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What have you given up trying to cook?

I'm a pretty good and fairly intuitive cook, but to save my soul I cannot make duck that isn't greasy AND tough. So I gave up and only get it at restaurants. I've tried everything I've ever read about cooking duck, and finally decided to stop ruining a really good dish.

What is your Waterloo?

(Definition A notable and decisive defeat for an individual; often in the phrase 'meet one's Waterloo'.)

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  1. I almost gave up on pad thai but I gave it one more shot and finally nailed, it to my satisfaction anyway.

    13 Replies
    1. re: givemecarbs

      Beef Wellington :( I can never get it cooked a perfect med. rare

      1. re: kalenasmith

        Search Gordon Ramsey's Beef Wellington. Easy as pie...

        1. re: fourunder

          If you refer to short-grain rice (e.g. sushi rice), a really good rice cooker may be all you need (e.g. Zojirushi).

          1. re: smilyfoodcritic

            Or even a cheap one like the one I got at Walgreens for $15. I used made rice OK, but this is great, you don't even have to watch it after it's done. I make all kinds of rice perfectly now, and steam stuff on top in the basket at the same time.

          2. re: fourunder

            Perfect rice is easy if you follow the right steps. Wash the rice until the water runs fairly clear, soak it for about an hour. Put it in a heavy bottom pan (for even heat distribution) with a well-fitting lid. Heat it until it boils. Turn the heat down to a simmer and put the lid on. Cook it for 20 minutes and never touch the lid. Turn off the heat. Allow it to sit for 20 minutes with the lid still on. Fluff and eat.

            Note: use 1.5 cups of water for every cup of rice

            1. re: Orchid64

              That would not work with main-stream rice like Uncle Ben's. No washing needed or soaking. With it the water to rice ratio is 2:1 but then the same process, bring to a boil, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and leave it alone for 20 mins. then turn off the heat and give it another 20 mins.

              1. re: Candy

                Even with regular rice I have more luck with the 1.5:1 ratio. No rinsing or soaking, though.

                1. re: evewitch

                  Yeah, I agree with the 1.5:1 ratio.... Becomes less effective the larger the quantity of rice you're cooking, though...

              2. re: Orchid64

                20 mins. cooking time would kill most delicate long grain rice, let alone letting it sit for another 20 mins... Basmati mush, anyone?

                1. re: Orchid64

                  Mine is always fluffy and perfect when I put a clean folded dishcloth over the pan underneath the lid. It really works!

                2. re: fourunder

                  My method (taught to me by Indian friend, Ganesh Rajacapor): In pot, to one cup rice, add 2-1/2 cups water. Cook till there's no steam. No lid and don't touch it till it's done.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Microwave with a "rice" programis all you need---one part rice two parts water press the rice button---PRESTO

                  1. re: weem

                    Hello Weem: "Candy" can mean anything from boiled fondant bonbons dipped in chocolate to ?, but if you just want some candy to eat, my husband (who absolutely does not cook) made very successful fudge last week by this recipe: Heat together but do not let come to a boil 3 cups chocolate chips, 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, and 1 14-oz can condensed milk. Just warm things together over low heat, stirring a lot, until everything has melted together. Remove from stove. Add 2 tsp vanilla. Pour into a buttered 8 x 8 pan. That's it.. Of course you can add nuts if you want, with the vanilla. Cannot fail.

                    1. re: Querencia

                      Hi Querencia. I suppose I'm talking about hard candies, brittles, things like that. And I suppose I'd fail less if I bothered to get a candy thermometer. But thanks for the encouragement and the recipe.

                  2. I refuse to admit defeat, but...simple potato gnocchi Made them many times, rice my spuds, let 'em cool, a little flour, make a well, etc. etc. Sometimes they're perfect, but usually wind up falling apart. Grrr!! The 1'st time I made them, they were flawless & I've rarely achieved that since. adam

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: adamshoe

                      I was just discussing my pathetic inability to make gnocchi. Maybe if I start out intending to make gruel, I will magically achieve fluffy potato dumplings. Sigh.

                      1. re: small h

                        I can't make gnocchi either. Not only were mine leaden, they were grey. Bad bad bad.

                      2. re: adamshoe

                        Me too. I have only tried once ... they fell apart. I ended up making pasta (yes, dried). I can't muster the strength to try again.

                        1. re: adamshoe

                          don't cool the potatoes, they should be somewhat warm to the touch

                          1. re: adamshoe

                            My grandmother's recipe with loads of practice uses a 2 to 1 mix of old russet potatoes to sweet potatoes (makes for a wonderful 'surprise' in the flavor). Boiled with skin on until just barely tender (check each one individually and don't let them overcook or become sodden)....the sweet potatoes come out way earlier than the russets.

                            Remove, dry and start peeling them as soon as you can get them into a towel (to help with the handling). Remove skin but also remove any parts that are soaked or soggy. Rice them immediately with a fine potatoe ricer and spread out on a cookie sheet to dry and cool for 15 minutes. Lightly rotate them to help continue drying about halfway through. Season with salt, very fine ground pepper, lightest hint of nutmeg.

                            Typically for about 5 lbs of potatoes, I use three large egg yolks to help bind together with all purpose flour. The goal is to touch the mixture as little as possible and minimize the amount of flour incorporated therein. Mix with your fingers adding the flour in tablespoon increments (I start with about 1 full cup of flour and add by tablespoons) to reach the right consistency. Once you achieve a dough that is just barely sticky, I begin to work on a floured board to roll the dough out into finger thick strands, cut them to length and go into production shaping them on the backside of a clean dinner fork. After the first couple, you can tell by the quality of the dough curling and taking on the ridged impressions from the tines if you got the texture right.

                            Each gnocchi is rolled onto a floured cookie pan, making sure they don't touch each other. If freezing them, will dust lightly with flour, quick freeze each tray and after 1/2 hour put them into ziplock bags. But who in their right mind goes to the trouble to make homemade gnocchi and doesn't make a fresh platter for dinner? So one tray or more gets added into a huge kettle (12 quart) of boiling salted water.

                            Keep them from touching each other and get into the boiling water; stir gently and reduce water to just a simmer. Usually they are light enough to rise to the top within 2 minutes. I cook for about 1 more minute, taste one to make sure there is no raw flour flavor and immediately lift out with a big chinese wire spider strainer and place each batch onto a clean, cotton bar towel to dry the surface water (fold up the ends into one hand and lightly roll them around inside for 15 seconds. (I end up using 4 or 5 towels for a 2 tray batch)

                            Immediately dump from the towel into the baking dish that has (my nonna's pink sauce; 1 part bechamel with cheese melted into it with 2 parts homemade 'Sunday' red sauce) spread across the bottom. Lightly mix in the gnocchi, cover with grated parmignano and repeat by cooking and adding a second cookie pan portion of gnocchi. That fills up a family size 9 x 12 baking casserole; add more sauce to cover, cheese and a mix in a heavy chiffonade of fresh basil but get most of that inside under the top layer. I bake the dish at 375 for 20 minutes covered with foil (a few steam vent slots) and then 10 minutes uncovered. Serve immediately. Light, delicate, fragrant, transports me back to her kitchen every single time. A perfect gnocchi has no weight, just the slightest texture and dissolves without really chewing.

                            1. re: ThanksVille

                              Wow, lovely, thanksville. I make passable gnocchi after drying the potatoes on the stove a bit prior to ricing; I probably would not have thought of spreading on a cookie sheet to dry after ricing. Bet that dries far more and far more evenly.

                              Could you use the same proportions for all Russets?

                              You should post this to the recipe section of Chowhound. It really looks fantastic!

                              1. re: cimui

                                We spent about a month trying variations on the potatoes and proportions. All red bliss, yukon gold, idaho russets, maine fingerlings, thanksgiving sweet potatoes, etc and also played with other additives such as minced basil, minced spinach, feather-ground cheese combinations, etc. Some simply did not hold together, some took on way too much flour and some just were too far a stretch to call them gnocchi's anymore.

