Thursday, September 10, 2015



It's Fall!  The chicks are back in school, or so I gather from the book of face, the football is about to begin in earnest, and I've begun looking at my boots with longing.  I'm also baking up a storm over here, testing recipes, feeding contractors, and generally having a grand old time.  I think the fact that the new kitchen is really truly underway in a manner that isn't an ephemeral "....someday..." but is in fact "HOLY CRAP I'M ORDERING APPLIANCES!!!" has made me all nesty and inspired to the kitchen.

And if you follow me on Twitter @staceyballis, or have liked my Facebook Page (which if you have not, I hope you will) you have recently seen a bunch of mediocre photos of what I've been up to...  like these:

Milkbread Rolls

Nutella Babka

Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Cornmeal Pound Cake

Cornmeal Pound Cake again, all Bundty

All yummy.  And a hit with the recipients.  I realize that mostly here, that is what I talk about...the successes.  But please know that I leave crushing perfectionism to Martha, and for every "nailed it!" moment, I do certainly have some epic disasters.  Such as this morning.

Now my mornings, thanks to my job, are pretty easy.  I do not have little ones to drag crankily out of bed, to get washed, brushed, breakfasted, backpacked and off to school. My Charming Suitor is far more proficient at mornings than I, and as a capable guy, gets up at the crack, makes his own coffee and toasts his own english muffin, smooches me goodbye and goes his merry way.  Leaving me to rise when I'm no longer tired and get about the business of my day.

But sometimes, I need to be up and at 'em.  Making stuff happen.  Today was such a day.  And I failed completely.

This is a big and busy cooking week.  We are hosting a dinner party for 10 on Friday night, attending a dinner party at friend's Saturday for which we are bringing an appetizer, and Monday is Rosh Hashanah, and I'm in charge of matzo ball soup and dessert.  Which is no problem at all, I've done more in less time, so I was looking forward to the process.

We scheduled a house cleaning for today, so that the place would be spic and span for the guests tomorrow, and being a smart girl, and knowing that most of my cooking, while delicious, is also enormously messy, I wanted to get as much of the really disaster-making stuff out of the way ahead of time.  So last night, in anticipation of cleaning beginning today late morning, I pre-prepped the ingredients for three different recipes, getting my mise en place all en place, putting out all the necessary butter to be at perfect room temp, and set my alarm for 7:45, which is a normal, almost late time for most people, but is very early for this night owl.  I had enough time to make the first recipe, get it in the oven, get the batter prepped for the second, get the first out of the oven and the second one in, and then get the third done while that was baking.  And it totally would have worked.  Had I not had a major screw up kind of morning.

I was starting with sticky toffee pudding, dessert for tomorrow night.  I love this stuff.  Rich and moist and dark and complex with a killer caramel sauce, it is a crowd pleaser.  It is also a messy prep that makes a lot of dishes.  I got up, put the dates that I had minced in the food processor last night into a saucepan with water and set it to heat.  I took the well-softened butter and dark brown sugar and creamed them into fluffyness, and then added the eggs one by one.  When the date mixture came to a boil I turned off the heat to let it rest.  And this?  Right here?  Is when everything went sideways.

I thought I would get a head start on the caramel sauce, so I mixed some milk into the corn starch I had prepped last night, and set it aside.  Turning back to my date mixture, I reached for the baking soda I was supposed to add, and discovered I had mistaken it for the corn starch, and made a slurry with it.  I laughed at my stupidity, dumped the little ramekin, and went to the pantry for more baking soda.  I glanced quickly at the recipe, measured 4 tablespoons, and dumped it into the date mixture, spoon at the ready, since the baking soda will make the dates foam up, a whole chemistry thing that I'm sure Alton Brown would explain but I won't.  Let's just say it foams up rapidly.

