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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.

                                  3. Interesting topic. Ice cream and sorbet are two of mine; I can get great ice cream at the shops, and I actually find that I spend more when I try to make it myself.

                                    Thai curry pastes. I tried making my own a couple of times, but didn't notice such an amazing difference from the packaged stuff. Having said that, I now live very close to a Thai market where all the ingredients are very accessible, so I cook a lot more Thai/Vietnamese now.

                                    Ditto on the homemade pasta. It's just not a priority for me!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Kagey

                                      I must disagree on the Thai curry pastes. Maybe the recipes you used weren't up to par? I find that the difference between a prepackaged curry paste and a homemade one are dramatic. The preprepared ones taste sort of "flat" and have a bit of an abrasive flavour, where the homemade ones are much more complex and have layers of flavour that present gradually as you eat.

                                      I wouldn't make a homemade curry paste every time I make Thai food (which is at least five times a week), but I probably would about half the time or so. The first four or five times, I find, it took me a long time to prepare, but after you become familiar with the process, you can actually whip one up quite quickly.

                                    2. Pho. It's one of those things that is just as easy, if not easier, to make in large batches, instead of small ones, so I might as well go to a restaurant and have it on my table in five minutes, rather than hours of making broth at home.

                                      1. When I lived in the boonies, I used to crave things like felafel and tempura, but wouldn't bother making them now that they're easier to get. I'm not sure I agree on Chinese food though -- I got on a jag of trying a few recipes a while ago and produced some lovely dishes, including hot and sour soup. I think it was worth learning the techniques although I don't usually have time to do all that prep

                                        1. Japanese Hibachi Restaurants are a fun thing for us...I know its just basically terkiyaki chicken and fried rice, but it tastes so much better from them. Also gyoza...me and TJ go waaayyyyy back on these!

                                          1. Cabbage kimchi just seems easier to buy, although I'd love a recipe for cucumber kimchi to make at home.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Pie! I have never made one. I'll admit I am intimidated by the thought, and when I was a young bride and I asked my MIL for her recipe, she told me to go to the frozen food aisle and get a Mrs. Smith's apple pie! And I thought her pie was so good - silly me!

                                              There is a great pie shop nearby and I'm sure I could never make anything half as good as their pies, so I don't even try!

                                              1. I think a lot of this depends on what's nearby. I cook Chinese at home often, but I learned at the side of chinese roomates, and that was a huge help in learning technique, navigating the ingredients, etc. And I'm easily 2 hours from passable chinese food, which would be my "stranded on a desert island" cuisine of choice- I must have it.

                                                There's an amazing mexican grocery with housemade tamales that can't be beat nearby. At a dozen for $10, there's no way I'd spend all day making tamales for inferior results at higher cost.

                                                I used to say this about home-baked bread, but ever since the no-knead bread entered my life, I bake a loaf per week, all kinds of variations.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: cheesemonger

                                                  Where is the no-knead bread recipe?

                                                2. I can make almost every pastry known to man, but there are a few items that I prefer to buy if it is just a few items. I love cannoli, but the mess involved in frying them means that I will probably buy them, unless I need a dozen or more. I feel the same way about donuts.

                                                  I love Chinese and Indian food and have learned from my past mistakes, but it is a involved process getting the various veggies/ingredients required for Asian dishes. I still have not mastered making pancakes for Mu-shu, and the local carry-out makes great veggie Mu-shu for $5.00.

                                                  I don't like to clean up the mess from fried chicken, but I will do it if it is for a family gathering.

                                                  I always make my own pizza, as I do not like the cheap ingredients, belt ovens and greasy toppings that are associated with delivery.


                                                  1. I've tried several times to make sfogliatelle. It's impossible to ever replicate how they get it in Italian bakeries.

                                                    1. Oh my - the constant lament in our house is "why don't you make fried rice?"

                                                      Answer: because it's a very large PITA if you don't have a large store of day old rice, leftover red roasted pork, all the myriad vegies prepped and ready to go, along with a very large and VERY hot wok. For $5.95 and a quick walk, I can have a lovely quart of fried rice, redolent of wok hay, and without the two day prep schedule. I'll tackle most other things (and have tackled fried rice), but I'm immovable on this one.

