Day 4 Cooking Challenge report: fails abound

Posted by

Today is Day 5 of Offbeat Home’s Cooking Challenge, wherein we see if Offbeat Bride’s Managing Editor Megan, a complete non-cook who lives off of cereal and frozen meals, can go an entire week preparing her own meals.

Each day, Megan will recount how yesterday’s cooking went, and we’ll share the next day’s recipes prepared by Cat Rocketship (who SWEARS you can afford better food!). Feel free to cook along with Megan, if you’d like!

stupid french toast

I woke up the morning of Day 4 of the Offbeat Home cooking challenge feeling like “hell yeah! I can do this!” I made risotto my bitch yesterday, so I was feeling pretty confident. But risotto has NOTHING on the horrors of French toast. And French toast had nothing on the horrors of a sunny side egg.

Brunch Day 4: French toast and an egg over-easy

I knew that French toast was going to be a problem, since I happen to hate French toast. But, in the spirit of the challenge, I attempted it anyway. But it was just bad. The first piece of bread got too soggy and practically melted when I tried to take it off the pan. The second piece I soaked less than the first and it, at the very least, held its shape! But alas, once again, I re-confirmed my hatred of French toast.

No worries! Cat gave me a side dish of eggs. So I wasn’t too defeated, until I realized that it was an egg over-easy. And that didn’t go so well either! THAT disaster, I have a video of. Warning: it’s slightly NSFW cause of egg-induced cussing…

Snack Day 4: Orange and pear slices with mint and suger

Today's #obhfood snack was SO GOOD! Pear & orange slices topped w sugar & mint.

This was DELICIOUS! Omg, you guys, if you haven’t tried this yet, TRY IT. I was dubious, but Cat knows her shit. The combo of the fruit juices and the sugar with the hint of mint was so refreshing right about that time when you’re starting to feel the mid-day lull. Seriously, TRY IT!

Dinner Day 4: Macaroni and cheese and baked potato

My macaroni & cheese! Haven't taste it yet tho. Fingers crossed.

That looks like a rockin’ mac and cheese, eh? That, my friends, is all macaroni and no cheese. πŸ™ It was like eating a pan of flavorless oily noodles lightly adhered together by hints of cheese.

Is there a way to salvage a cheese-less macaroni AFTER you’ve already baked it, and then re-hearted it? Also, I used sharp white cheddar, which is YUM. But I’m curious to know if anyone has another cheese (or a combination there of) that they swear by for macaroni?

Anyone else have more success on Day 4 than I had? Speaking of successes, here’s my score so far:

  • Megan: 6
  • Evil Food: 3

Bring it on, Day 5!

While Megan will do full posts each day, you can see photos and follow her Offbeat Home cooking challenge adventures real-time, too: @meganfinley #obhfood

Comments on Day 4 Cooking Challenge report: fails abound

  1. For the french toast, what kind of bread did you use? I’ve noticed some breads just handle it better than others; we’ve used egg bread a lot, but brioche is supposed to be great for it.

    We usually trust Paula Deen (and her butter obsession) with mac and cheese. It is magical. Not sure how well it would work in baked mac and cheese, but I think the trick there is the cheese soup.

    • I used some pretty nice sourdough bread. I wish someone who actually LIKED french toast had been around to try it. Could be that it was fine and my taste buds were what was wrong. Could be, I failed hard. I guess we’ll never know, because I’m NOT trying that again. πŸ˜‰

      • I love challah for french toast… it’s pretty hearty and already eggy as hell so it tastes right.

        the first meal I ever made for my husband was this TOTALLY APPALLING “crusted” french toast — challah dipped in egg batter and then COATED IN TOFFEE AND NUTS. Somehow he married me anyway.

        • My husband is CONVINCED that there should be a “crunchy” french toast. Was it appalling because of the crunch, or was it not crunchy, or…? I keep looking for something that sounds good AND like it will work, but to no avail.

          • I made the mistake of getting “crunchy french toast” at a very nice restaurant once (was there for my cousin’s bridal shower brunch). It was french toast that was basically bread dipped in egg mix (so far so good) and then cooked normally (still good) and then coated in rice crispies and maybe baked or something? I dunno how they got them to stick. It was terrible! I don’t understand the fascination with ‘crunchy’ french toast unless the issue is people not liking it because it can be a little soft texture wise? pair it with crispy bacon, or if you must have a crunchy syrup delivery device, have a waffle.

