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Recipes That Intimidate - What recipes are you reluctant to try?

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I love bread. I love the smell of freshly made bread. I love watching people make bread, they always seem to do it with such passion.

I will look at pictures of bread in my cookbooks and dream of making such lovely loaves but...and here's the thing, I will not make bread. I'm intimidated by the thought of making it. I'd hate to invest all that time and not have the bread turn out.

So there you have it.

My question to you is: Are there recipes that intimidate you or, that you are reluctant to try for some reason? Tell me I"m not alone!!! ; - )

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  1. i'm with you - bread and baking in general. but i'm almost game to try bread these days, with the Mark Bittman foolproof bread recipe... have to re-find it. Also, tho, our oven in our new apartment is a really old one and it seems to heat at 250 and then 400 - for anything in between you have to constantly watch it, turn the dial down, open the door to let it cool...... i have a stand-alone thermometer in there, but i still don't think it's the ideal venue for baking!

    I'm also intimidated by a lot of asian recipes, which is very silly because i get a lot of great ideas and tips from CHers, and also I live near a bunch of asian grocery stores that carry a lot of what I would need (things I don't normally have - like dark soy, or mushroom soy, szechuan pepper, etc.). so, i just need to kick myself and get going.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mariacarmen

      mariacarmen, try that no-knead (and you don't have to go through the dutch oven, blistering heat hoo-hah, see my post on the latest "what are you baking"). It is as good as 90% of the breads I've made in the past over 35 yrs...

    2. Croissants.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Auriana

        yes. imagine going to all that effort before breakfast and still ending up hungry!

        the bf wants me to cook lamb's hearts but I'm just not convinced. I do like most offal, but my mental image of a stuffed heart is something like a stuffed skinless tomato, kind of wet and floury-textured and possibly leaking a bit. ugh. though logically it must be more like a stuffed meat pocket, heart being muscle and all, but my stomach refuses to accept the idea.

        1. re: gembellina

          Yup. With you on that.

          1. re: gembellina

            I had a chance to try beef heart about a year ago. The sauce was delicious, but I found it to be tough, chewy, and not something I'd ever spend my precious time trying to deal with unless I was pretty desperate. (I'd go for beans or eggs first)

            1. re: sunshine842

              I think it depends on how the heart is treated. Anticucho, one of the national dishes of Peru, is usually pretty tender and unless someone tells you (or you know what the dish is) you really jus think you're eating a piece of beef. They are usually marinated and grilled. I've only had them brouchette style or as an appetizer skewer.

              It's a common street food in Peru. Think how many tourists think they're getting a tasty beef skewer to munch on as they stroll along the streets of Lima yet they don't realize their munching away on beef heart :-)

              1. re: DiningDiva

                anticuchos are DIVINE. grew up eating them, tho only in restaurants., or as you say in Peru and Bolivia i tried to replicate one years later, but for a recipe that called for sirloin in place of beef heart. not the same at all.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I don't have an objection to heart meat in principle, and anticucho sounds really good. I think the English-style prep of unmarinated hearts stuffed with sage and onion and then baked just sounds quite unappetising.

                  1. re: gembellina

                    the stuff I tried was cooked more or less like Boeuf Bourgignonne. Wasn't bad, just wasn't anything I'd go out of the way for.

                    1. re: gembellina

                      Try boiled like my mom used to make - if it's cooked enough to be tender it's palatable. Just. But it makes excellent broth.

              2. re: Auriana

                +1

              3. gnocchi

                8 Replies
                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  Yeah...my last attempt at gnocchi was disastrous. I'm tempted to try again, though, just because I hate having to wait till I'm in a good Italian restaurant to have some.

                  1. re: Aravisea

                    At least you've made the attempt. I'll never even give gnocchi a shot because I KNOW it will be a disaster.

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      Dude, go for it. Roast a squash, add some egg, some salt, smidge nutmeg, smidge flour. If I can do it you can do it. I have faith in you!

                      1. re: Vetter

                        You have inspired me to try again - PK, shall we jump into the breach? ;)

                        Especially after that thread about sweet potato gnocchi, too.

                        1. re: Aravisea

                          Before I jump into The Gnocchi Breech (wasn't that a Ludlum title?), I'm clearing everybody out of the house and getting likker'd up.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            Now I have this mental image of Matt Damon beating up a few guys in a walk-in with nothing but a rolling pin and a piece of parchment paper.

                            1. re: Aravisea

                              I believe that was The Corn Ultimatum.

                      2. re: Perilagu Khan

                        The only secret to good gnocchi is using the correct potatoes. Crucial to get floury potatoes or you will end up with sticky, starchy mess. Otherwise, pretty straightforward dumpling.

                  2. Canelés! ;-)

                    1. Anything that involves killing a live animal. I LOVE lobster, but I don't think I could cut into a live one with a knife. Steaming might be okay, but I'd also worry about overcooking and ruining such an expensive meal! Someday I'll work up my nerve.

                      Breadcrumbs, if you want to try break I would suggest trying the Lahey No Knead recipe - it is truly the easiest thing ever, and the results are DELICIOUS. ATK has a slightly modified version that is also fabulous and EASY. They take no time at all (unless you count rising time) and the ingredients are what, 25 cents worth of flour and yeast? Go for it!!!!

                      1. I hear you on the bread thing, I could have wrote that post myself!!

                        Since my early teens all I wanted to do was bake a good bread, but I had given up after several attempts until recently when I made a french bread using the bread baker's apprentice recipe. You make a small pate dough the night before and put it in the fridge, the next day you make a bigger dough adding the smaller dough chopped in pieces to it and let it ferment .... punch it down.. roll it out.. etc.

                        It turned out so wonderful that I nearly cried over it!! I have a regular oven that is slightly hotter than most at a given temperature and I spritzed it with lots of water.

                        Do give it a try!

                        http://adventuressheart.blogspot.com/...

                        1. Anything that requires yeast or a pie crust. :/

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: shaebones

                            +1 for that Shaebones
                            I’m even good using phyllo (I’ve never tried making that though)

                            I can follow any recipe too… my pie crusts have never turned out ‘right’ and neither has my home made bread

                            (we have a bread machine in the house somewhere though… and I buy Pillsbury pie crusts… shameful I know)

                            1. re: cgarner

                              +2 on pie crust, bread no problem, but pie crusts are always a failure. I have had hands on instruction from mother, aunt and mother in law, all excellent pie bakers, I just can't get it right, Pillsbury to the rescue.

                              1. re: BeefeaterRocks

                                A friend of mine really likes Dorie Greenspan's pie crust recipe in Baking from My Home To Yours. May be worth a look.

                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  I was asked to bring pies for a potluck at work...my wee one was sick, and I just couldn't swing the homemade pie crust (my gramma's recipe - learned to make it at her side, and *still* don't have a written recipe....)

                                  Anyway - bought the Pillsbury refrigerated sheets, and had no less than 5 people waiting at the table to ask me my pie crust recipe...and these were born-and-bred Southern women who don't suffer fools gladly.

