Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chocolate on My Mind

I’m proud to be a chocoholic. I’ve tried weaning myself off this addiction. Once I managed to avoid chocolate for two weeks, but that was a long time ago. Without the invention of chocolate chips, I might have succeeded. 

A 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips is incredibly versatile. Eating a handful now and then is one way to empty the bag. Making Chocolate Chip Cookies is another way. 

Now I’ve come up with a third way: a Triple-Layer Chocolate Cookie. 

I was inspired by a popular packaged British snack. It’s basically a very thin layer of bland-tasting cake, a layer of orange jelly and, on top, a layer of dark chocolate. 

My version uses a home-made shortbread as the base, topped with a layer of apricot jam, which is then decorated with chocolate chips. The heat of the jam doesn’t melt the chips, but it does cause them to stick. 
Triple-Layer Chocolate Cookies – makes about 20 cookies  
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter 
1/2 cup sugar 
1 cup flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
Possibly 1/4 teaspoon water + more if needed 1 cup apricot jam 
About 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips  
Place an oven rack in the middle position and begin preheating the oven to  300 degrees.  
Get out your muffin pan(s) and set aside.  
Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and pulse 10-15 times until the  mixture is crumbly. Add the flour and salt and pulse for about 10 seconds to  incorporate the flour. Transfer to a bowl.  
If the mixture is too crumbly to shape, add 1/4 teaspoon water, or a bit more  if needed. Gently bring the dough together into a mass. Take 1 tablespoon  dough and, using your hands, press it into a 2-inch disc about 1/4-inch thick  and place it in a muffin pan space. Repeat until the muffin pan(s) are  full.  
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are firm and just  beginning to brown. You may need to make several batches using the same  pan(s).  
Once the cookies are baked and cooled, use a knife to loosen each one and  transfer to a plate. At this point you can store the undecorated cookies in  an airtight container until you’re ready to complete them. Or you can  proceed directly to the next step.   
Melt the apricot jam in a small pot. Once it has become liquid, remove from  the heat and spoon 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons hot jam onto the top of each cookie.  Immediately place 8-10 chocolate chips into the jam. The hot jam will keep  them in place. Let cool before serving.   
Store in an airtight container or wrapped in foil or plastic wrap.

                          For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!" 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 130

When you’re icing a layer cake and don’t have enough icing, use jam between the layers instead of icing.
                                                   See all my Cooking Tips!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Roast Beef and I

London Broil Sliced Against the Grain
Roast beef and I used to have a fine time together.  When I was growing up, going out to dinner with my family and ordering prime rib was a grand tradition.  We didn’t do it often—maybe once a year—so it was memorable.. 

My mother didn’t know how to cook prime rib.  I doubt she ever looked for it in the meat department.  As I grew up and started learning about cooking, I examined various beef cuts, but I was so confused that I mostly bought ground beef and made hamburgers. 

What was the difference between sirloin steak, porterhouse steak, New York strip steak, minute steak, flank steak, round steak and chuck steak?  Before I figured it out, I moved to London, where these cuts of meat had different names.  Luckily the city had lots of small-store butchers who were willing to answer questions.  With their help

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 129

Draft an ice cream scoop to shape meatballs or burgers, keeping your hands out of raw ground meat.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 88

If you like eating fresh avocados, never freeze them.  Their texture as well as their taste will change for the worse.  I buy only as many as my family can eat before they over-ripen.  Otherwise, I'm wasting my money.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Edamame: What Is It and How Do I Cook It?

For a long time I thought edamame was another name for fava beans because the two look very much alike.  Then I did some research and found that edamame is actually an immature soybean.  The beans grow in pods, which are picked before they have fully ripened.  A popular snack in Japan, edamame is a good source of soy protein.

Fresh edamame may be available in Asian markets.  You are likely to find fresh and cooked edamame in the freezer or refrigerated section of supermarkets.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Question for Mom

Do oven temperatures really matter? –Jesse R.

It depends on what you’re cooking, but usually the answer is yes—especially if you’re baking.  When making a cake, pie, cookies or bread, it’s smart to give your full attention to the recipe and do exactly what it says, including oven time and temperature.  This is an especially good idea if you’re trying out a new recipe. 

Once you’ve successfully made the recipe, you can experiment.  If the cookies you baked seem a little dry, reduce the oven temperature 25 degrees or take the cookies out 1-2 minutes sooner.  If the cookies are so underdone that they fall apart when you try to pick them up, turn up the oven temperature 25 degrees or bake the cookies for an extra 1-2 minutes.