          • I think it was to sweet and cooked on too-high heat. Instead of toffee I’d just use nuts & maybe cereal & cook it WAY LOWER than you normally would.

  2. Here’s how I would try to salvaged that Mac n Cheese:
    Get a saucepan
    Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in it.
    Add a tablespoon or two of flour and stir stir stir
    Add a cup or two of milk and stir stir stir until bubbly and starts to thicken
    Add lots of grated cheese! Lots!(already grated before you start this project)
    Pour over top of bland-a-roni. Maybe stab at the dish with a wooden spoon to fill the nooks and crannies
    Warm casserole in oven. Serve with salt.
    *This may be a huge fail.

    • As I texted to Megan last night: IT’S NEVER TO LATE TO GRATE GRATE GRATE.

      Basically: grate enough cheese on almost anything, and it’ll be awesome.

    • Random fact: The butter/flour combo is called roux and is typically used to thicken soups and sauces. I start with it when I make gravy but usually fail at it. It gets clumpy and won’t dissolve.

      • Do you use white or wheat flour? It’s weird and it may just be the kinds of flour I use but white flour clumps like a MOTHER when you make roux while wheat just mixes in like, well, butta. Plus I like the color wheat flour gives gravy since we are artificial-colorant-free.

      • Roux always goes clumpy on me too when I start adding liquid, if I add a lot of liquid at once. If you add it slowly and whisk whisk whisk while you add it, or add a small amount, whisk then add more once it’s mixed, it goes much better and doesn’t go all clumpy. even if it goes clumpy, keep whisking and the clumps will go away.

        Also the first time I used cornstarch as a thickener, I didn’t know it had to be dissolved first, and then I didn’t realize that I should add the liquid to the dry when making the slurry instead of the other way around. both times I got a clumpy mess. did the same thing the first time I tried to make icing from confectioner’s sugar and water. *sigh* I learned eventually.

      • I dunno how y’all are making your roux, but start with the oil, then add flour, then add some more oil, then more flour, until you reach what you need. Then cook it til you’ve got it where you need it (white roux, blonde roux, brown roux, etc). After you’ve got it, let it cool down for a bit and then add it, while stirring, to whatever needs the roux. It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of it…

      • Roux used to perplex me until I was told to combine butter and flour until it got the consistency of brown sugar.
        Also – I’ve had the same trouble of it still being lumpy when cold liquid is added directly to it, but if I make it separately and then add it to sauce pan of warmed liquid (crumbling it in) it works out nicely.

      • Well since I cant eat wheat and cornflour is my go-to staple, and since I make white sauce at least once a week, let me just say this:

        1 tbs cornflour:2/3 tbs butter:1 cup or so of milk (and yes, thats just ordinary tablespoons outta your draw, doesn’t have to be exact, just rough)

        Melt butter in pan (not too hot, we don’t want to burn it), add cornflour and mix and smoosh lumps until its smooth. Add milk, stirring as you go. Stir for about a million years, and just when you think that it’ll never thicken – magically it does. You’ll find that if you keep stirring for a bit longer it goes even thicker. Here’s when you add more milk, stir to combine and then put in your cheese, mustard and herbs, whatever.

        For mac and cheese I like a decent, bitey tasty or chedder, and parmesan or grana padano. You want to buy that in the block form and use a REALLY fine grater – I use a zest grater – so that it melts properly. But it makes a tasty mac and cheese. I also think a bit of dijon mustard is good in the mac and cheese sauce. Some people like to add chives or parsley. I pour the sauce over cooked pasta (or noodles, however you like your words) in a baking dish, cover with more grated cheese, and breadcrumbs if I have them, and bake til the top is crunchy.

        Tuna, corn kernels, cauliflower and broccoli make yummo additions as well. Just stir through the pasta before you pour the sauce over. Makes a decent meal! πŸ™‚ Also, if you use cornflour, gf pasta and gf breadcrumbs (or skip) this is a great one for guests who cant eat gluten.