                                I have done the recipe with all russets and the results are very good; but the addition of sweet potatoes adds a subtle, low caramel undertone that seems to play off the tomato sauce flavors. We found that the drier russets yielded progressively lighter and lighter gnocchi as we worked through a couple 20 lb sacks that we purchased for the 30 or 40 batches we made to work out her recipe. Now we just buy the potatoes a week or two in advance, keep them open to air in a cupboard to dry out a bit.

                              2. re: ThanksVille

                                ThanksVille, have you ever tried baking or microwaving the potatoes to avoid the water issue?

                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                  Interesting concepts as I know that Mario Battali has championed a version that bakes the potatoes as a way to minimize the amount of moisture they absorb. Will definitely try that technique at some point in time but I tend to use the same boiling water from the potatoes that I use to cook the gnocchi in for serving that night so after heating up a big pot once, I just keep it simmering in the background, lid on and exhaust fan on. Gnocchi dough tends to get heavier and sodden in humid weather and within a steamy kitchen so I work accordingly. As for microwaving, I have never been a fan of nuked potatoes as the texture seems swarmy rather than delicate light and dry. I guess that makes an even stronger case to try the baked version. The time factor it takes to prep and make gnocchi doesn't deter me. I just have to be in the mood to spend 3 or 4 hours at a stretch cooking and just get into the zen of the kitchen

                                  1. re: ThanksVille

                                    I microwave potatoes all the time when making mashed potatoes or home fries and i don't really notice any difference in texture. I will say that there is a lot of steam trapped inside the potato so it's best to break them open immediately to let the steam escape so the spud drys out as quickly as possible.

                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                      And you have the option of cooking them pierced or unpierced and in plastic or not wrapped in plastic.
                                      If I'm just nuking a potato to eat, as is, I wash it and wrap it up wet.
                                      Cooking them pierced and naked will certainly dry them out more....
                                      I could get into how being pierced and naked requires more liquids, but I don't need to go there.

                            2. Sushi, it isn't hard, but so much more fun to go out and eat. I made it once, not worth it. I go out and get my faves. I cook pretty much everything else so I don't feel bad.

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  I go to this once place and get to select 12, 3 or each It is so much fun. A little of everything. Then who ever I go with does the same 4 others. 16 to choose from. Why would I make them.

                                  It was fun and a experience. but naaaa, Pacific Rim is my restaurant. I don't eat out a lot, but definitely for that.

                              1. Any kind of fish that's pan-seared and sauced.

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  I've yet to give up on a dish, but I really suck at pie dough

                                  1. re: haggisdragon

                                    Ah yes, pie dough. In my household a/k/a the doorstop. I gave up on perogies because of it. They made me cry so I don't talk to them anymore.

                                    1. re: haggisdragon

                                      I think this is one of the things I'll never be truly good at, either, despite all the little tricks I've read about through Chowhound (though I still make them under duress). I wince a little each time I have to subject other people to it.

                                      1. re: haggisdragon

                                        I shudder when I need to make pie dough since it's playing russian roulette when I do. It will never be sure fire like my grandmother's (who made one almost every day - and probably with lard).

                                        1. re: alwayscooking

                                          I actually make really good dough. I baked a lot when I was young. After age 25, I hardly ever baked, to this day I don't. Not too much for sweets. Gradma did me well. Make an awesome pie crust. Too bad I hardly use it.

                                          1. re: alwayscooking

                                            My mother's, ditto. I use lard and am still never satisfied. I think it's one of those things that never seems as good to oneself as it does to others, given the memory of the beau idéal one cherishes.

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              Well, see below, but shortcrust is just butter and flour :/

                                            2. re: alwayscooking

                                              I think I have finally figured out the secret to pie dough, and it is watching the person whose dough you're trying to emulate while they're making it. My mom got the hang of it watching her mother-in-law (God bless her for marrying my dad and trying to live up to his pastry standard - according to him, she did eventually surpass his mom, but WOW with the difficult task), and I am FINALLY getting the hang of it because I made my mom let me watch her one Christmas. Okay, so she's my mom, so she made ME do it while SHE coached, but it was still a technique, not a recipe, and my pies are much better now.

                                              Still not as good as hers or my grandmother's, and they probably never will be, but I'm getting there.

                                            3. re: haggisdragon

                                              Pie dough problems solved! Go to your (local, if possible) kitchen store and look for a zipper-close circular plastic pie-crust bag, like this one:

                                              http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/d...

                                              They are inexpensive, and make it possible for you to roll out your crust perfectly without manhandling, and thus warming it up.

                                              I have never had a single pie crust failure since switching to these puppies. They are absolutely indispensable.

                                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                                Get OUT! I think I love you dmd_kc. THANK you.

                                                1. re: dmd_kc

                                                  One more thing to buy, clean and dispose of. I guess my mom was a good teacher; I've never had an issue with pie crusts. And (sorta) talking out of both sides of my mouth, Amazon just cancelled my order for silicone mats! Now I have to find another source.

                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                    Those pie crust bags are zippered and are not throw away items. They are not expensive and are well worth the purchase. It allows you to roll out an even crust and transfer it to a pie plate with ease. Afterwards you wash and dry and it is ready to use again. Rose Levy Birnbaum recommends them. No more wax paper or plastic wrap. They are quick and efficient. I've had one for about 3 years. No one is partine me from mine. It is a great addition to pie baking equipment.

                                                    1. re: Scargod

                                                      As Candy says, they're reusable to the extreme. My current set is at least a decade old. Wash them in hot water and Dawn and let them dry out. They aren't indestructible, but they're pretty sturdy.

                                                      Googs, you won't believe how much easier pie crust is with them.

                                                      1. re: dmd_kc

                                                        OK, beat me up about it... but I just use a piece of waxed paper. No problem

                                                  1. re: mrsfury

                                                    Pralines! That's my bugaboo too. But I might try again.

                                                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                      What do you want from your brownies? Chewy, cakey, fudgy?

                                                      1. re: Kelli2006

                                                        Not burned on the outside and raw in the middle.

                                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                          That is the result of a oven that is too hot. Turn the oven down 25°F and place the rack in the center of your oven.

                                                          1. re: Kelli2006

                                                            Nope.

                                                            I've tried turning the over down. It's just me.

                                                          2. re: invinotheresverde

                                                            Also, and not knowing your preferences in brownies, I love the Ghirardelli recipe right on the can. I add white chocolate chips and raspberries (in season) to mine. I am always inspired to go pick raspberries just so I can make brownies. They have never failed me.

                                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                                              Me, too - that is a really good recipe.

                                                        2. anything according to an exact recipe! i have this terrible compulsion to modify that i cannot keep in check.

                                                          p.s. it also occurs to me that ignorance is bliss. there are so many things i have not yet attempted... and so many things that i do not yet know i cannot make.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: cimui

                                                            LOL I'm the exact opposite...I don't know whether it might be my Type A personality shining through or my inability to modify (which I'm working on and slowly succeeding)...but I have an extreme compulsion to follow a recipe to the T and have tiny anxiety attacks when I have to substitute ingredients or change a method. Baby steps is my mantra right now.

                                                            1. re: cimui

                                                              I agree. If it's not baking related I can't paint between the lines. Even with baking I sometimes think I can outwit and outdo a given recipe!
                                                              How would anything new occur if we all follow the same recipe? Some failing required to learn.

                                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                                I make adjustments to EVERYTHING i cook..... no matter what the recipe calls for... baking or otherwise... I'd I've actually had very few failures when it comes to my instinct. The failures that i have had were from when i followed a recipe to a tee, ignoring my instinct, like my lemon garlic roasted chicken, or blue cheese pecan rolls with onion marmalade

                                                              2. re: cimui

                                                                The same thing happens to me all the time... sometimes I tweak intentionally ("I wonder what if I..."), others purely by accident ("oops, there was cinnamon in that chocolate?"), sometimes to lovely surprises ("hey what did you put in this to make it a little spicy?"), and unfortunately some total flops (*i like to forget those happened*). Maybe most importantly, I invariably learn something--and that's always good, right?

