HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >

Discussion

What do you have the most difficulty cooking?

For me, it's two things: green beans and brownies.

I can't seem to find a happy medium with either. When I cook green beans, they always come out way undercooked and almost raw, or mushy and overcooked. I can't find that happy place where the beans still have a bit of crunch, but aren't raw.

Same with brownies. I either overcook or undercook. They'll come out raw in the middle, or so cooked that the edges are inedible. I have no problems with cakes or breads...just brownies.

So, what is your cooking nemesis? That thing you just can't get right no matter how many times (and different ways) you try?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Rice. It doesn't matter what kind, it always comes out clumpy and a mess. I want rice like you would get in an Indian Restaurant, but I always fail.

    14 Replies
    1. re: sam21479

      I've never cooked rice on a stovetop - always in a rice cooker, so I haven't had trouble with the typical long-grain rice or jasmine rice. But I can't seem to get medium-grain rice to be either not wet or not hard. I've tried soaking it first, to no avail.

      One thing about basmati rice - in The Gourmet Cookbook, there's a note that you can use the microwave to cook basmati rice (the editors too express their initial skepticism). I've never tried it, so maybe someone else can chime in with results, but the procedure goes something like this:
      2 cups (about 12 oz) white basmati rice
      3 cups water

      Put rice and water in microwave-safe dish. Cook on high in microwave uncovered, until steam holes appear in rice, about 15 mins. Cover dish and cook on high for 5 minutes more. Let rice stand, covered, for 5 minutes, then fluff with fork.

      1. re: kcchan

        I have used the Gourmet cookbook method for basmati rice - it seemed to really work quite well (and for a while I just cooked all my rice in the microwave using variations on this method). It is not quite as good as at a restaurant, but better than my stove top version.

        1. re: LauraB

          Do you think it would be same for brown basmati?

      2. re: sam21479

        If you're really hopeless, do try a rice cooker. They really work! But if you want rice like in Indian restaurants, I'd suggest using basmati. Saute a shallot in a tiny bit of oil, add some cumin and maybe a clove. Let the shallot brown. Add the rice and stir around till each grain of rice has a little sheen from the oil. Add water in 1:1.5 proportion to the rice. Bring to boil, cover and turn down to simmer for about 20 minutes. Test for doneness. When done, take off the heat and remove lid, cover with tea towel till ready to serve.

        1. re: Kagey

          Agreed.... we recently had a panic about our Zojirushi (Got a little too crazy with the cleaning) and without out a doubt were ready to go out that day and buy a new one (Thankfully P. fixed it! YAY!! :))

          --Dommy!

        2. re: sam21479

          Every time I move and get a new stove I have problems with rice. For me, I find that keeping a little ledger of the temperature settting for a few attempts usually helps. Also, use a T or so of fat, and let it sit for 10 minutes after it is done cooking.
          Rice has a bad reputation, but if you can take the time to be a little "America's Test Kitchen" about it (i.e. keep a log of different types of rice, cooking durations, stove settings) then you can definitely do it without a cooker.

          1. re: gridder

            A nutrition teacher said, about resting the rice "If you just swelled to three times your former size, you would need a rest, too.

            On the rice cooker - agreed.

          2. re: sam21479

            I am great at risotto...horrible at rice.

            1. re: jenniebnyc

              I'm fine with rice. All kinds. I suck at risotto.

            2. re: sam21479

              I don't have problems with long grain or basmati but my short grain (Japanese style, slightly sticky) is never, ever as good as I want.

              1. re: JudiAU

                I'm a rice slacker myself (rice cooker, no fuss), but I've read that rinsing Japanese rice until the water runs clear can make a noticeable difference to people who are super rice-attentive. I've done it a few times (with at least 5 or 6 changes of water), and it never seems worth it to me, but maybe you'd love it...

              2. re: sam21479

                i always follow the 2 to 1 ratio-2 parts liquid to 1 part rice. on the sovetop, boil a few minutes and then just let it sit-seems to work every time

                1. re: sam21479

                  My mom wouldn't cook rice...couldn't get it right, so we grew up "rice-less" . This may sound weird, but it is true! I married a "coon-ass" (CAJUN) who taught me to make the perfect rice! (a.k.a. coon ass ice cream) This is not a joke. You need a saucepan w/tight fitting lid ,& 1/3 larger than the amt. you need(cooked). Put the raw rice, I use long grain ,into the pot, insert your finger until it touches the bottom of the pot,gauge where the dry rice comes to on your finger, i.e. just below the first knuckle, middle of the knuckle, over the top of knuckle, etc... put the water at the same above the second knuckle! boil until the h2o is even with the surface of the cooking rice, cover; and put to low heat for 15 min. ,fluff,enjoy! no kidding, this is no fail.

                  1. re: shoshana

                    OMG-- that is how my mom taught me to make rice too-- the "finger method!" Works every time. Now I can tell Mr. Greyhound that I am using the "Cajun method." Thanks...

                2. Ditto on rice, I succeed occasionally but never remember what I did right the next time.

                  Muffins. Always awful, hard as rocks or simply flavorless. I don't have the baking gene.

                  Gravy from turkey or beef drippings.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ns538bmk

                    I also have problems with gravies. I blame it on lack of practice since I am lucky to make gravy once or twice a year.

                    1. re: LStaff

                      My mother makes the best gravy in the world! She says she swears that her secret is a squeeze of lemon juice near the end. I made and brought a 20 lb turkey to a Thanksgiving potluck (venue had no kitchen), and when it came time to make the gravy I made my mother walk me through it step by step on the phone. Everyone raved and raved, saying it was the best gravy they'd ever had and what on earth did we do it. Haha.

                  2. Fresh rice noodles. I love char kuay teow and have tried so many times to make it but I can't get the noodles right. I'm using fresh noodles purchased from a Southeast Asian store but always end up breaking them up into little pieces. The last time I tried, I read that you have to use LOTS of oil. This definitely made the noodles better, but the flavor still isn't the same.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      Me too! I always have trouble peeling those things apart. I usually end up soaking them in a bowl of hot water and swishing them with a fork to get them to come apart. But then the texture just doesn't seem right when I fry them after that. Sigh..

                      1. re: PPPPP

                        I was told by Good Authority (lady who works in a Cambodian grocery) not ever to use water with the noodles or they would turn to mush. I discovered that she's absolutely right. She said to separate the noodles gently as much as possible but not to be too fussy about getting them all separated. And to cook them in batches in lots of hot oil. As they heat up, they will separate and the oil keeps them that way. It works, sort of, but you really use a lot of oil. Once you have all the noodles fried, get everything else in the wok and stir the noodles into the lot. With more oil, if necessary. This is as far as I've gotten. Still trying for that smokiness that good char kuay teow should have. You wouldn't believe how many times I've tried this.

                        1. re: cheryl_h

                          Thanks, I'll have to remember to nix the soaking. I guess that explains why char kway teow and other flat-noodle dishes are always SO greasy!

                          1. re: cheryl_h

                            Good charred noodles needs the breath of the wok. Turn the fire up on HIGH (this is best achieved if your stove still uses gas) and hear the sizzle. Work it through quickly.

                      2. Fish. All different kinds, all different ways (stovetop, oven, grill), frozen or fresh, simple directions from the seafood people, doesn't matter. We can screw it up, guaranteed. Undercooked or overcooked, one or the other.

                        We can cook frozen panko breaded tilapia from Trader Joes in the oven. That seems to come out okay. ;-)

                        1. Chocolate cake. Always dry no matter what recipe or technique I use. I have thrown out more cake in my life than I care to admit. I've double checked my oven temp so it isn't that. It is me.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: Velma

                            I've may've lost the recipe, but I used to have a chocolate cake recipe that was foolproof & you might not have tried because at first glance, it sounds gross. It used mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. You might try googling some variation of mayonnaise mocha or mayonnaise chocolate. I want to say there might've been buttermilk in there as well.

                            1. re: shanagain

                              Sour cream in mine, the most moist chocolate cake ever.

                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                I used to have a great recipe, now sadly lost, for a chocolate cake with shredded zucchini in the mix. No zucchini flavor at all, just moisty chocolate goodness.

                                1. re: PPPPP

                                  If that was the recipe from Sunset Magazine, published sometime in the 1970's and cooked in a bundt pan, I have it and would be happy to provide it. It was my mother's favorite cake to take on a car trip or to a cook-out. Great way to use those zucchini that got away. Every garden has them.

                                  1. re: clamscasino

                                    Thanks, clamscasino! I would love to see that recipe, whenever you have time (no hurry). I have no idea where the recipe I'm thinking of came from originally, but it definitely used a bundt pan, so that is promising.

                                    1. re: PPPPP

                                      Zucchini Chocolate Cake

                                      Mix:
                                      2.5 cups unsifted flour
                                      0.5 cups cocoa
                                      2.5 tsp baking powder
                                      1.5 tsp baking soda
                                      1 tsp salt
                                      1 tsp cinnamon

                                      Beat together 0.75 cups butter with 2 cups sugar
                                      Add three eggs, one at a time
                                      Stir in 2 tsp vanilla, 2 tsp grated orange peel and 2 cups coarse grated zucchini

                                      Alternately mix in dry ingredients and 0.5 cups milk

                                      Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts (that always meant walnuts in our house)

                                      Pour into greased, dusted 10 inch bundt pan
                                      Bake at 350 for about one hour.

                                      Take out and place on rack.

                                      Drizzle with a glaze made from 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 3 tbsp milk.

                                    2. re: clamscasino

                                      I have this recipe too, from the same era, via my great uncle, from a newspaper that probably got it from Sunset! It is absolutely the best chocolate cake ever, very chocolately and very moist, and not a hint of zucchini in the final product. I never use the glaze, the cake is perfect without it.