    • Havarti!
      I totally agree that a cheese sauce will salvage your oily mac-n-cheese. And I suggest getting some creamy havarti to put in that cheese sauce with your sharp cheddar. I love me some sharp cheddar, but when I make a cheese sauce with only cheddar my husby says it is too “oily”. Enter my new cheese love, havarti, which smooths out the cheese sauce and makes it velvety, lovely, and not at all oily. πŸ™‚
      Hope this helps!

    • This!

      You need to make a roux (the butter + flour over heat) to get a perfect cheese sauce, or else the grease/oil from the cheese will separate (which is what it sounds like happened in this case!) Then you add milk, stir until smooth and bubbly, then add shredded cheese. It took me a while to get over being intimidated of this process, but now that I know how easy it is, mac & cheese will never come from a box!

  3. Hmm, many mac’n’cheese recipes call for milk. Essentially you melt the butter down, stir in the milk (and maybe flour first, to thicken), then add the cheese til melty and toss with the noodles. It looks like there wasn’t enough moisture in the dish (the role of the milk).

    • wait wait wait wait. wait. there was no milk? I’ve only done mac ‘n cheese with cheese SAUCE – butter & milk heated up with cheese melted in the liquid, then poured over the cooked macaroni. *goes back to read Cat’s recipe*

  4. Megan, I am loving the videos SO HARD. After this challenge is over, I hope your adventures in cooking become a regular feature. You make me laugh, but I’m also rooting for you to become a MASTER CHEF! lol

    • Okay, comments like this make the hell of this challenge SO WORTH IT! I started it thinking, even if I fail on every dish, if I make people laugh, it’s worth it. πŸ˜‰

      • There is an easier way to make Mac and cheese than to make a roux. You just mix 8 oz noodles (cooked) with 8 oz pasta, 8 oz cheddar, 8 oz sour cream, and 12 oz cottage cheese. Bake at 350 til hot. Really lazy and I swear always a success. And minimal dishes.

        • Does dry cottage cheese work with this? Cause I just bought a huge tub of that on accident. It’s just curds, no moisture, no taste, and I can’t see me making enough blintzes to use it ALLLLL.

          • I’ve never seen that product. Like farmers cheese? Maybe you could purΓ©e and use it like ricotta? I think it would work here too though. I love this whole entire series, btw, even though I am a kind of fancy cook. (not that you can tell from this recipe). You could make this a winning blog… Although you would eventually become defunct since you would inevitably be less clueless. But then you could have advanced croissant making posts then. It would be so awesome and funny. The best and worst cook can identify with: 1. Me hungry. 2. Wtf is this thing I made?

          • Have it on a slice of bread/toast/bagel/whatevs with any (combination) of the following:
            A) honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard…
            B) apple, pear, kiwi, banana…
            C) walnuts, pumpkin/sunflower seeds, pine nuts…
            Or make something more savoury if you prefer, you know, w/ tomatoes & pesto etc.
            Endless possibilities!

  5. Yeah, you definitely need more sauceiness for you noodles.

    I’d take some milk (and add some sour cream…because I can), heat it up, melt some of the same cheese you used originally with it, salt & pepper it, let it get a little thick, and pour it in with your already-done noodles. Maybe add some bread crumbs over the top for reheating in the oven to give it a nice crunch. Nom.

  6. I agree with the call for more butter-flour-milk-cheese sauce. Also, put in a little nutmeg – it adds a whole new dimension to mac and cheese.

  7. Oh dear, I just went back & looked at the mac ‘n cheese recipe & yep, there’s no milk or cream or any other liquid milk substitute. If you’ve ever made Kraft mac ‘n cheese from a box, it’s not just the orange powder that makes the magic happen — it’s a mix of butter & milk with the orange stuff.

    Bummer on the missing ingredient, but as others suggested, this one can be saved!

  8. Another voice for milk in the mac-and-cheese sauce! (Also nutmeg FTW.) [Then I discover Mandy posted the exact recipe above me, while I was being verbose.]

    Basically, what you want is a Mornay sauce that goes to town on the cheese. Don’t freak at the sound of “Mornay sauce” or its basis, BΓ©chamel sauce. BΓ©chamel is really, really easy as long as you don’t take it too seriously. (I grew up terrified of making white sauce, then discovered 1950s cookbooks, where it was explained as this routine thing every housewife did, very manageable.)

    Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium or medium-low heat. (Keep it lower if you’re nervous.)
    Mix in 2 tablespoons of flour so you get a sort of sizzling paste.
    Pour in milk. How much milk you use depends how thick a sauce you want, but you can keep adding as you stir, so start with 1/2 cup and add more if you want a thinner sauce. Stir stir stir! The flour-butter mixture will de-lump itself and start thickening the milk into sauce.

    Then for the Mornay sauce, you add shredded cheese, and since this is for mac-and-cheese, you add CHEESE in a crazed manner until it’s really goopy. Cheddar is good. Moar cheese!

    You could probably pour this over the existing mac-and-cheese and reheat it in the oven to meld the flavors, but in that case, I’d go a little lighter on the cheese in the sauce.

  9. WWhat is up with this menu? My husband is the only person I know who wants potatoes with his pasta. Where’s the vegetable? Where’s the protein (besides what was in the cheese)? What kind of menu is this?! Not to mention… french toast? I’m a decent cook but I hate making french toast. I can never get it to turn out well. I thought this was an interesting concept idea at first and it’s definitely fun to read along, but gosh I don’t know about the menu. These seem like needlessly challenging menu items (which you do not even like!) when you could be making delicious food much easier. IMO.

      • Nooo!!! I’m nonviolent in action. I just have a tendency to sound angry in remarks. (sorry) My husband knows this too well. I actually plan on trying the risotto recipe tonight, I just think some of these things sound needlessly difficult for a beginner. (Some people complained the boiled eggs were too hard – which I disagree with – but still…)
        I also wondered why the French Toast couldn’t get changed if the person cooking it doesn’t like it.

        But I know Megan is going to come out with mad skillz she didn’t know she had before this started!
        (I’ll keep my mouf shut now.)

    • Yeah, agreed on the randomness of the menu. All of these things are good to know, but in GENERAL I like a protein and a veggie with every meal (or, I WOULD like it if I actually ate something other than fast food… which is why I am excited about this challenge). It seems like a lot of carbs and cheese though…. buuuuut at least it’s better than frozen pizza, that’s for sure! And I’m pretty sure the bagel thingy and the minty-fruity thingy are going to need to become staples at my house, because omg they look amazing.

      Oh, but I would reccommend not bothering to cook something you know you don’t like. Takes all the magic out of it. πŸ™

  10. Really mac and cheese can be good with any soft cheese. You can get all experimenty with it. Meunster, gruyere, mozzarella, cheddar, monty jack, colby jack, etc. You can mix and match your cheeses; the only rule with mixing cheeses is balance flavors. Do a mild flavor cheese with a stronger cheese. Minimize use of hard cheeses like parmesan or romano cheese since those melt to a grainier consistency, even in the presence of milk. You can make mac and cheese, you totally can. I’m afraid of making cheese sauces and even I’ve managed to have a good turnout. Also, yes, you need milk.

      • This is what we do at our house (though I admit we use base mac-n-cheese as the base).

        1. Macncheese plus condensed cream of mushroom soup plus tuna and veggies (peas, broccoli or possibly corn)

        2. Macncheese plus (fake) ground beef, plus Emeril’s essence (recipe at bottom of page if you don’t wanna buy the jar stuff which is mostly salt), and hot sauce. My friend calls this Zesty Mac and asks me to make it whenever she comes over.

    • Awesome! Thanks for this advice. My sister is making her own mac and cheese tonight so I sent her this comment to give her some cheesperation.

  11. I’m kind of confused at this day’s recipes. The Mac & Cheese recipe was, to be honest, incorrect. There needed to be a roux in there with milk so there could be a cheesey sauce…unless the cauliflower was supposed to be steamed and pureed to act as a faux roux? But that wasn’t mentioned in the recipe (actually the cauliflower was nowhere to be found).

    And the measurements for the french toast were a bit off. Probably should have been 1/2 – 3/4 cup of milk per egg. Maybe a pancake substitute would’ve worked out easier?

    • I think I just failed at mac and cheese. I’ve made this recipe before, and I referred to another recipe I’d used, but then you can see I didn’t even remember to use the cauliflower. AHEM. (Not a recipe writer!)

