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fail: maraschino cherries

Posted by aleta under recipe fail

So I got a little momentum on this project in, like, August or something, except I had some sore disappointments, all in a row, that kinda scared me off for another several months, apparently, and I just haven’t really found my way back into the kitchen for much other than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.

One of these disappointments was maraschino cherries, since the fruit was in season (at the time, now so long ago) and it was another one of those posts that were supposed to be MY MASTERPIECE. And while I ended up with a whole array of beautiful photos, I also ended up with salty, inedible and downright gross cherries.

I found two recipes on the internet for these, one of which called for salt as a brining agent, the other which had just a little bit of salt and alum. Then I thought “hey, what’s all this dye about,” and set up a little Latin Square experiment testing the different combinations. Unless you’ve recently studied that especially titillating branch of Mathematics called Statistics, the last time you probably thought about a Latin Square was in Sophomore year of high school when your biology teacher taught you all about Mendel’s experiments. Here’s what mine looked like:

Alum with dye Alum without dye
Salt with dye Salt without dye

After a laborious three-day process of brining, rinsing, parboiling & refrigerating, I ended up with salty cherries, poorly preserved, and not a thing like the fluorescent red maraschino babies you find at the grocery store. And that’s not in a good way, either, like “oh man, these are WAY better than store-bought cherries!” No no, it was like “how could so much effort & care end so very badly.”

So while I hate to update for the first time in months with a fail post, the pictures really are awfully pretty, and maybe someone who has done this before can tell me where I went wrong.

It all starts with cherry pitting, which is made easier with this Iron Maiden-like device. And just in time for Halloween!

Maraschino cherries.

At this point, our cherries are still not only edible, but delicious what’s more!

Maraschino cherries.

After one day of brining, we have the alum solution on the left and the salt solution on the right. The alum really pulls its weight as a superior preservative and brought out a truly beautiful color from the cherries.

Maraschino cherries.

After three days of brining & rinsing, the alum-treated cherries are looking rather lovely…

Maraschino cherries.

…particularly when compared to the salt-treated cherries, which resemble nothing so much as wounds resulting from grievous kitchen accidents that have been under a bandaid for two days.

Maraschino cherries.

But we forge onward, draining, rinsing, new brine.

Maraschino cherries.

And then I used my patented “covering any old bowl” technique for keeping flies, dust & curious cats’ paws out of the stuff overnight. Incidentally, I do this for pretty much anything that would be annoying to saran wrap.

Maraschino cherries.

Then some finalized draining happened.

Maraschino cherries.

Then I made a simple syrup, which was WAY too sweet, but syrup is really fun to make. It’s just sugar and water that starts out all swirly and then ALL OF THE SUDDEN it transforms into a clear solution that will definitely burn you in a bad way because it’s super hot because [blah blah blah chemistry blah blah]. I could probably explain but I’ll save it for another time when I’m actually discussing a recipe.

Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.

Put the cherries in the syrup.

Maraschino cherries.

And finally, we have our latin square, realized & stylized.

Maraschino cherries.

I can’t even tell you which one had the dye, because it is so clearly unnecessary. So that was my single finding. But in a shallow white bowl, you can see the slight variations in color that resulted.

Maraschino cherries.

And those are some nice looking glasses too.

Maraschino cherries.

At this point, though I had tasted these a bit, I tried making a Shirley Temple. And that was when the saltiness really hit me. These may look pretty, but they are awful.

Maraschino cherries.

Maraschino cherries.Maraschino cherries.

Failure. It’s the pits.

Maraschino cherries.


I try pretty hard to feature original ideas for my food, and the cost is a lot of failure. Buckets of the stuff. Ugh. And as I move away from tried and true recipes toward completely new ones, it gets harder and harder to have a backlog of material if something doesn’t work out. This, coupled with my procrastinatorial nature, leads to a lot of fruitless nights.

