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Foods most commonly prepared badly... that are great when made well. (Who knew? What's the key?)

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I'll start. Chicken.

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  1. Macaroni & Cheese.

    It never ceases to amaze me how such a simple and delicious dish can be destroyed because people don't fully drain the macaroni or use processed cheese food for their sauce.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Seth Chadwick

      I had gouda mac & cheese at this lakeside restaurant in NC, it was delightful!

      1. re: Seth Chadwick

        agreed, some places try to put their unique spin on it (e.g. lobster m&c) and doink it, but the worst is when the simple classic is doinked...though even i cant seem to get mine right all the time. country crock side dishes has a version i tried that is very good, and comes refrigerated in the meat section, not frozen/dried (and only 5min to make). you can always add your own lobster

        1. re: Seth Chadwick

          Along those same lines.... Nachos. Now, not exactly imperial cuisine the original recipe of decent cheese fondue + crisp & well herbed pickled jalapenos, carrots & onions over recently fried chips can be a pretty good eat (for a snack).

          Yet so many mindlessly use processed cheese plus add a bizarre smattering of incongrous ingredients... destroying the otherwise respectable teenage snack.

        2. meatloaf

          1 Reply
          1. re: byrd

            Completely agree. A good meatloaf is a thing of beauty. A bad one reminds me of either shoeleather or modeling clay.

          2. Lamb

            1. Texas Toast

              TT

              4 Replies
              1. re: TexasToast

                TT - Could you remind us what Texas Toast is please?

                1. re: Jonathan Saw

                  It should look like the bread used here

                  http://www.grilledcheese-contest.com/...

                  but frequently looks like this

                  http://graphics.samsclub.com/images/p...

                  Hence, it's place on this thread.

                  TT

                  1. re: TexasToast

                    "Grilled Cheese Contest" - Hm, this feels like something mandatory I should go to. Hehee..

                    1. re: TexasToast

                      That product has always amazed me. It offers no convenience whatsoever - just partially-hydrogenated fats where a normal person would put butter.

                2. Ooh, I have another one:

                  Black Forest Gateaux

                  TT

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: TexasToast

                    That very name is so wrong... a french cake name for a German specialty. It's schwarzwalder kirschkuchen. I'm not questioning your usage, I've seen that term in a lot of psuedo-recipe books - certainly does not inspire a desire to actually try that recipe.

                    I lived in the schwarzwald for 3 years - my landlords were bakers - I lived on the 3rd floor of the bakery. I could have a slice anytime I wanted. It's very different there than it is here - not as sweet, and soaked in kirschwasser (very alcoholic). It's really like anything else - there are lots of versions and histories - I'm not sure that it would be something I would say is particularly mis-made.

                    1. re: applehome

                      Well, that's what I was talking about. I LIKE it very alcoholic with rich, dark chocolate.

                      I mean, the stuff you get at Safeway, or Albertson's doesn't even come close!

                      TT

                      1. re: TexasToast

                        I can tell that you are a true hound, why would even try these at Albertson's or Safeway?

                      2. re: applehome

                        I have not heard it referred to as kirschkuchen. I thought it was kirschtorte. Maybe it's a regional thing--but I've never been to Germany, so what do I know.

                        1. re: Fozzie_Bear

                          I actually ordered it as that in Bavaria so someone uses the phrase there, but it was definitely Schwartzwalder and not a gateaux.

                    2. This is very controversial; one person's good mac & cheese is someone else's abomination!

                      But I'll weigh in with plain tomato spaghetti sauce (sugo).

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Kagey

                        I believe you can find sugo without tomatoes.

                        1. re: wally

                          sugo=sauce

                          1. re: fara

                            More specifically, sugo = "red gravy", the tomato sauce that is the mainstay of the Italian-American (where I grew up, at least) diet. Every Sunday, Nonna would make the sugo and then put whatever meat we were having in it. You eat the sugo with the pasta, and then the meat afterwards.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              nnnnnno, sorry, more specifically sugo means "sauce." You're being idiomatic, not "specific."

                              1. re: John Manzo

                                Actually "sugo" means "gravy", and "salsa" means "sauce", and when "sugo" is used in that context pretty much always means "plain ol' spaghetti sauce".

                      2. fried egg (sunny side up)

                        fried rice

                        chicken--absolutely! especially chicken breast.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mielimato

                          fry your eggs in your electric frypay @ about 300degrees - sprany w/Pam use a pat of butter or more if you choose.Watch closely they cook in a blink - get your spatular well under and give a quick flip - just to set the yolk and you're there!

                          1. re: mielimato

                            My fried eggs are pretty straightforward, and come out perfectly--I cook bacon in a heavy cast-iron skillet, pour off all the fat, break the eggs into the pan, cover it tightly, and about five minutes later, the whites are cooked through. Run it under a broiler for a bit, and voila! Perfect sunny side-up.

                            1. re: mielimato

                              I like mine fried in good, full-bodies olive oil. I prefer the edges of the egg whites to be crispy brown, but not burnt and the yolk still runny. The oil should be really hot before the egg is put in. Then at the end, tilt the pan slightly and pour a few spoonfuls of oil on the yolk to cook it. Sprinkling of kosher salt. Yum.

                            2. Another vote for chicken.
                              Italian pasta dishes, especially lasagna.
                              Chinese stir-fries, any kind of Asian noodles.
                              Many pork dishes.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                Definitely lasagna- I mentioned this on another thread, but the common preparation with the gummy pasta and pasty sauce is one of the banes of my existence, and I just don't get why most people I know ooh and aah over it every time it is served at a family event. Same goes for baked ziti...must be the gobs of cheese. On the other hand- a lasagna made with fresh pasta, bechamel, and maybe some seafood or spinach, etc., can be a sublimely wonderful thing.

                                1. re: TongoRad

                                  Thank you! What's with this ricotta, no bechamel stuff?

                                  TT

                                  1. re: TexasToast

                                    That's how I make it -- my wife hates béchamel -- but it has to be fresh pasta, homemade sauce, and the cheese and whatever filling (spinach, meat, whatever) have to be segregated. Oh, and the mozzarella goes ON TOP only.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      I think it's made differently in northern Italy. Anyone care to comment?

