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Family Lost in the Kitchen

After spending some holiday cooking with the family, I have wondered what it's like for you to watch another member cook and know that you are able to execute it better.

I watched my brother go at a beautifully grilled London Broil with carving knife and fork before he allowed it to rest. I had to say something to him but I knew I was risking an off-handed comment where he calls me something lame like Emeril or Rachel Ray. I hate when my knowledge and advice for cooking and food is confused with gourmet snobbery. They think I'm mimicking Food Network and Top Chef without an ounce of understanding and depth to the matter.

Anyway, whether it be knife skills, cooking technique, or use of ingredients, can you share an instance where a family member has found himself committing acts of deficiency when it comes to food?


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  1. My darling wife puts the largest fryingpan she can find on the smallest gas burner, turns it up to max, and then frys bacon and eggs. On special occasions she leaves a plastic utensil of some sort in the pan for extra interest. It's like watching a whale try to knit, but both our sons are still alive, so I don't say anything.

    I love her soooooooooo much!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robin Joy

      <<It's like watching a whale try to knit, but both our sons are still alive, so I don't say anything.>>

      I like the way you think.

      Hubby learned how to butcher, uh, I mean slice and dice, a few veggies and how to toss a salad on Christmas Day. It's true I had to sacrifice my creative vision of mounds and mounds of delicate carrot coins so paper thin I'd merely have to pass them over a BIC lighter once to roast them, but small price to pay in order to have him sitting there with me while I worked in the kitchen (where I'm usually alone on holidays), when I *know* he would have rather been in the living room with everyone else, watching football, eating cookies and honey roasted peanuts, and shouting out to me every fifteen minutes to ask when dinner would be ready.

      Those carrots may not have pretty, but they surely were beautiful. ;-)

      1. re: Steady Habits

        Should have made them into carrot chips. (Fried like potato chips) ;-)

    2. One day I walked into our kitchen while my mother-in-law was visiting. I found her making lunch for my daughter, holding an apple in one hand and cutting slices out of it with a gigantic chef's knife -- all the while looking at and talking to my daughter. I gently pointed out that it would be safer to use a cutting board and managed to get the knife away from her, so no blood was shed. It's partly that she doesn't really know what she's doing in the kitchen, but mainly that if one of her children or (especially) grandchildren is in the vicinity, 99% of her attention is focused on them, no matter what else is going on. (My sister once called this "autistic grandma behavior.") She's like this about a lot of things -- she's such a distracted driver, I'm amazed that she's never been in an accident.

      35 Replies
      1. re: jlafler

        Cutting in the hand is a very cultural thing. You see it a lot in the Middle East and in Italy for instance. Not with an 10" chef knife but you see lot's of women cutting while standing or sitting at the table over a bowl cutting away.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          Yes, but that's not her cultural tradition; she's one of that generation of American women who learned to cook during the 40's and 50's (as opposed to later generations that didn't learn to cook at all), most of whom seem never to have learned to use knives properly. I've seen her cutting vegetables with a bread knife, and she doesn't realize that all the knives in her kitchen are dull. My mom is the same about dull knives, but she's a much better cook.

          Believe me, if you had seen her you would have been just as horrified as I.

          1. re: jlafler

            what is it with mothers and dull knives? I have never cut myself in my own kitchen (knock wood) but I ended up with a paring knife almost through my palm in hers due to lack of clean cutting boards and improper/dull knives...

            She HAS sharp knives, but never uses them, and I am finally allowed to use them at 31, only under supervision, and only after reminding her of the above incident every time I visit...

            1. re: Cowprintrabbit

              Word! My mother (9ty cough years old) truly believes that sharp knives are dangerous. Which no doubt explains the time I almost cut my left thumb off when I was 15. It healed slowly, and the tip was only numb for about 25 years before the nerves regenerated. She would occasionally go out onto the back porch and strop a knife on the cement step. Over the years I have carried off all the good knives from her kitchen, and I get them professionally sharpened about every six months.

              1. re: Meann

                You reminded me of this 2005 New York Times article. It's a nice reminder that sometimes our "right" ways aren't the be all & end all.


              2. re: Cowprintrabbit

                Oh my god, my MIL's knives - They're all half the width they're supposed to be. The kids got together one year and bought her some beautiful knives for Christmas. They are, of course, sitting in the storage room in the basement. (we call that room the 'magic room' - you can find ANYTHING in there.)

              3. re: jlafler

                My mom cuts like this too, but not with a chef knife. She only uses serrated knives to cut anything, and when I suggest that she use one of my chef knifes she sighs heavily, puts down the bread knife, and picks it up like she is about to handle a live snake.

              4. re: scubadoo97

                Funny, I've been practicing cutting hand-held stuff over the past few years. I've enjoyed learning how to make dishes of people in their kitchens around the globe. Most don't use chef's knives and cutting boards, so if you want to join in (and even vaguely impress anyone), you have to do a lot of cutting in the hand with small knives and your thumb as a cutting board.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I was at a beach food hut here in Puerto Rico yesterday, and spent my entire lunch gazing admiringly at an old woman deftly peeling thin slices of plaintains with a paring knife, all the while keeping an eye on the younger cooks. Impressive.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    You just said that to make all the snow bunnies jealous, didn't you? Hey, I'm not even a snow bunny -- it's 76 degrees here -- and I'm jealous! Beach... Food.... Puerto Rico. Poor baby! '-)

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I'm jealous, I'd be green with envy if I weren't already a bit blue from shovelling more snow. Today's weather: -24C (-37C with the windchill) BRRR!

                      My gran used to peel apples and potatoes with a paring knife the way the old lady did. Amazing skill.

                      1. re: maplesugar

                        I always peel potatoes with a paring knife but use a chef's knife to slice or chop them. I just can't get even slices with the paring knife. Depending on what I'm doing with an apple, I can peel it with a knife but use my slicer/corer/peeler if I need to use a lot of apples.

                      2. re: pikawicca

                        Look a bit straight south. You'll see me waving. That is the kind of skill I've been trying tp pick up.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          The only items I use an actual peeler for are carrots and parsnips. For peeling potatoes, apples, etc. I find a good sharp paring knife works best with my "thumb as the cutting board" (great way to explain the process, btw, and it made me smile!). Observers always seem to be very amused and impressed by my ability to do this without cutting myself -- the only thing I do that impresses them more is my ability to break an egg with one hand! Now, THAT one's a showstopper!

                          1. re: chefbeth

                            That's so strange to me, because breaking an egg with one hand is a snap (can't most people who cook do that??), while I think it takes a while to safely learn and get good at peeling with a paring knife.

                            1. re: charmedgirl

                              I'm a one handed egg man myself, and people always stare at me in amazement when I pull that "trick". I just always thought that was the way eggs were opened. I think now that my mom and my chef at work are the only people I know who do it the same way.

                              1. re: ktb615

                                When I worked at McDonald's in high school I was able to crack 4 eggs at once (2 eggs in each hand). The managers didn't really appreciate it at first, but breakfast always seemed to be busy so they just let it go since I was going so fast. I have no idea how I did this as I couldn't even imagine doing 2 eggs at once now. One hand for an egg is no problem though.

                              2. re: charmedgirl

                                No, I'd have to say that most people can't crack an egg with one hand - at least everyone I know save one who's had some training and has worked in restaurant kitchens.

                                I suppose it depends on how you were taught, as well as how often you have a need to crack eggs. Perhaps those who bake a LOT have learned this method. I was taught to tap the egg against the edge of a bowl or the counter corner, and then use both thumbs in the crack to split the egg open. I'd hazard a guess that most people do the same. But for a chef, it makes sense to be able to use one hand.

                                Whereas when I use a paring knife to peel things like apples, I do as Sam said - using my thumb as a cutting board.

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  Huh. Just goes to show, different people, different perceptions. I'm no master baker or cook by ANY stretch, but I can crack an egg with one hand, no sweat. I taught myself when I was about 11. I saw it on a cooking show and thought it was cool. It only took like 2 or 3 tries, max, to get it right. Whereas, I definitely cannot peel with my thumb and a paring knife. I've tried many a time, but never do it well. I've just given up since I actually like to eat the peel most of the time, even in baking.