On the other hand, if you’re roasting meat or vegetables, there is much greater flexibility.  The big worry is under-cooking chicken, pork or fish.  But you can roast them at lower temperatures for longer times or, in some cases, at higher temperatures for shorter times.  A meat thermometer comes in handy here.

I’ve baked potatoes at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, at 400 degrees for 1 hour, and 450 degrees for 45 minutes.

                          For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 128

Here’s the perfect device to help you get rid of hot turkey fat on Thanksgiving: a specially designed cup with a low spout.  Transfer the liquid at the bottom of the roasting pan into this cup.  The fat will rise to the top, allowing you to pour the remaining fat-free liquid into a pot or bowl for use as needed when making gravy.  Dispose of the leftover fat in an empty can.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

When in Doubt, Make Cornbread

Sometimes dinner needs some extra oomph.  Maybe I didn’t buy enough meat, or the vegetables are a little limp.  Or I forgot to cook the baked potatoes.

Hot cornbread, fresh from the oven, served with a jar of honey or a chunk of butter, will make everyone feel much better. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and just 20 minutes to bake.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Decorating Your Food

My first memory of food as a plaything was pressing the tines of a fork down the sides of a cucumber and then slicing the cucumber into rounds.  I was probably about six years old when my mother showed me how to do this, and I was enchanted.  Maybe that was both the beginning and the end of my trying to impress people with the food I prepared.

Yes, the cucumber slices looked cool, and so did the subsequent radishes that I carved into roses and then soaked in cold water for a while so they would open.  The bigger lesson was that despite the way these vegetables now looked, they tasted exactly the same as the plain ones.

Would I grow up to be a people pleaser?  Probably.  But...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plugra Butter: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

I’ve read that chefs like to use Plugra Butter, especially for baking.  But I never bought any until I noticed it on sale at my local supermarket for $2.99 instead of $5.99 for an 8-ounce block.

Can Plugra be that much better than plain Land O’Lakes, Land O’Lakes’ European Style Super Premium Butter or even the store brand? We’re talking a slightly higher milk fat content, but what does that really mean?  It’s a little creamier. 

I can’t really tell the difference.  I like butter on my whole wheat toast in the morning, but the bread I’m toasting is very flavorful to start with.  Also, I’m used to the taste of my regular butter.  Sometimes habits are hard to break.

                            For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to Stock a Pantry

If you really want to cook, you need a pantry.  In “Little House on the Prairie” days, this often meant aroom off the kitchen full of shelves to store fruits and vegetables you canned and jam you made. 

Today you don’t need a whole room to store much-used ingredients, but you do need several shelves or a cabinet, preferably near the fridge and stove..

Then you need basic ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, packages of dried pasta, rice and olive or canola oil.  Add some...

Thursday, November 9, 2017

How Much Does a Home-Cooked Meal Really Cost?

Crunchy Baked Fish Sandwich
It depends on the menu, how many people you’re feeding and how well stocked your pantry is.  If you’re a minimalist cook, you might have to add into your budget as much as $50 for basics that a long-time cook already has on hand—oil, vinegar, flour, sugar, rice, canned tomatoes, spices, soy sauce.  Also, you might need a frying pan or a big pot or a set of measuring spoons and cups.

And you haven’t even bought the main ingredients yet.

Let’s take the pantry issue out of the equation and concentrate on an easy meal for 4 people:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 127

Freeze pre-shaped but unbaked chocolate chip cookie dough on a flat sheet or container.  When frozen, remove the cookies and put them in a plastic freezer bag.  Bake them as you need them, adding at least 1 extra minute of baking time or more if they’re too soft.

                                                          See all my Cooking Tips!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Question for Mom

How can you tell when pancakes are ready to be turned over?  --Walter F.

Pin-sized air holes will appear on the uncooked side of the pancake, indicating it’s almost cooked.  Flip the pancake with a spatula and cook for another 10-15 seconds and then serve. 

                                                       See all Questions for Mom

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Does Salad Require Lettuce?

After a young life filled with iceberg lettuce, I spent years swearing off salad.  Caesar Salad intrigued me for a few months after I watched my college roommate’s father crack a raw egg into the family salad bowl.  I couldn’t decide if that was Yuck! or the greatest adventure of all time.  Yuck won out in the end.

Mostly, though, I was served tossed salads made of lettuce and tomatoes, and they were boring.  Three-bean salad was pretty good as long as lima beans weren’t included, but the grocery store versions were usually too salty.

