Not What I Expected

Cooking is not as easy as it looks

By Jeff Salter

Our topic this week deals with meals (or dishes) which turned out badly. Well, I’m at a slight disadvantage because I hardly bake at all and my notion of “cooking” is to open a package and toss the contents in the microwave.

But as a warm-up to this topic let me explain that – with food – I tend to be overly-literal at times. For example, in the late 1970s – when I was handed my first example of a “fruit roll-up” – I sniffed it, found the aroma pleasing, and took a big bite. Or tried to. Nobody told me they rolled it up with a sheet of 3-mil plastic coating! Very chewy.

And here’s an example of my occasional disconnect between appearance and reality: One day – also in the late 1970s – I came home from work and saw a large tray of delicious-looking cookies. It was Christmas season and I could tell from their shapes that these were holiday cookies. Gingerbread? Sugar Cookie? Couldn’t say for sure.

Didn’t matter. They looked yummy. So I snatched one. Hmm. Very hard, VERY salty. Texture seemed all wrong. Oh well, I figured Denise just messed up that batch… and I had no intention of complaining.

But later that evening, she must have noticed the missing piece because she asked, “Did you enjoy that cookie?”

Ever the gentleman, I replied, “It was okay. Would’ve been better if I’d gotten one still warm from the oven.”

Remember, I had not intended to complain… but she pressed me with more questions. Finally, I said, “Well, it was too stiff and way too salty.” I wondered if I’d hurt her feelings, but suddenly she began laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked.

She brought over another cookie and inserted a wire hook into the top. “There are ORNAMENTS,” she said, placing it on the Christmas tree. “They aren’t for eating!”

Well, that’s pretty sneaky — making stuff look like cookies and leaving them on a plate!

My Pitiful Meal

Okay, of all the pitiful meals or dishes I’ve actually prepared, here’s probably the winner. [Interestingly, this is also from the late 1970s.]

I forget where Denise was, but I was evidently home alone. I thought I’d give her a pleasant surprise and make supper for when she returned.

Back then, my culinary portfolio was even more limited than it is now, so I selected Sloppy Joes as the evening’s fare. I had all the ingredients: ground beef, buns, a can of SJ mix, and a skillet. I scanned the instructions, which confirmed I was set. I like simple meals with limited steps, and this example had only two: “add one pound of ground beef to one can of SJ mix; stir/simmer.”

Cool, I thought. Easy-peasy. So I opened the can, dumped the goop and ground beef into the skillet… and stirred/simmered.

Shortly, Denise returned home. She seemed pleased I had begun supper — but also appeared skeptical. Then she peered around my shoulder. “What are you making?” she asked.

“Sloppy Joes,” I exclaimed proudly.

“Any problems?” she asked, peering closer.

“Uh, no… don’t think so,” I replied. In truth, the stuff in the skillet did not look right, but I couldn’t figure out why. “Everything’s in there,” I affirmed, “but something seems to be missing.”

Denise took the wooden spoon from my hand and dabbed it here and there in the skillet. “Did you brown the meat before you added the SJ mix?”

“What do you mean brown the meat?” I asked.

She looked at me like I was an alien. “You’re supposed to brown the meat first. You have to cook it.”

“Well, why didn’t they say so?” I whined, having figured that heat plus skillet equaled cooking. “Everybody always assumes you already know the first three steps of everything.”

Needless to say, having dumped raw hamburger on top of the SJ mix — I had upset the order of the universe. We tossed it and she set about to make supper according to Hoyle.


What meals or dishes have YOU messed up? What happened? Why?


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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17 Responses to Not What I Expected

  1. Carl says:

    Great post!

    Probably my favorite memory of messing up a dish was many, many years ago when I was younger and experimenting with making recipes with some friends of mine. We made this lemon cinnamon cake (the flavors actually worked out pretty well together), and we mixed up baking soda and baking powder. Not our finest moment.

    I actually have a whole section on my blog of what I call “delicious mistakes”. These are items that, while they taste great, for some reason or another didn’t turn out as they were supposed to.


    • Jeff Salter says:

      thanks for visiting, Carl.
      I’ve made that same mix-up — between baking soda and powder — but my error was at the Grocery Store. I never got as far as actually utilizing either ingredient.


  2. jbrayweber says:

    HAHA! I can soooo see all three of these events happening, Jeff. Though I KNOW I have messed up plenty of meals, I can’t recall any stand-out instances. Meat not cooked thoroughly, burned dishes, cakes falling, substituting ingredients that couldn’t be substituted, I have done my fair share (and more) of blundering dishes. Cooking is not my forte.



  3. Eating the decorations! I had to laugh because my kids and I made those a few years back and they do look like cookies. The second they were cooled though I gave the paint to paint them and we strung ribbon through the hole. Then I made real cookies to make it up to them.


  4. Theresa says:

    You and food crack me up, Jeff! I’ve messed up my share of things. I am a fair to adequate cook. Not great. Last time I made a cake I mistakenly put it in on the wrong temp. Too high. When I checked on it, I realized what I’d done and assumed it was cooked. WRONG. I took it out of the pan and the middle started to leak out. I stuffed it BACK into the pan, BACK into the oven, cooked it some more, and covered it liberally with icing. Then there was the birthday cake I dropped on the counter (pieced that one back together too), and I guess cakes are just not my friends!


  5. My biggest food mistakes come when baking in a new oven. I have learned over the years that no matter what…ALL gas stove ovens cook differently. In my old house the oven had a hot spot in the front left corner so I had to turn anything at about the halfway point to keep that corner from burning. My new stove however seems to run a little hot so my first banana nut bread was timed perfectly and still came out a little over done.

    My BIGGEST mess used to be when I tried to make cream gravy. ALWAYS ended up lumpy. THEN I found a tip in my Better Homes and Gardens vintage cookbook that cured my gravy of lumps forever 🙂


  6. OK, I have no idea why I seem to keep dropping the ball on posts here.I answered this morning, I am glad to see that you have several stories because that ‘s what I will post, too. You really WERE kind to not say anything about the ‘cookies’, Jeff; I know those things must be horrible.
    YIKES on the Sloppy Joes!
    By the way, when our sons were very little, Joe insisted that I call that dish “Sloppy Food”; he didn’t want the kids to think that he was sloppy!


    • Jeff Salter says:

      Sloppy Food — love it. And I can understand Joe’s thought process, too.
      Not sure what’s happening to your posts, Tonette. I don’t see anything in the holding pen (or whatever it’s called).


  7. Quilly says:

    If you’re ever invited to taste French Vanilla Macaroni and Cheese, just say no.


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