Expect the Unexpected

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Cooking 101: Learning from mistakes


Katie and her Banana "Bread."

Katie and her Banana “Bread.”

Flat banana bread, soupy coffee cake, and molten barbecue beef stuck to the bottom of a pressure cooker.

My daughter Katie is learning how to cook.

It wasn’t until recently, at the age of 25, she decided to take the culinary plunge.

Growing up, she was never interested in cooking. She was barely interested in eating. She liked spaghetti, hot dogs, tacos, and pizza and that was about it. She turned up her nose at most meats, fruits and vegetables. When she found out chicken nuggets were made with real chicken, she cried and stopped eating them.

The cover says "Thou delightest not in burnt offerings." Indeed.

The cover says “Thou delightest not in burnt offerings.” Indeed.

Even as a baby, she was fussy. I would grow fresh string beans in my garden, cook and puree them, only to have her spit them out with a vengeance. I tried to teach her how to cook, but except for baking cookies at Christmastime she wasn’t interested.

When she went off to Wheaton College things changed. She met people from around the world and started trying new food. And one day, voilà, she had developed a palate. When we went out to dinner a few weeks ago in Boston, I was shocked to see her order a side order of asparagus. My baby has grown up.

So now she seriously wants to learn how to cook. On a recent visit home she asked if she could have a copy of Yankee Peddler Fare, a church cookbook I edited back in the 1980s. Happy to oblige. Last Christmas I gave her Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, but she doesn’t use it much. I’ll have to get her a copy of the 1975 Joy of Cooking. It’s the edition I have and it’s a brilliant guide for a learning home cook.

In the meantime, she’s playing around with the comfort food in Yankee Peddler Fare.

She first tried a recipe for soft and light Banana Bread. She sent me a text message afterwards with a picture of her holding the flattest banana bread I’d ever seen. What happened? She had no idea. “It tasted good, so I don’t know what went wrong,” she said.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake (how it should have been if the recipe was correct), and Katie's result.

At left, Sour Cream Coffee Cake (how it should have been if the recipe was correct), and Katie’s result on the right.

Next up, Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Crumb Topping. The “crumbs” liquified and ran off the top making the cake a soupy, inedible mess. Over the phone, we tried to figure out what happened. First, the cake was supposed to be made in two 8-inch pans, or one 13 x 9 x 2 pan. Katie made hers in a single 9-inch pan, too small.

But the biggest mistake was the recipe itself. The crumb recipe omitted a key ingredient – flour! Without flour, all that was left was brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, which of course wouldn’t make crumbs and would simply melt into goo.

So the recipe was to blame too. It wasn’t all her fault. Katie suspected the recipe had a mistake in it because when she was home recently she made a Rhubarb Upside Down Crumb Cake under my guidance, and it came out beautifully. “You know, mom, I knew something was wrong. When I mixed the sugar and butter together, I knew it didn’t look like crumb mixture,” she said.

Katie's Barbecue Beef.

Katie’s Barbecue Beef

Then it was onto Barbecue Beef. We had given Katie a pressure cooker for Christmas and she decided to try it out. She jazzed up the recipe by adding more vegetables than were called for. But she didn’t increase the amount of liquid. The handle on the cooker didn’t fully close initially and a lot of steam escaped. She eventually closed it, but didn’t add any more liquid. The beef mixture burned, badly. “The good news is what didn’t burn tasted really good,” she said.

Katie has learned some valuable cooking lessons from her trials and tribulations. Lesson One: When it comes to baking, pan size is important. Lesson Two: Trust your gut. If a recipe doesn’t seem right double check it with another source. Lesson Three: When it comes to pressure cooking, check the handle to make sure it’s closed, and make sure there is an adequate amount of liquid in the pan.

Katie's Banana Bread, round two!

Katie’s Banana Bread, round two!

As for the banana bread, what went wrong remains a mystery. But Katie decided to make it again last night. This time she split the recipe up as a one-layer cake and cupcakes. Success!

And with that she learned the most important lesson of all. Never give up. Just keep on cooking! 

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2 thoughts on “Cooking 101: Learning from mistakes

  1. Ellen M. on said:

    My coworker thought Katie’s first try at the coffee cake looked good enough to eat with the crust on it. Message sent.
    Emmy is trying to learn to cook at this time. Her first attempt at a special Father’s Day supper got trashed because she didn’t like the smell. Too many canned good, I think. We ended up with her version of a pasta dinner. She did get the brownies right since the pan has been since cleaned out. And brownies are not that easy the first few times either.

    • It’s great to watch our gals cook isn’t it? Good for Emmy. I’m sure you can show her a thing or two with Fiddlehead Ferns! Katie would love Fiddleheads. Next spring for those! As for the Coffee Cake, it may not have been clear from my post so I’ve corrected the caption. The cake on the left is what the cake should have looked like, the one on the right is what Katie actually made. She hasn’t made it again since, but she probably well. Please say thanks to your co-worker! 😉

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