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Nov 5, 2007 05:26 AM

Foods not worth cooking at home

I’m a proficient cook, but I’ve come to conclude that there are certain things not worth making at home (for me, that is, others may digress).

1.Homemade pasta. Fact is, while the stuff I’ve made on the hand crank pasta machine have been good, it is a time consuming and awkward process, and frankly, I’d rather just go down to one of the local gourmet stores and plunk down $6 for a pound of fresh pasta. It’s 95% as good as anything I make at home.

2.Sorbet. Homemade ice cream is worth the attempt, but homemade sorbet tastes just like any decent commercially made sorbet. One day I picked up a container of commercially made sorbet and discovered that it contained only three ingredients: sugar, water, and fruit, and I’ve never made homemade sorbets since then. The one upside to making your own sorbet is experimenting with flavors, but I’d happily settle for buying Haagen Daz’s raspberry sorbet over making my own, especially when you factor in the cost of buying your own fresh raspberries versus a pint of Haagen Daz’s raspberry sorbet.

3.Fancy multi-layered cakes with French buttercream icings and mousse fillings are fun to make, but I can easily go down to a top grade French bakery here in Baltimore and get something similar. Homemade pound cakes and traditional layer cakes with your own icings are almost always better and more cost effective than store-made cakes, but I draw the line at the buttercream confection. It’s a lot of work to produce something that tastes just like something you can buy! Plus, most home cooks will never approach the professional execution of a top grade bakery.

4.Fusion food. The fad for fusion cuisine seems to be sweeping the country, and while I’ve certainly had excellent fusion food (even a Spanish-Japanese fusion), replicating it at home would be too difficult.

5.Chinese food. I’ve tried multiple cookbooks and recipes, but have never been able to produce a Chinese meal with satisfaction, other than a simple stir fry.

Anyone have his or her own opinions on this subject? I’d be interested to hear what others think aren’t worth cooking at home.

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  1. I'm with you on the Chinese food. Specifically hot and sour soup. There are a lot of ingredients in there and frankly, I can buy a large hot and sour for 3 bucks and change. So, I've never even attempted it. It's literally 5 minutes away, or brought to my door if we're being especially lazy
    Same goes for Thai food. I'm ashamed to say I've never made larb. I can get amazing larb and penang 10 minutes away, or delivered.
    If I lived somewhere which did not have exceptional ethnic food, I'd certainly make it. But here (in the DC area) we are blessed with very good and CHEAP ethnic restaurants/delivery.

    6 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      Add me to the Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai list. You can spend a fortune on all the different ingredients, struggle with the unfamiliar techniques, buy special equipment, and still not end up with something as good as the cheap restaurant down the street.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Vietnamese is dead easy at home! Well, some Viet anyway.

        1. re: John Manzo

          I certainly know how to make Nem (the small, deep fried Vietnamese rolls) but it isn't really worth it for a couple of people - I have a good Vietnamese shop with takeaway close by. Idem any other small, fussy snack foods such as empanadas - they are easy to make for a gang, but I wouldn't bother making two or three from scratch.

          1. re: John Manzo

            As someone else pointed out, it really depends on where you live and what you have available to you. Since I live in the Bay Area, and live walking distance from two Vietnamese restaurants and less than 10 minutes drive from a Vietnamese neighborhood with shops and restaurants, there's no incentive for me to learn to make Vietnamese food at home. Except, I don't know of a place near me that makes one of my favorite dishes: cha ca (fish fillets with turmeric and fresh dill), so I might try making that some day.

        2. re: monavano

          Blasphemy on the Thai food! *grins*

          I find Thai exceptionally easy to make in most cases (unless you're making a curry paste from scratch, which is worth trying at least once since the resultant curry is outstanding), and the results are just *so* superior to most restaurants, at least in Toronto where it's virtually impossible to find anything remotely authentic. I can prepare a full three course delicious Thai meal in about an hour for a very reasonable price. As well, cooking Thai food is wonderful because of the complex array of smells that fill your kitchen and gradually change with the addition of each ingredient.