                                  Since then, I make pie crust in a pinch, with apologies to my gran...but if you can cut out that much work and swearing for that little money? Don't knock yourselves out -- buy the refrigerated stuff and make pie.

                              2. re: cgarner

                                I've come to the conclusion that being a good pie crust maker is something genetic, like having perfect pitch or being double jointed. I make a mean loaf of bread and even have good luck with other baked goods like cookies and muffins. But I've had strange and varying results from the same pie crust recipe, made under the same conditions in the same oven: one time tough as shoe leather, another time so "flaky" that the crust sank to a watery death into the pie filling. I haven't been able to find an really good frozen commercial substitute, so pies are pretty much out of my repertoire.

                                1. re: mandycat

                                  I think you're right. A couple of years ago, I thought, 'I'll ask my grandma to demonstrate!' She's a patient teacher in the kitchen, and the kind of cook that effortlessly throws a meal together without a recipe. She confessed that she's never been able to make a pie crust! She did give me her pastry blender, but it doesn't seem to have made a lick of difference. I asked mom next, same story. We're in such a sorry state of affairs that pie-challenged me is the pie gal for Thanksgiving. It makes me all the more determined to learn how. I might invest in a food processor.

                              3. re: shaebones

                                For pie crust: Cooks' Illustrated best recipe. I've never looked back! :-))
                                Except I don't use veg. shortening anymore: just all butter, or butter and a small amt. of lard if I have it.

                                [The lard sold here is very soft, and to sub it into the CI recipe in the proportions they recommend for veg. shortening makes the crust slump to the point where it's almost unusable.]

                                1. re: lidia

                                  Yep, CIs vodka pie crust. Insanely good, easy, and really nice to work with.

                                  1. re: girlwonder88

                                    Yes, of course. Just use the vodka recipe and it'll work perfectly. Just stick the butter in the freezer, and you'll be fine. Use a pastry blender, that's the secret! Go find fresh lard, you'll never use anything else again. You need off-brand vegetable shortening, because Crisco doesn't work. Blend the dough with two forks! You need low protein flour-- you need high protein flour-- you need all-purpose flour, you need King Arthur brand all purpose flour, you need half butter and half shortening, you can use whichever you want, it won't matter. You have too much water, you have not enough water, you need colder water, you need warmer water, you need to work the crust less, you're not working the crust enough, you need to roll it out between two plastic bags, you need to roll it out with a wooden rolling pin, you need to roll it out with a chilled rolling pin, you need flour on the dough, you shouldn't put any flour on the dough.

                                    If I had a dollar for every pie crust recipe someone told me was foolproof, I could hire a pastry chef to make them for me.

                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                      If Chowhound had a "Like" button, I'd hit it for your comment. You couldn't be more dead on.

                              4. Chiles en nogada are so much work that it is easier just to go back to Mexico and get the real deal there.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Veggo, do it in steps and it's really easy.

                                  But my reluctant-to-make item is related...the chile relleno. I can do the chile, I can do the stuffing, but man do I have problems with the capeado and then frying it. , The feather light egg coating on the outside of the chile has to be "just right" in order to puff and brown. I've been shown how to tilt the pan and baste the top of the capeado so that it cooks at the same time the bottom coating is, but It seems to flummox me more often then not and I end up with leaden grease bomb relleno, instead of the lovely light and delectable chiles. Hence...I'll make any version of a chile relleno without the capeado, but tell me you want a traditional chile relleno and avoidance mode just kicks right in

                                  1. re: DiningDiva

                                    "do it in steps and it's really easy" - that's what Sir Edmund Hillary told me!
                                    My relleno capeado is hit or miss also. It is done best by portly 5-foot mexican women with perpetual smiles, a gold-rimmed tooth, and a twinkle in her eye. They are magicians.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      Sir Edmund was right ;-)

                                      And you're right about the little ladies with gold rimmed teeth.

                                  2. re: Veggo

                                    Speaking of Mexican, some of the moles can be a time consuming and labor intensive challenge, not necessarily intimidating technique-wise, but just gathering the ingredients can be overwhelming.

                                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                                      Amen to that! I've made mole from scratch once in my life. It called for 6,312 ingredients! It was delicious, we ate it, I've moved on.

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        I have a short cut mole recipe with only 4,391 ingredients, if you are feeling lazy...

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          Bring it on! You can come to dinner! '-)

                                      2. re: bushwickgirl

                                        That it is. I made the Mole de Xico recipe in Zarela Martinez's cookbook Veracruz. (it only had 4,589 ingredients <g>)

                                        It was absolutely delicious but it took 4 hours start to finish to do it. Mole isn't intimidating, just laborious <sigh>

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Agreed all. I read an article in Gourmet once where the absolute truth came out on fried chicken. The author said "fried chicken isn't difficult, it's just very messy."

                                          Same oh-not-ever-again factor if you don't have a big spacious kitchen and servants. And a day or three to shop and assemble.

                                    2. Puff pastry. I think the recipe starts out with "do not attempt this on a humid day" or something. I'm a baker, too (yeast breads), but yikes!

                                      I am also a little intimidated by game - I've never cooked venison, duck, goose, etc. - but there are men in my family who plan to hunt this season and they have put me on notice in the event they actually get something. The guys haven't hunted often so I doubt they're pros at butchering - and I hope that part doesn't fall to me!

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: Aravisea

                                        Puff pastry? Piece of cake.
                                        http://www.canadianliving.com/food/co...
                                        I've made this and two traditional recipes and this came out just as well as they did with MUCH less effort. It's fun to do.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          Along a related line...I am in love with this blog - http://joepastry.com

                                          He's been doing coffee cakes this week of various types and shapes, all made from laminated dough for which he's got a lot of visual instructions. It's so good, he's got me convinced I can do laminated dough, and I'm about willing to give it a whirl this weekend...maybe :-)

                                          1. re: DiningDiva

                                            Love that blog too.

                                            1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                              Amazing isn't it. He makes it look so easy

                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                Well it's not just that, but I enjoy the science he imparts to his readers.. Somewhat like an Alton Brown...

                                                1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                  True, and without some of the snarkiness that sometimes creeps into Alton's delivery.

                                          2. re: buttertart

                                            A food processor method for puff pastry?!?! I must try this! Thanks, buttertart!

                                            1. re: Aravisea

                                              And then there's the grocer's freezer method of puff pastry. It's a snap! '-)

                                              1. re: Aravisea

                                                The CL recipe is easy and really fun. And it's butter-based, unlike the Pepperidge Farm stuff which is the only one I've seen easily available. Of course PF is a good fallback.

                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                  Whole Foods, and other stores in NYC, sell Dufour, which is all butter and excellent if ever you must fall back on Frozen.

                                            2. re: Aravisea

                                              Once they bring that game home, post again. I have quite a few recipes for game (as I'm sure do many other hounds).

                                            3. Bagels. I don't have a mixer, and I don't think I can develop enough gluten in such a dry dough kneading by hand. In any case, I'd certainly end up with dry hands and bruised knuckles.