                                                              3. Baklava, tandoori naan / roti (no tandoor), handmade Chinese and handmade soba noodles, and cream puffs like my mom's.

                                                                13 Replies
                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  What is wrong with your baklava?

                                                                  I cant prepare edible Indian or Chinese, but baklava and cream puffs are easy.

                                                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                    My baklava has never been as good as what an Armenian friend, Marlene Kalashian, used to make. My cream puffs are good, but not near as good as what Mom used to make.

                                                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                    I would love to see your recipe for handmade soba noodles!

                                                                    Um, well, I think I would... if you're not successful with your recipe maybe I should Google...

                                                                    ;-)

                                                                    1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                      Mix buckwheat and wheat flour (4:1), gently add water and knead until you have a smooth ball. Roll out into a huge thin rectangle, flour and fold and then cut thinly using a soba cutter and wooden square guide/press. Cook twisted handfuls for a minute and dump into ice water and then drain. Sounds simple? Every step is fraught with difficulty and frustration. Now I just use a pasta maker. But I can't quite get the dough texture right.

                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                        Do you think the dough texture is off because the pasta maker overworks the dough? I am very new to making noodles, pasta, and the like so I'm trying to figure out how all of it works. My success with spaetzle was probably due to beginner's luck.

                                                                        1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                          No. There is a specialy Japanese kneading technique. Flours are mixed into huge wooden or SS bowls, water added bit by bit, and kneading in the bowl is an old master's trick.

                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            what is your mixing technique?

                                                                            so far all i've needed is about 3 water additions at most and find that the most difficult part of it all is the rolling out because you require such a long pin and i don't have one readily available when i'm doing it at home. at the teacher's place it is actually quite a breeze though it is still far from his but much better than everyone elses' in town!

                                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      Sam, if you can find a way to justify a visit to Indiana U. I will teach you to make baklava. Often the difficulty is getting good phyllo. I am lucky enough to have a source for fresh, not frozen, phyllo.

                                                                      1. re: Candy

                                                                        Candy, I agree with that statement, since I started buying my phyllo at Athens pastries in Cleveland it is so much easier to work with then frozen dough. Ive also found that most recipes call for too much sugar/honey syrup which makes the resulting pastry soggy.

                                                                        1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                          Speaking of phyllo, I'll bet one of you two knows how to make a killer galaktoboureko. Candy or Kelli, can you possibly point me in the direction of one of your favorite recipes?

                                                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                            I didn't recognize that name because I have always seen it called phyllo custard pie. I can't posts recipes in this forum but the All Recipes version is very close to mine, but I add 2 TBLs of rosewater to the final syrup. Reduce the water by a similar amount.

                                                                            http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Galaktob...

                                                                    3. Steak at home. I

                                                                      love a bloody steak in a restaurant, but for some reason, I get scared that I'm not cooking it long enough to be safe (yes, I know it's not like hamburger and can stay bloody), and I end up ruining it. It's an expensive mistake, so I say screw it; when I want a good steak, I'll leave it to the pros.

                                                                      Maybe there's something to the whole baker-chef dichotomy. I can make pastry, pies, cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. with no problem. But fish, steak, soup -- those that do taste good took a lot of practice.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: corgette

                                                                        I have trouble with steak too. I try to buy good quality steaks, I read obsessively over the best technique and pan to use and time the cooking precisely. The steaks come out fine but not that melty, beefy, eyes rolling in the back of your head kind of feeling. I blame the cheap oven that is in my rental apartment to make myself feel better, which I know is a cop out but I can't help it.

                                                                        Other than that, I try to avoid cooking anything that I introduced in the household and then my fiance is the one who makes it now. For some reason almost all foods that I started cooking first, he has made better. The same is true in reverse. For example, I used to be the meatball maker in the house. They were really good and everyone was happy. One day he had to make them since I was at work late and they came out so much better. I haven't been able to regain meatball maker status since!

                                                                        1. re: corgette

                                                                          You and my husband. His last effort nearly brought me to tears....a lovely steak with no pink in sight (and I'm a rare plus gal). He does fine with a whole tenderloin, but cooking individual steaks are his Waterloo.

                                                                          OTOH, he can get pork to a perfect medium everytime and I always overcook it.

                                                                        2. Paella. I always end up with sticky rice. also Hot Cross Buns, I just can't improve on the local bakeries version.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: middydd

                                                                            Until you get really comfortable with making paella, you should spend the whole cooking process terrified that you're burning everything, and that the liquid has dried up too fast for your rice to absorb enough to get soft. You know you're doing it right when you're convinced that it's going to end up a dry, hard mess.
                                                                            That being said, I'm not sure how you're managing to make it turn sticky. Most incorrectly cooked paella comes out soupy. Are you using the right kind of rice (not just short grain, but "hard", which is to say high protein/low starch, bomba being probably the best example, japonica and arborio being two of the worst)? Are you toasting the rice a bit in the olive oil (and there should be plenty of olive oil) before you add the liquid? Are you adding liquid just once (adding liquid more than once is a surefire way to get sticky rice)?
                                                                            I'd recommend picking up a copy of Paella! by Penelope Casas.

                                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                              I add more liquid that the recipe calls for. Paella cooks uncovered in the oven, and I add about 25% more water to allow for evaporation. It could just be my dry, electric oven, but this technique works for me and my rice is not sticky or too soft.

                                                                              I also use either Basmati or Bomba rice, although both are extremely different. I just choose based on my mood.

                                                                          2. Fried things: ...splattering oil, too soggy or too overcooked, etc etc...never got it right, fortunately I don't eat much fried food anymore so if I were to indulge I would go out for something like that.

                                                                            15 Replies
                                                                            1. re: poptart

                                                                              Like you Poptart, fried chicken is my achilles heel. Have tried to make this for many years. It is either really soggy, or undercooked. Can't tell you how many times the fire alarm has gone off while trying to fry this, and the tears I have shed over really bad dinners. I have finally thrown in the towel. I CANNOT MAKE FRIED CHICKEN.

                                                                              1. re: catrn

                                                                                It took me a couple of times to get it right. Temp is key. Oil and pot is key. Breading and the mix is key. Probably why I get fried chicken out. I know now how, but just don't have the patience and time or the right equipment to make it easy.

                                                                                I hear ya!

                                                                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                  I find a good heavy cast iron skillet essential to fried chicken. I am in the soak in buttermilk camp. Then drain and dredge in flour seasoned with S&P (no need for 11 herbs and spices. I use a probe thermometer in the skillet and try to maintain a temp. of about 325 F. Turn only once. Cook the dark meat pieces first and then the white.

                                                                                  I think people have trouble with fried chicken because they are anxious about it and tend to work too hard at it.

                                                                                2. re: catrn

                                                                                  I heard two tips:
                                                                                  Use a brown paper bag to bread it: Just throw one in and shake
                                                                                  When it floats, it's done.

                                                                                  Not sure if that's any good to you, or if you knew that

                                                                                  1. re: Soop

                                                                                    Thanks so much for all the advice. It has been about 5 years since I last tried. Maybe one more shot. Can't be much worse than my past attempts.
                                                                                    I definately like the take out idea the best!

                                                                                    1. re: catrn

                                                                                      Agree with you poptart and catrn--I can't make good fried chicken either; not only does it make big mess, but not as good as what we can get out. When we want fried chicken, our favorite is Popeyes. An old family friend makes wonderful fried chicken, and I have followed her recipe to the letter and it still isn't very good.

                                                                                      1. re: catrn

                                                                                        I read an eye-opening sentence in a Gormet mag a few years back. It said "Fried chicken isn't hard, it's just very messy."

                                                                                        I'd add to that - and it takes too long and is too labor-intense with the all the watching and turning.

