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Food Quests

Since I graduated college twenty-two years ago there have been three major food quests in my life and countless minor ones.

The three majors were quests for.

1. The perfect Bloody Mary. That one was solved by an internet search, but it took me ten years and I’m still working to make it better.
2. The perfect Barbeque Sauce modeled after the sauce used by a joint called QL’s in Muncie, Indiana. That one was solved by dumb luck and a cookbook. That one took me 15 years and I’m still working on BQ proper.
3. The perfect Lobster Bisque modeled after the bisque served by the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans back in ‘83. I literally dreamed about that dish for ten years before I called the Fairmont and their chef gave me the recipe. I still remember my meat and potato self Indiana boy so not looking forward to that dish. We were a group of about a dozen rowdy folks, during an office Christmas party, but when that soup got served all conversation stopped and all I could hear were spoons clicking off china.

What are you folks working on?

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  1. The perfect veggie burger patty.

    1. The perfect (healthy) muffin
      The perfect veggie pad thai

      1. Replicating a wonderful vegetarian paella I enjoyed recently while on vacay.

        1. The perfect scone.

          The greatest ever was an iced maple walnut I got at a small independent cafe in La Jolla that has since gone out of business. The search goes on.

          1. While I was living in New York a friend and I went on a quest for the perfect cupcake. We started with Magnolias having heard all of the rave reviews. Once tasted we agreed that it was good but that there had to be better out there. And so the quest began - once or twice a week for over a year we would try something new. In the end, Magnolia's was truly the best NYC cupcake we tried!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Boston Foodie

              I live in NYC and have yet to actually go to Magnolia. Instead I use their vanilla cupcake recipe and make my own. Hopefully Santa will put their cookbook under my tree this year. In the meantime I just use the one recipe I downloaded from FN.


              Actually, what I've been searching for is the perfect cannoli, there used to be a bakery in Coney Island that made the most wonderful cannoli I've ever had. Unfortunately it doesn't exist anymore.

            2. Do share your bloody mary recipe...or internet link...
              my sought after dream dish is the frozen lemon dessert my mom made that was like almost ice cream texture in a graham cracker crust. Have come close by experiment, but not quite there yet.

              2 Replies
              1. re: archangelcat

                The clam chowder that is served at Harbor House in San Diego. Wonderful, with a good "clammy" flavor and bits of corn. I crave it, and have repeatedly asked the kitchen for the recipe- to no avail. : (

                1. re: archangelcat


                  My first breakthrough came when I switched from V8 to plain tomato juice. I found the tomato juice had a much brighter taste and just made the drink brighter. The base recipe is:

                  To a highball glass, rub the rim with a lime wedge and salt the rim. Then add:

                  A small pinch of salt
                  About three shakes of celery salt
                  Two dashes Worcestershire
                  Three dashes Tabasco
                  1/4t of fresh horseradish pounded very fine
                  About a 2 second squeeze from half a lime
                  2oz. Vodka, chilled

                  Then fill the glass with the tomato juice and stir with a celery stick

                  The quest was over when I started using home canned tomato juice. What I did was fortify a portion of the quarts that I canned with 3T tomato paste (also home canned) to make the juice thicker and more flavorful. That way I can add some ice to the Bloody Mary and not worry about it getting watered down.

                  Hope you have some fun with it.

                2. My first was the perfect mashed potatoes. It kicked of my chow tendencies, actually. A guy cooked me dinner (chicken parm = run screaming, ladies) and served mashed potatoes made with lactaid milk that were so runny you could not eat them with a fork. Gluey, bland. I never knew potatoes could be ruined that way, so I set about questing for the perfect technique.

                  Next up was pizza crust; I have burn scars up and down my arms from that one. I could make the perfect windowpane dough but then getting an oven or grill hot enough involved a lot of shenanigans. I have largely given that up and content myself with local favorites.

                  Then risotto. Then a bunch of other things. I'm always in the middle of a quest, actually.

                  1. the perfect steak
                    perfect pommes anna

                    1. My husband has been has been on the perfect meatball quest for at least a decade. Everytime he comes a little bit closer, but it's never perfect. Is his opinion - in my opinion, they're wonderful!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: stolenchange

                        there was a long thread recently about adding water to meatballs and hamdurgers...


                      2. Making Nepali momos at speed.

                        1. The chocolate malted semi freddo that I had at Square One in San Francisco 13 years ago.

                          1. What a great thread! I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in my food-quest mania. Here are mine:

                            1. The perfect Torta Cubana.

                            2. Verveine (verbena) herbal tea from l'Herboriste d'Orgeval. I can't find this French company online, and I can't afford a trip to Paris right now.

