Some mistakes are essential to being a better cook… they happen because (drum roll):
- you’re cooking
- you’re experimenting
- you’re learning
People who are too afraid to make mistakes are often those that don’t cook much, because they’re too worried that the end results won’t be perfect… but what is there to lose, really?
When I cooked my first Christmas turkey, I only realised after I was packing away leftovers that I had left the giblets in the turkey – IN THE PACKET (thankfully oven proof, so the turkey didn’t taste like a burned tire!).
That didn’t stop me from experimenting, though, and a few Christmases later I made this:
- Lemon curd and dukkah tartlets
- Turkey with Chocolate Rooibos Gravy; served with couscous, apricot & leek, and towers of fruit & berries with goats cheese.
- Christmas pudding with chili jam and Masala (the spice) butterscotch sauce.
THAT was a triumph (thank you to Woolworths Taste for that meal plan) and, despite the complex sounding menu, it was quick to prepare and I spend an hour at the pool before our guests arrived on Christmas day (this will only make sense to South Africans and Australians).
Here are some tips to ‘fix’ those recipes that aren’t quite up to scratch:
Salt – If the flavour is watered down, take a spoon of the food, add a pinch of salt, and taste it. Salt brings out the flavour of other food, which is why it’s so popular.
Browning meat – when it comes to meat, there’s an adage “No colour, no flavour”. The delicious smell of cooked steak comes from the caramelising of the meat. “Sealing” your meat before you roast it does nothing to keep the juices in, but it does create flavour and add an amazing dimension to your food.
Herbs – for soups and stews, add a bay leave to the liquid. This is also a winner when boiling potatoes. The rule of thumb is to add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking (rub them as you put them in), and fresh herbs at the very end (so they don’t lose their flavour)
Spices – Mix up your own. Don’t rely on store bought. I didn’t understand why my curries were so lackluster until I finally made my own curry spice blend instead of relying on the boxes. In fairness, the curry boxers have upped their game and there’s a much better selection, but there’s nothing that beats your OWN spice blend – for flavour AND for bragging rights.
We were taught that if you pay attention to the flavour of each element of the cooking, the end result will be good.
Prep: Before you actually start cooking, get all your ingredients measured out and chopped, etc. (it’s called “mise en place”, which means everything in its place). I know, it means more bowls, and it seems like a bit of a mission, but once you get cooking, you can concentrate on the food, and it REALLY helps you to not feel flustered, especially if you find out that you’re missing the essential ingredient.
Burned food: As soon as you realise you’ve burned the food at the bottom of your pan, DON’T try to stir or take the food that has stuck to the bottom out of the pot. Just tip the stew into another pot as quickly as possible. Take a little bit out of the pot, put it in a cup, open the doors/windows to get rid of the smell, and taste the stew once you’re somewhere that you can’t smell the burn. If the stew is burned throughout, there’s not much you can do (except hit the freezer or have takeaways?)
Oversalted food: it’s difficult to fix a meal that has been salted with a heavy hand. Some people say add milk (or white sauce) or potato, and that works to a degree, but not entirely. To get it right, you’d have to add more food to your salt. If it is a saucy dish, then you could possibly fry up some of the vegetable base of the dish, blend it and add to the sauce. That way you can extend the sauce without compromising the flavour too much. If the veggies are too salty from being cooked in oversalted water, you can blend them and keep them for another time (freeze and add to a stew or soup instead of salt). To avoid oversalting, salt your food in stages – don’t add all the salt at the beginning of a stew, as the sauce will reduce, and the flavours intensify. Add a little at the beginning and taste as you go.
Mistakes to AVOID:
- Using a blunt knife: This just makes you more likely to slip and cut yourself.
- Skipping the kitchen hygiene: Salmonella and E.Coli: Enough said.
- Sticking to the rules religiously: Where’s the fun in that?
- Taking on complicated recipes when people are coming: This is the time to be showing off the dishes that you’ve perfected. Spend less time in the kitchen, and more time socialising. They’re here for you. If they were visiting for the food, they could have gone to a restaurant.
Do YOU have any mistakes that you would like to avoid repeating, or that you successfully solved? Let’s hear them!