7 Ways to Rebound from Any Cooking Disaster—Fast
Learn these key steps to recovering from kitchen flubs, from mushy vegetables to banana bread that just won't come out of the pan.
Baby eating baby food
Your Vegetables Have Turned to Baby Food
It's not that roasting vegetables is such a difficult task, but we've all been there: You put the carrots, potatoes and parsnips in the oven, step out to walk the dog or go upstairs to fold laundry, and next thing you know, an hour's gone by and you suddenly remember, "The vegetables!" If they've gone to mush, there are a few ways to save them. Jenn Beisser, CEO of ChefsLine, a service that puts home cooks in touch with pros around the country to solve cooking emergencies, says moving the veggies into a baking dish, sprinkling them with cheese and browning the top under the broiler is one way to turn a soggy mess into a crowd-pleasing side. Another idea: Puree the ingredients with an immersion blender and add stock little by little to make a soup. Ted Lahey, executive chef of Table & Main restaurant in Atlanta, says the situation calls for butter and a potato masher; within minutes you'll have a smooth vegetable mash.
Burn-out car
A Charred Roasting Pan
Whether you're making prime rib, chicken or turkey, the gravy you build from the meat's juices is what many people love most about roasts. But if you open the oven to find that the pan has dried out and the bottom is blackened, you can still make some sort of topping to go over the meat. Lahey has been in this situation himself and remedied it by making a tomato-butter sauce using a can of V8 he found in his fridge; you can also use chicken, beef or vegetable stock or even a packet of soup mix stirred into water, he says. Remove the meat to a plate and cover it with foil. Then pour whichever liquid you're using into the original pan and let it sit for 15 minutes to absorb whatever flavor it can. Simmer it to reduce, and add water, salt and other seasonings to taste.
Pouring red wine
Drunk Chicken
When it comes to wine and cooking, you actually can have too much of a good thing. If the finished dish—whether it's beef Bourguignonne or roasted chicken—tastes overwhelmingly alcoholic, what to do? Lahey's advice is to remove the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon, reduce the sauce and add an ingredient that will tone down the boozy flavor. The acidity in tomato paste will help balance out the wine's intensity, but chicken or beef broth works too. You might be straying from tradition (as far as we know, Julia Child didn't include a spoonful of red sauce in her Boeuf Bourguignon), but the food will still taste good. (And always follow Beisser's rule of thumb when it comes to fixing screwed-up food: Do it in stages. Put a portion of the sauce in a separate bowl, doctor it up and, it if works, then apply the method to the rest of the sauce.)
Slippery when wet
Slip 'n' Slide Lasagna
We know that letting a dish of lasagna sit for 15 minutes or a half hour will help it firm up (and it'll also prevent diners from scorching the roofs of their mouths), but if you've taken that step and the cut lasagna is still runny, with all the layers sliding apart, it's time to rethink your presentation. Put each serving in a bowl and call it a "free-form" lasagna, says Lahey. You can melt some cheese on top to give it a finished look or, as Beisser suggests, slice it into strips so it looks more like tagliatelle. (And tell everyone at dinner that this was intentional, of course.)
Pouring concrete
Concrete Dip
If your hummus or black bean dip is so thick a tortilla chip breaks when you try to scoop some up, there's one thing you should do first: Let the spread warm up if it isn't at room temperature; it might just be too cold. If you want it lighter still, thin it out by whisking in a drizzle of olive oil or, as Lahey has done with lima bean hummus, incorporate some lemon juice and water until the consistency is where you want it to be.
Car stuck in snow
Bread That Will Only Come Out of the Pan If You Call a Tow Truck
You could have sworn you greased every centimeter of the pan, and still the bread or pound cake will not release. Beisser says this is a common problem, especially with banana bread, since the fruit tends to caramelize and stick. You probably know to give the bread a good 15 minutes before you attempt to get it out. If it's still not budging, though, set the bottom of the pan in very hot water for a few minutes; that might loosen it up. Last resort: Acknowledge that you're going to lose an inch along one side of the bread. Lahey's tactic is to cut off one edge and then wedge a silicone spatula in the empty space so you can get under what's left of the loaf and lift up (you may even be able to use two spatulas, one in each hand). And anyone poking around the kitchen for a late-night snack will happily munch on those cast-off pieces.
Stone Fruit So Unripe, It Actually Resembles...Stones
The fruit you bought isn't ripe, and you need to make the pie today to bring to the barbecue tonight. Your options are (a) buy dessert and save the peaches or plums for another day; (b) make sugar cookies instead (you probably have all the ingredients—they're the same ones you'd need); or (c) still make a pie but take it in a different direction. Unripe fruit is missing a lot of sugar, so slice it and cook the pieces with some syrup. Spoon the mixture into the pie pan and present it as peach jam pie instead, says Lahey. It won't have big chunks of fruit, but it will still be sweet and satisfying.

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