                                              Pie crust is terrifying. Completely terrifying. I have tried many times. I have failed all of the times. Someone says "I have a FOOLPROOF recipe" and I get all excited and try it and it doesn't work.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: jvanderh

                                                Out of curiosity - have you tried the ATK method of using vodka in place of part of the water? I think they said that it develops gluten much more slowly than water, so it's not as sensitive to overworking.

                                                I made a pie crust last night for the first time in years - for a quiche - and it was not a pretty sight! Tasted alright, but nothing to write home about. :)

                                                1. re: Aravisea

                                                  The ATK vodka pie crust is the BOMB - so easy to work with, perfect results every time. I will never use another recipe.

                                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                                    Yes, I have tried it!!

                                                  2. re: Aravisea

                                                    I can just see me telling my son to pick up a bottle of Vodka for me.

                                                    "No, Kevin, I need it for a pie crust recipe! REALLY!"

                                                    LOL!

                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                      Tell him to grab the really cheapy Georgi brand, which is just fine for the pie crust, but not so great for drinking...

                                                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                        Run it through a Brita a few times and hello drinkie...

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          Ha, ha! Very funny!

                                                2. Anything that my mom makes well.

                                                  If I make it, and she tries it, I'll never hear the end of it ...

                                                  1. I was just like you until a few years ago, when I tried the Cook's Illustrated Allmost No-Knead Bread 2.0 and Jacques Pepin's no-knead bread in a pot, which is even simpler than the CI, although not as impressive. Now I am confident around yeast. I think the fear is about the kneading and sticking - after all, the ingredients themselves are simple and cheap, so it's not like a failure would be a big waste of money.

                                                    I would not attempt hand-pulled Asian noodles. I've seen and admired the artisans who do it on TV but have no desire to try. I would never attempt making phyllo dough, though I am competent with the store-bought. I would probably attempt puff pastry but now Trader Joe's has it again, so it's not worth the effort.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                      Definitely with you on the hand-pulled noodles. If I had a friend who wanted to spend a weekend teaching me, that would be one thing. But cold from a book? Sure disaster.

                                                    2. For me...Pho

                                                      It's something I really want to tackle at home, but keep pussy-footing my way around it as the broth is very intimidating and very time consuming.

                                                      That and just about anything in Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook. Sometimes it seems like I'd have to set a whole weekend aside just to make an app. LOL

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Novelli

                                                        lemme know if you ever nail pho.

                                                        1. re: Novelli

                                                          I've given up on pho. It's been a monkey on my back for so long. I've tried and failed so many times. I've wasted so much money on the ingredients for something I can get for $7 a bowl. No more!

                                                        2. souffle'. I have tried over the years to figure this out using different recipes and nothing works. I've just always wound up with, uck! No, not going to try again.

                                                          To those who said they would not try bread or pastry or pie crust...

                                                          You are all wrong! You can totally make these things. Just try once or twice, be ready to not like it or give it to the dogs and then you'll find, after a try or two or maybe only one, that you did it! AND, they you'll be making all the yummy things you've been avoiding.

                                                          I know, I've improved over the years by just giving things a try and not worrying about any flops or, "ew, you call that food?" type thoughts. If you are trying a pie crust for the first time, just use plain stuff. Don't buy fine creamery butter or organic flour, use regular stuff so it won't be a big loss if it winds up in the trash.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                                            Ok Minkey Monkey, I will try bread! Because i can make souffles! But you are inspiring me.

                                                            1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                                              I only attempted souffle' once, and, mirabile dictu, it came off beautifully. I look forward to making it agian.

                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                I've never tried a souffle since I've never eaten one - I'd have no idea what taste or texture I'm trying to achieve. The only souffles I remember seeing in recent restaurant visits are the chocolate ones on the dessert menu.

                                                                1. re: Aravisea

                                                                  I'm talking about a basic cheese souffle'. It is prepared in a fairly tall casserole dish, and should somewhat resemble the traditional chef's hat, except yellow instead of white. The texture should be fluffiness itself. Indeed, the texture is perhaps even more sublime than the flavor.

                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                    Hm. Ok. I hereby promise to try the non-dessert souffle next time I see one on a menu.

                                                                    1. re: Aravisea

                                                                      Good luck! I don't remember the last time I saw souffle' on a resto menu.

                                                            2. Scallops. I'm intimidated by making most seafood but I'll attempt them. But I'm convinced id ruin scallops and turn them to chew toys.

                                                              Also, most Asian food intimidates me, and though I've had some small success with Thai food, in general I can't get those flavors to work under my touch. It's my favorite kind of food so I'm happy to pay the experts to make it for me!

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: iheartcooking

                                                                Re, scalops: I've had good luck cooking scallops doing the following things: (1) make sure they're as dry as possible before yu cook them. Put them in paper towels if you need to; (2) I use a cast-iron skillet, oiled and hot (with some butter), before the scallops are cooked, and (3) stand over same, let them brown for about three mintes before turning and repeating. I've always had good luck doing these things and I hpe your luck changes for the better!

                                                                1. re: 280 Ninth

                                                                  Okay I'll try it! Gotta buy a cast iron skillet though (oh pooooor me whatever shall I do with THAT?)

                                                                  1. re: iheartcooking

                                                                    That is exactly how I do it and even with a poor quality nonstick in a rental unit, it works great. Another thing I tried last time I cooked them was buy them in the morning and dried them with a paper towel laid them on a paper towel in the frig open to dry a little more until dinner. I think it added to the "dryness" which is key to the brown caramelization

                                                                    1. re: iheartcooking

                                                                      No need to fuss over the choice of cookware, but I can tell you that a properly seasoned cast iron skillet works nearly as well as a non-stick pan, if not as good as one. I've long since jettisoned the non-stick pans I had in favor of cast-iron. The key to using cast-iron is first having the pan properly seasoned, and then heating it up before cooking anything in it. Cleans comparatively easily, also. And the good news is that it can be used for many a dish, from something as simple as roasted potatoes, to fritatas, pancakes, pork shoulder, on and on.

                                                                  2. re: iheartcooking

                                                                    If you're worried about overcooking scallops, just get some really nice fresh ones and eat them raw with some salt and lemon juice :) Skips the stress altogether.

                                                                  3. David Chang. Soft-boiled eggs, Tempura'd, served with caviar. I cannot say more. Was never able to get it right.

                                                                    1. There was a recipe in Saveur from an udon chef in Japan I wanted to try but never got up the nerve. Soft boiled eggs dipped in tempura or something and fried. Sounds delicious, but frying is such a PITA, and soft boiled eggs? Ack!

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: amyzan

                                                                        'zackly. I want to eat it all day long, but i want someone else to make it for me.

                                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                                          i made deep-fried breaded poached eggs once and it was a very messy business at first, but once I got the hang of the very light touch needed to stop them splurting out everywhere it was great! served with asparagus and broad beans, and a tartar dressing, it was definitely worth it.