                                      TT

                                      1. re: TexasToast

                                        Lasagna bolognaise is made with lasagna noodles, preferably fresh and thin, ragu bolognaise, bechamel sauce and parmigiano-reggiano. No mozzarella, no ricotta, none of that awful gluey glop. It is not a kitchen sink for whatever is in your fridge. See Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking for a really good recipe, just like my old college roommates from Bologna and Florence made.

                                        Made well, it is amazing, all the flavors come through the layers of delicate pasta with freshness and intensity. Made badly it tastes like Spaghetti O's. I've begun to hate the American version of this classic Italian dish.

                                        1. re: cheryl_h

                                          I have to say, while I agree that that's traditional lasagne, it doesn't mean that the dish made with ricotta and mozzarella isn't lasagne (and I challenge you to taste my ricotta-mozzarella lasagne and call it awful gluey glop). Lasagne refers to the noodles.

                                          I can't abide Marcella Hazan -- her tone is off-putting -- so I'll take your word for it.

                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            I tried to be very specific in my reply. The ingredients I quoted are for lasagna bolognaise. I know there are many variations, I plan to make a vegetarian version which would make Marcella Hazan faint in horror. But I've eaten many bad lasagnas in restaurants which were simply ghastly, thick gluey noodles oversauced and overcheesed. It's bad eating, a parody of the northern Italian version. Unfortunately many, many Americans think this is the real thing.

                                            I did not mean to offend you, I'm sure your recipe produces excellent lasagna. I was referring to the very bad stuff served in too many restaurants. I feel just as strongly about Chinese restaurants which serve brown gluey glop and pass it off as authentic.

                                            1. re: cheryl_h

                                              I agree, some of the stuff served as "lasagne" might as well have come out of a frozen tray from Costco.

                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                I've had it both ways (get your minds out of the gutter), and prefer the lasagne bolognaise. That's how I make it. I've lived with people who make it with ricotta and egg and it's different, that's all.

                                                TT

                                            2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              Lasagne and baked ziti instantly came to mind when I read this thread, but after reading the posts it's clear that most of you know nothing of bad lasagne!!

                                              I will happily eat lasagne made with good noodles, homemade sauce, ricotta and mozarella. Now if offered both I will choose the lasagne bolognaise, but a well made Italian American lasagne is not the problem here in my estimation!

                                              Have you been served lasagne made with Prego and cottage cheese?

                                              Well I have.

                                              After that you will never, ever turn your nose up at a nice South Phillly lasagne again!

                                              Oh and baked ziti is even worse. I know a woman (forgive her, she's British) who makes baked ziti with macaroni, Prego, cottage cheese, green can Parmesan, and frozen peas and carrots. That is not a lie.

                                          2. re: TexasToast

                                            I use ricotta. I dress it up a lot too though.

                                            DT

                                  2. Greenbeans, asparagus & Broccoli.

                                    Most people cook the good stuff outta them and they taste like (and feel like) mush. I like mine bright green & just a little snap to them. If I have to eat my greens, they'd better taste good!

                                    The Key - since you did ask - cook veggies JUST before you are ready to plate the meal.

                                    I like getting greenbeans in the organic section of the grocery - the ones in the little bags. Just snip the corner & micro them for 2 minutes and voila! you have fresh 'crispy' green beans ready for the table.

                                    Broccoil I toss in boiling water and watch until the heads turn bright green - then drain quickly & serve.

                                    Asparagus - broil in oven drizled with a tiny bit of EVOO, S&P. (Time changes for skinny asparagus v/s thick. Be sure to cut off any tough ends.) YUM!!!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: debrolex

                                      Even better is to steam these veggies and not lose any of the precious flavors and of course, yes mom, vitamins..LOL

                                      1. re: debrolex

                                        The broccoli works nicely in a similar way to the green beans -- pop some florets in a ziploc (I usually use a quart one for two people), pour water in, swish around, pour out, almost seal, nuke for 2-3 minutes. Perfect! And you waste less water than boiling, and can still reuse the bag if you want.

                                      2. Scrambled eggs.

                                        What you get in mosts places is a scrambled omlette. Scrambled eggs, as described in Julia Child cookbooks as well as Escoffier, are cooked slowly over a double boiler until you get very light, fluffy curds. Not really fast, but it's like the difference between supermarket steak and a dry aged t-bone.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                          I need to try that. I made the mistake of scrambling eggs in the same pan where i'd just cooked sausages and ended up with a lovely brown mess. Tasted nice, though!

                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                            I agree about scrambled eggs. I don't cook mine over a double-boiler but I do cook them slowly and with lot's of butter and man is a difference from the rubber i ate as a child.

                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                              That was sooo going to be my answer! Great, creamy, slow-cooked scrambled eggs can be a thing of beauty. However, 95% of what you get in a restaurant is over-cooked, close to rubbery.

                                            2. Risotto, for sure!

                                              Definitely agree with meatloaf too!

                                              1. French Toast, it's ALWAYS either too soggy,or too overcooked and dry or has too many eggs in it (can't even taste the bread) or it has so much syrup on it's bitter.

                                                Eck..

                                                My husband is the only person that's EVER made me french toast and it was outstanding. He took a french loaf and cut it into 3 inch squares and made the normal egg batter w/ cinnamon & brown sugar, little vanilla. Then he quick swiped the bread thru the egg and put it on a screaming hot grilled and finished it off w/ real sugar so it formed this carmelized crunch on top, and the slightest bit soft in the middle. Didn't even need syrup, it was incredible.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: andlulu

                                                  Thanks! My mouth just watered. Can't wait to try it his way!

                                                  1. re: debrolex

                                                    Please do! It's fabulous.

                                                  2. re: andlulu

                                                    Oooh. carmelization! I've never tried that. I rock the french toast, too, although I'm picky about only using day-old bread.

                                                    1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                      I don't think it would matter, the french loaf we used was bought prior to that day, and it was perfection.

