dealing with failure with grace, or, beating the Kitchen Mob at their own game and looking good while doing it

So what happens when a recipe goes wrong? I mean, really wrong – BAD – and for no apparent reason.

Who do we blame? What excuse do we make to ourselves and the world around us?

I think every home chef needs a Fall Guy, some thing or some one one who can step in and take some of the heat off the cook who really has done their level best, followed a recipe to the letter and still ends up disappointed.

I have my proverbial scape goat  and I call it – The Kitchen Mob. We can’t all be culinary superstars and ‘they’ know it. When something goes wrong with a recipe that I’ve tried in good faith, I know exactly what’s going on – it’s a case of kitchen thuggery, pure and simple. Sabotage of the same ilk as fast food menu pictures (because really, who has EVER gotten a burger that looks like that in real life…) and ideas for children’s parties in women’s magazines (“…make these adorable cake pops for your 3rd grader’s class party – it’s as easy as 1-2-spend all day and $50 dollars creating something that took our expert test kitchen staff a whole month and four years of rigorous culinary training to make…”)

I object. Not just to cake pops, but to the whole elaborate Kitchen Mob scene. I object to “Them”.

Is it to keep us humble? Is it to keep us on our toes? Is it to keep us from becoming complacent and lazy? Do we really seem this desperate for a little excitement in our lives?

What about my carrot cake – now buried and wept over – the cake I so carefully made for my beloved on Valentine’s Day? If we had wanted a slab of carrot-flavored play dough I am sure there are easier and less heartbreaking ways to achieve that. I followed the recipe – perfectly – and it bombed.

After such an incident, I find myself looking for something a little fool-proof, something that I can whip up like a pro and look good serving to boot, something I KNOW will turn out perfectly and get my confidence back up where it should be. Then I am ready to return to the ring once more and take on the Kitchen Mob and all their schemes. I am going to share such a recipe, a  loud “HA!” in the face of failed attempts for that home chef out there who has had a frantic week, or whose computer spontaneously combusted while they were frantically trying to type out their cooking column, or who just happened to pick a bad recipe out of the stack… this is for you. We shall beat them at their own game and laugh while we do it.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Serves 1

You will need:

2 slices of bread

2 Tablespoons peanut butter

2 teaspoons soft butter

2 Tablespoons jam of your choice


There’s nothing quite like a properly made peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My mom makes a darn good PB&J and served with a glass of cold milk – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.

On one of the slices of bread, spread out your peanut butter making sure to cover the Entire Surface Of The Bread. This is important, folks. The whole “I hate the crusts” fiasco was probably started by some hasty person who never smoothed the fillings all the way to the edge. It’s important that you do this with the butter on the other slice of bread, too. The butter keeps the jelly from seeping through the bread and making it too soggy – blech. After the slice is sufficiently buttered, slather on your jam. Introduce the two slices, marry them together and get ready for your happily ever after – it never fails. This is a story that always has a happy ending, a recipe that works time after time. We have beaten the Kitchen Mob and all is well with the world once more.