                                                      Oh, and steamed BBQ pork buns. Did those once as well. Never again. Much tastier as take out, and only a buck-ten per. Worth it.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: cayjohan

                                                        OMG -- I have been trying to make decent pork buns, baked or steamed, for years. And, I have recently added fried rice to the rotating dinner schedule. I am just not satisfied with the result and always try to improve each time, even though my family likes it. We live in the Dallas suburbs and don't have ready access to red bbq pork that is decent -- so I have actually learned to make THAT myself. It helps the fried rice immensely. As for the pork buns, well, I haven't tried lately, and I don't think I have a decent baked recipe -- only the steamed. Can someone share one with me?

                                                      2. I agree with many already mentioned. Puff Pastry. Oh my gawwdd! I saw it made from scratch and immediately took it off my home-cook list. Tamales, gyoza, shu mai, anything that requires a lot of stuffing. If I'm going to spend 'X' amount of time cooking a great meal, I'm not going to use it all up stuffing things.

                                                        And my favorite Nabeyaki Udon. I finally got the recipe from my favorite noodle shop, but it has so many pieces/ parts I don't think it's worth my time to do it at home. Same with sushi rolls.

                                                        On the other hand, I can't believe how much people will pay for store-bought hummus. Hello?? Almost the easiest and fastest thing in the world to make.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: jennywinker

                                                          As ambivalent as I am towards Martha Stewart,she had a chef named Francoise make puff pastry on her show years ago. I hope the recipe is still on her website. It takes a lot of time passing, but it is so easy and it is so good. His is done by weight, not volume, and the trick is to have the butter cold, but beat it to a soft consistency. I spend 10 minutes with it three times and it's done.

                                                          I converted his recipe to one for croisant dough. Don't make it often, but my friends really, really, really like it. And it's very different from what the stores turn out.

                                                        2. I agree w/ all of the food things you've listed and would add that, for me, most breads and baked items (except cookies, brownies, etc) are better if I just purchase them from a good bakery. I'm not much of a baker.

                                                          Oh, and I despise deep frying anything! It's messy and is almost always better when done in a commercial fryer where it's roomy and the temps can get high enough!

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: lynnlato

                                                            I'm with you on deep-frying. Just the thought of the mess in my kitchen is enough to turn me off.

                                                            1. re: mamaciita

                                                              I would love to fry up some thin potatoes or onion rings, but am also afraid on frying in the house. Maybe I will do it on the deck....

                                                              1. re: stellamystar

                                                                Yea I make potatoe wedges instead. Cook potatoe in microwave then slice them and put them in a pan with lots of butter, splach EVOO, salt and pepper or old bay. My Mother has some mean frying skills of course she had a huge kitchen and vulcan stoves...

                                                            2. re: lynnlato

                                                              So many people complain about deep-frying, and I feel like it's no biggie. In fact, I like doing in the 3 or four times a year I decide to make spring rolls or clam clakes or whatever. Wouldn't do it all the time, but I ge t better results than when I play with phylo dough

                                                              1. re: thinks too much

                                                                I've been cooking for about 20 yrs now, and only in the last year or so have I started to learn to deep fry properly - found it v. intimidating!

                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                  Deep frying scares me too, probably also because I have a tiny little kitchen and just went through a fire at my Mother's house a few years back. If I ever do get into it I am going to make homemade doughnuts like my amish nanny used to make, I think they must be similar to a Krispy Kreme though I have never had one. We made a deep fried turkey at my Aunt's a couple years back, it must have looked like we were complete rednecks because we had to dig out a pit in the snow in the front yard to put the fryer. I think if you could do it with bigger pots and pans than can fit in any of my cupboards it might not be so bad.

                                                            3. I will not try to make cured meat (like Country ham, city ham, etc.)
                                                              I will also avoid roast pig or duck you get in Chinatown
                                                              No pastries with phyllo like baklava - too much work to handle the layers of phyllo dough
                                                              Definitely won't make my own cheese or butter!
                                                              Oh, no foam or gelee or "dust" in my house!

                                                              1. Lobster, because it would break my heart. Seriously, I don't think I could deal with the clanging of claws trying to get the hell out of the pot... I like lobster, and will have it at a restaurant, but there is no way I would take a live animal home and kill it myself. I'm wimpy that way.