                            3. A recipe for Lady Catherine Lemon Cake (the long-lost family birthday cake from my youth).

                            4. Good store-bought BBQ sauce (which, for me, means zip, tang, and NO SMOKY TASTE). My favorite so far is Sweet Baby Ray's, but I'm searching for something even better.

                            5. A great Spanish rose' that I can buy in my local stores. Rose' is very rare here, and Spanish rose' is almost non-existant, except for Marques de Caceres (which I don't like) and Vega Sindoa (which I find boring).


                            6 Replies
                            1. re: AnneInMpls

                              Ah, the quest for a good rose outside of Spain...I keep meaning to try my hand at replicating tortilla espanola, and one day the great paella (and then an arroz negro), but since I am still chickening out: I grew up cooking Chinese food, and this summer is my grand quest to conquer American food - steak, buttery-creamy mashed potatoes, the perfect mac 'n cheese...

                              1. re: theannerska

                                My dad was was an old Southern boy and he knew his way around a kitchen. One of the funniest stories we tell when our family gets together is about the time he tried to make mashed potatoes. We call it the potatoe soup story.

                              2. re: AnneInMpls

                                This isn't store-bought, but it's really easy in terms of a bbq sauce and it is, "zip and tang". It's not sweet or smokey. Just combine all the ingedients and simmer 15 minutes.

                                2c Ketchup
                                1/3c white vinegar
                                1/3c worcestershire
                                1/3c lemon or lime juice
                                1/3c brown sugar
                                1/8t garlic powder
                                1/2t onion powder
                                salt and pepper to taste
                                cayenne to taste

                                1. re: AnneInMpls

                                  We have found Johnny Harris BBQ sauce to fit that description. I can't stand the sweet fake smokey flavored crap. I believe you can order it online. In fact it was mentioned in the thread " foods that you just HAVE to mail order" by someone.

                                  My current food quest is making a good pizza from scratch. Very frustrating. I have a hard time duplicating Betos pizza in PGH. I have also tried white pizza and cannot find a good reipe either-the last one I made went right into the trash.

                                  Another quest is making fudge the old fashioned way. So far I bought the candy thermometer.....

                                  My husband gets on a rib quest every summer. Out comes the Dinosaur BBQ book. He'll spend all day making the mother sauce and be too tired of it all to do anything else. LOL

                                  1. re: chocchipcookie

                                    Don't be afraid of fudge! It's dead easy and fun to make.

                                  2. re: AnneInMpls

                                    BBQ Sauce -- Sounds like you're looking for Head Country! www.headcountry.com

                                    We love it. Flavorful, tangy. Someone who had it at our house the other day, without our saying a word, said it was the best sauce they'd ever had. It does have hickory smoke in the ingredients, but it's not very evident to me in the flavor. I see that Sweet Baby Ray's does, too, and higher up on the list, so I think it's worth a try. Lemme know what you think!

                                  3. The perfect:

                                    lavender honey
                                    acacia honey
                                    palmier (the best one thus far is from Laduree)
                                    almond croissant (", one with lots of almond paste!)
                                    roasted cauliflower soup that isn't bland (the one from Clementine in Century City is pretty much there)

                                    1. Ribs.

                                      Mine are good. I get compliments all the time. They just aren't GREAT!!!
                                      At least, not in my mind.
                                      The search continues.


                                      1. The perfect Aussie meat pie.
                                        The perfect Vanilla Slice.
                                        The perfect Aussie hamburger.

                                        So obsessed am I that I consumed one of each this past weekend.. actually 2 hamburgers, if the truth be told.

                                        And then blogged about them!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: purple goddess

                                          Can we get Meat pies in the US? What kind is your favorite?

                                          1. re: purple goddess

                                            I love Aussie meat pies, and sausage rolls, too. I haven't found them anywhere in the U.S.

                                          2. One of my favorite quests was to find a restaurant that actually served timpano after Big Night came out. Finally drove two hours to San Diego and enjoyed it at Lotsa Pasta with an Italian flag of sauces: marinara, alfredo and pesto. Delicious.

                                            1. A recipe for a potato salad that a neighbor used to share with me when we moved back to Houston in 1970. They were cajun's and had very thick accents. I was 13, and that particular year my mom would not cook. So Lupe would bring me this potato dish that was so delicious. She called it potato salad, but it was warm when she gave it to me. Looked like chunky mashed potatoes with lots of ground pepper and a yellow tint to it, but no onions, or any of the other things you would associate with potato salad. I have searched, asked on this board, looked at every cajun/creole website and cookbook and have never found a way to replicate it. Bummer!

                                              1. Cuban sandwich. I love these, and thought I would find a good one in the Florida Keys (and I did) but I hear the great ones are in Miami, and we hadn't done the research, and didn't have a lot of time in Miami this past summer. AAAAHHH! have to go back!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: madgreek

                                                  If you're ever in the area, try Ybor City near Tampa.