                                                    2. re: andlulu

                                                      Thank you! I've had too deal with my Mother-In-Law's French Toast lately. When she makes it she doesn't put any flavors into the egg batter, like cinnamon or vanilla. It always becomes soggy floppy since she just uses regular sandwich bread instead of day old bread like you're supposed to. Last time I had her French Toast I had to sprinkle lots of cinnamon sugar on it.

                                                    3. Crepes, duck, venison, and cannoli are all victims to poor cooking. Crepes should be light and lacy delicacies filled with fruits that are not syrupy and gloppy. Duck can be ruined quickly by overcooking or abusing spices. Venison, if left unattended will quickly turn into a stench-producing piece of shoeleather. Canoli... My grandma's neighbor in Fox Chapel treated us to these whenever we'd visit. Commercial attempts fall to the earth like so many doomsday comets.

                                                      1. Anything with alfredo sauce.

                                                        Caesar salad.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                          Amen to the bad alfredo! Mmmm... would you like paste with that fettucine?!?

                                                        2. Crab Cakes, especially ones touted as "Maryland Style"

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: hon

                                                            Ditto on crabcakes, never done well.

                                                            1. re: andlulu

                                                              I thought the same thing -- but then at the Taste of Newport this past weekend I had the best crab cake I've ever put in my mouth, and I thought, "If this is what they do at a festival with a portable kitchen, what must it taste like at the restaurant?"

                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                Do you know which restaurant it was ?

                                                                1. re: andlulu

                                                                  Sam and Harry's, at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa. See my recap of the event at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... for more details.

                                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                    Ah, very nice. Thank you.

                                                          2. Being from Maryland, I have to agree on hon's comment related to crab cakes. I went to San Diego earlier this year and found a "Maryland crab cake" on the menu that contained red bell pepper, lemon coulis and a host of strange herbs. In Maryland, it's all about the crab, with very little filler and next to no other ingredients other than a little cracker crumbs and mayonaise.

                                                            My other vote would go for gnocchi. I've had some truly horrible versions in restaurants.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: isabellaflynn

                                                              So true, crab cakes are rarely...any crab. The worst one I've ever had was in a fine dining little eatery in NC and it was more like a tuna cake w/ melted cheese floating in oil. It was a shame.

                                                              1. re: andlulu

                                                                Don't get me started on crab cakes. I've had 'em all, usually quite bad ones.

                                                                TT

                                                                1. re: TexasToast

                                                                  Crabcakes should never be ordered outside Maryland, DC, and Virginia. Not surprised many of you have been served lousy ones.

                                                                  1. re: Bob W

                                                                    It's funny you should say that, as I've had them in all three of those places (as well in about 20 other States).

                                                                    TT

                                                                    1. re: Bob W

                                                                      I have to disagree. I have had very good ones in San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver.

                                                                      1. re: The Blissful Glutton

                                                                        crab cakes at Catch in Calgary are better than those I had in Augusta GA.

                                                                  2. re: andlulu

                                                                    Our club makes the BEST crab cakes (I'm in Virginia). Pure lump crab with virtually no filler, browned nicely and served on top of shaved country ham (after all, it is Virginia <g>). Perfection and so simple.

                                                                  3. re: isabellaflynn

                                                                    That sounds like the "Maryland Fried Chicken" I had in Galway, Ireland, complete with nutmeg and pineapple(?!)

                                                                  4. burgers, I can always seem to find dry, smaller than the bun burgers.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: northernlite

                                                                      Yes! I don't want a medium well or well burger, thank you very much!! No crunchies for me!

                                                                    2. Rice - trick is to let the water bubble away until little holes appear at the surface of the rice, before putting the lid on and turning down the heat. Works for brown rice as well.

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                                        Rice was the first thing that came to my mind, too. The trick is to keep the heat on long enough so you get a great crust ('koge'), too. A pot of rice prepared correctly needs no soy sauce!
                                                                        :o)

                                                                        1. re: ricepad

                                                                          How can anyone who knows about "koge" even think about putting shoyu on rice?

                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            You gotta read *that* thread, too...

                                                                        2. re: MMRuth

                                                                          Yes, rice.

                                                                          The trick is to keep the heat at a simmer after the initial boil and to learn to time it well enough with your equipment that you do not lift the lid until the exact moment of doneness.

                                                                        3. Stuffing or Dressing for Turkey.

                                                                          1. Poached eggs! I can't stand to taste the vinegar they've been cooked it.

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: mnosyne

                                                                              I agree about the vinegar, but poached eggs are the only eggs I'll order in a restaurant - barring cooking time, and although perfection is hard to achieve, I find the general results better, and more to my liking than scrambled or fried eggs. Or omelettes for that matter.

                                                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                random story - I was at a restaurant in Austin, TX for brunch(granted, it wasn't a high-end place. For those who know Austin, it was El Arroyo) and I ordered my eggs poached and neither the waitress NOR the cook knew what that meant!

                                                                                1. re: Melanie

                                                                                  Welcome to Texas. You were at El Arroyo, what did you expect? The Four Seasons?

                                                                                  TT

                                                                              2. re: mnosyne

                                                                                Really? I love the vinegar! The best is to cut up toast into squares, chop up a poached egg over it, and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar. Mmmmmmmmmm.... grew up on this.

                                                                              3. Eggplant. Everyone thinks they hate it but they've just never had it prepared right.

                                                                                9 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                  What is right? I've never made eggplant, I'd like to start out on the "right" foot. =)

                                                                                  1. re: andlulu

                                                                                    When I make parmesan, I slice 1/4 inch thick, salt the slices for 10 minutes, press out the juices, dip in flour, egg and fresh breadcrumbs; spritz olive oil liberally on both sides, and bake at 400 on a pizza screen set over a cake pan (or cooling rack, if your oven's not tiny like mine). Cool the slices on a cooling rack, not stacked on a plate. The breading stays wonderfully crisp without getting over-soggy with oil, and the eggplant just melts in your mouth.

                                                                                    1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                      Oh wow, sounds yummy. Thank you!