                                                                                        Gawd, my mom used to make good fried chicken, but since we have Lucky Wishbone carryout restaurants in Tucson, I leave it to them, and don't eat it too often, but boy do I love it! Check their web site!

                                                                                        1. re: catrn

                                                                                          although it is from the food channel... a great tip to tell if the oil is hot enough is to stick the butt end of a wooden spoon in the oil, and if bubbles come up rapidly from it, the oil is the right temperature

                                                                                        2. re: poptart

                                                                                          Yeah, I don't have a deep fryer, so I've finally resigned myself to the fact that nothing I ever fry at home will be as good as a place that does have one. That and the fact that a frequently get hurt (scarred, even) from the spatters - I'd rather just focus on things I do better, with more adequate home equipment & less potential for injury.

                                                                                          1. re: Mawrter

                                                                                            I used to make great fried chicken in a pan, then I got a deep fryer and it doesn't come out anywhere as good. Unfortunately my husband meanwhile fell in love with the grocery store fried chicken so haven't made it the old way in many moons. If I ever do again it will be pan fried, 10 to 15 minutes per side, like the old days.

                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                              Good to know! I haven't tried it since I got my cast iron skillet, so I -might- get brave again.

                                                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                                                I love my semi deep cast iron pan for fried chicken. I usually buy, too lazy to make it and eat it very seldom so I just buy. But that pan (cast iron) was the best.

                                                                                              2. re: Mawrter

                                                                                                I don't fry at home - the pain and mess don't seem to be worth it. Besides, fried stuff is cheap to eat out.

                                                                                                1. re: Mawrter

                                                                                                  Some famous chef (don't remember who) once said that the reason most people go to restaurants is because they don't have a deep fryer at home. Some truth in that.

                                                                                              3. I cannot make chocolate mousse. Don't ask me why, I have tried many recipes, including my sister's which is failsafe for anyone else. My mousses always separate. And I am a good cook and baker but can't do this.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: smartie

                                                                                                  You should try making a Marquise, it's a stiffer version of chocolate mousse lined with sponge cake. I recently made one using the James Peterson recipe in Cooking and it was BEAUTIFUL. It uses a ton of butter but came out flawlessly and is ridiculously easy. (and i hardly EVER do desserts -- the boyfriend volunteered me to make something for his work cocktail party --scary) Just make sure you use the best chocolate, I would recommend Scheffen Berger (sp?). I tried it with Girardheli, which is about 1/4 of the price (4 dollars versus 16!) but it was nowhere near as good.

                                                                                                2. Pancakes! I can never seem to flip them right without ruining one or having it land on top of another. By the end of making a batch I'm so infuriated that I don't even want to eat them anymore. Pancakes are one of the few items I leave to my husband.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: nmurawsk

                                                                                                    pancakes was the first thing I thought of

                                                                                                    1. re: laliz

                                                                                                      Oh absolutely! My homemade ones are tough and gross- the mixes are pretty good. Pisses me off.

                                                                                                    2. re: nmurawsk

                                                                                                      I just don't have the patience for pancakes. I always turn the burner way too high and burn them. We use teamwork. I make the batter and BF cooks.

                                                                                                    3. Tempeh. I can't make it even remotely palatable. Blech!

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: laurachow

                                                                                                        I can't tell you how many tiems i've bought tempeh with the best intentions of making a delicious and high protein dish.... and have let it go bad in my fridge because i was too scared to make something of it. I've delighted in tempeh dishes in restaurants, but for some reason, it's an ingredient i'm scared to tackle..

                                                                                                      2. Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn.

                                                                                                        Lots of things I have never made well. My biscuits are mediocre at best. Calamari is never as good as it should be. Gnocci - meh.

                                                                                                        Maybe I should give up, but I don't. Somebody can cook this stuff well. It can't be rocket science. Never give up.

                                                                                                        PS - as for duck, try steaming it before roasting.

                                                                                                          1. re: shaebones

                                                                                                            Blind-baking pastry - no matter what I do it's a mess.

                                                                                                            1. re: Athena

                                                                                                              After rolling out your crust and fitting it in to the pie dish, put it all back in the fridge and chill it well before baking. It will shrink very little. Pie weights are a help too.

                                                                                                              1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                I put mine in the freezer and use foil and pie weights. Makes a HUGE difference.

                                                                                                                1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                  That is one of those things that cook book authors/instructors neglect to mention and you are right, it does make a huge difference in blind baking.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                    I still have "shrinkage issues" even after chilling the dough. No, I'm NOT in the fridge with it ;) adam

                                                                                                                    1. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                                      You're trying to make a pig in a blanket?

                                                                                                                2. re: Candy

                                                                                                                  Thanks - but I've tried fridge/freezer/pie weights with no success.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Candy

                                                                                                                    I have a big bin of old beans that I use just for this purpose. I put a piece of parchment in the pie crust and fill to the brim with the beans. When the sides are browned at the tops I pull the pie crust out and remove the paper and beans. I return the crust to the oven for another 5 - 10 miutes until it is done. Piece of cake!

                                                                                                                    I never have shrinkage with this method (I don't chill beforehand). The one time I tried pie weights it was a bust - they don't help with the sides of the dough like the beans do.

                                                                                                                    1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                                      Oh, you mean like a pre-baked pie crust? Never done that.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Soop

                                                                                                                        It makes a shell for custard, curd, chocolate mousse etc. Any filling you can't bake. The classic french pate sucre which is used for blind baked crusts tastes almost exactly like a sugar cookie. It's a great way to make a pie!

                                                                                                                      2. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                                        Works every time, grandmas secret, don't eat the beans after, lol

                                                                                                                  1. re: Soop

                                                                                                                    LOL, why I buy frozen ones. I can make them, but never just right and a pain.

                                                                                                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                                      i just stick my trimmed artichokes in a steamer basket with water, lemon, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper up to the bottom of the basket., and steam until a knife inserts easily into the heart of the artichoke, i've had a perfect result every time....

                                                                                                                    2. re: Soop

                                                                                                                      This is my invention; I claim any and all rights to this process, BUT, for this one-time, limited offer, all Chowhounds can have a free pass to use my patented method! Hah

                                                                                                                      Trim some off the stem (to get to green), and pel if you are going to eat the stem. Cut some off the top so there's nothing spikey. Pull off all useless small bottom leaves; only leave meaty leaves. Rinse it with water and shake. You never know, there might be critters in there...
                                                                                                                      Stand the 'choke in a regular coffee cup half-filled with water, stem down. See how it sits there nice and pretty? I sprinkle the top with salt and any seasoning I want. Cover completely with one piece of plastic wrap. I drape this over the top and tuck it in under the cup or put a rubber band around the cup. Make sure the tent hasn't torn.

                                                                                                                      Now nuke it! Depending on the size of the 'choke, and the power of the microwave, it can take from four to ten minutes. YTMV (your time may vary) That's for one or two 'chokes. It can also sit there and will continue to cook for a bit while you do other things; then, too, you don't burn the tarnation out of your fingers trying to unwrap it! Beats steaming for 45 minutes! Rinse out coffee cup and it's good to go; that's your cleanup. BTW, I have done this for years....

                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                        I no longer put plastic of any kind in the microwave, but I love the idea of this method. Do hounds out there think this might work if I tented the mug with parchment, secured with a rubber band? I imagine it won't hold as much steam as effectively, so perhaps a longer cooking time would be necessary...?

                                                                                                                        1. re: litchick

                                                                                                                          I think if you used a jar (instead of a cup, with handle), within a inverted jar (big pickle jar?), then you could have same result. Outer jar might hop and jiggle as steam escapes, but no biggie.

                                                                                                                      2. Genoise. Rubbery leaden hockey pucks. Uggh. I still think about trying again but quit just before I start. Maybe when I retire......

                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: lupaglupa

                                                                                                                          Bagels. I can make them and used to when living in places where they were not good nor available. I can get decent ones now so easily, why bother.

