Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My 5 Kitchen Disasters -- and Recoveries (with recipes) by Cleo Coyle

"Only God gets things right 
the first time." 

~ Stephen King*

* Tweeted by "Advice to Writers," 
a fun twitter follow at this address: 

This quote leads my post today for
good reason. I'm talking about
Kitchen Disasters
(More on that below.)

But first...


A shout-out to my fellow bloggers Lucy Burdette and Meg London (aka Peg Cochran), both of whom have new releases today: Death in Four Courses, the 2nd entry in Lucy's Key West Food Critic Mysteries; and Murder Unmentionable, the first in a new series, from Meg. To learn more, visit Lucy's home page here or Meg's page here, and be sure to come back for their blog days this week to learn more from the authors themselves. 

Congrats Lucy and Meg/Peg, 
have a great release week!


Cleo Coyle, who hasn't burned
down her kitchen (yet), is
author of
The Coffeehouse
My 5 Kitchen Disasters...
and Recoveries

Anyone who's spent serious time in the kitchen has had their share of gloppy rice, sunken cakes, and, (with apologies to Chef Paul Prudhomme) unintentionally blackened fish. On the other hand, if you click this link, you'll see that Chef Paul actually warns you: 

"If you don't have a commercial hood vent over your stove, this dish will set off every smoke alarm in your neighborhood!"

Which brings to mind my post from last Thanksgiving. That's where my Captain Kirk on fire photo came from, a public service message for those attempting to fry a whole turkey without, oh, say defrosting the bird...or putting the fryer a sufficient distance from flammable objects. 

You can view my post here along with "Eat, Fry, Love," the entertaining little video from Mr. Shatner and State Farm Insurance.

What's my point? Good cooking (like good writing) takes a bit of time: Writers write and re-write. Cooks cook and re-cook. 

A common piece of advice given to culinary students is to go home and practice, calling to mind an adorable scene from the equally adorable movie Julie & Julia. Do you remember it? Julia is determined to get her knife skills up to par in her French cooking class, so she goes home and chops a huge pile of onions in one afternoon. The resulting stench in the house (and sting to the eyes!) sends her husband out of the building for lunch. 

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia.
You can upload this lovely photo for your desktop
wall paper at Sony Picture's Web site here.

Julia's afternoon of "practice" was far from appealing, but in her cooking class the next day, she triumphed. (A classic set-up/pay-off of dramatic structure, too, thanks to the late, great writer/director Nora Ephron.)

Below are a few of my own stories of Fails that led to...well, better results. To children, we say, "try, try again," and that's the take-away today, I guess, in cooking, in writing, and in life.

~ Cleo

"Leftover Salsa" Pasta Primavera 

Spying a plastic container of leftover salsa one morning, I thought, "Why not give this a go?" Bad idea. Chef Gordon Ramsay would have spat this experiment of mine into his napkin. My lesson: never use leftover chopped tomatoes for anything but sauce!

A Healthier Shrimp Scampi Pasta

This is my my version of Shrimp Scampi, which swaps out the typical 1/2 cup of butter for olive oil with a touch of butter and places it over pasta. I'd like to think Gordon would ask for seconds...

To download my recipe PDF, click here.


Zero Fat Muffins 

Behold my "zero fat" muffin. No butter, no oil--even the milk was skim. Pretty to look at, but this thing was low fat to the point of inedible. Hey, willpower's one thing, but ten minutes after eating this muffin, you'd be tearing into a pan of brownies, just to get the flavor and texture out of your mouth! Major fail.

Oatmeal Cookie Muffins

A tasty little muffin laced with the flavors of an oatmeal cookie. It has the goodness of oats in it and is also low in fat, using canola oil and low fat buttermilk instead of butter. It does have sugar and I wouldn't recommend eating six in one sitting, but it's a useful alternative to a lot of high-fat recipes or fast food muffins.

For my Oatmeal Cookie Muffin recipe, click here.


No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Oh, geez, don't ask. I have the photo because I was hoping it would work out. But it was such a major fail, I threw it out! (Never firmed up for cutting and the flavor was awful.)

Microwave Fudge

Yes, you really can make fudge using just your microwave. It's smooth and tasty and (IMO) nice enough to serve to guests or give as a gift.

For my Microwave Fudge
recipe, click here.


My FAIL #4 
Key Lime Pie 

Distracted one day, I had miscounted the number of eggs in this pie. Woops. The homemade graham cracker crust was delicious and so was the pie, after I froze it.  But serving it thawed was a total disaster. My lesson: pay attention while cooking!

No-Bake Key Lime Cheesecake Pie

Another crack at the Key Lime Pie, while actually counting the number of eggs, led to success. But the fail led me to trying the recipe Marc's mom made for him as a kid, most likely from a recipe clipped from a newspaper or cream cheese package. (I tweaked her ratios until I was happy with it, and made it an even easier recipe by using a pre-made crust.)

To download a recipe PDF for the No-Bake Lime Cheesecake Pie, click here.


#5 Not Quite a Fail, more like a... 
Not yet good enough!