                                                                                      1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                        This sounds great, and so much more healthful than the usual oil-soaked stuff you see. Sounds great just as it is, without putting it into a parmesan. Thank you!
                                                                                        How long does it typically take in the oven? Just until brown and crisped?

                                                                                        1. re: rabaja

                                                                                          Actually, I tend to mix shredded fresh parmesan with the fresh breadcrumbs and toss in some black pepper, too, so the parmesan browns beautifully. I honestly have no idea how long it takes in the oven; just until I know it's done. :)

                                                                                          The actual parmesan part is different than most recipes, too; instead of stacking slices, I lean them so they're standing on end, building in the layers of tomato sauce and ricotta/mozzarella/parsley. The idea is that the edges of the eggplant will NOT be covered in sauce, so it'll stay nice and crisp.

                                                                                          It's mostly based on an ATK recipe, with my own modifications (they pour veg oil into a cookie sheet and lay in the slices instead of spraying them and baking them on a cooling rack).

                                                                                          1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                            I recognized the ATK "roots" to your method. I love their recipe, but I really like your idea of spraying the eggplant with oil. Their eggplant parmesan is the best thing I've ever cooked.

                                                                                        2. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                          The salt and press step is crucial and it's what cooks so often fail to do. You have to really slather on the salt and then press the bejeezus out of the slices. If you don't do this, the eggplant can be intolerably bitter (depending on the preparation). Often times recipes don't even mention this step because they take for granted that people know to do it.

                                                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                            See, I USED to do that, but find that nowadays, most eggplants have been bread to NOT be bitter. Well, the Dutch ones aren't anyway. I suppose it depends on where you get yours.

                                                                                            TT

                                                                                            1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                              Yeah, it completely depends on the eggplant variety. Japanese eggplants and other "skinny" ones usually don't require a salt and press. But the heirloom globes I buy at my Farmers' Market (and prefer to other varieties) do require a good salt and press.

                                                                                    2. I had an ex who would only eat homemade mayonnaise, not commerical. I think he must have been onto something, because he made me some one time, and it was just insanely good.

                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: fistalee

                                                                                        I've never bought mayo, it's so easy to make at home. And it tastes so much better.

                                                                                        1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                                          Yes, and no need for all that whisking to get an emulsion. Just toss an egg, a bit of prepared mustard (essential), bit of salt, oil, and vinegar or lemon juice (plus stuff like wasabe if desired)--in a blender and give it a buzz. Add more oil until desired consistency is achieved. Works every time.

                                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                            Everyone tells me how easy it is to make blender mayo... and every time, I end up with what, in parts of France, would be called "aïoli noyé", but what, in my kitchen, is called "an oil slick on top of eggs".

                                                                                            I've tried it at least a dozen times, with all sorts of hints from here and from elsewhere, and I always end up remounting the sauce on a new egg yolk in a glass bowl with a whip, by hand, like my grandmother taught me.

                                                                                            So now I leave the blender mayo to the people who can actually do it, and I emulsify by hand. It takes ten minutes, tops.

                                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                              I do it by hand too, it takes so little time and I don't have another appliance to clean up and put away.

                                                                                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                                                Blender mayo takes all of a minute. The key, I think, is that dab of mustard.

                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                  I've used the dab of mustard. It still doesn't work.

                                                                                                  So I will get the exercise mounting it by hand. It seems better that way to me anyway, more soul.

                                                                                      2. I'll go with chicken cutlets--a beautiful scallopini is just perfection, and the ultimate in flexibility. But so easy to turn into strings.

                                                                                        Forgot to add my method (same as for everyone, probably): slice thinly and pound so they're all the same thickness, all the way through; dredge in flour; heat olive oil to shimmering; sautee cutlet until it easily removes from the pan; flip it, do the same; pull off the heat when the chicken's at 160 and let it rest.

                                                                                        and then oh, the joy of pan sauce!

                                                                                        1. Oh! Also have to add boiled eggs. I like bright yellow yolks, not the greenish gray awfulness. I set the eggs in the pot of water, heat to boiling, and cook for about 10 minutes after boiling. Works like a charm (although everyone has wonderful methods for boiling eggs, I'm sure!).

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                            Mine is turn the heat off when it reaches boil point, and leave for 10 min. Then hit with the ice water.,

                                                                                          2. - pad thai
                                                                                            - saag paneer
                                                                                            - marinara sauce
                                                                                            - french fries
                                                                                            - potato latkes

                                                                                            1. Another two - biscotti and scones - both completely bastardized in most establishments (Starbucks comes to mind) in the US. I don't know that bastardized means the same as "prepared badly" - but I find most of them inedible.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                Ditto x 10

                                                                                              2. Hamburgers.

                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  aha. excellent choice. I doubt if there is any food that is more universally mis-made than a hamburger.

                                                                                                  The entire USA (and now world) has been befuddled into thinking that the ubiquitous form at the ff chains is something somehow related to the real food item called a hamburger.

                                                                                                  1. re: applehome

                                                                                                    I remember eating "proper" hamburgers at the fare; any fare, it didn't matter. There was something about the smell of the onions and meat cooking. Of course, it was terrible for me, but hey, you live and learn!

                                                                                                    TT

                                                                                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                      If you've never had a "hamburger" in Belgium, you don't know just how wrong it can be done.

                                                                                                2. Meat stews. I admitedly suck at it. I can never get a nice sear on the meat and still get a tender final product, like where the meat kinda falls/shreds apart from the stewing. Sigh...

                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: rabaja

                                                                                                    The kind of meat you use matters. Rather than traditional stew meats (chuck), I like to use sirloin tips, cut to about 1 1/2" cubes. You don't cook it as long as, but there's plenty of connective tissue and fat ingrained in the fibers. I just s&p - brown, add onions, garlic, then after a bit, the beef broth. For browning, put a little oil (oo is good) in the pan first, get it nice and hot and then put in a fairly small amount of meat. The biggest problem in searing/browning is to put too much meat in at once - the temp goes right down, the liquid is pulled out of the meat, and the meat boils, rather than searing. Stir and brown it good, then take it out and do the next batch of meat. When all the meat is browned, throw it all back in the pan and continue with the onion, etc. It just takes another 30 minutes (the meat simmering in the broth) or so before you start adding everything else. A total of 1 - 1 1/2 hrs of cooking and it's plenty tender enough.