                                2. re: shanagain

                                  most cakes i've made successfully have buttermilk in them too, and have a step in there that alternates adding dry/wet a few times - ending with dry. i just scanned for a recipe but couldn't find any - but i'd guess that since the poster below says sour cream - it's something about that extra creamy thickness of them. mmmmm,,,

                                  1. re: bbc

                                    I second the buttermilk recommendation for keeping a cake moist.

                                3. re: Velma

                                  perhaps if you took the cakes out sooner from the oven, this may prevent the dryness. when you insert a toothpick (to check if it's done), the pick should have a couple of crumbs clinging to it for the cake will continue to release moisture as it cools.

                                  as for the original post, pie crust is my nemesis.

                                  1. re: Velma

                                    My experience with chocolate cake is that you have to hang out in the kitchen after the first 15 minutes of baking, and watch the oven. Turn on your oven light and keep an eye on them. You can use magic cake strips (the ones you soak in water and wrap around the edges of the pan) to keep the cake from drying out. With these, your cake will have a chance to rise more evenly, too. As soon as the cake springs back in the center, when it's just starting to pull from the edges of the pan, take them out. Use fine wire racks so you can get them out of the pans after five minutes without breaking the cake, which will cool them more quickly.

                                    Use a recipe where you moisten the cocoa with some of the liquid ingredients first or add boiling water to it and then cool before mixing up the cake. Chocolate is notoriously difficult to bake--basically it loses it's flavor compounds the more it's heated. This makes it a challenge to make a baked cake that tastes fudgy. Brownies and the like are more easily chocolatey because they're often less baked, and have a higher proportion of fat to carry the chocolate flavor compounds.

                                    Don't feel bad about having trouble baking chocolate cake--it's notoriously difficult, and you really need a good recipe and time to watch it. Try Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipes from the Cake Bible. She even included a chocolate mayonnaise cake recipe, like someone mentioned. It's a little funny looking, but foolproof and flavorful. Don't give up on it quite yet!

                                  2. Believe it or not, grilled cheese sandwiches. I don't know why, but I always wander away and forget about it! I tell myself not to wander away, but somehow it always happens. It's the only reason I own one of those electric sandwich grill thingies!

                                    13 Replies
                                    1. re: abowes

                                      As long as I'm touting mayo on one reply and american cheese on another, I thought I'd add a tip for the perfect grilled cheese experience. I learned a strange trick from the school lunch ladies when I was in high school - I joked with one of them that I can't make grilled cheese and she said "mayo."

                                      This is going to sound like utter sacrilege, but don't use butter. Spread your bread on the outer slices with a very thin layer of mayonnaise. The bread will grill/brown perfectly, with a nice little crunch as well.

                                      I know you're all thinking I'm a hack of the highest order, so I'll just say this - try it. Use homemade mayonnaise if it makes you feel better, but try it. ;-)

                                      1. re: shanagain

                                        love it!
                                        hey and you're not a hack.

                                        1. re: lollya

                                          I have my moments, trust me. LOL

                                          My stepdad is most definitely and proudly a chowhound and outright food snob, and my mom and I were somewhat tickled to win him over to the perfect grilled cheese secret. ;-)

                                          1. re: shanagain

                                            It's the key to my fav grilled cheese, but it gets slathered on the inside of the bread. Mix it with some dijon mustard and some chopped chives, use cheddar cheese at the filling on sourdough bread. Eat it up, yum!

                                            1. re: sivyaleah

                                              Mayo slathered slightly both inside and outside, thank you.

                                              Were there a Fourth Dimension I would find a way to make it accommodate good mayo.

                                              Sweet gherkins as a foil to the sharp cheddar of the grilled cheese.

                                            2. re: shanagain

                                              I do the same thing when I need a real shot of comfort food! It does make the bread turn out perfectly crunchy, greasy (in a good way) and brown!

                                              I also make that weird egg sandwich thing, where you cut the hole in a slice of bread and fry the egg in the hole (is it bird in the hole?), and I use mayo on the bread there too. Egg and egg!

                                                1. re: lollya

                                                  thanks, lollya! i somehow thought that was an english pudding.

                                                2. re: ballulah

                                                  Bird in the Nest, that's how I always knew it - but using mayo gives it a whole new twist. I haven't had one of those since I'm a kid, but I might have to try it your way some day for old & NEW time's sake.

                                            3. re: shanagain

                                              Absolutely mayo on the inside and outside (very thin layer) with a bit of dijon mustard on the inside as well. My brother taught me that one...he used to be a short order at a dirty little lunch counter, and it turns out the perfect greasy/crispy, browned grilled cheese. My friends in college thought I was crazy, but they all loved my grilled cheese once they tried it. My Long Island friend pronounced it exactly like the grilled cheese in her favorite diner.

                                              And as for American cheese...it may not have much flavor or pedigree, but it has the PERFECT melting texture for grilled cheese. A slice of american for the texture and slice of whatever else for the taste. that's the good stuff.

                                              1. re: shanagain

                                                This sounds interesting, do you use any other grease when cooking, or just the mayo on the bread?

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  Nope, nothing else, just mayo on the bread on a nonstick griddle. If using a pan that's nonstick, I'm sure a spritz of Pam or whatnot would be a good idea, though.

                                                  1. re: shanagain

                                                    Thanks I do it on cast iron: so I'll use just a little of my butter spray. I usually cook it in up to a half stick of butter,so this could actually be healthier!

                                            4. My scrambled eggs are horrendous. It's become a running joke at my house.

                                              I also can't seem to make the chocolate chip cooke I know I'm capable of! I'm a very good baker...except when it comes to the measuring stick that is the perfect chocolate chip cookie. My cookies are never brown enough (not a factor of baking, the cookie dough isn't dark enough...and even if I add more - or all! - brown sugar, I still get anemic cookies), or gooey enough, or crispy around the edges. My chip to dough ratio is off. Blah! I've tried SO many recipes, I've just given up.

                                              29 Replies
                                              1. re: ballulah

                                                my secret for fluffy scrambled eggs is milk and a low temperature with lots of gentle stirring. hope that helps!

                                                1. re: lollya

                                                  Yep, I've done the milk, the low temp and the gentle stirring, I still end up with tough eggs, or even worse GREY eggs. It really is comedy at my house. I'm a good cook, and I can't do eggs. I read something recently about how one of the top chefs has potential new kitchen talent make eggs as a sort of audition. That made me sad, my fantasy career as a restaurant chef was ended before it began! hahaha.

                                                  1. re: ballulah

                                                    oh ballulah!!!
                                                    that is sort of funny - i don't think you can measure by eggs!
                                                    another thing i do is use a pot instead of a pan and a cake-batter spatula thingy.
                                                    my nemesis is fried rice. it always ends up a gloppy mess, so now i make the eggs separately and toss them in at the end. still though, it never gets that 'fried' texture or taste, even with the cold rice and hot wok. grr!

                                                    1. re: lollya

                                                      I use my silicon spoonula for eggs! Gah!

                                                    2. re: ballulah

                                                      I can help, but you have to trust me. Use a bit of water instead of milk, and as you're cooking over med-low heat, just as the eggs start to firm, tear up a slice or two of american cheese and toss it into the eggs as you lift/fold the eggs.

                                                      I never stir until the eggs start to set, and then I just sort of push the cooked areas up and away from the hottest part of the pan.

                                                      And for the fluffiest eggs, never salt while cooking, and always take the pan off of the heat before the eggs look completely "done" - while glossy.

                                                      1. re: shanagain

                                                        I actually don't like cheese in my scrambled eggs, but maybe water will work instead of milk.

                                                        1. re: ballulah

                                                          Well, just remember that I said you have to trust me. LOL And really, it's american cheese - so it isn't really cheese at all. When it melts down it just incorporates itself into the eggs. I'd highly recommend that you try it at least once because it really isn't "cheesy" at all. I have a large family, so a basic batch of scrambled eggs is usually about a dozen eggs to two slices of american cheese, so I'd say you definitely can use a *very small amount in order to completely avoid any "cheesiness."

                                                          1. re: shanagain

                                                            I agree with shanagain, esp. as to when to begin stirring. I think I just got this one down about two months ago and was pleased. Before then I think my eggs were always too flat, sometimes grey. I started putting milk in and just a little bit. Say one tablespoon per egg. But the real trick, I think, is adding volume by stirring. I started using a good quality whisk, stirring vigorously (not gently) to add volume, and stirring as I poured the eggs in the med-low pan.

                                                            I've also learned that if I'm adding anything to the scramble that I should have that sitting in pan as I pour in the eggs. Then the mushrooms, ham or whatever stirs into the eggs once I start stirring the eggs. Stirring is really just lifting the eggs from the bottom of the pan and allowing the wet eggs to move closer to the heat. It's closer to folding than stirring. I add the cheese once the eggs begin to set and fold the cheese in., that way it melts into the eggs, rather than disturbs the mixture. If I'm adding wet vegetables, like tomatoes, I make certain I have taken the seeds out and left only the meat of the tomato in the pan. I think the wet seedy mixture ruins the eggs.

                                                            1. re: Food Smith

                                                              My difficulty is with making perfect fluffy, plain unadorned scrambled eggs. Like French scrambled eggs. I really don't love eggs with cheese or veggies in them, unless I'm making a quiche or a fritatta. I love creamy scrambled eggs with big "curds" that are almost wet, but not wet at all. Does that make any sense? I've tried time and time again, and something always goes wrong, and the eggs are too wet or too dry, or the curds too small. I dunno.

                                                              1. re: ballulah

                                                                Whisk them with just a little milk.

                                                                Put them in the skillet and put the lid on. Keep the heat on the low side of medium. Only stir now and then. Too much stirring and you get strings. You can always break up too-large curds.

                                                                Just before they're as set as you want them, turn off the heat. This was the hardest lesson for me; I detest runny eggs so would always keep cooking until all the liquid is gone--which for some reason causes them to separate and get even runnier when you serve them.