Behold my latest try for my
Brooklyn Blackout Cake

Yes, I am still experimenting, trying to get that perfect balance with cake layers as chocolaty as they can be while still being strong enough to hold up to the pudding filling and frosting of the classic Blackout structure.

The experiments continue
into this week! 

When I get it just right, I'll start uploading it on my Web site. Check later in the week at www.CoffeehouseMystery.com for updates. And I'll be sure to share it with you right here at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, too, so no worries. Until next week...

Try, try again... 
(with joy!)

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Congrats again
to Lucy and Meg/Peg on
their new releases this week!


  1. Delightful!

    Are we collecting worst recipes now? Because I want to nominate my mother's attempt at leg of lamb with coffee (including cream). Inedible. And never seen again.

    1. I think I *want* that recipe. No, no, what am I saying?

      Am I *too* coffee obsessed? Possibly. (Maybe if we rubbed the leg with ground espresso beans? :))

  2. Why oh why do I find a certain satisfaction when a "foodie" admits to to the occasional disaster? That is actually a rhetorical question because I know why I do...it makes my favorite foodies so much more real to me...the at home cook. It makes me more willing to try something out of the ordinary...to attempt a recipe that seems a bit involved or a food I have never tried. One of my best childhood memories started out as a kitchen "fail"...it was my dad's birthday and my mom was, of course going to make his favorite cake. Well, the day got away from her and the cake wasn't cool enough when she began frosting it...the top layer was slipping and she had my sister, my brother and myself offering suggestions...none worked. As a mom I do have to give her a Heavenly shout-out for even listening to us...well my dad got home and mom was so distraught over the sliding cake. Then my dad came to rescue by hugging mom and saying "Henrietta, how did you know I wanted a "Tiltin' Hilton" cake this year?" Cheers ensued, mom cried and all was well...

    Thanks for sharing your fails and successes, Cleo.

    1. Nanc - Thank YOU so much for sharing that beautiful foodie/family memory. It's priceless.

      And bravo to all dads who teach their kids how to laugh in the face of sliding cakes. :)

      ~ Cleo

    2. What a lovely dad, Nanc!

      ~ Krista

  3. Love love love this post Cleo! And loved Nanc's reply!

    You probably know that I'm especially fond of the failed key lime pie:). What happens to me more often than I'd like to admit is that I'm a hurry and can't remember what I've already added to the bowl.

    sheila, we should have a week for "worst recipes". Mystery Lovers kitchen hosts "don't try this at home!" I'm thinking...so many choices...

    And thanks for the good wishes Cleo! So excited about the new book--and Meg's too. (though I don't know how she's still standing, with all she's had on her plate!)

    1. Lucy! -> I'm jumping ahead to reply to you first because I have a link for everyone. While key lime pie recipes are relatively simple, there are many variations out there (especially when it comes to the number of eggs, gak!). So I was happy to see that you shared the pie recipe that you tested and liked the best.

      Here it is everyone, just click the link...

      Click Here for Lucy’s favorite Key Lime Pie recipe.

      And congrats again, Lucy, to a stellar second entry in a wonderful culinary series!

      ~ Cleo

  4. Two huge fails stand out in my mind. One was a casserole made during those early married days when my cooking skills were still being formed. It was a recipe from a cookbook called something like Make It Now, Bake It Later. I *should* have known (but didnt') that a recipe calling for white bread and those tiny canned shrimp was not going to be good!

    My first attempt at baking in middle school yielded another failure. A friend and I decided to make a cake from scratch. Bad enough the cake could double as a door stop! We decided to go a step further and dye it a very unappetizing green. Even the birds wouldn't eat it!

    1. You’re right about those little canned shrimps, but I will say this...my cats love them. And your middle school story (of green cake) is hilarious. Oh, Peg, thank you--great reminder of sooo many not-so-brilliant culinary ideas of childhood. (Love that the birds wouldn't eat it.)

      And, finally, congrats again on another series debut. Very exciting for you, and I'm looking forward to reading MURDER UNMENTIONABLE (great title)!

      ~ Cleo

  5. Cleo, love the pictures. Kitchen disasters are so horrible but can also be so funny. Mine this week, not so funny, I accidentally pulled a serrated knife out of the dry section of my sink and the tip caught my left hand between the fingers. Slice. Ouch! Butterfly bandages are so important!!!!

    ~Avery aka Daryl (not usually clumsy but sheesh!)

    1. Oh, no! I'm so sorry! (And I feel your cooking cut pain!) There’s a crash, a scream, a burn, or a cut every ten days or so in our kitchen. Thank goodness we don’t run a restaurant. For safety’s sake we would have to open our eatery near an ER or burn unit.

      ~ Cleo

  6. Isn't it funny that we take comfort in knowing disasters happen to everyone? Heaven knows I've had my share. It's a regular thing. Sometimes something just seems like it ought to work . . .

    ~ Krista

    1. I think most of us try hard to appear competent, knowledgeable, successful, but we’re all human (and to err is human :)). So, I guess it’s natural to feel a little relief when someone reminds us that we're not alone in making mistakes. Very good point, Krista, and thanks for dropping by tonight.

      ~ Cleo