Wow, just wow. You sure know how to give a girl performance anxiety! I mean, how do I top a wedding cake? Am I going to have to mill my own flour? (Do you “mill” flour? Should getting the lexicon right be the first step?) Should I buy a cow so I can get the milk for free (oh, how I crack myself up…) and make butter and yogurt and mm, creme fraiche? How will a simple salad keep you interested now?
Pondering this the last couple days has gotten me back to a question I started kicking around last fall with the Pie Crust 101 instructional, but I confess got lost in the grind of holidays and the crushing business of work, work work.
Yet with my new, slightly-more-flexible schedule, I’m once again itching to ask you this burning question: What are you afraid to cook? I will not judge you. Here, I can start: Rice is not my forte. Oh, I can follow instructions and not-stir, not-stir and it’s manageable, possibly even edible, but I bet you would think that a girl who baked a wedding cake and enough bread to make Atkins roll over in his grave would have something like rice down pat.
But this isn’t about my myriad cooking woes–it’s all about you! No cooking fear is too small. No technique is too simple. Let’s all air this out and what I hope to do is have a sporadic series of posts in which I attempt to make it better. If I’ve posted about that food before, I’ll go back in more detail. If I haven’t, well then it is clearly time. And if I don’t know how to make it either, I might just call another guest into the smittenkitchen, if, like Torrie, they promise not to laugh at the grime we are–yes, still–in an undignified standoff with in front of the counter.
Sound good? Tell Doctor Deb your cooking fears in the comments below.
Meanwhile, although I won’t be winning any points for originality, here is a watermelon, vegetable and feta salad I made for dinner last night and it was mighty delicious. What I liked, and what differentiated it for me is that it had a lot of different ingredients going on, and had a really delicious dressing I’ll use again and again. This is the exact kind of summer cooking I can get behind: light and fresh, and as a bonus, great to pack away for the next picnic you’re attending.
This salad also managed to convince Alex that fruit and a savory salad could mix without terrible things happening, no small feat!
One year ago, plus a few we missed: Israeli Salad with Pita Chips, Roseanne Cash’s Potato Salad, Quick Potato Pierogi and Ratatouille’s Ratatouille
Watermelon and Feta Salad with Chopped Vegetables
Adapted from Bon Appetit
I’m so in love with the new Bon Appetit, I am forgiving the fact that they used the cringe-worthy word “veggies” in their initial title.
Serves at least four
1 pound Campari or plum tomatoes, diced, drained
1 1/2 cups diced seeded watermelon
1 large green bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1/2 large English hothouse cucumber, seeded, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1/2 cup very thinly sliced radishes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
10 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes (about 2 1/2 cups),
2 divided green onions, chopped, divided
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves, divided
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Toss first five ingredients and two tablespoons oil in large bowl. Add half each of cheese, green onions, and mint. Mix remaining cheese, green onions, mint, and oil in processor; add yogurt and oregano. Process just to blend (do not over-mix or dressing will get thin). Season dressing with salt and pepper; mix into salad.
408 comments on chopped vegetable, watermelon and feta salad
As a southerner, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m scared to death of frying chicken. I’ve eaten too much bad fried chicken over the years– coatings that are utterly bland, or worse, gummy–blech. This seems to be one of those dishes that appears the soul of simplicity, but is not. And I am afraid, very afraid…
Y’know, upon further pondering, I realize ALL frying scares me.
I grew up making tortillas with my grandmother, and even when i follow her recipe today, they come out…odd. I’ve tried a few times, in different temperatures, and i’ve still never gotten them quite right. There’s a family gathering at the end of the summer, and i need to get over my fear and start testing recipes! Help?
Rice, yes! I’m a very capable cook in general, but I cannot master cooking rice for the life of me. Last night I tried to make fried rice that came out gummy and disgusting. It’s especially tragic because I cook primarily East Asian foods, but often I only have terrible rice to put them on. Deb, help!
I’ve gotta go with Hollandaise. I’m terrified of it separating into a mess of coagulated egg and lemon juice. Yeuch.
Canning. I am just not sure that I will ever be able to get beyond the fear that I’ve done something terribly wrong and am going give everyone botulism, or have the jars explode, or some other horrible thing. It just freaks me out. Which is unfortunate, given the number of roma tomatoes that are currently ripening out on my deck.
I think maybe the key to good fried rice is a really hot pan! Though my egg ALWAYS sticks, don’t know what to do about that…also, steaming rice eludes me as well…Burnt, sticky, dry, crunchy, I’ve done them all. My boyfriend now cooks the rice or we make 90 sec microwave rice from trader joes (so good btw). But my real hang up is making a really yummy good loaf of wheat bread (in the bread machine). It always comes out somewhat brick like, much too dense…
I’m afraid to make crepes. All of the equipment, the precise technique, the split-second timing… it all adds up to a scary proposition. I suppose I’m not too afraid to _try_ to make crepes, but I would never serve them to anyone with a French accent.
I am terrified at making bread. I love to eat bread and I adore fresh baked bread, but whenever I attempt to make bread at home it comes out … not like bread. help!
Food fears: pie/tart crust; lamb (except for ground lamb); risotto
I used to have major problems with rice, and then I bought an All-Clad saucepan. I’m guessing you have pretty good cookware, so maybe the problem you have is different. I would look up Cooks Illustrated’s recipe. White rice sounds like something even they don’t need to play with, but I swear their version is better than any other I’ve made.
I’m really bad at cooking meat, especially steaks and chops. They tend to be burned on the outside and raw inside. The problem is that I don’t cook meat often, so I don’t get much practice.
I kinda feel like I’m calling into a radio station…”Hi Deb, long time reader, first time commenter.”
I thought my big fear was croissants – but it turns out that canning is infinitely more terrifying than croissants.
But as someone has already claimed can-o-phobia, I’ll stick with my laminated pastry issues. I’ve made them twice, the first time in a class overseen by fab instructors, so my croissants were good. (It’s a fine day when you get told, “You know, they seem a bit too buttery.”) I endeavored to make them on my own and it was painful. VERY painful – too bready, too this, too that. I know I should get back up on my French horse, but it has just seemed like a pain to do so.
I think i’m afraid of cakes and poaching eggs, the latter making me particularly anxious. I also dislike making breakfast, unless it’s pancakes.
biscuits. No matter what I do they come out flat. like hockey pucks. I can make scones, which are really just fancied biscuits, right? so why not biscuits?
I would have to agree that frying chicken is terrifying to me – I always think I’m going to burn down my apartment building. Also roasting big expensive cuts of meat, like rack of lamb, is scary but perhaps more because I’m worried Iâ€™m going to make a $100 worth of meat inedible.
Too many things I’m at least a little afraid of. But you had me at “forgiving the fact that they used the cringe-worthy word ‘veggies’.” I’m really, really tired of “veggies,” “fridge,” “nuke,” and other trendy shortcuts. They’re a pitiful excuse for really nice words. I must admit to occasionally emitting “veggie” but I chalk it up to its omnipresence in my environment and then swear never to use it again. I refuse to even look at any recipe with “easy” or “cheesey” in the title – and I go absolutely ballistic at the conjunction of those two: “Easy, Cheesey …” Ugh!
Well, enough venting. I’m delighted at your open question, and will be comforted, I’m sure, by reading about other folks’ fears. Will be back with my own if I can narrow them down enough to fit in a comment … or two.
Congratulations on the wedding cake – you should be very proud and I know the bride was pleased.
I think canning would have to be the one for me. Ugh. I hate all of the sugar that you have to add to jam to make it (pre-diabetic here….).
I am ashamed to admit that simple chopping scares me. Thanks to the Pioneer Woman, I can dice an onion without slicing a finger off, but anything smaller than that renders me all twitchy, and therefore, unsafe. And how do people do that fingertips-curling-under thing? Whatever I’m cutting either gets fingernail imprints stamped into it or goes flying away from me and onto the floor. And I can’t even think of making horizontal cuts, parallel to the board. Eeeeek.
Please don’t judge.
I am surprised by your rice comment, Deb. But then again, I have heard this from many of my friends (who are otherwise great cooks). I guess it helps that I am East Indian– rice is in our blood. Anyway, I’d be happy to help in the rice dept. anytime.
Oh my fear? I think I have to go with the other 2 readers who said ‘canning’. I am not so fearful of high-acid foods, but the low-acid ones do freak me out a bit. It doesn’t help that I am a microbiologist and I have young kids…oh the pressure!
Have you ever used the cake or fresh yeast? My old school supermarket only offers the 2.2 oz cakes of fresh yeast if we want yeast. I want so much to learn bread but sheesh, I can’t find any recipes that talk about the fresh yeast. Do you dump it in with the flour? Do you moosh it up into the water? How much of a 2.2 oz cake would you use for a single loaf recipe?
I can’t make fried chicken, either. It’s just so discouraging and messy and the results are not worth all the clean up.
Speaking of clean up, just how bad IS that floor? A $1 scrubber and a squirt of dish soap wouldn’t make it all better?
Oh one more thing. I have a great recipe for Aromatic rice on my blog. Its from Tom Douglas and I swear it really smells heavenly. Would go great with any asian (not east asian) flavored food.
My true fear (justified by the many screw-ups in trying) is cooking ANYTHING with yeast. I can’t think of a single success- from pizza dough to cinnamon rolls. I always put a ton of effort into it and end up with something that tastes too yeasty to be edible. Maybe I’m buying the wrong stuff or using too much (I am pretty good at following directions, though). Anyway, every time I gather the courage to try again, I end up crying on the finished product.
Wow. That felt good to get out. Thanks for offering yourself as food therapist!
I am hesitent to make lamb even though it is a favorite in our house. I sometimes have meatloafs or roasts that have to go back in the oven for more time so I am scared to make any meat that needs to “rest”.
Anything with yeast. Will it rise? Is it sitting in a warm enough place? But is it too warm? Uuuugggh, all that prolonged worrying gets me every time. Most everything has turned out, but it makes me too anxious to feel ok about yeast.
RA.. check this out..http://www.chefscatalog.com/product/20289-finger-guard.aspx there are a lot of version, some plastic, some with spikes etc. But it should clear up the chopping fear :)
I’m scared of cooling fish. Any kind except shellfish (I’m ok with that). I can’t cook fish. I never know when it’s done, it either ends up crispy and burnt or soft and mushy. I try to follow the instructions for time, but it just never turns out right. Lately my husband and I have wanted to start eating fish for their health benefits, but we’ll never be able to do it if we can’t first figure out how to cook it!
I will admit it that I am afraid to deep fry at home. I have a large dutch oven and a fry thermometer, but I just don’t know what to do with the spent oil once I’m done. Do I reuse it? Should I be deep frying that much? I know it doesn’t go down the drain, but since I don’t drink much coffee at home, I don’t have any metal containers to store the spent oil in like my mom did growing up.
What do you do with the used cooking oil from the random time that you deep fry something?
I am afraid of making Spaghetti Carbonara… something about the raw egg and worried that it gets cooked enough to kill bacteria… I’ve eaten this in restaurants and loved it! I am just too frightened to try on my own. :(
Fears: Breads, Lamb
My husband is always requesting lamb but I am too afraid to mess it up after spending so much money on it! And really, anything with yeast, not just breads.
I share the fried-chicken fear, and also have bad luck with braising. But Jeffrey Steingarten saved me with his rice method: Boil roughly 1 part rice to 3 parts water (there should be lots of water) until the rice is still quite firm and undercooked at the center but no longer very crunchy. 4 minutes? Stir frequently at the beginning so the rice doesn’t stick. Dump the rice in a strainer to drain, put the rice back in the pan, and cook on very low heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Using good-quality basmati rice makes it especially hard to screw this up.
sauces. all kinds. ok…maybe not all kinds. like, hollandaise doesn’t freak me out, but a simple white sauce? yes.
oh, and making my own chicken stock. sounds interesting, but also like a big pain in the you know what. convince me i’m wrong!
Yeast bread, hence my fear of any bread beyond banana or beer. :wink:
Canning. It seems like a science project begging to go wrong.
Pancakes. The amount of oil is the issue for me. I’ve gone with too little and scraped them off the pan, and I’ve gone with too much and been accused of making funnel cakes. But I can do french toast like a champ. Go figure.
Any kind of egg cookery beyond scrambled. I only like scrambled eggs and quiche or omelets, so I’ve had no motivation.
I am fine with roasting, but I’m not the one to cook the steaks. I’ll wreck them.
Good question about the fear factor.
oh, and to the RA afraid of chopping: get a sharp knife, a mandoline, and one of those kitchenaid or pampered chef chopper things https://www.pamperedchef.com/ordering/prod_details.tpc?prodId=240&catId=4&parentCatId=4&outletSubCat=&viewAllOutlet=
and you should be good to go. not that you’ll necessarily be fast, but at least a little more efficient. i’ve got another 10 years of chopping before i ever get fast.
hi deb – love your blog but haven’t commented very often before (my bad). the RICE question – rice is the edible holy grail of my south asian family. my mom has great stories about running downstairs as a newly-wed to their apartment building’s garbage to throw away unsuccessful batches of rice before my dad got home. he’s a fanatic about good basmati rice as am I – having learned from my mother’s (and my own) mistakes. there are a few tricks that make it easier. as a fellow brooklynite, i’d be happy to demonstrate sometime!
I’m going to go with making a good loaf of whole wheat bread as well, and one that doesn’t involve a bread maker – I’m determined to do it on my own! Specifically, I want a loaf of bread that I can make sandwiches with. I’ve got no problem creating a serviceable loaf of whole wheat bread, but I can never get it to rise enough during that second rise to peak over the edge of the loaf pan, so I end up with too-small-for-sandwich sized bread. HELP!
I’m afraid of several things – canning, rice and frying – which were all mentioned by other posters. I also have no idea how to take skin off of fish without losing half of the filet.
I echo the fears of biscuit-making, as well as canning. The first time I made biscuits they turned out perfectly, and I had convinced myself that I was a biscuit-making prodigy. Since then – nothing. They always come out flat and heavy. I think I’m so worried about overworking the dough that I don’t work it enough, but whatever the reason, I need some biscuit intervention!
And as Heidi said, the prospect of botulism has made me wary of canning, but I am determined to check this off my cooking “to do” list in the near future.
Yeasty breads! My pizza dough never seems to rise and I’ve tried all the tricks. What gives? Becuase of my flat pizza crusts, I never really venture ito other yeasty breads. But I have occassionally (twice?) made kipful that uses the yeast in cake form. It was disasterous, but not because of the yeast.
Anything with instructions like this: “Cut out and reserve wings and backbone from chicken.” I’m sorry, but this is when I call my butcher and start reading the instructions to him, and ask when I can pick up the appropriately chopped-up chicken.
Canning, while intriguing, also carries with it complexity and the added risk of death, so that’s under the Justifiable Fear list. Also anything that requires straining through a “fine sieve,” but that’s more a supply issue — I do not possess one.
Most baking. I’m not a baker. I had a theory that one is either a good cook or a good baker, but then your site came along and it turns out I just suck at baking.
Is it too late to add one? I don’t get how to cut up a chicken, either.
OTOH, I just flambeed cognac, and despite my fears of burning down the house, it was all quite tame (yet impressive).
Hi, my name is Marguerite, and I am terrified of frying, be it deep or shallow….
Can you help? Actually, what terrifies me isn’t only the process, but the sheer amount of fat that I am absorbing – although on the other hand, I have absolutely no problem making a cake that uses a pound of butter!
I would love to be able to bake good yeast breads–bread, rolls, pizza crust, etc. However, I am paralyzed by fear. I have tried a few times and failed miserably.
I’m a little freaked out by making gnocchi, since the one time I tried making them, they were gummy to the point of being inedible. I’m pretty sure that now that I’ve read about making gnocchi about a billion times, I know all the tricks to make them turn out perfectly. Still, that one experience is holding me back.
I’m also kind of scared of canning, since, again, the one time I tried it, it didn’t work out so well. My friends who ate their jam right away were totally fine, but the one I kept in the back of my pantry looked a little funky after a week or so…
After the past couple of years there’s not a lot I fear, but there are things I think may be harder and/or not worth the effort, such as croissants, phyllo or making your own cheese or yogurt.
Then again, I used to think pie crust wasn’t worth the effort.
POLENTA! How to make it the right consistency? How to get out the lumps (I know, stir stir stir). How to get the timing right so that when the polenta is just the right consistency all the other foods are magically ready even though I haven’t had time to tend to them because I’ve been too busy stirring this damn polenta, which then congeals as soon as I take my eyes away from it to plate the rest of the meal???
You’ve done it. In fact, the whole entire food blogger world has done it. I’m terrified of attempting to bake bread. And yet it’s supposed to be simple and delicious! Hmph. No knead or not… I’m still wary. It doesn’t help that I’m not one much for baking.
PS How to keep us coming back? How about gorgeous photos like the first, which snagged my attention and kept it for a good 15 minutes of drooling? Hmm…
LOBSTER! I live in freaking NEW ENGLAND and practically everyone I know has a big ol’ lobster pot and makes the frequent trek back from the shore with fixin’s for a lobster bake. But, but, but… *they’re still alive* In order to eat them, they need to be dead. That, friends, is my real fear! Apparently all you have to do is boil the big ol’ pot of water and drop the suckers in there… but, but, but… *they’re still alive* SOME people (heathens!) take a big sharp knife and split them (WHILE ALIVE) head to tail for stuffing, then throw them on the grill. I. just. can’t. do. it.
Rice? Seriously? No one Asian has suggested this yet? A fuzzy logic rice cooker will solve that problem in a jiffy.
