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Mary Hunt

It happened again; I suffered a kitchen disaster. Boy, do I hate when that happens. This time, I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked beyond al dente all the way to al mushe. I could barely make out the pasta shape.

It killed me to dump the whole thing and start over, but there was no way to undo that disaster — it was that far gone. Thankfully, that’s not true for every cooking mistake. Here is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case.

STICKY PASTA

When the pasta is not totally mush but all stuck together as if by glue, drain and cool immediately. Then, return the pasta to a saute pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss while reheating. That should take care of the stickiness, and no one is the wiser.

TOO MUCH SALT

It’s a common cooking mistake. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup and you have enough ingredients, double the recipe or make more by half. Then mix it in with the salty batch a bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired flavor. Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.

BURNT TOAST

Don’t toss it until you’ve tried this neat trick: Use your cheese grater to quickly scrape off the burned layer. Works like magic. Other options: Scrape off the worst, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and present as crostini or use for croutons.

STALE ROLLS

Wet your fingers and generously flick some water on the rolls. Then, wrap in foil and heat in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes.

UNDERCOOKED CAKE

The first sign of a cake that’s not done is that sinkhole in the middle. Once cooled, you cannot rebake it. But don’t worry; this is not a hopeless kitchen disaster. Break the cooled cake into pieces (even those parts that are undercooked) and layer them with whipped cream and fresh fruit to make dessert parfaits or one large trifle. Perfect.

OVERCOOKED VEGETABLES

If you’ve overcooked broccoli, asparagus or similar vegetables, don’t despair. Tweak your menu a bit to include creamed vegetable soup. Puree the vegetables in the blender, pour in a bit of heavy cream, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. There — cooking mistake averted.

OVER-CHARRED BEEF

You totally can spin this disaster by rubbing the beef with a mixture of garlic, ground black pepper and chili powder, presenting it as “blackened.”

Or switch things up. Cut away the over-charred portions, then slice that charred beef for stir-fry, fajitas or salad.

BURNT PUDDING, CUSTARD, SOUP

Even the most seasoned chefs have been known to burn a custard or two. If you notice the bottom layer of custard or cream-based soup has turned dark, stop stirring immediately. You don’t want to incorporate any of the burned bottom into the unburnt portions. Pour the remaining custard, pudding or cream into a new pan, making sure you don’t scrape up any of the part that’s scorched at the bottom, then keep cooking.

THIN SAUCES

There are several techniques you can try to thicken the sauce. Work some flour into small amounts of butter. Bring the sauce to boil and drop the flour-butter balls in one at a time while stirring, until the sauce is your desired thickness. Cornstarch is usually a good thickener, provided you have mixed it with cold water first. Add it to the boiling liquid a little at a time while stirring. Some cooks use dried potato flakes as an emergency thickener.

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