Easy Fixes for 8 Common Kitchen Mishaps
How to Fix Mushy Potatoes
Problem: You intended to boil those new potatoes just until fork-tender. But when you drained them, they collapsed into mush.
Solution: "Make mashed potatoes,'" Rozanne Gold, a chef and author of the 1-2-3 series of cookbooks, says. Not in the mood for a mash, make home fries: Drain the potatoes and fry them in a skillet with a small amount of fat―olive or peanut oil, butter, or bacon drippings―stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 20 minutes.
Next time: Gently simmer the potatoes instead of boiling them. The lower temperature causes the starch in them to swell more slowly. As a result, only a bit of the gummy starch leaks out of the potatoes and into the cooking water, says Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist and the author of CookWise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed ($35, amazon.com).
How to Fix Stale Bread
Problem: The loaf you brought home from the bakery the day before yesterday is still sitting on the counter, untouched.
Solution: Flaunt the dry bread's finer points and make crostini. Thinly slice the bread and toast it in a 325° F oven until it's crisp throughout and barely golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Use the glorified toast as a foundation for bruschetta, as garlic-rubbed croutons to float atop soup, or as you would melba toast. If the bread is so dry that it crumbles when you slice it, toss it into a food processor and pulse to create bread crumbs.
Next time: As soon as you realize the bread won't be used in time, wrap the still-fresh loaf tightly in a couple of layers of plastic and freeze it. To defrost, leave the bread at room temperature overnight. Then unwrap it and warm it in a 350° F oven for about 20 minutes.
How to Fix Tasteless Tomatoes
Problem: Those out-of-season but enticingly red tomatoes that you couldn't resist buying taste insipid.
Solution: Intensify the flavor by removing moisture, Corriher says. Place the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and, if desired, fresh herbs. Roast in a 200° F oven for about 2 hours. (Large tomatoes should be cut into several thick slices, Romas should be halved lengthwise, and cherry or grape tomatoes should be left whole.) Before serving, drizzle with olive oil.
Next time: Look for locally grown tomatoes from July through September. (There's a direct relationship between a hot, dry summer and sweet tomatoes; conversely, wet weather brings watery, bland ones.) Outside of peak tomato season, rely on canned or hydroponically grown specimens, or stick with the smaller Roma, cherry, and grape varieties, which tend to be more flavorful.
How to Fix Overcooked Chicken
Problem: You slid some chicken breasts under the broiler and forgot about them until a wisp of smoke reminded you.
Solution: Conceal the burnt edges and the dry interior beneath a simple herb sauce. Stir together some olive oil and coarsely chopped fresh herbs―basil, thyme, tarragon, mint, parsley, or a combination―then add a little salt and pepper. Thickly slice the chicken, fan the pieces onto individual plates, and spoon the sauce over the top. Add some vinegar or lemon juice to the herb sauce, Gold says, and you have a vinaigrette sauce that can dress not just the chicken but also salad greens.
Next time: If "out of sight, out of mind" is a problem for you, cook the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop.
How to Fix Mushy Vegetables
Problem: Your steamed carrots quickly went from barely tender to limp.
Solution: Serve them anyway. "A little pepper and a shaving of Parmesan and it's going to be fine," says Deborah Madison, author of Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison's Kitchen ($27.50, amazon.com). Butter will also do the trick. Add a pat, with a drizzle of honey, to steamed carrots, or coarsely mash sweet peas with butter and fresh herbs. Or consider making soup, Madison says: Saute chopped scallions in butter or olive oil until softened, then add the vegetables and some stock or water and simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in a can of drained white beans and you'll have a fast minestrone.
Next time: Use a timer. Madison sets one to go off 5 minutes after putting vegetables in the pan, not as a signal of when they're done but as a reminder to check on them, in case she gets distracted.
How to Fix Crumbly Cake
Problem: Baking the cake was a cinch―it was the unmolding that was your undoing.
Solution: Get inventive with the frosting, suggests Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible ($35, amazon.com). When a cake comes out of the pan in pieces, glue it back together by spreading frosting along the edges and pressing the pieces together. Rinse the blade with warm water and dry it after each swipe. Then frost as usual.
Next time: If your cake sticks, place the bottom of the pan on a towel that has been wrung out with very hot water; the heat will loosen the cake. Beranbaum takes the preemptive measures of buttering the bottom of the pan, lining it with parchment paper cut to fit, and spraying it with a nonstick spray containing flour.
How to Fix Unripe Strawberries
Problem: The containers of strawberries on sale for $1.99 seemed like a steal. But they don't taste remotely like the real deal.
Solution: Grandma would likely advise you to slice them, sprinkle them with sugar, and set them aside for a half hour until juices form. And she'd be right. But to impart flavor, not just sweetness, add a touch of vanilla extract, a few drops of lemon juice, or a pinch of ground cinnamon or cardamom with the sugar. For a bolder, boozier dessert, Gold says, add a splash of cassis or red wine just before serving. (Try a light, fruity wine, such as Beaujolais.) You can also scatter thinly sliced fresh basil or mint over the top.
Next time: Peer through the plastic before buying. Any trace of white near the stems means the berries were picked too early. Those that appear soft or shriveled or are leaking juices are overripe. If you're still not sure, pop open the container and squeeze gently; the berries should yield.
How to Fix Cracked Piecrust
Problem: The pie dough ripped while you were rolling it out. You patted it back together, but the top of the pie now resembles a patchwork quilt.
Solution: Lightly brush the dough with ice water, sprinkle it generously with granulated or turbinado (coarse) sugar, and press gently so the crystals adhere. Then bake.
Next time: Rips occur when pastry dough lacks moisture. When dough has been rolled and starts to tear, brush the surface lightly with water, folding it in half twice to form a quarter-circle, then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for an hour. Then unfold and reroll it on a lightly floured surface. If it sticks to the countertop, roll it out onto plastic or parchment paper.