To Scott: I too once feared the crepe, but got inspired one morning and made… an enormous mess! I had followed the eronious directions to not stir out the lumps. “They’ll work themselves out” I read, but it was all lies. I now use the very simple Joy of Cooking recipe and my well seasoned Le Crueset 7″ (or so) cast iron skillet which has nicely slopping sides. I whisk the batter until all the lumps are gone and do not bother “resting” it as some recipes call for. I replace 1/4 C. white flour with whole wheat (you would never know) and use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pan with oil once the pan is fairly hot. I scoop about a 1/4 C. of the fairly runny batter into the middle of the pan and swirl it around until it evenly coats the surface. The first one sometimes sticks a little, but this method seems pretty foolproof. The trick seems to be in not using too much oil because that causes the batter to slide and skid around in the pan. Good luck! Now can someone please give me some advice on making pita bread?? I’ve tried and tried and always end up with chewy, dense discs of dough. Ugh
Oh shux…i think if i buy one more kitchen appliance I will have to move out of my house for lack of space in my pad…
Finally delurking today…
Anyway my big cooking fear is potato gnocchi. they come out like little lead balls and the taste is indescribably disgusting. It’s been years since my last attempt.
love your blog!
I’m afraid of making marshmallows. I just feel like it would be messy and get all over the place and I’d probably end up burning myself. On the other hand… homemade marshmallows look so tasty!
Meringue. The kind you put on top of Lemon Meringue Pie. I have read what seems like every possible contribution on the subject, but mine almost always weeps at a least little no matter what I do. It isn’t fear so much as inability to master it.
I also cannot make rice to save my life. And I echo all of the fears of yeast breads. I tried to make brioche last weekend in hopes of making Dorie Greenspan’s Pecan Sticky Buns and, yeah, not so much. All I did was waste a lot of expensive butter.
Risotto. No one I know eats it, let alone makes it. Even if I finally got the courage up to try and make it out of a cookbook, how would I know if it turned out right? I’ve only ever tried it ONCE at a restaurant and it tasted very earthy then, not particularly appealing. Everything about risotto that I’ve read or seen on TV suggests that it’s really wonderful, but I don’t know where to start.
Oh, it’s the yeast…..might as well throw my money away as to try to make anything with yeast.
Boiled rice, yes. I make very decent fried rice, but plain boiled white rice… Either burns or isn’t cooked through.
Also, anything baked with yeast. Cinnamon rolls, oh, I love them, but can never get them right…
I share the canning fear of many. I’d love a good tutorial on that, what with high tomato season approaching and then apple butter coming up in a couple of months… *sigh* Oh and the crepe suggestion would be interesting, too!
I actually licked my lips at your salad photos. And I don’t even like watermelon (I know, I know, it’s a texture thing).
I’m very anti-bread. I’m less afraid of the steps and more annoyed by the mess it makes. I’m also scared to fry things as splattering oil hurts like hell and I’m a big baby.
Very intrigued by all of the watermelon and feta salads. It looks lovely! I need to taste this combo because the thought of it is a little odd and I keep remember that Top Chef episode where Sam made some sort of watermelon salad and the judges crucified the poor guy.
Y’know, while I have a *healthy* fear of canning, I’m not really scared of much…..
Except serving my boyfriend meat. You see, he’s on immunosuppressants, and cooks better than I do. So I worry about undercooking meat and killing him, or overcooking meat and him disliking it. And I can never find the freaking thermometer, or I don’t have one where I’m cooking at the time….. So there are some dishes I know how not to screw up, but other than that, I often stick to tofu as a main protein.
Pastry dough. I tried to make my best friend lemon tarts for her birthday, and while the filling turned out tart and yummy, the pastry dough just wouldn’t…comply. I ended up in my kitchen in tears when I should have been getting ready to go out dancing.
I’m extremely frustrated by making pan sauces from the drippings after cooking meat. It’s difficult for me to differentiate the fat which should be skimmed off from the liquid/flavor which should be preserved. My pan sauces always end up super greasy. I’ve tried those plasic jugs which separate the fat; they are nonsensical to me.
Regarding your fear of rice: I cook basmati rice (1 cup of rinsed rice, 2.25ish cups of water, a sprinkle of kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil) in a white corningware round dish with the glass lid. Put all ingredients in microwave x 12 minutes. It always ends up perfectly cooked. It might be the only thing I use my microwave for!
I haven’t made an apple pie in years. I went through a phase where I spent several months trying to make and apple that wasn’t watery. I tried different recipes, apples, flour, cornstarch, nothing worked. Other people make apple pies that aren’t runny, why can’t I? It got to the point where I’m afraid to try it again. :(
Mine’s more of an overall fear – I’m afraid to tweak baking recipes in case they fail horribly and I’ll have to throw them out. Cooking, eh, you can taste as you go. If baking goes wrong though, you’re screwed.
Brains. It’s probably the only thing I *haven’t* cooked yet, and I have no itch to try it. I can’t even stand seeing it at the market — it makes me want to throw up.
Yeast. Totally unoriginal *points to 3029283 people ahead of her who said the same thing*…but it’s true. I want to do it! I love to bake! But I’m scared of bread. It was my summer project to figure it out, but I’m kind of paralyzed. Help, Deb!
As for the biscuit-fearers–I feared biscuits, too, until Food & Wine’s awesome Grace Parisi tackled them in my favorite monthly column, her “From the Test Kitchen” feature. Check out the recipe here: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/buttery-buttermilk-biscuits-november-2007
They truly never fail, and her note at the end that they can be frozen is dead on! They’re a little less light when you freeze them, but still flaky and delicious and awesome. I actually just made them last night, and they’re fantastic. Love Grace, love this recipe.
But yeast breads? YIKES!
I agree with everyone! ha! I guess I am afraid to cook lots of things! :-) Top of my list are souffles, egg drop soup, risotto, and….swiss meringue buttercream! But after seeing the pretty posts about the wedding cake, maybe I will try out your recipie!!
Wow, this question really got people going! For people with bread issues, I just figured out last week you need it HOT and moist to rise a good bread. I put it on the deck (it gets up to 101 out there!) covered with a damp towel. Also, keep it in the fridge over night for the second rising- lots of time, even with a slow rise, makes a nice loaf of bread. Oh, and add as little flour as possible- just enough to be able to scoop it out of the bowl in a cohesive mass. Before you bake it, let the oven preheat at least a half hour or so- you want a good, hot, oven to get that initial “lift” for your bread.
As for canning…I found out last week that exploding jars aren’t all that bad. You just keep it all in the water bath, and rinse off the other jars really well when you’re done.
My fear would be deep frying. Splattering oil, buying a gallon of oil just to cook one meal, the smell permeating every textile in the house…yeah, deep frying.
I’m not sure I would say that I am afraid of it, but I can’t seem to get brownies down. It amazes me that something so easily made from a box can be so out of my reach when trying to make them from scratch. Even my old stand-byrecipe resources have failed me. Every browine I make comes out tasting too much like sugar and not enough like chocolate. I fear I will never succeed.
I would really love to be able to cook fish (in the oven, not on the grill) but I am always afraid that it won’t be done….
I would also like to know some good bread recipes that don’t involve a bread machine and are relatively quick…
FISH! It’s always over or underdone. And I’m terrified of getting sick (or making someone else sick).
I got a good thermometer, which makes me feel much more comfortable cooking fish and meat.
I have two fears. The first is pizza. I know you’ve covered it to death, but I’m still afraid to try (again) because all of my attempts turn out really…bready. If I wanted bready pizza, I’d stick sauce on a slice of french and call it a day. My second fear is making anything in a pressure cooker. I bought one, thinking I couldn’t possible live without being able to make beans in 15 minutes, but I’m afraid to use it. To many stories of explosions.
Thank you for offering cooking therapy. I feel better already. Maybe I’ll make pizza this weekend. Or not.
Long time reader, first time poster…. love the blog, Deb! LOBSTER is my biggest fear. The thought of killing them…. eeek!
I have only 2 fears in the kitchen… frying chicken and making hollandaise. i never get the chicken cooked all the way through for some reason, and my attempts at hollandaise have all turned out to be the tastiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever had.
The watermelon salad looks great. I too make a savory watermelon salad. It has watermelon, red onions, avocados, serrano chiles and shrimp and I toss it all with a really easy lime vinaigrette. Most peoples’ reaction when they hear about it is a big “eeeeeewwwwwwwww!”, but it’s teh awesome when it’s as hot and muggy as it’s been here lately.
I love feta, that looks so good. I love your recipes. I found your web site through the Pioneer Woman site. My cooking fear is about meat. Things like chicken, beef and pork. I’m afraid I won’t cook it properly and we’ll all get sick. Maybe because I’m not a big fan of meat, but my husband loves it.
Meat. Without a doubt. Steaks and chops frighten me.
And once I’ve mastered pie crust, I want to use it to make a chicken pot pie. I have tried both several times and they are always terrible.
My bugaboo used to be biscuits, but then I found a wonderful recipe in Cooks Illustrated several years ago and it works like a charm every time! It’s a little messy, but the method they use is fool proof (your biscuits will not be hockey pucks!). For those w/biscuit phobia, go to the following link, where the author has posted the recipe:
I still have a fear of tarts/pastry dough and grilling fish. Actually, I tend to have overall grill issues and am terrified to ‘ruin’ expensive slabs of meat.
Lots of cooking things make me a little anxious (bread! meringue! anything involving a candy thermometer!), but the ones that I actually avoid because I am so intimidated:
– poaching eggs (and I LOVE poached eggs! I just can never prevent them from turning into a hugegantic stringy mess of threads); and
– boning/skinning/otherwise prepping fish (this “pull out the small bones with pliers” business always leaves me with a mushy impossible mess and I feel horrible guilt at wasting beautiful seafood).
Weird…I’m not really afraid of anything, that I can think of off the top of my head. Pies used to scare me–that’s been conquered. For some reason I’ve never had issues with rice–just dump it all together, throw a lid on it, and leave it alone. Comes out fluffy each time. Best thing ever for those who are rice-phobic though?–a rice cooker (I’ve come to appreciate it’s virtues living with an Asian significant other).
Actually, custard-based ice creams scare me. I’ve made one attempt with our shiny new ice cream maker, and it came out horrid (the custard was…not quite curdled, but definitely not smooth). I’ll have to face that one and tackle it again, and soon. :) And helpful hints?
Oh, it cracks me up that MN had the same fear! We must have posted at the same time!
Wow I can’t believe more people haven’t wrote about it… well except for Kiki and Jenn right above me but I’m terrified of making any sort of fish. My mom is allergic to all fish (both shell fish and… umm… not shelled fish [I’m not sure if there’s even another term for that]) so that fact that I didn’t grow up eating fish which only makes the situation worse. I don’t even know what fish dishes there are out there and if you need to take out bones or lop their heads off or what it should look like when it’s done or what.
Haha, wow, I love reading through these responses! Most of mine are minor fears that I’m sure I’d be able to get over if I just went in the kitchen and tried. But my big ones are:
– Sauces. Any time I’ve tried to make a roux-based sauce, I’ve failed miserably. Some recipes I’ve seen say to use equal parts flour and butter by weight, others say by volume – 2 very different things! And then is the liquid supposed to be hot or cold? How much do you add at a time? Even if you can make a fancy sauce, what do you serve it with besides a big hunk-o’-meat (for those who are not eating so many big hunks-o’-meat these days)?
– Duck. I love duck SO MUCH and I order it out whenever I can, but I’ve never tried to make it myself. My dad told me a horror story about when he tried to roast a duck and some of the fat dripped out of the pan and started a fire in the oven, and now I’m terrified that the same thing will happen to me.
Help me Dr. Deb, you’re my only hope! ;)
I can roast the turkey but man, do I stink at making gravy! And I’ve got many wedding cakes to my credit too!
I have to admit, I’m a little confused by the “I can’t cook rice!” comments – we just stick ours in the rice cooker and it comes out fine every time. Granted, I have no idea what you do with rice without a rice cooker, so maybe you just need to buy the appliance? Also, the best rice for fried rice is day-old cooked rice. I know it sounds funky but trust me, it tastes so much better. Also, always cook over high heat, and use butter instead of oil – it’ll keep those eggs from sticking, although on that note, don’t be afraid of the crusty gummy stuff at the bottom! It’s the best part!
As far as my food fears … I’m pretty much afraid to try anything with ingredients that I can’t pronounce and/or don’t recognise. I know it sounds silly, but I just can’t bring myself to try something totally, totally new. I’m also vaguely afraid of cooking anything that comes out of the ocean, but not so afraid that I won’t try it. Mostly it’s just that I don’t eat seafood very often so I’m not really comfortable with it yet.
I’m going to have to mirror what a lot of people already said and agree that my two biggest fears are baking bread and frying anything. I LOVE both but am deathly afraid to try to do either from scratch.
I also have to agree with the above commenter who mentioned pan sauces where you are instructed to skim off the fat. I have no clue how to do such a thing, so I usually just skip it.
I can fry chicken (although its a big fat mess and I wouldn’t reccommend it). I have canned many a christmas present. Baking bread is not a problem. You want dinner rolls? loaf bread? braided challah? I’m your girl. However, I have MAJOR MAJOR baguette phobia. The thought leaves me shaking in my boots. I have a great recipe but it is 2 pages long. whats up with that? I even bought a baguette pan and something called vital wheat gluten a few years ago and I can’t even look at them. I’m sure the gluten is expired by now.
I’m afraid to cook a whole chicken. Probably a turkey too. There are so many more complicated things I can do, but I have just never tried a whole chicken. Part of me thinks there wont’ be much meat on it or that I won’t utilize all the meat that IS on it. I think I generally stay away from meats with the bone in.
I would love to do beer-can chicken on the grill but won’t attempt hat until I bake a chicken. As for the turkey, I don’t have a roasting pan so I wont’ attempt that for a while. I’ve helped my mom with turkeys a fair amount though so a turkey is less daunting than a chicken. Odd, I know.
I’m afraid of cooking rice, too. Sad.
Fear? What is fear? Just get in there and do it. You’ll be surprised, and learn something, no matter what. I used to see a chef on TV talk about boning a chicken (sorry, can’t remember who it was), who said just buy some chickens on sale and practice until you get it. What have you lost? A $3 chicken? You can still make chicken salad. My very first meal, ever, at barely 20 years old, was fried chicken. It was wonderful. We had to pour the mashed potatoes over the gravy, but I learned something. The first meat my kids ever admitted to liking was lamb. It’s easy. Bread is fun, even if it doesn’t come out perfect, and what is it, a few cents worth of flour and stuff? In most cases, just throw caution to the wind. However, with canning, if you don’t know how, be very, very careful. After 40 years of cooking, the only fear left is that of coming up to dinner time with nothing to put on the table.
Love, love, love your blog but first time poster. LOBSTER!! I can’t believe there are others “like me” with the irrational fear of cooking lobster. I look at beautiful lobsters at the fish market and always turn away because I am afraid I will ruin a beautiful, not to mention expensive crustacean!
Soft shelled crabs! Never had one, never seen on in person, have no idea what is edible and what is not.
Wow. The New York Times had a similar piece in their paper, but worded it by asking what, when it turns up in a recipe, will you refuse to cook? It got a lot of food blogs all up in arms, because many people said things like “whisking egg whites”. And here it tuns up again! I can’t understand how one can be scared of making chicken stock, eating raw eggs (carbonara), chopping, and cooking a steak. What is considered “cooking” if basic things like this are feared?
To add, I will say that making croissants scares me.
share the canning fear; also fresh pasta (no pasta maker); cutting up raw chicken (hence my devotion to my butcher).
I been hearing a lot about the horrors of buttercream frosting and it has me terrified! It just looks so gross before it starts to come together – I’m sure I’d suffer some sort of baking meltdown while preparing it!
I’m also afraid to prepare dishes with really expensive ingrients – I fear I’d screw something up and waste time and money. I leave the fancy stuff up to the restaurants!
Oh and I stink at rice too – I wonder why that is?
I’m surprised how many people share the same fears. Here are a few that are a bit different: gravy, mashed potatoes without lumps, fish, steak. I usually make my mashed potatoes like smashed potatoes — intentionally rustic, so I don’t feel like they have to be lump-free. Steaks, I make my husband cook so if they’re over or underdone, it’s not on me! :)
Meghan, I’m in your shoes with the too-flat whole wheat loaf. A friend of mine from church who bakes and sells bread offered to help me. I need to take her up on that.
I’m afraid it won’t be done or that it will be over done.
Souffles … they’re so delicate.
Oh a bunch of stuff-but I’m pretty new to cooking in general. Pastry dough is a pretty big fear though, fish. I took a food science and human nutrition class in college and it’s made me forever paranoid about undercooked foods which sucks because I love steak that’s medium and my bf likes it medium rare but I can’t bring myself to do this at home for fear of food poisoning. *sigh* Cognitively, I know it’ll be fine but I really do blame that class.
I have a problem with properly creating Chinese sauces for stir-fried stuff – you know: black bean sauce, spicy garlic sauce (esp. with eggplant, which I passionately love to eat and desperately wish to cook), mushu, etc. I can stir-fry just fine, but I can’t figure out the spice combinations, liquids (is it rice wine or broth or both?), or thickening ratio to make the tasty stuff I order from Chinese delivery places.
Biscuits, pound cake, and cheesecake. Mine always turn out horrible, without fail.
Re: Jenna’s comment (92) – I think the way that Deb worded the question here is very different from that NYTimes article. The article asked what people refuse to do; here, she’s just asking what people are scared to do. I see a kitchen fear as something you want to get over, but maybe you need a little hand-holding, whereas an outright refusal means you’re not even willing to try.
Pie crusts, meringues, mayonnaise, and fish. Me, afraid of fish? Oddly enough, sushi/raw fish is no problem for me, but cooking fish? It terrifies me. The other three are all things I have tried, but they have gone horribly wrong.
pizza … If I buy dough already made, it ends up being too soggy … maybe I load too many toppings? I haven’t tried making my own dough, but I just want to make a homemade pizza that doesn’t fall apart in the middle because there’s too much water from the tomatoes or too much sauce … and I don’t even LIKE sauce!
