Why the Recipe Didn't Turn out Great

Every once in a while I receive an email letting me know that "the recipe just didn't come out right". Not often, but it does happen.

First of all, let me say that about half of the recipes I post are my own, I created them in my own little head. And the other half are from well known PAID chef's, cookbook authors, newspapers and cooking magazines and I always give credit where credit is due.

So let's discuss some of the reasons why the recipe may not have worked.

1. Cooking tools.

My friend Liz made my Veal Milanese recipe in a nonstick frying pan. Why didn't it come out like the dish she eats at my house?

Because you can't use nonstick cookware when browning meat (it's fine for omelets and fish). Instead of the veal getting a nice crisp crust, it was steamed in the pan. Also, nonstick pans don't reduce sauces properly. Mystery solved!

Using good pots and pans makes all the difference in cooking. Buy the best you can, and this goes for knives too. Buy one GOOD knife, instead of a set of cheap crappy knives, and one good Le Creuset or All Clad pot instead of a bunch of throw away pans.

2. Quality of ingredients.

You know how I feel about ingredients. Only buy sausage from a butcher you know. Try and cook what is in season. Use fresh tomatoes in summer only, when they taste best. Don't buy a package of supermarket mozzarella that looks like a block of solidified wax, when it is so easy to buy fresh mozzarella packed in water and REAL cheeses from a reputable cheese monger. It may cost a dollar or two more, but it will be well worth it in the end.

3. Substituting ingredients.

My friend Stephanie (you notice how it's all of my friends who do the complaining?) made my FANTASTIC favorite sausage ragu, and wondered why it wasn't so fantastic? Well, when I quizzed her, I found out she used lean turkey sausage.

In this dish, it's all about the pork sausage. Substitutions can be made (like walnuts instead of almonds), but don't be shocked when the recipe doesn't come out as it should.

4. Oven temperatures vary.

My mother in law has an evil oven. It cooks too high, and she tries to regulate the temperature accordingly, but many cakes just don't bake right and come out wet in the middle and that can result in throwaway cakes. Waste of time and money for all those ingredients.
Cooking at the right temperature is very important, except in roasting, when 400F or 425F doesn't make that much of a difference.

5. Maybe it's just an off day.

One of my favorite readers wrote that "the chicken w/ fennel and olives didn't come out that great, it was dry. First time I didn't like one of your recipes, Stacey". Well, it's Eric Ripert's recipe not mine, he's making the big bucks, though we loved this dish.

Ok, so maybe it's just not a great day to cook, you weren't in the mood, and you probably should have gone out or made omelets. Maybe you had one too many glasses of vino while you were stirring the pot and left it on the stove too long. And sometimes, even cookbook recipes don't come out the way we want them to.

C'est la vie.

Though my complaint line is always open and I am happy to hear from you (and I like hearing more about recipes that DO come out great!), I am feeling generous and will be giving away 2 copies of The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond, not my style of cooking, but it is a best selling cookbook and if you don't like her recipes, then complain to her!

Winners will be announced on 3/9, so please check back!


Great advice Stacey. Sometimes I'll make a dish and we love it. Then I make it again and it's not as great as we remembered. There are so many things, as you said, that can go right or wrong. It's most definitely a "c'est la vie" moment.

Fun giveaway for Ree's book.
Gourmet Goddess said…
Well written , I also write my own blog and create my own recipes and if you are a good cook you can tell by smell. and looking at the disg if it is good or needs a tweak. Sometimes when I read a recipe I mentally start tweaking the recipe , because I understand what will suit my family.

However, every point you wrote about is critical in making any meal worth eating - you only get out of the meal what you put into it.

I am anal about the care of my wustof knives , which I have been using for about 12 years and I treat with care and respect when i sharpen them ( myself) and wash and dry them . It kills me when i see knives thrown into a dishwasher along with the rest of the cutlery.

I am reading Pioneer Womans book about how she met Marlboro Man and got married - hysterically funny - however I agree with you - not my style of cooking .

I always find your blog entertaining to read.