                                                                1. re: revsharkie

                                                                  Yes! That's exactly what I do, I cook the liquid out and then they're crappy, runny eggs! I'll have to give this a try this weekend for Saturday breakfast.

                                                                2. re: ballulah

                                                                  I was taught to make them this way by using only milk and in a small sauce pan (instead of a skillet or saute pan).
                                                                  Crack two eggs in a bowl, pour in a splash of milk. Scramble them up.
                                                                  Take out a small sauce pan and put it over a med-low flame, let it heat up for about 15 seconds.
                                                                  Pour in your scrambled eggs. With a wooden spoon begin stirring slowly. Continue stirring slowly until the curds form, then speed up the stir just a bit. Remove from flame just as you see curds form to the size of your liking. They should still be a bit wet. Let rest for a few seconds (while you get your toast out of the toaster) and serve (with salt and pepper).

                                                                  1. re: scarmoza

                                                                    I used this method once, I think Sara Moulton recommended this way also. I screwed it up. I think I did what revsharkie did above, and took them just a bit too far.

                                                                  2. re: ballulah

                                                                    ballulah - I so sympathize and it seriously took me eight years of marriage to get this. (Okay, I didn't try all eight years. I just stopped making scrambled eggs and went for overeasy.) Anyway, I wanted to get the eggs down and so, here's what I suggest - try your unadorned eggs, whisk them and whisk while adding them to the pan over med/low heat. Strring adds volume. Stir/fold as shanagain said. It sounds like you want to stop sooner than you usually do to avoid the small overcooked watery eggs. Good luck!

                                                                    1. re: Food Smith

                                                                      Here is something weird that really works. Instead of beating the eggs in a bowl and then pouring them into the pan, heat the pan up and pour the UNBEATEN eggs into the pan and quickly mix them or beat them while in the pan. It really makes fluffy scrambled eggs.

                                                                      1. re: Gabbeh

                                                                        This is my method and it works the best. plus less clean up!

                                                                        1. re: Gabbeh

                                                                          This totally works for my mother...I've tried it and it's been a flop for me. And she's the one who makes fun of me when I mess up the eggs.

                                                                          1. re: ballulah

                                                                            We used to call them "strangled" eggs when we were kids.

                                                              2. re: shanagain

                                                                Water will creates steam as it cooks off leading to fluffier eggs.. and do pull them earlier...unless you like dry eggs.
                                                                I want to know how you got grey eggs without cooking brains in it?
                                                                And as a working chef I have had to audition by making an omlette... French style, where you roll the eggs out of the pan... that's challenging!

                                                              3. re: ballulah

                                                                GREY?!? What kind of pan are you using? An All Clad omelet pan changed my breakfast repertoire. I was lucky to find it at an discount shop for $34...

                                                                1. re: ballulah

                                                                  Also don't leave them in the pan too long, you should turn off the heat just when they are a underdone. Toss them gently a few more times and the residual heat will cook up the rest. :)

                                                                  --Dommy!

                                                              4. re: ballulah

                                                                Alton Brown's thin chocolate chip cookies have changed my life. They're on the food network's website listed as "The Thin." Everyone who tries them raves about them.

                                                                that was supposed to reply to the chocolate chip cookie issue above. I somehow mis-placed it.

                                                                1. re: nc213

                                                                  Maybe that'll be another project this weekend! Thanks for the tip!

                                                                  1. re: ballulah

                                                                    I've made a few different choc chip cookies, but the ones everyone raves over is the recipe on the bag of Nestles choc chips. I also have the Entenmanns recipe (from the original family) if you want, but I like Nestles better.

                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                      I've made the recipe on the bag of Nestle choc chips too. When I asked my mother which recipe she used to make when I was a kid, she said it was this one. My cookies were terrible. I thought I might just be nostalgic for a taste that didn't really exist, so I gave my mother a cookie to try. And she concurred, they were terrible. Hahaha.

                                                                2. re: ballulah

                                                                  ballulah, put some butter in the pan for the scrambled eggs (themselves mixed with a bit of milk): toss in when the pan is hot and the butter melted but not browning; as the mix moderatrely rapidly heats and parts start to solidify, draw the eggs with a fork (tines parallel to the pan surface) gently towards the center of the pan. The action will fluff the eggs; and you will see perfect scrambled eggs àppear before your eyes.

                                                                  How do I know? Did em for the hyper-sharp widow of a now gone Luftwaffe test pilot and mother of best friend godfather of our daughter--she asked for seconds.

                                                                  1. re: ballulah

                                                                    offering my two cents re: scrambled eggs - I crack my eggs into a bowl, whisk to break the yolk, and then add diced cream cheese. I cook the eggs/cream cheese over low heat and it comes out really creamy. I know you said you don't want cheese in your scrambled eggs, but cream cheese is so mild and it melts into the eggs anyway, so you can't really taste them.

                                                                    1. re: bijoux16

                                                                      may i throw in a penny or two? my life changed when i saw a cooking show (can't remember which one) about scrambled eggs and omelettes. the chef said that the key is to whisk the eggs until they 'break' which meant that when you lift the whisk out it is no longer goopy, but very thin, almost the consistency of water. it takes quite a bit longer and my wrist usually feels a little sore, but they yield the fluffiest eggs imaginable.

                                                                      1. re: soypower

                                                                        I've heard from chefs two theories: One that you should whip as you're saying to incorporate lots of air, and the other is to hardly beat at all because it toughens them. I've decided I like them better well beaten, with a little heavy cream.

                                                                  2. I have never in my life made a decent loaf of yeast bread. My daughter got me a bread machine for Christmas one year, but the bread in it wasn't good either - it had a huge airhole between the crust and the crumb on one side. I am also no good at making gravy. It is always either too thick, or too thin. The taste is good, but the consistancy is always way off.

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: breadbox

                                                                      I was going to answer "bread" too. Doesn't it seem to have a life of its own? And it takes an awful long time (mixing, kneading, rising, rising, baking) to have something go wrong and find out in the end that it's going to be birdfood.

                                                                      1. re: xnyorkr

                                                                        I also have never been satisfied with my attempts at baking bread. my baguettes and cinnamon rolls always turn out pale, tasteless and rock hard. :( more practice and experimentation would probably lead me to better results, but after all that work and disappointing (and often disastrous) results, it's hard to get motivated and keep trying.

                                                                      2. re: breadbox

                                                                        I had trouble the first time I made homemade bread as a newlywed. It was pretty much disastrous, and I don't know why I ever tried again. But about 2 years later, I did. And I was hooked. I love baking bread!

                                                                        I wish I could give some tips on what to do. It doesn't sound like you have problems with the yeast; that was my problem the first time - I think I got the water too hot. When I started putting the yeast in with the flour and then adding the liquid, it became fool-proof (for me, anyhow). And then I eventually became confident enough to put the yeast directly in the liquid -- sometimes even without a thermometer. :)

                                                                        Might you be overkneading and making it tough?

                                                                        Baking bread is such a treat (to me the baker AND to all the eaters) that I would say if you're tired of trying on your own, get together with a friend who has experience or take a short class. It really is well worth it.

                                                                        1. re: breadbox

                                                                          A few things I do:

                                                                          even though I can do it without, I usually double-check my liquid temp with a thermometer. Humility can be a good thing. :)

                                                                          If the weather seemed to cool (or the a/c was doing its job in the summer) I used to turn the dryer on high heat for a couple minutes then turn it off and put the bowl in the dryer for the first rise. (I also did it if I felt impatient sometimes!)

                                                                          I always put plastic wrap tightly over the top of the bowl and then cover that with a cotton towel. I generally put it away from direct light (don't ask me why) and, of course, in a warm place.

                                                                          I knead as little as necessary. I do almost all mine by hand. Recently, I used my dough hook on my KitchenAid a couple times, and it was realllllly nice. I will probably use it more frequently. But until very recently, I have always stirred with a wooden spoon and done kneading, etc., by hand.

                                                                          I like having good flour, but it isn't 100% critical to have the ideal flour. I strongly prefer bread flour. King Arthur is my favorite, but I've only just been able to get that consistently for about 2 years now. Before that, I got the huge bag of bread flour from Sam's. And before that, it was plain old all purpose flour from the grocery store.

                                                                          I don't know if any of that will help any of you or not, but I hope it does so you can enjoy the fun of bread-baking.

                                                                          1. re: luv2bake

                                                                            wow, thank you so much for the tips! I think part of my problem is that I don't wait long enough for the dough to rise before I bake it. (lack of patience...). the dryer idea is brilliant! thanks again.

                                                                        2. Pie Crust, for some reason I can never make a decent one despite having about 5 pastry chef friends. I have done the ice water, frozen butter etc things but can never seem to get it right.

                                                                          Creo

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: creo420

                                                                            ditto! I used to make a nice flaky one that was not pretty but did the trick. Now, I can't even do that. I strongly prefer homemade crust to storebought (what's the point of pie if the crust is only so-so?) so I rarely make pies these days. sigh...

                                                                            1. re: creo420

                                                                              donn't make it more difficult than it is, most people "overwork" the dough until it is useless... once you add the fat, you need to be as delicate as possible ,not to build gluiten in the crust. gently handle the bowl, ad each spritz of water delicately until the dough forms and clings to itself... this will give you a tender , and flaky crust.

                                                                              1. re: creo420

                                                                                A food processor was my pie dough savior. Once you have used it to cut your butter into your flour (only a few scattered pieces of butter the size of small peas left), dump in your water, then pulse three or four times ONLY. It will NOT come together into a ball of dough. It will still be separate crumbs. Then, lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Dump the crumbs into a pile on the plastic wrap (or two piles on two sheets for a double crust). Gather the plastic around the pile, then pack it into a ball as you would a snowball (use a cupped hand and gentleness). Press into a disk (freeing the plastic and re-wrapping if needed), then toss into the fridge for one hour. My pie crusts are now always perfect.

