Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Don't Try This One at Home

I love the website Probably half of the recipes in regular rotation in my house came from that website. is a website of recipes that are primarily user-generated and user reviewed. From great-great-grandma's recipe for almond poppyseed cookies to 100 variations of chicken cacciatore, it's a great sampling of Americana cooking.

For New Year's Eve, Lindsey asked to have a sleepover and we turned it into a sleep-under, meaning her guest had to leave by 10 p.m. (It's a brilliant concept and I cannot take credit for it, my friend Jennifer introduced me to the idea.) Lindsey's friend Maia would be joining us for the evening's meal. Lindsey wanted to try something new for dinner, so she and I went through the AllRecipes site days ago and picked out a recipe for chicken with balsamic vinegar and garlic. Sounded yummy and looked simple, and had 4.5 out of 5 stars out of 1,850 reviews. Can't go wrong, right?

I should have remembered the first rule of cooking: NEVER try a new recipe on new people Never. No matter how good the reviews or how simple it appears.

I picked up the ingredients on my way home from work, along with Wayne's traditional New Year's Eve dinner of cold shrimp. I tried to print out the recipe at home, but the girls had used up all the ink in the printer making up "Wanted" signs for themselves, now that they have Nerf guns and all. No worries, I'd just use the recipe off my phone.

Except that on the phone you have to keep scrolling up to see the ingredients, then back down to see the instructions. If I were using the iPad there was a format for making recipes from the device itself that would've worked beautifully, but the iPad was providing entertainment elsewhere in the house. So I kept forgetting steps, or had to keep checking the amount. It was frustrating and took twice as long as it should have.

I was supposed to dredge the chicken in a flour mixture before-hand -- I made up the flour mixture but forgot to dredge it. Pulled it back out of the pan, dredged it and popped it back in.

The minute I added the chicken brother/balsamic vinegar mixture, I knew we were in trouble.

The strong vinegar odor emanating from the stove was enough to clear your sinuses and knock you over. It was so odiferous that my eldest and her friend went upstairs to play because the entire first floor smelled, and my husband found some candles and lit them all over the kitchen and dining room to mask it.

Note the candle on the dining room table, too.
Good Lord.

I checked the ingredients -- yep, I had followed the recipe, that was the amount of vinegar that it called for. And then I read some of the reviews.

Every review I read said that the recipe was AWESOME except that they had reduced the amount of vinegar, or they hadn't floured the chicken because it turned out slimy, or they added cream to the balsamic reduction to reduce the acidity, or what have you.

They all gave it 4 or 5 stars, but nearly all of them had their own twists on how they had modified the recipe to make it better. In other words, the recipe in its current state was...not great. Quite bad, actually. And I was following it to a tee.

Here's the deal, recipe reviewers of the world: if a recipe is only good when you modify it a certain way, it's actually a new recipe! Don't give the current iteration 4 or 5 stars; give it a 2 and then post your own variation that you created which improved it. Otherwise you convince poor saps like me to try it in its current state and be accused of trying to poison not only my family but also my daughter's guest.

The good news is that the sautéed green beans that I had served with it turned out good, as did the rice. And the chicken itself was tolerable once you took it out of the sauce it had been cooking in. The sauce went into the garbage and the candles remained lit for several hours after dinner. And Maia survived a dinner at our home and didn't starve. Of course, we did ply her with popcorn later on while watching a New Year's Eve special.

The recipe will NOT be getting 4 or 5 stars from me. Just saying.


  1. Anonymous3:14 PM

    Kinda funny because I always try new recipes out on people. : )
    I do agree with your review assessment though. If you have to make that many changes to a recipe to make it edible than the original definitely doesn't deserve many stars - Laurie J

  2. I'm surprised at how many recipes from online or print media are really bad -- even cookbooks. I've found the old Taste of Home one of the better for new recipes. But my favorite and most reliable source is still to get the recipe that I've already tasted and which was made by a friend/relative.