nice post but I think I am just going to go ahead and blame you when a recipe doesnt come out right...some one has to get the brunt of it...LOL
SueZ said…
Love your recipes, most of them, and I check your site every single day! You never disappoint! You inspire me to cook. And I never blame you if I don't like something. You do a great blog.
Ciao Chow Linda said…
So many valid points here Stacey. I made my lava cakes at home and they were perfect. Two weeks later I made them at a friend's house and they needed five minutes more in her oven. Marie had the same experience when she made them - needing more time than the recipe stated. I remade them again in my oven and they were perfectly cooked in the time I stated. Everybody's oven cooks a little differently, especially if it's convection. You really have to know that cooking and baking aren't EXACT sciences. There's some art, some intuition to it that just comes from experience with a particular recipe. That's one reason why it's not a good idea to try new recipes on company.
Great points. I ALWAYS stress quality of ingredients, mainly because a lot of what I cook is Italian and that's what's important, given there are fewer ingredients in each dish (usually). If you CHOOSE to make subs, that's fine, but you can't expect the quality/taste to be the same as the original recipe.
oui, Chef said…
Excellent advice, Stacey...ONLY cook with fresh tomatoes in August! Off to search for that Ripert chicken recipe...sounds great (and I won't blame you if I F@#& it up). - S
LaDue & Crew said…
Thank you for posting this!! Very well said and oh so true. I've been frustrated when new to the kitchen cooks try my recipes for the first time, and leave a scathing comment regarding their failure. Inevitably I find out they've failed to read the entire post which explains in detail what could happen by doing a or b. People get impatient and don't follow directions. I've used your recipes countless times. You're my go-to gal and your recipes have never disappointed me, ever!
Anonymous said…
Hi Stacey, I rarely comment but I should because I use your recipes a lot - two this week (chipotle chicken and sweet potatoes and cod on peas). We even took your recommendation and went to the Reservoir Tavern in Parsippany about a year ago while visiting my finace's family in NJ! So thanks for all the great ideas and I do know that when things don't come out quite right it's my fault - I'd totally be the one to put the lean turkey sausage in the pork ragu.
Tracy said…
Good point on the nonstick pan, I learned that once trying to make sausage and broccoli rabe- it just wouldn't brown, it looked gross.
For the record I made two of your recipes recently (the mustard chicken and crab cakes) and both were really awesome- I watched my insanely picky fiance eat FOUR chicken drumsticks which is an unbelievable amount of food for him. So thanks!
Anonymous said…
Hi Stacey,
I made the spinach gratin last night and the most amazing thing happened...both kids loved it! Usually they are on opposite ends of the spectrum with their tastes but this was the best! I really enjoy your blog (much better than PW) and was going to post a note anyways but I have a friend who really likes PW and her birthday is coming up. So if I win, she'll get the book!
Take care,
Rebecca L.
Kathy said…
Hi Stacey,
I am new to your blog but so far I love it. I have copied several of your recipes for future use and wouldn't think of blaming you if they don't turn out to my liking. After all, I can't imagine you sharing something that you haven't tried yourself and found it to be good. Keep up the good work and I will be here as a fan. :)
Shelly R. said…
Hi Stacey,
I love your site and have tried many of your recipes....you get me out of the weeknight dinner dilemma many a nights!
Thank you!
Shelly R.
Louisville, KY
Anonymous said…
No recipe is perfect nor is the cook:) I've made many of your recipes with great success, always using a fair amount of common sense concerning our own likes and dislikes. In particular, we love the chicken with fennel and olives!

denise s said…
I must say I have not had a problem with any of your recipes but one, and it was my fault. On your baked eggs in a muffin tin, could not figure what it was so dry after the 3rd or 4th time I made it, but turned out that I "forget" the cooking temp. and set oven at 475 vs. 375. Relooked at recipe, went back to correct temp. and it continues to be our Saturday morning breakfast. I am becoming addicted to your recipes and beside the eggs, we have at least one new or favorite from you blog weekly. Thanks.
kimt said…
cooking is like art...so subjective. and do we really follow recipes to a "t". i rarely do. ingredients...good ingredients are so important. and we all have different tastes. sometimes i just don't like something that i thought i would love and other times i branch out...try something new and love it. isn't this why cooking and eating are so much fun!
redleopard2853 said…
Great advice. My brotherinlaw once reminded me that we have to bond with our kitchen and appliances. From that time forward things have improved. Thanks for the encouragemet and the fantastic 62nd street Lemon Cake as my knitting friends did not want to leave yesterday. I know they wanted to take home some cake - Debby in Tacoma
SarahB said…
Great post Stacey! Come to think of it, I don't think I used homemade breadcrumbs when I made your brasciole and I realized what a difference that ingredient makes!! I'm a homemade breadcrumb convert because of you!!!
Joanne said…
I do always find it funny when people email me saying that one of my recipes didn't work and then upon further inquiry I find out they changed about five things. Uh. Duh.

Great post!
Anonymous said…
Nice post, but I think I just want to move forward when you are out of the strange recipe doesn't ... the rights of some people bear the brunt of it ... lol

Cheap kitchens
annie said…
I must say you're right on with the recipes. An experienced cook will know by taste or smell if a recipe is working and adjust accordingly, if it's not. I particularly love your baking recipes, as these cakes are the types of cake I bake at home. Just baked the lemon olive oil cake, and will be baking the 62nd st lemon cake this weekend. Thank you.
Kathy Walker said…
People are funny...and some aren't thinking!
I enjoy your recipes. I live out in the country so finding some of the ingredients you use aren't so easy to find but I would never complain to you about it.
Hi Stacey!
I do agree with what you have written above - it is everything about details which some readers either neglect or find non-important doing in their own way. I myself like to experiment with substitutions but like you say with another nuts or another sort of apples but surely not with the main ingredients...