                                                                              2. Third on the rice -- my mother is appalled, "how can you not be able to cook rice", she says, voice rising with incredulity, "your father can cook rice for God's sake!" and you can add potatoes to the list too. I'll poke them and think they're done and then when you bite into them they're still undercooked in the middle.

                                                                                It's so frustrating that these two simple starches, of all bloody things, are my nemesis!

                                                                                1. Desserts, period.

                                                                                  There is not an entree that scares me or I will not try to make if challenged. But put some flour and butter in my hands and bet "disaster" in Vegas. Even my apple pie stinks when I buy the frozen crust and just have to mix the apples with the dry ingredients. Heck, I even ruined jello as a kid cook. Only carve out is I make a mean pot of My-T-Fine chocolate pudding and scoop ice cream with the best of them.

                                                                                  Lucky for Jfood is that Mrs Jfood is an absolute master of dessert. She comes from a Scientist DNA and is an artist. So she follows the formula for the basics and then decorates like a culinary master. She once made over a dozen NY cheesecakes because she did not like the cracks on the top. Once she was convince it was OK she stopped (the Forrest Gump of the homemade cheesecake).

                                                                                  1. Classic buttercream frosting is my nemesis. Too thin, separated, whatever. I am a good baker. I produce homemade pies without breaking a sweat. And I can certainly do a fine cake. But I can't frost it. I love buttercream frosting but it defeats me every time. Every time I see a beautifully frosted layer cake, I get a little urge to cry.

                                                                                    I can cook good rice, but only if I cook the exact amount I always cook in the exact pan I always cook it in. If I try to change things up it's not going to be pretty.

                                                                                      1. Pralines. I had to promise my husband I'd never try to make them again, because I get so frustrated it casts a black pall over the entire household for days. One time a couple years ago I made four or five consecutive batches, using slightly different recipes each time, with no luck. I might try again someday, but only after the memory of all those wasted pecans has faded.

                                                                                        1. Any kind of Asian fried noodles, whether it's just the plain old chow mein or pad thai. I hate a lot of oil in my cooking so I think that's my problem because I don't use a lot of oil in the wok so my noodles always stick and they're always soft too. If there's a trick to make fried noodles without a lot of oil, I'd like to hear about it!

                                                                                          1. Wow this thread is like a true confessions!

                                                                                            I don't have a particular nemesis, but I have bad streaks where nothing I make comes out right. They usually last at least a few days, and come and go suddenly with no warning. During these times, things don't just go wrong, they go horribly wrong. A relatively simple cake refuses to rise. At all. A curry that I've made a dozen times comes out with an unexplained nasty bitter taste. The flour that I used to make a perfectly good cake last week suddenly goes off and my cookies taste spoiled. Very frustrating.

                                                                                            1. Chocolate fudge cake, it's never right. I make chocolate nut cakes, I make brownies but fudge cake just never works. I suppose it's just as well, my waistline needs no help!

                                                                                              1. All pastry. Utterly loveless products. And I try, but I clearly don't have the pastry gene.

                                                                                                1. I too have rice issues. I make my rice just a little too wet. I think it comes from childhood being broke and my grandmother making just rice with a little butter for dinner. My sisters all tease me and won't come near my rice but I think they make it too hard. I don't want crunch when I bite rice. I would love to learn the southern way of making perfect short grain rice.

                                                                                                  I can not make an omelet. Ever. In culinary school, I cheated and had one of the guys make an omelet for me so I could pass the test. I tried 4 or 5 times. Since then I have tried to make a western omelet for my husband and it always comes out horrible.

                                                                                                  1. I'd have to second the FISH response.....I have tried poaching, grilling, sauteing, baking....I've tried tilapia, sea bass, tuna....and I seem to have come to the conclusion that I like fish only when someone else cooks it!! The only exception to this is salmon filets which I think I've mastered!! Pity really, since we'd love to eat more. I have a theory.... that I love it in restaurants because they use waaay more oil and butter than I would ever use at home!!??

                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: LoN

                                                                                                      You know, I didn't want to admit to the fish issue after revealing my rice and potato issue, but i'm kind of with you on the fish. I cook a mean salmon fillet, perfectly seared, beautifully done every time, but give me any other fish and I will screw it up 9 times out of 10. And, even when it is edible (my best bet is to cook it in the oven), it's never as good as when someone else makes it for me.

                                                                                                      So, for all the people who have problems with pie crust, hows about a trade -- I'll take care of your pie needs if you will come and cook fish for me!

                                                                                                      1. re: WineWidow

                                                                                                        I honestly believe that the secret to fish is this: take it out before you think it's done. Every problem that I have had with fish has been the result of overcooking.

                                                                                                        1. re: macrogal

                                                                                                          Try cooking fish fillets "en papillote" -- you're basically steaming the fish and preserving the flavour.

                                                                                                          Take two tilapia fillets per person. Take a large piece of parchment paper and fold it in half, the open it again. Place the fish side by side on one half of the parchment paper (keep the thickness as one layer of fish). You can either top the fish with thinly sliced leeks that you've cooked in butter, or top the fish with a couple of small pats of butter or even nothing at all. Season, if you wish (I never do bc I use salted butter) then fold over the parchment paper. Then seal your package by folding little overlapping folds at the edge of the paper all the way around. When you get to the end, just scrunch it as best you can.

                                                                                                          Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-12 mins (longer if using a thicker fish such as halibut.)

                                                                                                          The only thing with this method is that it would be tricky to open and re-seal the package if you found the fish wasn't done. You can poke the fish through the paper and get a sense of its doneness.

                                                                                                          I usually just go by intuition.

                                                                                                          Perfect fish, every time.

                                                                                                          1. re: macrogal

                                                                                                            I think you are absolutely right -- I baked some haddock in the oven the other night and instead of hemming and hawing about whether it was done, I just took it out when my first instinct said "it must be done by now". It was perfectly cooked, flakey, moist, flavourful. I was so proud. Then my husband said he didn't like it.

                                                                                                            sigh.

                                                                                                            1. re: macrogal

                                                                                                              My no-fail method is to put the fish under the broiler and get distracted by something else. When I smell the fish, I say, "Oh, crap, I forgot the fish!" and yank it out. Perfectly done. So far, so good...

                                                                                                        2. Nothing... (tosses hair) I'm perfect!! Ha ha! ;-) I've been thinking about this and I guess, most things that I'm bad at, my husband will usually take over and advise me or finish up and fix it. I'm terrified of frying, but he usually manages to calm me down and get it back on track. I used to be terrible at hashbrowns too, but I've since perfected that into a method that I really like. I'm not good at cooking fish, but again, my husband is and he always tells me when it's done. Still working on the perfect chocolate chip cookie- it's such a subjective thing, anyway.

                                                                                                          21 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                            Ditto on the chocolate chip cookies. My baking skills have come a long way in the last few years and now I can do cakes, pie crusts, even souffles. But I have NEVER once made a chocolate chip cookie that really turned out. My most frequent problem is that they spread all over and look like thin pancakes with chocolate bumps. Sometimes they don't spread at all. I've heard all sorts of suggestions having to do with butter temperature, leavening products, mixing methods, etc, but at this point I'm starting to think that I'm faced with a mental road block...

                                                                                                            1. re: LAcupcake

                                                                                                              See, it's all subjective though... everyone likes something different in a chocolate chip cookie. I prefer a chewy cookie, and to date, the best ones I've found were in The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle. The Soft-Baked Chocolate Chip Cookie. My dad prefers thin and crispy, with extra chocolate. I've tried the Alton Brown cookies, and I just didn't think they had enough flavor to them- rather bland.

                                                                                                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                                I've been making the recipe on the back of the Tollhouse bag of chips since I was in highschool (which is heading on 25 years now - agh!) and they are exactly what I love in a chocolate chip cookie. Just crispy enough, just chewy enough. I always add walnuts, and use butter.

                                                                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                  Tollhouse is the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I judge all others by it. Must be butter for me too.

                                                                                                                  1. re: sivyaleah

                                                                                                                    Seriously, butter is better in any baking recipe. Now that we know that hydrogenated fats are not good for us, even more reason. To me though, the reasoning was always....well, I'm eating a COOKIE, so it should taste good. If I don't want to get fat, I will eat fewer cookies.... :)

                                                                                                                    If you guys don't know about Plugra or Kerry Gold or other European butter, it's totally worth using in butter-heavy recipes like choc chip cookies or poundcake. It makes them even more buttery and delicious (higher butterfat amt).

                                                                                                                    1. re: amyvc

                                                                                                                      Plugra rocks :-) It's my butter of choice - especially slathered on good fresh bread.

                                                                                                                  2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                    I've been making the Tollhouse ones for a long time too (for the crispy lovers), but I think my dad may have preferred the ones I made out of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook a while back. Of course, it could be because I used extra chocolate too though! (He does have a t-shirt that says "Chocolate is my middle name!" and is famous for saying "If it's not chocolate, it's not dessert!")

                                                                                                                    1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                                      um...you and I don't have the same dad, do we??

                                                                                                                      :-/

                                                                                                                      1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                        That makes three of us. My dad once turned down a chocolate mousse dessert at a restaurant because they were unable to serve it without an accompanying raspberry sauce.

                                                                                                                    2. re: MMRuth

                                                                                                                      Add Jfood to the Tollhouse or bust Triple-C contingent. I hate to say it but my first batch had JFK in the White House.

                                                                                                                  3. re: LAcupcake

                                                                                                                    Try this. Do NOT grease the cookie sheet - line it with parchment paper. You can use semi-sweet chocolate chips, but I really, really like the bittersweet (usually Ghirardelli).

                                                                                                                    I always did Tollhouse cookies until I found this one. I have never looked back.

                                                                                                                    http://my.allrecipes.com/Saved/Recipe...

