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Fixing Food Fiascos

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Fixing Food Fiascos

Too much salt in the soup or stew? Mushy, gummy pasta? Bitter coffee? Popcorn too pooped to pop? Under-baked cake? Dried-out meat? Vegetables you’d forgotten about in the fridge? Want to save your supper and your sanity when hungry kids attack or guests are on the way?!

Even professional chefs meet with a little culinary adversity from time to time, with Julia Child perhaps the most famous for her candor and sense of humor about things. She typically didn’t edit out errors from her TV show like dropping a raw chicken on the floor, or igniting a dessert instead of flambéing it. Emeril Lagasse once had a cake blow up inside an oven, and Wolfgang Puck admits he put a Thanksgiving turkey on broil instead of bake to keep it warm, though he said guests appreciated its “smoky” quality.

But whatever you might do to decimate (or let’s say mildly interrupt!) your dinner or dessert preparations, or if time has caused food to alter its optimal state, chances are there is an antidote. These tips* can help turn burnt to beautiful, or mushy to marvelous.

Mushy Pasta: You can’t bring it back, but you can jazz it up. Remove from pot and sauté in olive oil or butter, maybe with a little garlic. Transfer to dish. Deglaze still-hot pan with a little white wine and touch of cream, reducing it to a rich sauce. Top dish with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

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Dried-out Meat: Pour any drippings into a pot and add four cups of stock. Bring to a boil. Transfer to roasting pan or large casserole dish; slice and add meat. Cover with foil and place in warm oven for five minutes.

Salty Soup or Stew: It is said the old potato slice fix is a myth, as all it does is draw out water. Instead add more water and a little sugar or an acidic ingredient like vinegar to balance it. (Remember, next time start slowly as it’s always easier to add than subtract from a recipe.)

Underdone Cake: If it’s too late to return it to the oven, scoop out soggy center and fill with sliced fresh fruit, frozen fruit, whipped cream, ice cream or a combination of these!

Burnt Cake: Remove burnt top or sides by holding serrated knife in place while rotating plated layers, or scrape off burnt patches with a vegetable peeler. Brush away excess crumbs and frost heavily in indented places.

Stale Cereal: The price of dry cereal seems to go up and up every month. Who wants to throw it out? Set your portion on a plate and microwave for 30 to 45 seconds. Let cool for a few more and enjoy!

Overcooked Veggies: Like pasta, you can’t revive them, however pureed with a little salt and pepper, perhaps some herbs, and butter, chicken stock or olive oil (or a touch of cream for pure decadence), overcooked vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, squash, asparagus, and carrots make creamy, tasty side dishes.

Overly Hot and Spicy: Add some sweetness. Tomatoes, or even a squirt of ketchup, can add sugar and acid which will fan the flames. If dairy won’t interfere with the flavor of the dish, add a dollop of plain yogurt.

Bitter Coffee: A pinch of salt often helps.

Lumpy Mashed Potatoes: If you prefer creamy to chunky, put the problem through a ricer rather than try to resolve lumpy potatoes with an electric mixer. The mixer may take out the lumps, but it can also result in a gluey consistency. To get the potatoes off to a smooth start next time, don’t toss them into boiling water since the outer parts will cook much faster than the insides. Put them into cold water so they heat evenly.

Overripe Fruit: If it’s not rotten or moldy, it can likely be salvaged. Slice and sprinkle with sugar; set aside until juices form. Then add a dash of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, brandy, or red wine, and serve with whipped or ice cream, or blend with ice, milk or yogurt for a special smoothie. Cook down berries or stone fruit like peaches and plums in a 2:1 mixture of sugar and water for an incredible syrup and use apples, pears or grapes in pies and tarts.

Too Acidic: Curb an acidic bite in dressings and sauces with a pinch of baking soda. It will neutralize the sting without adding unwanted flavor. Sugar, either granulated or from naturally sweet veggies like carrots, can also provide balance.

“Unpop-able” popcorn: Kernels may have dried out and they need some moisture to pop. Soak in water for about 5 minutes, drain and pat dry. Try again. If that doesn’t work, place in container and freeze overnight.

Overbaked Cookies: Too crisp? Toss them into a plastic bag or container, along with a few apple slices or a slice of bread wrapped in a paper towel. They should soften within 24 hours. Five seconds in a microwave can also help, but be sure to eat quickly before they harden again (not a difficult task for those of us with an inner cookie monster)!

*some ideas courtesy of

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1 Jeff { 08.16.15 at 3:30 am }

I happened to add cinnamon in my chilli one day and noticed that it will also cut the “heat” if its a bit to spicy. Just make sure no one is allergic, a little goes a long way

2 Beth { 11.23.13 at 8:57 am }

Thank you for your lovely words, Cani, and everyone who can find value from this as much as I do! -Beth Herman

3 Diane { 11.21.13 at 3:12 pm }

I have used potatoes to take out too much salt in pinto beans at a cook off and they won 1st place. I beg to defer about this. Sorry.

4 Cani { 11.20.13 at 1:04 pm }

Fixing Food Fiascos Beth Herman your Simply priceless.

5 Em { 11.20.13 at 12:33 pm }

Thanks so much for this info. I needed various fixes over the years. I am adding this info to my recipe book.

6 maryu { 11.20.13 at 11:21 am }

A burnt cookie can be saved if you take a grater and rub across the bottom until the burnt part is gone.

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