Please don’t be afraid of going back to simple salads! While your wedding cakes and homemade cheese and other culinary athletics are entertaining to read about, I most enjoy the stuff that’s down to earth enough that I could actually make it.
As for my fears: Any large meat. Turkey, roasts, hams, whatever. The thermometers do not work, I don’t care what people say, and I have no idea how to find that magic moment when it is not raw and not cooked to death. Also, cakes. Same as the meat, always overcooked or undercooked. Never just right. How does anyone know the right moment to take it out of the oven? How???
Frying and broiling (getting better about that, though I did melt the underside of our stove knobs), yeast and gelatin (hate that stupid gelatin. It never, ever works for me), rolling out dough, and over easy eggs.
I am terrified of trying to make my mother’s cheesecake recipe. It’s the most amazing, cheesecake ever- New York style, but not as dense. It’s fluffy and light and tastes better than your fondest dream of cheesecake ever could. My stepmother tried to make it for me last Thanksgiving since I’m 500 miles from home, and even though she followed Mom’s recipe it didn’t taste, you know… right.
This cheesecake is sacred to me.
I’ve conquered many of my kitchen fears – meat (other than ground), fish/seafood, cheesecake, flambe, and most recently egg-based custards (key lime ice cream, mmm). I’m a little afraid of canning due to potential danger if done incorrectly, and I’m hesitant to grill large hunks of meat or fish b/c our grill gets really hot with natural charcoal, but I’m going to have to side with the yeast- and pie crust-fearing crowd for the big fears. I’ve attempted yeast-based rolls and pizza dough with disastrous results, and my one try at pie crust was just awful (Oh, Alton, why did you forsake me?). I’ve been given some good crust recipes by a trusted friend, though, so I hope to at least get that under my belt before long.
Anything with yeast strikes fear in my heart. I can bake quick breads, muffins, scones, fancy soda bread, even beer bread, but I’m scared to death of yeast. I’m hoping to change all that this summer. . . sooner or later.
I’m okay with pork in the slow cooker or dutch oven, but lean cuts of pork that go in the pan or cook in the oven freak me out (Not to mention the fact that I watched an episode of House where a girl had parasites in her brain). Also, italian icings where you pour a hot stream of sugar water into eggs. I am the master at curdling eggs.
I desperately want to learn how to properly prepare and consume an artichoke. I always have a good tussle in my brain whenever they appear on a menu–do I order those little leafs of heaven at the expense of good manners? A tutorial on these would be a dream. I want to make them in my kitchen and eat them in cloth-napkin situations. Help!
Tofu. I love it in restaurants, prepared any which way, but can’t seem to make it edible at home. It almost always ends up tasting vaguely of Play-Doh, or worse. Would love any ideas you have.
I love your site, but the way. Found your pizza-making entry bookmarked on Ezra Klein’s blog, and have been reading back entries for a few weeks. Congrats on the cake- it must be something of a relief to have to get audience participation for a change! :p
This is so fun!
I am terrified of my pressure cooker. As the granddaughter of a woman who is fiercely proud to be descended from “pioneer stock,” I was forced to learn to can, can, can all the garden bounty she and my parents produced. So, I got it in my head that a heavy duty pressure cooker (http://www.allamericancanner.com/allamerican921pressurecanner.htm) would be the next logical step so I could move on from all those acidic fruits and vegetables. But, I’ve used it exactly twice. And had to take a shower when I was done because I was such a sweaty mess from imagining the thing blowing my nice house to smithereens.
Meat! Good meat is so expensive, and I don’t know what I’m doing (grill pan? broil? I just don’t know) and am terrified to ruin it.
Dear Doctor Deb,
It’s me Desperate Duchess here. I was going to ask about Brioche, how to make it, where it originates, why no one in Southern Oregon seems capable of making it? Then I read the other 106 comments and realized that I also have fears and no knowledge of canning, frying, bread making, yeast, Hollandaise, pastry crusts and stocks not to mention large pieces of meat.
I am going to be sitting here (in the corner rocking back and forth) ordering takeout and waiting to learn.
This reminds me of a Nigella Lawson salad I make a lot – watermelon, feta, and olive salad. Kitchen fears: pie crust! I have tried a few times using all sorts of little tricks and tips and it’s just not my thing I guess. People laugh at me b/c I brew my own beer but I can’t mix a drink to save my life. It’s amazing just how bad I can make a 2 or 3 ingredient drink taste. Like award winningly bad! That’s something, right?
I know I’m not alone, but I’m afraid of soufflÃ©s. I live at high altitude and every souffle I make ends up looking like a rock. A pretty rock, but a rock none the less.
I love the summer salads! Bring ’em on!
My biggest cooking fears:
-Whole chickens/turkeys (my aunt’s bird came out not done after several hours on Thanksgiving years ago so I’ve never tried)
-Most candy (so hot and sticky)
Eggs Benedict; I used to be able to make this but getting all the bits together, the eggs just so, the sauce smooth and the bacon crispy but not burnt; it just doesn’t happen.
So it’s not really one thing I’m afraid of cooking, it’s actually an appliance…my food processor. I’m terrified if pulverizing anything into mush/paste/liquidy goo. I might be a little finger heavy on the button.
I’ve had issues with rice, too, which is embarrassing, I hope you explore some rice techniques. I’m comfortable with pie, canning, yeast, crepes.
But, I’m terrified of laminated doughs, such as croissants or puff pastry – would love to see you tackle that.
Also I have never used my pressure cooker that was a wedding present 20 years ago and is still in my house even though the husband is long gone. I would like to overcome that fear.
I’m also afraid of deep frying. I’d like to see you do doughnuts or beignets.
Phyllo dough…never used it, watched people use it on TV – just never tried it myself. I have a box in my freezer for almost a year – I should probably chuck it as it’s probably not good to eat anymore!
To all of you that are completely afraid of cooking rice: try making black rice. To me it is seemingly both the easiest cooking rice (does not get sticky) and the tastiest! I know it might sound scary (BLACK?) but in fact its an heirloom rice that was at one time served only to Chinese Emperors. Its got a pretty deep-purple-ish tint to it and a nutty flavor and is higher in protein than other rices. It can make a blah dish look much more interesting…
I too would love to learn how to properly poach eggs, make an amazing hollandaise sauce, and delicious crepes!! :)
I am not necessarily “afraid” to cook anything, but I can not for the life of me get the texture of a Cinnabon cinnamon roll in home made.
You should see my picture. It would speak volumes about how many times I have tried.
Anything that involved whipping egg whites to any sort of peaks used to terrify me, but the flourless chocolate cake and flourless chocolate cookies have eased that terror a little.
Now? The bogeyman of my culinary dreams is yeast. I love fresh bread, pizza doughs, and the like, but the thought of making anything yeast leavened leaves me petrified.
ohh, also a pesto!
I am so afraid of making lamb. It’s so oily! I always wait to get it in a restaurant, and I can’t figure out how they can make it so, well, not oily. I guess the same could go for duck.
I’m afraid of frosted layer cakes, but not fazed by pies at all.
I’m afraid of trying my bread maker again (last time the bread tasted like pickles – I think the whole wheat flour was off but I still avoid the bread maker).
I’m afraid of using a mandoline.
To Rabbit, who is afraid of tofu:
Try making Deborah Madison’s Pan-Glazed Tofu with Thai Red Curry Sauce, over at http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com/the_wednesday_chef/2007/02/post.html — so good! The trick to sauteing tofu is to leave it for at least 7 minutes on one side before you dislodge and flip it (in my cast-iron pan on medium-high heat it usually takes at least 10 minutes). The second side will cook faster. The outside should be golden brown.
Also, my mom, an experienced tofu cook, says to always use extra firm tofu and press it before sauteing (weight it down with a plate and some books on top to press out some of the water).
Brioche! Thank goodness I’m not the only one…
I would have to say that I would be most afraid of cooking innards: brains, glands, organs and the like. But I would have to add that anything still alive freaks me out. I wish it didn’t because I eat meat, but feel it somewhat hypocritical that I can’t do the job from beginning to end.
I have cooked live lobsters before and that was pretty scary for me, but I got through it. I would be terrified of preparing live soft-shell crabs, for example. (did you reach French Laundry @ Home’s entry on this?)
Good question…It was fun to read all the comments before my post.
I don’t think I could cook a crab or a lobster…I’m terrified that they would somehow escape their deathly binds and claw me to pieces….so I always buy pre-cooked lobster and crab…but just once I would love to have a crab-lobster-fest and impress my friends without my “issues” getting in the way!
I’m with you on the rice. Add homemade salad dressings to the phobia list. I always delegate those to my bf.
Allison, I’m with you in preferring the raw route for fish. If it’s good quality I don’t even mess around with cooking it even though I can do it just fine (growing up in Alaska you learn these things). Copper River salmon was available recently and I asked if it was ok for sushi. He did this loud “well, Whole Foods has this fish here that is officially for sushi and the rest is not.” Then he leaned over, pointed at another worker, and whispered “but he and I were just in the back eating a bunch of it raw.” So sushi it was after my husband wrestled off the skin. I’m convinced skinning fish is a skill you can only master if your last name is something like Morimoto or Michiba.
I can honestly say that I’m not afraid to cook anything. I am slightly intimidated by some things–like croissants, whole fish, cheese–but that’s mostly because I haven’t yet tried them. I can think back to things I used to be intimidated by–pie crust, jam, whole chickens–and it’s almost silly how easy and unintimidating those things are now. Sure, they might not turn out perfect the first time, but it’s usually still edible.
I think the only cooking-related thing that truly strikes fear into my heart is situational, such as high-pressure situations where it *has* to turn out right because there’s no back-up plan. If I’m cooking for myself and I screw it up royally, I can always order Chinese, but if I’m cooking a feast for 20 and I screw it up, man, that would be embarrassing. The thing that truly freaks me out is, coincidentally, wedding cake. I would love love LOVE to make a wedding cake for a dear friend or my sister, but I just know I would be a basket case of nerves. I loved watching you tackle that job, though, and it turned out so great. So, you’re my superhero.
oh! for the canning-fearful, i just checked out a book from the library called Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt. She’s a decorated fair-winner and her book is really helpful. Plus, doesn’t an apricot-blackberry jam just sound so so good?
I share the rice (*especially* brown rice) fear.
I can’t believe no-one has said this one yet – homemade PUFF PASTRY. I am too scared to try. I love to can, not afraid of yeast breads, can make a mean pie crust etc, but the thought of tackling this one gives me the heebies! Oh, and foolproof non-hockey puck biscuits. That has eluded me… often they come out tasty but just flat, not tall and flakily delicious. And duck.
making gravy is a big one. cooking steaks to rare, but not raw.
Hey Dr. Deb. First time commenter… long time reader. I’ve learned a lot from your blog and often cook things that I’ve seen here. I’d be happy to share my rice secrets if you’re interested.
As for what I’m scared of: Pancakes. Why do they always burn or not cook at all? Isn’t there a happy medium… like perfect? I’m also really scared of canning things. How do you know if you did it right? Good luck with all of these ideas. It looks like you’ll be cooking like mad.
cake. always dry…always. i have recently discovered that it may (partially) be the arid climate i live in.
also, not so much a food fear, but a gadget fear. i am terrified of mandolines. i was chatting with my mom while she was cooking once…using a mandoline…and she sliced a nice strip of her thumb off. like an inch. gross. she was really calm and washed her hand and bandaged it while i sat there in wide-eyed wonder.
First, I must admit how much I adore this blog. Look forward to checking it and seeing a new picture, recipe or entry of some sort….okay. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of cooking large pieces of meat (ie: steak, whole chicken, whole turkey, whole fish–you get the idea), I’m just not very good at it. And if it has to go on the grill…whoa, what’s a whole other story. I have a charcoal grill that I’ve been forcing myself to use more often–and I even bought an instant thermometer. Practice makes perfect, I guess. As for rice..my father is middle eastern–we ate A LOT of rice growing up. Basmati, par boiled (think al dente), drained (not rinsed), melted butter/oil in bottom of hot pot, rice returned to pot, paper towel placed on top to make a tight seal, covered and cooked on med/med low heat for 30 min. YUM! Haven’t mastered the crunchy bottom yet–it’s the best part!
If you want PERFECT rice every time, invest $10 and a small amount of shelf space for a Microwave Rice Cooker. I bought 3 through Amazon last year for my kids and myself. Brown rice takes a bit extra water and time, but you get perfect, non-clumped rice everytime! Of course, you do need a microwave oven as the gadget is plastic and can’t go on the stove top.
I have gravy nightmares! Really. I dont have a problem with the milky gravy. It is those beautiful brown gravy made with the drippings from your holiday hams & turkeys. It always comes out clumpy & it never tastes quite right. Frankly I am ashamed to put it on the table with the rest of my holiday meal. I am ashamed of my gravy, there, I said it!
I fear making cakes, pies and breads. It’s almost as painful as going to the dentist.
Question re: the salad – is dressing meant to be mixed in or dolloped on top? (The recipe says mix; the picture doesn’t look mixed)
My mom is always reminiscing about my great grandmother’s coconut cream pie and saying how she was never able to recreate it. I’d love to make one that stood up to her test but I’m too afraid it won’t turn out
I won’t be answering the right question here, but let me just say that you definitely should grind your own wheat! I have a flour mill and it’s my second-favorite kitchen appliance right behind my KitchenAid stand mixer. The fluffy flour that comes out of it puts all store-bought varieties to shame, and the bread it makes is to die for!
Gnocchi. I attempted to make sweet potato gnocchi a couple of months ago and it was the most elaborate failure ever to take place in my kitchen. Never again says I.
Rice may be one thing I don’t usually have a problem with. It used to come out all gummy, but then I tried what my bf’s mom does, and put a little bit of oil (usually olive or canola, depending on the style of rice) and/or butter in the pan first, heat that up, and then mix in the rice. Cook that for a minute or two, stirring a couple times, before adding in the water or stock. I make this rice pilaf all the time.
As for risotto, I’ve only made one, based on a Wolfgang Puck recipe (found here) and it came out so good my friend begged me for the recipe.
Oh, I too have trouble with yeast breads, and I would so love to bake fresh rolls to make sandwiches with. I also have trouble with chicken pot pie (should be easy right?).
Glad to see that I am not the only one with a fear of frying chicken… but even worse (better?) I cannot GRILL chicken with bones in it! Boneless anything I am good with but leave the bone in and it will be inedible… For the love of God we steam lobsters for 50 people once a year and I can whip out Thanksgiving without breaking a sweat but chicken with bones is my downfall… Oh AND melting chocolate in the microwave… My God but I think I need a therapist…
And flambeing (did I spell that right?). I LOVE bananas foster, but I’m scared to death of the whole flaming up thing.
I really want to learn to make a glorious beautiful omelet. (I don’t eat yokes, long story-my grandma fed me rotten eggs when I was 10-scarred for life.) But my family loves them and I want to be amazing one morning and surprise them with a glorious omelet!
Oh, to be commenter 153… I just made a watermelon and pasta dish with greek cheese. it was delicious.
Already been mentioned, but artichokes. I don’t know why it is so hard and I don’t want to waste $3 on each failure. But I LOVE them.
Two fears: The first is caramel. I tried once and was never again able to separate that spoon from the pot. I can’t sacrifice more utensils so I’m scared to try again. The second is quiche. It just never comes out right for some reason – and I can make a good pie crust.
My biggest fear is not so much rice as rice pudding. I made it once and it turned out awful! I’m too afraid to attempt it again.
As a side note, I’ve been afraid of yeast breads until now. I have about a half hour left on my first ever loaf of bread (from your September ’06 post Deb!). I hope it turns out well so I don’t have another rice pudding trauma!
For the guy that doesn’t have coffee cans for oil, use a juice carton! Take a funnel and pour it in when the oil is cool.
As for lobsters, they go to sleep in a big bucket of iced water after a few minutes. =)
And am I afraid to cook anything? Not as far as I know. I do mess up rice every now and then and I know it’s because I put in too much water (rarely do I do this).
I’ve been cooking long enough to have worked through most of my fears and conquered those things that I was afraid of. Most of my problems, I found, came from not trusting and giving myself up completely to the instructions, prepping, and giving undivided attention when I was preparing a recipe. Once I finally did those things, the recipes worked out perfectly almost always.
Also..my expectations weren’t always met. Take, for instance, biscuits. I have finally owned to the fact that I just don’t like the way a baking powder biscuit tastes. I like dinner rolls. I like yeast breads. Those canned biscuits are really yeast based breads, and that texture is what I wanted. You don’t get the same texture or flavor from baking powder. So..I quit that quest
I do fear canning. It’s not the process so much as it is the potential for botulisim if a seal breaks. So..I just let it alone. I hate a hot kitchen in the summertime anyway, so wouldn’t do it even if I weren’t scared of the outcome. I don’t have room to store all that stuff anyway. The irony? I love that other people to do it and giving some to me, and I trust the product completely. Huh?
I guess I still dread rolling pie dough. It’s only the rolling I hate to do. Why can’t they make a pie crust press..you know? They have tortilla presses, pannini presses, Kummkake presses. waffle irons are big and they press too, so why not a pie crust press? Tell me that, would ya?
Sorry for the rambling and ranting..~gracious, that felt good. Whew!
The thing I was most afraid to BAKE, until a few months ago when I actually did it, was homemade streudel. I was terrified.
And I’m not afraid to cook pan sauces and reductions, but I don’t like doing it so I avoid it.
I was just telling some friends this past weekend how I’ve never made crepes because I’m so intimidated by them. I’m on the east coast of the US, and there aren’t crepe stands over here like I’ve seen in Seattle and heard about in CA, so I almost never get to eat them. The place we were eating brunch had crepes with strawberries and creme freche and I was overjoyed by the chance to have them.
