We all have days when things don’t work as well as we’d like in the kitchen. At least, I have. More than once! Although our first inclination might be to throw the mishap away, there are times when you really can rescue your mistake. So read on!
– One of the most common mistakes when cooking is using too much salt. Better to have to add the salt than to try and get it out of your food! But here’s the deal, if you have gone a little wacko and added too much salt to your stew or soup simply add a few slices of peeled potato to the pot. Wait until the potato turns translucent, as this is when it has actually absorbed the salt, and fish the potatoes out with a slotted spoon. You could also add some more liquid, such as water or milk, depending on your recipe. A couple teaspoons of sugar can help counter balance the excess salt as well. Or, you could also just tell everyone you are not eating because you’re ‘allergic’ and sit back and see who really loves you and pretends all is well. Just have lots of fresh water handy! All right, just use these tips and try and salvage your mistake.
– Another common mistake is adding too much hot chili pepper into, well your chili! Not too long ago I was happily shaking what I thought was Pasilla chili into my pot while talking to a friend on the phone. I soon discovered it was in fact Cayenne . . . When I noticed my mistake I tasted my concoction and it brought some serious sweat drops onto my eyebrow! I decided to doctor it by adding a few squares of dark chocolate that I had in the freezer. You know what? It worked! The chocolate seemed to tame the heat and we were all able to actually eat the infamous chili! It was still spicy but completely edible.
– What about those times you’re attempting to make a nice creamy sauce and it turns lumpy? Oh l’horreur! Your highly critical mother in law is about to arrive and you have lumpy sauce! Now you’ll have to deal with all her pitiful sighs every time she looks at her child with those pathetic, adoring eyes. But wait! There is an answer! No need to despair! To repair your lumpy mush, pour it through a strainer or process the sauce in a blender. Return the strained or blended sauce to a clean pan and heat to the boiling point. Voila! Lumps and ‘analytical’ momma in law be gone!
– Okay, let’s say your sauce is not lumpy but is watery instead. There are a few things you can do to salvage this particular situation. The first would be to dilute some cornstarch in a cup with some cold liquid you are using in your recipe (let’s say 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 1 tablespoon) and then slowly whisk it into your sauce. Whisk continuously until the sauce has thickened.
Secondly, you could add a roux to your sauce. A roux? What in the world is a roux? Well, a roux is made by cooking flour in fat, generally butter or oil. Melt the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly until the flour cooks and the mixture looks smooth and moist. The darker your roux the less it will thicken your sauce so cook it until it is barely colored or chalky. Once it is ready slowly incorporate it into your sauce, whisking constantly until your sauce thickens. You will need to use the same amount of fat and flour.
Lastly, another traditional method is using eggs to thicken a sauce. When thickening a cream sauce, half of the warmed liquid to be thickened is slowly whisked into the eggs and then the rest of the liquid can be added all at once. You then have to place the sauce in a double boiler and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens. You need to be careful with this method because the eggs could easily scramble if they are heated too quickly and the sauce will separate if it is heated too high. So, be very cautious when using eggs to thicken your sauce. By far the easiest method is using cornstarch.
– When you are making gravy, if it turns out too thin you should use some flour whisked in water to thicken it. Place 2 tablespoons of flour into 3 tablespoons of water and whisk it until it is smooth. Now add this mixture to your gravy, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once it is all in simmer your gravy for about 10 minutes so that the flour cooks completely. Results: delicious, thick gravy!
– Also, if you made a tomato sauce for your pasta that is watery and just plain thin, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried breadcrumbs to it. This will thicken your sauce and it will still taste as good as it did when it was too thin!
– Okay, let’s talk about potatoes. Remember when you went into the grocery store and saw those wonderful baby potatoes? You bought them and decided to make boiled baby potatoes to accompany your grilled chicken. So you washed them and put them in pot to cook. When you went back to get them they were so over-cooked you had a messy, mush in your hands. There are two things you can do with this. One is to mash them, skin and all, add some milk and butter and make fantastic mashed potatoes. Or, you can heat some olive oil in a sauté pan and add the potatoes to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Once they are crisp drain them onto paper towels. Voila! You have delicious home fries!
– If you happen to overcook carrots, sweet potatoes or squash don’t be afraid to mash them as well. Add some butter and honey to your carrots, butter and brown sugar to your sweet potatoes and butter and maple syrup to your squash. Mash the veggie ‘victim’ and place it in a baking dish. Melt the butter and whisk in the sweetener of choice. Slowly drizzle it on top of your mashed veggie and broil for a few minutes until the top starts to brown. Serve. Voila! Saved again!
– Have you ever broiled chicken breast and slightly burned the top? I hate when that happens! Here’s what you can do. Make a sauce to serve it with. Pick an herb like parsley, basil, thyme or rosemary, and coarsely chop it. Whisk about ½ cup olive oil with ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and add the herb you chose, in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cut your chicken into strips and top with your herb sauce. Serve. Keep in mind that I am talking about ‘slightly’ burned. If you have charcoal chicken, my friend, you will have to throw it away. So sorry!
