There’s something about Valentine’s Day that magnifies Murphy’s Law—whatever can go wrong definitely will go wrong. Probably because it’s the one day a year you get to really flex your culinary muscles and show off to your loved ones. Murphy’s Law loves added pressure.
Whether you’re taking your significant other to a five-course prix fixe at the fanciest joint in town or treating your best friend to a chocolate layer cake for two, there's plenty of room for fate to swoop in and make a mockery of your romantic Valentine's Day dinner. This year, we sent out a call to readers to send in their disaster stories. We could say it's in the hopes of learning from one another's mistakes, but let's be honest: It's all about the schadenfreude. Here are some of the most cringe-worthy submissions you shared.*
* Submissions have been edited and condensed for clarity.
For our first Valentine's Day out of college, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I decided to go to a very fancy omakase-style sushi restaurant in Washington, DC, with the expectation that it would cost over $100 per person. Halfway through the drive, he starts feeling not great. Then, during the meal, he starts feeling REALLY not great, like, just-trying-to-eat-and-not-spend-the-whole-meal-in-the-men's-room not great.
Somehow we make it through the meal, and he drives us back. We get back to my apartment, and he proceeds to spend the next 24 hours in the bathroom. With the stomach flu. After spending $200 on sushi. I was lucky enough to get the bug as soon as he recovered. I don't even remember what they served, but it was a long time before either of us could stomach raw fish.
We no longer spend real money on Valentine's dinners. —Anonymous
Last year, I made an amazing raspberry meringue tart—raspberry curd on a chocolate-crumb crust with a toasted meringue topping. As I was trying to transfer it to the table, I lost hold of the tart pan, dropping it on the floor—my own version of "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart." It was still delicious. —Elissa
When my girlfriend and I first started dating in high school, she told me some of her favorite foods. She had a particular affinity for Kraft blue-box and didn't stray far from classic Americanized dishes. One favorite stuck out to me from the rest: spaghetti and meatballs. I had to re-create it to impress her.
I spent two days gathering recipes and convincing my parents to take me back and forth to the grocery store to amass my ingredients. I fumbled through my prep, chopping garlic with a steak knife on a dinner plate, chipping away at Parmesan blocks with a small hand grater, and numbing my hands kneading semi-frozen ground meat.
At the last second, I made the game-changing decision to stuff each meatball with mozzarella for added effect. Nice. I worked with the fervor only a lovestruck teen could muster.
Come dinnertime, I set the table, and we shared the meal with my family. My parents and sisters played their part by peppering me with compliments. At the end, I looked at my date, and she had hardly touched her plate. I chalked it up to nerves, and I just knew I had this one in the bag.
During the next week, I learned that my new girlfriend was essentially a vegetarian. Ground meat freaked her out, and—oh yeah—so did things stuffed with cheese. I felt like a complete idiot.
Eight years later, I know to just cook her some mac 'n' cheese—probably from the blue box—or try some pad thai, add in cashews, but hold the chicken, shrimp, and sprouts. —Will C.
I wanted to impress my boyfriend with a special pasta dinner on Valentine’s Day. A colleague of mine had suggested a special cream that she would use to make fettuccine Alfredo. I made the pasta with said cream and liberal amounts of Parmesan. When I took my first bite, I realized that the cream was sweetened. It was horrendous, and I was horrified. Surprisingly, he finished the plate! We have been married for over 25 years now. Word of advice? Test out the recipe before a special occasion! —Barbara M.
In college, my boyfriend (now my husband of 27 years) and his roommate decided to treat me and my roommate to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner at their place. The guys decided to make baked ham. I don’t know if they used a recipe or made it up on the fly, but they came up with some kind of glaze that they used to baste the ham periodically throughout. They were very proud of themselves, though they noticed that there was no juice coming out of the ham during the baking process.
When they decided the ham was done, my roommate and I were seated at the table for the big reveal of the baked ham. However, when the first slice was attempted, the relatively dull knife of a college student did not even make a mark in the ham. Upon further inspection, and after removing some of the glaze, we saw that something was wrong. The guys baked the ham with the plastic wrapper on, carefully glazing the plastic while cooking!
After lots of laughing and good-natured ribbing of the guys, we poor college kids decided to remove the plastic and eat it anyway. Got to say that was the juiciest ham I’ve ever eaten, since next to none of the liquid evaporated during cooking!
The event has come to be known as the Dinner of Ham With Polymers. —Laura Tuhela-Reuning
So, for the most part, my V-Day disasters have been relatively banal. Weeping panna cotta? Check. Sand in my burnt scallops? Check. I think we've all had these types of problems. But the one that I remember, the one I will tell on my deathbed—nay, the one my husband may also tell on his deathbed—was the Valentine's Day when I chose to serve sunchokes.