                                                                                                                    For a similar cookie with chocolate batter, you can try Martha Stewart's Outrageous Chocolate cookies or the Soho cookies (by various famed cooks). If you're interested in those, let me know, and I'll post them.

                                                                                                                    1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                      Thanks for everyone's suggestions. To follow up, I got brave and attempted a batch on Friday morning in an effort to clean out a medley of chocolate leftovers from holiday baking. I have tried the Tollhouse recipe so many times and although I love it when other people make it, it never works for me. That's the one that gives me the butter pancakes with chocolate bumps. But I tried this one and it actually worked really well:
                                                                                                                      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                                                                                                                      I made sure to use the parchment tip from luv2bake and I think it made a huge difference. Also, this recipe has a really dense dough and it helped them to not spread like mine always do. Now that my confidence is on its way to being restored, I would LOVE to try any recipes that you all are willing to post (Martha, Soho and beyond). Thanks so much for the ideas and encouragement!

                                                                                                                      1. re: LAcupcake

                                                                                                                        Maida Heatter's Chocolate Whoppers:
                                                                                                                        http://www.cookiemadness.net/2005/12/...

                                                                                                                        Soho Globs:
                                                                                                                        http://www.jewish-food.org/recipes/so...

                                                                                                                        The Martha Stewart is very similar but without nuts:
                                                                                                                        http://www.marthastewart.com/page.jht...

                                                                                                                        And I still highly recommend that link from allrecipes that I posted above. Divine chocolate chip cookies. :

                                                                                                                        )

                                                                                                                        Let us know how they go!

                                                                                                                        1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                          For some reason the allrecipe link won't open... what's the cookie called? Thanks for all the ideas!

                                                                                                                          1. re: LAcupcake

                                                                                                                            I'm sorry. I accessed it through my recipe box, and it obviously provides a different link when done that way. Here's the (hopefully) right link:

                                                                                                                            http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Best-Big...

                                                                                                                            It's called Best Big, Fat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie

                                                                                                                            1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                              Except for the baking powder, this is almost identical to Cook Illustrated's Best Recipe Thick Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies. CI makes assembling the cookie a little more difficult.

                                                                                                                              1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                Oooh, I really like the melted butter aspect. No more kicking myself for forgetting to set it out early enough to soften! I'll try these soon and report back.

                                                                                                                                1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                  This has been my standard chocolate chip cookie recipe for a few months now. They yield cookies that are really really chewy and soft, almost to the point where you're not even sure if the dough has been fully cooked. But they key is that they're chewy - I don't think the Alton Brown chewy cookies get this chewy texture (the AB cookies tend to be more cakey for me...). When I make the Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, they turn out to be pretty flat and the chocolate chips sit like huge mounds in the middle of valleys of yummy cookie dough. I don't know if it's just my oven temp that makes them so flat; how do yours usually turn out, luv2bake?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: kcchan

                                                                                                                                    Which one has been your standard? I couldn't tell which recipe you were talking about.

                                                                                                                                    Mine (the big fat chewy) are usually pretty full, not flat. They have a slight crispy crust and are incredibly chewy inside. That's one of the wonderful things about them for me. Obviously your other cookies aren't doing that, so it's not a "bad" ingredient. I have baked mine at 300º rather than 325º before, but they've turned out fine both ways.

                                                                                                                                    Perhaps you should try them with parchment and see if that helps. I don't always use parchment, but that does help stop/slow the spreading of cookies in my experience.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                      The standard was the big fat chewy. I usually bake them on parchment paper (and have tried Silpat as well), but they still spread a lot - which is fine. I've also tried different ovens, and they always come out pretty flat for me. They're still wonderfully yummy, so I'll just have to rename them to big skinny chewy cookies and thereby trick myself into thinking that they really are healthy for me. But I was just wondering if there was some quirk that made mine come out flat and what other people's experiences were.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: kcchan

                                                                                                                                        Do you notice differences at times of year (so humidity or something might affect it?)

                                                                                                                                        If you can, check your oven temp. Or buy new baking soda and hope that was the cause!! :)

                                                                                                                    2. Pancakes. I think it's because I'm not patient enough and like cooking on high heat. (My stir fries are great.) Burn on the outside, raw on the inside. My husband doesn't like pancakes anyways, so I don't even bother to try anymore.

                                                                                                                      Omelets. I made great omelets as a kid, but no more. So now I stick to scrambled and over easy.

                                                                                                                      Perfect green beans; steam for 4 minutes, plunge into ice bath.

                                                                                                                      11 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: jennywinker

                                                                                                                        oooh i've finally overcome that one. ugh, it used to drive me nuts.

                                                                                                                        1. re: jennywinker

                                                                                                                          Speaking of eggs, over easy is kind of a gamble for me. I often end up with leaky yolks, although just as often it turns out perfect. I can never tell what's going to happen! Although my odds of broken yolks have been a lot higher since I lost my nonstick frying pan and now have to use a stainless pan.

                                                                                                                          1. re: PPPPP

                                                                                                                            my nana used to make me two eggs with the yolks that you poke - thing was i've never been able to do them right. i detest runny white parts. It makes me want to barf. but i never know the name, are these over easy?

                                                                                                                            1. re: lollya

                                                                                                                              I don't know, it's either over easy or sunny side up. Sunny side up is when you cook the egg on one side, so you can still see the white and yellow on top. The white shouldn't be runny this way if it's cooked properly. Over easy is when you flip the egg over and cook it on both sides, so there's a "skin" over the yolk, but it should be runny when you poke it.

                                                                                                                              1. re: PPPPP

                                                                                                                                Over-easy is called "dippy" in my house. The first time I ever ordered breakfast at a dinerI told the waitress I wanted my eggs dippy and she stared at me for a minute and then said, "Do you mean over easy?" I stammered yes in complete confusion, but luckily that turned out to be right. (I was eating with a friend's family after a sleepover...my family didn't go out for breakfast) I was about 8 years old...and a VERY shy child. It was mortifying. But sometimes I now just order my eggs dippy just for the hell of it and it usually gets a smile from the waitress.

                                                                                                                                that being said, I am completey unable to turn out a consistant "dippy egg". I make a mean scrambled, but my over-easy's either come out with cooked yolks, broken yolks, or still runny whites. I just can't seem to nail it.

                                                                                                                                1. re: wawajb

                                                                                                                                  I don't know how I ever made over-easy/over-medium/sunny-side up without my pan of choice for eggs - a cheap nonstick 10" skillet.

                                                                                                                                  But the real trick in my house is to cook the eggs in a hot pan (medium-high to high heat - hot enough that the butter in your pan is sizzling and just about to brown) in *plenty* of butter or bacon grease (sinful, but so so good), and with a spatula (I do it by holding the spatula upside down) sort of "flip/push" some of the hot butter/bacon fat onto the top white so that you're getting cooking going on on the top as well as the bottom. I also usually sort of twirl the pan around a bit once the white is set, then try to get a good amount of butter to "flow" over the egg white.

                                                                                                                                  Really, this way you can get either a perfect sunny side up or a flip-free over-easy with fully cooked whites and yolks that're just begging for bacon or toast. Honestly, this works best if you've made bacon in the pan and have quite a bit of bacon fat to work with - then you really can completely cook the thin membrane covering the yolk without turning the eggs at all. (I was always an over-medium girl until learning this method - really my sole goal in a fried egg is a completely cooked white and completely gooey yolk.)

                                                                                                                                  One other thing you can do is while the egg is setting, dip your spatula into the white as close to the yolk as you can get it and "tear" some of the white so that more of the uncooked white flows under to the pan.

                                                                                                                                  But once you get the butter "flip/push" thing down, you'll be able to make your dippy eggs with no problem.

                                                                                                                                  This is probably a no-brainer, but also, always crack your eggs, one at a time, into a separate bowl first, so that you make sure your yolk is intact, and also so that you're able to ease the egg into the hot pan.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: shanagain

                                                                                                                                    Oh my god, that's not a no-brainer--at least for me! How did I never think of putting the egg in a bowl first??

                                                                                                                                    The concept of cooking the top by just pushing hot grease over it sounds really interesting. I'll have to try that next time. I usually do make eggs in the same pan after bacon.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: PPPPP

                                                                                                                                      I am not a big fan of the too hot pan method. Usually use a med to med-high. Add the butter and when the bubbles simmer down a little drop the egg in. I somwtime use the bowl method but hate the extra cleaning. Whent the white is almost cooked through I flip them over.

                                                                                                                                      Here is when the egg tells me when its done. I count to ten. Then a start to gently shake the pan. When the egg releases, it's ready for the plate.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: shanagain

                                                                                                                                      Yeah, I can make them fine without, but the eggs floating in bacon grease are the BEST. I keep a 1950s grease can (eBay!) in my fridge with all my bacon grease. Great for roux, too!

                                                                                                                                  2. re: PPPPP

                                                                                                                                    I solved the over-easy, runny-sunny issue by frying my eggs in a frying pan that has a lid. If you fry them covered, the steam cooks the white that is coating the yolk. Use pretty high heat -- you get all-cooked whites with nice runny yolks (and no fear of the breakage that often happens when I try to flip them). Lid method is also great if you enjoy a little crumble of cheese on your eggs (I like feta or goat) -- putting the lid on the pan will melt the cheese.

                                                                                                                                  3. re: lollya

                                                                                                                                    If you poke it while it's cooking, it's "over hard", the way I like it.

                                                                                                                              2. Steak. I can destroy the best cuts and there's always the anticipation of whether the smoke detector will go off. The hard part is if it does and I'm too short to reach it.

                                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                  Aha, I too always used to be afraid of setting off my very sensitive smoke detector whenever cooking anything with a remote chance of smoking (like broiling meat). My trick is to wrap a shower cap tightly around it a couple of times and -- voila! -- no panic-inducing beeping. Of course, be sure to remove it immediately after you're done cooking!