                                  1. re: charmedgirl

                                    LOL! And I recall trying to do that when baking some cookies for the family (crack an egg in one hand after seeing it on Galloping Gourmet, I think), and I made such a mess with the shell IN the bowl and the egg OUT of the bowl, my mother wouldn't let me crack eggs that way again. ;-)

                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      There was a great article in the New Yorker a few years ago ("The Egg Men," September 5, 2005) about short-order cooks in Las Vegas that discussed, among other things, egg-cracking technique:

                                      "When Joel cracked eggs, his fingers were as loose and precise as a jazz guitarist's. He held one egg between his thumb and his first two fingers, another curled against his palm. He rapped the first egg on the rim of the pan, twisted it into hemispheres, and opened it as cleanly as if it were a Faberge Easter egg. As the spent shell fell into the trash, he shuttled the second egg into position, as if pumping a rifle. He was proud of this little move. It saved him about a second versus having to grab an egg from the bin. If he cracked six thousand eggs a week, the move saved him about an hour; in a year, it saved him more than a week."

                                    2. re: charmedgirl

                                      Funny, I taught myself to peel an apple at about that age (I taught myself to crack an egg with one hand many, many years later -- as you said, it's not hard). My mom was big on fruit snacks, and I would try to peel my apple in one long spiral piece -- got pretty good at it, too. I don't think I've ever used a vegetable peeler to peel an apple -- if they're going to be cut-up, I usually cut them into quarters and then use the paring knife.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        And then did you throw that long spiral over your shoulder to see what letter it formed when it hit the ground? It's supposed to be the first letter of the name of the man you would marry.

                                        1. re: clamscasino

                                          I think I may have read that in a book around that time. Seems unlikely to me, though, that a spiral peel could form more than a couple of different letters of the alphabet ("C," "O" and "J" perhaps). That's it! I was supposed to marry a man named Jonah Obediah and I missed my chance!

                        2. re: scubadoo97

                          I occasionally cut things in my hand. I am not from the middle east, nor do I have any Italian blood that I know of. However I got my come uppance this year. My 9 year old granddaughter called me on it while we were doing our Thanksgiving chores. And to think, I was the one who sent her to Sur la Table for cooking lessons. She learns well, and I am chastened.

                          1. re: The Old Gal

                            It's sort of like "do as I say and not as I do"!

                            I am not middle eastern or italian either. But I am guilty of slicing bagels in my hand (and towards my hand, I guess you could say). With a large bread knife. My husband cringes when he walks in and sees me doing this. I have sliced my hands many a time, but never while cutting bagels (I write this as I knock on wood!).

                            1. re: valerie

                              Oh - I stress my DH this way - I always trim green beans in hand, and sometimes slice small squash that way as well. He has to leave the room sometimes - he's such a boy scout - knife safety first, you know! LOL.
                              But this is how I learned from watching my grandmother and mother, and from helping process bushels of home grown green beans when I was young. :)

                              1. re: valerie

                                I'm middle eastern and do that too with bagels and certain things, though I never got the hang of cutting things while in the hand. However you're right that middle easterners have great skill with this, and great speed, my mother does her cooking this way though she's not as fast. I know they're good with a knife because after dessert course usually a fruit platter is served and some knives and you just take what you want and start peeling/slicing depending on how you personally eat it, and you'll see kids as young as 5 doing this as well.

                            2. re: scubadoo97

                              I grew up in Louisiana and saw my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother all peel things by hand. And sometimes cut them by hand, too. I do the same. We do however using paring knives, not chef's knives, for that task. Probably there have been some cuts over the years, but nothing that I am recalling at the moment. I do know my father and my spouse both think this is a terrible thing to do. One of their favourite lines, "Never cut toward yourself!"

                              Luckily I come from a tradition of great cooks feel extremely fortunate in that regard.

                              1. re: decolady

                                my mom also peeled potatos with a paring knive in her hand against her thumb...german irish; daughter of a meat butcher although i doubt that any bearing on her abiliy to peel!

                            3. re: jlafler

                              I did? I don't remember saying anything that clever!

                              Seriously, people, this woman is a terribly inept cook. My sister and I marvel that she managed to raise four children, at least two of whom are foodies.

                              And yeah, there was a moment this Xmas making salad in our mom's kitchen when I had to resist the urge to throw every one of her knives in the trash: there is no cutting or slicing with any of them, only hacking. Unlike my sister's MIL, though, Mom manages to produce good food despite being handicapped by her knives. In defense of our stomachs, the Lafler girls have formed a subtle conspiracy not to let her MIL contribute any crucial element to any family meal. This year for Xmas dinner she made reservations and picked up the check -- a thoroughly enjoyable contribution!

                              1. re: jlafler

                                My mom is some kind of cutting-in-hand genius. She just uses a tiny, very sharp paring knife for almost everything she cuts. She can pick up a whole orange and a paring knife and, after some slight of hand, there are perfectly peeled, sectioned, de-pithed, seedless, symmetrical orange chunks in the bowl. Same for any other fruit and veggie. It is a wonder to behold, and no cutting board to wash.

                                1. re: jlafler

                                  If that makes you nervous, I would stay out of a Lao kitchen when som tum is being made. You hold the papaya in one hand and whack away quickly with the cleaver in your other hand all the while turning the papaya so it's evenly shredded....

                                  1. re: soypower

                                    LOL! We'll I'm not sure if you're Lao, but in case you're not I can teach you an interesting word in the Lao language to describe exactly what you mentioned above. When making Tam Mak Hoong (Tum Som), the traditional way to to shred papaya is by whacking away with a cleaver and this process is known in the Lao language as "f*ck". LOL! I'm dead serious. The Lao word "f*ck" does not have the same meaning as the English word, but it's just a coincidence that they share a similar pronunciation. So if you ever hear a Lao person saying "f*ck" when preparing Lao papaya salad, please remember that they're just saying a neutral Lao cooking term, which has nothing to do with the English word "f*ck". =)

                                    1. re: yummyrice

                                      Actually, that does make perfect lingual sense...

                                      In the English usage, at least, the word etymologically means "to beat"; I believe it is from German, and was originally spelled 'fuch'.

                                      Someone please correct me if I am wrong!

                                2. Oh my, I thought I was the only one. lol I just bite my tongue and try to stay out of the kitchen. Thankfully, the person who irritates me most does not live in my home and I am rarely forced to see her in the kitchen. She tackled slicing an 8 lb ham with a paring knife and dinner fork on Christmas Eve! That paring knife is the most important tool in her kitchen. I have tried to help her with prep in the past but I just can't do everything with that little tiny knife. Give me my maple cutting board and a chef's knife!

                                  1. As an update to this week:

                                    When it comes to eating out, I find some members in my family regarding me as a snob because I don't enjoy dining experiences that are lacking in substance.

                                    The top steakhouse: Outback
                                    The authentic Italian: Olive Garden
                                    American Dining: Friday's
                                    Japanese: Kobe Steakhouse

                                    I can't stand it. I know it's due in part to the fact that we were raised in North Tampa where culinary experiences are limited to these franchises and the only wholesome eateries have been Latin American luncheonettes.

                                    Tonight I insisted we do something different and head to the south-end for some Italian at Bella's Cafe. Same prices as OG but in a different world when it comes to ingredients and preparation. Anyway. I'm so lucky to at least have a girlfriend that shares my appreciation for quality food and service.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                      Funny, I dislike chains as well and I too am from the Tampa Bay area. Is there a conection? Nahhh, they are as popular as ever.

                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                        I know that the food quality at chains are usually just adequate most of the time, but sometimes when you're traveling, and you're unsure of an area, and you haven't had a chance to research (like you're traveling into unfamiliar territory because of a family emergency), they can be the saving of you. At least you -know- what you're going to get there. It may not be great, but you know about how much it'll cost, and that the quality is likely to be at least somewhat consistent from place to place. That being said, I still go to our local Applebee's occasionally for dinner on shopping night. We shop every two weeks, and that includes trips to two grocery stores, big lots, walmart, sometimes a drug store, and sometimes a hardware store/agway. Usually we're out from end of work until 9PM so we eat dinner out. The -only- restaurant "up the hill" by one of the main grocery stores we shop at is Applebee's. There's no other restaurant within two miles of that place. So depending on the sequence of our shopping, we'll have dinner at applebee's before going grocery shopping (we don't shop on empty stomachs). :) I'd prefer a different place, but it's not like Applebee's is actually -bad-, it's just not great. :)

                                        1. re: Morganna

                                          Another reliable thing about chains: the bathrooms are generally clean, well-lit, and well-stocked with tp, etc. When you're on the road, this is no small thing. I've never eaten at Applebee's, but I have a good feeling about them because of the time I walked into an Applebee's and said "I'm not planning to eat here, but I have a carsick little girl who really needs to be cleaned up. May we use your bathroom?" The hostess immediately said "Of course!" and was really nice about it.

