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17 of Your Most Common Cooking Disasters—Fixed!

Made a major cooking mistake? Before you reach for that delivery menu, try these out-of-the-box ways to salvage that meal.

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Oversalted food

Whether your hand slipped or you misread the recipe, too much salt is usually the first critique of food that might otherwise be fantastic. Few tastes are more unpalatable than too much salt in a dish, and it’s also really unhealthy. For this reason, you should add a little salt as you go along, tasting after every addition because you can always add it, but taking it away is harder. Too late? The best way to repair your food is to double or triple the recipe—but omit any extra salt! Or, if you’re making a clear soup, add some uncooked pasta or a raw, peeled potato to the pot. The starch will absorb much of the salt. Discard the pasta or potato after 15 to 20 minutes. Avoid these cooking mistakes that can make your food toxic.

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Lumpy sauce

It’s so unpleasant to pour gravy onto a piece of turkey, especially on Thanksgiving, just to find a bunch of lumps. Sauces and gravies often have flour in them and if the flour is not sifted, it can make a sauce lumpy. If the damage has been done and you have clumps in your sauce, pour it into a blender and blend for just a few seconds to make it nice and smooth. Chefs wish you would stop making these annoying cooking mistakes. 

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Stale rolls

Wet your fingers and flick some water on them, then microwave in a microwave-safe cooking bag for no more than five seconds, or wrap in foil and heat in a 250-degree oven for ten minutes. Learn more about how to make stale bread not only edible, but tasty!

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Burnt toast

Oops! You got caught up in that Today Show segment on cute puppies, and now your toast is burnt to a crisp. You don’t have to toss it out and start over; simply take a butter knife and scrape until all the char is gone. Try to do this in the sink or directly into the garbage as it can cause a big mess. If the toast is too hard even after all the burnt parts are gone, try brushing with olive oil, sprinkling with Parmesan cheese, and presenting as crostini. You can also repurpose it as croutons for your salad or put it in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Home chefs, beware–these mistakes might be shortening the life of your stove.

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Mushy pasta

Even the most proficient Italian cook can get sidetracked and forget the pot of boiling pasta on the stove. If this happens to you, put in ice water or run under cold water for a few minutes to stop the cooking process and contract the starch. Then reheat in tomato sauce—the acid will perk it up further. Another trick is to use that mushy pasta in a batch of minestrone or chicken soup, and no one will ever know. Learn which common pasta utensil you’ve been using all wrong.

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Soggy rice

So maybe you didn’t follow the directions, or you couldn’t find your measuring cup and eyeballed and now something is not quite right. It happens to the best of us! If your rice ends up like mush, add some cooked meat or shrimp to it, form little balls and either fry them up or envelope them with wonton wrappers and then steam or fry them. Yum!

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Burnt stew

Forgot to stir your stew and now the bottom of the pan is completely black and it’s starting to smell like your fireplace? Quickly remove the stew above the burnt part, being very careful not to scrape up the black parts, and put it in another pot. Even if it seems wasteful to discard all the food on the bottom, you have to. Otherwise, it will ruin the taste of the parts you saved. (Make sure to avoid making these 50 kitchen mistakes.)

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Mushy beans

When boiling beans, the goal is to cook them until tender. But what happens if they cook too long, and they turn into slop? Turn them into a healthy, delicious bean soup by fully pureeing them. Another idea: Make a bean dip by adding sour cream or yogurt and some spices. No one will be the wiser!

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Overcooked chicken

If your chicken breasts were in the oven for just a bit too long and they’re all dried out, cut up the pieces, mix them with mayonnaise, chopped celery, dried fruit, and spices, and you have a flavorful chicken salad. Mayo can disguise the driest chicken and turn it into a masterpiece—trust us! Tip: Next time cook dark meat which is much more moist and forgiving if overcooked. Watch out for these ways you could be cleaning your kitchen wrong.

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Overcharred beef

It’s all about spin, says John DeShetler, professor and chef at the Culinary Institute of America. Rub it with a mix of ground pepper, chili powder, and garlic, then present as ‘blackened.’ Or slice it up as is and use in stir-fries, salads, or fajitas.

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Cake that falls apart

Didn’t grease the cake pan and your cake did not slide out easily? Carefully hold the pieces together and use frosting as the glue to reconnect it. You may need an assistant to help you hold it still while you “glue” it back, but it will look like a brand-new dessert once you’ve frosted the whole thing. (Watch out for these baking mistakes you don’t realize you’re making.)

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Cookies that stick to the baking sheet

Sometimes you run out of parchment paper or forget to butter up a cookie sheet. If your cookies get stuck and break apart, there’s no need to panic. Use those broken, crumbly cookies as a topping for ice cream, a cookie crumb layer for a cake, or take the broken pieces, dip them in chocolate and tell everyone you planned to make them as a chocolatey cookie dessert.

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Sticky noodles

Drain and cool immediately. Then return the pasta to a sauté pan, add at least one tablespoon of olive oil, and toss while reheating. (This is the biggest mistake you can make when cooking pasta.)

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Dry fish

Brush with a butter-and-lemon mixture, then sprinkle with chopped cilantro, marjoram, or savory. The sauce will add moisture, and ‘cool’ herbs like these, flavor.

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Limp greens

Bathe them briefly in a bowl of very cold water (no ice, which will bruise the leaves), then wrap in a damp towel and refrigerate. On the other hand, here are some foods you’re spoiling by putting in the fridge.

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Overripe fruit

When it’s too far gone for even fruit salad, use for smoothies, purees, sorbets, or ice cream.

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Overcooked vegetables

Cool as quickly as possible, in ice water, just like with pasta, then reheat briefly in hot stock and squirt on some acid (lemon, lime, or even orange) before serving. Now that you know the solution to all of your culinary disasters, relax with one of these cooking movies that will make you hungry.