Let’s discuss food philosophy a moment. Tastiness is tantamount. That’s one quality I can never bring myself to sacrifice. But the economist in me is always trying to balance out two other priorities: cool factor, calorie control & time to cook. Okay, three other priorities. Anyway, back to my point, sometimes something really REALLY satisfying and light doesn’t look like much of anything, and it’s worth it, because, well, it’s really REALLY tasty and hello skinny (like my homely Shrimp Surf ‘n Bake). Other times it’s just too heavenly NOT to share, and I cite as evidence the most amazing food Crisco can make (spoiler: it’s whoopie pies).

My recent neglect of calorie control has manifested itself in the form of an additional five solid pounds, a development that in itself is not a big deal, but I find that five pounds quickly becomes 40 for me, so my attention is important. To that end, I tried to return to my weight watching roots and had this great reinterpretation of Huevos Rancheros. I have exactly one problem with this recipe, and it makes it such that this will never work: eggs take for-freakin-EVER too bake inside a tomato. Forever. After 50 minutes of baking, the egg white was woefully inedible. I can’t justify spending any more time baking something just because it’s a neat way to do it.


Guts salsa.

Tomatoes, stuff.

The beginning of the failure.


I’ll admit that this photo really looks quite tasty. And I’m sure it would be, too, if it didn’t so cavalierly scoff at safe food handling practices. It’s tough to illustrate the slimy clear uncooked egg white smeared all over this dish, but I assure you it’s there.

 It would be a yummy mess if it didn't violate safe handling practices.

This cake pan, where I threw all the salmonella-laden refuse, shows a clearer picture of the dinner’s inedibility.

Discard bin.

There might be some merit to cooking the salsa properly, then frying an egg and serving it in a roasted tomato shell like that, but I felt the tomato flavour was just way too pronounced and difficult to overcome with what I threw into the salsa there. I did try making a tomato tube (instead of a tomato cup), throwing the egg at the bottom and salsa on top, but after 30 minutes it became clear that the egg white was rising and doing its whole “stubbornly not cooking” thing.

So that’s what I did last night. All I have to offer in terms of actionable food is not so much a recipe as it is an idea: fruited oatmeal is never as sweet as it should be and always seems to require additional sugar to balance the tartness. So I made a mango puree—one mango seems to do it for about 1 cup dried oatmeal, or four servings. I’ve dubbed it “Mangoatmeal,” because it’s vegan and I wanted to give it a name that made it sound decidedly non-vegan and even possibly cannibalistic. Also, because that was just the most obvious portmanteau.

Some visual notes.


My mango will never be elegant.

Let the sun shine . . .

If I called it "Mangoatmeal," would that imply it is not, in fact, vegan?

Eh, I'm not vegan anyway. Mangoatmeal it is.

Hopefully this weekend I will be cooking up a storm so I have something to report other than “my cooking skills cannot keep up with my creativity.” I have to say, though, I actually find most of my failed creations to be quite amusing. They say you learn more from your failures, and it’s true. Luckily I’m also quite adept at laughing at my own folly; it genuinely amuses me. So no need for consolation. I got a good laugh and a good lesson out of this deal.


daily nom #3

Posted by aleta under daily noms, recipe fail

I think this is batch 3 or 4 of the Lemon Meringue Cupcakes‘ extensive research, a point at which I was still baking the meringue on top of the cake, at that point unmastered and quite dense, and the lemon curd concept was still in the coming. These cupcakes were good; I ate the shit out of them. They were just not very *presentable*.

daily nom #3


fail: spent grain cake

Posted by aleta under recipe fail, vintage recipes

I have enjoyed some luck with used book stores and cook books that were sold to housewives for a fundraiser 40 years back. People share treasured family recipes that often turn out great (or are at least interesting enough to try to modify). However, for the record, I’d like to advise all of you against spending $5 on this ditto-machined little avocado number.

Recipe for a successful guild year.

