How to Fix Cooking Mistakes: Common Errors and Uncommon Disasters

How to Fix Cooking Mistakes: Common Errors and Uncommon Disasters
Bad things happen to good cooks. Actually, the reverse is true as well: good things happen to bad cooks. That's what happened to me when I was first starting out on the kitchen. But what is a good thing? Actually, for me, the most learning and the best dishes came from my mistakes. Whenever I cooked, whether due to accident or whimsey, I would inevitably make an irreparable deviation from a recipe and be left with a dish that needed salvaging. So I would experiment when fixing cooking mistakes, and sometimes end up with a final result that was even better (or at least more interesting) than what I had been trying to make. Sure, sometimes it was a soggy and inedible mess, but I learned from that too. That's how I learned to cook independently. Being forced to go off-recipe like that taught me the rules of being creative in the kitchen, and I learned to break them all too. From fixing cooking mistakes creatively I learned not only how to salvage a dish, but to create entirely new ones as well.
So you have a dish that went wrong. What do you do? Here are a few tricks that will help to fix a dish gone wrong.

Common Cooking Mistakes: 


There are a few mistakes that just about every cook makes at one point or another. Luckily, fixing cooking mistakes like these are pretty easy. Here's how: 

  • Too spicy? Add something sweet (honey, sugar, or even fruit works well in some dishes) or some dairy (sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, cream, and cheese are all perfect).
  • Too salty? The only thing to really do is add more ingredients. One option is adding liquid like water, stock (not salted), or milk/cream in some cases. Another is to add starchy ingredients like potatoes or grains. I also like tossing in some new vegetables (eggplant seems to work particularly well).
  • Too sweet? Adding some acid (like lemon juice or vinegar) is the easiest way. If it's a simple dish though, I like to experiment by adding another ingredient, which both dilutes the sweetness and transforms it into an entirely new dish.
  • Too Soggy? Most of the time this is because the pan is too crowded. Try taking half of the ingredients out and either cooking in batches or using two pans.

Fixing Dishes (By Making New Dishes): 

Some dishes are pretty straightforwards to fix. Others require a little bit of creativity to fix, but don't worry--this is what makes fixing cooking mistakes fun! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Bread.
  • Make croutons. Cut into chunks and cook in a little oil. Add some spices if you wish.
  • Make french toast. "Pain perdu," or "Lost bread" in French, this dish was invented for stale or otherwise botched breads. A little egg, milk and maple syrup will make a scrumptious meal out of it!
  • Make stuffing. Stuffing is good on its own and with a whole array of other dishes, and the best thing is that disappointing bread can be used to create marvelous results with this recipe.
  • Make bread pudding. Bread pudding is rich, sweet and thick. Whatever is wrong with your bread won't do much to change that, and you'll have a killer dessert out of it.
Soups.
  • Make it a sauce. If the liquid is okay and the whole ingredients are not (if they're overcooked, for example) pour the liquid into a pan and add a thickener like cornstarch.
  • Saute it up! If the whole ingredients are fine and the liquid is not (over-spiced, for example), dispose of the liquid and and cook it in a frying pan, adding other ingredients to freshen it up and give it substance. Bean soups, meat soups, and chicken noodle soups are particularly good for this. Particularly effective if you add it to rice.
  • Make it a gravey. If there is some other problem, but it is still salvagable (say, the taste is okay in moderation), cook up some veggies and pour the soup in (you may want to dispose of some of the liquid first).

Baked desserts.

  • Cut and flip. The most basic cake-saving action. If it's too broken on top, just slice over the top with a serrated knife and turn it over, making the bottom into the top.
  • Turn it into a trifle or parfait. Layer the broken pieces with fresh fruit and whipped cream and let chill in the fridge.
  • Make it a crumble topping. Cookies, bars and even dense or overcooked brownies make a delicious crumble topping for ice cream and other desserts.
  • Make it a crust or base. Many baked goods can be crumbled or smushed into the bottom of a pie dish to make a sort of crust. After that, add whatever fits your fancy--custard, fruit, pie filling... anything is possible!

Vegetables.

  • Make soup. Try pureeing them and adding a little cream to make a "Cream of this or that" soup, or keep them whole and throw in some broth and potatoes to dissolve the flavor.
  • Make a mix. Mixing them with foods like rice, pasta, or potatoes is a good way to disperse the flavor or texture while still eating the fruits of your labor.
  • Make a sandwich, burrito, or wrap. The vegetables will play a part in the overal flavor and texture, but not enormously so.

Meat.

  • Make a sandwich or a burger. This is especially helpful of your meat turned out dry or tasteless. You can smother it with barbecue sauce or mustard, mayo and ketchup, and add some coleslaw or other toppings to give a fresh flavor.
  • Make it meat AND something. If meat was the main component, consider making it a part of something new. Pair it with rice, noodles or veggies to make a stir fry, stroganoff, casserole, chili, or whatever else you fancy.

Beans.

  • Make chili. Mushy, over-seasoned, or even burned beans can be transformed into a great chili with some canned tomatoes, stock, onions, and whatever else you fancy (veggies and meat are both great additions). Try adding some sour cream and cheese at the end, which really reduces any remnants of the "accidental" flavor.
  • Make bean burgers. A few spices, an onion and a little creativity can turn a botched bean dish into a yummy vegetarian burger. Serve as you would any burger, with plenty of toppings and condiments in a hearty bun.

Pasta

  • Make a casserole. Smother it with cheese and add flavorful, dispersing foods like tomatoes. A sauce with sour cream or cream cheese can also do a lot to make a milder flavor. 
  • Make a frittata. Use pasta as one of the main components alongside some vegetables, cheese and even meat. 
  • Potato pasta salad. The potatoes will provide some body to the dish and the dairy will help to smother whatever un-tastey flavor was there.
Remember, when you are fixing kitchen mistakes you are like an elite disaster-management specialist. You have the tools and the knowledge, but every situation is different and it's your sharp eye and gut feeling you must rely on. Remember to make it a game and have fun. Good luck!

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