                                                                                                                                  1. re: tinybites

                                                                                                                                    LOL that assumes I can reach it. I've found fanning frantically with a newspaper can also help!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                      You're right, it does entail a few shaky moments on my stepladder to set up. But after getting tired of looking at all the scuffmarks on my walls near the ceiling from frantic magazine-fanning, I figured it was worth it!

                                                                                                                                    2. re: tinybites

                                                                                                                                      Someone on another thread mentioned that they move their detector into the bathroom while cooking. That way they don't forget to put it back. I found that to be a good idea. (Of course, not everyone has a removable detector, so that could be an obstacle.)

                                                                                                                                  2. In addition to rice noodles (see above), any kind of pastry that has to be rolled out. I make great drop cookies, but I can't make sugar cookies or pie crust to save my life. I guess I just don't have the patience to deal with dough. It always ends up sticking to the rolling pin or falling apart when I pick it up. Argh!

                                                                                                                                    1. - Puff pastry. Too difficult and time-consuming, and life's too short.
                                                                                                                                      - Steak. Can never get the doneness right.
                                                                                                                                      - Bread. I guess I'm no earthmother.

                                                                                                                                      1. Pizza crust. Just can't get it right. I can do pasta, steamed bun dough, and even a passable pastry crust. But a nice chewy pizza crust forever eludes me. :o(

                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: soypower

                                                                                                                                          Similarly, I cannot get pizza dough from the refrigerated section at the grocery store to roll out. It always sticks to the board and the roller, no matter how much flour I use. I've never tried making my own dough, partly because I suspect the results would be the same. For now I'm sticking with frozen or pre-baked pizza shells.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: braineater

                                                                                                                                            I almost always make my own pizza dough...and regret when I don't, (as in buying the pizza dough). I think the secret to well-handling dough is a splash of olive oil added just before the flour. When I forget the oil the dough is much more difficult to roll. Also, I make enough dough for two pizzas at a time. Half goes into the freezer. Let it be noted that the second pizza, made from the thawed dough, turns out very differently than the one made with the fresh, unrefrigerated dough. It tends to come out flatter and crispier.

                                                                                                                                        2. Garlic bread - it drives me crazy! I can never get the butter/garlic ratio right or the cooking time. So it either comes out too bland or too overpowering garlic-y and either undercooked or a brick. I feel like a fool.

                                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: lbs

                                                                                                                                            Hmmm...in my book there's no such thing as too much garlic!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: ballulah

                                                                                                                                              Oh me too! I love garlic. So does my boyfriend which is awesome. But unfortunately there are other people in my world who don't like the garlic-y goodness.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: lbs

                                                                                                                                              Cooks Illustrated has great garlic bread. I don't have the exact proportions but they toast the garlic cloves on the stovetop, before peeling, until the skin is a golden in spots. Then peel and mash w/ soft butter, parmesan and pepper. I usually have roasted garlic cloves in the freezer and use those on my bread. Goes into the oven at about 450 for 8-10 mins, I believe

                                                                                                                                              1. re: gourmanda

                                                                                                                                                Roasted garlic... now that is an excellent idea. I can roast a mean garlic too. I also think (not really think but know at this point) that I was cooking the bread wrong. I usually wrapped in foil for 25 mins at like 285-300. My mom used to do it that way and it was never good but you know how habits can be hard to break! Thanks!

                                                                                                                                            3. This sounds so stupid. Baked ziti. It's either too dry or too wet, or the cheese ratio is off. It makes NO sense to me that I can't 'get it.' (Lasagne? Perfect. Stuffed shells? Manicotti? No problem. But the ziti always stinks.)

                                                                                                                                              1. Any kind of baking - cakes, pies, muffins, you name it, I can't make it. My mom pretty much has the same difficulty, but for some reason, she's able to pull off her orange cake (made from scratch, by the way) spectacularly well. I've even yet to master it!

                                                                                                                                                I was so proud when I managed to bake a batch of just-right, chewy chocolate chip cookies. This was about a month and a half ago, and the first time they didn't burn or undercook. How sad.

                                                                                                                                                1. Omelets, the flippping part. I just can't get the hang of it. And it isn't like I can't flip a pan. I can manuever it perfectly and send veggies jumping in the air and back into the pan again without losing a single one, but can't get the wrist action down to smoothly roll over the eggs to make a beautifully rolled omelet. They always wind up broken up in the middle, oozing out the ends, etc. Taste wonderful - but look awful.

                                                                                                                                                  1. It is terrible when you spend so much time trying to cook something and it doesn't come out right. Just to help a few, for the baking issues, try weighing things, or otherwise, spooning the flour into the cup with no tapping or shaking and just a quick swipe with a flat knife to level it. Put eggs still in their shell in warmish water to bring them to room temp, which will help as well, and if something calls for folding or stirring together just until mixed, try to do that either with a clean, cupped hand, or rubber spatula. Overmixing can really do damage.

                                                                                                                                                    For the brownie issue, take them out when you think they might not be quite done; still a little bit wiggly in the middle. Brownies are always better underbaked rather than overbaked, and check the above hints as well. Melted butter or chocolate should be room temp before getting incorporated with room temp eggs, or the egg will toughen the whole thing.

                                                                                                                                                    For doughs that have to be rolled out, be sure you really chill it, giving it at least 2 hours in the fridge, and being sure to work with it cold, not letting it warm up first.

                                                                                                                                                    For cooking eggs overeasy, try slipping a lid or even heavy plate ontop of the pan once the egg is pretty much cooked on the bottom. This will set the yolk a bit without overdoing it.
                                                                                                                                                    If you would like to ask any questions directly, you can always post a comment on my blog fayefood.com. I am a professional cook who is willing to help.

                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: fayehess

                                                                                                                                                      Lard is another trick in piecrust making, at least for me. I know, I know, but it's one area upon which I refuse to budge, and I make a mean piecrust.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: shanagain

                                                                                                                                                        I have never attempted to make a pie as an adult because my mom makes the best pies ever and I'm too intimidated. I stick to tarts. They are pretty no-fail. Growing up, my mom's pie crust secret was bacon drippings. YUM!! I don't think she does that anymore, which is too bad.

                                                                                                                                                    2. - Chicken breasts
                                                                                                                                                      - Pot roast. If I break out the slow cooker and a piece of beef, the SO makes excuses to eat elsewhere.

                                                                                                                                                      1. Biscuits, without a doubt. No matter the recipe, they wind up flat and tough. I keep coming back to the Bakewell Cream recipe...to no avail, though. My brothers refer to them as disc-uts.

                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: astrophel

                                                                                                                                                          me too!! and i love to bake. i don't think mine are tough, but never do they look as fluffy and flaky as paula dean's or anyone like that. just puny little runts (taste ok, but no "ahhhh")

                                                                                                                                                        2. I used to be utterly unable to make pancakes, but when I moved I found out that that was the fault of my mother's (gas) stove, not me. It's easy to cook them right on the electric stove. I still can't do decent fried eggs - they end up with broken yolks if I flipped them, or burned around the edges if I tried to cook them sunnyside up. They taste okay, just close your eyes and don't look too closely...
                                                                                                                                                          I truly suck at stir-fries... they always come out with a pool of water/juice in the bottom of the wok, or without enough flavour. I can't do properly crispy fried rice either... mine always comes out gluey or soggy (I've never tried either on the electric stove - I figure that if I couldn't make them work out on a gas stove, I wouldn't have a prayer with electricity...)
                                                                                                                                                          I don't have a CLUE how to make sauces or gravies, because my mother never made them. The only one I can do is cheese sauce/basic white sauce. I'd love to learn how to do them properly.

                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Kajikit

                                                                                                                                                            I used to have the same problem with stir fries. One problem was that my husband refused to cook on high heat, which is essential for stir fry. But, what really changed my stir-fry life - and I mean this in the biggest way possible - was doing a cooking class with Hugh Carpenter, who wrote Wok Fast (and lots of other cookbooks.) In the front he goes through step-by-step - with pictures - the foundation steps for all stir fries/ sauces. Now I make awesome stir-fries, and they're not runny.

                                                                                                                                                          2. Caramel. I cannot make caramel by the wet method. It will not color. I have a copper pot. I can cook it til it forms a sugar crust on top, but it will not color. I CAN make caramel by the dry method, but I can only make small quantities at a time that way. It drives me crazy, because I really LIKE caramel (because I really like sugar).

                                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: danna

                                                                                                                                                              I can get mine to color but to make caramels, they never set up properly. I always end up with a gooey, oozy mess. My candy thermometer is ok (checked it in boiling water), but I have seen a range of temp for caramels. Does anybody have a tried and true temp to bring it to?

                                                                                                                                                            2. I can't seem to poach or properly soft boil an egg to save my life.

                                                                                                                                                              1. Um, fish, eggs, and chicken. I over over over cook them, but that is more b/c I am germ-phoblic. And biscuits. (hockey pucks). I find often my problems stem from a refusal to do what needs to be done, i.e. don't cook things so long, or add veg shortening (in the case of biscuits).

                                                                                                                                                                1. oh - stink at stir fries too.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. Roasted potatoes. I can't do it. They stick, they burn, they're undercooked, they're not ready when everything else is.. They usually taste okay but look a lot more like hash browns.
                                                                                                                                                                    Cake is toughy too, I havea few tried and true recipes but rarely try anything new for fear of failure.
                                                                                                                                                                    And the one that REALLY bugs me is that I can't get a roasted chicken right. It is never cooked all the way, it doesn't get crispy skin, the skin gets too crispy, its never right.

                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: bolivianita

                                                                                                                                                                      I think all the store bought rotisserie chickens have ruined my perspective on roasted chickens. Mine will never be as succulent. Ah well.

                                                                                                                                                                      As to roasted potatoes: Here's one a friend showed me and I love it. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Take White/red potatoes and quarter. Spread in single layer on prepared baking sheet (pam/parchment). Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes. Mix them all together on pan. Bake for 20-30 mins. until crunchy. Yum!