Sunchokes, as you probably know, are chock-full of inulin. Which is awesome if you are trying to feed gut bacteria. And friggin' awful if you are on a second date with your future husband.
A couple on the plate might have been fine. But with our few tiny lamb chops, they were the only side. And, being polite, Future Husband ate them all. (To be fair, they were also tasty.) Post-dinner, about an hour into snuggling on the couch, the farts hit. And they hit hard.
I've always had the faster metabolism, so they hit me first. I tried to play it off, but it got worse. Then he began to feel the effects. By the end of the third act of Blade Runner, we were two rapid-fire farting machines, and the room was thick with the smell of amour and methane. All we could do was laugh. Only later would I Google and learn their alternate name: the "fartichoke."
This was 2008. We have not had sunchokes since. —Stephanie P.
Two years ago, I decided to make an awesome seafood dinner for Valentine's Day for my sweetie and my best friend, who was in the throes of a bad breakup. The menu was pan-seared scallops, lobster tails poached in butter, fresh-baked bread, carrot soup, and zucchini salad.
I adore lobster, and restaurants charge a fortune for something they cook until it's a rubbery disaster. I can't remember where I got the idea to poach the lobster in butter, but it sounds amazing, doesn't it? It probably would be, if it were cooked right. When I served it and we dug in, it was raw. Not just a little raw, either. Back it went into the butter. We finished everything else, and it was still raw. Then it went in the microwave and became rubber. I ate mine, but I think the rest went into the trash. —Elise
Back when cake pops were the hot new thing, I decided to make a big batch. I had dreams of perfectly coated spheres, some rolled in sprinkles, others delicately decorated with icing, all lined into a foam block made to look like an open chocolate box—Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.
Getting my go-to moist chocolate cake into balls went smoothly enough. I was having trouble getting them to stay on the lollipop sticks (which I had to special-order, by the way). The cake ball just slid right down the stick. I decided maybe freezing them with the stick in would help.
Then I went about melting the chocolate in my double boiler. Once it was smooth and fully melted, I added a couple drops of red dye. My chocolate instantly turned to chalk. I tried again. More chalk. Having now wasted 32 ounces of white chocolate chips, I only had half a bag left. I figured, what I lacked in chocolate, I could more than make up for in sprinkles.
I went to dip my first pop in plain white chocolate, and it instantly came off the stick. I fished it out with a spoon. I tried again, but carefully held on to the batter ball with my fingers. It showed—lumpy. I was also forced to let the chocolate harden upside down on wax paper, like a caramel apple. So much for the flower-foam block I'd bought specifically for this. I tried my next one, and the cake broke into pieces in the melted chocolate. By then, my chocolate had cooled down because of all the cold batter rolled around in it. I did the best I could drizzling on what was usable.
The entire thing looked awful, the kitchen was a war zone of cake crumbs, and what I had wasn't serveable. I guess Martha kept her crown another year, because I had to go to several Starbucks and buy them out. But that's a secret between us, okay? —Meredith Meyer
When my first Valentine's Day with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, rolled around, we were just four months into our relationship. I'd just moved to New York and didn't have much of a kitchen setup, so I still hadn't had a chance to demonstrate the cooking skills I was quite proud of. I decided I would unveil my talents with an over-the-top surprise breakfast in bed—French toast, chocolate-covered strawberries, scrambled eggs, bacon, and Champagne. That morning, I woke up early at his house, eager to cook. But as I started looking around for pots and pans and basic utensils, I was horrified to find nothing but a single filthy, rusted pan in the back of a cabinet. He lived in an artist's loft with six other people, and I'd never seen anyone cook there, so I accepted that it was the only option.
I scrubbed out the pan as best I could and set to work. It produced some of the driest, most horrible French toast imaginable; burnt bacon; and weirdly colored scrambled eggs. But I figured it was better than nothing, served it to my boyfriend, and, to my relief, watched him eat it all up. It wasn't until I was cleaning up after the meal that I actually bothered to look up, at which point I discovered, to my horror, a hanging rack of cooking equipment, all in perfect condition.
Months later, I finally convinced him to let me cook for him again, and actually made a meal I was proud of. Once he'd tasted it and realized I actually knew what I was doing, he finally admitted that he'd force-fed himself the entire meal, all the while coming to accept that he'd have to take on all the cooking for the rest of our lives. Bonus points for him having already decided I was a keeper, no matter what. Now, six years and many breakfasts later, with a kitchen stocked with great tools, remembering our first Valentine's Day, I plan to make him that same breakfast again. —Laura Stephens