My mom and I are good cooks.
Good, simple cooks.
Both of us are whizzes with casseroles, veggies, and all manner of simple, homey foods. Neither of us, however, is used to cooking fancier fare on a regular basis.
As far as I can remember, my mother has never owned a candy thermometer, a food mill, a souffle dish, or a crepe pan. I never saw her do any cooking procedure more complicated than making a basic white sauce, and our food was never garnished.
In my adult years, however, I became a more adventurous foodie. I bought a candy thermometer and learned to make English toffee; I tackled crepes and tiramisu and homemade pasta, and once I got an air-filled baking pan, my creampuffs turned out baked instead of burnt. So now I’ve sort of made a little hobby out of learning to cook things that seemed too fussy or hard at first — braided challah, ice cream from custard, things like that — but none of them has turned out to be very difficult at all, so it makes me braver for the next thing.
Still, some things have managed to intimidate me — even some things that friends and fellow foodies have assured me are easy to make. I need to tackle this list, and maybe you all can inspire me (or at least tell me I’m not risking sure failure).
Gnocchi is my favorite pasta. I have had it freshly made in good Italian restaurants, and it’s nothing like the stuff you buy pre-made in the store, which makes it an excellent candidate to be made at home. Not only that, but people tell me it’s super-easy to make, so there’s no rational basis for my not having made it yet. Sometimes, I tell you, there’s some sort of reluctance gremlin in my mind, keeping me from making things. This was the case with candy for the longest time, and then I made English toffee and wondered what the big fuss was.
2. Souffle — Did it! I made a delicious souffle
My kid told a story yesterday that involved her walking in while I was making a souffle, slamming the door, and having my souffle fall. Pfffffff!, it went, like a deflating balloon.
I’ve made souffle-like foods. I’ve even made something that my sister always called “spinach souffle”, but it was really just a creamy spinach casserole thing. Now, it was *delicious*, but I’ve never been brave enough to try a real souffle. That needs to change.
The first time I saw a shimmery, towering croquembouche (in a photo; I’ve never seen one in real life), I became a little obsessed with making one. I’m never going to have a really good reason to make one: my tribe doesn’t do fancy weddings or garden parties. I don’t care. I must make one. I’ve already gotten good at the pâte à choux (creampuff dough), so hey, I’m halfway there, right?
4. Lattice-topped pie
Now this one, I *know* I’m being silly about. I’ve made pie crusts. I’ve made HUNDREDS of pie crusts. Making the pies for holiday dinners used to be my job in my family of origin. One Thanksgiving, I went a little overboard and made twenty-six assorted pies! For ten people! So pie crust is not a problem. How on earth I have made so many pies and never done a lattice-topped one is a mystery to me. I should change that.
5. Beef Wellington
I confess I don’t even have any idea how hard it actually is to make Beef Wellington. I just know it looks fancy. Also, cooking a big hunk of meat is outside my comfort zone, because I spent 20 years as a vegetarian. But if it’s just making a duxelle and wrapping the whole thing in puff pastry, I think I can handle it. Please tell me it’s that easy!
Speaking of puff pastry, it’s not on this list, though it perhaps should be. Reliable sources have told me it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
6. Popovers / Yorkshire pudding
These sound like my perfect food. I mean, I’ve never had them, but fatty, savory puddings? What’s not to love? So far, I’ve been put off by some unnamed fear of failure where these are concerned. I need to just put on my big-girl panties and go for it.
Like puff pastry, I’ve been told these are more fuss than they’re worth. Still, I want to make croissants at least once. I’ve gotten really good at making my own bread — we barely buy any bread at all any more — and I feel like making a good croissant would be a real accomplishment, even if it turns out to be an experience I don’t want to repeat.
My dear friend Charlotte makes truffles all the time. She’s been kind enough to bring us precious packages of them (and her transcendent lemon curd) from time to time. There’s no reason on earth I haven’t made them yet. I don’t even love chocolate, but I do love chocolate truffles — Hey, truffles are like chocolate-flavored balls of cream, and what could be bad about that?
9. Cheese Did it — check out my ricotta!
Twice, now, I’ve bought the milk to make cheese. (I don’t usually keep milk in the house.) Twice, it’s ended up going into chowders or onto cereal. This is a serious mental block, because I wasn’t even going to make something difficult — just a paneer or ricotta or something. I may need an intervention!
10. Blintzes Did it — Check out my strawberry blintzes!
My mother’s sister, after whom I was named, made the most amazing blintzes when I was growing up. I just called her on the phone, and she doesn’t remember how she made them, so I’m going to have to start from scratch. I can do this, right?
11. Pita bread
I’ve made flatbreads. I’ve made lots of flatbreads. For some reason, pita is not one of them. Can that pocket really hold all the intimidating qualities of pita? The dried-out thing one gets in the supermarket doesn’t hold a candle to a fresh pita, I know this, and yet, I waver. Tell me I can do it, interwebz! Tell me I’m good enough, strong enough, and goshdarnit — oh, never mind. Tell me you’ve done it, though, and that it was easy, m’kay?
Give me the choice between a cookie and a cracker, and I’ll choose a cracker any day. (For the UK contingent: cookie = sweet biscuit; cracker = savory biscuit.) Savory over sweet, that’s my way. But I hate paying three or four dollars a box for the things, especially since store-bought crackers often contain a bunch of garbage, and are almost always packaged with BHT. What is BHT, anyway? I’m pretty sure I don’t want any. I need to learn to make crackers. I have made pasta, so rolling dough out thinly shouldn’t be a problem, right? Can it really be all that hard? Peter Reinhart says no. I shall give it a try.
Have you made these foods? Did you find them easy or hard? Are there foods on your personal intimidation list? Have you stared down a creme brulee recipe and won? Did a granita get the best of you? Please tell me all about it in comments. Together, we can do this!
[Edit: To add to my list, now that y’all have reminded me: Naan, flour tortillas.]