5 Ways to Save a Bad Meal
Don't panic, and don't throw it out. Instead, follow these suggestions for rescuing blah salads, salty soups and more.
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Problem #1: Chicken That You Keep Chewing...and Chewing...
How to solve it: When you've overcooked poultry to a barely edible toughness
, there are generally two options (well, three, if you consider takeout). The first is to grab two forks and start shredding. This is your best bet if you've made a dish with plenty of sauce, or better yet, a stew, such as chicken cacciatore or chicken curry. Breaking the meat into smaller pieces and then stirring it into the sauce means more of it will come in contact with the juices, whether a mushroom wine sauce (in the case of cacciatore) or a spice-coconut-based one (for curry), making it taste moist. The alternative, if you've made a simple roast chicken with no sauce, per se, is to remove the meat from the bones and chop it, then mix it up with a spoonful of mayonnaise. The same concept applies—you're exposing more of the meat to moisture—and hey, chicken salad isn't a half-bad dinner.
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Problem #2: Soup That Leaves You Wanting to Guzzle Anything But More Soup
How to solve it:
The first thing to know about trying to correct an overly salty soup is that adding sliced potato, rice, noodles or cubes of bread just won't work, says Ellen Brown, author of Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants
. Here's what does: For a broth-based soup like chicken noodle, add enough liquid (unsalted stock or water) so that the soup no longer leaves you feeling as thirsty as if you've just run a marathon. Then, stir in more vegetables (so the soup isn't so broth-heavy), plus herbs or whatever other flavoring ingredients you're using. If the soup had already finished cooking, strain out the cooked ingredients while you work so they don't get mushy; then add them back in. For a creamy soup, Brown suggests adding more dairy, whether milk or cream.
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Problem #3: The Kale Salad That Tastes Too Kale-y
How to solve it:
Some greens need no accompaniments other than drizzles of oil and vinegar; kale is not one of them. Eating a salad made up entirely of kale, oil and vinegar (or lemon juice) will quickly become tedious, because the tough greens need a counterpoint, whether it's sweet, creamy or crunchy. In her new book Kale, Glorious Kale
, Catherine Walthers lists some of the best accompaniments for the roughage, broken into five categories: fruits; vegetables; nuts and seeds; dressings; herbs. If your dish seems to lack oomph, try adding something from one or more of those categories; even some apple slices or a handful of almonds can take a ho-hum salad out of the doldrums.
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Problem #4: Pasta That's Just a Little Too Al Dente
How to solve it: Those of us who live in fear of Mushy Pasta Syndrome have, on occasion, veered too far in the opposite direction. And while overly firm penne is probably worse than supersoft, there's a way to fix it. If the pasta is for a salad and you're not planning to eat it right away, don't bother doing anything but dressing it as usual, because it will soften as it sits in the fridge for a few hours or a day. If the pasta is for dinner tonight, you'll want to re-cook it. Do this by transferring the drained noodles to a skillet (if you've already mixed them with sauce, try to lift or scoop them out as best you can, using tongs or a slotted spoon), and covering with hot water. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until they're as you like them.
Problem #5: Cake That's Too Attached to Its Pan
How to solve it: Sometimes, no matter how well you grease that Bundt pan, the cake won't budge (we've found this is often true with intricate pans that have lots of nooks and crannies). Instead of sadly nibbling on the pathetic chunks that you are able to extract, turn them into a trifle. Cut the broken cake into cubes as best you can (jagged pieces are fine) and place them in one serving bowl (now's the time to break out your best-looking china). In another, gently toss fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries. In a third bowl, spoon fresh whipped cream. Let guests build their own trifle (and don't ever mention that they were originally supposed to be eating a Bundt cake).