                                                                          1. re: gembellina

                                                                            So, how did you coat them in flour, then egg, then crumbs without breaking them? I think the recipe from Saveur was for soft boiled eggs, i.e. boiled in the shell and peeled, but I'd have to read it again to be sure.

                                                                            1. re: amyzan

                                                                              I think I cheated on the poaching part by doing them in clingfilm pockets to keep them nice and round rather than stringy, and to make sure there was enough of a protective layer of white cooked over the yolk. I then cooled them, dipped them in egg then crumbs then egg then crumbs to get a nice thick layer, and dropped them by hand into the oil. I think the key to keeping them safe was to cradle them in my hand the whole time, so it meant i got pretty well crumbed too but it seemed to do the job. Am happy to hear if anyone has a more elegant method! I imagine soft boiled would be easier, from a structural point of view.

                                                                              1. re: gembellina

                                                                                I would order that if I could watch it being made- just once- I'm not even sure i'd like it, but I WOULD love to see it made.

                                                                      2. Dobos Torte. In fact any layer cake. Pie crusts, could make 'em blindfolded. But I'm terrified of cakes. Not only that, I find the bar to a just OK cake is so much higher than for muffins, pies, biscuits, etc., so the risk of failure is even greater.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: bgbc

                                                                          Doboschtorte is not technically difficult once you figure out how much batter to put in your cake pan. And if you use parchment paper circles, it's pretty easy to get the finished layers out and the new layers in to get an assembly line system going.

                                                                        2. hmmmm... Am I intimidated or am I lazy or is it just plain old procrastination? Your guess. I have had all of the ingreidents on hand for several months now (I hope it's not a full year, but who's counting?) to make dongpo rou, but just haven't gotten around to it. When I say "everything" needed to make it, that includes buying a Chinese clay cooking pot. And now that I'm on a low fat "lifestyle" (I HATE the word "diet"), how well is premium grade pork belly going to fit into that scheme of things?

                                                                          If anyone else want to make it, here's the recipe:
                                                                          http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/20...

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                            "And now that I'm on a low fat "lifestyle" (I HATE the word "diet"), how well is premium grade pork belly going to fit into that scheme of things?"

                                                                            Well...you could subscribe to the Julia Child school of thought..."all things in moderation". Once a year would be moderation for pork belly don't you think ;-). Even a doctor couldn't argue with that if the rest of your lifestyle change is working!

                                                                            1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                              Are you poking holes in my rationalization for not making it now? How long do you think pork belly will keep in the freezer? '-)

                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                Honey, when it comes to food I can rationalize just about anything ;-)

                                                                                I'm guessing pork belly will probably keep frozen 3-6 months before heading south. Good luck

                                                                          2. Souffle-scared of falling
                                                                            Rack o' Lamb-So much at
                                                                            Gnocchi-Never turns out good

                                                                            1. There are probably others, but another thread just reminded me of one that I've had for awhile ....
                                                                              hot and sour soup.

                                                                              1. I love to bake, but one thing I will never try again is sfogliatelle. I made the recipe off the epicurious site once, rolling that %$# pastry thru my pasta machine to get it thin enough. My pastries were horribly tough and brittle, although they tasted pretty authentic.

                                                                                http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                                                  You're brave to try that all!

                                                                                2. Since I live in a pretty crappy apartment, my apartment stove is a very small electric with a bad oven. Even with the help of an oven thermometer, I can't control it too well, but can get it to within 50ish degrees of where I want it. Even if I manage to chance upon just the right temperature, the heating element is so close to the item in the oven that the bottom always gets burned, even on the top rack.

                                                                                  So I try not to bake things that are too delicate or complicated (like souffles, certain cakes, etc.). I really have to manage my time correctly and most of my dishes/baked goods come out successfully if I take it out of the oven in time to not burn/overcook. But sometimes, it's just not worth it to me to do so much finagling! Call it laziness... :o)

                                                                                  1. Foie gras.
                                                                                    Live lobster.
                                                                                    Even fish -- afraid of the quality being poor or not cooking it soon enough. I always hated fish as a kid because my experience was that it was always "smelly." Now I love it at good restaurants, but I still fear cooking it at home.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: emily

                                                                                      foie gras is actually so stupid simple that you're saying "there HAS to be more to this than that"

                                                                                      Live lobster -- best is to put it in your stockpot with some water with a little white wine...THEN put it on the burner. The water gets gradually warmer and warmer, and he's happily anesthetised -- and get this....they die when the water reaches 98 degrees. OR just stick 'em in the freezer for a few minutes -- they expire amazingly quickly.

                                                                                      Fish is easy, too, so long as you're careful not to cook it too long. Don't EVER be afraid to ask the guy at the fish counter to smell it if you have any doubts. Take a big whiff...if it smells even remotely fishy or or ammonia, reject it. If it smells clean with maybe a whiff of the sea for salt-water species, you've got a winner.

                                                                                    2. Tarte Tatin scares the heck out of me.

                                                                                      Pie crust is easy.

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: 512window

                                                                                        There's always at least one stuck apple slice, if not a whole section of them, no matter how carefully I butter the pan. erg

                                                                                        1. re: amyzan

                                                                                          the recipe in my French cookbook (in French!) says to make a caramel sauce, put it in the bottom of the pan, THEN add the apples and the crust. No burning, no sticking. Yay.

                                                                                      2. Croissants. In my fantasies, I'm a croissant master, but in real life I just can't take the plunge.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: lidia

                                                                                          My mom had Julia's MtAoFC when I was young, and by the time I was a teen, I'd read it enough to want to make croissants. I don't remember how old I was, maybe 16 or 17, but with Julia's meticulous instructions, they turned out well! A few were funny shaped where they unfurled as they rose, but they still tasted delicious. My boyfriend at the time was mightily impressed! So, don't be scared. They just take an awful lot of time and attention to detail. Read Julia's recipe through a few times, let it stew in your subconscious, and maybe you'll get inspired this winter. If not, there's always a french bakery!

                                                                                          1. re: amyzan

                                                                                            Very, very futzy and very time-consuming, but not difficult at all.

                                                                                        2. I've actually invested and tried bread, and pie crust,and home made noodles. Ugh, I suck at all of them.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: JerryMe

                                                                                            oh good grief! ^^^^ they're all easy, just think 'easy hand'

                                                                                          2. I really come to love the different types of moles so I decided to look up the ingredients and try a recipe or two however, after much researching, I realized there were many varieties of moles and each of the variations had so many intricate ingredients that was too intimidating, so I figure I would just enjoyed them at the restaurants.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: rinkatink888

                                                                                              rinkatink888, see my mole blurb upthread. The yellow and green moles are easier to start with, 10 ingredients instead of 20 or 30 or 50, otherwise I'm basically with you, it's restaurant or bust.

                                                                                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                                                i recently made a 20+ ingredient mole and it was OK, but not spectacular. having never had mole in a restaurant, or anyone's homemade, i don't really know if i just don't like mole or did not have a great recipe. I think I'd have to try tasting one that I loved before attempting to make one again.

