So you tried to cook dinner, for family or guests, and it seems to be ruined. Is all hope lost? Maybe, but it’s possible you can save at least some part of it to eat, along with something else you can prepare quickly. Here are some hints.
- Try to cook foods you know for special guests. Don’t try your wildest experiments if you’re trying to impress important people.
- Have backup and emergency repair foods on hand for help.
- These can include flour, eggs, milk, bread, oatmeal, spices, salsa, sugar, baking powder, canned soups, chicken or beef broth, frozen vegetables, butter, oil, vinegar, fruit or tomato juice, flavored jello, cake mix, frozen pie crusts, salad dressing, etc.
- Consider the type of food that’s ruined. Each one will require different treatment. Check recipes online for specific ingredients and how they can be used in a different dish that you could make from what you have.
- A green salad is ruined if it sits in dressing too long and gets limp. There’s little to do but add it to a soup (canned or from stock) and cook it.
- Vegetables are ruined if they are cooked until mushy. Again add them to a soup, or mix with eggs and bread crumbs/flour, butter, and flavors to make a baked casserole.
- Meat is ruined if it’s burned or cooked until dry and shriveled. Cut off burned parts, and chop the remainder into small bits to use in soup, or add to a vegetable mix, omelet, or meat pie. (see recipes for meat pies or quiches)
- Soup is ruined if it gets too salty, thick, or thin. To remove salt, float slices of raw potato in it and boil lightly, then remove and discard the potato. Water down thick soup with any liquid (water, broth, juice, milk, etc.) and thicken soups with bread bits, oatmeal, pasta, rice, or grains (barley, couscous).
- Stews are ruined if they cook dry, or too many flavors clash. For dry stew, add any liquid (as in soup). Too many flavors can’t be fixed. Thin it with plain water or stock, and serve in small amounts with condiments (bread crumbs, boiled egg bits, bacon bits, nuts, fresh herbs, etc.)
- Breads and baked good are ruined if they burn, fall (fail to rise or over-rise) or are undercooked and wet inside. Usually these can’t be saved. Try slicing off the burned edges and see if the rest tastes OK. Bread that falls can only be eaten as is, used as crumbs or in a pudding, or thrown away. Undercooked cakes can be returned to the oven if they are still hot. (see recipes for bread puddings)
- Prepare another side dish if needed to take the place of something ruined. Don’t cry over spilt milk, literally!
- Use your imagination to combine parts of the meal that usually don’t go together. Put the vegetables on top of the potatoes, or the meat into the soup. Add a fried egg on top of a dish that has been reduced in size to add flavor, volume, and protein.
- Prepare the meal with enough advanced time so that if some part is ruined, you have time to fix it or make something to substitute.
- Separate the ruined part from the rest of the dish if possible. Remove the wilted lettuce, or scrape off the good rice from the burned part on the bottom. Cut off the burned meat. Cut off the edge of the cake and cook the rest again.
- Know when to throw out the whole dish. Just consider it a good cooking lesson, and move on. Maybe the cat or dog will like it.
- Know what you are trying to fix: taste, texture, shape, appearance, or doneness. You can always add flavor (but not take it away), or cook more (but not less!), hide the shape, change the color (with other foods or even food coloring), add something with a different texture (raisins, nuts, oatmeal, olives, chocolate chips, fruit pieces), or whip or blend the food to smooth it. You can cut the food to shape, or put it in a different pan, hide the top with sauce, jam, sprinkled sugar, or mayonnaise.
- Use herbs, spices, and sauces to fix the taste of some foods. Add garlic, herbs, hot sauce, or honey.
- Add a topping, sauce, or other layers to make a dish look better even when the taste is fine.
- Don’t use good ingredients in a ruined dish and waste them too. Try some cheap bread, milk instead of cream, cheap cheese, or an egg or plain flour to thicken food, or turn the consistency into something smooth.
- Taste a little and think carefully of what flavor it lacks, or how to improve the consistency before trying to fix it. Fixing a flavor is not the same as fixing the texture. Some textures can’t be fixed, especially for soft or overcooked foods.
- Don’t admit to a mistake too fast. Just tell your eaters it’s a soup or stew instead of the casserole. Tell them it’s sweet bread pudding with added fruit, instead of a fallen cake.