                                                                Homemade pasta is a hassle, but once you've stuffed your own ravioli, it's hard to go back to store-bought.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                  I agree, certainly, about pasta (and sushi, as well). I once heard an Italian chef explain that store-bought pasta is better because commercial manufacturers use large, heavy bronze dies to roll out the pasta. These dies have a slightly rough surface they impart to the pasta, which cannot be duplicated in the small machines used at home. This surface texture enables to sauce to cling well to the pasta.

                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                    I will never order lobster in the rough in a restaurant because the mark-up is outrageous. Probably lots of people feel like you do. I'd rather boil the sucker myself for $6 than spend $20 for something that tastes the same. But I think I may be meaner than you too.

                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                      I can't feel sorry for something that is so ugly and so delicious. Same with blue claw crabs.

                                                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                                                        Growing up on a beef farm I learned just to eat. As my Mother who we used to tease as she threw the lobsters in the pot would say, "If they could eat me, they would." But when I was little I always told my Mom if they came out of the pot like cowboys like in The Muppet Show I would let them go, my Mommy said that was ok.

                                                                      2. re: linguafood

                                                                        I have my fishmonger split and clean them for me, that way they're already dead and I don't feel bad. ;)

                                                                        1. re: irishnyc

                                                                          As a girl who grew up in a kosher home in the Midwest, didn't have much experience with lobsters. In college, dated boy who wanted to have some for dinner and presented me with 2 large 2lb. lobsters. OK, this dates me, but it truly was the scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall movie. We put the lobsters in the bottom of the fridge and went out to buy some accompaniments and dessert. Put the biggest pot of water up to boil upon return and went to grab lobsters from the fridge. Somehow, they had worked off the rubber bands and were climbing all over the food! He tried to grab one and was pinched pretty badly. I grabbed his lacrosse stick and lobbed one into the pot and then the other. It was hysterical. Needless to say, this was my one and only lobster cooking experience!

                                                                      3. I don't deep fry at home. I've done fried chicken, done the fritters, done deep fried catfish... never again. The smell and the mess are not worth it.

                                                                        No homemade non-stuffed pasta; we use dried unless it's a ravioli or agnolotti.

                                                                        Sushi. Too much of a pain and the rice I make is never even close to right.

                                                                        Most breads. I don't plan ahead well enough to keep us stocked with bread. :)

                                                                        Spring rolls. I hate dealing with the rice paper.

                                                                        1. Hummus, pasta, sushi, confit, most Chinese, tortillas.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: melly

                                                                            But, in general, doesn't it depend upon what is available locally? Since I live in an area with plenty of varieties of pasta (Canadian-made, IMHO equal to Italian in quality and usuallly better than most U.S.) available in stores, and plenty of Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants, some very good, why should I bother with making my own pasta, sushi or pho? Perhaps if I lived where these weren't available, I would feel differently.

                                                                            1. re: melly

                                                                              Last year during my month-long Eat Local endeavor (no yeast, no citrus, no olive oil, etc), I did make my own whole wheat "wraps" and crackers. It was pretty easy and they tasted good, but haven't done it again since.

                                                                              1. re: melly

                                                                                But hummus is so easy: a can of chickpeas, some tahini, lemon juice and salt & pepper. I find if I buy hummus pre-made at the grocery I don't always use it before it expires. Better to keep the cans of chickpeas around--the rest of the ingredients are always in my pantry.

                                                                                1. re: tkalex9052

                                                                                  If you are making hummous for a GROUP - I often take it to does of an association I belong to as there are several vegetarians, people who keep halal or kosher, and others like it as well - then I make it from dried chick peas. But I work at home, that is the kind of thing one can have slowly simmering in the kitchen. (I've never had a disaster with that, but confess I did have one with soup bones, while working to a tight deadline I hadn't anticipated)...

                                                                                  The Eden organic chick peas and white cannellini beans (not hummous, but a similar dip) are very nice because they contain no salt and have a great consistency. They can be expensive, of course, but I often find them on sale and stock up. Handy for making a small amount of hummous or white bean dip.

                                                                              2. Ice cream family
                                                                                Indian cuisine
                                                                                Any pastry
                                                                                Anything deep fried

                                                                                1. puff pastry
                                                                                  chinese foods
                                                                                  tortillas and flatbreads

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: TSQ75

                                                                                    Pastries are not meant for a home kitchen -- but I would like to try to make Creme Brulee -- all I need is a firetorch. Not sure how my roommate will feel about that...