                                                                                                    1. re: applehome

                                                                                                      I once had a friend complain about the cost of making a beef stew. She'd come back from Whole Foods having spent $76 on beef . . . FOR TWO! Turns out, she'd bought filet mignon. Why, why, why would you do that [shaking head]?

                                                                                                      TT

                                                                                                      1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                        LOL! It's more expensive, so it would taste better, right?

                                                                                                        I once had a BUTCHER recommend a New York Strip steak for braising! Needless to say, I never returned to the shop. Sad how the art of butchery is almost dead in this country.

                                                                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                                          That was no butcher, that was a SALESMAN!

                                                                                                          1. re: ricepad

                                                                                                            Exactly! I asked her HOW this happened, and she said, I went in and told him what I was making and that was the best beef they had." And I was like and he SOLD it to you?

                                                                                                            Anyway, for those of you following my posts closer than you really should, this was the same person who sauteed beef in green dishwashing liquid mistaking it for olive oil! (It was stored in one of those oil pourer bottles and it was an unfamiliar kitchen.) Hell, it could have been the same meat for all I know!

                                                                                                            TT

                                                                                                          2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                                            No, I don't think it would taste better. Long cooking tougher cuts of meat (braising) brings out a special depth of flavor that filet would never have. Different meats, different preparations, both good.

                                                                                                      2. re: rabaja

                                                                                                        You've got to cook it longer! I used to have the same problem, and was dumbfounded to discover that that's all you need to do. Sometimes it's a lot longer. Adjust the amount of liquid if you need to so it doesn't dry out. And try braising in the oven if you can. Cuts down the temptation to peek all the time!

                                                                                                        A cooking teacher explained to me that when meat gets completely heated through, it seizes up and gets really tough. After that, you need to cook till the tissue breaks down and you get the lovely, falling-apart result. By all means use the cheapest cuts of braising/stewing steak you can find.

                                                                                                      3. Grits. Real grits not that instant or quick stuff.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: Candy

                                                                                                          Grits and polenta.

                                                                                                        2. Pork chops can be so good or so horrible.

                                                                                                          I get mine cut thick (at least an inch), and either brine or marinate them.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: SnackHappy

                                                                                                            I make pork chops for company all the time, and people are amazed at how good they are. It's all in the brining!

                                                                                                          2. Risotto - very narrow window on when its cooked properly. Too little like eating unpopped kernals of popcorn, too long like eating creamed mushy corn.

                                                                                                            1. scallops, when it's bad it's REALLY bad.

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Jennieb

                                                                                                                Very, very true. Ugh.

                                                                                                                1. re: Jennieb

                                                                                                                  I cannot make scallops thatare anything but a chewy, rubbery mess. REALLY REALLY bad! Any suggestions on how to make perfect pan seared scallops?

                                                                                                                  1. re: AmblerGirl

                                                                                                                    There are some great tips in this thread:

                                                                                                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                                                                                    (even if I do say so myself! :

                                                                                                                    )

                                                                                                                    TT

                                                                                                                2. Chicken fried steak in Missouri is an abomination (one of the many food related things I miss from growing up in Texas.)

                                                                                                                  1. how about reductions served with meat or fish at restaurants? since when did they decide to make them all sweet/fruity/salty/overwhelming? I guess so that they don't have to cook the meat or the sauce properly?

                                                                                                                    restaurants in general seem to mess up pasta, pasta sauces, vegetables, low-fat meat. they also seem to make lo mein and pad thai consistently too wet for my taste. i thought both dishes were supposed to be dry?
                                                                                                                    considering how easy it is to make fried rice, i'm surpised the avg. take out does a bad job of it.

                                                                                                                    bread!!!!

                                                                                                                    1. Risotto and pasta carbonara are the two that come to my mind. Too often risotto is made without the right kind of rice or cooking technique. And too many people seem to think that adding ham and peas to a cheesy cream sauce equals carbonara.

                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                                                                                                        Definitely agree about carbonara - I never liked it b/c it was always too creamy for me, but now that I make it properly at home, I love it.

                                                                                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                          Oh, I LOVE carbonara. But it's on my twice-yearly list--it's so rich and delicious that I've been banned for all but twice a year.

                                                                                                                          1. re: MuppetGrrl

                                                                                                                            Good carbonara isn't really that much richer than lots of other pastas, it only gets stupidly rich when people add lots of cream and too much cheese. Here's what I do:

                                                                                                                            Cook off some pancetta in a pan large enough for the finished pasta. Drain the pancetta, drain most of the fat in the pan, turn off the heat, toss your pasta in the oily pan, then toss in a couple of beaten eggs. (Keep it moving or the eggs will scramble. If you're worried about that, you can cut the eggs with a little milk or cream, but it's basically an egg coating, not a heavy cream sauce.) Add some grated parm, maybe a little parsley or basil for color, season to taste and you're done. Dang, now I'm craving it...Once you get the hang of the egg finish, you can play with variations. Add onions, maybe a little garlic if you like, and I've done versions with peas, corn and mushrooms. I even did a vegetarian version (she was ok with eggs, not pancetta) with fresh peas and corn once, it was good but not the same.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                                                                                                              I didn't add too much cream OR cheese; in fact, I use lowfat milk. I beat the eggs with the milk and pour them in last, as you mentioned; the egg doesn't cook on its own, but creates a creamy sauce that sticks to the noodles.

                                                                                                                              I suspect the richness came from the combo of bacon, pancetta, and prosciutto I used (coupled with the eggs at the end). I only threw in 1/2 cup or so of parmesan at the end.

                                                                                                                              It's not rich on a level with alfredo, but it's certainly more rich than an everyday marinara.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                                                                                                                There is no cream in carbonara.