A few years ago I began my romance with home-grown tomatoes.  Now my go-to salad is a colorful mixture of tomatoes, cucumber and radishes.  No lettuce is in sight.

                         For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 126

Light Sour Cream (left), Mayonnaise (right)
When making chicken salad or potato salad, substitute light sour cream for most of the mayonnaise.  It’s more for taste than saving calories, although one tablespoon light sour cream has about half the calories of regular mayonnaise.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cornstarch: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

In England, cornstarch is called cornflour, and this is a clue to what is actually is—flour made from corn.  It’s sold in the baking section and often comes in a 16-ounce box.  I use it as a thickener for sauces, soups and gravies. 

Cornstarch, which feels silkier than flour, has a tendency to clump in the box.  Always dissolve it in cold water, stirring thoroughly to make sure no lumps remain.  If you add cornstarch directly to a hot liquid, you’ll end up with lots of lumps.

To make sure the cornstarch fully thickens the liquid, stir the mixture continually until it dissolves and then bring the liquid to a boil.  Boil for 1 minute to get rid of the raw taste.

If you’re counting calories, use cornstarch as a thickener instead of flour.  You need just half the amount of cornstarch as you would flour for the same result.

                               For easy recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cooking with Leftovers in Mind

If I’m not madly rushing to get dinner on the table with one of my quick entrees, I try to think ahead.  A large chicken, leg of lamb, pork roast or beef pot roast will provide at least 3 or maybe 4 extra meals, especially if there are just 2 or 3 of us eating.  A tray of lasagna should last for a week.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 125

Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar to homemade tomato sauce to brighten the flavor.

                                      See all my Cooking Tips!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Question for Mom

What is the difference between salted and unsalted butter? – Jack E. 

The salt content.   Unsalted butter has none, which means it doesn’t keep as long.  Salted butter can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 months.  Practically speaking, either one can be used in a recipe and can be substituted for each other.

                                                      See all Questions for Mom

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When an Interesting Recipe Is Not Worth Trying

Black Bean Lasagna
What finally prompted me to throw an interesting new recipe into the trash was this sentence: “Refrigerate the dough for 2 hours.” 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Question for Mom

Old-Fashioned Tin Flour Sifter 
Why do some recipes call for sifting flour?  Do I have to do it?—Shelley D.  

Years ago flour sometimes was a home for bugs, and sifting it before use allowed you to get rid of them.  Today’s flour does not have this problem.  I stopped sifting flour years ago after making a terrible mess in the kitchen.  I’m told that sifting flour is still recommended if you’re making delicate pastries.  Rather than get my old sifter out, I’d choose to make something else. 

                                                           See all Questions for Mom

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 124

To remove fat from gravy, soup or meat stews, refrigerate the cooked food overnight.  The fat will solidify and rise to the top of the container.  Use a fork or large soup spoon to lift the fat off and discard.  This technique is easier and more effective than trying to spoon away fat while the dish is still cooking.

                                        See all my Cooking Tips!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Another 4 Ways to Use Chocolate Chips

Jaffa Squares
I’ve got to stop eating chocolate chips straight from the package.  I suppose I could cut off my supply, which would mean no longer buying the 72-ounce bags from Costco.  But that seems like an extreme measure.  Surely I will soon need to make one of the many chocolate desserts that I have mastered over the years.

Chocolate chips are incredibly versatile as an ingredient. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Parsnips: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

Carrots (left)  Parsnips (right)
Parsnips look like carrots but are cream-colored instead of orange.  They are a little sweeter than carrots but just as versatile.

I first tasted a parsnip at a dinner party when the hostess served Curried Parsnip Soup.  I was intrigued by the idea of a soup made from a vegetable I’d never heard of.  But I couldn’t fully taste the delicate flavor because of the seasoning.

A few days later I scrubbed and roasted a few parsnips as a side dish.  Everybody liked them.  Now I often add parsnips to a panful of raw vegetables, sprinkle on some olive oil and pop the pan into the oven for 45 minutes at 425 degrees.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 123

The secret to quickly chopping fresh parsley is not worrying about including a few cut-up stems with the leaves.  After washing and patting dry the amount of parsley you need, chop off and discard as much of the stems as you can with one big cut.  Then finely chop the leaves and remaining stems.

                                               See all my Cooking Tips!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Healthy Reuben Bagel

There’s nothing like biting into a Reuben Sandwich and having corned beef juice dribbling down your face and sauerkraut falling into your lap.  The Reuben Sandwich of my dreams is so stuffed with these ingredients, plus melted Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread, that I can barely get it into my mouth.