                                                                                                                          1. re: markabauman

                                                                                                                            I tried once, that was enough. They were good, but I just buy them.

                                                                                                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                                              "Chinese" food like the kind we get here in the US.

                                                                                                                        2. Soup. It just doesn't work for me. Just never comes out right. Tonight is the last time I'm going to attempt.

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                            c17: Inquiring minds wanna know...how did your soup come out? What kind did you make?

                                                                                                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                                                              roasted cauliflower soup- pureed with potatoes, cumin, and roasted onions. it was delicious! will definitely make soup again!

                                                                                                                              1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                                                                                Sounds wonderful! Glad you were able to reverse the trend! :)

                                                                                                                          2. Pizza, only because I live where there is a great pizza shop on every block. I've made it but it always tastes homemade, not like a pizzeria's would. And I'm not doing that trick with disabling the door to get the oven to 1000 degrees!

                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                                                              Ok, I have to ask... (I promise I won't try it!)

                                                                                                                              1. re: evewitch

                                                                                                                                It's something with self cleaning ovens, you fix the door so you can open it during the cleaning cycle. I don't have one, so I don't even know the particulars, but I've heard of people doing it. Don't remember if there were any warnings about it.

                                                                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/513852

                                                                                                                                1. re: evewitch

                                                                                                                                  I thought that the Mods deleted me because I mentioned "The Trick with the Oven".

                                                                                                                                    1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                      No, I was wrong, it's still there: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5985...
                                                                                                                                      There is the link coll posted above. The one thing I would warn about is that you must protect the glass. At high temperatures anything cool or wet hitting it will cause the glass to shatter.
                                                                                                                                      Interestingly, a used oven is fairly cheap... you could screw sheetmetal over the glass on the inside. I could set one up in my garage where it would not be near anything flammable. I'm just not that nuts about doing a burnt bottom, crispy pizza like that. I have a friend with a wood-fired oven if I get the urge.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                        But you HAVE comtemplated the logistics, and if you ever end up with a cheap, used stove, who knows what experiements may lay ahead.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                          I used to nan on the walls of an old oven; just slap it on. Is this another thread?

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                            Rather than sucking more oxygen out of this thread I did post on this old thread, which is solely about modifying an electric oven for baking at high temperatures: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5138...
                                                                                                                                            Surely it should be good for more than pizza!

                                                                                                                              2. my trifecta of fail:

                                                                                                                                1.fudge (i've now resorted to the kind that requires a load of chocolate to hold it together, I can make every other sort of candy-everyone else in my family is fantastic at fudge)

                                                                                                                                2.bread (aka doorstops-again everyone else in my family makes lovely bread)

                                                                                                                                3.pie crust (so not worth the aggravation and result)

                                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                                                                  I know this isn't great, but I use eagle brand, ghiradelli chocolate and some good toasted nuts and put in a pan lined with parchment. Fudge. Just chill and cut. I make 15 different flavors every Christmas for friends as presents. Easy, simple and quick. I just micro the chocolate. I know, it is not anything special, but ... it is well liked. I've done it the long way but this just works and tastes great, why change.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                                                    Can you give us a recipe for this, please?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                                                                                                                      Eagle Brand Fudge

                                                                                                                                      8 oz. chocolate (semi sweet is my favorite)
                                                                                                                                      1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand milk
                                                                                                                                      Dash of salt
                                                                                                                                      1/2 to 1 cup nuts
                                                                                                                                      1 1/2 cup vanilla

                                                                                                                                      You can melt on the stove or I do just in the microwave. Mix in the condensed milk, salt, nuts and vinilla. I like to line the pan with parchment and then just chill. Best easiest fudge.

                                                                                                                                      The great thing is you can use any chocolate. also peanut butter bits, mint chocolate or butterscotch or a combo of anything. I add marshmellows (minis) even crunched up candy cane bits, white chocolate which candied cherries. I layer the chocolate sometimes. A thin layer of chocolate and then a thin layer of peanut butter. Endless combinations. White chocolate is great with pecans and almond extract vs vanilla. Anyways, not very gourmet I know, but it is great every time!
                                                                                                                                      1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

                                                                                                                                      1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                                                        Kim - I made your fudge this morning and it's SO delicious. I can make it the old fashioned way, but probably won't now. Thanks again, girl!

                                                                                                                                        Paula

                                                                                                                                2. Tamales; all talk, no masa.

                                                                                                                                  1. Good Bread. I can make bread that tastes and has texture like wonder bread, but I can't get anything with a really thick, crunchy crust and good chew. My benchmark is Sullivan Street bakery. I've tried all the tricks - pan of water in the oven, baking stones, sprinkling water on oven floor, long rise. Nothing comes out "great." Crust is browned but not crunchy. Texture is either too uniform (like Wonder Bread) or, if I use more water, rubbery. I can handle just about anything else, but this one thing just totally eludes me. I chalk it up to not having the right equipment (oven) and ingredients (don't know what the great bakeries use, but I'll bet it's not King Arthur Bread Flour and a jar of instant yeast).

                                                                                                                                    1. Ordinary, run of the mill simple dumplings. They end up being used on the badminton court....heavy duty lead birdies.....

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                                                                                                        Hey, Gio! I saw a biscuit how-to in a magazine while waiting in the doctor's office today and it made me think of this thread. Here's a link to it:

                                                                                                                                        http://www.bhg.com/recipes/food-slide...

                                                                                                                                        Do any of these tips help? I'll confess--I crack a can when I need biscuits. ;) I'm better at making what goes on the biscuits.

                                                                                                                                        EDIT: I must be brain-dead. You said DUMPLINGS and I replied with BISCUITS. DUH on my part! But if anyone needs help in the biscuit department, no extra charge!

                                                                                                                                      2. croissant- so much time and effort when you can buy wonderful ones at the bakery. Also, duck- so much effort for so little meat and lots of grease. Ok so you use the grease for french fries but I don't make french fries either.

                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                        1. re: emilief

                                                                                                                                          I have a great recipe for duck breast; half pan fried, half roasted. Check it out, it's the easiest (it's on chowhound, I think you can get it through my profile)

                                                                                                                                        2. I should give up on making cake, but for some reason I keep trying. Classic definition of insanity.

                                                                                                                                          I have given up on fried chicken. I grew up eating chicken cooked in a pressure broaster, and since I don't have one in my kitchen, I can't make it taste like Kwik Chick, so I don't try. The grocery store here in town DOES have pressure broasters, so when I want fried chicken, I go see them.

                                                                                                                                          1. choux pastry, the pastry of cream puffs and eclairs . i can never get the temperature of the egg step just right.

                                                                                                                                            1. I've yet to master biscuits or pastry dough. While the time between attempts to make either of them has gotten longer over time (10 years for pie crust, 2 years for biscuits), I haven't given up all together.

                                                                                                                                              At least thats what I tell myself.

                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: Demented

                                                                                                                                                I find it strange that so many have trouble with pie crusts and cakes.

                                                                                                                                                Cakes were the first thing I ever cooked (regularly) and when I decided to make a pie (shortcrust) I just did it and it worked. Is there a specific type or way of making the pastry that you're aiming for?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Soop

                                                                                                                                                  I agree with you. I grew up baking cakes and pastry and find it quite relaxing.

                                                                                                                                                  My current favorite biscuit recipe is Peter Reinhart's from the May 07 issue of Fine Cooking. Someone on CH posted a Bride's biscuit recipe that I want to try but I always forget about it.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                                                                                                    You know, one of the nifty things about Brides Biscuits is that you can make up enough dough and keep it refrigerated for a weeks worth of biscuits.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Soop

                                                                                                                                                    I love making pie crust. I use my grandma's recipe, which she got years ago from a neighbor, and it's the easiest thing in the world. But I can't even make a decent cake from a box. Can't say it's my oven, because I've tried to make cakes in several different ovens, some gas, some electric, one brand-new, and they never come out right.

