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Jan 31, 2007 06:39 AM

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?

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  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!! :))


        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

                                      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!