      French toast: this is how I make it! Toast is the very first thing I ever learned to cook, with my dad at about age four. So I STAND BY FRENCH TOAST!

      • The thing is: anything egg based inspires passionate opinions. Love or hate. People like their eggs the way they like them (fluffy quiche or dense quiche? sunny side up or hard boiled? yay french toast or hate french toast?) So while egg based dishes are completely a great way to start teaching somebody how to cook (cheap, healthy protein!!!), those passionate preferences will definitely have an impact.

  12. My favorite way to cook an over easy egg is to add a little water to the pan after the bottom of the egg starts to turn white and cover for about a minute. No flipping! No broken yolks! the steam cooks the top of the egg. You can even leave it a little longer to firm up the yolk if you don’t like it runny.

  13. Hi Megan,

    It seems like the single biggest thing to help you cooking would be the right equipment. Besides some pots and pans, there are really just a handful of things that get used really regularly and if you go ones that worked well (but were maybe less cute) your life would be much better.

    8″ Chef’s knife, Victorinox is a good budget-friendly, reasonable-quality brand
    A sharpening steel to keep that knife sharp
    A wooden cutting board, the larger the better
    A high-quality vegetable peeler
    A can opener
    A good quality, basic box grater
    A good spatula
    A big, sturdy wooden spoon
    A ladle

    There are some other things that help, but those really are the basics you need to cook well.

    With regards to the egg, a spatula would have helped a lot and a little grease in the pan would have kept it from sticking (even with a non-stick pan). However, you were totally on the right track mentally with the scrambled eggs. Experienced cooks will actually do things like that often. If it isn’t coming out quite right, tweak it and change the name and you are golden. (Did you try the egg after you scrambled it? I know it didn’t look great, but my guess is it would have tasted fine. I would have eaten it. I have eaten similar things many times.)

  14. This week has just confirmed the fact that I have a wicked girl-crush on Megan. From your animal-themed cutlery to your hilarious rants against onions, you are awesome. Just though you needed to know πŸ™‚

    Oh, and if you’re looking for a great cookbook that walks you through the basics (how to scramble eggs, how to make pancakes, and then some more advanced but very well explained recipes) I cant’ recommend Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics enough. That book taught me to cook after I moved out of my parents’ house and my fiance is pleased as punch. Good luck with day 5 and beyond! You can do it!

  15. Mac and cheese is one of my go-to comfort foods. I do it sort of the way my grammy used to make it (hence the comfort food). I boil the macaroni until it’s extra tender ’cause that’s how I like it. Drain it and shake it so it gets rid of most of the liquid. Then dump it back into the pot. Pour in a small amount of milk (quarter cup at most to start), add a little bit of butter (maybe a tablespoon), and a whole lot of shredded cheese. I tend to use a whole ton of cheese. Mix it in. Add some salt. Possibly add some more cheese if it isn’t cheesey enough. I tend to use about half a bag of shredded cheese or a good bit of a block. I like old cheddar but I’ve also gotten used to a variety of cheddar mixes. Parmesan also adds some nice mix. You can even add some cream cheese and less milk. Some cheddars work better than others. I’ve noticed some don’t melt nicely and just stick to my spoon and never properly melt. Others make a nice gooey mess. (I’ve been teased that I have some macaroni with my cheese.)

  16. I can’t watch the egg video o n my tablet, but whatever you do don’t follow Alton Browns dirctions for eggs! I consider myself a good cook, but OMG flipping eggs with a pan is super difficult.

    My eggs over easy (or medium) directions: melt some butter in a pan over med-high heat. Break an egg into the pan, and if necessary tilt the pan to get the egg to sit on one side if you are making more than one. Turn the heat down to low-med. You dont want the egss to cook too hot or they will get a tough skin and the whites wont be cooked all the way. Once whites are well set, use a spatula to flip the eggs! Cook another few minutes to make sure whited are totally cooked I pike the yolk to see how well done they are. Don’t let them cook too long or they will be well done, but that is ok – better than undercooked.I

    • I always like to put a word of caution towards breaking an egg directly in a pan- I suggest always breaking it into a cup of some sort before putting it in the pan. That way if you get egg shell you can pick it out or if you get a bad egg it doesn’t fry to your pan and make your pan nasty (or ruin any other eggs or foods already in the pan).