                                          1. re: jlafler

                                            I agree. When I'm on a long road trip, my favorite clean rest rooms are McDonald's. Out of probably at least 50, I think one was bad. And in the west (TX, NM, AZ, CO, CA) they have those tall helpful signs near the interstates that let you know to take the next exit.

                                            Only problem is that on a long road trip, I usually get a cup of coffee while I'm there, which makes me stop at the next McD's! '-)

                                            1. re: jlafler

                                              "There's no toilet paper on the road less travelled."

                                              1. re: thinks too much

                                                Seriously, put that on a bumper sticker.

                                          2. re: scubadoo97

                                            scabadoo, what is your favorite restaurant here?

                                        2. My usually logical SO often adds more liquid than the recipe specifies, to
                                          "allow for evaporation". I can't convince him that the recipe has *already* "allowed for evaporation" -- that's what a recipe *is*!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: blue room

                                            That's hilarious. I wonder where he picked up that particular quirk? Misguided parents? Doesn't he notice that everything comes out a little... watery?

                                            1. re: blue room

                                              Just try to convince him to start cooking an hour earlier than normal.

                                            2. My parents boil asparagus to a mushy mess. As a poor student, I'm willing to buy asparagus but very aware of its price, and to see it wrecked just makes me want to cry...

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Allison_

                                                My mother would pick fresh green beans from her garden, bring them inside , and boil them for 45 minutes. It almost made me cry, too. Finally one day I swooped in and rescued the beans as she brought them in and said "Here, let me help you with those!!" I steamed them just al dente and I thought they were exquisite. Mom just said "These aren't cooked!"

                                                After that I gave up and let her cook them to death without further complaint. I just told myself that there had to be a downside to her southern upbringing--the very same that made her such a phenomenal baker!

                                                1. re: MsMaryMc

                                                  Now that I have a toddler with only 4 teeth, he's appreciating my mom's super-boiled veggies.

                                              2. It can be a tough call. If it is their kitchen I just let them do what they want unless they are asking for help. If they are doing something really peculiar I may ask "Have you tried it this other way?"- but when I get a blank look or a rebuke I just let them continue on. They do not "help" in my kitchen.

                                                1. My parents used to snark at my food "snobbery" too. Then I started blogging about my foodventures. For some reason, having a blog has given me "authority" I did not have before. My mom is trying recipes I created now and emailing me for kitchen tips. It's very weird, as I initially learned to cook from her.

                                                  My sisters though, still tell me not to go all "Alton" on them in the kitchen. That will never change. =)

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: northside food

                                                    My sisters though, still tell me not to go all "Alton" on them in the kitchen.

                                                    Ooh, I'd cringe.

                                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                                      It's my own fault. I am a school teacher, so I have a habit of slipping into "teacher voice" when I really shouldn't.

                                                      1. re: northside food

                                                        Job hazard...I get that comment too. Maybe it's specifically middle school - we have to be "on" all the time to maintain control in a classroom of hormones with feet.

                                                  2. <sigh> Dare I count the people and their ways?

                                                    Mostly I try to avoid such situations by insisting that people stay out of my kitchen while I cook, and in return I try to stay out of theirs.

                                                    My daughter drives me nuts with her electric mixer in mashed potatoes. She KNOWS better! I have given her my potato ricer! still, she persists in whipping up some gluten wallpaper paste "double baked" potatoes~ <sigh>

                                                    My paternal step-grandmother boiled Porterhouse steaks. I tried to avoid her food at all costs, though she did make good potato bread.

                                                    My second husband considered himself an "international" cook because he could make grilled cheese sandwiches AND cheese quesadillas. But he put iceberg lettuce leaves in both of them BEFORE grilling. No wonder we got a divorce.

                                                    Had a housekeeper kill my microwave oven by "nuking potatoes" in it. One large Russet potato in one large copper pan with lid and half filled with water. She nuked the potato for nearly half an hour before finding me to ask why it wasn't cooking. By then the magnetron was totally and irrevocably DEAD!

                                                    Then there was the friend who wanted to impress me with her first ever Italian cooking who used so much fennel seed that... Well, she brought true meaning to the term, "Licorice Pizza."

                                                    And the neighbor who borrowed my dutch oven to make spaghetti in and failed to return the pan. When I went to retrieve it, she set two identical pans on the counter and said, "Which one is yours" I asked why she had borrowed mine if she already had one? :"Because you used yours to teach me how to make spaghetti!" She was soooo sincere in her answer I just asked her which pan she would use to make spaghetti, then claimed the one she indicated as mine. Lady Einstein!

                                                    And then there is my annual horror tale of Christmas Past, when my very own mother kidnapped my gorgeous left over Christmas goose with chestnut stuffing and took it to her house and turned it into goose tacos.

                                                    Ah, the misguided cooks I have known!

                                                    12 Replies
                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Don't sit on the fence Caroline.....Say what you mean!

                                                      1. re: Robin Joy

                                                        It's okay. I don't always understand British humor either. '-)

                                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                                        LOL! I always enjoy your stories, Caroline!

                                                        I the original poster's case, I would say something like "I always thought it was silly when the TV chefs talked about letting the meat rest, but I tried it and I found out it really does make a difference." Which is true!

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            I've used that exact technique, Ruth. So much better than saying "hey, stupid, that's not how to do it!" But really "blaming" it on that faceless third party sometimes does make it more acceptable. I'M not being the know-it-all....

                                                          2. re: Caroline1

                                                            At least she used the leftovers. I have a relation who throws away all leftovers the morning after the holiday. No old food served in that house.

                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                              But I had much BETTER plans for it! '-)

                                                              My mother died about a decade ago, and I got her "Searchlight" recipe book. It was crammed full of recipes she'd clipped and copied from other sources through the decades. One was for turkey stuffing made with popcorn, the recipe said to roast it until it "blew the bird's ass off." You know, I really think she may have tried it. My mom. RIP!

                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                No way. That's just too funny. I'm thinking popcorn might add a certain something to stuffing, but to explode the poor turkey.... LOL!

                                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                                              Is it bad that I thing goose tacos sounds like of amazing? :)

                                                              1. re: manraysky

                                                                I would have no problem with my mother making goose tacos *IF* she had cooked her own goose! But she did it with *MY* Christmas goose! More than half of it, stuffed with a wonderful chestnut/Grand Marnier stuffing which she fed to her garbage disposer along with the richly glazed and crunchy goose skin I had basted with honey mixed with Grand Marnier that also fed her garbage disposer. And I didn't mention that in the same misadventure she kidnapped my delicious pate en croute, took it to her house, sliced it in thick slices, dipped them in batter, fried them and served it with a wallpaper paste pan gravy made with Bovril! My mother could be quite vicious in the kitchen! <sigh> *MY* kitchen!

                                                            3. Not just family but friends too. I saw a lot of it this Christmas: One friend loaded the frying pan with oil before cooking a steak. Another cooked the pasta too long (and oiled rather than salted the water). Sister-in-law boiled the brussels sprouts to within an inch of their lives. But you know what? I made a conscious decision years ago to let it go. Let people cook the way they like to cook, and I promise you'll feel liberated.

                                                              Of course, though, I had to say something to the friend who cut bagels in half by holding in one hand and cutting toward the palm. Made my hair stand on end. Still, he wouldn't listen. Some things have to be learned the hard way.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Kagey

                                                                I'm guilty of cutting bagels that way. How is one supposed to cut a bagel? Maybe lay it flat on the counter, hold it down with one hand, and slice with the other? I think I'd be more likely to cut myself that way. Ah, well.

                                                                Good for you, though, for deciding to let it go. Unless someone really seems open to constructive criticism, it's probably more enjoyable for all concerned.

                                                                1. re: kathleen221

                                                                  Start the bagel with it in your palm to get the knife into the bagel. But I then move it to hold the bagel vertical on the plate with your fingers on one hand holding it at the top and slice downward with the other. No palm or fingers in the way.

                                                              2. This is such a funny post!
                                                                For me and my family, its very hard to bite my tongue. I have to say, though, my mom is a decent cook, and generally we are in agreement on most culinary ideas. However, because i'm still quite young, and i think my family isnt quite sure where i got my love of cooking, when i do open my mouth they seem to think it is more residual adolescent snobbery than genuine didactic commentary. Its hard for me to stay silent when my mom overcooks vegetables on purpose, but she does it because thats how grandma likes them (even though none of the rest of us do) because its easier to hear us grumble about overcooked green beans than to get reprimanded by grandma for still-crispy ones.

