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Simple food failures

  • r

This is probably only a germane topic for middling cooks like myself, but what are the things that you are embarassed to admit that you fail at cooking/baking?

I feel like I have to mention that I can make char siu bao from scratch or a perfect Chicago style pizza before I can admit that I totally fail at meatballs. And - until this weekend - pancakes. And lasagna. I'm pretty sure I was always baking it uncovered the whole time, skimping on the sauce, and generally engaging in some poor assembly strategies.

Regarding pancakes, I have learned that if I do not use buttermilk and sour regular milk with white vinegar, the gluten stays sufficiently inactive and I get nice fluffy pancakes that are not inconsistent and lumpy due to my fear of overmixing them.

You'd think I'd know these things, but alas, no. I suck at pie crusts also, but I've only tried once so far, so I'll cut myself a break on that one.

I've noticed that a lot of people are really pretty terrible at the simple boneless skinless chicken breast. They're frequently undercooked and rubbery overcooked and dry as cardboard.

I also think there is one recipe that nobody could ever possibly mess up no matter how much effort was put into it, and that would be banana bread. Assuming you don't forget basic things, like, say, bananas, it is totally error proof.

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  1. I am going to admit here in front of G-d and everyone that I cannot make jello. Can't do it. Never works for me. I always double the amount of time to make sure it's been properly dissolved in boiled water, etc. etc. but invariably wind up with a layer of very tough, "wrong" jello. Maybe it's because it sits in the cupboard awhile?
    On the other hand, gelatine desserts and blancmange I've made have worked out just fine, same as all puddings etc.
    Maybe I just haven't got the knack.

    4 Replies
        1. re: mamachef

          Wow, I find that hard to imagine. The only thing I can think of is, maybe you're not stirring the powder in the boiling water long enough to make sure every granule is fully dissolved before adding the cold water.

          1. re: BobB

            My jello failure is largely predicated by the fact that I can't fricking stand the stuff.

            Loved it when I was a kid, but gah. Not any more.

    1. About a third of the time the gnocchi I make end up being really bad. Everything from forgetting the salt to them falling apart (forgot to turn the heat down), there's a good chance I'll do something wrong along the way.

      I can't make a good poached egg without a poacher. I just lack that touch.

      I can easily mess up banana bread, because I just don't like to measure out ingredients. When I'm working with dough (pasta, pizza, gnocchi) I mostly go by feel; add here and there until you know the dough is good. Of course, that doesn't work with serious baking.

      1. Do you like pancakes and pies? I really don't, especially not pancakes. So not being able to make them well isn't really an issue. I tend to do better making the things I want to eat.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I can't make real coffee. I've dried drip, French press, stove top. Nada. I suck at it. Beyond belief. Too weak or too strong or full of grounds. Truly unbelievable.

            Thank god for my Nespresso machine.

          2. I can't make macaroni and cheese that isn't grainy/oily. I've tried tons of recipes, even the ones with a little Velveeta in them, with no success.

            7 Replies
            1. re: wlo

              I haven't had that problem with cheese fro Costco, but I know what you mean, and I still don't know what causes it...

              1. re: wlo

                leave the cheddar out. It's really bad for mac n' cheese.

                1. re: wlo

                  This I know! From here forward, you have two piles of cheese. One of them actually goes into the sauce. This pile consists of gruyere or some other cheese that melts well. If it works for fondue, go for it. If it has chemical emulsifiers in it, like kraft singles, go for it (but the gruyere will taste better...). If it's left over and it's soft, throw it in there.

                  The other pile consists of the extra-sharp cheddar and parmesan. This you put in as shredded cheese.

                  So, you will boil your pasta, make your bechamel with your melty cheeses, and then either layer or stir the tasty cheese with bite in afterward. Top with more tasty, unmelty cheese.

                  Problem solved. Or, you can just stop using extra-sharp cheddar and stick with a cheddar that has been proven to not separate your sauce. Or make the custard kind of mac and cheese that my mother in law is ace at but I just cannot manage.

                  1. re: Raids

                    Thank you! I will make this over the weekend. For myself. Just in case I still manage to mess it up.

                  2. re: wlo

                    Whoa! I would love to find out what you're doing with mac & cheese, because I think it's the best thing in the world to make when four people suddenly show up and you've got nothing but leftovers in the fridge and rock hard meat in the freezer.
                    I always start with a white sauce - easy, simple, and cooked out properly to get rid of the flour taste completely.
                    Slowly add the freshly grated cheeses - I use a mix of 1-year old cheddar (I prefer white,but orange is fine), emmanthal, and fontina (sometimes gruyere, if I've got a heel leftover from my favourite baked eggs). And I mean slowly, so that each handful has melted into the sauce before adding more.
                    If I find the sauce is thickening too much with the cheeses, I add a little WHOLE milk to bring it to the consistency I prefer.
                    Season with dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, s&p
                    Now, if I have time, I will then pour the mac & cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle with panko crumbs, dot with a bit of butter & bake @ 325 until the crumbs are nicely browned. If I have four hungry people staring at me the whole time I've been making this I first get them to set the table, make a salad and then serve right from the pot!
                    Hope you keep trying... mac & cheese on a cold winter's night.... heaven!

                    1. re: wlo

                      NO one can mess this up. Just be sure to follow the instructions for adding the cheese little-by-little.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        I like to overcook the elbows so they're a little soggy and swollen and keep the sauce loose. </1974 lunch lady memories>