Foodie seeks cooking challenges!
January 30, 2018 5:31 AM   Subscribe

I've decided that 2018 is the year of challenging myself cooking wise - making those things that I've always meant to try, hard things, things that aren't hard but most people don't bother with... What should go on my list?

I have almost all standard 'kitchen toys' from the Instant Pot and Stand Mixer to a Food Processor and Dutch Oven. I don't have a fryer or a grill, and don't want to get into that at this point. But I'd be willing to get small scale specialist equipment & ingredients for the sake of this challenge.

So far this year I've made, Yogurt, Mozzarella & Ricotta Cheese, Mustard, Marshmallows, a Souffle Cheesecake, Challah and cutesy Japanese rolls that looked like teddy bears. The to-do list currently has...
Handmade Pasta
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Beef Wellington
Cheese Souffle
Cream Puff/Eclair
Mirror Glazed Cake
Maraschino Cherries
Stuffed Grape Leaves

What else should I add to the list? I want to try some things that are hard, but some things that are just not "normal" stuff for people to make at home.
posted by Caravantea to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
* sourdough bread from a starter
* brioche
* a well-roasted chicken
* one of the many types of mole
* perfect the 5 mother sauces
posted by alchemist at 5:36 AM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Croissants. God I hate laminating but fresh from the oven scratch croissants are heaven.
posted by cooker girl at 5:38 AM on January 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by SaltySalticid at 5:39 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

chocolate babka
baumkuchen (can do an approximation in a broiler)
pierogi (maybe too close to gyoza)
posted by Fig at 5:43 AM on January 30, 2018

I love baklava, but have always been intimidated by using phyllo dough. Same goes for spanakopita. And I love challenging kitchen projects.

Not far from potstickers and gyoza, pierogis are fun to make and delicious too.

I've always wanted to make Alton Brown's coconut cake, which requires making all the coconut products from scratch (coconut milk, cream and extract). Definitely an all-day project.
posted by slogger at 5:47 AM on January 30, 2018

Curing your own bacon is also fun and rewarding. Anything from Michael Ruhlman's Carcuterie cookbook would be a fun and challenging kitchen project.
posted by slogger at 5:52 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chinese soup dumplings? Fuchsia Dunlop has a recipe for them in her latest book and they seem fiddly and a good project (i.e. time-consuming and requiring quite a bit of effort)
posted by andrewesque at 5:53 AM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

paczki (traditional Polish donut)
cheddar (or another aged cheese), crackers, and quince butter or pepper jelly to eat with it
hard cider
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:13 AM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

- flatbreads/pita (perhaps to go alongside homemade falafel and homemade tzatziki?)
- tamales (so good, so so good)
- jelly or jam (not exactly fiddly, but very rewarding, and good for use in other projects)
- curry pastes from scratch
- this butter chicken is time-consuming, but definitely worth it
- i know you aren't into frying, but we're coming up to packzi season, and they are one of those foods which are truly divine but must be eaten fresh to be appreciated -- and if you make them, there are all manner of fillings you can try. (if you can manage rose-hip jam, it's lovely in these)

a humble suggestion: i adore upside-down-cake, but in my opinion apricot's even better than pineapple, and is definitely worth a try!
posted by halation at 6:15 AM on January 30, 2018

Crème brûlée
Bo Ssam
Sous vide meat
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:18 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

-Baked Alaska
-Your own vanilla extract (my friend made a version with bourbon— OMG)
-your own chutney
-churn your own butter, maybe turn it into different types of herb butter
-chocolate lava cakes
-spatchcocked chicken (or cornish game hen)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2018

Raised Pies. On my first attempt the pies collapsed in the oven but they were still delicious.
posted by night_train at 6:29 AM on January 30, 2018

posted by Liesl at 6:31 AM on January 30, 2018

The only thing mention here so far that strike me as something I would think twice about trying is making your own laminated dough (puff pastry, croissants, etc) and soup dumplings (the wrappers are the hard part, the soup is just an extra firm aspic)

other votes:
Pierre Koffmann's stuffed trotters
Pate en Croute
posted by JPD at 6:33 AM on January 30, 2018

Pates and mousselines aren't terribly time consuming but do take a bit of skill to avoid breaking the emulsion. Some will require a meat grinder (the attachment for the stand mixer is reasonably decent) and most can be done in standard loaf pans if you don't want to buy a purpose-built terrine.

Since you listed sausage on your to-do list, here's my recommendation - skip the stuffer attachment for the mixer. It's garbage and you're going to hate using it. However, before shelling out for a dedicated stuffer (which are amazing to use, btw) try making crepinettes. You make the sausage filling as normal, but instead of cramming that in to a casing it's formed in to a patty and wrapped in caul fat. Cook them like you would any other sausage.

Most of Ruhlmann's book is really accessible and the recipes are good - there are lots of interesting cooking challenges in there.