                                                                                    1. re: Zucumber84

                                                                                      Creme brulee fire is nothing. Make saganaki if you really want to scare your roommate. OPA!

                                                                                      1. re: Zucumber84

                                                                                        Many places sell mini-torches that might only slightly scare the roommate.

                                                                                    2. Baklava, kataifi or any of a number of other Mediterranean pastries involving filo and minced nuts. Way too touchy; way too sticky; way too time-consuming -- especially when you live right around the corner from a great Lebanese bakery like I do.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: LeslieB

                                                                                        yes, and generally, after one or two baklava I am "done." Much better to go to teh market for a small sampler.

                                                                                      2. Duck confit. At least, not if you live in a small one bedroom with a shitty galley style kitchen without any ventilation. I swear I can still smell, and feel, it everywhere.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: link_930

                                                                                          I made it last year - in my tiny NYC galley kitchen - and don't remember having a terrible smell, FWIW. I think I made it at a very low temperature.

                                                                                        2. Ice Cream - mostly because if I make a whole batch I eat a whole batch, buying in a resto. is built in portion control though I will make it if there is a really interesting flavor I want to try

                                                                                          Steak - I can grill a good steak, but don't particularly enjoy it, and considering the expense of the cuts of meat my SO prefers, we can have one in a resto. for the same $

                                                                                          For the most part I don't shy away from making many things, I actually really enjoy a lengthy process if I have the time for it. It is the simpler boring stuff I am less inclined to do, grilling a steak, just because it is no fun for me. Now as I continue to expand my culinary repertorie and try more challenging things, my list may grow. Had I yet had the chance to attemp puff pastry, or a more complicated Indian dish my list may well have been longer.

                                                                                          1. Ice cream and most other desserts

                                                                                            pho-cuz I fear screwing up and I know I will have to make it a few times to get it right and since pho broth is made in large quantities and I hate wasting but I hate eating stuff that tastes bad...well, I just don't want to make something that I feel like throwing away.

                                                                                            I think Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indo-Pak is generally quite easy, but yes you do have to have special ingredients. I have several sets of seasonings in my kitchen: desi (Indo-Pak),Middle Eastern, East Asian (fish sauce, Chinese soy sauce light and dark, Japanese soy sauce, Thai curry pastes, etc) and then some Western stuff. Thank God I have a big kitchen! I actually usually cook desi food anyway at home.

                                                                                            Okay Chinese stir fries and such are easy but there is something I say is too much trouble at home but done so well in good restaurants so I don't bother: Chinese BBQ, like you know the roast duck and all. Also, dim sum. I can make a few, but actually it is really hard.

                                                                                            When I do sushi we have it Tex-Mex taco style folded into a seaweed sheet stuffed with rice, raw fish, and whatever condiments and dipped in soy. I just order a tray of raw fish from the Korean store. I never actually buy and slice up a fish for that. Too hard and I have no idea how to choose and slice the fish correctly.

                                                                                            1. For me it is injera, samosas, nan, flan, chocolate mousse and empanadas..

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: drmimi

                                                                                                thanks to my abuela, i can do flan with my eyes closed...lol

                                                                                                empanadas are also second nature to me...but only with pre packaged dough discs.

                                                                                                I have my abuela to thank for that too, when she taught me to make empanadas years and years ago I asked her, "Abuela, how do i make the dough?"

                                                                                                her answer? "ay mija, dont put yourself through that, just buy them in the freezer section." hahaha

                                                                                              2. I agree with a lot of the previous suggestions - puff pastry, tortillas, sushi, kimchee, etc.

                                                                                                I'd add:

                                                                                                Injera and dosas - too much trouble to ferment the batter, etc, when I can buy some better ones for a few bucks
                                                                                                Cheese (except simple stuff like ricotta) - it takes a lot more expertise and technique than I have to make good cheese
                                                                                                Cannoli, baklava, and other multi-step, tricky pastries - again, when you factor in the time it takes and the cost of ingredients, you're not saving any money
                                                                                                Some sauces and condiments, like Chinese black bean sauce and ketchup
                                                                                                Bagels - Yes, I could make some, and I'm sure they'd be good. But I can get some from a wood-fired oven for $0.60 apiece.
                                                                                                Butter - I don't care what the NYTimes says, I have better things to do with my time

                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: piccola

                                                                                                  I agree with everything on that list except for the baklava. It's really not that hard or that long a process. Messy, yes. Slightly mind-numbing when you're buttering all those sheets, certainly. But doing it on your own is less expensive and IMO, tastier.