                                                                Its interesting how much time in the kitchen really brings out the family dynamic.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: julseydesign

                                                                  Have you ever tried to explain shocking vegetables to your mom? My mom thought I was practicing voodoo when i set up the icewater bath next to the stove top.

                                                                  The most amazing change in her cooking came when I suggested she remove roasting meats from the oven prior to the meats being done. I had never enjoyed her Shabbat turkey before but now it's a whole new animal. Succulent, tender and juicy; it's everything the bird can be without an overnight brine soaking (which is my next push).

                                                                  1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                    Jo-el's in St. Pete may be the way to get her there in half steps. Try a kosher turkey.

                                                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                      This may be getting off-topic but you might want to read this if you have already. It's in defense of NOT brining.


                                                                    2. re: julseydesign

                                                                      That's funny! When I was visiting my in-laws I put carrot sticks on the table (we were desperate for something fresh and crunchy and not cooked to death) and my father-in-law was pretty much irrate that I had uncooked food on the table. I couldn't believe his reaction, or should I say overreaction. It was as if I had insulted him personally. What? The man's never eaten a fresh carrot before?

                                                                      Basically, I've just given up. I never cook anything for them.

                                                                      1. re: julseydesign

                                                                        My sister-in-law (she's 14) moans about my tendency to leave vegetables "raw" since her brother and I don't cook veggies to death or eat them from a can. I end up overcooking a portion for her when she eats over.

                                                                        1. re: TampaAurora

                                                                          Nothing worse than running across someone who is either scarred by overcooked vegetables from their past, or worse, someone who prefers this preparation.

                                                                      2. I am definately an Alpha in the kitchen. I grew up in the restaurant business, and have a long standing love/hate relationship with it. I know what is right, what has worked and what doesn't. And I know this: my kitchen; MY kitchen, your kitchen YOUR kitchen. I have never gained by being in someone else's kitchen and showing them what they are doing wrong ( or at least wrong in my opinion, which isn't the same at all) and I have maintained peaceful relations by biting my tongue ( it does help deaden the tastebuds!)

                                                                        1. Hillarious thread and so close to home.

                                                                          My bro-in-law fancies himself a cook. Last year he wanted to do a roasted brisket for Christmas dinner. Sis said fine and let him do it...unsupervised. Well, the electronic thermostat gets to the right temp and he gets it out and looks at it and proclaims that its still bright red in the middle. Sis tells him to put it back in for a few minutes. After another 15 minutes he still says its still bright red so she looks at it. Then she goes over to the waste basket and finds a corned beef brisket wrapping. Fine...so we're having pastrami, but he'd salted it so heavily that it was just inedible.

                                                                          This year he wanted he wanted to do a standing rib roast and we let him get away from us again. We were playing air hocky with the kids in the basement and we came up and found he'd cut the bones off the roast and trimmed just about every trace of fat off that beautiful piece of meat. When my sis asked him why, he didn't really have an explanation (this pre-roasting). The roast turned out okay but there wasn't enouph fat in the pan to do the Yorkshire Puddings. Before he started carving I asked if he could carve me a couple of slices as thin as he could get them. I ended up with an inch thick slab of meat. He did the same hack job on my Thaksgiving turkey. He did great thin slices for the kids. I guess he thought he was being generous. But seeing this huge Flintstones slab of meat covering my whole plate just made me depressed to the point I put it back and carved my own. If my sis hadn't given him the what-for about it, I'd have felt a bit guilty about it.

                                                                          So yesterday he and I go to Jungle Jims so I could stock up on goodies for the comming year and he starts picking up things for dinner that night. I ask him if he's checked with sis to see what she has planned and suggest he give her a call. "Nah!," he sais. So we get home and he starts going over what he's picked up for dinner that night and she tells him she has a pasta in red sauce planned. He suggests we do the recipe from his favorite Mafia cookbook. After looking at the recipe we find we have only three of the ingredient from the recipe. He proclaims, "Thats okay, I'll substitute."

                                                                          I'm not going to tell you the result, but it's gonna be a future family Chistmas story.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: garfish

                                                                            Truly Hi f*&#ing larious!!! Great storytelling!

                                                                            1. re: garfish

                                                                              garfish: standing offer. Anytime you're coming through Virginia, you're welcome to stop at our place for a well earned drink. Or four. Great post!

                                                                            2. My husband's family thinks I'm strange becuse of the food I eat and make...

                                                                              Visiting my in-law one holiday season I was dying for some fresh veggies (canned corn and green beans only in their house). I went to the grocery store for some veggies and came back with some nice looking brussel sprouts. Not everyones idea of good, but there were for me! I leave them on the counter waiting for dinner. next thing I hear is my MIL yell, 'HUSBAND! What are these green things on the counter!?"

                                                                              Visit bio MIL ready to try the turkey that husband has been raving about. imagine my utter shock to see her BOILING her Thanksgiving Turkey. Boiled turkey for Thanksgiving. Boiled. And she didn't even keep the stock! Oh, we also ate Thanksgiving dinner at 10pm that year.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                  Like chicken that has been used to make a long simmering stock. Totally tasteless.

                                                                                  Thankfully the husband thinks my roasted turkey much better ;)

                                                                                2. re: tallullah

                                                                                  My mother loves making BBQ chicken by "marinating" pieces in a sauce from a local smokehouse. Would be delicious if the chicken wasn't coming out with a burnt crust on the outside. I'll tell her one day.

                                                                                3. My aunt, who always hosts Christmas dinner, only prepares box and processed items about 95% of the time (Christmas being the other 5, I guess). Somehow, though, HG TV has taken hold of her brain, and this year she decided that she was going to make a prk roast with apricot cranberry glaze, and that everything else we served had to "play off those colors." My mother and I were supposed to run our 'color' pics by her, inlcuding which vegetables went into the crudite, and I accidentally brought my sweet potato casserole (which I make every year), which was a major problem- not because it didn't match, but she had already determined that the orange would be represented by butternut squash. Oops!

                                                                                  Seriously, though- I'm no Queen of the Cooks, but I do love to cook and eat food ALL YEAR LONG, and the most annoying part of the holidays is having to humor the family members who only practice their skills on a handful of occasions, and want everyone else to play along with these weird ideas.

                                                                                  1. Chopping onions, garlic, whatever, with a paring knife or some equally unsuitable instrument - come on! I was at a friend's house when said friend decided that she would make pasta. I asked if I could help with anything. She handed me a clove of garlic and a DINNER knife and asked me to slice the garlic with it.

                                                                                    Another big offense is adding flour directly to boiling broth/fat/milk, etc to make gravy. Uhh.... does the word roux have any meaning? Gives gravy a nasty raw floury taste and wastes all that yummy richness of the drippings.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: soniabegonia

                                                                                      This awakens an old Thanksgiving story. At my MIL house, I almost always made the gravy. MIL was not a wonderful cook. One year I had made a really good gravy (using roux and good stock and pan drippings). MIL decided my gravy wasn't thick enough and poured in about a cup (or more) of flour and water. We ended up with wallpaper paste (lumpy). I cooked it for as long as possible, and it still tasted like flour. I couldn't season it to make taste better because she had no seasonings!!

                                                                                    2. My husband's a chef, but he's very gracious about enjoying any meal he hasn't had to prepare, at least in private homes. He cheerfully eats my cooking, and only offers suggestions if asked. One of our dearest friends is a recently retired restaurant critic, and while he's a helluva writer, he's an abysmal cook. But we just smile and say thanks.

                                                                                      Not everyone has had the benefits of our experiences, and while I grew up with a mother who opened cans, I somehow managed to survive.

                                                                                      1. First off - awsome post! I am sooo glad to hear I am not the only one that is subject to family cullinary horrors... lol.

                                                                                        The setting: Family Thanksgiving at the mother-in-laws.

