My All Time Worst Cooking Fails

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My All Time Worst Cooking Fails

Here’s the thing: cooking without a recipe is not always easy. If it was, this blog wouldn’t be here and neither would you. It’s hard and sometimes leads to “cooking fails.” How do I know? I’ve been there. I want you to know you aren’t alone. You aren’t the only person in the world to not have a meal turn out like you wanted it to. I’m sharing with you some of my best #cookingfails and tips to avoid the same mistakes I ran into when learning how to cook without a recipe.

The biggest takeaway from this post is just start. Start paying attention to how your favourite meals taste. You most likely make breakfast without a recipe already, so try making lunch without a recipe. Try vegetable soup or tuna salad or hummus. Then continue after each cooking fail. The idea in your head of how the meal should taste won’t always work out. It can be incredibly frustrating to see your vision of a meal not come to life. But you can do this. Pick yourself back up and try again. If you need to, step away from the kitchen, cry, and order takeout or eat a PB&J.

photo of raw steak
Steak before seasoning with baby potatoes and brussel sprouts

Cooking Fail No 1: Black Pepper Steak

My husband and I went out for dinner and I ordered a black pepper steak. It arrived sizzling, with a perfectly seared black pepper crust that didn’t fall apart when I cut into it. It had a sharp pepper taste that cut through the savouriness of the meat. It was absolutely delicious and the first time I had eaten such a steak.

A month or so later, I wanted to replicate the dish at home. I didn’t bother looking up a recipe because I didn’t want to be sucked into using someone else’s idea of what the dish should be. I put a good amount of pepper in a bowl with a small amount of salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and crusted the steak by pressing down and then shaking off some of the excess. The pan was hot and the oil sizzled when I laid the steaks in the pan, normally a good sign.

Although the crust was crispy and the steak was perfectly cooked, the seasoning was off. The pepper was so strong, we had to scrape the crust off to make the meal edible. I was so disappointed, I was on the verge of crying and laughing at the same time. Sweat beaded on my upper lip and I couldn’t stop sniffling because it was so spicy.

Takeaway: Look at a few recipes first to make sure you’re on the right track with seasoning.

photo of tomato soup
Tomato soup in ramekins

Cooking Fail No 2: Tomato soup

When I first started cooking without a recipe, I began with soup. You can make a pretty good soup even when you are first starting out if you know the basic steps. Want to know how to avoid the mistakes I made with tomato soup when I first started? Check out this blog post of How to Make Soup Without a Recipe.

A basic tomato soup seems pretty easy, right? To build the base, you need a few chopped onions, garlic, and a can or two of tomatoes. Again, I didn’t bother looking at a recipe. I had to experience this particular fail many times over because I didn’t learn.

I chopped the onions and garlic, seasoned with salt and a bit of pepper, and let it all stew down until it was sticking to the bottom of the pot. That is when I added the tomatoes, stirred it all, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes after bringing it to a boil. I pureed the soup, added a teaspoonful of sugar (it brings up the sweetness in tomatoes and balances the acidity), and served it.

We ate sad tomato sauce.

Although you can add extra liquid after blending, it is easier to do it after adding the rest of the ingredients. I should have poured in the broth right after adding the tomatoes to the onion and garlic mixture.

Takeaway: Be aware of consistency throughout the cooking process. 

potato soup ingredients
Prep shot of potato soup

Cooking Fail No 3: Potato Soup

It was fall. The weather outside was gray, cold, and windy. Perfect soup weather! I envisioned a thick, luscious potato soup that had some pieces of cubed potato that weren’t pureed for a bit of texture.

What I got was mashed potatoes. A solid bowl of mashed potatoes.

I made a basic potato soup with chopped onions, garlic, and potatoes then added vegetable broth, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, and added milk for creaminess after blending. I didn’t pay too much attention to the ratio of potatoes vs broth, which was my downfall. I always keep the skins on my potatoes at home because that’s where a good amount of the nutrients are.

Potatoes are a naturally starchy vegetable and if you don’t pre-soak your potatoes to release some of the starch (which isn’t necessary for a potato soup) then you have to pay attention to the amount of potatoes versus broth. I should have overcompensated for the potatoes by adding more broth. For a slightly thick potato soup, you want there to be an inch of broth/water over the diced potatoes.

Takeaway: Pay attention to the amount of liquid in your soups and sauces. Too much liquid and it will be overly runny. Too little liquid and it will be overly thick. 

french toast stack
Stack of French toast with syrup

Cooking Fail No 4: French Toast

I woke up feeling refreshed and like a luxurious breakfast was in order. After talking about what we wanted, we settled on French Toast. This is one of the easiest meals to cook without a recipe, because it only requires 3 ingredients: beaten eggs in a bit of milk, bread, cinnamon, and vanilla extract (if you have it). I had made it numerous times before and didn’t anticipate any problems.

All we had in the house was dark rye bread. I didn’t think it would be a problem but didn’t bother checking either. I went about my merry business of beating the eggs, dipping the bread in the mixture, and frying in a pan until slightly crispy and golden brown. Excited, we piled the breakfast on our plates, topped with butter and maple syrup and dug in. It was all wrong. The extreme bitterness of the rye bread outweighed the sweetness of the vanilla and cinnamon.  It wasn’t sweet at all and slightly bitter.

Some people make (and enjoy!) French Toast with rye bread. I learned I am not one of those people.

Takeaway: Think about the combination of flavours. You need a mixture of sweet, savoury, bitter, and salty so it isn’t overly one or the other. 

Well, there you have it, my all-time worst cooking fails since learning how to cook without a recipe. Failure is inevitable, and sometimes you won’t enjoy what you produce. That’s the beauty of learning a new skill. It isn’t as if you can’t ever look at a recipe for inspiration or as a guide when trying something new. Don’t be as stubborn as I am. I hope you enjoyed this post and can laugh at my #cookingfails as I have learned to.

How about you? What are some of your #cookingfails? Share them with me in the comments, or over on IG by tagging @finnyfromscratch and #finnyfromscratch.

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