          Then again, I'm heavily biased. Thai is my favourite cuisine and I've been studying it and preparing it for 10 years. I had to learn to make it myself to support my rampaging Thai addiction that killed my student loans.

          I will concede that a few Thai dishes aren't really worth the effort. I find spring rolls generally a pain to make (so if I'm making them, I'll make dozens and binge on them), as are curry puffs.

          1. re: monavano

            I don't agree with the hot and sour soup - it isn't really that difficult to make (if you have a nearby Chinatown handy to get the ingredients), and the restaurants never make it nearly hot enough or sour enough.

          2. Puff pastry and croissants. I tried making croissants once, only once, and they came out like non-sweet cookies. Yuck.

            9 Replies
            1. re: AmyH

              AMy - thanks for weighing in on that. I recently got the CIA's baking text book and had visions of making homemade croissants for Christmas morning. The recipe was very complicated ..I think I'll order in for those!

              1. re: stellamystar

                I took a croissant making class once. Talk about labor intensive- a real pain. Since there are so many yummy bakery croissant, no need to do this.
                [also decided that pick your own rasberries are not worth it- it is back breaking and finger pricking and you learn why they are so expensive!].

                1. re: emilief

                  Danish - just as many steps as croissant dough, but the additional sugar/egg/butter in the dough makes it stickier and hard to handle. Never, ever, ever will I do it again. But, lord, it's almost impossible to get a truly spectacular Danish.

                  Also, cannoli shells - I can buy them at the same quality as I can make them. English muffins are like Danish - much better made at home, but too much work. I do make multi-layer French buttercream concoctions, but I've never found places where I can buy them that are as good as my homemade.

                  Agree on Chinese food.

              2. re: AmyH

                I'd add sfogliatelle to that list. Man, what a pain.

                Not as much an issue with pasta, except for ravioli. Much as I'd like to experiment with fillings, it's too time consuming - and for any number of reasons the amount of filling never matches the amount of pasta. However, homemade gnocchi beats anything I've found commercially.

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  Gnocchi is on my list to make.. What potato do you use? I always get a raw potato flavor when I've made halushki or other type items.

                  1. re: stellamystar

                    I've normally used Yukon Gold or similar thin-skinned potatoes.

                    I've also found that if you're making soup a la T. Keller with the numerous passes through tamises and china caps, you can collect those solids and mix with potato to make flavored gnocchi. Works particularly well with root veggies.

                  2. re: AmyH

                    I very much agree on both the puff pastry & croissants.

                    I remember being younger and watching Julia Child (on Food TV!) make croissants. I commented that it seemed an awful lot of work; my mother commented that she was taught how to do it when she was younger and got sent to French cooking classes but will never make it again.

                    1. re: Ali

                      Thirded. I've tried making both at home, and really regretted it in both cases.

                  3. I assembled a sushi-making kit for my husband last Christmas, and we had a great time making homemade sushi, but I'm not sure it's something I'll do again. It's a HUGE amount of effort to make, and we don't usually eat as much as we think we will. Forget eating leftovers. Fortunately, we have reasonably-priced take-home sushi in our neighborhood.

                    On the subject of sushi, one thing I made from the sushi book that I now keep stocked as a staple is pickled ginger. Homemade ginger kicks storebought's butt. It takes me a while to peel and slice, but the rest is simple--I can make a gargantuan batch that keeps for months in the refrigerator. I just bought a truffle shaver to see if I can make the slicing go a bit faster.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mamaciita

                      Mamaciita - Can you share your pickled ginger recipe? I'd love to make that at home.
                      Thanks ...

                      1. re: janeh

                        Here is a link to the recipe that I use--it comes from The Sushi Experience by Hiroko Shimbo. I typically double (or triple or more. . .) the recipe.

                        The instructions say that it keeps two weeks in the refrigerator. I found ours in the back of the 'fridge while I was transferring stuff to our new model, and it had probably been there for 7-8 months. It tasted fine--it IS pickled, after all.

                        These days, once the jar is opened, it's usually gone in a day or two.

                        Let me know how you slice your ginger--I'm still looking for an easier way.


                    2. Tortillas. I can get a sack of 80 corn tortillas that are still hot for $1.25. Flour tortillas are only slightly more expensive.

