How to Fix Cooking Mistakes
jupiterimagesHigh prices haven't stopped at the gas pump; they've been passed along to grocery aisles. We're sharing our tips for fixing common kitchen mishaps, and salvaging past-prime produce so you can make the most of what's already in your fridge. Waste not, want not.
All chefs muck up and overcook pasta every once in a while. It's not the end of the world; just give the noodles a solid sauté in olive oil or butter. Then sprinkle them with grated Parmesan cheese, or deglaze the still-hot pan with a touch of white wine and splash of cream and reduce it to a luscious sauce.
Hardened cheese rinds make incredible stock for savory soups like minestrone, butternut squash and French onion. While Parmesan is the traditional variety, feel free to experiment with cheddar, Gouda, or whatever cheese you choose. Just stash hardened ends in the freezer until it's time to use them.
Coffee a bit bitter, but you don't want to toss out the whole pot? Add a pinch of salt to balance it. If you find that the fault is in the coffee you bought, rather than than from over-brewing, add a clean, dry eggshell to the grounds for a so-called "cowboy coffee."
Restore life to stale bread by slipping it into a 325 degree F oven in a lightly dampened paper bag. When the bag is dry, your bread will have regained its former softness. Stale bread is a natural fit for breadcrumbs, croutons, crostini, bread pudding, and a sumptuous Italian tomato salad called panzanella.
If you can't recall when you bought that carton of eggs and want to make sure they're still fresh, place them gently into a bowl of water. Rotten eggs will float, and the fresh ones will stay fully submerged. The fresher they are, the more quickly they will sink.
Tired of battered-up hard-boiled eggs? A pinhole in the tip of the egg will keep the shell from cracking due to trapped air.
Lumpy Mashed Potatoes
Some folks like lumpy spuds, but for those who don't, if the taters are already made, give them a good re-smashing with a ricer, rather than 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 the next time, don't toss them into boiling water since the outer parts will cook much faster then the insides. Put them into cold water, so all regions heat evenly.
Popcorn Won't Pop
The kernels may have dried out, and they need some moisture to pop. Soak them in water for about 5 minutes, drain and pat them dry and try again. If that doesn't work, place them in a container in the freezer overnight and go for a re-pop the next day.
Cookies a bit crispier than you'd like? Pop them into a plastic bag or plastic 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 work wonders.
If your freshly baked cake crumbles evenly, you're in luck. The halves can likely be "glued" back together with a swipe of frosting. If the damage is more severe, slice it into segments, douse lightly with your favorite liqueur, and layer in a stemmed glass with whipped cream and sliced fruit for a simple, sophisticated trifle.
Evenly remove the burned top or sides by holding a serrated knife in place while rotating plated layers or scrape off individual scorched patches with a small grater. Fan away any loose crumbs, and then frost extra thickly to hide any surface unevenness.
If it's too late to slide it back into the oven, scoop out the gooey middle and fill the hole with fruit, ice cream or whipped cream.
Torn Pie Crust
Even veteran piemakers have cruddy crust days. If your pastry tears, roll a patch of dough to the same thickness and flatten the edges. Brush some lightly beaten egg white on the contact points and lightly press it onto the main shell. The whites will act as an adhesive so filling won't seep out. If the rip is in the top, mask it by brushing the surface with cold water and sprinkling it with large-grained sugar before baking.
Sprinkle extra crust scraps with cinnamon and sugar and bake them on a cookie sheet for a sweet treat while you're waiting for the pie.
Past-prime cereal can be zapped back to life with 30-45 seconds on a plate in a microwave. Let it rest for a minute and then enjoy as usual. Ground in a blender, or crushed under a rolling pin, unsweetened varieties can pinch hit as breadcrumbs, or swapped in for half a cup of flour in muffin or cookie recipes.
So long as fruit's not rotten or moldy, it can likely be salvaged. Slice it, sprinkle with sugar and 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 blended with ice, milk or yogurt for a satisfying smoothie. Cook down berries or stone fruit in a 2:1 mixture of sugar and water for an incredible syrup and use apples, pears or grapes in rustic pies and tarts.
You can't uncook dry meat, but you can do your best to mask the damage. Pour the drippings into a pan, add 2-4 cups of stock, and bring that to a boil. Slice the meat, place it in a roasting pan or casserole dish, and add the stock mixture. Cover this with foil and place it in a warm oven for five minutes. The meat should regain some of its moisture.
Many vegetables can be revived to their former state of crispiness with a soak in icy water and a dash of vinegar. Root veggies like rutabagas and turnips can still be made into an excellent mash. If they're truly past their peak for standalone serving, they're still ideal for making stock. Cut celery, carrots, onions, peppers, leeks and whatever else you've got on hand into large chunks (no need to peel), and simmer them in salted water for about an hour. Strain out the vegetables, and use the stock for soup, stew, risotto, sautéeing and more. Freeze it in ice cube trays for future use. For a deeper flavor, roast the veggies in the oven first.
If veggies have been cooked to mush, purée them with your favorite herbs and a bit of butter or olive oil and serve as a side dish. Blend and cook them with cream or stock and spices for an impromptu soup.
Some folks swear by dropping a peeled potato slice into the mix, but all that really does is draw out water. A more reliable bet is to add more liquid, some sugar or an acidic solution like vinegar to balance out the brine.
Curb an acidic bite in dressings and sauces with a small 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 a pleasant balance.
Tame the sting of excess heat with a touch of sweetness. Tomatoes, or even a squirt of ketchup, can add sugar and acid which will fan the flames. If a touch of dairy won't interfere with the flavor of the dish, add a dollop of plain yogurt. If you've got more of your ingredients on hand, make a double batch with everything but the hot stuff, and blend the two together.
A spoonful of cider vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice can knock down sweetness a few notches in most dishes. It can also be cut with a dash of fat, like butter, olive oil or cream.
If soup starts to scorch on the bottom, turn off the heat and stop stirring immediately so the burned portions don't flavor the rest of the soup. Gently pour the top portion into a fresh pan -- and keep an eye on it this time!
Wine That's Turned
Once wine is exposed to air, it will start to change, and eventually degrade. While this wine might not be drinkable on its own, it's a perfect sub for vinegar in dressings, stews, egg poaching, meat marinades and braising liquid.