On Telling the Truth: Dishes I Wouldn’t Make Again & Chili

Recently, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle dishes that I didn’t like or wouldn’t make again. These could have been dishes that either just turned out bad (because not every recipe out there is going to work out the way it says it will) or they just didn’t suit mine or Frankie’s taste. So I thought I would go out on a limb and be honest about something that not a lot of cooks will speak to.

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  1. What do I do when I make a dish that doesn’t turn out right?

Easy. If it’s a complete disaster and there’s no helping it into something palatable, I will throw together something quick that I’ve made before, or we eat it for a night and then don’t make it again. A prime example would be the one time my mom made chili so spicy that no one could eat more than three bites of it, and the boys ended up munching on chicken nuggets, while my mom and I suffered through one bowl before pitching the whole batch. Even my dad, who has a high tolerance for spicy food, couldn’t muster more than a small bowl of it. And goofs like this are BOUND to happen every so often with anyone who cooks, even when you read over the ingredient ratios to make sure it all looks like it’ll come together nicely, so I try not to get too hooked up on those moments. But I will say, I never keep a recipe I didn’t like in my home or on a secret pinterest board because, frankly, if it wasn’t good, I’ll remember that it wasn’t good if it pops back up on my screen.

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Another example: During my first year in Chicago, I tried to make pulled buffalo chicken in my crockpot to make little sliders for dinner. Seemed like an easy enough recipe, a packet of Hidden Valley ranch, and a ton of hot sauce, and that should have come out delicious, right? Nope! What came out in the end smelled like cat food and tasted like mushy bread. It was AWFUL, like, I couldn’t even eat a slider it was so bad. I ended up pitching it (I know, wasteful, but even if I had thought to bring it into work, NO ONE would have eaten it…even Frankie, who normally is a good sport and will at least give most of my food a good ol’ fashioned try wouldn’t eat more than a couple bites), and whipping up a quick pot of spaghetti, which I always have the ingredients for because it’s an easy go-to.

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But if it’s something that just doesn’t suit our tastes as is, but could be good if a, b, or c was adjusted, then I get into my experimenter mode and go at it. And this is one of the reasons that I feel so lucky to have such an honest guinea pig for a boyfriend. Not only does the guy watch an unhealthy amount of Food Network with me, even turning it on for me if I’m having a rough day, he’ll treat my food like any judge on Chopped. He’s honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t, and if he does like the dish, but thinks it’s missing something, or maybe needs a little more/less cooking time, or a spice adjustment, my immense dabbling in food and cooking has rubbed off on him enough that he often helps me with each new variation.

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This isn’t to say that any bad recipe isn’t salvageable. I think every recipe is, but some are just better to start from scratch or find a different recipe base to build off of if it needs more than just simple tinkering.

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2. Would I ever write about a bad recipe?

Yes and no. Devoting an entire post to something you shouldn’t make seems really counterproductive to what I am trying to do, which is share recipes that you should be making because they are delicious! I also wouldn’t go out of my way call out a recipe as bad if I just personally wasn’t a fan. There’s no glory or good to come from defaming anyone else’s hard work, but I most certain have no problem commenting on a foundation recipe I’m using if it’s lacking certain ingredients or their ratios are off, at least, based on what I know about myself and what I like in my food because no one’s palate is the same. But in commenting on what I feel it lacks, I’m not calling it quote unquote bad, but rather giving myself the room to tinker, adjust, and create something of my own to suit me better. That’s why we have recipes, why we cook, adjust, share the adjustments, cook some more, and share any other adjustments back. It’s a beautiful, and inherently inclusive, cycle that I will continue to be a part of if I can.

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And speaking of chili, my main example for this is my own chili, which I thought I had posted back in February, but somehow find that it’s missing! OH CALAMITY! But not to worry, because I’m using it as my example, what better remedy than to include the recipe here! The recipe I initially started with had a very simple ingredient list: meat, kidney beans, 3 tablespoons of chili powder (their main mishap), a teaspoon of brown sugar, and diced tomatoes. Three ingredients and minimal spices does not a cowboy chili make and I knew the end result was going to be…disappointing. So, given how little was there to begin with, that’s when I went to my fridge & spice wall, and, well, went a little crazy. I wanted to brighten this initial canvas with all sorts of colors and flavors, really build off of their bare bones and add my own flair! I threw in Worcestershire sauce for a tart bite (I always have a bottle of this in my pantry, fyi), turned the 3 tablespoons of chili powder into 1/3 cup (which should be a BARE MINIMUM for any chili base), added in an onion and bell pepper to add some additional freshness to the hearty beans and meat, threw in chicken stock instead of water to build on the meaty flavor that chili should exude, and then went to TOWN on the spices. I’m talking cayenne, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, coriander, marjoram, and then a little more brown sugar to just round out all the edges. AND VOILA! A cowboy chili that would make any chili-loving man, woman, or child happy.

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And what’s great is this chili can actually be re-purposed! Do you happen to remember a particular post I had made about Cincinnati Chili? Well, this was the actual chili that I ended up using! And this chili can be thrown into a pot of Mac n Cheese, dolloped on top of some queso to make it fundido, layered between sheets of lasagna, or put between a bun! Chili does NOT have to just be eaten from a bowl, and I even served this chili with some SUPER DELICIOUS French Onion toast rounds that were out of this world delicious (so much so that Frankie asked me to make a second batch to go with his second bowl of chili) from who else but the amazing Deb Perelman! The recipe is in her first cookbook, but I was able to find the recipe online (JUST FOR YOU GUYS!) so I hope you do give it a try because it is one of those dishes that will definitely make it to my Christmas Party this year for sure! Oh, and please try hard not to balk to hard at all the spices that are in this chili because these are just what I threw in at the time I was originally messing with the recipe. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE EVERYTHING! Especially if you don’t have them, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM! I’ve put the most important ones at the top and optional are just the other ones I threw in last minute.

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But all in all, I know for a fact I’m not going to like everything I make, and that’s okay. My kitchen is really just a test kitchen after all, so I expect mistakes and missteps. In fact, as I’ve maybe mentioned more than I should how much I like finding things I can tinker with as much as I find things that are just super tasty as they are! It means I get to take the time to practice my skills and maybe learn something new about myself! And besides, it’s all a process anyway. — Cooking Maggie

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French Onion Toasts
from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Pounds yellow onions, cut into dice of about 1/3 inch (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cognac, brandy, or vermouth (optional)
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef, veal, or mushroom stock or broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Thirty-two 1/2 inch thick slices form a long baguette
  • Finely grated Gruyere cheese (you might want a little extra)

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar, and saute without the lid for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a deep-golden color. Pour in Cognac, if using it, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth almost completely disperses (a small amount of slosh is okay; you don’t want to cook it off so much that the onions seem dry), about 5-10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 75 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Dollop each round of bread with most of a tablespoon of the onion mixture. Add 1 tablespoon grated cheese to the top of each toast, mound it a bit so it all stays in place. Bake the toasts for about 15 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned. Serve immediately.

Cooking Maggie’s Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup chicken stock or water
  • 1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans of drained kidney beans
  • 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cumin

Optional Spices:

  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. ground marjoram
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes

*Optional spices are just that, optional. Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t like. All spices can be adjusted to taste as well.

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, brown the ground beef, drain, and put back in pot. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and saute for 1 minute.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and all spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
  3. IF you would like a thicker chili, whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup of water and add to chili after it has simmered for at least 30 minutes, cook for additional 5 minutes.

 

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