11 Fixes to Common Cooking Mistakes

Burnt turkeyWe all know that gut-wrenching feeling: You're preparing the perfect meal when you realize you're missing an ingredient or misread the recipe. Luckily, there are easy fixes to common blunders, which means your mistake can be your little secret. Next time you "mess-up" in the kitchen, try one of these 11 solutions to turn your cooking catastrophe into a delicious dinner.

1. You Overcooked the Turkey

Don't worry that the star of your meal is ruined. That's what gravy is for, says Angela McKeller, an Atlanta-based chef and author of Passion on a Plate. Serve slices of turkey with the gravy already poured on top to moisten the meat. If only the skin is burned beyond the desired golden brown, peel it off. Your guests shouldn't second-guess what happened, but if they ask, remind them how much healthier turkey is without the fatty skin.

2. You Poured Too Much Wine in the Sauce

The result won't be the same, but it can still be equally delicious. "If it's in a stew or braised dish, just let it cook down longer," says Alejandra Ramos, a New York City-based cooking instructor and owner of culinary concierge service Alejandra Ramos Culinary & Lifestyle. "I guarantee you're only going to get a richer flavor from this mistake." Making tomato sauce? Continue cooking and add another can of tomatoes to dilute the wine flavor. Or, if you're out of tomatoes, let the sauce simmer a tad longer than usual and call the dish "red wine tomato sauce." You may even discover a new favorite recipe!

3. You Used Baking Powder When the Recipe Called for Baking Soda (or Vice Versa)

These two leaveners, used to help baked goods rise, are not created equal. Scoop out as much of the mistakenly measured ingredient as possible and remedy it. Or, better yet, start the flour mix over to ensure the recipe will be properly leavened. Marlene Koch, "Magician in the Kitchen" and author of Eat More of What You Love, breaks down the science behind these two ingredients: "Baking soda has four times the leavening power of baking soda. If you use baking powder, instead of baking soda, your baked goods may not rise enough. If you use baking soda instead of baking powder, your baked goods will rise too much, and then deflate. They may also have a strong salty, and perhaps soapy taste." Didn't catch your mistake in time? Your bread or dessert will still be edible but probably won't taste as good.

Related: Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining

4. You Misread the Measurement and Your Soup or Gravy is Too Salty

If you have a raw potato, toss it into the soup and let it absorb the salt. You can remove the potato after the soup is done cooking. McKeller suggests keeping boil-in-a-bag rice on hand for this scenario. Puree cooked rice with a few tablespoons of water and mix with the gravy. "The rice will serve as a thickener and absorb that extra salt," she says.

5. You Forgot to Buy Buttermilk

Don't run to the grocery store just yet. Try McKeller's trick first: Substitute milk for buttermilk and add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or distilled vinegar to "sour" the milk. This DIY concoction works great in baking, or for soaking your chicken to tenderize it before frying, she says.

6. Your Bread Dough Didn't Rise

Time to toss it and give up? "No way," says McKeller. But keep an eye on the baking time to make sure the bread doesn't burn. When the dough is one-inch thick versus six-inches thick, it may bake very quickly. Check on the oven every 10 to 15 minutes and remove the bread when it looks golden brown on top. Even though it didn't rise properly, you can still eat the thinner, crustier version with soup. Or, cut up the crispy bread and toss it with oil, garlic powder, and dried herbs to make your own croutons.

7. Your Recipe Calls for Fresh Herbs But You Have Only Dried Ones

That's fine as long as you know how to swap one for the other. Dried herbs have a slightly more concentrated flavor, says Ramos, so you can substitute half the amount of dry herbs for fresh herbs. For instance, if your recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, substitute with 1 ½ tablespoons of dry.

Related: An Easy Holiday Dinner Menu

8. You Forgot to Soften the Butter (or You Over-Softened It)

To soften butter in a hurry, cut it up into very small pieces and let it sit at room temperature for five minutes, says Koch. If you've left it out too long and it's over-softened, but not yet melted, place it back into the fridge for about five minutes to firm up.

9. You Blackened the Chicken on the Grill

"If you cooked it with the skin on…simply pull off the skin and discard it," says Koch. Not only will you hide the unsightly fact that you burned the chicken, but you're also removing the potentially harmful carcinogens found in charred meats. Stuck with black meat? Koch recommends slicing the blackened portion off and covering the evidence with barbecue sauce, ranch dressing, or salsa. Your dinner guests will never suspect a thing.

10. You Overcooked the Veggies and They Are a Mushy Mess

Turn them into a mini casserole! If you have 2 cups of mushy veggies, McKeller says to add one beaten egg, 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, then top with 1/4 cup shredded cheese, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in an oven heated to 350 degrees. Another option: Mush up the vegetables and add 1/2 cup of broth, your favorite herbs, and garlic. Then blend like soup and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays to create small vegetable boullion cubes that you can later drop in soups for a boost of flavor.

11. You Made Your Meal Too Spicy

There are several ways to tame the heat, says Ramos. Dairy can help: Heavy cream or butter can cool a too-spicy soup or sauce. Or, you could top over-spiced meats with a large dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream. Even a dollop of tangy cream cheese or goat cheese can counteract the heat of a dish, she says. Sweet and acidic ingredients also minimize heat. Koch suggests adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar or honey along with 1 or 2 teaspoons of vinegar or citrus. If you don't want to alter your spicy dish, pair it with a mild side such as plain mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta.

How have you fixed your biggest kitchen "mess-up"? Tell me in the comments!

-By Julie Seguss

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