Inspired by a novice cook who's just joined us on the HC board, I thought back to when I was first struggling to teach myself to cook.
No matter how long we've been cooking, we were all beginners once, perhaps even totally clueless in the kitchen, and had at least one epic failure in our early efforts. While mine doesn't exactly "haunt" me, it's a fair bet that I will never forget this one awful, awful dinner. I'm going to share mine, and invite you to tell your tale as well.
Early 70s, just learning to cook for new husband, I hadn't yet learned how to evaluate a recipe properly. Saw this gorgeous, full-page color picture (set in a cobalt-blue casserole dish, yet) of a Shrimp Casserole Harpin in the Good Housekeeping cookbook I was reliant on at that stage. First moral, never judge a recipe by its picture.
Now, I would know better. Then, this combination of ingredients did not set off any alarm bells: Shrimp, lemon juice, cooked rice, butter, S&P, minced green pepper and onion, canned tomato soup (undiluted), mace, cayenne, heavy cream, dry sherry (1/2 c. Yet!) and slivered almonds. Worse, nothing alarmed me about par-cooking the shrimp for 2 minutes, then baking them in casserole for an additional 55(!) minutes.
The bad joke? The note on the recipe: "...excellent dinner party fare." It was the first time I wrote a note in a cookbook (not the last, certainly), drawing a big diagonal line across it, to boot!
Don't ask me what I did with the casserole; thankfully, like many bad memories, it has faded away 40 years later. :)