I happily dealt with that problem for years until I decided that too much fatty meat was not good for me.  So I gave up eating Reuben Sandwiches. But I never forgot the taste.

Then I bought a dozen mixed bagels and discovered a rye bagel in the bag.  “Aha!” I thought.  “Time for a Reuben Sandwich.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Question for Mom

How much juice can I squeeze out of an orange?  --Ashley A.

A large orange can yield from 1/2 to 2/3 cup juice.  A very large orange might yield as much as 1 cup juice.  Valencia oranges seem to provide more juice than navels, although a lot depends on how thick the skin is.  The thicker the skin, the less juice there is.  Another clue: the heavier the orange, the more juice it has. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gumbo and Garlic Bread

Normally I would think twice before recommending a mix.  However, after my whole family loved the soup that was based on a box of Zatarain's Gumbo Mix, I feel comfortable mentioning it.  We even fought over the leftovers, and that is unheard of in our house.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kosher Salt: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

Table Salt (left) and Kosher Salt (right)
Kosher salt is like the extra-large t-shirt displayed next to mediums.  The flakes are bigger and coarser than regular table salt, but surprisingly these flakes are less salty.  They can be used in almost any recipe calling for salt. 

But be careful.  A teaspoon of table salt is a lot more salty than a teaspoon of kosher salt.  “The Cook’s Bible” says 1 tablespoon kosher salt = 2 teaspoons table salt. 

Not a lot of recipes demand kosher salt, but it is used often enough in cooking that two big companies—Morton’s and Diamond Crystal—package and sell it.  Kosher salt costs more than table salt, but even then the price is low--$1.99 for a 1-pound container at my local supermarket.

Here’s a bit of history:

Monday, September 25, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 122

Vegetable Quiche
If your quiche mixture seems too runny, add 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs before baking to absorb some of the extra liquid.

                                                       See all my Cooking Tips!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Question for Mom

Seafood Pasta
I’ve heard people at restaurants request their pasta cooked ‘al dente.’  What does that mean? 
--Joy H.

“Al dente" is an Italian expression referring to the doneness of cooked noodles.  “Al dente” is the opposite of limp or over-cooked noodles.  "Al dente" noodles are ever so slightly chewy.  Be aware there’s a fine line between "al dente" and not quite cooked.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Secrets of the Radish

Radishes never seemed mysterious.  When I was growing up, they sometimes appeared as a side dish along with some slices of cucumber.  It was like an instant salad, both spicy and colorful.  Once in a while my mother put sliced raw radishes and small chunks of cucumber into a bowl of sour cream.  That would be our lunch when she’d run out of everything else.

When I began cooking, I ignored radishes unless a recipe called for them, which was almost never. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Reinventing a Classic Vegetable

Gugarati Green Beans
Sometimes cooking a traditional vegetable a different way makes me think I’m Christopher Columbus discovering a new world.  It happened a while ago with green beans.

My first memory of green beans involved a tuna casserole.  I’m pretty sure those beans came out of a can.  They must have been overcooked because they were soft and squishy.  But at the time I didn’t know they could taste any different.  I just ate what was put in front of me.

Years later I picked some green beans growing in a friend’s garden and discovered:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Mom Money-Saving Tip 88

Be creative with leftovers.  Six uneaten French fries from last night’s dinner became the basis of today’s lunch.  First I warmed up the fries in the microwave.  Then I heated up a flour tortilla in a frying pan, flipped it over, placed the fries in a rough line down the middle and added some cheddar cheese.  I covered the pan with a lid and continued cooking for about 30 seconds, or until the cheese melted.  Voila!  Cheapest lunch ever.

                                          See all my Money-Saving Tips!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mortar and Pestle: What Is It and How Do I Use It?

Glass Mortar and Pestle
A mortar and a pestle are actually two stand-alone items that are sold together and work together.  Basically they mash things up, things not really mashable with a fork.  In my case that usually means whole spices.

I bought a mortar and pestle some years ago because I thought it looked cool, but I only started using it when I began liking the taste of Szechuan peppercorns.  They were too expensive to put in a pepper mill, so I ground them up in my mortar and pestle.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Spinach: Fresh vs. Frozen

I couldn’t resist the 40-ounce bag of fresh spinach at Costco yesterday for $3.99.  I’ve been a fan of fresh spinach since my earliest cooking days.  I like putting it in salads, dropping a few handfuls into soup, a stir-fry, a stew or hot pasta.  I’ve recently taken to mixing some fresh spinach into ground turkey recipes, just to provide some novelty.  I also make an excellent Spinach Quiche.   

