I think I was a teenager when my mother made the now infamous orange chicken. I have deduced my age simply because, before about the age of 13, I detested Chinese food and would have automatically hated that we were having it for dinner. Sometime, around late middle school, I swiped a bite of her Panda Express in the food court at Parkway Plaza and the rest is a history centering on a pretty intense love affair with take out Chinese.
My mom, excited to make something in her own kitchen that resembled the culinary expertise of Panda's signature dish, served up orange chicken. Except, I feel like we all should have known, when the recipe called for actual orange juice, that this was going to be an epic fail. And, truly, if I remember correctly, it tasted like I'd taken a plain chicken breast and submerged it for half an hour in a glass of O.J.
It was not good. I can't remember what we ended up eating that night but it wasn't the Orange Juice Chicken my mom had made. It was a night that will live in infamy. My mom is a good cook. In all my years of eating her meals almost exclusively, I can remember things that were not my particular favorite but through no fault of her own. I just don't really like meatloaf. The orange juice chicken, I am thoroughly convinced, was the fault of the recipe, not the chef.
It's been nearly 14 years of married life and in that time, I have made dishes that I wouldn't make again. Things that, say, weren't our very favorite. But normally, even if there's a person who doesn't like something, there's a Matthew around who will gobble it up with starvation level enthusiasm. Give it to Matthew, he'll eat anything. It's finally happened. I've had my Orange Chicken Experience.
I unknowingly signed my life over to football for the next three months. (Stay with me here.) This is particularly curious because I also signed my life over to the Jordan School District, Beverley Taylor Sorensen Arts Learning Program, and Utah's Alternate Route to Licensure. I am not sure how to divide my life so that everyone gets the appropriate parts but one thing has become abundantly clear. Something has to give. And that something is dinner.
I can't actually not make dinner but I thought that I might be able to simplify things a bit moving into this fall. I already love my crock pot like she's a full fledged family member but I've decided that it's time to up her status to full time cook. I'm planning--if I can get my act together--to freeze a couple dozen meals and throw them into my crock pot (who is rapidly reaching a status whereby she will need a name) for our particularly busy days. My boys have been practicing football almost every day for two weeks now and not getting home until 7:45 or 8:00. I decided that today would be a great day to use my crock pot and have dinner waiting for them when they got home.
I wondered if you could cook spaghetti in a crock pot. It turns out that you can (according to the Internet) and that you cannot (according to my family). I found a recipe that was basically spaghetti ingredients plus water. How could you go wrong with that?
I placed the spaghetti noodles in the bottom of the pot. I drizzled some olive oil over the top (to keep them from sticking to each other, supposedly). Next went the sauce followed by the water and then the meatballs. The recipe said to cook the dish on low for five hours but my crock pot is a tricksy little minx and she is apt to scorch anything I give her enough access to. I knew my crock pot spaghetti wouldn't need five hours. I planned to cook it for about three, turn it off, and warm it up just before the boys got home.
I checked it once. It looked like hard noodles floating in tomato juice. I became a skeptic of this spaghetti's ability to woo me. I replaced the lid and ignored it for awhile. The next time I checked on it, I was excited. The water had soaked up and it looked like delicious sauce and meatballs. I took a spoon to stir it. To my horror, the noodles had turned to what can only be described as goo. They had mushed together. What I was looking at were a few meatballs sitting atop one big blob of starch.
Troy had gotten home about an hour earlier and was working from our home office. I went down and explained that dinner was ready now. More than ready, really. And I'd just go ahead and feed the boys a very early dinner before their practice. I explained that we were eating Italian Goo for dinner. His look was one of...cautious trepidation.
I tossed the bread into the oven to crisp and dished up bowls of fruit because I didn't want those noodles in the pot for another minute and I didn't have time to toss a salad. A few minutes later, I called the family to the table. Because there was bread, my two growing boys wouldn't touch the pasta (if it could still be called pasta in its nearly liquefied state). I took the first bite.
Great Scott! It was horrible. I am not one to say Great Scott but if ever there was a Great Scott level of amazement, it was this. How could something so common as spaghetti taste so horrendously awful. It looked like wallpaper paste and tasted worse. I began to laugh. However, not wanting to sway my children's opinions (Matthew will, quite literally, eat anything including fish eyes), I tried to pass off my mirth for something else entirely.
Troy tried it. If his eyes could speak they would have been leading the spaghetti revolt. I very quickly spelled out (my children can spell but if I do it fast enough, they get confused) that it was inedible. We both began to laugh. Soon, we were shaking so hard that Will, having no idea what was so funny, began to join in. His laughter only elevated the situation and soon, tears were streaming down my face. The stuff was, in a word, revolting. Strangely, our 14 month old was chowing that mush down with wild abandon. It was the first time I'd ever given him a fork and he was enjoying smearing sauce ALL over his face so it's hard to say whether he enjoys eating wallpaper paste or whether he enjoyed the general merriment of the meal.
The boys still hadn't touched it. I gently encouraged them to take a bite and then all but forced them to PUT THE BREAD DOWN AND TAKE A STINKIN' BITE ALREADY! Garrett was the first to do so. The moment the pasta touched his tongue, he allowed his mouth to hang open as if to caution his taste buds against any further engagement. "I don't like the pasta!" he moaned as it sat, like a lump, on his tongue.
For the record, Matthew didn't like it either.
When Garrett finally managed to swallow his initial bite, he told me how much he hated it. Feigning offense, I said, "Well, that's rude. Tomorrow night you can make dinner." To this, Troy replied, "Please?"
As we ate meatballs and bread and fruit, for some reason, which I will never understand, Troy took another small bite of the gelatinous starch. "It's not that bad," he said. "If we were with the Donner party, I'd eat this before I ate the other people." I'm so glad my husband would eat my meal before resorting to cannibalism. He told me he was glad that I hated it too because he wasn't sure how he'd have eaten the whole bowl if I somehow thought it was good.
There was, literally, zero danger of that happening. The night shall go down in history as, probably, the single most hysterical meal I've ever had with my family--and we didn't even eat it.
I blame my crock pot who tried her best but is just too hot for her own good. Much like the poor woman who served up Orange Juice Chicken, I do not blame the chef for the Great Spaghetti Goo Debacle of 2017.