                                                                                              2. re: rinkatink888

                                                                                                Moles are actually easy. The problem is that they're time consuming, labor intensive and require a certain level of comfort with the techniques. Toasting, soaking, blending, straining, frying. It's a lot of work...but not difficult.

                                                                                                If you do want to give them a go, the recipes in Susana Trilling's book "Seasons of my Heart" are excellent. The directions are well written and easy to follow. Mole Amarillo and Mole Verde are actually pretty easy and not nearly as complicated as some of the others, and they probably contain fewer than 12 ingredients all together.

                                                                                              3. A basic bread is easier than you think. Do check out the fresh loaf and look through their primer and do get your hands on a copy of Artisan Bread Everyday by Peter Reinhart and just do this basic french bread (salt, yeast, flour, water). It is a 2 day process, but you should enjoy the results.

                                                                                                I've not baked enough, but I am intimidated by the possibility of making puff pastry or working with phyllo because of how delicate it is written to be.

                                                                                                To that end I was intimated, but also felt challenged by making pate a choux for eclairs. It took me three tries (mostly to get the piping size right), but I finally got it and they were delicious.

                                                                                                I think I'd be scared to try and flambe anything..

                                                                                                1. I'm always a bit leery of dishes that call for chicken breasts to be pounded to quarter-inch or eighth-inch thickness. I'll make those recipes, but I know I'll be frustrated by the refusal of the chicken to reach the desired thickness.

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                    Butterfly the thickest part of the breast, fold the thin end over a little bit, THEN pound away.

                                                                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                      and put it between two pieces of cling film -- works easier that way.

                                                                                                      Alternately, sprinkle the meat with a few drops of water and pound it with the flat side of the mallet -- the water keeps it from sticking.

                                                                                                    2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                      WIth a nice sharp knife of an appropriate length, put your palm firmly on the thickest part of the breast and SLICE them in half horizontally, keeping the knife parallel to the counter. With one of those crazy oven-stuffer type breasts that rival a turkey's, you could even get three slices.

                                                                                                      Then the slices requires very little pounding—if any—and cook up very evenly. I had always found chicken breasts a little problematic prior to this revelation!

                                                                                                      1. re: lidia

                                                                                                        Thanks for the tips, y'all. I'll remember them the next time I'm called upon to pound a breast.

                                                                                                        1. re: lidia

                                                                                                          It helps if you stick them in the freezer for a bit prior to slicing.

                                                                                                      2. Tamales.

                                                                                                        Pannetone.

                                                                                                        Whole pig slow cooked in the ground. (mostly because my girlfriend won't let me do it in our backyard, and she can scare the heck out of me!)

                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                          If you like ground cooked pig - go to New Zealand and have Maori Hungi. Unless you already have, then you should go again.

                                                                                                          1. re: leahjanes

                                                                                                            Just read about it, sounds amazing. I would go if I could. Might have to beg/bribe the GF into letting me dig a hole in the yard. (The potential for exploding rocks scares me though...)

                                                                                                          2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                            Tamales are fun to make. just a lot of work, and you definitely have to have a Mexican mom show you how to make them the firt couple of times. Otherwise it really isn't hard, just time-consuming, which is why people around here gang up together and make several dozen at a time. And drink while they're doing it- great camaraderie.

                                                                                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                              When I lived in LA, one of my ex-wife's co-workers made awesome tamales. She brought some in one time, and they were so good, I asked her how she made them, because I wanted to give it a shot. She said it was pretty time consuming, and she'd bring some in next time she made some. One day, I got a call to come across the street (we worked across the street from each other), and Amelia brought in 50 tamales - pork, chicken, and Oaxacan. I ate tamales throughout the winter. I miss Amelia. Whenever I think of or eat tamales, I think about Amelia and those incredible tamales. I still want to try it one day. Unfortunately, I have no Mexican mom to show me.

                                                                                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                                                I self-catered a party for about 40 people and got the bright idea of making appetizer-sized tamales. Dear God.

                                                                                                                I made tamales for DAYS...all by myself...the birthday boy and all his Texan friends said they were killer tamales (even without a Mexican mom!) -- so I had a good recipe, but I vowed I wouldn't EVER do that again.

                                                                                                            2. All kinds of laminated dough. They scare me.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Jay2512

                                                                                                                Try this link...easy to follow instructions, complete with photos to walk you through the process

                                                                                                                http://joepastry.com/index.php?cat=225

                                                                                                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                                                  Great blog. Thanks, DiningDiva.

                                                                                                              2. My husband turned [odd duck] on me yesterday, he knew I needed some giggle factors so supplied me with some. He kept texting me all day saying silly things and I loved it. So he said, "my Julia Child incredible chef wife, I'm wondering if you have Treacle? Because you need to buy some and make me a Treacle Tart." I thought ok, not that I've even done one but of course I have Treacle and Lyle's Golden Syrup and decided to present him with this mystery tart. Afraid of how to do it and not having ever made one before, I tackled and succeeded. Delicious.

                                                                                                                But present me with the task of doing either of these and I'd panic:

                                                                                                                Beef Wellington
                                                                                                                Any kind of souffle

                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: iL Divo

                                                                                                                  Do NOT be afraid of beef Wellington! It's my favorite "blow their socks off" entree. Just take your time. You can do the duxelle the day before. You can use store-bought puff pastry because everybody is going to be so excited they'll never know the difference. My ONLY advice to anyone making a Wellington for the first time is to spread a layer of very thin but dense Italian (prosciutto) or German (Westphalian) ham over the puff pastry BEFORE you cover it with a layer of duxelle. It prevents the bottom of the Wellington from getting soggy during the baking.

                                                                                                                  The most critical thing about any souffle, sweet or savory, is making sure everyone is at the table and ready to eat BEFORE you take it out of the oven. ALL souffles fall, sooner or later, as a course of nature. A souffle is simply a whole bowl full of little tiny egg white balloons that have been blown up by the heat of the oven, and when they come out, they cool, they shrink. So NEVER think your souffle is a failure when it falls. But if the diners have failed you by not being ready for it when you take it out of the oven, smack them all up side the head! They don't deserve souffle....! '-)

                                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                    Ditto, do not fear the Wellington, it's just steps of assembly. As for a souffle, have plan B or call it by another name.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                      "The most critical thing about any souffle, sweet or savory, is making sure everyone is at the table and ready to eat BEFORE you take it out of the oven."

                                                                                                                      Yes, but that is more difficult in my family than making the actual souffle. :)

                                                                                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                        Let me guess--your last name is Katz?

                                                                                                                  2. Usually not reluctant or intimidated by any dish/recipe the *first* time -- it's after I've failed that I get skittish! But I've learned that following the recipe exactly with NO shortcuts and no inexact.. anything.. really boosts successes. Tamales, bread, souffle, if you pay attention they do work!

