It’s Friday the 13th – Kitchen Disasters Ahead!


With Thanksgiving and Christmas and other major food fests coming swiftly at us, not to mention ritual workplace cookie-exchange season, our lives are about to get more kitchen-centric than usual. And more time spent in the kitchen means the odds of cooking disasters are greatly increased. There must be an insurance actuary who can give us the real statistics, but I would say that for every dozen batches of sugar cookies, at least 17% will scorch. For every ten turkeys roasted, 2.75 will be overdone. For every 144 dinner rolls baked, someone will forget 22% of the time that the recipe called for baking powder, not baking soda.

Life is about to get messy, and here are a few helpful household hints to get you through this Kitchen Season. Martha may have some fancier solutions, so be sure to look them up on her website. But I think more practical advice comes from my wise and sagacious friend Chris, who advises that you should always keep a Stouffer’s family-sized lasagna in the freezer in case of a major disaster. A word from the wise!

Too much salt in the soup:
Toss in a boiled potato, which should act like a sponge and soak up extra salt. If you don’t keep spare boiled potatoes hanging about, use a bag of instant rice – keeping the rice in the bag. Or you can cook the rice, purée it, and add it to your soup a tablespoon at a time.

Overbeaten egg whites:
Always add a few drops of lemon juice to prevent over-beating your egg whites. Note to self – keep lemons on hand.

Lumpy gravy:
Pour the cumbersome gravy into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth (you may need to add some warm broth). Be sure the lid of the blender is on tight – you do not want to wipe gravy splatters off your cabinets on Thanksgiving. Alternatively, try using a whisk. The beating should eliminate lumps and frustration. A spa treatment for the harried cook!

Burnt pie crust:
Cut off the burnt bits, or file them down with a nutmeg or cheese grater. They do things like that on The Great British Bake Off all the time! And if it is a sweet pie, you can never go wrong with the judicious application of artistic whipped cream. If it is a meat pie, try masking with some scrumptious bacon. Keep copious amount of heavy cream and bacon on hand.

Forgot to buy buttermilk?
Use regular milk, but add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to sour the milk.

Too spicy?
Dairy is always the answer. Cut the spiciness in a sauce, chili, or soup by stirring in plain yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk or cream. Add some dark chocolate to chili. Note to self: stock up on dark chocolate.

Sticky rice?
If it is only a little bit sticky you can toss it in a colander and rinse it under some warm water, and use your fingers to separate the grains. Remember that Julia Child believed that you can work miracles in the privacy of your own kitchen.

Overcooked meat?
The best way to fix overcooked beef or chicken is to add some liquid. Place the meat in a casserole dish and pour in a few cups of hot chicken or beef broth, cover it, and let it sit. This might not work at Thanksgiving (or Christmas) when people have rather stereotypical notions of how Norman Rockwell would serve the meat, but you are creative! Keep lots of broth on hand, just in case.

Too much salad dressing?
Put the salad in a clean bowl. Add more salad. Or you can run it in a salad spinner. Better yet, keep the salad dressing in a cruet on the table, and let folks dress their own salads. All the skinny minis will prefer it that way.

Broken Cakes or Cookies?
When the cake crumbles as it you take it from the pan, or the dog knocks over the platter where the cookies are cooling, snatch up as many as you can before the dog gets them, and layer the broken bits in parfait glasses, alternating with swathes of whipped cream and all that fresh fruit you are keeping for just such an emergency.

You can cover for almost any natural cooking disaster with a good story, wine and whipped cream. But don’t serve undercooked meats or anything that smells odd. Use a meat thermometer. And get the Stouffer’s lasagna out of the freezer, and place it lovingly in the oven. It will be a memorable event, and it might well get you out of having to entertain all the relatives for a few years.

• Read the recipe before you begin cooking.
• Make sure you have all the ingredients or substitutions on hand. Check for lasagna.
• Set a timer.
• Don’t measure ingredients over the cooking pot or the mixing bowl. Gravity is a natural ally of cooking disasters.
• Always know where the dog is. Luke the wonder dog managed to snatch a slice of pizza from a china plate on the kitchen counter the other day. Without moving the plate! I didn’t even hear his doggy chortles of delight as he scarfed the slice down, and I was just in the next room!What an amazing skill set that dog has! Imagine what he could do to a plate of cookies, or a resting, recently roasted turkey!

“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”
― Julia Child

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