                                                                                        So every year my MIL likes to do a big holiday meal at her place. Unfortunatly she is from the era of no salt, and cook everything till it is weeeellllll done! This year there was the usual culprits: jello mold salad with chopped cabbage, carrots, and marshmallows in it (topped with cool whip)! Mashed potatoes - litteraly potatoes boiled drained and mashed... no salt, no pepper, no butter, nothing! Stuffing that has been cooked to grayish green paste.... and last but not least the ham...... *sigh*

                                                                                        ..... did I mention my MIL likes to cook stuff (especially meat!) till it is weellll done? I am not sure what time the ham was put into the electric roaster, but when the lid was removed there was a small puff of steam (the last remaining moisture in the entire ham) - and it actually looked OK. Then she touched it with the fork and knife..... it litteraly crumbeled int pieces - looked kinda like chipped beaf, but dry as a desert. This ham was so bad that 5 of the 10 adults were unable to identify what type of meat it had originally been.

                                                                                        So I have learned.... eat a big breakfast before going there, eat lots of appetizers (that we bring), and probably stop on the way home for something to eat. But through it all I have just learned to keep my mouth shut and eat as little as possible while still being polite.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: JIRodriguez

                                                                                          I'm pretty lucky at this point because I just take control of the kitchen at both my mother's and my father's, and both of them are quite happy for me to do so. But, I heard the funniest thing the other night, about a friend's mother who insisted on cooking a smoked turkey the same way she did a regular turkey, and they ended up with "turkey jerky" for dinner.

                                                                                          1. re: JIRodriguez

                                                                                            Pretty sure this is why we always stopped at White Castle on the way home from my mom's aunt's holiday dinners when I was a kid :)

                                                                                          2. Slowly I've been able to garner confidence from my family. To prove my adeptness I usually prepare their favorite "restaurant" dish from scratch. I find that they become more aware of my understanding of cooking and become more trustworthy when I begin to execute new recipes.

                                                                                            Can you share some stories about when your family and peers really took notice of your passion and skill for cooking?

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                              I have been laughing throughout this thread, but had nothing to contribute as my sister and mother are both relatively competent cooks, albeit less imaginative (although Mom, at age 78, keeps it rather basic). My brother, who now lives on the Left Coast with his family, is extremely unimaginative (I still cringe that tater tots were served at every dinner when last I visited - and not because of their then 4yo son - because my brother loves them).

                                                                                              But as for your query regarding when family/peers came to notice my passion/skill for cooking - I have to say it started with baking the family's holiday pies when I was around 15yo. Mom had always made the Libby's pumpkin pie (which I still do but a bit amped up) and an apple pie for Thanksgiving, but one year I asked if I could do so (we had recently baked pies in my high school Home Ec class). She gladly let that part of the dinner be my responsibility, and after having dessert, Mom said "you are now the official pie baker for the family!" The homemade crust was tender and flaky, the apple pie was jam-packed full of apples and didn't collapse because I didn't use watery apples as Mom always did, and the pumpkin pie was amped up with more spices than Mom usually used. It was a little thing, but it got me started. Enough so that when I visited my brother when he lived in Chicago right around Thanksgiving about 8 years later, he asked me to make an apple pie for dessert. I *somehow* managed to make a decent pie with no proper baking tools as I'd become accustomed to using...decent enough that he said "Now THAT'S the pie I remember!"

                                                                                              It just naturally branched out into cooking, and at holidays, I'm usually the one that family looks to to add a bit of "oomph" to the meal by "doing something different but good". Sometimes it works, sometimes it is not completely to their taste. But they always know it'll be good and something different that they wouldn't have thought to do.

                                                                                              1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                                I don't remember when I got started cooking simple things, but a friend got me interested in baking when I was in sixth grade, and I branched out from there and started learning favorite family recipes. Then my mom went back to work and I started cooking dinner for the family a couple of nights a week. One summer mom even went to Greece with a friend for a couple of weeks and I did all the shopping and cooking for my dad and my sister (my dad doesn't cook, at all, although he can make a sandwich or heat soup from a can). I guess the moment I really arrived was when I made my cousin's pre-wedding dinner for the extended family (13 people), which was the first time I'd cooked a whole "gourmet" meal for more than six. Which became a problem when I realized halfway into making dinner I didn't have enough pots big enough and had to send my sister out to the neighbors' to borrow some. Ah, the bravado of a 22-year-old! I don't know if I would tackle that menu now in a kitchen as small and poorly equipped as my mom's was then!

                                                                                              2. Unfortunately I really have no family left to opine about. I learned to cook from my mother, but from the time I was 22 on, I wasn't around either her or my father (or brother for that matter) for any really significant length of time. I lived in Alaska and they were knocking around various midwest, east coast, and european places (all three of them). After we moved to Vermont, my parents lived in Vermont a couple of years, and we had thanksgiving with them at their place once, but I never questioned Mom's cooking techniques at that point because I wasn't a full-fledged foodie yet. :)

                                                                                                There is one thing that drives me nuts, though. Every week my husband makes fried eggs to take to work for breakfast sandwiches. We have little rings he puts the egg into, and he always turns the heat up WAY TOO HIGH, so they're popping and crackling, and I just don't understand how he always manages to blacken my pan because the eggs are so self contained. It must be the Pam spray he's using... But I struggle with not saying anything to him, because he's doing it to save me work (I do most of the cooking in the house). Sometimes I sneak by and turn down the burner when he's by the sink. I never asked him to cook these eggs, though. I'm considering doing it myself this Sunday when I'm cooking our breakfast, just to keep him from ruining the pan I love. I set aside a different pan for him to use, but he always forgets to use it, and I hate correcting him for some reason. He takes it so to heart.

                                                                                                We have some friends who usually do holidays with us, and when they cook in my kitchen (we never go to their place, it's way too small), it drives me right up the wall. They always find the strangest tools for doing something that I have tucked away somewhere an only use rarely because I have better options in closer locations. I don't know WHAT sends them over THAT far from the stove when I have drawers of utensils RIGHT NEXT to the stove for cooking with. And they never, EVER clean up after themselves. Drives me INSANE. Even just doing something as simple as gravy, flour ends up everywhere, and stock spilled on things, the burners are a mess... and they never wash anything they've dirtied, and they always manage to dirty way more pots than I'd think was necessary for what they were cooking.

                                                                                                When they're in there cooking, I just distract myself with something else. They're both good cooks, and I like their food enough that I'm not willing to drive them out of my kitchen because of how messy they are. :)

                                                                                                1. My husband insists on putting oil in boiling pasta water so the pasta won't stick. I've told him numerous times that it doesn't do anything besides leave a icky film of oil on top of the water--better to just stir the water.

                                                                                                  Like others, I also have friends who believe that dull knives make for better cutting. That drives me nuts mostly b/c it's a safety issue.

                                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: gloriousfood

                                                                                                    Tell him Alton Brown says he's wrong about the oil in the pasta water -- maybe he'll listen to Alton if he won't listen to you!

                                                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                      doubtful. my grandmother taught my mom to put oil in the water, and now I don't dare leave the kitchen for a moment when making pasta or mom will sneak in and put some oil in the water. why fight it, it may not do any good, but it really doesn't do much harm either.

                                                                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                        I suspect pasta has changed. Twenty, thirty years ago I had constant problems with pasta water getting all "frothy" and boiling over, even with low boil temperatures, and a little oil on the water did control that. I suspect that "store bought" pasta was coated with flour or cornstarch to keep it separated when shipped to humid climates. No such problems with today's pasta. Or maybe I've just graduated to a better grade of pasta?

                                                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                          My mom used to do that, but she said it was to help keep it from boiling over, not to keep it from sticking. I don't do it. :)

                                                                                                          1. re: KaimukiMan


                                                                                                            It actually does some harm because it does leave a thin film of oil on the pasta. This has an effect on the absorbtion of the flavors from the sauce as well as the sauce able to stick to the pasta once combined.

                                                                                                            Jfood's mom also did the oil in the water action but once he explained it to her and walked her through how to keep the pasta from sticking, she understood.

                                                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                                                              Whther the oil coats the pasta depends entirely on when the oil is added and how the pasta is drained. If you add the pasta to boiling water, stir until it is all submerged, THEN pour enough oil on top of the water to prevent boil over. When draining the pasta, slowly pour the water and oil off the top BEFORE sloshing all of the pasta and water into a colander. If you do this, you won't have a problem with sauce sliding off the cooked pasta.

                                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                Why take the chance when just turning that little knob on the stove accomplishes the same effect of no boil-over?

                                                                                                                Likwise jfood uses a pasta insert and he merely lifts the pasta when completed so he would coat the pasta as he lifted.

                                                                                                              2. re: jfood

                                                                                                                at age 60 or 70 i may have discussed it. she is 80 now, not much point, she is decidedly set in her ways (and if she is reading this, I'm dead meat).