                                                                                                                    Ah-- thought of one-- I've read that spaghetti Carbonara uses raw egg mixed with hot spaghetti, and the pasta's heat cooks the egg. I don't believe that would work so I've never tried it.

                                                                                                                    24 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                      Carbonara works like a charm. When you have a very thin layer of egg - tenths of a millimeter - on a hot strand of spaghetti, it cooks in seconds. It's like the idea of a small saucer of water boiling off, and taking that same amount and putting it on a hot griddle - spreading out its surface area gets it so hot so fast that the egg cooks instantly. You just need to use hot spaghetti fresh out of the water, and mix it quickly with the eggs.

                                                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                        If it didn't work, I'd have starved to death long ago.

                                                                                                                        It's my favorite "I'm tired, it's late, and we're all starving" fallback dinner.

                                                                                                                        1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                          I don't think the egg is supposed to cook completely. That would dry up the creamy coating achieved by the blend of cheese, egg, and the fat remaining from the pork product of choice.
                                                                                                                          Ever have reheated leftover carbonara? Completely different texture.

                                                                                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                            Yes, you are correct, the egg should obstensively create a creamy coating on the pasta. This is not easy to achieve without rapidly and completely scrambling the egg. I add the egg mixture to the pasta, which has been transferred to a serving bowl, rather than in the pan. The less heat the better.

                                                                                                                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                                                                              Well these answers have given me courage-- I also found an old (2002!) thread here, giving some cookbook sources for a good carbonara recipe. One, Mollie O'Neill's "New York Cookbook" I happen to own.

                                                                                                                              It's interesting to see here that some people have failed over and over with a dish that others consider a simple snap to make.

                                                                                                                              1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                                It's all in the wrist.;-)

                                                                                                                            2. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                              leftover carbonara has a different texture because the pasta has absorbed a significant amount of additional liquid from the sauce, which leaves little left to maintain a liquid consistency when reheated (which further cooks the proteins)

                                                                                                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                Your post got me to thinking about what defines an egg as being cooked, what temperature that happens at, and what should happen to eggs in a carbonara. Here's what I found out, and I hope this adds to clarity rather than confusion.

                                                                                                                                Eggs are "cooked" at 158F. At 150F, most egg white proteins denature and coagulate, going from the clear to white. Different proteins "set" at different temperatures (some at 180, some at 140), but from what I've seen, it seems that at 150 egg white goes from clear to a soft white, and 158F seems to be the consensus temperature at which whites are set. So when talking about egg white in terms of a carbonara, given that the water is boiling at 212F, and presumably the pasta is also at 212 when it comes out of the water, if the pasta is tong-ed (is that a word?) out of the water, placed into a bowl, and beaten eggs are added immediately, it would seem the heat from the pasta should be enough to cook the egg above 158F. I don't think that's too much a stretch - the pasta retains heat pretty well, and given a very thin coating of egg and a good stirring, a thin layer of egg should cook onto spaghetti or fettuccine strands pretty easily.

                                                                                                                                But, most traditional recipes for carbonara I have seen (and most I have used) call for using only egg yolks. Eggs yolks also set at 158F.

                                                                                                                                Eggs gone over 212 get rubbery as proteins coagulate further and water is pushed out from between protein molecules.

                                                                                                                                So the bad heated carbonara may be in part to moisture loss (as a poster mentioned) and in part to eggs being reheated to above 212.

                                                                                                                                Using a hot pasta fresh out of the pot, pulling along a coating of starchy water that's presumably 212F and cooling, it should be possible to get that pasta into a bowl, spread beaten whole eggs or egg yolks in a thin layer onto each strand of pasta, and achieve a quality carbonara with a creamy coating of cooked eggs.

                                                                                                                                Overly analytical? Perhaps. I'm a dorky biologist that loves to cook. Is this analysis correct? I don't know. But I do know that I love carbonara, and I'm going to make it this week.

                                                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                  There's also the thought that leftovers get shoved in the microwave...where they get pretty solidly overcooked.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                    Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking about re-heated carbonara. Microwaving it is going to bring the temperature way higher than 212, turning the egg rubbery. I wonder how leftover carbonara would re-heat if put into a vacuum sealed bag and then into a 160F waterbath - yes, using sous-vide methods to reheat, but it can be easily re-created by using a ziplock with all the air squeezed out, and a pot of hot (but not boiling water).

                                                                                                                                    Maybe I'll try it when I make carbonara this week....

                                                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                      Leftover Carbonara is not an option in our house, and reheating it should be illegal. I dare say it takes the same length of time to make the dish from start, with much better results, than to pack leftovers into ziploc bags and attempt to reheat it in simmering water, or God forbid, the MW. It's a dish that needs to be consumed directly and completely after being made. For reheating, a better choice is a pasta in a creamy sauce, such as Alfredo, and even that leaves something to be desired.

                                                                                                                                      I agree with foreverhungry's "cooked" egg temperature analysis, but wonder if my pasta is actually 212° when tossing it with the egg. Pasta temp drops rather quickly when removed from the cooking liquid, depending on it's shape, and I don't boil, that is to say, cook at 212° my pasta anyway; I turn the heat down to simmer. If I have the wherewithall, I'll temp the pasta next time before adding the egg mixture. Btw, I use whole eggs with the grated Parmesan blended in. I find whole eggs makes for a better consistency of sauce, more to my liking. If you use egg yolk only, you may find you need a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce. Try it either way.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                                                                                        I always put the eggs in a bowl of hot tap water while the pasta cooks, I find cold eggs don't get cooked enough by the pasta to be palatable.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                          Eggs could be brought to WAY over room temperature before adding to the pasta, if room temp is 72F and eggs cook/turn white/protein coagulates @ 158F. I'll probably overcook the egg the 1st time I try this, because I'm so afraid of *under* cooking. Raw egg white is a big yuck factor for me, though liquid yellow is fine.

                                                                                                                                          Regarding reheating in microwave-- I know there are many different MW ovens, and eggs are very probably a huge exception, but I think it is possible to reheat an already-cooked dish to eating temperature without cooking it further. My (not so new) MW has 100% strength, but also defrost and 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% strengths. I don't obsess over re-heating perfectly, but I've learned not to recook, but just warm up, my leftovers. Gently gently.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                                            An alternative method of re-heating some dishes, like a carbonara, that run the risk of re/over-cooking, is a poor-man's sous-vide cooking variation.

                                                                                                                                            Putting a serving of something like carbonara into a ziplock bag and squeezing all the air out, then dunking it into a pot of hot, but not boiling, water, works like a charm. Not quite as fast as a microwave, but you can achieve excellent temperature control, as long as you know what temperature you heat your water to and use a large enough volume that it won't cool too fast.

                                                                                                                                            It's actually a very useful method for reheating pieces of meat that run the risk of overcooking, like a steak at rare, or a piece of salmon, or shrimp. You can re-heat a steak and get it to a pretty precise temperature, get it warmed all the way through, and still have it rare.