                                                                                                                                1. re: wally

                                                                                                                                  Maybe not in absolutely-100%-"this is true carbonara carbonara," but I like whipping eggs and milk together at the end; I don't use heavy cream, nor do I use it in large amounts. I've never had complaints, and I'm OK with it if my carbonara is Carbonara alla MuppetGrrl, as opposed to classic carbonara.

                                                                                                                        2. homemade white gravy. it's either lovely, thick and rich or a flavorless-greyish apoxy.

                                                                                                                          1. Steak. How many beautiful pieces of meat have we seen mangled by an incompetent cook? On the other hand I'm sure we've all had something that looked less than lovely at the beginning turn out to be a little piece of heaven?

                                                                                                                            1. carbonara - there's no cream in it people...just pancetta, egg, pasta water, onions and parmesean cheese..oh and black pepper.

                                                                                                                              baked clams - puree garlic, parsley, and oo...spread on raw clam..then add a little piece of bacon, plain bread crumb, a squeeze of lemon, a little more oo and broil.

                                                                                                                              meatballs - everyone's got their own method/recipe, but most are pretty bad.

                                                                                                                              gnocchi - i even went to a gnocchi class and i still can't make 'em taste good.

                                                                                                                              red sauce - see meatball comment above

                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                              1. re: jenniebnyc

                                                                                                                                I start my carbonara by cooking onions and garlic in wine. Is that unusual?

                                                                                                                                Then I throw in the cooked pancetta and toss that with the pasta, add the egg, cheese & pepper, and I'm done. Yum :-)

                                                                                                                              2. Maybe some of you saw my rant on another thread but the simple HAMBURGER is a work of art when done right. They way Hero Certified Burger does it is a disgrace. If what I had was the first burger ever made, we'd never have that wonderful sandwich.

                                                                                                                                DT

                                                                                                                                1. Greens of any kind.
                                                                                                                                  Eggs.
                                                                                                                                  Mashed potatoes.
                                                                                                                                  Fruitcake.
                                                                                                                                  Beans.

                                                                                                                                  1. I find a lot of restaurants, some quite expensive, don't cook beans properly. I like beans that have a creamy texture, but I've often eaten out and ordered a dish with beans and gotten beans that had tough skins or were still crunchy.

                                                                                                                                    1. Guacamole. There was a previous thread asking for guacamole recipes, and I was surprised at how people adulterate a perfectly delicious food. Really, if you're putting mayo in it, just call it "avocado sauce" or something! It's just not guacamole. I'm hoping my California peeps will agree.

                                                                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: writergirl

                                                                                                                                        From NYC but definitely agree.

                                                                                                                                        Smash Avocado, 1 clove of garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and salt. The best.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: writergirl

                                                                                                                                          It's food.Eat it how you want, no adulterating involved. Sheesh....

                                                                                                                                          1. re: andlulu

                                                                                                                                            True - but don't call avocado with mayonnaise guacamole.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                              There was a whole thread about aïoli on here a well and how, by definiton, you can't have a wasabi aïoli.

                                                                                                                                              TT

                                                                                                                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                                                I didn't.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: andlulu

                                                                                                                                                  I didn't mean to direct it at you particularly ... sorry if it seemed that way.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: andlulu

                                                                                                                                                No one said you CAN'T eat anything you any way you want. I'm just saying guacamole doesn't involve mayo. If you put bananas in it, you can eat it, but that doesn't make it guacamole. I fear I've offended you, and I'm not sure why. The title of the original post implies there are going to be strong opinions on the way foods are prepared.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: writergirl

                                                                                                                                                  I haven't been offended in the least, just simply stating I dont get out of shape over food, even badly cooked french toast. Heh.. =P

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: writergirl

                                                                                                                                                    I'm saying you can't put mayo in your guacamole. Ick ...and what a waste of an avocado!

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jona2325

                                                                                                                                                      avocado and mayonnaise marry beautifully- if I have avocado in a sandwich I must always have mayo. I've never made guac with mayo but can see how it would be tasty, though it might then be more like a salad dressing.

                                                                                                                                              3. Shrimp.

                                                                                                                                                I rarely order it out because I can't stand it if the shrimp is overcooked. It only takes a few extra seconds for it to become mealy and dull.

                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowmeow

                                                                                                                                                  What about the "metalic" taste that most restaurant shrimp has (at least in the lower end price bracket)?

                                                                                                                                                  TT

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                                    rubbery, overcooked shrimp.. same goes for scallops and lobster and non-fried calamari. ugh, it's like trying to eat really tough chewing gum. or rubber bands.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                                      we call them bandaid shrimp 'cause to me, they taste like cheap bandaids smell!

                                                                                                                                                  2. Any kind of shrimp. It's disgusting half cooked, and it's tough when overcooked. I even had shrimp at a place in S. Philly that was mushy and fell apart.

                                                                                                                                                    When you're hungry and craving shrimp, it's incredibly disappointing.

                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: AlisaKrisa

                                                                                                                                                      For some reason, a lot of the Asian people in the LA area seem to prefer shrimp with the heads left on, which (and I don't know why) causes them to go mushy very quickly. We were at a very lavish Korean party a while back, and the buffet was fabulous...but the huge platters of giant (and I am sure very expensive) shrimp all had the heads left on, and the meat was the consistency of snot. What a ghastly waste.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                                                        i think it might extend farther than "asian people in the LA area" - i lived in beijing for a year, and they are down with heads of all kinds there - chicken heads, fish heads, shrimp heads, etc. you just kind of get used to it after a while. i'm guessing the mushy taste must have something to do with the kind of shrimp you get in north america as opposed to asia (like how bagels and pizza from new york are so good mostly because of the water) - because the heads-on shrimp i had in asia was pretty delicious.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: amandapey

                                                                                                                                                          "(like how bagels and pizza from new york are so good mostly because of the water)"

                                                                                                                                                          What an interesting idea; I've never heard that before. Makes sense.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                                                          Shrimp heads are delicious... but the shrimp must be absolutely fresh. I think there's a proverb comparing fish with government: decay begins at the head.

