Some years ago, when I edited the food pages of a daily newspaper, we asked readers to tell us about their worst mistakes in the kitchen. One woman recalled making her first chicken soup. When the steaming, fragrant soup was ready, all that remained was straining the broth. She picked up the hot pot, carefully poured the contents into a colander in the sink that she had prepared beforehand, and watched the golden broth as it flowed. . . down the drain. She had forgotten to put a bowl under the colander. Oops.

Kitchen mistakes. We’ve all made them. And we all live through them somehow, even if survival entails a quick drive to the local pizza place. Or a call to somebody who knows what to do to save the day—and/or the soup.

For most of us, that would mean phoning Mom or Grandad or Auntie Nan. For Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine since 1995, the go-to-resource might be Alex Guarnaschelli, acclaimed New York chef and judge on the Food Network’s Chopped; or Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the virtuoso at the center of an international restaurant empire; or Alice Waters, restaurateur and founding mother of the farm-to-table movement.


Cowin has learned a thing or two from the luminaries of the food world during her time at Food & Wine, and she has compiled it all in Mastering My Mistakes: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes (Ecco). She’s titled her book with a self-deprecating nod to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking; this volume’s premise is that Cowin was not much of a cook when she came to Food & Wine, but has become a better one under the tutelage of colleagues and chefs she has worked with there. The resulting collection is an inviting mix of anecdotes about her kitchen challenges, tips from some of the world’s greatest chefs and recipes that are elegant and enticing, but not too fussy or cheffy—in other words, food we’d like to cook and eat today. Think Creamy Roasted Carrot Soup with Pine Nut and Caper Topping; Spiced Chickpea and Yogurt Salad; Halibut with Red Coconut Curry; Great Ribs; Four-Chile Chicken, and lots more.

Cowin confesses in her introduction that she was the “Irma” whose experiences inspired the magazine’s kitchen mistakes column. She writes of the lessons she has learned from chefs—some as inspired as using mayonnaise instead of butter to fry a grilled cheese sandwich (to reduce the chances of burning the bread), and others as simple as, well, paying attention to what you’re doing.

“The chef lessons,” she writes, “turned into life lessons. Now, when I cook, I hear the chefs in my head saying, ‘Slow down, stay focused.’ . . . I apply what I learned from them to every aspect of my life: be present, pay attention, listen, have patience.”

That’s advice we can all use, both in the kitchen and out. And it can only help when you’re about to strain the chicken soup and you need to remember to put a bowl under the colander.

Simplest Crepes with Dark Chocolate + CinnamonChapter 8 Breakfast & Breads A131014 FW Making My Mistakes 2013

From Mastering My Mistakes

The three most important men in my life have one very unexpected connection: crepes. My father, whom I adored, passed away more than twenty years ago. He was a businessman, an art collector, an architecture buff—one thing he was not was a cook. But on Sunday mornings, he’d sometimes make crepes for us, an act of love. . . . It was a very special family ritual.

Fast-forward to today: my husband rarely cooks, but on Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes make crepes, because our son is a picky eater and it’s one of the only things he likes for breakfast. Three generations of love united by batter swirled in a pan.

When Barclay isn’t around or in the mood to make crepes, I’ll step in. Unfortunately, mine don’t live up to the legacy of my father’s. They are often pocked with flour and a little too thick. So I asked Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Boston, to show me how to avoid these mistakes, and she revealed the secret to making the most miraculously smooth batter ever: mix the warm milk, melted butter and the rest of the ingredients in the blender.

Makes 18 crepes

  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated dark chocolate (about 11⁄2 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for cooking
  • 13/4 cups whole milk, warmed in the microwave
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Stir together the chocolate, cinnamon and brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Put the butter, milk, eggs and sugar in a blender and blend until just smooth. Add the flour and salt and blend until the batter is completely smooth.

3. Heat an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat and brush it lightly with melted butter. Pour in 1/4 cup batter and, holding the pan by the handle, swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom evenly. Cook the crepe until the bottom is just lightly browned, about a minute. Loosen the edges with a spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook until lightly browned on the other side, about 1 more minute. Transfer the crepe to a platter and roll it up like a loose cigar. Continue cooking and rolling crepes until you’ve used up all of the batter, brushing the pan with more butter as necessary.

4. Scatter the chocolate mixture over the crepes and serve warm.

Make Ahead

The batter can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Stir well before cooking the crepes.

Tips from Joanne Chang

On Sugar and Eggs

Once you’ve poured sugar onto eggs, whisk them together immediately. If you leave sugar on top of eggs without whisking them, the sugar will basically cook the egg yolks and cause them to create lumps.

On Preventing Crepes from Sticking

A nonstick pan is good here! Even so, add butter to the pan every third or fourth crepe.

On Making Thin Crepes

Add the batter while holding your pan up on an angle, ladling in just a bit of batter and immediately swirling your pan.

On Creating Even Crepes

Your pan shouldn’t be too hot, or the batter will start cooking instantly when it hits the pan and not spread evenly.

From Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin. Copyright 2014 Dana Cowin. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.