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Quick Cooking Fixes for Culinary Calamities

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How to Save the Meal (and the Day!)

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It happens to every cook now and then: Something tastes bland, or the turkey is pink, and your guests are waiting at the table. Here are some solutions to common kitchen problems.

At The Last Minute…

You oversalted the soup. No worries—just add a raw potato and boil for a short time. The potato will absorb some of the salt. Then, remove the potato.

Your guests are at the table and the roast turkey/chicken you’re carving is pink or raw at the bone. Dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, so you can remove the breast meat and serve it first. In the meantime, turn the oven to 450°F and continue roasting the legs and thighs until done, another 15 minutes or so. Or, you can stick them in the microwave on high for several minutes. 

Your roast turkey or chicken is very dry. Slice the cooked poultry and arrange it on an ovenproof platter. Make a sauce of half butter and half chicken broth and pour it over the meat. Let it stand for 10 minutes in a 250°F oven to soak up the juices. 

You overcooked the asparagus/broccoli/brussels sprouts, etc. Chop the overcooked vegetables and combine them with a can of creamed soup (any kind will do!). Heat and serve. 

Your pasta is stuck together. After draining the pasta, plunge it quickly back into boiling water, to which you add a pat of butter or a tablespoon of oil. Drain; your pasta should become unstuck. (Next time, add the butter or oil to the water before you add the uncooked pasta!)

You’ve Run Out Of…

You’re about to start baking, and—oops!—you don’t have any baking powder. You can make a baking powder substitute by mixing 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Substitute for an equal amount of baking powder, reducing any additional salt in the recipe. 

A recipe calls for superfine sugar, and you only have plain old granulated sugar. You can make extra-fine granulated sugar by whirling granulated sugar in a food processor until it is finely ground, which is about two minutes. Superfine sugar dissolves more rapidly in cold liquids than regular sugar, which is helpful in drinks such as lemonade and iced tea.

You just straight up don’t have any sugar. Good thing sugar is in almost everything! For 1 cup of sugar, substitute 3/4 cup of honey or 1 1/2 cups of molasses. You will need to reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe. If using honey, reduce by half; if using molasses, reduce the amount of other liquids by 2 1/2 fluid ounces for every cup of molasses and add one teaspoon of baking soda. Bake at a slightly lower temperature. 

You’re in the middle of making a berry pie, only to discover you didn’t pick/buy enough berries. One (very yummy) solution is to mix up a package of vanilla pudding and add it to the pie in layers alternating with berries. Another (also yummy) solution is to mix the pudding and berries together and top the pie with meringue instead of a crust. 

You’re assembling ingredients, and *gasp!* you don’t have enough eggs. You can replace one egg in 3 with a tablespoon of cornstarch. Also, two yolks will substitute for one whole egg. If you need egg whites, add one teaspoon of tartar cream for each cup of egg whites. This will increase their volume by allowing them to beat up fluffier. 

In the Midst of Baking…

Your brown sugar is rock-hard. Put it in a plastic container and microwave it for 1/2 to 1 minute. If it is still hard, add a couple of drops of water and microwave again. Or put the sugar in a pan in a moderately preheated oven, turn off the heat, and let it stand until it softens. 

Your baking powder is old, and you aren’t sure whether or not you should use it. There is a simple test for baking powder staleness: Add one teaspoon of baking powder to a cup of hot water. If the mixture bubbles a lot, it’s good, but if it doesn’t, throw it out. 

You’re in a hurry and don’t have time to chill your pie dough before rolling it out. Chilling isn’t necessary anymore unless your kitchen is exceedingly hot, so don’t even worry about it. 

You’re separating eggs and dropping some yolk into the whites. Since even the tiniest amount of yolk in the whites can affect their leavening ability, it is important to remove it. Moisten a cloth in cold water, touch it to the yolk, and it will cling to the cloth like a magnet.

Your fruit pie has a soggy bottom crust. Serve the pie in bowls. To prevent this from happening next time, get the filling into the pie shell and put it in the oven quickly. If a puddle of juice forms in the bottom of the mixing bowl, don’t pour it into the pie shell. 


You burn food, and you need to get rid of the smell. Boil a small amount of vinegar on the stove, or simmer a pot of water with a few whole cloves. 

You can’t stand the smell of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or cabbage when you cook it, but of course, your kids need their vegetables. Put a piece of bread (rye seems to work best) or a slice of red pepper in the pot along with the vegetable. The smell disappears.

You love to eat fish but can’t stand the smell of it in the kitchen once it’s been cooked. Simmer a pan of water on the stove with spices such as whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, or allspice, or cut up a lemon and simmer the slices in a pan of water. 

As a Last Resort…

Write down the take-out numbers to your favorite pizza or Chinese food place. Eating healthy is important, but sometimes it’s nice to leave the pans in the cupboard and dig into a pizza/kung-pao chicken!

What are your favorite tips for battling cooking catastrophes? 

About The Author

Sarah Perreault

Senior editor, Sarah Perreault, works on all things Almanac, but is especially proud to be the editor of our Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids series. Read More from Sarah Perreault

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