                                                                                                                                                      2. sushi rolls from the grocery vs. those from a good sushi bar with freshly made, seasoned-just-right rice. ah-h-h-h-h!

                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: toodie jane

                                                                                                                                                          I must confess, I've eaten some Tom Thumb sushi in my time.

                                                                                                                                                          TT

                                                                                                                                                        2. Pizza & Bagels!!!!!!!!!

                                                                                                                                                          I found some of these posts to be quite odd and I may have skimmed too quickly - but I'm surprised that no NYers mentioned pizza and bagels - have done quite a bit of cross country travel this year and aside from tasty variations in Chicago - NYC is the best place to get both. Not to mention that this entry can span to home cooking as well - aside from a gourmet pizza that you might make at home, these are two things that you generally don't come across even in the best home cooking.

                                                                                                                                                          1. brussels sprouts. everyone always tried to tell me they were good after 20 minutes of steaming. I didn't like them until I'd had them cooked for 45 minutes to an hour (pressure cooked for 12 minutes), with nutmeg, butter, and salt.

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: vanillagrrl

                                                                                                                                                              Oh no, take off the rough outer leaves, quarter, and cook in butter with bacon and herbs! You'll never steam again!

                                                                                                                                                              TT

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                                                                                I've always hated brussels sprouts, but a friend made them recently, roasted in just soy sauce. They were caramelized and amazing.

                                                                                                                                                              2. re: vanillagrrl

                                                                                                                                                                Ahh, brussels... the most petite of "mes petite chou".

                                                                                                                                                                Do as "potsticker, or pan caramelized".

                                                                                                                                                                -Trim, then cut in half from top to bottom to yield longitudinal hemispheres.
                                                                                                                                                                -Heat frypan to Med-Hi, add a minimum amount of oil, just to saute. Bacon fat is my fave for this, but any is ok.
                                                                                                                                                                -Place sprouts in pan with Cut face down. Saute for several (5?) minutes, unstirred, until heavily browned on the cut face.
                                                                                                                                                                -Add water, by Tbs, to steam, with cover on pan, 5 minutes or so, with water present, then evaporated at end.

                                                                                                                                                                This method allows for addition of butter, any herb or onion, thru the process, as desired. But just done as sprouts, it showcases their potential. Caramelizing increases their native nuttiness.

                                                                                                                                                                Try for 3 textures: the caramelized cut face, moving to the cooked hemisphere, then the bit of resistance in the least-cooked center.

                                                                                                                                                              3. Barbecued Beef Brisket. There is so much bad brisket out there I can't believe it. It's what I judge all Barbecue restaurants on.

                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: yankeebbq

                                                                                                                                                                  damn- i forgot one - that is so true. BBQ brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken. Very hard to find good tasty sauces with good flavored meat. I suppose most have to appeal to the masses with a sweeter, blander sauce, but it is a miracle how many "award-winning" sandwiches I've choked on.

                                                                                                                                                                2. sauerkraut, I have seen so many people empty a can(argh) into a pan and warm it on the stove. They say that they don't like kraut and I wouldn't touch the stuff either,if you prepare it that way.

                                                                                                                                                                  Good kraut takes 5-7 hours and should be a medium Carmel color and have a balance of sweet and sour. I will post my recipe if anyone is interested.

                                                                                                                                                                  I agree with crab cakes

                                                                                                                                                                  Gnocchi(I still can't make really good gnocchi)

                                                                                                                                                                  95% of chicken breasts

                                                                                                                                                                  fruitcake, a great fruitcake is worth crawling over broken glass, but almost all commercial cakes aren't worthy of use as a doorstop.

                                                                                                                                                                  BBQ, Anyone who boils ribs should be drawn and quartered.Good brisket needs to smoke for 14+ hours

                                                                                                                                                                  flans/custards

                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                                                                                                                    Kelli2006's sauerkarut recipe has been moved to its own discussion on the Home Cooking board. Please follow and comment on her recipe here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                                                                                                                                  2. Hash brown potatoes

                                                                                                                                                                    1. Quiche.

                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                                                                                        Back when any restaurant patronized by Yuppies *HAD* to have quiche on the menu, it was invariably made the night before and then nuked before serving, thus ensuring that the bottom crust would be nasty and soggy. On the rare occasions when I got a server to humor me and give it to me cold, it was invariably better.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                                                                                                                                          And that is exactly why I do not eat quiche. Ever.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. Calves liver
                                                                                                                                                                        Ice cream
                                                                                                                                                                        Potato pancakes
                                                                                                                                                                        Barbecue
                                                                                                                                                                        Corn bread
                                                                                                                                                                        Fish
                                                                                                                                                                        Salad dressing
                                                                                                                                                                        Chicken breast

                                                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: missclaudy

                                                                                                                                                                          Ohh, Jalapeno cornbread!

                                                                                                                                                                          TT

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: missclaudy

                                                                                                                                                                            "Salad dressing"

                                                                                                                                                                            Why why WHY why *WHY* does it always seem to contain sugar or, worse yet, HFCS?

                                                                                                                                                                            I've yet to sweeten any salad dressing of mine other than the stuff for cole slaw. I don't sweeten ranch, and I certainly don't sweeten vinaigrette.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                                              There are many culture's cuisines that prefer sweetness added to things that American's general prefer as savory - I have salad dressing makers in my family and every recipe has sugar, without it they wouldn't have that Asain influenced tastes.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sml779

                                                                                                                                                                                I find just the opposite -- Americans want everything sweet where it ought to be savoury.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: missclaudy

                                                                                                                                                                              I want to know where you have had bad ice cream - it's hard to believe and I want to steer clear of that!

                                                                                                                                                                            3. Macaroni and Cheese
                                                                                                                                                                              Crab Cakes
                                                                                                                                                                              Salad and dressing
                                                                                                                                                                              Brussels Sprouts (they're wonderful roasted or sauteed with a litte bacon)
                                                                                                                                                                              Lemon Meringue Pie
                                                                                                                                                                              Scones

                                                                                                                                                                              1. Iced tea.

                                                                                                                                                                                No, stop laughing. It's true. All those weird flavours ("tropical" being the worst offender) are there to cover up the fact that they use crappy tea and they don't know how to brew it (if it's even freshly brewed at all).