                                                                                                  Unless of course, you make your own phyllo... in which case you're certifiably nuts ;-)

                                                                                                  1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                                                    Agree! Baklava is really easy to make once you know how. Chop up the nuts and mix with sugar and cinnamon, butter one sheet at a time and sprinkle with nuts, cut, bake and pour over a syrup made with sugar, water cinnamon stick and lemon peel. If you see it done once or learn from someone, so easy, inexpensive and musch better than store bought.
                                                                                                    Make your own phyllo- yes "certifiably nuts" is exactly right.

                                                                                                    1. re: emilief

                                                                                                      Yeah, I tend to think of boxed phyllo dough as a fab convenience food, not a big fussy mess. Baklava, turnovers from phyllo, fake strudel - all good and easy.

                                                                                                      1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                                                        Where I grew up, in my house, one would NEVER use "store bought" phyllo, it was just NOT done. We weren't big on desserts so we only made baklava a couple of times, but for all special occasion/holiday meals, we made our own phyllo for spanikopita and tyropita (just cheese) regularly. If you have two people, it's really quite fun and other than requiring decent space to roll out the dough, not that difficult. It's SO much better than the stuff you get in the store, seriously.

                                                                                                2. chiles en nogada. Prepping the poblanos. Then, any of the traditional fillings (usually seasoned meat, fruit pieces, sometimes pine nuts) are complex and tedious. Then peeling the thin skin from walnut pieces to make a creamy sauce? And how often does your green grocer have fresh pomegranites for the essential seeds? Then serving all this up chilled so that it resembles a Mexican flag? And you pronounce it so delicious you wish there were more, and she brings out another tray full? I should have married her, if she would have had me.

                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                                                                    DH made chiles en nogada for me for 16 de Septiembre this year. Took him a good part of the afternoon with me handling the seasonings and the peeling of the walnuts. The walnuts were easy using one of those potato peeling gloves.

                                                                                                    Ciabatta was disappointing to make and very time consuming and picky. Even in central Mexico we can get a decent bakery ciabatta.

                                                                                                    Fruit streudel. OMG, Required a floured bed sheet draped over the dining room table and pulling the dough til it hung over the edges of the table. What a clean-up disaster. Streudel was great, though.

                                                                                                    1. re: Pampatz

                                                                                                      16 de Septiembre : Mexican Indedendence Day is my cumpleanos. (birthday) That's when I play Walter Middy and pretend that all those parades in every little pueblo all over Mexico are all for me. Then I'm quickly reminded that I'll be a whispy memory in "dia de los muertos" celebrations way sooner.

                                                                                                  2. I normally don't order anything that I can make better and/or cheaper. (Yep, that IS a nickel you hear being squeezed.) So I am a die-hard convery to the no-knead bread recipe. But that is not an answer to this question. What do I buy rather than make?

                                                                                                    Dim sum. (Let me repeat that a few times to emphasize how much I like buying rather than making an array of little tasty things that everyone wants one of each variety). Pasta that isn't stuffed. Bagels. Jam. Puff pastry. Crackers. Bbq duck. Mu shu skins. Moles (though I aim to give that a stab this winter) Curry pastes. Sushi ginger. Tortillas.

                                                                                                    1. Dim sum. The fun is having a lot of different food and it's a pain to make a few of everything. At the same time, making a lot of one type might be a little easier but who wants an entire meal of hargow?

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. Ethiopian/Eritrean -- I bought a cookbook and spices and then discovered that the best Ethiopian food I've ever eaten is only about 20 min. from me. Between the injera and variety of dishes we get, I don't think that I could ever duplicate it at home.

                                                                                                        1. Beer and bread.

                                                                                                          Beer because while, like every guy who was alive in the mid-90s, I went through
                                                                                                          a homebrew phase and even though it was phenomenally instructive, still no matter
                                                                                                          what, it always comes out tasting like homebrew.

