The Idiot Proof Recipe

The night before Thanksgiving had arrived, and it was my job to make the Green Bean Casserole to bring to Thanksgiving dinner at our friend’s house. She was cooking up a feast of turkey, sweet potato casserole, fresh pumpkin pie and other delectables, and each of her guests was expected to bring a dish.

She had given me a hand-typed recipe for Green Bean Casserole as her mother’s favorite dish, and it was the first year she’d given us a specific recipe to make. You have to understand how important this was. Her mom had been quite ill and at one point, we hadn’t expected her to make it, so this might very well be her last Thanksgiving ever. Making one of her favorite Thanksgiving dishes was a big responsibility.

I did not personally eat Green Bean Casserole and it wasn’t something my mother ever made, so I wasn’t familiar with the recipe. However, the recipe appeared to be pretty simple, and we’d already been to the store and bought cans of green beans, Cream of Mushroom soup and a big onion.

My first task was to slice and fry up the onion until it was crispy, as the recipe called for “crispy fried onions.” Once I got thinking about it, I realized that my method of frying onions doesn’t produce crispy onions unless you burn them black, so I called my friend to ask how she fried her onions.

She gasped with alarm and said, “NO NO NO! You don’t fry the onions! They come in a can already crispy, and you just sprinkle them on. You’ll find them in the same section of the store as the green beans, usually side by side.”

So off to the store I went in search of these crispy onions she spoke of. I found them right next to the cans of green beans, just as she’d said. The next step was to dump the green beans and Cream of Mushroom soup into the casserole dish, and cook it. However, the mixture appeared to be too watery for a casserole, and I concluded that you were supposed to first drain the green beans, which I hadn’t.

Most of my personal recipes didn’t involve straining the liquid out, and as her recipe had not specified it, I hadn’t even given it a thought. Off to the store for a third time to get more mushroom soup, as there was no good way to strain out the liquid without deleting the soup in the process.

The Cream of Mushroom soup was in the same section as the green beans and Crispy Fried Onions, all set aside together as if everyone in the world knew about this recipe. The soup can even had a photo of the casserole, and the recipe on the can itself.

So finally, after three trips to the store and two different attempts, the Green Bean Casserole was done and ready for the Thanksgiving feast.

The expression on our friend’s face was priceless when I regaled her with the story of making the casserole. I knew she’d given me what she considered to be an idiot-proof recipe where nothing could possibly go wrong.

The moral of the story is never to forget Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. If you give someone a recipe, spell it out in minute detail. Never assume that they know the same things, or cook the same way that you do. There is no such thing as an idiot proof recipe.

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