Which it did.  Beyond any stirrings ability to quench.  Up and over the top of the saucepan, sending sticky hot date liquid over the stove.  I ran to the sink, watching a veritable volcanic eruption of date lava cover everything in the sink...filled to capacity with dirty bowls, measuring cups, the food processor etc.  Spattering a thick gooey mess everywhere.  Fearing I was losing too much volume to salvage the recipe, I grabbed the batter bowl, and just dumped the foaming insanity in, and started stirring like crazy.  Now the foaming has taken on a life of its own, threatening to overrun the batter bowl, and I'm stirring like a madwoman and swearing like a sailor.  This had never happened before, and I've made this recipe many times.  I was doubling it, to be sure, but that should not cause this explosion.  When it finally ends its migration over every surface of my kitchen, I look back at the recipe.  With my morning eyes I had read teaspoons for tablespoons and had added literally three times the proscribed amount.  Rendering everything I had so thoughtfully prepped and organized completely useless.

The now-ruined batter got dumped.  I ran to place a fast order (thank God for Instacart) for new dates, more brown sugar, more eggs.  I took a new stick of butter out of the fridge and onto the counter to start to soften, and then set about cleaning the date holocaust that my kitchen had become, because I do not want the cleaning lady to think I am some filthy beast.  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher with the contents of the sink and set it for Tough.  I wiped down every surface, the floor, the cabinet fronts, the stove, and my slippers, and changed into clothes that were not bespattered with sticky, all the while laughing like a hyena, since I know that the general perception of food writers is that we spend all of our time making perfect food without a hair out of place.  I took a deep breath and went on to make the second recipe, which thankfully went just as planned and is now baked and cooling on the rack while I await my delivery of new ingredients, hoping upon hope that I can still get this thing in the oven before it is time to have the kitchen cleaned.

Or I should say, cleaned again.

The whole thing reminded me of my last book, Recipe for Disaster, where the heroine is teaching herself to cook, often with horrific results.  And one thing is for sure, while recipe successes result in delicious dishes, recipe disasters result in delicious stories, as long as one keeps her sense of humor.

So, a quick Fall giveaway!  Share your own favorite kitchen disaster in the comments below by 11:59pm Sunday night September 13, and one lucky reader will receive a copy of Recipe for Disaster.   Winner announced next Monday.

Yours in Good (usually) Taste,
The Polymath


  1. I love making chocolate chip cookies. Many years ago, my family rented a timeshare so all baking supplies we took to the condo were not in their bags and boxes, but rather in plastic containers. While making cookies, I mistook the salt for sugar and put 3/4 cup of SALT into the cookies! Needless to say, they were not edible.

  2. My 2 worst kitchen disasters happened in the same meal...on Thanksgiving, so that was fun to experience with an audience! I accidentally left the bag of giblets and innards in the turkey while I roasted it (this was the first time I cooked a turkey) and when my dad went to carve the bird he sliced into the bag and it burst and spilled boiling hot liquid bird innards all over the place. The second disaster was when I forgot to add sugar to my homemade cranberry sauce for the same meal. I don't even have the words to describe the amazingly disgusting results! Needless to say I now always check for the bag of innards in poultry and buy cranberry sauce in a can!

  3. The one that comes most immediately to mind was making a spaghetti pie (like hopplepopple, an old family favorite on my husband's side, and actually pretty tasty). I had baked the noodle-egg-cheese crust and removed it from the oven. Put in the filling, to put in back in the oven. In my mind, because it was GOING into the oven, it wasn't hot. Except that the casserole dish had just come OUT of the oven. I flung it across the kitchen. My husband and I picked up shards of glass for weeks..not good when you have cats, but they escaped unharmed.

  4. When I was a teenager my sister and I tried to make chicken fried steak while my mom was at work. Well, needless to say frying in water just doesn't work. We had no idea that my mom put oil in the pan instead of water.

    Heather Faulk

  5. I was making a texas chocolate sheet cake recently for a work function & I had the same volcanic eruption action happen - when I was doing something with the milk. I barely got it into the sink before it foamed up and over my large Pyrex mixing cup.. Totally ruined the cake. So sad.

