Some home cooks, and I've been there too, feel lucky when dinner is a success. I may be pro, but I make mistakes occasionally – and in the kitchen they're often the same ones. Over the years, my work in recipe development – testing and retesting a certain dish until I get it exactly right – has helped me identify what the most common cooking mistakes are, and how to fix them.
So get out your salad shooter, and plug in the slow cooker! No need to fear the pitfalls of home cookery now, especially given the fact that more dine in this time of year. The cost of summer camp, and the lack of structure when school lets out, send a lot of us to the kitchen with good intentions. Here are some common mistakes and how to remedy them.
My pasta, a gummy mess? NOPE! NOT ME!!!!
If your pasta sticks together, try this: Drain the pasta from water (reserving some of the cooking liquid), and immediately place it into the pan with your sauce. Toss it around so that the pasta is surrounded by sauce not sticking to other pasta. If the dish is still stuck together, ladle in some salted pasta water and toss again. Here's a photo of Skillet Beef Bourguiognon from Sunday Best Dishes. The sauce in this is so delicious, you won't actually care if your pasta sticks together. Like me on Facebook, and I'll sail the recipe over! Ain't she a beaut?
Look out lettuce! Soggy salads are history now
It's all in the timing, people. Dress your green salad with just a bit of dressing – no more than a tablespoon at a time – rather than pouring dressing all over. If you want the task of making the salad over and done with, so you can get to the rest of the food prep, I'm down with that. You can still enjoy a delicious salad, hours down the road by doing this: Pour just a bit of salad dressing into the bottom of your salad bowl. Top with your salad ingredients and place the bowl in the fridge. Remove the salad bowl just before serving, and NOW toss the lettuce for an even coat of flavor. Suddenly your greens are crisp, cool and lightly dressed!
No one will complain about your slow cooker again with this tip
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone complain that slow cooker meals are blah…well, I'd have a giant stack of nickels, wouldn't I? It REALLY doesn't have to be that way. My slow cooker and I are best friends. It's true, they need a little more attention than simply dumping raw meat or poultry into the crockpot, and turning it to “LOW”. Most slow cooker meals will be much tastier if you brown the protein before you place it into the crockpot. Browning seals in the juices, and adds flavor. When transferring a recipe from stove top to slow cooker, remember to reduce the amount of liquid originally called for in the recipe. Oh, and P.S. Crockpots are a wonderful cooking solution on those lazy summer days you tackle a home project, you meant to do over Spring Break.
Kiss my Grits! My gravy and sauces are lumpy…but not for long.
Most sauces use a thickener to create that velvety lusciousness. For gravy, I use a flour slurry (flour and butter); for sauces you whisk in cold butter. In either case, there is substantial risk for lumpiness. The quick fix is to strain your sauce through a colander to catch any lumps or bumps. The other solution is to whisk, whisk, whisk. This provides a smoother sauce, and the added benefit of arm toning. If your sauce is too runny, try adding a spoonful of tomato paste or mustard. These are natural thickeners, and add a whole bunch of flavor!
Gosh darn it – I burnt my stew. Not to worry, Jorj is here!
Things happen. There is a good chance you can salvage that stew or meat sauce. Do not stir! Stirring will transfer all of those burnt bits on the bottom into every bit of the stew. Instead: Ladle the stew into a new pot, starting with the top. As you get to the bottom of the pan, taste to make sure that there are no burnt flavors before you transfer to the new pan. You won’t be able to salvage the whole pot, but chances are excellent you'll get enough for dinner.
I may have overcooked the meat, but there's still hope
I know. I know. Dry, overcooked beef or pork tastes like shoe leather. The good news is, you can totally salvage the meal. Thinly slice the meat, and place into a shallow baking dish. Drown the meat in broth. Cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven, on low, or in a warming drawer. Now rename the dish! Instead of roast beef you are serving beef aus jus!
I have full faith in you. Between now and Labor Day, your troops are going to flock to the dinner table on your slightest command. With the right tips and tools at your disposal, I know you to be just the sort who sets a fine table. You'll receive rave reviews and high marks on your cooking. No one is sending YOU to summer school, LOL.