                                                2. The perfect mac n cheese. No matter how many times I try, I never get it just right.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: hrhboo

                                                    ...yes....the perfect mac n cheese...an endless search
                                                    the perfect pie crust...I've come close, but not consistently
                                                    the perfect thin crust pizza...

                                                    1. re: hrhboo

                                                      Ha! Interestingly, I recently discovered the perfect mac'n'chz at our local community college's cafeteria. You get it cold and heat it up in the micro. Soooooo good. I get the grill lady to saute me some vegetables (onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, green chile..... whatever's available at the pizza window), and I've got a fine lunch. Unfortunately, no recipe available. Just sayin' -- what an oddball place to stumble onto it.

                                                    2. I am on a quest for the perfect:
                                                      1. Roast Duck (Peking or a l'Orange)
                                                      2. Linguine with clams or calimari
                                                      3. Oyster Stew
                                                      4. Eggplant Parmesan
                                                      4. Scotch- so far its "Pinch"

                                                      1. The perfect caponata. Had it for the first time at a small place in Berlin, and it is simply to die for. I have found a VERY good recipe online for it (it's a major pain in the rump to make, but worth it), but it's not the same. The one at La Rustica was deep and rich and nutty and sweet in flavor, with roasted almonds, and the texture was melt in your mouth.

                                                        I used to look for a *good* bottled salad dressing, because I eat lots of salad. I have, however, never found anything that comes even close to anything home made. After all, it takes only 5 minutes tops to whip up a vinaigrette ----

                                                        1. The perfect Carnita's. The best I've had was at a Mexican restaurant in the Rio at Las Vegas. Crispy on the outside, fall apart on the inside.
                                                          I finally got the courage to call and see if they would give me the recipe...but they are now CLOSED!!! Hopefully some day I will find a recipe close.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Terri C

                                                            There was another thread on here about carnitas and how to make them.


                                                            1. re: Terri C

                                                              There's a restaurant in Milpitas CA, of all places that I've had the best Carnita's ever. Just like you described and I'd give anything to have some right now.
                                                              Baja Cactus. http://www.bajacactusrestaurant.com/ If you ever get there try the Camerones Ranchero, or the Special Shrimp Cocktail both are incredible. Last but not least try the Coconut Cake.

                                                            2. I'm starting on my quest to make great, quick soup. I'm starting grad school next fall and I want to have a couple of soups I can make on a sunday afternoon and freeze for a couple of weeks. I haven't really investigated any recipes yet, but i'm hoping to steal my grandma's recipe for vegetable beef.

                                                              1. I have been a quest to duplicate my grandmother's sponge cake. She made it in a loaf pan and ingredients I remember were eggs,small amount of flour, sugar, and baking soda. I have tried to duplicate and never been successful. I thought I had it a few years ago by combining chiffoncake recipe with sponge cake but my dad said I was still miles away from it. So, the mystery continues as does the quest.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: foodseek

                                                                  Brownies...I have tried a million recipes but there is something that is always slightly off about the flavor or texture. Some have come close, but none are exactly what I'm looking for (dense, fudgy, perfect chocolate flavor). Can anyone recommend a recipe?

                                                                  1. re: cate_cooks

                                                                    Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies from the Barefoot Contessa. They fit your description and they are my favorite brownie to make. The only problem is that they make a ton-half sheet pan's worth. I'm afraid to halve the recipe and not get the same results so they usually go in the deep freeze. I just got Dorie
                                                                    Greenspan's Baking cookbook. She has about 5 different brownie recipes that I plan to conquer soon and they make a regular batch size. Yes, brownies are also always one of my quests too.

                                                                    1. re: chocchipcookie

                                                                      just an fyi - i always halve the recipe and they turn out great.

                                                                    2. re: cate_cooks

                                                                      Ah yes, the perfect brownie. I've tried so many. The best one I've found and I know most of you real chows will think I've lost my mind but people literally beg for this recipe and think It's all homemade. Results are chocolaty, cakelike but fudgey moist.

                                                                      Betty Crocker Regular Brownie Mix 2 Pkgs.
                                                                      1 cup of water (ice cold)
                                                                      1 cup of vegetable oil
                                                                      1 cup of chopped walnuts
                                                                      3 eggs
                                                                      must use a 9 x 13 pan and cook at 350 for aprox 50 min. I test and take them out 5 minutes before I think they're done.

                                                                      1. re: othervoice

                                                                        Othervoice, your post reminded me -
                                                                        I recently tried to make some brownies (from a mix, not sure if it was Betty Crocker) and poured the mix into a 8 x 8 glass Pyrex. When it was time to check them, they still seemed wet, so I gave them another 10 minutes. Brought it out, let it cool, and the whole middle part was still a soggy mess!!
                                                                        What was the problem, anyone know? Too small of a pan? The fact that I used Pyrex?