Since I found your blog having tried your crostini, I check it regularly and I know that I always find something that will rescue my day if I don't have any idea of what to cook :))

Just today I have published your Swedish Apple Pie and Broccoli Bites in my blog, and wanted to go to you to say thank you for them, when I have found this post of yours, so I am saying it here - thank you for your recipes, you are very popular also outside the USA :))

p.s. I don't know yet Ree so well - I mean her recipes, but I tried her Pumpkin Muffins
the other day, and liked them very much.
Chris Reardon said…
You want to also use the absolute freshest ingredients, which will produce the absolute best taste!
StaceyEsq said…
Not only have all your recipes been tasty, I've made so many for so long that when I present my hubby with any new dish, he asks if it's from Stacey Snacks! And it usually is!
Amy V. said…
I check your site pretty much daily and I usually end up making at least one of your recipes per week. Keep up the great work!
Randi Lynne said…
Good post in bringing to light why recipes go wrong! It's easy to blame the recipe first, but I think 99% of the time (when the recipe's taken from a reputable source) it's "operator error."

I actually stood in line for 3 hours to get a book signed by Ree for my best friend, but don't have a copy myself. :)
Unknown said…
I agree that cooking is an art. Sometimes you throw things together and they turn out wonderfully. Other times you carefully shop for all the ingredients, put them together with care and the taste just isn't there. Sometimes a "Mona Lisa" other times crayon drawing.
Anonymous said…
Quite often at the dinner table, I'll let drop a little Stacey Snacks fact that I find interesting. My three boys tease me unmercifully. They find it HILARIOUS that I talk about you as if I KNOW you. Their theory is that you're a fat chain smoker in a guinea tee holed away in your parents' basement, living on Cheetos, dreaming up a fantasy food blog. What's great about your blog is that if you read it over time, you get the sense of 'Stacey' as a real person, your likes and dislikes, ways of thinking, expressing yourself, and most of all, your many, MANY strongly held opinions on FOOD. Again, over time, this builds a kind of trust in your readers, as does the experience of making your recipes and learning 1. how well you walk us through them and 2. how well they turn out! (two absolute favs come to mind - the currant/pine nut relish & pennette w/roasted zucchini & garlic) And talking trust, how about the INCREDIBLE food we had at Arturo's in Maplewood on your recommendation! In a nutshell, I really like your blog. And if you are scratching yourself grossly in some panelled playroom while pulling the wool over our collective eyes, my compliments to the(pseudo)chef!
Stacey Snacks said…
To my favorite Anonymous commenter:
Thank you for that nice comment, and tell your boys, I do not live in my parent's basement, and I certainly don't eat Cheetos! I feel like I know you too, always a fun, smart ass comment, but it's all good!
Stacey Snacks said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carole said…
Great points all well stated. It surprises me when people modify a recipe I've given them and then they are miffed when it doesn't turn out for them.
Anonymous said…
I like to read your blog.You have an interesting mix of food.I really like your comments also..Iwould like to be entered in your give away.. SANDI R.
Turkey sausage? Duh!!! Well you know I made tons of your recipes, you're my go to girl. Imagine some of the emails I get when I say, a drizzle of this or a couple of that, or a handful of whatever. It's so hard for me to be exact in measuring, which goes with the fact that I hate math!
Linda said…
I'm amazed that you post a recipe almost daily. I am always making the same things over and over again so you inspire me to branch out. That herb crusted pork tenderloin, for instance, really looks good.
I'm back, not to get another change to win PW's book, although I wouldn't mind being one of the winners.

Seriously, I really enjoy your recipes and have enjoyed them so much that I have featured a couple of them on my blog and they were superb. How's THAT for a nice compliment to start the day off right?
Lisa in Delaware said…
Thank you for your important tips today! Makes me roll my eyes to read how "creative" cooks on foodtv.com's website complain about failing recipes when they substitute almost every ingredient and procedure. So, why make the 4-star recipe if you change it to the point it's no longer recognizable? Reminds me of my mother's "oatmeal cookies" that didn't turn out. She didn't have oatmeal and wanted a healthier version, so she substituted whole wheat flour and cut the sugar by 2/3 (which she always does in her recipes), added ingredients, removed ingredients, etc. and then wondered why they were like rocks and flavorless!!!