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: bolivianita

                                                                                                                                                                        I can't do 'proper' crispy roasted potatoes either... even if I slather them in oil they just come out greasy! I usually do potato wedges on a tray instead, because they're harder to wreck.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Kajikit

                                                                                                                                                                          I've posted this elsewhere, but here's the way I make roasted potatoes.

                                                                                                                                                                          Use russets, not thin-skinned red or white or Yukon gold or something. Peel them and cut them in chunks (basically really thick slices) maybe an inch thick. Put them in a pan with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for about 5 minutes, then drain.

                                                                                                                                                                          Meanwhile, put a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a cast iron skillet and put it in your preheated (350-degree) oven for a few minutes. Take it out and put a couple cloves of minced garlic in the skillet. Then put in the drained potatoes and season as you wish (I use Lawry's seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper). Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and season again, then put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                          You will end up with lovely potatoes, crispy on the outside and delightfully creamy on the inside.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. Poached eggs. Mine are either undercooked or overcooked or I break the yolk getting it out of the water. I let my husband cook his own poached eggs and I finish the rest.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. Muffins. They're always too moist on the inside.
                                                                                                                                                                          Stir-fries. They're always mushy. Good veggies, but not a stir-fry.
                                                                                                                                                                          Oven fries. Either soft, or too tough.

                                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: piccola

                                                                                                                                                                            I can't get the muffin thing either. It seems so simple but I always end with doughy insides that don't taste of much.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: scarmoza

                                                                                                                                                                              Isn't it ironic that I can pull off a soufflé, but I can't make something as simple as a good muffin?

                                                                                                                                                                          2. Cake. Even from a mix. It heaps up in the middle and the edges are flat and rubbery.

                                                                                                                                                                            Trouble is, I make an absolutely rocking ganache--then I have nothing to put it on! So I'm forced to roll it in little balls and eat it as truffles. poor me.

                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                                              That sounds like an oven temp problem...have you stuck a cheap oven thermometer in there to see if it's really at the temperature it claims to be?

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: macrogal

                                                                                                                                                                                Haven't done that. Probably should.

                                                                                                                                                                                Funny thing is, anything else I put in that oven comes out just fine (except last Christmas when I burned about three batches of cookies making them exactly as I've always made them)--and I have had the same trouble with cakes in every oven I've ever had.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                                                Hahah! I sympathize with you! No really, I do! :)

                                                                                                                                                                              3. For me, it's Sweet Potato Pie...If I cook it long enough for the filling to get solid, then my crust is crispy black. If I stop when the crust is just right, the filling is a mushy mess! Can you imagine an African-American holiday dinner with no Sweet Potato Pie???? A disgrace I am, indeed! LOL!

                                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: fooddiva

                                                                                                                                                                                  You might try putting aluminum foil over the crust and taking it off somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes before you expect the filling to be done. That'll keep it from cooking quite as fast.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. Brown rice. Even following "never fail" recipes

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. My mom's famous fudge!!! It either comes out hard & crumbly or, even worse, NEVER hardens and is a caramelly mess!!!! Since my Mom has passed away, I feel like I need to learn how to do this so it can be passed down to the family.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sheilal

                                                                                                                                                                                      Spoon fudge! My dad had a hit or miss fudge recipe that was just as likely to come out as liquid as to harden. So here is what we used to do. Pop a large batch of popcorn, put some liquid fudge on a spoon, press popcorn into the liquid fudge and eat.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Isn't amazing what will bring back memories.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. For people that struggle with pancakes, I made the most perfect pancakes last night! I usually struggle with pancakes too, but this recipe from Cook's Illustrated made the most light and fluffy pancakes (in fact, that's the name of the recipe)!

                                                                                                                                                                                      1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
                                                                                                                                                                                      2 t. sugar
                                                                                                                                                                                      1/2 t. salt
                                                                                                                                                                                      1/2 t. baking powder
                                                                                                                                                                                      1/4 t. baking soda
                                                                                                                                                                                      3/4 cup buttermilk
                                                                                                                                                                                      1/4 cup milk
                                                                                                                                                                                      1 large egg, separated
                                                                                                                                                                                      2 T. unsalted butter, melted

                                                                                                                                                                                      Mix all the dry ingredients together. Combine milk, buttermilk, and egg white and whisk together. Combine melted butter and egg yolk and mix. Stir the butter mixture into the milk mixture. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just mixed. Brush pan with oil or butter and heat pan over medium high heat (I used medium heat). Pour 1/4 cups of batter into pan and cook until bottoms are light brown and bubbles start to appear on the top, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancake and cook until light brown on the other side.

                                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                                                                                                        Ooh! I'll have to try that - I haven't been able to produce the perfect pancake yet, and I have some buttermilk in the fridge.

                                                                                                                                                                                        In addition to the medium-grain and short-grain rice problem I mentioned above, I also can't make homemade gnocchi. I always end up with either a big sticky mess, or dry crumbles.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Katie Nell

                                                                                                                                                                                          I have been using this recipe for a long time with great success. It helped me enjoy pancakes again. Before this all I had was a big mess to clean up and no pancakes!

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Tempering chocolate will be my demise. I try and try, temperature up and temperature down. And nothing, just chocolate goo that won't set.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Mila

                                                                                                                                                                                            That's so funny, whenever I temper chocolate I manage to get the temperature changes 'right' but the chocolate never sets crisp! If I want chocolate to have a pleasing snap I have decided I shouldn't be the one to melt it!

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. I have never mastered the art of making a good pan sauce, especially for pan-seared fish. Common sense tells me it ought to be so easy, but mine always comes out BLECH! What's the secret?

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Anything that requires me to make dough. ANY dough. Pasta dough, pizza dough, bread dough... whatever. Just awful. No clue why.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. Stir fry dishes. They aren't really BAD, they just all taste the same. Meh.

                                                                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Andiereid

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Andie, I laughed when I read 'Meh' as it's something I say often as well. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Andiereid

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hugh Carpenter's "Wok Fast" changed my stir fry life. No longer overcooked and soupy, my stir fry rocks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Hard Boiled Eggs! Ridiculous!

                                                                                                                                                                                                      But they fail only at Passover when I need them to be perfect to be peeled and served. The rest of the year, if I make a batch for egg salad or whatever, they come out just fine. But at Passover, the peel won't come off except in itty bitty pieces taking five minutes per egg to peel or it rips off huge chunks of white with the peel.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      One year, I cooked three different batches...called both my mom and a good basic cook back in NY for their secrets, and talk me through it--nothing helped. I sometimes think it is because I cook more eggs at a time, but I use a bigger pot, don't crowd them and start the timer at the boil--just like the rest of the year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: lrhr

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have heard that older eggs (say 2 weeks) will be easier to peel after hard boiling. I wonder if you go out and buy a bunch of fresh eggs right at Passover? Maybe buy them further in advance and cook them when needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: gourmanda

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Age of the egg doesn't matter...you have to peel them while they are still warm and start at the fatter end of the egg.
                                                                                                                                                                                                          I always start eggs in cold water with a shot of white vinegar, place on stove, high heat, bring to a boil and turn off the heat and cover for (at least) 20 minutes. I peel them in the sink with warm water running, store them in a container with water and slices of lemon, keeps that sulfur smell and taste down. This is how I have done it in every restaurant I have worked in and seems flawless.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: chefaltieri

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Just a thought, but I would think that a properly hard boiled egg shouldn't have any sulfur smell. Mine never do. I also peel under cold water, never warm.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: gourmanda

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Or leave them out of the refrigerator a couple of days.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: gourmanda

                                                                                                                                                                                                              There will be many people who agree with you but Jfood tried this last passover. I boiled two dozen eggs, 12 fresh and 12 almost 2 weeks old. There was no measureable difference in the ease of either set. That I do is boil, immerse in cold and immediately start the peeling process. I crack around and then start at the fatter end where the air bubble was. This seems to work best.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: lrhr

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I believe that's true about fresh eggs not peeling well. I'd follow gourmanda's advice and buy them a couple of weeks before Passover.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: lrhr

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Years ago when I worked at a golf course my boss showed me how to do hard boiled eggs. We actually cooked them in an electric appliance that I suppose was supposed to be a deep fryer or something, because we didn't have a stove, but this seems to work as well on the stove.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Set a timer for 10 minutes as soon as you notice the eggs are boiling. When they're done, put the pan in the sink and run cold water in it. We used to would run water for like 15 or 20 minutes, or maybe more. Then to peel them we would smack them against the counter all the way around, beginning at the wider end, and peel from that wider end.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I find that eggs that have had ample time to cool in cold water peel the best. Trying to peel them before they're cooled doesn't work, nor (at least for me) does putting them in the refrigerator without water.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: lrhr

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Mine are no-fail with fresh or grocery eggs. Maybe I've been lucky?? But I discovered that when I was in a big hurry for the eggs, they turned out better. The difference was that I would put ice in the water with them to make them cool faster to be easier to hold for peeling and cooler for the dish (deviled eggs, potato salad, tuna/chicken salad, etc.) So I started using my "hurry up and cool the eggs" method every time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  What I do is turn the timer to 15 minutes (one of the rare times I set a timer!) as soon as the water boils. At the same time, I turn the pot to simmer. When the timer goes off, I immediately (IMMEDIATELY) pour off the hot water and IMMEDIATELY run cold water on the eggs. Then right away get a pitcher full of ice. I pour off the no-longer-cold water and add fresh cold water and all the ice cubes. All this is done in rapid succession.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Regardless of my peeling method (I have a couple), my eggs never fail when I use this method exactly. Now sometimes when there's help in the kitchen, the method isn't executed in a timely manner, and that can cause problems!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I totally agree. I started using ice and water when a roommate got mad about my running water 'for no good reason." Ever since then I've been convinced that the quicker I get the eggs cooled the sooner the egg pulls from the membrane on the egg.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My husband gets distressed about that running water, too. My solution? I make 'em when he's not around.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Yeast breads, toffee, cream puffs, and plain pan fried hamburgers... dry

