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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Things Go Wrong a Guide to Fixing Kitchen Disasters

by Chef Peter Martin

Let's face facts; we have all had our fair share of kitchen disasters, even us "professionals", though we might not admit it. From food being too salty, to scorched soups, to broken hollandaise, disasters do, and will, happen.

The good news is that many of these so-called "disasters" can be fixed relatively easily, with only a few that are beyond salvaging. Below is a list of some of the most common kitchen disasters and how to fix them.

Too Salty

From thinking the recipe said tablespoons instead of teaspoons, to being distracted and salting something twice, this is one of the most common food disasters.

Luckily there are numerous ways to solve this issue. You can try neutralizing the salt by adding sugar and cider vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon, each, at a time until you have reduced the level of saltiness. Another method that has been around for a long time is the potato method. If making a soup and it > is too salty, add 1 peeled potato, cut into large chunks. Allow the soup to simmer for 15 minutes then remove the potato. It will absorb some of the excess salt. I find this method only to work if the soup in question is just slightly over salted. The final, and most effective, way to reduce saltiness is to add more of all the other ingredients to dilute it. At least you are guaranteed leftovers!

Too Spicy

You're making your favorite chili when you taste it and realize that the jalapenos you used this time were way hotter than you expected.

Not to worry, there are a number of fixes to foods being too hot. The first thing to always do is taste your chile peppers. Peppers will fluxuate in the amount of heat they have and the only way too really know for sure how hot they are is to taste them. If they seem a little hotter than normal you can cut down on the amount you use and you can also make sure that you remove all of the inner membranes and seeds. This is where the majority of the heat lies in a pepper.

Failing that, don't fear, all is not lost. Of course you could just add more of everything else if you want, but what if you don't want 3 gallons of chili or 1 gallon of salsa? There are still a number of options open to you. There are really three things that will help counteract the heat of chilies. They are sugar, acids, and dairy products. That said, you have a whole arsenal in your kitchen to combat spicy foods. Try adding a can of crushed pineapple to your chili. It will virtually disappear, leaving very little traces of itself while helping to counteract the heat. Give that super spicy salsa a few squirts of lime juice to help tame it, or, if appropriate add some dairy, in the form of sour cream or yogurt into a spicy sauce. At the table, offer sour cream and cheese to help counteract the heat or offer chopped cilantro which also seems to have a cooling effect on the mouth. Also remember that milk or dairy based drinks are the best way to cool a burning mouth.

Highly sweetened, non carbonated drinks are second best. Stay away from water as all it does is spread the heat around in your mouth while doing very little to counteract it.

Burnt Soups and Sauces

This is one of the few times that, if you do not act quickly, your food is bound for the garbage can. There is absolutely no way, at least that I have ever heard of, to salvage a soup or sauce that tastes scorched. I have been told by numerous sources that laying a piece of bread on top of the soup will draw out the scorched flavor, but I have yet to actually see this work.

Your best bet against this is vigilance. If you notice that your soup is starting to stick and burn to the bottom of your pan quick action can save it. > Quickly remove the pan from the heat and plunge the bottom of the pan into cold water. This is to stop the cooking process and prevent any more from burning. Then, carefully, pour the soup or sauce into another pan leaving behind the last little bit on the bottom.

Whatever you do, don't scrape anything from the old pan into the new pan. You want all the burnt stuff left behind. Taste the soup, if you don't taste any burnt flavors then you reacted quickly enough, if not then there is only one thing to do, start over.

Curdled or Broken Sauce

You slaved away all day working on that special meal and just before serving it you notice that your hollandaise sauce has broken or that your cream sauce has curdled. Not to worry, all is not lost; in fact both of these problems can be taken care of pretty simply.

For a broken hollandaise you are going to take 1 egg yolk and whisk it over a water bath until it is thick and pale, just like when you started your hollandaise. Next you are going to use the broken hollandaise just like you just the butter the first time. Slowly add the broken hollandaise to the yolk, whisking vigorously as you go. This will bring your sauce back together. It might be a little more dense than it normally would be, but it will still taste great, and chances are your guest will never even know.

To fix a broken cream sauce, take ½ cup of heavy cream and reduce it down to 1/3 of its original volume. Slowly drizzle in the curdled sauce while whisking vigorously. This should bring the sauce right back to its creamy, silky consistency. You can avoid a cream sauce curdling by adding just a little starch to it in the form of a roux or cornstarch slurry.

Miscellaneous Kitchen Fixes

  • Melted Chocolate becomes hard and grainy (seized): Try adding a teaspoon of shortening or oil per ounce of chocolate. Doesn't always work but worth a try before throwing it away.
  • Runny (or Soggy) Mashed Potatoes: Try adding a few dehydrated potato flakes to the your runny mashed potatoes (yes even potato flakes have a use or 2) or try adding some powered dry milk.
  • Gummy Mashed Potatoes: Unfortunately there is no fix for overworked, gummy mashed potatoes, but don't throw them away!!! Cool them down, add some minced onion, a couple of egg yolks and some seasoning, form into patties, pan fry and you have some wonderful Potato cakes.
  • Hard to peel Hard boiled eggs: Crack the eggs and place in a bowl of cool water for 5 minutes. The water will seep into the cracks and help loosen the shell from the egg.
  • Slightly stale Bread: You can breathe new life into day old bread by lightly sprinkling it with water, wrapping it in foil and baking it in a 300 degree oven until warm.

Kitchen disasters will happen. It is inevitable, but with these guidelines you should be able to recover from many of them. There will be times when things can't be repaired though. It is then that your creativity can shine through. Cake fallen in the center? Turn it into a trifle. Cookies spread out too much and are now hard and brittle? Chop them up and add to ice cream. Most of the time things can be rescued and dinner will be saved.

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