I added PW's cookbook to my collection as an interesting read of her life but her recipes are also not my style. How she (and you) share your blog stories and recipes with everything else going on in your lives is impressive!

Thank you for sharing, caring and for the irrestible recipes, Stacey. I'm a frequently quoting the wisdom from the Stacey Mount to my mother, sister and friends!

Love ya,
Eleanor I. Cook said…
I have come to appreciate and look forward to the daily recipe from you I find in my mail box each morning. Your recipes hardly ever disappoint. And - sometimes substitutions can work out just fine or even better! An example of something I tried recently - the Sicilian marinated cauliflower salad - I did not have golden raisins, so substituted dried cranberries and that worked out great!
Thank you for all you do!
E. Cook
Lisa Faley said…
Well said! and I find it hard to imagine anyone complaining about one of your recipes! It most certainly must come from not following a recipe or making substitutions like you said.
I have to admit though, I NEVER follow a recipe, which is why I am such a lousy baker! HA!

PS your blog is awesome! If you are ever in Toronto, I'd love to meet you!
Jessica said…
Hi Stacey, love your site. I agree that when people make substitutions or short cuts they increase the chance of something turning out less than great.
Claudia said…
Wow - it would never dawn on me to complain. And I am a chronic complainer. It's what I do well. (Plus I use turkey sausage a lot - sue me) I am amused that it is your friends that complain though...
micb said…
Thanks for a great blog- I really enjoy your style of cooking! Hopefully you'll receive less complaining in the future:) -michelle
Vicki said…
Well I made a couple of things from your blog yesterday. Had a good friend over for lunch and the Cod on Frozen Peas and the Smashed Potatoes with olives were both a huge hit. My friend said she hadn't had such an "elegant" lunch in a long time. Thanks Stacey!
Anonymous said…
Hi Stacie!
I LOVE your blog...check in almost daily to see what you have created! I have you up in my "toolbar" if that gives you a clue as to how much I like reading it! :) Even added your "Football Brownies" to my facebook wall to share for Superbowl! Would absolutely love, love, love to receive a copy of the PW cookbook! It would be like a belated birthday gift (03/02/53)! Thanks for considering me Stacie! Wanda D.
Anonymous said…
P.S. Please forgive me for the typo of your name spelling! :) Wanda D.
Ann from ILlinois said…
I loved your commentary, as usual. And here's the funny thing: a few weeks ago, a friend brought a cake to my house for dessert and she was late because she just HAD to make this "best frosting ever" from The Pioneer Woman. "Who?" I asked? She thought I was crazy for not knowing her, and then, the very next day on your blog you made a reference to The Pioneer Woman. Small world, isn't it? I'll keep my fingers crossed that it's a new addition to my cookbook collection. BTW....have you tried that frosting? It's good, I must say. Worth being late for? Not so sure.
Crystal said…
Good advice - thanks for sharing. I did not know about foods not browning in non-stick pans - but it makes complete sense now! I do enjoy your blog - thanks for posting and sharing so often.
Lomagirl said…
Maybe people are hoping that if they complain enough, you'll just cook it for them? I'd try it.
Foodiewife said…
LOVE this post/rant. You nailed it right on the head. Equipment, quality of ingredients and following the directions are essential. Rarely do I make changes to a recipe, the first time I make it. If I like it, then I'll make notes and adapt it a bit. It kills me when people substitute the ingredient's list and then complain they didn't like it. Like you, I post a recipe I made and I liked. If I didn't like something about it, I'll share that too. But, we can't please everyone, can we?
The PW isn't your style of cooking...yeah, I can see that. Though, her prune cake is good, eh? I like her cooking, but my bathroom scale tells me to be very afraid of her recipes. Way fattening!
Amie said…
Excellent points and advice Stacey! It drives me crazy when people complain about a recipe when they've changed half the ingredients. I have been following your blog for quite some time now and it has never let me down. I turn to you whenever I need a little food inspiration in my life. Don't know what to make for dinner? Check Stacey's blog! Most recently I needed a taste of Spring/Summer so I made the melon Prosciutto appetizers - divine! The Tuscan Bean Dip rocked my world, and everyone else's. I live on roasted broccoli and shrimp (with added cauliflower) for lunch, low cal and delish!! Don't even get me started on your never ending supply of crostini ideas, love me some crostini!!! I spent a week up north in CT with my parents back in Februray and we got snowed in for a day. Luckily I had the foresight to check your blog for some ideas and stocked up on the ingredients for the Sunday Gravy you posted - OMG!!! I cannot think of a more perfect food to be snowed in with. I have a folder full of printed recipes I have yet to try. Keep em coming Stacey, without your posts we might end up stuck with PB&J's and Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner. You brighten our dinner table.
Natalie said…
Good post!! Great reminders for people :)

I'd love to win her book, thanks!