      I got this habit from a chef I worked with who insisted upon it after having a bad egg be cracked into the batter for a very large cake. Cracking eggs into a cup may be more time consuming that directly cracking it into a pan but it can really save you if you ever have the misfortune of a bad egg (or a shard of shell slicing your tongue- which has happened to me.) I actually fully committed to this method after cracking a fertilized egg into my frying pan when I was much younger- it horrified me enough I had to toss the pan and couldn’t eat eggs for a while simply because of the smell.

      If I’m doing scrambled eggs I use two cups- and crack into one cup and then dump it into the other before I crack the next egg.

  17. The macaroni and cheese recipie my mom always used was a can of tomato sauce (the CHEAP kind) and a few blocks of cheese, and of course macaroni.
    You put the sauce in a pot and chunk up your cheese and stir in a few bits at time to the hot tomato sauce so all the cheese can at least start melting.(doesnt have to melt fully adds to the joy when you get a yummy cheesy clump of noodles) add some pepper maybe garlic if thats your thing, now that I am older I love adding horseradish to it for a bit of bite but since I hadn’t seen anyone else mention anything using tomato sauce… But you mix this with your pasta of choice and you are set.

      • we never had that problem as a single 8oz can of sauce and than just the blocks of cheese chucked up, and normally it didn’t even get fully melted just so it was warm and yummy… but it may also explain why my stomach didn’t always like it later that night. (I seem to be mildly lactose intolerant)

  18. This is my Mother in Law’s recipe, and its amazing!

    Mac and Cheese- makes about 6 servings

    2 cups macaroni

    Cook macaroni until just al dente – it will cook when you bake it.

    2 cups milk
    3 tbsp butter
    1 to 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
    3 Β½ cups grated cheddar cheese or Mexican blend cheese
    Β½ jar of some sort of pre made spicy nacho cheese dip (optional)

    Spray saucepan – melt butter – when melted, add flour and cook for a few minutes.
    Add milk and heat until thick and bubbly. Cook for about a minute – watch it will burn quickly.
    Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.

    Drain macaroni and stir in the cheese adding pasta water if needed.

    Put in a greased casserole dish – top with additional cheese, cover with tin foil. Bake at 350 for about 30 to 45 minutes. Leave covered for the first 30 minutes – then remove to brown cheese

  19. Eggs over easy can be really hard. I love cooking but until my dad got me the perfect spatula, I failed at over-easy. The flip takes a lot of time and practice to master. You need a good non-stick skillet and a very thin plastic spatula- most aren’t thin enough.

    In your video, the egg looked like it was really sticking- make sure your pan is non stick and lubed up with butter. Egg’s are magical in their ability to stick to things.

  20. For French toast I’ve always found that a thick Buttermilk bread is honestly the best. You also don’t “soak” the bread at all- you have your pan heated and ready (but you set it to medium or med-low right before you use it) and you quickly dip the bread into the beaten egg/milk/cinnamon mix on only ONE SIDE and then toss it in the pan. Give it….. eh…… I want to say about thirty seconds or so and then pop it out of the pan and dip the opposite side in the egg very quickly. It will probably/definitely be hot so you need to move quick but once again do not let it sit. Just toss that sucker face down(as in wet egg side down) in the pan and let it cook. Now you want to gently move the toast around on the pan to distribute the heat on the pan and the toast- just pushing the toast around the pan in a circular motion every now and then works. Generally you do this until it is a gentle type of brown. This dip method helps make sure that there is no “sogginess”. πŸ˜› My mom and I used to make French toast every Sunday morning and I can’t stand it when it’s soggy- so I’ve generally perfected making sure it’s not soggy. πŸ˜› it’s awesome if you put butter, powdered sugar, and strawberries on top once you finish! Better than waffles or pancakes if it’s done right in my opinion.<3

  21. Oh BTW- for cutting Onion- Wear sunglasses (or something the really fits to your face…. heck- try swim goggles! I bet that would work better.) and don’t talk while cutting. I can’t remember where I learned it but it REALLY helps keep the onion hell to a minimum. I have GIANT sunglasses that fit perfectly against my face that I use and it makes cutting onion bearable. Just remember not to talk because once you do it just gets worse and worse!

Read more comments

Join the Conversation