                                                                                                                                                2. Up until Sunday night, I would have said pork chops. It didn't matter the thickness, my timing, the careful-one-time-use-of-the-instant-read-thermometer-just-when-I-thought-I-was-close, cooking method, recipe, resting time, alignment of the stars, offerings made in front of the piggybank pork shrine while snorting and squealing the pink piggy polka... it just didn't matter. I always overcooked them. Shoe leather. Old, beaten-up, worn down, holes in the soles, shoe leather.

                                                                                                                                                  I can cook pork loins, pork roasts, pork ribs with no problem. The pork chops were bustin' my chops.

                                                                                                                                                  Until Sunday night.

                                                                                                                                                  Sunday night, I kicked pork chop's ass.

                                                                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                                                                                                    lol! Glad you make a kick ass pork chop. Pie crust has made me it's bi@tch since we first laid eyes on each other.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                                                                                                      I had a similar thing, in that I hated pork chops until I got some on sale (some ridiculous 'have to buy' price). I cooked them like I cooked steak, marinated and cooked ping, pan then grill, and they were great. Now I love 'em (but only if I cook).

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Soop

                                                                                                                                                        Me too! I don't even marinate any more. Sprinkle with dry seasonings and use the cast iron griddle pan (the side with the ridges). OMG, they are so good this way! My current love is with Montreal steak seasoning in abundance. They come out really good, and stay tender and moist.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                                                                                                        What was the epiphany that brought the stars into alignment and let you kick some pig tail?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                          I was determined to not ruin the chops. They were beautiful and I had a new recipe I wanted to try. I decided that if I completely undercooked them, I could slice them and give them a quick toss in the pan but I couldn't uncook them once they were overcooked. I took them out much, much sooner than I felt like I should and they were absolutely perfect.

                                                                                                                                                          The recipe was simple and perfect and I'll be using it again, soon. I found it at epicurious:
                                                                                                                                                          http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                                                                                                            An interesting, simple recipe. I have some loin left that is not too cooked so I wil try that recipe. Thanks wordy B.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                              I think the simplicity of it appealed to me. I'd ruined so many pork chops that I decided to keep it as easy as possible to eliminate the number of chances to dork it up.

                                                                                                                                                              Now, you've reminded me that I have some major updating and posting to do... thanks. ;-)

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Glencora

                                                                                                                                                          Bay or sea? I can pull off either of these pretty readily and figure if I can do it, so can you. Want some help, or do you really give up? ;)

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                                                                                            Scallops: under cook, under cook, under cook. Kinda like Thoreau.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                              I was an English major; I've read Thoreau...still have no idea what you mean. I even did some googling and found something about the Maine Woods and Passadumkeag. Thought a clue might be hidden there. Read it, but I'm still clueless.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                                                                                                                                Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Why did Thoreau say it 3 times? My wife gave me The Maine Woods as a wedding present. That book and Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire are guiding principles; Calvin Trillan too.

                                                                                                                                                                ps Russian Studies major, (English major mom)

                                                                                                                                                                Tolstoy is the man.

                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                All seafood should be slightly undercooked I heard. I hate it when you eat overcooked squid (and it happens a lot). I think I'll make a thread.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Soop

                                                                                                                                                                  Seafood is usually thin and cooks quick, I always undercook my just a bit, shrimp (just when they turn pink and start to cool , then remove and drain, they continue to cook, tuna absolutely, even fish (white fish of many kinds) any especially scallops. Calamari, either very quick or very long ... otherwise tough. Oysters broasted same thing.

                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                  For me it's scallops & shrimp...overcook, overcook, overcook., :-)

                                                                                                                                                                3. re: kattyeyes

                                                                                                                                                                  Sea. The good ones are so expensive that I might as well pay a bit more and have them at a restaurant, done properly. The cheap ones release so much liquid that it's impossible to get them crusty on the outside without overcooking them. At least it's impossible for me. Since I only crave scallops a couple of times a year, I've pretty much given up.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Glencora

                                                                                                                                                                    Hey GC!, I hate scallops...but try salting them and draining in a colander. Rinse well and dry w/ paper towels (or cloth, but that's another thread...) Then sautee. It might work? Your neighbor in Oakland, adam

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                                                                                      I have shucked them and eaten scallops raw on the stern of a lobster boat. Makes great sushi and cerviche too. One of our favorite foods; they are sooo sweet. Maybe freshness is an issue, but they freze very well too. Makes good bay scallop tacos too (but don't tell Scargod.). Scallops Florentine tonight. Son home for spring break, wants seafood, last night, 10 lbs of peel your own Maine shrimp, sour dough bread and a jug of white wine. Life is good.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                        Tacos are wonderful. Scallops florentine is primo, I try to make them a simple as possible most times because they are so good. I love the shrimp dinner, nothing better. We are having a good ol' seafood pot for St. Patties Day weekend. Not traditional I'll make corned beef for me for the visitors want seafood. So one day I'll have to do my pot. Lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, corn, potatoes, lemons, onions, garlic, sausage, shrimp, oysters and crab. Fun food. Great for a large party.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                          I hope you put some chipotle on your scallop tacos. Thanks for sharing .... :'(

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                                                                                          Sorry, that would get all the moisture out. I disagree, sorry. If frozen they have been sitting in water, but just sitting on a paper towel for a minute and patting dry should be good enough. To me, otherwise they would be dry I make sure the pan is hot, the key, also I lay mine on a paper towel to drain and pat dry properly, then season right before using, or you can use a light marinade. Sear in butter and olive oil mix let set until nicely brown on the first side. That is what people do wrong ... they move them to fast. Let them get a good crust, then flip and cook only another minute or two. The key like a good steak is letting them get a good crust. She may be using too much butter or oil or not hot enough pan but more than likely turning them before a crust forms.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                                                                                            I concur, except i actually use olive oil spray (stupid diet).... I use some blackened seasoning on my scallops, sear them up to a golden brown, and then serve them around a delicate stack of garlic infused spinach.... my favorite meal ever!!!

                                                                                                                                                                  2. Tempura. Uses tons of oil that you then have to figure out what to do with. Smells up the house. Takes forever over an actual hot stove. Requires lots of chopping and it's messy. You can get better at a good Japanese restaurant. When I think that my mom and my aunts used to make enough to feed a family reunion of 20 to 30 people, I can hardly believe it. They must have really loved us.

                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                      I do occasionally make tempura, not real often, but the nearest Japanese restaurant here in the Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, is 75 miles away in Sioux City. I don't have reason to go over there all that often, so I learned to make my own tempura that's pretty decent. But yeah, then you've got all that oil to deal with.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. For those who have trouble with pie crust: Use frozen butter and shortening that has been in the freezer for a while. Put the water you are going to use in a cup and put that in the freezer a little while before you're going to use it. If your kitchen is warm, put the bowl you're going to use with the dry ingredients in it in the fridge or the freezer.

                                                                                                                                                                      Use a light hand.

                                                                                                                                                                      When the dough is mixed, wrap in waxed paper or plastic and put in the fridge for several hours or overnight. If it's hard when you take it out, let it warm up a bit, but not too much.

                                                                                                                                                                      If you're making a two crust pie. Keep the top crust dough in the fridge while you roll out the bottom crust. You might even put in the fridge or the freezer for a short while after you have the entire pie put together.

                                                                                                                                                                      If you're making a single crust pie, freeze once you get the dough rolled out and put into the pan. Line with heavy duty foil and use pie weights. I've even frozen mine overnight before putting in the oven.

                                                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                        I like the Nick Malgieri recipe for an all butter crust for sweet pies. I make the dough in my food processor, White Lily flour and good unsalted butter and his recipe calls for a bit of baking powder to improve flakiness. It works like a charm and the dough is very plastic and easy to handle. For savoury pies i use a lard crust with pretty much the same technique. I get my lard from a local farmer, it is pure rendered lard with no partially hydrogenated fats. Healthy Lard! Hard to beat the flavor.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                          "Use a light hand."