                                                                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                  :-)). Hope you are not a character in Sinclair's The Jungle.

                                                                                                                  Jfood told his mom when she was in her 60's and fortunately she raised two sons who are very comfortable in the litchen and she listens.

                                                                                                        2. We go to mr. rockandroller's aunt's house for Thanksgiving every year. They feed a lot of people, the whole family, sometimes it's 30-40 people so there are usually 2 turkeys as well as about a jillion side dishes.

                                                                                                          Each year we watch them carve the meat off the turkey and then they plop the whole carcass into the trash. The first year, I recoiled in horror and had an unavoidable sharp intake of breath, which thankfully, nobody heard. These are just not people who are going to keep the carcass and make stock or whatever else, not to mention all the good meat left on the bones that they are throwing out. I've learned to just not be in/near the kitchen when they do this as I find it too upsetting.

                                                                                                          7 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                            Can't you bring a cooler and sneak it home yourself?

                                                                                                            1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                              That is criminal! Just announce that you are taking it with you.

                                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                I agree with Sam! Take it with you! When I go to friends houses who are serving lobster, I always take the bodies home with me, otherwise they would end up in the trash.

                                                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                  I have done that...now I have a relative who has told everyone she won't ever eat at my house because I cook with "garbage"!

                                                                                                                  (It killed me this last Thanksgiving not having the cooler space to bring the carcass home.)

                                                                                                                  Oh well, more for the rest of us!

                                                                                                                2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                                  Before they start carving the Thanksgiving bird, I used to just ask my in-laws for the turkey carcass to be saved for me . Then we used it and any leftover veggies (green beans, cauliflower, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc) to serve up a turkey veggie soup the next day before the out-of-towners departed for home.

                                                                                                                  This Christmas I forgot to ask for the smoked ham bone to take home so we're missing our usual Senate bean soup. . . oh well.

                                                                                                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                                    My sister and my sister-in-law both cook an entire turkey for Thanksgiving, because that is what you are supposed to do. Then they slice off the breast meat and after the meal is over they throw everything else away because neither of their families like or eat dark meat. When I lived closer I bring a cooler to take the discards home! I am amazed they could even cook a decent turkey.

                                                                                                                    I love this thread

                                                                                                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                                      I gasped in horror just reading this.

                                                                                                                    2. I used to get phone calls from my sister "how do I tell when the chicken is done?" or "If I defrost ground beef in the microwave, can I refreexe it if it is partically cooked?"

                                                                                                                      And I'm a vegetarian!

                                                                                                                      1. One of my worst memories of watching food being cooked was at my Mother's house. She took wonderful grass-fed, T-bone steaks and pounded them with a mallet and then coated them with flour and fried them in oil in a skillet. When I saw what was happening, I asked that she not pound or flour my steak and that I would cook it. Then wonderful, just-picked asparagus got thrown into a pan of boiling water. When asparagus looked done for me, I fished out some and put it on my plate. By this time my Mother was not a happy camper. I cooked my steak to a nice rare-to med. rare and took it out of the skillet. Meanwhile the asparagus was still cooking. After my steak was done, Mom proceeded to make gravy and poured it over their T-bones--asparagus still cooking. She served their way over-cooked steaks and asparagus and gravy. I had a very nice steak and asparagus. They said my steak looked raw and asparagus was not cooked. Oh well. She was not happy with my intervention in her kitchen.

                                                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: pepperqueen

                                                                                                                          Once a long time ago I got a whole beef tenderloin as a special gift from my mom who was out of state. I lived in Raleigh NC and relatives were always stopping for a quick overnight stay on their way to FLA. While I was at work my aunt stopped by and found the filet in the fridge and decided to surprise me by cooking it up for her husband and me for dinner. Along with some fresh corn on the cob she had brought with her from her own field in Penna. and some fresh tomatoes. Apparently she took one look at the filet (it wasn't labeled as it was wrapped in butcher paper) and decided it was a cut that needed moist heat for a long time to be tender. Cry. Her husband and I knew what she had done but decided not to say anything as he mournfully carved the falling apart way overcooked filet. To top it all off she decided to leave the corn in the hot water to stay hot while she made the salad, so the gorgeous fresh corn got all water logged and soggy. I managed to rescue some tomato slices from the tossed salad she made with way too much dressing, they were very ripe and good. I was too shocked to complain about her "surprise" dinner and when I had snapped out of it I followed her husband's lead. She probably would have had a temper tantrum if I had said one word. I found out much later how wise I had been, I'll write about the great bean soup debate another time. :)

                                                                                                                          1. re: givemecarbs

                                                                                                                            How heartbreaking! The fact that she couldn't recognize a whole tenderloin without a label says worlds about her cooking skills. At least with my mother's "goose tacos nightmare," we got one excellent meal out of the bird. I guess the consolation is that probably neither of us would have such vivid memories if all had gone perfectly.

                                                                                                                              1. re: givemecarbs

                                                                                                                                My heart was sinking as I read the post. My sympathies go out to her husband.

                                                                                                                              2. re: pepperqueen

                                                                                                                                They doesn't say asparagus until they turn grey, pepperqueen.

                                                                                                                                My former MIL was a wonderful cook, but she catered to her husband who had some odd notions about vegetables. She would take fresh green beans, cook them until they went grey, remove them from the boiling water and season them with tons of butter, salt and pepper (especially lots of pepper). They were nearly inedible and required a lot of water to wash them down, but former FIL loved them.

                                                                                                                                1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                  Grandpa had a great vegetable garden out back. wonderful string beans picked fresh from the vine, strings removed, tossed into boiling water then to the table. What could be better? Oh, did I mention that they were boiled for at least 20-30 minutes, then left to simmer till dinner was ready?

                                                                                                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                                    Where was Grandpa from? Maybe it's a regional thing.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                      born in Natchez (sp?) Mississippi

                                                                                                                                      but it was grandma who cooked... she grew up in Ft. Wayne Indiana

                                                                                                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                                        Former MIL from Ohio. Former FIL from Louisiana.

                                                                                                                                        Are overcooked, over-seasoned green beans a southern thing?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: chicgail

                                                                                                                                          Now, now, let's not get uppity. There are merits to both methods, and just because we are versatile in our green bean cookery does not necessarily mean we are idiots. ;-) I grow and pick dainty, tender little French green beans and pick them when they're smaller than a pencil, steam briefly, and eat reverently. However, I also take the big, thick honkers (like Blue Lake) and cook them (not boiled; simmered vigorously) with a ham hock or two, till they're nice and soft and the broth they've created is magnificent. That's Southern Style--but you MUST EAT THE LIQUID; it's where all the flavor and vitamins went--and it's merely "different"---not necessarily "wrong."

                                                                                                                              3. My mother in law. sigh. she's british. i could write PAGES of kitchen nightmares - overcooked everything... poorly equipped kitchen, dull and inappropriate knives etc.
                                                                                                                                her method of food time management is to cook much of the dinner in advance, the reheat it for HOURS.
                                                                                                                                we went to their house at thanksgiving, she had a couple small-ish chickens which of course she'd cooked in advance. I noticed that during the reheating process the air in the house seemed kind of opaque - because things were burned to the bottom of the pans! UGH. They came to us for christmas - the beef was too rare for them and the veggies probably were not roasted long enough - carrots still had a bit of firmness. we thought it was delicious! :)

                                                                                                                                1. I have to admit, I now realize I am one of those people that others watch and cringe while I am working in the kitchen. I am newly married and learning to cook as we eat most meals in. My mother is an amazing cook and has supplied me with many kitchen appliances and gadgets as she upgrades hers and passes the others on to me. She is delighted I am finally expanding my culinary skills. But I am the type of person that will ask for help when I want it, the rest of the time, want to figure it out on my own (however awkward I must seem.)

                                                                                                                                  Fortunately for me, my husband is not a gourmet eater by any means (think Kraft Mac n Cheese with bacon) and compliments anything I make regardless of the success of the finished product. And the best part is that he actually means it because he is typically happy as long as he is full. And he didn't complain when he had to fix the knife block I dropped and broke, and provided first aid until I could get to the ER for stitches after I cut my thumb open (not once, but a nice criss-cross twice) while cutting a tomato while packing his lunch for work. (After I cut the thumb the first time, I figured I was almost done, so tried to finish without using the thumb and cut it again going the other way.) Eight stitches total. And I know I married the right guy because he even apologized for sharpening the knives and not telling me, figuring that was why I cut myself. It's not like holding the tomato in my hand to cut it had anything to do with it... I could probably start my own cooking show , "How Not to Cook" just by recording me making dinner, not unlike the show, "What Not to Wear".