                                                                  2. 1. Duplicate my Grandma Owen's fried chicken. Still haven't even come close.
                                                                    2. Lilikoi pie, as served at several places on Kauai, most famously at a plate-lunch place in Hanapepe whose name I do not recall. I AM getting close on that one.
                                                                    3. Perfect pot roast. Continues to elude, mostly because we just don't eat beef that often...

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                                                      I'm working on it. I've found that pot roast requires a minimalist approach. Season with salt and pepper, put it in the crockpot, and let it go at low all day. The meat DOES brown and you have all the lovely drippings in the bottom for gravy.

                                                                      1. re: spellweaver16

                                                                        I think you just gave me something else to cook in my new/old Westinghouse electric cooker, which is sort of like a crockpot but bigger and with WARM to 500º temperature controls. It did a not really satisfactory job on the Thanksgiving turkey, but it did generate juicy drippings that gave me the best turkey gravy I've ever tasted.

                                                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                                                          Just remember, low and slow, and there's no need to add any liquid at all.

                                                                          1. re: spellweaver16

                                                                            I agree with the concept but I always add a splash of red wine, tomato juice and worchestershire...just to flavor the drippings and help the veggies cook during the last hour.

                                                                      2. re: Will Owen

                                                                        Will Owen, that pie sounds delicious. i really miss lilikoi from my honeymoon and whenever i see something passionfruit i have to pick it up. if you perfect that recipe would you be so kind as to share it?

                                                                      3. 1. miso that tastes like the homemade miso one of my coworkers brought from his family in (I think) Echigo Prefecture. I have never been able to find miso like that, even in Japan. It made truly amazing miso soup.

                                                                        2. Tofu like they have in Kyoto-- especially a particular brand of goma (sesame) tofu that wasn't overly sesame, but more subtle.

                                                                        3. Really deep dark hot chocolate. I had amazing hot chocolate at Angelina in Paris and a very good one at Laudree, and ever since I've tried them in Paris, I've found the American ones to be too sweet and not deeply chocolatey enough for me.

                                                                        To the person who is looking for the perfect vegetable paella-- this may not be "perfect", but towards the end of summer, in the NYT food section, Mark Bittman had a recipe for really easy tomato paella. It was the easiest paella I've ever made, and hands down the best tasting. If you do a web search, I think the recipe will come up. It's really really good. Oh, and he says 3 or 4 of the ingredients are optional (e.g. saffron, smoked paprika), but this is total hogwash. It might still taste good, but imo, the saffron and especially the smoked paprika are what make this dish a winner.

                                                                        1. Cool thread! For me -
                                                                          crab bisque
                                                                          khau soi
                                                                          vanilla cordial

                                                                          1. 1) For the life of me, I can't duplicate my Grandmother's Mexican Skillet Cornbread. I never knew it would be this hard to get it right! It was the best savory cornbread EVER! Not those nasty, sweet muffin things.

                                                                            2) Big, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. Granted, I have made good ones, but I want AWESOME!

                                                                            3) Pizza Crust

                                                                            1. I am always in search of:

                                                                              1) The best bbq

                                                                              2) The best steak

                                                                              3) The best tequila

                                                                              I hsve found some top notch versions of all of the the above, but aI am always in search of a new frontrunner in each catagory.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: swsidejim

                                                                                17 days late - check out Frida Kahlo Reposado

                                                                                1. re: kare_raisu


                                                                                  Ill look for it on my next trip to the liquor store.

                                                                                  My favorite one right now is Don Julio 1942 Anejo. A little steep for my pocket at over $100 per bottle, but a real treat when I am able to afford it.

                                                                                  1. re: swsidejim


                                                                                    Are you looking more for anejos?

                                                                                    Another great option is 7 Leguas (7 Leagues) baned after Villa's horse.

                                                                                    1. re: kare_raisu

                                                                                      I am looking for all rec's. Thank you.

                                                                                      I like anejos, and reposados the best.

                                                                              2. Years ago, when I was a bartender, my head bartender made the best Bloody Mary base in the world. Not too spicy, he used A1, Dill Sauce, and V8 in the mix, but that's all I remember. I've been looking for a recipe like that, ever since. I've never found it.

                                                                                I want to make three outstanding and gorgeous desserts, but I'm still looking for my signature, other than an incredible Pound Cake. Which I make the old school way, pound of everything.

                                                                                I also want to make a memorable and fabulous veggie sandwich, but I'm having little luck there.

                                                                                The other thing? Bread. I work on perfecting my bread and have spent serious bucks on it. My Zo bread machine (I have MS and can't knead) has helped.