– Sometimes when you are whipping heavy cream it just will not form peaks. It happens to be a very hot summer day and the kitchen is stuffy. You’re beating and beating and nothing is happening! You need to refrigerate your cream, bowl and all for around 20 minutes. Once it has gotten cold beat it immediately. As soon as it forms soft peaks put it in the fridge and leave it alone until you need to use it.
– What if your cream had actually formed its peaks and you were just over-beating the bee-jeezus out of it? All of a sudden you look into your bowl and the cream is grainy! Ahhh!! Relax, relax! Add about ¼ of the existing amount of more cream to your bowl and beat until the cream forms soft, smooth peaks. Then STOP! No more beating please! Here’s the deal though, if the cream has been beaten to an almost buttery consistency do not waste more cream or time on it. It’s dead. Throw it away.
– What if you were beating egg whites instead? If the whites are not forming peaks after beating you have to start again. Make sure your bowl is clean of fats and that you have absolutely NO yolk in the whites. Same goes for grainy, over beaten egg whites. There is no saving those, unfortunately. You will have to start all over again. Make sure you only beat the egg whites until they form stiff, shiny peaks. Nothing more.
– So, let’s talk about some baking disasters, shall we? Let’s start with your obsession of overcooking and burning things. This time you were having a seriously, delicious gossip fest on the phone and you started smelling your scorched bread (or rolls)! You rapidly interrupt the conversation only to find that the bottoms of your wonderful baked goods are black. Yikes! Nothing like the taste of charcoal to kill the mood at dinner time. Here’s what you do. First you make a mental note to stop gossiping and ask the universe for forgiveness. Then you cool down your bread and fetch your box grater. Grate the burnt bottoms on the finest holes until it’s all gone. No one will ever know that you almost lost your fantastic loaf of bread or your rolls.
– Speaking of bread, here’s a very easy way to restore your soft, soggy baguette the day after you buy it. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mist the bread with cold water and place it in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes. You will have ‘freshly’ baked bread again.
– Also, if you have bread that has gotten stale don’t chuck it! You can use it for a number of things. You could dice it and coat it with a mixture of olive oil and melted butter. Season it generously with salt and pepper and cover it with garlic powder, dry oregano and dry basil leaves. Place it on a baking sheet, on a single layer, and bake it until crispy. You will have delicious croutons for your next salad. Or, cut it up into chunks and put it in the food processor to make breadcrumbs for the next time you need some to cook (or thicken your watery pasta sauce). Or, you can slice it into very thin slices and brush both sides with olive oil. Place the slices on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until crispy. You will have delicious, crispy toast, which is to die for when served with butter.
– Okay, let’s go back to baking. This time you have over baked your cake and it is dry. No matter how you look at it the moisture is all gone. I like to imbibe my dry cakes with either simple syrup that I mix with rum or syrup from canned peaches that I mix with rum as well. I loosen the cake and invert it into a large, deep dish. I them prick the top and sides of the cake with a fork and add a generous amount of the syrup of choice. I cover the dish loosely with foil and let it ‘moisturize’ for at least 4 hours before I attempt to serve it. I always serve it with some whipped cream on the side in case it needs an extra little oomph!
– Another cake challenge happens when you go to remove the cake from the pan and it crumbles. Your beautiful moist cake broken into big chunks of disaster! No, don’t cry. You can save this and no one will know it happened. You will use your frosting as glue and glue your cake back together. Wait until it is completely cool. Otherwise your ‘glue’ will melt and then you can start crying. Assemble your cake by putting it together like a puzzle with frosting to keep it together. Once you have it all in one piece go ahead and frost it with a thick layer of frosting.
– Speaking of frosting, don’t you hate it when you are ready to create your masterpiece and the cakes crumbs make your frosting look horrible? Especially that snow white frosting you took so long to produce. You need to de-crumb your cake by brushing off the excess crumbs with a dry pastry brush and adding a very thin layer of frosting. Put your cake into the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes until the frosting has set completely. Now, go ahead, knock yourself out and finish frosting your fabulous work of art! Yay!
– How about when you finish icing your cake and it is all bumpy? Don’t you hate that? And I don’t mean your covered your cake with a batch of icing that you made which was full of lumps. I mean you iced it and you just could not smooth it out. Run to the bathroom and get your hairdryer. No, no you do not need to straighten your hair while you pray for the bumps to disappear. Instead, turn your blow dryer to low heat and pass it over the surface until the lumps disappear. Please make sure it’s on low heat. You don’t want to melt the frosting and then have it fly off the surface of your cake!
I think that’s it for my cooking CPR! Just remember that you don’t always need to panic and throw away the mishaps. Be creative. Turn your overcooked, mushy veggies into mashed potatoes, carrots, etc. or into creams of soup (spinach, asparagus, etc.) Scrape, glue, add, blend, strain! Think out of the box. If all else fails, Get rid of it and go to plan B – order takeout. The point is to have fun while you are creating in the kitchen. Cooking should be a tantalizing experience and not a source of stressful gastric ulcers. Have fun!