If you're interested in sweets, if I end up with a bunch of leftover egg whites (say, because I used the yolks to make mayonnaise) I'll make homemade meringues. Few ingredients, fairly technical, very impressive to show off. My wife has made croquembouche before which is exceedingly difficult and requires a lot of different techniques, especially if you assemble it in the traditional way with spun sugar all over everything.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:33 AM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you're going to be making laminated dough, might as well go full kouign amann. (I make these from this recipe every Christmas. It's actually not that difficult, it just takes all damn day.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:43 AM on January 30, 2018

serious eats vegetable wellington (no single part of it is difficult, but it is a serious project)
multigrain bread using a biga and a soaker and/or sourdough bread
+1 to pirogi (again, not difficult, just time consuming)
tomato spheres or some other molecular gastronomy-type garnishes (the dirt candy cookbook has some simple options for these).
posted by snaw at 7:12 AM on January 30, 2018

Tempering chocolate! I hate it, yes, I do.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:19 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

You may also want to browse previously, previouslier, more previouslier.
posted by slipthought at 7:24 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by Obscure Reference at 7:25 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you’re not already making your own stock, now’s the time to start—especially if you have a sizeable freezer and can keep large batches. It’s way easier than the things you’re already doing and the payoff is immense.

Beef stock is useful but a pain with the necessary roasting of bones. Poultry stock (from the entire carcass including skin for best flavor—fine clear consommé is overrated) is super easy and makes all kinds of things taste better. Fish stock and shrimp shell stock are good too if you cook cuisines like Cajun or Japanese. Corn stock (from the cobs) is a versatile ingredient from the US South.

As a bonus, not only will you use the aforementioned animal carcass bits and corn cobs, but none of the following will go to waste either: leek tops, parsley/thyme stems, celery leaves, floppy old celery and carrots, carrot tops/leaves (taste somewhere between carrots and parsley).

Now you want to feature your stock with something impressive and often considerd intimidating (but not that hard or time-consuming once you get the hang of it)? Start with risotto and paella!
posted by musicinmybrain at 7:37 AM on January 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Risotto is fiddly and time consuming but not technically hard.

You could make orgeat syrup and then make cocktails that call for it (that particular page mentions the Mai Tai and the Japanese Cocktail, which are the ones I'd make first). Note that orgeat isn't the same thing as horchata, although they share a common root.


If you have a good stand mixer bagels aren't that hard (the mixer does the hard part) but sourcing malt (syrup or non-diastatic malt powder) and vital wheat gluten may call for internet shopping, depending on your local grocery situation. I had to buy my pretzel salt online and I will never, ever run out of it. The one difficult step with bagels is shaping, and there's a knack to that. I like the rope method described in the New York Bagels recipe from Cooks Illustrated (subscription required, but the illustrations are helpful; here's a copy of the recipe without illustrations). Serious Eats has a video demonstrating the poke a hole method.
posted by fedward at 7:40 AM on January 30, 2018

I will second bo ssam. It's not hard, exactly, but it is fiddly and takes awhile and is so so good.
posted by joycehealy at 7:45 AM on January 30, 2018

Oh yeah, speaking of roasted bones in beef stock, you could make phở.
posted by fedward at 7:53 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

tofu misozuke
posted by aniola at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2018

The Momofuku Cookbook's banh mi recipe is truly epic - it starts with making two terrines (a ham one and a chicken liver one) and baking the loaves from scratch. Its not that any one step is terribly complicated, but you do need to be thinking ahead several days and the fact that a good banh mi is a sub $3 snack and some people would spend the better part of a week making one is . . . amusing.

I haven't ever done it but its been bouncing around in the back of my head since I first bought the book long while ago.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:20 AM on January 30, 2018

I have made all of these:
Mayonnaise and/or garlic aioli for sure. They're not hard, per se, but they're fantastic.
Puff pastry
Beer (also surprisingly not hard)
Agree on pretzels - they're fun and come out great.
Cranberry jelly - any proper recipe for this should have 3 ingredients: cranberries, water, sugar and comes out SOOO much better than anything in a can
Jam in general (as a rule of thumb, I avoid recipes that call for more sugar than fruit and I avoid powdered pectin since it contains more sugar)
Pickled mushrooms 1 pint to me is one serving.
Hot sauce - more process than anything else and by mixing peppers or adding fruit you get incredible tasting hot sauce
Tomato sauce from scratch
Ketchup - this is a labor of love
posted by plinth at 8:31 AM on January 30, 2018

Not just sourdough from a starter but sourdough starter from scratch (no yeast either!)
posted by leafwoman at 8:34 AM on January 30, 2018

I tried making tonkotsu ramen broth at home during the holidays. It was a crazy adventure, and I should have planned a bit better. But it was fun! (Serious Eats recipe)
posted by mumimor at 8:41 AM on January 30, 2018