These friends know I’m a huge foodie and love to cook and bake, so they kind of laughed at my reluctance to try to make them. I’m determined to give crepes a try soon, but I do worry that they won’t turn out well. Do I need to get a specific crepe pan? I feel like I need to do a lot of research before I make this attempt.
Decorative things are my nemesis. As is — cake or cupcake decorating. The cake and frosting doesn’t trouble me, but making them look presentable, or even cute? Can’t. Do. It.
And while I’m at it — the fluted type edges on a pie crust — can’t handle those either.
Its the decorative touches that get me.
I’ve read through the comments and I can’t think of anything that I’m afraid to make. I’ve tackled cakes, tarts, caramel, pasta, stocks, roasts and a plethora of other things but nothing has raised fear in me. It’s the adventure that makes me tackle recipes I just found or strange requests from people. My boyfriend proudly tells his friends and family, “She can make anything- just ask her and she’ll figure it out.”
One of my all time favorite meals is a quality bowl of chicken or shrimp pad thai with extra egg. If I could eat it every day and NOT end up 500 lbs, I most absolutely would. But, here’s me without a wok and a deep fear of failing my favorite meal. I’d love a good fail proof-ish recipe.
I’m afraid of making numerous things but the two main ones are Bread and Frosting…yes, frosting. I’ve never managed to make frosting without it seperating. Ohhhhh…whatever am I doing wrong? I can never figure it out so frosting remains my fear. And bread.
There really is not much that I am not willing to try and make. Now-a-days it is just a matter of having time to do stuff.
I haven’t read all the comments but I’d like to add some of the things I have found with regard to cooking rice. First, I do not use a rice cooker – only because my Mom always cooked rice in any old pot and I just continued that… ANYWAY, what I have found is that the source of the rice makes a HUGE difference. I am originally from Canada (and never had much trouble with rice there) but I’ve been in the United States for about 6 years now and any time I have tried a rice from the US it has been awful no matter what I do. I pretty much always use Basmati rice but now I make double sure it’s from India. You don’t want to know about the horrendous mess of mush that resulted when I got some (US grown because it was all I could find) basmati while we were in southeast Texas visiting the in-laws – YUCK. The same goes for short grain rices used for risotto, find one from Italy.
As for what I’m afraid to cook… hmm I honestly can’t think of much. I’m the sort that will try anything once… There are things I generally don’t cook because I did not succeed previously but I did give it a go :)
What am I afraid of cooking? Um….anything that isn’t from a box that says “Just add water and stir!” And I hate that because I want to eat organic, I want to eat clean, I don’t want to eat corn syrup and trans-fat all the dang time. But I just cannot cook.
In fact, over the past two weeks, I have attempted to make no less than 4 from-scratch meals. And I have also thrown out no less than 4 nasty-ick meals over the past two weeks. And it makes me so sad. Why am I so bad at this!? It’s not even hard things — it’s easy things, easy things that a 12 year old could manage. I follow the recipes exactly and I just…end up…with gross every single time. Ugh.
I did however manage to make some half-decent oatmeal apple wholewheat muffins. They baked a little too long but still, way better than my other attempts lately. And I learned that I really dig chopping up things. Now if only I could translate my chopping up skills into eating up skills, things would be all good on this western front.
I guess I don’t need a lesson on how to not cook terrible food. I just need a hug and an edible meal. :)
Pie crusts, divinity candy & souffles.
To those who have fried chicken issues – find a good fried chicken joint. I live in the New Orleans area, so you’d think deep south, deep frying, no problem. My mother & I gave up frying chicken years ago thanks to Popeye’s. It tastes good, and someone else gets to deal with the mess.
just the thought of working with phyllo dough terrifies me…so it has to be spinach pie that i just cant bring myself to make…and im greek…go figure!
I have several fears: strangely enough, making broth. It must be chopping vegetables; baking a genoise sponge cake, meringues, baking with yeast, and, ratatouille- oh and pastry. I always bake with somewhat of a trepidation.
I, too, am afraid of artichokes. Once I read you could cook them in the microwave -it came out burnt to a crisp. It turned me off ever cooking them again.
I am also intimidated by hollandaise sauce.. love it – but can’t do it from scratch. I have to use a package. how embarrassing!
I am also the world’s worst cake baker. I am a bad baker in general and my homemade cakes always come out dry and tasteless. I’ll stick to the mix.. Shh. don’t tell anyone!
I’m afraid of making anything with raw egg. I’m afraid that even though thousands of dishes every year are made with raw eggs & no one gets sick & they taste fab & look fantastic, the one time I try to make something..we’ll all get sick. Does that qualify as being afraid to “cook” something? :) Oh by the way, I love to read your blog & I’m glad your cake turned out. I myself made a wedding cake once..it was not pretty, but it tasted great. I also stink at making rice & have found the best, fool proof way. It’s from Cooks Illustrated, you make the rice in the oven! Sounds crazy but works out every time! If you want the recipe, you can email me. Have a great evening!
it’s been said a few times… but phyllo dough-esque things… that sort of fancy dough that comes in buttery layers! Also found in croissants! And super fancy pastries! And then I’ll use the frozen kind and feel dirty inside. I wonder if it’s as dramatic a difference as the difference between frozen pie dough and home made?
Pretty much all meat scares me.
And I’m always prepared for failure when making pie crusts.
The Crockpot… supposed to be the easiest thing in the world, but my stuff always comes out dry and overcooked! So dissapointing…
I love your blog, Deb! It’s my favorite cooking blog – I think I’ve made more recipes from here than anywhere else, possibly including my own cookbooks.
I’m afraid of making meat, too! I do it so rarely, and it is expensive if you ruin it, and there always seems to be someone around who does it better, so I just…don’t. I’d love to know how to make a good rack of lamb, or even how to do something delicious with a relatively inexpensive cut of beef. (I won’t have to worry so much about screwing up if its inexpensive.)
I’m also scared of tiramisu. At least, I’ve never gotten the gumption together to try it. Ditto for souffles, but I like tiramisu more.
Pie crusts… The only time I’ve only made pie crust successfully was when I “didn’t know how to cook” and made a fantabulousmazing pie crust that will go down in history as the pie crust that my family says “why don’t you ever make THAT anymore?” about.
BECAUSE I CAN’T. OK? I can’t. It was a fluke. A one time deal. I didn’t know better, so I didn’t F it up. It was freaking perfect. And every single time I’ve tried to duplicate it, I’ve failed like Lindsay Lohan in rehab.
SO that’s my dirty little secret. I am a southern girl who can’t make a decent pie without Pillsbury. I’m sorry. I know.
Whole fish. I grew up in the US where I only ever bought steaks and fillets. Now I’m in Asia and the majority of fish is whole fish. The steaks are expensive (and only shark and salmon) and no fillets in sight. What am I supposed to do with a whole fish? I fear what I might find inside. My sister has a good recipe for Chinese steamed fish (so I wouldn’t have to deal with that much prep)…but I’m pretty much stumped at the market – which one’s are best for steaming, which ones for baking, etc? Does it make a difference?
Beef stew. I try different recipes, different cooking techniques, different everything, and always it is bland and oily. And then I cry.
For those of you with pie crust fears, I’ve laid it out as clearly as I possibly could in this post. Whether you use the vodka recipe or this one, the technique hasn’t failed me! (Except that one time during a heat wave, and seriously, just don’t make pie during a heat wave if you don’t consider yourself well-practiced in the ways of pie dough because it will totally mess with you.) See there? Lesson one down! :)
I stand in the phyllo dough camp, as well.
Oh, and tamales. I don’t know why I’m terrified of those suckers, but I am.
The “other” Shannon here. It is amazing how much we all have in common. My biggest issue is FISH!!!!
Poached eggs beat me every time. I love them but either end up with egg drop soup minus the chicken broth, or hockey pucks.
I am totally with a lot of other posters on their fears…. Frying, yeast, canning (well, primarily botulism). But to tell the truth, I’m willing to tackle most things if I have a recipe and the time. For me, my biggest kitchen fear is a fridge full of food and NO RECIPE. I’d love to be able to just make things up, but I simply can’t let go. Must search every blog, food website, and cookbook I own to make sure that I am using x ingredient to its utmost potential. Anyone else have this issue?
It’s not a fear, it’s just that I absolutely suck at making bacon. Yes, bacon. I am bacon incompetent and thusly shy away from making it. I inevitably burn it (unless I cook it in the microwave). Luckily, my husband is bacon competent.
And I am with Lin (179), I too now live in asia, and I have pretty much stopped buying fish because I’d rather not deal with cleaning it.
A fab easy whole wheat bread that you can make by hand is in the Molly Katzen cookbook “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.” Killer, high, light and fluffy.
As for biscuits – use white lilly flour. That’s the dif. And make sure your oven is hot enough – 400 degrees MINIMUM.
As for what I fear? Frying and yes, fried chicken. I KNOW it’s not as easy as it looks so I have never gone there.
I’ll make hard candy just by eye (no thermometer) but fry a chicken? Fear. Real fear.
oh goodness, here goes: making pie crust, eggs other than scrambled (although I only really like scrambled so this is fine for me), gnocchi, and I’m ridiculously afraid of making a whole chicken… i feel like that commercial, i have “roasterphobia” hahah
I’m terrified of poaching eggs, as well. I do ok with the consistency, but once the white starts feathering out, I can’t seem to do anything about it.
As for the rice, I use my mom’s method- bring rice+water to a boil, let it simmer (stirring only to keep from burning) until most of the water is absorbed, and then take the entire thing off the heat and wrap it in a blanket for 10-15 minutes. (I usually wrap it in a kitchen towel to keep the blanket from getting dirty from the tracks of starchy water down the side of the pan >.>) The rice will be perfectly cooked and steamed through.
My mom has a special padded bag thing that she uses for this type of stuff. (Works with any other grain, too!)
Hm, I can’t really think of anything else… I’ll cook anything, and it usually turns out ok. I do get a little twitchy when baking french macarons, though, even if they haven’t failed me yet :-p (you know, the entire “mix until it looks like magma”)
I have to comment on the rice- I used to be terrible at it- served embarrassing mush to a boyfriend’s family- etc. But, now I make basmati rice- one to two, salt, maybe oil- cover, bring to a boil, turn all the way down, and set timer for 20 minutes. Perfect, almost every time.
I avoid making couscous the steamed way. I avoid all sorts of other things, too.
Coming from a Persian family, cooking rice was a something we did every other day. Just watching my grandmothers steam rice with saffron to top definitely taught me how to do it right. However, I am always afraid that the more complicated traditional Persian dishes like pomegranate chicken and osh (soup) that I make don’t quite measure up to what they served during family dinners. Also, I love Churros down here in Texas but I am too afraid to see what would happen if I try to fry some up myself.
I can’t think of anything I’m personally afraid to cook… well, I have a thing about a chicken, in that I’m terrified I’ll undercook it and kill myself or someone I care about… but I still make it, and it turns out fine, so that doesn’t count. But the first thing that comes to mind after reading this post is a girl I work with, and her caramel mousse troubles. She’s the mousse master, but caramel mousse gets her almost every time. I watched her make it three times in a row one night, with disaster after disaster occurring. Beads of gelatin throughout, because it got too cold, not stiff enough cream, sugar not caramelized enough, sugar too caramelized (aka: burnt)… she has scars from that night. I’d love to see you make caramel mousse so I can show her your site, and even if you mess up (which I know you won’t!) it will make her feel better :)
mmm, i think i’m most afraid to do pastries, like croissants or danish. they just seem so finicky. i’m afraid to deep fry things, but that’s mostly because i’m afraid to eat that much grease. i also have an irrational fear of roasting a game bird. it just seems like there are more things that can go wrong than right. but the nice thing about cooking, like math, is that there’s always a definite right answer, it’s just sometimes you don’t know how to get it.
and i just want to say i love your blog! your recipes have never let me down. they’re always the most delicious of the things i make!
I’m a long-time lurker, but just had to comment after reading all 177 comments! First off, I’m a Family and Consumer Science teacher (used to be called Home Ec). In the past 20 years foods and nutrition classes in high schools have been eliminated in many schools. Kids aren’t learning to cook at home anymore and slowly but surely they aren’t learning in school either. Reading all these comments made me feel sad for all of you who are afraid to cook things that used to be just an ordinary part of life–like bread, meat and canning. I wish you could have learned these things in my classes! That said…I have yet to make a jelly-roll cake that hasn’t cracked!
although it looks like you have enough cooking fears to keep you busy for life… i’ll add mine!!
stir fry anything. nothing gets cooked the correct amount, vegetables are overdone and mushy or the broccoli is completely and then the meat is tough or not done in the middle! and i have never found a stir-fry sauce that i liked as much as anything i’ve ordered from a chinese or thai restaurant. help!
I too used to suck at rice, but then a couple of moths ago I saw the boil it like pasta method and it works really well and it is ifaster. Here is a a step by step Amy Karol coincidentally put up recently of this method: http://angrychicken.typepad.com/angry_chicken/2008/05/the-rice-cookin.html
I still seem to mess up risotto I diligently stir and add a laddle of broth and stir, and it is always crunch on this inside (last time I cooked it an extra 30 minutes). Also puff pastry/croissants from scratch. I live in Fl and it is generally very hot and humid so I anything that says not to make on a hot or humid day I fear.
Plus fish. We only ate shellfish growing up, and I don’t like strong fish like salmon, and with the price and having never cooked it or bought it, it just seems like tempting the fates too much.
I have a good follow up: What is the one thing you have totaly confidence in, the thing you make to bolster your self esteem after several failures? Mine is definantely meat balls, I have never used a recipe for them, but watched my dad (a full blooded Italian) make them for the first 19 years of my life, and well I guess it is just in my blood because the first meat ball I made was about 2 years after he died and it was exactly what I remember.
Okay I’ll shut up now. Dang insomnia.
I’m not really scared so to speak but I guess there are some things i would probably never want try to tackle – so maybe that’s equated with scared-ness?
Purchasing / Searing ahi tuna
Anything offal, brains, tongues, hooves (OK i’m scared of this for sure!)
Deep frying a turkey would scare me just from the safety hazard of it but regular pan frying or deep frying is fine.
Meat in general. I’m not a vegetarian, but for some reason I’ve never really learned to cook meat, other than cut-up chicken breast in a stir fry. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.
Right now, for example, I have a freezer full of bone-in pork loin steaks, and I have no clue how to cook them.
Caramel. I once tried making Ina Garten’s recipe for Apple Cake “Tatin” and the caramel was so burnt and gross that no one would even pretend to eat it.
Really anything that calls for cooking sugar until it reaches one of those candy making stages.
Add me to the “afraid of frying (deep or shallow)” list. I also have issues with pastry, but there is no fears there, just really really poor technique.
Just like Christie above me, I’m also scared of caramel. I never let it cook long enough because I’m scared it will burn/catch on fire/stick to the pan etc etc
Are you going to have time to read all these comments, much less process them?! My vote goes to the deep frying and what to do with the oil issues.
Wow longest comment thread ever! Apparently this hit a nerve.
I am scared to cook anything my Husband’s MOM specializes in because mine will just not compare. This means the australian delights of:
Bolognese, Sticky Date Pudding, Sausage rolls, Meat Pies, BBQ Eggs, and Kangaroo are off limits.
Luckily, being American, most of those things weren’t in my repertoire anyway.
In terms of conquerable fears:
Difficult Stir-frys (the kind with LAYERS like double-cooked pork)
Those chinese steamed BBQ Pork Buns
Giant pots of stock
Deep fried Tofu
Rice is SO easy! I’m not sure if this is frowned upon and that’s why nobody can cook rice – like it’s so shameful that its not spoken of. which is hilarious if so, actually – but rice is extraordinarily easy to cook in the microwave, even without buying those sachets of ‘microwave rice’. We put the rice in a thick plastic dish which we will then serve from (if its for other people we’ll transfer it into something nicer after cooking obviously), pour on the same ratio of water to rice as you would cooking it and whack it in the microwave for 5-15 mins, depending on how much is being cooked. If it’s not done, then just zap it for a couple more minutes.
I’ve never cooked rice in a different way, unless it’s for fried rice which I’ve never had a problem frying in a nonstick wide pan.
Deb, should this be the Almighty Rice Cure, could you please put it in a post because there were SO many riceophobes out there when I browsed the list, and the simplicity of the method must thusly be shared!
(of course if my earlier fears were true and it is, a la Harry Potter the Method-that-must-not-be-named because of its crude microwaveness, feel free to ignore).
There, well and truly de-lurked myself now!
Well done on the wedding cake; it is beautiful!
Oh, and I am terrified to make dulce de leche because I have read about the explosion of boiling hot sugar goo, and fear it scalding me and coating my kitchen.
Bread…..I have a fear of Bread making! I never seems to come out. Could be the yeast, could be the kneading, could be me!
Hey, how about Kohlrabi is this recipe? I am currenly growing it and harvested one yesterday. Read your recipe and think I can add this instead of raddishes.
Stop by my blog as I have a BIG problem with my up coming blog makeover and need EVERYONES help, quickly!
My morning starts with your web site. As mentioned before, i no longer cook but enjoy reading the comments. As for poaching eggs. I was always good at it.My secret was a bit of vinegar in the boiling water. Just a small splash will do. It helps to keep the egg form (shredding). Love your site. Keep up the good work.
I am afraid of cooking meat and also fish (especially fish), which is really a shame considering that I very much enjoy eating both. This means that I am nearly a vegetarian at home (except for a few chicken dishes and flank steak) and when I go out to eat I always order meat or fish. I’m just afraid that it won’t cook through, or else I’ll over-cook it, and I can never time it right with anything else I’m making so something is always cold by the time I get around to serving.
I’m another long-time lurker coming out of the shadows for this therapy session!
