Happy National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day!

June 13, 2012 10:23 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Celebrate National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day by making a mistake! (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Happy National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day!

I remember a huge poster on my second grade art teacher's bulletin board that read: "There Are No Mistakes in Art, Only Discoveries." Today, our nation is celebrating exactly that sentiment as it applies to our culinary pursuits. Here are some of the most common mistakes you'll make while cooking, and the best ways to avoid and remedy them.

1. "I over-salted my meal and I don't want my girlfriend's heart to stop."

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Our tastebuds are so overloaded with sodium from our day-to-day eating that maybe we think our food needs more salt than it does. But when it comes time to taste it, we quickly realize that our hand was too heavy and the meal is a sodium-iodized mess.

Here's how to avoid over-salting your food for next time, and how to fix the taste for now:

-Remember that you can always add flavoring to a meal but never really take it out. If the problem was a sudden, speedy pour of salt from your dispenser, always make sure you pour it out onto your hand instead of directly into the food. Once it's in your hand, add pinches at a time, stirring it into your food and tasting immediately.

-If you've over-salted a liquid dish, such as a soup or a sauce, quarter and peel a russet potato and throw it in. Wait thirty minutes. The potato will sop up much of the excess salt. Take it out and re-taste. Problem solved.

-If that didn't work as well as you'd like to, or you didn't cook a liquid meal, add flavors that balance out against saltiness. I use brown sugar or rice vinegar for this. Always make sure you've learned from past mistakes by tasting as you add. If you want to try something really cool, use oyster sauce. Its rich, savory sweetness masks just about anything.

2. "I overcooked my pasta noodles and now my family hates me."

No one wants to eat soft noodles with italian sauces, but there's one amazing thing that can be done with your little kitchen oversight.

-Avoid this problem again by following the instructions on the pasta box to the tee. The good people at the pasta company have made their product thousands of times, and they know when it gets al dente. They're the authorities, not whatever cookbook gives you a pre-set cooking time for pasta.

-Two minutes before the pasta is supposed to be done by the box's count, select a noodle at random and throw it at the wall. If it sticks, your pasta is ready two minutes early. Try it again with another noodle just to be sure. If it sticks and falls shortly after, give it another minute or minute-and-a-half. This is a crucial valley in the cooking time of pasta. It's the difference between an elegant finished product and something ordinary, mediocre, or-- worse-- disaster.

-But what to do with your overcooked noodles? Go into your pantry and find chicken broth. Home-made chicken stock is obviously preferable, so if you have any on hand, use that. If you don't, hold tight, and I'll show you sometime soon how to make your own.

-Bring your chicken broth to a boil. To it, add chopped carrots. When the carrots start to get just a little tender, add pieces of chopped celery. When both are starting to get soft, add pieces of cooked chicken if you have any lying around. Lower the heat and bring the broth to a simmer. Add your overcooked pasta noodles and some thyme and rosemary.

You've just made chicken noodle soup from spilled milk. Brava!

3. "I burned my meal and everyone's going to know I failed!"

They sure are. It sucks, but this happens to the best of us. Sometimes, we use a new pan and we're surprised to learn that it heats three times faster than any other pan we've ever used-- or we just get sidetracked by something on T.V.-- and now our meal is a black, charred mess that's harder to scrub away than your shame is.

What's there to do? Making it from scratch again is impractical. Guests will be here any minute. Your heart is racing. If this were a movie, the cinematographer would be moving in on you with a Hitchcock zoom.

Treat the situation with grace. It's the only thing you can do, and it speaks wonders to your character-- especially if you're a seasoned home cook, or someone who just wanted to give throwing a dinner party a shot. Tell everyone what happened, and you'll be forgiven. Everyone makes mistakes. Hand out a bunch of takeout menus, shake up some cocktails, and ask everyone to choose a restaurant.

Enjoy your Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, my little perfectionists!


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