Chef Surprise…Oops, She Did It Again!


I’ve been cooking since I was nine years old. I’d bake cookies back then for our family of eight (at that point; it ultimately numbered 10) so the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package needed to be tripled. That is how I learned to add fractions, actually. Fractions were one of the rare sections of math that I succeeded in during my first go-round with school. (My math “a-ha” occurred during my second venture into college–another story.)

Well, in baking those cookies one had to do a “test” batch–just two cookies in a metal pie pan to check if you’d put in the correct amount of flour. Here’s where my first adventure in Cooking Fails started. I checked the “try cookies” as they were known, and it was obvious that more flour was needed. But, instead of measuring out another third or fourth cup, my brain was doing something else, so my hands picked up the sifter and turned the handle until all the flour had been emptied into the rotating bowl of cookie dough while the MixMaster was doing its best to incorporate it.

But there was no way that the amount of flour that I had just dumped into that bowl was going to be combined with the moist ingredients. There I stood…looking at the ruined cookie dough…I put down the sifter, ran outside, and jumped on my sister’s bicycle, and crying so hard I could barely see, I raced down the edge of the highway to the gravel road that led to…I don’t know where I was headed. I just knew that I had really messed up the cookie dough and I had no idea what to do now. I don’t even remember how my mom helped me turn that mess into an edible product. But, somehow we did…I don’t believe there was ever a cookie left behind for the trash in our home. We managed to eat them, I’m sure. But that is my first memory of my ability to completely dismiss from my brain that I was cooking something, and I needed to pay attention!

I grew up and got married and when we were at the stage of life where all five of our offspring were in school—elementary through high school–I received a lovely gift from my children for Christmas one year: a rice cooker! I just laughed and thanked them all. (Dad had facilitated it.) It was in response to my tendency to start cooking rice–put it in a pan, add the water, turn it on high so the water would boil, then (well at least this was what I was supposed to do) shut off the heat, put on the lid, and let the rice cook. Or maybe I just turned down the heat, put on the lid, set the timer…I forget because I’ve had a rice cooker for 30 years now.

But what happened during rice cooking—a few too many times—was that I’d turn on the heat, and think of something else I’d just quickly go do or get or something…but when the rice and water would boil, I’d be out of the kitchen, the water would get absorbed–evaporated–etc. etc. and we’d end up with burned rice stuck to bottom of the pan by the time my brain would recall that I’d started to cook rice! Eeek! (This is so awful: once I put on the rice and went to another room, and then I remembered that our son was around the block at baseball practice. YES. I rode my bike over to watch for a minute. Suddenly, I remembered the stupid rice! By the time I rushed home, it was actually smoking. But not yet in flames–thank goodness.) I believe that was the Christmas that the rice cooker was gifted to me.

I have several personal cooking rules by now:

#1 When melting cheese on bread under the broiler, I stay with one hand on the handle of that part of my gas cooking range. DO NOT, under any circumstances, leave that position. I have been making absolutely perfect grilled cheese open-face sandwiches for years now. (Blackened cheese is not a culinary delight…)

#2 When heating milk for anything, the microwave is a good choice because it shuts itself off automatically, unlike the gas flame under a saucepan. And, if the milk boils over in just the right way, sometimes that flame can be extinguished…creating an all-new hazard of natural gas leaking…

My Most Important Lesson from Recent Years:

Boiling eggs. I have learned to make the most excellent hard-cooked eggs! The yolks are perfectly yellow, without a hint of grey outline. Here’s the procedure: put the eggs into a pan and cover them with cool tap water. Put them on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Then set the time for 13/14 minutes, put a lid on the pan, shut off the heat. When the timer rings, pour out the hot water, and run cold tap water over the eggs in the pan. Shut off the tap water after about 30 seconds, and put a couple of handfuls of ice cubes into that water, on top of the eggs. Let the eggs cool off completely. Your hard-cooked eggs will be fabulous!

They look so lovely when cut open. We are big fans of egg-salad sandwiches in pita bread, and my recipe for potato salad includes chopped hard-cooked eggs. I keep a supply available in our refrigerator at all times. It’s the perfect breakfast bite on the go: just peel an egg, add salt and pepper, then two or three bites later I’ve ingested an excellent serving of protein to start my day off well.

I did, however, lose count of the number of times that my wandering brain resulted in Not-So-Perfect hard-cooked eggs. Did you know that the shells will actually get brown spots from burning when all the water evaporates from the pan?? The best hard-cooked eggs-failed story happened a couple of years ago. Stupidly–after I put the eggs in the pan with the cold water, and put it on the stove to come to a boil–I broke Rule #1…Do Not Walk Away Until The Water Boils And You Shut Off The Heat. Somehow, I had gone to put away something, somewhere, and so my brain completely dumped the original task I’d started–cooking the eggs.

I sat down at my computer, and was messing with something for a while, when I heard a little POP, and a short time later, another POP. I asked Mr. CowGirl, in his office room (right next to mine) if he was doing something to make that sound. No…But he was curious so he got up and walked into the other rooms to investigate. He started laughing and insisted I come and join him. Yes…the POP was several exploded eggs that been “cooking” without any water (it had evaporated some time ago) and so the eggs just burst open, flinging hard-cooked bits around the kitchen. We found a chunk that made it at least 10 feet from the stove.