Hand made udon noodles. Making them looks really fun but challenging.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:45 AM on January 30, 2018

A. Knife Skills:
1. French Fries every day until you can cut Batonnets perfectly. And be able to do a 10 pound bag in ... oh a half an hour.
2. Perfect the Julienne. Be able to do it on a carrot, a piece of celery, a cucumber, a squash, and an onion. Once again - perfect it to speed.
3. Chives. You can cut them smaller.
4. Break down a whole chicken
5. Break down a chicken, ballotine the legs, Supreme the breasts.
6. Break down a duck, Confit.
7. Do something special with the sweetbreads and feed it to your family/friends without them noticing, or with them raving about it.
8. Break down a few cuts of beef. French some ribs, butterfly a roast, learn to truss.
9. Break down and use a whole Halibut - not the fish you want to mess up on, so start with smaller ones and learn to break them down.
10. Lox from scratch.
11. Make a hot dog. (I've said it before. Everybody can make a great tasting sausage, but even a small kid will know if you've messed up a hot dog).

B. Eggs.
1. Learn to make a perfect omelette - not the contents, but 2 eggs, whisked in a bowl, into a well buttered nonstick pan, constantly moving, smack, shift, ingredients in, roll and done. No Brown. No white. Perfectly light.
2. Poach
3. Eggdrop Soup
4. Clarify a stock and make a consume, (Yes, you need the rest of the stuff as well to make the raft, but the egg is key)
5. Master cracking and opening 4 eggs at a time. 2 would be nice sunny side up, the others probably would be great scrambled.
6. Fried Rice
7. Bahn-Mi is great. Bahn-Mi with an egg is better. Learn some Portuguese sandwiches as well that like eggs.

C. Preserving
1. Pickle Cucmbers
2. Pickle Carrots
3. Pickle Eggs
4. Pickle Onions
5. Pickle liquid can be dill, can be sweet, can be whatever you like. Make something awesomely weird.
6. Pork Lardons
7. Smoke a chicken breast, probably one of the ones you cut before.
8. Cold smoke a salmon
9. You did that hotdog, right?
10. Sundried tomatoes
11. Panchetta is faster to make than prosciutto. Pick one.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:50 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

The only thing mention here so far that strike me as something I would think twice about trying is making your own laminated dough

Honestly, it's not difficult. It really isn't! It's just fussy and time consuming and I HATE IT. Okay, no, I don't hate it but I promise, it's not hard.
posted by cooker girl at 9:06 AM on January 30, 2018

Tripe (preparing and cleaning it before actually doing a dish is an art in itself, and you can find recipes from Spain, Italy, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, and so on)

Calf feet in breadcrumbs (my favourite after tripe).
posted by kmt at 9:09 AM on January 30, 2018

Kouign amann!
posted by spindrifter at 9:43 AM on January 30, 2018

I just did tamales for the first time this year as a birthday present for myself, and boy that's fun!

Bao are next up on my list because stuffing stuff in stuff is great. Mmm. Stuffed.
posted by theweasel at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2018

Hand-pulled Chinese noodles
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:58 AM on January 30, 2018

Buy a copy of The Cake Bible, and try some of the cakes. They require a high level of precision and technical competency.
posted by gregr at 10:12 AM on January 30, 2018

Have you done caramels? The kind with the burned sugar? And could you decide you want firm/bitter/mild/sweet/soft version and make sure the caramels came out that way just by tiny technique and/or measurement variations? Making something once is good, being able to make it again and have it come out the same is better, but it's not until I can do variations that I feel like I really own a food.
posted by aimedwander at 10:13 AM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Beef wellington would be on my list of things that are probably delicious, but I've never taken the time to make.
posted by hydra77 at 10:26 AM on January 30, 2018

Bolognese can be a very serious endeavour. Not hard but it requires planning and commitment.

Chocolate truffles require some effort and skill.

I'll agree that macarons require a surprising amount of technique to do right.

If you have access to an immersion circulator, Pork/Beef Wellington becomes relatively easy (although it is still time consuming).

Not too many people make tartares, ceviches, pokes and other raw things at home.
posted by mmascolino at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2018

Buche de Noel. I have wanted to make one forever and never have.

I do make preserves and jellies and pickles a lot and love them because you actually have something - quite a lot of somethings usually! - to show for all your hard work that lasts a long time. And they make great gifts.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:13 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Back in my meat eating days I really wanted to try making cassoulet entirely from scratch, including the confit of duck leg and the sausages. Even sourcing the proper flageolet beans can be a project in an of itself.
posted by slogger at 8:12 AM on January 31, 2018

This foie gras torchon recipe takes 3 days to complete.

Also if you can get a hold of The French Laundry Cookbook you'll marvel at all sorts of impressive and difficult recipes that I bet very few people have ever attempted at home let alone succeeded.
posted by mmascolino at 8:25 AM on January 31, 2018

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