As well as sharing fears about (unflavoured) bread, and a general unease with fish, choux pastry really scares me. Because it worked the first time I made it, when I was about 16, and about 16 years later–with regular attempts–I’ve never had another success with it. It just hates me, that must be it.
PS – I made your vanilla pound cake last weekend and it was SO GOOD. I’m a long-time home baker, but this tasted professional. Mmmmmm.
Astrid — Yes! Well, I’m envisioning a spreadsheet where I can see all of the fears in one place. (Here’s to hoping my resident Spreadsheet Guru sees this task as right up his alley.) I’ll consider the most popular ones first, but likely, like everything else on this site, it will probably come down to what I’m more in the mood to cook first.
Fortunately, many of them are things I have always wanted to conquer–like croissants! and I want to revisit choux!–and I have great recipes for all of the above. I just couldn’t imagine fiddling with either until the humidity drops a bit.
i make a papaya/watermelon/feta/mint salad all the time!
Offal. Not “scared” per se, but just not interested.
I LOVE to cook, but I have two particular things I haven’t tried and feel intimidated by – ribs and risotto.
Yeast bread and pies!
I’m afraid of homemade pastry, but the one thing that I *have* tried and can never get right is creme brulee. It ends up being a goopy mess, not the nice creamy consistency I love in restaurants.
To those with a fear of canning, please check out preserving guides by Ball (freshpreserving.com). It’s all about boiling water and cleanliness. Canning is so wonderful. I strongly urge everyone to try it.
I have to second GRAVY and FRIED CHICKEN. I think I should really, really have these down by now, but a couple of disasters have scared me off. I would like to be able to make a gravy with drippings from any roast meat. I come from a long line of women who fry chicken as easily as they put on earrings. Why does this elude me?
2 things are frightening to me: a full breaded chicken breast cooked in the pan (I can never get the inside to cook without the outside burning) and souffles (how to know when it’s done if you can’t open the oven?).
Well, Deb, I guess you’ve got enough ideas to keep the blog going for several lifetimes. Rest assured no one will criticize you just because not every recipe is a wedding cake! I think the one ingredient that ruins the most food is actually FEAR! We should all channel Julia Child and not be afraid to drop a few metaphorical chickens on the floor!
Pan sauces, after cooking chicken or pork, I would like to make just a simple sauce, but I just don’t know where to begin and I tend to try to make them thick like gravy, but I know that is not right either.
I vote for canning, too. I’d love to can (and it’s the season!) but I’m too afraid of deadly bacteria.
As for rice, here’s my method: cook with less water (more like 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice than the usual 2), cook for less time (about 13 minutes), and leave the lid on the pan for 10 minutes after you’ve turned off the heat. No fail!
Anything that requires using a rolling pin.
Itâ€™s not a fear, itâ€™s just that I absolutely suck at making bacon. Yes, bacon. I am bacon incompetent and thusly shy away from making it. I inevitably burn it (unless I cook it in the microwave). Luckily, my husband is bacon competent.
Here is the absolutely foolproof, and no-mess way to cook bacon. Preheat oven to 350, and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, preferably in one piece (you’ll see the reason for that later), with foil coming up sides. Line out the bacon pieces on the cookie sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes depending on how crispy you like your bacon. Using spatula, remove bacon from cookie sheet to drain on paper towels. Set aside cookie sheet for grease to cool. After 10 minutes or so, crumple up and throw away foil with grease inside, leaving a perfectly clean cookie sheet underneath.
The best thing is that you can totally cook the bacon while making the rest of your breakfast foods, and it usually times out perfectly!
I have a few: phyllo, baking with starters, and crepes.
I make rice on an extremely regular basis (without a rice cooker!) and I love making lamb. But I am afraid of using the broiler — how do you know everything won’t just go up in flames? That happened to me once, although in retrospect, putting foil under the salmon as I was broiling it wasn’t the thing to do. Anyway. Broiling anything scares me. I make my husband do it.
Every time I cook pork chops, they turn out tough. I’m not afraid of cooking them, but it’s a pain. Pink pork grosses me out, though, so I may just have to live with tough but tasty.
Fish. I like fish quite a bit and want to make it for others to encourage them to eat more of it, but dealing with the raw stuff, knowing how to pick good cuts(?) at the store, etc. is intimidating. Now, catching a fish and frying it up, that I can handle. But a salmon filet or tuna steak? Those intimidate me.
Polenta just doesn’t seem to want to work for me. I either don’t use the right coarseness, or the right recipe, but my polenta is never quite the right consistency! I’ve tried 3 recipes so far, and will probably give up after one more failed attempt!
Just wanted to second the oven-baked bacon method. My brother-in-law shared it with me about a year ago, and it’s the ONLY way we cook bacon now! None of the taste is sacrificed, it comes out perfectly every time, and no nasty grease spatters on the stovetop — all pluses.
And, if you want to use some of the bacon grease to cook your eggs, you can just pour it off of the cookie sheet:)
Tops on my list is a presentable poached egg, something I can cook with a high rate of success. I fail more often than not, get it right once in a while, but seldom know what I did right or wrong. Experiments are fine when it’s just me and I can hide some mistakes under hollandaise or such for close friends and family, but my dream is to serve my chef wannabe circle a bistro classic poached egg on frisee.
I’ve tried straight-from-the-chicken fresh eggs, supermarket eggs, slightly coddled eggs, the whirlpool vortex, the cling wrap method (ridiculous), and the classic vinegar bath, my preference. I found that rice-wine vinegar allows me to use a little extra and the vinegar taste is nice, not overpowering. Still, I nearly always end up with the white separating from the yolk when I try to coax the eggs into the perfect shape and sinkers that insist on sticking to the bottom of the pan if I look away for even a moment. It may be that I don’t have a pan that’s both deep enough and wide enough (my current theory). Should I look for a 3″ x 12″ pan with a non-stick lining? Do they even make such a thing?
I echo the bread machine whole wheat bread and canning without poisoning family, but especially the poached eggs. I’ve followed every ‘fantastic’ and ‘simple’ tutorial on every blog that talks about them, but NEVER get them right. I’ve tried every single thing Colorado Linda mentions above (yep, burnt my fingers with the stupid cling wrap method). Clearly I need the “for really BIG dummies” version…
i think the clear winner here is rice.
Gravy. Last time I tried to make it, you could’ve eaten it with a fork. It was that thick.
I’m amazed that no one has mentioned chocolates. The whole candy world in fact. But mostly chocolates, because you know they can “seize.” It sounds deadly.
I have a fool proof recipe for artichokes and you will laugh but truthfully cook them for 2-3 hours in simmering salted water, turning them every now and then. And then you can make a dip out of (I know I know, but it’s good really) –lemon juice and mayonnaise. Pull off the leaves one by one and dip them in the sauce. When you cook the artichokes long enough, you’ll find the heart becomes like pate’.
Regarding cake (fresh) yeast: You dissolve it in the liquid first, so it incorporates better. Some recipes ask that you warm the liquid – not too hot though or it will kill the yeast. Direct contact with salt can kill it as well, so add these separately, and at the end.
Thanks, Another Anna- I will try that this weekend. I had previously tried the weighing down/water removal process, but I’m sure I didn’t leave it in the pan long enough. And I’ve recently broken in a good cast iron pan that should do nicely- :D
Oddly enough, it’s rice that does it for me, too. I can’t seem to manage it, especially brown rice. I think it might have something to do with my stove (or I hope so), but either way I ruin 90% of the rice batches I start out on. Also quinoa, bulgur, couscous, anything-that-needs-to-sit-on-low-heat,-covered…
Aqua – I found fresh masa at a local carniceria (do you have a Mexican community where you live?) and that got me over problems I had with Masa Harina. I did find that adding a little extra lard to the dry mix helped, but this fresh masa is better. I have to buy 5 pounds at a time, but I divide and freeze it.
Megan – Rice for fried rice has to be at least a day old so it won’t get mushy. Let it chill, uncovered, overnight, to dry it out a bit. I scramble the eggs separately, set aside, and then mix them in last.
Cynthia, SaraS, and other bread maker wannabes – Start with Jim Leahey’s No-Knead Bread. You can google it if Deb doesn’t have it in her archives. It’s terrific. Make sure your oven is fully up-to-temp for at least 5 minutes.
For fried chicken gravy that never gets lumpy, use Wondra instead of regular flour. I use it as a thickener in all sorts of sauces (except the clear ones) and substitute some in pie dough when I want the crust a little crispy and not so flaky, e.g. an open fruit tart that I need to cut into bite-sized pieces for a buffet (easier than tartlets).
Brioche – I like Nancy Silverton’s recipe. I bake it in loaf pans (3). You can google it. She did a demo on a Julia Child online video. I think it was a Baking with Julia …
Looks like you’ll have a lot of posts lined up with all of these comments!
My boyfriends’ favorite food ever is Gumbo, the kind with terrifying vegetables like okra and seafood i’ve never seen in my supermarket like crayfish. I dont really like the stuff so I am not by any means a connoisseur like my bf. I am so afraid to cook his fav food and have him hate it. Help! Where do I begin?
Hi Deb, for me it’s frying fish, chicken, shrimp, etc. I tend to broil the shrimp and oven bake the other two.
BTW, yesterday was my husband’s birthday and I made him a cake taken from your wedding cake. The vanilla butter three layer cake (his choice NOT mine) and the Swiss buttercream frosting. My frosting never did collapse, but I beat it and beat it for a good 20 minutes before it came together! Very good! Go to my blog for a picture of it.
An ever-present lurker, I come out to share my fears with you.
Pie crust- Ugh, I hate the stuff. There is always something wrong with it. It’s either too dry and cracks while rolling or too wet. And never mind adding a tiny bit of water to the dry dough. That’s just a disaster.
Canning- My mother does it. My grandmother does it. I am terrified of it. Thankfully, I live close enough to my mother that she’ll do it for me, no problem. I’m a manager at a large chain grocery store and work at least 60 hours a week, so she’s just happy to see me!
Skinning fish- I love fish. It’s my favorite protein. I eat the stuff at least 3 times a week. However, every time I attempt to skin a fish, whether fresh off the line or from the fish market, where I forgot to ask them to skin it (it makes me seem awful, but I won’t buy meat or produce from my store), it is horrible. I mangle the poor thing. I wish I had Morimoto on speed-dial so he could do it for me.
Also lentils! Love them, but cannot cook them to save my soul!
Ironic post over on Pioneer Woman Cooks – she posts about canning, and asks her readers if they can, what they can, how they can, and can they do the can-can. For any of you here afraid of canning, you might want to check her out: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/
No real instructions on canning yet, but I bet she’ll post about it soon. She does comment that if she can do it, anyone can. can.
Despite having worked in kitchens most of my life, I have yet to be able to successfully bone a chicken–neither whole (which I understand is possible) nor any part thereof. I/m not even sure why I wish I could–I eat meat probably less than 10% of the time–but there it is! I sigh with envy…
Is it bad etiquette to double post when such a popular topic comes up?
TY, Meghann #233 for the advice re cake yeast. How much of a 2.2 oz cake would be appropriate for a single loaf recipe?
Also I have no ability to make dried beans into something edible. This may be a practice issue, but ugh messy although not expensive. This is surprisingly fun to read. I can do rice and poached eggs and I think in both cases it is better to use low heat (rice) and no heat (poached eggs).
What’s funny to me after reading these posts is that it seems like what we are all scared of is not really the food – but FAILING. “I don’t want to waste my time or money or energy” – which are pretty normal – that’s why I got so mad when my croissants didn’t come out. Not so much the money, but my time. I just took a 4 day baking course – it was probably one of the best times of my life, and interestingly, a fellow participant recommended this blog – but I came away with two very strong points: 1) Adults are more scared of failing, and we hate it when things don’t come out perfectly; and 2) “good” invariably gets lost on the way to “perfect”.
So I’m going to try croissants again, but probably not until it’s down in the 90’s (I’m in AZ), and I’m going to keep trying to push my own boundaries. Isn’t that the point? If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again.
Opps, that no heat comment #244 meant after the water comes to a boil turn off heat and add the eggs. Let stand 4 or 5 mins and remove with slotted spoon.
This question brought me out of hiding. A few years ago my mother had a triple bypass; many complications ensued and she ended up staying in the hospital for 6 weeks. When she got out all she could talk about was having a dinner of lamb chops, new potatoes, and green beans. Although I love lamb I’d never cooked it before because it was too initimidating. I printed out the directions from Cook’s Illustrated, followed them exactly, and served my sweet mother the dinner she’d been pining for. Since then I’ve cooked lamb dozens of times with nary a disaster; in fact, my husband never orders it out any more because he says mine is so much better.
Regarding hollandaise- and mayonnaise-phobes: Put all your ingredients except the butter or oil in a blender (not a food processor) and combine. Take the center thingy off the blender lid and SLOWLY drizzle in the hot butter or oil. My sweet mother taught me to make these things 40 years ago and neither has ever failed.
This is the best blog ever! Thanks, Deb.
I am jumping in the fear of yeast and canning pools. Although I can’t say it is FEAR per se, but more INTIMIDATION! As a New Englander, I have been presented with the lobster issue as well. I am TRULY afraid of the lobsters. My biggest thing is that they are cursing at me when I throw them into a boiling pot of water and what if one happens to escape and jump out of the pot, knocking the lid to the ground. Then I would have a lobster running around on my foor half cooked and flaming hot and flaming mad. I don’t see how that would make for a good situation.
Deb, your blog is the best…. THANKS!
Although I’ve got to add to the rice cooker comments. 1) Wash the rice first…just add some water in a bowl, swish around and rinse a couple of times. 2) don’t forget the measuring rule. After you’ve added water, stick a dry (clean) finger in and mark with your thumb where the rice is. The rice should be at the halfway mark, so no matter how much you’re making, you can always easily gauge how much water you need.
Grain size is a pretty big factor too…I prefer medium for yummy sticky white rice. But if you want it not so sticky, the long grain kind is usually good for that. Plus, you can add different ingredients into the rice cooker if you want some different seasonings. You can get the most basic kind for pretty cheaply, under 20 bucks sometimes if you shop around for sales. And I’ve got an apartment kitchen that might be even smaller than yours, but my tiny one doesn’t take up too much space. (Granted, I do put it away between uses though)
I’m terrified of chicken. Shameful, but true. As a teenager, I saw a few too many episodes of Dateline where they go around someone’s kitchen with an infrared camera to see all of the traces of salmonella and e. coli. Scared the crap out of me to this day. Sigh……
Thankfully, I’m new to this whole cooking thing (and your site has been a HUUUUUUUGE help, by the by!), so I feel like I have half an excuse. :)
There are plenty of things that I resist cooking because the technique is beyond my limited skill set, or because I don’t have the right equipment, or because I don’t want to stink up my apartment. But actually AFRAID to cook? I have to admit that extremely high heat is a fear of mine when cooking. (Ironic, considering I’m such a pyro when given a fireplace or campfire.) When a recipe calls for a sizzling-hot skillet or a 500-degree oven, I’m convinced that a single stray drop of oil will set my entire kitchen aflame. I’ve never in my life attempted using the oven’s broiler. Perhaps I’m being silly and irrational, but there you go.
I second the suggestion to get a fuzzy logic rice cooker (or any rice cooker for that matter) – not only does it always make perfect rice, it also can be preset in the morning to be ready at a certain time. As for my own fears, buttercream (which I’m now armed with all kinds of new recipes to try – the ones I’ve always tried turn out OK, I just didn’t like them – the frosting was always more like Buttercup than Cupcake Cafe – sugary, grainy, crusty, not for me, not what I call buttercream), pie crust (I have studied both Good Eats pie crust episodes intimately and have concluded that it just cannot be done – I will now be turning to your pages on this to see if that works out better for me and I also have a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that uses vodka to solve the problem but I’ve been too afraid to try it), and I can’t for the life of me roll dough. I can make all kinds of dough – from pastries to pierogis – but I cannot roll it out. I have tried many many kinds of rolling pins and in fact bought a French rolling pin this weekend to try… I always fail, which is not a huge problem because then I just pick up the pieces and smoosh them together on the baking pan and the only people who know about my issues are me and my husband who listens to my cursing and crying emanating from the kitchen. But it’s frustrating to me and I would love to know how to properly roll dough without having a mess sticking to the rolling pin and the pastry board.
Caramel. No matter how many times I have tried, it still turns out too thin and runny. I guess I don’t want it to turn out like a bag of candy caramels, but a little more heft would be nice….
I don’t think you should have any performance anxiety; after the feat you pulled off with the wedding cake you can cook a packet of ramen and we will still love your blog!
FLOOR =MR CLEAN MAGIC ERASER, I PROMISE. OR, EASY OFF FOR 1//2 HR THEN PAPER TOWELS THEN MAGIC ERASER. LUV YA :)
Not to be repetitive but: canning, soft shell crabs and cake decorating! I don’t have a steady hand!
I’m not afraid to cook anything in specific but I have a reluctance to trying recipes that are very different from stuff we already make, and thus it seems we keep making variations of the same thing. I have two kids so it’s a little hard to spend a lot of time and sometimes $$ on something that no one will eat.
I have noticed that a lot of more casually written cookbooks (my mom’s church cookbooks come to mind) do not give one enough information to get it right the first time. For instance, I’ve seen many recipes that call for beating egg whites until stiff that don’t tell you that the bowl, beaters, etc must be completely grease-free. I wonder how many people have been discouraged from making something because of a poorly written recipe. Possibly because of this, my mom thinks of a number of food items as “too much trouble” and is shocked when I make them without a big production…like angel food cake.
Marci: roll the pie crust dough between two sheets of waxed paper. If the dough refuses to part with the paper when you need to use it, stick it in the refrigerator for a few minutes. I promise this will work.