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. Wow! I can resonate with so many of these! How fun. But my current quest is to make the perfect French Toast. I get the flavor right - stir eggs with cinnamon and brown sugar before placing in a med-high pan. What I can't get is the bread's texture, it is always soggy. Any tips?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      What kind of bread are you using, and how old is it? Also how thick are the slices? I find that a good loaf of challah bread that's gone a little stale, sliced very thick works best. I don't soak the bread in the egg mixture very long either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ballulah

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I also don't let the bread sit in the egg batter too long - just long enough to wet it then it's out. My french toast comes out nice and crispy. I can't stand soggy, eggy french toast - it's a pet peeve of mine, although I know plenty of people who enjoy it that way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I also get them right into the pan - I find if you let them sit around while you're doing other things, the batter starts to seep in too much.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Challah or brioche, sliced about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. I add vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and a little milk or half-and-half to the egg mixture -- no brown sugar needed, especially if you're going to serve the French toast with syrup. Don't soak the bread, and make sure the pan or griddle is hot before you begin the cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sounds like you left in the liquid too lond and with the brown sugar in the mix, the outside will get brown more quickly. I would take out of the egg misture sooner and lower the flame so it cooks all the way through.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for the tips! I'm using thin bread and probably leaving it in too long. I do tend to wander to something else. I'll try it this weekend.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              For me the perfect french toast is browned and crispy on the outside but soft and eggy on the inside - almost like a custard. I use vanilla and maybe a little milk in the eggs, but no sugar in the mix. I give it a pretty good soak so the egg permeates. Then I fry over medium heat in lots of butter, adding more butter between batches. Top with a mixture of sugar and cinammon, then good maple syrup, with bacon or sausage on the side (I love dipping breakfast meat it in syrup).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Going back to QueenB's note about green beans...I know this is heresy to some ears, but either fresh or frozen - top w/ a bit o' butter (real butter - a bit!) and some sea salt....and microwave. About 4 - 6 min. - and more or less time depending upon the amount of beans. If using fresh, wash 'em and trim em, get 'em into a cooking vessel with drops of water still clinging YOU SHOULD NOT NEED ANY MORE WATER! - and proceed w/ butter, etc. Frozen - leave 'em frozen, proceed w/ butter, etc. Adjust timing. You can start w/ like three minutes on high, and just do minute by minute increments until they're at you're desired "done-crunch" point. They don't get soggy, they don't get dry....unless of course you overcook them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. I just can't do dry beans - kidney beans, black beans, you name it. I soak them and cook them to death and they still come out "crunchy". I do the quick soak - still crunchy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I have an amazing refried beans recipe, but until I can get the beans right, it will have to wait!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: pixee22

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Are you salting your beans at the beginning of cooking? I used to do that before I heard that it makes your beans tough, now I salt at the end and have no problems. Well, I still have trouble with black beans, but I hear they are tricky to soften no matter what.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: pixee22

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Try adding a little baking soda to your soaking or cooking liquid. It shortens cooking time a lot. Don't overdo it, you can end up with mushy beans. Salt makes no difference at all, that's an old wives tale. It's the pH that counts. Acid will make cooking longer, alkali the opposite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Or get a pressure cooker which is what I use.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Do you know if the 'don't add cold water to cooking beans' thing is also a wives tale or if that one is real? I've always wondered!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ali patts

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I haven't heard this one - do tell!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: cheryl_h

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, but salt affects the pH also. Albeit a salt by definition has a neutral pH of 7, but would still affect the pH either way depending on the chemical make-up (hardness/softness) of the water you cook with.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ballulah

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      No it doesn't. Whatever the pH of the water without salt is, is unchanged by the addition of salt.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Eggs -- so innocent, and yet, so temperamental...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  My home cooking Achilles Heel is a simple soft boiled egg. I can never seem to hit that sweet spot where the yolk is runny and the white is fairly firm. I've done it perhaps once or twice and I have no idea how to replicate it. I even bought one of those cooker/timer gauges that you put right into the pot with the eggs. That doesn't really help.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A simple soft boiled egg. I can't get it right and it's my secret shame. :-O

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. I am going to have to read through this and post more later. But for now, let me say that we have laughed over the years at how many complicated dishes I can make, but I have burned peas - yes, peas - more times than we can count. My old Magnalite often had little circles in the bottom. hahahaha

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Okay -

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You have to share how you can possibly burn peas! LOL

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Food Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Easy - ADWT (Attention Deficit Without a Timer). I do almost all my cooking by smell. (I have a great sense of smell.) Well, if I don't set the timer for peas (and I hate using a timer, therefore I often forget to set it), the water boils away before I realize it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Do you know how FAST peas burn when the water's gone? Man!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Of course, my husband would also say that turning everything on "high" is part of the problem, too. :o

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. I can't for the life of me make CHEWY oatmeal cookies. I have a marvellous oatmeal/raisin/chocolate chip cookie recipe but it makes crisp cookies, and I likes me oatmeal cookies chewy :(

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: macrogal

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Don't you add more butter for chewy ones,not sure just thought I had heard that somewhere.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: billjriv

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          anna olson has a recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies in one of her books and her chewy secret is to add cornstarch to the recipe (http://www.foodtv.ca/recipes/recipede...).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A friend of mine made them and was delighted with the chewy texture...wonder if that would work in oatmeal cookies?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. Tapioca Pearls for Bubble Tea,I follow the directions but they never come out like the good chewy black ones.Any advice?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: billjriv

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Just found out the black ones the Bubble tea places use instant ones.I bought and cooked the instant ones and there great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. It's funny reading all these posts. For me, two things come to mind: rice noodle dishes and hash browns. I think part of the problem is that I don't cook either of these very often-- maybe twice a year-- but when I do, it's usually because I have a craving for them. And then I'm disappointed. One of these days I'll just have to cook them several times in a row until I've gotten the technique or whatever it is worked out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. I think the food thats simple is perfected by the people that have made it alot and it makes it harder to replicate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: billjriv

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chicken for stir fry or vietnamese(like a ginger lemongrass chicken..)..It either ends up pretty flavorless but still tender or rubbery/dry but flavorful. I'd like to figure out a way to make it the way it is in some vietnamese restaurants..you know perfect. i've tried a method that recommended a little corn starch dusting but it was only slightly better. Anyone know the secret? I've tried different temps different pans different oils different sizes of chicken..

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. I've been having some problems with my cookies coming out really flat. I tested my oven temp. and it's fine, so I don't know what the problem is. I don't want to switch to shortening, I think my butter is soft but not runny, so I have no idea what's going on. How embarrassing not to be able to put out a decent batch of Toll House Cookies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Clarissa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Are you greasing the cookie sheet? Cookies that are supposed to be on ungreased sheets will flatten out more if they're on greased sheets.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  No, I've been following the directions as far as sheet-greasing. Do you think it might be the cookie sheet itself? Or maybe I should try the Silpat somebody gave me. It's gotten so bad I've actually quit making cookies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Clarissa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It could be the cookie sheet. I get different results w/ different types of sheets. You could also try refrigerating the cookie dough on the sheets before you put them in the oven. I think there are better chocolate chip cookie recipes than tollhouse. One that works really well and is easy is Cook Illustrated's thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies. It's been posted here several times. You use melted butter in it, the dough doesn't look anything like your regular cookie dough but it's great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Thanks for suggestion. I'm going to do a search.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: Clarissa

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't like cookies as much on nonstick cookie sheets. That could easily contribute to spreading. I also prefer parchment paper to greasing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You can check to make sure your baking soda is fresh. Or if you've had it a while, stick it in the fridge and just buy new - it's cheap enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      And I completely agree with chowser on the cookie recipes. I posted a link for one upthread. It's very similar to the CI one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I just saw that. Thanks! And I will toss the soda.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. I have trouble with any stir fried dish. I blame it on my stove. When I had a gas stove years ago, I made pretty decent stir fries. Now, I can't get it right. Something's always overcooked and mushy by the time it's sauced. I can make decent fried rice at least...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. I am hopeless trying to make anything Indian, Chinese or Thai.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    My Indian in better than my Chinese, as I had a Indian friend in college and she taught me the native way, but I can never find the authentic ingredients. I don't have a problem making rice but something is defiantly lacking from my stir fries.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Have you tried the Baker's Edge pan for brownies? It really eliminates the hard-edges-raw-in-middle problem.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      http://www.bakersedge.com/

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Greyhoundgrrl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Have you tried it? I'm tempted but I think I can get the same results from my mini muffin tins.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          It got great reviews in the newest issue of Fine Cooking. I'm planning on giving one to my aunt because she fights everyone for the edges, I thought it would be a fun present!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Greyhoundgrrl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I have not tried that.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I actually prefer the chewy middles as opposed to crunchy edges. Do they make a Baker's Middle pan? ;-)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. A Cooking Failure Haiku

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Deepfried food despair
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Burnt outside raw in or just
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            greasy, sad on plate

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Souffle collapsing
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Concave center becoming
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              But blissful lips smacking

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                my lame lame lamb roast
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                a giant shoe on a plate
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                heading to the trash

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. French bread. I carefully follow all the directions, but the crust comes out as tough as vinyl siding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. for me, it would have to be making a cake from scratch. something always goes wrong. either i add too much of something,forget an important ingredient, etc. it's very frustrating. then i'm left with a bunch of dirty bowls.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. Curries. I don't know why but they always come out with a bitter aftertaste. I think it has to do with the spices, I've used curry powder, I've ground my own, I've toasted them first, I've not toated, Ive sauteed them in the oil at the beginning, and I've added them to the veggies, always it is bitter. I have almost given up.