I have thrice cooked truly wretched food.

The first time, I had just learned how to steam rice. Now, I believe I put too little water or put the heat too high or something. Whatever I did, it burned on the bottom. "No problem," you say, "just salvage the good parts."

What do you take me for, an imbecile? Of course I tried that. Problem is that the burnt bits got into the water and even the parts of the rice not actually burned may as well have been. And when you don't have a steamer that's a whole lot of work. Ultimately gross but unremarkable.

Now rice, rice isn't worth much money, and it's hard to do really bad. That's not the case with steak. That is definitely not the case with steak.

Have you ever had New England Clam Chower? I don't remember everything in it right now, but the main parts are the milk, cream, and clams. The milk and cream make a good base and the clams give it its distinctive flavor. Scallops work well in lieu of clams.

Steak does not.

My friend was over an afternoon. He and both I liked steak. He and I both liked clam chowder. Being genius logicians, we thus deduced we would like Steak Chowder. I didn't have clams anyway. But hey, we liked steak better than seafood.

Well, not in chowder. It was nearly flavorless. We stood over a pot for what must have been an hour, stirring, waiting for the soup to magically become delicious.

It yielded nothing more than a slight charcoal taste from the outside of the steak.

"I know!," I said, grabbing a container of bouillon. I plunked seven or ten in there.

I'm guessing they never melted because it didn't even take on a sickening salty taste.

Well, I pour us each a bowl. For half an hour, we take occasional spoonfuls, complimenting ourselves unenthusiastically with things like "It's okay" and "It's pretty good." Otherwise, we are wordless. The only flavor either of us gets is a full cube of bouillon my friend gets. Guess they didn't melt after all.

You know when you're hanging around with several people and you're all bored, but no one says anything, then finally someone gets ready to leave and everyone parts? That same effect was at work here.

Finally I got up out of my seat, threw away my portion in disgust, and uttered something beautifully expressive like "Jesus Christ, this is so fucking nasty."

My friend gets up, throws away his, and asks "Why did we keep eating that?"

I didn't have an answer.

Apparently gluttons for punishment, a couple weeks later he was over in the evening and we decided that for dinner, before he had to leave, we'd make a Japanese steak recipe.

Now the basic idea was you had some vegetable, steak, and a marinade with sake and vinegar.

Well, we used tofu in place of this vegetable (I don't remember which, but trust me, it didn't at all resemble tofu).

We used marsala wine in place of sake.

We were supposed to marinate the steak 24 hours but we only had two, so we marinated it for 15 minutes. To compensate we soaked the tofu as well.

Now, maybe it was the nauseating contrast in texture between tofu and steak. Maybe it was the haphazard substitution of wine for sake. I definitely should have known better than to think I would have liked steak in vinegar.

Whatever the reason, it took one bite and the beginning of a chew before I began violently hacking, wheezing, and gagging. Just a little more and I think I would have vomited. I don't think I could have possibly swallowed it.

I made a beeline for the trash can and purged it from my mouth as quickly as I could. I frantically poured myself a Coke and took a swig.

I hate to waste food, but there was no way in hell I was eating that.

So profound was the effect of this dish on me that the next day when I tried to recount the tale to someone else, I began once again violently hacking, wheezing, and coughing. For several weeks the thought of it made me feel physically ill. I wish I were exaggerating.

Third time's the charm, though, as steamed steak (recipe herein) was delicious.