Saturday, April 2, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

Since I still have only one functional leg (at least until mid-April, or maybe even later, but I don't want to think about that), my cooking is limited.  Bless my husband for stepping up, but we've always shared the cooking (the one who doesn't cook gets to do the dishes--from which I'm also exempt for as long as it takes).  Maybe I could manage, but while I love to cook, doing it with the gas flames at eye level is asking for trouble.

I debated briefly about trying to come up with a recipe here using only ingredients in the bottom half of the kitchen, plus the oven and the microwave, which I can reach.  However, I'm not sure anyone would eat the results.  Lots of carbohydrates, a few canned goods, and vegetables.  Plus I can't reach any of the mixing bowls or measuring devices.  No, I think I'll skip that idea.
So I decided to review the worst foods I've ever eaten.  Surely you all have meals that you remember for their sheer awfulness?  I hope you'll share your favorites--or do I mean least favorites?  Anyway, in no particular order:

--My mother was a good plain cook, when I was growing up:  meat, starch, veg, in separate piles.  We didn't eat casseroles, and forget about spaghetti with sauce.  We did glom onto TV dinners early (I still have a sneaking fondness for them).  However, after I left home she started to get more creative with her recipes, and one daring attempt stands out:  roast lamb with coffee and cream.  I think it might have been a Scandinavian recipe, but it was a mistake from the beginning.  We never spoke of it again.

--Along the same lines, I had a post-college roommate whose cooking skills were best expressed in her succulent pan-fried hot dogs.  She did go on to become an MD, but that required no culinary achievements.  Like my mother, she was once inspired to tackle lamb, this time lamb chops with pineapple.  Not a success.  That one was never seen again either.  Not long after that she volunteered to do all the dishwashing, if my other roommate and I would do the cooking.  Good deal all around.

--The year my husband and I were first married, we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner by another couple.  They were having some marital issues, which in the end resulted in She locking herself in the bathroom, leaving He with a turkey (cooked, luckily) and the task of making gravy.  He had no idea how to make gravy (and he a Ph.D. scientist!).  As I recall, faced with a pan of turkey drippings, he started randomly throwing flour and water at it until it resembled wallpaper paste.  Uh, that's not how you make gravy. 

I will confess that I am not innocent of kitchen failures.  I started "cooking" when I was about eight, and my first achievement was burnt sugar (kids will eat anything), followed closely by a fudge pyramid (the stuff solidified before it hit the pan, and I think it was crunchy).  The first loaf of bread I attempted, when I was in high school, resembled a brick and was inedible (I think the yeast had died an untimely death, but what did I know?).  Not an auspicious start.

I persisted, and became a fair cook.  When I graduated from college my first purchase was Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I can still recite recipes verbatim--and still make many of them, as does my husband.  Still, not all of my efforts are successful, even today.  Take, for example, a dessert recipe that I tried out a couple of years ago.  It sounded just dandy on the page.  In my own defense, I am good at following recipes, and I don't randomly add ingredients just to see what happens (unlike my daughter, who has come up with some very interesting recipes, and we've eaten...most of them).  But somehow this recipe got away from me, and resulted in a mess so ugly I had to take a picture of it--once I stopped laughing.  [One cannot be too serious in a kitchen!]

You should never be afraid of food, and of experimenting with it.  Nor should you throw out your old favorites, just because they're old.  If you enjoy eating the results, go for it!

To take the bad taste out of your mouth, I'll share with you a cheesecake recipe given to me by a friend (with a definite sweet tooth!).  You can't have too many cheesecake recipes, right?  If you make this right, you get a layered effect.  If things get muddled in the middle, it still tastes great!


1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs mixed together with 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine.

Press into bottom of 9" springform pan (after spraying pan with cooking spray). Bake at 350 degrees F. for 7 minutes, remove from oven and reduce heat to 300 degrees F.

1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups combination of fresh (or thawed frozen) cranberries and raspberries
3/4 cup cranberry juice (or cran-raspberry)
Mix sugar and cornstarch, add berries and juice and bring to a boil in 2 quart saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 7‑8 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick. Put into blender and blend until smooth. Strain, pressing mixture with back of a spoon through strainer/colander so only skin of cranberries is left. Discard skins. Set aside to cool.
Filling 2:

4 packages cream cheese (8 oz ea.)—(you can use half low fat and half regular cream cheese if you want)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 tsp. grated orange peel
Beat cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until just blended. Stir in whipping cream and orange peel.

Pour half mixture on top of crust. Carefully spoon half of the cran-raspberry sauce over filling. VERY CAREFULLY spoon remaining filling over cranberry mixture in pan (that is, if you want layers; if you like swirls, just go for it). Cover the remaining cran-raspberry sauce and put in fridge.
Place a shallow pan half full of hot water on lower oven rack and then put the springform pan on rack above. Bake 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes‑‑until edge of cheesecake is set at least 2 inches from edge of pan, but center still jiggles slightly when moved. Run small metal spatula around top edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Turn the oven off and open the oven door about 5 inches. Let cheesecake remain in the oven for 30 minutes. Then, cool in pan on cooling rack for another 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.
Remove side of pan, and spread remaining cran‑raspberry mixture over top of cheesecake.

What is your single most awful food memory?  Your biggest cooking failure?  Your most inedible restaurant order?  Leave a comment and I'll pick a winner for a copy of one of my Orchard Series books with recipes (they all work, I promise!), and maybe a package of antacids.  Or we could put together an anthology of Recipes You Should Never Try.  Have fun with it!