                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: Sisyphus

                                                                                                                                    LOL! I think we have a winner for a new Food Network Show. It would be much more entertaining than their current shows. And probably much more educational for the average viewer -- don't we all learn more from our mistakes?!

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Sisyphus

                                                                                                                                      You sound willing to learn to me. :) I imagine for you it'd matter how the "suggestions" or "tips" were offered. :) I'd be more willing to say something like "mind a suggestion? feel free to say no" if I felt the person was wanting to learn more or willing to hear it. :)

                                                                                                                                      Of course, a lot of the stuff I'm seeing in this thread is about personal tastes, and there's not a lot you can do about that. People boiling veggies to mush, for instance. Anything less than mush doesn't taste right to them. How do you teach them to appreciate non-mushy veggies? Answer is, you can't. They have to be willing to experiment with something new. If they aren't, why waste the effort? :)

                                                                                                                                      You, on the other hand, seem interested. :) I don't think I'd mind cooking around you for all the mistakes you make. :)

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Morganna

                                                                                                                                        Thank you! I'm open to suggestions most of the time, but now and then, i just don't want to hear it when I've got my agenda going. I am definitely willing to admit my short comings and don't claim to be more of a cook than I am. Most of the time, we're happy if we eat without a trip to the ER or ordering takeout. And again, my husband is the best. He is happy when he's full (especially if bacon is involved) and tolerant of my experiments. And I've learned that a hand written note on a napkin improves any packed lunch for work.

                                                                                                                                    2. Oh if we could solve this then world peace wouldn't be far behind.

                                                                                                                                      Mr. D&D causes me endless grief. Unfortunately he fancies himself an accomplished chef. I know my limitations and I read, listen and learn..AND I know how to follow a recipe. Him, not so much. For example, I learned the simple rule: heat the pot, heat the oil, then add the food. It really works to prevent sticking in non-teflon pans. I've tried to impress this on him, but everytime I turn around, there it is, the cold fry pan, the cold oil sitting in it, the cold ingredients on top, all waiting to be heated at the same time. Argh. It makes me insane. I'm also trying to wean him off teflon, but to no avail.

                                                                                                                                      Mr. D&D's brother is an amazing cook. He's well-travelled and has the fundamentals down pat. This allows him to shoot from the hip. My hubby tries to emulate his brother, but with sometimes disasterous results. (can you say Maple Syrup Muscles).

                                                                                                                                      It's one thing to suck it up with a visiting relative for holidays, but I have to deal with this on a daily basis. My current pet peeve--reheating things in tupperware - repeatedly until the plastic starts to breakdown. I'm in the process of replacing plastic containers with glass, but even then...Oh, I have to stop now...this is an open wound.

                                                                                                                                      you asked for examples of acts of deficiency, I'm looking for examples where someone found a way to deal with it...beyond just pouring another glass of wine and leaving the room.

                                                                                                                                      Many women would love to have a man who cooks for them. I have to fight for the right to cook in my own kitchen. It's a warzone I tell ya. The control freak in me twitches and chokes through each meal. Is there a therapy group for this? Can we star a new chow board?

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                                                                                                                                      1. This past Thanksgiving I caught the MIL getting ready to 'carve' the turkey that she had just taken out of the oven. I distracted her by asking to help with the veggies. That got her mind of the bird. I said I would cover the bird in foil to keep it warm while she helped me with the veggies. I told her it was so that every thing would arrive hot.

                                                                                                                                        This year people commented on how juicy her turkey was. She was thrilled.

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                                                                                                                                          1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                                                            Absolutely. His performance demands a 2009 curtain call! '-)

                                                                                                                                        1. Does anybody here let family use their pricey equipment, especially knives?

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                                                                                                                                          1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                                                                            if I am standing right there, yes.

                                                                                                                                            about 3 Thanksgivings ago everyone was at my place and I had to run to the store for some more eggs. When I walked back in, I hear this god awful noise. Sounded a bit like rocks in a coffee grinder.....well when I finally made it to the kitchen, I wasn't that far off in my asessment ! Turns out, someone got the hairbrained idea to crack in-shell nuts in the food processor!? So the lesson here is.......send someone else to the store and guard your kitchen!!!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: nkeane


                                                                                                                                              OK in shell nuts in the food processor - that is a good one :)

                                                                                                                                              I actually take knives with me when we go to spend holidays with family... I refuse to cook with some dull version of a "miracle blade".

                                                                                                                                              1. re: JIRodriguez

                                                                                                                                                you too? also in the knife roll, is a microplane, wine key, instant read thermo and good sea salt, whole peppercorns and a very sentimental french rolling pin. you would be amazed at what some friends and family, call kitchens!:-)

                                                                                                                                          2. My Dh uses the serated bread knife for virtually everything....dicing onions, carving meat...you name it. It pains me to watch. The other thing is that if he is boiling water for anything (pasta, potatoes, etc.) he always uses the LARGEST pot we own, which is a large canning pot. Same with the HUGE roaster. No matter how large or small the roasting victim is, the BIG, pain-in-the-ass-to-clean-won't-fit-in-the-dishwasher roaster is used. He also overcooks my steak about 90% of the time and doesn't understand why I prefer to have steak out.

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                                                                                                                                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                                                                                              I miss my serated knife. Mr. DnD sharpened it in the automatic sharpener and now it is just a knife. He claims he researched it on the web. I wonder if the folks at Henkel put that out there so I'd have to buy a new one.

                                                                                                                                            2. When my MIL is "helping" me in MY kitchen she never uses cutting board, just starts cutting on the top of the kitchen table or counter top - never does this in her house though. When I point that to her she always acts dumbfounded. Then yet again, when she smokes outside of my house she just throws the cigarete butts on the ground even after repeated requests to use an ashtray (I even bought one for this purpose - we don't smoke), so the issue is probably disrespect - LOL.

                                                                                                                                              1. My boyfriend is pretty clueless in the kitchen, save for his flawless preparation of boxed mac 'n cheese, quesadillas, ham sandwiches, and top ramen. However, his limited cooking skills have no reflection on his palate and willingness to try new foods.

                                                                                                                                                These are the reasons that I love cooking for him! He likes pretty much every thing I make, but is discerning enough to REALLY like some things. And he's so appreciative because he can't cook like I can. Love it.

                                                                                                                                                One night, we came home still tipsy after a night of dancing, ravenous for a 1AM snack. Ramen is his usual go-to, so while he boiled the water, simmered the noodles, and stirred in the powdered broth, I julienned carrots, celery, and green onions and picked some cilantro leaves off their stems. Gourmet knife skills + low rent noodles = one big bowl of goodness!

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                                                                                                                                                1. re: operagirl

                                                                                                                                                  what does reflect on his palate? bluebox mac n' cheese and Top Ramen!(sorry, just playin around!;-) )

                                                                                                                                                2. My husband really never cooked much, but is always willing to help in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                  When we first moved in together, he told me he would cook tacos for dinner. We had some ground beef in the fridge to use. I left the kitchen for a moment and I returned to find him over a large nonstick skillet, ready to throw in a HUGE pat of butter.

                                                                                                                                                  I practically leapt to grab the butter, then calmly explained why ground beef doesn't need butter's help :)

                                                                                                                                                  1. Do you have any family or friends that can only cook one thing well?

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                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                                                                                      My friend Kim makes crepes and leek & potato soup. That's it.

                                                                                                                                                    2. Since there were quite a few mentions of overcooked and flavorless foods in this string, I thought this might be a good place to share some fun facts from a book I'm re-reading, "Inside the Victorian Home", a fascinating book about domestic life in 19th century England. The chapters are arranged by room and here are some gems from "the dining room."

                                                                                                                                                      Mrs. Beeton (the end all and be all of Victorian household management experts) recommended 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours to boil macaroni. She also suggested that large carrots be cooked up to 2-1/4 hours, while small ones might be done in only an hour.

                                                                                                                                                      The English Housekeeper, another influential book, thought two hours was right for rice. This same manual advised "Take care not to over season or let soup have any predominating flavor. This is a great fault and a common one."