                                                                                                                                            A bit more fussy that a microwave, but for some dishes, it might be worth it.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                                                                                          I love reheated carbonara! I just think of it as an entirely different dish.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                        Thank you, foreverhungry! Science to the rescue--it did not occur to me to wonder at what temperature the clear becomes white, which actually is exactly what I needed to know. If I have a 54 degree window (between 158F and 212F) the egg I'm now confident will cook just fine. I've been looking today--some recipes do use the whole egg, some just yolks. I suppose it's a good idea to have the egg mixture at least room temperature before dousing the noodles.
                                                                                                                                        Looking forward to my first taste of Spaghetti Carbonara.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                                          Glad to help. Yes, I was also thinking that eggs (whether yolk or white) at room temp would help. That would probably only take 10 - 15 minutes, especially given the whisking that takes place, that would help bring the egg temperature up. That being said:

                                                                                                                                          1) Whole eggs versus yolks only: Not sure about this one. Tradition would suggest that whole eggs are used - why waste a perfectly good egg white that's a great source of protein? But in a more modern reality, I would use only yolks - they will give a creamier, more unctuous carbonara. And the recipe in La Cucina Italiana calls for yolks only. Not that they are the end-all-be-all of Italian recipes, but I think they're a darned good source.

                                                                                                                                          2) "Cooking" is a somewhat undefined concept. At what temperature is beef "cooked"? Pork? Fish? Vegetable? For some foods, there's a change in structure that takes place - like when proteins denature and coagulate. But for different foods, it's a very fluid concept. Also, "cooked" has nothing to do with "safe to eat" or "kills bacteria". The temperature at which chicken is "cooked" may not be the one at which salmonella bacteria are killed. The temperatures may be close, but the concepts are different, so the temperatures should not be assumed to be the same.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                            Haha re #2 -- I've known several people who can define what "cooked" is, and will and do.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                      It also helps to have the serving bowl warmed to 200 degrees. Then the pasta doesn't cool down so much when it goes into the bowl to be mixed with the eggs and the warm bacon mixture. I use the recipe from America's test kitchen family cookbook and it's great. In fact, I just make it this weekend at my son's request.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: AmyH

                                                                                                                                        So happy to be getting so much feedback on this!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                                          I drain the pasta over the mixing bowl and let it stand a bit to warm it, pour out the water and make the egg part quickly in it to retain heat as much as possible.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                            Cool tip.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                                                                                                              Agree.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: blue room

                                                                                                                                                Thanks! it works.

                                                                                                                                  2. Indian food. Just the thought of all those spices makes me dizzy.

                                                                                                                                    1. I agree on Indian food. No matter what I make it never has that silken texture that I get in a good Indian restaurant, but it still tastes great; so I just would not serve it to company. Also anything that takes a really long, patient, specific process...whether it's mille feuille, cassoulet, or mole...isn't exactly intimidating; it's ore daunting. To me doing the simple things well enough to impress Chef Ramsey are the ones that really rise to the level of intimidation: a perfectly cooked lamb chop, a perfectly cook green bean,,,

                                                                                                                                      for those intimidated by pie crust I sing the praises of the humble pastry cloth. It lets you stop cutting in the whatever shortening you are using while the pieces are still large enough to be crumbly, the key to a flaky crust. Just cut it up in the bowl, tump it onto the cloth, fold it in from the sides to compress it a little, and roll it out. Then the cloth makes transfer into the pie plates easy.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: tim irvine

                                                                                                                                        I do the same with plastic wrap, tim irvine. I don't roll it out on the plastic wrap, though, but wrap the disk of pie dough in it to refrigerate and rest the dough before rolling. It works great in that you don't overwork the fats into the flour, contributing to flakiness, and it's convenient.

                                                                                                                                      2. I can't make cakes. The always come out like lead. I can, however, make an angel food cake. Just not the standard cakes. Pie crust, no problem, souffles no problem. A standard yellow cake? Nope, it will only be good for a door stop.

                                                                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                                                                          Just a thought -- have you bought fresh baking powder lately?

                                                                                                                                          (My grandmother's cakes started turning out like door stops, and I picked up the can of baking powder sitting on her counter...it had an ad on the label for a price drawing that had been held five or six years before that. I bought her a new can of baking powder, and all was well.)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                            Yep. I've replaced it. Still didn't work out. I leave the cakes to my pastry chef friend, who oddly can't make pie crusts.But she bakes cakes and cupcakes like a dream.

                                                                                                                                            My guests will just have to suffer with pie, souffles, and angel food cake!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                                                                              Strange that you could master angel food, but ordinary cakes leave you high and dry.

                                                                                                                                              Wasn't trying to imply that you are dumb, by any stretch...I just know it's easy to look for some enormous big answer, when sometimes you don't think about little stuff like an expiration date.

                                                                                                                                              Thinking out loud....do you use an electric mixer (overworking the gluten)....do you use cake flour? Oh wait....I'm assuming these are from-scratch recipes? (Because I can't make a good cake from a box.) what sort of recipe are you working with? I've killed a cake that started with the fats and flour in one bowl, and beaten egg whites in the other bowl...got in a hurry, dumped the fats and flour into the egg whites and killed them. What kind of flour are you using?

                                                                                                                                              (sorry, that's a little stream-of-consciousness...but it doesn't make sense that you could manage the egg whites and the delicate folding for an AF, but not a sturdier recipe, so I'm just throwing out ideas)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                I think don't have things at the right temperature, or overmix, and just generally fail. My pastry chef friend has told me she'll teach me how to make a proper cake, if I show her how I make my pie dough. I think pie dough is easier for me in that it's a lot more dependent on eyeballing the dough as you're making it. Oh and I can use a food processor for it, as my hands are to warm to do it by hand.

                                                                                                                                                And I didn't think you were calling me dumb by any stretch :)

                                                                                                                                                1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                                                                                  Your friend's instruction notwithstanding, Rose Levy Beranbaum's method in The Cake Bible was a revelation for me with butter cakes. Seriously, check a copy out from the library. Especially if you have a stand mixer, it makes cake baking no fail.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: amyzan

                                                                                                                                                    The one with the butter into the flour etc, not creamed with the sugar? Makes a lovely tender cake.

                                                                                                                                        2. I'm not good with doing level slices (knife parallel to the counter) and so splitting cake layers intimidates me. Also, having made a sacher torte that failed spectacularly has made me dubious about my ability to do one and not have it fall.

                                                                                                                                          9 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                                                                                            The idiot's guide to torting cakes: Get a dozen toothpicks, more or less, and stick them into the cake layer at about the halfway point, all the way around, so they're radiating out from the outside edge of the cake. Don't push them all the way in -- halfway is about right.. Now take a very long piece of dental floss (waxed works great for this) and lay it on top of the toothpicks sticking out of the cake.

                                                                                                                                            Cross the ends of the floss, and very gently begin to pull the floss tighter and tighter around the cake layer (a sawing motion works well here)...keep pulling and sawing, little by little...and it will neatly cut your cake layer right in half.

