I have two friends who can't make brownies — even from a box. The centers stay mushy, the edges get burnt and they stick to the pan. It doesn't matter what kind of pan, either. Their brownies never turn out. I know this because I asked my Facebook friends if there were any foods they simply couldn't get right.
I don't know how to help them. My brownies always turn out well, whether I'm using a mix from a box or making them from scratch (usually following Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownie recipe). It mystifies me that some people can't make brownies, even when following a recipe — that is, until I think about the fact that I can't make gravy.
My mom makes amazing gravy. I still step aside and let her make the gravy when I host Thanksgiving. It would be a crime not to. Her gravy is thick and perfectly seasoned. She makes magic out of turkey drippings, cornstarch, seasoning and the water saved from cooking the potatoes. She can stand there and tell me exactly what to do, and yet my gravy will turn out runny and bland every time. Gravy is my culinary nemesis.
I asked the Facebook question about foods that never work after I read the answers to the same question posed on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.
Both my own friends and the people on the Quora community had lots of answers to the question, but what they didn't have the answer to is this: Why do some foods turn out fine in one person's kitchen but not in another, when the issue isn't cooking experience?
I'm not a novice in the kitchen, and neither are my two friends who can't make good brownies; all of us know how to cook and bake. So what is it about brownies for them and gravy for me that's so difficult? I don't know.
I do know that some foods came up more than once.
Rice, pie crusts and pork were the most common foods my friends simply can't get right. Some people burn the rice; others make it way too sticky. If it's Arborio rice for risotto, it's hard to get right without it still being crunchy in the center. Pie crusts don't cook in the middle. Pork is always overdone, dry and rubbery. Scallops, too, tend to get overdone for fear of not cooking them long enough.
Getting an egg yolk just the way you want it can be difficult for some people. (Photo: Marian Weyo/Shutterstock)
Eggs in various forms also give people trouble, particularly when they're trying to make omelets or do them over easy and get the yolk just right. (On Quora, whipping egg whites gave as many people trouble as did whipping cream into whipped cream.)
It's not as if these foods are impossible to create in a home kitchen. Many people do them easily every day. So the question remains: Why is it that some foods prove to be a nemesis for home cooks? Why can I make an omelet, a decent risotto and perfect brownies, but I can't make gravy?
I don't know, but I'll keep on trying (and keep on stepping aside at Thanksgiving to let my mom do it until I get it right). I will not give up.
Do you have a food nemesis? Have you given up on it, or are you determined to conquer it?