I’m terrified of the pressure cooker. I won’t can meats because I have to use one, and it takes me an eternity to cook beans, because I’m scared of the pressure cooker. I use my pressure cooker as a regular pot, but because I’m scared of it I never use the lid, even put on loosely. I know intellectually that pressure cookers are much safer than they used to be, but emotionally I can’t overcome the idea it might blow up in my face.
Anything with yeast that has to rise, and be kneaded. It just never turns out for me. My mother made wonderful fried chicken, but the good crust always falls off mine! And that’s the best part!
Artichokes, I am afraid – they always come out gray and mushy.
And anything whipped, like meringue or whipped cream… Afraid my biceps aren’t up to it….
I’ve already responded (way up there at the top!), but wanted to say THANK YOU to Mary (#89). Your comment totally hit home–why am I afraid of making bread? It’s cheaply made, and if it doesn’t turn out, no big deal.
I don’t know why this resonated with me so deeply, but it really did. So today, instead of ordering focaccia from our local joint, I’m going to make it from scratch! And if I fail? Well…I’ll place an order and my husband can bike over and pick it up. No big deal–I’m out less than a dollar for the price of the ingredients.
So thanks, Mary! I really appreciate it.
God, I bet you wished you’d never asked now! Mine is ridiculous, but true – I can’t bake cookies. They’re either too greasy, too flat or (bizarrely!) have a fishy taste, which someone once told me is down to organic eggs (something to do with what they feed the chickens!). I often end up being the only one in my family who will eat the end results, which is not good for my waistline or my efforts to stop my kids eating store-bought, sugar-filled junk. Help! I need a foolproof recipe!
Reading through the comments, I was thinking to myself, “ha! good thing my college roommate taught me to cook rice properly.” Then I remembered the last time I tried to cook BROWN rice…and the time before that…and the time before that. Any advice on that score?
My real cooking “fear,” however, is any recipe that calls for heating or scalding milk. Yogurt, custard, pudding, crÃ¨me anglaise…always a disaster. Help!
I really love this watermelon salad too. A few years back Bon Appetit published a similar recipe that used watermelon, basil, and ricotta salata. I think I like that recipe even better. All the flavors seem to marry well together.
Hi Deb, I’m a new reader, and after the wedding cake saga I am completely obsessed with this blog. My biggest challenge in the kitchen is making chewy/soft cookies…my sister has gone so far as to buy her own at the store(!) rather than eat my crispy ones. Any advice that would go towards pleasing her palate and making soft cookies (chocolate chip particularly but any kind, really) would be appreciated.
PHYLLO DOUGH!!! Anything that requires that will not be cooked by me. I had a tragic Thanksgiving incident that has scarred me forever.
On another note..my friend Beth and I were fantasizing about having a cocktail/snack party with you and the hubby and the Go Fug Yourself Girls. A girl can dream….
I cook a lot, but I can’t seem to get pizza rightâ€”the crust just turns out chewy and heavy and not at all delicious. Don’t understand it!
This is my mother’s recipe for fluffy basmati rice, which works perfectly for me (as long as I follow it and don’t overcook the rice). Give it a try!
Heat plenty of water in a pot. Make sure you have enough water to let the rice swim freely around. While it is heating, rinse the rice: in a bowl, add cold water, let sit, stir, drain, and repeat. When the water is boiling, add the rice, bring back to a boil, and then turn the heat down so that the rice is just simmering. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grains are *almost* done (they should have just a little bite left to them). Turn off the heat and drain the rice in a colander. Add a little butter to the bottom of the pot, put the rice back in the pot, mix in a little bit of salt (and a pinch of saffron or other spices, if you want), cover the pot completely with a clean kitchen cloth, and return it to the stove. Turn the heat on very, very, very low and let it steam for about five minutes without lifting the cloth. At that point, fluff it with a fork and see what it’s like. If it’s not quite dry enough, steam it for a few more minutes. If you want a golden crust on the bottomâ€”a Persian, not an Indian featureâ€”heat it on medium-low heat for a few minutes more, and make sure you have put a healthy bit of butter in the bottom.
My father does rice differently…you can find his recipe here: http://philosophersforfood.blogspot.com/2008/02/my-parents-rice.html
Your blog is fantastic, by the way! Your photos, taken with the natural light from the skylight, are really beautiful. I wanted to eat some of the wedding cake.
Oh, I forgot…eggplant! I adore eggplant when it’s cooked well, when it’s soft and tender and slightly smokey and melts in your mouth. Unfortunately, I rarely achieve this. I have managed it once or twice when I used loads and loads of olive oil and just cooked them over high heat for a long time. But often it doesn’t cooperate, and I just can’t achieve that velvety texture and mellow flavorâ€”it’s either tough or undercooked or bitter. Any suggestions?
(I’ve tried the salting and rinsing thing, but I ended up with eggplant so salty it was really unpleasant.)
You would convice me to come for dinner with this salad. I’m not afraid to try anything at least once. I love to cook and bake. Maybe fresh ravioli.
Oh I just went to the most amazing restaurant here in Orlando last night – the Ravenous Pig (no actual pig on the menu!) and they had an Heirloom tomato, watermelon, feta salad with bitter greens and balsamic dressing that made almost faint. It was so good I had to order two of them! I cannot get it out of my mind. What a wonderful combination- the watermelon and tomato and feta. The bitter greens really added a great taste as well. Thanks for posting this! I cannot wait to try this version at home!
Canning and rice, like many others above have mentioned (the latter I had almost forgotten about since I’ve used nothing but a rice cooker for many years). But also… chapatis. They are too dry or they don’t bubble up properly, or…something. I can never get them quite right.
Lemon pie filling/curd. Every time I have made it, it has failed, and now I have major lemon pie performance anxiety.
Love the site btw :D
Pot Roast. I’ve been trying for about ten years now to make a decent pot roast. I abhor crockpots and refuse to cook in them! So I would love it if you could help me on my quest for the perfect moist and tender pot roast. My Husband would be extremely grateful! (I read every entry hoping I was not alone in my quest, but alas not one person in 272 mentioned pot roast!) Oh the shame! ;)
I make a lovely risotto but I can’t make plain white rice. I love to bake bread but I’m terrified to try to make croissants again. I can make puff pastry – surely this time my croissants won’t be door stops? And I’ll jump on the fried foods bandwagon. I think I’m probably better off not knowing how to fry foods, anyway.
This is so sad, but you promised not to judge: simple baked chicken. I suppose “fear” isn’t exactly the right word, “apprehension” is more like it, because almost every formula of oven temperature and time that I’ve followed has been a half hour short, if not more. Every 10 minutes, dragging the pan out of the oven, poking it with a knife – “Not YET??” And then, when it’s finally not pink in the middle, it’s dry. Ump.
I cannot grill. You know, like a Weber grill, an outdoor grill, briquets, lighter fluid, that snappy grill lighter. Everything is over cooked. I can make a struedal pastry so thin you can read the paper through it, I can slice,chop, and julienne, I can even make breads, and I have made cinnamon rolls that have made a grown man weep. But please don’t make me grill! I cheat by precooking the meats and dragging them across the coals. Hey, it works for me.
Tyler Florence took this basic framework and threw it all in a blender to make a tasty watermellon gazpacho…
1 large tomato, pureed
1/2 serrano chile
2 cups cubed fresh watermelon
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1/2 cucumber, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
In a blender, puree the tomatoes, chile, and 1/2 of the watermelon. Pour in
the red wine vinegar and olive oil and pulse. Add the onion, cucumber and
dill and season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Pour into chilled
bowls and sprinkle with dill, feta, and remaining watermelon. Serve.
I made this last week, it was quite tasty!
Spanakopita. Oh, it is so delicious, and seems like it would be so simple. (Can it be done with puff pastry? I just haven’t tried ALL the recipes out there, but nothing has been just the right one. Oh yeah, on that note perhaps a good spinach quiche. I’m afraid of oversalting it, of it not tasting right and my family staring at me with eyes that say, “How could you?” With the egg and spinach balance being wrong, and it coming out into a curdled, oozy wet mess. I suppose the good pie crust at the bottom also scares me. Sometimes I can do it, other times, same recipe, a disaster.
I have to tell the truth, being married to a qualified Fine Dining Chef (though he’s doing other work at the moment) cooking just about everything now scares this once-confident-cook. But tell me how to cook a good steak, or any hearty meat-based meal (and is it just my husand who says “But babe, I just want some RED MEAT”?)
Tongue. Beef tongue. My mother used to make it and it’s delicious and I really like it. But there is NO WAY I could peel that outer layer off the tongue and then slice it up. I’m sorry, it’s just plain gross. But so good. Such a dichotomy for me. Thankfully, the Kosher delis serve tongue and I can get my yearly fix. Because I’m never going to make it. That’s for sure.
Turkey on Thankgiving. Because if you screw it up, THANKSGIVING IS RUINED! And it is so easy to screw up…those massive, unforgiving, murderous birds…too long in the oven and the white meat will choke you to death; not enough roasting time, and the dark meat will give you salmonella. Considering I come from a family who is evenly split among white- and dark-meat afficionados, it is impossible to get the damn thing to turn out in a way that pleases everyone. But I remain steadfast in my love of Big Bird, despite my (and, ahem, my mother’s) problems getting it to turn out right. It’s the amino-tryptophans or whatever they are called–turkey is like Xanax for me. Anyway, the only time I was able to get perfect results was a time when I cut off the thighs and drumsticks and put them back in the oven for 30 minutes after the white meat was done. But then the presentation suffered. Protests from the menfolk echoed through the halls. And now, sadly, there is no more turkey for the Brownes. However, to this day, one still hears mutterings about sub-par turkeys from years past at the Browne holiday table.
RICE – use microwave rice cooker, 2x amount of water:rice, about 10-12 mins (depending on microwave) with lid on and you’re done. Makes a little bit of mess on the bottom of the microwave plate, but the fluffy rice is worth it.
I only read the first 85 comments, but did a quick search and see that this one isn’t mentioned specifically (although candy is): fudge (the chocolate variety specifically). My grandma always made the marshmallow creme version, and I’m successful with that. But, now I live in the UK where marshmallow creme is hard to come by.
I tried making fudge using Alton Brown’s recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_26073,00.html) last Christmas and figured that, being the food science guru he is, the recipe should be foolproof. It wasn’t! The fudge never set despite the fact that I got the mix up to the right temp, let it cool and then mixed like crazy. It got hard when I put it in the fridge, but at room temp was really more like frosting than fudge…
But really any candy in general is on my list of fears!
fish and shellfish. how the world do i clean the things, how do i cook them without overdoing it…i’ve got shrimp figured out but the rest of it is a mystery to me.
i suppose i can blame my landlocked childhood, right? the fact that i lived on the mediterranean sea for 3 years in adulthood doesn’t mean i should Know this anyway, right?
DEB, buy a rice cooker. i eat rice three times a day and i can’t cook it without a rice cooker. trust me. it’ll change your life. :) oh and buy japanese rice. the best rice ever! i know my rice ;)
Instructions that involve any kind of whipping while balancing the bowl above a pot of simmering water seem logistically impossible to me, so I very rarely attempt to make complicated frostings.
(The fact that I don’t own an electric beater probably complicates things significantly though.)
Ooh, and as someone else said earlier on: pie crusts! Gah, such a nightmare every. single.time.
Pies are my Waterloo.
(Of course, I haven’t gone through Deb’s pie crust tutorial, so maybe I’ll be able to claim victory over the pie crust yet!)
Okay, so I have to go with plain ol’ meat. Chicken, beef, fish…I worry about undercooking and inevitably overcook.
Ribs. My husband loves them, but do you boil? Bake? Grill? Sauce? Rub? Smoke? It’s daunting.
Baking bread. Actually, I’m afraid of anything that involves yeast. Anything. It’s sort of silly, I know, but I do so yearn to be able to make a decent loaf of bread!
What to do with the grease after frying chicken? I’m from Texas and have been frying chicken for 40 years (see post 89). First of all, the best fried chicken is fried in solid shortening. Just let it get good and cold (and solid) after you’re done frying the chicken, and scrape it out into any container you’re going to throw away. Or directly into a plastic trash bag. Once many years ago I took it out way back in the woods and dumped it. Well, my next door neighbor’s dog found it and rolled in it. This is the first time I have admitted what I did.
I did it! Deb, your post inspired me. I posted wayyy up there that I was afraid of yeast breads…then Mary @ #89 inspired me….and so last night, I made focaccia from scratch and it was EASY and AWESOME!
Thanks to Deb and Mary for reminding me to just get over myself already!!! :D Now I’m trying to decide what yeasty product to make next….
Phyllo pastry. That I would like to be able to successfully make.
Your salad is refreshing indeed. I make a similar recipe.
This thread has opened up so many of my deep-seated fears! Phyllo would be nice to have a tutorial for. Also, stock, because while I’m not afraid of it, it just doesn’t seem like it would be as easy as my culinary heroes make it out to be (put the chicken in the pot. simmer.)
To those of you who are afraid of fish- I think the simplest start is to buy cuts of cheap fish like Tilapia, dip them in egg and milk, then breadcrumbs, and fry at medium heat in butter. This is easy because it is a fast cook, you can instinctively tell when it’s done, and it is fried, so mistakes can be easily masked.
Deb, I love your blog and it was so inspiring to read about the wedding cake and asking for help from your blog.
As a couple of people pointed out, maybe FEAR is the wrong word to use for what we would like help with and what we would like to learn.
I would like help learning how to be a more efficient cook and use less wasted motion. I know it takes me much longer to cook than most people; I am just not efficient. I know one problem is I clean as I go which is sometimes distracting and I am constantly washing my hands. I have tried the Emeril trick of the towel on the shoulder to wipe my hands but it feels awkward and doesn’t seem to work.
I hope I am not the only person who would like some techniques for becoming a faster, no-wasted-motion cook.
I’m okay with most things, but I freeze up in baking when the recipe warns not to over-stir. I know, just know, that I always, always, always will invariably ruin the batter (and, in turn, the final product) because I’m constantly worried that I won’t “just moisten” the dry ingrediants to a proper extent and end up with random chunks of flour in my banana bread. (Or whatever.)
Maybe it has something to do with my love for kneeding; once I figured out yeast, everything else dough-related has slid.
my only cooking boggart at the moment is vegetarian Pho.
I love and adore pho, but trying to omit all parts formerly breathing yielded the poorest result for me.
In connection to that, I also dislike vegetable stock. I’ve been canning, roasting, baking and grilling since infancy (I do wonder how I survived it then…), but vegetable stock just never reared its face into my cooking. I’ve made beef, fish and chicken stock in past without the slightest need for a recipe and it came out fine, but closely following all instructions, holding on to fragrant and flavorful vegetable bits and even perfuming the next two blocks with the aroma of cooking celery…
… yielded three cups of sweet liquid I still haven’t found much to do with.
Perhaps I must lower my expectations (I have no interest in stock that tastes faintly sweet), but this just hasn’t worked out for me.
To join the many opinions sounded so far, I do have a fear of frying. I make wonderful french fries, tempura and doughnuts if only somebody drops them into the artery-clogging inferno for me. I don’t like fire, I don’t like things that feel like it and therefore I don’t like hot oil, I leave to the frying to Dad.
To the charming beholder of phobia for baguettes:
Yes, they’re fearsome. My lower lip quivers each time I turn, proof, turn, mix, proof again and fold without adding flour.
All I can say though is… do it. A good knife or a dough blade also help quite a bit.
Jelly! I seem to end up with an endless supply of syrup! I have gorgeous red currants that are ready to pick and I look at them with feeling of anxiety and trepidation! How can these little fruits instill such fear? I’d love to get it right this year and would love some help. ps. the wedding cake looks fabulous!
I was looking at Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding yesterday. I know that doesn’t make much sense, it being the middle of summer and all, but I’m pregnant so that gives me a good excuse for having non-seasonal food interests. Anyway, that recipe totally freaked me out.
I’ve also yet to conquer my pie/pastry dough fears.
Hello Deb. Longtime reader, first-time poster. I’d like to think that I’m a fairly accomplished amateur baker. I have my pie crust down, and can whip out some danish dough like nobody’s business. And when it comes to more savory cooking, I’m not a slouch either, and can do a mean curry that impresses guests.
However… I cannot make an omelet to save my life. I have read all the different techniques: sort of almost scrambling the eggs early on and then leaving them, lifting up edges of the omelet to let the runny eggs seep down to the pan, placing a cover over the omelet to help the top to “steam.” And all to no avail. I end up with underdone goopiness on top and overdone brownness on the bottom. Yes, the heat may be too high, maybe I am using too small a pan (though I doubt this is the case). But if someone could help me churn out a good, quick omelet, ideally with wonderfully oozy melted cheese tucked inside, maybe some bacon (OK, definitely some bacon), well I’d be eternally grateful.
Hi Deb, pretty new here.
I have to say that I am willing to try anything. It’s just that sometimes I am afraid of trying something because of the multiple failures on my previous multiple attempts on a certain dish. As an example this one: http://dewidrop.multiply.com/recipes/item/3/Bika_Ambon.
It’s a traditional rubbery cake from Indonesia that has many many tiny wholes in it. The art is exactly that, how does one make those bee-hives look a like in the cake. Too much heat, too litlle heat, too much yeast, too leittle yeast, all makes a difference. I have not succeed in any of my attemps so far. It;’s been about 5 times, I think. But I don’t give up on food. Because this cake is really good. So,there you go. One day I hope to be able to make a posting out of this wonderful dessert. Aameen!
While I’m not afraid of bread making, cake making, or pie making, I am totally scared of puff pastry. That and french macaron (the kinds that come in all different colors with ganache filling inside). I tried making them once, and the whole thing was such a disaster, that I have been to afraid to even think about trying again.
I discovered this awesome blog while trying to find pictures online of “beat butter and sugar, till light and fluffy”. As the basis of most baking I think this is where I fall down (I hope), every time I read a recipe/start baking I hold my breath and hope for the best. So does anyone have suggestions of how to tell when things are light and fluffy??
