Oops! Now What?

Oops! Now what?

When disaster strikes, fast fixes will save the day, or the dinner party
Judy Schultz
The Edmonton Journal
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

EDMONTON - So there you are in the kitchen, cooking, baking, creating, making culinary history, when suddenly everything goes sideways.

The cake flops. The soup gets salted twice. The hollandaise curdles. The roast is overcooked. The garlic butter scorches. What to do?

These things happen in the best of kitchens. Any honest chef will tell you that. As my dear old grandma so frequently told me, "Stop snivelling, honey, you'll survive." Just fix it, and move on.

Bistro has assembled six of the most common culinary disasters, along with the best ways to rescue them.

The Cake Fell

1) PROBLEM: You made that fabulous cake from scratch, and it fell. Now there's a big crater in the middle of your dessert.

SOLUTION: If it's a round cake, consider drizzling the fallen part with some very good jam or jelly, or possibly filling it with a good (as in cooked) chocolate pudding, and covering the whole thing with a layer of whipped cream. It's a bit like Boston cream pie.

Hollandaise Sauce Turned Into Cottage Cheese

2) PROBLEM: Your brunch guests are at the table, your eggs are perfectly poached, but the hollandaise for your eggs Benedict just turned into cottage cheese.

SOLUTION: Put the curdled sauce in the blender with an ice cube. Whiz briefly. It will come back together.

Soup Got Over Salted

3) PROBLEM: You got distracted and salted your homemade soup twice. It's ruined.

SOLUTION: People will advise all kinds of improbable tricks, like cooking a potato in it, but the only sure thing is to divide and conquer.

Scoop half the soup into another container and save it for another day. Working with what's left in the pan, begin adding water, unsalted chicken stock or vegetable juice (carrot juice, tomato or vegetable cocktail), tasting as you go, until it works for you. You may have to correct the other flavours with a fresh batch of vegetables, quickly microwaved in their own juices.

Here's another possibility, from a chef's wife: add cream and sugar. Warm some cream and gradually add it, stirring as you do. Correct the flavour with a bit of sugar.

Roast Over Done And Stringy

4) PROBLEM: The roast is overdone. Not burned, exactly, but cooked to the stringy stage.

SOLUTION: Stringy can be good if you're making pulled (or shredded) meat. First, you need two forks. Now, pulling one in the opposite direction of the other, shred the meat. Next, toss it with a small amount of your favourite barbecue sauce. Voila, pulled pork (beef, chicken), which makes a fantastic topping for noodles or a salad, or a wonderful filling for good ciabatta buns.

Automatic Oven Failed To Start And Guests Are Famished

5) PROBLEM: The automatic oven failed to start, the roast is underdone, and the guests are famished.

SOLUTION: Quickly sliver the meat and turn it into a stir-fry with one or two aromatic vegetables -- onion, peppers or celery. Add a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a good smash of freshly chopped parsley. This can still be served with the same starch and salad you'd originally planned for the roast.

Garlic Sauce Burned

6) PROBLEM: You're making a garlic sauce. You toss the garlic in the pan with some butter, the phone rings, and before you get back to it, it's a deep shade of smoky mahogany. What to do?

SOLUTION: Throw it out, wash the pan and start again. Sorry, but burned garlic tastes bitter and is not rescuable. Neither is burned butter. It would have ruined your dish.


Peter Jackson, Jack's Grill: The most valuable thing I learned at cooking school is how to use leftover beurre blanc. If you refrigerate it and try to re-heat it, the sauce will break. It's an expensive butter-based sauce, and you don't want to waste it, so put it in the fridge. To use it, make a very small amount of the same sauce, and as you're stirring it, add small amounts, like pinches, to the new sauce. It will come together.

Barbara Barnes, ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen: Here are two for the holidays. If your gravy is lumpy, don't fuss around trying to pour hot gravy into a blender. A whisk will take the lumps out. If it's a non-stick roaster, use a silicone-coated whisk. I like the Trudeau (brand name).

Second tip: If you're using a foil roaster, ALWAYS put it on a rimmed baking sheet. It will save you the real possibility of a collapsing roaster with a 15 lb turkey on the floor and hot grease all over your feet.

Claude Buzon, president of Toque Demagny: If you're cooking salmon, cook it only until still slightly pink in the centre. Otherwise, you dry it out and ruin the delicate flesh.

Treat tuna or swordfish the same way. If it overcooks, it gets so tough, even the cat won't eat it. Cook your fish medium to medium rare.

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Updated on ... December 02, 2006