                                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                                                  Absolutely. Starbucks is a terrible offender in this regard.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. Pasta with oil & garlic.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. swordfish. i was convinced I HATED swordfish after eating overcooked/over sauced swordfish in many places. places where I in general like their food but have tasted swordfish and hated it.

                                                                                                                                                                                    my SO made it for me (against my will) and it was actually pretty good. has anyone else experienced this or is it just in my head?

                                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dylafleur

                                                                                                                                                                                      Oh, you mean the dry, dry, dry, chewy, nasty, dry, overcooked, flavor-deficient, dry swordfish that most restaurants serve?

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. This one's easy...

                                                                                                                                                                                      espresso

                                                                                                                                                                                      By far...

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Bagels. The real ones are made properly in NYC and Montreal. The rest of North America serves a weak immitation.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Most regional food is poorly prepared if not made within that region...if it is really a cheap imitation. I saw others mention pizza and bagels whichare great examples. I'm from the Philly area and there is nothing more disgusting than a "Philly" cheese steak served in any other part of the country. First, if you have to specifically call it a "Philly" steak, then it probably isn't the real thing. A real cheese steak is just chopped steak (cheese and onions are a good addition) on a hard roll. It is a thing of simple beauty. I've seen so many disgusting variations of this -cubed beef, potato rolls, steak mixed with some sort of bbq sauce - it's as if any product with beef and a roll can be labeled a "Philly" cheesesteak! I just saw "Hot Pockets" just came out with a "Philly" cheesesteak.. I'm cringing thinking about it!

                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm sure other regions have similar items. I was recently in Chicago and had my first "real" Chicago hot dog. It was absolutely incredible... and was nothing like any "Chicago" style hot dog I'd ever been served at home!

                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: AmblerGirl

                                                                                                                                                                                            Excellent point, thanks. (Though this could diverge into the perennial BBQ debate.) :)

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Brownies. Almost every time I order one anywhere, it more often than not is incredibly cakey and dry. Brownies are supposed to be moist and chewy, not shallow slices of chocolate cake. Homemade ones (even from commercial mixes) are uniformly better.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Arthur

                                                                                                                                                                                              I have to confess, I'm usually thrilled to find a cakey brownie - preferably frosted or dusted with powdered sugar.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. Brussel Sprouts

                                                                                                                                                                                              They so often get over-cooked. Fresh ones prepared correctly aare so nice.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I have found that many folks who say they don't like brussel sprouts in fact like them very much when they are not over-cooked.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. I agree with so many of these, but I'm surprised that no one has mentioned doughnuts. Or onion rings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Maybe it's a New York thing, or I've been lucky, but I've had great success with ordering Brussels sprouts in restaurants recently. But this has just occurred in the last five years or so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Tea in restaurants. Even in places with good coffee, a request for tea will usually get you a Lipton/Salada/Tetley/etc. tea bag in tepid water.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: doctor_mama

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Bring your own tea bag and ask for a pot of hot water.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    TT

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Steamed lobster
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Homemade biscuits
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Rice pudding

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Over steamed, hurried dough, under or over cooked rice...all fairly simple..and great when made well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Tea sandwiches. I've yet to find a tea house that doesn't make them dull and loaded with butter (since when did butter become a sandwich flavour?). The bread is, invariably, a store-bought overly-sugared variety. The cucumbers aren't prepared properly. Then comes the slab of butter (or worse, margarine) to prevent the bread from becoming soggy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      How to do it right:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Make your own bread or buy a pullman loaf from a bakery. Experiment with different breads for variety.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. Use hothouse cucumbers (English cucumbers). Wash, peel and slice the cucumbers. Spread them on a few papertowels and sprinkle with salt. Cover with another papertowel and let sit. Blot until semi-dry.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      3. Whip up an interesting filling in your food processor with neufchatel, minced garlic, black pepper, lemon juice. Experiment with a few herbs.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      4. Assemble sandwiches (spread a small bit of cheese mixture on both slices of bread to prevent bread from getting soggy and layer cucumbers) and cut off crusts. Wipe knife in between cuts. You assemble and then cut so the filling doesn't extend past the edges and get on your fingers when you pick them up.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      5. Make them interesting and experiment: roast beef w/ horseradish sauce, spicey chicken salad, hummus, smoked salmon, etc. etc. etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Hot chocolate. Sounds strange, but I don't drink coffee or tea, so when friends and I "meet for coffee", I'll try the hot chocolate. It's almost always either Swiss Miss or is someone's idea of gourmet that doesn't taste of either chocolate or sugar. At home, I make it only with Scharffen Berger cocoa, turbinado sugar, some real chocolate, vanilla and whole milke whisked until frothy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: optimal forager

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Part of that might be because people confuse "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa". The former is made with melted choc and the latter, with cocoa powder.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Not that either is better, but you'll be disappointed if you're not getting what you expected.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Apple pie! I pretty much won't order it anywhere, or even eat it in people's homes, if there's a choice of something else. Maybe I'm spoiled by my dad's, but apple pie everywhere is waaaay too mushy, too sweet, too cinnamony. Give me a nice, slightly tart apple pie with a little crispness left in the apples, and LEAVE THE SKIN ON!!! Nobody even gets the skin thing till they try it, but it makes such a difference... Why does the world wallow in mushy, tasteless apple pie?

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Sweet and sour pork. I once had it in a small town near Canton. Strips of roast (without batter) pork with a thin transparent sauce, tangy with a hint of sugar. But in New York, fuggedaboudit. There's a Gresham's law at work with Chinese dishes here: if a lot of Americans like a bad version, it's harder to find the good version. It's not easy to find the good authentic Sichuan or Guizhou version of Kung Pao chicken, though I found a place in Queens that had really good Kung Pao lamb testicles. Too bad I knew what I was eating!