OMGoodness…this salad rocks. Kind of a cross between a greek salad and a watermelon salad….but together the flavors just kaboom! Made it for a BBBQ last night, and not a scrap was left….even without the dressing, this salad worked. I kept the dressing on the side, let people dollap it on, and got so many rave reviews! Definite keeper! Please, more awesome salad recipes like this Deb!
Bread and cakes and scones I can do – but muffins? Nope.
Gravy. I don’t know why, it just eludes me for some bizarre reason! I generally don’t have any fear though, the first time I made bechemel, I didn’t read the whole of the recipe and blithely poured in all the milk at once instead of bit by bit. But hey, it turned out fine! The more you worry the more likely you are to mess it up! :D
Always a photographic feast the eyes. Delicous looking recipe.
Caramel. :::Shudder::: Fear of it turning into a rock hard mess in the pan. Burning me. Scalding. Almost as bad as custards….burnt milk is nasty.
Yeast rolls. I have attempted them twice, both using the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook (which if I remember correctly, you recommended!!) Both times they failed miserably, for different reasons (I think). I’m afraid to try again as it is so disheartening. I am really good at just about everything else I’ve tried! I won’t make sushi at home, either, but I think that is mostly because I really enjoy the experience / ceremony of going out for really good sushi.
Seems like lots of people have the meat fear, but not so many share my roasting fear. (Although I did give up reading the comments at about 179.)
What I just CANNOT do is roast a chicken. You know, with potatoes and carrots and parsnips and pumpkin… The Sunday Roast, like nanna used to do. I’ve tried, more than once, and I either end up with underdone potatoes or dry chicken or dinner that somehow took 5 hours instead of maybe 2. (And is still NQR.)
How do I get this so wrong? How did my grandmother churn them out every weekend? (Or does it take 30 years of practice?)
At least I can make kickarse gingerbread men… If I make it to grandma-status, I’m going to be the sweet one.
Well this makes me comment #313 and if you’ve reached me, congrats! looks like you struck gold when asking for topics people needed help on! By the by, this is my go-to food blog for just about everything that I need. Anything you say, goes. No questions asked.
Now on to my “help!” part of the comment.
I want to learn how to make more sauces. I’m sure that I could make them, I just need the right recipes.
By sauces I mean like a garlic butter sauce to go over pasta, or a tomato cream sauce really just accenting sauces, I don’t seem to have the brain to lead me in the right direction.
So after sifting through all of 312of these comments (and I’m sure more to come) I’d appreciate any help you through my way.
Thanks for being such an inspiration to get into the kitchen!
Rice – no problem.
Pancakes though I’m horrible at…..even when I mix them from the box.
Too dense, under cooked, burnt…Never Light and fluffy.
Just adding to the “fear of frying” chorus. Probably just as well, since I’m really not supposed to eat fried foods.
Quick question – any idea whether this dressing will keep for a few days (on its own, of course, not on the salad)? With the yogurt and cheese, I wasn’t sure..
Wow, you really opened the floodgates with this question! My fear – large cuts of meat. I’m fine with chicken breast or a small steak (like flank) but I’m afraid of a whole chicken or a roast. HELP!
Allie — I would say the dressing will keep for a week, but you know, test it before you eat it (read: sniff-sniff). We’ve had it for a few days, and its still a yum vegetable dip.
Okay, I posted already, but wanted to add that I also have no idea how to go about making Danish kringle, particularly O&H-like Danish kringle. Anyone have tips?
Bacon. it’s the dumbest thing in the world. I have no problem making omelets, fresh-from-scratch biscuits, french toast, pancakes, fritatas, you name it. But bacon i can never seem to get perfectly right. Very odd. So i claim to prefer sausage.
A friend whose husband is Filipino taught me RICE this way:
*Put rice in the bowl
*Run cold water in it
*Use your fingers to swish the rice around
*Put your hand over the rice and drain out the water
*Add more water – enough to cover the rice up to your first knuckle when you put one finger in touching the rice
*start the rice cooker
Comes out nice every time. I prefer jasmine rice myself.
As for what I’m afraid to make…anything fancy.
So many fears…so many.
how about grilling? weird, I know – but its either raw, or burnt.
then there’s FISH … same thing; grilled fish is a complete mystery.
Rice – mine is ALWAYS clumpy (my girls have learnded how love clumpy rice)
BEANS – soaked for days and still hard as rocks!
If you address even one of these fears and sit me on the right path – I’ll love you forever (well, I already do-you ROCK)
Since Deb, you’re the one with a rice fear, and so many other people have it too, here’s my recipe for cooking rice without a rice cooker. My Iranian boyfriend, horrified at my bad rice, taught me years ago.
1 cup long-grain rice
2 c. water
Pour the rice into the saucepan, and turn the heat on (high if you have an electric stove like I do. With gas, probably medium-high). Fill the measuring cup with the water. Shake the pan with the rice in — you want the rice to slowly start toasting. Don’t leave it alone right now, just peer at it and shake thoroughly every 20 seconds or so. For about 2-3 minutes (again, with the electric stove. Fast gas ones, maybe less). When the rice is turning whiter, you’re toasting nicely, and if you’re hearing little noises, it’s ready. Pour the water in — lots of hissing noise. All is good. Add a little salt. Put the lid on ASAP. Keep the heat as is. But hover for a few more minutes until it just comes to a medium simmer. This is the only part that takes practice, getting the rice just at this point. Depending on how much you toasted the rice (and thus how hot everything is), this can be very quick or take several minutes. Peek under the lid — if there are relatively few bubbles, you’re there. Put the lid on again, turn the heat to low. Leave alone. When you smell cooked rice (Sorry, I never time, although everyone says it’s 20 minutes, so I guess it is), peek in and try a little. Done? Yum! You can also tell because it has “holes” through the rice and no bubbles. You can serve it right away, but it is better if you let it set for a little while first, with the lid on.
If the water is simmering too quickly and you’re using an electric stove, it might boil over after you’ve lowered the heat. Just take the lid off the saucepan and swish the water/rice around a few times. Then put it back on the (low) heat.
I make rice several times a week this way, and it never burns or is underdone. Yummy and separate grains. Fluff with a fork before you serve. Adding chopped parsley and mixing it through as you fluff is very tasty as well.
Thanks for all of your comments, people! Alex and I have plugged all of your food phobias into a spreadsheet and have found some amusing patterns. I hope to post on this in the coming days.
As for the rice (scary, scary rice) I think with at least seven recipes posted in the comments, we can safely say that area is covered. But I love your enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, a few posts for those of you who have brought up things we’ve covered before somewhat exhaustively to peruse:
* Pizza Dough
* Pie Dough
* Homemade Pasta
Oh, the angel food cake! I tried to make a chocolate and vanilla layered cake for Father’s Day and I had to stop at the bakery to buy dessert before going to my parent’s for dinner. Something bad happened to the batter when I tried to incorporate the cocoa powder… and once it actually went in the oven it turned into a huge, gooey mess in the two-piece tube pan. My husband actually threw the pan away since it was going to be so hard to clean!
So, that and expensive cuts of meat.
Uh-oh, will anyone read this far? I should have said this way back when, but I’m scared of exchanging sugars and flours in baking. Evaporated cane for white sugar, Sucanat for brown suagr, wheat flour etc. I’m just never sure how using raw sugar (e.g.) will translate in baking terms (more liquid and longer cooking time? more baking powder? a molasses flavor?) I would just love some helpful hints because the Internets seem to be full of faulty cautionary advice.
I can make a perfect pie crust, lumpless gravy, but can not, from scratch or a box, worth eating!!!
I can fry like a southerner, whip up a carbonara in a dorm room, fillet a fish table side. But Jesus! Not the drated egg!! Deb, help me come out of the closet of shame.
dude. I’m really bad at poaching eggs. REALLY BAD! I JUST DON’T GET IT!!!
I’m scared of roasting a chicken. I did it once and was everso proud, right up until the moment when we began carving it and found SLIMY PINK UNCOOKED BREAST MEAT hiding beneath the (seemingly) perfectly-cooked exterior. I’ve never attempted it again and now just buy rotisserie chickens from the grocery store. Which is not only embarrassing and expensive, but also makes me feel a bit like (OH YES, I DID) a huge chicken.
I’m afraid of frying eggs over easy. My partner is the egg fryer in our house. But as far as other maybe more complicated things…trifle, really anything layered. Not sure why.
I also can’t make rice to save my life. I try almost weekly, but something is almost always off.
I am so ashamed. I’m scared of the words ‘al dente’, as they apply to pasta. I’m a pretty decent cook- but one person’s to the teeth is my “WHY IS MY PASTA STILL CRUNCHY?!”
And you think being scared of rice is bad. I’m scared of PASTA.
Cakes were my fear, but I tried the chocolate wedding cake recipe and the fear is gone! I made a two-layer chocolate with cherry filling and Swiss buttercream. It was perfect and I couldn’t have done it without Smitten Kitchen!
My next fear would be Indian food. I don’t like spicy or cumin, so I’m not sure what’s left to cook.
Poached-egg-aphobes – Cooks Illustrated’s recipe is foolproof. I used to be terrified of poaching eggs, but this recipe works! The real keys are using a skillet and keeping the water still (no boiling).
1 teaspoon table salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 large eggs, each cracked into a small handled cup
Ground black pepper
1. Fill 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet nearly to rim with water, add 1 teaspoon salt and the vinegar, and bring mixture to boil over high heat.
2. Lower the lips of each cup just into water at once; tip eggs into boiling water, cover, and remove from heat. Poach until yolks are medium-firm, exactly 4 minutes. For firmer yolks (or for extra large or jumbo eggs), poach 4 1/2 minutes; for looser yolks (or for medium eggs), poach 3 minutes.
3. With slotted spoon, carefully lift and drain each egg over skillet. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Croissants, or anything else involving puff pastry.
I’m not really afraid of them, but I’ve been yearning to find a biscuit recipe that matches up to the biscuits served at the Loveless Cafe just outside of Nashville, TN. If you’ve never been there, then maybe you can’t help … but … dang! Those are some good biscuits! I wish I knew how to make them.
A friend was over for dinner the other night, and though we had never discussed it before, she knew I was keeping up with your site and burst out with, “Did you SEE that Smitten Kitchen finished her wedding cake?!?” following which we burst into a long conversation about the whole project as if you were one of our best friends and we had been personally involved. Thank you for being our far away cooking buddy.
What I’d really like to know is how you scale down your cake recipes to make smaller cakes. I’ve tried just cutting all the amounts in half but always end up with a odd tasting brick.
Let’s see…mashed potatoes, bread and I wouldn’t even think of a puff pastry!
On the subject of rice, Cook’s Illustrated put out a compilation called something like Light Recipes not too long ago and one of them was for foolproof brown rice. They aren’t kidding. It always comes out right. It bakes in the oven with foil on top and is always perfectly cooked and seasoned. I typed it up in my blog under the title: Best. Rice. Ever. in May if you want the recipe. :)
honestly, muffins, breads, and cakes always come out disappointing for me. i follow the instructions (or at least I think I do) and yet, the results are usually too dense, flavorless, or dry. help!
meat, because i’m veg. i usually just try to distract omnivores with decadent desserts, though, so they don’t even notice it’s missing.
I’m afraid of chicken, we eat it almost daily and I’m still constantly worried about botulism and other creepies. I accidentally cut my thumb a little once when I was trimming it and freaked out. No therapy yet, maybe soon though…
Thank GOD someone else is terrified of cooking fish! None of my friends believe me! but I’m dying to get some nice healthy fish recipes under my belt (that aren’t too fishy) to up the lean protein meals in my house.
Baking bread. I know the physics behind it, and I know if done correctly is almost foolproof, but I’m still apprehensive.
As for your rice dilemma (or anyone’s), the best advice I ever got about rice came from Alton Brown. Treat it like pasta. Boil a bunch of salted water like you would for pasta, and then cook for the suggested time for whatever grain of rice you are using. Once done, drain it.
It’s worked for me every time, and I’ve never had to deal with too little water and stuck/burnt rice ever since.
puff pastry and beef wellington! puff pastry because I never got top marks at culinary school and beef wellington cuz you don’t want to overcook an expensive cut of meat!
It looks lovely and tasty I’m sure!
I LOVE to use watermelon in salads, it adds fresh sweetness.
I’m new here btw..so helllo:]
long time lurker…deb, i love your blog. look forward to reading each day. i am terrified of cooking anything where you have to temper the eggs. scares me to death. help!
We eat more rice than bread (though I used to be afraid of baking bread but once I tried it, armed with Deb’s tips, I did it!) so I justify a dedicated appliance for it – you can get a rice cooker for 15 bucks and it works perfectly every time, if you measure the rice and water. (Even brown rice, no special setting needed – mine is a one-button rice cooker – it just takes a little longer.) I feel like the storage space is worth it for perfect rice *every* time! It’s also important to use good rice. I always buy imported basmati or jasmine.
To make fried rice, it’s important to pre-cook the rice and add it cold to the hot oil in the pan. a non-stick pan is pretty much a requirement, too, otherwise you get a fine layer of rice starch attached to your pan.
Meat. I was vegetarian for a long time, and I cannot, for the life of me, bring myself to learn to poperly cook a steak. My current method is pretty much “Here honey, grill these.” As for anything pork outside of bacon? I don’t even attempt it.
Even tha basics of meaty things outside of chicken illude me.
Dark Chocolate Creme Brulee
I had some of this heavenly dessert at a local cafe in town. I felt very confident in my ability to re-create it at home since I’d made creme brulee successfully before. I made it for a girl’s weekend and we were all very excited about it. However, when we went to eat it, it was thick like ganache, instead of smooth with a true creme brulee consistency. It was also so rich that we couldn’t really eat very much of it.
Ever since this failure, I have been reluctant to try it again for fear of wasting expensive ingredients and time. I feel like I probably had a poor recipe, but there aren’t many recipes for dark chocolate creme brulee. And some recipes even claim to have the thick consistency that I don’t want. So, if anyone has an excellent, chocolatey recipe for dark chocolate creme brulee that has a smooth, (almost custardy or pudding-y) light consistency, I’d love to hear about it!
By the way, love your site. I read it all the time!
I will throw my towel in with the multitudes of people who have mentioned canning. However, it doesn’t seem to stop me from at least trying to provide the better part of the Peace Corps Volunteer (not to mention my husband) population with some wonderful form of botulism. On that same note, after a molten lava-esque attempt with apple butter, I’ve been quite afraid to boil it down as far as I need to to actually achieve ‘butter’.
I also have to go with the large quantities of meat preparation – scary! And, to top it all off… frying, too. Guess i’m not very creative, but gosh darn if that’s not what gets me!!!
Oh…and omletes… i’m HORRIBLE with omletes.
Wow, I first saw this post on it’s first day and thought, “I’ll wait and see what some others say before posting my fear just to see what else is addressed.” Unfortunately, now I’m not patient enough to read through the 300+ comments before posting my own. I got halfway, does that count?
Someone may have said it already, but I have a fear of rolling inside-out sushi rolls. Regular, I’m fine, but putting that rice on the outside just makes me fret and worry, and for some reason I just forget what to do. Maybe the rice isn’t sticky enough… maybe too sticky?? So far it’s been more messy than sticky. I just want some cute little rolls with sprinkles of sesame seeds on some beautiful rice. Is that too much to ask?
You’re a doll for taking on such a daunting feat. I hope you feel the love from all us scaredy cats!
I cook just about anything and, as a Southern girl originally, I can fry up chicken and biscuits in my sleep.
But pastry. Pastry is a problem. Pie crusts. Puff pastry. All that stuff. I am a mess. Help!
The list is so long;
gravy,sugar cookies,pie crusts!!!corn bread (I’m even unsure if it is one word or two),and honestly although it is not a recipe it is a kitchen skill…I cannot for the life of me sharpen a knife
P.S. my husband would like to add that I live in mortal fear of all things deep fried (I have banished the deep fryer to the backyard)
I watched with awe as you produced a most beautiful wedding cake…congratulations!!
Rice is possibly the easiest thing in the world to make. As a Japanese American, I own a rice cooker that takes all of the work out of it. However, I broke mine and didn’t replace it for almost a year. Here’s how you cook white rice:
Put 1 1/2 cups of water into a pot that has a tightly fitting lid. Bring the water to a full boil. Take the pot off of the heat. Stir in 1 cup of rinsed rice (rinsing takes off a lot of the extra starch which makes it gummy) and put on the top. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
White rice should never be cooked- it should be STEAMED. It’s a lot like couscous and has about the same ratio of water to rice (3:2). I promise you’ll come out with perfect rice every time.
Keep in mind that brown rice, wild rices, and risotto all have different cooking instructions from this. This is just for white rice.
What am I scared to make? Nothing really. However, I tried to make an asian-inspired tuna tartar the other night and it turned out gross.
Wow, 356 comments and counting, it’s like Pioneer Woman’s site around here! I made pound cake once and it turned out horrible, I’ve no idea what I did wrong. And now I’m afraid to try again. That’s it! :)
I’ve got a few repeat fears – definitely frying (anything). I also am deathly afraid of making chocolates (chocolate covered cherries especially – hint hint). Add to that custards, mozzarella cheese (mine is hard and weird instead of creamy and luscious) and ice creams w/out a machine. Seriously, is this even possible? Be honest with us.
Also, I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the Super-Crumb Coffee Cake recipe (my new name). I made it with sour cherries – and it was blindingly good. My partner and I adore you!