I think that’s supposed to be Julia Child contact-papered to the cover there. Also, there were foil stars, one can only assume for extra pizazz, and a recipe for something awful titled Deviled Eggs Supreme that calls for cream of celery soup.

The guild year poem.

Here’s where the trouble started.

Where the bad idea began.

I thought for sure I could coax this cake into being an acceptable vehicle for the several pounds of spent grain in my freezer.

I call this one "Spent grain in pyrex" for lofty artistic reasons you aren't likely to grasp.

For the uninitiated, that there is a byproduct of brewing beer, and since it seems like everyone we know is a homebrewer, it’s plentiful and free around here. Spent grain is an all-natural high-fiber cereal, neutral in flavour, but similar in texture to cooked rice or oatmeal. You see why it might just work. Once upon a time I posted a recipe for spent grain cookies, but harvette did a much better job of the recipe by excluding peanut butter.

I took a picture of oatmeal too.


I have no good reason for sharing that other than it is a particularly nice picture of oatmeal, wouldn’t you agree? So anyway, I made two cakes tonight, one oatmeal, one with spent grain.

Brown sugar--always gorgeous.

More cakemaking.

. . . and while they didn’t look too bad . . .

Failed oatmeal springform.

Bundt grain fail.

They were best served like this . . .

Spent grain fail.

. . . directly into the trash can. This cake was way too sweet, never ever (ever) finished cooking, was super dense, and lacked any kind of complexity to its flavour, even after I bastardized the recipe (swapping shortening for butter, more flour, maple syrup, etc etc). Yuck. After just a couple bites I suddenly wanted to eat nothing but vegetables for the rest of my life.

So apologies to the faithful who check up on Thursday mornings, I have no recipe to share today because this one is too awful and people might actually expect to be able to eat it afterward, which um, isn’t really a realistic option. I am, however, just putting the finishing touches on an article with a really bad working title like Omnomicon: Special Edition: how to buy spices. I would like to get that post up tomorrow with not only that how-to, but also a recipe to test out all your new spices. Why? Because I would hate to disappoint anyone. I . . . I love you man!


fail: pie

Posted by aleta under recipe fail

A pumpkin cream pie served in a pecan-studded meringue crust.

That, right there, was supposed to be my masterpiece. This was going to be a winner recipe, and I imagined the food blog equivalent of everyone hoisting me on their shoulders and carrying me away to a raucous victory party where everyone brought something they made from a recipe on my blog and we all drank and hugged and had merry times until five the next morning.

fail pie

How very, very wrong was I.

This mish-mash of ideas I found in various places come from individually neat ideas unto themselves, but plain silly when put together. For one thing, beginning to end, this stupid thing took me about seven hours. Seven freakin hours, can you believe that? On a weeknight, no less, so after getting home before five, I collapsed in bed around 1am (I know that’s more than seven hours, but I take a little while to wind down).

The meringue takes about 30-45 minutes to whip up, then bakes for an hour. During which time there is nothing to fill the void, because we don’t want to do anything with the pudding mix so it won’t set anywhere but on that crust. The crust that bakes for an hour. Then cools for two hours.

fail pie

Making the filling is easy enough. Except that after you put it in said crust it needs to chill for an hour.

fail pie

fail pie

On top of all that, I put too much sugar in my first meringue, so add about 45 minutes before I realized that this potion was never going to get stiff peaks. Then, just at the end of the final cooling, I started a caramel sauce from the Joy, but of course, this was not the kind of sauce I meant it to be, so after burning my finger with sticky hot sugar, I tried another batch. And then added too much water at the end. We’ll only count the last half hour of that, since the first half was spent waiting.

Then I cut into the pie to take a nice picture.

fail pie

Look at that friggin thing! What a mess! It is so pathetic that it looks like it’s hanging its head in shame, and it’s a slice of pie, how could it even do that? I don’t know, but it is.

