So, you’ve found a new recipe. The food photography causes an instant Pavlov reaction and you catch a string of drool just before it hits the paper you’re looking at. The directions seem straightforward and all the ingredients are ones you’ve cooked with before. It’s only 2pm and you’re already looking forward to your partner or family to arrive home because this dinner is going to be out of this world. (Keep in mind that I am writing this from a work-at-home mom perspective.) This meal is going to prove that you really are a superhero in the kitchen and may even raise the question of whether you have tiger blood running through your veins.
|Photo by Rickydavid, flickr|
I apologize. I couldn’t help myself.
Picture this: everyone in the family is sitting down at the candlelit dinner table–because that’s how everyone eats, right?–and the lovely plated food you slaved over is sitting in front of the loves of your life, kids and partner have fork in one hand, knife in another, and the look on your partner’s face as he stares at his or her plate is nearly lascivious.
Everyone takes a simultaneous bite … and the kids immediately spit out their food. Your partner is a bit less dramatic, as he or she has learned is only the right thing to do, and you sit at the table and sob. You shed tears for the time, tears for the effort, tears for the failing. You don’t rend your clothes (because your children are at the table) and you don’t spread ash over your head (because you just mopped today), but don’t let anyone doubt for one moment that the mourning in your heart is not tremendous at this moment.
So what do you do in this situation? How do you take a failed recipe or a failed meal and turn it around quickly and still be the superhero of the family dinner? Here are a few things I do. Last night’s dinner was a Cooking Light recipe (the second I made in two days that just turned out meh). I’ll be using that as an example in some of these points below. The recipe was Noodles with Roast Pork and Almond Sauce.
1. Taste as you cook. One of the surest ways to tell if a meal you are preparing will turn out well and to your liking is to take tastes as you go. Not all palates are created equally and even if a well-known chef has created a recipe it doesn’t mean you will like it, even when the recipe is followed to the letter. Obviously, follow proper safety guidelines and don’t lick a slab of raw pork or anything, but when it comes to seasonings and sauces, tasting is key.
When I made the sauce as directed it was definitely missing something. I needed to add a bit of something sweet to cut back on the vinegar so I added a tablespoon of mirin. That helped. The full tablespoon of minced ginger was entirely too strong for my taste but since I already added it there wasn’t much I could do at that point. I thought the sauce was still too thick and goopy and I wanted it thinner so I added a couple teaspoons of sesame oil, which did the trick as well as add a nice toastiness to it.
The sauce was okay but certainly nothing to write home about. I wouldn’t make it again. I think a nice ponzu sauce would have been a much better alternative with this dish. Ponzu sauce, according to Jaden Hair over at Steamy Kitchen, is “equal parts soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, and splash lemon juice”. It is simple, well-balanced, and delicious.
Keep in mind that it is easier to add seasoning than to take it away. Actually, I don’t think it is possible to remove it once it has been added, so always taste as you cook.
2. Can it be saved? We all like saving. Saving money, saving time, saving the ducklings trying to follow their mama across the road. It’s also nice to be able to save a meal gone terribly wrong. Oftentimes, a meal disaster can be turned around and be made not only edible but enjoyable. Did you burn the top of the french bread under the broiler because your two-year old threw a ball at his baby sister’s head and you had to soothe the wee one?
|Photo by bluespf42, flickr|
No worries! Cut the burnt top of the bread off and try again. Did you add too much cheese at once in your white sauce and now it’s all stringy? Try adding a touch of lemon juice to see if that helps the cheese break apart. If it doesn’t, just fish out the cheese strings and start over, only adding about 2 tablespoons at a time and stirring it in before adding more. Did your falafel fall apart as soon as it hit the hot oil?
Okay, that one definitely happened to me and I still couldn’t save it. I did cry.
Please, pass a tissue.
Let’s visit the roast pork from last night. First, the recipe called for 1/2 pound of pork tenderloin for 4 servings. That would never satisfy in this house. That’s barely even deserving of putting the word ‘roast pork’ in the title. I did make just the 1/2 pound of pork and seasoned as directed. I wish the recipe would have designated a temperature for the pork when it was cooked as opposed to just time cooking. After the 20 minutes the internal temperature was still only at 148 so I popped it back in the oven until it hit 155. After allowing it to rest about 5 minutes, I started shredding it and took a tester bite. It was incredibly salty. Maybe it hit us harder than normal because I don’t typically cook with a ton of salt, but this was salty. At this point I took the lemons and made some lemonade. I just cut off the outside of the pork that was rubbed with salt and pepper and the remaining interior was edible.
So what would I have done if both the pork was inedible from salt and the sauce was too gingery to get past our tastebuds? Well, I also made elbow macaronis for the bed upon which the roast pork would lie. I could have easily whipped up a stovetop macaroni and cheese and pulled a can of vegetables from the pantry to serve with it. The saving grace from last night’s dinner was Spiced Honey Clementines. They were fantastic. I’ll post that recipe below.
Before tossing your food out the window in frustration, ask yourself, can it be saved?
3. When all else fails, order pizza. I think that about says it right there. If you are frustrated and upset, you’re not sure how to make the food work, don’t let it ruin your night. Order food and give the kids some fruit to hold them over until dinner arrives.
|Photo: my own|
Spiced Honey Clementines
5 clementines, peeled and sectioned
2 T orange juice
1 T honey
dash of allspice
dash of cinnamon
Place the sectioned clementines in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together all other ingredients until blended. Pour over the clementines and stir.
They taste kind of like Christmas and kind of like the islands, and all sorts of delicious.