                                                                                                          Bread because I live surrounded by several of the best bread bakeries in the country
                                                                                                          and one at least with world-class ranking. If I lived anywhere else, I'd probably spend
                                                                                                          Saturday mornings elbow-deep in flour; but here it's just not worth it.

                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                                                                            Chinese without question I do have access to any and all ingredients I would need, I have all the "right" cookbooks, I have a passion for the food, hell I am even someone with a culinary degree and consider myself a good cook..but I just cant get the flavors correct when it comes to Chinese cooking.

                                                                                                            Beer and Bread are dead on...most home kitchens really are not equiped to make truly great bread and beer ugh..why..there is no home brew that can top the 30000 different beers you can buy at the local ligour store.

                                                                                                            The thing I find to be pointless is candy..messy, expensive and a pain in the a** as well as dangerous when getting sugars to the right temps..find a nice local candy shop and call it a day

                                                                                                          2. Back in the late 70's, early 80's the sourdough starter "Herman" was all the rage and I made our own bread twice a week, and it was so delicious. But back then you couldn't just get really good sourdough, conveniently, like you can now, so it was worth it then, but not anymore!

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                                                                              Well, except for the fact that sourdough just isn't as good unless it is made somewhere with an ocean nearby -- I'm a biased born and raised San Francisco and there is just nothing like SF sourdough bread, toasted with some butter and a cup of tea on a cold foggy day....mmmmm!

                                                                                                            2. For some years, we did “The Great American Wok-Off,” with about five chefs and their spouses, plus my wife and myself. The menu would be set, and shopping would commence. We’d all gather at my house and the spouses, usually, would begin the prep. Everyone would be working at near top-speed, to get it all together. While the chefs would be doing the “heavy-lifting,” the spouses would be doing the wrapping for whatever rolls, had been chosen and starting to get ingredients into the woks - usually 4-5, plus another half-dozen pots and pans. After about three hours of intense labor, we’d finally sit down to our meal. Though the chefs all planned the order of the dishes and shouted the times and other instructions, like, “take that flaming wok outside and put it into a snow drift!” there were always dishes that were too cool, too grease-sodden, or had some other fault. After about five attempts, we all just gave up and moved on to other cuisines. So, my vote is for Chinese/Oriental (as some dishes were Vietnamese, a few Thai, and others from Malaysia).


                                                                                                              1. Ah, the Sweet Land of Availability. I live there now. But I am remembering my girlish days in Argentina sixty years ago when we had to make our own marshmallows, hamburger buns, pickle relish, ketchup, Hostess cupcakes, rye bread, curry powder, and Babe Ruth candy bars. Actually it was great basic training: Resourcefulness 101. I wouldn't exchange the experience (but now am delighted to pick up whatever at the local market).

                                                                                                                1. as a cook, the only thing i see not worth making yourself is ketchup. other products may be more difficult to make without certain equipment, but that is half the fun. but thats coming from the guy who was classically trained in french cuisine and techniques. sometimes the biggest successes are the failures; that allows you to see what went wrong and gives you another reason to push yourself as a culinarian to ind the right answer.

                                                                                                                  1. I have to disagree on item #3 (fancy cakes). I find that many bakeries, even the best ones, occasionally rely on shortening, which I rigorously avoid in my/my family's diet. I think it's just the nature of commercial baking that shortening's stability & shelf life are an important ingredient, and I just can't stand the stuff.

                                                                                                                    1. Dim sum - part of the fun is the loud raucous atmosphere of the restaurants.

                                                                                                                      Sushi - Yuck. Never turns out as good as even crummy mall sushi.

                                                                                                                      Peking duck - Way too much work.

                                                                                                                      1. So many places sell good fried chicken - I made it one time - it was GREAT but so much work and the clean-up did NOT justify the excellent white gravy I was able to make.

                                                                                                                        1. I love homemade egg noodles, made them since I was six, easy as anything... handful of flour on the board, mix in an egg, knead for a minute or two, roll out and cut, done. I like a thicker noodle than is available commercially.

                                                                                                                          But for steak I would go out, to a place which specializes in steak, because they snap up the best meat, better than what I can buy locally.

                                                                                                                          Anything Asian I'll go out for, I don't have the wok stove and otherwise it isn't the same.

                                                                                                                          Really elaborate desserts - I adore them but would never have the patience.