Frozen spinach just doesn’t provide the same taste experience, especially the chopped version.  Draining a pot of once-frozen, then-cooked chopped spinach is highly unappealing.  I would never serve it as a vegetable.  Whole-leaf frozen spinach is slightly better in principle, but I can’t remember the last time I offered it as a side dish.  As for canned spinach…I don’t want to think about it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 121

Don’t rinse cooked pasta.  Fresh water washes away the starch coating that will help the sauce stick to the pasta.

                                                  See all my Cooking Tips!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Oops! I Ran Out of xxx in the Middle of Cooking

How many times have you discovered you were missing an ingredient in the middle of getting dinner ready?  Somehow I can look at a recipe, carefully check the ingredients and still manage to overlook the need for an egg or a cup of milk. 

If the ingredient is something odd—like anchovies or honeydew melon—I make a special point of confirming its existence in the house. But if it’s something so basic, so certain to be in the fridge or the cupboard, then I often don’t bother to check that I actually have it. 

I never buy lemons, for instance, because there’s a lemon tree 20 feet from my front door.  So lemons are always in supply—except when they’re not, as I discovered the other day when I went out to pick one.  The tree was full of mini-green lemons, which should be ripe next month.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Manzana Bananas: What Are They and How Do I Use Them?

I never heard of Manzana Bananas until I saw them in the produce department at a local grocery store.  They’re cute little bananas, 8-10 to a bunch, and they provide about three mouthfuls of fruit.

They seemed like the perfect answer to my lifelong problem of buying regular bananas and watching them over-ripen before having the chance to eat all of them.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Fool for Chocolate

I sensed my life  going downhill yesterday when I found myself in the kitchen eating a spoonful of creamy peanut butter covered with chocolate chips.  It was my own fault.  I’d made a chocolate cake earlier in the week and foolishly given most of it away.  I didn’t want it to tempt me, but here I was making a fool of myself over chocolate.

I could have whipped up a batch of chocolate peanut butter cups, but that would have been work.  Or I could have made a batch of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies – same problem.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Question for Mom

If I put too much salt in something I’m cooking, how do I get it out? – Henry H.

Cooks have tried all kinds of tricks to get rid of extra salt, but I’ve found only one thing that works: doubling the recipe without adding any further salt.  Of course, this is practical only if you happen to have the extra ingredients on hand and the time to prepare the recipe again. 

Some people believe that if you add a large slice of raw potato to the salty mixture, let it cook for 10-15 minutes and then discard it, the salt will be gone.  That has never worked for me. 

If you have a habit of over-salting, leave out the salt altogether (unless you’re baking) and let people add it at the table.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 120

Chocolate Cake with Buttercream icing
A cake baked in a 9” x 12” pan is easy to deal with because you need only ice the top.  If you’re willing to serve directly from the pan. you can forget the sides.  You can also store the cake in the pan.  Some large cake pans even come with covers.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Back in the Old Days

If you want to know about kitchen life in the 1940s and 1950s, when all food advice was directed at women and it wasn’t unusual to spend whole days cooking, pick up “Heloise’s Kitchen Hints,” published in 1963.  I found a copy at a garage sale and cringed my way through it.

Here are some of the things I learned:

“When scalding a chicken, add one teaspoon of soda to the boiling water.  The feathers will come off easier, and the flesh will be clean and white.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mom Cooking Tip 119

Use fresh breadcrumbs to thicken soup.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Balsamic Vinegar: What Is It and How Do I Cook With It?

Balsamic vinegar became popular in the U.S. about 40 years ago.  It is a dark, strongly flavored vinegar made in Italy and aged for as little as three years and as much as 25 years before being bottled.  No wonder some bottles can sell for at least $1,000.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Why a Recipe Doesn’t Always Come Out the Same and Does It Matter?

Wholegrain Bread
Some dishes in my repertoire are decades old.  I make them at least monthly—Spaghetti with Clam Sauce, Asian Turkey Burgers and Blueberry Jam are good examples.  At least one—Wholegrain Bread—I make weekly.

And yet, even though the recipes are burned into my brain, they often turn out slightly differently.  The biggest botch, involving Spaghetti with Clam Sauce, came about when Bart once made it and forgot to add the clams.  But he was able to sprinkle the chopped clams on top, so all ended well.