                      Sushi - part of the delight is the experience of interacting with the chef.

                      Indian food for the same reason as Chinese. I'll stick with you on Chinese food as well. I do make things like pho and pad thai at home and I love doing stir fries and curries, but they are not traditionally made.

                      Fried chicken. To cook fried chicken properly, it's kind of involved and pan-frying makes a huge mess. I'm in the South, so I can get my hands on excellent fried chicken pretty easily.

                      French fries. (Can you tell that I hate frying stuff at home?)

                      Conversely, biscuits are almost always better at home than out. Restaurant biscuits tend to sit around and get leaden. It takes very little time, effort, and is low cost to make your own at home.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: dalaimama

                        Agree on Indian food - even I used a storebought jar of sauce (foregoing elaborate spice grinding and mixing), the hours of stewing meats in it stunk up my whole apartment. The smell didn't go away for a month even after we re-painted the walls (it's just happened that we re-painted our walls, not because of the smell).

                        1. re: dalaimama

                          I actually really love making Chinese food at home and since there are so few good authentic Chinese restaurants in the area any more, I tend to do it pretty frequently. The key is to have a well seasoned wok, which will give you the right taste. I really recommend a cookbook called "The Breath of A Wok", it's a really good resource to get you started. Also, there's a really good Chinese grocery in Towson called Towson Oriental Market on Loch Raven boulevard, if you want to try it.

                          The foods I won't make at home are the ones that I just don't trust myself with- sushi, any kind of tartare, and desserts with raw eggs in them. I'd rather get it in a restaurant :)

                          1. re: dalaimama

                            Ah yes, tortillas! Even with several different versions of "authentic" tortilla presses, the results were never as good as were the ones from the local tortilla factory, or from a local restaurant. Lotta' work and you throw half away.

                            Good one,

                            1. re: dalaimama

                              I *adore* homemade Indian food and spent a summer I had off poring over a collection of Indian cookbooks and making many of the dishes at home. I think that, if you have a good high end Indian restaurant accessible to you, you're better off eating there; I found too many of the entrees required hours and hours of preparation or even beginning the day before.

                            2. Gyros. I wouldn't even begin to know how to make them but it just seems like an impossible task. Plus then you have to make the sauce and whatevah! Go to the hot dog stand or Greek breakfast place already!

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: funholidaygirl

                                I make gyros all the time I find them extremely easy. But then again we also buy whole lambs so I end up with some parts of the lamb that are really easiest to hack to bits. I think I tweaked the recipe from my Jil Sander cookbook it was extremely simple. But I use lamb shoulder and if you are squeamish with your butchering skills it might be best just to buy them.

                                And pie... but I grew up making pie so it seems so easy to me and I just don't understand why people buy them.

                                The things I don't make at home are Chinese food, Croissants, and a lot of braised meats because I just don't have the time, pastas and sushi because I eat it so often for lunch.

                                1. re: ktmoomau

                                  Gyros here in the U.S. are disgusting after having the real deal in Greece though ktmoomau, yours sounds like the real deal. I'm impressed that you make these all the time.

                                2. re: funholidaygirl

                                  Gyros are pretty easy...just use leftover lamb and make the sauce from fage or any greek yogurt, some minced cukes, and a bit of mint (I add a bit of garlic)...I also add diced tomatoes and some feta.

                                  1. re: melly

                                    I marinade my lamb in garlic, lemon juice, parsley and a little olive oil, I use fresh lamb (as I said lamb shoulder, or other roast pieces normally) I put some of that au jus with minced cukes, and a tiny bit of mint into Fage. I also sear the lamb with a little onion sometimes but not always. I add a on grilled in the skillet for a few min pita with whatever sides people want lettuce, feta, hummus, tomatoe.

                                  2. re: funholidaygirl

                                    Ha-Ha! I tried one time to make gyros out of leftover BBQ butterflied lamb, bought the pitas, tried my hand at making the sauce. What a disaster! Never again.

                                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                      Well it was BBQ lamb... I actually can't imagine them being very good with leftover lamb as lamb is best very rare, and I think the garlic and lemon flavor are essential.