Burning food is only one of the non-emergency things that can go wrong in the kitchen. Here I’m not talking about kitchen safety; that’s another subject. This section is intended to help make the best of the mess, whether it’s burned food or a thin tasteless gravy. Sometimes you can also make up a substitute for a missing ingredient at the last minute.
The first thing to do is to stop the food cooking. If you can, put the pot or pan in a sink of cold water. Then, preferably using a wooden spoon, take out the unburned food. Spoon it gently and take only the easy part; if the food sticks you probably won’t like the way it tastes. Put it in a clean pan and re-warm it with some slices of bread on top. Hopefully the bread will remove any remaining taste from the recovered food. If it still tastes smoky, add some barbeque sauce, catsup or A1 and call it ranch-style.
Cleaning the Burned Pan
First, scrape out all you can with a wooden spoon. Don’t work so hard that you damage the finish on the pan. Next, add lots of salt to the contents and warm it on the stove. Hopefully the salt will make the burned food flake off the pan. Then fill halfway with water and a strong detergent and boil for ten minutes. If you need to, turn off the heat and let it stand overnight. The next day you should be able to clean it up with a scouring pad. (If it’s a non-stick pan, only use scouring pads that say it’s OK to use; otherwise you might ruin the pan.) If it’s an aluminum pan, sometimes boiling an onion in the pan will cause the stuff to come loose.
Thin, Tasteless Gravy
To thicken gravy, add a tablespoon of flaked dried potatoes, which some people keep on hand just for this. Or, you can mix a little water with a tablespoon of flour and add it to the gravy as you stir it. If you want the gravy or sauce to have a glossy look, like sweet and sour sauce, use corn starch instead of flour. To improve its taste, almost everything in the kitchen is a possibility: sherry, tarragon, MSG, marjoram, beef bouillon, allspice, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper are only a few. Don’t overlook small amounts of Tabasco, A1, or Worcestershire as other possibilities. If you want to darken the gravy, add a teaspoon of instant coffee.
Strain it. If you can’t for some reason, you can try beating it with a whisk or an electric hand blender. If you get so desperate as to put it in a blender, hold a folded towel over the top when you turn it on — blending hot foods is almost always a mess. Look back at what you did to make it lumpy in the first place and don’t do it again. I’ll bet you added flour to hot water or broth. You can only add flour to cold liquid or to hot fat.
Too Much Grease Floating on Top
If you have time, chill the food, in the freezer if necessary, and then pick off the solidified fat. Or sometimes after you spoon off all you can you can use a paper towel to soak up the rest. I read recently that you can use a cold lettuce leaf for the same purpose. Stores also sell a brush made of some kind of cellophane that helps you remove fat from the surface. I tried one, and it worked.
It’s OK to trim off the mold with a knife and use the rest of the cheese. If you have some left over, wrap it as tightly as you can with plastic wrap or a baggie. If the cheese is too soft to cut easily, warm the knife.
Getting the Top off a Jar
Using the tip of a teaspoon, pry under the edge of the top until you hear the hiss indicating that you relieved the vacuum inside the bottle. Then the top should come off easily. If you can’t do that, try banging it once flat on the floor. Or hold the top under hot water to expand it.
Need, but Don’t Have:
Baking powder (one teaspoon), use 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Broth (one cup), use one cup of hot water plus one teaspoon bouillon granules or one cube
Buttermilk (one cup), use one tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar, add milk to make one cup; let stand five minutes. Or use one cup of plain yogurt.
Cornstarch for thickening (one tablespoon), use two tablespoons flour
Corn syrup, dark (one cup), use 3/4 cup light corn syrup plus 1/4 cup molasses
Corn syrup, light (one cup), use one cup sugar plus 1/4 cup water
Cream, half and half (one cup), use one tablespoon melted butter and add milk to make one cup
Self-rising flour (one cup), use one cup all-purpose flour, one teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Fresh Garlic (one clove), use 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Honey (one cup), use 1 1/4 cups sugar plus 1/4 cup water
Lemon juice (one teaspoon), use 1/4 teaspoon vinegar
Mustard (one tablespoon), use 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard plus two teaspoons vinegar
Onion (one small), use one teaspoon onion powder or one tablespoon dried minced onion
Poultry Seasoning (one teaspoon), use 3/4 teaspoon sage and 1/4 teaspoon thyme
Sour Cream (one cup), use one cup plain yogurt
Tomato Juice (one cup), use 1/2 cup tomato sauce plus 1/2 cup water
Tomato Sauce (one cup), use 1/3 cup tomato paste plus 1/2 cup water