It’s been a few years now since the Egg Pop Adventure.  And you’ve no doubt heard the adage: With Age, Comes Wisdom. I’m not certain of that, yet. It’s been quite a while since I’ve caused anything in my kitchen to start smoking–unintentionally, that is. But, I’m not going to relax yet.  After all, my Culinary Catastrophes have been a life-long adventure. What makes me think I’ve overcome the tendency to lose track of what…

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I wish you could have seen one day when we decided to make popcorn. My husband filled the popper with the usual oil and corn while I was upstairs. As I came down the stairs, I heard some odd sounds coming from the kitchen, looked in and yelled. Popcorn was flying all over the kitchen!! We both dashed in to unplug the popper and dodge kernels that were still coming out. Unfortunately that was the end of a jar of kernels, so we were trying to pick up corn–everywhere! Jerry was apologizing profusely, and I kept trying to say it was okay, and then I burst into hysterical laughter. It was so unlike him to do something like that. We laughed together and salvaged as much popcorn as we could–by gosh we were going to munch on it during the Denver Broncos game!

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  2. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby

    We don’t have stories that interesting, but one event early in our marriage taught us we cannot cook together. We both like oatmeal thicker than the box directions, but in this event we discovered that we got there by different paths. Mrs. Tabby uses less water for the measured amount of oats. I use the measured amount of water and put in more oats. In this event, Mrs. Tabby put the water in the pan, and when it boiled, I put in the oats. So, we had Mrs. Tabby’s less water and my more oats. The result was so thick it could have been used in a building foundation. From then on, only one of us cooks at a time. 

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  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On

    Like anyone who cooks, you learn through your mistakes. I have been in situations where the ingredients at hand just didn’t mesh. And cooking is often impromptu for me. But occasionally new ideas come about as well. Like putting raisins in chili when no beans are around. Now I plan on raisins instead of beans. Hot and sweet.

    Blackened cheese is awful but browned cheese is the best.

    Also sounds like you’re the inventor of pop eggs. Wonder how that will catch on. 


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  4. Ekosj Member

    Oh my.   I have had some spectacular failures.    

    My first and only fried chicken foray produced chicken pieces shaped charcoal briquettes.  I’m lucky I didn’t burn the house down.  It was so bad I’ve never tried again.   

    One Christmas I tried baking bread.    I produced a loaf shaped 2 pound pretzel.   Absolutely inedible.   And not just by humans.    I tossed it into the back yard figuring it would at least feed the birds and squirrels.   Days later it was untouched.   Even animals, in the dead of winter, wouldn’t eat it.

    These episodes are funny now.   If it wasn’t for our failures, our successes wouldn’t be nearly as sweet.


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  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    I have managed to scorch everything from oatmeal to veggies by walking away from the stove without setting a timer to stir or shut off the heat.

    These excellent tips on how not to have a cooking catastrophe, and how to turn out perfectly prepared fare, are part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2021 Group Writing Theme: “Chef’s Surprise.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

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  6. colleenb Member

    Both my grandmother (on my mother’s side) and my mother were excellent bakers. My aunt got out their chocolate cake recipe and said ‘you need to start baking.’ First try I used baking soda instead of baking powder (or vice versa) and the (2-layer) cake came out about 1/4 of an inch tall. Totally inedible although my aunt (God bless her) tried to eat a whole piece. It went to the chickens who did eat it so apparently not quite as hopeless as @ekosj 😋. I baked my second cake the next day and have been baking ever since. My aunt was a saint just for that episode among many others in my life. Thanks for the post and everyone’s memories. 🎂

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  7. WillowSpring Member

    When Mrs. Spring and I first got married, she made a Tuna Casserole.  I thought it was pretty good.  It wasn’t until we were cleaning up that we found the unopened can of Tuna!   That’s been a good story for a long time.

    Of course, it was just the other day that I was making Iced Almond cream in a little two serving ice cream maker.  I carefully put the ingredients in, turned on the motor and set the timer.  When the timer went off, I got up to put the mix into a separate container to ‘set up’ in the freezer.  That is when I noticed that I had left out the ice cream maker paddle!

    Another story to tell about each other.

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  8. Ekosj Member

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Both my grandmother (on my mother’s side) and my mother were excellent bakers. My aunt got out their chocolate cake recipe and said ‘you need to start baking.’ First try I used baking soda instead of baking powder (or vice versa) and the (2-layer) cake came out about 1/4 of an inch tall. Totally inedible although my aunt (God bless her) tried to eat a whole piece. It went to the chickens who did eat it so apparently not quite as hopeless as @ ekosj 😋. I baked my second cake the next day and have been baking ever since. My aunt was a saint just for that episode among many others in my life. Thanks for the post and everyone’s memories. 🎂

    My daughter is an excellent baker (apparently it’s one of those things that skip a generation).  But one day she was rushing to do a chocolate layer cake for a friends party and for some reason it was a catastrophic failure.   Just came apart when she tried to frost it.  (I don’t know enough about baking to say why).  She ran out to buy a cake on her way to the party.  Anyway, when she got home she caught her brother, Mother and I sitting at the kitchen table eating her failed cake with tablespoons straight from the cake dish.  Whatever it’s problems were they were structural only. It was delicious!!!   The four of us ended up eating the whole thing in one sitting, laughing the whole time.   It’s one of our favorite family memories.

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  9. WillowSpring Member

    When a builder replaced the large hayfield next to us with 4 houses, the house closest to us was near enough from us that we could see the deck from our back yard.

    After a while, the owner (Bob) got a big gas grill and would grill food on the deck.  Unfortunately, he had the grill too close to the vinyl siding.  After lifting the lid several times to check the grilling, the siding was melting and sagging.

    I’m sure that was a’ Chef’s surprise’ to Bob

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