens. I decided to bake a cake and everything was going great (at least I thought it was), until the cake came out looking more like a pudding or halwa. For quite some time, I had no clue what had gone wrong, and it was much later that I realized what had happened. I had forgotten one key ingredient that would have magically transformed the batter from mush to cake — baking powder! What should I have learned from that incident? To have all the ingredients ready before I start cooking or baking. Do I do that today? NOT all the time. Why? Because I have a stupidly misplaced trust in my multitasking skills, even though they have let me down quite a few times.
Anyway, from the time I ended up with halwa instead of cake, my journey in the kitchen has been very interesting. Luckily, most of my culinary adventures have happened in my kitchen; only Mr. P and I have any knowledge of it…until now that is :-).
In my defense, when I started out in my own kitchen, I was new to the everyday cooking and had no idea that our traditional ‘mixie’ (Indian blender) could not handle hot ingredients. I’ll never forget how, one evening, the lid of the jar flew off, splattering the ceiling, walls and me with a tomato-onion puree that was meant to become a chutney for dinner. A similar explosive incident happened to Ms. G, but with a pressure cooker. I had heard this story soon after it happened, but we spoke about it again this morning, as I sat thinking about what to write. In her defense too, she was a novice in the kitchen, in every sense of the word. Disclaimer: No one was harmed in this episode of cooking. Ms. G had placed rice and lentils in a pressure cooker (a staple in every Indian kitchen) and was hoping to hear the cooker let out pressure in what we call ‘whistles’. Instead, she was startled by an explosion and a spray of hot rice and lentils. After things settled, she realized that the lid had actually hit the ceiling and made a slight dent, and also that she had a long, daunting task of cleaning ahead of her. The reason for the explosion? A grain of rice or lentil that had lodged in the outlet, not allowing the pressure to escape. While we were talking about this, she laughingly said, “I have many such episodes to share and I can guarantee a few laughs.” My dear Ms. G, why else do you think I approached you for content when I was stuck this morning?
Since we are talking about her, I guess we can mention one more cooking fail from her kitchen before we move on. Again, in her early cooking days, she undertook the task of making sweet Boli (a flatbread usually stuffed with a coconut-jaggery mixture that is a little tricky to make). She had no idea how jaggery worked, and that it required constant stirring until it reached the right consistency. She happily put everything in a pan and left the kitchen, expecting it to miraculously cook itself and be ready by the time she got back. She came back to a hot mess… quite literally. The jaggery had melted and overcooked into a hard lump; it was so hard that the poor girl had to discard the whole thing, pan and all. I must say, though, that she has come a long way from the days of the exploding cooker. She is a brilliant cook and her food has many fans, including me.
Coming back to my kitchen, mishaps and cooking fails still keep happening, even though I have been cooking for a long time. I guess mistakes are bound to happen, we are after all human. But in my case, its mostly my fault. To start with, I have the bad habit of leaving pots and pans on a high flame and then scurrying around for ingredients. I still do this, even after numerous incidents where I have burned the seasoning or had the smoke alarm go off. When will I learn??? Another thing I do, which Mr. P absolutely hates, is to deviate from recipes that I am trying for the first time (just because I think I can cook decently well!!!). Like writers have poetic license, I believe I have culinary license, the freedom to deviate from the original recipe and wander along paths of my choice to get to the final dish. These haven’t been complete failures, but it has been known to happen where the final dish turned out quite different from what was expected. On the rare occasions when he cooks, he follows the recipe to the last full stop (much to my annoyance) and when I tell him short cuts or tips, he refuses to listen.
Old habits die hard, don’t they? I found this awesome stove top banana bread recipe last year and it specifically mentioned making it in a non stick pan. I couldn’t change up the ingredients, so I decided to change the container used. I picked a heavy cast iron pan, greased it well and made the bread. By sheer dumb luck, it turned out really really yummy. That was enough to boost my confidence, and I made it again. It came out well, again. Third time was not such a charm though and I was left with an extremely crunchy (can also be read as burnt) crust that had to be scraped off. The rest of the bread was yummy! Other than these, there have been numerous little incidents like this one time when I placed a plastic bowl on a glass-top induction stove that was off, but still hot. Cleaning that mess was no joke. Burn scars, melted plastic spatulas, burnt wooden spoons etc. etc. all together make up my adventurous cooking journey.
People say you learn from your mistakes. People probably do, but there is a clear indication that I don’t. What lessons have you learned from your cooking fails and mishaps? Do share, so that we can all laugh and learn together.
Tips from seasoned home cooks:
- When cleaning the lid of a pressure cooker, check and check again to see if the pressure outlet is clear of any debris.
- When working with ingredients that you are not familiar with, stay beside it and follow all instructions provided in the recipe. You can experiment once you have mastered the skill (note to self – practice what you preach).
- When following a recipe, stick to it. Deviate, only if the original recipes gives an alternate approach.
- Never start cooking on high heat, start at low or medium and slowly increase to the required temperature.
- When cooking on an induction stove, REMEMBER that is stays hot for some time even after being turned off. Do not touch it or place any plastic on it.
- Have all the ingredients ready before you start cooking/baking, otherwise you’ll be running around like me trying to find things, as the pan starts fuming.
- Mistakes happen, learn from them (don’t repeat them like me).
- When people like Ms. G and I tell you what not to do in the kitchen, pay heed because we have in the past and still have our share of accidents in the kitchen.