                                                                                                                                                                          This is the part that does not translate from 2D to 3D for me. That and my inability to work quickly (in a kitchen that I keep at a temp that is probably tropical for some). My crust is, alas, leaden and inelegant, still, and lacks that flakey perfection of what I can buy at a good bakery. (But I'll keep trying!!)

                                                                                                                                                                          It occurs to me while reading this thread that so much of cooking / baking has to do with 'feel', with an ability to eyeball something or touch something and know that it is right based on principles that are hard to write down and/or hard to follow once the've been written down -- and that is why it is an art! A composer can direct a specific tempo or volume here or there and tell you which notes to play; a recipe writer can tell you which steps to follow and at what temperature to bake, but beyond that there is experiential knowledge and feeling and maybe even something like intuition that makes some of us good at some things and others kind of just mediocre.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cimui

                                                                                                                                                                            You make a very good point. I can't really tell you how much water (or milk, if you're doing biscuits) to add, for example. it really can vary from batch to batch. I guess I've just learned from experience when it looks/feels right.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                              Yeah, if I could articulate the one thing I learned from my mom, it's (and this is a direct quote) "I can never make a crust with the amount of water the recipe calls for." She always uses more, but she never measures, just adds it all at once - NOT in an "ooh, too thick, need more water" kind of way. Thus, she never overworks her dough and it is always tender, flaky, and easy to roll out.

                                                                                                                                                                              I'm still working on it, but now my crusts are either right, or maybe slightly soggy, but never tough. I have faith that the pendulum will swing back to the right place soon. Pie crust is kind of my personal Everest - pie is a BIG deal in my family. :)

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                            Wow...I've never had trouble with pie crust, EXCEPT when I've put it in the refrigerator. I find it harder to handle cold. I generally use shortening for pie (don't like the taste of lard), but sometimes do an all-butter crust, and I don't use the butter right out of the refrigerator, either, but let it get to room temperature.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                                              Still talking about pies, I've heard that some people have warm hands, and just can't work with it. Maybe that's it?

                                                                                                                                                                          3. I can't make a pancake from leftover mashed potatoes that holds together. They always, and I mean always, break into pieces. I've tried every trick in the book. Lucky for me, I don't really like them that much. When I attempt, it's for others.

                                                                                                                                                                            I also simply cannot frost a layer cake. I've tried and tried and tried, and I now officially surrender.

                                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: dmd_kc

                                                                                                                                                                              The key to frosting cakes is patience. First you do a thin layer of frosting over all frostable areas, then wait until it sets. This keeps the crumbs down. Then refrost the inner layers, put it all together and refrost the outside.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mordacity

                                                                                                                                                                                But I thought I had the patience of a monk!

                                                                                                                                                                                Seriously, your tips are great , and I will try to cool my jets.

                                                                                                                                                                                I wish I had photos of some of the more hilarious attempts I've made.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: dmd_kc

                                                                                                                                                                                The secret is to use a lot of flour in the mashed potatoes. Makes all the difference

                                                                                                                                                                              3. Mayonnaise. Always comes out bitter.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. Angel's Food Cake. The one time I tried it deflated horribly, and I accidentally replaced the almond extract with peppermint. It was so bad it scared me off trying again.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: machinedreams

                                                                                                                                                                                    Did you cool the cake upside down on a wine bottle? Did you add cream of tartar in the egg whites at 1/8 of a tsp per egg white.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Souffle, the kids won't stop jumping.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Lenox637

                                                                                                                                                                                      Really? How weird. I was always afraid of souffle, just started making it, have the.wiggliest.kid ever, and no problems with the souffle - in fact it was better than I dared hope for. Huh, maybe it's something unrelated, like indoor humidity or another intangible.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Rice on the stove. I can make almost anything else, complex or not. I even make terrific risotto. I just can't make basic rice without burning it or making it soupy. I have given myself over to this quirk, and now exclusively use the rice cooker.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Fried Rice! Someone help please, it should be easy but I just can't seem to get it anything like the restaurants do.

                                                                                                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: virtualguthrie

                                                                                                                                                                                          Leftover rice is the key. Start w/ cold rice in a hot skillet of veg. oil. Mix one egg w/ a little water and drizzle it over the now hot rice (after adding cooked veggies, pork, etc.) and stir w/ a fork like crazy. Eat. adam

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                                                                                                            Absolutely agree that leftover rice is the key. You need to have it at least a day old.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: virtualguthrie

                                                                                                                                                                                            I think the key to making fried rice at home is the order that you cook the ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                                            First, scramble the eggs, cook, season and set aside. Then, in a hot wok, add some oil, garlic and meat. Add a couple Tbsp of soy sauce. Then add chopped carrots and onions. At this point, add the cold rice and stir-fry until evenly mixed. Then incorporate peas, corn, cilantro, and green onions. Add in the scrambled eggs, and do not add any more liquid (i.e., soy sauce). Season if necessary with salt and pepper.

                                                                                                                                                                                            When I make shrimp fried rice, I cook and season the shrimp and set them aside and add to the fried rice when I add the eggs back in.

                                                                                                                                                                                            The best thing you can do for yourself when making fried rice is having all your ingredients chopped and ready to go into a hot wok.

                                                                                                                                                                                          3. macarons -- they deflate and it drives me nuts!

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Thanks for this topic; it's like therapy.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm about to give up on two things:

                                                                                                                                                                                              First, pie crust. I don't know what happened. I used to make excellent pie crust. Never had a problem until the past couple of years, but now they always come out crunchy and hard. This may have coincided with my moving to the UK, where the butter is fattier, but I can't really see how that would matter.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Second, chocolate. The past few times I've tried to melt chocolate, or a combination of butter or cream and chocolate, the chocolate always splits. I can't imagine I'm doing anything different from what I always did when it used to turn out fine. Plus, I've made a few attempts at a wheat-free chocolate cake recently, and they've been terrible. Very dry and crumbly. I may just have to put away the chocolate for a while.

                                                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Kagey

                                                                                                                                                                                                The fat content could make a difference. See if you can find a UK recipe for pie crust.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Agree - if you had it before, you'll get it again. I lost it with tomato sauce for a few years and then got my groove back. I dunno why. Just keep at it!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Mawrter

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Not quite the same, but: After I got married, I could never make aglio e olio the way my husband's grandmother did, and it was one of his favorites. I had her basic recipe, but no matter what I did, it was so different from hers. Years later, right after she passed on, I tried it again for the first time in years and it was out of this world (pun intended). I know she was watching over me. Never give up!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: PAO

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Yeah I've done that. Still no luck. Will probably try again at some point, but lately too discouraged!

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Indian food. I follow authentic curry recipes to the letter but it always tastes limp, the consistency is all wrong etc ... Not even close to the wonderful stuff you get in restaurants. I'll leave it to the experts!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. Pork chops.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I ruined three more this weekend!

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Off our menu into the far distant future.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: RedTop

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I think it's that pork chops are way too lean nowadays. If I ever buy them again, it will be at a German butcher that I trust.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Pork needs to be brined, and most chops are cut too thin to be moist when cooked to a reasonable (150-5°) temperature.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Kelli2006

                                                                                                                                                                                                          They didn't used to have to be brined, sad to say! I just make whole pork loin now, and slice it to desired thickness, at least there's some juiciness then.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Red,sear the porkies and through into a 400 degree oven for a few minutes, dependent upon thickness. Browned & tender

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for the encouragement!

                                                                                                                                                                                                            I trust my butcher, but don't trust myself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            But I will ask for chops cut to more than an inch; and try Passadumkeg's suggestion. More to come...

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: RedTop

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Red,
                                                                                                                                                                                                              I do my chops in my cast iron skillet browned first w olive oil, garlic, butter. Add a few tbsp water to keep moist, then add lemon zest, white wine, parsley... (I kind of forget what ends up in there half the time). Covered and simmering/sauteing at medium high for a while... I dunno, they always come out great this way for me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I also flounder at potato pancakes like someone said above. I used to be a miserable omelet maker until we recently got a Scanpan--heaven!