    Jessica Hackman

  6. One time I was making fajita burgers and used cayenne pepper instead of chili powder. They were so spicy we couldn't eat them. My husband still brings this up from time to time when I make burgers.

  7. I'm a menace in the kitchen so I stick to the easy stuff.

    Does creating some nifty sparks in the microwave reheating Chinese takeout count? I mean who know those handles were metal and that metal shouldn't go in the microwave? *shakes head*

    Does putting bread in the toaster oven hoping for nice crispy toast when the power was clearly out count? A pitiful looking and half asleep me stood before the toaster oven wondering why the bars weren't getting orange and why toast wasn't getting toasty before it occurred to me, oh yeah, the power's out, the things you plug in o the wall don't normally work without electricity. *shakes head*

  8. Since you said kitchen and talked about cleaning, I will not mention some random cooking disasters (had a few), but will mention my favorite time I flooded the kitchen with bubbles. I was tired and just put the dishes in the dishwasher. I didn't realize I grabbed the liquid soap instead of the dishwasher detergent. Went away to go to the bathroom and came back into the kitchen to find the kitchen completely covered in suds. It took awhile, but I finally got it cleaned up with the help of my mom.

  9. My mother was a "I'm only cooking so I can't be arrested for starving you" type of cook so there was nothing fancy beyond baking a meatloaf, whipping up some instant mashed potatoes and opening a can of corn. Needless to say I did not learn much in the cooking skills department from her, but I can generally follow a recipe if I need to. One summer as a teenager I was acting as a live in child care for my Aunt who is the annoying type of McGyver cook who can whip up a gourmet meal out of left over bologna and a couple spices. So, my aunt leaves out a recipe for a basic casserole type dish for me to make for dinner one night. The recipe called for a cup of beef broth, and my having never seen anything more exotic in my pantry than a bouillon cube find the container of beef CONSUME in the pantry and proceed to use a cup of that. As you might imagine, a salt lick would have made for a more tasty dinner and we went so far as trying to rinse the entire thing under the faucet before giving up and ordering pizza

  10. Most of my cooking ends up a disaster. I really need cooking lessons.

  11. I was making butternut squash soup and it was time to puree it. I followed the recipe and put the squash / soup mixture in the blender.... The blender exploded. Squash / soup EVERYWHERE. Clearly I didn't have the top on securely so I tried again. The blender exploded, Squash / soup EVERYWHERE again. Clearly the blender was broken. I told my husband who of course didn't believe me that the blender broke. He tried. Squash / soup EVERYWHERE again. He tried again. Squash / soup EVERYWHERE. I started yelling at him for not believing me that I know a broken blender when I use it... Then he realized the soup was hot... I had no idea you couldn't put something hot in a blender. after I scrubbed the counters, floors, ceiling, fridge, dishwasher and myself I ordered an immersion blender

  12. m not a baker/cook AT ALL! I was feeling sad a few years back and two of my girlfriends were spending time at my house. We decided funfetti cake was the perfect antidepressant and so we bought it from a grocery store with funfetti frosting. Wellll while it was baking, one of my girls' boyfriend came to pick her up because her mom was making ribs and Allie was all "Sorry gotta get home for ribs because I love me some ribs!" So then it was just Averie and I. We took the cake out of the oven but weren't sure how to get it out of the pan. So we put it upside down and shook it out. Needless to say it was half baked...

  13. Shortly after I was married, I decided to make an angel food cake. I bought the special pan, had a soda bottle to flip it upside down, had the mixing bowl squeaky clean...all was ready. I mixed the cake, poured the batter into the pan and set it on the middle oven rack just like the directions said. Well, the directions failed to tell me to remove the top rack in the oven! When the time buzzed, I excitedly opened the oven door to remove my cake, only to find that the cake had risen right up and around the top oven rack! Aaackkk! I ended up cutting the cake from the top rack, flipped the pan on the soda bottle and no one knew any different.