                                                                                                                                            Sounds stupid, but it works!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                              Ditto this method. Dental floss is a great little tick for evenly getting those cake layers split.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                Nice trick! I use dental floss for cutting cinnamon rolls from the rolled log.

                                                                                                                                                For cakes, I've seen (but never used) special cake cutting devices that is essentially 2 legs with an adjustable blade for cutting cakes at different heights. This would work very well if you have a cake that rounded on the top during baking that you need to even out.

                                                                                                                                                I don't have the specifics, but I remember pricing those out, and they weren't very expensive.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                  I refuse to buy single-use things...went through that phase, and the last move, I got rid of all my single-purpose stuff...I was appalled at how much space and how much money all those things took up.

                                                                                                                                                  If I was baking cakes regularly (as in professionally) it would be well worth it.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                  Okay you loss me a bit at the crossing the ends of the floss? Why not just pull the floss through from one side of the cake (say from back to front) to the other? I understand the method and end results but that step through off the picture in my mind.

                                                                                                                                                  Now on another method the Sacher Torte I tried to make completely collapsed on me. It is meringue based and so I either need to whip the eggs better or let it cool in the oven as I can meringue cookies just fine.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                                                                                                    By circling the cake with the floss and crossing the ends, you're using the tension of the fine floss against the whole cake to create a level cut from the exterior inward to the center. If you use a sawing motion from one side of the round to the other, there will be too much resistance for a cutting instrument as fine and weak as floss to make the cut. The cake would likely scoot across the plate, and you might not get an even cut. I hope this helps.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: amyzan

                                                                                                                                                      also helps keeps the floss from crawling and giving you trapezoidal layers.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                        so you basically encircle the cake with floss, cross the ends over like you were about to tie a knot (but not entertwine them) and then pull through? I'll go google a video..as I said the idea I've got the mechanics not so much :-p

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                                                                                                                                          yep -- that's exactly it -- it won't go through right away, but it goes through, and it's a lot easier than trying to maneuver it all with a bread knife and the palm of your hand.

                                                                                                                                              2. Another failure at pie crust here.
                                                                                                                                                And gnocchi.
                                                                                                                                                Most Asian cuisines intimidate me (although I'm perfectly comfortable cooking Indian foods); I find that, almost always, the restaurants do it much better.

                                                                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                                                                                                                  Really? I've had great success with Chinese (Sichuan and Hunan, thanks to Fuchsia) and Japanese (udon, tempura) but have been kind of nervous about taking on Indian! :)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Aravisea

                                                                                                                                                    Yes--but I really think Indian cooking is more forgiving. So many things are stewed or braised, not reliant on sauces and flavored oils made several days ahead of the meal or on perfectly crisp-tender veggies or barely seared slices of meat/fish. I just find it so easy to overcook major components of the dishes I've tried or pondered. I mean, I can do a simple Thai curry or a cold udon salad, but find a lot of things I'd like to try very intimidating. (I have, however, recently purchased a Dunlop book so I will give it that a go soon.) With Indian recipes, there are often a lot of ingredients and steps, but once you set up the mise en place, it's not difficult.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                                                                                                                      Do you have an Indian cookbook you like? Or where do you get your recipes?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Aravisea

                                                                                                                                                        Yes, I have several. My favorites are Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking" or her "Invitation to Indian Cooking"; Julie Sahni is also good, and she is definitey a favorite of a lot of CHs.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                                                                                                                          I'll look into these - thanks for the recommendations.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Aravisea

                                                                                                                                                          The Better Crocker Indian Cookbook written by a certain Iyer (his first name eludes me) is sadly overlooked. Probably because people see "Better Crocker" twinned with "Indian" and move right along.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                            Ha! That was my first thought on reading that...I have never taken them seriously!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Aravisea

                                                                                                                                                              That's really a shame. It's the best Indian cookbook I've seen and I own a few of Jaffrey and Sahni's offereings.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                All three books get major thumbs up from my other favorite cookbook vetting site - the comments pages on Amazon. Thanks for the recommendation, as I wouldn't have thought to look at a Betty Crocker book otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                  I got that out of the library on your recommendation - haven't cracked it yet but looks v interesting. Madhur J has a nice new one out too.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                                                    I hope you like it. And I think you will.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                      They do have a brand to uphold, after all, they're not in the business of putting out cookbooks for people to sneer at.

                                                                                                                                                    2. Pizza Ghana - My aunt makes this every Easter and it's absolutely delicious. I'm not sure if it's the cost of the ingredients (expensive meats & cheeses) or the actual labor involved that scares me most. I would truly hate to spend all the time and money and have it come out horrible.

                                                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: robyn76

                                                                                                                                                        Pizza Ghana? What exactly is a Pizza Ghana?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                          Pizza ghana, pizza chena or pizza gaina (not really sure which is correct) is an Italian Easter pie. This link doesn't contain my family recipe, but it will give you an idea of what's involved.

                                                                                                                                                          http://foodblogga.blogspot.com/2008/0...

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: robyn76

                                                                                                                                                            Re: the name -- it's not actually African pizza, I think "chiena" means "full" or "overflowing" in Italian, and the hard "ch" sound can also sound like a hard "g".

                                                                                                                                                            I've made this and didn't find it hard -- you have to make the dough, but the rest is just layering in ingredients. Then again, I'm not Italian -- I bet if I saw someone make this for a holiday, it would seem intimidating.

                                                                                                                                                      2. Octopus.

                                                                                                                                                        I have a recipe that sounds about right for the pulpo salad I used to get all the time in Puerto Rico.

                                                                                                                                                        I have a source of frozen octopus.

                                                                                                                                                        What I DON'T have is the nerve to try to cook the octopus.

                                                                                                                                                        *shudder*

                                                                                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                          Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we have a fairly recent discussion about octopus cooking?
                                                                                                                                                          I thought I had you convinced to try it.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                            A few years ago when my husband went on a business trip to California,one of his co-workers presented him with a huge, recently caught conch. They packed it in dry ice and he got it back to Denver still frozen. What I didn't know until I defrosted it and took a closer peek is that conch still in the shell looks like what you'd get if you sent Igor out for more brains. We stared at it in horror and put it straight in the outside trash can. I know conch is considered a great delicacy but, jeez louise, it's dreadful to see.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: mandycat

                                                                                                                                                              I'll keep this in mind next time I travel to the Carib.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mandycat

                                                                                                                                                                When I was doing some work in Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to snorkel for conch. We ended up with about 6 or 7. When we got them back to the lab, we sauteed thin slices with onions, and it was delicious. But the highlight was eating it raw, straight from the shell. I was with some Costa Rican friends that lived in the area, and while on the little boat back to shore, one cracked a hole in the shell and cut the muscle that attaches the animal to the shell. He pulled it out, rinsed it in sea water, took a bite out of it, and offered me a bite. I was hesitant at first, but glad I finally did - sweet and salty muscle with a little bite. Delicious.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                                  Bloody hell.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                                                                    Yeah, that's pretty badass.