                                                                                                                                                      As a bonus, "Inside the Victorian Home” has invaluable information if you ever decide to cook a calf's head. "Put the head into boiling water … take it out, hold it by the ear and with the back of a knife scrape off the hair … When perfectly clean, take the eyes out, cut off the ears and remove the brain." That's the kind of useful data you don't get from America's Test Kitchen, by golly.

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                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mandycat

                                                                                                                                                        wow.... that is hilarious. But I guess it is definitely a sign of the times. That long of a cooking time might have something to do with sanitary issues? Maybe dental hygiene (or lack thereof) as well. But why no predominating flavor in the soup? That one puzzles me...

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mandycat

                                                                                                                                                          How on earth did the pasta stay together after all that boiling? I must find this book, btw, it sounds wonderful.

                                                                                                                                                        2. My mother & sister cooks hamburgers on the grill until it's almost a hockey puck! I was manning the grill outside and when the burgers got about med well (they won't eat them any less cooked) I took them off the grill and took them inside. My mom made me put them back on the grill until the outside was charred and dry.

                                                                                                                                                          Now, they do the same with hotdogs, but I like a crust on my dog so that I don't mind.

                                                                                                                                                          1. Some people have no common sense when it comes to cooking. A friend took on coating strawberries with melted chocolate. Did that just fine. Then put them a plate to harden. And wondered why they stuck to the plate. I don't know how/why I knew to put them on wax paper but I just did.

                                                                                                                                                            1. I'm so glad I found this thread. It's nice to know I'm not the only one feeling frustrated at times. I just love cooking with my friends (who aren't really into food, respecting fresh ingredients, etc.). I don't care because I love chatting and laughing together while we prepare meals.
                                                                                                                                                              BUT I always feel like I'm walking this tightrope between wanting to elevate the meals a little bit and trying not to appear snobby or preachy. I certainly don't believe food needs to be complicated to be good, but if I see another box of mashed potato mix....sigh.

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                                                                                                                                                              1. re: eviemichael

                                                                                                                                                                lol...I have to laugh. When my son was staying with me for a few weeks this past summer (he's been away at college for several years) he asked me to take him shopping for groceries before I left on a trip so he would have stuff to eat. The first thing he grabbed off the shelf was a box of instant mashed potatoes. I decided that day to give him a few basic cooking lessons...and hubby helped by teaching him a few of his East Indian favorites. Once he realized that it really isn't that hard to make mashed potatoes he gave up on the mix...which sat in my cupboard for months. I threw it out when we moved recently; I figured we would never eat it....

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: janetofreno

                                                                                                                                                                  :) At least your son saw the light! My friends still insist that box mashed potatoes is so much easier (and still tasty) because you don't have to spend 4 minutes peeling potatoes....So gross!

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                                                                      it's funny you say that because...I did! I am surprising my friend who is hosting us for thanksgiving with it. :)

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: eviemichael

                                                                                                                                                                        LOL, cool. beware of guests bearing gifts. do you suppose they already bought a huge box of instant?

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                                                                                                          We are actually cooking together for thanksgiving and have made compromises. I had to accept canned pumpkin instead of fresh puree for the pies (and store bought pie crust)- on the condition that we make mashed potatoes with REAL potatoes and no powder and make real cranberry sauce- NOT the jellied stuff in the can...
                                                                                                                                                                          The ricer gift is.. a gift, and also a means to show them that real potatoes can be creamy too! :)

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: eviemichael

                                                                                                                                                                            My friend just made rice pudding that came out to be rice porridge. Told her to parboil rice not fully cook it. We're back on track.

                                                                                                                                                              2. Since this thread has been revived... twice in recent weeks I've caught myself reacting in shock and horror when friends and family made mistakes in the kitchen. One friend who wanted to help with the souffle cake separated the eggs -- by cracking the yolks into their own bowl and the whites into a bowl full of cream. My mom decided to knead my pastry dough. I was distracted and didn't notice for several minutes. Both of these were innocent mistakes from otherwise good cooks, but my immediate reaction was to leap over and cry, "NOOOO! STOP!!" Then I caught myself and smiled and said, "It's fine! No problem!" but it wasn't very believable. I need to work on that!

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                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Pia

                                                                                                                                                                  You must be a saint. I don' t think I would be able to say "no problem" to someone who had just ruined both the cream and the egg whites.

                                                                                                                                                                2. Recently went to an Asian restaurant. Pretty general, yes, but that's what's afforded to a place called "East". One of my new friends must be new to ethnic cuisine beyond his own mum's Iranian cuisine. He had a brand new girlfriend who he must be still trying to impress.
                                                                                                                                                                  When the edamame came out, he quickly reached for and threw back a whole pod into mouth. Luckily, his girl didn't know what they were either, which only emboldened him further to believe that you can eat every bit of the pod. I stressed to him that you can just pop them out of the shells using your teeth. After realizing the waxy and fibrous bits of the shell won't go down. He oddly and manically started pulling out the edamame remnants from any part of his lips that he was able to scuttle the debris to.

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                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                                                                                                    we were in a place having appetizers. apparently one of our friends was unfamiliar with edamame as well. the whole pod into his mouth. figured he was being a bit unmannered and sucking the salt off the pod. in went two more. then one more. where is he putting the pods? he noticed us staring at him. "what?" he asked.... nope, nothing in his mouth. he had been chewing and swallowing pods and all. umm...fiber... good. yikes.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                                                                                                                                                      I work at Pike Place Market in Seattle, and sugar snap pea season is now upon us. Farmers sell them by the bagful, and I often see tourists snacking on them as the roam the market. Unfortunately, I often see them opening the pods, eating the peas from inside, and discarding the pod! If I have the chance, I sometimes show them how to remove the string and eat the whole thing. To me, tossing the pod of the snap pea is akin to tossing the turkey carcass on Thanksgiving!

                                                                                                                                                                      (I can't figure out why this is showing twice after my edit...)

                                                                                                                                                                    2. Not really, as every member of my immediate family got the Cooking Gene, luckily. My brother is so good, he caters. When we're together the discussions are very arcane and very passionate, but we're more likely to be arguing about whether the best use for lamb shanks is in a tagine, or in osso bucco...or whether Cooks Illustrated is anal, or not.

                                                                                                                                                                      I did see my mother--an excellent cook, by all accounts, but not "fancy" ---commit a few sins, but they were prompted by a Depression Era/impoverished childhood frugal imperative, rather than mere ignorance, such as mixing mayonnaise into her guacamole to make it "go further" (ugh) and cooking too much with margarine, rather than butter.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. My mom still cooks all pork til its so dry it splinters in the mouth. I have counseled her, fed her properly cooked pork, etc. And she still says, she prefers it the way she cooks it. So I just don't eat it when she serves it. And she makes a comment for all - 'JM doesn't like my plain cooking anymore, she likes her pork all fancy'. It would be snotty to respond 'not fancy, just edible'. But I wouldn't do that, so I just smile politely. She is overall a good cook, just has some old habits, like with pork - cook til inedible to kill any worms in it - that she won't give up.

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                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                                                                                                                          My midwestern husband won't eat any pork unless I show him the meat thermometer reading of at least 180 degrees, so I can sympathize. It's the way he was raised. My father was still talking sadly until the time he died in 2003 about a crown roast of pork he had at their house in 1976! that he said had been destroyed by overcooking.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. My in-laws destroy meats by overcooking. Constantly. I just can't handle eating dry turkey for thanksgiving each year, so I have recently begun preparing almost all of Thanksgiving dinner just to protect myself from the storebought and overcooked stuff they come out with.

                                                                                                                                                                          A few weeks ago we had them over for dinner, and I grilled some chicken breast skewers (cut into cubes) oh so carefully until they were perfectly cooked. Still incredibly moist and perfect. She looks at hers, hands it to Mr. Laurel, and asks him to put it back on the grill. Sweet thing decided to defend my cooking and said "But it's cooked." to which she responded "I know, but I'd like it more cooked." She's like this with any meat, she likes to have to wash it down with water to swallow. Then she remarks about how delicious and moist grocery store rotisserie chicken is. I can't wrap my mind around it.

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                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: LaureltQ

                                                                                                                                                                            "I can't wrap my mind around it."

                                                                                                                                                                            It's best if you don't

                                                                                                                                                                          2. I was a home-ec major in a family of home-ec majors. They all knew how to do it right. LOL. But the women on my Papa's side of the family do over cook pork. It is the way they were raised and nothing I can say would change their minds. So I just let it go. Never ask for a BLT at any of those houses unless you truly like burned bacon.