Anything to do with meat, which is rich, considering that I was raised on a dairy farm back in the ’60’s and we had our own home-grown beef and pork. But I defected to vegetarianism when I went out on my own at 17, and left all that meat behind. Now I eat meat, but have no idea what I’m doing. I regularly scorch sausage patties from the farmer’s market, beef patties from some grass-fed beef farm in Minnesota, and I lust over those infrared cookers which promise to cook your meat without drying it out or adding all those cancer-causing compounds you get from grilling and scorching. Chicken is the only meat that I can cook with any elan at all, and we’re all sick to death of it.
Hmmm… phobias… I don’t think I have any. I mean, I’d be a little leery of trying to make, say, fondant from scratch but if I really wanted to make it that wouldn’t stop me. I don’t eat anything that originally came with suckers attached except for the very occasional calimari, which I try to pretend does not fall into that category. Surely I must have more food fears than that? I’ll have to think about it.
What I really wanted to say was that, although I did not make the exact salad detailed above, I was inspired enough that I’ve been making myself chopped salads with feta and yogurt all week. Yum. And thank you.
I’m usually intimidated by really elaborate, fancy recipes. Not any one sort — not only baking recipes, but entrees and the like. You name it — if it has more than, say 20 ingredients and more than 10 steps, you can bet I just won’t do it. Especially if it requires using a mixer over a double boiler pan… :-)
A souffle. I’ve never eaten one, never even met one in person. I just have a strong urge to try and conquer the souffle, but alas I am scared. It just sounds daunting, and snooty.
Cake. I tried to make a cake from scratch for my daughter’s birthday (9X13) and there was always a problem — too flat, crispy on the sides + not cooked in the middle. I am not afraid of baking (I can do pie crusts) but this cake thing really got me down, I tried 4 times and then I went with a mix. :(
I have found that making rice is a heck of a lot easier if you have a rice cooker. All you have to do is pour in the desired amount of rice and then fill up to the right amount of liquid, however it is kinda large and takes up quite a bit of space.
My greatest cooking fear is actually making a complete meal because i can usually only make one thing at once if i try to make more than one thing i get seriously confused and end up ruining both meals, but otherwise i’m pretty adventurous in the kitchen.
81 Kristen- A million years later, but I just discovered the other day that not-shellfish is “finfish”, and thought I’d share that weird factoid…
As for my own issue (I won’t call it a fear, ‘cos I’m pretty fearless, but it) is rice. I try often. I also fail as often as I try. When I managed the kitched at the student co-op where I lived, the first purchase that I made for the kitchen was a rice cooker, ‘cos I had endured too many nights of crappy rice with dinner. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who can’t cook rice, I guess! Prior to my term as a kitchen manager, the prior kitchen manager was an asian dude who was the most fantastic cook I’ve ever known, and HE insisted on using a rice cooker, so much so that he brought his own and took it with him when he left. Ever since then, I’ve had no issue whatsoever with not cooking rice the “old fashioned” way.
I also have some issues with inconsistency with my bread loaves. Sometimes they are freakin’ awesome, and other times, they totally suck. I just keep trying to hone my skill. Someday…
I used to be frightened of baking —- and cooking , I guess. However, I thought of two simple ideas that have quelled my fears and allowed me to get down with my funky cooking self.
First, my mother always said , “whats the worst that could happen?” and she is absolutely correct! I’ve had an interesting couple of years and through it all… life went on. so, really — worst that could happen is that whatever you were making will — umm, — well, it will suck and you will order in pizza and try again next time.
Second, if you are cooking for one or more people and you are worried that it may not come out right and they will have some judgmengtal tidbit for you — Screw them! Seriously, are they cooking for you too? Did they spend their time trying to do something nice for you?
My point being being…. anyone worth a darn will aprreciate your efforts and maybe have some genuinely constructive tips.
So, keeping both those ideas in mind… I am no longer frightened of cooking or baking….
whats the worst that can happen? — a good friend will have a tip on how to make the recipe better… I can live with that possibility.
If it’s not too late, I have another one to add to the bunch. Hash browns! They’re my favorite thing to order at a diner or a breakfast place, but I can’t make them myself. They always get too oily, or cook unevenly so half are raw and half are over-crisped. I’m talking the shredded kind specifically, though I have failed at making the sliced kind as well.
Bread. Scares the living crap out of me.
Bread scares me too. Anything with yeast. It’s completely mysterious to me and the idea of leaving my cooking to the whims of a microorganism just seems somehow wrong to me.
My mom (the queen of canning, pies, and yeasted breads) insisted that we all take turns cooking and eating what had been cooked without complaint (if you didn’t want it, you could make yourself a peanut butter sandwich, but no complaining). We all had cooking disasters–corn muffins with cornstarch instead of baking powder, biscuits with baking soda instead of powder, meatballs that were too slushy to hold any shape, mac & cheese with the texture of wallpaper paste . . . . so I’m used to disasters (hot cross bun-pucks), but I’m pretty hesitant to do anything that would be toooo expensive and with a high risk of wreckage (scallops? filet mignon? baklava? whole fish of any kind?), especially if I could eat it out. And I don’t want to kill anything like a lobster.
After burning pan after pan of rice recently (what was up with that?), I heard Lynn Rosseto Kaspar advocate cooking rice like pasta (boil it in lots of water, taste, drain just before done, leave in strainer over pot with lid on to finish steaming) and that’s what I’ve been doing and it’s been working great.
I will concur that I am afraid to try:
– anything with yeast
– anything requiring a rolling pin
– fish (I am not a meat-eater)
Shellfish. I can just about cope with prawns, provided they’ve already been shelled and preferably cooked, but I can’t prepare any other shellfish to save my life. I think I’d rather butcher my own chickens than handle squid.
Donuts. I caused a house fire the first time I tried to make them. I forgot to turn off the stove under a pot of oil while I went out for flour and sugar. Yes, I started making donuts before realizing that I was out of the two most utterly basic pantry staples.
Chicken Salad. With mayo, not on a bed of lettuce or with “Caesar” added. Whole Foods and every diner in Jersey make amazing chicken salad, and the one time I tried to do it the poached chicken it came out so terrifying that I hid under my bed for 3 days.
I know I’m behind the times, but I often search your archives for recipes and this watermelon salad goes down as one of the best. Bravo SK, you’ve done it again!
I used to just lurk, now I speak… Gotta be pastry. Too much work for little return. But, having said that, I made your cherry pie with your pastry recipe and it was great! Usually I buy the pre-made crusts and ignore them, just eating the filling. I can’t say I’ll never do that again, time and life being what they are, but the recipe was painless and we all loved the crust!
For Rlisa, the eggplant person: Don’t even try to fry it. Put the whole eggplant (pierced or not here and there with a fork) on a piece of aluminum foil with edges turned up to catch whatever drips from it in a hot or very hot oven until it collapses, possibly alongside something else you happen to be baking or roasting. (You could do the same thing on a grill over a gas flame or outdoors but it’s trickier and you have to turn it.) Remove from the oven, slice it open, scoop the insides into a bowl and add whatever you want — yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, crushed garlic, a bit of olive oil, soy sauce, sesame oil etc.etc. etc. salt, pepper and whatever seasonings you want. Couldn’t be easier. Deb — thanks again for your columns. Be well.
Made this salad using red pepper instead of green and it has been all my roommate and I have eaten since Saturday! We love it! I just realized that I forgot to put salt and pepper in the dressing, but the feta was salty enough that we never even missed it.
As for food that scares me to prepare, it’s not really about difficulty so much as accidental poisoning: I always fear that I’m going to somehow kill everyone when I prepare mussels. That they’ll be undercooked or have some kooky bacteria lurking in them, but I still make them anyway. I just hold my breath for a day or two after and hope that I don’t get a phone call saying someone’s been throwing up, or worse. :p This has never, ever happened, but the illogical fear remains.
I’m afraid of not having (while cooking) a glass of red wine or a pot of hot coffee nearby.
im afraid of getting burnt. fire is like my worst enemy. and burning oil? yyyyyikes!
Frying. I have memories of my mom frying something (maybe chicken) in the kitchen, the oil splattered up and burnt a quarter size welt on her face. That will never happen to me. Thus, I don’t fry.
I’m still allowed to tell you my cooking fears, right? I’ll cook almost anything, but I’m afraid of all of those things where you have to add hot dairy to eggs. And yet, I acknowledge frozen custard as possibly the best thing ever to come from a freezer! Save me!
I have never had any success melting sugar for caramel, it always turns out glue-y. It works for creme caramel because it winds up melting down in the oven, but for anything caramel topped? I’m out of luck
I want to be able to do a dinner party without sweating. Kind of an obvious castle-in-the-sky that everyone has, but seriously, what’s the tip to enjoying your dinner party and not panicking all the time?
I definitely surprise myself in the kitchen. I’m a pretty bold cook however even the boldest cooks get nervous. My fear is preparing my grandmother’s famous butter cookies without making a mess of the cookie press!
My cousin gave me the recipe so I’m going to make a second attempt around the holidays again. I’ll be sure to document it in my blog.
I haven’t ready *every* comment here, but despite my love of guilty confessions, I’m going to redirect: has anyone made this salad? I might have committed the egregious error of over-mixing the dressing. It was runny and pooled in the veggies. There was also way more of it than the photos in the post seemed to show. But I wonder if I didn’t just over-mix, and the photos show the salad without the dressing. Either way, learn from my mistake, people. Don’t mix in the dressing, especially if you tend toward being overly obedient. I’d recommend tossing recipe slavery out the window and serving the vegetables with the dressing dolloped on top.
Thanks for a great recipe, Deb. I enjoyed giving watermelon a run with the serious vegetables.
I know I’m a little late to this cooking phobia party (this is what happens with the “Surprise Me!” link)–but I just had to add–souffles scare me. I’ve tried to make them several times, and I’m convinced souffles are like a bad boyfriend: they make you really happy once or twice, but then continuously let you down THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN. I went on a souffle bender a couple years back attempting to master the beats, and with no great consistent luck. Sigh. This salad looks delish, though.
Yeast breads used to terrify me. Just this week I started trying recipes, and so far, eh, okay. Facing my fears, though!
Meat. It always comes out burned, overdone, or disgustingly raw in the middle. I can turn heavens with vegetables, but really I don’t know what to do with a chunk of raw animal flesh. Eew. Might help if I were more inclined to eat the stuff – I’m mostly veggie; DH is the (non-cooking) carnivore.
Gravy. Unless it’s the “add-water-to-powder” in a packet stuff.
Biscuits. I live in the south. This is a source of shame here, to only be able to produce hockey pucks, in a land where the lakes never freeze solid enough for ice hockey anyway. sheesh.
BTW, rice: 2 cups (good quality) jasmine rice + 3 cups water in a pot. do not stir. bring to a low boil. reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, simmer 20 minutes. REMOVE FROM HEAT, LEAVE COVERED, AND LET REST 10 MINUTES before serving. this is the crucial step to good rice. same way you’d let a good roast rest after taking it out of the oven.
not that i know how to do THAT. heh.
I just wondered if there are any support groups for people who are just afraid to cook, baking I can do when I want to but fixing dinner is just plain scary! It would be nice to find a group where I could be encouraged as I try overcoming my fear.
the fail safe way to cook rice perfectly requires just one thing: a timer. Boil your rice in way more water than it calls for. Boil the water, add rice. When rice grains start tumbling in the boils, set timer for 20 minutes. Boil at a decent simmer for 20 minutes. Drain rice. Perfect rice. It does require more pots and pans than the traditional boil away water methods, but perfect rice every time. And you dont have to worry about how your stove cooks on low lol I use this method until I get a handle on how the stove cooks.
This might be oversimplifying things, but a really good rice cooker really does take all the stress out of cooking rice. I think my biggest fear is Indian naan. I absolutely love it in restaurants but I can’t replicate it for the life of me!
I just wanted to say that I love this salad and have been craving it since I first made it. I doubled the amount of watermelon recommended because I love the taste and I had an extra 10 lbs of it lying around. Thank you for posting such delicious recipes!
PS I’m scared of cooking meat. I always without fail make it “crispy” (read: burned) because, uhh, I prefer it that way..
Ummm… so for some bizarre reason I just came across this recipe over the weekend (just 4 years late) and with this heat wave thing happening now knew I had to try it. I was not disappointed whatsoever! I had to swap the mint for cilantro (I think basil would be awesome too) and added some jalapeno and cayenne (because you know… the extra heat was needed). Then I threw it into some lavash with some chopped romaine and hummus in lieu of the cheese and yogurt. It was awesome!!
For those of you afraid of fish, check out Fine Cooking #89, p. 102a. This recipe for roasted cod is good also with swordfish and halibut–any fish that is at least 1″ thick, though we didn’t care for salmon done this way. The buttered crumbs can be gussied up with more herbs (tarragon in this house) and do an excellent job of keeping sometimes dry fish from becoming dry. I like to add lemon juice as well as zest to the crumbs. All the prep can be done ahead, though I wouldn’t pile crumbs on fish until maybe an hour before cooking. It’s quick to put together, easy to do and easy and quick to cook, 10-15 min. Put bread in the oven with the fish for the last few minutes, add a salad and dinner’s done. Any leftovers are good for lunch.
For those afraid to roast a whole chicken on turkey, relax! The bird does the work, after all. Try the Zuni Cafe method of seasoning it a day or more ahead of time, with none of that nonsense about tying up the fridge for brining on the busiest holiday of the year. For chicken, follow their recipe. For turkey, stuffed or un, start it breast down on a v-rack for at least half the recommended cooking time at 325°. This allows the fat to melt out of the darker meat and baste the breast meat. Someone strong is needed–with paper towel padded oven mitts to turn the bird over. The time to Done varies by a lot of things, including how rushed you are; use a thermometer. You’ll wind up with non-greasy dark meat and moist breast meat. It can and should wait to get carved for at least 20 minutes. Tent with foil if you like.
Gravy is a crapshoot. Yes, your turkey in particular will give you lots of drippings. Get the fat off the top however you can, with a spoon if nothing else. Pour the drippings back into the roaster and use them and some giblet stock–you did make it, didn’t you? to get up all the crusty bits which add so much flavor. Add a smooth slurry of flour and water to the drippings, stirring constantly. Once it’s cooked to a thickness you like start tasting for seasoning, but go lightly at first. You can’t pay attention to any other part of the meal while gravy is happening; get assistance. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, there is just nothing to be done except hope that the flavor lacking in the gravy is all still in the bird. As a last resort, something like a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet can help.
A pan sauce is the same principle, but quicker and usually no thickening needed. Broth and/or a wine you’d be willing to drink are good things for deglazing the pan. Reduce it until there are big bubbles almost covering the surface and it looks almost syrupy. Taste for seasoning and if it wants a bit more body, stir in a lump of butter at the last, off heat. Something magical happens!
I’m no help on rice; I started cooking it before I knew it was supposed to be difficult!
I love baking, but yeast is still scary to me – my water/milk never turns out the right temperature, so it never works the way it’s supposed to. What’s the best way to check the temperature? Is there a specific thermometer?
When using fresh yeast, you want to heat the liquid you are using to about 97 degrees Fahrenheit (about 36 C°), which is the average body temperature. My mum taught me to check the temperature by dipping a spoon in the liquid, closing your eyes and then shaking a drop off of the spoon on the inside of your wrist. If you can’t feel it, then it’s the right temperature – if you can feel it, it’s too cold or too hot. After the liquid is the right temp, you want to dissolve the yeast in it (usually with a little sugar as the yeast “eats” it) and then let it sit for a couple of minutes or according to the recipe – next you’ll usually add the flour to the yeast mixture.
With dry yeast, the method (usually) is similar except that the liquid must be about 107-108 degrees (42 C°). I use the spoon-thing with dry yeast as well – this time I need to feel the drop as quite warm on my skin. Sometimes dry yeast is mixed in with the flour I think? Then you want to skip the dissolving bit, obviously..
Here in Finland fresh yeast is commonly used, and with the help of my mum’s advice I’ve been quite OK with all yeast-related baking – only failed once I think! Good luck!
My goodness, almost 400 posts. I cannot add anything original or vaguely interesting really…sorry! Deep frying freaks me out on so many levels – childhood memories of chip fryers on fire! (Brit speak – fries of course!) heavily laden oily food, and calories up the wazoo….so scary. Now RICE – piece of cake with the help of a rice cooker….had one for over 15 years and NEVER FAILED. Both my sons took rice cookers to University and still use them to this day. Cheap versions out there and all-singing, all-dancing expensive versions too. LOVE THEM.
Made this salad today for a “girl breakfast” (don’t know the proper English word…) and it was very refreshing and tasty. I loved the watermelon with the feta… and I used lots of mint – really yummy.
Yeast breads & rolls; I can make just about anything–from custard bases to fresh pasta & ravioli to marshmallows–but I just can’t master a basic BREAD!!
Do you have any advice for preparing this ahead of time? How long does the dressing last if I keep it separate?
The dressing should definitely keep if separate.
Came here by way of the 2018 watermelon salad shared on the June 15 2020 newsletter simply to say that I remember making and serving this salad at my 2010 wedding, and in the midst of the COVID pandemic and the global reckoning with racism and colonialism, it’s really nice to use food as markers of the past. Of what has been and what is possible in the future. Thanks for being part of that Deb.
made this last night–really lovely!
used what I had: feta, cilantro, added sunflower seeds to the pepitas which were spiced w ground cumin & salt, plus a small squeeze of lemon juice
I have more watermelon in the fridge, so will try it with mint and a new combo of spices for the pepitas in the next day or so…
nice & refreshing, and also nice change to the usual salads.
oops!!!! this looks like a lovely recipe, too
…however my comment is for another recipe, the one w cucumber:
There is wax filler you can put on the top. I actually put a small layer of vodka on top of my sauce after I put it in the jar. The vodka acts as a preservative, and what I do is fill jar with sauce. Put a whole basil leaf on top of sauce then cover it with vodka. Then I water bathe it. When I open it up if the basil leaf looks no good then I know sauce is no good. By the way never had a bad sauce in 8 yrs of doing it this way.