  1. I once made avocado ice cream -- a recipe from THE YOGI COOKBOOK that sounded good but was really awful. I mean, I even like haggis and marmite and black pudding and any number of unspeakable food items but this particular combination ended up in the compost.

  2. Great post, Sheila! And although I *know* I've come up with more than a few doozies in my cooking lifetime, I can't, for the life of me, come up with a specific this morning. More coffee, please! I have definitely had my share of ... "We are not eating this!" moments, but maybe I've blocked them. LOL

    Thoroughly enjoyed your stories!

    Vicki - your avocado ice cream made me laugh. It does sound good (this from the girl who was disappointed when Baskin Robbins discontinued the Licorice VooDoo flavor!) but trust that it wasn't. Haven't tried haggis... yet.


  3. Where to begin? I do love to make bread and it has become kind of automatic. Of course, that means I occasionally leave out a key ingredient (and there are only five!) like say, yeast.

    Anyone want to munch on a brick?

  4. I have a dear friend who is in the running for worst cook in the world. One night she served me macaroni and cheese: boiled macaroni (cooked without salt), mixed with chunks of Velveeta cheese and topped with cubes of unbuttered, toasted Wonder bread. She served ketchup to go with it. Plain cooking can be delicious, but this missed the about 200 miles.

    The only thing worse is sea cucumber. If you're ever offered this Chinese treat, PASS. It's a sea slug and you'll never be able to swallow it. The voice of experience!

  5. I agree, we tend to forget failures. I do remember trying a recipe for lemon pie where you cut the whole lemon into chunks and processed it with the rest of the ingredients. The pie was way too bitter to eat - I decided later that the lemon I used had much thicker skin than most so had too much white part. It's now my signature pie but I zest and juice the lemon.

  6. When I was in business school, my roommates and I took turns cooking. One night, full of adventure, I concocted a fish pie (savory). Truly awful. To this day, when I meet up with my roommates, they never fail to remind me of that particular "meal."

  7. I knew my husband was a keeper when he polished off a bowl of what was supposed to be bavarian cream but turned into very rich scrambled eggs (I thought a PINT of cream was one of those little boxes.) He also loved my cheese pie that was cheese soup. And brownies that were pudding instead of cake.

    In terms of really bad food, one thing I learned early on: if you unwrap the chicken and it smells off, it's still going to smell off after it's roasted and it's probably goig to make you very sick.

  8. Fun post, Sheila—and I hope you mend quickly! Like Julie, my mind stalled a moment on what to say, but then I read the comments! VICKI - You know, that avocado ice cream doesn't sound half bad. :) I only say that because I tried "olive oil gelato," as a kind of Andy Zimmern bizarre foods challenge and was surprised to enjoy it. CCTIG: Your descriptive powers are so good I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit. Your story (and Sheila’s of that hilarious Ph.D. gravy recipe) reminded me of *the* worst Thanksgiving stuffing I ever ate. Nice people, awful cooks. Styrofoam with a little salt would have tasted better. CINDY: You reminded of me an apple pie I made one year, way too much lemon and too little sugar, completely inedible. ALAN: You reminded me of a South American fish dish my husband and I attempted to make: ceviche, raw fish marinated in citrus. I'm sure experienced chefs produce something amazing. We ended up with totally raw shrimp. “Let’s try marinating it longer and with even more lemon-lime juice!” I chirped. The shrimp was *so* saturated with puckering citrus that a single bite would have qualified as a CIA interrogation method. But, hey, as Julia Child said: “In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

    Eat with joy! (When possible…)
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. My mother, while a dear woman, was really a terrible cook. She could not follow a recipe to save her life and we grew up eating boiled hamburger meat. --Shudder-- She wouldn't remember to thaw the meat soon enough, so she would just toss the whole 1-lb brick into boiling water. It boggles the mind. I remember the first time we had my husband over for one of her meals (we were teenagers and my mother-in-law is a fabulous cook), he was just such a trooper, eating the crunchy (not cooked enough) scallopped potatoes and that hamburger meat. She did put ketchup on the table. LOL

    I started cooking when I was a young teen because I couldn't stand it anymore. It's sad because I never had a weight problem until then. I loved making the most complicated recipes, not bland at all. I incorporated a bit of my mother-in-law's touch and it worked very well. I have had some bad days though. I especially remember the pecan pie that I was so proud of as a young married, until we cut it and it ran all over the place. Pecan soup is more like it. My husband, trooper like I said, just got a spoon and spooned it up. :-)

  10. My mother was not a great cook either--though I blame some of that on the fifties and how the powers that be encouraged women to free themselves from the kitchen by using prepared products. The worst ever was probably chicken chow mein out of a giant can--totally slimy and disgusting. The only good thing about it was the crunchy noodles for topping...

  11. Worst food I can think of was a fried shrimp my sister-in-law made. She was a newly-wed. She made the fried shrimp for my brothers side of the family, instead of using flour to dip the shrimp and egg mixture she used corn meal. We all had a good laugh and she was such a trooper. She continued to invite us so we didn't laugh at her for to long...

  12. During my first year of marriage, I once tried a recipe of kidneys as I thought it would be different and good for the health. When my husband came home, he asked what's the smelling?
    Well it smelt urine and went in the garbage. We never ate kidneys after that.