The meringue crust is not the worst idea in a world full of crusts made out of Crisco, but you can’t make this more than 24 hours before it needs to be done, or else all the moisture from the pie will turn it into a gummy mess. And I don’t know why it stuck so fervently to the bottom of the pie plate, I oiled that sucker and everything! The flavour combination was pretty great, though, and this idea may be salvageable. But right now . . . I’m too tired to salvage.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. What’s the biggest kitchen disappointment you’ve been on the receiving end of? Did you manage to salvage anything from it?


new year’s and the last six weeks

Posted by aleta under an aside, recipe fail

Hello folks!

So after receiving many lovely, flattering blog awards from blogs that I happen to frequent (which makes these compliments especially flattering), I dropped off the face of the internet to pursue everything else in my life. This is not particularly surprising, as my attention to new hobbies tends to wax and wane and eventually bombs out altogether.

However, since I always have to make food, and also because I got a new Nikon D40 for Christmas (my very own–previously I’d been using Dano’s camera), I declare this blog not dead! The biggest obstacle for me has been the lack of natural lighting. Though I fancy myself a decent photographer, I’m not a talented lighter, and a good recipe with crappy photos is just plain not acceptable. So one of my many goals in the next year is to update once weekly, which gives me the opportunity to shoot on the weekends until the days are long enough to accomodate evening shoots.

I’m marrying this goal to another: lose 10-15 more lbs. At this point, it’s just icing on the cake, so to speak, because I’m already at the weight I wanted to be a year ago, but I know I can do it and it’ll still put me well within healthy limits. That said, my baking has been the biggest obstacle to overcome, and I’ll be focusing on lower-calorie recipes in 2009. Even though high-fat, absurdly rich foods really do take the loveliest photos.

So I leave you with these resolutions, and a photo from a shoot last summer that amounted to a moderately tasty corn chowder and a bunch of unusable shots thanks to unnatural lighting.



fail cake

Posted by aleta under recipe fail

So I’d say a good 98% of my cookings are successful, but of course now and again they are not. I cite as evidence: Pesto Cheesecake.

Yes, I know it doesn’t sound all that great to begin with, but it was in the JOY and was a little unusual and I figured out how to work it into the context of my diet and I had a huge bunch of basil seeking its purpose in life. And I could make it largely fat free. The idea grew on me. I gathered ingredients.

Some ingredients.

Then a bunch of boring stuff happened, involving making pesto in my new mortar and pestle and also regular “making a cheesecake” type things.

The boring details.

One of these pictures came out amazingly well—a little mound of pesto, floating on a magical cloud of ricotta.

A wad of pesto floating upon a ricotta cloud.

And then, DISASTER. I tried making a waterbath. Now I understand what a waterbath is, and I know why we make waterbaths, I had just never actually made one. And I fucked it up. Here’s a tutorial:

A tutorial.

See? I came to put it in the oven, noticed the water seeping in, and had a serious Oh Shit moment. The worst part is that even though I gleaned my instructions from JOY, I somehow missed this very pivotal illustration.

The directions were confusing.

So my cake cracked. After it got a little bit of water in it. But I don’t think these were the culprit in the whelmingness of this cake. Nor was it the fat free sour cream nor the fat free ricotta cheese. It just plain wasn’t a very good recipe. It’s weird, which usually earns recipes big fat bonus points in my book, but this time the weirdness was not in a good way. As an attempt to salvage a whole bunch of time and ingredients, I finished the recipe, which involved frosting with sour cream and making some sundried tomatoes as a garnish. (I refuse to pay for them when I can make them in my own oven)

So I took all my tomatoes from the farm down the street and lined them up for their last few moments in the sunshine.

One last sunbath.

Then I sliced ’em up good.


Laid them out on a cookie sheet with the remaining pinch of oregano I had on hand.


And baked them at 225 for five hours.

Just. Ew.

Turns out I, like Master Shake, do not like sundried tomatoes. Even though this was a painful lesson, it was still a rather lovely one, wouldn’t you say?