The kitchen is a place where I consider myself more or less infallible. Where some people are genetically blessed with the ability to solve complex math problems without the use of a calculator or even the Luddite’s pen and paper, my idiot savant blessing is that I can nail pretty much any recipe on the first try. I’m not afraid of making on-the-fly substitutions or trying out something new for an eight-person dinner party because I trust in my instincts.
I actually had an epiphany last month when sitting down to a dinner of homemade bucatini and lamb bolognese, wolfing it down too quickly without a thought as I plowed through one of the New Yorkers that are once again wantonly piling up on the coffee table. “Casey,” I told myself, “this is the kind of meal for which most people pay top dollar and you just inhale it like your cat who refuses to chew his soft food. Why aren’t you more impressed with yourself?”
So this is my talent in life. I accept that. But.
Mayonnaise is my Waterloo.
Though nearly all of my food friends happily whip up vats of homemade mayonnaise at a moment’s notice, this is the one food fail that inevitably and undeniably will stump me. I’ve tried so many methods, and no matter what, I’m left with mayo soup. Nothing works. Not hand-whipping the oil into the egg emulsion, not using an immersion blender, not using a regular blender, not using a food processor—even with the Mark Bittman pour-the-oil-through-the-tiny-hole-in-the-feed-tube method.
(Side note: did anyone else not discover the existence of the tiny hole until recently? I always wondered how to drizzle liquids into my mini food processor, and now I see that there are not one but two holes in that guy. Made my cipollini onion-roasted garlic dressing that much easier to whir together.)
Oh, there have been nights when I’m making red velvet whoopie pies well past midnight and wondering how I got myself into this mess. But nothing brings me to tears and makes me pitch expensive equipment across the kitchen like yet another failed bowl of mayonnaise. All the eggs and oil wasted. Why do I even try again? I can make my own bread, grow my own tomatoes, and cure my own bacon, but my BLT will have Whole Foods 365 Brand mayo slathered on the slices henceforth.
When you feel discouraged that everyone else in the foodosphere is curing olives, stuffing their own sausages, and whipping up a quick batch of kefir from scratch, just remember. Not everything is going to work out.
Instead, let’s find inspiration in failure. Even the most culinarily gifted of us have Achilles heels, and there’s no shame in taking the prepared shortcut if the challenge of doing it homestyle is besting you. (There is quite possibly shame in buying pre-packaged Thai noodles, but the security cameras at Stop & Shop have caught me doing that in moments of late-night sodium weakness, so there you go.) I’m also happy to support niche businesses for those who do one thing and do it well—a few extra dollars are well-spent on good product.
And now I turn the mic over to the commenters. What’s your food fail, the one recipe you can’t conquer? How did you get over your frustration?