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am still figuring out breads/doughs--we made pizza crust tonight from the recipe here on Chow and it was WAY too dry. BF loved it, I thought it was meh. And I've been battling with the 5 Min Artisan bread--have had a few come out good, most bleh to decent, none great...

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I am a cook, not a baker!!!

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. For years, I've wondered about the hype regarding risotto. It's a regular feature on the menu for Fox's Hell's Kitchen, I see it offered in high-end restaurants and know that it's supposed to be some sort of heavenly rice-based dish that, when done correctly, transcends space and time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I still don't get it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        http://itsallaboutthegarnish.typepad....

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: JKMillerInc

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Well, I like it, but I don't really think it's exactly orgasmic. Just a different variety of rice cooked in a different way. And it's not really hard to cook, either. Just a lot fussier than regular rice or pilaf.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Pressure cooker makes it a snap. 7 1/2 mins. and it is done.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Oh God, this is my favorite thread of anything ever on chowhound. To all who can't make biscuits, neither could I until I discovered SACO powdered buttermilk: 2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons SACO, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp soda. Cut in or work in with hands 1/3 cup butter. Quickly stir in with fork 2/3 cup ice water. Work the dough as little as possible. Turn out dough on floured board (I use a pretty small plastic cutting board to minimize mess) and pat the dough to about an inch-and-a-half thick. Cut with biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Bake in 375* oven for about ten minutes. They don't get very brown but they are good biscuits, rich and tender. My cooking downfalls: Chinese, which in my hands turns to slop. Rice, without my electric rice-cooker. And I must share this story: in Chicago one of the most expensive restaurants, TRU, has a window into the kitchen so you can stand outside on the sidewalk and watch the chefs at work. One day two of them were making pasta with a little hand-cranked pasta thing. If I tried this, you cannot imagine the mess. But there they were, pulling on a huge piece of pasta the size of a bedsheet, and they held it up in the air as it came out, and IT DID NOT BREAK. What a message of "Do not try this at home: we are professionals".

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Caramel. I made rock the first couple of tries and a weird frosting in my last attempt. I read that using a thermometer helps a lot, but I still feel like that's overdoing it. It's just cooking sugar, isn't it? It sounds like it should be so simple... and yet I've never made caramel that was remotely salvageable.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Oh well, you win some...

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. chocolate chiples cookies...they always end up tasting like regular butter cookies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: AngelSanctuary

                                                                                                                                                                                                                What recipe are you using? What type/s of sugar and flour, and in what ratio?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: gwendolynmarie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  um...Tollhouse probably. Brown + white sugar, all purpose flour...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: AngelSanctuary

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You left the chiples out, right? Just a hunch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    yea I leave out the chips but noooo like when you eat chocolate chip cookies from like chips ahoy (except my grocery store have a better brand) or something, even without the chocolate chips the cookies usually taste crunchier and tastes different.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                3. Any kind of beef. Everytime I try to get it med-rare, I end up way overcooking. It's so frustrating!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: staarlite

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Learn the touch test. Press into w/ steak w/ finger. Soft = raw, hard = well done.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I haven't given up on them, because I know they should be incredibly easy, but I just can't make good Thai style rice noodles. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. I've tried following the exact directions on the package. I've tried reducing the time, and increasing it. I've tried lowering the temperature. No matter what I do, even if they end up not being fully cooked in the middle, they're a starchy, sticky mess. And instead of swimming pleasantly in my curry, they soak it all up, leaving me with a dry clump of noodles that won't integrate with my veggies. Maybe I should shock them? Or maybe I need a bigger pot and way more water (though the same pot with the same amount of water works fine for any other kind of noodle, including Japanese rice noodles)? I'll figure it out one day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      by thai rice noodles are you also referring to the ones that are often used in vietnamese dishes like pho? the trick is not to cook them at all actually. just let them soak in hot hot water and they'll be the perfect consistency in 15 minutes. sometimes i use less than hot water and leave them a touch stiff for dishes where i want the noodles a little integrated because i know from the additional heat and a little liquid they'll get to the right texture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Fried grouper. I keep trying to replicate the wonderful dinner I had in Florida a couple of years ago, and the grouper I buy is either too thick , or the wrong variety, and I end up burning the coating. I can deep fry or pan fry anything else, but this fish dish has eluded me. My family has asked me not to make it anymore, and I am usually a pretty good cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. Tapioca Pearls. No clue how to cook them at all, I can't find a package with instructions and the internet instructions leave them with tough centers. The last time I tried to make them I just decided to leave them boiling for a couple of hours (if that wouldn't do it what would) unfortunately I forgot to add extra water and it boiled dry.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: AndrewK512

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          have you tried soaking them hours or even a day i advance? for the large ones i believe 8 hours is optimal but for the small ones 2 should be more than sufficient. then boil away for a while.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I just tried that and checked up on them (large tapioca pearls) after 2 hours or so, they were all shredded and unusable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: AndrewK512

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              don't know what to say then. i'm surprised by the "shredded" comment... i soaked some small pearls with water and then a soy sauce mixture as a mimicry of caviar for a couple days without any cooking and they're perfect texture. ah well! there is no sure fire trick i guess.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                oops, sorry there was some cooking to achieve full translucency but through all the soaking nothing like shredding happened.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. I have given up trying to cook Pho from scratch. Maybe there will be a day when Pho isn't $6 or I won't be able to have it as easily as french fries but as it is, it just isn't worth all the hassle of making that delicious stock

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: AhRoi

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My one try at pho --spent an entire day making the stock -- went down the disposal. It was vile.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Marrons glacés. Too many times I have failed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Sausage Gravy... mine is way to thick!! Too much meat and not enough gravyl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: regalsone2009

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Throw some beer in it. A good strong ale or stout. Take a swig, pour some in. Repeat.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Love sausage in the gravy! White gravy is OK, but I like to brown the rue a little.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                If you get it too thin you can always come back with some flour dissolved in water, and add a little at a time till it gets back to the thickness you want. Remember... as it cools it thickens. Allow for that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. Fried chicken, Maybe I could have mastered doing it eventually, but it made too big a mess. So I bailed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Heh, do the Deviled Fried Chicken on epicurious. You WILL NOT fail!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: gimmesun

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    That's one I've only recently learned how to make. We have a little smoker in our backyard, and whenever the weather's acceptable (temperature is less important than a calm wind) we have something in it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Meatloaf. I have given up on meatloaf. I can make meatloaf that tastes wonderful. I can make meatloaf that tastes French. I can make Italian tasting meatloaf. I can make meatloaf that makes your taste buds think you are in a Mexican village. What I cannot do is make meatloaf that will not give you a near-terminal case of indigestion that will last a minimum of 48 painful belching hours. I have given up. I do NOT make meatloaf!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I used to make meatloaf like that, but realized it was because I believed everyone that said you have to use Frenchs dry Onion Dip as a flavoring. Once I started sauteing my own onions, problem was solved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I always make mine.... Well I started to say, "from scratch." But if you consider crackers or bread or oatmeal a shortcut, then it's not true. But I have never made anything except "onion dip" in the 60's using any brand of onion soup mix. So I came to the only plausible conclusion: My hands exude some sort of evil negative force on meatloaf, even if I wear rubber gloves, so I just don't make meatloaf any more. <sigh>

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          That's sad, mine still isn't perfect (to me anyway) but at least now it's edible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Yeah. The other thing I can't make any more is marinara/Balognese sauce. Made them great for years, then one day it all just stopped working. But that's okay. I can give my housekeeper instructions on what to do and how to do it and it comes out great. Apparently the imps and demons that mess up my marinara are deaf and don't know I'm the brains behind the cooking!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Hey! I wonder what would happen if I told her what to do for meatloaf? '-)