At some point between Christmas and Easter, the Leisure World party people recalibrated their stove.
I’d used this oven nine times before. It always ran cold. So when I plopped two stuffed, rolled pork roasts inside for my client’s annual Easter dinner (a mere three months after her Christmas soiree), I figured the meat would be a perfect 145 degrees an hour-and-a-half later.
Thank goodness I peeked after an hour. The instant-read thermometer ratcheted past 145 degrees in no time. I yanked it out before I could see just how well done my main dish had become and silently cursed the condo maintenance crew.
Trashing the client’s entree was not an option. Neither was serving chewy, dry pork.
Could this dinner be saved?
Yes, thanks to a cooking trick I happened to know. I spooned some warm chicken broth atop the meat, then tightly covered it with foil. Every 10 minutes, I’d lift the foil, spoon on some more broth, and cover it up again. When I carved the pork an hour later, juices ran down the knife. I was happy, the client was happy, and no one knew how close dinner had come to disaster.
When you cook, stuff happens. Thankfully, few mistakes are irreparable. Here are the fixes I pull out to mend my kitchen messes:
- Embrace broth: Or wine. Or even water. If you’ve butchered your brisket, charred your chicken or overdone your fish, you can resurrect them by slicing and gently reheating in liquid. This trick works for overcooked vegetables, too: Add them to an oil-slicked saute pan, then add enough wine or broth to moisten. They’ll turn into a silky veggie stew, and no one will know they began life as a mistake.
- Squeeze a lemon: This is the first thing I reach for if a dish tastes bland. Lemon juice brightens flavors and binds disparate ingredients. It also counteracts the bane of too much salt. Start off by squeezing half a lemon into your soup, stew, pesto or vegetables, then taste. If the flavors aren’t quite “there” yet, squeeze in the other half.
- Try a little sugar: The sweetness works wonders on ingredients that are too acidic. A sprinkle of sugar beefs up tomato sauces and takes away that catch-in-your-throat feeling of many vinaigrettes.
- Grab the sour cream: I threw both chile de arbol and chipotle peppers into an enchilada lasagna one night. The sauce was so hot it bordered on inedible. But a couple of tablespoons of sour cream tempered the heat perfectly. Think of how ice cream cools on a hot summer day, and you have the basic idea. Sour cream, milk, yogurt, whipping cream … all are great ways to tame excess heat. If you avoid dairy, coconut milk works wonders, too.
- Make a slurry: If your pan sauce won’t reduce or looks kind of thin and greasy, you can thicken it without adding fat or risking lumps. Simply place a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch and 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Whisk until the two are completely combined, then add about half the mixture (or “slurry”) to your pan. Whisk as the sauce boils for a minute or so. Add the remaining slurry if you want your sauce thicker still. Taste and adjust your seasonings. (You may have to add a bit more salt or some lemon juice.)
Most important, though, know when to punt. Some mistakes really can’t be fixed. Burned garlic, for instance, is good only for the garbage disposal. Ditto the broccolini I burned to a crisp yesterday. And that dressed-but-gritty salad I served a few years ago? It should never have reached the table.
Share some of your favorite cooking tricks with me! I love hearing how potential disasters can become delicious dinners!